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Revised: Saturday July 14th, 2007 Word count: about 3800. “Pip Flanders, you Black Irish bastard ...” Pip recognized the voice but could not immediately place it as he stood in the supermarket aisle. It was late, around 11.00 pm—the supermarket, empty. Pip hesitated before turning, then spoke, “Jimmy Duncan?” Pip turned and saw Jimmy Duncan standing behind him, who was smiling and wearing an assistant manager’s badge, reading, ‘James D’. Jimmy spoke, “yeah, I thought it was bad boy Pip Flanders – a little heavier than last time – but looking healthy. How long has it been?—going on ten years, maybe?” “About that ... maybe fifteen,” Pip said, “you still look lean, Jimmy.” There was a break in the conversation, and their eyes held an inquisitive look. At the end of the aisle, a stock boy was shelving cans of beets. Jimmy glanced at the boy before speaking to him, “hey pimples, you’re in the wrong aisle.” “Sorry Jim,” the boy said, looking somewhat confused, and then caught-on to the implication—the boy walking away, leaving canned beets sitting in the middle of the aisle. “Jimmy Duncan, assistant manager,” Pip said. “Yeah that’s me,” and Jimmy lowered his voice while looking around the aisle, “I took a fall and did twenty months in Southern Ohio Correctional.” Pip pretended not to know about Jimmy’s having gone to prison, and blankly responded with, “okay.”
Jimmy shook his head, saying, “yeah I was there for the riot—you haven’t lived ‘til you’ve been through a prison riot, my friend. Talk about ‘lunatics running the asylum’—the creeps, the thugs and the whack-jobs—all running wild.” Pip changed the subject out of politesse, “well, you’re assistant manager here now.” “Funny story—you remember The Albatross?” “Yeah.” “Well they hired that—guy—not much of a background check around here, as you can imagine. Only, The Albatross acted like he didn’t know who I was, which was really weird. At first I thought the guy was just pretending, but after awhile I decided he just didn’t remember me. So dig this, I’m working nights with The Albatross on my shift, and a few weeks later money comes-up missing—thirty-five hundred and some change is stolen from the safe. And I’m the only one with the combination.” Pip spoke, “The Albatross?” “Had to be the guy had gone into my locker and looked through my notebook where I keep my passwords and numbers—only, nothing in it is annotated. What do I do?—tell the manager, ‘look I know this guy. They used to call him The Albatross because he was always a burden. And I know this since I used to be a professional criminal myself.” “What happened?—you’re still working here.” “This is what happened, the manager calls me into his office—he has a manila folder in front of him on his desk, and I figure he’s done a background check on me and is ready to drop the axe.
The manager asks who I thought took the money, and I tell him I’d look at The Albatross —I mean, I’m not gonna go to bat for that mope. Last time I took a fall for somebody I did the time, came out, and found no one would give me work—nobody would touch me—I couldn’t even work a crew as wheelman.” “So?” “So, the manager congratulates me, telling me he fired The Albatross for the theft. And now I wonder if the The Albatross has implicated me—his whole weird thing pretending not to recognize me. Or, whatever. That’s how it is these days—I’m just waiting for my past to catchup with me.” “Cut to the chase, Jimmy.” “Okay, so the manager tells me he kept trying to give The Albatross a chance to come clean, pay back the money—payroll deduction if he’s already spent it—and keep his job. The manager has a heart of gold. But The Albatross categorically denies knowing anything about missing money from the safe, the manager tells me, while he hands me the manila envelope. And inside the envelope are photos are of The Albatross—face shots—as he sat in front of the safe, trying out different combinations. The last picture is of The Albatross, with a giant smile and his hands in the air—like a kid on Christmas—taken when The Albatross finally got the right combination to open the safe.” # Pip Flanders and Jimmy Duncan left the supermarket aisle and walked back to the manager’s office.
