“… a well-crafted, enjoyable and intriguing mystery that, for better or worse, is a little heavy on the protagonist’s breast-level view of the world.” –IndieReader
It’s easy to be a nobody when you’ve got nothing to lose, but with his life and potential redemption on the line, can Monk be a somebody people will remember?
A dead man’s money is just waiting to be had. A band of fools and a nobody named Monk Buttman unwittingly find themselves caught in a web of murder and revenge between two unseen factions using them as bait. After a good day ends in murder, Monk is tasked with finding the killer. Why him? He’s a nobody! Stuck between powerful forces he can neither control or understand, Monk must survive both the fools and those pulling the strings while also dealing with the affections of two very different women, the troubled Agnes and the disaffected Judith, not to mention the irritation of his erstwhile partner, Mr. Jones. A beating forces Monk to question his own motives and to confront the past that led him to hide in LA. With love and life on the line, Monk must use his wits and guile for all of them to survive.
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"Who are you?"
"Buttman, Monk Buttman."
"That's what I said, Buttman. I've been here before, you know."
"Are you expected, Mr. Buttman?"
"Then have a seat."
The receptionist, a remarkably undesirable Desiree, pointed to a bank of nondescript chairs lining the back wall. I obliged the woman with the rose tattoo snaking up from under her collar and found my seat. It was a drab room. Here at the law offices of Aeschylus and Associates, I sat. No windows brought in the light of day, no Muzak wafted through the conditioned air, no pictures or artwork marred the bleak walls. I watched and waited as a series of couriers came and went. Most met the standard of overgrown skateboarders or aspiring actors, thin, tanned, and lackadaisical in the art of personal grooming. They were uniformly handsome in the way that young men in LA seemed to be. No women were among them. Their comings and goings were closely controlled by the put-upon Desiree Marshan, who channeled her contempt through monosyllabic commands:
"In the box."
Needless to say, there were no conversations to break up the monotony. Desiree was a hard miserable woman stuck in a back room with the rest of the riff-raff. That included yours truly.
It was not, as they say, a happening place.
Desiree wasn't particularly old, maybe in her early thirties. She had a flat face, a small nose, and cold eyes surrounded by black mascara. Her hair was shorn along the sides, though the left was covered by the brownish blond wave cascading down from the top of her head. It was held in place by a fair amount of lacquer. A small hoop pierced her right nostril, which matched the three attached to each ear, though they were larger. For the purposes of killing time, I decided to concoct a back-story for this woman, which would allow me to be more sympathetic to her unfriendly disposition.
I believe we all need a certain amount of empathy, however acquired.
It was readily apparent, given her disdain for every male she encountered, that her infatuation with the opposite sex had cooled. Desiree had paid the price for her poor choices; you could feel it radiating out in her contempt. All the bozos, who promised the moon and the stars, lived in the rest of us. We were all liars and thieves. I pictured the layabout waiting for his Desiree to bring home the loving, assuming he wasn't off with someone else, while she rotted away in this backwater of A and A. Home was a beer, a toke, a few beautiful words.
You know I love you, baby!
There were no pictures on her desk, a relic of metal and laminated pressboard. A phone, a box, and a laptop; they were her only companions. If she had kids, they weren't with her, in image, anyway. The illustrations tattooed upon her were out of sight, hidden behind the tan blouse; close around her neck and wrists. No wedding ring comingled with the others on her hands. She was definitely trapped. As the old man said, once in the machine, the only way out was with the trash. I thought that was a little severe, watching her from the wall, maybe not.
Our Desiree trapped in an ugly dead-end life.
My reverie was interrupted by the appearance of one Todd Boyer, a noxious up and coming little prick. He had entered from the office door; the one that led to the sunny side of Aeschylus and Associates. I, and my confederates, came in through the stairway door, back by the service elevator.
"Butt Monkman!" My handler had a fondness for rearranging the name I had taken.
"It's Buttman!" That was Desiree. I felt no need to correct him.
"Aren't we all, honey, aren't we all!" Boyer laughed. Todd's hard-on for Desiree was plastered all over his unctuous doughy face. Desiree, on the other hand, gave the distinct impression that what she most wanted to do was gut Boyer like a fish. "Please come with me, Mr. Buttman."
I passed along as wan a smile as I could legitimately produce to the object of Boyer's desire. The delightful Desiree seethed.
Such is life.
Boyer led me through the door from which he came. Down the hall we lumbered, past the mailroom, and into a small room at the end. It contained two chairs. What it was before I couldn't say, maybe a storeroom. Boyer gestured to a chair and we sat down. He handed me a package and leaned back in his chair. He was a medium sized man with nothing physically to recommend him. Only the sharp edges of his eyes stood out. His face and body were of the same soft featureless consistency. I assumed he had a kinder look for those he worked for, the rest of us got the smirk. It was easy to see that our man Todd had plans. He let those of us that came into his orbit know that we were his functionaries and as such quite deserving of the smirk.
"We have a few stops we'd like you to make today ..." Boyer liked to draw out our meetings.
