Thursday, May 25, 2017

death in the rain - 34. green


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part thirty-four of forty-four






joe b and sonia arrived early for the countess’s party.

it was a clear night, with a full moon. a number of cars were already parked at the bottom of a steep hill. a long curving staircase led up to the countess’s house .

a few figures - probably chauffeurs - were slouched around the cars.

sonia parked behind the last car. a tall man with a white shirt and a black bow tie approached as joe and sonia got out of their car.

“i can park closer to the house if you wish, miss,” he told sonia.

“that won’t be necessary,” sonia told him.

joe knew the man. his name was green. neither joe nor green showed any recognition of each other.

“we can drive you up the hill if you don’t want to take the stairs,“ green told sonia.

“that won’t be necessary either,” sonia smiled.

joe and sonia began climbing the stairs. joe thought he felt green’s eyes on him as the ascended.

but green was not a curious person, and although he thought he might have recognized joe, he did not give him any thought.

green went back to his post - a folding chair at the foot of the hill - and recommenced the musings joe and sonia had interrupted.

“i knew that guy,” joe told sonia when they were halfway up the hill.

“you mean the guy parking the cars? so?”

“i’m just saying.”

“i wouldn’t worry about it. we are not here under false pretenses. we were invited.”


to be continued


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

death in the rain - 33. the hideout


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part thirty-three of forty-four






they had been driving for sixteen hours straight, and it was dark when they got to the hideout.

duke snd pee wee pulled in just minutes after mickey and hank. the two cars had stayed within sight of each other almost all the way from tennessee.

johnny was in the back seat of the car behind mickey and hank. mickey lit a cigarette.

hank grunted in that way he had and opened the passenger side door. he looked back at johnny as he got out.

“what are you waiting for? help me unload this stuff.”

“maybe you should see if the door is open,” said johnny.

“if the door isn’t open, we’ll break it open,” hank replied. “now, help us unload this stuff.”

johnny crawled out of the car. he could see duke and pee wee getting out of the front seat of the other car and mary and frankie dragging themselves out of the back.

it was a dark night, with not much moon or stars. kind of cold, but at least it wasn’t raining.

johnny watched mickey go up to the door and push it open. like it had not even been locked.

johnny kept his eyes on the house to see if any lights came on.

hank opened the trunk of the car. “i’m not telling you again,” he told johnny . “let’s move this stuff.”

over at the other car, duke and pee wee were watching as mary and frankie began taking bags and boxes up to the house.

a light went on in the house. that’s something, johnny thought.

“make sure you get your kits,” johnny heard duke tell mary and frankie.

it took almost half an hour to get the trunks emptied and the stuff carried into the house. hank and duke mostly watched as johnny, mary, and frankie did the heavy lifting. pee wee helped a little bit, and mickey was roaming around in the house, checking things.

they were going to be in the house for eight days, until mickey, hank, duke and pee wee finally pulled off the job they had been planning for almost a year.

the job that would put them on easy street.

34. green

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

death in the rain - 32. walk in the rain


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part thirty-two of forty-four






what are you doing, billy?

looking out the window at the rain.

what about your novel?

what about it?

oh, i just thought you might like to work on it a little more. mr johnson and mr jefferson are both quite interested in it, you know.

no, billy replied, i did not know.

well, they are. i spoke to mr johnson just last night, and he was very impressed.

as i recall, said billy, mr lincoln was not the last bit impressed.

mr lincoln is not the only member of the council.

he is the only one we ever see.

yes, but there are others as well. and who knows, we may get to see some of the others some day.

some day.

you never know. so i think it is a good idea to keep on with the novel. but like i said before, maybe with some more sympathetic characters.

i don’t feel like it today.

what do you feel like today?

going for a walk in the rain.

well all right, but don’t stay out too long or get too wet.

maybe i won’t come back at all.

oh, billy, you know you will come back, you have no place to go.

if you say so.

i tell you what, while you are going for your walk in the rain, i will look your novel over, and maybe make a few suggestions, what do you say to that?

whatever, if that’s what you want.

billy got up and headed for the door.

don’t forget your hat and coat, and your scarf. it can get chilly out there.

