from “Street Life”
Fifty Six Fifty
Harlan Brator glanced at the dashboard clock as he twisted his car through midtown traffic. The autumn sun was stark, blistering through the windshield, displaying the thousand fingermarks other city employees left with the keys at the car pool office. He squinted and lowered the visor against the slanting light, relieved by the occasional skyscraper and overhead road signs. The frost sprouted again, crystal fingers edging in from either side of the windshield. He flicked at the defroster switch, but it was already on high, whining from an internal mechanism worn from constant use.
At the light, he fiddled with the latches to his briefcase, drawing his appointment book from the mass of loose legal forms and eviction notices inside. He flipped open the book and put a large red X beside his ten o'clock appointment.
"One down," he mumbled. "Nineteen to go."
A horn beeped behind him, then another. Cars geared up and raced around him, their drivers shouting at him to move. He sighed and aimed the car at the farthest right lane, three blocks before his actual turn. At the next light, he fished a legal form from the loose sheets, matching it to the name in his book. Paperclipped to it was a scribbled note saying: No complications.
This time, he beat the horns and twisted the car into the midtown madness of the garment district, trucks and boxes narrowing the crosstown streets into something Medieval and dark. The faces of the workers glanced up, impoverished immigrants or undocumented alien workers-- all of them wearing the same harried expression, all of them with that deep spark of fear in their eyes-- people on a treadmill with the mat moving too fast.
Overthem , Christmas decorations withered in the changing weather, losing their crispiness a whole week before Thanksgiving. He glanced out the side window at the public phone. But there was no room for him to park and he pushed through across Eighth Avenue, scribbling a note down to call his wife afterthem ten thirty appointment.
He smiled slightly, his brown eyes taking on a wistful look. The face with greying brows and receding hair shimmered in the dirty car window like a ghost. There were lines beneath the eyes from too little sleep, and a pained, hunted look in the eyes-- eyes whose gaze shifted to the rearview mirror a little more than was necessary, or to the side, always avoiding contact with other sets of eyes. Someone was always looking, even on the most vacant of streets.
He patted his pocket and pulled out a cigarette case. It was real gold, but old and scuffed, the engraving twenty years out of style. He flicked it open. Two gold-tipped cigarettes remained. He sighed and removed one, punching the lighter. He waited, tapping his fingers on the dashboard as a truck backed into one of the building bays, blocking traffic ahead. The lighter never popped. He pulled it out. Its coil was cold.
"Damn government cars," he mumbled, patting his pockets till he found a butane lighter. He flicked this on underthem tip of his cigarette and sucked in the smoke. Traffic moved. He pushed on impatiently, slamming on the brakes several times to avoid the car in front of him.
"Jersey driver!" He grumbled, cursing the other driver's too-cautious approach to the streets, then squeezed around him, turning onto Ninth Avenue. "Damn!"
He was going the wrong way. He turned quickly left at the next street, the Hudson River wavering at the end like a mirage. He gunned the car through the next changing light, wheels squealing as he turned. His eyes flickered at the mirror. No blue and white cop cars, only the perpetual wall of yellow cabs roaring down the street behind him.
The two-way radio blurted to life. He stared at it a moment, his fingers poised on the on/off switch.
"Brator?" The fuzzy dispatcher's voice said. "Can you hear me, Brator?.. I think he's got the damned thing off again, boss... Brator if you can hear me, talk to me."
Brator sighed and reached for the microphone where it hung beneath the dashboard.
"Marshall Brator here," he said, his tone very official.
"Thank God!" the dispatcher said. "Where are you?"
"Just finished my first stop. I'm headed to 37th street."
"Good, because the bastard has been calling here screaming that you're late."
Brator glanced at digital readout on the dashboard. It said 10:37.
"Only seven minutes," Brator said. "Traffic's been murder."
"I know, I know, but the guy sounds like he's having a heart attack, and demands we get someone down there immediately."
