Looking Back Through the Mists of Time

If you’ve read The Invisible Crown and stuck around to read the Acknowledgements page, you might’ve noticed I talked about the long gestational period the story went through.  While I can no longer find the notebook I wrote the original story in way back in the summer of 2002, I did find a file on Dropbox the other day labeled “Hazzard 1 Rewrite.”  It is exactly what it sounds like – a new draft of the original story, written after the version created for the Writing Group in 2004-2005.  I was working to refine the thing, but this particular draft was abandoned about two pages in for some reason.  I thought it might be fun to share this nigh-ancient version of part of the first chapter.  For me, it’s fun because I get to see how much of the characters and setting were solidly in place from the very beginning,  and how much Eddie Hazzard has changed over time (he used to be an even bigger asshole, if you can imagine that).  Also, apparently I thought “Stoover” was an acceptable character name.

Please don’t hold any terrible prose or awful character choices against me.  This is over a decade old; when this was written, I was still an unmarried twit back then.

* * *

It was too early in the morning for me to be at work.  That is to say, it was still morning.  I generally prefer waiting until well after noon to start my day, and today especially should have been one of those days.  I was nursing a hangover, the sort that would kill a lesser man.

They say the best way to deal with a hangover is to have a drink of whatever you got drunk on.  I got out of my chair and walked over to a file cabinet.  The top drawer was labeled “Hard Evidence,” and the bottom was labeled “Hard Stuff.”  I went for the latter, pulled out a bottle that should have had a skull and crossbones on the label, and took a pull straight from the bottle.  My head cleared, and I staggered back to my worn-out chair, ready for a nap.

The sign on my frosted-glass door reads: “Eddie Hazzard, Hard Boiled Detective.”  Currently I’m not only hard boiled, but slightly pickled.  Such culinary feats are not my concern, though.  My concerns are normally 5’7”, red-headed, and sultry.  And at 11:00 AM this particular morning, one hell of a concern slinked into my office and fought my faithful bottle for attention.  She won.  Dames usually do.  Granted, the dames are usually what drive me to the bottle in the first place.

She slammed the door behind her, which brought me back to the land of the conscious.  I dropped the bottle, which rolled across the floor and came to a rest against her black high heel.  “A little early to be hitting the sauce, isn’t it, Detective Hazzard?” she asked in a clipped, much too precise way.

“Hey, it’s lunchtime somewhere in the world, lady,” I replied blearily.

“Are you the so-called ‘hard-boiled detective’ of this…establishment?” she asked.  She looked around my bare, shabby office for a place to sit that wasn’t covered in stacks of overdue bills, old coffee cups, or unidentifiable stains of questionable origins.  She gave up and just stood.

“Lady, I’m hard boiled, soft boiled, scrambled—I do all sorts of detecting.”  She frowned a little at me—women do that way too much—and said she had a case for me, if I was interested.  My body said “no,” but my bill collectors said “yes,” so I asked her what the case was.

“My name is Vera Stoover.  My husband, Wally, has disappeared.”

“That’s a real shame, lady,” I said, digging a cigarette out of the pack and lighting it up.

“Yes, well, he was scheduled to testify against some…gentlemen of questionable virtue in court next week, but he disappeared on his way to a safehouse.”

“So you think these guys grabbed him, huh?”

“I’m certain he’s been abducted by those men, Detective Hazzard,” she said in a low voice.  Her bosom moved in a way that I was sure was illegal in most states.  “Will you please find him for me?  I’ll pay you handsomely.”  She pouted, her full bottom lip protruding obscenely.  I couldn’t tell if she was doing this on purpose or was really just that sort of classic noir bombshell.  I decided I didn’t care.

I told her I didn’t care if the money was pretty or ugly, just so long as it was real.  She handed me a photograph of a skinny, sallow-checked man in an expensive suit and a hat that went out of style back in the 1940s.  “This is Wally,” she said.  “As you can see, there’s not much too him.  I fear he may be injured…or worse.”   She reached into her bag and pulled out a slip of paper with two names: Guido and Billy Sunshine.  I’d heard of them before; they were definitely bad news.  Then she pulled out a roll of twenties and handed it to me.

