Do You Want Her - Matthew C. Funk
Do You Want Her
by Matthew C. Funk
“Do you want her or not?” And as soon as it was said, the odor of murder was in the air.
Both Franks and Griggson took their time breathing it in. It came with coffee and tobacco smoke and grease in the cramp and stench of The Stockpot down on Old Compton. Silence was served with sides of sharp sounds: Sizzle from the grill. Snap of lighters. Dry coughs. Click of laminate menus. Stirring spoons like firing pins.
“Who we talking about here, Donny?” Griggson finally deigned to ask.
“The Gypsy Queen.” Donny Franks said, because it was always ‘The Gypsy Queen’ in full to the two of them—never the gutter slang ‘Gyppo’ or ‘Jersey Cow’ her baser enemies called her while they were still drawing breath; never derogatory. “Miss Priss. The honorable—or not-so-bloody-honorable, as is the case—Elspeth Faa. Do you want to take her down?”
“‘Course I do.” Griggson glanced aside and back and did not smile. “I’ve got a badge and a brain, don’t I?”
“Badge doesn’t cut it anymore, if it ever did.” Franks frowned around a Silk Cut at Griggson’s slump. He touched flame to it and let his statement, a truth unspoken by London’s constabulary for the last five years, have its due time in the air. “Word has it Faa’s bankrolling enough bobbies to form her own precinct. And I sense a certain lack of hard-on here from you.”
“What are we implying here, Donny?”
“No implying. Straight out saying.”
“What are we saying then?” Griggson leaned into Franks’ smoke, putting his shoulders into the conversation behind a scowl. Franks stroked the black froth of his muttonchops like a headmaster who’d heard the same excuses too many times to believe a word.
“I see a man before me who I thought I’ve known better than my own reflection in the mirror for ten years…” Franks began, cut short as Griggson stabbed a lean finger at his own face—at the pock marks, the harrowed slice of his features, the deeper cuts husbanded by the hard skin.
“Aye. And see this?” Griggson drew a nail over a crater in his cheek that ate into the bone below. “A remembrance of the night her boys shot up the Carlyle Arms, ain’t it?”
“But who of late,” Franks blew smoke faster, “has seemed to be concealing something from me, his partner and only insulation for his sorry mortal coil.”
“And the five marks you don’t see,” Griggson’s hands stabbed and slapped at himself, “but that I feel on me every tick of the clock—the burns from that Union Bank thing, the hole through my middle her cunt sidekick left me bleeding out through on the Picadilly chase.”
“Concealing. Lying. Though I know better of him.”
“How’re they for a testimony that I want her bad enough to taste flooding up to my back teeth?” Griggson was hissing now, testifying a hatred religious, all steam and snakehandling. Franks’ response was more cool smoke, dwindling down to the filter.
“Lies the result of, certain sources suggest, that his allegiance might be comprised.”
“Certain sources.” Griggson scoffed.
“Such that even with the storied record at hand, I have to doubt his enthusiasm for taking down the Gypsy Queen and her traveling circus.” Franks crushed out the smoke until the ashes growled in the plastic. “Straight saying.”
“So let’s hear it.” Franks lit his next. He looked into the face that shone through the twisting polygraph of smoke. Both men looked hard as they could. “Do you want her, Griggsson?”
“Hear this.” The reply came carved from Griggson’s clenched teeth. “I want that skeevy, conniving, child-killing, butcher of a cunt so bad I could put holes in concrete. I could light fires with that want, Donny. I could make diamonds.”
Griggson showed intensity that could mint a coin. Franks took it in. He nodded, settled back satisfied.
“Now let’s hear about those certain sources.”
“You prepared for that, Griggs?” Franks’ cigarette poised like an alienist’s pen.
“I’m prepared to have words with the lying skel that tried to turn you on me.”
“You really prepared for this discussion?”