Brator's mouth tightened. A worried look touched his eyes and bent his brows down in a dark crease overthem bridge of his nose.
"I don't like that sound of that," he said. "Did he mention any complications?"
"No," the dispatcher said, "He just went on and on about not having an opportunity like this again. He probably has the apartment rented and the new tenants moving in."
Brator sighed. "Maybe you should send someone else."
It was the boss' voice that came on then, none of its angry tone lost in the static. "Forget that, Brator!" the man roared. "You're not going to pawn off another case on someone else, just because it looks difficult."
"I'm sorry, Commissioner," Brator said, "But it's a matter of time. If I get caught up there, I can't get onto the other cases I have scheduled today."
"You can't just box these evictions up like donuts," the commissioner said. "We're all are perfectly aware of your schedule Brator, as well as your condo in Florida and your plans to retire. But there are other things that have to be considered, and sometimes these things take special handling. We're city marshals, not a moving company."
Brator said nothing. But his face was pale as he turned the car finally onto 37th street, looking for the apartment building amid the dusty store fronts and fabric warehouses. He slammed on the brakes for a garment rack wheeled suddenly in front of him. He banged on the horn, but the figure did not turn, vanishing into the junk-sea of other dollies moving up and down the sidewalk.
In the middle of these stood the little man, a wrinkle suited-figure with a stubby cigar, and thinning grey hair. His narrow gaze spotted the city car almost immediately, his stubby hand rising angrily and motioning towards a section of miraculously curb. Brator parked.
"About time you got here!" the man said, greeting Brator from street as the Marshall opened the door. "You're late."
"Nine minutes," Brator said. "Some people might think that was pretty good considering traffic in this city. Are you the owner?"
The little man nodded and stared towards the narrow doorway wedged between a parking garage and a series of wholesale stores. "Look, I'm sorry I'm so snappy, but I've been waiting ten years to get those two out and I don't want to wait ten more before my next chance comes."
Brator nodded as he pushed his appointment book into his inside jacket pocket and pulled the official eviction notice from his brief case. "I know how tough these things can be," he said, "But we're only human. We have thousands of evictions scheduled every day and only a handful of people to do them. Has the crew arrived?"
"No," the little man said, "Which is why I figured you might not be coming."
"Damn," Brator said, then ducked back into the car and reached for the radio as the landlord mounted the curb and paced. Brator emerged again grunting.
"They'll be here in a minute or two. They got caught in the same downtown jam I did."
The little man snorted. "That's City Government for efficiency. If I didn't have to rely on you people to put them out, I wouldn't. But the law is the law...."
"These folks have been that much trouble, eh?" Brator said, obviously not interested, clicking his tongue as his gaze fought to penetrated the mass of trucks and bobbing racks for sign of the van.
"No, no," the little man said. "It's not like that at all. These people haven't been any trouble. Not in all hem time I've owned the building. Model tenants. They didn't even complain when I turned down the heat, or cut off their water. Always there with their check on the first of the month...."
Brator turned, his eyes perplexed. "I don't understand. If they're model tenants, why are you trying to get rid of them?"
"Because I have plans, Marshall," the little man said, gnawing madly on the end of his cigar, sucking the wet tobacco the way a child might candy. "Big plans in which those two don't happen to fit."
Brator shifted his feet uncomfortably, the cold working its way up through the thin Italian leather. He glanced at the toes, one of which was scuffed slightly. He put it up on a hydrant and rubbed the wound with pocket handkerchief which he moistened with his tongue.
"Ten years is a long time," Brator said finally. "Perhaps it might have been easier to buy them out. They've certainly earned that, don't you think?"
"And don't you think I tried? I offered them twice what the apartment was worth. They told me they weren't going to move, saying they had lived there since they came to this country and intended to stay there till they died."
"Which obviously didn't happen," Brator said. The little man grinned, his front teeth yellowed from too many cigars.
