That had been a horrible Saturday and Taylor woke up in the dark part of Sunday morning, frightened and hungover. He looked at his phone to see a text from Artie. He and Butchie had won $4000 on a longshot Pick-3. Artie felt like he was on a winning streak and wanted Taylor to come up to The City for the Sunday races.
Carrying a bagel and coffee from Peace, Love, he caught the first train. It’s a two-hour trip and he passed most of it in a near-sleep haze. He walked six blocks from Union Station to the Metro Hotel, the only place Artie would ever stay. He knocked at 606, the only room Artie would ever reserve. Artie was such an extravagant tipper that if someone else had the room, the manager, offering comps and apologies, would move them.
Artie opened the door. The suite smelled of burnt bacon. Butchie was sprawled in the roof garden, cultivating a suntan, lotion lathered on his bald head.
“Winning streak, baby,” Artie said, rubbing his hands.
“You know better than that.” Taylor had schooled Artie in the theory that most winning streaks are random events that only appear to have a pattern.
“Killjoy,” said Artie. “Winning beats statistics every time.”
But a $4000 win meant nothing financially to Artie. His trust fund was orders of magnitude bigger. His racetrack win was all about pride. Winning made him feel, temporarily, like God was smiling in his direction. Artie was oblivious to the notion that God had been smiling in his direction since the moment egg met sperm.
”Want me to have a breakfast sent up?” Artie asked. “New chef. Fantastic French toast now. He cooks it in a waffle iron. We already ate.”
Watching Butchie turn over in his lounger, Taylor said, “Did you guys have any luck on the Marco thing?”
“Oh yeah,” Artie said. “Butchie took care of that last night.”
The three men spent the day at the horse races but Taylor could barely concentrate. Artie lost a couple of hundred, Butchie broke even and Taylor bet so little that he didn’t bother with the accounting. Butchie would only say he had tracked down Marco the Ferryman after a couple of “inquiries.”
“We’re gonna ambush the motherfucker,” Butchie said.
When the races were over they rode a light rail car from the racetrack to the commuter train station. There was still plenty of light in the sky when they walked through the tunnel that connected the two transit systems. At the end of that dark stretch they entered Union Station. Once allowed to fester like an urban sore, the station had been gloriously restored, but was now quiet, its commuters home yawning in the suburbs. The three men waited on hard, 100-year-old wooden benches and watched the tunnel exit.
“You’ll see,” said Butchie. “Marco’s been making the rounds of the downtown taverns, selling his tickets. When we get him cornered, you ask him a question, I ask him a question, we go like that. Break down his bullshit. It’s a cop trick.”
Marco strolled out of the darkness alone, headed for the
7 o’clock train. The three surrounded him.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Marco said, frightened but trying to grin through it. “Nice to see you! What’s happening?”
“Let’s talk,” said Butchie.
Marco shrugged. “So talk.”
“No, it’s you who needs to talk,” said Butchie.
Marco laughed, but not with humor. Taylor fought the urge to throttle him. Here was a man who well could be guilty of his mom’s murder, either directly or as an accomplice. He was revolted by the idea that Marco’s ugly face might have been the last one his mother ever saw.
“Let’s …” said Marco. “Let’s get a beer at the Isle of Dogs, okay?”
Butchie nodded, took Marco by the arm, began to march him. Marco said: “Let’s use the street, not the tunnel, okay?”
“You scared of tunnels?” said Butchie, then laughed. “Okay.”
“Artie, how you been?” said Marco. “And your friend, Tyler, right?”
“It’s Taylor,” Artie said. “People been looking for you, Marco.”
“Well…” said Marco.
“Enough chit chat,” groused Butchie, and they all shut up and crossed the street, hopped over the light rail tracks and headed into the neon-lit dive bar called the Isle of Dogs.
It was a crude hot-dog-and-beer joint that had been across from the train station since the 1930s. It was cheap, and popular with commuters. It was famous for its owner’s antics. He was known to cut off the ties of pretentious commuters who shop-talked at the bar. But without its work-day trade, the Isle of Dogs was just a seedy gin mill.
Butchie commandeered a table near the stinking mens room. It was gloomy dark. The walls were decorated with paintings of dogs doing human things: smoking cigars, playing poker. They sat at a sticky table and Artie trotted off to get four beers.
“The kid here,” Butchie told Marco, “is gonna ask you some questions and you’re gonna answer them honestly. A lie’s gonna put you in a wuh wuh wheelchair. We got that straight?”
“May 23rd of last year,” Taylor said. “Your ferry was scheduled for its last departure at ten fifteen. It never showed up.”
Marco, staring at the table, muttered.
“Speak up,” said Butchie.
“Maybe.” With pleading eyes, Marco looked from Taylor to Butchie. “I don’t remember everything from a year ago.”
“Did you miss the last run that night?”
“Okay, I think I did.”
Artie approached clutching mugs of beer like a Hofbrau bar maid. Butchie waved him off.
“You missed the last run?” Taylor asked.
“Yes, I told you.”
“So you remember good now?” Butchie said.
“The police also asked.”
“Ah,” said Butchie, “and you lied to them, right?”
“They can deport me. My family needs the money I send home.”
“Ah,” said Butchie. “An appeal to our better natures.” He slammed the table with his open hand. “We have no better natures! Why did you skip the run?”
“I was paid,” said Marco.
“The big man who talks funny.”
Nick the Bulgarian? Butchie looked at Taylor, who glared at Marco.
Taylor said: “Why did he pay you that money? What was he up to?”
“He was playing a trick on somebody.”
“What was this big man’s name?” demanded Butchie.
“I don’t know. I’ve seen him on the boat. Many times. Always he’s pissed off. That’s all I know about him.”
Butchie collared Marco, forced him into the reeking mens’ room. Taylor squeezed in behind Butchie, who shoved Marco up against the tiled, graffiti-smeared wall.
“Name!” Butchie growled. “Now.”
“I don’t know!” Marco cried. “I don’t know.”
“When you’ve seen him on the ferry, who’s he been with?” Butchie said.
“Alone. Or with bad girls. Or with that Billie lady sometimes.”
“On the night of May 23, was he with anyone?” Taylor asked.
“Not that I saw.”
Butchie grabbed his collar.
“No,” said Marco. “Nobody. Nobody that I saw.”
“You hedging little motherfucker,” Butchie said, “I’m gonna knock your teeth down your throat.”
“He walked up alone. Please. I got family.”
Butchie let his shirt go.
“Nick the Bulgarian, we’re talking about?” Taylor asked.
“I don’t know his name, I told you.”
“Six foot five or so, muscle-bound, platinum hair, stupid face?”
Butchie shoved Marco against a cracked, stained urinal. Then he unzipped his fly, whipped out his penis, and pissed on Marco’s shoes. Marco danced away. Butchie laughed, zipped up, and led Taylor out of the bathroom.
At the table once again, Butchie motioned to Artie to bring the beers.
“Friends drinking after a suh suh successful day at the races,” Butchie gloated, and hoisted his glass.
“Where’s Marco?” Artie asked.
“He had to go pee pee,” Butchie said.