The Pirate, Part vi (or, 219 S 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19103, before she finds his body)
When there’s no more clues, it’s diners where
the Detective plans murders. She reminds herself that the Pirate calls
Philadelphia his own, a city ripe for rot. With coffee to drink to plan the
finest of murders, the Detective does.
Cash Only. Beneath the air duct “TAKE OUT” flickers neon. Open 24 hours with breakfast served all day and night and after. A cigarette dispenser with ten metal veins. Bar stools swivel on greased hips. The toast isn’t cut in triangles it’s kept square and stale. The Special Omelet on Monday is sausage and on Tuesday it’s bacon and Wednesday it’s western and Thursday it’s ham and then on Friday it’s cheese. Tabasco bottles and salt and pepper shakers shaped like chess pieces. Gyros wrapped in wax paper and bacon that wilts in curls. Toasted bagels stacked on saucers with tabs of butter. The counter hosts forearms and cutlery wiped clean with a soiled dishrag, jars of spicy mustard and coffee creamers in plastic sachets. Sometimes the soup is chicken noodle or tomato or cream of mushroom. Potatoes are griddle-pressed and scrapple is served by the brick.
drinks coffee from a fat-lipped mug, orders eggs to break the yolks. The soda
spigots got Coke but they’ll serve you root beer if you fancy. The Detective
drinks orange juice then water then coffee. She pours whiskey in the water then
whiskey in the coffee.
“You know better, missus,” Carol says, filling the coffee cup. “You gotta stop drinking if you wanna end the drought.”
“I got from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, that’s what the kid told me – I got from 6:00 to 8:00 to search the place and no later.”
“You have a plan, missus? Having a plan is best – it’s when you don’t have a plan that you end up murdering.”
The Detective will wait for the Pirate in the room that is locked.
She’ll fall into a crouch with raised heels and she’ll keep her head bowed
until the treasure-seeking sea scoundrel stands in the doorway. The Detective
doesn’t have a gun because she’s got something better – the Louisville slugger her
daddy gave her, dressed in barbed wire, tinsel wrapped in tight rungs. She’ll
swing it from shoulder to shoulder with her weight hip-shifting and then bring
the bat to the ground to split his flesh, to find the sick, to claim it in
touch and destroy it. This is the thing she was paid to do.
“What’re they paying you for this time?” Carol says.
Sows taste a shotgun between the eyes before their meat is limb-stripped in prize cuts, lard marbled flanks and gristle shavings. This is what folks pay for these days. Ribs and steaks and loins - this is what the Detective will give them.
“I said what’re they paying for then?” Carol says. “I heard somebody hire you to search out that fella who snatched that missing girl? The one they haven’t seen since last Easter.”
The Detective swallows coffee until there is none. “How’s that?”
“What is it you’ve been hired to do this time?”
“Kill a fella,” the Detective says.
“You sure then? Why I always have to remind you finding folks and killing folks are different things?”
No one has ever said the Detective is a surprising person, but no one knows it different neither.
Hey, listen to this, Carol, I’ll cut the skin from his arms first, then I’ll cut his belly in X’s to see if he has guts after all. Then any part of him that harmed the Mermaid – that’s his lady see, the missing girl, we call her the Mermaid – will severed to make a necklace of fingers and cock and tongue and I’ll wear a string of him around my neck while I tell him the story of how I caught him. Then, at the very end, I’ll slit his throat and watch him bleed until there’s no blood left in him…
“I said, yeah, I’ll have another cup.”
Don’t pay Carol at the counter, sort yourself at the window before you leave.
The Pirate, Part vii (or, Enter the Sea Witch of Memphis with the rot of men between her legs)
The room that is locked is where the Pirate’s kid said it would be, just passed the work bench, left of the time machine pieces and the innards of an unassembled robot. Industrial clutter, hose pipes and grease smears along door frames. A futon mattress pulled from its pine box, limp with sweat stains and shed skin and sex that collects in synthetic tumors. No blankets and no pillows. These are the clues.
She pulls the key from her bag to unlock the door, paint stripped and rusting with her touch. It stills as she steps into the room where the kid is hung by shark hooks. He’s bare from the waist up with tracks of blood lining the planks of his little boy body. Beneath his shoulder blades, pierced through his chest cavity, two steel horns birthed from the ribs his mama grew him.
[Enter the Sea Witch of Memphis with the rot of men between her legs] “You police? You gonna help, you the law?” The Sea Witch, who calls herself Ducky amongst land dwellers, is the Pirate’s mama. Her dressing gown is dingy and her skin is patched in hives and scales, pock-marked and drying to dead. Fingers bloated and decked with thirteen wedding rings from the thirteen men who rented her body like an overnight garage, who decorated her flesh with knuckles and palm prints, echoed curses into her mouth and beat promises into her gullet for the Pirate to hear. Her fingernails are ragged, cuticle beds lined with skin waiting to be pulled, for the blood to come and flood the gutter. “I said you gotta help. There’s been a murder – there’s been a death in my family.”
“Seems so,” the Detective says, her raised fingers tracing the still slick blood at the kid’s ankles. “I’m in the business of finding fellas who snatch girls and ladies and women. I’m in the business of finding thieves and rapists and murderers so it’s the Pirate I intend to find.”
“Are you the law?”
“Well, I’m the Detective, aren’t I?”
