Drunk On The Moon by Paul D. Brazill
It’s happened to most people at one time or another. Maybe after a birthday party or a fight with your wife. You wake up throbbing with gloom and aching with guilt. Memories of the previous night trample all over your thoughts with dirty feet. Nausea curdles away inside you. Your mouth’s like the bottom of a birdcage and Keith Moon is playing a drum solo in your head. You peel back your eyelids and shards of sunlight slice through the blinds. Your bedroom looks as if it’s been redecorated by blind winos.
You stagger to your feet and stumble into the migraine-bright bathroom to puke. You’re sweating, shaking, and pins and needles acupuncture your body. Your clothes are torn and covered in blood. And then the waves of dark memories come flooding back like a tsunami.
Like I say, it happens to most people every now and again. But to me it happens with regularity, every month. Three times a month, to be precise.
And it happened again last night.
The oil slick of night was melting into a granite grey day and dark, malignant clouds were spreading themselves across the morning sky as a battered yellow taxi with blacked-out windows spluttered to a halt in front of my apartment block. I pushed past an over-dressed Russian woman, who rushed towards it. She struggled to control a big, black umbrella, which fluttered and flapped like a big black bat trying to escape from her grip. Ignoring her protests, I grabbed the handle and opened the door.
I shuffled into the back seat of the cab as Duffy, the driver, blew his nose on a Santa Claus napkin and threw it out of the window. Duffy’s face was so acne-scarred it looked like a chewed up toffee apple and his spidery quiff was dyed black as ink. Not what you’d call a sight for sore eyes, then.
“Shitty, morning, eh, Roman?” said Duffy.
“I’ve had better,” I said, slumping against the car door.
Duffy struck a match on the “No Smoking” sign and lit up a Cuban cigar. He stuffed it in his mouth and hummed along to Mel Torme’s Gloomy Sunday.
“The Velvet Fog,” said Duffy, raising his bushy eyebrows.
I said nothing.
“Torme. His nickname used to be ‘The Velvet Fog’.”
I ignored him and stared out of the window as he started up the car and ran a red light.
At this time of day the streets were littered with the dregs of society. Bottom feeders. Lowlifes. The City was full of them these days.
“Twilight time,” said Duffy; his face was sweating, despite the fact that the cab was as cold as the grave.
“That’s what we used to call this time of day, ‘twilight time.’ You know, like the song?”
And then he was silent again, apart from his teeth grinding and the clicking sound that his jaw made.
The taxi snaked its way along the seafront, past pubs, greasy spoons, sex shops, and kebab shops, before stuttering to a full stop outside Duffy’s Bar. The rain fell down in sheets and the fading street lights shimmered, reflected in the taxi’s windscreen. Duffy got out, pulled up the metal shutters and opened up the bar.
As Duffy shuffled through the door, he switched on the lights and the Wurlitzer jukebox burst to life. Howling Wolf snarled out “I Ain’t Superstitious,” as I nestled on my usual bar stool, calmly contemplating the two fingers of Dark Valentine that Duffy had immediately placed in front of me. The ice cubes seemed to shimmer, glimmer and glow in the wan light. "Twilight time," indeed.
I briefly turned my gaze outside. The wet pavement reflected Duffy’s Bar’s flickering neon sign. Headlights cut through the heavy rain. A gangling scarecrow rushed past the window and burst through the door.
Tall, and with long black hair, Detective Ivan Walker flew in out of the storm like a murder of crows, bringing rain and a waft of golden leaves behind him. He wore a tattered long black raincoat which flapped in the breeze.
He took the stool next to me and put his badge and his Colt Anaconda on the bar. Duffy poured him a death black espresso.
“ ‘Twilight time’ again, Roman,” rasped Walker, in a voice like broken glass.
“So I heard,” I said.
Howlin’ Wolf ended and was replaced by Dusty Springfield.
“The White Negress,” said Duffy, looking up from his National Geographic. “That was her nickname. It wasn’t racist, though.”
He was a mine of information, he really was.
I took in Walker’s appearance. His face – almost angelic – was latticed with scars. On the side of his neck was a burn mark shaped like a pentangle. My hands were shaking and I slurped my whisky with all the enthusiasm of an ex-con in a bordello.
“Hair of the dog that bit you?” said Walker, as I poured myself another drink.
