Bliss Jumps the Gun: A Lenny Bliss Mysteryby Bob Sloan
New York City homicide detective Lenny Bliss's biggest mistake wasn't bungee-jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. The mistake was handing his gun to the previous jumper, a young Chinese girl: she's gone. Bliss's wife has a successful career as a stand-up comic (often using him for material), but for Bliss work is serious. A young Off-Broadway actor has been found dead on stage; Bliss's partner, Ward, is out of commission, reeling from having been shot by a druggie --and now an unstable young woman has disappeared with Bliss's gun. Bob Sloan's street-smart plot, full of jump-cut scenes and colorful New York atmosphere, follows Bliss as he frantically tries to track down Li-Jung while also investigating murder suspects. Why are the dead man's very rich parents acting strangely? What motives are the other members of the theater troupe hiding --the poetic Wolf, haunted by Vietnam memories; the director Katrina, with her obsessive videotaping; the seductive Constance, who harbors a secret and seems bent on distracting Bliss from his job? Meantime Li-Jung, a walking time bomb of rage and loneliness, waits for the right moment to use her unexpected new power. When a nothing-to-lose ex-cop picks her up in his cab and sees a way to make some blackmail money, events come together fast in a tense and satisfying conclusion.
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Bliss was wearing' the wrong shoes. He should have worn his sneakers, but for some reason at the last second he put on his work shoes, and now instead of darting lithely along the catwalk like the others, he was lumbering.
There were four of them jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge that night, led by an aging hippie who called himself Icarus. Dressed in shorts and sandals, his long black hair flowing past his shoulders, the bungee cord slung casually over his back, the guy looked like he had just strolled in from Venice Beach rather than Flatbush.
They were creeping along on a catwalk under the roadway, the East River hundreds of feet below, black water reflecting the lights of Wall Street where legions of cleaning women worked through the night. Bliss wished he were one of them. Then he wouldn't be where he was on the bridge.
Traffic raced above them, a steady stream of cars even at 2 A.M., oblivious to the panic rising in the throat of the forty-two-year-old cop stumbling just below, trying desperately to prove something, the details of whichlike what exactly he was trying to prove and who he wanted to prove it towere as yet unclear.
Because Bliss had fallen into one of his dark moods. His homicide detective's diet of despair and ugliness was forming a thick barrier between himself and those he lovedhis wife, his kids, even his partner, Ward. His own Iron Curtain. The Wall had crumbled in East Berlin, but it was sturdy and intact around Lenny Bliss.
He needed to do somethingtake some kindof action. Homicide relied on the whims of the bad guys, waiting for a cascade of rage or iealousy to flood some poor soul, make him go berserk and kill. Then, like scavengers, Bliss and his fellow detectives fed on the remains. He was tired of being at the mercy of the chimeras of evil and death.
So he came up with this plan by following his usual M.O.: Do it all at once. Like the song says, he packed up all his troubles in his old kit bagand then beat the bag with a stick until it didn't move anymore.
He tripped, banging his knee against one of the girders. The others looked back, and in the darkness Bliss could feel their looks of pity. He hated being in the rear. He wanted to tell them that in high school he was always picked first in gym class. That he wasn't an end-of-the-line kind of guy. He was Lenny BlissHomicide. He'd taken guns away from guys who'd rip your ear off your face as easily as pulling petals from a daisy. Easier. There weren't a lot of daisies growing in Manhattan. He decided that if he tripped again, he'd arrest them all, which is what he should have done in the first place whipped out his badge and cuffs and arrested them before they'd even got started on this eccentric expedition.
But he hadn't. Because he believed that this, The Big Jump, would actually helpone giant leap for Lenny over the grim malaise enveloping him like a shroud. Richard Simmons said a person had to push past the fears and mental limitations he placed on himself. Richard had said that on TV the other morning, and he was looking right at Bliss when he said it. That's where The Big Jump came in. He had to do it for Richard. He wanted to be able to walk right up to him and say, "I did it, I pushed past my fears and limitations!" And then feel the soft brush of Richard's curls on his cheek as he was given a patented Richard Simmons hug.
It was either serendipity or kismetwhichever was the more nefariousthat had led Bliss to overhear two guys talking about Icarus and his midnight leaps off the Brooklyn Bridge. He'd been in the bar at the comedy club waiting to pick up his wife, Rachel, after her last set. "It's the most amazing rush," he heard one guy say. "It makes you look at everything completely different." And Bliss said to himself, I want an amazing rush. I want to look at everything differently. The guy also said Rachel had nice bazooms. Bliss let it go. They were nice bazooms.
