“Hey, Bowie. You’re a private detective, right?”
Riz Culmer had asked me the question as he closed the door behind us. A little guy with a voice
twice as big, he had swagger, tight muscles, and an eye patch that didn’t make me think of pirates or punchlines.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“Glad to hear. Heard you quit.”
“For about three days.”
Riz patted me on the shoulder and took a seat behind his
metal desk in his little office on the first floor of Kulang. This was the goth, punk, trip-hop club that had become my out-of- home office. A bass beat thumped into the room and I took in Riz’s surroundings: Clash posters clung to the walls like barna- cles, interwoven with dark frenzied graffiti highlighted by splashes of white and yellow characters that could never be read or interpreted. Subdued light came from a red desk lamp and mismatched floor lamps. It felt like a vandalized cave in the center of a dead factory.
“Yeah, it’s all about Strummer and the boys for me.”
I guess he’d caught me looking at the Clash shit and their all-important tune, “Know Your Rights” sprang into my head and stayed there. I couldn’t help but recall the image of Joe Strummer, the band’s former front man, missing a left eye on the painted wall outside, along with other punk and goth gods and goddesses minus arms, legs, and what have you.
“Know what Kulang means?”
I shook my head.
“Filipino for ‘incomplete.’” Riz tapped his eye patch.
“Doesn’t matter if it’s an appendage or whatever. We’re all missin’ something.”
“Lost mine in Iraq. Fuckin’ IED. Saw my buddy get blown to shit and my life fuckin’ changed.”
I could relate on a different kind of level but saying some- thing to a combat vet would make me come off like an insensi- tive asshole.
“My boy was a happy-go-lucky Jesus lovin’ guy who prayed for the world every goddamned day, and he exploded right in front of me. The atheist in our unit? Nothin’. Not a scratch. The rest of the squad got fucked up though.”
I could’ve pressed but didn’t. Wasn’t my right.
Riz started laughing. “So, I get home, and some woman sees me in my dress uniform and congratulates me for winnin’ a purple heart. Fuckin’ idiot.”
He motioned to a chair and I sat down. Leaned the chair back against the wall behind me. The room had to have been a closet once. Riz put his silver-tipped black cane in a stand and then unbuttoned the top of his rust-colored paisley shirt. He shook his head like he was casting off spider webs but his blond spiked hair didn’t move.
“There’s this guy with a missing son and he wants you to find him.”
This wasn’t my thing at all. I worked in the BDSM and gay communities. Anything child related wasn’t on my investigative menu.
“Somethin’ perfect for you, Bowie. The kid’s a leather queer with trouble for a shadow and his dad’s freaked out. He’s offerin’ up mad money.”
That was definitely within my realm, but I needed more intel. Queer had left his lips as if Riz was part of that world because he said it without inflection or sarcasm. But Riz was straight: ring on finger and picture of cute Middle Eastern wife on the desk with a baby in her arms. I doubt he was inclined towards dick diving. But his one working eye must’ve caught the squint of both of mine.
“Look. I’m a flip. ‘Fuckin’ little island people’ with English blood. I grew up with a pollock, chop, frog, ginzo, and a bunch of others. We didn’t give a shit, ya know? Same thing in the fuckin’ army. I ain’t no Nazi fuck or–”
“Else you wouldn’t love the Clash.”
“Damn straight, partner. So, what the hell are you, Bowie? That’s Scottish.”
“And Czech. With Norwegian and Maltese.” There was Turk and other bits of Mediterranean blood sprinkled in to make me more eclectic than the average white kid.
“Kilt commie mountain monkey malted shake.”
He smiled. I laughed. But I didn’t want to talk ancestry or his approach to political incorrectness. Not when someone’s missing. “So, this boy?”
“Yeah. Brenton Barrow. He’s seventeen or eighteen and bolted from the Poconos into N-Y-C to get strapped down and take it in the ass or somethin’.”
“If the guy’s eighteen, he can do whatever the hell he wants.”
“Hey, I don’t know the fag’s birthday. His dad jus’ wants to know where he’s at. Says he’s in a world of shit.”
I didn’t like this already and my gut told me to bail. Even if I had more information, I didn’t want it. There might be a major family issue I could get caught up in and I didn’t need to be stuck in the middle between a paying client and a son on the run with raging hormones. But I couldn’t stop probing.
“There’s a lot of private agencies that can handle this.”
Riz made a sour-lemon face and waved me off. “What? Hire a bunch of conservative dicks in suits to slip on leather chaps an’ shit and go to clubs? You know that won’t fuckin’ work. You’re the real deal, partner.”
I may have a boyfriend, but a very effeminate one. A young man who could pass for a woman as if his dress was gender camouflage. And no matter how much I loved Erin, his body, and his amazing cock, I felt uncomfortable amongst burly men at gay clubs. Real deal, my ass.
“Riz, I’ll pass.”
I got up and heard his drawer open. Then he tossed a thick envelope I caught against my chest.
“I wanted to keep that for myself.”
“You getting a finder’s fee?”
“I am now.” He smiled.
I peeked inside. Franklin after Franklin. At least ten-grand.
Then I saw a piece of paper with Brenton’s birth date, social security number, and cell number, along with contact informa- tion for his father, Roland Barrow. There was a picture too. A wallet sized shot of Brenton with long and curly dirty-blond rocker hair and a smartass smirk on his face. If trouble was his shadow, this kid probably liked it.
“Good news,” I said. “The kid became a man yesterday.” Riz scoffed. “If he’s still alive.”
Riz’s face hadn’t change. He wasn’t joking.
I said thanks and he gave me the three-fingered Boy Scout salute.
As I made my way towards the door, towards the pounding music, towards home with my girlfriend Penny, he asked, “What took you out of the detective game?”
I looked back. “I got three women killed.”
Riz sat unfazed. He pulled out a flask and took a heavy gulp. Offered it up to me but I shook my head. “What got you back in?”
“Another woman...if you can call her that. A red-headed asshole I thought had gotten away with murder.” Saying the words filled my chest. Made me feel like the Universe was on my side for a change.
“Good on you, partner.”
“I’ve got a lot of dead people to speak for.” “We all do, Bowie. We all do.”