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YOU DON'T JUDGE IN this business. You judge, you climb aboard the emotional roller coaster. It takes you up and down and around and around and leaves you off right where you started.
You don't judge, you don't get distracted. Your attention wanders for two seconds, your man slips, you spend the next five hours staring at an empty rabbit hole.
Trouble was, I did judge. I was following a guy, a matrimonial job, Eddie Gill, thirty-seven, four kids, squiring a sixteen-year-old to an after-hours joint and then to a five-dollar motel on the truck route.
Now, if he'da been thirty-two and she was eighteen and it was only two kids and he took her someplace nice, I might have said what the hell. I was thirty-two myself and divorced. Who was I to talk?
But I had a daughter who was going to be ten, and I didn't want to think of her growing up in a world of Eddie Gills. Plus, I had listened to the wife's side of it, and just the suspicion was giving a good woman a lot of pain.
So, okay, I judged the guy.
God, it was hot. That summer, '59, was a scorcher. The county had opened Durand Beach for night swimming. Driving past, I could see the glow of the big floodlights groping the black enamel of Lake Ontario, whole families of ghosts wading in the tepid water.
All the hot dog stands and frozen custard joints along the shore were mobbed. Beach resorts were crowded from Hamlin all the way out to Sodus. About midnight, Earl Clear and I, using a leapfrogtail, had followed our subject's car to a stand he owned that said EDDIE GILL'S TEXAS HOTS and GROUND ROUND in big letters. He wasn't hard to stick to. He drove a new apple-green Edsel, with that grille that looked like an Olds sucking a lemon, the square rear end, and the chrome in all the wrong places.
I parked across the street and watched the carhops running around in their short flounced skirts. Gill was a heavy, wheezy man who couldn't keep his shirttails tucked in. His elaborate comb job failed to cover his bald dome. He spent some time crabbing at the counterman and chewing out the cook. Then he sat down to count the night's receipts.
He doused the lights on the sign and the staff went home, all except one of the waitresses. She slipped into the ladies' and came out wearing a party dress tight enough to show the world she had more body than she knew what to do with. She was coltish, long in the thigh, unsteady on her high heels, a kid auditioning for adulthood. While he locked up, she laid one hand on her belly and pirouetted, anticipating a dance. Gill caught her from behind and ground his hips against her slim backside.
She held on to his arm as they walked to his car. I propped the telephoto lens on my dash and got them passing under the streetlight.
Earl and I followed them to a Polynesian restaurant on Clover, one of those places with tiki lamps and bead curtains. Gill gave no sign he suspected a tail.
They were inside just long enough to polish off a couple of mai tais and a plate of sweet and sour. Next stop was the Tic Tac Club on Winton Road. I was surprised—the Tic Tac seemed a little classy for a guy like Gill. It was a place that catered to high rollers, moneyed playboys, and politicians on the make. It was done up like a Roman circus, with plaster statues of satyrs peeing into goldfish ponds and a twelve-foot-high Bacchus covered in pigeon droppings.
I steered into the parking area of the shopping strip opposite.
"His mind's on her," I told Earl when he pulled alongside. "You might as well turn in." Earl's older than me and he needs his rest.
"Why not bust his ass? That kid's jail bait."
"If I still had a badge, maybe."
"What badge? Need a badge to kick a guy's teeth in?"
He was right and we both knew it, but I said, "Client's paying me cash. I watch, I report. I look, I don't judge."
"You're the boss," he said. He palmed his suicide knob and disappeared.
My eyes fell into a sentry rhythm. You can't stare, you can't look away. I checked a woman waiting for her clothes to spin in a late-night launderette in the strip, her legs crossed, I looked back to the club. I watched a green-and-blue parrot gnawing its perch in the window of a pet store, I looked at the stars piercing the hot haze. Near the entrance opposite, Michelangelo's David was glancing at the sky himself and looking like he'd give a week's pay for a fig leaf.
I checked the dashboard dock. I saw two women emerge from the Tic Tac, laughing as they lit cigarettes, the guy with them a dead ringer for John Cameron Swayze. I noticed the woman in the laundry holding up a black brassiere, I switched back to the club. A box of Tide, a nervous hamster, a gum wrapper in the gutter.
The gaudy Edsel was parked right across from me. I guess Gill was the type of guy they'd intended it for, a loser who wanted to show off on the cheap.
When my party came out, she was having trouble walking and he was doing things you don't do to a girl in public. I snapped some more photos. This was a private eye's meat and potatoes.
I know in the books the detective sneers at matrimonial work. In real life, it's your meal ticket. Mix up sex, love, hate, jealousy, and suspicion, throw in some fear—it's a stew that brings them in the door eager to pay hard cash for a scrap of certainty.
He tumbled her into his car, thumbed his shirt under his waistband, and drove to a long brick building with MOTEL in lipstick-red neon. He already had a key to room number 6. I waited in the parking lot of a used car dealer across the road.
I hadn't been sleeping well. Was there a time when I did sleep well? Those hot summer nights I spent a lot of hours lying alone on damp sheets and wondering what it all added up to. As soon as I turned off my engine, a wave of fatigue washed over me.
I poured a last swallow of iced coffee into the plastic cup of my Thermos and shook out two tiny pills from a brown glass vial. I put them on my tongue and washed them down.
I'd picked up the Benzedrine habit in the army. Bennies were your friend when you needed to stay awake, or needed to goose your morale, or needed to keep the darkness at bay. They put a knife edge on your mind, at least for a little while. Later was a different story, but behind a couple of bennies, later was beside the point.
The metallic taste filled my mouth. I gritted my teeth as time turned into a polished rail and my thoughts began to accelerate, steel on steel.