Bliss got the phone number and called Icarus, which was how he had wound up on the bridge that balmy May night, about to jump into oblivion. Rachel would no doubt make it part of her next comedy routine. She'd riff on his panic how he was frantically thinking of excuses for turning back, afraid to confront his fears. Lenny Bliss, who was so needy that he would even make Richard Simmons depressed, make Richard gorge on ice cream sundaes and chocolate cake.
They continued in silence. Bliss felt the walkway flattening out as they neared the center of the bridge. Icarus put up his hand and they stopped. He dropped to his knees, whipped out a wrench, and loosened some bolts on the metal grating. A few seconds later he liberated a three-foot-square piece of the catwalk and set it down silently. It felt like a scene from The Dirty Dozen.
The girl was going first, Bliss second. Icarus communicated all this silently, with hand signals, like they were under water and he was Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt. Bliss watched the girl strap on the harness with cool efficiency. She was all business. He liked her. She was all of five feet, Chinese or Japanese, with short hair and a lurid tattoo of a tiger on her shoulder lurking under the strap of her tank top. She casually buckled the bungee cord into the harness, her face composed, confident, betraying not the slightest hint of fear. She pulled a white rabbit's foot out of her pocket and tossed it into the hole. "For luck," she said. Bliss's stomach did a Luganis. She then kissed her boyfriend hard on the lips and slipped into the hole like an otter slipping into the sea, disappearing silently into the dark. The cord made a soft twang, like a kid on a kazoo. The girl herself said nothing. Or at least Bliss heard nothing.
He wished he didn't have to go next. He wished he didn't have to go at all. Maybe his precinct would calla desperate hostage situation had arisen and Bliss had to change places with a group of Swedish tourists. Or there was a jumper (how ironic), and Bliss was needed to talk him down. Anything but this. He wished his nine-year-old daughter Cori would show up in her pajamas, hugging her stuffed animal, tears welling up in her eyes, sniffling, "Daddy, there's a monster in my closet and I'm scared. Daddy, will you come and lie with me?" Then he'd have to go back, and what could they say? Even the Asian girl would understand. "My kid needs me," he'd say. So noble. He'd take Cori's hand. "Come on, honey," he'd say, letting his youngest child lead him to safety....
Bliss watched Icarus and the others pull the girl up through the hole. She took off the harness, handed it to Icarus. She shook her head like a young colt. Her face glowed in the moonlight. Now it was his turn.
Icarus attached the harness, and Bliss held the bungee cord, his new umbilicus. It stretched, like a rubber band. But just the other day he had tried wrapping a bundle of last year's checks with a rubber band, and it broke. Because it had come to its last stretch. The bungee cord, too, had only so many stretches. There was a number. Some completely arbitrary number. Not majestic, like with baseball cardsWillie Mays, number 100, Mantle, number 150but some rookie number, some scrub number, Bliss's number, notable only for denoting this moment, his last on earth. A number with no other correlation other than being indelibly etched into every fiber of this bungee cord, fixed like a cancer gene. Number 438, say, and now the mysterious odometer of stretch had reached 437, and the last bit of bungee was about to tick off because the bungee molecules were as tired as he was. They wanted a restfrom stretching, from bearing the load, from the burden of returning everyone safely. Bliss could relate.
"So whattaya say, Lenny? You gotta go now or give up your spot."
He thought about the pancakes he'd had yesterday morning, the John's Pizza he'd eaten last night. Weighing him down. It would only make it happen more quickly.
"It's now or never, Lenny."
Bliss sat with his feet dangling over the side of the hole. The dots of light far below made the water look like some inverted galaxy. Or the glowing pain of the drowned souls suffering in the River Styx. He'd be joining them soon.
"Lenny, it's give-it-up-or-jump time. Go down in a tuck. As soon as you clear the bridge, just lean forward and reach for the water. You ready?"
No, he wasn't nearly ready. But Bliss owed it to Richard Simmons and his partner and his family to push past his limits, to jump through the black hole of his fears.
"What about your gun?" It was the girl, sitting cross-legged on the grating, looking up at him, her face tilted to one side like a cat. He felt the leather holster he wore on his hip. Like his heavy shoes, he should have left it at home. But every other time he'd left the house at midnight it was because he'd been summoned to something bad: a boy dying in a back stairway, blood oozing from a hole in his chest; a woman lying on a dark overpass, bleeding from her womb.
