Len Kerrick: Second Time Loser by Mike Gleeson by Mike Gleeson - Read Online

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Len Kerrick - Mike Gleeson

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Lawnmowers

Driving to the labor exchange I felt really good about myself. A tamed hero, giving up his noble crusade against crime for love of his lost family. To hobble around from door to door on his bust-up feet selling lawnmowers.

But after I’d driven for five minutes it came to me that I wasn’t sacrificing anything. Without a firearms licence I’d be dead within six months unless I limited my investigations to the kind of stuff that was so mundane, so sleazy and, frankly, so boring that I might as well have been selling lawnmowers. Sure, an unregistered gun wasn’t that hard to come by, but Ann Dagget’s last words to me were burned into my memory--Stay clean from now on or I’ll be on your back before you know it. I vehemently cursed the guy who’d learnt how to toolmark the slugs they dug out of dead gangsters.

What the heck--I still felt good about myself. I’d given up the blissful euphoria that constant use of the sinus inhalers had given me. Those things would have ruined my nose before long, and Siobhan wouldn’t have wanted a snuffle-nosed husband helping her raise the kids. That was my ex-wife’s name-- Siobhan--pronounced Shivorn. One of those funny Irish spellings. From now on I was Len Kerrick the happy family man. I’d get used to it. When I pulled up at the labor exchange I found it was now a bakery. My investigations hadn’t taken me there for over a year and they must have moved. I cruised on looking for it and came across some guys standing in a long queue that went as far as I could see. I didn’t know there was a theater there, and it was funny they didn’t have any dames with them. If they’d opened another strip-tease club it must have been mighty popular. So I pulled up again and said,Hey buddy, d’you know where I can find the labor exchange?

The queue starts here, he replied sourly. So I drove on. Time for a re-think.

Working for yourself was never an impossibility, but it meant you were a business company and the Froad Road set-up leaned pretty hard on business companies. They taxed you somewhere between twenty and forty percent, depending on how well you were doing. They had to lean on you pretty hard as Ike Golding scrupulously spent ten percent of his income on charities, and that meant ten percent of his gross income before he paid the hoods that worked for him. Yes, charitable donations! It wasn’t as if the synagogue could make him pay these tithes as he called them, and it wasn’t as if he was a particularly religious man, but he had these Principles.

Taxing punks wasn’t helping his financial losses and he was struggling to keep his gang together, in spite of the well-planned raids he made on banks and jewellers to replenish his leaky fund-box. These raids were risky since they involved working outside his own territory. Something told me that Golding didn’t give a damn what happened to the Froad Road set-up when he was gone and his son GJ took over so long as he kept his damned Principles. What did he keep these Principles for? Come this great Resurrection he was looking forward to he’d be left stewing in Hades for the things he was doing. Much though I liked the guy myself the decision wouldn’t be mine.

But something told me that I’d find an opening in the small-time market because of Golding’s crazy incompetence. And because of something else.

Matt Komitski had held the monopoly of the racing tracks and the crap joints even when he was on the run, but now he’d been slated for the electric chair for several months for killing an FBI agent. He’d never had a gang, preferring to enlist freelancers, so with him out of circulation Golding’s mob had been negotiating uneasily with the Doohan gang over the racing tracks. None of the jockeys had been touched yet, but Ted Doohan’s boys were running some of the crap joints, Golding’s running some of the others and there was some disagreement about who was running which one. Blood had already been spilt.

So now with his desperate efforts to hold his gang together and grab as much dough as he could from the crap joints without having an all-out war that he couldn’t afford, Golding wouldn’t be too bothered about punks like me selling a few lawnmowers. When the disputes were sorted out he’d get down to me but I’d think about that nearer the day. It wouldn’t happen for years!

