Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Deeper the Well 4

“What?” Hansen sat straight up, held her glass out crazily and stared at Frank. “How do you get that?”

“Maybe it was an accident,” Frank said, “but he killed her. He thinks I wouldn’t figure that out.” Frank brought her up to speed on his conversation with Tony and mentioned that Bettie was entertaining an ‘ambassador from the east’ earlier.

“Have you considered that he thinks you will figure it out? That you’ll come after him? Makes it easier to frame you for it.”

“Does anyone but your immediate superior know you’re in the Well?” Frank leaned forward across the table, waiting for the answer.

“No,” she said.

“You can bet he’s got an alibi for every trip he’s made in here,” Frank said. “He wants me dead, you ruined. You want him out of the way and my respect. I want you all to fuck right off and get out of my hair so I can repair my relationship. I think that covers everything.”

“I’m confused where Katie Lassiter fits into the mix,” Hansen said.

“She picked him up in the Slip Ribbon, once,” Frank said. “He wanted another round or more, and she didn’t. She’s a child of privilege, after all. It might’ve been an accident when he confronted her, but he killed her.”

“What about the Asian? Didn’t she like Asians?”

“Tony’d been talking to cops before I got there, remember?”

Frank stood, pulled out his wallet and dropped a bill on the table. “We have to go now.” Frank walked toward the door. Hansen grabbed the rest of her sandwich and followed.

They were stopped at the front door of Red Bettie’s by the door gorilla. “She okay,” the silverback signed, pointing at Hansen. “You not.” He showed a fang to emphasize the point.

“It’s okay,” he said and put up his hands. “Can you get her to Bettie? The ambassador’s in danger.”

The gorilla, educated on Maui, knew that Frank didn’t lie. He frowned. “Stay,” he signed to Frank and took Hansen inside.

He looked up for the first time in a long time. “Stars,” Frank said. The sky was clear.

Once one was sent to the Well, one stayed there for the rest of one’s life. It was a prison with razor wires and fifty-foot walls, gates and indolent guards but it was home, too; a community where everyone was accepted as long as certain rules were followed. Pedophiles in the Well didn’t last long. “Why wouldn’t I want to get out of here?” He spoke to Orion, the Hunter. “Why wouldn’t I take her with me? Why wouldn’t she understand that?”

His phone rang. Shaken, he pulled it from the pocket and opened it up. “Townshend.”

“You spoke with the dead girl?”

“Yes, thanks for dropping me off. She was helpful.”

“You trust Hansen?”

“Yeah, she’s good police,” Frank said.

“Then you have learned all I had to tell you.”

“Except where Jurgens is.”

“The Miller building. Seventh floor,” Strangiato said. “Do you have a voice recorder?”

“Yes,” Frank said. “Built in to my phone.”

“Good. You know what to do.”

“A monologue,” Frank said. “I hate that.”

“There are two shooters across the street,” Strangiato said. “Be careful, Francis.”

“Thanks.” He closed his phone and faced the club again. “Yeah.”

Hansen came out of Red Bettie’s with the silverback. She touched the gorilla on the shoulder and signed ‘thank you’ to him. The gorilla attempted a smile, and Frank was reminded of the painful thing that had crossed Strangiato’s face recently. Hansen came over.

“What’d you get?”

“The ambassador’s at the Miller building,” Hansen said without looking at him. They started walking. “You know where it is?”

“Not far. That’s where Jurgens is,” Frank said. “This is more complicated by the minute.” They looked back at the door gorilla who was impassively looking away from them. Frank took Hansen’s arm and they began walking. “I’ll explain on the way.” A floating eye followed slowly behind but was struck down and crushed by the door gorilla who wiped his paws and resumed his post.

“I’m not going in with you.”

They were a block away from the Miller building.


“No,” Hansen said. “I’ll take the shooters next door. They won’t be expecting me.”

“I suppose not,” Frank said. “Be careful nonetheless.”

