Holden, Part 3
3 – Krill
Holden was in the shower, pondering whether he should use the fruity smelling conditioner or the one that smelled a bit like bad aftershave – for some stupid reason, all “men’s conditioner” was a variation of bad aftershave – when his phone hummed and jittered on the sink. Because of its proximity to the porcelain, it made much more noise than he anticipated, and was kind of startling. Still, he conditioned his hair, mixing both kinds together, because what was he, an animal? He wasn’t risking split ends due to a text.
When he got out of the shower, he checked his phone, and saw that he was indeed texted an address from an unknown number. Towel around his waist and still dripping, he went to the living room so he could check the address on his laptop.
What came up was a strangely quaint, old fashioned styled home in a pricey and scenic Madrona neighborhood, that looked like a little slice of yuppie heaven. It had a well tended, green little yard and bay windows, and looked so out of Holden’s price range it was genuinely hilarious. That was Big Mike’s house? It looked like the place that would hold a young, high earning couple with a child named something like Brisket or Sriracha, and a live in au pair that guaranteed they only saw their kid every third day. Why the hell was a drug dealer living there? As far as Holden knew, Big Mike wasn’t a family man.
Then again, what were the odds the cops would look for a drug dealer’s crib there, in a quiet, upper class suburban neighborhood? One thing Holden had learned was that wealth was its own disguise. As long as Big Mike dressed and more or less behaved like he belonged there, no one would give him a second look. And street scuttlebutt had long painted Big Mike as dapper and old fashioned. He probably just told his neighbors he was in import/exports, and they didn’t blink once.
This left Holden in a bit of a quandary as how he should dress. If he looked too casual, there was a chance his neighbors would call the cops on him. On the other, if he looked too nice, it might be too weird for Big Mike. Holden eventually decided to dress like a potential gardener or handyman, because he really didn’t have that much in the way of expensive clothes anyway. Not that didn’t have some kind of sex angle.
Was that still a possibility? Big Mike looking to experiment? There were younger and cuter guys than Holden, but maybe Big Mike didn’t know who he could trust. Maybe Big Mike wanted him to procure someone for him. It wouldn’t be the first time someone asked him to play de facto pimp. Probably wouldn’t be the last time either.
Holden pondered weapons. He wanted to bring at least one, but he would be frisked, beyond a doubt. Guns were totally out, knives were iffy. Did he have any guarantees they wouldn’t pat his crotch down good? Big Mike was in the drug game, and as such, they assumed a threat around every corner.
Conventional weapons were out. But he put his keys on a keychain that looked like some weird tchotchke, but would open to a blade that was razor sharp. Terrible for stabbing, but excellent for slashing and slicing. Not that he was anticipating trouble, but it was always good to be ready for it.
Rather than park on the street and sully Big Mike’s name with an association to him (and vice versa), Holden parked in the lot of a fancy coffee place (not Starbucks – what were they, peasants?) two blocks away and walked in, enjoying the clean sidewalks and weird looks he received. He kind of fit, but also, he kind of didn’t. It was like they could smell poor on him. This made Holden smirk, because he used to be one of them, but it was a lifetime ago. In his mind, he heard the Freaks from the old horror movie of the same name chanting “One of us, one of us”, and smiled. He knew why Roan liked it. It was simple and it was perfect, and it was everything that was wrong with everything in the world.
Still, he made it unmolested to Big Mike’s old fashioned house, which had a highly polished black Escalade out front, which Holden assumed was his car. The windows were tinted so dark, he assumed it verged on illegality. But probably didn’t cross it, because the bigger guys in the drug game were usually smart enough to not be popped on some bullshit minor charge that the cops would love to sling at them.
The house didn’t have a front porch, but there was a type of carport, and Holden saw at least one man lurking in the shadows as soon as he stepped foot on the property. There were probably cameras on him as well. This whole place was probably wired to the gills. It was always the criminals who were super concerned about security.
He heard nothing, but knew the guy lurking in the carport had reported his approach, so by the time he got to the front door, he was greeted by a huge bodyguard who was probably Samoan, and was almost as wide as he was tall. He was nearly seven feet tall, and filled the doorway like a human blockade. His eyes were hidden by dark sunglasses, and he wore a suit that was stretched so tight it was hard to believe he had any circulation at all. “You are?” the guy said. He made it sound like a single word.
“Fox. Big Mike’s expecting me.”
The guy stepped aside, barely making a gap for him to step through, and once he did, the Samoan closed the door, and told him. “Hands up, against the wall.”
“Is this really necessary?” Holden complained, still complying. You didn’t argue with a man his size, especially when he was clearly armed.
