Swingshift: Babes of the Abyss – Part IIAug 18th, 2010 | By Kelcey Wells | Category: Series, Swingshift | 1435 views
Rodriguez’s long legs take the battered stairs three at a time. When I manage to drag myself up the three flights, he has already let himself in. In my living room, the detective and the cat are circling each other. With their recent history, each is trying to decide whether the other is enemy or ally.
“Can I can get you a drink?” It is all I can manage while struggling to catch my breath.
“Yeah, a water would be fine…” He glances at a non-existent watch “…actually a Bourbon alongside that water would be even better. In fact skip the water all together.
I slip into the kitchen, happy to leave the strange pair to their glaring and sniffing. When I return with drinks, the territorial pissing match has ended. Rodriguez has settled into the couch with the cat curled up in his lap.
Both cat and detective greet me with judgmental stares. Their narrow eyes move, in frightening sync, from me to the coffee table where a set of pink handcuffs and my giant bag of pills are laid out.
“You know Qarin de la Roche has a bit of a… reputation let’s say.”
“Oh for fuck sake Rodriguez. Are you vying for a slot as my mother or my payroll officer?”
“Swingshift, I’m just saying you should watch yourself. Make sure your thinking with the right organ, is all.”
“Kiss off, did you come here exclusively to Dr. Phil your way through my personal life or are you on actual police business?”
The Cat and Rodriguez exchange disappointing looks over my apparent rudeness. The detective produces a manila envelope packed with 8X10 photos from thin air. With a heavy sigh, he begins to sort the glossy pages out on the table between us.
“This is El Cambion Social Club over off Borinquen. It was, at least originally, a Dominican men’s club but it has recently come under new ownership and its clientele has changed drastically.”
The first pictures show the facade of a well maintained, but unassuming, social club. Its heavily tinted shop window is adorned with a Dominican flag and holiday lights. It could be one of hundreds of similar spots across the borough. The next series of photos are of the same club but with a velvet-roped queue of fresh faced hipsters, not the usual middle-aged hard-drinking soccer fans that usually frequent such establishments.
I do not see where Rodriguez is going with this presentation. Obviously, someone is running some flavor of racket, but it seems more the concern of a fire marshal, liqueur control board or at most vice. My confusion must be showing. Rodriguez begins to lay the details on heavy.
“Because it’s run as a member’s only social club the usual booze licenses, fire code and other bureaucratic tools we would use to lean on a place are ineffective. However, vice was able to coble together a bullshit warrant and had a look around.”
He hands over photos of the building’s interior. An average sized front room with bar and pool table gives way to something out of old Havana. There are several rooms of lush furniture, smoked glass and professional grade lighting. The place could be a high-class strip club minus the poles and dancers.
Then, through several locked doors, there is a waterfall and grotto that would make Hefner himself envious. Tucked amongst the rockwork are obscured statues and arcane glyphs. None of the photos zoom close enough for me to recognize the symbols.
Rodriguez waits patiently as I scan over each individual photo and then starts up again.
“So vice found nothing suspicious, no drugs, no pros, no cock fights. Everything was above board. The owners had to pay a stiff fine to the DOB for the unauthorized water feature, but that was it.”
“Problem is there have been at least three mysterious stiffs attached to the place over the last two months. Two were found nearby. The third was found at home but was a known patron. I think you’ll find the condition of their bodies of particular interest.”
He hands me another stack of photos. The images are of lifeless bodies, thin contorted figures that look as if all the fluid was leeched from their gray flesh. Visions of the husk of Jimmy Pop lying on the library floor kaleidoscope behind my eyes.
I shake it off and try to focus on the photos in front of me. There are definitely differences. These bodies look as if they have been preserved, like rotten hipster jerky. Where the Shuck tugged the warmth and life from Jimmy instantly, these bodies give the appearance of atrophy over time.
“Some shade of no good is going down here Swingshift and we can’t get a collar on anyone involved.”
Something is certainly not right. Not only with the club and the stiffs but also with Rodriguez popping by my gaff to walk me through super secret cop intel. I try to let the random bits of information organize themselves around me, then just give up, and ask.
“So why in hell are you bringing this to me? Looks like the purview of the NYPD’s crack occult division.”
The detective slaps the next stack of photos down in front of me for effect. The images are smaller, grainier, printed on normal bond paper instead of photo stock. I imagine Rodriquez nervously printing out crime scene photos on his daughter’s My Little Pony bedazzled printer. There are low light scenes from inside the club during business hours.
I flip through a few pages before I recognized a face. Bruce Jones, unironically known as BJ, the biggest god-bothering cowboy crusader on the team of half-bright thugs that comprise the NYPD’s recently formed occult task force. While not officially in charge of the unit, BJ is certainly the alpha male of the group. In addition, word is that he all but kneed our man Rodriguez in the jewels to secure his slot on the team.
In the photos, BJ and what I assume are his fellow officers are set up in a posh booth, each with a bottle of Kristal in one hand and a busty bimbo in the other.
“Well that explains a lot about this little social call detective.”
“Obviously I can’t be seen sniffing around this thing.”
“Why not just turn these over to IAD?”
Rodriguez laughs mockingly.
“As it is I spend too much of my day answering questions for IAD. They are not big on ghost stories and stick to the more euphemistic definition of witch-hunt, if you get me. I go to them with this and I’ll be on psych evaluation for the next eighteen months.”
Conversation goes stale as my head races, searching for a way to wriggle out of this cop-house cluster-fuck, but in the end I owe him big and he knows it.
