Alan Rickman: Prince of Villains . . . and Gentle Heroes.
Here at Apropos of Nothing, it is once again our sad duty to report the recent death of a most notable artist and entertainer in the month of January, 2016. The year, there is no doubt, is off to a very bad start. On December 31th, the last day of 2015, we sadly lost actor Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H* fame. Shortly after that, the great British rocker, David Bowie. And latest, the passing of the multi-talented and much beloved actor Alan Rickman.
Mr. Rickman will perhaps always be best known and well-remembered for his wonderful portrayal of the dark and enigmatic Professor Severnus Snape in the Harry Potter films. No villain ever sneered with utter distain better than the good professor.
It was just one of many unforgettable roles.
Mr. Rickman was born Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman, February 21, 1946 in London, England. He also passed in London, January 14, 2016, after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He had suffered a minor stoke in August, and was diagnosed at that time. Mr. Rickman chose to keep his illness confidential and private from all but his closet friends and family, all of whom surrounded him in his final hours.
Soon after his passing, his fans created a makeshift memorial underneath the “Platform 9 and ¾” sign at the London’s King’s Cross railway station. In the marvelous J. K. Rowling Harry Potter books, this marked the entranceway to a world of magic, mystery, Intrigue, fantasy, and imagination.
And a wonderful world it was indeed.
Mr. Rickman played Snape to a Fare-thee-well.
Harry Potter co-star Emma Watson complained (tongue firmly in cheek) that although Mr. Rickman was a wonderfully kind and gentle man, he scared her considerably when he was in the character of Professor Snape. She said she just thoroughly loved him when he wasn’t “Snaping around.”
He scared us all just a little bit with that eerie role—and with his “snake-venom” dripping voice. Two researchers, a linguist and a sound engineer, found the perfect male voice to be a combination of Alan Rickman’s and Jeremy Iron’s voices, based on a sample of fifty voices. They might have tried five-hundred more and came to the same conclusion. It was after all, a perfect, and unique “one of a kind” menacing voice.
Rickman was chosen by Empire as one of the one-hundred Sexiest Stars in film history (No. 34) in 1995, and ranked No. 59 in Empire’s “The Top 100 Movie Starsof All Time” list in October of 1997. In 2009 and 2010, Rickman ranked once again as one of the one-hundred Sexiest Stars by Empire, both times placing No. 8 out of the fifty actors chosen. Rickman was elected to the Council of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 1993; he was subsequently RADA’s Vice-Chairman and a member of its Artistic Advisory and Training committees and Development Board. He was also voted No. 19 in Empire magazine’s Greatest Living Movie Star over the age of fifty.
In short—he made quite an impact. And without any doubt what-so-ever, Alan Rickman was probably the best actor of all time to have never received an Academy Award nomination.
Sometimes the Academy gets it right—and sometimes it doesn’t.
His roles were many, and varied. Who could forget his deliciously villainous turns as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, or Rasputin in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny, which won him a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Or Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd: The DemonBarber of Fleet Street. How about as Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1995) or Elliot Marsten in Quigley Down Under (1991). In that one he was part of what was arguably the best ending ever to a movie gunfight.
If you haven’t seen it—rent it.
(A gunfight scene teaser from Quigley Down Under)
Rickman’s softer and gentler side came out as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility (1995) or the once again extremely enigmatic Alex in the much awarded Snow Cake (2006). His last completed role, due out in movie theaters in the summer of 2016, was as the voice of Absolem, the blue caterpillar, in Alice Through the Looking Glass.
The list could go on and on, but is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say—Mr. Rickman knew what to do in front of a camera, and was one of the best actors of all time. His presence will be very sorely missed on the silver screen for many long years to come.
Bon Voyage, Mr. Rickman. We wish you well in your new adventures and latest venues. Thanks for all the good times, the great movies, and the memorable nightmares.
It was a terrific journey, and we enjoyed travelling every inch of it in your company.
Thanks so much for reading. We’ll seen you again in a few. Until then . . . Goodnight!
He was born David Robert Jones, January 8th, 1947, and in an age of somewhat outrageous and over-the-top rock artists and groups, he was, well—just a little different. He was, in fact, unique. And he carried that uniqueness to his grave, passing just a few days ago, just two days into his sixty-ninth year on the planet.
He was a figure in popular music for over five decades, and was considered an innovator, especially for his most prolific and productive decades of the seventies and eighties. Singer, songwriter, record producer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, painter, and actor. His was to be a career of reinvention, musical innovation and visual presentation.
Amazingly, he did them all well—a jack of all trades, and a master of all of them.
Born in south London, Bowie seemed to develop a love and talent for music almost before he could walk. Later, in school, he studied art, music and design and became fluent on the saxophone. He formed his first band at the age of fifteen, and began his professional musical career in 1963.
David Bowie and his flamboyant and androgynous character Ziggy Stardust were to become almost interchangeable, and Ziggy was only the tip of an innovative iceberg yet to come. He taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images and personas.
Mr. Bowie wrote songs about being what he essentially was—an outsider. A misfit, a sexual adventurer, and a faraway astronaut. A little bit of rock, a little bit of jazz, and of course—served with a twist of cabaret.
As hard to hold as “a moonbeam in your hand,” Mr. Bowie had us all on for years with his hints of bi-sexuality and forbidden affairs. In the end, he admitted the joke and claimed it was the biggest mistake of his career. His exact words were; “I’ve always been a closet heterosexual.” His many unions with some of the most beautiful women of his day bore silent testament to that.
David Bowie was also an excellent actor of repute. His roles included The ManWho Fell to Earth (1976), Labyrinth (1986), a small but well-remembered turn as Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) along with many other films and television appearances.
He even sang a Christmas duet with a dying Bing Crosby—and the audience loved it.
Bowie’s impact, as described by biographer David Buckley, “challenged the core belief of the rock music of his day.” Music reviewer Brad Filicky wrote that over five decades, Bowie was “a musical chameleon, changing and dictating trends as much as he has altered his style to fit, influencing fashion and pop culture.”
Over his long career, he was estimated to have sold well over 140 million albums worldwide, and in the United States received five Platinum and seven Gold albums and singles. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mr. Bowie, you were unforgettable, and one of the very best, and we’re going to miss you.
Run for the shadows, Mr. Bowie. And the light. Thanks for all the great music, movie roles, and memories.
And most of all—thank you for the golden years.
Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel Come get up my baby Look at that sky, life’s begun Nights are warm and the days are young Come get up my baby
There’s my baby, lost that’s all Once I’m begging you save her little soul Golden years, gold whop whop whop Come get up my baby
Last night they loved you, opening doors and pulling some strings, angel Come get up my baby In walked luck and you looked in time Never look back, walk tall, act fine Come get up my baby
I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold Golden years, gold whop whop whop Come get up my baby
Some of these days, and it won’t be long Gonna drive back down where you once belonged In the back of a dream car twenty foot long Don’t cry my sweet, don’t break my heart Doing all right, but you gotta get smart Wish upon, wish upon, day upon day, I believe oh Lord I believe all the way Come get up my baby
Run for the shadows, run for the shadows Run for the shadows in these golden years
There’s my baby, lost that’s all Once I’m begging you save her little soul Golden years, gold whop whop whop Come get up my baby
Don’t let me hear you say life’s taking you nowhere, angel Come get up my baby Run for the shadows, run for the shadows Run for the shadows in these golden years
I’ll stick with you baby for a thousand years Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years, gold
Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop Golden years, gold whop whop whop
Brick settled once again into the rather large, overstuffed, and very comfortable recliner in the bedroom with his refreshed cup of coffee. He didn’t put his feet up. Wasn’t much like Brick to ever get himself backed into a corner. Or to not have the ability to move fast either.
The Kid sat on the side of the bed without refreshment. He didn’t drink the stuff, either coffee or alcohol—perhaps a holdover from the training days of his youth. Amazingly for a man of his sixty-six years, the Kid appeared still quite youthful and supple, despite his gray and thinning hair. He may have complained about his stiff joints and knuckles, but I for damned sure was a guy that didn’t want to get in the way of those mitts. I had recently seen first-hand, the awesome finality with which the Kid could still knock a young guy on his proverbial ass.
