“A sunken ship just appeared in the middle of a bar on Front and A Streets. Go!”
Jack Ridley hung up on his boss and crawled out from under the mountain of blankets and dirty clothes piled on top of him. Scratching his bare chest and yawning wide enough to crack his jaw, he slid down to the carpet. There was a crunching sound beneath him as he sat down, and he pulled out the partially crushed beer can that was digging into his ass. He looked down at the cell phone in his hand and the display told him it was eight o’clock in the evening. He ran a hand down his face.
“Good going, Ridley. You slept right through Wednesday.” He braced a hand on the corner of his bedside table and pulled himself up, groaning as his bones creaked and popped with the exertion.
He stumbled into the bathroom, tripping on the empty pizza box and the hard plastic controller of his video game console on the way. Ignoring the throbbing in his toe, he fumbled for the light switch on the bathroom wall and blinked at his reflection in the mirror above the sink as his eyes adjusted to the harsh glow of the fluorescent light. His red-rimmed, deep-seated eyes stared back blearily at him. There was a yellowing bruise under his left eye, courtesy of a psycho who thought Jack had stared a little too long at his skank girlfriend. A beer bottle to the back of the head had disabused the fucker of the notion. Jack got his ass hauled to the drunk tank overnight for it, but damn it had been worth it.
His face, his grandmother told him, was that of an angel. An ex-girlfriend who was an Art History major in college told him he possessed features Michelangelo would have killed to sculpt. He laughed bitterly at the memory. It was the reason he’d learned how to fight at an early age. The bump on the bridge of his nose, the pencil-thin scar on his upper lip, and the ragged two-inch slash on his left temple all had stories of their own.
Combined with the two-day-old beard, the faded dragon tattoo that wrapped around one bicep, and the hatchet job he performed on his hair twice a month with a rusty pair of scissors, he looked like a junkie who’d kill his own mother for a fix. He ran a hand over the inch-long black spikes on top of his head. It was getting a little long. He’d have to do something about it soon.
He turned on the faucet, cupped his hands underneath, and splashed his face twice before applying soap to it. He rubbed vigorously for a minute, then rinsed thoroughly, slicking back his hair with the water in his hands as he straightened up.
While he swished a mouthful of Listerine, he flung open the medicine cabinet and reached for the bottle of Vicodin. The label told him it belonged to Mary Ann Smith. He frowned when he didn’t recognize the name. A moment later, a smirk twisted his upper lip. The long-legged blonde with the mouth like a DirtDevil and a bathroom that looked like a pharmacy. While she slept, he swiped some Xanax, Percocet, Dilaudid, and his drug of choice, Vicodin, before sneaking out of her apartment.
He spat out the Listerine and tossed back four Vicodin tabs and a Percocet, crunching them between his teeth and washing them down with a handful of sink water. A quick sniff told him he should probably take a shower soon, but he had no time for that now. He scrubbed under his arms with a wet face towel, then gave them each two swipes of deodorant to cover up the funk. He slipped on the first pair of jeans he found on the floor of his room and a blue t-shirt from the pile on his bed that looked passably clean. There was a tiny spot of blood on the chest from the little bar scuffle he’d gotten into the other night, but the shirt was dark enough that it was hardly noticeable. Besides, that was what a jacket was for.
On his way out, the phone in the pocket of his jeans vibrated. Probably his boss again, wondering where the hell he was. But as the pleasant hazy feeling from the Vicodin swept over him, he cared less and less. Fuck the boss, anyway. Who the hell did he think he was? Jack seriously considered returning to his place and crashing in front of the TV.
He looked down at his feet, which were distinctly leading him to the elevator. Why was his body not obeying him? He shrugged and stumbled into the yawning mouth of the death trap that was older than his grandmother. Squinting his eyes so he could see the panel of buttons better, he stabbed a button marked G and sagged into a corner as the fluorescent lights above his head flickered and the elevator groaned and creaked with the effort of conveying him to his destination.
Wouldn’t it be a bitch if the fucker crashed and smashed him into the concrete like a pancake? He laughed.
Jack parked his motorcycle a few blocks from the Red Dragon Bar because he couldn’t find a spot any closer. He’d been to it a few times, but it had never been packed on a weeknight. The college kids, punks, slumming yuppies, and hoodrats looking for hook-ups were nowhere to be seen tonight. Instead, the place was swarming with cops, their pig mobiles parked in the middle of the street like they couldn’t give a rat’s ass about blocking traffic. There were also an ambulance, a fire truck, and a couple of news vans. Gary Stevens, a correspondent he used to work with, spotted him and gave him a nod of acknowledgment.
Bemused, Jack nodded back. What the hell was NBC doing here? Shit, maybe he shouldn’t have hung up so quickly on Harry. He tried to remember what his boss had barked in his ear, and the words that echoed back to him were “sunken” and “ship." At the time, he’d been a little fuzzy with sleep—not to mention hung over, so he didn’t really think to ask Harry to clarify. Harry was always sending him on bullshit jobs. That was what he and his team specifically covered: bullshit. Each week, they produced a segment featuring crackpots and charlatans living in the San Diego area for a local news station and gleefully busted each of them on live TV. Last week, it was a psychic dog. The week before that, it was a woman who could read your future from the cellulite on your butt.