“Do you have a plan?”

Frank smiled at her. “Of course I do. I’m counting on you to get those shooters for me. Jurgens is the easy bit.”

Hansen shook her head. “Don’t worry about me, old man. I’ve got your back.” She looked both ways then stepped into the street. “See you when it’s done.”

“I hope so,” Frank said to her back.

“That’s far enough, Frank.” Jurgens was pointing a cherry Smith & Wesson .357 at him.

The lobby had been empty and the elevator took Frank straight to the seventh floor and let him out in the little hall that connected the four rooms: VIP suites for anonymous visitors when they were enjoying the ‘immoral’ pleasures of the flesh. Frank was inside the door of the north suite and held his hands out palms up. The ambassador was tied to a chair between the two of them, his mouth taped shut. “It’s your dime,” he said.

“Got a story for me?”

“I’ve got truth,” Frank said. “I imagine you’ve got the story.”

Jurgens smiled and heaved a sigh. “The truth is that you were killed by the ambassador here when you confronted him about the murder of Katie Lassiter.” He pulled the trigger.

Frank spun around as the bullet plowed into his shoulder, across the bone to stop in the doorjamb behind him. On the ground, Frank grabbed his shoulder and growled in pain. “He’s not a very good shot,” Jurgens said walking slowly toward Frank. “He had to get closer. At this range,” Jurgens was three feet away now, “he could hardly miss.”

“Was he the same guy who killed Wilma Sparkit?”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Jurgens said. “Thanks for helping me out again partner.” Another shot. Debris from the ancient carpet and the floor beneath stung Frank’s cheek. Frank looked out the window and hoped he could count on Hansen, that he hadn’t miscalculated horribly.

“See the ambassador’s nervous,” Jurgens said. He was walking around, waving the gun, waxing poetic. “He never thought he’d be caught. Wilma and Katie didn’t understand. He needed them; they were his.”

“Everyone has needs,” Frank said. “What separates us from the animals is knowing when to control them.”

“Be patient, Mr. Ambassador. You’re next.” Jurgens turned back to Frank. “Are you calling me an animal?”

“If the shoe fits.”

“You’re recording this, aren’t you?” Jurgens laughed. “All right, here it is: I killed Wilma Sparkit. I killed Katherine Lassiter. I intended to frame you for Katie’s murder but you were too smart for me. I don’t think I can live with what I’ve done. Tell Teri I love her won’t you?”

“I hate bad guys who monologue,” Frank said.

“See you around then. Partner.” Jurgens didn’t hear the glass of the window shatter. He didn’t hear the massive, terrible report of his gun as he reflexively squeezed the trigger. He didn’t register the bullet tearing through his throat and spine, didn’t feel the floor’s solidity as he fell dead.

Frank winced as Hansen wrapped the bullet wound in his shoulder. “Don’t be a baby,” she said. “I hope you got all that in your phone.”

“Yeah, I’ll beam it to yours in a minute. Ow.” He tried to move his hurt arm to get his phone. “Hold on a second.”

“Doesn’t matter right now,” she said. “The ambassador will corroborate, I’m sure.” The ambassador was still tied to the chair with his head slumped forward, passed out. “When he wakes up. The boys should be here in ten to take statements and get him out of here. ”

“Was the deal real?”

“Yeah,” Hansen said. “You’ll be able to leave the Well once it’s all over.”

“If I can convince Bettie, that is.” Frank struggled to stand up, made it. “I’m too old for this. I want to find a nice country house and start a garden.”

“She was born and raised here, Frank. The country’s pretty scary to us city girls.”

“I’ll have to work that out, I guess,” he said.

“Good luck with that.”

Frank held his shoulder and walked to the broken window, looked back at Jurgens’ body on the floor and calculated the angle of her shot: close to impossible. He turned to face her again and arched an eyebrow.

Hansen grinned and shrugged. “Top of my class in marksmanship. “

Frank looked sidewise at her. “We all have our secrets then, don’t we?”


