Holden continues, Part 2
As a New Year’s treat, here’s part 2 of the Holden story. Mostly set up, but I hope it pays off …
2 – Part Man/Part Negative Space
Holden headed home to take a shower and wash the blood and fear stink off of him. Other people’s fear stink was always the worst, as it seemed to cling to you like cigarette smoke. Still, he had this good peppermint goat’s milk soap that seemed to obliterate any scent, no matter how tenacious. Even hockey stink, which he knew was difficult to get rid of at the best of times.
Afterward, he slipped into his velvet “lounging pants” (pyjama pants, but that seemed too immature), and poured himself a big tumbler full of gin, which he threw a lemon wedge in for vitamins. (He could just about hear Scott saying, “Yum. Pine with lemon. It’s like drinking Lysol.” He was not a fan of gin.) He was kind of hungry but also a little too lazy to cook, so he called out for a pizza.
Holden splayed out on his couch and turned on the boob tube, to empty his head. He knew what he did to the guy was righteous and deserved, but he nearly always felt a little blah after, rung out. He wasn’t a great fan of violence, but he was good at it. It helped when he played up his lisp, acted like a queeny, limp wristed caricature, because nearly everyone bought it. They believed that campy act, and didn’t realize until it was too late that Holden was feeding them what they expected, not the truth. Holden sort of liked seeing it in their eyes, the moment when they realized they were fucked. It was a rush.
What had Roan once told him? After his partial shifts, he suffered adrenaline crash, when his system’s fight or flight response (which was nonsense, because with Roan it was always fight – and he respected the shit out of him for that) reached an end, and fell into an abyss. As if being unable to move for the pain wasn’t bad enough, Roan would almost pass out from how exhausted he was. Maybe Holden suffered his own variation of adrenaline crash, but since he wasn’t a superhuman who pushed his physical abilities to the edge of their limits, his crash wasn’t quite as drastic. That would make a sort of sense, he supposed.
Blindly flipping through channels, hoping for something mindless he could focus on while his brain shifted back into normal, the sight of a sweaty Tank stopped him cold.
It was hockey playoff season, and Tank’s team was in, although just barely. According to Scott, injuries had ravaged his team, and Tank had taken the remains of the team and lugged them single handed into the playoffs, because he was such a good goalie he almost made up for a piss poor group. They were playing a game, and the camera was focused on Tank’s sweaty face as he pushed his helmet up and took a drink from the water bottle that every goalie had attached to the roof of their net. Scott figured Tank couldn’t last forever – he wasn’t going to be able to pull them into the finals all by himself, no matter how good he was – but Scott assumed he’d give it a damn good try. Just from the sweaty, exhausted look of Tank, Holden guessed that was true. But just before he drank from the water bottle, Tank said something to a player from the opposing team hanging around his net, and Holden wasn’t the world’s best lip reader, but he would swear Tank just told him, “Your wife liked it.” By the way the guy grabbed Tank’s shoulder aggressively, and the way one of Tank’s bigger teammates came in to yank him off of their goaltender, that was probably true. So funny. That was the exact attitude of a guy who was trying to muscle his shitty team through a playoff. That was also why Roan was such a fan of his. It took one stubborn lunatic to recognize another.
It wasn’t that Holden couldn’t see it; Tank was kind of cute. But you had to overlook that strange intensity that burrowed deep within his eyes, a jock drive that Holden recognized, but had never been cursed with himself. He was glad, because he wasn’t sure he could have lived with it. He didn’t know how Tank did.
The commentators were at least giving Tank his due, talking about what a great athlete he was, and talking about his save percentage, which was apparently near the top of the league. They were effusive in praise of him, which was good, but Holden wondered if Tank would ever know about it. When Scott played in a televised game, sometimes he’d ask Holden to tell him if the announcers said anything nice about him, but he rarely followed up and actually asked. Which was a good thing, because Holden barely paid much attention to Scott’s games. He did try, but the games went on a while, and he usually got bored quickly. If they showed Scott he’d pay attention, and the one time he saw Scott get in a fight on camera he rooted for him to kick the guy’s ass (it was a quick fight and it was hard to say anyone’s ass got kicked, but Scott was definitely on the winning side when the linesmen separated them), but otherwise it kind of blurred together for him. He never wanted to tell Scott he found watching Grey or Tank play on t.v. a little more compelling, but he kind of did. Grey was big and inspired various kinds of terror in the teams he was facing off against, and their attempts to not get checked by him or get out of the way his slapshot was usually good for a laugh. Tank was just insanely talented and colourful enough that he kind of popped off the screen. You knew just by looking at him he probably had a future in sportscasting if he could modulate his natural weirdness, because he had enough personality and natural talent for two people. And you kind of had to love a guy who got inside jokes airbrushed on his helmet.
Goalies at the semi-pro and pro level usually had customized helmets, although pro level always had the more elaborate ones. Tank was no exception, and the helmet he was sporting this year featured a roaring lion with extremely green eyes and a reddish-brown mane (jeeze, who was that?), and the back had a bunch of little items, such as a rainbow (Tank, to his credit, never shied away from calling it a gay pride rainbow) and a pair of handcuffs, which no one seemed to get, but Holden knew it was a little shout out to Fiona and her former dominatrix profession. When you were as good as Tank, you could afford to be ballsier than most, and he took advantage of that. Besides, he had his crazy act so down pat, even if he didn’t have a shitload of talent, people would probably be too scared to call him on anything. And that’s exactly why he was so fun to watch. You needed a little danger in your jocks. Scott was good, and he was hot, but he never seemed truly dangerous.
It was actually enjoyable to watch Tank keep bailing his team out with his incredible reflexes and his willingness to do anything to stop that puck. He was fearless, in the way that all great athletes and superheroes were. Also, Holden kind of envied Fiona, because holy Jesus, Tank was mad flexible. Too bad he was hetero, ‘cause that would be fun.