33. the hideout


Monday, May 22, 2017

death in the rain - 31. dooley


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part thirty-one of forty-four






white found dooley where she was usually to be found, at the pinball arcade behind the abandoned warehouse.

it was the last pinball arcade in the city, maybe in the world.

there was no one in the place except dooley and the wrinkled old man reading a magazine behind the counter where tokens to insert in the pinball machines could be purchased.

dooley did not look up or say anything when white approached. but she did not really look that interested in her game.

“you know,” said white, looking around the arcade, “it seems like everywhere you go these days it’s empty. like where i work, over at wendy’s. and the streets, everywhere.”

“maybe because it’s snowing,” dooley answered.

“but it’s all the time. they say there are billions of people in the world, but where are they? i never see them.”

“you came over here in the snow to tell me that?”

“no, no, listen, i heard something something tonight i thought you might be interested in.”

dooley did not answer, but white proceeded to tel her about the parts of the conversation between joe b and murphy that she had overheard at wendy’s.

“what do you think of that?”

“interesting. kind of interesting,” dooley said, without looking up from her game.

“kind of interesting?”

“i figured there would be something like this.”

“you did?”

“sure. it’s the system. the system is collapsing. they have to do something to try to prop up the system. “

white considered this. “is that why there is nobody in the streets, because the system is collapsing?”

“no, there is nobody in the streets because it is snowing.”

“oh. well i thought you might like to know, about what i heard,”

“i do, i do. thank you.”

“you’re welcome, i’m sure. you going to do anything about it?”

“i’ll have to think about it.” dooley gave the pinball machine a shove and it lit up and said “tilt!”

“damn! i haven’t done that in two weeks.”

32. walk in the rain


Sunday, May 21, 2017

death in the rain - 30. doctor frank


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part thirty of forty-four






just as the girl calling herself red had told him, ray found the old diner he had known as dave’s, at 17th ave and 34th street, changed into a chipper’s chicken.

snow was piling up in front of the entrance and ray kicked it aside and entered .

ray had never been in a chipper’s chicken before. he was a wendy’s guy, always had been.

there was only one customer in the place, but ray barely glanced at him as he approached the counter.

places like this usually had teenagers behind the counter, but this one had a big mean-looking guy with five o’clock shadow.

a big sign on the wall behind the counter proclaimed “your just like momma used to make all you can eat special - 5 dollars”.

“you want the special?” the big guy asked ray.

“uh - no thank you.”

“then what do you want?”

suddenly ray was ravenously hungry. he glanced over the counterman’s shoulder at the menu.

“um - a chicken sandwich, and a cup of coffee. light cream.”

“cream’s over there. you want anything on the sandwich?”

i should be giving him the message, ray thought. but he just said - “everything.”

the big guy started to turn away and ray said, “one more thing.”

“what?”

“i’m looking for dwight. foster sent me.”

the big guy stared at ray. “why didn’t you say so?’”

ray didn’t know what to say, but the guy did not wait for an answer and pointed to the lone customer, seated at a table in front of the window. “you want the doc over there.”

“uh… thanks. ”the doc” … red had said something about a doctor.

“you really want that sandwich and coffee?”

“oh yeah, sure.”

“coming right up.”

ray approached the customer, the “doc”.

the “doc” did not look up at ray but continued to stare out at the swirling snow.

the “doc” was very old, maybe the oldest person ray had ever seen. he was wearing an old-fashioned gray hat of a kind ray had never seen, except maybe in an old movie.

ray noticed beside the “doc’s” chair a contraption he never seen before. it was an old-fashioned doctor’s black leather bag, with wooden handles.

“excuse me,” ray said.

“yes?” the “doc” finally looked up at ray. his eyes were barely visible in his old face..

“i’m looking for dwight. foster sent me,”

“yes, i heard you tell blue that. have a seat.”

ray guessed that blue was the counterman’s name. he pulled a chair out and sat down.