“Don’t cheat,” he said. “Be good. Be good police.”

“I’ve got your example to follow, Frank,” she said as four blue-uniformed cops burst into the room with two emergency medicos right behind them. “I can’t go wrong with that.”

Thanks for reading Deeper the Well. Come back next week Click Here for The Receivers!

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Like it? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Deeper the Well 3

Strangiato sat behind his desk and prepared to write. “Go ahead.”

Frank ran through everything: Jurgens’ appearance at his apartment, what he knew of the Lassiter girl’s death, Bettie kicking him out and all he knew about Hansen. He told of the fight in the subway.

“Can you check into Jurgens for me? And Hansen? Also, I’d like to get what I can from the girl. There’s the floating eye, too.”

“That’s taken care of. The girl will be waiting for you when we stop, but she may not be much help,” Strangiato said. “You know how the newly dead are.” The dark-eyed man stood up, holding his notes. “As for your former partner, I will call you with what I can find out.”

Frank finished his drink, stood, and barely felt the train’s movement as it began to slow. “Thanks, Strangiato. I owe you another one.”

He smiled at Frank, a thing that was at once uncomfortable, reassuring and out of place. “Be safe and take care. I have few enough that I call friend.”

Frank blinked, stunned. “I will. Talk to you soon.” They shook hands. Frank walked to the door that he’d come in and touched the handle. “Thanks again.” He didn’t look back, didn’t know if Strangiato was still in the room or not as he went through the door.

The sun was down and the street was empty, as it always was when he debarked Strangiato’s locomotive. The anachronism of a steam locomotive parked in the street of a city was too much for the casual observer and Frank never asked for any more explanation than that. As much as they might be professional colleagues, there was a lot he didn’t know about his friend. Now wasn’t the time for those questions, though, there were others that needed answering first. He looked up at street signs to get his bearings.

“Okay,” he said to himself. “Now where ---?”

There was a woman across the street who was looking around as if waiting for a ride. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she wore a grey two-piece suit with a black Coach bag. Her sensuality shone through the plain clothes and Frank shook his head before calling out.

“Katherine Lassiter?” Frank walked slowly towards her, keeping his hands out of his pockets. She cocked her head sideways and frowned slightly. “I’m Frank Townshend,” he said. “Can I talk to you?”

She stepped back from the curb and frowned, seemingly startled. “I can’t stay long. Daddy’s expecting me home soon.”

“I understand,” Frank said. He stood in front of her in the street, his hands at his sides. No quick moves, no sudden shifts and she might talk to him long enough for him to find out something useful. “We’ve never met. Are you waiting for a taxi, then?”

“Yes.” She looked up the street.

“Mind telling me where you’ve been?”

“I saw my girlfriend,” Katie said. She looked at him and blinked, then blinked again. “I remember now. He hates you, you know.”

Frank put his hands in his pockets, set his feet slightly apart. “Why do you think that?”

“He told me. Over and over, actually.” She stepped forward and looked up the street. “There’s my cab, you better move or he’ll run you down.”

Frank was concentrating so hard on her he didn’t see the headlights or hear the SUV’s engine gunning at him until it was almost too late. He turned and jumped to his right into the street. Too old, too slow, his foot caught the driver’s side fender and spun him over. Frank lay sidewise in the street as the car sped away and turned right at the next corner. Catching his breath, he looked at the curb: the ghost of Katie Lassiter was gone.

“Shit,” he said and tried to stand up. “Agh!” He sat in the street and rubbed his left leg, trying to massage the pain out of it. Finally he crawled back to the curb and rolled up his pants leg to see the damage. No broken bones, but one hell of a bruise developing from knee to ankle. “Shit!”

Frank limped into the Slip Ribbon an hour later and asked for a bottle of bourbon and the owner.

