Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XIII

"So then I lost my job."

"No offense, especially with that .38 in your hand, but you probably deserved it. You made the man look bad in front of the president of the United States."

"He wasn't elected yet. Besides, that was just an excuse. I really got fired because people got tired of listening to me complain. `You gotta stop grousing, Nix.' `Things are bad for everybody, Nix.' `That isn't productive, Nix.' `Be happy you have a job at all.'"

"You answered you own question, mate. Why didn't you just shut the hell up, or get out?"

I didn't know what to say. I'd never asked myself that question.

I put the gun down. "OK, Mr. Career Counsellor, who do we shoot?"

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XII: Creative synergies

Blake looked at the scorched foil and cardboard that used to be his cigarette pack. Then he looked at the .38 that had blasted the pack out of his hand.

"Mad fucker," he said. "That's why they call it a smoking gun." His hand didn't shake much, all things considered.

"Now, listen," I told him. "You and McCarver ripped off the girl and the check-cashing place. I know you didn't get much, but I like the way you handled yourself. You sure you've never robbed before?"

"Just did it for the kick, man. No, no, that's not right. Look, I never know where the next book deal is coming from, do I? Layoffs, authors losing contracts, editors getting fired left and right. I have a wife, a baby. I was desperate, and crikey, was I pissed off."

"Does your wife know how you're earning money on this trip?"

He started to stand. I waved the .38. "Aw, sit down. I'm not going to tell her or the FBI. But what was that you said about deals and layoffs and getting fired?"

I reached into my pocket and tossed him a pack of cigarettes.

[Read all of The Baltimore Drive-by so far here. And remember: This is fiction. None of it has really happened.]

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XI: I hear music

When the skinny mystery fan gave up his jabber and walked off, I was alone in the street. I'd lost McCarver. Now Blake was gone, too.

[Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.]

Nothing to do but head back to the convention hotel and catch the late action at the bar. No way to get there in time unless I took the subway. I was in luck; this was Baltimore. In Philadelphia, you couldn't buy a token or a pass at my station, and the attendants wouldn't make change. So why have attendants? Don't ask me; I hadn't lived in America's Next Great City long enough to figure it out.

Downstairs a guy leaned against the no-smoking sign and lit a cigar. There was no point complaining to the attendant. She'd been smoking, too. But I always look at the bright side. At least she'd sold me a token.

The rattling subway car made me think of Billie Holiday, except the music I heard was supplied by my fellow riders, unsolicited and free of charge. Not that they acknowledged me as they nodded and bopped and fiddled with their iPods.

I'd once read an interview with the guy who invented the Walkman, and it was all hippie utopia: drift off, create your own soundworld, carry it everywhere. I'd never bought into his utopia thing. To me it sounded like Cold War pulp science fiction, a way to keep the worker rats quiet on their underground commutes. But Mr. Walkman never reckoned on shoddy headphones that leaked sound and owners who didn't care. The subway car was anything but quiet.

This damn country couldn't even do a dystopia right.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part X

Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.

Blake cursed softly and threw his cigarette to the ground. Then he lit another. He'd been waiting for McCarver for half an hour. We'd been waiting.

He took a notebook from his back pocket and started scribbling. I had to hand it to the man. Even though he'd branched out into armed robbery, he was still a writer. I wondered if I'd turn up in his story the way I'd turned up in McCarver's. I knew one thing: If I ever robbed people and wrote about it, I'd disguise myself so well in the story that no one would recognize me.

Blake stopped writing and lit a cigarette. I had all evening. As long as he had cigarettes, it looked like Blake did, too.

Baltimore closes early at night, so I heard the soft click of the footsteps from a long way off. I ducked into the pharmacy doorway and peered back out, but he saw me, a young, skinny guy whose clothes had seen too many sunny days and too few washings.

"I just got into town this morning," he said, "and —"

"How are you, Brian? What'd you do with the twenty I gave you on Tuesday?"