Inside the office, they sat in Naugahyde chairs—Jimmy pouring beer into plastic coffee cups.” Jimmy spoke, “two creams, two sugars, if memory serves me right?” “Yep,” Pip said, and chuckled as looked at a picture on the wall that had ‘Employee of the Month’ written on top—it was a picture of The Albatross, with the idiotically-ecstatic look on his face, taken the moment he opened the safe. Pip said, “I see The Albatross still wears his signature rock-a-billy pompadour—that photo would make a great album cover for Appalachian party-time music.” “Here, have a signature cup of coffee,” Jimmy Duncan said, as he handed Pip the plastic cup of beer, “so that’s my deal right now. What are you doing with yourself?” Pip reached into his shirt pocket, took out his wallet, and from inside handed Jimmy his business card. Jimmy Duncan smiled as he read the card aloud, “Lynchpin & Associates: Security Consultants. Personal & Business Investigative Services. We’re discreet, and we get results. Is there a Mr. Lynchpin, or is that one of your inventions?” “Mr. Lynchpin. That’s me.” “I’ll drink to that, to Mr. Lynchpin,” and they drank. The supermarket intercom interrupted their drink, “Mr. Duncan please come to produce.” Jimmy spoke, “that’s me.” “Drop by the office. The address is on the card. I pretty much live there—so, anytime. No need to call ahead.” They left. #
The next afternoon, Pip Flanders was sitting at his desk in his office—a fourth floor walk-up in a Nineteenth Century red brick and sandstone building, located in Cleveland’s Near West Side. Pip ate lunch—Chinese food, from cartons, with Pagoda Palace written on the side in red letters. He listened to a CD—‘The Who’s Greatest Hits’. Pip thought back to when he used to partner with Jimmy Duncan—running just about every small-time scam they could scheme-up. They had started-out selling fake dime-bags of smack on a corner in the Puerto Rican neighbourhood after Second District vice cleared the corner. “The key to this,” Jimmy informed Pip, “is having something inside the bags when the fiend comes to buy it—most people who try to sell dummy bags just sell empty bags.” Another time, they climbed into a dumpster behind an electronics outlet store and took home empty VHS camera boxes. The boxes still had the packaging inside: Styrofoam and bubble-wrap. At home, they spray-painted coffee cans black, put bricks inside them for weight, and then wrapped the can up with bubble-wrap and put them inside the electronics boxes—this, to make it appear real at first glance if the unsuspecting consumer opened the box to look inside. “Always change your game,” was Jimmy and Pip’s motto when selling hot goods. By that point, the two had graduated from back-alley theft to a mid-sized game. Breaking and entering was the next logical step. For almost a year, they rented warehouse space on the east side of town, where they stored stolen items—televisions, guitars, jewellery, power tools ... at one point there was even light machinery, including fork-lifts, engine lathes and small frontend loaders.
“We need to reduce our visibility,” Jimmy once said to Pip. “Besides, there is less urgency this way—we’re not in a hurry to unload stolen merch from the back of a van, right? So, we can set the price by having a showroom, letting the fence come to us.” Pip’s response was, “brilliant, we’ve now got our own store of stolen goods. Maybe we should franchise.” But they never franchised, always suspicious of bringing-on additional thieves. Rather, subscribing to a sort of Occam’s Razor approach to their theft ring—keeping their thievery equation to a minimum. While Pip and Jimmy were driving along the Shoreway one afternoon, they spotted a motorist walking along the median with a can of gas. It was at that moment Pip’s idea struck. “Jimmy, you got a can of gas in the trunk?” “No. What do I look like, The American Automobile Association?” “When you see a tow-truck at work, like, during a baseball game, do you stop to ask them for their credentials?” There was a pause—as the moment of realization lingered for a brief moment. “Pip Flanders, you Black Irish bastard ... you’re good.” “Stick with me on this one, Jimmy. We’d have to rent more warehouse space, right? I mean if we sit on hot cars instead of taking them immediately to the chop-shop, then, we can get at least another five-hundred to seven-fifty on the price—‘cause we’re not in a hurry. And a towtruck wouldn’t do. We’d have to get a wrecker, so we could put the car on the back of the truck.” “Where are we gonna get a tow-truck?—or, a wrecker. As you say.” “You don’t think I plan on paying for one do you?”