“Are you here to solve the crime? Find out who killed my boy’s boy? He’s my kin, the Pirate I mean, he’s my own boy. And the little one, that one hanging there, he’s my boy’s boy. He’s the Pirate’s boy and so he’s the Riverboat Prince.”
“Why didn’t they bury the kid at sea?”
“Who’re speaking of? I don’t know who done this murder – I said you gotta find the fella who killed my boy’s boy?” the Sea Witch says. “I don’t know who did this awful but there’s a crime to be solved, young lady.”
“Where’s the Pirate?”
“I don’t know where he is but I know for sure who he is and who he is my boy.”
“He killed his son in here – I know it for certain, and you, with such naked hands. There’s no blood out there – just a bed and a saw next to a microwave next to pliers and screwdrivers and hammers and a bunch of vacuums. Why’d he kill his kid in the place he lays him down at night?”
“Only place the bed fits is by the door out there so we all gotta sleep out there. We’re getting us a house though, the four of us: me and the little one hanging and the Pirate and his girl, the Mermaid. He said we could if I was good during my visit, and I have been – didn’t snatch nothing that didn’t belong to me or go find me a new fella –”
“Three of you,” the Detective says. “It’s not four, it’s three now and one departed.”
“No, no no, no the kid’s coming too. He’s family, he’s my boy’s boy after all and I’m gonna show him how love feels real good if you let it. He’s just a kid is all, because he don’t know any better. Once we get him down from hanging up there I’ll clean him up and dress him so he can come too. The four of us.”
“Sweetheart, I got everything wrong there is to got.”
“You see doctors?”
“I take medicine because medicine is good for me, good for us – makes you feel better, don’t it?”
“Here’s what happened - you watched the Pirate murder his own boy and then him and the Mermaid disappeared again –”
“You talk foolish - we came back from being at the arcade and he was already up there.”
“Why wasn’t the kid at the arcade with you?”
“No, no, no no no – you’re right, the kid was there because he was with us, right? He was at the arcade with us – it was the four of us. Like I said before, it was the four of us.”
“How’d he get up there then?”
“Well maybe, it was the three of us – the three of us, the big kids, having a chat at the arcade and the boy had to stay here, yeah that’s it – that’s what happened – he had to stay here and tend the dogs.” She rings her fat hands in circles without stopping. “Nobody here did nothing wrong – we came back and he was already dead and it made the Pirate and the Mermaid so sad that they had to run away for a little bit and I stayed to call for the cops.”
“I know who killed him,” the Detective says.
“Course you do – you’re the greatest law lady there ever was, a real Detective, huh? You tell me who killed my boy’s boy then the four of us can go get the criminal who done this awful.”
The Detective speaks: “I know you watched your boy kill his boy and I know it made you sad. The Pirate is murderer and a thief. He snatched the Mermaid to snatch her life because he can’t pay his way like all big boys do. He’s a coward and he’s a con who feels sorry for himself. He thinks he’s clever but I’ve never heard of anybody so cruel. She’s next, the Mermaid’s next – he’ll do her just like his kid – then it’ll be your turn when he’s run out of dollars to steal and yoked bitches to kill.”
“That just aint true—”
“—you’re as dumb as that cunt of yours is rotten –”
“He won’t bring harm to her, he needs her—”
“The kid didn’t have a bed to sleep in, no food to eat and no place to bathe. The kid told me – he told me the Pirate tied him to a pole with a dog lead. Bring harm is all the Pirate does. The Mermaid’s mother’s been looking for her for a long time. You remember what it’s like to be somebody’s mama?”
“Course I do - I am,” the Sea Witch says.
“Does birthing a murderer makes you a mother?”
“We need her. We get hungry when the Mermaid aint around. The Pirate’ll run out of oil and food without her. He’s got nothing to wear and nowhere to sleep. He needs her to care for us. I’m too sick to work and he’s building a time machine so we need us a carer. She’s the sweetest, kindest girl you’ll ever meet. She’ll be my daughter soon - they said if I was good that she’ll be my girl soon.”
“What happens if you leave? If the Pirate leaves – if there’s no bills to pay and mouths to feed?” the Detective says. “What will she be then?”
“Why would we do something like that? She done so much good for us – buys my pills, make sure we sleep good, cook our meals and give us love. I never had anybody like that. Nobody ever thought much of me and the Pirate, me and my body, before her. Folks say we aint normal because we share beds and tongues but I show my boys love how fellas show it to me.”
“What would she do if she had no mouths to feed?”
“I’m sure she’ll get along alright. She’s the nicest girl. She had a whole life before us, guess she find one after us too.”
“Whose fault is all of this? Is it your fault he’s like he is?”
“We weren’t nothing till her – you didn’t know my name before she chose him. He never breathed far as you were concerned. You here because she chose us and her mama got sad. She’s the one who done this, how about you tell her mama that?” the Sea Witch says. “The Mermaid say my boy is her hero. How do you like that? You hear me, you slut? And if she dies she dies one of us. I said you hear me, you slut?”
“I heard you lot don’t believe in Jesus, that’s a real shame because we gotta make sure no more Pirates come outta here, huh?”
The Detective pulls the pistol from her waistband and empties the clip at the spot where the Pirate slithered from the Sea Witch thirty May’s ago. The Pirate’s mama screams, groping at her crotch, pressing the heel of her palm to the place where her legs meet, to stop it from dying.
And so, the Pirate and the Detective are murderers because the Pirate and the Detective have murdered.