Matt Johnson Heroic Detective Agency Story 001
Peter Berard with Baz Harrigan
“…and a case of double-stuf oreos.”
Surprise and dismay flashed across the face of Matt Johnson, Heroic Detective. “A case?”
The gelatinous mountain of a man in front of him nodded gravely. “A case.”
None of the three men in the room spoke for a moment, either out of respect for the magnitude of the loss or out of a simple lack of words.
Matt Johnson could think of no man who less deserved to have a case of double-stuf oreos lifted from him, or any of the other items on the extensive list of things stolen from Eric “Caligula” Spackman’s apartment five nights ago.
He looked at the third man in the room, his roommate Peter. The big long-haired pedant directed a lot of business Matt’s way, including this case. Peter had brought a lot of ding-a-ling friends and a lot of runaround cases to him, but none of his friends was less of a ding-a-ling than Spackman, who reliably came to social gatherings with handles of top-shelf booze, trays of delicious homemade food, and sensible, interesting conversation. Matt Johnson would turn a runaround to a bust for this man if he had to run around Brighton backwards to do it. Peter hadn’t added much to the conversation yet, letting Spack give Matt the rundown.
Spack was a sous-chef at a hot bistro near Kendall Square in Cambridge. Techies and higher-end college kids kept the place busy until one a.m. After closing, Spack kicked back a High Life or two with the rest of the staff and walked back to his apartment, about a quarter mile away across the river in Allston. When he arrived, he saw that he was the victim of a none-too-subtle robbery. The door, not the lock, had been attacked, kicked or battered down. Inside, his living room and the bedroom he shared with his girlfriend – mercifully out of town visiting family – had barely been touched. His big flatscreen tv, respectable stereo system, computer, and multiple game consoles were right where he left them, as was his girlfriend’s jewelry case. The contents of his bathroom closet and cabinet were littered on the floor, and some antidepressants taken. The kitchen was wrecked. Spack’s collection of top shelf booze, his loaded spice rack, his high-end coffee, a fridge full of good meats and cheeses- all gone, right down to a gallon of organic milk. Completely scoured from the kitchen was Spack’s stash of snacks- including a just-acquired case of double-stuf oreos.
Rundown done, Peter spoke up.
“I talked to Pat Sullivan,” Peter said, referring to a friend of theirs on the police who sometimes fed them information. “He says there’s been a rash of robberies like these- stealing food, booze, medication, but leaving electronics and in most cases jewelry too. Whoever it is hasn’t killed anyone yet and the MO is so weird the cops aren’t doing too much. They have enough murders on their hands to not take missing double-stufs too seriously.” As he concluded, his voice, nasal at the best of times, took on a lightly amused timbre. A look from Matt Johnson ended that.
“I take missing double-stufs seriously. I’ll find them.”
Matt Johnson walked to the Greenbriar in Brighton to meet Pat Sullivan, his best cop contact. Matt wasn’t much of a bar-goer, but the Greenbriar’s a decent place. Irish, but didn’t make a big thing of it. They had pretty good sweet potato fries.
Pat Sullivan was late, as usual. Matt didn’t know what to make of Pat, but his information was usually reliable, as far as these things go. Pat also had a love for professional wrestling which rivaled – perhaps surpassed – Matt’s, which made Pat an object of wary endearment. Pat was another friend of Peter’s. He was a tall, handsome man of the “Black Irish” type. He wasn’t big on eye contact. The sweet potato fries gave him something to look at while they were talking.
“Yeah, like I told Peter, there’s been a bunch of these,” Pat told Matt Johnson after some desultory chit chat. “But they don’t assault or kill anybody and there’s been, like, a shit ton of shootings this year, so we’ve only got a couple of guys working on the case, mostly working the pawn shops to see if any of the jewelry shows up. So far, nothing.”
“Varied. In Boston, mostly the South End and Jamaica Plain. They’ve been happening in Somerville and Cambridge, too, though. Your boy Spack’s the first I’ve heard about in Allston-Brighton. Guys have been joking about an interagency task force.” Pat chuckled at this.
“What kind of places?”
