Black Iris: Chapter Twenty-Five
The sun has set, and it’s finally cool enough that I feel like eating. I’m heading down the street to the sausage cart when a black limo pulls up alongside me. Either the men in black upgraded from their Crown Vic, or this is something else. In any case, I don’t plan on sticking around to find out.
I book it, and they give chase. Just as I’m starting to pull away from them, a voice calls after me.
“Where the hell are you going!”
It’s Meatballs Makarov. I wait for him at the corner.
“Sorry about that,” I say into the open backseat window. “I didn’t realize it was you.”
“I was gonna say, ya kinda hurt my feelings.” He runs his fingers through wind-blown hair then returns his fedora to his massive noggin. “Anyway, I was hoping we could chat.”
A linebacker in an expensive Italian suit gets out of the passenger’s seat and opens the back door for me. I climb in. The scent of cologne is so strong that it makes my eyes water.
Meatballs extends a baseball-glove-sized hand. His gold rings are the size of bracelets. “How’s it goin’? I don’t think I’ve seen you since — ”
“The Gala. Again, sorry I caused such a ruckus.”
He laughs. “Nah, are you kiddin’? That was the best part of the night.”
“If you say so.”
“You hungry? We’re about to grab a quick bite.”
“Yeah, I could eat.”
“Excellent.” He hits the button for the intercom. “Hey, Regis, take us to Burger Madness, please.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” answers his chauffeur.
Meatballs owns three of the top restaurants in the city, and here we are going to a fast food place.
“You’re probably wondering why the hell I’ve kidnapped you on this fine Friday evening.”
“Yeah, I’m a little curious.”
“I have a job for ya.”
“I’m not sure if you’ve been following the news lately, but I’ve run into some problems with the city.”
“Yeah, I think I saw something about that. They seized your warehouse, right?”
“They did. But what didn’t make the news was that they put my property up for auction a week later, and someone bought it.”
“Yep. Not sure if you’re familiar with real estate law, but public notice must be given at least 10 days before the sale of seized property. Mayor Bottom’s folks insist they did. Turns out their idea of public notice was putting up some stupid flyer on the corkboard in the Hayes Street post office.”
“There’s a post office on Hayes Street?”
“That’s my point. Who the hell would’ve seen it? Even with the flyer, they’re still in violation of the law because it would have only been up for seven days instead of 10, but my lawyers tell me this isn’t enough to dispute the sale.”
The vehicle slows as we pull into the drive-thru line at Burger Madness. The menu is on the driver’s side, and I can’t see past Meatball’s bulk to read it.
“Let’s see…hmm. Ok, I know what I want. How about you?”
“Do they have hot dogs or anything sausage-like?”
“Nah, everything here is in either patty or nugget form. You want hot dogs, we can go to Hot Dog Heaven.”
“No, it’s fine. I guess I’ll just get some nuggets.”
“Pork or chicken?”
“Ooh, they have pork nuggets? I’ll go with those. Two large orders, please.”
“You got it.”
Meatballs informs Regis what we’re getting, and the chauffeur puts in our order. Two minutes later, we’re back on the road with our snacks.
“The problem is,” Meatballs says with his mouth full of bison burger, “those assholes who bought my place have already started doing stuff there.”
“Who are they?”
He takes a slurp of his giant soda. “A company called Alsephina Realty.”
A piece of pork nugget falls from my gaping mouth. “You’re shitting me. Those guys dropped an air conditioner on me.”
“Yeah, I heard something about that.”
Not much happens in this town without Meatballs knowing about it. In this case, it could have been my father who told him.
“Thing is, I’m not sure how much help I can be. I’ve already done some digging on them, and I found jack shit.”
“Yeah, they’re ghosts. My lawyers haven’t found anything either, and they’re the best fuckin’ lawyers in town. We’ll just have to forget about Alsephina for now.”
“So, what do you want me to do?” I pick up the half-chewed pork from my lap and pop it into my mouth.
“You don’t think he’s a robot by any chance, do you?”
Meatballs raises an eyebrow. “What? No, of course not. But there’s definitely something up with him. He and I were friends for years. I spoke at his inauguration. He’s defended me to the public after certain unsubstantiated allegations were made about me. Hell, he even helped me get on the board at the museum. But lately, he’s been a real asshole, and it’s not just this bullshit with my warehouse.”
“What do you think happened?”
“I think it’s his wife, Annette. She’s always hated me. Did I introduce Dick to some of the ladies he messed around with? Sure, but it ain’t my fault he couldn’t keep it in his pants. As far as I’m concerned, you marry a politician, you get what you pay for. Anyway, what I think happened is he got himself into another jam. Maybe he knocked someone up or killed a prostitute.”
“But… if something like that happened, wouldn’t you know about it?”
“Normally, I would. That’s what worries me. Whatever happened, he managed to bury it so deep, even my sources don’t know squat.”
“The Kibble Phantom had a theory…”
“Don’t get me started on that asshole. The shit he was saying about me made me want to rip his fuckin’ head off.”
“Funny you should say that, because he’s actually dead.”
“Say what now?”
“The Phantom’s dead. He was hit by a car right outside my place. I was with him when the paramedics hauled off the body.”
I watch Meatballs carefully. The crinkle in his brow does seem to indicate genuine surprise, but as someone who is used to getting away with shit, he could be faking it.
“Huh. Well, isn’t that a kick in the taint?” He shrugs and takes a sip of soda. “So where was I?”
“You were saying you wanted to rip the Phantom’s head off.”
“No, before that.”
“You think the mayor may have gotten himself in trouble again.”
“Oh, right. I’m thinking maybe it was the last straw for Annette, and now she’s got him by the balls. Now, if I were to find out what this thing was, that could be pretty valuable information. Capisce?”
“I think I get it. Well, it won’t be easy. I’ve tried getting close to the mayor, and his security is tough.”
Meatballs shrugs. “You’re a good detective, I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“So where should I drop you off?”
I look in my grease-soaked bag and realize I’ve eaten all the nuggets. I had ordered what I thought would be enough for both Lincoln and me.
“Actually, can you drop me off on the corner of Swardson and Bently?”
He sighs. “That’s a little out of our way, but…”
“Oh, no worries, you can drop me anywhere.”
“Nah, I’m kiddin’.” He presses the intercom button. “Hey, Regis, could you take us to the corner of Swardson and Bently please?”
“Yes, sir,” the chauffeur answers.
Meatballs finishes his third quarter-pound burger in two bites, then sucks on his straw until the rattling ice tells him his soda is gone.
Luckily, there is no line at the sausage cart. I get two sweet links with no sauce and head home.