Authors: R. Barri Flowers
The door slowly opened. A walnut skinned
woman in her early thirties stuck her face out. Her short, permed
dark hair was highlighted with blonde streaks. The way her sable
eyes squinted like taking a direct hit of bright sunlight suggested
that I had disturbed her beauty sleep. A terrycloth white robe was
loosely wrapped around her voluptuous body, revealing enough
cleavage for my eyes to get sore.
“What?” she asked brusquely.
“My name’s Drake,” I said tersely. “I
understand Jessie Wylson lives here.”
Her brow creased. “He ain’t here. Ain’t seen
him for weeks.”
I glanced around skeptically and then back at
her. “Who are you?”
She batted her lashes as if to say
“Used to be his girlfriend.”
“Anyone else home?” I asked guardedly, my
hand still within reach of the Glock.
“I live by myself,” she hissed.
“Do you have a name?”
She hesitated, regarding me suspiciously,
before saying in a higher octave: “Nicole.”
“Nicole, do you expect me to believe that
even a low-life drug dealer like The Worm would dump a lady as fine
as you?” I figured that would elicit a meaningful response.
She gave me a coquettish grin and seemed
genuinely flattered. Then her face became an angry machine. “I
dumped the bastard after he stole from me—every chance he got.”
“Maybe the biggest mistake of his life,” I
offered, almost feeling sorry for her. “Do you know where can I
Her nostrils ballooned. “You askin’ the wrong
person. I’m not his damned keeper—not anymore.” She sighed
raggedly. “If there’s nothin’ else, I got things to do.”
I was not altogether convinced that she had
no knowledge of Wylson’s whereabouts, but gave her the benefit of
the doubt—for now. “Your ex-boyfriend’s wanted on drug charges,” I
said coldly. “I’m not a cop, but I’ve been hired to bring Wylson in
if I can find him.” My eyes sharpened on her. “If you know where he
is, you’d better think twice about keeping it to yourself. He’s not
worth going to prison for.” I slipped my card in her cleavage for a
perfect fit. “Give me a call if you hear from Jessie or happen to
remember where he’s hiding out.”
* * *
By afternoon I had finished up some paperwork
from a previous case. I rewarded myself by running. There was an
unexpected joy in feeling the stress and strain course through my
entire body as I pushed myself to go the extra mile, so to
I took the long way home—about four miles
along the river—leaving me exhausted and regenerated. I finished my
run by cooling down and walking about the last quarter of a
As I approached the front of my apartment
building, I noticed a cab pull up to the curb.
, the attractive lady whose name I still didn’t know, got
out of the back seat. She was wearing a gray business suit that
flattered her nice figure. She reached in the back seat and came
out with a painting that seemed nearly as tall as her. With obvious
difficulty, she began to carry it toward the brownstone.
“Let me help you with that.” I took full
advantage of the moment, catching up to her in looping strides.
Maybe this was the break I
d been hoping for to get to
know this angel
I grabbed the painting before she could
say no thanks.
“Thank you,” she said in a shaky, but
appreciatively soft voice. “I think this one was just a bit too
much to handle.”
I looked at the painting. It was a scenic
landscape of Mount Hood and the surrounding area. I was not exactly
a connoisseur of the arts. I wondered if she was the artist. The
apartments in our building hardly seemed large enough to hold such
“Where to?” I asked. For one of the few times
in my life, I was actually intimidated by someone. Her
attractiveness, grace, and sensuality really did a number on
“I’m in 427,” she said with a slight smile
that revealed small, straight white teeth and thin sweet lips.
She even smelled good, as I got a whiff of
her perfume. Definitely not the cheap stuff.
We took the elevator up and neither one of us
seemed to have much to say. For my part, saying the wrong thing
seemed worse than saying nothing at all.
“Do you live here?” she asked, seemingly out
of courtesy, and apparently oblivious to the fact that we had been
practically bumping into each other every other day for the last
I nodded. “Third floor.”