“Apartments, or houses rented out to people. Young people, mostly, college students or yuppies. Same MO- bashed in door or window, ransacked kitchens and bathrooms, sometimes jewelry. They leave thousands of dollars worth of electronics most of the time.”
“Yeah,” Pat screwed up his face in concentration. The best thing about Pat was that he did his homework before talking to you about something, whether that something was his beloved metal music or police information he’s illegally giving to a PI who’s helped him through some scrapes. “Yeah, I think one time there was a tv and a nintendo wii missing.”
“Yeah, I joked about it with my brother. They had an Xbox, I guess these guys must not be serious gamers.” He chuckled again. Matt Johnson wasn’t in a laughing mood but he did nod his amusement.
“The one scene I got the call for, these two gay guys in the South End got burgled. They were about to go to Trinidad or something for vacation and one of them took out, like, two grand in cash to change into… whatever they’ve got down there. It was in a little box on the nightstand. The robbers knocked the box over, the cash was in plain view, two grand on the floor, when I got there. Whoever took this place took mostly-gone bottles of Bombay Sapphire and a box of fuckin’ organic pop tarts, but ignored two grand in cash. The dudes living there saw it and wanted us to write it up as a hate crime.”
Pat shrugged. “I guess we could. Honestly, I’d say this sounded like frat boys or stoners raiding for munchies, but…”
“Frat boys would break stuff. Frat boys would make noise.”
“Frat boys wouldn’t be able to enter- how many of these have we got?”
“In Boston? Eight. Four in the South End, three in JP, one in Allston, your boy. And maybe that many in Camberville, too.”
“They couldn’t enter that many houses and not leave witnesses.”
“Exactly. It’s got us all scratching our heads.” Pat scratched his head theatrically and drew his face into a mask of stumped stupidity for emphasis. Matt let out a short, hoarse laugh at this.
Pat checked his phone. He had received a text from one of his spurious dates, no doubt. “Look, I gotta jet,” and he made for his wallet. It was their little ritual. “I got this,” Matt insisted. Pat didn’t argue. “Great. Thanks. I’ll let you know if I know more.” He left. Matt munched on a few cool sweet potato fries and mulled his options.
His first move was to walk down Cambridge Street in the thinning early spring sunlight to have a look at Spackman’s place. It was a little short of a mile from the Green Briar to Spack’s, just off the bridge to Cambridge. The street itself was mostly hospitals, houses, and high schools, but at the intersections it met with some of Brighton-Allston’s main drags. On a weekend night, like the night Spack’s oreos got took, the streets would be crowded in that peculiar Brighton way, where you never encounter more than three or five people at one time but they’re spaced regularly along the sidewalk, going wherever they go.
He got to Spack’s place. Spack and his lady rented the lower floor in a three story Victorian. The door had been repaired, Spack had moved back in, his girlfriend was still out of state- the police had given up asking them questions, probably as a prelude to going back to being stumped and indifferent about the whole affair.
He flipped through the files Pat had photocopied for him, squinting at them in the decaying light. There are two other apartments in Spack’s house. The police questioned the occupants of all of them. On the third floor, they heard nothing, but had had people over and were playing music. The occupants of the second apartment remember hearing two out of the ordinary things- reggae music from upstairs, and two loud bangs and a thud. They thought that came from upstairs, too, but weren’t sure. Matt didn’t need the Boston cop’s margin notes to think that was when the door came down. The second-floor neighbor wasn’t sure but thought it came a little after one am.
Matt moved to position himself under a streetlight and looked at a crime scene photo. The front door to Spack’s place was a good, old, solid door with a dead bolt. And someone took it down with two audible blows. Someone either with a doorknocker (and without the good sense to attack the lock area) or someone very strong (and without the good sense to attack the lock area).
He looked at the inventory of things stolen. One strong man could carry it, weight-wise, but it included a lot of bulky items – the case of double-stufs was two feet by four and a foot and a half deep – and many fiddly little items. He figured there’d have to be at least two, probably more if they were going to do their thing efficiently at all.