Not being the kind to waste time I exchanged my Daimler for a Willy bus and took off down to the Stearns works, where I loaded up a dozen lawn boys, powered by batteries that you could charge up at any garage for two bits. By the time I’d got them all primed up and ready for action it was too late in the day to sell any, so I stored them up in my office, painfully dragging them up the stairs on my mashed-up feet, and slept uneasily in the reception room with my tortured feet up on the desk. Taking the rotor arm from the Willy would ensure it wouldn’t get pinched, but that wouldn’t have protected the merchandise.

***

The next day I went stumbling down the stairs a dozen times, each time carrying a lawn boy and gritting my teeth against the pain in my toes, stowed them in the Willy, and drove to my apartment for a wash and a shave, then took off to see Nick Darrow at the speakeasy. Ray said he was happy to see I’d quit the sinus sticks, but I told him I’d settle for a perfectly legal bourbon for now. After fixing a deal with Darrow I took off for Siobhan’s place with a soaring heart.

Her three-bedroomed semi-detached opened onto the street, but it had a fair-sized garden in the back, and it had grass. Twenty-five square yards of it. I hoped she hadn’t got Lennie to cut it in the summer with that cranky old hand-mower with its blunt blades because if she had there’d be nothing to cut now and she wouldn’t be able to appreciate her early Christmas present so much. Seeing that grass doesn’t grow in the winter.

I had two sons, or used to have. The younger one was Larry, he got to the door first, hanging onto the doorknob as he swung it open. At age four he only came up to my belly-button.

Daddy! His two outer incisors had fallen out, giving him a typical buck-toothed look. Both my kids had chubby faces, like me at their age. Not like the lean fizzog I had now. It gave me a thrill that my mere presence could make a kid so happy. Without more ado he shoved his hands into my coat pockets, standing on his toes, and pulled out Big Jimmy and Gummy Joe.

Got any sweeties? Damn! I hadn’t.

I’ll get you some later, I promised him, snatching my weapons back. Is your mum in? Not as dumb a question as all that--my kids were regularly left at home by themselves while she was at work.

Lennie came out of the lounge, dragging his feet phlegmatically. He was ten and came up to my breast-bone already. I hadn’t seen them for a year and a half, and during that time they’d grown taller and I’d grown shorter.

Hi, son, I grinned at him, showing my teeth. He mooched over towards me, hands in his pockets, lips pressed together with one corner turned up and the other turned down, eyeing me up and down as if giving me an appraisal. His brown hair was messy like his brother’s, his knees scraped and marred with congealed blood, as you’d get from rough-and-tumbles, climbing trees and all that.

Good to see you, I said with feeling.

He said,Er, yeah.

Who’s out there? Siobhan came out of the lounge wearing her gray crepe nurse’s uniform, which was a bad sign. She must have changed her hours. She had to work so I could afford the alimony. At thirty, that’s three years younger than me, she was still quite a looker. Narrow eyes that closed into slits in the sunlight like a shark’s, high cheekbones and a sharp, beaky nose that made her look vulnerable. I’d never liked mouths that were small and thin-lipped till I’d met her but it was the expressions she made with her small, thin-lipped kisser that made it so kissable. Unmanageable auburn hair that she kept unfashionably short. And what an adorable butt--nearly as big as Ann Dagget’s! On such a petite figure!

Get back in there, you two, she commanded rather sharply. Little Larry trotted promptly back into the lounge, Lennie sauntered back in with his hands still in his pockets, squeezing past his mum.

Siobhan strode up to me, businesslike, carrying her handbag.

Len, you should have written to me before you called. I’ve got to get the bus in five minutes.

You’ve got time to see your Christmas present before you go.

Looking flustered and glancing down at her penny fob watch, she turned her head round.

Stay inside!

Then she came outside, shutting the door. The Willy was parked a few yards up. As I hobbled in front of her, splay-legged, knees bent, feet turned outwards like a duck’s, I waited apprehensively for what was coming next. It was the only bearable way I could walk since Manny had bust my toes up with the pliers and I’d lost several inches of height.

LEN! WHAT’S HAPPENED TO YOU?