“my name is doctor frank,” said the old man.

“pleased to meet you,” ray answered.

the doctor ignored this. “who sent you?”

“uh - like i said, foster.”

“that was the password, young man. you have successfully given the password. who actually sent you?”

“red. a girl named red.”

“red. so she hasn’t come to a bad end yet.”

“no,” said ray, “but - uh - somebody else has.”

“oh?’ the doctor turned away from looking out at the snow and looked at ray.

“cindy. cindy has.”

“and what is the matter with cindy?”

“she’s dead. at least she seems dead. she seemed dead to me.” ray decided to skip telling doctor frank that he, ray, had carried cindy’s dead body through the streets for several miles. “but red seemed to think you could do something.”

“i see.” the old man turned back to looking out the window.

“i can show you the way,” said ray, “if - if - you think - “

“oh, i will go wth you,” the old man said. “but didn’t i hear you order something from blue? do you want to wait for it?”

“well, i can -“

“can you eat and walk at the same time?”

“i think so. i ‘ve done it before.”

“good. then we will wait until blue gives you your order, and then we will depart on our errand of mercy.”

31. dooley


Saturday, May 20, 2017

death in the rain - 29. white


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part twenty-nine of forty-four






white had big ears and excellent hearing, and she had heard almost the whole conversation between joe b and murphy.

she had heard them talking when murphy had first sat down at joe’s table in the corner.

what they said at first made her curious, and since she was a naturally nosey person and there was nobody else in the place, after she gave murphy the two burgers and the coffee he bought with the money joe gave him, she had gone back to the storeroom that was directly behind the wall their table was up against and listened some more.

white knew who who joe was, although she had never been much impressed by him, and he had never paid any attention to her.

she knew he was a punk with big ideas - that he liked to express freely - about being a master criminal.

when she had heard enough to get the idea of what joe was talking about she went back behind the counter. the place was still empty except for joe and murphy.

white leaned nonchalantly on the counter. the two would be desperadoes had let their guard down a bit and were talking a little louder than before, and she could hear every word.

what joe was saying sounded ridiculous and pathetic to her. in fact she thought he might be dreaming or making the whole thing up. but what did she know?

she knew some people who might be interested in joe’s plans. especially her friend dooley.

white owed dooley a couple of favors, so she would let her know what she had heard.

the door finally opened and another customer came in. a dummy looking old man all wrapped up against the snow with a scarf across his face.

white looked at the old man suspiciously, but he had money, and by the time she had finished serving him joe and murphy were gone.

30. doctor frank


Friday, May 19, 2017

death in the rain - 28. empire


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part twenty-eight of forty-four






murphy trudged through the snow, which was starting to fall faster.

he was hungry, and wondered if he should spend his little bit of money at wendy’s before going home to his little room.

as he always did in such cases, he decided to spend the money.

having made his decision, he felt a little better.

but then he started thinking about telling joe b that he had failed in his efforts to recruit kelly or anybody else to joe’s new crew, and he did not feel quite so good.

the snow stated falling a little harder, and he was glad to finally get to wendy’s.

but when he opened the door to wendy’s and walked in, he got a surprise.

there was only one person sitting at a table - and it was joe! in a table in the corner away from any window. with just a cup of coffee in front of him.

but joe looked like he was in a good mood and waved to murphy.

there was no way murphy could not sit down at joe’s table.

suddenly murphy did not feeling like eating, so he just got a cup of coffee from the teenage girl who seemed to be the only employee in the place.

as soon as murphy sat down he told joe that he had had no luck recruiting anybody.

but joe just laughed. “don’t worry about it,” he said. “we don’t need those guys. i got other plans now. better ones.”

“oh?’ murphy did not know what to think.

“i figured i might find you here,” joe went on. “that’s why i’m here.”

murphy just nodded. now he really did not know what to think.

“i got something for you. you don’t have to do it.”

“what?”

