Detective Meg Urbanowicz had stepped off the elevator to the fourth floor and was cautiously balancing two paper coffee cups, a large black, no sugar, atop a medium cafe con leche. Taking care not to drop the sugar packets pinned to the side of the con leche with her pinky finger, she was steadying the whole caffeinated little tower with her chin, freeing up her left hand to open the grimy glass door to the bullpen, when her partner, Octavio Lopez approached from the other side. In one graceful motion, he slid the door open and relieved her of the con leche, saying “This’ll have to be to go – a shooting in the harbor district, at one of those dumpy no-name clubs down there.”
“Yeah, I picked it up on the hand-held. You hear anything else inside?”
“Only that the club’s on the corner of Hench and Third, and there’s a lot of blood”
“Hench and Third? That used to be Benny Jackass’s place. I can’t believe that hole is still open. “
As he slid behind the wheel, Lopez raised one eyebrow, almost imperceptibly. This, Urbanowicz had learned, was as close as he ever came to looking surprised. “Benny Jackass?”
Meg explained, “Years ago there used to be a punk club at that corner run by this seedy Lithuanian guy named Ben Jakanauskas; everybody called him Benny Jackass because, well, he was. The drinks were watered down, the bathrooms were disgusting, and the bartenders were usually hideous-looking trannies, but it had sort of a skanky mystique about it, because of the rumour that the Sex Pistols played there at the tail end of that misbegotten U.S. tour. “
“OK, them I have heard of, although I couldn’t name any of their greatest hits. How is a punk show a rumor, Meg? Either they played there or they didn’t” The cop in him just didn’t see how this would be a hard thing to prove.
“You have to understand the the whole tour was a clusterfuck – cancelled dates, truncated shows, fights instead of performances. In hindsight it just adds to the whole skanky mystique, and of course every aging punk in America swears to have seen them in ’77. If everybody who claims to have been there the night they supposedly played at Benny’s, and saw Sid supposedly throw up on Benny’s shoes, the place would have to be bigger than the Hollywood Bowl to have held them all.”
“I assume that it actually is not”
“Nah, I think it used to be a paint warehouse or something, although everybody in my high school swore it had been a slaughterhouse, and that you could still smell the blood on the walls. More skanky mystique – the only stank I ever noticed was stale beer, stale smoke, stale vomit and stale pee – same as any dive bar.”
“You went there a lot, did you? ” Lopez’ eyebrow remained in place, but the tiniest hint of a smile hovered at the corner of his mouth. Urbanowicz didn’t exactly carry herself like a prep school girl, but he wouldn’t have picked her for a punk, either.
“I sneaked out of the house once or twice when I was in high school, just so I could say I did and impress my friends. Not only were the bands unknown and untalented, but the second time I went there, the bass player on stage was this dorky stoner substitute band director from Upper Valley Regional. I stopped going after that.”
“Besides watered drinks, underaged guests, and nauseous musicians, did the place attract trouble back in the day? I never got a call there before, although vice picks up hookers in that neighborhood with some regularity.”
“My understanding, since I’ve been on the job and met cops who worked the harbor district, is that Benny might have been a jackass but he wasn’t stupid. The drinks were so weak that it was hard to get fighting drunk, and the bathrooms were so filthy that nobody wanted to have sex in them. That explains my initial youthful reaction – the place was genuinely nasty, but anybody looking for real trouble would’ve been disappointed. Everybody says Benny’s mother was the real muscle – the poseurs were scared of her, and the real punks sort of admired her. ”
“Benny’s mother. With that kind of respectful regard, I imagine nobody called her Mrs. Jackass?”
Lopez had a dry sense of humour that sneaked up on you when you least expected it. They’d been working together most of the summer, since Meg passed the detective’s exam, and although she didn’t know him very well she was pretty sure she liked him. He was punctual, his manners were perfect and his language almost elegant, but nobody seemed to know much about him. When she asked her mentor, Dave Ellis, about him, Ellis and a few of his crusty old friends grinned and said “just don’t call him Ockie.” That’s how those guys talked – Ellis would never say “He doen’t suffer fools gladly,” but then again, thought Meg, who does say stuff like that? Mostly bad novellists, too lazy to work their way through the cliche’. Anyway, the old guys had been on to something . Lopez was not a nickname kind of guy, and he took great care to pronounce Meg’s last name correctly. Occasionally when some of the older cops tried to throw their weight around, addressing the youngest and only female member of the squad as “OOr BAN a’wizzz” or once, “Urban a bitch,” Lopez had fixed them with a long, silent, basically terrifying stare that you couldn’t help but notice. Really, there was no reason to call a guy like that Ockie.
“I never heard her called anything other than Mrs. J., or the Old Lady. She ran an all-night coffee shop two doors down from the club. The food was lousy, but you could go there after last call, wait for your ride, and talk about how badass you were. The rumour about HER was that some guy came in one night when she was working alone and tried to rob the place, and ran off screaming after the old lady stuck his hand in the deep fryer. Many, many gags over the years about don’t order the chickens’ fingers.”
“Truth or mystique?”
“Hard to know, but nobody messed with the Old Lady. If the murder was at Benny’s club, it didn’t happen on her watch.”
They pulled up in front of a grimy one-story building, with a black-and-white and several EMS vehicles already parked outside. A young EMT was applying butterfly bandages to the wrist of a young woman – barely more than a girl really – wearing black mesh T-shirt and black pleather leggings, as her boyfriend, a young guy with a pierced lip, shoe-polish-black hair, and pale Nordic complexion, looked on admiringly.