The Bergman Files Nr3
The Gospel According to Luke
or Pithecanthropus Erectus
A Story by Ben Erikson
I sat on the floor cradling the phone, making the twentieth call, the thirtieth, keeping my voice even, having consciously to work on that now, the frustration kicking in. It had dawned on me about 10 calls ago that this wasn't going to work. I couldn't give up on it though - not with two sets of green eyes on me like that. Most of the calls went unanswered even after 20 rings, some of them were answered by foreign voices - Spanish, Portuguese, some that sounded East European - Slovakian, anyone? Hong Kong Chinese. Some English words in deep, rich African dialects which rendered them strange-sounding, elevated and reduced at once.
This wasn't how I'd do it normally. Under other circumstances I'd have been out there on foot, bracing these joints in person. I'd have been able to pick up all the little clues you get from the environment, from body language, from looking into sets of green eyes. Even the dialect-speakers would have revealed something to me. They'd have been more inclined to for one thing; in person they'd have communicated something. For sure.
Even if it was just "Fuck you, Charlie!"
I shifted position and reached out to the tray of snacks and mineral water I'd had room service send up. I poured myself the last inch from the little bottle and drained it gratefully. Little Luke stretched out full length on the bed, a giant hotel towel wrapped round him covering his nakedness. All his clothes had been sent down to the hotel laundry to be de-fumigated or something. He watched me at work, occasionally reaching forward to choose a piece of fruit from the platter in front of him. Healthy eating at last!
Maddy sat beside him a hand resting lovingly, protectively over his buttocks, patting him, rubbing him, reaching down from time to time and kissing his head, his neck, at one point, his sweet little rump.
"Mom!" he'd complained. But he was loving the attention and Maddy couldn't keep her hands off him, wouldn't take her eyes off him ever again. And there I was, trying not to look too hard, trying not to think of my hands on him, my mouth kissing his sweet little rump.
Their reunion had been touching to behold. I'd booked the hotel room days ago, had checked in a few hours before my spot of B&E at Luke's apartment. I'd arranged with Maddy to meet her here today. I hadn't told her that I hoped to have her son in tow and hadn't told Luke that we should be seeing his mother. Why get their hopes up? It's not as if it couldn't have all gone wrong.
After the drama in Luke's flat I'd calmed him down, put the front door back together, packed some of his clothes into a mouldy holdall and had him out of there within the hour. That was yesterday. Luke had crashed out fully dressed on the hotel bed - totally wowed by the relatively luxurious surroundings. I sat on the floor all night and thought hard, ran through the options. The next morning - this morning - I'd woken him with a room service breakfast and an hour or so of TV cartoons. He still hadn't asked what was happening, what our next move was. I let him enjoy the novelty of hotel life.
The call came at 11.30 that morning.
"Mr Bergman? Reception here. I have a Miss Madeleine Dejean for you. She's here in the lobby."
Using her maiden name again I noted - despite her latest husband. I wondered if that marriage had already crashed.
Lukie still didn't know - not even when she knocked on the door. I opened up and made to embrace Maddy. She looked pleased to see me but there was anxiety and a slight reproach in her eyes as well, as if I'd dragged her here to no purpose; I was wasting her time when I could be out looking for Kirk, for Luke. Then she saw him. She let out a kind of animal groan and pushed past me with a strength that maybe only a mother could summon when presented with a glimpse of her lost son.
"Luke! My love. My darling!"
Seeing her, Luke jumped up onto the bed and bounced up and down on it as if on a trampoline.
"Maddy!" he said, waving his arms up and down. "Maman, maman, my mummy!!"
I left them to it for a few minutes. They were still entwined ten minutes later, crying freely onto one another, both of them trampolining on the bed.
Now they were just two sets of silent eyes on me, the phone, my progress or lack of it.
There was a slight shuffling on the line as the phone was apparently transferred to a more amenable position.
