An Excerpt from Detective Detective by Dave McCoubrey
I know there's a big bag of money somewhere out there, I write. Then I say, "I'm gonna find it, I'm gonna will it into existence."
First I know I need a name. I need to name my company, my private detective business, but first, before all that, I need a name. David, my real name, makes me think of math, I don't know why, makes me think of bibles, I do know why.
"Absolute-- well it's an absolute pleasure to meet ya," I say and write, extending a hand to my coffee. "Marcus." "Marcus," no, "Mharcus," has the sound of professionalism, and a touch of mystery. I write but also say out loud some options.
"Mharcus Yaygo-Marino, secret cop," spills out of my mouth. I adjust. With all the seriousness I can muster I look at my coffee and tell it "Marrkus Fuckcopter, attorney at jazz." For fun, I imagine my private detective, Mahrrcuss 'Bone Cold' Stonecold, deboarding a plane in Miami. That's it. Maybe he's thinking about cocaine. I haven't got that far.
I'm writing this. Sometimes I'm talking about it out loud. "Let's say," wait, this part should be written. Let's say someone's daughter is missing and that person can't go to the police.*
*(In June of last year, Gund Piehistorian of Philadelphia, having been banned from the horse racing tracks for trying to sell the horses themselves heroin, started a league wherein the neighborhood children would race against each other, much like horses would, with a track and owners, except no one would be riding the children. Gund started racing his own daughter, Blohm Piehistorian, and she was excellent. She won many races. Unfortunately, Gund owed so much money around the city that he had to lend Blohm out to other people so they could race her, and she would often disappear for days at a time. Recently, Blohm went missing and is still missing and its been weeks, and Gund thought he had to turn to someone who understood the neighborhood but wasn't a police.)
Let's say that person looks on the internet and finds Mharcus. The internet says, "Marrkiss Sashquo, Private Eye" and there's a phone number and a couple of digital floating magnifying glasses and maybe a slogan or a catchphrase, something like "Sashquo Detective Agency: Helping You Find Your Shit Since Right Now." I realize I don't know how to make a website and more importantly I'm going to be late for work. I mentally shove all this ludicrousness off to the side and finish the last of my coffee and I, now firmly David again, find my cigarettes and my keys, say goodbye to my cat, and head out the door onto Spruce Street.
As I walk north on 52nd Street towards the 52nd Street elevated train, I snap photos with my phone of some of the various shop signs, cataloging them with vague intentions to make an Instagram post. There's Dynamite Pest Control, "Dynamite" red and crackling on their tall, cylindrical white sign. A sandwich board out front promises to kill "anything that hops, skips, jumps, or flies..." A little further north, a neon red cursive glass "Babe" eyeballs the street like a sentinel from the second storey of a row house. I wonder what Georges Claude would have thought. On the first floor, the storefront is protected by a tan awning that reads, curiously, "Babe -- for everywhere you go". I make a mental note to figure out what Babe is.
Fifty-second Street during the day is teeming with people patronizing Color Beauty and Nene's Braiding & Boutique and Foot Locker and Rainbow and Loretta's Flower Shop and Mr. Hook. There are the delis, where you're more likely to walk out with cigarettes and a 211 than a sandwich. There are street carts everywhere, selling knockoff designer watches, cologne, clothing, even slightly dated best-selling books. Nighttime is a different story. One time a completely nude woman began ambling towards me, screaming. But that's for later. As I approach the station, I catch a glimpse of myself in some storefront glass. I'm too skinny now, thin with scythe posture. I have the kind of babyface that used to have people guessing I was about five to seven years younger than I actually was. I'm 33 now and I more or less look it, I think. Years of heavy partying and 11 glasses of water in 15 years put that babyface in a time machine and synced it up to the present. There are lines that are starting to etch themselves from the bottom of my nostrils ending mid-chin that curl downwards creating a parenthesis around my thin mouth. What once, as a kid, was a jolt of blonde hair on my head like bloodless white skin, is now tan maybe, or blonde-beige, something aggressively boring, and the greys have started to weave themselves in seamlessly. I wear it pushed back and to the side and it's long on top and sometimes falls over my blue eyes and into my face. My nose is a medium thickness and is fairly long and pronounced and in one of the Ocean's movies Matt Damon's character wears a large prosthetic nose for some part of the heist or whatever and he struggles to sip champagne out of a champagne flute and I think of this stupid shit often even though my nose isn't like that at all. It's surely not that large.
I'm wearing low top sneakers and skinny black jeans that only come down far enough to reveal, inevitably, socks with some kind of food product designed into them. I've tucked a black t-shirt into the jeans and carry the brown leather jacket that used to belong to my uncle when he was alive. It's October in the Northeast, but lingering summer temperatures have kept people playing a weird guessing game with their wardrobes.