“No, but can you imagine the prowess required to steal a tow-truck from an impound lot?” They smiled and clinked their beer bottles in a toast, driving east on Cleveland’s Shoreway—the mid-summer’s afternoon sun shining brightly. # Pip Flanders stuffed a fork into the carton of Chinese food on his desk—lo mein noodles —and looked out his office window at the street below, as he fed himself. Pip thought back to the day he returned to the warehouse to find their fleet of stolen SUVs and imported sedans had had their windshields smashed—Pip inspecting the damage as he walked across the floor, until he arrived at the end, where Jimmy Duncan was lying on an antique fainting couch with his face swollen and bloodied. On the floor next to the fainting couch, Jimmy Duncan had his bags packed along with a half-dozen guitars. “Jimmy?” “Pip, I’m out of this. I’m leaving.” “Jimmy, what happened here?” “Some Italian fat-boy, Johnny Banana, came by with a few thugs and said we need to start paying tax.” Pip reflected for a moment, and then spoke, “you mean Gianni Buonanno?” “Maybe that’s why he got so mad—I called him by the wrong name.” “But ...”
“Yeah, I told him guy Pip Flanders has family in Cleveland’s Irish mob—and the fuckin’ guy, Johnny Banana, or whatever his goddamned name is, flies into a rage—telling me nobody works the West Side and the East Side at the same time tax-free, or some bullshit like that.” “What else did he say?” “Oh, he started pulling numbers out of his ear—three large every week to him, in cash, plus thirty per cent off the top, monthly, which goes to Mr. Nardi up on The Hill ...” “They want us to start keeping books?” “Hey, who runs this town anyway? The Italians, the Irish or the Jews?” # Inside Pip’s office, the intercom beeped and Eloise spoke through it, “Pip, a Jimmy Duncan is here to see you.” “Thanks,” and Pip got up from behind his desk, turning-down the music on his CD player as he went to open the office door. Pip opened the door. Jimmy Duncan stood there. “Come in, Jimmy ...” “Nice place you got here, Pip. Could use an elevator, but still the same ...” Pip opened a small refrigerator and took out two bottles of beer, handing one to Jimmy, who sat on a green leather chaise lounge. Jimmy looked around Pip’s office: a yellow and orange silk carpet on the floor—cherry panelling on the walls—clean contemporary desk with glass top —original art on the walls, both abstract and representational studies: acrylics, watercolours, pen-and-ink.
“Well, clients don’t come by the office, as a rule—I usually meet them at their preferred location, mostly in restaurants.” “When you say ‘clients’, what exactly do you do?” “Investigative work—insurance fraud, cheating spouses, activity reports on enfant terrible trust-fund kids, background checks, consultation for businesses wanting to spy on their workers. It was a slow start, but I’m doing better these days. Now I have six employees.” Jimmy Duncan smiled as he drank his beer, and spoke, “I guess ‘it takes a thief to catch a thief’, as they say.” “Jimmy, do you plan to stay working in the supermarket? I mean, there’s no nice way to say this, but ...” “Yeah, another dead-end job in a series of dead-end jobs ... when I left Cleveland, I went down to Nashville and played music for a few years. It was casual. You get a little session work here—you get a few gigs there—that pace of life was a good thing for me. I was doing okay, you know?” “Well Jimmy, the reason I ask is ... I could use a guy like you around here—you know, somebody with nerve.” Jimmy laughed, “Pip, I lost my nerve a long time ago. And I don’t think ...” Pip interrupted, trying to repair an awkward moment between two old friends without sounding silly, saying, “why don’t you go back to playing music?’ “There’s no steady music gig in this town—nothing to live on, anyway.” “You could go back to Nashville, or try LA, or ...” “Too old for that, Pip. I mean, c’mon. Besides, I have a kid on the way.” Pip let the thought gestate for a few seconds.
