Saturday, August 21, 2010

beeline for the drain

This is the city.
A quick hard rain can make a hot summer night steamier. Shirtless tempers can flare up and it’s always a dame getting the bad end of a cloudburst. This is where I come in. I was working the night watch in Homicide Detail. My captain’s name is Welch, my partner’s Frank Smith.
My name is Joe Friday. I carry a badge.
Frank had one full mouthful of a pink donut when the phone rang. I was at the Coke machine trying to get my dime back since no bottle was in the chute, so he answered the rotary and just listened. It was 8:02PM. He nodded his head like the party at the receiving end could see him. Why do people do that? Shake their head and use hand gestures talking on the phone? Maybe I shouldn’t ask such picky things. I was mad from losing a dime. The steamy night was getting to me too.
I walked by his desk and looked at his pad. He scribbled ‘dead woman,’ and ‘tub.’ He looked up at me and nodded. I grabbed a yellow pencil and added ‘where!?’ He swallowed hard, coughed, and replied ‘Wilson Manor.’ Never heard of Wilson Manor, I said. He says, ‘No, Willow Manor again, Joe.’ We informed Captain Welch we were on our way.

How many times had we gone to that spot, I’d lost count. The last time was when a nosy neighbor complained that squawking magpies were creating a nuisance swirling around a nude statue placed right smack dab on the property line. Some muscular gladiator holding a shield towards the sky drew magpies by the tree load, and the neighbor shingling his roof gets distracted, loses his footing and slides down hanging by the gutter as one of our black and whites arrive.
We drive silently to the outskirts past the orchards illuminated by the full moon as the clouds break, dreaming of cooler days. One final trip to the infamous Willow Manor I say under my breath to anyone in earshot as we enter the front door past a yawning patrolman. It’s 9:43PM, and the pale Coroner descending meets us halfway up the staircase.
‘Two hours, maybe three.’
‘Nope, none. Drowning, Joe.’
‘In a tub?’
‘Are you sure.’
‘Nope, not til we open her up.’
‘Yeah, thanks, Arnie.’
‘Sure, Joe.’

One final flash from the crime scene photographer illuminated the hallway, sounding like a muffled gun shot. I’d witnessed that kind of flash during better days too, back in my patrol days on security detail, once escorting Marilyn Monroe at a premiere along a narrow sidewalk outside the Picture Palace. She’d squeeze my arm tight, trembling, scared to death. She asked what my name was. Beautiful girl. I felt ten feet tall and invincible. Then she was gone.

Frank entered the bathroom first, I went back downstairs and asked the tired patrolman who found her. He didn’t know. I went back up, the photographer nodding that he was done with his job, not making eye contact. She was still there, underwater in suds except for the protruding toes, the nails the color of death. No sign of a struggle. All the white towels straight, the sink spotless, clean hairbrush, cream silk robe folded neatly over a padded chair. It was quiet, except now a woman was crying downstairs. I looked out the window at the headlights of the ambulance arriving, then I turned to Frank. He swallowed like he was still battling that pink donut, dropped to his knees gently, pulled the plunger and it seemed all the sadness of life as we have known it sucked clockwise down the drain.

*‘Beeline for the drain’ - line from the movie, Fat City(1972), written by Leonard Gardner, based on his novel.


Blogger Helen said...

I could have watched Sgt. Joe Friday forever ... your Magpie took me right back! I really enjoyed the trip.

8/21/2010 2:24 AM  
Blogger Claudia said...

wow - this was fantastic - enjoyed every word!

my magpie is here

8/21/2010 3:06 AM  
Blogger nana_ang_poppaphil said...

I really enjoyed that, and wanted to read more.

Great stuff.

8/21/2010 5:50 AM  
Blogger Deborah said...


8/21/2010 6:59 AM  
Blogger Brian Miller said...

oh this was great...i was totally there in the the little fine details...clockwise down the drain, nails the color of death...the staccato conversation...nicely played magpie!

my magpie

8/21/2010 7:01 AM  
Blogger Jingle said...

creepy, but excellently done!

8/21/2010 10:55 AM  
Blogger Berowne said...

VERY well written!

8/21/2010 11:24 AM  
Blogger signed...bkm said...

Ditto on Berowne...well written and the last line completes it...bkm

8/21/2010 12:13 PM  
Blogger The Bug said...

Excellent. I love how you do the dialog. You know, we have a case in Cincinnati where a woman drowned in the bathtub. I think they're getting ready to start on trial #3 for her husband - prosecutor thinks he did it.

8/21/2010 12:30 PM  
Blogger willow said...

Another brilliant piece of noir, Phil!! I always look forward to your Magpies. My favorite bits this week? "Shirtless tempers" and "pink donut".

8/21/2010 12:38 PM  
Blogger Tattered and Lost said...

Great fun!

8/21/2010 2:06 PM  
Blogger Tattered and Lost said...

Great fun!

8/21/2010 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ohhhh I love this one! The Willow Manor reference made me are so very clever.

8/21/2010 6:52 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

This was an excellent tale. I love the reference to willow manor. The first thing I thought about this pic was "murder mystery". Loved this one.

8/22/2010 10:56 PM  
Blogger Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful noir take on the prompt!

8/22/2010 11:14 PM  
Blogger Tumblewords: said...

Great style!

8/22/2010 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great feel to this piece, really kept me hooked.

8/23/2010 2:57 AM  
Blogger Stafford Ray said...

Joe, I mean Phil, maybe it's time for a new Joe Friday series! I am sick of the gore and bones, flies maggots and all forensic shows that demand too much from my limited disposable intelligence!

8/24/2010 3:41 AM  

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