Authors: R. Barri Flowers
For some reason, I found myself hesitating in
jumping all over this case. Like most P.I.’s, I liked to go with my
instincts. And, from the beginning, there was definitely something
about the case that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it was the
surreptitious meeting with a member of the D.A.’s office outside
the D.A.’s office. Or perhaps it was uneasiness in taking on an
investigation that I presumed was still active with the Portland
Police Department. Experience told me that they didn’t take too
kindly to meddlesome private eyes muscling in on their
Sherman seemed to be reading my mind. “If
you’re wondering why you instead of one of our regular
investigators, the answer is simple. I want this asshole off the
street! I was told that you do things your own way, and not always
within the guidelines you learned as a cop. We both know that
sometimes the guidelines can be a bitch when it comes to justice
for all.” He sucked in a deep breath. “I’m willing—unofficially—to
do whatever it takes to find Jessie Wylson. Of course, the D.A.’s
office will cover all of your regular fees and expenses.”
The private investigation business had been
fairly good to me by the standards of most trying to make a living
as dicks for hire. I managed to stay one step ahead of my debts and
have some money left over for recreation. But business had been
lean of late and the bills never went on holiday. I could hardly
afford to pass up a cash-paying reliable client, assuming that at
least a minimal standard of acceptability was met. This one seemed
to qualify, though barely.
“Can I keep this?” I held up the dossier,
which was my way of saying I was on board.
Sherman smiled. “I was counting on it.” He
stood and pulled a card from his pocket, handing it to me. “Keep me
informed, Drake. If and when you find him, I want to be there to
personally slap the cuffs on.”
I wanted to remind Sherman he wasn’t a cop
anymore. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt that old habits
died hard, and said: “I’ll be in touch.”
Once the Deputy D.A. left me all by my
lonesome, I turned the TV back on. Mercifully for the Mariners, the
game was over. Final score: A’s 14, Losers 3.
* * *
The sun had begun to peek through the clouds
by the time I left my downtown office which was not far from the
Riverplace Marina. It was on the third floor of a building that
seemed to house everything from a psychic hotline office to a Jenny
Craig weight loss center. I wasn’t complaining though. The rent was
affordable and most of the tenants tended to mind their own
I was wearing a jogging suit that fit well on
my six-foot-five body and my Nike running shoes. People asked me
all the time if I ever played basketball. I usually responded
truthfully with, “I was lousy at basketball, but give me a baseball
bat and I can hit the ball ten miles.” That almost always left them
I liked to think that I was in pretty good
physical condition for the forty and over crowd. Jogging was my
forte, so to speak, these days. It was a carryover from my days on
the force. Before they brought in all the high tech exercise
equipment to keep everyone lean and mean.
I half-jogged, half-walked the two miles on
the street parallel to the Willamette River, till I reached my
apartment building. It was not far from the Hawthorne Bridge—one of
several bridges that connected the city that was separated by the
river. Since Portland was so beautiful and pedestrian friendly, I
favored being on foot to driving or light rail.
Home for me was an old brownstone on Burnside
Street. It was old, but comfortable. Most of the residents fit the
same profile: single, divorced, or widowed
over thirty-five, and professional in some capacity.
Just as I was entering the building, exiting
was another tenant who I seemed to pass by every other day lately.
I didn’t know her name or anything about her, but I liked what I
saw. She bore a strong resemblance to Halle Berry, only she was
She looked to be in her mid-thirties with
jet-black curly hair that grazed her shoulders, cool brown eyes,
and an oak complexion. She had a streamlined, petite figure that I
could imagine cuddling up to on a lonely night. If there were such
a thing as my ideal woman, she was probably it.
Though my mouth always seemed to go dry
whenever I got near her, I managed to utter: “Hello.”
She gave me a faint smile in return, perhaps
flattered, but obviously unimpressed. I tried to convince myself
that she was just having a bad day. Some other time, pal.