Once again, Brick stared at me without speaking. His brilliant blue eyes shown as usual—like a spotlight. This time, they were also ringed with just a bit of moisture. I knew that what he was about to tell me was not going to come easy.
Finally, he opened his mouth to speak.
“I was a ‘hot-shot’ cop back in 2001, Johnny. Brand, shiny new. So full of myself and my ‘abilities,’ it was a wonder I could take a crap without the help of a good strong laxative. Didn’t matter to me that I was a cop in a little jerk-water stop like Deadwood either. I was just beginning. Deadwood was going to be my training ground. I had nothing in front of me but smooth sailing and a big fat future. But like they say, life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Anyhow, that’s how the day started out. By the time it was over, I was finished. I would never wear a policeman’s badge again—until I took this job.”
“So you are a cop then,” I said.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“We’re supposed to be partners, Brick. Don’t you think I deserve a little more detail than that?”
The remark hung in the air like an old fart. Finally I broke the silence with the most inane reply I could think of.
“You’re not Jewish.”
“Don’t have to be, Johnny. Just have to be willing to fight—and die, for them.”
“Do they give you a magic de-coder ring and everything, Brick?”
“Cute, Johnny. But the answer is no. All you get is a small paycheck to go along with the rather large target painted on the middle of your back.”
“That’s how you got the bullet from Moradi.”
“Correct. He was operating in the Middle-East at the time.”
“Damned long way from Deadwood to Israel,” I observed.
“There’s a bit more to it than that, Johnny. After Deadwood, I kind of hit the skids for a while. While I was playing my ‘lush in the gutter’ routine, I met a cop. It was in Reno, Nevada. As it turned out, he was a Jewish cop.”
“What was a Jewish cop doing in Reno?” I asked.
“Same as me, Johnny. Trying to make a living.”
“What were you doing for a living, Brick?”
“Robbing liquor stores.”
“You are a man of many talents.”
“You could say so.”
“So you got busted?”
“Yes—by the Jewish cop.”
“Then what? Convicted felons don’t usually get hired on by the police—or Mossad either for that matter.”
“The Jewish cop—Officer Stanley Kaplan, to be exact, saw something in me, Johnny. Something I didn’t even see in myself. Instead of taking me to the Station, he took me home with him. Paid for the booze I had stolen. Gave me a sofa to sleep on, three good meals a day, a hot shower and clean clothes—and a choice.”
“To be a man—or just another crime statistic with a cheap grave marker out in Potter’s field.”
“Inspiring. I’m really glad too, Brick, that you made the right choice.”
“Thanks, Johnny. After I got cleaned and straightened back up, Stan was also the guy that put me onto Mossad. I ended up spending over three years in the Middle-East and paying my dues before I came back to the States.”
“What made Kaplan think you were Mossad material?”
“Because I showed him what I could do.”
“What I saw on Nevada Street.”
“That’s right, Johnny.”
“What was that anyway, Brick?”
“That was what my grandfather taught me back when I was a kid. I never knew my father. He died in a car wreck when I was a baby. I was raised by my mother and granddad. He was a pretty good fighter—after all, he had been trained by his father before him.”
“Who was that, Brick?”
“The man sitting just to your left—Kid McCoy.”
“Right. My mother’s father’s father.”
“The very same gentleman that was ‘displaced’ by Roan McCabe.”
“Right, Johnny. That little event gave the Kid some unique abilities.”
“Yeah, Brick. I know a man with those same abilities. His name is Matt McCabe. The son of Roan, and a man that knows how to lag a bit before or behind in time.”
“Right, Johnny. Pretty useful information to have if you want to avoid getting hit—or shot for that matter either.”
The Kid spoke-up. “It was my edge, Johnny. It’s how I won all those fights. It’s how I won the Championship.”
“Yes—I suppose you could say so. But I never had any other jobs skills. And poverty didn’t really agree with me very much.”
I tried to sort it out in my mind. “But you aren’t displaced?” I said to Brick.
“No, I’m not. And I don’t time travel either. What I was taught was basically a mind trick. Most everybody has the ability, with training. That’s how Matt learned. Roan and Aedan taught him. All the damned watch ever did was to focus its owner’s mind. The McCabes just seem to be naturally good at it. The Kid too. Now you are as well.”
“Depends on how you look at it, Johnny.”
“I once told Matt the watch was either a blessing or a curse,” I said.
“You wanted in Johnny, and don’t tell me you never considered the risks. You saw Matt and you knew what the watch had done to him. Still, you didn’t back away like a sensible man would have. No one that has ever come in contact with the Devil’s timepiece has come away unscathed. You’ve got a lot of Irish luck in you, but it was no match for the watch. It’s got you too now—just the same as him. Just in a little different way.”
I knew it was true, but I wanted no part of going there right at the moment.
“What happened in Deadwood?” I asked.
“I killed a woman.”
“By accident. Didn’t matter. She was just as dead as if I had done it on purpose.”
The Kid spoke up. “I killed a woman too, Johnny. I did it intentionally.”
“So this quaint little trait runs in the family?”
“Something like that, Johnny,” the Kid said. “The woman I killed was my wife. My last wife, as it turned out.”
“How many did you have anyhow, Kid?”
“Eight. But one of the eight I married three times.”
I was never much good at mathematics, but even doing a quick count in my head, I came up with a count of six different ladies.
“Busy man, Kid. A wonder you ever found any time to climb into a boxing ring.”
“It was an interesting life all right, Johnny—I’ll grant you that one. Complex, complicated, and very busy.”
“I’ll bet. So why did you kill number eight—or number six—or whatever the hell number she was?”
“Because she was responsible for the death of my daughter.”
The old fart smell returned as that remark hung even heavier than Brick’s had a few minutes earlier. For the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything to say to him, so I turned back to Brick.
“And if you don’t mind my asking, Brick—how did yours end up dead. I’ve got to tell you two, I find this fascinating. I’ve been throwing lead around for a few years now, and have never managed to mow down one of the fairer sex.”
“Well, that’s just exactly what I did, Johnny,” Brick said. “I mowed one down.”
Brick clenched his jaw. I could see the tendons in his neck bulge slightly as he went on.
“It was a bank robbery and hostage situation. Long story short, Johnny—Chief Wiggins selected me to drive the perps and their hostages to a waiting helicopter. Only once in the car, I was supposed to pull a Beretta nine from under the dash and take them both out—inside the car.”
“Messy work,” I said. “But it’s been done.”
“Yeah, but I got fancy. I pulled the pistol before I got out of the car, and engaged them on the street—right in front of the old-fashioned red-brick bank building. I wanted to be a showboat.”
“I can dodge a punch, Johnny, because I am out of time-sync a split-second before it’s launched. In other words, I can see the fist being thrown just before it actually happens, and I move out of the way easily. The Kid does the same thing. It’s what Grandpa taught me. I upped the game a little though, and applied the same basic technique to pistol shooting. I could actually see where the bullet was going to go, a split-second before I pulled the trigger. It had the effect of making it look as though I were firing without aiming, but in fact—it was a very carefully aimed shot—in my mind’s eye.”
“Cheating—just like the Kid,” I flatly stated.
“Guilty, Johnny. I guess with the Kid and I, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.”
“So what happened?”
“I killed the two perps—after issuing them a fair warning to throw down their weapons. I saved the three hostages too. Two Women and an infant.”
“So a happy ending then.”
“Not quite, Johnny. I had disobeyed orders getting out of the car that day. I guess it wouldn’t have mattered that much if it had worked out all right. But it didn’t. A lady died. A pregnant woman at that.”
“Full-metal-jacketed bullets. 9mm. It was all the Department used in their Beretta model ninety-twos. They fed through the gun like greased lightning, and solved any potential malfunction problems, but they created a few new ones along the way.”
“Exactly, Johnny. You’re getting the picture now.”