"You might lose it on the way down," she said.
She was right. It could be yanked free from the holster and join the thousands of other guns lying at the bottom of the East River, tossed out of moving cars from the FDR after a robbery or murder. Of course, having his gun wouldn't matter anyway, once his broken body was floating out to sea, the bungee cord trailing after him like limp kite string or the frayed ribbon on a busted birthday balloon.
"Come on, man! We're not going to get our turns!"
And because he'd already gone too far, become Alice in his own private Wonderland, literally about to follow the rabbit (the girl's charm) down the hole, he did what he was never supposed to do: undid his belt and slipped the holster off and handed it to the girl. Like breaking the glass at his wedding, the act seemed to cut him off from everything that had come before it. He was free, without ties, without burdens; light as a feather now, he dropped through the square of missing bridge and fell into the nothingness.
He let go of his knees and reached for the river and that was his last moment of decision before the wind filled his mouth and the water came rushing up and he tried to close his eyes but they were wide with terror and wonder as he plummeted, freely falling as he had done so often in his dreams as a child. He held in his scream and kept his asshole tight and felt the tension in the cord and was starting to slow down as the sound and smell of the water came closer; and then suddenly he stopped and felt the change fall out of his pockets and heard their gentle splash as he started soaring upward and away from the water.
He'd done it.
He wanted to shout. He wanted to phone his family to tell them, "Guess what Daddy just did?" Only, his oldest, Julia, would probably give him the Buster Keaton, and his youngest, Cori, would be upset that he didn't take her with him because everyone always does everything without her. And his wife? Rachel would sigh deeply and wonder what was next, what horrid creature would surface next from the depths of her husband's existential abyss.
But for now he was beaming as they pulled him up through the hole. They helped him onto the catwalk, and there were pats on the back from Icarus and the others. He was proud of himself and looked for the girl, to see her response, to get her approval and his piece back, but he didn't see her.
"Where'd she go?" he asked.
Icarus put his finger to his lips.
"Never mind that bullshit," Bliss said. "I'm a cop. Where'd the girl go?"
"You're a cop?!"
"Don't get simple on me," Bliss said. "Just tell me where the girl is."
"I don't know," Icarus said. "She must have taken off while I was watching you."
He whipped around to her boyfriend.
"What's her name? Where does she live?"
"I don't know, sir."
"You're her fucking boyfriend and you don't know her name?
"I'm not her boyfriend. I never saw her before tonight."
"But she kissed you."
"It was, like, a total surprise. It could just as easily been you, sir."
"I only know her first name," Icarus said. "Li-Jung. Or something like that. That's all anyone tells me. I swear."
Bliss stared out into the night, his buoyancy and exhilaration gone. He felt old and stupid, like someone who would wear the wrong shoes to go bungee jumping.
"Um ... Lenny," Icarus said, his face, plaintive in the moonlight, "do you mind if the others take their turn now? It's going to be morning soon."
DeWayne Reardon knew he shouldn't have picked the guy up, but he'd been driving his taxi for the past twenty minutes looking for a fare without any luck, so he said what the fuckwhich, if he took two seconds to think about it, was what he always said right before he did something really stupid.
It was two o'clock in the morning. He'd come up empty after a few futile tours up Third Avenue. Usually they yielded a drunken yuppie lurching from one of the bars lining Third from Seventy-second to Ninety-sixth. Investor boys, still in their suits, ties undone, jackets slung over their shoulders. Sometimes a couple who'd just met over beers would make out in the back seat while they tried to remember each other's name. But all the yuppies seemed to be walking home that night, so he headed over to Billy's Topless, and sure enough there was a guy leaning against a parking sign who looked like he'd been there all night, summoning his last bit of strength to signal for a cab. DeWayne hesitated. The guy might have wedged his last dollar under the garter belt of one of the dancers, or he might have drunk too much and was about to toss his cookies in the cab. Or both. But it was such a slow night, DeWayne decided to risk it.
What the fuck.
"Where to, pal?"
The guy mumbled something that sounded enough like Seventy-third and Amsterdam for DeWayne to go with it. He drove up Eighth, just catching the light at Twenty-fourth Street on the yellow and accelerating to get up to speed with the staggered greens. He heard the first rumblings at Madison Square Garden and by the time he crossed Thirty-fourth Street past Macy's, the guy has disappeared from the rearview mirror and was bent over, puking his guts out all over the back seat.
