LITTLE ELVISES, Chapter Three

October 15th, 2008

This may be the last of these I put up, since worries have been expressed about its possibly getting stolen.  I doubt it’ll be stolen when so far we haven’t been able to sell it (meaning the first book in the series), but I may take the point. On the other hand, I kind of like putting these up.

Once again, this is first draft or extremely close to it, and if you haven’t read Chapters One and Two, which are found a few blogs below, you might want to.

3

In Some Cases, I’d Give You a Discount

When I was seventeen and trying to escape from high school, one of the last barriers they put up was a test that seemed to take a week to complete. I did okay on some of it, but I was scarred for life by a series of exercises in which I was supposed to look at a drawing of some folded-up three-dimensional object, maybe an octagon with a pyramid on top of it, and then identify what it would look like unfolded. What they gave me to choose from was a bunch of line drawings of geometrical schizophrenia, squares connected to rectangles and triangles and parallelograms and irregular trapezoids and crescent slices and other useless shapes, staggering all over the page.

The guy who designed Vincent DiGaudio’s house had aced that part of the test. Taking that part of the test had been the defining point of his life. He’d enjoyed it so much he’d gone into residential architecture so he could design houses with floor plans based on those puzzles. Visualize maybe nine thousand square feet, one story high, meandering drunkenly over half an acre. It was a burglar’s nightmare. Just finding your way back out would be a challenge.

The door was yanked open by a grim-looking black-haired woman as tall as I am, with a protruding chin-mole on the left side of a protruding chin, NFL shoulders, and severely muscled calves beneath her black skirt. The calves looked like they’d evolved to hold the planet still while she walked. Her hair was drawn back into a tight bun and further restrained by a hairnet designed for someone with much lighter-colored hair, creating an unattractive hexagonal screen, as though I was looking at her through a transparent honeycomb. She banged the door into the wall, glared at me, grunted as though all her worst suspicions had just been confirmed, turned her broad back, and started to hike down the hall. I followed, and she said, without looking back, “Close it.”

I shut the door while she waited for me, tapping a booted foot, and then followed her for what seemed like ten minutes across a pale wood floor that zigzagged through a dozen rooms of all shapes, any one of which would have done fine as a living room, until we reached a semicircular space with an enormous window, a single molded pane of glass that stretched the length of the curved wall to reveal the lights of the Valley glittering expensively below. Beneath the glass was a curved sofa in white leather, exactly the same length as the window. And dead center on the sofa, behind a curving coffee table in bleached wood, was Vincent L. DiGaudio.

The female weightlifter ushered me into the room, announced, “Your mistake’s arrived,” and stepped aside with the air of someone who’s completed an unpleasant task.

DiGaudio was a lot wider now than he’d been in 1975, when he’d done the interview I’d seen on YouTube. Like a lot of guys who’ve run to fat, he’d been told that dressing in black from head to toe would make him look like Fred Astaire. He’d dyed his hair black to match the clothes, a dead black that ate light without reflecting any. He’d also grown a little soul patch. It clung uncertainly to his lower lip like a misplaced comma.

“You don’t look like much,” DiGaudio said without getting up.

“You get what you pay for.”

He replayed the sentence, half-moving his lips. “I ain’t paying you nothing.”

“I rest my case. Could you ask Frau Blϋcher here to get me something to drink? A Diet Coke or something.”

“That stuff will take the chrome off a bumper.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not a 1957 Chevy.”

“What I mean, we don’t got it. We got fruit juices and natural sodas, got a bunch of kinds of bottled water.”

“Whatever’s easy,” I said.

“What’s easy,” the woman said, “is you stay thirsty.”

“Your mom?” I asked DiGaudio. “Or a rental for the evening?”

“Hey, buster,” the woman said.

Buster?” I said. “You allow her to call your guests buster?”

“This is Popsie,” DiGaudio said. “Popsie can call you whatever she wants.”

“Good to have that clarified. Water, out of the tap would be fine.”

Popsie said, “Psssshhhhhhh,” with a disgusted shake of the head and barged out of the room, towing a vast amount of negative energy behind her. I half expected to see all the metal objects in the room drag themselves in her wake.

“You don’t want to fuck with Popsie,” DiGaudio said after the door closed behind her. “She used to wrestle. WWF, no less.”

“What’d she call herself?”

“Hilda, the Nazi from Hell.”

“And this qualified her for what job description?”

He shifted his bulk, tried to cross his left leg over his right, and failed. He brought the leg up again, grabbed the calf with both hands, and forced it into place. “What do you care?”

“Just making conversation. Why’d she call me your mistake?”

“Popsie’s got strong opinions. Figures anybody Paulie sends will be a fuckup. She thinks I should just sit around waiting for the cops to come and get me.”

“Before you tell me why they might come and get you, let’s do a fact check. This isn’t free.”

He brought up a heavily ringed hand. Primed by Marge, I checked for a pinky ring, and found one. The man was a cad. “Scuse me?” DiGaudio said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, okay? Paulie’s got one of your nuts in a vise –”
“Paulie?”

He opened his mouth a couple of times but nothing came out. He wasn’t used to being interrupted. “My nephew,” he finally said. “Paulie.”

“Jesus. Vinnie, Paulie. Popsie. Where are Vito and Sonny? Why not just hang some neon in the window, Mobs R Us.

He shook his head. “Like I was saying, Paulie’s got one of your nuts in a vise, and what you’re trying to do is keep the other one out.”

“That’s roughly accurate. But I have some rules about what I do, and here they are: No mob guys, no murder cases, and no freebies. I’ve had to break One and Two just to get here tonight, but I’ll be damned if I’ll break Three. If you want to talk for more than sixty seconds more, if you want to tell me about your problems with the cops, I need five thousand in my hand. In cash. If you don’t want to pay, I’ll walk out of here, and Paulie can do whatever he wants.”