“How’d it happen?”
“I took out the bad guys with two perfect head-shots. I could not have missed. Like I said, they were perfect—no chance of a screw-up. No chance of anything going wrong. Except something went wrong. The full-metal-case bullet zipped right through the head of bad-guy number two, instead of expanding and staying inside like a hollow-point would have done. It pinged off the side of the brick building and traveled about two blocks away, and ninety degrees away from the direction it was originally travelling. It hit and killed a twenty-three year old pregnant woman out for a walk with her dog.”
“I’m sorry, Brick.”
He shrugged. It was a cop’s worst nightmare. An innocent bystander had died. Bad enough under circumstances that went down right according to the book. But this one had to lay damned awfully heavy on Brick’s heart. He knew, every single day of his life since that moment, that if he had simply obeyed his orders, that woman and her unborn child would have gone on living, instead of taking a short trip to a marble slab in the back of a hearse.
“So two deaths you blame on yourself,” I observed.
“No—just one. The lady was brain-dead, but they got her to the hospital and on life support in time to take the child. A little girl, as it turned out. A preemie, but she lived all right, and she’s alive today—fourteen years old. Her mother died a few hours later, when they removed her breathing tube.”
“Jesus,” I said. Under the circumstances, it seemed all right to so use his name.
“So I went off the deep-end for a while, Johnny. Mostly from that incident. I simply couldn’t get it out of my head—day or night. The only thing that let me sleep much was pills, and booze. I had a girl-friend. A Sweet lady named Rose. She tried her best to help me. She finally moved in with me not too long after it happened. She did the best she could, and that’s a plain fact, but as I hit the sauce harder and harder, well—our relationship simply dissolved in all that alcohol. She left me.”
Brick hesitated again and struggled for several seconds before he went on.
“Hell no, Johnny—that’s not even close to being fair. I left her. She was simply the first one to walk out the door.”
“You loved her?” I asked.
“Yeah. I would have married her in a heartbeat.”
“Is it too late, Brick?”
“Yeah. Too late. I looked her up after I got back to the states. She was dead. Breast cancer. She hadn’t even hit forty yet.”
All I could do was shake my head lamely side-to-side. There were really no words.
“What about the child?” I asked.
“Jennifer Joyce Ames,” Brick said. For the first time, I caught the hint of a smile. “Everyone just calls her Jenny. Her mother’s name was Joyce. A sweetheart of a kid. Dear God, how I love that child, Johnny.”
“You keep up with her?”
“I do. No one ever knew who her father was. And no man came looking for her either. She went to live with her Aunt in Northern California. The lady didn’t have much money, so I’ve helped to support her as much as I can over the years.”
“Does she know what happened?”
“Yes she does. I told her everything, right after she turned eight years old. She grew up fast, Johnny. A more poised young lady you’re never going to find anywhere. She forgave me—a lot more than I ever did myself.”
“You were never tempted to have your great grampa go back and fix things, Brick?”
“Never. Joyce was gone—to another place. And I didn’t have the right to take her from wherever that was—anymore than you could with your girl Sheila. Some things just have to be endured the way they are.”
I nodded my head in agreement.
“So what’s next?” I asked.
The Kid spoke up. “How about a tour of Detroit, Johnny? My Detroit, that is. The way it was, back in the day—and the way it will never be again.”
“Why not? We have some time.”
“I’ll show you around,” the Kid said. “Be your tour guide. One little thing I might ask though, Johnny.”
“What’s that, Kid?”
“Help me find out who the son-of-a-bitch was that killed my daughter.”
“Ever try before?”
“Yeah, but didn’t have much luck. I’m a pug, not a detective.”
“Ever hire one?”
“A couple. They took a lot of money from me, but never came up with anything. I don’t think they tried very hard.”
“They were like the police, Johnny. They thought they already knew who did it.”
“The police had a suspect?”
“Long story. Do you think you might like to hear it, Johnny? I’ve had this thing hanging around my neck for a long time.”
“Is it why you killed yourself?”
“If we found the killer, would you change your mind about that, Kid?”
“Maybe. Don’t know. Not sure. Take your pick.”
“Did you do it, Kid?”
“No, Johnny. I loved that little button like few other people I’ve ever known.”
“What was her name?”
“Beatrice. Little Bea Alderman.”
“Her natural father. I was her step-dad.”
“How did her father look as a suspect?”
“Lousy. His name was Lew—a cheap hood. Stabbed to death in a bar-fight when Bea was about two years old.”
“How old was she when she was murdered?”
“About seven or so.”
“How was she killed?”
“Nobody knows exactly, Johnny.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“Her body was never found, Johnny. She was kidnapped from the house her mother and I shared.”
“And the police just assumed she was dead?”
“Some pieces of her clothing were recovered on the banks of the Detroit River a few weeks later. The cops figured she was dumped in the river.”
“Why do you blame the mother?”
“Oh, she didn’t actually kill Bea, Johnny. She just caused it to happen—by her bad behavior.”
An odd look had come over the Kid’s face when he said that. Made me think that perhaps I didn’t really want to pursue this particular line of questioning—at least not right at the moment. One thing for sure—after seeing that look, I had no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that the Kid was at least capable of murder.
“Kid—I owe you my life. I’ll help you find the answer you’re looking for, if there is any way possible to do it.”
Brick spoke up. “One more thing, Johnny. I’d like to have you get rid of the watch. Right now. Here. Today.”
“Reason number one—you don’t need it anymore. Reason number two—I don’t want it falling into Moradi’s hands in the year 2015. Or anybody else’s in 1940 either.”
I thought it over for a few seconds, and then shook my head yes. It made a lot of sense.
“Where?” I asked.
“Somewhere where no one will find it. But somewhere where you can retrieve it when you’re ready to.”
“Suggestions?” I offered.
“I’ve got a place, Johnny,” the Kid said. “And it’s perfect. Better yet, it’s right nearby.”
“Sounds good,” I agreed. We all just sort of looked at each other for the space of a few seconds—wordlessly. Then I broke the silence—Todd Beamer style.
“Okay then,” I said. “Let’s roll.”
With Chapter Eighteen, we have reached the end of the first half of THE RECKONING. We’ll be back in a week or so with the beginning of the second half of the book. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day!
The Kid McCoy of The Reckoning is just a small part of what was one of the most interesting and fascinating characters of the sports world of his day. His exploits deserve a book all of their own, but instead, this article by John Lardner (one of the best sportswriters of all time) will have to do. One thing about the Kid for sure. No one ever really knew him, and no one will ever know his real reasons for taking his own life at the old Tuller Hotel in Detroit in April of 1940.
My own guess is that finally, the Kid was worn out and tired of it all. And most of all, perhaps he was just tired with himself, and the larger than life persona that he had cultivated for most of his adult life. It must have been a tough act to keep up.
In the end, he quietly and alone returned to being a mortal man, and signed his death note simply . . . Norman Selby.
“The Life and Loves of the Real McCoy”
By John Lardner
Originally published in True and reprinted with permission.
The hotel manager and the detective stood looking down at the man on the bed, who had killed himself during the night. “Norman Selby, it says on the note, and Selby was how he checked in,” the manager said. “Wasn’t that his right name?”
“It was his right name,” the detective said. “But he was also McCoy. The real McCoy.”
Kid McCoy lived by violence, by trickery, and by women. He fought 200 fights, and was beaten in only six of them. He married eight women—one of them three times—and shot another to death. For the murder, he paid a light price, lightly. There was vanity in him, and guile, and wit, and cruelty, and some larceny, and a great capacity for enjoying himself. Above all, there was self-satisfaction. At no time in his life—not when he was world’s welterweight champion (with a strong claim to the middleweight title, as well), nor when he was a bankrupt, nor a jailbird, nor a Broadway favorite, nor a suspected jewel thief, nor a semi-professional adulterer, nor a mellow old pensioner, owing his job to a friend—at no time did he do or say anything that displeased himself. No one knows why, on an April night in 1940, he suddenly lost his contentment with Norman Selby, alias Charles (Kid) McCoy, and wiped it all out with one impatient gesture.