"Shit!" DeWayne yelled and pulled over. He leaped out of the cab and ripped the back door open. A puddle of brownish vomit was flowing slowly but with a glacial inevitability down the smooth vinyl seat and into the crack, where it would no doubt remain until the taxi was either junked or driven into the Hudsonwhich DeWayne was now strongly considering doing, leaving this drunken piece of shit in the back seat.
"You dumb fuck!" DeWayne yelled. He grabbed a handful of the guy's hair and shoved his face into the puke. "Bad dog! Bad fucking dog!"
He made the guy take off his jacket and wipe up what he could, but the cab was already reeking with a vile, fetid smell. DeWayne briefly considered the gun he had stashed in the glove compartment. He could shoot the guy, but that wouldn't make the stink go away.
"You're going to have to pay for this," DeWayne said. "Five hundred bucks."
The guy was now sitting on the curb, holding his head in his hands and moaning.
"Get your wallet out. There's a cash machine across the street."
DeWayne tried to lift the guy to his feet, but he was dead weight. Then he started making retching sounds again, and DeWayne quickly backed up.
"Just give me the card and your PIN number. Do it! Do it now!"
"I haven't got a card," the guy said, too drunk to stand but not to lie. DeWayne kicked him once in the kidney with the point of his shoe. The guy started moaning in earnest now.
"I'm goin' call the pohleesh," he said.
"I am the fucking police," DeWayne said.
DeWayne grabbed him by the ear and tried to pull him up. But the guy started yelling like a stuck pig, and DeWayne flashed back to a Puerto Rican kid he'd had once in the back of the patrol car screaming the same way, only in Spanishcuño this and cuño thatwhile DeWayne threatened to wail away at him with his flashlight. But DeWayne had no flashlight now because he wasn't a cop anymore, just a lousy cab driver. So instead, he grabbed one of the guy's fingers and in one quick move bent it back and broke it. The guy instantly curled up like he was on a spring and started moving in a circle like Curly on the Three Stooges. That's when DeWayne saw the red and blue lights, and the patrol car pulled up.
DeWayne raised his hands to his shoulders and showed his empty palms, keeping them that way while the cops approached.
"Holy shit, look who's here, Eddie," one of the cops said. "It's Dee-Wayne. Dee-ranged Dee-Wayne. How the hell are you, man?"
DeWayne only vaguely recognized the cop, but obviously the cop knew him.
"Sonofabitch," the other copEddiesaid. "Howaya, DeWayne?"
DeWayne just nodded and lowered his hands.
"What happened, Dee-Wayne?" the first cop asked. "The cabby have some kind of epileptic fit while he was driving?"
"He's the driver!" the guy on the ground hollered through his tears. "He kicked me! He broke my finger!"
The first cop feigned astonishment.
"Dee-Wayne was driving? The Dee-Wayne Reardon, driving a taxi?"
"How the mighty have fallen," Eddie said.
The guy on the ground propped himself up on his elbow. "He tried to rob me, too!" he shouted.
"Well, I should hope so," Eddie said.
"Lookit my finger!" He held it out, blue and swollen and bending the wrong way.
Before the guy could say anything more, the first cop grabbed a hold of it and snapped it back in place. The guy yelped but then quieted down.
"So, DeWayne," Eddie said, "I didn't know you were driving a cab. I heard you were working security at Woolworth's or something."
"What happened?" the first cop asked, "You try to steal some yarn and didn't realize it was hanging out of your pocket?"
"Or maybe he tried to walk out with a canary under his hat, and the bird started talking."
"Canaries don't talk," DeWayne said.
"Yeah, well, if they did, they wouldn't say anything nice about you."
DeWayne felt his face flooding with anger, but he held it together.
"You gotta learn not to take stuff, DeWayne," Eddie said.
"I never took nothing," DeWayne said.
"The problem is," the first cop said, "the higher-ups thought you did. That's why they've got your badge and gun, right Dee-ranged?"
The drunk was looking from the cops to DeWayne.
"Aren't you going to do something?" he asked, eyes wide.
"That you who puked in the back seat?" Eddie asked him.
The guy nodded.
"Then shut the fuck up."
"It'll happen to you, too, you self-righteous prick," DeWayne said. "You'll see. You'll reach in your pocket one day for a cigarette and it'll be there. Money, pussy, a Rolex, blowwho knows. But something will be there."
