A Stone’s Throw from Rock Bottom






It is always darkest before it is totally black
-often humorously misattributed to Chairman Mao

I knowed a man in Paphlagonia who'd swallow a live snake every morning, when he got up. He used to say, he was certain of one thing, that nothing worse would happen to him all day. 'Course they made him eat a bowlful of hairy centipedes before they hung him, so maybe that claim was a bit presumptive.
-from "Stardust," by Neil Gaiman








TODAY AT THE INSTITUTE

August 29 - International Anything Day

Music Goodness – Stronger; Relax with Mika

News – Zero Tolerance

Woman of the Year – Cheng I Sao


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[We finally learn the fate of Deelea, at least for the moment, but more importantly, maybe we learn a little about Fagin's character. It was at this point that I really started warming to the project and started thinking ahead, planning more long term. I hope you like. –H]



THE GREAT AND TERRIBLE ADVENTURES OF FAGIN DUPREE


Read Chapter 6


Chapter Seven - A Stone's Throw from Rock Bottom

Fagin Dupree got out of the cab wearily, glad to be home. Lieutenant Travis had kept him in interrogation for almost 30 hours. Fagin never once asked for a lawyer. He had admitted to handling what was most likely the murder weapon, but there was not enough evidence to hold him. Travis finally let him go, without his money back. Cowboy had hightailed it out of there.

Fagin carried his bags up his driveway, to see Christine Baran sitting on his front steps. Great. Just what he needed; more grief from her. She came alive when she saw him, running at Fagin and beating her fists on his chest and shoulders.

"I can't believe you killed them, you monster. They were on your side. You had no cause to…"

Fagin dropped his bags and caught her wrists, but gently. "What happened, Christine?"

"They're all dead." She started sobbing.

"Who's dead?" He insisted.

"Pittsnogle and Gloria and I think all those goons of his. I went by one last time and the door was wide open and…" She started sobbing again, collapsing into his arms. At any other time the irony would have made Fagin chuckle, but now he just stroked her hair, his eyes clouded with worry. Finally, he softly disengaged her.

"Christine." Fagin began. "I know you don't think much of me, but I did not kill Pittsnogle, or Gloria. They worked for me; in a way were even my friends. Besides," he said, "I was in Vegas for the last four days. I just got back." He hesitated, but in for a penny. "I did not kill Deelea, either."

The look on her face said she did not believe him.

Hard as it is to believe, Deelea is still very much alive." Fagin still saw doubt on her face. "I'll prove it to you. I'll let you talk to her."

"You will?" For the first time hope crept into Christine's voice.

"Yes. In fact, I will do more than that. After you have talked to her, I will fly you down to see her. It might be a good idea to get away from here for a few days."

Christine nodded. "What are you going to do?"

"I have to see a friend who might have some answers." Fagin said, taking his keys out for the front door. First, he had to check on Ricky.

Ω Ω Ω

The ride to North Carolina was not a happy one. Fagin could not get the grisly crime photos of Holly and that poker dealer out of his mind, all mixed together with the sight of Ricky…someone had worked him over, and bad. Fagin had avoided Pittsnogle's. The way his luck was running, it would not be wise to be seen there right now.

Fagin made the turn off the main road and pulled into the parking lot of the Blue Parrot. He was actually on time for Lush's meeting, but that could not stop the hair on the back of Fagin's neck from standing up. The entire trip up Fagin had tried Lush on the cell, but no answer. He had a bad feeling about this.

Bungalow #8 was dark. Fagin approached quietly, for once wishing he did own a handgun. Best just to press on. The door was locked: Fagin had a dilemma. Did he break in, which might implicate him in any crime committed within? No choice, really. His chips were already in the middle, and Fagin was a huge underdog to lose this hand. That is what happens when you go all in without knowing the odds. Fagin just wished he knew who was on the other side of the table.

At least this time he had gloves. Fagin picked the old lock with little trouble, and went in. He used a flashlight, avoiding the switch on the wall in case someone might pass by. There was only one thing to see, and it made Fagin scrap his plan and flip on the lights anyway.

J.W. Lush was lying on the floor, face down, a hole in his back. Fagin was not an expert on Ballistics, but the entry wound was looked huge. Fagin would bet all the chips in Vegas that an antique Colt .45 killed Lush.

Fagin did a quick inventory of the suite. Everything was still in order, as far as he could tell, including Debbie's clothes, which may have meant she did not know about this. Realizing she was his only lead, and could be in danger, Fagin grabbed some of her things, exited Bungalow #8, and headed for the Kit-Kat Club.

