Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Harold & Morty

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Harold & Morty

Article excerpt

There was another murder the night Harold went missing. They'd been happening all summer. People wanted to blame them on the Santa Anas, which drove Angelenos batty every year, but the winds hadn't even started blowing yet. Although the victims had been found in this area, to read the Times, police weren't even sure the murders were related. The bodies all had neck injuries: some were strangled, their larynx or hyoid bones crushed, whiles others appeared to have been garroted with something like piano wire. Still others had had their throats slit, and fairly sloppily at that. The murders had people on edge.

Some of us were just trying to fit in. We kept a low profile and avoided drawing attention to ourselves. We changed our wardrobes and hairstyles and patterns of speech, whatever it took. We'd gone underground, so to speak. All we wanted was to be left in peace, but the murders made that impossible. Every time a new body was discovered in a dumpster behind Fong's Take-Out or under a bush in Elysian Park or on the shore of Silver Lake, whose doors would L.A.'s finest come pounding on first?

We were outsiders; we weren't to be trusted.

It wasn't even dawn and Harold was probably still in bed, but I mixed up two of my special Bloody Marys, slipped across the breezeway, and, balancing the glasses in one hand, knocked on his door.

It took a few minutes before I heard thudding across the hardwood floors. My hands were getting cold from the drinks. The locks clinked and rattled as he slipped off the chain, unfastened the deadbolts, then thought better of it and refastened the chain. He looked dopey as he peered into the breezeway's halogen glow.

"Morty?" he said. "What time is it?"

Harold was a small, disheveled man with glasses. Although it was a warm August morning, and he'd clearly been asleep, he wore what he always wore: a shirt and tie under a gray V-neck sweater, gray slacks, and a cloak. He'd replaced loafers with slippers and his pointy hat with a sleeping cap.

"About 5:30," I said. "Can I come in? I brought breakfast."

We stood in the dim light of his living room sipping Bloody Marys. It smelled like stale cigarettes and fish sauce, the two things Dragon Lady, the previous tenant, loved most in the world. She disappeared back in April, still owing two months' rent, and left all her belongings behind. The manager had to hire a couple of guys with a flatbed truck to get rid of her mess.

He swirled his drink with the celery stalk. "So what brings you over here before dawn, Morty? Some of us sleep at night, remember?"

"Sorry about that. But I heard about another murder on the news. I need a favor."

His face tightened as I spoke, and he kept pulling his glasses off and putting them back on. "Why can't you just tell them the truth?"

"How many unsolved murders do the police have on their hands now? This summer alone? Don't you think they'll frame whoever they can, as soon as they can?"

"I take your point," Harold said. He swiped off his sleeping cap and made a half-hearted attempt to put his bed-head in order. "So what do you want me to tell them?"

I put finger and thumb to chin, as if I didn't already have all the details sorted out. "Well," I said, "perhaps we went to El Chivo for dinner. An 8:30 reservation."

"That's not too early? For your, uh, condition?"

"The sun sets between 7:30 and 8:00. Don't you know this?"

"It's not quite as important for me, Morty."

"I forget that sometimes." I stared at the dingy wall over his left shoulder, mulling. "So we hit the Mexican joint just after twilight."

"Did anyone see us?"

"Cassandra's the regular bartender, right? And she's got a thing for you."

"True enough," he said. "I could probably give her a call."

I took a sip of Bloody Mary. Harold did the same. We listened to the roar of morning traffic on the 101.

"Okay," he said. "Then what?"

"After dinner, we came back over here and watched Fangland until about midnight. …

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