The Samoan patted him down efficiently but thoroughly, and Holden was glad he left his lucky butterfly knife at home, as he’d have definitely found it. If things went south, there was logistically very little chance he’d get out alive or take as many of the bastards with him as he wanted regardless of whatever weapon he brought. If it all went to hell, he’d just have to find some comfort in taking out the big boss.
Once he’d passed this simple test, the big man pointed down the longest corridor, and said, “Door at the end of the hall. Knock first.”
Holden was tempted to remark on such hospitality, but decided to bite his tongue for once. Until he knew what was going on, it was best to save some bridges to burn.
The house was austere and yet expensively appointed, and very clean. He clearly had a cleaning service come in on a regular basis. Holden heard floorboards creak on the upper level and the stairs, and figured there were at least three other guys here, besides Big Mike and the Samoan. If shit went down here? He was totally doomed. Guaranteed.
He knocked on the heavy door at the end of the hall, and while he was waiting for a “come in” or something similar, the door simply opened with an electronic hum. Was there a bigger waste of money and energy than that?
Holden stepped inside what had to be the biggest straight man trying too hard man cave he’d ever been in. A flatscreen TV about the size of one of his apartment walls took up the left side of the room, where a first person shooter game was projected in mind numbing detail. There was a large brown leather couch with matching armchairs taking up the center of the room, with a couple of beanbags on the periphery, and a large, fully stocked bar on the right side wall. There was also a framed football jersey on the wall, and a display case with what must have been autographed baseballs and similar memorabilia. Holden’s diagnosis was either closet case or sheep who bought completely into the cultural myths of heterosexual manhood, but again, he kept that to himself.
Big Mike, slumped on the couch with a game controller in his hands, paused the game, and said, “Do you prefer Fox or Holden?”
“Fox is fine.” Funnily enough, he liked very few people calling him by his real name. He knew, if he was going to make a go of this whole private detective gig, he’d have to get used to it, but he wasn’t yet. It still seemed like an intimacy for a chosen few, like kissing or bottoming.
Big Mike gestured to the bar behind him. “Help yourself to a drink, Fox.”
“Thanks. Now what is this all about?”
Big Mike wasn’t called Big Mike because of his size, any more than he was called Fox because he was hot. Big Mike was about average sized, and a little overweight, but not grotesquely so. He was just a shlubby dude, and when you pictured a drug dealer in your mind, he was probably the last thing to come up. Right now he wasn’t in rich guy drag, just sweatpants and a Seahawks t-shirt, an amber glass of scotch on a side table beside the sofa. His hair was scraggly brown, like he got a perm but chickened out when it was half way done, and while he may have shaved earlier, he had a faint scruff of dark hair coming in around his soft cheeks and weak jaw. He was a bit baby faced, but in a way that was now more sad than attractive.
He was Big Mike because he had a large amount of territory and a large amount of slingers on his payroll. As a result, he also brought in the big bucks. Big Mike. Didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.
Holden helped himself to one of the clean glasses stacked beneath the bar, and found one of the most expensive bottles of gin he’d ever seen. He’d splashed in an indulgent amount before Big Mike replied to his question. “I’ve heard a lot of things about you, Fox. You’re a hustler and a fag, but you take care of your people. In fact, I’ve heard you’ve done more than take care. I hear some people who’ve run afoul of you have never been seen again. At least not alive. Curious, huh?”
Holden topped off his drink with a blast of seltzer, and said, “Very strange, but some people don’t like getting their ass kicked by a fag. And if you ever call me that again, breeder, I fucking walk.”
Big Mike chuckled and held up his hands. “Okay. See, that’s what I heard about you. You don’t take shit.”
“I don’t, so what shit is this?” Holden walked around to the armchair that faced Big Mike, but didn’t sit down, not yet. He did take a swallow of his gin, though. Funny thing? It didn’t taste any better than the cheaper gin he had at home.
Big Mike smirked. He knew a power move when he saw one. “I never thought I’d willing hire a f .. gay guy as an enforcer, but I suspect you’d be a really good one. You have the added benefit of muscle who doesn’t seem like muscle. No one’d see you comin’.”
“I’m not for hire,” he replied. Holden knew his look alone could give a lesser man frostbite. “We done here?”
Big Mike grimaced this time, and grabbed his glass. He was pointedly not looking at Holden. “No. That wasn’t really why I asked you to come here. I was just kinda fascinated by these bits and pieces about you. Don’t know any gay guys, but I did not expect the badass part.”
“Really? Don’t you know who I used to work for? Haven’t you ever seen The Wire?”
Big Mike shook his head, an answer to both questions. “McKichan was one of those cat people, wasn’t he? And a cop. I don’t trust cops, current or ex.”
