The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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Shapes of Things

Filled with pancakes and Ed’s advice, Lloyd sat in his office at 3:30 a.m. pondering his next move, which was probably slumber. Ed had given him a ride in his old DeSoto, dropping Lloyd off with one final piece of wisdom: “Don’t eat any wooden gumballs.”

Lloyd was grateful that, while he might not have any particularly close friends, he had more than his share of good ones. Since Lloyd had gone to the Westside, Ed had been in his corner every time he’d felt backed into one, advising him, covering for him, making him a better cop.

In the car, Ed offered to call Ailes and vouch for Lloyd, saying that should be sufficient to get Ailes back on the right track; that whatever it was about Lloyd that ticked Ailes off, no good cop would let his feelings override his desire to nail the right guy.

Lloyd could think of reasons to be uncomfortable with that: not wanting to have Ed still cleaning up his messes at this late date; not wanting Ailes to think he needed help; but that was overshadowed by the relief he felt at there might be an easy, civilized solution to getting a bulldog like Ailes off his ass.

He thanked Ed as sincerely as he could without being ridiculed. And not wanting Ed to feel he was going out on such a limb for Lloyd, he told him he did have an alibi if he absolutely needed it. Then he told him about Audrey.

He worried that the careworn man would shake his head and drive off convinced that Lloyd was an unredeemable fuckup, since his previous mix of business and romance had given Ed’s beloved LAPD a black eye. Instead, Ed patted Lloyd on the shoulder and told him, “Congratulations. It sounds like you’re finally in love. All that joking I do about my wife, you know it’s not true, most of it anyway. There is nothing like being really in love with a woman who’s really in love with you. Wherever her famed husband is, I agree, he’s left her high and dry. Best of luck and invite me to the wedding.”

Slumped in his leather lawyer’s chair, Lloyd fell asleep thinking of Audrey’s bosom, but his dreams strayed elsewhere. He was downtown at Abraham’s stand getting a shoeshine, except Abraham was up in the chair and Lloyd was on the ground with his feet in the air so the blue-aproned man could buff his wingtips. Abraham was saying that he couldn’t understand why the Dodgers and the Angels didn’t just stay home and play each other every day to save themselves all that travel. Lloyd looked up into the earnest man’s eyes, only to see they’d been replaced with red dice, rolling in his sockets like the numbers on a gas pump.

He blinked and was at the vagrants’ encampment, digging through the clutter. He was looking for clues, but kept finding swag lamps, the kind with colored chunks of resin embedded in them. He imagined each one in Audrey’s living room hanging over the rug where they’d first made love. He put them in a pile, soon buried with more mundane debris. As he kept uncovering things, he saw a small arm, like a child’s, the rest of the body buried under splintered plywood, torn canvas and uprooted weeds. Lloyd pulled it out, thinking he’d found Artie’s dummy, but it had a pineapple for a head.

He went deeper into a dreamless place. When he surfaced, he was on the deck of a PT boat, leaning against the wire railing at the prow. Lloyd had barely gathered where he was before he spotted mines in the water dead ahead. He turned to tell the captain, but instead of a stalwart JFK figure, Bunk Ailes was at the wheel, fiendishly red and aiming straight into the minefield despite Lloyd’s shouted warnings.

He turned forward and could now see they weren’t mines, but grey brains bobbing on the choppy surface. When each hit the plywood hull, it made a sickening thud.

The thudding changed to a persistent knock, and Lloyd woke to find it was day and Cochise was banging on his door.

He roused himself, rested but sore, and chagrined to find he had an erection. How on earth could he be dreaming about brains and PT boats, yet his dick was on a whole other nocturnal agenda? He untucked his shirt to hide his thankfully receding tumescence and got up to open the door.

Cochise was beaming.

“I sold that Caddy and am rich beyond measure. What’s new at the fort?“

“I was grabbed and jabbed by Bunk Ailes last night. He thinks I’m the murderer.”

“I thought you thought I was the murderer.”

“I never said that.”

“You didn’t have to. I could read it in your face, at least as a passing suspicion. That’s why you keep me around, along with other motives, such as me buying you breakfast. Ever have an Irish coffee?”

Over omelets and fortified coffee, Lloyd asked him, “What do you know about Ailes. It seems his cops know you.”

“I do add interest to their tiresome days. They’ve jailed me a few times, beat me a few more, and Ailes made it memorable, but we’re not on a first-name basis. They mostly leave me alone these days and stick to going after losers who are more easily impressed.”

“Any idea why he’s after me?”

“He doesn’t like smart people on his turf. I’ve never let on that I’m anything but a drunk brute around him, and I’ve usually left enough damage in my wake to support that. You’re a smarty-pants detective. That could be reason enough. Plus, you’re a loser.”

There wasn’t much more to mine there, so Lloyd filled him in on the latest in the hunt for Artie, which was the dummy case in the pawn shop and zip else. The decided that Cochise would drive them downtown for another fruitless day of searching for the ventriloquist, then he’d drop Lloyd off in the hills.

They stopped back at Lloyd’s office so he could phone Audrey. He reassured her that he was fine and would call that afternoon before he came up. Then he locked up and climbed into Cochise’s chimpanzee-less VW camper, heading for the next round of Lloyd vs. downtown.


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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.


Well any dream beats sleeplessness!  But than this ex-cop anti-hero reminds me of a Keystone cop with too much testosterone, or more like Charlie Chaplin doing a stint as ex-cop PI.  Maybe more like Chevy Chase doing a poor Robert De Niro vs Al Pacino good guy vs the rest of the worlds bad asses complete with night-vision soap opera.
If Lloyd gets any more “fleshed”-out, he’ll need a license to do adult video complete with condoms.  I do enjoy his bungling slog.

2012-01-22 by Karen

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