I climbed three flights of stairs before I
reached my one-bedroom apartment. It was pretty much what you would
expect of a single, male, private investigator: not particularly
tidy, cluttered, bland, and sorely in need of a woman’s touch. The
“right” woman just never seemed to come along and volunteer her
I showered, shaved, and stepped into one of
two cheap suits I wore on the job. This one was navy blue and the
most broken in. I combed my short, black hair that was sprinkled
with more gray than I cared to admit. Since high school, I’d had a
thick coal black mustache. It was probably the best part of me and
hung just over the corners of my mouth, tickling me whenever I
Dinner was some leftover KFC drumsticks,
canned pinto beans, and milk. Afterwards I caught a bit of the news
on TV, glanced at the front page of the
pondered my newest case.
* * *
Pioneer Courthouse Square was the place to be
if you wanted to mingle with your neighbors and tourists alike, be
right in the heart of downtown Portland, and catch some of the
city’s best free sidewalk talent.
Nate Griffin had made a name for himself as
the Rose Clown, in reference to the annual Rose Festival held in
the city. He did everything you expected of a clown and more,
including cartwheels, telling bad jokes, and giving an often
distorted, comical history of Portland. Nate also happened to be my
best street informant ever since my days on the force. Sometimes he
was helpful, other times helpless. At twenty-nine, he had succumbed
to a life mostly on the streets after off and on bouts with alcohol
and drug abuse, and failed opportunities to better his life.
The Rose Clown was in full costume and makeup
when I saw him on the Square working his magic on anyone who cared
to watch and listen. Nate was tall, lanky, dark, and bald. One
wouldn’t recognize him when looking at the clown in a baggy outfit,
white curly wig, green painted face, and big red nose.
He acknowledged my presence with a
half-hearted nod. I dropped a few dollar bills into his bucket that
was sparsely filled with mostly dimes and quarters. He finished a
terrible rendition of a rap song before giving me a moment of his
“They love you, Nate,” I told him
encouragingly, “even if your singing stinks.”
“It’s all in the ears of the beholder,” he
said, smiling and showing off a gold front crown. Then he looked
into his nearly empty bucket and seemed to do an about face. “Guess
I could use some work on my chords.”
Guiltily I dug into my pocket and came out
with a couple more dollars, dropping them into the bucket. “Maybe
this will help—”
He wet his full lips. “Thanks, D.J. Times are
tough these days.”
of us,” I said with a
He peered at me suspiciously. “So what brings
you my way?” He chose to answer his own question, fluttering his
false lashes. “You probably missed seeing my pretty face!”
“Don’t believe that for a minute,” I said
firmly. “I’m not into clowns, pretty or not.” It had been about six
weeks since I’d come his way. If there was anyone who could find
out where Jessie Wylson was holed up, it was Nate and his seemingly
endless network of street contacts.
I removed the photo of The Worm from my
pocket and laid it on Nate’s palm. “Know him?”
He studied the picture as if it held the
secret of the universe. “Should I?”
“His name is Jessie Wylson. They call him The
“Ugly dude,” commented Nate bluntly, his brow
For once we agreed on something. Nate was
still staring at the photo when he asked: “Why you looking for the
I decided to be straight with him. “He’s
wanted by the D.A.’s office for drug trafficking, among other
Nate scratched his fake nose, then sniffed
like it was clogged with a white powdered substance. “So why come
to me?” he asked, as if he hadn’t a clue.
“I need to find him.” My mouth became a
straight line. “And I need
Nate’s eyes popped wide. “Don’t know the man.
Don’t want to know him, ‘specially if he’s got the D.A. on his ass.
Sorry.” He handed me the photo as if glad to be rid of it.
I had a feeling he was holding back on me,
but didn’t press it—yet. “Ask around anyway,” I insisted. “Maybe
you’ll get lucky.”
“Can’t make no promises,” he hedged. “But
I’ll give it my best shot—for you.”
“I’ll check back with you in a couple of
“That soon?” He rolled his eyes. “What do I
look like, a miracle worker?”
