Otis Moon

Otis Moon

by Kevin O'Kendley

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466955783
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 09/21/2012
Pages: 406
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

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OTIS MOON


By Kevin O'Kendley

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Kevin O'Kendley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4669-5578-3


Chapter One

The steel eye watched me. The muzzle caught a diamond of light on its beveled edge and winked. I cocked the hammer. The sound was jarring and then left eddies of echoes whispering through the room.

I put the pistol to my head. All I had to do was pull the trigger.

I snorted. Who'd find me first? The roaches or the rats? What would my sneaky landlord steal to make up for the back rent I, uh, had neglected to pay? The corner of my mouth twitched. I'd leave the sneaky stiff plenty of dirty socks, empty rye bottles, and that spittoon I borrowed, er, stole from the lobby.

My finger tightened on the trigger. I could hear the blood pulsing in my temple—bumpba, bumpba, bumpba—like an excited dog's heartbeat through a stethoscope.

Smoke wafted up from the half-gone cigarette clenched in my teeth. It stung my eyes. I sneezed. Wow, the gat didn't go off.

And the moment was over.

So I uncocked the killing machine.

Except for tattered Skivvies with little red hippos on them, I was pretty much naked. I laughed at myself but not for too long or too loud. I mean it wasn't that I was bughouse yet.

I walked over and put the gat gently on the messy desktop. "Maybe some other time," I said to the gun, and a dark hand squeezed my heart and then reluctantly let go.

I saw a roach scuttle under the radiator. I grabbed the wooden mallet and spun away from the desk. The cockroach disappeared, but I was on the hunt now.

I hunkered down. I looked. I listened. Nothing.

I tapped the bung hammer on the brutalized floor. I faked a move toward the desk, crawled quickly toward the radiator, and then veered to the corner.

Nothing.

Still on all fours, I squinted back across the one-bulb room. There was no sign of the pest. I pulled my nose, rubbed an eye, and puffed on a Lucky Strike like a Pennsylvania coal train.

I got up, scratched my fanny, looked blankly at the bung hammer, and began muttering to myself using the Edgar Bergen method. I was such a good ventriloquist that a qualified voter might have thought that the mallet was actually doing the talking. This, of course, would be the same voter that was responsible for Prohibition.

I was hunting cockroaches. It took patience and cunning. It was no game for amateurs. Heck, it was what I did good.

I turned the radio on. I dialed up the volume to drown out a torturous drip in the ceiling. Don Wilson crooned, "In a cigarette, it's the taste that makes the difference, and you can taste the difference in a Lucky Strike."

I mimicked Don, "So mild. So smooth. So firm and fresh. A better taste in every puff." I took a deep drag and was rewarded with a wracking cough. When I stopped shuddering, I heard Don trumpet, "The Lucky Strike program starring Jack Benny."

I could use a good laugh. I needed a drink too, though it didn't have to be good. I grabbed a bottle of Four Roses and took a short snort.

It wasn't top-shelf, but, brother, it wasn't bad.

I was looking forward to the show that night. Mary Livingstone, Jack, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, and the rest of the Benny gang usually managed to chisel out a smile on my flat craw with a medley of happy patter. Jack and his friends didn't live in the same world I did, and I really admired them for it.

I inspected a legion of goosebumps as they ran in place around a mangled shrapnel scar on my right thigh. That's when I saw it—a giant cockroach, which looked a lot like Fatty Arbuckle in his heyday. It wandered right up next to where my right little toe used to be before I lost it in Spain.

Ready, aim. I leapt and swung the hammer. Bam! The bug disappeared.

I checked the mallet head. There was nothing there. I felt something on the bottom of my foot. Yeah, there it was—a dead roach molded to my instep.

Lying to myself, I said, "That's the way I planned it. Faked it with the bung hammer. Got it with the deformed foot. Yowsa!"