I climb the two escalators it takes to reach the train platform and wait for the transport that will take me underground to 15th Street/City Hall, where I'll briefly walk through some hallways and down some stairs to the Broad Street Line, or BSL, which I will ride to the Tasker/Morris stop and walk the remainder of the distance to work.
I arrive at work a few minutes before 5pm. I am a server at El Torero, a giant orange and teal building on the northeast corner of E Passyunk Avenue and Morris Street that looks like if a Miami Dolphins football player somehow became an enormous Degas painting. Inside, I waive to the hostess and begin walking around the bar where my friend Allen is setting up. He gives me a "How ya doin', bud" in his "this fucking sucks we have to be here" way and we high-five. I clock in and say hello to various coworkers floating around. I nod to the kitchen staff and trudge up the stairs that lead to the employee room and I think about money and mysteries and detective work.
"All I ever read is crime fiction and noir and mystery, Chandler and Hammett and McBain and Higgins and Crumley," I think. "I should write a mystery story or a book." I make a mental note not to list the authors I've read because it might come across as swanky or weird. I decide to start writing something tomorrow. Remember, I think, there should be a murder on page one. This is the 519th time I've decided this.
Tom Rhoades is already in the employee room doing his daily paperwork for his shift when I walk in.
"Duuude!" he points to his phone which has the new Aphex Twin EP leaking out of its tinny speaker. Tom recently dove headfirst into discovering electronic music and he'll often take me aside to comment on the merits of Jon Hopkins or Boards of Canada.
"Nice," I say, as I hang up my leather jacket. "What a weird jazz boy."
"Shit is fuckin' sick," says Tom.
On the evolutionary chart of the hippie, Tom Rhoades is the Peking Man -- modernized and fully upright and yet perpetually ancient, forever locked into the customs and mythologies of the Chill Bro. In his way, he still carries a club; he's 500,000 years old and a teenager in the Summer of Love and twenty-seven in 2018 all at the same time.
Today he's wearing one of his Grateful Dead t-shirts and a grey beanie that is hiding a broom of sandy brown hair, which he has piled under the hat. He peeks over his John Lennon frames and says, "Aphex is so crazy, man. I love this new shit." He laughs his Tom laugh, a warm and kind "heh-heh-heh" that lights up his entire face and focuses his grey-blue eyes. "I put on 'The Richard D. James Album' earlier and it's wild," he says, deeply genuine in his awe. "Thanks for showing it to me, dude."
"Yeah, man, of course. He's the best," I say.
"One of the last patio weekends before the weather really turns," says Tom, laughing again.
"Could be a busy night for ya, Daaaaaavid. Do you wanna go see Phil Collins with me tonight?"
"I gotta work, Tom."
"Oh, yeahhh," he laughs. "That would be sick, though. Phil Collins is the fuckin' man." That makes me chuckle half out of agreement and half out of the twists and turns a conversation with Tom can provide. These days, almost everything he does is in some way endearing to me. We weren't always friends; once we were just coworkers. But last October, he had an extra ticket to a double bill of Modest Mouse and METZ and he remembered that I wear a METZ t-shirt to work sometimes and he asked me to go to the show, which was at the Starland Ballroom, 90 minutes away in Sayreville, NJ. Three hours roundtrip in a car can make or break a relationship, and we formed a tenuous bond that night, one that has become thick over time.
"OK, handsome," he says (he's so gracious to all the boys), "I'm off." As he slings his messenger bag over his head, a small pile of two milligram, single-track zipper plastic bags spill out and land on the floor in front of me. The bags all seem to be imprinted with a comically grinning orange horse and are filled with shiny white powder. I glance at the drug bags then at Tom, who hurriedly gathers them up and shoves them into his jeans. His mouth scrunches up and he avoids my eyes and shuffles out of the employee room saying something about the Phil Collins show. He doesn't laugh his laugh.
It is a lot of drugs, it is a lot of what appeared to be cocaine, for Tom to have on him, but at various times throughout the year he runs around the country going to Phish concerts and, to hear him tell it, illegal substances are just as much a part of the show as the music. I start to focus on work, gathering up ballpoint pens and a notepad and checking my appearance in the mirror.
Restaurant work, busy restaurant work, is mind-numbing and yet hyper-focused, a forever updating checklist which is accomplished in a borderline blackout state. The body moves in hurried starts and stops, a leaning, swerving, dashing, impatient choreography. Time passes like a brook. You can think again when the restaurant allows you to.
