Nightcapping

In this excerpt from The Black Cat by J.M. Geever, Chief Jones interrogates Patton August about the murder of chef Myra C. She was found stabbed in the back with one eye cut out. Chief Jones believes the killer is Jackson Judy.

Nightcapping

‘Why don’t you start telling me about Mr. Judy over there, the silent Sommelier.’

‘Silent? I don’t know about that, he’s fairly blabberous at work. Guess only after the first couple glasses of wine.’

‘Mr. Judy drinks on the job?’

‘Mr. Judy’s job is to drink.’

‘Don’t get condescending with me, you little fuck, you just stick to telling facts.’

‘Of course. Yes, Jackson drinks at work. He’s in charge of creating the wine list, which, I don’t know if you’re aware, is considered the strongest in the county, and one of the best in the state. He knows his stuff and knows how to find what’s hot.’

‘How much would you say Mr. Judy imbibes while working?’

‘What? I don’t know, not like he’s some drunk winding up to ineptitude. He just sips on a glass or two during service, then one or two after we close. What does this have to do with anything?’

‘I’ll decide what’s important, Mr. August. What do you know about Mr. Judy? Where does he come from, do you know much about his past?’

‘I got a few stories, sure.’

‘Well, don’t all of a sudden become shy, why don’t you tell me a few.’

‘Don’t really want to. I don’t see their connection with Myra’s murder.’

‘Mr. August, do you know much about law?’

‘I know enough.’

‘Well, then you should be aware that there is an interval between laws and their execution, there is a gap between law and order.’

‘That’s kinda cheesy… sir….’

‘Within this gap the police operate.’

‘And…’

‘And nothing. I just wanted to remind you of the aporia—learned that from my daughter—existing between arrest and justice. Things can get lost in a confusion of holes. Sabe?’

‘Yo sé.’

‘I asked if you understood, Mr. August, do you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wonderful! Then why don’t you start telling me some stories about that tall manager of yours.’

‘Yeah, well . . . he grew up in Prunedale. I guess his family had a few acres cause sometimes he talks about riding tractors and raising cows. His father was a car mechanic though. Died when Jackson was I think thirteen or fourteen, maybe younger, 11. I don’t really know. Died when he was young though. And the death was kinda freaky, like. Jackson kinda lives in a numerological world. He’s got a whole orbit of numbers that pretty much control him. Like his father died November 11. And all kinda stuff happens to him every 11-11—I mean look at today, strange uh? Well, couple years ago he was riding his motorcycle into San Luis. Something distracted him, or flew into his lane, or something. He swerved to avoid and ran headlong into a Peterbuilt triple axel. You know one of those big trailer rigs. Doctor told him the next day, as he was leaving the hospital—leaving the hospital the next day—doctor told him the accident he was in kills 99% of people, and the 1% that might survive do not walk out of the hospital. Just dumb pure luck Jackson lived, let alone walked out the hospital with two broken ribs, a broken arm, and minor internal bruising. That’s it. Guess the bike hit the truck and Jackson flew-flipped a couple hundred feet into the air and landed on the roof of a taco truck. Carne asada cushion, I guess. Jackson couldn’t really explain it either, but when he told the story he started to laugh. He told me he won’t die until he turns 52.’

‘What?’

‘That’s what I’m saying. He’s got these numbers they delineate his existence.’

‘Illuminate what that means.’

‘Well, like every 11-11 he’s pins and needles about what strangeness is going to occur, or stuff like that. He told me once his dad was kinda of a hippie. Smoked a lot of pot. There was a big family of cousins, apparently, and they’d always do some big summer trip to Disneyland or Knott’s or Yosemite or Pinnacles or Humboldt— loved Pamplin Grove. Anyway, Jackson’s dad always made t-shirts for the kid clot. Not some cutesy costume, like Goofy shirts for Disney. Nope. Just a handful of the same, so if the kids got separated they’d be easy to find. You’d see a group of kids running around wearing Superman shirts. Jackson told me once they were festooned in Clay Cams shirts, you know the smoking woodpecker with the cigar? Imagine seeing a group of 5-to-9-year-old kids running around with identical Mr. Horsepower shirts. Funny shit. I guess when he died, the dad, at 52, the family just splintered. Jackson stopped talking with his mother; his brother, younger, kinda flipped out and had to spend some time in a hospital. Didn’t see the cousins no more. Jackson told me that when his dad died he left behind so much that could never be explained. I didn’t really get it, but that’s Jackson too, you know. He’ll be up front honest and completely obscure and incomprehensible at the same time.’

‘Go on.’

