April 12, 2021


After Life 19


Chapter Nineteen: Confronting the Face of Evil

"Please, have a seat, Mr. Hennessey, how are you this fine evening?" Max Duchamps said in his resonant, menacing voice.

"I'm fine, I hope you're doing all right, Mr. Duchamps." Hennessey was not fine -- he was sweating bullets and was so scared he might wet himself at any moment. Roj had never seen the man looking so pathetically afraid.

"I am doing just as I should, Mr. Hennessey," Max said. "What would you like to drink?"

"Oh. Coffee, I think." He reached up to wipe the sweat from his shining head, disturbing the comb-over he thought disguised his baldness.

There couldn't be much more contrast between the two men. Max Duchamps was a big man, well over six feet tall, and broad, as if he had taken body building and wed it with football workouts. His clothing was perfectly tailored, and so darkly clean there was not a single piece of arrant fuzz on it. His face was calm, immobile, gleaming, his eyes emotionless. On the other side of the table, Hennessey in his light gray wrinkled suit looked like he was ready to bolt, his hands faintly trembling, his eyes darting around the dining room, drawn in on himself, as afraid of the restaurant's decor as he was of the man who sat before him. He smelled of fear and cigarette smoke.

"I would like the oysters this evening -- we will have only appetizers, you see," Max said to the server. "And what would you like, Mr. Hennessey?"

"Just coffee, I'm fine, thanks."

"But that will not do at all," Max said, somehow making Hennessey's refusal of food an insult. "You must join me in honoring our worthy chef."

"Oh." He lifted the menu, trying to read it as it shook in his hands. "I'll have the ... ah, the crab cakes, if you please."

"They are so very excellent here, you know," Max said, drinking from his iced tea. "They use only live crabs in their preparation, of course."

Hennessey nodded, his left elbow gently feeling for his sidearm. He was more used to wearing a uniform; the suit, the shoulder holster, the ill-fitting dress shirt he had last worn to his son's graduation were a kind of betrayal to what he had intended to be when he joined the force. You dope, Roj thought, seeing the coruscating lights of shame and traitorousness flickering across his skin. You thought it was all going to be easy: Money Street, Hennessey makes good and never has to worry about where the water bill money is coming from this month. All you ever had to do was say "No."

The time it took for the waiter to take their order, and the chef to prepare it, was time Max used as a psychological hammer to wear Hennessey down. Max said nothing at all during that time, not one word, but simply sipped his iced tea, resting one manicured hand on the flawless white cloth on the table. Hennessey cleared his throat a number of times, drank his coffee, moved the knife and spoon of his table setting, shifted his rear on his chair.

"This guy is not just horrible in violence, he's also a vicious creep just sitting there," Roj said of Max.

"Yes," Desai answered. "He is all about causing discomfort to others so that he may have comfort himself. Many people are, though. Do you know why that is?"

With a sensation of being stabbed, Roj wondered, Have I done that? She cast about in her memories. "Oh! Taking the best desk in the third grade because it was a little bigger and had more room for my books -- I hadn't thought that someone else might have liked that desk. Or flopping on the couch and having my history textbook in my lap so that my father, coming home from work, would see that I was studying -- with the television on my favorite program -- and would sit in the armchair instead, or at the kitchen table. Selfishness," Roj replied to Desai. "I was so selfish."

"You are missing the point, although what you did as a child and as an adolescent have the seeds of selfishness in their instances. This man knows he is causing discomfort. He intends to cause discomfort. The will to cause pain or suffering in your examples is missing. You did not intend to hurt others. What does Max intend?"

"He wants to see Hennessey squirm. He likes to make him -- like he did Garrison -- feel like ... they're at his mercy. Only they know he doesn't have any mercy in him, so they know he'll kill them if they make the wrong move for him. Wait! It's not about personal comfort, it's about making himself feel like he's the top dog in control of everything, that he has the power of life and death over them."

"Now, Roj. Why does that comfort him?"

"The power of life and death? Is it -- Desai, he thinks he's like God!"

"He does not know God, Roj."

"But he does know the idea of omnipotence, and he thinks he has it. He's trying to make poor Hennessey believe it."

"And suddenly that one is "poor Hennessey." Desai sat on the bar with crossed legs.

The waiter brought the platters of crab cakes and oysters to the table, placed the dishes before the men, inquired about refilling drinks, and disappeared. Max gulped down his oysters while Hennessey ate small bites of his crab cakes, looking distressed. "Wish I'd have been able to have some of those while I was alive," Roj said, referring to the crab cakes.

"They are exactly the same as the ones you used to eat at Cold Ones, except that they have fennel added to them."

"Eww, that's a shame. I thought that Richesse would have had some amazingly delicious recipe."

"If you stay here and watch for a year, you will see why this restaurant is so exclusive. The chef has little to do with it. Please excuse me for a while." He vanished again.

Well, at least this time he told me he was going. Roj took her place on one of the chairs between Max and Hennessey.

"Have you enjoy of the food?" Max asked the hapless detective in his strange, ungrammatical way.