"Yeah," the first cop snickered, "well, if anything does wind up in my pocket, Dee-Wayne, I won't be so fucking stupid as to leave it hanging out for half the precinct to see. By the way, who's got the Lexus now? You keep it or'd the bitch get it in the settlement?"
DeWayne hit him with a quick right, but Eddie got between them before he could get off another.
"That's enough, Mike," Eddie said. "You're out of line now. Enough!"
"Get in the cab, motherfucker!" Mike shouted. "Get in and drive away before I write you a ticket for impersonating a human being."
DeWayne got in the cab and tore off. He opened his window and drove with his head leaning out and thought, This is what it's come down to. Six months ago he'd been sitting by his above-ground pool in the backyard of his house in Sunnyside, now he was driving the cab that would lead him to hell. The drunk had obviously been some kind of demon, sent from the netherworld to mark the car with smell so the rest of the devils could sniff him out and torment him further. He wanted to say he'd reached bottom, that it couldn't get any worse. But with a sigh and a shudder, DeWayne Reardon acknowledged that if there was a way to heap more humiliation on himself, he would find it. He was a virtuoso fuckup. That thought mixed with the smell of vomit to make a cocktail of degradation for DeWayne to sip on as he drove off into the night looking for a twenty-four-hour car wash.
Martin Roderick heard the front door to the apartment close and his wife walk in softly in her bare feet. He checked the clock by the bed. It was two in the morning. He stayed motionless as she came into the bedroom and padded into their bathroom, then silently closed the door, not turning on the light until it was completely shut. He heard the water running gently in the sink and, when it was turned off, the snap of her pill bottle, then water againfilling a cup to swallow the pill, no doubt. The gentle click of the light switch was followed by the door opening. In a moment she was next to him, under the sheets.
"Are you all right, Promise?" he asked. He didn't need to know where she'd been. His wife often went out late in the evening, after he'd settled in, usually to see her lover. Tonight she'd been gone a shorter time than usual. Perhaps he'd only played Promise's front nine.
"I took a pill," she said.
"Do you want me to?"
"No," she said. "Don't do anything, Martin. Please."
"Are you sure ...?" He only wanted to rub her back.
"Yes. I'm sure. Please, Martin. Just don't try to do anything."
She turned away from him, and once she did, he didn't dare go near her, touch her. Not tonight. Not any night.
He'd get up early, he decided. Before Graciela arrived. Make Promise some scones. Take the butter out of the fridge so it was at room temperature, so his wife could spread it easily and it would melt quickly into the warm, just-baked pastries. Squeeze her some juice, too.
"It's done," Promise said. Silence. "It's over," she added. "Finally, it's over."
She sighed deeply, and the pill carried her off to sleep. Martin wondered what she'd seen, what she'd done, what was now over. A fight with her lover? He wanted no more of her? Or she of him? His wife's secret life was a great source of wonder for Martin, to the point where he realized it was probably much richer in his imagination than in reality. But tonight she seemed especially burdened. How bad it was, he could only guess, but Martin had the feeling there was a better than fifty-fifty chance he'd have to cancel his 11 A.M. tee time tomorrow.
It was two o'clock in the morning, and Bliss's partner, Ward, was heading home to his apartment when he heard the distinctive pops and reached for his gun. He scanned the block and saw only the Korean deli with its lights on. Ward knew the owner, Kim, who stocked the hot sauce he liked so much, bought cases of it just for him. Ward walked down the street, keeping close to the shuttered wall of storefronts, gun now drawn, but in no great hurry. He didn't want to alarm anyone. He was just a regular guy holding four juice glasses with bright-red tomato designs that he'd just bought from a homeless guy. He used to have the same glasses as a kid. He was hoping he'd make it home without them breaking. Now he wasn't so sure.
As Ward passed the open door of the deli, he saw a young man vault over the counter, landing like a cat on the dirty linoleum. The young man looked up, his face childlike, soft with smooth, round cheeks. What Ward didn't know was that the kid had neglected to take his medication that morning, and jolts of maverick chemicals were at that moment careening through his brain, setting off a Rube Goldberg chain of synapses that resulted in the store owner being shot twice in the head, pop-popthe shots Ward had heard from down the street.
The boy smiled at Ward and raised his gun. As he did, Ward dropped the juice glasses, which shattered on the sidewalk at his feet. The boy fired, hitting Ward in the hand. It felt like a bee sting. Ward raised his gun and shot the kid in the eye, then twice more in the chest as he was falling backward into the candy shelf.
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