Wolf in the City I.

 

 

 

“Time to start thinking.” — Humphry Bogart

Paul-Newell Reaves reads

Wolf in the City I.

five more minutes

 

Wolf in the City I.

The wolves are returning.  They are adapting—eating garbage, rodents, household pets.  And they are evolving– tougher, meaner, smaller.  Spotted in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., Coyotes are moving to the cities.
I saw one, by the cliffs over the Potomac River.  From those cliffs, the lights of Washington swim below in between the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.  The coyote stood there, staring unblinkingly at the Capital.

I haven’t always been a bum.  I had a life down there, before my eight story fall… and an office on Embassy Row.  She—my last client, Ms. Teal—finally found an occasion to introduce her current husband, Congressman Balustrade from Wyoming.  He was a busy man, so I waited for him on the balcony of the Kennedy Center, watching the sun set through the high arches of Key Bridge.  Maybe he did have only these few minutes to spare, during the intermission of the symphony.  He was, after all, a very busy man.
“You’re slipping, darling,” came a voice from behind me.  “You ask me to meet your lawyer, and I expect another young chip’n’dale, not a man almost as old as I.”
I was taken aback.  The questions I had been preparing all afternoon leaked my mind.  He looked me up and down, then turned and scratched his finely crafted, wooden crutches, all his way back to the bar.
“All the death threats,” Ms. Teal cursed.  “They make him so snappy.  Take me home, Riley,  I tire of the symphony.”  In my car she showed me the pictures on her cell phone.  “All butterflies,” she explained.  “Thousands of beautiful butterflies, I’m obsessed.  I take after my mother, you know.  She collects them outside my village in Brazil, but I just take pictures and leave the poor creatures alone, you know.  You don’t have any obsessions, do you Mr. Riley?”
I looked deep into her dark eyes and couldn’t say a word.
“Here,” she continued, “I’m putting your name in my phone.  I’ll call you.  But your business card says only D. Riley, what does the D stand for?  I can’t call you by only your last name forever.  Won’t you tell me?”
“Just Riley,” I said.  “No one ever uses my first name.”
“Well then, Mr. D. Riley–” she laughed at me.  “Yes, this is the house, leave me hear I will call you again, soon.”
The sun had not risen before she called me again.  Her husband was dead.

According to the police report, blood matching the Congressman’s stained the bed, the floor and the bathroom; however, his body could not be found.  They dragged the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, finding nine rotting corpses, none of them the Congressman’s.
The lead detective, Lieutenant Yorrick, was an incompetent fool.  Not more than an hour after arriving at the scene, he received a call and shut down the investigation.  No questions for my client, no explanation of the call.  He paced the crime scene, flipping a quarter high in the air, watching it fall to the floor.

I heard the coyote again later that day. To clear my head from the bloody scene at the house I went for a walk in the park.  Washington has more parkland per square mile than any city in the country.  The entire length of the Anacostia River is undeveloped forest, and— cutting a swath through the middle of the city— Rock Creek Park extends from the Kennedy Center, downtown by the Potomac River, all the way to Maryland.  It was here that I walked, in Rock Creek Park, by Embassy Row.  The trees were flowering.  I thought of Ms. Teal, how much she must need me.  I would not let those wolves like Yorrick harm her.  I followed the howls deep into the park.  The coyote was caught in a trap, near a streetlamp lit pathway.  It was young, maybe three or four months old, but already had the instincts to gnaw off its own leg to escape.

I dropped all my other cases to focus exclusively on Ms. Teal.  Some nights, when I could not sleep, I would drive by her house to make sure she was safe.
Then, one night, I saw a man, walking up to her door.  I made to open my car door and confront him, but a lamp turned on in the house and Ms. Teal appeared.  “Leonard,” she greeted him with a smile.  He shuffled up the steps and into the house.
So I waited.  For fifteen cigarettes I sat in my car, staring at the lamp and the door.  When Leonard let himself out and pealed away on his motorcycle, I followed him.  North on Connecticut Avenue—the rain began to fall.  The miles clawed by, and the darkness spun closer and closer.  Passing into Maryland, we turned right on East-West Highway, then left on Jones Mill Road.  There, he parked his bike and ferreted into the park.
Down a dirt road across the park he lead me, his dark hair and clothes and skin blending into the shadows.  We came to Rock Creek where the woods cut down a sharp embankment, forty feet to the rocky water below.  Leonard crossed onto an old railroad bridge.  I didn’t make a sound.  Hugging the rotting ties on the edge of the bridge, I crawled along the metal track after the shadow of my pursuit.
He stepped from tie to tie, across the bridge toward a golden glow from a building on the far side.  But half way across, he stopped.  Three figures emerged from the gloom.
“Brazilian Leonard?” they whispered.
“Boy-os.”
“Hey man, we need a spike for the three of us.”
“Yeah, you got Nine-itty?”
“Right here.”
“You kids still trust me?”
“Like always.”
“Alright, here’s the hog.  I measured this afternoon.”
“Right on, man.  This a good place?”
“Why do you think I meet at this derelict spot.  Fire it up.”
After ten minutes, they turned back– all four walking in my direction. I panicked.  They were twenty feet away, walking slowly toward me.  If I stood up to run they would see me. This Leonard character was selling drugs; he probably had a handgun. I could not let them see me.  A forty-foot fall to the rocky creek below meant two broken legs at best.  At worst, a slow agonizing death.  Time to start thinking.  They were now fifteen feet away, fifteen feet or a a forty-foot drop.  I jammed my feet between two ties and slid my weight over the edge.  Dangling from the rain-soaked, rotting railroad bridge over the precipice, I held my breath and heard them pass.
I pull-uped myself back to the bridge and knocked my knees all the way to my car.

“Riley… Balustrade is big time.  A petty dealer doesn’t go after a congressman.”
I had rushed to tell Yorrick first thing the next day.  He had raised his eyes at the poppies, but at the end of my tale seemed unimpressed.
“But he was at Ms. Teal’s house, he could have slain him in a jealous rage.  Just let me follow him.”
“You’re killing me, Riley.  Balustrade had enemies, not just in this country, either.  Look, I’m sorry someone’s sleeping with your girlfriend, but you’re the last person I want anywhere near this case.”
“But—“
“Listen, you represent the family, right.  Go to Balustrade’s office and ask to see his congressional records.  You wont find anything, but you might figure out everything.”

In Balustrade’s Congressional office, the scene was chaotic.
His secretary told me what had happened.  “Well, Mr. Riley, you can check the files, but Homeland Security has already been through there.  They took just about everything.”
Indeed there was nothing worth my extensive search.  His last bill had been a ditch effort to stem the tide of heroin and opium flooding in from Afghanistan since the war.  The office was torn apart, desk drawers upended, papers everywhere, files confiscated.  A complete dead end.
I had not even finished cursing Yorrick’s name when it hit me.  Homeland Security?  Why would they be involved, unless there was suspicion of a terrorist plot?  Yes, that explained Yorrick’s silence, his inactivity.  It explained the missing body too.  Balustrade was not murdered; he was kidnapped.
(Continued)

 

 

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