©2006 Ross E. Lockhart
I ain’t a cop; I just take pictures. The boys in blue bring me in; I crystallize the murder scene in silver nitrate. I laugh at their gruff jokes, endure their back slaps, their cigarette and whiskey-voiced insistence that I’m “a damn good egg.” The coroner’s boys drag the bodies off, then I scurry back to the sacred space of my darkroom.
I ain’t lying. Things I’ve seen would bring bile to your throat. Boss Morgan face down in his clam chowder, twenty-three holes in his back. Squealin’ John the Revelator gutted, “dead finks don’t talk” scrawled across his cheap flophouse floor in intestines and gore. That little gunsel Bobby Grey, half-eaten by Big Charlie Dean, pants down around his ankles. The Brickbat Kid, delivery truck parked on his fedora. He was still wearing it. Other things don’t add up. Reverend Bowery Brown, top half in bed, grinning, bottom half sitting in a chair by the window, legs crossed like he was reading the paper. They called it suicide. Red O’Neal, the union leader, .38 in his hand, Huff said he shot first. No powder burns. Lawyer Charlie Cohen’s swollen tongue, yanked through a slit in his throat like a fat, flesh necktie. Heart attack. I don’t say nothin’. I take my pictures, go home. I don’t disagree with the paperwork. I’m a damn good egg.
But then there was the frail. Chinese girl, pretty little thing on an eight-dollar bed at the Coronet. Not a mark, but blood everywhere. Shame about those sheets. Remmington was lifting up her skirt for a peek when I walked in. “Trying to see if it’s slanted too,” he guffawed, pointing. I looked; she’d been mutilated. “Waste of a perfectly good whore,” chuckled Huff. “Looks like a john got a bit rough,” snickered Holden. I set up my tripod, got my shot. Looking down I realize, too pretty for the rough trade. The boys ask me to take a picture of them with the corpse. Huff holds her up, gives her a peck on the cheek. I don’t say nothin’. I’m a good egg.
Under the crimson lights of the darkroom I notice it. On the pillow next to her pretty head, a little square of paper, a matchbook. I squint through my loupe at the tiny printing: red and white cross, “Three Knights.” Private club. Thirty-third Street. Exclusive. Cops. No Chinese girl would have a matchbook from there. I’d been there once, Remmington and Huff had dragged me in, bought me whiskey last week after Benny the Gimp turned up with a hot needle in a blue arm. Everybody knows Benny was a smoker. I didn’t say nothin’. I’m a good egg, but when I looked at the girl’s face, I had to know.
I caught a cab to Thirty-third. I knocked. A panel slid open, a pair of blue eyes stared out at me. “White,” said the owner of those dangerous eyes.
“Man,” I answered, hoping I remembered Huff’s sequence correctly.
“Native,” comes the voice.
“Born,” I replied.
The door swung open. “Enter, brother,” said the voice. “In the name of the Mystic Knights and the Fiery Cross.” As I walked through the door, a chill climbed my spine.
I found Huff, Holden, and Remmington together at a table in the smoky club, midway through a bottle of bootleg whiskey. “You got that picture for us, Camera-boy?”
“No. I need to know. Why’d you kill her?”
Proud confessions are followed by repulsion. A fight. A shot. An ejection. I’m gut-shot. Dying in the alley behind the club. Somehow I found my feet. Somehow I staggered, bleeding, the dozen long blocks to Chinatown. Somehow I found my way here, to your little newspaper.
“Here, take this picture. Print it. These men that killed this girl. Please. For her.”