What? I glanced down. Oh yeah--I got that through work. But that’s all behind me now.

But that’s terrible! How’d that happen to you at work?

Without looking round I opened the door of the bus and heaved out one of the magnificent electric powered Stearns lawn boys and locked the door when she’d just had time to see the remaining eleven machines stowed inside. When I turned round her face was as pale as ash but I pretended not to notice. Lennie was standing behind her and Larry was looking out of the door. Both kids wore an expression of mild curiosity.

If you’ve got a bus to catch we’d better get this inside, I said breezily, and started to wheel it towards the house. It’s ready for action, d’you think there’s time to give it a try?

Siobhan noticed her son. Lennie, what did I just tell you?

The lawn’s already cut, dad. You’ll have to wait till summer.

He was out of his mum’s reach, so she said gently,Lennie, here a minute.

He sauntered over to his mum, grinning up at her but showing an almost imperceptible wince of apprehension, and she caught him a clap around the head with a speed I’d have been proud of and he was knocked staggering. Without putting his hand to his face he grinned and said,Yeah, and carried on standing there.

Siobhan said,Well? and he sauntered back towards the door. That’s my boy. He knew she daren’t hit him any harder because if that didn’t work, what then?

Seeing that I was still wheeling the mower, she said, irately, All right, get it inside and hurry.

As she followed me she was looking at my feet but couldn’t think what to say. Perhaps it was best this way for a first visit with the physical state I was in but I still drove away feeling crestfallen. Just as well I hadn’t shown her the tickets for the match yet.

***

I drove a few blocks away and knocked on a door, which was immediately slammed in my face. It doesn’t take a detective to know that someone’s trying to relieve you of your hard-earned cash when he’s waiting there with a lawnmower standing to heel. Or maybe I’d slammed my door on this guy’s face and he remembered me. Heck, I couldn’t remember, I must have slammed my door on a million faces when I was with Siobhan. Out of the next twenty doors, four were slammed shut before I could open my mouth, ten were politely closed with a No thanks before I could open my mouth, and three weren’t opened because no-one was in. Out of the remaining three, two householders said they already had lawnmowers. The remaining householder showed more promise.

He let me mow half his lawn for him, then I let him finish the other half. Then I took it apart and showed him how to clean it. When I’d put it back together he tried to negotiate a discount as it had been used so I said, No, the next customer wouldn’t know the difference, and left in a huff.

I got the same kind of results from the next twenty houses and the next twenty. People either already had what I was selling or they didn’t have the money. Or they didn’t have lawns. After I’d knocked on five hundred or so doors and burnt three lawn boys dry giving free trims I decided to take them down to the garage for a recharge and call it a day. I hadn’t even thought of eating. I might have closed one deal, I’d have to find out the day after tomorrow. Some guy had offered to pay by check and I said, Cash only. He said,You know where to find me if the check bounces, ha ha, so I said I knew that but I didn’t have a bank account. He said he was going to the bank the next day, just bring it round the day after. The chances were he was moving out the next day but I thought it was worth a try.

On the way back to the office I found that the pizzeria where I was going to eat was no longer there. The shop was gutted and someone had put a bomb inside it judging by the debris strewn over the road.

I got a beefburger instead and buckled down to the onerous task of getting my lawn boys into the back office. Then I drove to my apartment to collect my stuff and brought it back to the office where I stowed everything into the filing cabinet, desk drawers and broom cupboard. Like the good old days. I might as well quit the apartment and save dough, they wouldn’t let me use the place for storage.

I lifted my sore feet onto the desk, pulled my hat over my eyes and tried to sleep. Same as last night I felt too fidgety, so I fished the pack of cigarettes out of the bin and lit one up. Maybe I was hooked on them by now.

As the smoke went down my lungs it made me gag and I felt queasy. Without prolonged use of those sinus inhalers I couldn’t stand cigarettes, same as before I’d started using them. What did they put in those things anyway? Whatever it