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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

REQUIEM IN D-MINOR - A Murder Ballad

You could say I was at the end of my tether.
There wasn’t much left of me to salvage after a lifetime of blood, wet-work, cheating and theft. So at sixty-two, having spent a considerable chunk of my time in jail; and most of what I’d earned avoiding even more convictions, I’d decided to invest my skills and know-how in the straight world as a PI.

A reformed criminal turned Private Investigator - you would think the clients would stay away in droves, but surprisingly enough, I was a busy man indeed.

I was putting my life back together, bit by bit, until that fateful August night.
A mistake. A woman, of course, with me it was always a woman.Other men, it was drink or gaming, or blood lust or drugs.With me it was women.

Not necessarily beautiful women. Just a woman with that intangible something that moved me: a smile, a way of lifting a shoulder, the vulnerable curve of a neck. Once I nearly married a girl for her scent. The sweet scent of the curve of her throat...I can smell it even now. I loved that girl.

So that August night I was alone. Morry, my partner had already gone home, when someone buzzed. If you are picturing some sleazy PI hangout, think again. I'd done a lot of wet-work for high-rollers and I had a fifth floor, with a corner office, and a snazzy reception area - my daughter and some prancing prick in pink had painted it in these smarmy colours and hung some bloody expensive shit on the walls. She said you've got to dress for success, and the space says it best...

I even paid some woman to come align energies and chakras or some other good shit.
I myself hated it all, but I must admit it suited the sharp suits that paid Morry and I to trail their biz partners, secretaries, children and fourth or fifth wives.

Dull stuff. but profitable; and at my age, after spending 18 years in jail, and having lost more than I'd gained - and by my count I'd blown away millions - I needed to think about my future.

Some of my investments had paid off. A lot of important people owed me favours; and favours, my friends, can be worth more than money in the bank. I knew where a lot of skeletons were buried, and a few lively bodies too...so you could say I was drawing a pension of sorts. The customers came, referred by nameless debtors; and I did the work, and took the cash. It was fairly clean money. watching, mostly. It was ok. I slept nights. Until that night.

The man who buzzed carried a pretty hefty IOU, let me tell you, one I'd done my best to forget was still outstanding. I let him in. He was a sharp suit, like all the rest: grey suit, silk shirt, palest tie - hand painted - and narrow shoes that looked hand-made, and a face I hated at first sight.

He had a square-jawed, dimpled-chinned face; with wide brown candid eyes.
Nothing to dislike, right? But something didn’t jibe. He looked like a lie

He was in his late fifties, maybe - a bit younger than me -but better kept. Firm fleshed, bronzed, grizzled full head of hair, sunny smile; even his handshake was just right. The correct pressure, exact timing, and left me with the sensation I’d touched slime.

"Mr. Markovitch? I'm Tad Smeadon."

I shivered. Markovitch was a ghost. A dead man. Buried and long gone.
"You've made mistake Mr. Smeadon. I'm George Warrick, my partner is Morris Brady. There is no-one called Markovitch here."

His smiled broadened, showing perfect square teeth. Natural too, not capped, the left incisor slightly bent.
"No mistake." he extended a tiny cloisonné box. I didn’t want to take it, touch the poisonous thing.
"A friend said you had a debt to repay, Mr. Markovitch, she said to give you this, that you knew what it was"

"Take it away!"

The happy eyes narrowed "I insist, Mr Markovitch, you must take it. It is proof of my identity. My credentials, you might say."

I took it, and so sealed my fate.
He walked past me into my office, sat on the chair, easy as you please.

"What do you want?"

He crossed his legs, shot his cuffs, and smiled. The fucker was enjoying this.
"I want someone dead"

"DEAD?" I took a deep breath, "I'm a private detective Mr. Smeadon, I don't kill people."

"Oh I think you do, in fact, I know you have. And I know," he gestured with beautifully manicured hands at the little box clutched tight in my hand, "I know you will kill again."

"Yes." I croaked it out, "Yes."

He withdrew from his pocket an envelope.
"The money, Mr. Markovitch. In Swiss francs." He laid it on my desk, "And here - here she is..." Another envelope.

"She? A woman? The hit is a woman?"

"Are you squeamish? From the story about that box, I’d hardly think so."

"No, I’m not. Just curious, is all." I drew out the picture: a bland woman. Bland was the first word that sprung to mind: neither young, nor old; thin or fat; pretty or ugly. She was just bland, dressed neatly but boringly. No pizzazz.

"Why," I asked him, "do you want her dead? Is she your wife?"

"My wife?" he reared back as if I’d slapped him "No! Not at all...I just want her dead, that's all. They told me you would ask no questions."

"I was curious, Mr. Smeadon, that's all."