“My deep research guy has gone to ground. Any chance you could get me a copy of the case file?”
Rodriguez reaches into his jacket, pulls out a thumb drive and tosses it across the table at me.
“I don’t suppose there is any chance of compensation for my efforts, expenses at the least?”
“’fraid not my degenerate friend, only my undying appreciation and a balancing of the karmic scales.”
“That is a mighty esoteric view of my pay scale detective.”
“Innit? I think this spooky shit is starting to rub off on me.”
We bullshit for a few more minutes as Rodriguez slowly extricates himself from under the napping cat. Once he is gone, I spread the photos out and grab a notebook. The speed had come on cold and smooth while Rodriguez was lecturing and now I am primed and ready to put my newfound energy to good use.
I arrive at the bar, Black on Black, just after eleven with a clean shirt and fresh shave. Qarin had sent a series of texts throughout the day with very specific instructions. The lowering of her usual air of casual disinterest has me intrigued. It takes some time to navigate the bottleneck of underage girls at the door, preening and pouting for the bouncer. Having doubled down on the blues before setting out, I am desperate for a drink or two to take the edge off. However, before I can make it to the bar Qarin intercepts me. She wraps me in a very warm, very public embrace.
“You made it. I can’t wait for you to meet my friends.”
As she grabs my hand and pulls me through the packed crowd, I feel the evening slipping out of my control. In a far back corner of the space, three striking blonds are seated around a small table littered with empty glasses. I can feel their eyes on me as we wind our way through the deafening crush. When I manage to check my ego, I realize that this is my coming out party as Qarin’s new boyfriend.
“These are my best ladies, Liz, Lilly and Lauren.”
Qarin’s rather general gesture makes it impossible for me to assign names from the alliterative list to individual girls. However, this is not a huge problem as all three instantly start talking at the same time, eventually easing in to a disorienting routine of completing each other’s sentences.
“Well if it isn’t the mysterious late night caller in the flesh.”
“Qarin has told us a lot about you…”
“We pictured you a bit taller…
“…and rougher at the edges but…”
“…she definitely nailed the brooding eyes.”
I extend a hand of greeting. Instead, I find myself pulled and coaxed into a place on the couch between them where a merciless interrogation commences. Meeting a girl’s friends is a tricky tight rope act. A little flirting never hurts but too much flirting will yield you enemies for life. I quickly decide that my best strategy, as is often the case in awkward social situations, is to throw a ludicrous amount of charm and booze at the situation. By the time I order the third round of shots and run through the greatest hits of self-deprecating stories, it is as if we are all old friends.
All three girls are head turners, quick-witted and slightly overdressed for the surroundings. The bar is one of those plastic and blue-light holes where the only ways of knowing that you are in a chic, exclusive establishment are the drink prices and the fact that your fellow patrons keep reminding you. At one point, I swear I see Rex standing at the bar but before I can shoot Qarin a nervous look he is gone.
Along with the touch of betrayal related paranoia, the speed and booze also have my jaw wagging. I am certainly saying things I will regret in the morning but I am picking up the vibe from Qarin that I am holding my own. I can safely assume that if I were toying with catastrophic embarrassment the signs from her would not be subtle. The three L’s in turn have me in stitches with all manner of embarrassing bedroom gossip on a number of rather well heeled mutual acquaintances.
Eventually two of the girls slip off with respective suitors du jour. The quieter, more petite of the three, who I believe is named Lauren and I are left chatting on the couch. By now she is rather sauced and in the midst of an embarrassing tale concerning Qarin and the affections of a fifteen year old Saudi prince.
“… so, she couldn’t shake him or his handlers. She decided to pretend she was Jewish. She even got a Rabbi who owed her a few favors to vouch for her, but that just got the kid hotter for it. Eventually we had to fake her death, sitting Shiva and the whole schpeel to keep the bit going. It was like a multi-ethnic Three’s Company episode, with three Chrissys. I was certain we were all going to wake up bound and burqaed in Dubai without our passports.”
I look across the table hoping to catch a touch of embarrassment or horror on Qarin’s face but her seat is empty. I search the grinding late night crowd for her. Eventually, I spot her across the room talking to a rather handsome gentleman in a dark suit.
“Lauren, who is that Qarin’s talking to?” I try to sublimate the hints of jealousy into innocent curiosity.”
“Oh, that’s just Samael”
There is both an intimacy between Qarin and Samael and a slow brewing hostility.
“No… well sort of, it’s a pretty complicated bit of ancient history.”
Then Lauren catches Samael’s eye and her cheeks immediately flush. With a teenage giggle, she manages a seductive little wave of her hand. I turn to give the guy a thorough going over and have to admit that he is dishy, in a dark, brooding, Mediterranean way. I am struck for a moment with conflicting impulses of lust and jealousy.
Qarin must sense our attempts at eavesdropping. She ends the conversation abruptly and walks away, leaving Samael trying to look casual standing alone against the wall.
Walking back towards us, she wears a cryptic smile that blocks any attempt to decipher her thoughts. She slides around the table and into my lap.
“I don’t know about you, but I think we have wrung all the fun out of this place. What do you say we grab a car back to yours?”
I turn to say goodnight to Lauren but now her seat sits empty. She is across the room picking up the conversation with Samael where Qarin dropped it. He catches me staring and nods gently in my direction as if he knows all about me.
I have a sudden and powerful urge to go over and make out with the guy, that or punch his lights out. I decide that it would be rude to not at least go over and introduce myself. However, Qarin is already on the phone with car service and disappearing into the crowd. Introductions will have to wait for another time.
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