“Yeah, I talked to some cops from Out There a while ago, but I didn’t tell ‘em anything.” The owner, a fat man with squinty eyes and receding black hair, stood behind his bar where Frank sat sipping a bourbon. “I figure: fuck ‘em if they wanna leave us on our own, they can fuck off. You know?”

“Mm,” Frank said. “No argument from me, Tony. Still, I was a cop once and I don’t like seeing anyone, especially women get killed.”

Tony relaxed. “Hell, Frank,” he said. “I seen you in here from time to time, checking out the competition. You never headhunted any of my staff, though, and I appreciate that. You’re one of us.”

Frank half-raised a hand and smiled. The personnel and clientele of the Slip Ribbon weren’t the kind that Bettie would hire nor want in her place anyway.

“Katie Lassiter was in often enough I’d call her a regular. She liked a couple of the girls, picked up the occasional tourist, drank a little and tipped a lot.” Tony poured from the bottle Frank had bought. “We all liked her. She was a happy person.”

“Who was she with the night she was killed? Anyone you remember?”

“That was a busy night, Frank,” Tony said. “I saw her come in, but Fallon was the one who sat with her.”

“She around?” Frank sipped again.

“Haven’t seen her since that night. She’s not answering her phone, either.”

“Huh,” Frank said. “That usual? Her just disappearing like that?”

Tony put both hands on the bar, looked at the floor. “Sometimes.”

“Was she one of the girls that Katie Lassiter liked? Were they close?”

“They had sex. Sometimes she’d pick a guy for Katie and watch them together if that was what Katie wanted.” Tony stood up straight again, smoothed his sweat-stained shirt over his round belly. “They liked Asian guys for that.”

“Yeah?” Frank sat back on his barstool. “Anyone meet that criteria that night?”

Tony looked hard at Frank. He breathed regularly, but heavily, through his nostrils over his hard set mouth. “No,” he said. “I didn’t see any Asians in here that night.”

“What about the cameras? You got any vid here I could look at?”

“Cops took it.”

Frank dropped a large bill on the bar. “For the drink,” he said. “Thanks for the conversation, too, Tony. Hope Fallon turns up.”

“Yeah,” Tony said scooping the bill off the bar and pocketing it in one smooth motion. “Me, too. You see her, tell her to call, willya?

Frank saluted Tony and limped out of the bar.

Frank closed his phone as Hansen sat down across from him in the diner, disheveled and pissy. “What’ve you got?” She reached over and took a bite of Frank’s half-finished cantaloupe and prosciutto wrap. He poured wine into the second glass on the table and slid it in front of her.

“Take it if you’re hungry,” Frank said. “Do you want to clear this case?”

Hansen pulled the plate in front of her and sipped the wine. “Got something, then?” Frank turned to the waitress behind the counter and said, “Stella, can we get another Amano, a carafe of water and ---“ he looked back at Hansen. “And a ham sandwich.”

“Sure thing,” the waitress said. “Comin’ up, Frank.”

Hansen was looking at him, asking questions with her eyes. She sloshed back the rest of the wine. Intent, she was glaring over the top of the glass at him.

“I did my homework, too,” Frank said. “I know a little bit about you, Marly Jane Hansen: born in Kansas thirty-one years ago, both parents incarcerated in the Kansas City Well since ten years ago, you made detective last year and are fast-tracking upward. You’re as ambitious as Jurgens is.”

She laughed and smiled through closed lips. “You’re good, Frank. Nobody knows about my parents.”

“You really are I.A.B., too,” Frank said nodding. “I thought maybe you were working for him.”

Stella came back with the wine, the food and the water. She smiled warmly at Frank and nodded at Hansen. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Thanks, Stella, no.” The waitress toddled off back to her station and picked up her Didgireader, swiped at its screen and ignored them again. Frank studied Hansen.

“Is he a rival of yours? Or an ex lover?”

“Usually I do the interrogations.”

“Did you have an affair with Jurgens?”

“It was just sex,” Hansen said. “I didn’t expect any favors out of it.”

“Was it ‘just sex’ for him?”