I leaned toward the whiskey bottle and whispered to it, "Another drink, maestro." Feeling almost victorious, I growled at all the cockroaches wherever they were hiding in the room, "You bugs better look out. I'm battin' about .086—that's good enough to play in Cleveland."

Then, the Fish Man interrupted everything.

That's how life works. Every time you're just about to relax, to enjoy something, anything at all, a Fish Man or an Armadillo Dame shows up and ruins the works.

I didn't even hear the thing come in. He was suddenly just there. He must have opened the door—which I had forgotten to lock—in the same blink of an eye that I got my first trophy kill of the evening. Hey, banging beer-barrel bung hammers on hardwood floors was as noisy as that Austrian runt Adolph Hitler ranting in a Bavarian beer hall.

Or anyway, that was a good excuse for being caught flat-footed.

The Fish Man filled the doorway like one of those Nipponese sumo wrestlers I'd read about in Life Magazine. His overcoat dripped rain onto my Baby Snooks welcome mat. His galoshes were shiny with water.

"I, uh, gotta roach problem," I said inanely.

He looked down at the mat, seemed perplexed, and then shone his peepers on me. "Otis Moon?" he asked in a hoarse voice.

I nodded slowly. Cold and tired, I stood there in my boxer shorts with a dead cockroach on the bottom of my foot and a mallet in my hand, glaring at him for interrupting all my fun.

The mug's eyes bulged, watery and translucent. He had sneering knockwurst lips. His every breath created s slight sucking gasp, and there was a sheen of sweat or rain on the domed forehead like the slime on a fish. Yeah, that was it. Counting the misshapen knobs on the mug's jaw and cheekbone, he looked like Lon Chaney playing the unwanted offspring of a sturgeon and a blowfish.

He inspected me as if I just jumped off the rotunda at city hall and he was real curious about what I had for breakfast. He'd make this puckered trout ring with his mouth as his mind worked. An O form would take shape and then collapse into a straight line. His unwinking eyes seemed to expand and contract, keeping time with the lips. He was a real piece of work if you liked deep-sea creatures, the kind that lived way down where there were no neon lights and no saloons with hard liquor.

He surprised me when he didn't stick out a slippery flipper to shake my hand. He just smiled obscenely and said, "My name is Charles Hodkins. "Then, he stood there with the eyes, the lips, and the breathing.

Outside, there was a quick flash of lightning followed by an explosive slam of thunder. The Fish Man cocked his head. It was an odd gesture—half sea lion, half Oliver Hardy. I reached over and turned the radio box off, put the pistol and my faithful bung hammer in a side drawer, and took a deep breath.

This had better be good. I didn't want to miss the Jack Benny show for nothing.

Hodkins took a good look at the clothes drying on the chattering radiator and the whiskey bottle on the desk and asked, "Sir, are you drunk?" His eyes finally blinked, or maybe they did. It was hard to tell.

I looked at the bottle of Four Roses, passed a short sigh of self-control, and answered wearily, "Not yet, brother."

I retrieved a dirty pair of pants, shirt, and socks out of the middle desk drawer. I peeled the roach off the bottom of my foot. I put my clothes on. The Fish Man watched me intently. The whole situation was beginning to seem like a Franz Kafka cartoon by Warner Brothers.

Finally, he nodded mechanically. "Can I sit down?" He panned a contemptuous appraisal of my beat-up guest chair.

"You didn't knock," I said, irritated and, I'll admit, embarrassed too. "But you ask to sit down. What does that tell me about you?" Not that I cared very much, even though he had to be a potential customer. I mean, if he were a hired killer or a process server,I'd have already been dead or on my way to court. See, that's called deductive reasoning, and it's a highly prized and learned skill that comes from hunting cockroaches.

I sat down behind the desk. And without removing his overcoat, he followed suit, collapsing into the chair like a mammoth-sized accordion.

"Sure don't make 'em like that anymore, huh?" I said.

"What?" he grumbled.

"Chairs," I said.

He grunted. Or he growled. He sputtered petulantly, like a kid in the backseat of a Buick on a long trip, "Nice office."

