Two hours now after his arrest, Bronson knows there are thirty-four and a half acoustic tiles in the ceiling of this room. The table is about ten and a half hand-lengths long by exactly seven wide. He knows that his Batman and Robin t-shirt is pre-shrunk, 100% cotton, and should be machine-washed cold with like colors. He knows that there are sixteen shoelace eyelets in each of his shoes, and that “Material Girl” has been stuck in his head since he woke up this morning.
What he doesn’t know is what this asshole Detective Mazursky has been doing these past two hours. And as the big, dark-skinned cop himself shoves back into the room, slamming the door behind him, Bronson doesn’t know that he’ll bother to ask.
“Do you know just how much shit you’re in, Goodale?” Mazursky says.
“Man,” Bronson says, “I just wanna get outta here. I don’t even know what this is about.”
“So you’ve really got no idea, huh?” Mazursky leans on the table knuckles first, and puts his face right in Bronson’s. He smells like tea.
“No, I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,” Bronson says.
“Goodale, I saw you running from the scene with my own eyes. I chased you into that store myself!”
“I was running because I had to take a shit, and they know me in that store—”
Mazursky slams his palm on the table, and Bronson bites off the end of his sentence. “Don’t get fuckin’ smart with me!” Mazursky screams, and then lowers his voice. Very husky, very Dirty Harry. “Now, here’s how this is gonna happen. I’m gonna ask for your supplier’s name. You’re gonna give it to me. Then we’re gonna go talk to the DA’s office, and you’ll be on your way. Got that?”
“Look, sir, Detective,” Bronson says, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about, honest. Wait, wait, before you yell at me again, I just wanna say, since I’m under arrest here for whatever it is you said I did, I just think I ought to be able to call my lawyer, that’s all.”
Mazursky frowns at him, then laughs. Laughs out loud, and a fleck of his spit lands on Bronson’s lip. Bronson doesn’t wanna move to wipe it away, so he slowly moves his lip, trying to get it off his face, all without taking his eyes off the big detective in front of him. It’s not easy.
Still laughing, Mazursky sits seven hand-lengths across the table from Bronson. Bronson wipes his mouth quickly while his back is turned. “So,” Mazursky says, “you’re completely innocent, yet you want a lawyer. Why would you want a lawyer if you’re innocent?”
“Look, no offense? But I don’t think I should answer any more questions. I mean, you’re, y’know, obviously convinced I’ve done something wrong here, and since I don’t know what you’re, uh, talking about, it only seems, y’know, fair that I have a, uh—”
“‘A, uh, A, uh,’ listen to you, Goodale, you’re stammering and stuttering like a retard.”
Bronson frowned at him. “Hey, there’s no need—”
“Your ass is mine, you fucking little weasel! You’re under arrest, get that through your fucking skull! All the lawyers in the world aren’t gonna change that. The only people who can possibly change that are you and your scumbag running buddy.”
Folding his arms, Bronson sat back in the chair. He tried to put just a little bit of hurt on his face. “If you’re just gonna yell, I don’t see—”
“Shut up, shut up and listen. Now, I’ll explain it so even you can understand: you and your buddy, you’re the lowest rung. The dumb-ass street guys. You’re caught, it’s over for you. Now, it doesn’t matter to me if you take the fall for this shit all by yourself. But my boss and his boss, they want the next rung up. See? You follow so far?”
“Not at all, no.”
“You give me a statement, where you got the stuff, who you work for. Then you walk, just like that. I’ll even get you a cab. But you’ve got to do it right now, because I’ll tell you what, my partner’s in the next room right now with this Lienhardt asshole of yours, offering him the very same deal.”
“Sir, look, I dunno why you dragged me and Mal in here, okay? I don’t know anything about suppliers or higher rungs or anything like that. All I know is that you said when you handcuffed me before that I got a right to an attorney, so I’d like to call him now, if that’s okay with you.”
Oh, man, Mazursky really looks like he’s gonna blow his top now. Lookit him, clenching his jaw like that, his skull is gonna pop out of his head.
A knock at the door. Another cop comes in, a guy in uniform. “Detective?”
Mazursky tamps it back down, straightens his tie and goes over to speak with the other cop in low, buzzing voices. They pepper glances back at Bronson. Behind the befuddled look Bronson’s plastered to his face is: “‘Cause we are liii-ving in a material world, and I am a material girl! You know that we are liii-ving…”
The other cop goes out, gently closing the door behind him. Mazursky ambles back over to his chair and sits down, all shit-eating grins. “Well, that’s about it, Goodale,” he says.
“I can go?”
“Oh, no, no, no, no. No, that’s about it for you,” Mazursky says, “Your buddy just gave you up.”
