Authors: K. C. Constantine
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2002 by K. C. Constantine
All rights reserved.
GRAND CENTRAL PUBLISHING
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
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First eBook Edition: April 2009
CRANKS AND SHADOWS
BOTTOM LINER BLUES
JOEY’S CASE UPON SOME MIDNIGHTS CLEAR
ALWAYS A BODY TO TRADE
THE MAN WHO LIKED SLOW TOMATOES
A FIX LIKE THIS
THE BLANK PAGE
THE MAN WHO LIKED TO LOOK AT HIMSELF
THE ROCKSBURG RAILROAD MURDERS
This book is dedicated to world peace.
couldn’t remember exactly when he’d gotten the feeling, and he wanted to remember because he knew this wasn’t just some good
feeling. This one was serious. This one was going to make a difference. He knew it came during the run, the mile and a half
he had to do in under twelve minutes, which he did in 9:04 and could have done faster if somebody had been pushing him. If
somebody had really been pushing him he could’ve done it in eight, but when he passed the mile mark he also passed the last
of the strung-out apps, and that was when he figured it was safe to take a look back. That’s when he saw that the closest
app was more than two hundred yards behind and losing ground and he knew he wouldn’t have to do it in anywhere near eight.
And the feeling he got, so clear he could almost see it as well as feel it, was of total indifference. He didn’t care where
he finished among this bunch of apps; he was just going to run, and to hell with everything. In the last five years he’d done
so many sit-ups, so many chin-ups, run so many mile-and-a-half runs in under twelve minutes, taken so many written tests,
so many oral tests by committee, he just felt fuckit. He didn’t say it. The words never formed in his mouth. But it was like
they were printed in big black letters on glass or clear plastic, out there about twenty or twenty-five yards in front of
him for the rest of the time he was running. Fuckit, William. Just run, man, and fuckit.
And after he saw the words and felt them as clearly as anything he’d ever seen or felt, the other words did form in his mouth,
and he said them aloud and didn’t care who heard him.
“They don’t want me, they don’t want me, I don’t care, but long as I’m here I’m goin’ run their asses into the ground. They
might not hire me, but they’re never goin’ forget this nigger turned their vanilla asses into tap-ee-oh-ka.”
And with those words in his mouth he glided the last hundred yards or so, vowing not to breathe so the sergeants with the
stop-watches and clipboards could hear him when he crossed the finish line. And he hadn’t. Hadn’t doubled over either, the
way every other app did when they came in—long after he’d come in. He remembered walking around, putting on his sweats, and
starting his stretches before the next app even made it across the finish line, about two minutes after he’d crossed. He noticed
the looks he was getting from the two sergeants, but he didn’t acknowledge them. He just noticed them and thought, that’s
right, go on and look. Look at the nigger done whipped all these vanilla apps’ asses. By a whole long time. Just like I whipped
their asses in sit-ups. And chin-ups. And if you’da had a push-up test I’da whipped ’em in that too. Y’alls goin’ remember
William Rayford. You might not hire me, but fuckit, I don’t care, I’m the best y’alls seen today. Or any other day. Make you
out a deposit slip on that.
And he’d had the same attitude the following morning when, just as the Rocksburg Safety Committee chairman was telling him
he was excused and thanks for coming in, that funky dago councilman with the birdy voice chirped up,“Just a minute, Mr. Chairman,
I got a question.”
Rayford had started to thank everybody for their time and the courtesy they’d extended him and had already taken a step toward
the door, but he stopped where he was and waited for the question.
The councilman, who’d been quiet until then, said,“Suppose you got called to a robbery at, uh, say like a convenience store,
a Sheetz or a 7-Eleven or somethin’. And while you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you know, asking questions and
getting everything ready for the detectives, suppose you see another cop, you know, one who answered the call just like you,
maybe even your partner in the car, suppose you see him put a pack a cigarettes in his pocket, coupla candy bars maybe. What
would you do?”
