It’s time for the second chapter of my premier novel, Nobody’s Business, produced in an audiobook format. This one is quite a bit longer.
I recommend listening to the whole novel in order, which can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/trickdempsey/sets/nobodys-business-a-novel-by
You can also read along with the posts here: https://trickdempsey.com/index.php/tag/nobodys-business/
A Drink for All Seasons
Bogart was sore. He didn’t like being told how to do his job. He didn’t like the smell of blood and fear. He didn’t like having to do things twice: once well for his job and once poorly for the cameras. Bogart, though. He knew a place where he could be himself.
The streets of Dallas passed by in a frustrated blur. Speeding away from the posh digs of Swiss Avenue, Bogart watched as the resident income dropped. Just around the corner from Hamlet’s ghost, the language shifted quickly from English to Spanish. Gringos wandered here safely, if their clothes were dirty enough and their faces were weathered. The threads were threadbare. The faces: stern. The eyes: suspicious.
“No”, Bogart murmured. “No. Not here.”
A quick diversion South and West found him surrounded by new eyes: more suspicious, more desperate, and more anonymous. Nobodies walked the streets all around him. The Vietnamese never progressed far in the American media, so this little cluster of dirty restaurants and pool halls always pleased him. The cameras were here; the cameras were everywhere. The cameras shot their footage through musky lenses, their footage used with less specificity than most. They recorded all, saw all, but were only used as stock creepiness for special interest stories about the dark criminal underworld.
Tai dropped Bogart’s usual dish in front of him with rehearsed panache before leaning nice and low to take his order.
“So,” she licked her thin lips before proceeding, “what else will it be tonight?”
Bogart tried to look her in the eyes, but his own glance lingered instead on the slight space between her collar and her neck.
“I’ll need something heavy to start; this kind of thinking is not meant for the unclouded mind.” His throat hurt as he spoke, and he took a quick puff from his inhaler as Tai swished away.
Bogart bartered with his pocket: the inhaler for the ticket swiped from the scene earlier. Bus tickets weren’t exactly common in Swiss Avenue mansions. Sure, maybe to show some civic pride for a public event, but cars are a status symbol in this town. Stranger than that, Hamlet was a certified celebrity, and the cameras on public transit aren’t exactly top notch. Bogart shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he pulled out his media link. It was an older model, but it could still show all the channels. He dialed in for Hamlet’s channel. There were three Hamlets in the Dallas area alone. The first one he checked was still a kid, maybe sixteen years old. He was just laying in his room, eyes on the ceiling, rolling around on his mattress wracked with the pleasure of some designer drug. The syringe at his side was only half empty. The camera zoomed slowly to frame this Hamlet’s eyes and the syringe in a single tight shot.
The scene was getting ratings, and that meant this kid has earned himself a director of photography straight from Eternity Media. They’d get him rushed to a doctor before the night was over. Bogart sighed loudly. He started to change the channel over to his son, Tommy.
No, you promised him space. Bogart quickly scrolled to the next Hamlet station, and immediately knew he was in the right place.
The tragic prince looked unfamiliar as he paraded a pair of women through his too too tiny kitchen. They grew tired of his talk soon enough. One pressed a finger to his lips; the other placed her hand a little lower. Bogart checked the time stamp on the feed: it was only a few hours old. Eternity must have rewound the feed to give themselves time to compose some flowery prose to describe the celebrity’s demise. Bogart reached his hand over for the bus ticket but caught only soft fabric against something firm.
Tai leaped up from her perch on the table. Blushing, she set a drink down on the table.
“If you’re going to watch that, you should turn off the sound.” Tai nodded to the increasingly explicit scene occurring at Hamlet’s abode. She bent over to put her lips close to Bogart’s ear before whispering, “and you should ask my permission before touching my ass again.”
She stood up and sauntered back towards the hostess desk. “I don’t want my customers thinking I’ll let them get fresh.”
The whole joint was staring at him now. Bogart muted the feed and pretended to nurse his drink. He looked first before stretching his stiffened hand out to grab the ticket setting at the edge of the table. He flipped the ticket over as the characters on screen performed increasingly acrobatic conjugal activities. Bogart let his eyes rest again on Tai’s pleasant and subtle curves across this curious and dingy eating establishment. He caught her glance, let her see that he was watching her, then preemptively cursed his infidelity.
Bogart began to rise from his seat, to leave this too tempting place. Bogart knew he’d be in trouble. He pictured Lauren’s lips wrinkled, rippling like a crab’s mandibles; her frown tearing new gashes in her aging skin. Driving home now, she’d smell the liquor on his breath. She’d give that same terrible frown. That same frown, that contortion of her once beautiful face, would haunt Bogart to his grave.