"That's where I got lucky, Marshall. I couldn't believe it, but six months ago, they started missing their monthly payments. They were just late at first, but then they were behind one month, then two, and finally when they reached their third I went to court. Now, I want them out before they spoil anything, or before one of those dam social welfare agencies decides to help them."
"My team will be here soon enough," Brator said.
"Fine! Fine!" the little man said, "But maybe you can save some time by serving the papers now...."
Brator's shoulders stiffened as he turned towards the man, his eyes glittering with sudden panic. "Serve them? Are you trying to tell me they're actually up there in the apartment this very minute?"
"Of course. Where else would they be? They hardly evertleave."
"B-But we had an understanding. You told me they wouldn't be home."
"To get you to come quickly. You kept going on and on about scheduling things around when they came and went."
"Yes, of course," Brator said indignantly. "Because I didn't want to see them. I don't mind putting their things out. My team does most of that, but the people must be someplace else when we do it."
"And as I said, they're never anyplace else. So now you're here, you can do your job."
Brator's face grew pale. He looked towards the car. "That's not the way I work."
"I'll call your boss!" the little man threatened. "From what I gather, they're not too fond of you anyway, mocking you behind your back. I heard them calling you the Mole overthem telephone. Why's that, Marshall? Is it because you never look people in the face when you evict them?"
"I'm not feeling well."
"I demand you do your job!"
Brator disconnected the little man's fingers from his arm. The air was thick with the smell of rotting fruit from the industrial dumpster a few feet away. A set of beady eyes stared out from under it, nose wiggling, twitching, a perfectly terrible reflection of Brator himself as his pleading eyes looked to the little man.
"I wouldn't be long," he whispered, "The city could have another marshall here in a matter of weeks."
"Weeks!" the little man howled, drawing some curious looks from the immigrant rack-pushers moving around them on the sidewalk. "I can't wait weeks!"
Brator sighed. "All right, all right. Call hem police."
"What do we need the police for? These people are old. They wouldn't dare give you trouble."
The little man's eyes shimmered with cruelty, wearing the gleeful expression of a sadist. Back at the office, the other mashalls laughed over stories of ment like this, tales of the daily horror, Roman bureaucrats thumbing down Christians.
Brator licked his dry lips and shivered, his gaze once more searching the metal and brick horizon for signs of the van.
"It's standard procedure," he said softly.
"Good Lord," the little man moaned. "Why do you city people have to make things so complicated?"
"Procedure," Brator said again.
"Yeah, yeah, I'll bet all heis is in your contracts. The PBA doesn't miss a trick when it comes to getting money for its men."
"City Marshalls aren't unionized," Brator said, "We're political appointees."
"Which is worse!" the man said.
"Just call hem police and we can get on with this thing," Brator said.
"Marshall? Why are you shaking?"
"It's cold, damn it. I'm not used to standing outside like this."
"Okay!" the little man said, "Come this way."
He led Brator towards the building and down the narrow steps next to the front door to a basement apartment, marked now as the building office. He fished a thick ring of keys from his pocket and pushed open the door.
"I'll wait out here," Brator said.
"But I thought you were cold."
"I am, but the men might come. If they don't see me, they might just keep on going."
"Figures," the little man said, slamming the door behind him.
Brator paced before the gate, the smell of trash sweeping over him again, mixed with a sudden plume of smoke from a starting truck. He shivered again, glancing up the side of the building towards the various windows, squinting at them, then glancing at the the apartment number listed on the eviction order.
The little man appeared again, like a grumbling storm. "All right, now that that's done can we please go upstairs?"
"I think it would be better if we waited here."
The little man snarled something under his breath.
"You don't understand," Brator said. "There's a reason for having the police in on these things."
"No really. People get excited when they're thrown out of their homes. They can't see reason. I know men who have been shot just doing their job."
"By old people?"
"By anybody," Brator said, looking away. "It's one of the reasons I don't want to have people around when I do my job. Better for them to come back and find their things on the street than to find me at their door when they open it. Even when there isn't a gun behind the door, there are the looks."
