With a flick of the thumb he opened the old Zippo lighter and thumbed it into life before lifting the bright flame to the end of the cigarette.
And paused . . .
A bright pink Caddy convertible slid into the No Parking Zone as if it belonged there and quietly came to a halt. A big battleship of a car, with high tail fins in back and a spread of metal across the front hood big enough to be the landing deck of a Nimetz-class carrier. Hot pink. Freshly polished . . . with white vinyl seats. The white so intense he thought about lifting a hand up to shade the glare from his eyes.
One big sonofabitch of a car.
Had to be a ’59 Caddy convertible. Looked just like the one he remembered his grandmother had way back when he was six or seven. Yet it looked as if it just rolled off a showroom floor. But as if the car wasn’t enough to gawk at, the guy sitting behind the wheel was . . . was . . . unreal.
At first the thought of Charlie Chan. White three-piece Southern Plantation suit. Perfectly tailored. Very expensive material. Hung on the guy’s frame like a million dollars. Not even a smidgeon of dirt anywhere to be seen on the white. With white loafers. Glistening white loafers. But instead of a white derby sitting directly atop the man’s head there was, instead, a wide brimmed white fedora. The complexion of the guy suggesting oriental origins. Or maybe not. Maybe Egyptian. Or Roman. Definitely pudgy around the midsection. Obviously the guy enjoyed his groceries. But you really couldn’t call him fat. Not yet. No . . . this wasn’t a Charlie Chan. Charlie Chan was a Hawaiian-Chinese homicide detective based out of Honolulu. A fictional character concocted by a writer from out of the 1930’s. This guy . . . this guy, as he rolled out from behind the massively wide steering wheel of the car and reached into the back seat to extract a rather expensive looking leather briefcase, along with an odd looking twisted black ebony shillelagh-like cane, was real. ‘Bout five eleven . . . maybe six foot. ‘Bout two ten, maybe two twenty on the bathroom scales. With just the suggestion of double chins beginning to thicken.
Not Hawaiian. Nor Chinese. Not anyone from the Far East. This guy had the greenest/yellow eyes he had ever seen and a smile that seemed to burst out from somewhere deep within. A smile that could warm up the frozen heart of a Spanish Inquisitor standing in a dungeon cell directly dead center on the North Pole.
“My dear boy, kindly show me the way to your booking sergeant.”
“Uh . . . uh . . . sure. This way, fella.”
For some reason he felt compelled to personally escort this creature through the mayhem of the precinct’s ground floor. As they moved through the crowd of those being booked, those being sprung, lawyers, cops, and assorted other denizens of the legal spectrum, he kept turning his head to look over his shoulder and at the guy following behind him. He kept tripping over his feet. He also noticed a number of others in the crowded commons area looking up from their desks and staring with that kinda dumbass look at the man dressed in white.
“Whatta want, Preston?”
The booking sergeant was a gray haired, iron jawed old veteran wore a permanent scowl across his gray face as if it was a mark of distinction or a battle wound.
“Dear boy, you really must take better care of your exquisite little Rosa Xanthia here. They are a hardy species, to be sure. But such neglect is almost criminal. Yet truly a gorgeous specimen. I do so love flowers.”
The sergeant paused, fingers coming to a halt just above the keyboard as, puzzled, he rotated around in his chair and gazed at the creature standing on the other side of his desk pouring water out of a paper cup into the small vase which contained one single, rather sickly looking, yellow rose. Eyes blinked a couple of times in a kind of automatic reaction. Clearing his vision, with the thought of maybe he was seeing things running through his mind, he openly stared at the white image.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Maurice. Just call me Maurice, good fellow. Here to see my client.”
“You? You’re telling me you are a lawyer?”
Clearly in the sergeant’s voice was a note of incredulity.
“Indeed,” the creature nodded, beaming delightedly as gawkers, both uniformed and not, drifted over to stand just behind the sergeant’s desk to they could listen in on the conversation. “Recently arrived into this fair city and looking forward to establish deep roots. My client is my first case, I might add. My very first.”
“Who’s your client?”
“A delightful gentleman by the name of Randall Cooke.”
“Wha . . . Cooke? You said Randall Cooke? That Randall Cooke?”
“The Rapist and child molester?” someone in behind the sergeant mouthed angrily. “You’re gonna represent that guy? Why?”
The collective faces of the gathered crowd reflected back the images of anger, disgust, dismay and incredulity. Every knew Randall Cooke was guilty. Raped and murdered a nineteen year old mother and then turned his sick fury onto the eight month old baby. The guy was a sick pervert that needed to fry. Fry in the electric chair. Or, at least, thrown in a jail cell and then forgotten altogether.
“Gentlemen, a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. The founding principal in our judicial system, which has singularly separated our courts and civilization from the rest of this often times barbaric world for the last two and one half centuries. I, contrary to popular opinion, happen to believe Randall Cooke has been falsely accused. Now would someone be so gallant as to show me to the nearest interrogation room so I might converse with him?”
“Uh . . . sure. Sure . . .” the desk sergeant grunted, unconsciously reaching for his desk phone as he continued to stare at the beaming white suited lawyer. “Preston, show him to Interrogation One.”
“Uh huh . . . sure, Sarge,” the young cop nodded absently, turning as if partially paralyzed in a hypnotic state and touching the guy’s right elbow gently at the same time. “This way . . . fella.”
When Randall Cooke walked into the room narrow black slits for eyes turned and stared at the figure sitting at the table, fingertips of both hands pressed gently against each other, a beatific smile beaming from his thin lips. A round man dressed in virgin white. With the odd green and yellow flecked eyes staring back at him, openly honest and unafraid.