“You really should terminate your media subscription before coming to this place,” Sheriff Truman sat in the booth opposite the detective.
Bogart didn’t know how long he’d been standing there, contemplating his departure, before the haggard G-man arrived. The detective looked over at his muted media feed, screen still dancing with the carnal pleasures of the deceased, and contemplated the little red square button: “Terminate Local Broadcast.” With a tap of the finger, he could be totally free of his regular recording. The Humphrey Bogart channel would still broadcast, but it would not record any new information until he reactivated the subscription. That little safeguard offered freedom, yes, but it also offered a kind of death. One day, Tommy, or some member of that great wide audience might want to see some important moment from this very night.
Bogart did not smile much anymore. He had not smiled for a good, long time. In recent years, there was one member of the audience who had not seen him smile at all. Thomas Bogart. Bloodhounds can’t hunt fear and death as well as Tommy’s nose found trouble. Like a coyote with a new scented shit, Tommy liked to roll in trouble. Reeking of that foul trouble, Bogart mostly sneered at his wayward son. But Bogey could be dead and gone any day; the golden bee-bee could leap up and get him, and how many smiles would Tommy remember.
Bogart pulled his finger away from the monitor with a grin he hoped would register on the crummy cameras of this grimy dive. There, he thought, that one’s a keeper.
Harry Truman watched his friend lower himself back down into the booth, some sort of sick grimace on his face. “You alright?” he asked. “That did not look comfortable. If you’re prostate’s acting up, I know a great doctor. Works wonders.”
Bogart reconsidered the quality of that last smile. He made a note to get another one out before the evening was through. “I’m fine, Harry. Have they got you stalking me now?”
“Nah, I just know you do your best work when you’re loaded.” Harry clicked his fingernails on the table to get Tai’s attention before signaling her to bring him his usual beer. “I figured I’d join you.”
“Go right ahead,” the old detective gestured compellingly, “it’s always nice to have someone to split the tab.”
“Don’t drink too, much, you old dog. You’ve got an interview in the morning.”
The flame of his cradled match illuminated Bogart’s quirked eyebrow. “Oh really?”
“Sure do, detective. Eternity Media has been advertising it all over the airwaves. Looks like you get to be famous again.”
“Famous?” Bogart belched a bulbous billow of smoke. “I already am famous. I caught the Boston Strangler.”
“Yeah.” The sheriff matched his friend’s chuckle, “Twice. But that can’t really keep you famous for long. Besides, those idiots were both still broadcasting.”
“I swear,” the grizzled sheriff hunched almost as low as his tone, “they should ban those damn anonymous channels. Letting someone use an alias… Damn it. Catching those guys was hard, and you can still watch reruns to see how they did it.”
“Hah.” Bogart coughed another caustic cloud. “I even made a few bucks selling a commentary track explaining how we tracked them down.”
“I know,” Truman leaned back as he took a swig of beer. “They’re running it right now on your station.”
“So how did you find me?”
“I know you too well.”
The pair sat, leaned back like lizards sunning themselves on warm rocks, dreaming of all the adventures that had come and gone. They each imagined what their lives would have been like if the other had not shown up. It was a joyful moment of uninterrupted friendship, uninterrupted, that is, until a woman came between them.
“Here’re your noodles, flat foot.” Tai snapped as she plopped the ponderous, plastic plate onto the unflinching table. “Can I get anything for your friend?”
“Yeah,” Sheriff Truman leaned forward, but Bogart stopped him with a raised palm.
Bogart shifted his bulk, slowly stood, and leaned ever so close to the little Asian minx poised with pen to order sheet. He whispered, so softly that the vibration deep in his throat almost sounded louder than the voice emanating from it. He gestured, subtly as he described in detail something that made Tai listen erect whenever her hand was not hurriedly directing word to paper. As he pulled away, settled satisfied into the smooth seat, she watched him with wide eyes.
“Yes, sir,” she practically shouted as she bounced to the kitchen.
Truman allowed only a moment of peace before he shattered the sudden silence that had overtaken the whole establishment: “What the fuck was that and where can I get a piece of that action?”
“You will, my friend.” Bogart tapped the table reassuringly. “You will.”
When Tai emerged, elated, from the kitchen, she acknowledged Bogart’s gestured request for more drink with a nod. She swooped over, each movement accentuating her every slight curve, snatched the now empty glass from the table, and slid over to the bar.
