© 2013 by Frank Hickey
rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form
or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including manual re-input,
photocopying, scanning, optical character recognition, recording or by any
information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the
novel is a work of fiction. All characters and events described herein are fictitious
and wholly the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to events
or actual persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental.
Showbizzers Crush Crime? / Frank Hickey
1. Fiction – Crime 2. Fiction – Mystery 3. Fiction – Hardboiled
by Pigtown Books, an imprint of Hidden Pearl Books L.L.C.
further information, please contact:
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Edition / First Issue
To Jim Mowat, U.S.
(Retired), and all my other good friends
in the High Desert town of
New Yorkers did not get what they wanted
this Christmas. I sure did not.
On the day
after Christmas, I hobbled on a cane along Manhattan’s 86th Street subway
platform. The station smelled of garbage and illegal cigarette smoke. The cold
A Dad in winter tweeds and a
loud attitude followed his Son through the turnstile. He was wide and starting
to soften in the middle.
The Son skittered onto the platform
and towards the front end. The train would come in there – it was where suicide
The Son looked like a vessel about to
break up on the rocks. His fair skin flushed from emotion under an expensive
haircut. His body was pouching into fat already. Dad would not like that.
Sixty feet away by the turnstiles,
out of their sight, an NYPD cop leaned against the wall and kicked his shoes
free of the slush that lay above us on the streets. He had a narrow foxy face,
pale skin and two moles sprouting hair on his neck,
“I’m Royster,” I said to the cop.
“Off the Job. There’s a father-son act on the platform. Getting out of hand. He
might be a jumper.”
“We can’t do nothing until he jumps,”
the cop said. “You know that, being off the Job.”
I blew out a breath and leaned on my
cane. My doctor wanted to operate on my knee today.
“Did you ever hear of Preventive
Patrol?” I asked.
“Did you ever fricking hear of
minding your own goddamn business?” he asked.
“Civil servant,” I said.
Then I limped back onto the platform
and neared Dad and Son.
“Hey, hey,” I shouted. “You guys need
I was trying to be a regular guy, all
bluff and hearty.
It never worked for me.
A subway noise got louder. The train
“No money,” Dad said to me. “No spare
“I don’t want money,” I said. “What’s
going on here with you and Junior?”
“That’s our business. Now leave us,
“Who the hell are you?”
“I used to be with the Police Department,”
The statement was the truth. But I mumbled
the beginning of the sentence, stressing the words “Police Department.”
New York law could not arrest you for
saying that you were a cop if you were a civilian. You had to show or wear something
that looked official to get arrested.
They could not arrest me for
“Show me your badge or else go chase yourself,” Dad said.
“That’s right,” the Son said.
they were united against me, the Common Enemy.
The train pulled in and
The danger passed.
We all got in the same car.
Dad glared at me until I left the
1I’LL FOLLOW THE SUN
“I’m operating on Wednesday,” the doctor said. “Then you’ll
be on crutches for about three months.”
“I would rather sandpaper a monkey,”
I said. “January and two more months in Manhattan, hobbling around? Why so
“Because you put off this operation,”
the doctor said through her lisp.
Dyed walnut hair fell over her
tortoise-shell glasses. Her teeth gleamed, reminding me that she had munched
sugar cane as a child.
“That always complicates an
operation. And those kicks really mangled your knee.”
“How about waiting until spring?”
“By that time, you may be much worse
off. You’ve waited too long already.”
“January here is ice-cold sleety
windy hell,” I said.
An idea hit me.
I swiveled around on the exam couch.
“Doctor Viega, how healthy am I, generally?”
“Overall, better than you deserve.
You weigh too much at two-sixteen and six feet tall. Redheaded people are
supposed to be hot-tempered and choleric, but your blood pressure is okay. Your
family had eye problems. Do you have anything like glaucoma or retinal detachments?”
“This sounds silly, but I don’t know how bad my eyes are,” I said.
“Perhaps I’m legally blind. The cops were too lazy to check when they swore me
in. DMV let me squint at the chart. Just to be
safe, I walk a lot and avoid driving as much as possible.”