“He wanted a return match, but he wasn’t my cup of tea.” Hansen nodded shortly, and looked back at Frank. “You think Katie Lassiter ---?”

“I think she picked him up one night at the Slip Ribbon so her girlfriend Fallon could watch,” Frank said. “He’s an obsessive type, our Captain Jurgens. Always enjoyed a pretty girl here and there when it was convenient.

“Anyone know about the two of you?”

Hansen searched the tabletop. “I don’t gossip.”

“He couldn’t be sure, though. Who in your circle would he be afraid of?” Frank was turning his fork over and over as he talked.

“Commissioner Briscoe is my uncle,” Hansen said.


“No favors, though. I’ve earned what I’ve gotten.”

“Except Jurgens thinks you’re sleeping your way to the top and that he was a step on the ladder.” Frank put the fork down and folded his hands. “It’s starting to make some sense. He killed Katie Lassiter.”

Deeper the Well concludes in Part IV next Wednesday! Click Here.

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can’t wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Deeper the Well 2

Frank closed the phone and motioned the barista over. “Any idea who that was? They give you a name?”

“No, sir,” the barista said. “Just asked for the old guy with the duffel bag.” He indicated the rest of the tables. “Since you’re the only one here who…”

Frank looked around the room and saw two other coffee drinkers: a balding, bearded man tapping away at a portable keyboard connected to his phone and a good-looking, dark-skinned woman browsing a touchscreen Didgireader. He turned and looked at the window of the shop and saw a young woman with dark glasses, a short skirt and black leather coat smiling at him. She waved her phone and cocked her head. Frank dropped a bill on the table, shouldered his bag and went outside.

“Who are you?”

The young woman opened a wallet and showed Frank her police I.D. “You are Frank Townshend, former detective and resident of the Well for these last ten years. You’ve been with Bettie Leaf, first working for her then nominally married to her in that time. When you were on the job Out There you were one of the best, clearing cases like Sherlock Holmes.

“Your partner, now-Captain Jurgens, stole your wife - Teri- and brought to light certain proclivities that would be embarrassing in a future police commander. He stomped on your career, cast you out of society and you ended up here. That about it?”

Frank scowled at her. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“I showed you my identification.”

“The department’s hurting if you make detective only knowing how to use a feed crawler and WayBack Machine,” Frank said. He re-shouldered his bag and turned to walk away. “Word of advice, Detective Hansen: don’t come to the Well looking for sex dressed like you’re going to a frat party. It may be a prison, but there are standards here.”

He walked.

Ten steps on, he heard Detective Hansen’s voice. “He’s got you on a clock, Frank.”

He stopped. Her heels clicked on the pavement, slow and measured, until she was next to him. “You’ve got tonight to clear this or he frames you for it. Simple, neat and clean and the Senator owes him.”


Hansen set her mouth and looked up the street. Cars weren’t allowed in the Well and there wasn’t anyone else on the sidewalk. She turned back to Frank. “He promised you two could get out didn’t he? In the name of the Senator?”

“Something like that,” Frank said. His eyes were closed.

“You’ll do the work, but he takes the credit,” Hansen said. “He doesn’t want you out of here. He wants you destroyed utterly and finally.”

“Kettling me here wasn’t good enough?”

Hansen nodded. She reached inside her coat and handed Frank her card. “Why don’t you go back and try to smooth things over with Bettie? Let me handle this.”

“Why should you care?”

“It’s my job, old man,” she said and waved goodbye. “Call me in a couple of hours.” Frank noticed her legs as she walked away and turned the corner. He looked at her card: Bureau of Internal Affairs. The staccato clicks of her heels echoed in his head.

Frank walked north. He could see the fifty-foot wall that surrounded the entire three square miles of the Well if he looked left. Opening his cell phone, he noted the time. He looked up and caught the floating eye slipping back behind the next corner ahead of him.