Gazing at the Rose Clown, that wasn’t exactly
the first thing to come to mind. I told him: “The sooner you give
me what I want, the sooner I’ll leave you alone—for a while.”
Nate went back to what he arguably did best
and I headed to my favorite nightclub, satisfied that I had at
least put the wheels in motion to find the man known as The
Jasmine’s was located right on the Willamette
River. The jazz supper club was owned and operated by Gus Taylor,
Vietnam vet, friend, and, at fifty-one, the ninth wonder of the
world. I liked to think of him as the black version of John Goodman
or Dom Deluise. He hovered somewhere in the neighborhood of three
hundred pounds on six feet, three inches of flab. His salt and
pepper beard was thick, as were his brows over large brown eyes. He
was shiny bald like Mr. Clean.
Jasmine’s had the best jazz in town. Gus had
named it after his late wife who was his pride and joy. I couldn’t
remember a time dating back to my days as a rookie officer when I
didn’t come to the club and leave feeling genuinely uplifted.
Tonight was well on its way to following suit. The featured singer
looked like a young Diana Ross, but had a voice that sounded much
more like Billie Holiday than Ross ever did in “Lady Sings the
“What’s shakin’, D.J.?” The boisterous voice
was none other than Gus himself, who often doubled as bartender,
waiter, janitor, and security guard.
“She is!” I declared from my stool, while my
eyes remained riveted on the singer who called herself Star
“Don’t even think about it,” Gus warned me.
“She’s too hot for even you to handle.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” I said, finishing off
“How ‘bout another?”
Gus filled two mugs. “Why don’t you come and
work for me, D.J.?” he said as if he really meant it.
I raised a brow. “You mean you want me to
“Not if I wanna stay in business,” he
quipped. “I was thinking more along the lines of security.”
I looked at him like he was half crazy,
though I suspected he was dead serious. “Thanks, but no thanks,
Gus. I’m afraid I’m not cut out to break up bar brawls.”
“Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” he
said. “You hang out here almost as much as I do. Why not put your
talent to good use?”
“I thought I was,” I responded with serious
sarcasm, and tasted the beer.
Gus leaned at me from across the bar. He
could tell that I was a little pissed. “Don’t get me wrong,” he
said apologetically, putting froth to his mouth. “I’m not knocking
what you do to earn a living. We need some of our own doing the
private eye bit. ‘The Man’ sho ain’t gonna bust his ass to find out
whodunit, especially not in the part of town where most of us live.
But you, my man, could do better than that. And I could use a man
with your background and guts to help keep law and order around
here. Think about it, D.J. That’s all I’m askin’.”
I already had thought about it, but saw no
reason to tell him at that moment. Good intentions aside, I didn’t
quit the force to wind up checking I.D.’s for the proper drinking
age. “I’ll think about it,” I lied.
He left it at that and went to jaw with
another patron. I refocused my attention on Star Quality and became
lost in her velvety, soulful voice.
* * *
The Worm’s last known address was a house on
Thirty-Third Street and Drummond, an area in Northeast Portland
that was known more for its crack houses and gang bangers than its
That next morning I paid the house a visit,
figuring I might hit the jackpot the first time around and catch
The Worm with his pants down. Not that I really believed I could be
that lucky. If it had been that easy to locate Jessie Wylson,
Sherman could have—and probably would have—done the job
Wearing my alternate P.I. suit, this one
dusty brown, with a tan shirt and thin brown tie, I rang the
doorbell. It seemed that dressing the way people expected
detectives to dress—somewhat rumpled and sleazy—made it easier to
get a little cooperation from those least apt to give it.
There was a beat up Olds Cutlass in the
driveway. From the looks of the house, with its peeling paint and
overgrown lawn, it was as if no one had lived there in years.
I heard a rustling noise inside. It sounded
more like a snake than a worm. But I was taking no chances. I
placed my hand close to the .40 caliber Glock I kept between my
waist and pants. I had never been accused of being trigger-happy as
a cop or P.I., but that didn’t mean I wasn’t ready and willing to
confront any dangerous situation that came my way.