‘Oh, well . . .There’s the great story J-Judy tells about bartending at E.G. Lewis—he called it the Lewd Egg, something to do with the Chef—that was before Jessica took over. Anyway, Jackson tending bar and there’s only two guests down there. They’re both staying at the inn and just nightcapping. Woman and a man. The man starts getting pretty tipsy, Jackson said he’d stumbled down knockered to begin, and starts to hit on the woman. She’s not interested, but he’s not stopping. It gets fairly obscene and Jackson steps in, tells the man he’s cut off. The woman smiles at this. Maybe that’s what provoked the drunk. Anyhow, he takes umbrage and curses Jackson, slips off the stool and he’s pointing fingers and yelling and stomping and throws his glass at the bar, and it shatters shards across the woman. Too far. Jackson grabs the man and yanks him outside. All the while he’s telling the guy he needs to calm down, that he is a guest at the Lewis—this is what Jackson always laughs at, they know who the guy is, it’s not like he can totter off into the night and sleep off his behavior—he’s staying at the inn. Anyway, the man‘s not listening and Jackson shoves him out the door telling him to come back later. The man’s flaming pissed and bright red with drink. Staring straight at Jackson, with a little wobble in his step, he pulls a blade out of his jacket. It’s no machete, but still threatening. Catches Jackson’s breath; no doubt, he’s concerned. What you going to do with that? I’m going to cut you, you sonofabitch. Let’s see it. Jackson’s bold, for sure. He doesn’t think he’s going to die until he’s 52, which is young, but makes him feel invincible until then. Well, the guy just stands there staring. Maybe he’s planning his move in a liquor haze, or maybe thinking things aren’t going the best. Anyway, Jackson does not waste any time. He steps forward and grabs the knife. Then he pushes the man out the door and walks back into the bar. He places the knife in front of the lady and says, ‘Here, if he decides to walk back in.’ Shit! Eh. ‘If he walks back in.’ I love that one.’

‘Very courageous.’

‘Shit, it was, man—and you’re all snarky over there.’

‘No, no, just wondering at the truth.’

‘Truth shmuth, who gives a rat’s ass? Tells you more about the man than anything else I’ve told you.’

‘Watch that language there, we aren’t at Mozzi’s, and I ain’t some local drunk. I’m an officer of the law. You just keep that in mind. You do seem to have quite the rattlebag of tales, keep talking.’

‘Sure. Sure.’ Patton changed his attitude. Jones is a snide ass, besides a pompous autocrat, and he’s trying to rile Patton up, Patton can sense that much. What he doesn’t understand is why. He shrugs his shoulder—inside his mind, not visibly—and decides to continue telling stories until he figures out Chief Jones. He also decides that capital ‘t’ Truth should be even less adhered to, less dominant in the cuvée.

‘Well . . .yeah, once he was driving home after work a little inebriated. This was before my time. And he’s reached almost the top of the 46 hill when a bobcat with a couple kittens dashes across the road. Jackson swerves to avoid—he’s driving a Saab 900—and runs up to the cliff feeling the back tire purl over. He takes a deep breath and leans right, toward the highway, scared the car’s going to roll down the escarpment. It doesn’t. He slowly tilts back into the driver’s seat and nothing happens. Told me he kinda giggled to himself, like he’d tricked death again, and opened the driver’s side door. Stepped out and was about to follow his foot when he noticed it never reached ground. He almost stepped right into the night air and down fifty odd feet. So, he blesses himself and crawls through the passenger side door. Standing on the cliff looking at the car and back at the road attempting the geometry of repositioning the car into a more optimal driving position, when the car tumbles down the embankment. Rolls maybe three times, or four. Jackson, with the numbers, is always precise. I think four times. Said he started to laugh. Didn’t care too much about the car, just laughing because he wasn’t in it. Then he remembers. He darts over the edge and scampers down the cliff toward the car, which has landed roof-down on a little plateau below—old oak growing crooked toward some light. Three bottles of Sine Qua Non—2004 Poker Face, 2005 Into the Dark, and the 2003 Eleven Confessions—you don’t know much about wine. Anyway, without the wine there is nothing. This is what Jackson is thinking while he tries not to slide down the shale. He knows the gas is flooding the engine, and probably going to blow up in a moment or so. He just needs those bottles. I mean they. . . not only are they great wines, but Jackson just bought them, and together they form a trinity in his mind—brother, mother, self. His brother, after the hospital, was on meds all the time and looked blank. His mother retreated into her own healing process after her husband’s death and wasn’t there emotionally for the boys. And Jackson, well he’d designed his itinerate existence on the number 11 and still believed there was some secret that would unwrap his world for him, leaving a package of bliss and peace, and all to be found through the code: 11. Anyway, knowledge or not, to Jackson the wines were more than cult Syrah blends. (I think they describe Judy in a poetic sense besides.) And Judy slipped into the back seat of his flipped Saab and grabbed all three of them before skipping quickly away from the car. Told me he stared at the car for a few minutes expectantly, but nothing happened. He started to climb back up the steep near vertical wall with a thousand or more dollars of wine in his hands. The car blew up when he was halfway.’

‘Interesting story, Mr. August.’

‘Oh. Well, thank you.’

‘Listen here, boy, you keep that spiked tongue under towel or you’ll end up somewhere you don’t want to go. I am an officer of the law, I don’t know if you might have forgotten because of my kindness. Keep the sarcasm down, keep your answers short, and stay away from the alternate realities that Jackson Judy creates; don’t think I can’t decipher between the possible and the fantastic. Physics don’t allow men to walk on air.’

The Black Cat

The Black Cat by J.M. Geever is on sale here.

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