Port City Black and White Sample Chapter | More Brandon Blake
Want a taste of PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE? Here’s the first chapter:
The caller didn’t leave a name—no surprise, seeing as it was 3:55 a.m. in the scuffed-up neighborhood just up from the Oaks. Somebody there said they wanted the lady at 317 Granite, third floor, to turn down the freakin’ television.
“Three-seventeen,” Kat said.
“That’s Chantelle’s,” Brandon said, turning off Congress.
“Lance just got out of Cumberland County,” Kat said.
“Cuddle up on the couch with her sweetie.”
“Watch a movie.”
“And smoke some crack,” Brandon said.
“Ah, romance,” Kat said. She smiled. Brandon hit the gas.
It had been a quiet Thursday night in Parkside, drug dealers and buyers scared away by a sweep that bagged four people for trying to score crack and three for trying to sell it to them. Average night, but the blue lights and undercover cops had the junkies and dealers spooked, at least for a day or two. Now Granite Street, with its triple-deckers and scruffy maples, looked almost as it had been intended when the city was laid out, Brandon thought. A quiet residential avenue overlooking a tranquil city park.
Brandon grabbed the mic, said, “We’ll be off.”
He double-parked and they got out, looked up. From the sidewalk they heard shouting, tires screeching, gunshots. The third-floor windows showed the lightning flicker of a television playing in the dark.
“Guess Lance wouldn’t go for the chick flick,” Kat said.
“Doesn’t she have a baby?” he said.
They hustled up, Kat the triathloner taking the stairs two a time, her equipment creaking. At the fourth-floor landing they paused. There were beer cans piled in the corner, a torn white T-shirt on the floor, a red brassiere beside it, like the person inside the clothes had been vaporized. Kat listened for a moment at the door, heard angry voices. “De Niro,” she said, and knocked.
The movie blared. Nobody answered. Kat pushed and the door swung open with a long, languid creak. The sour smell of cigarettes and alcohol billowed out, tinged with a faint whiff of burnt crack cocaine. They stepped in.
“Chantelle,” Brandon said. “Portland PD.”
Somewhere inside the apartment a beer can clanged. “Chantelle,” Kat called.
They walked into the front room, dimly lit by the blue glow. There was trash on the floor and it crunched underfoot. A torn easy chair overturned against the wall, stumpy legs turned out. Table smashed, splintered wood scattered. Lamp on its side, the shade crushed flat.
“A good time was had,” Brandon said.
“Oh, yeah,” Kat said.
They walked into the next room, saw the back side of the television. It was five feet across, thick as a coffin, the kind they had twenty years ago in sports bars, everybody cheering Larry Bird and Magic.
A woman cried out but it was the movie. Kat went around one side of the television, Brandon around the other. Chantelle was slumped on a broken couch that listed to one side. She was nested in a dirty blanket, holding a potato-chip bag. Sour cream and onion. Her feet, in white footie socks, were up on the edge of the cushion. She was wearing gray cotton sweatpants, a black tank top. The two cops stood in front of her but to the side, not blocking her view.
“Hey,” Kat said.
Chantelle continued to stare at the screen. Brandon looked at her: strawberry blonde, drug-haggard but still faintly pretty, a looker in high school. Her peak.
She looked up at Kat, surprised to see her standing there.
“Hey,” Chantelle said, like they’d awakened her from a dream. “This flick, it’s called Hide and Seek—like the game, you know? This girl, she has this wicked scary friend who’s, like, invisible.”
She looked back at the screen. Brandon grabbed the remote from beside her, turned down the volume.
“When was the party?” Kat said.
Chantelle looked up blankly.
“Oh, you mean Lance? That was, um, last night? But a lot of people hung out after. What’s today?”
“Friday. They all gone now?” Kat said.
Chantelle looked around, then back at the television.
Kat slipped a flashlight off her belt, leaned close, and shined it into Chantelle’s eyes. The pupils were black pinpoints.
“You’re high, honey,” Kat said.
“No, I’m clean, Kat,” Chantelle said. “I swear to God.”