“How many times a week do you drink
“Sometimes not enough.”
“A cigar smoker, too. You should be
more active. Get out running around Central Park.”
“I’m headed there now. I don’t run. I
just ferry my fat around and pray for a belly miracle. What I mean is, when can
I travel after I undergo this knife of yours?”
“You can’t. Traveling will be too
“Wintering and stuck in my cubbyhole apartment will be more painful,” I
said. “So cut me Wednesday like you promised. And I’m fleeing this slush as
soon as I come out of the ether.”
Somehow, that is what I did.
Friday morning, I rolled over in agony, trying to ignore my
left knee bandage. I punched in Pat’s number and waited for him to pick up.
“Y’hello?” Pat had crafted this New
York combination of “Yeah” and “Hello” into
“This TV reporter lady hit me
up in Carlow’s East Bar,” he breathed. “She wanted to know about us Playpen
Irregulars. How we help you handle cases just like Sherlock Holmes used his
raggedy bunch of kids, the Baker Street Irregulars. She says that you must be a
great motivator to get us knockaround guys like me to help you.”
“Yeah, Pat, I’m a great motivator.”
“You’re ignoring me again.”
“You still flying skiers down to
Pennsylvania on the weekend?” I asked. “You got room for a broke-down ex-cop on
crutches? I been putting off your seaplane ride offer too long.”
“The mountain is really frozen this year,” he said in his whiskey and
tobacco morning voice. “You hate the cold weather.”
“That’s why I’m taking Amtrak west
That afternoon, I fought slush with the tips
of my crutches and dragged myself over snow crusts to York Avenue.
The cab brought me to the seaplane
dock near Wall Street. My crutches clattered into the motorboat that ferried me
out to Pat’s seaplane.
The choppy East River tossed the seaplane
on its pontoons. Waves lapped.
“You look dead” was Pat’s greeting.
“This wind is cutting,” I said.
“Slush soaked my feet. They’ll stay wet all night. Let’s fly before the painkillers
make me hurl again.”
Pat looked like an aging leprechaun.
He sported blue eyes of an innocent
babe. Reddish whiskey cheeks flowed down to a softening neck and hard round
Four skiers slouched in the back.
Pat started singing “Come Fly with
Me," copying Sinatra’s style. The skiers stared.
“Ready?” he asked. Pagan joy lit up
The plane’s prop started spinning.
Water skittered. I could feel myself grinning.
Singing with him, I watched the river water speed past us.
“Now, we’re up!” I breathed.
“California or bust!”
We swooped down over icy-looking pine trees
onto a lake where ice formed near the shore. The sky was colored like lead
pencil shavings. White water crested up from our pontoons as we landed. More
cold knifed down past my collarbones and shriveled me.
The next day saw me headed west on Amtrak. My crutches
nestled against the metal-rimmed seats.
Drugs kept me sleepy.
My fingers speared out my contact
lenses so that I could sleep. The eyeglasses that I wore instead had lime-green
colored frames with lenses shaped like hearts.
The train headed west under
“Car accident?” a florid-faced man
under a pure white crew-cut asked somewhere in Pennsylvania.
“Pretty near,” I said. “Between the
pain and the knockout drugs, I’m trying not to think about it.”
That was Pennsylvania.
I ached to get West.
Ohio formed an ice-storm that rattled
and chilled the
My cheek rested on the seat back near the glass.
straight through to Los Angeles?” the conductor asked. He sported gold-rimmed
eyeglasses and a brushy black moustache. Old acne scars pitted his cheeks. The
hair around his temples was silvering and the moustache looked a bit too black.
He probably dyed the moustache in
order to preen for the passengers.
probably get off before then,” I said. “Someplace warm and friendly, where I
can crutch around without a rental car.”
“Bad memories in Houston.
a golden-haired college-type young woman duffle-bagged her way on. She sat in
front of me and drawled to different boyfriends on her cellphone. She stared at
“My Lord, whatever happened to you?”
“Do I look that bad?”
“Well, I don’t mean bad. But those
crutches and all. What happened?”
“The strength of a tiger is
incredible,” I said.
“One of Ace Hume’s best pick-up
She regarded me.