“I’m very thankful for your help, Detective Hazzard,” she said.  “This is a small advance for your services.”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Stoover, I’ll find your husband,” I said, mustering as much confidence as I could manage.  She smiled weakly and slunk back out of my office, and the view drug me out of my alcohol haze long enough to wonder if I’d maybe made a bad mistake.  I retrieved my bottle and took another pull.  Times like these made me wish I’d listened to my mother and played in traffic when I was a kid.

* * *

My first stop in my search was the corner of 4th and Shirley Temple Avenue, locally known as “No!  Not my knee!”  It was the favored hangout of unemployed bodyguards, thugs, and hired goons.  These were the kind of grunts who made a living teaching anyone who got too close or asked the wrong questions a “lesson.”  Ironic, really, considering most of them had the educational equivalent of flunking kindergarten.  Granted, a lesson taught by one of these simpletons wasn’t one you’d forget in a hurry.  It was a very blunt education.  Or occasionally sharp, if they put a nail in the stick or used a knife.

They spent most of their free time doing pretty much the same stuff they did when they were employed, only without the guidance, direction, or discipline of working for a mob boss.  Folks tended to stay as far away from this area as possible; yet here I was, walking right into it.  Sometimes, the hero has to do brave but stupid things.  Or he might just be completely stupid.  You never can tell.

I had a certain thug in mind, a gorilla of a man named Vinny.  Vinny didn’t have the intelligence of a gorilla, mind you—no, an ape has a few more braincells banging around in their skulls than Vinny does—but he was the approximate shape and size of one and had about as much hair on his body.  Vinny stood about 6’8” and weighed 350 pounds.  He sort of stooped over, and you almost expected to see his hairy knuckles drag the ground.  He had a slopping forehead, thick eyebrow (there was only one, of course), and tiny, beady eyes.  In a word, Neanderthal.  Not that he’d understand the word.  They called him Vinny the Pooh, because most of the people he paid a visit to were prone to crapping themselves whenever they saw him.

I found Vinny standing in the mouth of a small side alley, blocking daylight for the poor sap he had cornered.  “Th’ Boss wants yer to pay up by t’morrow, or else.”  Most people said “or else” with an implied ellipsis at the end of it, as though the worst part of the threat was that you didn’t know what would come next.  But with Vinny, it was obvious what was to come: a beating so severe your grandmother would feel it.  He didn’t have to threaten; he merely promised great pain if his demands weren’t met to the letter.  It was amazing how often the poorest of men somehow managed to scrape together a loan payment after a visit from Vinny.

Vinny shuffled aside with all the speed and grace of continental drift and the guy scurried out of the alleyway as fast as his rubbery legs would carry him.  Vinny’s piggy eyes followed his fleeing prey but got distracted when I stepped into view.

“Whudda you want?” he asked in his gravelly drawl.

“I need to see your boss, Vinny,” I said, trying my best to keep my knees from knocking.  The trick with guys like Vinny was to never show them fear and hint that you would bleed much too easily to make it worth their bother hitting you.  It’s a delicate balance to say the least.

Vinny took a minute to process my request, his brow furrowing like plowed field.  Then he finally said, “Tuba no wanna talk witchu.  He still ain’t happy ‘bout whatchu done to Four Eyes.”  He meant Four Eyes Malone, the Tuba’s accountant.  I’d sent Malone up the river for a sum in the federal pen a few months ago.  It was rumored that Malone’s incarceration ended up costing the Tuba millions of dollars in missed opportunities and poor interim bookkeeping.

“Look, Vinny, let’s let bygones be bygones,” I said, smiling.  When his brow furrowed in concentration and confusion again, I said, “Hey, let’s forget the past.  I’m sorry about Four Eyes, and I really need to talk to the Tuba.  Where is he?”

Vinny stood there for a moment, then finally rumbled, “He’s at the Speakeasy on 8th Street.”

“The Speakeasy?” I asked.

“Yuh, that,” Vinny the Pooh said, then shambled off to find something else to beat up.

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