Part I/July 1, 1958/Chapter 1

In the beginning…

there was the shovel and then there was the darkness. The darkness. That’s where the world ended for Morris Baker, but it’s also where it began. In fact, it was the impenetrable darkness that woke him almost every morning. Dreams of a different sort—a happy sort, you could call them–were in short supply within his brain. It was only the usual side effects (profuse sweat, pumping heart, initial confusion) that Morris knew he was still alive, that he hadn’t been fully claimed—at least not yet–by the abyss that haunted his sleeping hours (and a good chunk of his waking ones too for that matter). It was the darkness that roused him awake on a muggy Tuesday morning. Well, the darkness and the ringing of that damn telephone.

He knew it was Tuesday because an empty bottle of peach schnapps lay on his nightstand. He always drank peach schnapps on Monday nights just like his father before him…except that Anshel Baker hadn’t been a vicious drinker. Wait, who was he kidding? He drank peach schnapps every night. He knew he had woken up on a Tuesday because the government-issued, Norman Rockwell-illustrated calendar on his grease-stained refrigerator told him so. The picture for the month of July consisted of two ‘proud’ Americans (a husband and wife) in conservative swimsuits lounging on a beach, clinking their martinis together. In the distance, a sad looking couple dressed in drab gray uniforms were bound in steel chains attached to heavy-looking steel balls that bore the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union. Set against the cloudless blue sky above the two couples in red white and blue letters traced in a black outline were the words: THE FREEDOMS OF CAPITALISM! You had to admit, Rockwell could make the fear of the Reds look, well, not so fearful.  

Thanks to the schnapps, Baker was lucky enough to see two identical versions of the calendar, but he was just able to make out that it was the first day of July and that…Shit! The phone was still ringing. It was on the floor. His priorities usually placed booze on the night table for easier access. If the phone ever rang, it was for work and he never mixed business with pleasure. He rolled onto the other side of the bed and reached onto the floor for the receiver; he fumbled with dirty socks, a crumpled chocolate bar wrapper, and a neglected guide on How to Recognize a Communist in Ten Easy Steps. Finally, he found the smooth black receiver with one of his scarred hands and stopped the infernal ringing that had helped in disrupting his already restless sleep.

“Yeah?” he grunted to the person on the other end. His mouth was dry and sour with the taste of the alcohol absorbed by his gums and the bacteria that was allowed to flourish on it during the night.

“Baker, hope I didn’t wake you,” said Detective Brogan Connolly in a voice that didn’t really sound very apologetic.

“No, I was having an early brunch. Lucille Ball is here. I really am preoccupied at the moment. Please do call later.” He’d lived in America for close to ten years, but he still couldn’t shake his Hungarian accent on words like ‘was,’ which turned into ‘vas’ and ‘the’ into ‘ze.’

“Not interested in your lip, Baker. We need you down in Echo Park pronto.”

“Vat—what—is it that couldn’t wait for me to actually be on shift, Connolly?”

“Two stiffs, double homicide.”

“So? Ve”—we—get homicides all the time. It’s our department for Yashka’s sake.”

“First off, his name is pronounced Jesus. Secondly, don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. And yeah, we get murders all the time, but it’s not every day that you come across two stiffs, one a journalist for a big-time news network and one a washed up motion picture director. Can’t make head or tails of it. Just thought you’d wanna know.”

Now Baker was starting to ignore his schnapps-induced hangover, becoming interested.

“You still there, Baker?”

“Yes, yes. keep your heads on” The idiom tasted foreign on his lips. “What’s”–what’s came out like putz with a v–”the address?”

“1565 Altivo Way.”

“Ok. Anything–Anyzing–else?”

“Just get your chopped-liver loving ass down here, alright?” Connolly hung up the phone and Baker listened to the silence until the operator came on the line and asked if he wanted to make another call.

“Connolly, you Irish bastard,” he murmured as he placed the receiver back into its cradle on the cluttered floor and began to get dressed.

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