The little man frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the people and their neighbors, how they all blame me for these things, calling me `Nazi' or `fascist pig.' They spit at me."
The little man's face softened slightly. "I get that, too, Marshall," he said, "People just don't understand the real estate game, or life for my kind in Manhattan. It's make a buck or die. We don't buy property to lose money."
"There they are!" Brator said, as the blue and white van pulled up in front of Brator's car, spilling men in grey cover-alls to the curb.
"And there's the police," The little man said, his voice lifting for the first time. "Now we can get this circus over with."
Brator and the little man stepped to the curb to greet the proliferation of people. The two cops moaned.
"Not you, Mole!" one said.
The other looked at Brator with disgust, fingering his night stick, his step calculated to keep his distance from the city marshall.
"I'm Matthews," the first cop told the landlord, "He's Crann. You called us?"
"The Marshall made me. Said he wouldn't do the eviction without you people here."
Crann and Matthews glared. "Your usual bullshit, Mole?" He asked, "What are you afraid of? Ghosts?"
"Can we not have your rude remarks," Brator growled. "I'm just going by the book."
"And we were just getting off shift when your call came in," Crann snapped, "And it's been one rough morning. So we don't want any surprises, all right?"
"I don't like surprises any more than you do, officer," Brator assured him, signalling the men from the van. Theirtleader, Brinkley frowned.
"You want us upstairs with you, Mr. Brator?"
"No," Brator barked, "I have you here because I want you to watch my car. Come on, come on. Next time, I'll request a different crew-- one that comes on time."
Brinkley's blue eyes sparkled. "But who else would work with you, Mr. Brator?"
"Lead the way," Brator told the landlord.
The little man nodded, ring of keys jingling as he lead them up the stairs into the small lobby. The lot of them crowded into the small elevator, shoulder to shoulder.
Brinkley whistled overthem fine wood which panelled the machine. "This ain't no dump, Mr. Brator. Why would folks living in a place like this get themselves evicted?"
"Because they're fools," someone said in the rear of the car. The landlord glared, but seemed unable to catch the source of it.
"Of course it's a class place," he grumbled, "Which is why it's got potential."
The elevator doors opened on the third floor, marble and wood thick around them, keeping captive the turn of the century airtin which the building had been constructed.
Many of the other apartments were already under renovation, work crews moving in and out of them, subdividing them by tearing out the ancient wood to make new walls, the neo-rich knowing little difference between old and new, good or bad, tasteful or ugly. Sheets of cheap panelling rested outside the doors of several apartments, waiting to be installed.
"This is the apartment," the little man said, when they had reached the end of the hall. A single door greeted them with its fading apartment number. The oyster grey had once emphasized the brass knocker-- now both seemed out of place.
"Well, Marshall?" the little man said, "Do your duty."
Brator sighed, using the heavy knocker for a series of taps, each seeming to echo with a strange tinkle. He cocked his head, his arms suddenly covered with goose bumps. None of the others seemed to notice.
"Harder," the little man said, "They're hard of hearing."
He repeated the knock, with the same disturbing effect.
"Let me," the cop, Crann said, black moustache wiggling as he shouldered passed Brator. He struck the door with his nightstick leaving a dark mark for every rat-tat-tat!
"Komink!" a voice sounded from inside, as distant and sad as the tinkling echo of the knocks. The door eased open. A wrinkled nose and jaw appeared, followed by two bright blue eyes. "Ja? You vant sometink?"
"Damn straight we want something!" the landlord said, nudging himself between Brator and the cop. "We want you out, old man!"
"I think I should handle this," Brator said, stepping forward, a hard lump rising to his throat. "I'm city marshall Brator. I have a court order for your eviction."
"Vat's dis?" the old man stared, his thin hair combed back like white feather, the spotted scalp growing red.
"Vat iss it?" another voice asked from deeper inside the apartment.
"A marshal," the old man said, "He comes for our eviction."