He looked again at the photo of Spack’s wrecked kitchen. Along with the stuff taken, whoever it was trashed the place some, too- Spack’s cereal and flour were torn open and scattered on the floor. Matt remembered something and looked back at the list of stolen items- a box each of fruit loops and cinnamon toast crunch, gone. He squinted at the photo. Looked like shredded mini wheats among the flour and cutlery dumped on the floor. Odd. And in all this wreckage, no yelling, no hollers of gleeful destruction to wake the neighbors upstairs.
Matt replaced the papers in his file and his file in his backpack and resolved to pound the pavement. Night was coming on and people were starting to come out to the bars and restaurants. It was dull and awkward work. None of the bars that were open late – no bars in Brighton stayed open past two, thanks to a city councilman Matt dearly hoped to see overthrown one day – were within sight of Spack’s place. All he could do was approach bartenders and people who looked like regulars, people who might have been leaving their barstools and maybe saw a group of people carrying a bunch of large boxes late at night. Predictably, he got nothing. It was a pleasant evening last weekend and there were a lot of people around, some of them carrying things- beer cases, mostly. Nobody remembered anything useful and it taxed Matt’s capacity to socialize with strangers, never very high, near to the breaking point.
He called it a night around the time the bars did. By the time he had gotten back to his apartment, he was tired, cranky, and ready to go to bed. But bed wasn’t in the cards. The roommates had brought friends over.
Matt heard them as he walked up the stairs. He opened the door to his apartment and scanned the living room. Papers, plates, cups, and dice cluttered the coffeetable and parts of the floor- they were gaming again. Peter, Baz (another one of his roommates), a couple of nerds he didn’t know, a skinny bearded kid he thought might be named Mason or Tyler, and, slumped in Peter’s cheap ikea armchair like an oversized bundle of mismatched laundry, Jon Noble, better known as The Village. He was clearly inspired in his dress by fifties detectives and Dr. Who. The Village was a good man and had proven himself in some tight spots, but his ebullience could be socially demanding, especially after a long night of unsuccessful investigations.
“Hey there, Matt!” he shouted jauntily, having spotted Matt before the others. Baz, knowing how to read Matt’s moods, hastened to head off a response and promised he and his friends would keep it down. They were going on a snack run anyway. A grimace of a smile was the best Matt could promise.
Matt entered his room and put his bag and notes down. He went back out into the hall to put his jacket in the closet. The rest of the boys had hustled out to the 7-11, but The Village continued to sit where he was, gazing at nothing. He had a tupperware container full of corn chips on one knee, and a meaty paw wrapped around a jar of Whole Foods medium-spice salsa. He was methodically taking chip after chip, dipping it shallowly into the salsa jar to extract a thin coat of juice – avoiding the chunks, which everyone knows is the best part of salsa – and crunching them down, one after another after another, looking at nothing, thinking whatever went on in his head.
This is the most annoying way to eat salsa.
In Matt’s fertile rage an idea blossomed. In Matt’s trademark candid tone he asked, “Have you had any Oreos lately?”
“Quite a few actually,” The Village responded, supercilious, moments before cracking into a damp chip.
Matt Johnson’s gaze wavered. He reached into the closet and felt his fingers, as though from a long way off, grip the baseball bat he knew he’d find there. Its weight felt familiar in his hand as he casually, gently swung it from side to side, striding into the living room with a twisted smile.
He was becoming.
“Heyyyyy, the Village, my buddy! LIKE THOSE OREOS HUH BUDDY?!” Matt’s voice was no longer his own, as his body, mind, and soul were given over to the demon within. The Village sat, glued to the spot in fear like a rabbit before a speeding eighteen-wheeler. The body where, somewhere, deep inside, its usual owner, Matt Johnson crouched, kept coming towards him. COOPERSTOWN was in control now, and he had his own ways and means. He gripped the bat halfway along its length in one hand and jabbed the end into The Village’s belly in a hideous parody of jocose ribbing. “LIKE THOSE OREOS HUH?” He jabbed again. “DOUBLE STUF FOR A DOUBLE STUF!” He jabbed again, harder.