"When and where?" I did not.
"Our Mr. Buttman, all business; what's the rush? You should have plenty of time." He was playing with his red silk tie.
"Of that I have no doubt. When and where?" Boyer sat there with his smirk. I wondered if Desiree had a stiletto. I could save her the trouble.
"Patience," he said at last. Out of his shirt pocket he removed two small pieces of paper and passed them to me, messages for John, out in the valley, and Martin up in the Hills. There was a package for Martin. As for the notes, each piece of paper contained a phrase, which I was to give to the aforementioned. I memorized the addresses and the phrases. I handed the notes back to Boyer. We spent a few minutes contemplating each other in silence. It didn't lead to any profound changes in our opinions of one another. I was a flunky and he was a conniving little prick. He spoke as I was getting out of my chair, "I don't get you, Buttman."
"Why would you need to get me, Boyer?"
"You don't fit the name, you don't fit the job. Something about you doesn't fit. That bothers me."
Funny, it didn't bother me at all. "Take it up with Durant. Anything else?" He tightened up at the name of his boss. That made me smile. "Give my best to Desiree."
"Don't concern yourself with her. She does what I tell her to."
"My concern is for you, smart guy." His eyes closed on me for a moment. Something was churning there behind them.
"I'll need those papers back today."
The smirk was back. It made leaving even better. I followed the mental breadcrumbs that would lead me back out into the sun. I stopped momentarily, for no good reason, by Desiree's desk. She did not look up. The door closed behind me.
There were places to go.
The first stop was out east at a strip mall along I-10, in West Covina. The fact that my second stop was five miles from Boyer and company, while the first was a ways out east; that I'd be going back and forth, did not particularly bother me. I knew it was part of the gig. It would have been more efficient to hit up Martin first, then John, but these little trips required a certain pathology that wasn't obvious to the casual observer. It's what they wanted, it's what they paid me to do. Maybe Boyer thought it would be cute to run me around town, but I wasn't going to get worked up about it.
The breeze carried me and traffic for this time of day wasn't bad. The mass of mechanized lemmings around me rumbled along to whatever cliffs they were destined for. Most were invisible behind the tinted glass wrapped tight on cars these days. I, on the other hand, was exposed to the world behind the wheel of a 1964 Ford Falcon convertible. I liked it that way. It went with the clothes, classic mid-century suits. A few, here and there, would look my way, but most did not. I was just another driver going God knows where.
The car, a light metallic blue, was a gift long ago from a friend of the old man. He didn't need it anymore and knew I wanted it. I had a jones for that period in time, even if I was too young to have been a part of it. Keeping the Falcon running was no problem, this being the land of the automobile. Bernie's shop took care of that. He and I had an arrangement, cash on the counter, easy money. It allowed me to move, in the style I desired, in whatever direction the day might take me.
That direction was to a place called JD Financial, to a man called John. There were no pictures to go by, Just a name. Then again, I had no reason to be concerned one way or another. If a ruse were being perpetrated, I wouldn't know. I was just a lackey, and that was fine by me. There were enough A-types to keep this grand farce going without my being one. I was content being a human message board.
The strip mall housing JD Financial was distinguished by its 70's despair. It lacked both the faux Spanish trapping of its younger neighbors and the mid-century charm of the older. Buttressed between a dry cleaner and a bar, the office consisted mainly of a door and a small window, upon which JD Financial was stenciled. The parking lot was worn and cracked, much like the faces of the bums living by the building. A couple of punks were holding the walls up outside the bar. Inside JD Financial, a woman named Agnes sat behind the desk in the room. There were two chairs by the window and a door behind her leading to parts unknown. It was another happening place.
"And what can I do for you?" Agnes was pleasant enough, easy smile, nice features. She appeared to be in her early forties with a tanned face. Her hair was pulled back and her blouse allowed an admirer a discreet view of her large breasts. Surprisingly, she had on very little makeup.
"I'm here to see John," I told her.
"John?" A wry look followed. "Have a seat. I'll let John know you're here, Mr. ..."
"Buttman, Monk Buttman." Her smile widened.
"Buttman, that's quite a name." She rose and disappeared through the door behind her desk. I sat down. Looking down at my hands, I noted that I needed to trim my fingernails. Agnes returned and came around to the front of her desk. She was wearing black form-fitting slacks that accentuated her curvy hips. The smile was still on her face. "John is next door in the back of the bar. He'll meet you there."
As I stood up, Agnes moved to the side of her desk, watching as I opened the front door, smiling all the while.
"Goodbye, Mr. Buttman."
The punks greeted me as I headed into the bar. They were being mindful of all things happening here at the strip mall. Evidently, there wasn't much action on a Friday morning.
"Something we can help you with, dad?" the blond one asked.
"I doubt it. I'm here to see the man inside." Both were tall and beefy; it was unlikely I'd be strong-arming my way in. The blond seemed more interested in me than the Latino.
"That your car, man?" The Latino pointed to the Falcon.
The blond didn't care about the car. "What the fuck do you want in here, dad?" He moved closer.
