The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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I Fought the Law

Knocking a person unconscious is rarely as neat and easy as it appears in movies, but when Lloyd was done boxing Chick Singer in the alley, the car dealer lay as insensate as the goon who had been set to rights by the Greeter’s two-by-four.

Two sets of hands applauded Lloyd’s handiwork, and he turned, bone weary, to see that Cochise had joined the Greeter at the alley’s mouth.

“Bravo! Excelsior! Nobly done!”

Lloyd was warily delighted to see the big Apache. They embraced, and Cochise’s bear hug nearly accomplished what Singer’s punches hadn’t.

“Easy on the merchandise, hey!”

Cochise released him and they regarded each other.

“You look like shit,” the Indian said. “It’s a good thing I asked Smeg to keep an eye on you.”

Lloyd was chagrined that Cochise felt he’d needed a crazy street person to look after him, but the evidence did tilt toward that. “Much appreciated. Thanks, both of you. We have catching up to do, Cochise, but first, I don’t want to leave these assholes laying next to my office.”

“Why not? They look like good advertising to me,” Cochise said. “You have no idea what an asshole Singer is. You know why I took his chimp? I saw that at night Singer had him pressed tight between two sections of chain link fence they’d lock together. He’d have him doped up to keep him docile in the commercials. I’ll throw Singer’s ass off the pier if you want.”

“No, I might bump into his body when I’m swimming. Can you think of anything less drastic?”

“You know I can.”

The Greeter went on his shambling way while Lloyd and Cochise searched the two fallen men’s pockets for keys. They found one that unlocked the panel van on the street. Making sure no one was around, they trundled the unconscious men into the back. There, between racks of fan belts and radiator hoses, Cochise stripped the men, pocketing their wallets, cash and a hefty pocketknife; then he tossed their clothes in the street. He arranged the naked bodies in a spooning position, with Singer in front, and lashed their hands and feet together.

Lloyd could barely watch. He asked Cochise, “Is this an old Apache trick?”

“It’s a new Apache trick.” He counted his fresh cash. “I’ve got more than enough for cab fare from Watts. I’ll see you in 90 minutes. First, let me introduce you to Bonzo.”

Lloyd picked up the clothes from the street and threw them in a nearby trashcan. Then he followed Cochise to a two-toned lime-green and cream VW camper van, as the big man explained he’d traded the station wagon stolen from Singer’s lot for this slightly less hot number, from a Santa Ana transmission shop that ran cars both ways across the border. Crime like that used to interest Lloyd.

Cochise opened the side door and there was Bonzo the Deal Lovin’ Chimp, hanging from a small hammock Cochise had slung, holding a mashed banana in one almost human hand. Lloyd realized he’d only seen the chimpanzee in black and white, on TV. In color, he looked a lot more alive and unpredictable. The animal appraised Lloyd, looked to Cochise for his opinion, than proffered the mangled fruit to Lloyd.

“Take it. He likes to share.”

Lloyd did, flinching a bit from the touch of alien fingers. He pretended to take a bite. Bonzo looked at him like he was an idiot. Lloyd peeled the rest of the banana, took a bite from the unmasticated end and handed the rest back to the chimp.

With surprising gentleness, Cochise took Bonzo by his free hand and led him out of the van. They walked hand in hand beside Lloyd towards his office. Passing the panel van, the monkey caught a whiff of something he didn’t like, uttering agitated chimp shrieks, which Lloyd knew from jungle movies. He pulled free from Cochise and pounded his fists on the van’s metal sides, leaving dents.

Noise was rarely a surprise in Venice, so no one came running from around the corner. Cochise knelt on one knee beside the chimp and began chanting softly. Within seconds the animal stopped pounding and placed a hand back in Cochise’s, who told Lloyd, “I think Bonzo would have voted for the pier.”

He resumed telling about the chain link fence sandwich he’d found Bonzo locked into, and the cattle prod kept nearby. He described the animal’s sores and the withdrawal jitters he’d gone through the past couple of days.

“What are you going to do with him?”

“I don’t know. He’s taken a liking to me, but he’s cramping my style. I can’t even hang out with my drinking buddies, because I know they’d turn us in for the reward. I’ll have to find some sort of jungle to let him go in.”

“I mean what are you doing with him right now?”

“Leaving him with you while I move your mess to a darker neighborhood. Do you have any spray paint? I want to write ‘Just Married’ on the back of their van.”

“Hold on. I don’t know what to do with a monkey!”