It was a tired old line, but not as tired as I felt. But then, two nights on the prowl will do that to you.
“You’re a funny man, Walker,” I said. “As funny as leprosy.”
“Tough couple of days, then?”
“It’s a dog’s life, eh?”
I ignored him, closed my eyes and let the booze wash over me.
“Did you boys hear about the murders last night?” Walker said, stretching his long arms and yawning.
“Can’t say I did,” said Duffy.
“Really?” said Walker. “It’s been all over the news.”
“Don’t follow the news,” said Duffy. “Depressing.”
“Oh, this is a good one, though. A couple of Ton Ton Philippe’s boys were sliced up and ripped to pieces outside The Pink Pussy Club. Blood and guts all over the place.”
Duffy and I ignored him but I knew Walker well enough to know that he wasn’t just here to chat.
“And?” I said, eyes still closed.
“Oh, no great loss to the world. Don’t get me wrong, these boys were scum. They work for that Haitian lunatic, for Christ’s sake. I mean, good riddance to them and a round of applause to whoever did it. Yeah, but we’ve still got to go through the motions and try to track down who did do it. Not that we have much to go on, although it looked to me like they were ripped apart by a pack of dogs. Maybe the even same ones that took out Ice-Pick Mick McKinley last month.”
I heard him rummage his pocket.
“We did get one possible lead. We found this in the remains of one of the chewed up hands that had been severed and hurled across the alley.”
I heard the metal scrape across the top of the bar and I knew what it was.
I opened my eyes.
Next to my whisky was a blood splattered badge. My detective’s badge.
“Let’s be careful out there, Officer Dalton,” said Walker, as he knocked back the coffee, patted me on the back and headed out of the bar.
“Bollocks,” said Duffy, drinking Dark Valentine straight from the bottle. “Ton Ton Philippe!” He shook his head. “You’re playing against the big boys now, Roman.”
As the White Negress sang "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten," I did the very same thing. Only I made it up to one hundred.
The City’s brilliant neon cast dense shadows that tried to mask its sordid secrets, but a stench still permeated the alleyways and the gutters and the bars. Of course the stink overpowered some people, smothered them. But not me. I just took a deep breath and sucked it in. Inhaled it deeply.
I’d worked as a cop in The City for twenty years; robbery, vice, homicide. But that all changed when I stumbled into what sounded like a typical drunken bar brawl and I ended up in the thick of something far, far from typical.
It was way past midnight and a full moon grasped the sky. I sat half-asleep in my car outside The Playhouse at the bottom of Banks’ Hill. I was on a stake-out looking out for Ice-Pick Mick McKinley, a rat-faced coke fiend who had told me that he had a wad of information on Ton Ton Philippe, the Haitian gangster whose control of The City was spreading like a cancer.
Suddenly, a sickly stew of screams and howls clung to the wind and drifted down to my car.
I got out of the car and slowly walked up the hill, my breath appearing in front of me like a spectre. The moonlight oozed across The City’s dank cobblestones like quicksilver; creeping between the cracks, crawling into the gutters.
As I got closer to Duffy’s Bar, I shivered, pulled my long black overcoat close to me, and carefully pushed open the large oak door.
Checking my pistol, I stepped into the bar.
The room was suffocating in red velvet and leather. Chandeliers hung from a mirrored ceiling and half-eaten corpses littered the concrete floor. And around them, feasting, were some sort of creatures – half-man, half-wolf.
Instinctively I fired off a round of bullets, but the creatures didn’t flinch. They just crawled towards me, snarling and growling.
Then I noticed Duffy on top of the oak bar, lighting a rag that he’d stuffed into a bottle of booze. He threw it at a Wurlitzer jukebox near the creatures and it exploded like a volcano.
The next few moments were a flash of fireworks and explosions. As the smoke subsided, the wolf creatures were in front of me. And then they pounced.
I awoke in an antiseptic stinking hospital, with Walker beside me eating grapes and playing Sudoku. He told me that after the explosion one of Duffy’s silver chandeliers had crashed down on my attackers, who had somehow struggled from under it and crawled away.
The corpses of three half-naked bikers were found in an alleyway by Walker and his boys the next morning. “Long-haired bearded weirdoes,” he said. “From out of town.”
