And Again: Pick Your Poison, Second in the series began by P'al Kwai.
Bound to be some spoilers. Based on the movie.
Disclaimer on file! You know the routine. No money as usual.
Dedicated to P'al Kwai, for her fortitude and kindness.
Lieutenant Jones got into the squad car with Exley. Jones drove, resting his
left arm on the door, the wind picking up his short brown hair from time to
time. They were in no particular hurry, just had a few questions to ask a lady
about a corner store robbery. A few days earlier, Exley had told his superiors
that he unequivocally refused to work with White. He had sufficient pull, thanks
to his role in the Dudley scandal, to refuse an assignment if he really, really
wanted to. So out with Jones he went. Compared to Bud, Jones was expendable.
Exley was going to continue to do what he could to save White from the kind
of danger that didn't just come with the territory.
He was going to fight like a pit bull to save Jones, should it come to that, but putting Bud on the line was out of the question. There was no way on God's Green Earth that he was going to involve Bud in what was starting to look like a conspiracy in the department that somehow focused on Ed and his partners. It was hard for Exley. He really didn't know any of the men. The other cops had always been wary of him. Didn't like him because he had been a snitch. Didn't trust him because of his ambition. And now, with two of his partners murdered, and he being a suspect at first, his fellow cops took to avoiding him like a preacher at a strip club.
The sun came through the windshield, heating up the black dashboard to a caution. Exley relaxed, watching the neighborhood float by outside his window, aware of Jones' slight discomfort with his presence. If he wasn't a cop and didn't know any better, he would say this was a happy city. It looked happy today. A little girl was spraying a little boy with the garden hose in front of her house, squealing with laughter. The boy didn't seem to mind the attention, as he ran in crazy circles to avoid the water. Exley watched them get larger and then disappear as they rolled by. An elderly woman was walking down the sidewalk, pulling her groceries behind her in a wire two wheeled cart. Exley took a moment to remember that this was his city, these were the people he got up every morning to protect. When you are surrounded by scum, day after day, it's easy to think that's what populates the whole city.
They came to a corner, the buildings two stories tall here, the sign for the convenience store swinging at an angle. Jones parked in front of the door, which faced kitty corner on the street to take advantage of both angles of traffic. A bar was on the opposite corner, "The Lucky Lady," it was called. A sign announcing this was embellished with the drawing of a woman sitting in the crook of a horseshoe, blond hair rolling down her exposed back. It was a place for lowlifes, thought Exley. He had just finished giving it his glance when Jones saw him, and spoke up.
"Guess who O'Malley saw in there last night?" Jones moved expansively as he spoke, as if he thought he would be getting points with Exley for this information.
"O'Malley goes to the Lucky Lady?" Exley asked, incredulous. He really had to get to know the men better.
"Yeah, I know. It's not a cop bar, but he said he just happened to go in-so," Jones leaned against the car and took a breath,"anyway, he goes in last night and who should he happen to see in the back room, drunk as a skunk, but Bud White." Jones continued, on sure footing now that he saw Exley's surprised reaction, "Yeah, O'Malley says that White was so blotto he almost didn't recognize him. O'Malley left after a few drinks with him, saying he'd had enough, but Bud was still going strong. Imagine that." Jones clicked with his tongue disapprovingly, trying to sew his little story up. Exley could imagine that only too well. Bud was a borderline personality at the best of times, loaded, Ed could only imagine of what he was capable. Nothing good.
Exley looked over at The Lucky Lady sharply, as if investigating its exterior."I guess we have to keep our eye on him, Jones. He could get into all sorts of trouble in this town." He knocked his fist twice on the roof of the squad car, just to hammer home the thought. "We don't want him falling into the wrong sort of crowd. Tell me if you see him again." Jones and Exley went into the store, to conduct their interview, but Exley was just going through the motions. His mind was elsewhere.
Bud stumbled out into the lightening blackness of early, early morning. The bar had thrown him out, closing time. He stared down at the gutter, spinning slightly inside himself. He struggled to hold steady, hanging on to a No Parking sign for a minute. There were two other drunks thrown out with him. One staggered briefly and landed right in the gutter and stayed there, silent as a corpse. The other one strolled down the street, his shoes dragging on the sidewalk, waving at people who weren't there. Bud laughed at them, "drunks," he whispered to himself. He got to his car. Unlocking it took five
minutes. He sat in the car, feeling that everything was going to be all right, Exley would have to take him back, and barring that maybe Lynn would. Lynn, the beautiful blond whore he left in Bisbee, he thought, with a touch of drunken drama. Such a nice woman, such a lousy girlfriend. He thought about her red bee-stung lips opening for his kiss. Fuck, he would be fine without either of them. He didn't need anybody. He passed out.