“i want you to be my chauffeur. just for a few days. for a weekend.”

murphy was perplexed. “you want me to drive you somewhere? why can’t you drive yourself?”

“well, i could. but it would look better if i had a chauffeur. i am going out to this rich guy’s place - his mansion - or estate, or whatever. “

“ahh. i get it - you - we - “

murphy looked around but the girl who had been behind the counter was nowhere in sight, and the place was still empty. “are going to rob this place,” he finished in a low voice.

“no, no, nothing like that. nothing like that at all.” keeping his voice down, and looking around from time to time to make sure no one had come in, joe explained the setup with commissioner morton and mr madison - whose estate they would be visiting for the weekend - and sonia’s plan.

“that’s the craziest thing i ever heard of,” said murphy when joe had finished.

“it’s not crazy at all, it is the inevitable endgame of civilization.”

“if you say so.” now that he knew that joe was not mad at him, murphy was hungry again, and wondered if he could get joe to buy him a couple of burgers.

“so you are with me?” joe asked.

“sure, sure,” murphy assured him. “it’s just that - that -“

“that what?”

“well, it doesn’t really seem like crime at all - like a real criminal empire at all, if it is done like this, you know?”

“you are right, it isn’t.” joe took a sip of his coffee. “but this is something even better.”

“such as?”

“conquering the world. forget a criminal empire, this is a chance for empire, period.”

“this weekend?”

“no, dufus, we will just make a start this weekend.”

“i know, i know, i was just kidding.” murphy laughed. “you know i’m game for whatever. say, I’m a little short, think you could give me a little something to get something to eat?”

“sure. get whatever you want.” joe looked around again. “then we’ll go over to my place, i will give you more details.”

29. white


Thursday, May 18, 2017

death in the rain - 27. the invitation


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part twenty-seven of forty-four






sonia and joe were approached by an elderly woman with a long neck.

“sonia, my dear, who is this handsome young devil with you?”

“good evening, countess. countess, this is joe b. joe, this the famous countess de c————.”

joe did not know who the countess de c———— was, but acknowledged the introduction courteously.

“and what do you, joe?” the countess asked.

“i’m a filmmaker,” joe answered, expecting a reprise of his conversation with cleve.

but the countess replied, “a filmmaker, how nice! you know, i need a filmmaker to film the little get together i am having the weekend after next. sonia, you must convince your dashing friend to come down. with yourself, of course.”

“why, that sounds like a wonderful idea,” sonia responded, giving joe a quick glance that said , go along with this, “and i am sure it would be a great opportunity for joe.”

“yes, it would,” joe agreed, with just the slightest hesitation to show he was not “jumping at the chance.” “thank you so much” he added.

“that’s wonderful,” the countess smiled. “i will have an invitation sent to you, “ she told sonia. “are you still at the same address?”

“i think so,” said sonia. “but anything you send will find me.”

“perfect. i look forward to seeing both of you. i see mr f—————— over there, i have to pay my respects. carry on.” and with that she left them.

“don’t worry about it,” sonia told joe in a low voice. “i will explain everything later. let’s keep moving around.”

“but - what about being a filmmaker?” joe asked, in a lower voice. “will i have to make a film for her?”

“oh, that’s nothing. we will get you the cheapest camera we find and you can be a primal or primitive filmmaker or something like that.”

“all right.”

just then they saw commissioner morton enter the room. spotting sonia and joe, he immediately made his way to them.

“bad news, i am afraid,” the commissioner greeted them. “well, annoying news, anyway. mr madison will not be with us tonight.”

“but it’s his party,” said joe.

“yes, but he won’t be here. the butler or somebody will make an announcement to the guests. it can’t be helped, but there will be other opportunities, don’t worry.”

“we may already have one,” said sonia. she described the countess’s invitation to the commissioner. “there is a pretty good chance mr madison will be there, don’t you think? and other people it might be good to meet as well.”