Me? Well, they said I was lucky to be alive. “Ravaged” was the word they used. I was given long term sick leave to recover.
And so I embraced my sick leave as well as most chronic workaholic cops and filled my days and nights watching reality television, eating junk food and getting wasted on cheap whisky.
Until the end of the month, that is, when a full moon filled the autumn night like a big silver dollar. And then? Well, then, I just got drunk on the moon.
Days after the attack bled into weeks, which haemorrhaged into months, until the winter crept up and smothered the whisky coloured autumn days with darkness. Night after night, Duffy’s flickering neon sign dragged me back like an umbilical cord. Or maybe a noose.
It was early one Sunday evening, the next full moon was a week away, and Duffy’s Bar was stuffed with ne’er-do-wells and ragamuffins in various states of inebriation. Duffy’s new Wurlitzer jukebox played an old Johnny Layton song and I was in my pots, watching a spectral spiral of smoke drift up from the ashtray towards the big silver star that hung above the bar all year round.
A gust of wind blew the door open and Duffy retreated to the shadows. Outside, a sharp sliver of moon garrotted the coal black sky. A tall woman, her long hair as black as a raven’s wings, drifted across the road, oblivious to the mob of traffic. Duffy licked his lips and his eyes glittered and glowed with each car’s near miss.
Almost as if on cue, the night was suddenly filled with the crackle of exploding fireworks and Daria almost floated into the bar, the throng parting for her. She stood before me looking like a long drink of water crying out to a thirsty man and a stiletto chill sliced through me. Her eyes glowed bright emerald green and then faded to black as she smiled, a slash of red lipstick across her full lips.
“Detective Dalton,” she said, in a voice as dark and thick as the smoke from a French cigarette.
“That’s ex-Detective Dalton,” I slurred. “I’m retired, now. A full-fledged member of the self-employed community.”
The words tripped over themselves as they tumbled out of my mouth. I handed Daria a business card. I had hundreds of them. Since Duffy convinced me to become a private eye I’d had the grand total of one client.
“Can I get you a drink?” I said.
“The night is young, Detective Dalton,” she said, as she walked through the ace of spades archway and stepped up onto a small chiaroscuro-lit stage. “Even if you are not!”
She chuckled as two massive, bald men with bullet-hole eyes appeared out of the shadows and helped her with her long black raincoat. They moved a drum kit, a double bass and an old RKO Radio microphone onto the stage as Daria languorously smoked a black cigarette.
I turned back toward Duffy, his head in a worn copy of National Geographic.
“How was last night?” I asked.
“The fancy dress party? It wasn’t exactly a flop,” said Duffy, without looking up from his magazine. “It was just that everyone came as a table and chairs.”
I smiled weakly, tried to think of a witty reply, gave up and lit another cigarette.
“Another DV?” said Duffy
I shrugged and nodded at the same time. No mean feat, the state I was in. He poured me another drink and pulled the plug on the jukebox. I turned towards the stage as Daria’s laugh filled the room again. There was silence. And then she started to sing.
The sweat trickled down the back of my neck like an insect, as the drumsticks scuttled across the drums and the bass player’s fingers snaked down the fret board. I shivered as Daria whispered a torch song as if it was her dying breath, and sparked the embers of a dream.
I quickly downed my drink, ordered another one and headed toward oblivion like dishwater down a plughole.
The winter moon hung fat and gibbous as I tore Long Tom Short’s head from his shoulders and hurled it across the snow-smothered ground. The splashes of blood looked black in the stark moonlight. A murder of crows scattered and sliced through the whiteness, as the purr of an approaching Mercedes grew to a roar and melded with my howls.
The black car screeched to a stop in a nearby alleyway, outside the former church that had been converted into The Pink Pussy nightclub. The driver got out, pointing a Colt Anaconda. Dressed in a long black overcoat and wearing a wide-brimmed hat, he looked like a shadow as he cut through the deserted car park. I growled as he approached, struggling, as always, to control my wolf-self.
“Down, Rover,” said Ivan Walker as he looked around at the six or seven dead bodies spread around the car park.
“You have been a busy boy tonight, Dalton,” he rasped, his voice like sandpaper. “Ton Ton Philippe will have to recruit a new crew if you keep wasting his boys like this. Either that or he’ll corpse you.”