"He wants to go inside, dumbass." Agnes had stepped outside. "Leave him alone. He has work to do." The blond, surprisingly quiescent, stepped back and opened the door. Apparently, Agnes wasn't to be trifled with.
"Go on in, dad." I didn't care for the reference. I didn't think I was that old.
"Thanks." I nodded to Agnes as I went in. I kept the image of her with her hands on her hips, smiling, in my head for some time.
Inside was a large room filled with booths, round tables and an assortment of chairs. I couldn't quite discern what covered the walls. The bar was off to the right flanked by what passed for a stage. A solitary mic stand stood next to an abused tweed covered amp. A string of colored lights hung above the stage to lend a measure of ambiance. The room was dark other than a light or two illuminating the bar. Fortunately, there were enough mirrors and shiny objects to keep the place from being completely enveloped in darkness. At the bar, a man stood watching a flat-screen TV with whatever passed for entertainment. I assumed John was somewhere in the back beyond the bar. As I approached, the bartender motioned for me to have a seat.
"It'll be a few minutes." He was short and old, at least eighty, with a head of thick white hair. He wore a white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, "Name's Rey, with an e."
"What'll ya have, Monk?"
"Whiskey, with a little soda thrown in."
It was at this point that the murmur from the back office grew into distinguishable voices. Rey was unconcerned. He handed me a glass filled with my request and returned his attention to the silenced TV, where a group of half-naked men and women were running around the desert. The voices behind us were unhappy about the wait. They had things that needed to get done. The group on TV appeared to be looking for shelter from an impending storm. The voices were running out of time. The whiskey was smooth. Rey changed the channel, football from the Seventies. The voices lightened as the door to the back office opened.
"Patience, my friends, patience ..." Four men emerged, three black, one white, all impeccably dressed. The three black men wore suits that shimmered in the diffused light of. Two had close-cropped hair, but the third had a glorious Afro that sent me back to my youth, back to the good old days.
"Our schedule is tight, Johnny D, we ain't got time for any last-minute changes. The word is out, and our word is on the line. We need the financing now. I don't like having to wait when we were told everything had been arranged." The one talking wore thick-framed glasses. He appeared slightly older than the other two.
"It will be ready as I told you. I need you to be patient, just a few more days. I guarantee it'll be worth it," the white guy, John, brought out his best smile as he ushered the three towards the front door. The man with the Afro noticed I was looking.
"What's with you, brother?" That too sent me back.
"Just admiring the fro." He stopped for a moment to make out my intent, but John kept them moving.
"I have other matters to contend with, gentlemen. Give my regards to Mr. Jones." With that they were back in the sunlight, beyond the blond and Latino gatekeepers. John headed my way. Rey handed him a drink.
"This is Mr. Buttman," Rey said with a snort as he resumed his place behind the bar.
"Mr. Buttman, our esteemed emissary. What greeting brings you to my door this fine day?" The thin dapper man put the drink to his lips. He was not what I expected, but then, what did I expect? I looked at Rey as a way to determine if I should spill my communiqué now or wait. John understood the cue. "This way, if you please, Mr. Buttman."
The door led into a well-worn office. John sat behind the desk as I took my place in one of the leatherettes facing it. The desk, other than a phone and a pen, had nothing on it. A standing lamp in the corner produced just enough light that we were able to see one another. I took a sip of whiskey. "You're something of an anomaly, Mr. Buttman," he said this while sipping his own drink.
"In what way?"
"I like to know who I'm dealing with no matter who or what they might be, so I always do a little digging. With you, there's little there. No history beyond a few years ago. I find that interesting, especially in this day and age. Maybe something's up, maybe not ... we'll let that pass for now. You've been vouched for, so to speak." The man took another sip. "Yet I'm curious. You're no spring chicken; those years went somewhere. Most men your age have a trail a mile long. It's curious that you don't. I get why they use you, but now that I see you, I wonder ... "The man had doubts, and it didn't matter what Boyer or Durant or whomever his contact said to assure him of my value, he had to see for himself. "The message?"
"The cart at the abattoir is blue. The pears arrive at two." Whatever that meant, it made the thin dapper man smile, then sit back.
"Mean anything to you?"
"No, I'm just here to spread the good word." I finished the last of the whiskey and soda. "Anything else I can do for you?" This was generally my way of saying I had nothing else to add. I wasn't here to chitchat.
"No, that's all." We stood and I made my way to the door. "Goodbye, Mr. Buttman." I nodded and closed the door behind me.
Agnes was at the bar. Rey's attention continued to be held by the glowering box. I took a step in her direction, to which she replied in kind. We walked together to the door. She took the glass from my hand. I watched as her eyes made one last pass up and down yours truly.
"Tell me, are you attached in any serious way, Monk Buttman?" Her hand found the sleeve of my jacket.
"Not in any serious way ... why do you ask?" That smile was bright and alluring. It channeled an impulse I found hard to resist, to move closer.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Where Fools Dare to Tread"
Copyright © 2018 David William Pearce.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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