Ed sat at home earlier that same night, alone. The kitchen clock ticked away
the hours. He thought of endless possibilities and outcomes relating to this
new information. O'Malley said Bud was drinking to beat the band. He didn't
doubt the man's veracity on this point. What did that indicate? Was he drinking
because he felt rejected? Was it that his feelings were hurt? Bud's feelings.
Ed took a moment to wrap his mind around that. He thought about all the things
Bud had said when they last met, and how, through and beyond the sexual bravado,
becoming Ed's partner was a legitimate romantic offer,
designed to protect Exley. How ironic.
Ed was certain that his course of action was the only viable one for keeping Bud safe. Bud never would have backed away from the challenge, had he been told the truth. Bud would have stayed, and likely gotten himself killed for his effort. With an "E" carved into their foreheads. Ed's mind fought to erase the memory of his previous dead partners. Stack them with the other dead men. Done.
The problem of Bud's drinking was actually a welcome diversion from the constant analysis he did on all of the cops he saw all day. Which was the one that had killed his partners? Because he was starting to think it was one of them, maybe more than one. Why the symbol on the forehead? And then, with a macabre chill, why was no one following this up? The questions just went on forever, in layers to the molten core of the planet. He had too much work to do without worrying about a lover's safety. Better to lose him this way than the other.
He couldn't think of anyone who had loved him as well as Bud. His body tensed with desire at the memory of their lovemaking. You could call it that, he said to himself. When tigers mate it looks like they are going to kill each other. Just because the sex was rough didn't mean it wasn't loving, or natural, even. That thought made Ed nearly double over with the memory of the pleasure Bud rocketed through his body just a few days ago. He felt the heat rise to his face.
Could they ever repair the damage to their relationship? Would he ever feel his body pressed against his own with that delicious force? Ed got up and poured himself a drink, trying to clear his head from the overpowering feelings of lust that made the bottle quake against the glass as he poured. This was the highest proof stuff he ever drank, and it burned as it went down his throat. He wondered if Bud was doing just the same at that instant.
Exley spun his analysis into another direction: what was Bud doing, going to seed in his own district? What was he doing sitting at that sleazy bar for hours on end? Ed knew Bud wasn't a social drinker, and could just as easily get loaded in the comfort of his own home. Was he doing business from the bar? If so, what kind? Jack Cooper was the only punk that worked out of that hole, and he was strictly neighborhood small potatoes, ran a couple of whores, no drugs that he knew of. Maybe Bud had crossed to the other side, not uncommon for a cop down on his luck.
Well, Cooper would be easy for Bud to overthrow, with his connections on the force. Or worse yet, maybe Bud was working for Cooper. But where did Lynn fit into that scenario? Where was she? He would love to talk to her, to ask her about Bud. They could compare bruises again. He would be discreet. Lynn wouldn't know a thing.
He could stop all this and just go to the Lucky Lady and see if Bud was there. He could wait there for a few hours until closing, just to be sure. What would he say if anyone saw him? He should probably just check it out anyway, if O'Malley had been to The Lucky Lady, maybe something else entirely was going on. That wasn't usual behavior, was it?
The hours ticked by, and Ed stayed home.
Just as the sun began to stream into the car, a nightstick was heard rapping on the drivers' side window, loudly. Bud awoke, finding himself in his car. How the hell did he get here? The rapping continued, louder still. Bud turned to look into the red, round face of O'Malley. O'Malley was laughing at him, unpleasantly.
"Hey, Bud, how you doin'?"
"Oh Jesus," Bud opened the door onto O'Malley and took several quick, deep breaths. He grabbed the sides of the door frame for support. He was going to be alright. If someone would just turn off that damn sun.
"We gotta roust you drunks out of here, so get the hell out of this nice neighborhood." O'Malley laughed again, happy to see an old rival sunk so low. "You're scarin' the old ladies," O'Malley continued, loud as a pair of Bermuda shorts at a funeral.
"Shut the fuck up, you dumb mi-" O'Malley finished White's sentence by quickly slamming the heavy car door back onto Bud's gripping left hand. Bud didn't have the reflexes to stop him.
The warm sensation of blood rushing to the broken fingers was not as unpleasant as Bud had remembered it from the last time they were broken. Maybe all those years of punching and smashing had dulled his nerves. Maybe it was just that he couldn't see straight, he was so angry. No fists. And no gun, either. This was some kind of a major existential crisis. "A left hook and a knee to the groin for O'Malley, or should I just curl up in a ball here and cry 'til suppertime?" Bud thought in an instant, barely aware of himself. Bud turned the ignition key with his right hand, wildly swinging out of his parking spot, unable to deal with the devil O'Malley on any level any longer. God, maybe he was going to cry.
Continue to part 3
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