"Vat?" the second voice said as the door was pulled open another inch to reveal yet another wrinkled face. A woman, as thin and old as the man, with snowy hair and a dull-colored shawl hung on her thin shoulders. But the eyes that greeted the men at the door were deep and black and full of rage. "Eviction? Vat iss dis Eviction?"
Brator's face paled. He looked ill.
"It means you're out of here!" the landlord yelled, waving his fist under the old woman's nose. "It means you haven't paid your rentin months."
The old couple exchanged surprised glances.
"Ve told you. Ve haff it comink," the woman said.
"Told me? You told me nothing," the little man said, his face quite red. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Ve told you," the old man said, echoing the woman. "You say ve haff time."
"Marshall," the little man said turning to Brator. "Do something. These people are obviously trying to worm out of this."
The old woman tried to slam the door, but the cop's nightstick was wedged between it and the frame. He pressed his weight against the door and the old people gave way.
"Not so fast," Crann said, "A court order is a court...."
It was the tall cop, Matthews who whistled.
Beyond the door was a room of glass, glittering, chiming, brittle shards of shaped transparency. Crystal and blown glass, tear drops and oddly carved, colored and clear with variations of both, all of it caught in the streams of morning light just then pouring through the front three windows.
"What the hell is all heis?" the landlord growled, his words creating a riot of unpleasant vibrations in the glass.
It was everywhere. As if a huge pane had melted into clowns and ships and animals, giving each its own unique and hue. The one uniftying image was the reflected faces of the invaders caught in miniature at the heart of each -- landlord, cops, pack-up crew and Brator imprisoned.
"Antique," Matthews said, "Every damned bit of it. It must be worth a fortune."
"Don't tell heem that!" the Landlord hissed, stepping between the cops and the glass, glaring at them and Brator. "Whose side are you on, anyway? These people haven't paid their rent. It doesn't matter what this stuff is worth."
Brinkley prickled in the corner, tugging at his overalls, his men shuffling in the door like a herd of beef. "I don't know about this, Mister Brator," he said. "This ain't no one-hour job here. We're gonna have to pack this special and this is just the first room."
Brator sighed, glancing at the room. The glass was divided into groupings, with the clocks and moving things contained mostly on the large oval hable in the center of the room. But the finer and more delicate things surrounded it, sprawled across sideboards on three sides and arranged within a large glass-doored cabinet on the fourth. This last was the grandest of all, with the sparkling fragity arms of intricate works staring out like a secret treasure, each faceted like a jewel, carved from something that seemed much finer than glass.
"Nonsense!" the landlord interjected, his harsh voice sending another discordant note through the glass. "You aren't being paid to be gentle, Marshall. These people are being evicted, remember? I want their junk out of here. I don't care if you have to toss it out the window."
"Junk?" the old man growled. "Iss not Junk. I make it all myself."
"Made it?" Brator said, his bright eyes shifting from the glass to the wrinkled face. "Here?"
"Nein!" The woman said. "In old country. Ve bring it all from old country."
Brator squinted at the figurines near him. "I don't know much about this kind of thing," he said, "But it does looks foreign...odd, somehow."
It was the faces of the figures, the joy and pain mingled with the strokes of different colored glass, tortured by joy or joyous from the relief of torture, of poverty, or humiliation, each face boldly unique. And not all were beautiful in the ordinary sense, either. There were figures of horror mingled with the others, of reaching hands and falling bodies and mouths open with silent screams.
"You may not, Marshall," the cop, Matthews said, "But I do. My brother-in-law's into glass. Sell one of these pieces and they would have the rent on this place paid for a year."
"Sell? Sell? Ve not Sell!" the woman screamed, pushing herself between the cop and her husband's creations. "Ve keep them, Ve don't let them come to harm. Go away. Ve don't vant you here."
"Marshall!" the landlord warned. "If you don't do your job, I'm going to have to..."