“why, of course,” exclaimed the commissioner. he glanced around, in case he had spoken too loudly, but no one seemed to be paying them any attention. “he is almost sure to be there! this is perfect, almost too perfect.” he looked around again. “let’s assume he is going to be there, and i will let you know if he is not, how is that?”

“we are going anyway,” said sonia. “i suppose it will work out. it does push things back a little. at least ten days.”

“pooh,” said the commissioner. “that is no problem. we have waited long enough as it is.”

“and it will give me a chance to brush up on my filmmaking, “ added joe.

sonia and the commissioner both laughed at joe’s remark.

28. empire



Wednesday, May 17, 2017

death in the rain - 26. mr madison's party


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part twenty-six of forty-four






the circular driveway was already filling up with limousines when joe and sonia arrived.

a valet in a black uniform took joe’s car keys and directed joe and sonia to a set of stone steps, almost hidden in the dusk, that led up to mister madison’s house.

a servant took joe’s and sonia’s coats.

the party, which promised to be a sedate one, was just starting.

sonia knew some of the people there, joe did not know any. commissioner morton had obtained them an invitation so that he could introduce them both to mr madison.

joe had never heard of mr madison, and even sonia, who knew everything and almost everybody, was not sure who he was.

but commissioner morton seemed to think he was important. important enough that he had to be informed of the new plan of sonia’s that the commissioner had approved.

while they waited for mr madison and the commissioner to appear, sonia introduced joe to some of the other guests.

sonia had warned joe that many of the guests might seem very rude, especially in the manner in which they would ask questions of complete strangers, of which joe would be one to them.

sonia was dressed as stylishly as always, but joe was wearing clothes one step up from a homeless person, so that it would be assumed that he was either tremendously wealthy, or some kind of genius.

joe and sonia had concocted a cover story for joe. they decided on one that would arouse people’s contempt, so that they would not suspect it of being made up.

an overweight fellow with an unkempt beard was the first person to approach them.

“sonia, my old friend, how nice to you,” the bearded man began. “who’s this punk?”

“hello, cleve, it’s nice to see you too. this is joe. joe, this is cleve.”

“joe, eh? who are you, joe, and what do you do?”

“i’m a filmmaker.”

“a filmmaker! but everybody is a filmmaker! what else do you do?” cleve asked.

“i’m just a filmmaker,” joe answered.

“i see. does anybody get to see the films you make?”

“no, they are private.”

cleve considered joe’s baggy corduroy pants. “so, you don’t derive any income from them?”

“no.”

“where do you derive your income?”

“my family owns some islands in the pacific.”

“which islands? australia? japan?”

“i’m not at liberty to say.”

“hmm. well, happy filmmaking.” cleve moved away. “sonia, always a pleasure to see you.”

“always nice to see you, cleve.”

“that went pretty good, i thought,” joe said when cleve was out of sight.

“perfect. let’s move around, we don’t want to look like we are avoiding people.”

27. the invitation



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

death in the rain - 25. red


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part twenty-five of forty-four






ray did not have time to think about how surprised he was to be told he done good, because the girl in the red cape was motioning to him to follow her.

the girl opened a door in one of the dark, abandoned looking buildings. she held it open and ray carried the dead girl inside. ray waited while the girl closed the door behind them.

the room was pitch dark but ray was glad to be out of the snow.

the girl pulled a cord overhead and a single naked bulb came on, barely lighting the room. ray saw a wooden table and a couple of chairs in the room’s center, and large cardboard boxes lining the walls. and a heavy green door in the wall opposite the door they had entered.

the one window was completely boarded up.

“just put her on the table,” the girl told ray.

ray hesitated. the table was covered with dust. “it’s kind of dirty,” he said.

“she won’t mind,” the girl said. but she said it nice, not sarcastic.

ray put the dead girl on the table. when he put her down, he felt light-headed, and realized how heavy she had been.

“what’s your name, pardner?” the live girl asked.

“ray.”

“pleased to meet you, ray” said the girl. “my name is red. and this here is cindy.”

“was cindy,” ray blurted out, and wished he had not said it.