“He’s an ape, actually. I read up on him in the library. Just keep him occupied. He loves playing patty-cake. So long as you don’t stop, he won’t be any trouble.”

separator

Lloyd played patty-cake with the ape until his fight-weary arms felt like lead pizza dough. The Indian had been gone over an hour. When Lloyd had come in the office, he’d seen the nickel had rolled off his phone receiver, so someone had rung. He was anxious to start dialing the potential callers, especially Audrey. The chimp would have none of it, though. On they played, he and his heedlessly strong, possibly unhinged playmate. Of all the assholic things Chick Singer had done, thinking he had any business owning a creature like this was the worst. That and thinking he could own Audrey.

Without interrupting their play, the chimp had a noisy poop in his diaper. Lloyd decided to leave that for Cochise to deal with. He had a sudden thought: What if Cochise didn’t intend to return, sticking him with Bonzo, leaving Cochise free to return to the carefree berserker life he’d enjoyed prior to being on Lloyd’s payroll?

Well, what if? One chimpanzee more or less wasn’t going to complicate his life more than it already was. The night before he’d been hobnobbing with one of the world’s leading drunken authorities on Eastern religion; now he was playing patty-cake for dear life with a televised ape. The night before he’d been doped with a Brew 102 laced with LSD; now the chimp seemed to sense that in him, and pressed his advantage.

When Lloyd finally threw his arms down in surrender, Bonzo seemed to accept that. He stood on Lloyd’s desk, let out an exultant cry, then settled down to nap in his client chair.

As soon as he felt he wouldn’t be interrupted by jungle noises, Lloyd dialed Audrey’s number. There was no answer, so he called Roy Narawamu to see if there were any new leads on the downtown killings.

“Nothing new here, but there’s a field sergeant downtown who thinks he has a suspect. I shouldn’t be telling you this, except it’s so preposterous: He thinks it’s you.”

“Me?”

“He says you started turning up downtown around when the killings started; that you threw a dangerous projectile at his officers; caused a violent altercation in a bar; were acquainted with at least two of the victims; that you’ve harassed their relatives and associates. He says that you have motive; that these killings are to give the department a black eye, or that maybe you’ll make someone else the patsy for them and come out a hero.”

“That sounds like entirely too much work to me. You don’t believe any of this shit, do you?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t be telling you this, would I? But absent any other leads, and that fact these bodies piling up is a black eye, I expect you’ll have some ’splainin’ to do, Lucy.”

If Lloyd could waaaagh! like Lucy, he would have then. His life could indeed get more complicated, and it just had. Even if he moved to clear himself fast, he’d still be tailed and scrutinized until the real killer was found. He had to graph out his days and nights, placing the approximate murder times against whatever possible alibis he had and could remember, ones that didn’t involve him mumbling around between Audrey’s perfect thighs.

What if that was the only alibi? Would he drag Audrey into it to save his skin? Would she willingly be dragged? Would an adultress be credible, one who dallied with the help while her beloved childlike husband wandered a murderer’s streets? Would Lloyd have to call on Chick Singer to testify as a witness, once he could be located in South Central, stumbling around with a naked mechanic tied to his ass?

“Lloyd?”

“Huh?”

“I wasn’t sure if I’d lost the connection. Did you hear all that?”

“No.”

“It was: Don’t call here unless you absolutely have to. Don’t call Dr. Ted at all. With his enemies, he needs to be isolated from this. He says to give you his very best regards, though. If we learn anything that’ll help you, I get the sign language that he doesn’t mind if I share it with you, so long as it doesn’t compromise the office’s integrity.”

“And you trust me enough that I won’t do that?”

Roy took a long breath. “I’ve seen you do some stupid things, but never a wrong one. You’re one of the good guys, and I’m a better guy for knowing you. I’m getting to know this killer, too, from his work, and if you had even a hint of this evil in you, I’d have seen it.”

Just then Bonzo woke with an unmistakable burst of monkey jabber.

“Lloyd, is that a chimpanzee?”

“It’s not Everett Dirksen.”

 “I don’t want to know about it. Goodbye. Call me at home if you need anything.”

Not for the first time, Lloyd wished he had a hi-fi in his office. Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” would have sat well with him right then. It was music that felt like it was moving forward and standing still at the same time, which was how he felt.

He didn’t have the ingredients, but he had the recipe: Find his employer’s husband before a murderer did; find the murderer; and be home in time to spend the rest of his life with his employer. Add one chimpanzee and stir gently.

 

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Jim Washburn has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the OC Weekly, various MSN sites and just about anybody else willing to trade a paycheck for a pulse.
jim@fourstory.org

Comments

Monkey jabber. That’s good!

2011-10-8 by leslie

This story keeps getting kicked up a notch - Go Lloyd!

2011-10-9 by John Zieg

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