DETECTIVE MOXLEY, Part 23: “Drinking Helps”
“You make me wanna puke, kid.”
Moxley stared up at Weber, eyes red, face slack. He did not know where he was. He did not know who was talking to him. Everything was blurry. When Web slapped him across the face, the world took on form once more. Weber looked mad. Well. That was just his face.
“Where am I?” said Moxley.
“You’re where you passed out, you piece of garbage,” said Weber. “In all my years, kid, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone literally end up in the gutter. But here you are.”
Moxley became aware of the pain between his shoulder blades. The curb was digging into his back. He was lying on his side in the gutter of the street, maybe a hundred meters from the walk-up flat he was renting by the week. As he stared at the apartment building and then at the collection of debris strewn on the street before it, he began to remember. The realization must have shown on his face.
“That’s right,” said Weber, looming. “They dumped your stuff in the street. Seems you haven’t paid your rent in two weeks. And when was the last time you ate, kid? You look like a two-bit hooker on Saturday morning. And you smell worse.”
“Help me up, Web.”
“The hell I will,” said Weber. “You want to lie in the street in your own filth, you lie there, you deadbeat. I know you’re getting paid, Harry. I’m the one who endorses your ‘bursements, remember? So where is your money going? It sure ain’t going to child support. I got another notice today.”
“You got… a notice?”
“Are you hearing me, Harry?” Weber paused to spit on the sidewalk next to Moxley’s head. “They’re going to put you in the Promontory if you rack up enough back support. That what you want? Because that’s where you’re headed. Tell me, kid, why did I waste my time and energy on somebody who won’t even take care of his kid?” He drew his revolver from under his coat, holding it low by his leg. “Say the word, Harry. Say the word and I’ll put you out of everybody’s misery. You’re trying to kill yourself slow. Doing it the coward’s way. Well, maybe it’s time you went quick, like a man. That what you want?”
“I don’t care,” said Moxley. He looked away, at the pavement.
“That’s what worries me,” said Weber. He put the gun away and extended his hand. “Take my hand before I beat you worse than you already feel.”
Reluctantly, Mox let Weber help him up. The older man guided Moxley to his Dayliner and helped Moxley climb into the passenger seat. Once they were under way, Mox slumped against the window on his side, Weber lit a cigar and rolled down the driver’s side window. The old detective looked thoughtful. Moxley knew that expression. Weber was the most patient man he had ever met. He was determined to wait Moxley out. They drove in silence for long minutes while Weber puffed away.
“I can’t stop,” said Mox at last.
“I know,” said Weber. “You think you’re hiding it. You’re not.”
“I don’t know why,” said Moxley. “I don’t even think I like it very much. But I can’t stop.”
“You, kid,” said Weber, “have what they call an ‘unnatural relationship with money.’”
“I guess,” said Moxley.
“Don’t guess, you moron,” said Weber. “I’m telling you what’s true. Accept it or you’re going to die like this.”
Moxley drew in a deep breath. “I want to stop. I want to be better. I don’t want to be this person.”
“You’re a mess, kid,” said Weber. “It’s your family, right?”
“She won’t even talk to me,” said Moxley. “I haven’t seen my son in… I don’t know. And now she’s mad about the money. I don’t even know where they’re living right now, Web.”
Weber pulled into a parking area and switched off the Dayliner. Still puffing on his cigar, he turned to regard Moxley. “You going to sit there whining about it or you going to fix it?”
“I don’t know how.”
“That’s because you won’t try,” said Weber. “Kid, you’re smart. You’ve got what it takes to be a great detective one day. But you hate yourself and you’ve got to let it go. Drinking’s fine. Drinking helps. But you’ve gotta know where the ledge is, kid. You can’t step off. Gambling’s your poison. You got to stop doing it.”
“I ought to break a finger every time you use that word with me,” said Weber. “That ain’t how I trained you. I trained you to be pragmatic. To be realistic. Not to be weak.” Weber reached across Moxley and opened the glove compartment. From it, he took a plastic scrip. This he placed on the dash and endorsed with a heavy press of his thumb.
“What are you doing?” asked Mox.
“This is the title to my car,” said Weber. “I’m an old man, kid. I’m signing my car over to you. And I’m going to sign the lease over to my office off Dragon Street, too. All you got to do is outlive me to collect them. And in the mean time, you’re going to clean up your life. Because I sure as hell ain’t leaving you my crap if you’re a deadbeat.”
Moxley turned to stare through the windshield of the car. They were parked in front of a squat, prefabricated building somewhere near the Redlight.
The rusted sign bolted to the building read, “ADDICTION CENTER PARKING ONLY.”
* * *
“Some reason you left so many messages for me?” asked Shebeiskowski.
Moxley practically choked and nearly put the Dayliner into the curb. He struggled to right the vehicle, drawing bleats of protest from the vehicles around him. Traffic was heavy everywhere this time of day. “Sheb!” he said. “You’re alive!”
“Why the hell wouldn’t I be?” asked Shebeiskowski. “And what’s this I hear about you staging some kind of protest in the Wanfujing?”
“That’s not important,” said Mox. “Sheb, are you at the office? Are you inside a Goop building?”
“I’m at my desk,” said Shebeiskowski. “Moxley, what’s the holing problem?”
“This is going to sound weird,” said Moxley, “but you have to listen, and you have to believe me.”
It took Moxley a while to get the whole story out, including the part where a synthetic duplicate of Shebeiskowski tried to murder him. Finally, though, Sheb was more curious than skeptical.
“Say I almost believe you,” Shebeiskowski said. “What then?”
“I need a safe place to go through the rest of Ray’s files,” said Moxley. “Whoever’s into this, they know everything. They’re hooked into the networks, including the governmental nodes. I don’t dare stay out in public, not for long. They’ll find me or put another of those synthetic killers on me. Maybe more. Honestly, Sheb, it’s a miracle you’re alive. I was sure the thing would have killed you to take your place.”
“I didn’t know you cared,” said Shebeiskowski. “So what do you want from me?”
“I hate to admit it, but I need Goop involvement on this,” said Mox. “And worse, it’s gotta be somebody I trust. You’re pretty much it, Sheb. I know we don’t like each other much, but I’m pretty sure you’re not in on this.”
“That about the size of it, then?”
“Yeah,” said Moxley. “You know my friend Lobby?”
“You know I do.”
“Meet me there,” said Moxley. “Don’t access the network for travel directions, whatever you do. We have no way of knowing what they can monitor and what they can’t.”
“Just meet me at Lobby’s,” said Mox. “Somewhere in Ray’s case files is proof of who’s manufacturing these synthoids. Or something close enough to proof that they were willing to murder Ray to shut him up.”
“How long will it take you to get there?” asked Sheb.
“I should be there in—”
Only then did Moxley see the hydrogen lorry that smashed nose-first into the side of his car.