He scratched the pentangle-shaped scar on his neck with the barrel of his gun.
Snow began to fall like confetti. Walker took Long Tom by the ankles and hauled the gargoyle’s massive corpse towards the dark and dingy alley, leaving a snaking trail of blood behind him. I sniffed the smell of death and my heart beat like a drum. My craving for flesh and blood increasing.
Walker pulled Long Tom Short up to the car, illuminated by the light from a stained glass window, and opened the boot. He hauled the cadaver inside and slammed the lid shut.
I could almost taste the warm flesh. The red splashes were spreading like a Rorschach test before my eyes. The bloodlust was no longer possible to control. I leapt toward Walker and gave a cavernous roar as he dropped to his knees, pointed the gun and fired it straight into my heart.
I slammed into the back of the car and crumpled to the ground. Walker rose to his feet and stood over me, smoking a cigar, the smoke rings floating above his head like a halo or a crown of thorns. Behind him I saw the shape of a tall, dark-haired woman in the corner of the alleyway. Her eyes glowed emerald green and then faded to black.
And then the sea of sleep enfolded me.
Dark dreams lapped at the shore of my sleep until I awoke, drowning in sweat. My eyes adjusted to the light. The digital clock beside my bed said that it was midday. I was naked on my bed, the black sheets ripped to shreds, and I was dashed with cuts and bruises.
Above my heart were three small punctures. Walker was a crack shot and the darts, filled with traces of silver, were just enough to knock me out for the count without actually killing me.
I showered and dressed in black jeans and a black roll-neck sweater. It was cold and I sat at the Formica table near the rasping radiator, sipping strong black coffee and nibbling on a piece of burnt toast. I clicked on my Bakelite radio and listened to a George Jones song while I tried to read To Have and Have Not. It was no good. Once again, my concentration was shot to pieces. I pulled on my Doc Marten boots, picked up my overcoat and headed off to Duffy’s.
The thing is, I didn’t particularly care whether she was lying to me or telling me the truth, since most of what I’d told her had been dug up from some murky hinterland somewhere on the outskirts of honesty. It was like a hunt and it didn’t seem to matter who was the hunter and who was the game.
“So, will you do it?” said Daria, sipping her glass of absinthe. She leaned close to me so she could hear my reply. The Frog Boys were slamming coins into the jukebox, playing non-stop ’70s British punk rock far too loud, but I was in no condition to tell them to change their tune. The Frog Boys weren’t the understanding type.
If Ton Ton Philippe had one rival in The City, then Count Otto Rhino was that man. The Frog Boys were Rhino’s seemingly invincible front line troops. All of them were well over six foot tall, with arms like tree trunks, and dressed in military fatigues.
“Well?” said Daria.
Her perfume was a poison that I couldn’t resist. I shrugged, knowing full well that I would dance to any tune she sang.
A glass shattered in the corner of the room. I ignored it.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, “I’ll just turn up at The Pink Pussy and grab your kid sister out of there. I’m sure Ton Ton Philippe won’t mind. I mean, Haitian voodoo priests are renowned for their easy going manner. Especially the ones that run most of The City’s underworld.”
“And don’t forget his army of zombie henchmen,” she said, her eyes flashing crimson.
“Oh, yeah. Mustn’t forget them.”
“So? You’re in?”
“Maybe. It’ll cost you, though.”
“Oh, I can pay, Detective. I’m good for it.”
“Then I’m in,” I said. “Like Errol Flynn.”
Daria leaned back on her bar stool and smiled. “Another round of drinks,” she said to Duffy.
Duffy picked up a bottle of absinthe and placed it between us on the bar. Suddenly, the bar stool shook. Two or three of The Frog Boys were slam-dancing and singing – well, screaming – about being Cranked Up Really High. And they surely were. Just as Duffy poured our drinks, one of the behemoths splayed into me, spilling the violent green liquid across the bar.
I turned to him and glared.
“Asshole!” I yelled, without thinking.
“What did you call me?” said the giant.
Before I could answer he had me by the throat with one gigantic paw and was wrenching me off the bar stool with ease.
I was helpless. I could see Duffy’s fingers creeping towards the shotgun that was hidden under the bar, but before he could get near it, the jukebox stopped and there was silence. Then, the wisp of a melody. It was soft but it slowly grew louder. Daria was singing and patting the giant on his arm, her eyes glowing green.