There was a knock at the door, and he took a slug of his gin before getting up to get it. He assumed it was the pizza person, but when he opened the door, he was surprised to see Phan standing there, as hunched and twitchy as ever. He had a vague smell of weed and something acrid, chemical, probably some variation of speed.
Phan was a very low level stringer/drug dealer, a small fish in a huge pond, and Holden occasionally bought illegal pharmaceuticals from him, but not so much now. He had other contacts now, ones unlikely to catch the eye of vice cops. “Phan, to what do I owe the pleasure?” he said, taking up a sexy pose against the door. Phan was het and a homophobe, so Holden loved making him squirm.
Phan fidgeted but remained rooted to the spot, which was odd. Holden wasn’t wearing a shirt, and this should have drove Phan back a step or two, but he was tolerating it all while frowning like he was being made to chew on tin foil. “Big Mike wants ta talk to ya.”
“What?” He’d heard him just fine, even though he was mumbling. Holden was just curious why Big Mike – one of those drug dealing big fish that Phan was a stringer for – would want to talk to him. Had he beaten the shit out of one of his guys? Stepped on some toes?
Phan sniffed, rubbed his nose on the back of his fist. “Big Mike wanna talk ta ya.”
“Yes, dear, but why?”
Phan winced at the endearment, which was exactly what Holden was going for. Phan looked resolutely down at the ground as he responded to the question. “Dunno. He said he had a job for ya.”
“Really? Since when is he hiring?” Odd. Big Mike was het – at least as far as he knew – so Holden assumed he didn’t have a hustling job for him. But what else could he be hiring him for? That was not how one got stringers or slingers. Belatedly, Holden remembered he was a private eye now. Could that be it? But why would a guy like Big Mike – who had a lot of underlings willing to do his bidding – hire a private dick? He was pretty much the definition of a guy who never needed to hire anyone to do anything for him. He could snap his fingers and have it done, whether it was sending someone out for a sandwich, or having someone killed.
Phan shrugged, still staring down at the concrete like it was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. “Didn’t say. Just wants your number.”
“He wants my number?” Maybe he wasn’t perfectly straight after all.
Phan still wasn’t looking at him, and yet he knew enough to sneer. “Not like that. He’ll text you where to meet him tomorrow.”
“Did I say I would?” Although there was no point in saying no to Big Mike. If Roan was still here he would have the option – nothing Mike had could trump lion guy, which was the ace in the hole to beat all aces in the hole – but he was living in semi-seclusion in Canada. Holden knew some tough guys, but any willing to take on a drug kingpin? That was an invitation to suicide. If you weren’t a lion guy.
“Sayin’ no prob’ly wouldn’t be good for ya,” Phan muttered.
“Ooh, I’m not a good man to threaten,” he noted. But would Big Mike care? Even if Mike knew of his reputation, he was simply too big to be concerned by it. It would be like Godzilla being concerned by an ant.
As it was, Phan didn’t seem to care, and he must have known it. Holden retreated back inside his apartment to grab one of his old work cards. The hustler ones, the discreet ones with nothing more than a phone number on it, the one that connected to his private cell. If you had the card, you knew what it was for. If you found it, you had no idea what it was, except a weird card with only a number. When he returned to the doorway, he held it out to Phan. “You’re just lucky I’m too curious about this to say no. Tell your boss I’ll be waiting for his call.”
“Text,” Phan needlessly corrected him. He took the card with the edge of his fingers, like he was afraid of getting cooties, and shoved it in the pocket of his puffy coat. They both heard a car door slam, and Holden gazed around the staircase leading to the upper floors to see the pizza man – a woman actually – had arrived.
“That’ll be for me,” Holden warned him.
“Later,” Phan said, turning and walking away before she caught him at the homo’s door. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so predictable … oh, who was he kidding? It was still funny. He knew he should probably be offended by Phan’s clear dislike of gays, but for some reason, Holden thought it was just wildly pathetic. In this day and age, in this city? Phan was going to die of homophobia before he died of a drug overdose.
Holden went and got the cash for the pizza woman before she showed up at the door. He was still searching his mind to figure out if he’d ever done anything to piss Big Mike off. But he wouldn’t go through this song and dance if he wanted him dead. He’d just be dead; Phan would have shot him in the face as soon as he opened the door. So what on Earth could this be about? Was he looking to expand his sexual horizons? He wouldn’t be the first mostly straight guy with more money than boundaries.
Still, he wondered if he should get back up, and started wracking his brain for anyone he may have known who was connected with the Mexican drug cartel. (Oh, there were gays and bis in there, although in that overly macho world, they were careful to keep it in the closet, as they would kill a “fag” with no compunction.) They’d be happy to take Big Mike off the board, if it came to that.
The only people who might be pissed at him was the Bratva, the Russian mob, because he personally mutilated one of their guys and freed some sex slaves, but as far as he knew, they had no fucking clue who he was. If they did, he’d have been tortured to death already. Holden assumed since he wasn’t connected to any gang, and there were no cameras at the motel (and why would there be? They hardly wanted to record their illegal sex trafficking and do the FBI’s job for them), he’d be near impossible for even the mob to find. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility, though, and he had to keep that in mind, but that wasn’t a hill he minded dying on. He was going to die some way, and he always assumed it would be messy and ahead of his time. But as long as it was on his terms, he was amazingly good with that. Holden knew he probably shouldn’t be, but that wasn’t enough to stop him.
Unless he got some sense of a set up, he’d just play this like he played everything else. Come in with a secret weapon, act harmless and queeny, and prepare to take everyone in that fucking room with him. There was no reason to change such a winning formula.