I flipped the picture: Dorothea Sandoval. Dorothea Sandoval was dead, or at least, as good as dead; because when it came to wet-work there was no-one better than I. I rose to my feet and picked up the fat envelope with the money. I gave it back to Smeadon. "Take this crap and get the fuck out. Tell her I'll do it and the slate is clean. Tell her this pays for all. Tell her anyone else comes to me from Dusseldorf is dead." I bared my teeth in Zoozi Markovitch's deadly grin "tell her I want someone to come..."

Smeadon stared at me for one long moment, took the envelope and left. I sank into my chair, my head in my hands.As ugly as George Warrick's past was - and believe me, it was bad - it could not compare to who Zoozie Markovitch had been. I would dig a burial pit: Dorothea Sandoval would lie with Zoozie Markovitch. I would toss their dead, tumbled limbs into a nameless grave, bury them deep.I would put an end this once and for all. George Warrick I had reformed, brought him into the straight world. In two month's time my daughter would give birth. I would stretch out my hand over a cradle and the finger my grandson gripped would be clean. No blood under the fingernail. I heaved myself out of that chair and went home.

Next day I went looking for a dead woman. Dorothea Sandoval. The address scribbled under her name at the back of the photo indicated a flower shop in an average middle class neighbourhood. Made sense, everything about Dorothea screamed average, mediocre. And there she was. No luster to the woman: she moved behind that counter, neither brisk nor slow. I watched for a while from the cafe across the street. She arranged the flowers "just so", somehow failing to impart that singular grace that is the gift of an artistic eye and a deft hand. It astonished me she would be a target for violent death.

Nothing in her invited either violent hate or love; even I, found my initial revulsion at the thought of taking her life fade. There was nothing there for me to connect to. No passion, no beauty, nor ugliness, even.

She was a blank woman shape with a name tag attached. Yes, I could remove her, erase her name; nothing in her demanded response. She was simply not real enough for remorse.

After two days of watching I had her routine down pat. She left the flower shop at six, walked to the subway, stood on the curb, just a little too close. She walked into the second carriage always. Sat by the window, and nodded her head to the cadence of the train. Exactly 23 seconds before it pulled into her station, she would get up, make her way to the door and peer out at the flashing darkness, the leprous walls.

What did she see out of those nondescript eyes? The train stopped: she'd get out, walk home, up the stairs and through her front door. And that was where Dorothea Sandoval ended for me. Through walls I could not see. On the third day I decided to make contact. I walked into the shop and ordered some flowers. Roses, I told her, red.

"Black velvet?" her voice was extraordinary! It reverberated, thrummed in my chest as if she had reached in and strummed at my heart. I could listen to those words again and again "black velvet".

Her mouth shaped the words, I caught glimpses of her moist tongue moving, -"black velvet" - and that voice; that beautiful extraordinary voice...

She was extraordinary and all of her blandness now seemed the necessary foil, the setting for that jewel-deep beautiful voice. Dorothea Sandoval was extraordinary, and I had to kill her.

You must understand about Dusseldorf. You must understand who and what I am, before you can understand why I must kill this extraordinary woman. Germany in the early fifties was chaos. My mother was sixteen when I was born. She’d been hiding out in Berlin somewhere, like a rat in the walls, she and half a dozen other Jewish children who had somehow escaped the drag-net, slipped under and discovered some way to survive in the very heart of that putrid Empire in the making.

Now anyone who tells you suffering refines, lies. It does not. It hardens and coarsens the human heart. As I said, my mother was sixteen when I was born, it was 1952. If you think sixteen was a sweet innocent age in that time and place, think again. She had been living on the streets since she was six, and kneeling in alleyways to earn a living since she was eight. Esther Marcovitch was a hardened vicious bitch; a casual killer and a whore. How I came to be, is, to this day, a mystery to me. There were many old women with dirty hands and bent coat-hangers in post-war Berlin, and many pregnant whores to keep them busy. I can only surmise that when my mother realized I was alive inside her, it was too late to take the expedient way out of her predicament.

She was a survivor, my mother. She would not have risked death so as not to give birth. So Esther Marcovitch, sixteen years old, grunted me out in some basement; pushed me out into the world in a rush of blood, and piss and amniotic water onto a pile of filthy rags. Her screams unheard, she tore at the cord binding us with dirty nails, severing the connection once and for all. Surprisingly, she did not kill or abandon me. It would have been easy. All she had to do was stagger away. The rats would have taken care of the evidence, and the next day nothing would have remained of me, and this story would not be told.

However, Esther Marcovitch struggled out onto the street holding me awkwardly, walked up to an American Military Policeman and started to weep. She lifted me in her arms, and begged for help, tears coursing down her cheeks. That night, she slept snug and clean, stitched up and well fed for the first time in as long as she could remember. I was a good investment.

The Hospital that had taken her in looked through the fragmentary pre-war records for some relatives, anyone that could be traced, but to no avail. Esther Marcovitch was alone in the world, except for me, of course. She called me Zoozie. That is what is written in my birth certificate: Zoozie Marcovitch, father unknown.