Brator's shoulders stiffened. He glanced at the cops. "If they don't want to pay, then I have to remove them," he said, his voice thick with defensiveness. "That's the law."
"But this is different, Mr. Brator," Brinkley said, "This isn't your normal situation. These people ain't squatters or junkies. They ain't living with mattresses on the floor or nothing, threatening to burn down the place with kerosene heaters..."
"Shut up!" the landlord howled. "Pack up the things like the marshall told you to."
No one moved. Not at first. There was a sense of frozen timetin the room, shimmering with the changing light. Close up, the glass itself changed character, disolving from works of art to chambers in which souls were captive.
Brator wiped the sweat from his palms and loosened his tie. He slowly circled the hable, shaking his head.
"I really ought to call uptown and...."
"Come on, come on!" Officer Crann said, "Make up your mind, Mole. Me and Matthews have sleep to catch up on."
Brator shivered and nodded. "you're right, of course. I'm just being foolish. This is the kind of thing that always happens when people are around." He glared across the room at the landlord, then at the old couple. "Pack it up, Brinkley. But be as careful as you can."
Brinkley's jaw tightened as he stiffly motioned for his men to move. Brator turned his back on them, his stomach suddenly lurching violently. His fingers pressed his pockets for a Tums, but came up with the empty foil in which they had been contained. Around him, his own face was reflected back a thousand times in miniature. He could see his schedule poking through his jacket, the list of other appointments now hopelessly out of date. Beside each name, $56.50 was written in the margin, neatly habulated at the bottom-- part of the file full of such papers that marked his gradual ascenstion to retirement.
A sudden crash interrupted his musing. A large lamp lay shattered on the floor, Brinkley standing above the shards, his face twisted in pain.
"My hand slipped," he said, helpless, "I didn't...."
"My lamp!" the old man screamed, falling to his knees before the pieces, gathering them like bones and dust, each glittering chunk cutting his fingers as he let them fall again.
"Hey mister!" the cop, Mitchell, shouted, roughly grabbing the man up by the arm. "What the hell are you trying to do, kill yourself?"
The cop yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped it around the bleeding fingers.
"This is insane!" the other cop, Crann, said, staring at Brator, his black moustache wiggling with disapproval.
The old man looked like a broken doll, his fingers refusing to release some of the broken pieces.
"Fascists!" he hissed.
"Someone better get them out of here," the landlord said, "Before they cause more trouble."
"Perhaps an ambulance," Matthews said, wrenching the broken pieces from the old man's hands.
"For what? For some cuts?" the landlord growled. "We're evicting them, officers. If they need medical help, there are clinics. Besides, it doesn't look that bad to me."
Brator sighed. "Just call hee ambulance," he told the landlord. "My men can work better without them watching."
The landlord muttered something and vanished, his hard step sounding on the stairs like gunshots.
"Perhaps you'd better take them into the hall," Brator said to the cops. But the old man worked free and moved to his wife's side near the window, where both defied them with their stares.
"All right," Brator said, "Let them be. But Brinkley-- be damned careful with this stuff. I'll check the other rooms."
Brinkley glared, but motioned to his men again. Brator pushed through the room's only other door.
In the next room, hee air was different, less disturbed, and the glass less thickly placed, though the brilliance of it drew his gaze like a house of mirrors. There were old European-style photographs hanging on the wall-- snapped coldly, but framed with love, pictures of a dusty, dirty, dismal world and people with gaunt faces and bared arms.
Brator peered closely at these. There were tattooed numbers on those arms.
He moved through another door, the sound of the old man's moaning dampened by the additional walls between. The kitchen had no glass at all. Not even an ordinary drinking glass, just dark windows and worn, formica-topped counters. He opened the refrigerator and found a box of matozhs, a still-sealed bottle of Passover wine, and a few mixed greens.
The old couple apparently ate as often lately as they paid rent.