“still might be,” said red matter of factly. “tell me, ray, do you know this neighborhood?”

“yeah, i know it real good. i used to work in one of the old factories.”

“so you are a real old time homeboy. listen, ray, here is what i want you to do.” red looked ray right in the eye, something not many people ever did. “we can bring cindy here back to life, but we have to act fast. we have to get the doc - doctor frank. i would go myself, but the people who got cindy are looking for me, you understand?”

“i understand,” said ray.

“do you know how to get to 17th avenue and 34th street?”

“that used to be dave’s,” said ray, after thinking for a couple of seconds.

“perfect! you really are an old homeboy. well, it’s a chipper’s chicken now. but you go there and tell whoever is behind he counter that you are looking for dwight and that foster sent you. they will know what you mean and get doctor frank. and you bring him back here. can you do that?”

“i’ll do it.”

“you are looking for dwight and foster sent you. can you remember that?”

“dwight and foster. i can remember that.”

“good. i hate to send you back out into the show, but time is of the essence here, if you get my drift.”

snow… drift… was that a joke? ray could not decide, and then it was too late to laugh anyway, so he just said,” i can do it.”

“i appreciate it,” said red. “i really do. and i know you can do it.”

“i can do it,” ray repeated. “i would do anything for you.”

26. mr madison's party



Monday, May 15, 2017

death in the rain - 24. murphy


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part twenty-four of forty-four






kelly finished his sandwich and his can of dr pepper.

murphy had still not moved from the chair in which he was slouched.

“i think you better go, murph, if you got nothing else to say.”

“i’m going, man, i’m going.”

kelly got up. he tossed the empty can of doctor pepper and the wrapper the sandwich had been in in a little wastebasket beside the refrigerator. he put the second sandwich and the second can of dr pepper in the refrigerator.

kelly thought murphy was going to ask hm for the second sandwich and maybe for the second can of dr pepper but instead he said, “you don’t recycle?”

“what?”

“you just threw the can in the wastebasket, man. a good citizen like you, with a job and all, i figured you would be the kind of person who recycled, that’s all.”

“well, excuse me.”

“i’m not criticizing, i am just making an observation.”

“really. well, i have another observation. why don’t you get going?”

“that’s not an observation, it’s a suggestion.”

“all right, it’s a suggestion, and i am making it.” kelly closed the refrigerator door and returned to his seat.

murphy still showed no sign of getting up. “can i tell you something, man?”

“i guess, since you are so determined.”

“it is something i have never told anybody before.”

“in that case i can’t wait to hear it.”

“no, i’m serious.”

“then seriously tell me.”

“i am the saddest person who ever lived.”

“you don’t say so.”

“i do say so.”

“why is that, because you’re so ugly?”

“well, that is part of it. but be that as it may, there are people uglier than me who are not as sad as me.”

“why are you telling me this, you want me to make you not so sad?”

“no, i just wanted to tell somebody. i just had to tell somebody, that’s all.”

“all right, you told me. i am flattered that you chose me to be your confidant.”

“that’s all right, brother. you are welcome.”

murphy got up. he headed for the door.

just before he got to the door, he turned back to kelly.

“you are sure you are not interested in what joe b had to say?”

kelly did not turn around. “positive.”

“all right.” murphy went out and closed the door behind him.

kelly listened. he could not hear murphy walking down the stairs. maybe he was walking softly, but…

if murphy was waiting out in the hall, kelly really did not want to confront him and look at his sad face again.

kelly went over to the room’s only window.

he looked down at the street and waited. he noticed that it had started to snow.

just when he was about to give up and look to see if murphy was waiting outside the door, murphy finally appeared on the street below.

kelly saw murphy cross the street.

he watched as murphy headed uptown with his head down, the wind blowing snow in his face.

25. red



Sunday, May 14, 2017

death in the rain - 23. sonia and joe


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part twenty-three of forty-four






sonia walked into joe’s room without knocking and threw her hat on his bed.

joe was standing at the window, looking out at the night with his habitual air of dissatisfaction. he didn’t look around at sonia.