Bronson rubs his chin. “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You’re accusing Mal and I of possession of stolen goods or whatever, and now you’re telling me that Mal has shifted the blame all on me and this, uh, supposed supplier of ours, and now I’m gonna go to jail and Mal gets to go. That’s what you’re telling me.”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you. Now you’re getting it.”
“Uh-huh.” Bronson sighs, rubs his face.
“But here’s the good news. Your record’s pretty much clean, a couple chicken-shit misdemeanors. Lienhardt there, he’s got an actual record. Assault, B & E, shit like that. I’d much rather have a guy like him, a danger, off the streets, and let an idiot like you skate. So I’ll offer you the deal one last time. What do you say?”
Bronson looks at him.
“I don’t know what you’ve got to think about here! You still tryin’ to protect your buddy? The one who just now sold you out? C’mon, man, don’t be a sap all your life! What do you say?”
“Let me get this straight,” Mal said. The waitress came by, and he waited until she’d refilled his coffee cup and gone. “Your girlfriend said I tried to get into her pants, and you believed her.”
Bronson balled up his napkin, smoothed it out again. “No, no, of course I don’t believe her. I’m just telling you what she said.”
“Yeah, but why? Why tell me this?”
Bronson shrugged. “I dunno, conversation? Now you’re pissed off, I shouldnt’a said anything.”
“No, I’m not pissed off. I’m not. I just…” He let out a breath, wiped his glasses off on his tie. “C’mon,” he said, taking a last sip of coffee and grabbing the check.
“You’re not pissed?”
“No, I told you. But I got something at home I think you should see.”
Mallory at the park with some dude. Mallory at the zoo with some dude. Mallory slow-dancing with some dude. Mallory with her tongue down the throat of some dude. All the shots were clearly taken from a distance, but all the shots were clearly of Mallory fucking around, in at least some capacity, on Bronson.
“Jesus Christ,” Bronson said.
“Yeah,” Mal said.
“Where’d you get these?”
Mal said, “Stillwell had a few days off the other week. I slipped him a few bucks, hoped my gut feeling was wrong. But this broad’s trouble, man.”
“Man, you said you weren’t pissed off at me. But now, what, you’re showing me these to get back at me for—for—”
“Okay, now I am getting pissed off,” Mal said, “Use your fuckin’ head, will ya? This broad’s trying to make herself feel better about, y’know,” he gestured at the photos, “by trying to make you jealous or some shit, make you think I’m the problem or something. Meanwhile, I’m the one watching your back.”
“Yeah,” Bronson said, “Okay. It’s just—fuck, man, lookit this asshole!” He held up a photo of Mallory at a sidewalk café with some dude. “He’s got a pony tail, for chrissake!”
“Yeah, I know. Look, man, here’s my point. I’ve got no reason to try and fuck you over on anything. None. Okay? We’ve known each other too long and been through too much shit. Right?”
“So next time some twat tries to make you think otherwise, you know what to say. Right?”
“What do you say, Mr. Lienhardt?”
Mal says the exact same thing he’s been saying for the past two hours: nothing. Mal has only one thing to say to Detective Lapierre here, so he wants to make sure he times it just right, that he gets his cue right on the nose.
But not yet.
Lapierre sits there, all mustache and tolerance, and exhales knowingly. “Mr. Lienhardt, I’m a patient man. But even I have my limits. I wholly respect your right to silence, if that’s what you want. But allow me to once again go over the facts.”
Mal sips at his coffee. It’s not bad, really, for police station coffee.
“Fact: Detective Mazursky and I arrested you and Mr. Goodale fleeing the scene of a crime.”
Fact: these two dickheads happened to drive past the little shop of stolen textbooks that Mal and Bronson had set up in an old van, selling them to college kids over near State. They got the van, which gives them nothing since Mal stole it the night before. They got the books, which also gives them nothing as Mal and Bronson wore gloves the whole time they handled them. If these cops had some sort of buy-in going, they might have caught Mal and Bronson red-handed, game over. As it was, Mal was sure they’d just fallen ass-backwards into this extremely minor operation. Every pig has his day, after all.
“Fact: the stolen goods you had are not illicit. So you’re in less trouble than if it were drugs or porn or something. But the amount of books as well as the amount of cash found on your person will show to a judge that you and Mr. Goodale exhibited a level of criminal sophistication, which can in turn lead to a more severe punishment.”
Fact: it’s not against the law to have a fat wad of cash on your person. These cops must think Mal’s an idiot. It is against the law to run from a peace officer after he’s identified himself as such, yes, but Mal and Bronson could have been running for any number of criminally unsophisticated reasons.