The windows shook with the explosion. At first, Brator's face looked puzzled as he reached the window and looked to the street for the hruck that had backfired. The sound was echoed a million times by the harsh, tinkling of glass, a rude melody followed by an eerie silence. Brator's spine stiffened.
He moved quickly back through the series of doors by which he had come, back past the photographs, back into the room of glass where he found more shards on the floor and the old woman's body stretched out over them, bleeding.
"S-She went after him with a piece of that broken lamp," Crann said, his black moustache working over the smoldering pistol in his hand.
"Yeah, Mr. Brator," Brinkley said, backed up against the hable as if the glass was still coming toward his throat. "That's just the way it happened. She came right at me. Nothing else he could have done."
The old man moaned and clutched his fists.
"Take him out in the hall, Matthews!" Crann yelled. "We don't need another one today-- my God."
"And for what?" Brinkley said, "She wanted to kill me for a stupid lamp?"
"Shut up, Brinkley," Brator said, kneeling beside the woman, his knees crunching on the shards of glass. "Is she dead?"
The cop nodded.
Brator's stomach wrenched. But he leaned closer, his lips thin and pale as he turned the woman's wrist, revealing the purple tatoo numbers on the inner arm.
"Cover her up, damn it!" Brator said, straightening up. "Where is that son of a bitch landlord, anyway?"
"Are you talking about me?" the little man said, barging into the room, stopping quickly at the scene unfolded before him. His mouth fell open, then snapped shut instantly. "The ambulance is on the way."
"At least that's something," Brator mumbled and turned towards the window. For a long moment, they stared: cop, landlord, Brinkley and his men. Brator turned back to them and shook his head.
"So what the hell are you people standing around here for?" he shouted, "Get packing. Put this goddamn stuff in boxes like you're supposed to do. Think we have all day here?"
But Crann shook his head. "It's not as simple as that anymore, Mole," He said. "No one touches anything until Internal Affairs checks this out."
"What?" The landlord roared. "What do you mean? These men have got to take this stuff out of here. I need this apartment empty. So you shot the old woman? What of it? You did what you had to do. We can all attest to that."
"It has to be investigated," the tired cop said, unhitching a portable radio from his belt. The static filled the room. "You'll all have to make statements to the detectives."
Brator nodded and slumped against the window sill, cold air seeping through the cracks in the glass, chilling his spine. A little while later, the body was removed, cameras flashed, men moved to and fro, each step grinding the shards into finer and finer powder on the floor.
"Are you Brator?" a dumpy man in a wrinkled brown suit asked, displaying a detective's badge.
Brator nodded. "Marshall Harlan Brator."
"And you saw the shooting?"
He shook his head. "I was in the other room," he said, looking up, his eyes red and tired. "We were evicting them, you know."
A dark look crossed the detective's face. "Yeah, I know."
The landlord tugged at the Detective's sleeve. "Is there any chance of you hurrying this up. We do have to clear the apartment."
"Today?" the detective said incredulously. "You'll be lucky if we can get this done in a week."
"A week? That's impossible. I made a contract with the marshall. We're supposed to..."
The detective turned away. Brator tapped his arm.
"How about releasing me and my men?" He asked.
The detective nodded. "I'll see what I can do."
In a short time, the worst was over -- reports taken with addresses and phone numbers for future referrals in the ritual of investigation. The detective nodded towards the door, and Brator floated into the hall and down the stairs-- his crew making their before and behind him like a retreating and defeated army.
"Marshall Brator!" someone called.
Brator stopped on the stairs and turned. The landlord appeared, his small form skipping down the stairs after him like a perverted child.
"What is it now?" Brator asked.
The sweating little man managed a smile. "I just wanted to thank you for all you've done. I called the builders. they'll start work as soon as all heat rubbish is cleared up."
He stood there sweating and blinking.
Brator frowned. "Is there something else you wanted?"
"Well, I, it's just..." The little man grabbed Brator's hand, shaking it vigorously, then vanished back the way he had come, leaving in Brator's palm a moist one hundred dollar bill.