Jimmy spoke matter-of-factly, “the woman’s in Chicago. Alexandra is her name—only she’s from an old Polish family. I drank potato vodka with her dad more than once. The old guy gets a few belts of vodka in his gut and the next thing you know he’s pulling out polka albums— on vinyl, too. ‘Roll Out The Barrel’. Polka will you drive you nuts, man.” Pip was unsure of where Jimmy was going with this. “I want to marry Alexandra and raise the kid together. Right now, she pours gimlets in a Chicago jazz club, The Green Mill. I want somebody to live out my years with. My game is over, and I’m still here. In a sense you and I both made it. Never mind that fall I took in the penitentiary—things could’ve turned-out a whole lot worse. When you and me were younger, we didn’t think about things like this then—now, I don’t want to grow old living alone in an apartment, hoping the neighbours are quiet and clean. What I intend to do is, go and talk with Alexandra’s father—do this the right way, by him. Ask permission for her hand.” “You’re gonna need a suit for talking to the old man, Jimmy.” Pip got up from behind his desk, and walked over to a wardrobe—he looked through the suits inside. He took out a conservative charcoal-coloured suit and handed it to Jimmy Duncan. Jimmy undressed and tried-on the suit in Pip’s office—the suit hanging loose on Jimmy’s svelte frame—sleeves and pants a little too long. Pip spoke, while pinching back fabric on the suit like an attentive haberdasher, “I used to be a perfect forty-four long—right off the rack. These days I’m a forty-six, depending on the label. You got black shoes?” “Yeah, I got black shoes.” #
That afternoon was the last time Pip saw Jimmy Duncan alive. The next time Pip saw Jimmy was over a year later—Jimmy lying supine in a cheap casket, in a cheap funeral parlour, and on the cheap side of town. In the casket, Jimmy Duncan wore Pip’s suit—clip-on necktie, and with the waxy pallor typical to the deceased having been made ready for display. At Jimmy Duncan’s funeral, the parlour held more employees than mourners. Just after the brief impersonal memorial service, the funeral director discretely approached Pip Flanders, and in the lowered and controlled tone of voice that someone who was long-tenured in the profession of dealing with the bereaved would have used, the funeral director asked Pip if he was interested in being one of the pall-bearers. Pip helped carry Jimmy Duncan to his grave that day—the grave-digger sitting on a backhoe, absently smoking a cigarette as Jimmy’s casket was lowered into the ground. As Pip drove back from the funeral service, he called his office. Eloise answered. Pip spoke, “do you have anything going on this weekend?” “Nothing important.” “If you feel up to it, I’d like you to go to Chicago. Drive, you’ll need a car while you’re there. And rentals attract too much attention.” “Good, I hate flying into O’Hare.” “I want this one for me, off the books. See what you can find-out about Jimmy Duncan. He had a woman, Alexandra, only she’s Polish. No last name. She used to sling gimlets at the Green Mill.” “The jazz club.” “You know it?”
“Yep, a classy place. I’ll bring smart clothes, anything else?” “That’s about all I got. Take your time. No hurry getting back.” # Eloise parked her late-model BMW next to St. Boniface Cemetery, near The Green Mill in Chicago—the car, yet another lingering gift from her divorce, in which Pip Flanders had done the investigative work. It was how Pip and Eloise met—Pip hired her shortly after, as a general assistant. She took to the work immediately, loving the clandestine element, yet never minding the tedium that often came with it. “I have a well-stocked mind, so I don’t get bored easily,” Eloise once told Pip when he asked if she could deal with eventless stake-outs. “Boring people get bored,” was Pip’s reply. Eloise lingered near the cemetery. It was a Saturday morning. She casually strolled over to The Green Mill and tried the door—it opened, and she walked in. A young man behind the bar was cleaning. He spoke, “we’re not open ‘til later. Unless you’re here to see somebody, but nobody’s really here yet.” Eloise sat at the bar. She wore a black Chanel silk cocktail dress—looking like she had perhaps not been home from the previous evening. Though in her mid-forties, Eloise appeared considerably younger. “Any chance you could pour me a club soda?—I’m parched.” The kid behind the bar hesitated, and looked unsure of how to respond. Eloise smiled at him and said, “if I knew I was going to be this thirsty this morning, I would’ve had another drink last night.”