The Kid wasn’t sick, or broke, when he checked in alone at Detroit’s Tuller Hotel that night. He had work. He was 66 years old, but in good shape, still with a lot of gray but curly hair over his fair-skinned, boyish face, and still nearly as neat, trim, and supple of body as ever. Registering with the night clerk, he had left a call for 10 the next morning. It was when he failed to answer the call that the manager went up with a passkey, and found him dead. An overdose of sleeping pills had put him out, and away. There were two or three notes in the room. In one of them, he asked the paymaster at the Ford Motor Company, where he’d been working, to turn over such wages as were due him to his eighth and final wife. In the longest note, the Kid said, in part:
“To Whom It May Concern—for the last eight years, I have wanted to help humanity, especially the youngsters who do not know nature’s laws. That is, the proper carriage of the body, the right way to eat, etc. . . . To all my dear friends, I wish you all the best of luck. Sorry I could not endure this world’s madness. The best to all. (signed) Norman Selby. P.S. In my pocket you will find $17.75″
As to health laws—it was true that McCoy had invented, and tried to sell, a so-called health belt, or health suspender. As to “this world’s madness”—most of the madness the Kid had known had been of his own arranging, and he had endured it well and gaily. As to helping humanity—the Kid had always helped himself. An old-timer, seeing the dead man lying there among his last words, would have reflected that never before had McCoy played so sweet, peaceful, and tender a part. The old-timer might have suspected a trick.
Once, in 1895, in Boston, a welterweight named Jack Wilkes was dismayed by McCoy’s looks, as they climbed into the ring to fight. The Kid’s face was as white as a sheet. There were dark hallows under his eyes. Every few moments, he put his left glove to his mouth, and coughed rackingly. When they clinched in the first round, McCoy whispered, “Take it easy, will you, Jack? I think I’m dying, but I need the money.” Wilkes took it easy; he mothered McCoy. But in the second round, just after a cough, McCoy’s coughing hand suddenly snapped out and pushed Wilkes’s guard aside, and his right hand drove against his chin, and knocked him unconscious. For that bout, McCoy had made up his face with talcum powder, and his eyes with indelible pencil. The prop cough was from many dime novels of the time.
In Philadelphia, in 1904, McCoy fought a large, highly-touted Hollander named Plaacke. In the second round he began to point frantically at Plaacke’s waistband. “Your pants are slipping!” he muttered. “Pull ‘em up!” Plaacke reached for his pants with both hands. McCoy hit him on the jaw, and knocked him down. “Stay down, or I’ll tear your head off!” he snarled. The Dutchman was terrified by the savagery that had suddenly come into the Kid’s voice and by the cruelty that transfigured his impish face. He stayed down, and his American manager sent him back to Holland on the next cattle boat.
When McCoy ran a gymnasium in New York, in the early years of this century, he said to a new pupil one day, as the latter came in the door, “Who’s that that came in with you?” The pupil turned to look. McCoy knocked him down. “That’s your first lesson—never trust anybody,” he said. “Five dollars, please.”
The Kid got a lifelong pleasure out of teaching this lesson. Once, only a few months before he died, as he was driving along a road in Wayne County, Michigan, his car had a slight collision with a truck. Both vehicles stalled. The drivers got out, and the trucker came at McCoy, braying abuse. ”I’m a little hard of hearing, Mack,” McCoy said, cupping his hand to his ear. The trucker brought his chin close to the ear to make his point clearly, and McCoy, whipping his hand six inches upward, knocked him cold.
On the morning he was found dead, a true student of the ways of Kid McCoy, seeing the suicide notes, would have looked twice to make sure the Kid was there too. They were not the first suicide notes he had written. In 1924 McCoy was living with a divorcee named Mrs. Theresa Mors in a Los Angeles apartment. When Mrs. Mors was fatally shot by her lover, the police, investigating the crime, discovered near her body a message from Norman Selby which began—as his last one on earth was to do—”To whom it may concern.” The message suggested that the Kid meant to end it all—but no dead McCoy went with it. In jail, a few days later, McCoy moved on to still another stratagem, feigning insanity to protect himself from the murder charge. A visitor found him walking around his cell with a blank look on his face, stopping now and then to lick bits of cardboard and stick them on the walls.
“What are those for?” the visitor asked.
“Quiet!” McCoy said. “I’m making a trap for that rat, her husband.”
The law, to be on the safe side, called in a team of alienists to examine the sudden madman. “He’s at least as sane as the rest of us,” the scientists reported. He was. The state, in proving its homicide case against him later, said that the Kid had had no notion of killing himself. He killed the lady, it charged, for a very intelligent reason—she was rich, and she wouldn’t marry him.
Of all the rich and beautiful women in the life of McCoy, she must have been the only one who wouldn’t. It was curious, the way the pattern of the Kid’s loves and marriages changed with the changes in his own career. When he was young, tough, and fight-hungry, scrapping first with skin-tight gloves and then by Marquis of Queensberry rules, first on turf and covered bridges and dance-hall floors, later in the ring, outboxing scientists like Tommy Ryan, the welter champion, mauling and knocking down heavyweights like the powerful Tom Sharkey—in those times his love affairs were brief. About his first marriage, at 22, to an Ohio girl named Lottie Piehler, McCoy once said: “A few months after l married her, I met a burlesque queen who finished me as a married man.” He wasn’t finished, he was just starting. But he had to keep on the move. There was less sense of investment, of security for McCoy, in those early matings. There was even romance in some of them. Certainly, he loved Mrs. Julia Woodruff Crosselmire, whose stage name was Julia Woodruff. Certainly, she loved him. He caught her eye by breaking up a free-for-all fight in a railroad car, one day in 1897 on a trip from New York to Philadelphia. In the next few years, they were married three times and divorced three times.
A change set in when the kid grew older, when he fought only when he had to and felt the pressures and hardships of life as a job-hunter and part-time con man. That was how it was in 1905 when he married Lillian Ellis, the young widow of a millionaire. Julia had recently cut him loose for the last time-as a matter of fact, he had divorced her, the only time it happened that way with McCoy.
“She ran away with a man named Thompson,” the Kid used to say. “They took a tour around the world, and when they got back, I seceded.”
On the morning his engagement to Mrs. Ellis was announced, the Kid was lying in his bed in the Dunlop Hotel, in New York, when the telephone began to ring. “Before I could get my shoes on that day,” McCoy said, “the phone had rung a hundred times, and a hundred friends had touched me for a million dollars.” Mrs. Ellis told the press that she knew what she was in for. “I know I’m not getting any angel, but I’m satisfied,” she said. The Kid himself was so moved that he wrote a wedding poem:
“Dogs delight to growl and fight, But let men be above them, It’s better to have a gal for a pal, When he really knows she loves him.”
In a sense, McCoy said, these lines were his farewell to the fight game. For now, at least, he was through—”Even though Jeff,” he said, “is the only man alive who can lick me.” He was referring to James J. Jeffries, the retired heavyweight champion of the world.
High-flown though it sounded, the last statement may well have been true. It’s possible that for his weight, which ranged from 145 pounds to 170, McCoy was the finest fighter in the world, when he was at his best. ” A marvel, a genius of scientific fighting,” James J. Corbett called him. “Vicious, fast, and almost impossible to beat,” said Philadelphia Jack O’Brien. It was a strange fact about McCoy that he did not need his tricks to be great. He cheated because he loved to cheat, just as, in the early days, he married women because he loved them. Fighting on the level, he would still have been the real McCoy.
The phrase which keeps his name famous was born in San Francisco, in 1899. At least, McCoy always said so; and while he was one of the most fertile and tireless liars of his generation, there’s a good chance that he was telling the truth. The Kid went to the Coast in March of that year to meet the rough, hard-punching Joe Choynski. A little earlier, in San Francisco, a Joe McAuliffe had easily whipped a man named Peter McCoy. Kid McCoy, following this low-class act with a better one, gave Choynski a savage beating in 20 rounds, knocking him down 16 times. The press hailed him with gratitude: “Choynski is beaten,” a headline said, “by THE REAL MCCOY.”