“Isn’t it illegal to pour drinks like that?” Truman mused as he watched the young waitress tease the drink into the glass.
“Are you referring to the strength of the drink or the manner in which it is being delivered?”
Bogart’s brow furrowed. Something moved at the edge of his vision. Something had changed while he was not looking and that something was very important. The media link, nearly forgotten where he had set it near the wall of the booth, was showing only a dim image. It took Bogart a moment to realize it was the same kitchen that Hamlet had been enjoying his earthly delights in just hours ago. It looked as though the screen was displaying an empty, unlit room, but then Bogart saw movement at the table. A hunched figure was sitting at the table, weeping.
Bogart leaned forward, turned on the audio, and shut out the rest of the world.
The prince of Denmark sat framed in darkness. Slumped and sobbing, he hunched over the hard wooden table. In the bottom left of frame, he seemed enveloped in darkness while the whole empty space of his life hovered behind him. Weeping amongst his possessions, his wealth could not protect him from Erebus’s encroaching domain.
“All these things, I will never know.” The voice rippled shallowly through the shadowed house.
Something moved in the pale light of the entry hall behind the noble lord.
“Is that you, father?” Hamlet’s voice quavered meekly.
“What is he on about?” Bogart asked aloud as the figure crept past the darkened room.
“His father was killed by his uncle,” Truman quickly chimed in.
“Really?” Tai sat another drink on the table.
“Well,” Truman started, “obviously not really. Well possibly. I’ll have to check.”
“Look, flat foot,” Tai grew impatient, “I don’t often ask men to get it out quicker, but I’m asking you now.”
“This guy’s a Hamlet,” Truman sputtered, “his Uncle murdered his father -ahem- Hamlet’s father to be with his, Hamlet’s, mother.”
Tai chimed in helpfully, “so, the uncle did it. Case closed.”
Bogart paused the feed. “Tai, get back to work. Harry, learn to read. He’s a John Barrymore. You only get that name from looks. He’s medium-to-short height, slight, and has angular features. With a John Barrymore, you don’t even need glance at him to know what he looks like. He looks like Hamlet, nothing more.”
“Slight and short?” Truman snorted, “he must have gotten certified a while ago. Our victim could have stood to lose a few pounds.”
“Shh,” Bogart hissed, “we can check that tomorrow. He’s moving.”
On the screen, Hamlet uncurled noiselessly. He was standing now, like a frightened cat; shoulders down but spine raised. At once Hamlet looked both sagging and large, perhaps an optical illusion perpetrated by a poorly focused camera. He began lumbering toward the entryway. He took erratic, staccato steps; his feet lightened by fear. He moved nervously, the debauchery of the last hours lost to more immediate concerns.
The camera cut to the entry hall as Hamlet stumbled at the step down. He fell flat on his face. The scene would have been farcically funny but for the sickening crack made by the fingers of his right hand which failed to break the fall.
The scene was silent for a moment but for the sound of Hamlet sliding back to his feet.
“If you gotta go,” Truman chimed, “at least you can go drunk.”
“I’m not sure of that.” Bogart was watching the entryway door carefully. “He didn’t stumble around the chairs in the dark. He was agile enough then. It’s almost like he’s never navigated the house. Look he’s reaching for a light where there is no switch.”
Truman was unfazed. “He’s drunk and his hand is broken. He’s probably in so much pain he’s confused about what wall he’s at. This is his house, and we know the guy on screen is Hamlet; the cameras are recording his subscription.“
Hamlet’s voice broke through the speakers as a rasp with a chuckle. “The time is now,” he began, “I who have borne the whips and scorns of time.” Hamlet, hissing through the pain, spoke confidently “I have taken arms against a sea of troubles.”
A shadow flew over Hamlet, and with a resounding thud, thrust him against the far wall. The shade and the mock Dane struggled at the edge of the frame, the camera cutting wildly to try to find a better angle.
“No!” Hamlet’s voice broke, strained out the words “to the ramparts ghost! Hamlet does not face his end here!”
The shadowed man did not hesitate. This Hamlet was strong, but the figure was stronger. To the kitchen they stumbled and from there the scene grew increasingly familiar. Bogart turned down the volume and dimmed the screen.
A small crowd had gathered to watch, but they now quickly departed. The show was over, and their curiosity brought only shame.
“Well,” Truman said as Tai brought their food to the table, “if I had a choice of nights to go, I’d rather it start like that fella’s did. Why did he go on about ghosts and ramparts? Was that shadow his father?”
