Unfinished Quagga story

James D Morgan
  last edited: Mon, 15 Jan 2018 20:28:00 +0100  
(Thanks for stopping by and reading this. This is not high literature and is a work in progress. It started life as a timed writing project. I gave myself 30 minutes to write whatever pooped into my head, unedited and unexpurgated. It has developed a little beyond that now. I ask that you remember that this is a ludibrum and as such will probably never be worthwhile reading.)

Nick Trowel sat at the bar nursing Cuba Libres for so long that the barkeep began to think of him as a fixture rather than a customer. He lazily slumped over the bar mindlessly futzing with the ashtray while thinking about how nasty ashtrays are. He pulled another Camel from the pack, toyed with it packing it down a bit before he put it in his mouth James Dean style and lit it with a bright flame from his service Zippo. He lazily blew out the smoke from the first drag in a way that suggested the drag was not all that satisfying, that he was smoking just to have something to do besides drink.

He turned his bar stool to scan the bar. The bar was dark and dirty. Everything in the place reeked of cheap liquor, cheap smokes, and cheaper women. The best of the furniture was torn and cut up and no table or chair in the place sat level on all its legs. One needed to strike a match to see if the lights were on and the smoke was beginning to steal the air. On the plus side though, it wasn't very hot. Seedy dives always seemed hot to him and he rather loathed being hot, even slightly hot. True, if it weren't for business he wouldn't frequent this sort of place. It was much too lowbrow for him, not that his tastes were all that high. All in all though this wasn't too bad of a place for a blue-collar bar in the heart of the city.

He flicked another ash into the tray trying to remember exactly what the cryptic voice on the phone had said. Someone, probably from a bar like this, had once said that the devil was in the details. Funny the profundities that spew from the drunken mind, but something told him that in this case it might just be true. It was a man's voice and if his assumptions were near correct, a middle-aged man's voice. Another damn "my-wife-is-cheating-on-me" case where some snivelling little twit of a man who couldn't keep his wife happy now has to face the awful truth that someone else in this is big world can. He hated these cases but they were his bread and butter.

...and his Cuba Libres...

The voice on the phone said to meet at this bar a couple of hours ago. The Libres started affecting his mind a little. One can not sit in a bar drinking for a couple of hours and not get a little woozy. What else did the voice say? Something about life-death and the end of the world. He snorted. Everyone's problems are the end of the world. You wouldn't give a rat's ass if you knew how little the world thought of you, he thought to himself.

Every bar in the world has that door that opens to the sunlit world outside. It blinds all the people in the bar when it is opened. Barkeepers probably do this to blind the insiders so they can't see who is coming in the door. The mating ritual should take place in a darkened room after all. Well as fate would have it that door opened at just this time Of course, he could not see who came in. He guessed that no one else could either as the chatter never missed a beat.

It was about 7. This is the post-happy-hour-pre-younger-generation-freak-show time. Most of the people in the bar just never left after happy hour but some new faces did trickle in adding life and vibrance to people who really wanted to go home but found the bar more interesting than another evening in front of the tube.

A group of younger men who wore the garb of the factory had recently come in and roosted at the end of the bar and the tables close to that end. Their conversation ranged from issues at the plant to one guy's car troubles. He snorted as he thought to himself how funny it was that if you open a car hood all the men nearby become ace mechanics, even if they can't even spell car.

The recently divorced woman at the cleanest table in the place especially amused him. Palookas hit on her several times throughout her time in the bar and she managed to adroitly flick them away as carelessly as on flicks away a flying pest. She had no business being there. Oh yes, she was the loneliest woman in the city at the time but, though divorced, she was still married in her heart.

A band came out from somewhere in the back of the bar and began setting up their instruments and accoutrements. Oh shit, he thought, I gotta get outta here before they start. He hated cover bands at the best best of times and midweek at a blue-collar bar in downtown was not the best of times.

He witnessed the fiery crash of the divorcee's latest victim and he motioned the barkeep to bring him another when a stranger sat down on a stool nearby. This guy lived his life in the blue collar world. His face hadn't seen a razor in days. His biceps strained under the cuffs of his short sleeved shirt which bore many holes and burns. Maybe he works the shipyard he thought. Hell, he was so woozy at this point that it could have been a bowling league shirt for all he knew.

Bowling shirt man began elbowing him and made a few ungracious comments about the divorcee and the victim. He tried to ignore him but he was such a big man and every time the elbow made contact with his ribs he could've sworn he could feel them break. He smiled weakly hoping that the man would take the hint and leave him alone. The man was not taking the hint. He was about to ask the man to leave when he looked him in the eye and said:

"Your friend ain't coming today, mate. He was...umm indisposed."

"Indisposed? As in...?"

"Don't give it another thought. Just know that you can sit here all night getting drunk and your friend won't show."

"Well, hell, there's a wasted day with no one to bill it to. What is this about anyway?"

"It's best I not say nothing. Your friend will..."

"I've never met the man. He is just a voice on the phone to me."

"Ok, be that as it may, your friend can explain it to you.'

