THE BAR WAS SMALL, dark, and trite, nestled in a strip mall between a prosperous and garish Korean nail salon and the upscale Gourdough’s Public House. This bar was not upscale. It survived precisely because it was a hole people could climb into and pull over themselves.
It was as anonymous as porn theater sex. It had no windows, no sign on the door, no chipped and faded little cigarette-company decal proclaiming Come on in, it’s KOOL inside! The metal door was old and rusted, dented here and there, with two punctures that let in rain. It worked with a scream of protest, just like most of the bar’s patrons.
We cruised past the closed gas station with a glut of hot cars parked in it. Tim shifted his 1967 Pontiac GTO down to second gear and rode the tachometer needle right up to maybe five thousand rpm. The 400-cubic-inch engine roared and snarled like a chained dragon. As we wailed away in second gear, two cars rolled out into the darkness behind us.
The headlights in our mirrors rocketed up Woodward toward us like anti-aircraft missiles turning toward enemy planes. We signaled into a wide Woodward crossover to the southbound side at Bassett Street.
Wedding anniversaries are challenging for anyone, but perhaps more so for my wife and I. We have been married since 1940, and what can you buy for a woman who literally has everything she wants? I hustled around Manhattan to a few stores we liked, but without success. It’s harder for me, because I am the Leprechaun.
Yes—the Leprechaun. It wasn’t always so.
On Christmas Eve, the police interrogation room is still movie-theater dark, lit classically by a single shaded light hanging from the ceiling directly over the table. A single window is heavily shaded and leaks light into the proceedings. The floor tile is ancient and every checkerboard green and was-white square is chipping, scorched here and there by cigarette butts and the odd black cigar fossil back when smoking was still a big thing.
Detective Inspector Douglas Lee Havlichek sits just outside the cone of yellow light. The suspect looks at him with clear, startlingly blue eyes. A persistent, mysterious smile turns up the corners of the man’s full lips, creasing a ruggedly handsome face under a shroud of blue-black hair.
“I ain’t even crazy about this, man,” Madison drawled. He swiped his cheek with the make-up sponge and it smeared dull paint across his face in fierce green and black tiger stripes. There were other patterns approved by headquarters, but Madison was a traditionalist and he had painted tiger stripes on his face for field missions since Vietnam. He could do it in his sleep, and according to his first wife, he had. He wasn’t going to stop now. This was an established occupation that went back literally centuries, and Madison intended to respect its traditions.
Traffic sucked. Traffic always sucks, of course. The worst form of standing in line is in traffic. My little town, a suburb of another already small town, had found a chunk of federal road budget they had to spend or lose it, so they tore up the one primary intersection in town to replace a bridge and install a traffic circle during mild spring weather. They hoped to have it completed by summer.
So traffic sucked, daily.