The kid behind the bar did not get the joke, as he selected a high-ball glass and poured Eloise a club soda. “Did you work last night?” Eloise said, fishing. “Nope.” “I went to school with a gal who used to work here. Alexandra. Do you know her?” From behind Eloise, there was a young woman’s voice, “where did you go to school?” Eloise turned and saw the young woman, whom could not have been older than twentythree. The kid behind the bar left with a bag of trash in his hand, speaking to the young woman as he went, “Alex, I have to go early. I promised to take my mom shopping.” Eloise had not expected Alexandra to be so young. And as Alexandra walked over to the bar, Eloise noticed the young woman’s figure— curvy, with hips and chest, and fit, as though the gal exercised. Alexandra’s face was striking and unforgettable—big eyes you could swim in, and with the bone structure of royalty. Celebrities paid to look like that. Eloise saw a casual confidence in Alexandra’s character, as the young gal walked behind the bar—Alexandra wearing faded hip-hugger jeans and an equally-faded orange t-shirt that had ‘Bowie’ written on it in a groovy black font reminiscent of 1972. “Where did you say you went to school, again?” And Alexandra chuckled, intimating she had nothing to hide, if this older woman was snooping around asking questions about her. “My name’s Eloise.” “That’s a very feminine name.” “I’ll keep it.”
As Alexandra played a CD, ‘Sketches of Spain’ by Miles Davis, she spoke, “my dad wanted a boy. So he called me Alexandra—a boy’s name. The name is Greek, and I’m Polish. If you understand that logic, then you understand my dad.” “It’s hard to understand men, you know, and they say we’re the ones who are impossible,” Eloise said, still fishing. But Alexandra didn’t bite. They talked freely, discussing music, art and literature—and Eloise saw Alexandra was a cultured and educated young woman. Most people Eloise approached in her line of work, which often meant sitting in bars while trying to suss-out a cheating husband, talked about themselves—or other people—but Alexandra spoke of ideas. And in mid-conversation, Alexandra casually asked Eloise, “so what is it you wanted to find-out about me? Not to be egocentric, but I mean you obviously came here looking for something.” No segue. An instant conversational transition. Not even the slightest hint of suspicion in Alexandra’s voice. Eloise was left with the feeling Alexandra had perhaps been trying to interview her, instead of the inverse. “Jimmy Duncan,” Eloise said. Alexandra, with her big eyes, eyes you could swim in, looked at Eloise—giving nothing away, and spoke, “Jimmy Duncan?” Alexandra, still behind the bar, pouring herself a short glass of beer from the tap, spoke, “Jimmy Duncan went to my dad and asked his permission to marry me.” Eloise searched Alexandra’s eyes for her interpretation of Jimmy Duncan’s act.
Alexandra drank, and said, “and he did so, in a borrowed suit. Think about that for a second.” “Well, I guess he thought ...” “I’m not going to hazard a guess as to what Jimmy thought. But I certainly wasn’t going to marry an ex-con. I mean, what sort of life could he provide our baby?” “Jimmy is not going to be providing any sort of life—he died recently. Did you hear?” “I hear lots of things. I hear Jimmy died of a drug overdose, only he rarely took dope. I hear Jimmy owed people money. Lots of people. Lots of money.” “Well, that’s what you hear. But what do you know?” “I know they buried him in that same borrowed suit.”
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