As to how Norman Selby got the name of McCoy to begin with, there are two stories, both told by McCoy, and both plausible. He was home, probably in October 1873, in Moscow, Indiana, a little farmland crossroads northwest of the town of Rushville. The Selby family moved to Indianapolis when Norman was small. When he was somewhere between 14 and 16, he and two other boys ran away by train to Cincinnati. Cops met them at the Cincinnati station, alerted by their fathers. “Are you Norman Selby?” a cop asked Norman. “I’m Charlie McCoy,” he said. The night before, through the train window, he had seen a sign, “McCoy Station.” When he made his first prizefight it was under the name of Charlie (Kid) McCoy.
In a story the Kid told another historian, he once saw a burlesque act featuring the exploits of two real-life safe-crackers, Kid McCoy and Spike Hennessy. In the theater lobby, for a dime, you could buy a book on the lives of McCoy and Hennessy. The Kid read the book, was taken with the daring, aggressive character of McCoy, and borrowed his name. Either way, there’s no doubt that he began fighting early in life as Kid McCoy. Some say his first bout, for $5 or $10, was against Charleston Yalla. Some say it was against Pete Jenkins, in St. Paul, in 1891. In St. Paul, the Kid, who was pausing there to wash dishes, joined the Baptist Church, because you had to be a member to join the YMCA, which had the only sports-training facilities in town. He beat Jenkins in four rounds.
After March 1895, the Kid was a fighter with a reputation; he was “the man who beat Shadow Maber.” To Maher, he was “that bloody trickster.” Shadow, an Australian fighting in the States and a boxer of note, met McCoy in Memphis. Near the end of one round, Maber heard a strong, clear voice say, “The bell has rung. Go to your comer.” He started to turn for his corner, and McCoy, the author of the unofficial announcement, belted him in the jaw. McCoy went on to beat the weakened Australian in 10 rounds.
He had marvelous speed and elusiveness, the Kid did, besides his tricks and the cruel, cutting power of his punches. By practicing endlessly, he was able to run sideways, or backward, nearly as fast as the average man can run forward. “In a backward race, in fact,” he said once, “I could probably beat any man in the world.” He improved the use of his left hand by eating, writing, and throwing a ball left-handed. From every good fighter he fought or watched he learned something. Bob Fitzsimmons, then recognized as world’s middleweight champion, was training for a fight in New Orleans while McCoy was down there for a bout of his own. The Kid picked up a few dollars sparring with Ruby Robert.
“You’re a cunning bugger,” Fitz told him after McCoy, feinting a left, drove his right straight into the pit of Bob’s stomach, showing that he had mastered one of Fitzsimmons’s favorite moves. “And you can hit almost as hard as I can.”
“For the same reason,” the Kid said.
“Wot in ‘ell do you mean by that?” the Cornishman asked. He did not like to think he was giving away too much.
“You’re knock-kneed, Bob,” McCoy said. “I figured the reason you hit so hard is because your punch comes up from the knee instead of the waist or the hip.”
“—-! ” said Fitzsimmons unkindly. He considered that the theory was buncombe, and he may well have been right. It was a fact, however, as McCoy then demonstrated, that the kid had schooled his own knees to come inward by walking around for 20 minutes or a half hour at a time holding a fifty-cent piece between them.
Fitzsimmons (who was to win the heavyweight title from Jim Corbett in 1897) was too big and strong for McCoy who in those years weighed in at about the welter limit, 145. The welterweight champion of the world was Tommy Ryan, thought by many to be the most skillful boxer extant. Ryan and McCoy were matched to fight for the welter title in Maspeth, Long Island, in March, 1896. It was a match Ryan had no worries about. McCoy had sparred with him, too, a couple of years earlier, and McCoy had deliberately made a poor impression-chiefly by a kind of cringing timidity. Once, in a workout, he had asked Tommy not to hit him around the heart. “It makes me sick, Mr. Ryan,” he had said. “And it gives me a sharp pain that scares me. I wouldn’t fight if I didn’t have to.”
In their fight for the championship, Ryan did his best to hit McCoy around the heart-and every place else where he thought there might be an opening. But there were no openings, to speak of. And in the 12th round, getting impatient and beginning to swing wildly, Ryan exposed his own chin, and caught a straight right on the end of it that drained all the strength and science out of him and left him helpless. McCoy then slashed and mauled the champion until the 15th, when he knocked him out.
It was in Africa, the Kid used to say, that he developed the “corkscrew punch.” The phrase, like others coined by this prince of phrasemakers, became known all over the world. The corkscrew punch, probably, was only a left hook to the head, like other left hooks. Like other hooks, it involved a turning of the wrist, just before impact. But McCoy declared, and the world believed him, that he gave his left wrist an extra, prolonged spin that increased its velocity and its power to cut and maim. “It was the principle of rifling,” he said. “I learned it by studying a rifle in South Africa.”
It was in South Africa, too, at Bullawayo, that McCoy fought a 250-pound Negro called the King of the Kaffirs. In the first round, McCoy, running backward, lured the giant into McCoy’s corner. The King, in sudden pain and confusion, looked down at his bare feet, and the Kid, at the same moment, brought up his right hand and knocked the Kaffir senseless. The floor, as it happened—we have McCoy’s complacent word for this—had been sprinkled with tacks by McCoy’s seconds just as the fight began.
It was strange, the way the elements of human nature were mixed in this curly head, behind the bland, youthful face and the smooth, bragging tongue. The Kid could not help lying-his picaresque imagination worked day and night to add to his own legend. He could not help swindling-his fight with Corbett, in 1900, after Corbett had lost the heavyweight title, was called by contemporaries one of the most flagrant fixes in ring history. One reporter wrote, “It was the cleverest boxing match ever seen, as it should have been, considering how carefully it had been rehearsed in advance.”
But there was far more than greed and deceit in McCoy; there was courage and ferocity. He could fight, against odds, like a tiger. Under such conditions, Maurice Maeterlinck, the playwright, who had seen the Kid fight in Europe, once described him as “the handsomest human on earth.” McCoy must have been like that on the night he fought Tom Sharkey—after he had given up the welterweight title, had outgrown a brief claim to the middleweight crown and was fighting them as big as they came.
Sailor Tom Sharkey was not a giant—he was squat, but massive, and very tough. In 45 rounds of fighting, the great Jim Jeffries was never to knock him down once. Sharkey and McCoy met on January 10, 1899, at the old Lenox Athletic Club, in New York City. It was the biggest gate of McCoy’s life; there was $46,000 in the square brick arena that night. The Kid was about Sharkey’s height, but he looked like a thin, pale boy beside the Sailor. His legs were slender, his stomach was concave at the narrow waist. Such power as he had was bunched in big arms and low, sloping shoulders. Running like a burglar, he made Sharkey commit himself with rushes and lunging swings. Then the Kid let the gap close. He countered the swings. He hooked Sharkey’s head with his left, and drove straight rights against Sharkey’s teeth and cheekbones. Twice he floored the man whom Jeff could not bring down. By the end of the ninth, it looked like McCoy’s fight for sure, and the patrons were screaming for him to finish it. The truth was, the Kid himself was finished. He had used up all his strength on a head like an oaken bucket; in the tenth, his legs went dead. Sharkey caught him in that round, first with a body punch that seemed to cave in the Kid’s ribs, then with a smashing blow on the jaw. Paul Armstrong, the playwright who wrote “Alias Jimmy Valentine,” was covering the fight. Of the Kid, at the very last, he wrote:
“He clawed the canvas like some deep-sea crab . . . rattled along on all fours . . . and then bobbled into a meaningless heap.”