The Village, with the sang-froid he sometimes is known to summon in cases like this, decided to take the strategy of ignoring Cooperstown so he’d go away. After giving him a brief nod and a smile that would be patronizing from the lips of one less earnest and put-upon, The Village went back to his chips. The combination of disappointment over how little his jabs affected the man – “that Village is made of sterner stuff than I anticipated,” Cooperstown thought – and his resumption of that annoying method of chip-eating finally snapped whatever semblance of humanity was residing in Matt’s body. Cooperstown was in control, and his first action was to raise the bat and smash the bowl of chips out of The Village’s methodical fingers. The voice of the demon emerged from Matt’s lips.
“Your gluttony is no excuse. This world is neither teat nor trough for leeches like you. With the culture as my witness I will call you to account for this abuse of our fair city. I will take the perception of your character, and tear a rift in it so wide only tiny scraps of your worth will remain. These scraps of your memory will be found periodically in spoiled wine and uncomfortable furniture. These memories will serve only to sour the experience further with your distinct stench.”
The demon and Matt Johnson’s soul found a union of purpose. The tortured grin on Matt Johnson’s face articulated Cooperstown’s statement of dreadful intent. Somewhere, Matt Johnson loved what his body was doing under the influence of the demon, though from somewhere even further back in the recesses of his consciousness, he felt niggles of morality. These niggles were soon drowned out by Cooperstown’s battle cry as he raised the bat for an overhead blow, this one aimed at The Village himself:
“I’M GONNA MAKE YA FAMOUS!!”
At these words Skunk Boner slithered back from his snack run. “What happened to the chips?”
Hearing this, Matt gained some small measure of control and drew his body’s face to look at the door. Baz’s lanky frame and blonde, concerned head stood there, but he did not. His own demon, Skunk Boner, was at the wheel.
“This wretch doesn’t deserve your chips,” Cooperstown said.
“They are everyone’s chips,” Skunk Boner said.
“You would share your chips with a man who stole a whole case of double stufs?”
“Village, did you steal a case of double stufs?”
“No Baz. I didn’t,” The Village replied.
“He practically confessed just before you came it. Can you believe this scumbag?
“About as much as I do you. What actual evidence do you have?”
“Well, just look at him!”
Instead of doing as he was bid, Skunk Boner gazed into Cooperstown’s eyes with the deep cold compassion that only Baz, when ridden by the demon Skunk Boner, possessed. A compassion that said “none of us are unique or truly valuable, but we are all suffering cortexes who should, if we are stuck on this planet, alleviate each other’s suffering as much as we can. No biggie if you can’t though.”
“LOOK AT HIM!” Cooperstown shrieked, hoping to break the power of Skunk Boner’s antihumanist humanity through sheer volume. The Village looked more disturbed by this than by any of Coopertown’s bat play.
“I have looked at him,” Skunk Boner replied in a voice as cool, limpid, and even as water in the deep caves of the earth. “I see a man. A flawed man, but a friend. A man whom the demon inside you screams to destroy. But I do not see a thief. You were hired to apprehend a thief, were you not?”
Cooperstown was wary, but knew Skunk Boner was an ally… and a possessor of razor-sharp arm and leg bones, a formidable foe. He told the truth. “I was.”
“This has no bearing on what you were hired to do. If you beat this man, you will simply be sating your lowest urges. I know the one with many names – Diamond Dust, Matt Johnson, Matty-Boy, Exit Wound, Shagged Out, The Santa Fe Stranger, the Night Light – is in there, listening. And I know he knows he is a detective and not a psychotic.”
“Cooperstown is gonna make him FAMOUS!” Matt exclaimed. But his heart wasn’t in it. He could tell by his use of the third person.
“Then that will be on Cooperstown, but also on those who could have controlled him. That will be on Matt Johnson, Heroic Detective. He will have hurt someone for no reason and brought his case no closer to conclusion.”
The tone of disappointment in Baz’s voice finally broke Cooperstown’s control, and the bat-wielding psycho demon fled back into the depths of Matt’s mind. Matt looked at The Village, and prepared for the awkward task of apologizing. But he was saved by the rest of the gamer crowd finally catching up to Baz, back from their snack run.
“Hey, man,” Peter said. “I got us his-and-his peanut butter twixes.” Peter tossed Matt his candy bar. Matt caught it, nodded his thanks, and sauntered back to his room to cool off, twix and bat in hand.
TO BE CONTINUED… here