I found myself thinking about Korea, nights in Asia, guys I had known over there who were missing every one of these moments that would have been their lives. And for what?
One of those high-pitched voices that whispers in your ear said, You know for what, Ike. For a trip to the end of night. For a vision of something wild. See the world, they said. Well, you saw the world.
For some reason, I remembered reading about the first white man to reach western New York, a Frenchman named Étienne Brûlé. Got this far and heard the drums and went native. The story was he'd had a falling out with the Hurons. They killed him. I don't know if they cooked him, but they ate him.
I steered my thoughts to Gloria, to her dimples, her birthday coming up in a couple of days. Ten already. She had told me she would be a teenager because it was two digits. Jesus.
I thought about a girl I had known during school, before Eileen, and wondered what had happened to her. I even thought about Eileen for a little while, imagined ways I could have kept my marriage from going down the drain.
You think a lot of things, waiting. I turned on the radio low. I was glad to hear the DJ on WHAM playing Billie Holiday. That station, it was usually Perry Como, the human tranquilizer.
Billie sang "Travelin' Light" and, right after, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." Oo, oo, oo. It was a voice with the surface stripped away, all heart. The voice of somebody who's way out in front of the parade.
Then the announcer said the music was a tribute. Billie Holiday had passed away. Dead at forty-four. It didn't seem possible.
I thought about a lot of things that night. And for a time, I didn't think, just listened to the crickets as they crinkled the air, just watched a lazy orange slice of moon float down behind the saw-toothed roof of a factory building.
Somebody once said it's not the places you go, it's the odd hours you keep—a church up the street in the early morning fog can be as magical as Notre Dame in Paris. That was another thought that wandered through my mind as I watched the air go pearly over the motel and then watched the sign begin to leach pink into the eastern sky.
When they came out, the girl was gripping her elbows and walking with her head down. Gill held his hand on her neck and steered her toward his car. I should have taken him apart. He'd just stolen her innocence, which was probably all she had that was worth half a damn.
I followed them across town to a rundown section off West Main. He let her out on Cicero Street and drove away.
I was the only one who watched her mount the sagging porch steps of a disheveled two-family house. She walked slowly, as if she were climbing into a bleak future.
I DROVE TO MY apartment on Oxford Street and took the shower that would have to stand in for a night's sleep. I turned the water to cold and stayed under the needles until I felt relaxed and my breathing slowed to normal. I put on a clean light-blue shirt, a smoke-colored summer-weight suit, and a narrow-brimmed fedora.
Down at the stainless-steel Empire I ordered two poached on buttered rye toast, a small T-bone, home fries, and a broiled grapefruit. I put away three cups of coffee and two Luckies, enjoying that feeling you get, when you've been awake all night, that you're a step ahead of the suckers who are just getting up.
The traffic in Rochester had been getting bad the last few years. Everybody had a car. The city was busy dumping federal money into six-lane bypasses that would solve the problem. For now, we were stuck with congestion that ground to a standstill nearly every rush hour.
Newsboys hawked papers to drivers locked in the jam. I bought one and glanced at it as we inched along. I read about how Eisenhower wasn't going to let the steelworkers push him around. I was
Excerpted from MOBTOWN by Jack Kelly. Copyright © 2002 by Jack Kelly. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1959 Rochester, New York private detective Ike Van Savage understands that the matrimonial assignments pay the bills so he never refuses any of them. Currently his client wants evidence that her husband Eddie Gill of Gill¿s Texas Hots & Ground Round is cheating. Ike takes photos of Eddie with an underage waitress that his wife can use to blackmail her philandering spouse. <P>His next client Vicky Petrone wants Ike to find material on her husband that she plans to use to blackmail her spouse into not murdering her. Vicky expects her spouse, local mob chieftain Joe, to kill her as he has done to two previous wives. Ike also works on an arson case that he thinks ties back to the Petrone mob if he can stay alive long enough to prove the link. <P>MOBTOWN is an exciting historical noir that never slows down as Ike bounces from case to case until he realizes all three are connected. The story line will remind readers of the movie Chinatown, but in upstate New York instead of Southern California. Ike is a wonderful lead character whose precocious almost ten-year-old daughter humanizes him so that he never becomes a caricature of Sam Spade. Fans of historical urban noirs will relish a trip to Jack Kelly¿s hometown. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 14, 2002
Jack Kelly¿s latest novel, Mobtown, is rock-solid noir, Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler style, or a like a Humphrey Bogart film. The characters are well defined, the setting is vivid and the mystery is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with pieces lying all over the place waiting to be fit together.<br><br> A cop kicked off the force for having morals, Ike Van Savage turns private investigator working the city streets of Rochester, New York. He¿s hired by a woman who wants to find out if her husband is fooling around. An Irish man hires Van Savage to find out for sure who is setting fire to his slum-rental properties. A good looking dame has hired him afraid her husband is going to try and kill her. The seriousness of this problem¿her husband is part of the Arm in Rochester. He¿s well connected. He¿s with the Mob.<br><br> During a heat wave where temperatures fluctuate consistently in the high nineties with unbearable humidity, Van Savage is sucked into the underworld of organized crime and this one case could wind up being his last. He finds out the truth about who was behind having him taken off the force. People are trying to kill him.<br><br> Mobtown is poetically written in that classic noir style. Machine gun sentences¿pop, pop, pop, pop¿riddle the pages. Jack Kelly provides constant clever and witty dialogue. He knows how to build intense scenes and carry his characters through them. An exciting and entertaining story. I would love to see more of Ike Van Savage.<br>--Phillip Tomasso III, author of Third Ring, Tenth House & Mind PlayWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.