He’d lifted his chin to look at me better, and I could see all the work that had been done to keep him looking younger than the seventy-five, seventy-six years old he had to be. He’d been lifted, sanded, scrubbed, buffed, peeled, and Botoxed until the face under the dead black hair looked like it was made from some new and already obsolete synthetic. “You think I got five thousand just laying around?”

“Sure,” I said.

The plump little mouth pursed, so there were some muscles the Botox hadn’t reached. “You any good?”

“I’m fucking fantastic. And, no, I can’t give you referrals.”

He said, “Pfuhhh,” and I realized it was a laugh of sorts. “Guess not. Okay, say I give you the five. Then what?”

“Then you explain what’s going on and I tell you whether I can do anything about it. If I can’t, I give you half of the five back and go home and wait for Paulie to show up with his vise. If I can, you give me more money whenever I ask for it, up to about fifty thousand, depending.”

“Fifty?” He cracked his knuckles so emphatically I got sympathetic pre-arthritic pain in both hands. “Depending on what?”

“On how tough it is. On whether I have to kill anybody. Generally speaking, I prefer not to kill anybody.”

The door banged open, and Popsie barged into the room with a cheap plastic glass full of water in one hand. She’d filled it to the brim, and as she shoved it at me, water slopped onto my forearm and down the front of my trousers. Then she wheeled around and stalked out.

“Of course,” I said, watching her, “in some cases, I’d give you a discount.”

He grinned at the stains on my pants. “Ahhh, she’s okay.”

“Yeah?” I said, and I leaned over the coffee table and poured water in his lap.

“What the fuck,” he said, trying to get up, but his left leg was stuck on top of his right, and even if it hadn’t been, he was too bulky to rise without pushing off with his hands. He got the foot on the floor and then sat there, breathing at me.

“Keep the help under control,” I said. “And give me the money. I’m not having fun, and I’m not going to go on not having fun for much longer without getting paid for it.”

“Jeez,” he said. “And Paulie thinks you’re soft.”

I said, “Money.”

He opened a drawer in the coffee table. “You didn’t have to get me wet.”

“You’ll dry.”

He had a stack of hundreds in his hand. “I don’t know about this.”

“You see the gun in my hand?” I said. “Is anybody threatening you? I’d just as soon go home.”

“Sheesh,” he said, flipping the stack of bills with his thumb. “Is it okay if I talk while I count?”

“If you can.”

“Oh, back off. I was counting money when you were still messing your pants.” He licked a thumb and started dealing hundreds onto the table. “Guy got killed in Hollywood last night. You hear anything about it?”

“Is this what we’re here to talk about?”

“Naw,” DiGaudio said. “I always kick off a conversation this way.”

“Then keep counting.” I watched the stack grow and decided to cut him some slack. “Where?”

His hands didn’t slow at all. “Hollywood Boulevard.”

“Somebody got killed on Hollywood Boulevard? Boy, that hardly ever happens.”

“I don’t know if he got killed there.” He was up to twenty-seven hundred, hands moving fast and sure. “He got found there. Six thousand block, pretty crappy block even for Hollywood. Might have been killed somewhere else.”

“Who was he?”

He looked up, the stack in his left hand, a single bill in his right, “English journalist. Scum hound, wrote for the rat rags, the ones with the two-headed babies on the front page. Bat Boy Graduates from Princeton, Maharishi’s Face on Mars, that kind of shit. Name of Derek Bigelow.”

“Friend of yours?”

“Sure, same way I’d make friends with a herpes wart.”

“And?”

“Hold on.” He dropped the last five bills onto the pile. “And what?”

I picked up the money. “And what’s it got to do with you?”

He looked at me as though he’d just realized he’d been speaking a language I didn’t understand. “What it’s got to do with me? They’re going to arrest me for it.”

“Did you do it?”

“Are you sure you’re any good? I mean, what kind of question is that?”

“Humor me. Did you?”

“No. But, I mean, would I say yes? What’re you, furniture?”

“Then why are they going to arrest you for it?”

There’s the question,” he said. “Finally.”

I waited for a good slow count of three. “Want me to ask it again?”

“For five thousand? Sure.”

“Why are they going to arrest you for it?”

“Because I was going to kill him. I was going to kill him tonight.”

5 Responses to “LITTLE ELVISES, Chapter Three”

  1. suzanna Says:

    Wow, this one is a sizzler. Fast and crisp. Lots of great dialogue. This line about DiGuadio’s helper made me laugh out loud: The calves looked like they’d evolved to hold the planet still while she walked. I would love to read this in a book one day!

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Thanks, Soooozie. God willing, you will. I’m forging ahead, on chapter 12 now and about 30,000 words. So far, so good, although I need an action scene pretty soon or people will be reading this to insomniacs to soothe them.

  3. Jen Forbus Says:

    More rich characters. Even the least of the supporting characters is fun to experience! Popsie is hysterical. But, I have to say, I laughed hilariously when DiGaudio couldn’t get up because his leg was stuck. Oh my lands, what an incredible mental image!

    Junior’s confidence and his sarcasm are fantastic. I absolutely love those characteristics for him.

    In three chapters Junior’s had interaction with what, four different characters? And each interaction has added a layer of complexity to him. Keep it up, Tim. This character is a definite keeper!

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Jan, I with there were eighteen million of you, all desperate for a book just like this one. Life would be so much easier. Thanks for taking the time to cheer me up.

  5. maria aguayo Says:

    Your detective’s boldness has eased my
    apprehension for his safety. It makes
    Di Guido funnier. I am intrigued to
    know more.

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