“We look around here, we gonna find drugs?” Brandon said.
“You find anything, it ain’t mine. All these people here, Lance’s friends. I didn’t know half of ’em. He makes friends easy in jail, why he’s always going back. I told him, I said—”
“Chantelle,” Brandon said. “Where’s the baby?”
She looked up at him.
“You have another baby?” Brandon said.
“Then where is he?”
Chantelle shrugged. Her breasts moved, meager under her tank top, her ribs showing under a thin layer of tautly stretched skin.
“Sleeping,” she said.
“Where?” Brandon said.
“In his room. Back there.”
There was a door that led to the kitchen, liquor bottles on the counter reflecting the television light. Brandon walked back, saw another door on the far side. It was ajar, the room dark. He stepped over trash, kicked a baby bottle, rolling it across the floor. At the threshold he flicked his flashlight on. Pushed the door open.
Brandon stepped in, swept the room with the light.
A bare mattress. A box of Pampers, torn open. Tiny socks and T-shirts strewn on top of a broken bureau, the drawers hanging open like the place had been ransacked.
He walked back to Chantelle and Kat, looked at his partner, shook his head.
He picked up the remote, turned off the movie.
“What are you doing, Blake?” Chantelle said. “It’s not over.”
“Chantelle,” Brandon said. “There’s no baby in there.”
She looked at him, peering through a haze.
“Sure there is. He’s sleeping.”
“He’s not. He’s not there. Where would he be? Did Lance take him?”
“Lance? Who never changed a freakin’ diaper in his life? No way. Besides, it’s not his kid. It’s Toby’s kid. So Lance, he acts like Lincoln doesn’t fucking exist. I say to him, ‘He’s a freakin’ baby. Don’t take it out on him. Besides, I didn’t even know you when me and Toby hooked up.’ ”
“Get up,” Brandon said. “Get off your lazy, drugged-out ass and show me the baby.”
Chantelle stared at him, muttered as she started to get herself up.
“Don’t have to get all wound up, Blake. Not my fault if—”
“It is your fault,” Brandon said. “You’re his mother. Your responsibility.”
“You think I invited those guys here? That buncha crackheads? Lance, he wanted to party. I’m like, ‘Why can’t we just get Chinese, chill out?’ ”
“The baby, Chantelle,” Kat said. “This is about the baby.”
Chantelle glared at Kat, too, heaved herself off the couch, wavered for a moment, then walked unsteadily toward the bedroom. She reached inside the door, flicked the light switch. The light didn’t go on. She walked in anyway, Brandon and Kat following. They turned their flashlights on the mattress, the rubble. Chantelle stared.
“What is he?” Brandon said. “Six months old?”
“Does he crawl?” Kat said.
“Rolls over,” Chantelle said.
“I don’t think he rolled out the door, down the street,” Brandon said.
“Who would have taken him?” Kat said. “Was your mom here?”
“I don’t think so,” Chantelle said. “I don’t remember.”
“Well, let’s call her,” Brandon said. “You can tell her you lost your kid.”
They stepped back into the kitchen light and Brandon held out his cell phone. Chantelle took it, stared at it for a moment, then pressed the numbers. They waited.
“She ain’t picking up,” Chantelle said.
“Let it ring,” Brandon said.
They stood and waited. A fly buzzed inside a beer bottle. The refrigerator hummed and rattled. The kitchen smelled of rotting food.
“When did you put him to bed?” Kat said.
“Jesus, I don’t know. Before Leno?” Chantelle said.
“And you were on the couch ever since?” Kat said.
“Yeah,” Chantelle said.
“Didn’t get up to pee?” Brandon said.
“No,” Chantelle said, and then, “Ma. Ma, it’s me. You got Lincoln? . . . Lincoln. Do you have him there? . . . Ma, will you friggin’ listen? Do you have Lincoln in your house?”
Brandon and Kat watched her expression shift from impatience to puzzlement to panic.
“Oh, my God,” Chantelle said, not to the phone, not to the cops, but to herself. “Somebody took my baby.”
copyright Gerry Boyle 2009