“Fact: we are far more interested in your supplier here, Mr. Lienhardt. No offense, but you and your buddy are fairly small potatoes. But if you guys cooperate with us, give us a statement, agree to testify, then things will go so much easier for you. And that is very much a fact.”
Fact: Mr. Bob Romano could have both Mal and Bronson killed right here in the holding cells of this cop shop. But really, more than that, let’s say they give Romano up and live to tell the tale, what are they gonna do for work then? No one’s gonna let any kind of rat hang around, not even Romano’s competitors. So what then, pull up stakes? Get real jobs? Mal will sooner blow this pudgy little detective here than even ask for an application down at the Subway. And that’s a fact you can hang your hat on.
“Now, this isn’t a fact so much as speculation, Mr. Lienhardt, but hear me out. I’d say you’re made out of a little sterner stuff than Mr. Goodale. And my partner, who is not a very patient man and can—strictly between you and me—be a real asshole when he wants, is in the next room giving your partner the same speech. Only he’s not gonna be as nice about it as I am. And I’ll tell you another thing, Mr. Lienhardt, between you and me, I don’t think Mr. Goodale is gonna be cut out for it.”
Mal looks at him.
“I know, I know, you don’t wanna turn your back on a buddy. I can respect that. But think about it, Mr. Lienhardt. You’ve been to jail, you can handle it. Mr. Goodale, he’s got some priors, but I don’t think he’s looking to return to lock-up. In fact, I think he’ll do about anything to stay out of jail, including throwing you and your supplier to the wolves, so to speak. Now maybe I’m wrong. But then again, why take that chance? Why risk your own neck for a guy that wouldn’t stick his neck out like that for you?”
Mal holds Lapierre’s gaze for a second, then looks up at the clock, at his coffee.
“So, given all that, Mr. Lienhardt, given all these facts before us. What do you say?”
Mal clears his throat.
“The fact is,” Louis said, “the guy’s just gonna have to do a little bit of time.”
Louis shrugged. “Two, three months, tops.”
“Fuck,” Mal said, “That’s the best you can do?”
“Hey,” Louis said, removing his smoked glasses, “I know he’s your friend and all, but watch your fuckin’ tone with me, kid. I’m doing you a favor even taking this case. You think I got nothing better to do?”
“No, Louis, look. I’m sorry, it’s just—”
“Hey, c’mon,” Louis leaned forward on his desk and smiled. “You’re worried about Bronson being locked up for the first time. But you’ve been in county before, right? It’s a picnic, even for a guy like him.”
“I was driving,” Mal said.
“Uh-huh,” Louis said, “Wait, what? When?”
“That night. I drove into that lady’s yard, not Bronson.”
“Are you shitting me? Oh, man!” Louis sat back in his chair and held his sides as he laughed.
“C’mon, man, it’s not that funny.”
“No, no, you’re right, it’s not. It’s actually a lot funnier!” And then he roared some more laughter, so Mal could see his fillings. Mal sat there and fumed as Louis got himself back under control.
“All right, all right, all right,” Louis said, “Okay, tell me what happened.”
“All right, what happened,” Mal said, “We were out at the bar, but Bronson was getting over a cold, so he didn’t feel like drinking. I, on the other hand, very much did.”
“Why didn’t you just have him drive home?”
“Well, I fuckin’ know that know, man! I was wasted, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Y’know, it was only a few blocks—”
“All right, all right, go on.”
“So I’m trying to change the tape, I take my eyes off the road for one second. Next thing I know, we’re in this lady’s begonias.”
“Right, Mrs., lets’ see...” Louis shuffled some papers on his desk, “Mrs. Johanson.”
“Yeah, I guess so. So Bronson shoves me out the driver’s side and tells me to run. I say, what the fuck you doing? He says with my record and all, it’ll be easier for him to wriggle outta this, especially since he was sober. All he had hanging over him is that failure to appear, and what is that? A fine?”
“Well, normally, yeah. But Mrs. Johanson is married to an Officer Larry Johanson. So, you know. If Officer Larry whispers in the judge’s ear...”
“Yeah, I get that, but...fuck.”
“Look, kid, I did my best. But with time served, he’ll be outta there before you know it. So just go down there, visit, put a little something in his commissary. Hell, bring him some of those comic books he likes so much. It’ll make the time go quicker for both of you.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“C’mon, bubby, buck up! Y’know, you’re a lucky guy to have a friend like this.”
Mal looked up at him. One corner of his mouth tugged itself up a bit. “And that’s a fact, counselor,” he said.
“What do I say to that?” Bronson says, “Well, that’s simple.”
“I say,” Mal says, “Give me my fucking phone call.”
Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. Thanks to Josh Converse for line edits, and a very special thanks to Michael Berberich for technical advice. Please visit attentionchildren.blogspot.com for more.