“Was it Del Frisco? Trying to wedge out of another intent to distribute down to a mere possession?” Griggson’s face bent on a smile with all the accuracy of a mortician’s work. “Or that whore you’re so fond of? What’s her name? Naomi?”
“There’s no turning back down this road.”
“Was it Naomi?” The smile sharpened, lips tougher than the teeth behind them.
“It was Karen and Emma.”
The smile vanished. Griggson waited like bone. He moved only to wave the waitress over. His eyes followed the end of the Silk Cut as it ate its way through the tobacco.
“Alright.” Griggson tapped the top of his Newcastle bottle. The bullets of his stare left their chambers. They left him empty. “Have us over another round, then. Let’s talk serious, mate.”
When the waitress went away, they got to talking about those empty spaces. The two partners got to talking about Karen and Emma.
* * *
“It was all the heat in the house clued me to things being off.” Griggson settled back after killing his second ale and breathed out air that could be measured by the pound. “ Like a Bengal jungle. Some place with tigers.”
“Always liked things nippy, your Karen.”
“Southerndown Beach.” Griggson’s smile was soft this time—the soft of marrow showing through a fresh break. “After our trip there, she said it was the temperature of paradise. 17.77 Celsius.”
“She would go on about that shitty beach.” Franks killed Griggson’s smile by answering it. Just a single run of Griggson’s tongue over his lips, as though cleaning them of old sea salt, and the humor was running out him.
“Seemed to omit the crabs and biting insects.” And the cheer flickered, ate through like old celluloid played too many times on a bent reel. The desolate light that had lived loud in Griggson’s eyes since the mention of his stolen wife burnt brighter. “Fine by me. No matter how many times we went back, one breath of air and it’d be the first time all over again. New lungs.”
And when Griggson breathed in again, the air caught in his throat. He set his head on his hand like a useless discard. The memories turned like ashes in a tray until Franks blew away remembrance with the twitch of a bitter smirk.
“Cheers to that.” Franks lit another smoke.
* * *
Franks left his pack of Silk Cut after excusing himself to the Gentleman’s for a piss. It must have been a long piss. Griggson stared at the Silk Cut pack: Crisp box, still with cellophane, no tax stamp, thirteen beautiful cigarettes. The thirteen cigarettes aimed at Griggson the whole time, neat as loaded barrels ready to discharge—to fire a sweet, nerve blackening charge of nicotine.
Griggson watched the bus boy struggle about the tables. He crossed his ankles. He traced the grain of his napkin with a fingernail in geometry that vanished as soon as it was marked. He uncrossed his ankles. Franks kicked him in the sole of his shoe when he returned. Griggson looked up from the Silk Cuts.
“Long day at the races.” Franks picked up his pack and counted the cigarettes. He looked back up at Griggson with a smile as jointed as a secret handshake.
“Remind me why again?”
“Karen found the smell of smoke sickening when mixed with the—”
“The potpourri she was buying.”
“Aye. ‘Cause of the new comforter. Came free with it.”
“So how many years did you give up?”
“Since I was fourteen.”
“Quitter.” Franks snapped his light closed around the flame. “Lack commitment, you do.”
Griggson’s eyes didn’t flinch when Franks blew smoke in them.
“Tell me how it is,” Franks lost his smile quick as he tapped out his ash in the filled tray. “That you’re not going out of your mind with fear over what she’s doing to them?”
Griggson didn’t flinch. He didn’t blink.
“Alright.” Franks nodded to what he saw in Griggson’s eyes, a place newly exhumed and too cold to sustain life. “Tell me how it is you’re not doing whatever the Gypsy Queen asks you to keep them alive. Tell me how it is you’re not already her creature.”
“First you tell me how it is you know Karen and Emma were taken by her.”
* * *
“So our mate Rosario’s on parole,” Griggson recounted the story he’d just heard from Franks. Unlike its first telling, it was not accompanied by strokes of muttonchops or elaborate brushing. Franks had told the story like that git on the tele who composed whole portraits with casual animation. Griggson just rattled it out like tickertape—not an artist; an accountant. “He’s got ten years inside waiting for him if he violates, and he decides to park awhile and peruse my rose gardens long enough to see Karen and Emma grabbed by the Gypsy Queen’s crew?”