“Bet they still deploy in pairs,” he said to himself. “The subway is what I need.” He jogged up Patrick Street to Chambers Avenue, stepped over the steel cord with a sign that read “closed” and down the stairs. At the bottom, he shucked off his coat and dropped it over his duffel around the corner to the platform. He flattened himself against the wall and tried to slow down his heart.

Frank waited. Someone was coming down the stairs, trying to be quiet and having a hard time. Frank gritted his teeth and held his breath. The soft steps were closer, cautious. Because the platform extended from either side of the entry, his head was turned away giving Frank the advantage and a first shot. He made it count and crossed his pursuers face with a hard right, knocking him sideways and down to the floor. A couple of quick stomps to the blond man’s knee and groin got the job done and allowed Frank to kick him into unconsciousness. He grabbed the man’s plasma pistol.

Panting, sweating, Frank trotted back to gather his duffel and grab his coat. There was a prehistoric pay phone with a withered Out of Order sign on it. He picked up the handset and punched nine numbers into the dial pad. There was no ring; no sound to indicate the phone was working until a deep voice on the other end of the line said, “Yes?”

“It’s Frank,” he said still panting. “I need help.”

“Where are you?”

“Patrick Street Station.” Frank could hear his heart pounding out of his chest, the blood pulsing in time with it in his brain. He hucked and hitched, trying to catch his breath. “I’ve disabled one tail and I’ve got at least one floating eye on me, too. Maybe more.”

“Walk the tracks to the north,” the voice said. “Mind the third rail. It’s still live.”

“They haven’t shut it off yet?”

“Mind the rail. Half an hour.”

Empty silence, then; the voice had rung off. Frank put the receiver back in its cradle and grabbed his duffel. He moved to the edge of the platform and sat down, dangling his feet. He slipped down and landed in the mushy cinder rocks, gained his balance. He stepped over the rails and into the center of the track bed. “Sixty years and the third rail’s still live.” Frank walked north. “Jesus.”

He muttered to himself while he was walking, working out why Bettie was angry. He hadn’t forgotten the floating eye. Frank knew the thick walls of the tunnel would keep it from sending any sort of clear signal. All he needed was a clear shot and it wouldn’t be a problem.

“I need to know if Jurgens has changed. Hansen is a mystery. I need to know about her, too,” he muttered as his footsteps crunched in the cinder rocks in rhythm with his thinking. “What do I know? Katie Lassiter’s dead, strangled. Who benefited from her death? A lover? A jealous wannabe lover? The Slip Riboon’s not a bad place, just not Bettie’s. Bettie. Shit. I’ve done little jobs before; is it Jurgens? The Ribbon?” He kept walking into the very dimly lit tunnel. Tumbled possibilities in mind, Frank made a turn and saw the train.

Rather than the flat, rectangular cars one expects in the subway, this was a two hundred year old steam locomotive with two parlor cars, a Pullman and one baggage car behind the engine. It was stopped at the intersection of three tracks, puffing steam. Frank smiled and walked across to the second car behind the engine. He stepped up and knocked on the little door at the back of the car. He tossed the pistol; the eye wouldn’t matter now. An old man opened the door and nodded at Frank. “Hello, Mr. Townshend. Good to see you again.”

“You, too, Hodgkins,” Frank said. “I take it he’s here somewhere?”

Hodgkins nodded, closed the door behind Frank and took his bag and coat. “Would you care for a drink?”

“Yes, please,” Frank said. “Bourbon rocks.”

“Very well, sir. Make yourself comfortable.”

Frank sat in the elegantly paneled room in a rich red leather wingback chair on the visitor side of the oaken desk. Hodgkins came back with a glass half full of bourbon and three floating ice cubes. The old manservant nodded and left again. Frank was studying a painting that was startlingly variable in its shades of red and brown when the side door to the room opened and closed.

The dark-eyed, heavyset man crossed to his old friend with long strides and put out a hand. “Hello, Francis,” he said.

“Strangiato,” Frank said. “Thanks for helping me.”