“I doubt it.” Bogart paused to inhale deeply of the steam from his crispy noodles.
He was silent then: totally absorbed in the task of consuming his food. He did not descend like a barbarian. Catlike, he stalked slowly through the meal: tasting first the sauce, nipping then at the garnish, combining evenly some rice and some of the pale juice that gathers atop the thicker parts of the sauce. All this was done as prelude to the first bite. He reveled in it, as he always did, and Truman let him take his time. Truman knew better than to get between a fat man and his dinner.
When Bogart had settled into a regular rhythm, Truman eased into small talk.
“So, Hump, how’s Tommy?”
“I haven’t checked on him tonight.” Bogart wiped at his chin with the cheap paper napkin.
“He still living with you?”
“Ostensibly, yes,” Bogart cleaned his palate with a sip of water, “but most nights I don’t see him. If he comes home at all, it’s usually pretty late.”
“That, ” Bogart chuckled with a wry smile, “and he keeps his subscription off at night. He’s worried about perverts.”
“Cute. Well, at least he thinks he’s got an audience.” Truman began to light a cigarette. “Wonder if that’ll be true when he takes his name. It’s time isn’t it?”
Bogart stewed the words through a breath of tea steam, “He’ll be eighteen this winter, and I don’t know what we’ll do. He doesn’t look enough like Daltry to keep the name. He got big, like me.”
“You could have him altered.” Truman flicked ashes to the floor.
“How? The only thing he does well is drink and take drugs,” Bogart chortled sadly. “I wish he were better at keeping secrets, but he rarely remembers to turn off his feed when he gets up to trouble.”
“Yeah,” Bogart sank into his chair, “at least he lost his virginity to some girl I liked and not some fat, boring chick. Though that was an awkward night when he finally came home.”
“How’d you break it to him?”
“I left a note on the front door to remind him to turn off his subscription from time to time.” Bogart grinned, “then I offered him a cigarette when he came in the door.”
“Sounds like quite a night.”
“It was the best ratings we’d ever gotten. Which didn’t exactly encourage him to be discreet.” Bogart sighed as he turned his attention back to his dinner. “I don’t even watch his channel anymore. Most his nights look like Hamlet’s little party. Or so I assume.”
“So,” Truman leaned forward seriously, “get the fat removed. Trim him up. He’s got the behavior down, just let him pick up a guitar and he can be one of The Who. It’d be great, he’d be set for life. They get great ratings.”
“Naw,” Bogart said after gulping down a bite, “faces are easier to do than bodies. We make him up like Churchill. He’s got the right vices, and then he might be able to work with the military. I never got to follow the army path as a Bogart.”
“If he’s so large,” Truman decided to break the growing barricade of regret, “he could be a Puck. He wouldn’t even need surgery if he just cared enough about food. Most people don’t remember ol’ Wolfgang’s face.”
“Tommy can’t even pretend to care about food.” Bogart was nibbling at some sauce that had glazed to his chopsticks. “Before I got into the detective racket, I wanted to manage a restaurant. When Lauren and I moved here with Tommy, I thought of getting into it. New town could be a whole new career. I talked Lauren’s ear off about it. She really seemed to care, but Tommy wouldn’t hear of it. ‘My old man’s a cop” he’d say. ‘My old man wouldn’t be caught dead waiting tables. He’s a tough guy.’”
“At least you had choices,” Truman looked sourly over at Tai as she bent over a table to reach for a misplaced glass. “You could have been a boat captain or a dozen other things.”
“Yeah,” Bogart sighed as he lit up a cigarette of his own, “but none of those things are like being a cop. Hell. Being a cop today’s not like being a cop.”
“What does the boy say?”
“Tommy?” the old detective looked suddenly sullen, “Tommy doesn’t say anything.”
“Nothing at all?” Truman perked up, “Hump, he’s got the part down.”
“Not like that, Truman,” Bogart’s frustration was obvious as he slapped some bills on the table, “he speaks fine, but he doesn’t say anything. Words, sentences, everything, but nothing that means a damn to me.”
Bogart spoke under his breath as he pushed towards the exit, “he’s been listening to his mother.”
Tai stopped him at the door. “You know,” she said meekly, “I get off at two. You could… drop by.”
“Tai, sweetie,” Bogart paused gingerly, “I’m married.”
“That doesn’t stop everybody.”
“It stops me.”
“I’m not married.” Truman chimed in.
Tai paused to drink in the sight of him. She looked him head to hoof. “Sheriff. It’s not hard to see why.”
She scampered away with what could easily be confused for a skip.