She smiled ingenuously. “Thought I’d seen you
before. I suppose it’s a good thing you came along when you
“If it hadn’t been me, it would have been
someone else,” I muttered like an idiot.
She gave me a look to suggest that she
The elevator doors opened and I followed her
to the apartment.
“Just set it there,” she pointed to an empty
wall in the living room.
I did and we stared at each other for seconds
that seemed like hours. I started to ask her if she wanted to go
for a drink, but something told me I wouldn’t like her answer. So I
kept my mouth shut. There was plenty of time to get to know this
Why rush a potentially good thing?
“Well, I’d better get going now.” The words
crept from my mouth as if they were stuck in cement.
She did not argue the point. “Thanks again.
Maybe I’ll see you around.”
I nodded miserably, and left without even
finding out her name or telling her mine.
At the mailboxes, I discovered that her name
was Vanessa King. It seemed to fit her. This was another possible
step in the right direction for me.
Once again, I found Nate Griffin holding an
audience captive at Pioneer Courthouse Square. There was wild
applause when he finished his impersonation of Michael Jackson as a
“Your timing sucks, D.J.,” he complained in a
crass voice once we were alone.
“So sue me,” I spat. Admittedly, I was an
impatient man, but I would make it up to him if I could, so long as
he delivered. “What have you got for me?”
Fumbling with his braided wig, Nate said
waveringly: “Not much, man. I heard The Worm likes to hang out at a
club in Northeast Portland called Nightmares.” He rubbed his nose
as though it was itching to have something nourishing. Nate was a
recovering cocaine addict. As far as I knew, he was clean these
But what did I know
“You’re one tough dude,” Nate was saying,
“but believe me, man, that’s not the type of place you wanna go
into by your lonesome—if you get my drift?”
“Thanks for the advice,” I said, dismissing
the warning. “I think I can take care of myself.” Especially with a
little help from my friend. I patted the gun tucked away inside my
pants. I splurged and dropped a ten spot in the Rose Clown’s
bucket, feeling a bit generous for some reason. “I’ll be in touch,
Nate,” I promised.
* * *
The difference between Northeast Portland and
the rest of the city was like night and day. Whereas most areas of
Portland were generally safe and comfortable places to live, the
Northeast area seemed to have a disproportionate share of drug
activity, gangs, drive-by shootings, and uneasiness in the air like
a constant cumulus cloud hanging over that part of the city.
I had heard of Nightmares, but never had the
pleasure of going there until now. It was one of Northeast
Portland’s most notorious hangouts for reputed gang members, drug
dealers, and other lowlife types. Police raids and dead bodies had
done little to tarnish the appeal of Nightmares for those who liked
to live dangerously.
I entered the establishment after getting
some less than supportive glares from a few mean looking dudes and
ladies hanging around outside as though they had nothing better to
do. It was smaller than I imagined and had Bloods and Crips written
all over it. A few pool tables sat in one corner and were occupied.
Rap music blared loudly through huge loud speakers suspended from
the ceiling. All in all, the place was rather empty since it was a
No sign of The Worm.
By the time I reached the bar, those who were
present had noticed or been notified of my entry, judging by the
looks I received—like I had just dropped in from Neptune. I had the
feeling that strangers were not welcome. That didn’t deter me from
approaching the bartender. He was a tall, dark man in his
mid-twenties with short gerry curls and a goatee.
Before I could speak, he asked in a frosty
tone: “What do you want?”
For a moment, I thought he was speaking to
someone else. Meeting his eyes, I asked curtly: “Is there some
reason a person can’t get a drink? Or is it members only?”
He looked me over like I was a side of beef
that may or may not have been contaminated. “You The Man?”
“I’m not a cop,” I told him. I glanced around
at some of the patrons who had moved threateningly close. Being an
ex-cop did have its advantages. It taught me that no crisis was
ever as bad as it seemed. I also learned that intimidation and
respect often neutralized each other when fear gave way to
I looked the bartender straight in the eye
and said with a definite edge to my voice: “I’m a private
investigator. Not looking for trouble—just need some
“If you want information,” he told me
snidely, “call the operator.” He was not smiling.
