The phone rang on the nightstand, sounding like an alarm bell signaling the end of the world. End of a poor night’s sleep, at the very least.
It was a rotary phone, robin’s-egg blue with proper metal innards and a nest of copper wiring twisted up inside. A solid American-made piece of equipment, 25 years past its prime. The sound it made was horrible, and it kept coming with that relentless 2/4 beat. Two seconds of ring to four seconds of silence.
A groan escaped from somewhere under a twist of quilt and sofa bed. The only thing visible of Henry Ganz was the lower half of a whiskered face peaking through the mass of patchwork fabric. He’d forgotten to pull the phone chord from the wall last night, and the anger at this sloppy oversight fired blood back into his limbs, forcing him to crawl back to the waking world. Worse yet, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing on its own. Shards of plastic and wire that had once been a nearly antique answering machine littered the corner of the room, broken under a boot heel three nights ago. So the phone would keep ringing until the caller decided to hang up, or we finally arrived at the heat death of the universe.
Ganz could have ended his suffering and just answered the goddamn thing, but he didn’t particularly like phone calls, as they more than likely meant bad news. That or a conversation, which usually proved to be worse. But in his line of work, whatever that exactly was these days, Ganz needed a phone, good news or bad. He’d find an angle for either. That’s what he was good at, which made him the cop he once was, the reporter he became, and the high functioning degenerate that he’d always been. Always with the angle. Finding degrees even when everything was bent into a pretzel.
After what was probably its fortieth ring, Ganz snatched the receiver from its cradle and mashed it against the blanket over his ear. The voice on the other end didn’t wait for a greeting, as he knew it wouldn’t come.
“Secretary quit?” Victor Baumgartner’s barrel voice had a sarcastic chuckle to it.
“Ran off and joined the circus,” Ganz rasped, unsuccessfully clearing last night from this throat.
“You hear the news?”
“I write the news, motherfucker.”
“No, on TV.”
“What time is it?” Ganz refused to open his eyes, not that it would have helped. The room was lit by a fat glass lamp with a stained shade resting on the floor next to his pull-out bed. The living room was mostly empty, as were the rooms beyond, aside from the stacks of books and newspapers that rose in dusty columns throughout the house. No natural light filtered through the windows sealed shut with aluminum foil. Like a Vegas casino, never letting in the outside world to remind the poor bastards bleeding their baby’s college fund at the craps table that it was time to get the hell out of town.
“What do you think?”
“Then no, I haven’t heard the fucking news. Why are you calling me so early?”
“Turn on the TV. KTLA.”
“You’re an asshole, Bum,” Ganz said. He’d long ago broken down “Baumgartner” into simply “Bum,” which was far easier to say after a few cocktails. It had predictably stuck. “Goddamn Kraut bastard….” Ganz’s head hurt, just like it always did when it was time to get up and sleepwalk through another day, counting his steps to the grave.
“You’re just as German as I am,” Bum said, feigning insult.
“I’m Prussian, you cocksucker,” Ganz said. “I got more in common with the Polacks than you lousy fascists. How many times do I have to tell you this?”
“As many times as it takes to make it true.”
“I’m going back to sleep.”
“Turn on this news first. You still have a TV, right?”
“I’m going to shoot you, Bum. I’m going to find you and I’m going to—”
“Then turn it on. This is a neighborhood matter, and right in your wheelhouse.”
“So… the Park Plaza Hotel just ate four people.”