"Yeah, maybe, if he ever calls me back."

"He will. It is too important. He'll call."

“What's too important?"

"That's not my place to say, mister. I'm just a hired man. I will tell you though that Quagga ain't dead."

"Quagga?"

"SSSSHHHHH! Not so loud. You're a smart man. You'll figure it out. Now I gotta scoot."

"But..."

"No, no buts. I've said more than I should. I must go now. Have a nice life."

Without saying another word bowling shirt man walked away and through the blinding door of the establishment. He looked down and saw that the bartender had brought him a fresh libre. Now his mind was racing. Indisposed? Another call? Quagga? Luckily, a day's worth of booze slowed his judgement just enough that he thought it was all some elaborate joke. He had just enough for his mind to start racing away on all sorts of theories and have him wasting his time on tilting windmills. He could be a rather dangerous person when an idea became set in his mind.

He stood up hoping that his legs were still under his hips, luckily they were. He tossed a $50 on the bar and turned to the door wincing as he thought of the blinding light on the other side.

Private investigation work draws few parallels with the motion picture detective. Most of the work bores people who have boring lives and the tedium of trolling through the minutiae of another person's life is more than most people can stomach. Who cares that the Smith family goes through 12 rolls of toilet paper in a week? No one but an investigator. After all that might be a clue to some mystery regarding one or all of the Smith's. The Hollywood image of Bogie pointing a gun at Peter Lorre was a fantasy. The world of the private detective is much more prosaic.

Still, Bowling Shirt Man had said something about something called "quagga." A few minutes online had shown Nick a wealth of information on the Quagga. Absolutely worthless information, mind you. The quagga was a cousin to the zebra and the entire species became extinct back in the late 1800s. Aside from a stuffed museum piece Nick would never see a quagga. They simply did not exist anymore and had not existed for more than a century.

The ennui of his daily life kept his curiosity in check. It was more important for him to get proof that Alice really was cheating on Bob and that Bob had a friend named Miles who had several nefarious dealings in his life possibly including insurance fraud. Most of Nick's time found itself invested in taking pictures of the highly unphotogenic Alice or poring over Miles' financials and police reports regarding the fire at his warehouse.

Pondering on the quagga and all the silliest of all possible adventures made the drudgery almost bearable. Maybe a Grand Auk would be in the offing too.

Early one morning Nick went to his office to go over some more of the warehouse documents. Already a lady was seated on the couch in his tiny makeshift waiting room. Obviously she was a gal who only responded to “Doll” and fat wallets and was wholly unaccustomed to the tight fit of his office. She wore a rather conservative business suit, the cut of which revealed dangerous curves built only for those with a reckless mind and a daring heart. She was business, all business, and from the high rent district.
There she sat in Nick's office. Slowly smoking a cigarette, her red lips burning him more than the blue smoke that she let lazily drift from her half-open mouth as she peered off into some distant scene that lurked somewhere outside the east wall of the office and in the centre of her memory.

“It’s a little early for callers,” Nick started.

“I am afraid this is a matter of the utmost urgency and requires someone of your, shall we say, special skillset.”

“Oh?” Nick replied somewhat annoyed at the life and death ploy she had just employed. “To what particular skills are you referring?”

“Let’s just say that in my circle you are known as man who is trustworthy and can get the job done.”
Her circle? Nick thought to himself. This dame’s shoes cost more than my yearly take home. People in ‘her circle’ have no need of gumshoes like me. They own the police department. Why would they need someone of my special skillset?

“And just who is your circle?”

“My circle is very well connected. I have some very well connected friends, but my friends are not the issue at hand. Let me be direct, Mr Trowel, I need you to find someone for me. Mr Cavendish disappeared three weeks ago. Just up and disappeared. No one has heard from him since. He was working on some...”

“Let me stop you there. Sounds to me like this is an issue for the police or the FBI or something.”

“Some of the people in my circle would prefer to avoid any entanglements with law enforcement and they will pay you handsomely for your services.”

“I see. Money is not really the issue.”

“Your rate is $300 a day plus expenses. We will pay you $1000 a day as well as any expenses incurred. You must find Cavendish.”

“Listen, lady, I said money wasn’t the issue and I meant it. I have a couple of cases going right now and I do not have the time to take on anything else. I am sorry, Ma’am, I just can’t take it on right now.”

“Your cases are simply solved, Mr Trowel. Alice is not cheating on her husband. She loves that dolt and is trying to save him and the answer to the warehouse fire is in the encrypted ledger on an entry dated August 5 of last year.”

“Wait how did you…?”

“I have some well connected friends, Mr Trowel. Here is my card. When you decide to be reasonable call that number. Now I must go.”

He took the card and ushered her to the door. Looking at the card. Of course, he thought to himself when he saw the name on it, Veronica Hart.