In 1900, the Kid ran a night club in the cellar of the Hotel Normandie, at the comer of Broadway and 40th Street. He ran it until a matter of what the police called “larceny from a customer” by McCoy came up—then the customers began to abstain from the Kid’s saloon. In 1904, he filed a petition in bankruptcy, having $25,000 worth of debts and no assets. The debts included one of $320 for clothing, and another of $569 for repairs to a fast, red car. It was natural that the Kid should react to this slump by marrying Lillian Ellis, the rich widow. It was natural that when Mrs. Ellis detached him, after three or four comfortable years, he should marry Mrs. Edna Valentine Hein, the daughter of a silver miner. The Kid impressed Mrs. Hein favorably, before the marriage, by winning a street fight from Mr. Hein.
It was one of the few fights he had, in those years. When occasional spells of non-marriage, meaning poverty, overtook him, and McCoy was obliged to fight professionally again, he found the going hard. It was the flesh that was weak—not the two-edged brain. A lad named Young Jim Stewart climbed into the ring in New York one night, during these downhill days, to see what McCoy had left. He went to the Kid’s comer before the bout to pay his respects. McCoy, waving to friends in the crowd, pretended not to see him. Stewart, hurt, but not mortally so, returned to his corner. When the referee called them out for instructions, McCoy tramped heavily on the youngster’s feet and bumped him accidentally in the eye with his elbow. Next McCoy grabbed Stewart by the nape of the neck with one hand, pulled down his head, and cracked him two or three times in the jaw with his other fist. “What I want to know, Mr. Referee,” said the Kid, deferentially, “is whether it’s all right for him to hit me like this?” “No, it ain’t,” said the referee. Young Jim Stewart survived these preliminaries, and the fight got under way and went six rounds to no decision.
“Tell me, Mr. McCoy,” said Stewart afterward, “did you expect to soften me up with that stuff with the referee?” “God knows, boy,” the Kid said. “You can never tell till you try.”
In the last fight on his record, McCoy met a British seaman, Petty Officer Curran, in London, in 1914. The bout was scheduled for 20 rounds—a long, weary haul for a man of forty. Three-quarters of the way through it, McCoy’s feet had gone nearly flat. His nerves were snapping in his body like little twigs. Suddenly, the timekeeper, sitting by the ring in evening clothes, took a tall glass of whisky-and-soda from an attendant, and placed it carefully on the apron of the ring. A moment later, the Kid ran into a punch from Curran, fell to the floor near the timekeeper’s seat, snatched up the highball and drank it off. The fight went the full distance. It was close, but McCoy, making his last post a winning one, got the duke.
With Charlie Chaplin
Though he was still debonair, still a strutter, McCoy was plainly at the end of his rope, financially, when he beat his way home from London at the start of the First World War the U. S. Army bought his meals for the next few years. Enlisting in 1915—tired, played out, turning to the security of a uniform and steady pay as he had turned to marriage when he was younger—McCoy served on the Mexican border in 1916, and on the home front generally in the wartime years, mostly as a boxing instructor. There was another fling left in him, but in the Army, for a while, he charged his batteries, and marked time.
When his enlistment was up, the Kid headed for California. He got a few bit parts in Hollywood, but this career died quickly. In 1922, he became an official bankrupt again—assets: two suits of clothes. One way and another, he took the busy, hot town for a dollar here and a dollar there, and hung on. And in the summer of 1924, he found his way into the life of still another woman with money and a husband she did not like.
Theresa Weinstein Mors was on the point of divorcing Albert E. Mors when she met McCoy. She was in her late 30′s, and easy to look at. It is not known just how she came to meet the Kid, but on August 4, when their friendship became a matter of record, she described him to the police as her “bodyguard.” The police had been called in by Mors, who complained that his wife and McCoy had used him roughly. The visit had been for the purpose of discussing the Mors’ property settlement. The Kid, of course, had the habit of discussing things with his knuckles. In this case, however, it was Mrs. Mors who hit Mr. Mors in the mouth, while McCoy protected her.
A divorce followed, and the Kid and Theresa took an apartment together, under the names of Mr. and Mrs. N. Shields. There’s good reason to believe that the Kid wanted marriage in more than name. Mrs. Mors, at least for the time being, did not. For this reason, and perhaps for others, it was a quarrelsome partnership. It came as no surprise to the Shields’ neighbor, in the next apartment, when, on the sultry night of August 11, at a few minutes after midnight, she heard a woman’s voice in the Shields’ flat cry out, “Oh, my God, don’t do that!” The cry was repeated. Then came a single gunshot. The neighbor investigated, but only to the extent of trying the Shields’ door, which was locked. It was not till 10 a.m. on the 12th that the janitor found Theresa lying dead on the floor of the bedroom she had shared with McCoy. She had been shot once, in the left temple. A .32 pistol lay nearby. A photograph of the Kid had been placed across her breast. Also clearly visible was a suicide note signed Norman Selby leaving his estate to his mother.
At almost the same moment the police discovered the note and the body which did not match it, the Kid himself was running amok a few blocks away, with another gun, in an antique shop owned by his mistress. It was a wild scene he made there. Disheveled, apparently drunk, he burst into the shop with his gun out. He told the men there, mostly employees, to take off their shoes and pants. He put a dance record on the phonograph and, under cover of the noise, went through the pants pockets for money. Then, cursing with all the foulness he could muster from 51 years’ experience, he went out the door again and, in the street, shot and seriously wounded the first three people he met, two men and a woman. The police caught up with him as he was running blindly through Westlake Park.
Had he been drunk? McCoy, though he’d taken some wine in his time, had never been given to drinking. Had he been faking madness, to set up a defense against a murder rap? Maybe. At any rate, his wildness, real or feigned, subsided after a few days in jail, and at his trial he told the jury in serious, sensible tones that Theresa—”the only woman I ever loved”—had shot herself to death in his presence. It was a story the Kid was to stick to for the rest of his life. The prosecution, in rebuttal, pointed out that Mrs. Mors, a right-handed woman, had been shot in the left side of her head. The prosecutor told the jury that McCoy had said to his sister, after the crime, “I had to kill that woman.” It took the jurymen 78 hours to decide whom to believe. In the end, they disbelieved McCoy. He was sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter, and to two terms of 7 years each for the larceny and mayhem of his last daffy stand in Theresa’s antique shop: a total of 24 years.
The rap seemed to mean that the Kid would die of old age in San Quentin. There was one way to escape such a fate—sweetness, light and good conduct on a scale such as McCoy had never before attempted.
When he came out in 1932, paroled after a little more than seven years, the Kid had established one of the purest records in the history of San Quentin—never a mark against him. With him he brought a canary named Mike, a prison pet as harmless as the new McCoy. His future life was to be mild and pastoral, too. Years before, he had given boxing lessons to a Navy fighter who used the name of Sailor Reese. In 1932, under his real name of Harry Bennett, the sailor had become personnel chief for Ford, in Detroit. Bennett gave the parolee a job as watchman in one of the Ford public gardens. The new line on the payroll read: “Norman Selby. Age, 59. Farmhand.” The terms of his parole kept the Kid close to Detroit for five years. When, in 1937, he became totally free—the Kid used to say he’d been “pardoned,” but it was really just the formal ending of parole—he went on living in Detroit and working for Ford.
He did make a few trips out of town after the papers came through. One of them was to Rushville, Indiana, near the place of his birth, where he took unto himself an eighth wife, Mrs. Sue Cobb Cowley. Another was to New York, where the Kid and an old fellow-wizard, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, pottered around town together for a day, cutting up touches and reviewing the past. Wherever he went, the Kid seemed happy. His marriage went well. His job was for life. When he lied, he told contented lies that showed the old vanity, the old satisfaction with Norman Selby, alias Kid McCoy. One day a man asked him if he ever saw his former wives.
“You won’t believe it,” the Kid said smugly, “but I see them all, regularly. Every year I give a party, and every woman I’ve ever been married to come to Detroit to see me again.”
He gave a roguish smile. “Why wouldn’t they come, for me?”
The Kid was not crazy, or senile. He simply liked this lie and all the others that celebrated the glory, the beauty, the cunning of Kid McCoy. In everything he did, as his days dwindled down to the last and strangest one, his mind and his body worked smoothly and well.