By the time I was three we had moved to Dusseldorf, where she continued her career as a street whore with reasonable success. Her real talent, however, was death. She was a good killer: unencumbered by empathy, or any type of squeamishness, and there was no job she would not accept. The poor and derelict desire the death of their near-and-dear as passionately and as frequently as the rich; here was a business opportunity for a woman with a sharp blade, and Esther took it. She became the hit-woman of choice for the festering multitude of the destitute. She was cheap, and she was quick; and her skill brought us some material comfort.

We lived in an apartment near the river where she received her customers, both the men who more and more infrequently sought her out to fuck; and the women and men who knocked - hunched into their coats clutching money, or more often than not, modest treasures to trade for some-one’s death. I believe she drew some kind of pension for my sustenance, or some benefit must have accrued from my existence, or she would have discarded me.

I was often useful as a decoy, toddling up to some woman, distracting her; while Esther slid a stiletto into her rib-cage from behind. As I have said: the poor and the rich are all sentimental shits.

At seven it was demanded I start earning my keep. By then I had no less than six “brothers” and “sisters”, all whoring, thieving or learning to kill. Esther had taken in several war-orphans, and was running them from the apartment. She was becoming a mobster on a commendably modest scale. She was bright enough to feed on the scraps washed up from the tide of crime, and never ever poached on the big-fishes’ preserves. She was too small and mediocre to attract rivalry or Police attention, so she survived and thrived.

As I said, at seven I started earning my keep: first whoring, and stealing from the customers when I could; eventually killing. I won’t go into details. It was long ago, and there is no need to recollect, or resurrect the agony of those early years. Suffice it to say I hated her most passionately, that woman who was my mother.

At twelve I was a skilled operative, if we can call it that, and a very profitable one. At seventeen, I started free-lancing, branching out on my own. It was a mistake. I got caught, of course. Esther was quite ruthless, and she imposed discipline with an iron hand. I was to regret my straying bitterly.

I had foolishly grown fond of a girl. Another orphan: Marguerite, she was called. We’d spend many hours hidden away sharing a bottle of harsh liquor and whatever comfort we could take from each other’s adolescent bodies. The usual happened, and Marguerite had given birth to a tiny scrap of pink, astonishingly resilient life. A girl. A tiny little girl. We loved her. In the midst of that horrendous, vicious life, something amazingly fragile somehow awoke in us a dormant tenderness, love, humanity; call it what you will. We called her Pearl.

One night I got home, and Esther called me in. She was sitting in her favourite arm-chair, with Pearl on her knee. Jaap, her “enforcer” was with her, and Elsa, and Horst. Marguerite was no-where to be seen.

“Zoozie…come here.” Her voice was sweet. Funny that such a poisonous creature had such a gentle tone. I came, of course. I never disobeyed Esther. Ever. “Herr Heimlich tells me you did some small jobs on the East River. Some little things you didn’t share with me.”

I was young, I was fearful, yes; but infected with the cocksure arrogance of liquor and bravado.
“That’s right. I did.”

“Zoozie…You owe me your life. Everything. How am I to live with such ingratitude?” and she smiled.

I cannot tell you how that smile of hers terrified. She moved a hand, and Jaap dragged Marguerite in from the next room. She was alive. I remember she was alive when Jaap started. Then she wasn’t. It took a long time, and all the while, Esther sat with Pearl. Pearl was in her arms. When it was all done Esther got up, took my child, and walked to the next room, away from the blood.

I left, walked out. I was cold sober that night, as I had never been before. When I came back the house was dead quiet. I went from room to room and I did what I do best. I started with Jaap, then Karl, Elsa, Horst, Rosa. I left Esther for last.
Her room was empty. She wasn’t there. Neither was Pearl. There was a box on her dressing table. Cloisonné. Under it was a sheet of paper. It simply said: “Next time the box may not be empty. You owe me, you owe me a life.”

I ran that night. I left Dusseldorf behind, I left Zoozie Markovitch, too, or so I believed.I came to America to start a new life, and found my skills in high demand. My new life and my old life were in some ways similar; but now that I had straightened that out, the ghosts of Dusseldorf threatened to destroy it. The bitch in Dusseldorf still holds my daughter, my Pearl. I know her well enough not to risk disobedience ever again. And so, Dorothea Sandoval must die.

I got myself together, got myself organised. It was simple really; all I had to do was follow her home. She had a lamentable habit of standing too close to the curb, so all it took was one hard push. So I did it, and I went home, and if I wasn’t exactly at peace that night, well…It was a small price to pay for the rest of my life.

The next morning it was in the papers. "Florist tragically killed in subway accident...memorial service...donations welcomed in lieu of flowers, to be made out to the Children’s Choir in the name of Pearl Dorothea Sandoval."

So I have packed an overnight bag, brought a ticket to Dusseldorf, and I am going home to hell.
Home to kill, and to home to die.

Manuela Cardiga

If you enjoyed this story, look for my new novel "MANscapes- Journey into Light"

MY NEW NOVEL

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