Holden nodded. “I’m with you there.” Roan was the exception to rule, but of course he had earned that trust. And he held no ill will towards Karo (a/k/a vice cop Kevin Robinson), because he seemed to be genuinely good hearted. But those were, as far as Holden was concerned, the only decent cops he’d ever encountered. Generally they were little tin pot fascists, racist and sexist and homophobic as you’d expect. They were mostly rotten apples, with one or two good ones seeded throughout. But then again, he was a whore, and he knew cops felt the same way about them. They were natural enemies in the wild.
Mike finally looked at him. His eyes were the pale blue of hospital scrubs.“ You’re not a cop. You’re a private eye now, right? You guys got a privacy thing, don’t you?’
“Client confidentiality? Yeah, we do. Besides which, you’ve investigated me. You know I’m not a narc. If I was, I wouldn’t be talking to you now.” He slugged down the rest of the gin, and put the empty glass on the arm of the chair he still wasn’t sitting in. “So, maybe you can get to the point. You have people who can investigate things for you, so why am I here?”
Big Mike fixed him with a hard glare. “You realize who you’re talking to, yeah?”
Holden met him with a glare of his own. “You don’t impress me, and you don’t scare me. You have sixty seconds.”
Big Mike just stared back for a moment, then his expression cracked, and he laughed and clapped. “Balls of fucking steel, man. Wow. You may be the hardest guy I’ve ever met, and you’re fucking gay. How does that work?”
Holden couldn’t hold back his sneer. “This bullshit stereotype of gay guys being limp wristed pansies may work for you, but it has no correlation with real life. The bravest man I ever knew was gay, and oh yeah, a cat person. So shut your fucking face and get to the point. And drop this patronizing shit.”
To make it worse, Big Mike kept smiling. “The reports about you didn’t tell the whole story at all. Sure you don’t wanna job? I pay a lot better than the stuffed shirts you work for.”
“Thirty seconds.” The shame of it was, he probably did. And it was probably all cash under the table, so no taxable income. Man, he did miss the twilight world of all cash and no questions.
Finally, Big Mike’s shit eating grin crumbled. “Okay, fine. I need you to find something out for me.”
“And what could I find out that your team couldn’t?”
“Who I am.”
Holden ran that answer over in his mind, in the hopes that it would make sense upon further reflection. Nope. “What the shit? Is this some kinda new-found sexual awakening? What the hell are you saying?”
Big Mike took a slug from his scotch and put down his glass before he answered. “For a long time, I’ve had these memories that don’t make sense. And it just got to the point that … I tried to find my dad. Trace his steps, you know? But I couldn’t. I couldn’t find him or my supposed mom anywhere. I mean, I can find my school records and shit, but he’s a ghost, and it doesn’t make sense.”
Holden could feel a headache coming on, somewhere near the base of his frontal lobe. Was he speaking gibberish? Was there LSD in the gin? “Wait. Why the fuck don’t you just ask him? Your dad.”
“He’s dead. He’s been dead since I was seventeen.”
“Oh.” Yeah, that was a sensible explanation. “And your mother?”
“Supposedly she died when I was born, but I’ve found no actual sign of her existence. Just a couple of photos my dad said was her, but she could have been anyone.”
Holden still felt like this wasn’t making a ton of sense. He hated feeling off balance. “So … okay. You want me to find out if your dad was your dad?”
Big Mike nodded. “I think he kidnapped me from a genuine family. And raised me.”
Holden studied his face, to make sure he wasn’t having him on. If he was, it wasn’t visible. “Why would he do that? Men who kidnap kids usually do so for molestation purposes. They d –“
A shadow passed across Big Mike’s face, and suddenly it all clicked into place. “Oh. That’s why you didn’t want your guys looking into it.” There were a lot of idiots, even in this day and age, who thought getting molested as a kid turned you gay. Never mind that was idiotic and made no sense, a lot of people were hateful fucking idiots. And there were rivals of Big Mike’s, people after his territory, who might take his molestation as a sign of weakness. That’s why he asked about client confidentiality. It also brought something else home. “Your dad didn’t die a natural death, did he?”
Big Mike sat back, and picked up his glass once more. “Cops said it was a robbery gone wrong.”
“Did they? Was it quick?”
Big Mike met his eyes fearlessly. “It would never be slow enough.”
Holden nodded. “No, it wouldn’t. At least the fucker’s gone.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
“Absolutely not. You need to do what you can to survive. And if you hadn’t done it, I probably would have. So you just saved me some time.”
If it was a test, Holden had passed it. “I really need to bring you into my organization. I could use a guy like you.”
“And that’s what bothers me. No sale.” Holden finally sat down, although he only perched on the edge of the chair. “But how exactly am I supposed to find you? Do you have anything I can go on?”