Rayford saw that clear plastic with the black letters on it again, and the feeling swept over him like the gentle drizzle
he’d felt as he walked from the parking lot into council chambers before this oral exam. Fuckit, the sign said. Hire me, don’t
hire me, either way it’s not goin’ touch me.
He didn’t sit back down. He talked while he draped his raincoat over his left arm. He said,“If there was no doubt in my mind
he took the stuff?”
“No doubt,” the councilman said.
“Then I’d go ask the clerk how much for a pack of cigarettes or the candy or whatever. And I’d pay him what he said, tell
him the money was for what my fellow officer took, and then, after the detectives got there, I’d take my fellow officer aside
and very politely I’d tell him, next time you take somethin’ don’t belong to you, and I see you? I’m goin’ write you up. That’s
what I’d do, sir.”
The funky dago councilman threw back his head and laughed, but quietly. He didn’t make a sound. But he sat there laughing
with his head back for maybe two seconds, and Rayford thought, there, see? Least he’s goin’ remember me.
“Is that it?”
“That’s it, Mr. Rayford,” the chairman said.“Unless Councilman Figulli has another question. No? We’ll be in touch, one way
or another. Thanks again for coming in.”
“Thanks for giving me the opportunity,” Rayford said, and went out to his Toyota in the soft rain and felt good. He didn’t
have the words to say how good it felt to not care how things were going to turn out. Now all he’d need to feel better was
for the Toyota to start. Nothing wrong with the Toyota. Best car he’d ever owned. But the battery was dying, and he was broke
and maxed out on both his Visa and his MasterCard, and payday wasn’t till Friday. He put the key in, closed his eyes and was
saying a little start-the-Toyota prayer when he heard somebody rapping on the window.
“Rayford?” It was an older man, with grayish whitish hair sticking out around his ears from under a white Kangol cap.
Rayford easily recognized the face but the name wasn’t there. And he knew he should know the name.
Rayford wound down the window a couple of inches and tried to fake it. “Hey, man, hya doin’?”
“What, you don’t remember me? Huh? I can see you don’t. Balzic. How’d you do in there?”
“Oh oh, yeah yeah, hey, I knew it was you, I just couldn’t remember whether we were first name or what, you know? Hya doin’,
Chief?” Rayford wound the window all the way down and held out his hand. “Good to see you, yeah. Hey, thanks, you know? Really
appreciate you talkin’ me up, man, really.”
Balzic shook hands and said, “You’re welcome. But I didn’t do that much, believe me. So how do you think you did, huh? Pretty
good? Nowicki told me you killed ’em on the physical stuff yesterday. Said he never saw numbers like yours before. Like what,
you come in a minute and fifty-five seconds ahead of everybody in the run? Is that right?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“Yeah, well, you know, personally, I think it’s a lotta bullshit myself. I mean I understand you gotta be in shape and all
that, but puttin’ all that emphasis on the physical stuff? See, I think they all do that ’cause they’re scared to death to
interpret the psychological test. That’s where I’d be lookin’. I mean, nothin’ personal here, I’m glad for you you’re in good
shape, you know, stay that way. For your own health I mean. But what I’d wanna know is, so you can run the thief down, what’re
you gonna do after you tackle him, huh? See what I’m sayin’?”
“Absolutely,” Rayford said. “And I agree. But I still wanted to do my best, you know, just for me. And I did. Those were my
best numbers ever. And I think I did okay in there just now. Never know, but, uh, I didn’t stutter, I didn’t hesitate, I looked
’em in the eye. I knew what I was talkin’ about or else I told ’em I didn’t know. Course, hey, you know, up to them, right?
Hey, whyn’t you get in, man, you’re goin’ get soaked out there.”
“Nah, this jacket’s, uh, my daughters bought it for me. It’s Gore-Tex, you know? Guaranteed waterproof. Nah, I’m alright.
So, uh, you think you did alright, huh?”