" — I need some money for a place to stay ... This friend of mine ... I got to get to my car and ... I've got a job lined up if I can just get some money to get to ... look, I got this badge. I'm raising money for ... cigarettes, man, cigarettes. Cigarettes, a few bucks and money for the subway. And a mystery, man, a good goddamn mystery to help me pass a few hours. You in town with the mystery writers? Go on, man. I got time. Write me a fucking mystery!"

When he finally gave up his manic jabber and walked off, I was alone in the street. I'd lost McCarver. Now Blake was gone, too.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part IX: Cheers!

Nix Kauffman is on the run after robbing Seamus Blake and Fetch McCarver at gunpoint. So why is he buying McCarver drinks?

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

Blake had gone to look for cigarettes. This took him out of the picture for at least an hour. He was hopeless when it came to finding smokes in America, and he'd never find any place open this time of night. And Kleinman — well, let's just say Kleinman was in no position right about now to tell McCarver or anyone else what she knew. And Kleinman knew everything.

McCarver gulped half his beer and said, "It was Blake's idea."

"Easy, Fetch. You don't even know what I'm asking."

"I mean, don't get me wrong: I like a good scam. But Blake thought it up, Blake bought the gun, Blake ripped off the bike."

"That was Scott Phillips," I said.

"But how did you— "

I put down my glass of Magner's. "Philly is my town, remember? And what would Blake do if he found out the girl got her money back after you guys ripped her off?"

Fetch got a funny look on his face, and his jaw went slack. He looked out over my shoulder like I wasn't there. He squinted. Then a fat smile creased his face. "Hey!" he said. "It's Kleinman!"

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part VIII: After overwrought heartstring-tugger, anguished journalist asks, "Why?"

Ex-journalist Nix Kauffman flees Baltimore ahead of two authors with crime on their minds. But don't believe a word he says. It's fiction. It never happened.

The waiter brought another round. "Cheerio, mates!"

"Knob!" muttered Romar, but he said it with affection; the waiter's English accent was good. Or maybe it just sounded that way to me. After six gin and tonics, my head had become a giant buzzing wad of wet cotton. The waiter might have sounded Australian. Or from the Midwest.

"You got a few hours?" I asked – Romar, not the waiter – "because I'll tell you."

"Tell it!"

"One night I'm in the sports department, and this story says the Ravens' quarterback shattered his knee. Thing is, he'd torn a ligament. Torn, not shattered! So I tell the night editor, but he looks at me like I was from Mars. Then this reporter says, `It's a matter of semantics.'"

I smacked the table as hard as Romar had. "Well, yeah, it goddamn was. Semantics. Meaning. You figure out what you want to say, you choose the right word, you say it."

"Let me guess who this night editor was: Your old friend, Mr. Honoré ."

"Too damn right. Same Honoré who became editor twelve years later and fired my ass. Said I showed him up in front of President Obama." I slumped back in the metal lawn chair and took a contemplative sip of gin.

"An outrage, my friend. Obama was only running for president when you showed Honoré up."

This was a man I could work with.

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part VII: Hell to the editor-in-chief

Nix Kauffman is on the run after robbing crime writers Seamus Blake and Fetch McCarver at gunpoint. Is that any way for a respectable ex-journalist to behave?

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far
here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

The way he worked the room, I believed Obama might win this thing. He smiled, shook hands, talked with me and my colleagues. He put weak-kneed stargazers at ease, and he even charmed moderate Republicans. In ten minutes, he spent more time talking with the staff than the last five editors-in-chief had in the four years they'd served. He even joked about our old computers.

"Don't worry, senator," I said. "In a few months, none of us will be working at these computers anymore."

Obama laughed. Honoré kept the pasted-on smile that he saved for the staff, but the corner of his left eye twitched, the way it always did when he got angry or lied or had to make a decision.

The next day Honoré called me in for a performance review. That's why I wound up welcoming a pair of crime writers over the Canadian border with a gun to their heads. I had nothing against Blake or McCarver; I enjoyed their work. But I'd lost my union grievance over the firing, and I needed a car, some cash, and a bit of stability in my life.

I'd deal with Honoré later.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009