“No, Duke,” she said.
Suddenly, he started to sob and dropped me back in my seat. Daria stroked his cheek.
“Go play nice, Duke,” she said.
“Yes, Miss Daria,” said the sniffling Duke. “Sorry.”
And he walked back to the rest of The Frog Boys who all sat around the table, heads in hands. The jukebox clicked back to life. Miles Davis played a warm melody. And no one complained.
The Pink Pussy was usually crammed full of the sort of people that give pond life a bad name. Politicians, senior police officers, lawyers, actors. The DJ, Fritz Neuman, was a gaunt, pallid man who looked as if he’d been dead for a decade and no one had bothered to tell him. Each night he played something with a pounding, deafening bass.
The dance floor would be cramped with hot and sweaty bodies. On the stage, partially clad young women slid around like spaghetti on an alcoholic’s plate.
But in the afternoons the place was half-empty. The flotsam and jetsam of life were scattered around the place, drinking, sleeping. I almost felt at home.
I sat at the bar and glanced at my watch. Like with so many things, the secret of tonight's success would be timing.
“Drink?” said the tattooed greaser behind the bar.
“Dark Valentine,” I said.
“This isn’t no flop house,” he said.
“Bourbon, then,” I said.
I picked up my drink and headed toward a darkened corner. Toward Ton Ton Philippe.
Small, with a red Mohawk and an eyepatch, Philippe sat on a golden throne near the stage, a smirk crawling across his face. Snakes twisted around his arms, hissing violently. A teenage girl was curled up in his lap like a Persian cat.
“Detective Dalton,” he said, nodding.
I didn’t correct him. Maybe Ton Ton thinking I was still a cop would have its uses.
“What can I do for you?”
“Her,” I said, nodding toward the squirming little blonde. “I’m here to take her home.”
“Ah, I’m afraid this little, fresh piece of chicken is reserved for a special customer. And what the Lao want, the Lao get. You can purchase any number of exotic delights, but this one is reserved.”
I had no idea what the Lao was, but I was used to getting my way. There was a beat as we locked eyes and then I whipped out my gun.
“I’m not buying,” I said, “I’m taking.” And I pulled her towards me.
Philippe’s laugh echoed around the place. And then they appeared. Three of them. Behemoths. Torn and ragged flesh. Glassy eyes. Zombies? Maybe? It certainly seemed as if the rumours were true. But before I could contemplate this any further, they stepped toward me and I fell into a well of blackness.
Ton Ton Philippe’s office was warm. Stiflingly so. Claustrophobic. I was strapped to a metal chair, like an insect trapped in amber. A parrot screeched in the corner of the room.
“Now, what do we do with you?” said Philippe. “I think that eradicating an officer of the law may give me more problems than I need, but...”
I was barely listening to him. Not stressed at all. I could feel the itch crawling across my flesh. It wouldn’t be long now. Outside the window, a milky moon filled the inky sky. I changed.
It was a blur of crimson. Of howls and screams.
The zombies were soon ripped to shreds, but Ton Ton Philippe was gone in a wisp of smoke. The girl was like a rag doll as I picked her up and smashed through the window into the bitter cold night air.
“Thanks, Detective,” said Daria. “You did a damned good job.”
We sat at a rickety table in a deserted Duffy’s. She had the blonde on her knee and I saw that they didn’t look a lot like sisters. Or kiss like sisters, either. I’d been taken for a ride. A one-way ticket on a runaway train. My flesh prickled. My bones ached. I didn’t even care.
Daria stood, a couple of The Frog Boys beside her.
“Back home to Daddy, sweetie,” she said to the blonde, who stumbled to her feet, a smirk on her face. They headed outside and got into a dark green stretch limo with a crest on the side. The crest of Count Otto Rhino.
I looked down at the cash filled envelope that Daria had given me. Stuffed with more green leaves than you’d find in a cabbage patch. I’d made some money. And an enemy of Ton Ton Philippe. Not a bad night’s work, all in all.
“DV?” said Duffy, tearing up a beer mat.
“Naw, today I need a kiss from la fée verte, the green fairy. Give me a shot of absinthe,” I said, as I walked toward the bar. “I’ve heard it makes the heart grow fonder.”