Deeper the Well continues in Part III next Wednesday! Click Here.

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Can’t wait? You can buy the whole story for 49¢ by clicking on the button below and I’ll send you a DRM-free PDF via email!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Deeper the Well 1


The black Tata bacteriophage SUV rolled through the chain link gate that groaned on its steel wheels back across the pavement to magnetically lock again. The hum of electricity settled over the guards in the little shack who went back to their card game. The SUV drove three blocks down the street and turned left into an alley and stopped. Inside, the blond officer riding shotgun turned and looked at the VIP in the back seat. “You okay to get out here?”

The VIP twitched the corner of his mouth at the officer and looked out the window. He snorted.

“Fine,” the officer said. “We’ll wait for an hour. After that you’re on your own. You got the address?”

“Of course.” The VIP opened his door and paused. “If you’re gone when I come back, I’ll make sure that your next assignment involves rabid animals and raw meat suits.” He exited the truck and closed his door.

“Prick,” the officer said.

The VIP adjusted his coat and rolled his neck. “I can’t believe I had to come here.” He walked away from the SUV.

The apartment was cramped but spacious for the Well. Few people had two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen and a living room for only two occupants. This was luxury in a prison setting. The VIP stood in the open doorway, his dark glasses rendering him impassive. “Nice place, Frank. You’re looking we --- good.”

The man holding the doorknob was scowling. Frank wasn’t happy-go-lucky, even in the best of circumstances, and his reactions to unannounced guests were rarely civil. “So?”

The VIP didn’t move. “Can I come in?”

Frank stood back behind the door and looked at the floor. The VIP came in and waited for the sound of the latch. He took off his glasses and slid them into his coat pocket. The dining room table was strewn with books and papers and the second chair was piled with more. Otherwise the apartment was Spartan, the furniture functionally comfortable. “Frank,” he said.


“I don’t want to be here any more than you want me to be. It’s important.”

“You’d come to gloat if you had the urge,” Frank said.

The VIP bristled. “It suits me to have you in the Well with all the other sex offenders, predators and perverts, but this is official business.”

“The Lassiter girl.”

A nod.

“No,” Frank said. “Absolutely not.”

“Her parents are demanding an investigation. He’s powerful. She has connections, too. He’ll be grateful for the closure an investigation can provide.” The VIP sighed and put his hands on his hips. “I need your help.”

Frank turned and left the living room for the kitchen. The VIP clenched and unclenched his fists, could hear the clink of ice in two glasses and the gentle gurgle of liquid being poured. He was close to calling out when Frank came back with two glasses half-filled with a brown liquor and ice. He held one out to the VIP.

“French bourbon,” Frank said. “Illegal in the States.” He sipped at his glass and looked over it at the VIP. “You gonna do anything about this, Jurgens? You gonna take that away from me, too?”

Jurgens was impassive.

“Why me? There’re others who can do this here. Paxon, for one.”

“Paxon’s an idiot. So’s Alves and so is Farmer,” Jurgens said. “You’re the one the commissioner wants on the job.” Frank didn’t move. Jurgens stared at him.

“Because Senator Lassiter insisted.” Jurgens sat down on the sofa, set his drink on the coffee table and crossed his arms.

“Bullshit,” Frank said.

“Lassiter specifically asked for you after he saw you on the list of inmates,” Jurgens said. “He remembered you from the Sparkit business.”

Frank drained his glass and the ice clinked in the bottom. His eyes scrunched into narrow slits. He huffed and went back to the kitchen. Jurgens heard more liquor being poured and reached for his own drink; one sip then another and a long draught. Frank had come back to the living room and stared at Jurgens.

“What are you promising, then?”

It seemed obvious to open sex clubs and brothels in the federal prisons made of former arts districts, especially since the government only monitored the outside walls, but no one had created one on the scale of Red Bettie’s in any of the other Wells across the country. Tourists from the city eventually found the ratholes and tunnels that led to the sex trade in the Well. Despite strict moral imperatives being tightly imposed Out There, the illicit trade was ignored by the government. Everyone involved made money and then spent it.