Underneath the hanging ceiling light with an uncovered bulb, my poverty was dimly illuminated. The office was a Spartan wasteland: three chairs, a beat-up desk, and two navy filing cabinets, one filled with more dirty clothes. There was a bucket in the corner of the big room, catching rainwater, which funneled down from the building's flat roof. I'd have to talk to the landlord again, if, or after, I paid the two months' back rent I owed. The floral wallpaper was yellowed and peeling. My Spanish shoulder holster hung from a coat rack in a corner along with a cheap trench coat and a decent fedora. My good tie was at the cleaners, having vomit stains removed.

I shrugged. Spain had cured me of any idealistic image of myself or of anything else. The room and I were on the frontier of civilization, and we both knew it.

Another blast of thunder rattled the panes of the two windows. The Pacific storm was moving inland but not fast enough. I was still cold, and a horde of attacking goosebumps was now begetting their progeny over my entire body. I coughed. The telephone rang.

I shrugged at my guest and picked up the black headset. "Moon Investigations," I said. I looked at the Fish Man and made a yakking motion with my fingers and thumb.

He turned away and looked out my window into the dark at the brick wall of the neighboring building. A couple of lights illuminated the outline of window shades like crypt doors open just enough to squeeze out some light from hell. I followed his gaze. I didn't notice anything different about the dingy scenery from ten minutes earlier, which was the last time I tried to catch the view changing.

"Yeah. I know. You'll get it," I said flatly into the phone. Then I flinched. I held the headset away from my ear for a minute. A frail's voice could be heard screeching.

"The check's in the mail," I said and hung up.

"You're the detective," the Fish Man said. "What's that tell you about me?"

I looked at the mug wonderingly. He had found me in my underwear with a beer-barrel hammer in my hand, smashing bugs. There'd been a loaded Spanish pistol on my desk. He heard me tell some frail that the check was in the mail. I was drinking cheap rye, really cheap rye. Why was he still there?

"What's what tell me about you?"

"My asking to sit down," he replied, annoyed.

I wanted to get drunk. I got out two Portuguese pony glasses from my top desk drawer. I poured myself a jigger. The Fish Man shook his head no to a drink.

It had been a long, wet, and miserable day. I'd spent most of it trailing two, ah, suspected pansies that, in the heavy mist and then rain, resembled the silhouettes of a pear and a parking meter, which were the names I gave them. I christen all my pals. When the pear spotted me, he tossed a rock at me. I ducked but lost my hat. The job wasn't jake and mattered less to me than a speech about punctual trains by that weasel Mussolini, but the fedora on the spit-slimed sidewalk did.

A dead friend gave me that hat.

There'd been a nasty pansy raid on Polk Street just days earlier—if it made the paper, you know it had to be bad. Some coppers had gone too far: one pansy was in a coma and another paralyzed from the neck down. There was an ugly mood in some of the shadows off Market Street. I didn't want any part of it. I didn't want to be a pansy hunter either. On one level, "live and let live" was one of Otis Moon's fundamental rules of the universe, but yeah, on another, it was full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.

"It tells me that you're indecisive," I said with no enthusiasm, checking for any telltale flakes of dandruff on the Fish Man's shoulders. "You can't decide whether you wanna fake being polite to me or whether that would be beneath your dignity." I gulped the shot. It went down rough and hot.

His mean eyes narrowed. "You've gotten me all wrong."

I could see his lips move. I could hear his words. But his eyes didn't follow along. It was like a player piano at a silent film show that pounded out the Charleston during a love scene.

He said, "I'm in a delicate spot. My wife has run away."

I chain-lit another Lucky and dropped the butt into a butt-choked water glass. I didn't offer him a smoke. I only had one left, and I wouldn't have given it to Franklin or Eleanor even for a public work's grant.

"Hmm," I muttered neutrally. "Run off, huh?"

"That's right. But this isn't just a, ah, missing person problem. She's—how should I put this—had a history of mental disturbance."