El Torero possesses an outdoor patio of about 25 tables of varying sizes and a large wooden servers' station stocked with pint glasses, goblets, ice, dinner napkins, carryout containers, plastic straws, and serving trays as well as the computer and printer, which allows us to place food and beverage orders, view checks, and print checks and receipts. The patio is surrounded by banks of different kinds of plants and flowers and is fenced in on two of its sides.
Now outside surveying the clientele, I see two men, apparently of their own accord, sit down at table 300 which is normally reserved for parties of five or six guests. There is no hostess in tow with plates and silverware and menus, so this means the men did not wait to be seated. I find the hostess. Her name is Chloe.
"Chloe, what's with the dudes at 300?"
She gives me a blank stare.
"I know," I say. "They just sat themselves from off the street. Can you please bring them what they need?"
"Thrilled," Chloe says and rolls her eyes. If Chloe's sense of humor were any drier it could be used to start a simple campfire.
I go back outside and prepare two glasses of ice water for the men. When I turn to start walking over to table 300, Chloe, having just brought the men menus and silverware, shoots me look that somehow communicates "Kill me now/I'm sorry/Good luck" all at once.
Man number 1, who I immediately call Brooch in my mind, is wearing a giant, bedazzled muticolored crystal gold tone peacock brooch pinned to his zucchini green t-shirt. He wears all manner of rings on his fingers and sports perhaps three or four long necklaces draped around his neck made of folded deli ham. These gaudy and slightly off-kilter accoutrements are what I notice first and I think that's by design. Oversized black matte and bright pink mirror sunglasses sit perched on a head of faded fluorescent redorange spiked hair that's actually death-adjacent cornsilk white. His face, a probably 55 year old face, is squat, like a plum. The nose is smashed garlic, the lips are thin, and the chin looks missing but isn't missing. It's a face that thinks it comes across as cocaine chic but looks dollarstore meth instead. Brooch has selected a kilt today, its hem draped wavy over crossed pink knees. Before I even see the shin-length black and watermelon Gestapo boots, I know that they're there. It's like my brain completed a fashion calculus problem before I even laid eyes on his footwear: hair plus sunglasses plus brooch plus kilt equals boots. "He looks like every character in Trainspotting combined," I think. From ten feet away and approaching the table I can see spittle flying from his lips as he talk-yells at his friend. He's animated and waving his arms and laughing. Brooch is joined by a man I came to call Cactus because he seemed to me like he was tripping on mescaline. Cactus and Brooch, ready for their Mescaline Lunch.
I sidle up to the edge of the table and start with my standard "How we doin', folks?"
Brooch pops his pinholed, cadet grey eyes over to me and dramatically rests the side of his head on his fist. I have his attention but this man lives to disrupt and I can see he's absolutely chomping at the bit to joke this whole interaction to the stars. Cactus is way behind, my words not reaching his ears for another 10,000 millennia. He stares into space almost determinedly; he's floating somewhere. Cactus is bloated, his brown skin somehow dark grey. He looks like if one of those washed up whale carcasses that explodes due to gas buildup blew up and then the wet detritus was shoveled into a fat mannequin caste that was somehow jolted alive. Now he dead-eyed grins at me and his lower jaw goes limp and it looks like he's trying to say something or chew invisible hay but the time between his brain synapses firing and actual speech are still an Ice Age away.
"MARGARITAS!" yells Brooch and laughs his spitfucked laugh.
"That's terrific," I say with both the restraint of someone who needs this job and also with all the world's sarcasm. "It is happy hour, so--" Brooch cuts me off and now Cactus' copper green eyes are beginning to clear up, he's only a few thousand years away now riding a space donkey to the present from Mescaline City. He'll be here soon.
"Gimme a fuckin' margarita pitcher," Brooch yells again.
"OK. Do you want it frozen or on the rocks?" I ask.
"I don't fuckin' care! Who cares?" says Brooch, as guests at other surrounding tables start to take notice of the peculiar duo at table 300.
And even though that's honestly a valid concern, the nature of the texture of the margaritas, and his question does strike me as cosmically appropriate, this bullshit is slowing me down, and finally I ask Brooch if he and Cactus would like salt or sugar on the rims of their glasses because I'm doing my job.
Puzzlingly: "What is this, fucking ALBANIA with all these questions? Just give me the damn booze!" Brooch dramatically waves his right arm over the table like a magician proving there are no wires and out of the corner of my eye I see Cactus, having been peripatetic in his mind and now only physically barely able to move, take a bump of cocaine off a tiny red ceramic spoon. The cocaine was not in a vial or folded in paper but in a small two milligram single-track zipper plastic bag with a grinning orange horse on it and now I feel like the one who's on fucking peyote.
Dave McCoubrey is a writer and comedian currently living in Philadelphia. Follow his blog for novel updates and other Dave musings.