Red Bettie’s was full of dark corners and dimly lit tables. The pulse of the music complemented the whirling, flashing yellow, purple and white spotlights splashing across the glass dance floor. Frank waved at Danny as he passed the bar. Danny pointed toward the back wall of the club where the offices were. He smiled at the bartender and made his way through the grinding, sweating bodies to a door guarded by the black-suited gorilla who put out one giant paw to stop him.

Frank signed. “What?”

“No entry,” the gorilla signed back. “Boss order.”

“Even me?”

“No entry. Boss order. Wait.”

Frank turned away from the gorilla. Fuming, he fished out his cell phone and pushed one button, then listened. No answer. He slapped the phone shut and looked at it angrily. It went back into his pants pocket.

The gorilla stood impassive at the door and frowned at Frank, who nodded back and went to the bar. Danny put a glass with two fingers of bourbon and three ice cubes down in front of him and walked away. The dance music throbbed in his chest as he sipped his drink.

Danny came back with a fresh drink and a slip of paper folded in half for Frank. “From her,” Danny said, walking away to the other end of the bar.

Frank opened the note, read it then crumpled it up and dropped it into the ashtray on the bar. He drained the fresh drink and waited.

“Sorry, Frank,” Bettie said. “It was business that couldn’t be interrupted. An ambassador from the east.” They were in her office, a small closet at the back of the club with room enough for a medium-sized desk and three chairs. The walls were painted a bone-white color to make up for the lack of natural light and to allow photos of natural wonders to function as decoration. There was an ancient laptop, closed, and a picture of Frank on the desk.

He hugged her tighter, stroked her hair. “It’s okay, gorgeous” he said. “I understand.”

“What’s the matter?” Bettie pulled back. She put her hands on his chest and asked the question again with her eyes. Frank turned away from her. Bettie hit him in the shoulder. “Tell me.”

When he was done explaining Jurgens’ visit, he still couldn’t look Bettie in the eye. “He said that Senator Lassiter would get us out of here, that we could live Out There. We could start over, Bettie. We could have a life in regular society.”

“You took the case.”

Frank didn’t answer.

“You did, didn’t you?” Bettie clenched and unclenched her small fists and tried to control her breathing. She tried counting to ten, made it to six. “Goddamn it, Frank!”

Frank stood up a little straighter. “I’m doing this for us, Bettie.”

“Bullshit,” she said.

“I know it sounds insane; I know I promised I’d never do this kind of work again; I know I said I’d kill Jurgens if I ever saw him again…”

Bettie just looked at him with her cold blue eyes. She was rigid, straight and unforgiving. “You said a lot of things you apparently didn’t mean,” she said.

“Bettie ---“

“Get out. Get your stuff and go. I never want to see you again.”

“What? You don’t really mean that ---“

She opened the door and the gorilla came into the room. “Basil,” she said, “escort Mr. Townshend to our apartment where he can gather his things. He has one hour to get out. Make sure you get his key.”

Basil, the gorilla, signed at Frank: “Now.”

Frank had one duffel bag worth of clothes and left everything else behind. Basil, to add insult to injury, shoved Frank through the front door of the apartment building and onto the sidewalk. He looked backward and up toward the apartment, sighed and began walking.

Ten blocks later, Frank stopped at a coffeehouse and plopped at a table with a Texas Mountain Latte to consider his options, which were slim. He sipped the coffee and was surprised when the barista came over and handed him a phone. The barista shrugged at the unasked question and went back to the heaving, hissing La Marzocco at the bar. Curious, Frank put the phone to his ear.

“Don’t believe everything Jurgens told you.”

Deeper the Well continues in Part II next Wednesday! Click Here.

©2009 By Jason Arnett.
Some Rights Reserved under a Creative Commons Attribution-
Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

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