"Lester Howard please"
He sounded testy, aggressive. I'd have to play this very carefully. Already the two sets of eyes had fixed on me with greater scrutiny. Luke began to speak but was hushed by his mother.
"Hello Lester. It's Mike Bergman. It's been a long time."
"Mike? That you, Mike? Shit." A pause, then:
"What you want, Mike? Like you say ... a long time."
"Lester, I really need your help. I've been phoning round but I'm glad it's you I got. I think you'll understand...you got kids, right? Kaya? Yeah? And...Marley? Right? How are they?"
"What my kids got to do with anything? Listen Bergman...Lieutenant Bergman...I don't know what you..."
"I'm not on the job anymore...I thought you knew that."
"I heard you went out West. LA, was it?"
"You still keep your ears to the ground then?"
A long pause.
"What you want? We're even now. I've paid all my debts to you!"
"Agreed. This is a favour - a big favour. I'll owe you."
"You know my word's good, man. Yes?"
"OK. You always treated me straight, I'll give you that."
"More than that Lester. I got you off those possession charges, remember? You walked. Walked right back to being Marley's daddy, yes? So you could be there for him, man. See him grow up, keep him out of trouble. More than a lot of daddies can say..."
"What you want now Bergman? Just lay it out - cut the crap, man!"
I fed him the basics of the story, concentrating on the little boy and his mother searching for a missing father, a father gone to bad. Just like he could have gone if he hadn't been given a golden break by one Lieutenant Mike Bergman all those years ago. Now I played the killer card.
"The guy I'm looking for, Lester. It's Kirk Garrett- the Kirk Garrett -you know, the..."
"I know who Kirk is, you fuck!"
There was a long, long pause.
Lester suddenly sounded reluctant, tired and quick to anger.
"That's one sorry boy. Kirk Garrett. Fuck. Jesus, man. What d'you want from me?"
"Where is he, Lester? Where's he hang out? What's he up to? What's the story?"
I specifically didn't ask who else was after him other than me; what the bounty was on the street giving information as to his likely whereabouts.
"He's running with a wild crowd now, Mike. Not even you can help him. He's on the rocks this time, know what I mean? On the rocks!"
He was trying to help, trying to give me clues without actually coming out with it.
"Lester, think of his little boy. He wants his daddy back, same as Marley wanted you back. I gave you back to Marley - you do the same for Kirk now. It's his last chance. Believe me Lester, you give me this and I'll do the rest, I promise."
"He threw it all away, Mike. He could have been great. He had all the talent and the cocky little fuck goes and blows it all...and the cocksucker's white. No offence. But if he was here Mike, I'd kick his ass. Hey, when you get him, you kick his ass for me, yes? That a deal?"
"Sure, Lester. Be my pleasure."
"OK, man. Word is he's in deep. Deep debt with some local gang - kids, Mike, just kids but nasty little fuckers. Anyway, word is he hangs out at The Odessa Club fleecing out-of-towners with his tales of what he could have been. Stealing their wallets, credit cards, whatever. The sad fuck. You remember The Odessa?"
"Yeah, man" I said.
"Kick his ass for me, Mike. And don't call again, you fuck."
He put the phone down.
I looked over to Maddy and Luke, their two sets of green eyes boring into my skull. I briefly thought through what I could tell them, what I couldn't tell them.
"On the rocks" Lester had said.
A crack junkie. Shit.
We were all sitting there thinking our thoughts when there was a thunderous knocking on the door. I jumped up, little startled myself; I was expecting this but thought it would be announced from Reception the same way Maddy's arrival had been.
Jello's bulky frame lumbered past me into the room. God knows what he'd told the clerk but I could understand if no-one wanted to argue with him.
"Hi kids!" he bellowed to his ex-wife and the startled product of his ex-wife's infidelity. He was a whirl of energy in the little room, sweeping everyone along in kisses, hugs and high fives.