I ran my worn-out hand over my worn-out pan. "Go to the buttons yet?"

"The police?"

I nodded.

His eyes bulged again. "I'd prefer not to go to the police. I don't want to embarrass my wife."

I nodded again. I got a strange feeling—which took shape in my gut like an uncooked Philly pretzel—that this was all a torturous joke and that I'd pulled the trigger ten minutes earlier and was now dead, in hell or in West Fresno.

"Who gave you my name?" I asked.

"I found it in the directory."

I guessed it was possible to find a half-naked man holding a bung hammer, smashing cockroaches, and drinking whiskey in a telephone book, but why look?

The phone rang, again, matching my weekly quota. "Moon Investigations. Uh, yeah. Well, I have somebody here right now." I looked at the Fish Man. He looked out of the window, again. Nothing out there would ever change, no matter how much I kept hoping it would.

I said, very sincerely, into the telephone, "I'd rather speak to you in private. Now's not a good time, ma'm. Yeah. Okay. If you say so. Yeah. It's your nickel. Uh, he's cheating on you. No no. It's not her. Well, no that's not a good sign. Can't we do this in private?"

My neck was warming up. I squirmed under the questioning. I noticed that—wow—my clothes really smelled. PU brother, I certainly stunk.

"Can I call you back? Huh? Okay.Well,uh"—I dialed the volume of my voice down low—"it's not another woman. It's a man. Mrs. Ade? Mrs. Ade? Hello?"

She dropped the phone way up on Nob Hill, but I could hear it all the way down in the Tenderloin. Mrs. Ade's life had just changed forever.

I gently put the phone down. I felt sorry for Mrs. Ade. Her husband was a Nancy Pants. I wondered how she didn't know that about a man she was married to. Of course, my track record with wives was no better, but at least, I was safely divorced.

I looked across my desk at the Fish Man. His aquatic glare delved into me. I felt a chill and then anger. This mug wasn't a gee who kissed lost puppies at the dog pound. He looked like a bagman who hit them on the head with a ball bat when their time was up or earlier if he could get away with it.

I ran my fingers through my hair. I sighed. Did it really matter? Who was I, the King of England? Besides, my ex-wives claimed that I was a real poor judge of character, which might explain how and why I got married twice. So maybe I shouldn't trust my own judgment based on nothing more than some mug's fishy peepers when I'd marry any frail in high heels.

Oh, the web we weave ...

"You sayin' your wife's gotta be crazy to ditch you?" I asked skeptically. It was a cheap dig and spoiled my impression of myself, again.

The bulbous eyes glittered. The wet breathing filled the room for a moment like the pounding of Poe's "tell-tale heart." He said slowly, "My wife's sick. She's run off. I'll pay you a fair and goodly amount to find her. Are you interested or not?" He studied his fingernails in an oddly feminine way, continued to breathe, and waited for my answer.

Goodly? Whoever said goodly? I let him wait.

I figured that the Fish Man had been in America for a long time, though he was no native son. I was sure of that. There was a trace of an accent there, maybe not enough for me to make a call but enough for me to suspect that he was no Dagwood Bumstead from Kansas.

"You gotta an accent?" I asked. "Can't place it. What is it?"

"New Jersey," he answered succinctly, with about as much of a New Jersey accent as Ronald Coleman. He didn't even smile at his own joke.

"Jersey, huh?" I pushed the bottle away, pulled my nose, and looked at the mug's very expensive suit, the shoes that cost more than I did, and the diamond ring on the sausage-stubby and manicured pinkie that could have been a necklace for Betty Boop. It didn't matter anymore why he was still there. Why he put up with my bad manners? He'd hooked me. It was about dough. I figured he had some, and I needed some. So morality and trust weren't the main issues. But to be fair, it was also about staying busy, working, eating, and having some self-respect.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from OTIS MOON by Kevin O'Kendley Copyright © 2012 by Kevin O'Kendley. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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