Crooked Little Vein

Chapter 1

I opened my eyes to see the rat taking a piss in my coffee mug. It was a huge brown bastard; had a body like a turd with legs and beady black eyes full of secret rat knowledge. Making a smug huffing sound, it threw itself from the table to the floor, and scuttled back into the hole in the wall where it had spent the last three months planning new ways to screw me around. I’d tried nailing wood over the gap in the wainscot, but it gnawed through it and spat the wet pieces into my shoes. After that, I spiked bait with warfarin, but the poison seemed to somehow cause it to evolve and become a super-rat. I nailed it across the eyes once with a lucky shot with the butt of my gun, but it got up again and shat in my telephone.

I dragged myself all the way awake, lurching forward in my office chair. The stink of rat urine steaming and festering in my mug stabbed me into unwelcome wakefulness, but I’d rather have had coffee. I unstuck my backside from the sweaty leatherette of the chair, fought my way upright, and padded stiff-legged to the bathroom adjacent to my office. I knew that one of these days someone was going to burst into the office unannounced to find a naked private investigator taking a piss with the bathroom door open. There was a time where I cared about that sort of thing. Some time before I started living in my own office, I think.

My suit and shirt were piled on the plastic chair I use for clients. I stole it from a twenty-four-hour diner off Union Square, back in my professional drinking days. I picked up the shirt and sniffed it experimentally. It seemed to me that it’d last another day before it had to be washed, although there was a nagging thought at the back of my mind that maybe it actually reeked and my sense of smell was shot. I held up the sleeve and examined the armpit. Slightly yellowish. But then, so was everything else in the office. No one would see it with the jacket on, anyway.

I rifled the jacket for cigarettes, harvested one, and went back to my chair. I swabbed some of the nicotine scum off the window behind the chair with the edge of my hand and peered down at my little piece of Manhattan street.

Gentrification had stopped dead several doors west of my spot overlooking Avenue B. You could actually see the line. That side of the line; Biafran cuisine, sparkling plastic secure window units, women called Imogen and Saffron, men called Josh and Morgan. My side of the line; crack whores, burned-out cars, bullets stuck in door frames, and men called Father-Eating Bastard. It’s almost a point of honor to live near a crackhouse, like living in a pre-Rudy Zone, a piece of Old New York.

Across the street from me is the old building that the police sent tanks into, about five years back, to dislodge a community of squatters. The media never covered the guys in the crackhouse down the street a little way, hanging out of their windows, scabs dropping off their faces onto the heads of the rubberneckers down below, cheering the police on for getting those cheapass squatter motherfuckers off their block. You think the tanks ever came for the crackhouse? Did they hell.

I was new there, back then. All tingly with the notion of being a private detective in the big city. I was twenty-five, still all full of having