Nick sat at his desk and began working the files that were scattered across his desk and office. He was learning all about the Miles Import/Export business. They spent $20 for staples on the 28th. A new copier was purchased on the 29th and Miles had a Three-martini lunch with some guy named Jefferson at Acme Dynamic on the 30th. Yadayadayada…

His eye caught a glimpse of the calling card of Ms Hart that he had carelessly tossed on the keyboard when he walked into the office. August 5 was the date, right? He booted up the computer and found the directory where he had stashed the encrypted ledger. He scrolled down line by line reading every entry. It was the usual business nonsense. Lot’s of transactions in the under $1000 category for rather mundane routine business. He could almost hear the chessy dramatic music of a noir picture as his eyes landed on a transaction for $500,000 and the notation read…

A quagga.
After more than 30 years as an investigator nothing shocked Trowel anymore. He had witnessed televangelists doing things that would make a pornstar blush. He had seen high government officials high on drugs. He had even seen a politician tell the truth once. But as Trowel stared at the word quagga on that ledger entry a visible shudder ran through him. He has stumbled into something more than an insurance fraud or adultery case. He did not know what. The fact that the Bob and Alice, Miles, Bowling Shirt man, Veronica Hart and some guy named Cavendish all knew more about it than he did bothered him.

He mindlessly organized  the papers scattered about the office into two or three piles rather than the one huge pile taking up the whole of the small office and decided to go out for some air to clear his aching head. The light in the office was intolerable this day.

Taking his coat and draping it over his arm he left the office locking the door behind him and made his way through the hallways and staircases down to the street. From there he ambled over to the cafe which he frequented for lunch.

Stepping out of his building and onto the sidewalk was always exciting. Any big city possesses a magic, a secretive means of enchantment, that no one can really define but that everyone knows, understands and simply accepts. Having lived his whole life in the city Trowel never thought about that anymore. He had accepted it as fact a long time ago and left it at that. Events of the last few days had reminded him of the one simple truth of living in the city...it could be one hell of an adventure if you let it be.
Lori's Cafe was a hopeless little dive a few blocks down Third from his office. He usually ate there at least one meal a day. Because he was a regular the unusually ugly wait staff took good care of him and he was a generous tipper. Most of the time he just wanted to be left alone to ruminate over whatever plagued his mind at that moment. The waitresses realized this and pretty much left him alone only disturbing him to fill his coffee and empty his ashtray.

Today he didn't really want to be alone. Something in the back of his mind told him that he needed to start building alibis. It wasn't that he was planning any big crimes or anything. He just had the sensation that in the next few days he might find himself in need of explaining where he was and what he had been doing and with whom he had been doing it. He paused and leaned against one of the balustrades to light a smoke and take a look around him. He liked the city. He liked the smell. He liked the breeze. Hell, he even liked yuppies and that young man over there with the purple spiky hair. He couldn't help himself.

He made it to the Citadel Building, a 15 story heap which surprisingly had not been slated for demolition. It was a rather rundown building. It had the artistry of the 1940s and the musky odor of about 50 generations of dead rodentia. Even though Lori's was only about a half-step above a dump it was the only thing that gave the Citadel any class whatsoever. Lori leased half of the first floor. She had renovated it and even built a little outdoor bistro to give the place just a little more umph. Nick didn't know for sure but he suspected that Lori and the newsstand across the hall from the cafe were the only tenants in the whole building.

"Heyya, Nicky! Coffee?" shouted Robin from across the cafe.

"Sure, I'll sit over there," he said pointing to a corner booth.

"Oh no, he'll take that coffee right here," shouted a voice out in the middle of the cafe.

Trowel looked to see who was changing his plans. Ahh, just Mike. Trowel nodded at Robyn. Why not? I'll sit with Mike for a bit. Mike wasn't really a friend in the "I'd die for you" category but Mike and Nick had known each other for more years than either of them cared to count. Mike became a cop and had moved up rather quickly to the rank of detective. He sucked as a detective but the city seemed happy to have them so there he remained. Mike had consulted Nick on several cases and, Mike, of course, had gotten all of the glory from them. Nick really didn't care, Mike was a friend and friends take care of one another. What irked Nick is that Mike had seemingly forgotten that Nick had actually carried Mike on those cases.

"So, Nicky, how's it goin?" started Mike.

"Oh, doing all right," Nick replied dismissively. "How's Lisa and the kids?"

"They're doing ok. We had a small bout with a cold that drifted from person to person last week but you know how that goes.”
Nick grinned tugging at his coffee. No, I don't know how that goes. I'm a bachelor. Or don't you remember? Nick smirked to himself as it dawned on him that Mike probably didn't remember.

"How's work?" Nick asked.

"All right. Got myself into a brain tweaker again. This bastard's a clever one, I tell you. He set fire to his own building, I just know it, but I have yet to find the proof. You have anything going on?"

"Oh the usual, an adultery case..."

"Haha, don't you ever get tired of that shit? Everyone is banging everyone else. Who cares anymore?"

"Mostly the divorce lawyers care. I guess it all boils down to the money."
Mike Macgirvin
  
James D Morgan
  
@JRandal yes, pooped was intentional
JRandal
  
Very good for 30 minutes. Held my attention well.