And then, suddenly, smoothly and well, he killed himself. Perhaps there had been one special sin in his life that was too big for him to live with any longer. If so, nobody knows what it was but Kid McCoy.
Finally finishing their grisly task, Linh and Maggie sat outside the Church on a sidewalk park-bench, thoroughly enjoying the ice-cold morning air as it washed the smell of death from their lungs. It had taken close to two hours to go through all of the body bags—a lot longer than any of the three would have guessed. But then jigsaw puzzles are often time consuming. Carter was still inside, finishing up with the officer on duty.
Maggie spoke up first. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget this night. Not if I live to be a thousand years old.”
“That’ll make three of us then, Maggie.” Linh remembered the second row of bags. “That poor man. I almost lost it.”
“You thought it was Johnny, didn’t you?”
“Yes I did. As soon as Howard unzipped it and I caught a glimpse of his face, I thought it was him. I swear to you Maggie—it was Johnny’s face that I saw—if only for a split second. Then, it just sort of dissolved into someone else. When I looked closer, I realized he really didn’t look like Johnny at all. Must have been my mind playing a trick on me.”
“No doubt. Cops are only human too you know,” Maggie smiled.
“Don’t tell that to Howard. He thinks he’s superhuman.”
“I saw him turn plenty white a few times there,” Maggie remembered.
“Yeah, I know. He almost lost it too with that teenaged kid. Couldn’t have been much more than thirteen or fourteen years old.”
Maggie shook her head in agreement. “This was what Johnny came here to stop. I was mad at Howard for sending him at first, but I’m not now. Even if Johnny had been killed, he still would have tried to have made a difference. And even if he had ended up on a marble slab at age forty something, it would have been a life well lived.”
Howard exited the building.
“Well, we’ve got some encouraging news, ladies. I’ve been on the phone with Harper Hospital. They don’t have anyone there with the name of O’Brien, but one of the wounded that came in right after the bombing matches his description.”
“Why no name?” Linh wondered.
“That was my question too. Seems the hospital staff was pretty overwhelmed, and I can certainly understand that. They were putting victims that weren’t too badly hurt on gurneys out in the hallway, while they attended to the more serious injuries first. Makes sense. According to the night nurse, that’s where our Johnny look-a-like was. According to her, he was suffering oxygen deprivation. Apparently the guy got up sometime during the night and simply walked out. With all the confusion, I don’t doubt it. Now we just have to figure out where he went.”
“We sure he’s Johnny?” Maggie said.
“I’m going to say yes,” Carter replied. “The nurse said they removed an object of obvious value from this gentleman’s jacket pocket and took it to the nurse’s station.”
“Wouldn’t be a gold pocket-watch, would it?” Linh asked, a smile coming to her face.
“It would,” Carter said. “But it gets stranger yet. The man left without the watch. It was still there after the guy left. He never returned to the hospital. They know that because it was on total lock-down. He could have exited any entrance, but not re-entered. Yet this morning, the watch is gone, and the nurse says it was inside a locked drawer. A drawer that showed no sign of forced entry.”
“Another employee with sticky fingers?” Linh asked.
“Apparently not. According to the charge nurse, she had the only key—and she swears she’s not a thief. I for one, believe her.”
“Yeah—me too,” Linh agreed. “This has Johnny written all over it.”
Carter shook his head in agreement. “Johnny was partnered-up with a guy named Jedidiah Wahl. Mr. Wahl was registered at the Motel Six on Woodward Avenue that was also blown-up. The body count there was much smaller than here, and no one killed there vaguely matches Wahl’s description.”
“You don’t sound quite like you’re finished,” Linh said.
“Not quite,” Carter agreed. “This news I’m about to tell you is top-secret. The blown-up private residence in Bloomfield Hills was owned by a lady FBI agent named Faris. An Iranian by birth and an expert in languages. She was coordinating with Johnny and Wahl, and was going to serve as their translator. The FBI tossed the cops and took over that scene almost immediately, although they didn’t seem to express a hell of a lot of interest in any of the rest of it. Turns out that one of the Detroit cops smelled something a little fishy about the whole thing and had the presence of mind to snatch one of the stiff’s fingers out of what was left of the victim’s bedroom on his way out. That’s where most of the body was found, although it was really fragmented.”
“The FBI’s behavior was strange enough to set off alarm bells all over police headquarters, so they hurried up a fingerprint search on the severed finger, and what do you suppose they found?”
“That the vic isn’t the agent?” Linh ventured.
“Bingo. It was the agent’s housekeeper. An Italian lady—naturalized citizen, so her prints were on file. Most FBI agents don’t make near enough jack to have housekeepers, but for some reason this one seems to have been really loaded. No one has the faintest idea where money-bags Faris is right now either. She hasn’t shown up anywhere, to the best of the cop’s knowledge.”
“What does the FBI say?”
“Nothing. They’re still maintaining that she’s dead, although I’d be damned surprised it they didn’t know better.”
“Getting curiouser and curiouser, wouldn’t you say, Howard?”
“Yeah Linh, I would—but then O’Brien’s in the middle of it, so what the hell would you expect—right?”
For the first time in a long day and night, the three of them laughed.
“So where to next, Howard?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, Linh. We’ve got no idea of where the hell Faris, Wahl, or Johnny is, how badly he might be hurt, or what the hell he might be doing, and not a dog’s idea in Hades of where to start looking for any of them either.”
“Follow the watch?” Maggie volunteered.
“That would be a plan,” Carter allowed. “Got any idea on just how to do that? As I remember, it didn’t have a GPS in it.”
A man spoke behind them. “I might be able to help with that one,” it said.
Carter, Maggie, and Linh spun around at the sound of the voice.
“Took you long enough to get here,” Linh said dryly.
“Better late than never?”
“Maybe. You intending to stay around for a while?
“Long enough to find Johnny anyhow.”
“Then what?” Linh asked.
“Then we round-up the bad guys, Linh. Same as always.”
“Then I want you to take a trip with me.”
“To whatever future we have together.”
“Do you see a future for us?
“Not the way it stands right now. I’m not going to lie to you about that.”
“You looking for points for honesty?”
“All I’m asking for is a fair hearing, and a chance.”
“Okay Matt—you’ve got it. To whatever future we have. Count me in.”
Carter spoke up. “You two going to hug or anything?”
“No,” Linh said. “Not quite yet.”
“It’s okay,” Matt said. “I understand.”
“No. I’m not real sure you do,” Linh said.
Carter jumped in again. “Well, I hate to break-up this little heartwarming moment guys, but—Matt, raise you right hand.”
“Because you are about to become Officer McCabe.”
“A cop?” Matt replied.
“Yeah, Matt. A cop. An Irish gum-shoe cop to boot. And by the way, you chicken-shit miserable little prick, I hope to hell you don’t like it very much.”
Matt raised his hand—fast.
Brick’s chair was empty when I returned, but I could see him making his way down the hallway through the open door.
“Back a little faster than I would have thought, Johnny.”
“Did you know where you were sending me, Brick?”
“I didn’t send you anywhere, Johnny. You went where you went all by yourself.”
“And you had no idea of where that was going to be—right?”
“I suspected where it would be—that’s all. When you’re involved with the Devil’s timepiece, we all tend to go to our darkest places.”
“I didn’t have the watch.”
“Doesn’t matter, Johnny. It still has its hold on you. Always will, as long as you’re alive—or it is.”
“So, being “displaced,” is pretty much like being dead—is that about right, Brick?”
“Not exactly—but in the ballpark.”
“And you’re about to explain all the fine points of difference to me—right?”
“No, Johnny—I’m not.”
“Who is then?”
I spun toward the voice. The Kid stood in the doorway.
“Sit down, Johnny,” the Kid said. “And shut-up, lose the attitude, and let me explain to you just how your new reality works.”
Washington, D. C.