He took another hit of scotch before abandoning the glass. “Maybe. Once I overheard him on the phone, talking to … well, hell if I know. But he said there was no way he could return to Missouri because of that thing in Hampton.”
“What thing in Hampton?”
Big Mike shrugged. “Got me. That’s what I’m paying you for.”
Holden rubbed his forehead, and wondered if rubbing your head ever made a headache go away. “Okay, to even attempt this, I’m gonna need a full dossier. Who your dad said he was, social security number, where you lived and when, what he said you date and place of birth was, family history – if he ever gave you any – photos of your mom –“
“Yeah, I figured as much,” he interrupted, reaching under the side table. He pulled out a Seahawks branded backpack, and tossed it to Holden.
It was heavier than Holden expected, so he zipped it open. There was a thick file contained by a rubber band, and stacks of cash held together with paper bands. A quick count put the amount at five thousand dollars. “If you need more money, you’re gonna hafta call me and tell me why,” Big Mike said. “I wrote my number on the front of the file. But I want ‘em all returned at the end of the case, okay?”
“We do have client confidentiality, you know.”
“Yeah, but you understand I can’t solely depend on that, right?”
Holden nodded. He did. In Big Mike’s line of work, unearned trust got you dead fast. The same was true of Holden’s previous profession. It was street code, no matter what strata you were on. Trust someone who hadn’t earned it and you might as well slit your own throat and get it fucking over with. And that was yet another reason why Big Mike had hired him. Holden knew the unspoken code, the one you couldn’t teach, the one you had to learn the hard way and survive.
Holden zipped the backpack closed and stood, shouldering the pack. “If I have further questions, I’ll call you. Or if you have an email address, we can do it that way.”
Big Mike shook his head. “Since you have to assume the NSA is monitoring every fucking thing, I don’t like the internet anymore. I don’t check it a lot, and I don’t discuss anything important online.”
Fair enough, and probably wise. If Holden was a bigger fish, he might be more a subject of interest, but he was just a former prostitute with a couple of low level porns under his belt. Nothing that made him worth the paperwork. Besides, the boys in blue seemed to be more interested in going after female hookers. It was probably that whole closeted/cooties thing again. Macho guys were so predictable. “I don’t suppose you deal painkillers, do you?” Holden asked. His supply was low. Last time Scott was over, he stole a couple from his emergency stash. Not that he blamed him – his body had been piebald with bruises. Playoff hockey was stupidly brutal.
Big Mike snickered. “No, I hate money. What’re you looking for?”
“Just a few Percocets, maybe some vike.”
Holden shook his head. “Not my scene.” Hillbilly heroin was just a bit too hardcore for him. He was an occasional drug abuser, not a habitual one.
“Half a dozen do ya?”
“Yeah, that’s great.”
Big Mike pulled a cell out of his hoodie pocket, and punched in a speed dial code. After a couple of seconds, someone answered. “Bring down six ps and six vs down to my study for my guest.”
As soon as Mike shoved the phone back in his pocket – and Holden couldn’t help but notice he turned it off – Holden said, “P and v?”
“Sometimes the obvious code is the best one.” Holden reached for his wallet, but Mike waved his hand. “Ain’t much. It’s on the house.”
“First one’s free, huh?”
Big Mike smirked at that. “Yeah, exactly.”
There was a knock on the door, and Big Mike responded by pressing the button on his tiny remote door opener. An absurdly skinny Japanese teenager with spiky black hair and a touch of eyeliner to go with his black rocker/goth clothes came in, holding a small, opaque baggie. He gave Holden a scrutinizing, evil glare as he handed the bag to his boss. Big Mike looked inside, checking the order, before tossing the baggie to Holden. “See our guest out, will you Jake?”
Jake seemd positively thrilled, but didn’t dare sneer around his boss. Holden tossed the baggie in the backpack, and was amazed at how young some of the slingers were. But why should he be? When he was working the street, some of them were as young as thirteen. There was no age limit.
Holden followed the boy, guessing he was probably eighteen. The Samoan was sitting on the sofa, drinking from a coffee cup and perusing a Sports Illustrated like he was waiting for the dentist. He gave him a curious look, but otherwise did nothing else. Holden figured Big Mike hadn’t told them who his “visitor” was or why he was there. And since he was the boss, they had to live with it, but they hated it. For some reason, Holden found this cheering.
Once he hit the sidewalk, the sun was out and the birds were chirping, and the house looked just like every other one on this overpriced, gentrified street. Holden smiled at the idea of him, a former male prostitute, walking down this clean, upscale suburban street, with a backpack full of cash, drugs, and a file on a murdered potential kidnapper.
That sounded like a Tarantino film just waiting to happen.