“well,” said sonia, “the old man finally came out with it. and stop looking so sad.”

“who is looking sad? i am just looking out the window. and what did the old man finally come out with?”

“he finally told me he wants me to do something about the problem.”

joe finally turned around and faced sonia. “he took you aside and told you personally?”

sonia sat down on joe’s bed. “first he told everybody, then when the meeting was over he kept me there and told me i was the one he was really counting on.”

“maybe he told everybody else the same thing.”

“well, i can’t say he didn’t talk to them before or call them later. i was the only one he kept after the meeting. but what difference does it make? the important thing is he admitted the problem. and he wants ‘creative solutions’. and we all know what the creative solution is.”

joe turned back to the window, with his hands behind his back like napoleon. “did he actually say the words ‘ we have a problem because there is no more crime so we can’t justify our existence’? did he actually say ‘we have to create crimes to justify our existence’?”

“no, of course not, but he couldn’t have been clearer about what he meant.”

“if you say so.”

“come on, brother, show a little more enthusiasm!” sonia looked around joe’s room. there was nothing to see but the bed, a little table, two chairs, and the door to a tiny bathroom. he shared a kitchen with three other rooms on the floor.

“this is the start of a great new criminal empire,” said sonia. “let’s go out and celebrate.”

24. murphy



Saturday, May 13, 2017

death in the rain - 22. mr lincoln


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part twenty-two of forty-four






mister lincoln came for his monthly visit.

it was called his “monthly visit” although he only showed up every three or four months.

it was another rainy afternoon, and cold.

celeste-maria served luncheon, which consisted of watercress and rhubarb sandwiches, and chamomile tea. these were favorites of mister lincoln, though not much to billy's taste, or celeste-maria’s either.

but it was a small price to pay for getting mr lincoln’s visit our of the way for another three or four months.

and after he left, they usually treated themselves to some triple chocolate brownies and ice cream.

billy is writing a novel, celeste-maria announced, when mr lincoln made no attempt to open the conversation.

is he now? mr lincoln murmured.

and then, perhaps thinking that politeness required a bit more, he added, what is it about?

a lot of things, said billy.

that sounds interesting, replied mr lincoln. perhaps it is about some things more than others, no?

it is partly about the compartmentalization and congealing of the zeitgeist, added billy.

that sounds fascinating, said mr lincoln. will it be a best seller?

probably not, sighed billy. mademoiselle thinks that the characters are not sympathetic enough.

but they can be, said celeste-maria, there is plenty of work to be done yet.

mr lincoln tok a sip of his chamomile tea. i fail to see the point, he said, of writing a novel if it is not to be a best seller.

it is something to do, said billy.

anything you do is something to do, is it not? asked mr lincoln.

i guess, billy replied.

i do not care too much for novels, said mr lincoln. in fact, i can only think of one novel i have ever read that i really enjoyed.

and what might that have been, celeste-maria asked politely.

the prairie, by james fenimore cooper.

i don’t recall ever reading it, celeste-maria replied.

well, enough of that, said mr lincoln. i actually have something important to discuss. and he reached into the briefcase that he always carried with him and that was sitting at his feet.

billy and celeste-maria glanced at each other. although mr lincoln always brought his briefcase, he almost never took anything out of it. nor did he often declare he had anything “important” to discuss, or indicate that he found anything important enough to discuss.

now mr lincoln took a single sheet of paper from the briefcase.

this is the response, he said to billy, that i have received to your application to the a————— school. they reject you absolutely and without qualification.

billy stared at mr lincoln. is there any place else i can apply, he asked.

we have been over this many times before. the a————— school was absolutely your last chance.

what is to become of me, asked billy.

that is a good question, replied mr lincoln. a very good question.

there is still hope, said celeste-maria. billy can write his novel, and make at least a few million that way.

to be sure, mr lincoln answered. and mr lincoln, who never laughed, laughed.

23. sonia and joe