“Have you been to the club car?” she
asked. “The bar?”
on crutches. You can’t get there from here. I’ve been living on this jumbo bag
of Mediterranean food of hummus, cracked-wheat crackers, feta cheese going bad,
breadsticks, olives, halvah and dried sausage. I need the bottled water that
they sell here in the car.”
Her lipsticky mouth formed a
“Now, if you don’t want to talk about your foot,” she said.
“Knee,” I said. “A marker of my
“How did you hurt your knee, then?”
“Fighting with a murderous sex
deviate who was schooled in the killing arts –”
“Well,” she said. “If you’re going to
make up stories.”
When I woke up again, she had gone.
The wind howled outside.
It chilled my palm against the
“Make up stories,” I muttered, trying
to copy her drawl.
The train kept lulling me to sleep.
My cellphone buzzed.
“Max, this is Jody,” a womanly voice
said on the phone. “How have you been? We haven’t talked in a while.”
I stretched out on the seat, feeling
warm from hearing her voice. My left knee banged the wall but I did not care.
“Hearing you makes this day happy, “
I said, struggling to get clear of the pain-killers. “How is Firenze?”
“Actually, I’m down in Capri now. Semester
break from school.”
too,” I wisecracked. “But I do miss you, my dear.”
“Max, I had to take this job.
Just like you had to stay in New York and fight your way back into the
Department. How is that going, by the way?”
“The other side is winning.”
“Max, the reason that I’m calling is
that I think that I’ve fallen in love.”
My body jackknifed in the seat. The trees whipped past my
railroad car window. I tried to concentrate on counting
“By your tone,” I said, “you probably
don’t mean that you’ve fallen in love with me.”
“Max, can’t you give up the smart-alecky talk right now?”
“Now is when I need it.”
“I thought that I should notify you
of this,” she said. “So that we could open a dialogue and make an informed
decision about our course of action.”
My head shook back and forth.
Wisecracking felt impossible. But I
“You make it sound like my father’s appendicitis
operation,” I said. “I love you, Jody. At the same time, you have to be happy
in your Italian life.”
your ideas are just too much for me right now.”
My breath jerked inwards.
“I’ll call you later,” she said.
The cellphone face looked back at me.
A noise came out of my mouth.
It was a small, pained noise.
As usual, I had over-bought on food.
My bag bulged.
I gorged on the feta cheese.
“Eating against heartache never
works,” I muttered. “It just gets me fatter.”
My chest drew in and out painfully,
In the dark window, I could see my
throat pulse beating too fast.
“Let the body ease up,” I went on.
“Avoid Amtrak heart attacks.”
Sleep kept slipping away from me.
The train pulled me across Texas.
“Dallas didn’t interest me enough to
get off,” I said to the conductor. “Ditto San Antonio. Waco was raining, so
that killed my spirit. I want to go where there is no rain or snow.”
“Then you should try El Paso, Albuquerque,
Phoenix or Basta, California,” he said. “Seems like you’re running out of
towns. Why didn’t you fly?”
“On three days notice? Too expensive.
I’m on your special fare, Anywhere, U.S.A. for two-fifty round trip. As long as
you keep this car heated, I’m in no hurry.”
He looked at me as if I needed
special care. It was a look that I knew pretty well.
“Sir, just where do you want to go?”
“No big cities,” I said. “What is a
‘Basta’? In Italian and other languages, it means ‘enough’!”
“Railroad town,” he said. “Kind of a
sleepy place. Pretty country, if you like dry desert.”
“Make sure you wake me before we get
to Basta,” I said. “That sounds just like what I want.”
The pain kept buzzsawing around my
Stretching out in half-sleep, I
dreamed that Jody was curled warmly beside me.
Daylight colored on my window.
The painkillers kept me sleeping.
The window grayed and darkened.
The window showed daylight.
I shook my face around, crutching
down the steps.
It was a train station platform that
ran along the tracks. The platform ended and the scrubby pale gold desert
The sky shone blue jean colors overhead.
Basta showed blocky adobe buildings
with the same desert all around it.
My crutches wheeled me along the platform.