"How we doin', baby? Shit, you looking' good, girl! Lukie, my man! Hey, man you're almost grown up - come and give you're favourite uncle a hug, sweetheart. What you wearin' this towel for, man. You hidin' your little pecker from me? What's up, my man? You gone shy on your uncle J? Hey, Mike baby, this place do room service?"
It had taken ten minutes or more to get accustomed to the dim lighting; that and the overloaded PA system. The four of us were crowded in a booth near the back enjoying what passed for VIP treatment. The fact is, The Odessa Club wasn't the worst joint in town, just fucking close. I hadn't reckoned on Maddy and Luke coming along as well but she had insisted that there was no way she was staying cooped up in a hotel room with Luke whilst me and Jello hit the town. So I really had no option. In any case she was used to joints like this - and worse. I'd had to argue at the door to get Luke inside but that had been smoothed over as soon as Jello was recognised. This was one of his old haunts and the site of many a memorable night when he could still cut it on the stand. The thickset security suddenly made like they knew him from before, were old pals. Jello played along to get Lukie in then almost ruined it by turning back to them and shouting
"Kiss my ass, motherfuckers" at the top of his voice.
He sat across from me now, then Matty, then Luke, squashed up next to me in his freshly laundered clothes. Matty had made a big fuss of dressing him herself when they were sent back up all ironed and smelling of hotel perfume, Jello standing there embarrassing the hell out of the boy by commenting in a loud voice on the size of his cock. At one point he reached out and pulled at it gently, making Luke squirm and giggle and bite his lip all at once:
"Hey Mike, you seen this little fella'? This little kid will be makin' babies himself soon. Look at it standing up already!"
Luke's penis was, indeed, sticking up happily on it's own whilst his mother wrestled to pull his clean underwear up over his knees. She shushed Jello angrily and smacked his hand away quite hard.
"Les petits garcons, tous les deux!" she exclaimed, reverting to her native tongue, a sign of real annoyance which Jello remembered from their marriage and had the sense to respect.
"D'accord, sweetheart." he said and winked at Luke.
Once we were settled in the booth a kind of seriousness came over us all. Jello spoke first.
"Mike, let me do it. I'll not fuckup. I know exactly what to say."
"Mike, don't listen to him. You know Kirk, he'll run a mile if J upsets him. He always was scared of him and he is not so different now I think, yes? He too is a child."
She reached over and ran her hand over Luke's hair as she thought about this: how we were all children, all us men, playing our silly, childish games, then running back to Maman when we needed comforting.
She leaned into Luke's ear and spoke to him rapidly in French, something she had been doing often back at the hotel. He leaned up in response and planted the lightest of kisses on her lips.
"D'accord, Maman." I lip-read him say.
He turned towards me.
"What if Kir..pap..daddy doesn't come?"
Luke asking the million dollar question.
Suddenly, the PA boomed louder, fell silent, screeched with feedback and boomed again, slightly less loudly. Congas. Then bongos joined by bass, a tall man with a long bushy beard swayed towards the microphone. He was evidently MC'ing tonight's band, an Afro-Jazz outfit which, in addition to the bongos, congas and bass, boasted three state of the art keyboards, a DJ manipulating turntables and laptop computer, a baritone and tenor sax and three mysterious dark-skinned women in robes swaying with trance-like elegance. They hit straight into a cover of a Mingus classic - Pithocanthropus Erectus over which the MC chanted introductory platitudes before bowing elaborately to each corner of the half empty room.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it...if we come to it. OK?"
Not the million dollar answer maybe but enough to satisfy them all for now. As it happened, I'd spotted Kirk ten minutes earlier and had shifted in my seat to keep his booth in view. He was sandwiched in between the two young toughs who'd called for him at his apartment last night. They were having a grand time, it seemed; laughing, drinking, getting high.
I sat back in my seat, snuggled up against Luke and watched the scene carefully, waiting for the right moment. As if there was a right moment to do what I was about to do.