Neither was I. “I’m looking for Jessie
Wylson. Or don’t you give a damn that he’s selling drugs to your
His eyes bulged. “Who the hell do you think
is supplyin’ him the drugs?”
“And that’s supposed to make it all right?” I
sneered, hoping I could reason with him, but doubting it.
“Even if I knew who this dude was,” the
bartender barked loudly so everyone in the place could hear him,
“what makes you think I’d tell you?”
This guy was really starting to piss me
He aimed his eyes menacingly at me. “I think
you’d better get your ass outta here while you can still walk on
your own two feet.”
“Maybe he’d rather be carried out,” said an
ominous, deep voice behind me. I swiveled and saw a heavyset man
with a zigzag part in the middle of his closely cropped brown hair.
A cue stick was dangling at his side as if that was supposed to be
insurance for his flabby body. “You heard the man. Go find
somewhere else to play private asshole.”
Heat began to ooze from my pores. “Get outta
my face, dickhead,” I warned him, “or I’ll make you eat that
He took umbrage to that and decided to put me
to the test, swinging the pool cue toward my head like a baseball
slugger. My reflexes acted quickly and decisively. I grabbed the
stick from him and jammed it into his fat gut twice, then hard
under his chin, rendering him ineffective and out like a light.
I threw the stick against a wall, pulled out
my Glock, and said to the closing ranks: “No one has to die
tonight. But if I go, I guarantee I’ll take several of you with
me.” I moved up to the bartender and put the gun barrel against his
throbbing temple. “Starting with you, my man—”
He got the message. “Let him go—”
I hoped those who were eyeballing me like I
was Public Enemy Number One were listening. I kept the Glock in a
firing position just in case.
“If you happen to run into The Worm,” I told
the bartender in a parting shot, “tell him to give himself up. It’s
the only way he’ll get a moment’s peace.”
The bartender stood mute, defiant. I
carefully made my way out the door, glad to still be in one piece,
with my head firmly planted on my shoulders.
For a person who seemed to have few redeeming
qualities, Jessie Wylson had remarkable support from those he was
arguably harming the most. Evidently he really was a worm who was
slithering his way through a network of cooperative tunnels.
For me, it was just a job—one I was
determined to complete as if it was my last. For The Worm, it was
staying one step ahead of the law and a private eye named D.J.
After Nightmares, Jasmine’s seemed like a
dream place to unwind. I took a table and a beer. Star Quality had
been replaced by another soul singer only half as attractive, but
with stronger backup vocals. Gus had the night off. This was a
minor miracle, since I could scarcely remember a time when he
wasn’t hovering around making his intimidating presence known.
I couldn’t help but notice the woman sitting
all by her lonesome two tables over, as if anyone getting too close
to her would pollute the air she breathed. It would have been hard
not to notice a platinum blonde white woman in a club that catered
predominantly to blacks and Latinos. But she was something special,
if appearance counted for anything.
She looked to be in her late twenties or
early thirties. She wore a ruby red dress, which had latched on to
every curve and fold of her voluptuous body like a second flesh. A
white hat, tilted slightly with class, sat atop golden hair that
was cascading like a waterfall onto her broad shoulders. If her
intentions were to bring men down to their knees without so much as
lifting a finger, she had succeeded from where I sat.
“Wonder who the lucky dude is?” Al Johnson
whispered in my ear. He was a regular at the club. At forty-eight
and nearly all muscle, Al was still reliving the glory days when he
was a linebacker for the Seahawks. He made his living now as a
dentist, deciding it was better to help people keep their teeth
than lose them on the field. He appeared to be leaving when his
imposing frame came between her and me.
“Not me,” I said sadly. “I can’t get that
lucky.” For some reason that made me think of Vanessa King.
“Don’t sell yourself short, D.J.,” Al said,
and rubbed his horseshoe shaped hairline. “You never know. Your
name could be the one on the winning lottery ticket. I don’t see
anyone else claimin’ the prize.”