The place was loud, lit up, and jammed to bursting. Fagin pushed his way through the crowd, looking for Debbie. He found her up on a stage, almost undressed. Men of varying ages were watching appreciatively, money in hand. Without any explanation, Fagin pulled Debbie down roughly, to a chorus of catcalls and boos. Luckily, it was early, and people were more curious than angry, not drunk enough to press the issue. Fagin dragged Debbie into a corner. She looked terrified.

"Some men came." She said. "They told me I had to keep dancing until you came. They showed me a picture of J.W. It's fake, right?" Fagin's face was confirmation. Debbie started to lose it. Fagin shook her.

"You have to hold it together, girl. I don't know who is watching." Debbie nodded, her eyes big with unshed tears. "You'll have to keep working for a bit, while I look around. Then I will get you out of here. I have some of your clothes in the car."

For all her faults, Debbie adjusted quickly. She was already smiling bravely by the time she got back on stage. Fagin scanned the crowd….there. Over in a corner sat Arbuckle Greene, with those two bodyguards. It had to be him. Fagin walked over.

As he neared the table, Fagin saw a fourth man he had missed in his first glance: Cowboy. Same damn hat and wrap-around glasses. Fagin almost went for the man's throat, but managed to stay calm. A frontal assault against superior forces would do little good here.

"Told you I'd be seein' you." Cowboy said with a laugh. The two goons laughed as well. Arbuckle Greene said nothing. Fagin said down at the table, uninvited.

"It has been an interesting few days, Mr. Greene. I applaud this little drama of yours. I trust I played my part to your satisfaction."

Arbuckle Greene ignored Fagin and turned to Cowboy. "You were right about him keeping calm. I didn't believe you."

Cowboy laughed. "A man who can stay serene getting cheated out of one and a half million dollars, he can handle most anything. Did a damn sight better than that old man did anyway. Did much better than his queer business pardner; 'Rick-kay,' or that whore of his."

That was the last straw.

Fagin leaned in close. "I don't know who or what you are, Arbuckle, you fat piece of lard, but know this: it does not end here. I will wait in the tall grass for you and we will finish this."

Fagin did not even see the hand, but he felt it hit his cheek hard enough to loosen teeth. Fagin rocked backward as the goon spoke.

"Nobody uses Mr. Greene's first name."

Fagin resisted the urge to rub his jaw, and cleared his head best he could. Out of the corner of his eye, Fagin saw Beth Ann Greene walk in the club. A plan began to form. He sat back up, once again all aplomb.

"Forgive me, Mr. Greene. I did not know." Arbuckle Greene motioned to the other goon, who took out a small digital camera and passed it to Fagin. He looked and his heart sank.

Arbuckle Greene spoke. "Just now, Mr. Dupree, you spied my daughter Beth Ann, and perhaps you now seek to take your revenge on me through that avenue, yes? Well, as you can see, we are aware of where Deelea is. So noble of her to be down in Costa Rica helping the children. If anything were to happen to my daughter, even just to her "honor," a most terrible fate will befall Miss Deelea Jensen, and her friend Miss Christine Baran, whom I believe you sent down there just today, yes?"

Fagin kept his face straight. Barely.

"Furthermore," Arbuckle Green continued, "As you have no doubt surmised, BÏSTDÅGG ACQUISITIONS now belongs to me. I do want to thank you for all the legwork; clearing out my rivals and setting up a top-rate distribution network. I almost feel I should pay you for your services. However, the people of Atlanta are more than ready for heroin and cocaine again, and I am sure for you that is thanks enough.

"You are, Mr. Dupree, to stay in Atlanta doing your 'art thing.' You are quite excellent at it. If you go anywhere or lift a finger towards me, or have a conversation with law enforcement, you can rest assured a Lieutenant Travis of the Las Vegas Police Department will receive a most desired piece of evidence with your fingerprints—and only yours—all over it. I do not have to tell you what that is, yes?"

Fagin sat there, in shock. Cowboy laughed uproariously and clapped Fagin on the back heartily, calling for a drink.

"Face it, pardner: you just never had the cards, and the River brought you nothing. Going All In against Mr. Greene is a losing proposition. You had a good run, but it just wasn't meant to be."

The drinks arrived and Arbuckle Greene toasted Fagin. "To Mr. Dupree. He made it further than anyone thought after reading that Parchment. Unfortunately, Mr. Dupree, I read it too."

1 comment:

Dragon said...

I love these. Don't stop.