Sometimes a man who goes missing should stay missing…. When a hotshot literary agent by the name of Suzanne Bonchance lures Richard Moonlight into searching for her missing star client—the boozing, womanizing Roger Walls—the private detective finds himself waist-deep in a whole lot of trouble. But when a sexy, young MFA in Writing student who claims to know Walls comes to his rescue, Moonlight not only becomes smitten with her charm, he also finds himself falling in love with a girl he barely knows. As the trail for Walls narrows, and the truths about everyone who has ever been involved with Roger Walls are revealed, Moonlight finds himself wanting to run away as fast as his legs will take him. One thing he can’t outrun, however, are bullets.
The entirety of your fragile head thrust deep down into the watery business end of a white porcelain toilet inside the men’s room of a Ralph’s Tavern in Albany. The water is cold and tastes vaguely of rust and urine as it enters into your mouth. You’re on your knees, hands pressed flat against a piss-stained floor, the cold hard steel of a pistol barrel pressed against your spine, a bear claw of a hand shoving your head down deeper into the toilet with each thrust.
“Who sent thee?” the poet barks.
Pulling you back out by the collar on your black leather coat, you spit out the rancid water and make a desperate attempt to inhale a dose of men’s room-fresh air. You want to be cooperative, being that this man is your client, whether he knows it or not. You want to at least try to answer his query. But instead you’re choking, gagging, and vomiting rancid toilet water.
“Who sent thee, scoundrel?”
The pistol barrel is jammed so tight against your spine you feel like it’s about to burst through skin and bone and enter into your stomach. You hear a fist banging on the men’s room door. Somebody shouting to open up. Somebody who’s got to drop “a big fucking deuce.” But the poet doesn’t care. He’s locked the door. Dead-bolted it secure. He’s already shot one man already, or so legend has it. What difference does it make if he shoots you too? The poet is desperate. He’s on the run. He’s drunk and wired up on cocaine. Enough Bolivian marching powder to fire up a power line.
You hear the barrel being cocked. You feel the mechanical action of the pistol against your spine. In a second or two, you’ll hear the blast and you’ll see your bullet-shredded pink stomach lining spatter up against the toilet and the graffiti-covered plaster wall—the work-in-progress canvass for the drunk and the damned.
“One more time. Who sent thee?”
You open your mouth once more, try to spit out the words. It’s like tearing the skin away from the back of your throat. But in the end, you manage to form a single word.
“Agent,” you whisper. Then, “Your. Fucking. Agent.”
“Liar,” the poet shouts, thrusting your head back into the toilet, but immediately pulling it back out, your face and head dripping wet like an overused toilet brush. “You are nothing but a scoundrel and a liar and I will have my revenge upon thee.”
The pistol barrel shifts from your spine upwards to the back of your skull. In your brain, you picture the poet. His thick, white, Ernest Hemingway Old Man and the Sea beard, his full head of salt and pepper hair cut close to the scalp. You see his short, bull-dog build, and his many-times-broken pug nose. You see his ratty khaki safari jacket, its pockets jammed with notebooks, scraps of paper with story-lines and poems written on them, pens, pencils, unsmoked joints, cash, candy bars, and who knows what the hell else. The poet is years older than you, but bears the strength, power, and build of a rhino. A drunk, coked-up Rhino.
“No wait!” you spit. “Wait. Please. Fucking wait, Mr. Walls. I can explain.”
More pounding on the door. More words. Someone about to crap his pants if you don’t open up.
“My agent might be a heartless, soulless cunt who would sell out her own aging mother to make a ten-spot,” Walls speaks in his deep, throaty, formal poetry reading voice. “After all, that’s why I’ve signed on with her. But she would never stoop so low by sending a private detective in search of me. You sir, are a liar and scoundrel.”
“You don’t know me.”
A slap upside your head with Walls’s bear claw hand. It makes your head ring.
“Cease thy banter, rogue.”
The pistol is pressed harder against your skull. Now you see brain matter, blood, and bits of bone spattered against the wall. With any luck it will cover up the hand-scribbled erect cock and the phone number written below it beside with the words, “I give great head. Call me.”
More pounding on the door. More shouts.
“She cares about you, Mr. Walls,” you spit. “She needs you back at your writing desk. You’re all she’s got. She needs you. You need you. You need to be writing. It’s my job to bring you back home.”
Silence fills the bathroom, like the pause after a carefully recited stanza at a college sponsored literary reading. “Liar,” the bearded poet whispers, “turn to me.”
You don’t turn to him so much as he forces you up by your coat collar. Forces you up enough for you to shift from your knees to your ass.
“Open up,” Walls spits. “Take thee into your mouth.”
You open your mouth, your eyes shifting from the black barrel to the poet’s round, red, bearded face. You feel the barrel slide inside, it’s cold metal pressed against your tongue and against the roof of your mouth.
“Swallow until you see the colors of the noon,” recites the poet from one of his most famous works. “Swallow until you lose your mind and your soul. Swallow for love. Swallow for me. Swallow your death.”
You close your eyes, and wait for the barrel to come down and for the world to turn black. You’ve died before, so why should this time be any different? We all owe God a life. That’s what Shakespeare said. And you, Richard Moonlight, part-time private eye, part-time dad of one, part-time lover, part-time scribbler of words, full-time head case . . . You are long overdue.
But the hammer doesn’t come down. That’s when something else happens instead.
The pistol barrel slides back out of your mouth as the poet rises up, filling the stall with his four-by-four body. He doesn’t shoot you, but he doesn’t leave you in peace either.
“This is where me and thee take our leave,” recites the poet. “One from the other.”
When he raises up the pistol barrel, you know what’s coming. You close your eyes and wait for the collision of steel against bone.
“Be advised, Mr. Moonlight, that Roger Walls will never see the inside of a prison cell again. Do we have an understanding?”
“Duly noted,” you utter through clenched teeth. “But you haven’t done anything wrong.”
The high pitched sound of your own scared-like-a-girl voice is the last thing you remember before the men’s room turns black.