“Yeah, I think. Hey, lemme buy you a coffee or somethin’, huh?”
“Huh? Yeah, okay, I could go for that.” Balzic walked around the car and got in as Rayford, eyes closed, turned the key. The
only response from the Toyota was a dead click.
Balzic had opened the door and dropped onto the seat in time to hear the click, “Oh-oh. Deadsville, huh? Hey, no problem,
my car’s right over there, c’mon, we’ll go in mine.”
Rayford winced. “Yeah, but I gotta get home sometime, gotta be on the job at four.”
“You still workin’ at the mall here?”
“Not anymore, uh-uh. One in the South Hills. Century Three?”
“Woo, that’s a long way from here. Belong to Triple-A?”
“No, uh-uh, that’s sort of a continuin’ problem I got. My mother-in-law, got-damn woman, all she got to do is eat, do her
business, sleep, go to the store once in a while get some milk or coffee, go to the mailbox end of the block, drop some envelopes
in. Keep tellin’ my wife don’t let your momma mail no bills, ’cause she get short, she tries to cash them checks.”
“What, the ones you’re payin’ bills with?”
“Yeah. Exactly. Go ’head, laugh. I know you want to. If everybody’s brain is a thousand molecules, that woman got seventy-nine.
Three months ago—yeah, you’re laughin’, go ’head—but no shit, man, she tried to cash a check I wrote to Ma Bell. Woman walk
in the got-damn Giant Eagle, told those people the check’s made out wrong, somebody made it out to Ma Bell ’stead of Mrs.
Bell. Tried to tell ’em that’s who she was, Mrs. Bell, and here the check made out to AT&T. She heard me say it was made out
to the phone company, and she still thinks Bell owns all them companies. Go ’head, laugh, it’s okay.”
Balzic was laughing, shaking his head.
“Had to go down the station house, man, bail her ass out. That’s what ain’t funny. Told my wife, said, this ain’t this woman’s
fault, this is your fault, she don’t know no better, you the one lettin’ her mail them checks. You got to mail them bills
your damn self, you can’t be lettin’ her do that. Woman got a history of stupid shit long as her legs, you know, and she used
to be six feet tall before she got osteoporosis. I mean the woman got some long legs.”
“Cut it out,” Balzic said, “I got a crick in my neck, it hurts when I laugh. So, uh, what, she try to cash your Triple-A dues?”
“Yeah, man, tried to cash that too. Told ’em her name was Ahmed Aman Amal or some Muslim shit like that, told ’em some dummy
made it out to three As—you think I’m makin’ this up, it’s the truth. Yeah, and if you talk to the woman, she sounds intelligent.
And she will try to make you think she’s smarter than she is. But see, she can’t read, and she fronts all the time. Sit with
a newspaper in her lap watchin’ the TV news, try to make you think she just read somethin’ when what she did was hear it on
the TV. It’s pathetic. If she wasn’t my wife’s momma I could maybe work up some kinda feelin’ for her, you know? But the woman
has seriously fucked up my life. I probably told you, I musta, ’cause I tell everybody, so I musta told you, but she’s the
reason I had to get out the air force. I was an E5, man, with four years in, all set to re-up for six, makin’ damn near eleven
hundred a month, all those benefits, goin’ get maybe a three-grand re-up bonus, and what does my wife say? No, William, uh-uh,
we goin’ give all this up, yeah, ’cause we got to go back to Pittsburgh, man, take care of Momma.”
“Yeah, you told me.”
“Been a money cripple ever since, man. Workin’ three jobs to get sixty hours, you believe that? And sixty hours, that’s a
good week. And no health insurance, no commissary prices, no PX prices, no vacation—I used to get thirty days paid leave a
year, man! From day one! But since I got out? Six years, man, every vacation day I’ve had is unpaid sick time. ’Cause of this
woman thinks she’s Mrs. Bell. Or Mrs. Triple-A.”