A few cabs clustered near the
Ten minutes of fast New Yorker talk
got me riding towards a residence hotel on the outskirts of Basta. The broken
and dried wooden sign read “Route 66 Tumbleweed Arms - Residence Rooms by Day,
Week or Month.”
“Excuse me extremely,” I asked the
shaved-head, reedy joker behind the desk. A scar cut crossed his face from
eyebrow to chin. “But what do you have here?”
“Rented rooms. One, two or three bedrooms. Privy in back that everyone
shares. But you might not be able to handle it. The house next door is already
full. I rent it to some nuts. But you’re all
stove-in, crutches, and we get some rough waddies here.”
“Sure you do,” I said.
“Naturally you do. Stands to reason. ‘Rough waddies.’ Just what is a ‘waddie’?”
“Drifter. Just moving on. Something
like you are.”
Dignity required me to lean on my
to me, I sounded like a wiseguy big city fast-talker.
“Gee, I sure hope that I can
give you some money for a single-bed apartment,” I said.
a month,” he said. “Cash, no checks. I’m Chick, the boss of everything here.
Rooms and the houses.”
Twenty minutes later, I was
staring at a large butter-colored room with three huge windows showing the
night desert outside.
The room smelled of spilled beer, cigarettes and fast food grease.
“Our hero finds himself in
grim circumstances,” I said aloud. “I wonder what Professor Jody would say
As I spoke her name, my head eased
down and my shoulders hunched up.
“In order for our hero to stay jolly,
he should promenade somewhat.”
I hauled my beef on crutches in between my building and the
one next to it.
Twenty feet of desert ran between
A smell like parched grass mixed with
dirt flowered the evening. I supposed that it was the scent of the desert.
Last streaks of purpling reddish
skies filled the sky.
Through the next building’s window,
the one Shaven-Head said he rented, an Asian woman frolicked with a thick white
dog. She looked beautiful to me. She buried her face in the dog’s ruff, caught
me looking at both of them and frowned.
Classical music played in her room.
I tried to look harmless. But my
whiskers were coming white through my skin and my crazy green glasses bobbed on
my nose. I did not look dapper.
I crutched away.
A road sign read “Main Street, Part of the Original Route 66.”
Route 66 had its own mythology. It ran from Chicago to Los
Angeles. Nat King Cole had sung about it. Other singers followed him. I hummed
the lyrics now. Cheering up was needed.
A long stone bridge arced to
A dozen railroad tracks tangled underneath
This looked like the oldest part of
When the first railroad line came
into Basta, the roughnecks probably had slithered off the freight cars to build
shanties near the tracks,
A century later, I was copying them.
A stone statue and scrappy yellowed
grass formed a kind of square. Locals in cowboy hats and bluejeans hung out
there, talking. Guitar music played from somewhere.
As I hobbled onto the square, I
breathed in deeply, taking the clean cool air into my Amtrak-ed body.
A bearded ragamuffin with a crown of
pure silver hair limped in front of me. He looked about sixty.
“Mister, the sergeant told me to waste some Iraqi civilians,” he said.
“But I wouldn’t do it. He run me up to a court martial.”
“You look kind of old for it,
sir,” I said.
Watching his wide grimy hands, I
“It was a moral decision,” he said.
“Yessir, soldier,” I said. “I’m
listening to you.”
“Now I’m paying for it,” he said.
“Stockade, Dishonorable Discharge, six years hard labor-”
“Okay. You win.”
fingers slipped my wallet from my bluejeans back pocket.
He came in closer and bumped
“Hey!” I said.
His boot hit my shin and then the
I went sprawling down onto the
square. Both crutches hit my ribs. My head slammed against the statue’s base.
His foot smashed my face.
He yanked the wallet from my hand.
“Give me a hand here!” I shouted, not
None of the locals moved.
“People!” I said from the ground. It sounded like pleading.
The ragamuffin with my wallet
looked like someone’s grandpappy. He was not dangerous.
But nobody moved to stop him or help
The ragamuffin and my wallet went
down a lane.
“Basta is afraid of harmless
grandpappy muggers?” I said out loud. “This town got trouble.”