Cooke paused, half turned to face the young cop who escorted him to the room, yet without taking his eyes off the creature sitting at the table patiently.
“Who is this guy?”
“I have a lawyer?” Cooke barked, lifting an eyebrow in surprise yet painting across his mug a sincere look of distaste at the form sitting at the table in front of him. “This is got to be a joke. This guy doesn’t look like a Public Defender.”
“Shuddup and sit down. Be happy you got someone, even this guy, to represent you,” snarled the cop before slamming door closed.
He hesitated, a calloused, big hand running across his mouth as he eyed the man in white. But then, shrugging, he pulled out a chair directly across from the smiling man and sat down.
“Who’d throw good money down to hire a lawyer for me?”
“My . . . client wishes not to be identified. But she wants me to assure you she knows you are innocent. Innocent at least of this crime.”
“She?” Cooke growled, frowning in confusion. “I don’t know any women with this kind of money to throw around. So what’s the scam, counselor? What’s going on here?”
“Tell me, Randall . . . if you will allow me to call you be your first name . . . why did you confess to this crime?”
“Why not?” the unshaven, powerful built man said, shrugging and throwing one leg over the other as he sat crossways in the chair and stared at the smiling man. “Everyone thinks I did it anyway. I’m just saving them the trouble of actually working for a living.”
Maurice smiled with a faint look of sadness, his tongue making a loud clicking noise of irritation, as he shook his head disapprovingly for a moment or two before turning his head to his right. Not more than four feet away from where he sat the bright mirrored glass of a one-way window stared at them with an unblinking rudeness. On the other side of the glass he knew the room was empty. Empty, that is, of any one living.
She came sliding through the glass window in one smooth motion. First her hands appeared, followed by long arms, then her unearthly pale white face, and eventually her long, pale ghostly white torso. Across the room she floated. Moving in a slight bobbing action one sees in Goldfish swimming in a fish bowl, wrapping arms around the neck of Randall Cooke and then gently hugging him in her embrace.
For his part Randall Cooke was unaware of her presence.
But he was aware something had happened. His eyes narrowed as he gazed at the odd looking face of the man sitting across from him. The counselor’s eyes seemed to be unfocused. Unfocused and staring at something maybe behind him. His frown deepening, he wondered if he should get up, pound on the door, and insist on being taking back to his cell.
“Edward, she says you should stay. If we’re going to get you cleared of this charge, you have to stay and cooperate to the fullest extent. In fact she insists on it.”
For the first time in a long, long, long time Edward Randall Cooke stared at the white clad figure in front of him in disbelief. He felt as if a five hundred pound gorilla had just punched him in the gut. Or maybe blindsided by a couple of NFL linebackers. No one knew his full name. He had never told anyone. Except for two people. And both of them were dead.
“How . . . who . . . told you I was Edward?”
“Oh, my dear boy. Don’t look so stunned. Are you familiar with Shakespeare? Perhaps the play, Hamlet? “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies!”
“Who told you my first name,” Cooke snapped back, leaning menacingly over the table.
“Your lovely daughter, Tammy,” the beaming face of the odd man said, lifting up an open palm toward the felon sitting across the table to stop him from speaking. “To answer your next question, I met her this morning. She dropped into my office . . . literally . . . this morning and insisted I had to defend you. A most unusual case. I could not possibly refuse.”
The hardened criminal with a long history of assorted felonies and misdemeanors slowly sat back in his chair and just stared at the strange little counselor dressed in the white cotton suit in disbelief. Unblinking eyes fixed on the counselor he could do nothing but just stare.
Tammy . . . today . . . told this man his full name was Edward Randall Cooke. Told him . . . today . . . she had not been murdered by her father and insisted, that was her words, insisted he should represent her father in tomorrow’s court appearance. But . . . but Tammy, his daughter, and her son . . . his grandson . . . were dead. Murdered more than a month ago by someone. Someone who knew him and knew Tammy and the baby were his. But it was impossible. Crazy! They were dead! Unless . . .
Unless ghosts did exits.
“Ah hah!” the cherub faced, smiling man said softly as he leaned back in his chair and placed the fingertips of his hands together on the slight bulge of his stomach. “You begin to believe.”
“They’re dead,” the felon cracked hoarsely, eyeing the white clad oddity suspiciously.
“Yes,” nodded the one who called himself Maurice.
“They’ve been dead a month or more.”
“Yes,” the cherub nodded again.
“So they’re ghosts. You saw her ghost and she told you I was innocent.”
“Precisely. Now, my innocent friend, I need to know. I must have an answer right now. A mere formality, mind you. But one that must be acquired. Will you allow me to represent you tomorrow in court?”
“Yes,” Cooke answered. Answered without hesitation, yet having no idea why he was so convinced he was doing the right thing. But conviction soon changed to rage. Shooting forward burning in anger he leaned across the heavy wooden desk again with a mask of death etched into his hardened, scarred vision. “Now tell me. No bullshitting here. Who killed my daughter and grandson?”
“We will find out tomorrow,” throwing up his hand again to stop the anger in Cooke from bubbling over again. “Tut, tut! Remember this. Tammy did not see the killer’s face. Even in the afterlife she still doesn’t know what he looks like. But she does know his voice. Once she hears it she will inform me. From there I will wring the truth out of him and you will be a free man. All you have to do is trust me, my boy. Trust me.”
And with that last declarative statement the smiling cherub stood up, snapped his briefcase closed, and walked calmly out of the room.