The room was a tiny one. Small, plain, and decidedly unpretentious. It was deep in the basement of the grand old residence, just off one of the several kitchens. A kitchen that would be teeming with activity during daylight hours—quiet and dark now, at nearly four in the morning. It looked like it might have been used as a potential kitchen staff interview room—or maybe one where punishments were meted out for unsatisfactory employee performance, or perhaps disobedience.
Agent Faris wondered if that was why she was here now.
She had been waiting for well over an hour, since being escorted into the room by Agent Stuart Hollings. Shahida had not bothered to ask him any questions, knowing that he was far too small a “fry” to be in any significant loop. At nearly sixty-years old, Agent Hollings was quickly approaching retirement. Not one that would be trusted with state secrets, Shahida knew. Much better to only let younger agents in on what was really going on. So much easier to control—when their entire careers stretched out before them.
When the door finally opened a minute later, two men entered. One, Agent Faris did not recognize—although she made him to be FBI to the bone. The other man she did.
“Good morning, Mr. President.”
“Agent Faris,” the President said. “You don’t seem surprised to see me.”
“Surprised, yes—shocked, no. I’ve been out of pre-school for a few years now.”
“A realist, Sir. This whole deal hasn’t smelled right from the start.”
“Just what do you think is going on, Agent Faris?”
“More than meets the eye.”
The President smiled. “Good answer. Where do you suppose the rancid smell is coming from, Agent Faris?”
This time there was no smile. “Honest. Don’t you know honestly can get you out of a career real fast, Faris? Or worse.”
“What else is new? I was about ten minutes from being dead a while ago.”
“You were not,” the President said. “You would not have been allowed to be killed. I am sorry about your maid. No one was aware that she was there.”
“Her husband and two children will be glad to know of your sorrow.”
The President’s jaw visibly tightened. “Do not vex me, Agent Faris. In war there is always collateral damage. Sometimes that’s just the price that’s paid to keep the State safe.”
“The State—or yourself?”
The jaw tightened further. “Where is O’Brien, Agent Faris?”
Faris looked surprised. “How should I know? I hardly had time to go looking for him before I was whisked back here.”
“Humor me,” the President said. “Offer me a theory.”
“No ma’am,” the President said. “Not dead. Slightly injured though. He was briefly in the hospital, but left apparently under his own power. We have not been able to ascertain his whereabouts since that time.”
“Then Moradi may have him.”
“He does not. Moradi is looking for O’Brien as hard as we are—but isn’t having any luck either. He seems to have completely disappeared.”
Faris glanced at the door. “How do you know what Moradi is doing?”
The agent standing next to the President smoothly drew his semi-automatic pistol and pointed it directly at the Faris’s head.”
“Because Moradi works for me,” the President said. “I think it’s just about time we had your weapon, Agent Faris.”
“What are you after?” Faris said.
“O’Brien. Nothing more, and nothing else.”
“Well—to be perfectly honest, it’s a whole lot more about something Mr. O’Brien in carrying. Let’s just say that it’s something that could significantly change the balance of power in the world. I want to make sure that balance is changed in our favor—not our enemies. That’s happens to be why I’m Commander-in-Chief. It’s my job to protect America.”
The FBI guy spoke, sweeping off the pistols safety. “Your gun, Agent Faris. Hand it over—now. I won’t count to three.”
Faris slowly drew her pistol with two fingers and placed it on the table.
“Good girl,” the President said. “Now you are going to remain here as a guest of the United States Government. Your accommodations will be quite nice. You won’t be suffering, I assure you.”
“That’s good to know,” Faris responded. “So much for being on the same team. Why not just kill me now and be done with it?”
“Agent Faris,” the President said, with mock indignation. “What do you take us for? Do you think we are some kinds of thugs or something? Your life is in no danger. We are simply detaining you for your own protection. After all, you narrowly escaped death once. We just want to make sure you don’t have any further close calls.”
“And? There’s always an “and” with men like you.”
The President smiled again. “Now I am hurt, Agent Faris. Here I thought we were making progress on the friendship front.”
“So—why am I really still alive?”
“In case O’Brien comes looking for you. Simple as that. You’re the bait.”
“O’Brien probably thinks I’m dead.”
“He might—but probably not for long. Mr. O’Brien is not a stupid man.”
The door opened again, and three uniformed police officers entered.
The President continued. “Meet your three new best-friends. All District of Columbia Police Officers. Don’t let their youth fool you—they are most competent. They will be assigned to your care and protection 24/7 until this thing is over. They will be keeping you safe from harm, and keeping you safe from doing any harm as well. You may consider yourself to be in their protective custody. Do not attempt to leave that custody, Agent Faris. They are empowered to be extremely harsh with you if that were to occur.”
Faris looked them over. Two thin white men—young. The other was bronze-skinned—perhaps Tongan or Samoan. He was also young, but taller, well-built and very muscular. His nametag read Ringo Pulini Jr. The other two names were Dallin Weeks, and Trey Wiggins. The fact that there was no attempt to cover or remove those nametags make Agent Faris doubt that she would see the end of the week alive. Might as well go for the gold, she decided. Sure would be a shameto die for something and never even know what it was, she reasoned.
She stood and faced the President of the United States defiantly.
“What does Johnny O’Brien have that’s so important as all of this?”
The President smiled for the third and last time, as he moved toward the door.
“His watch. That’s all, Agent Faris. Just his watch.”
“So what’s my new reality?” I said, as the three of us sat down. I picked up the coffee that Brick had brought me before I left. Still steaming, I marveled. Not too bad—for a cuppa joe going on a couple of decades old.
“My real name is Norman Selby, Johnny. The history books remember me better as “Kid” McCoy. A phony Irish name. My handlers thought it made me sound a bit more manly. Irish tough-guys were all the rage back in the day.”
“When was that, Kid?”
“1897. I had just won the Middleweight Boxing Championship of the World.”
“And that’s why you were able to handle yourself so well with the two goons.”
“Sort of. Truth of the matter was, Johnny—I never was that much of a fighter, even back then. I had two-hundred fights and lost six of them. The ones where I tried to be ‘myself.’ Now—hell, my joints ache like a bitch and I can barely make a fist much before noon. Lucky if I’d be able to fight my way out of a wet paper bag most the time.”
“Because I’ve got an edge, Johnny—same as you do now.”
“I committed suicide, Johnny. At the Tuller Hotel, right here in Detroit—April 18th, 1940—a lot like your lady friend Sheila.”
“Slit your wrists?”
“No—I was more of a coward than she was. Sleeping pills for me.”
“Because I was tired, Johnny. Real tired. That’ll do for now.”
“So you’re telling me you’re dead.”
“No—I’m telling you I’m displaced, Johnny—same as you.”
“You said April—1940?”
“It’s not that date yet.”
“I know, Johnny. I’ve got a choice to make here too. Much like the one you made for your lady-friend tonight.”
“Someone stopped you, didn’t they Kid?”
“Yeah—someone stopped me. But only after I’d done it. That’s why I’m displaced.”
“The same one that stopped you, Johnny. After you were killed in the Hotel explosion.”
“Close, but no cigar—try his dear old papa Roan instead. Roan was a fight fan. Made me what I was—a star of the squared circle. Oh, Matt made the phone-call, no doubt about that. But Roan is the one that stopped you.”
“I always forget that McCabes come in more than one flavor.”
“True fact, my friend,” the Kid said.
“Why did Roan interfere with me?”
“My guess would be that he figures you are going to play a part in his baby boy’s final chapter.”
I involuntarily shuddered. “How ‘bout you Brick. Are you displaced too?”
“No. My story is a little different.”
Brick hesitated a moment. “Oh, why the hell not. Let’s just lay it all out here today. We’re all friends—and partners—right?”
I nodded my head affirmatively. “Go on,” I said.
Brick sighed deeply.
“It all started in Deadwood,” he said. “A shootout in Deadwood, South Dakota.”
Brick paused again. “On the day the towers came down.”
Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back in a few days with another new installment of THE RECKONING.
Until then, Good Night, and Happy New Year 2016 . . .
First Dumb Joke of the Year . . .
The Rants, Views, Books and Classic Entertainment of Lee Capp