"It's very good, just so ... rich," Hennessey mumbled, having only eaten half of one crab cake.

"Then let us talk. What do you hear of Garrison's plight?"

"Uhh, they're holding him until they run fingerprints, but Anderson drove up to San Joaquin County to vouch for him. It's the money thing that's making it difficult. There was no proof that it was his, but he was trying to put it out when it caught on fire, and ... uh, the girl with the gun, not to mention names, well, he was identified as her guest, and she did have two outstanding warrants ..."

"Who set the money on fire?"

"I don't know, honest, Mr. Duchamps."

"Someone was there. Someone did it. Money does not set itself on fire. I had a man watching our Mr. Garrison. He saw nothing, except the aftermath. Aftermath, does that mean 'After the numbers,' Mr. Hennessey? Who was there in the restaurant? Was it our drunken Pest-man?"

"No, he's been asleep in his apartment all day. Hammer was staked out, watching. She has a key, and she checked in on him at about three. He was passed out, reeking drunk."

"But something is happening, Mr. Hennessey. Where is Costaine? Shouldn't he have been the one keeping tabs on the Pest?"

"He didn't show up for work the last couple days, didn't call in. We don't know."

"You can't send someone to 'know?' I will send someone to 'know.'

"Wait, just wait. Costaine's been kind of weird lately. Give him a little time. Maybe he found a girlfriend."

"I do not care about girlfriends, Mr. Hennessey."

Roj watched sweat glisten on Hennessey's forehead, understanding that Hennessey also knew how little Max cared about girlfriends, as in Matt's girlfriend.

"We're working on it, as best we can."

Sure you are. You're steaming the scent of fear like skunk-water poured on a diner flat-top grill. You all think that since Garrison got detained, the game's up, and now what should you do to keep from being targeted or fingered? Which one of you is going to crack and spill it all when the investigation starts? "Yes, he's 'poor Hennessey' now, because Max has no room in his operation for weak links, and Hennessey is one," Roj said to the air, believing that Desai was somehow still listening.

"Is it the best that you can, is it really, Mr. Hennessey? Have you not just received great gifts from Mr. Garrison? Are you protecting something about him in return for the big television and the air conditioner?"

"I didn't ask for those!" Hennessey cried, his eyes filling with tears of fear. "I have no idea why he sent them to me! I'm telling you all that I know, I promise you, honestly, I have nothing to hide! We don't know what's going on!"

"But someone does know," Max said deeply, smoothly. "We find out who it is that is causing our little troubles, don't we? After all, Garrison is trust you to be his right hand. Should you not know what he intends?"

"I -- I don't know, I told you, I don't know!"

Even more deeply, and very quietly, Max growled, "Then you will find out, you will, yes?"

Hennessey was trembling, the truth of being involved in the money train of meth finally brought home to his brain. He knew he was going to die, not because of his wrongdoing, which was hidden, but because the meth business was not going well, which was not a consideration he had taken into account when he had shaken hands over the deal. "We'll find out ... but ... who knew that Garrison was meeting her? I only knew after we got a call from San Joaquin County's Sheriff's office. No one in our precinct knew about it." He rubbed his wet hands on the napkin. "How many of your people knew about it, Mr. Duchamps? If none of us knew about it, are you sure that someone in your organization wasn't playing games, trying to get that money out of Garrison's hands, and ours?"

Wow, Hennessey almost has a spine, Roj mused. It's going to get him in hot water, if not dead, but I didn't think he had it in him to try to stand up to Mr. Murderer there. And he does have a point, even if he's on the wrong track.

Max suddenly reached across the table as quickly as a snake strikes, and tapped one large forefinger on the side of Hennessey's plate, making Hennessey draw back, flinching. "You have a good idea there, Mr. Hennessey. I will investigate, and you will investigate. And if we find that some of our people are working on their own, they will disappear, and -- if you understand me -- no one will find them."

"I understand," the pale police officer mumbled.

The big man leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. "It will be good," he said, smiling, his eyes hidden. "Would you like some dessert?"

"Oh, no, thank you, I really have to get back as soon as possible. Someone might have heard something by now."

"How diligent, I am glad I see. Good evening to you then, Mr. Hennessey." He didn't stand as Hennessey staggered to his feet and hustled off down the stairs, but watched the shaken officer rush through the lobby; he didn't take his attention away until he saw Hennessey exit Richesse's lavatory and leave the building. He took his phone from a pocket and spoke brusquely when his call went through. "Hennessey says no one in the precinct knew Garrison was having a meeting. That means that someone in our tribe's confidence is responsible for this ... misfortune -- yes, 'miss- fortune' is an apt word -- and I want to know who it is. Do not tell me this is impossible, just find out who knew about this meeting." He hung up without more words.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-03-05
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.

1 Reader Comments

Ralph Bland
01:44:14 PM

On another level now, it appears Roj is beginning to recognize the different levels of evil present in the world. She seems to have gone from an otherworldly spirit seeking vengeance to an examiner of what goes on under other people's skins, seeing that evil manifests itselves in differing ways. Roj is becoming wiser in her afterlife.

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