“Not parked.” Franks stabbed a full-stop with his Silk Cut’s red end. “He claims he was just driving by.”
“Just popping down to the döner kebab in my neighborhood since his over in Harlesden is all played out?”
“Claims work in the area. Satellites.”
“Aye. Naturally. Satellites.”
“Claims it.” Franks’ knowing grin got no reply. “You know our Rosario. I don’t doubt the work part. Just doubt it was on the straight.”
“Aye, alright. So he sees what?”
“Sees the Gypsy Queen’s colors. You know, the whole red-on-white thing they have going, her enforcers.” Franks spun his hand elaborately as if it might unlatch his partner’s crossed arms. They both knew those colors well—the pale detail stitched into countless reports of heists, rapes, slayings that wove together the covert legacy of the Gypsy Queen. Over the last five years, Franks and Griggson had seen those stitches weave a tapestry of carnage as gaudy and inglorious as the record-long work at Bayeux. Few knew the Queen’s work, and of those that did, none knew it as intimately as these two men. That didn’t uncross Griggson’s arms or blunt the expression that worked at Franks’ story like a wedge. “Rosario slows to take a look, and then sees Karen and Emma being dragged off by three of them.”
“How does he know its Karen?”
“Knows Emma. He remembers me talking about her leg braces.”
“Right. His sister had ‘em too.” A nod from Griggson, finally. Franks took his time inhaling, drawing as much air as he could through a new smoke as though it wouldn’t last.
“He remembers.” Franks tilted his face as if the other muttonchop might be better received. “So he takes a chance, and drops the tip on me to stay clean, uninvolved should this turn south.”
“Says what I told you and—”
Griggson knocked away the waitress with a piss-off look as he cut into the story.
“And got a good look at the van?” The reply was neat as scissors—neat as ever. Franks almost smiled at how characteristic of his partner it was. Almost.
“The tire marks on my driveway go with a Japo van. Did Rosario get a look at it?”
“No. Just good enough to tell it was a van.”
“And followed it.” Franks rolled out ash into the tray.
“And knows where they are. Where they’ve been the last forty-eight hours.”
“Forty-eight, plus the hour of this conversation.”
“And all the time, you’re sure of this—where they are.”
“And can you give me a fucking good reason why we’re still sitting and having it, rather than being on our way?” Griggson had twenty quid on the table before Franks saw his hand move. He had pence for eyes. Franks smiled to see the tallies stacked in his partner’s features. It was time for someone to pay in pain.
“That’s my man. No.” Franks pushed from the table and found Griggson already on his feet. “Fucking good reasons now null and fucking void. Let’s roll.”
They were in the cruiser with the lights off and London’s gray belly rolling under their tires before the waitress came back for the check.
* * *
“Explain this.” Griggson tapped the police radio rocking in its cradle by the car’s overflowing ash tray.
“That would be the MTH800,” Franks opined as smoothly as he slaughtered traffic laws on their dash into London’s east, “superior to other Airwave compatible models in its Java-script capability.”
“As well as a wide range of image types, from mug shots to digital maps.” Griggson rattled off, watching filthy bricks and sagging passerbys blur through the stained windows. He shot a look at Franks, who popped a skull made of sugar—a calavera celebrating the Latin American Day of the Dead—into his smoking mouth The candies were an affectation picked up in souvenir of Franks’ sole vacation in his career—a trip to Belize of all Godforsaken places. If Franks was a junky for one thing more than police work, it was for the macabre. “Explain why we’re not using it to call in backup if you’re so sure where my wife and daughter are.”
Franks took a mad minute of speed to think. He glanced at Griggson beside him, the man a scarecrow with savage disapproval stitched into the angles of his long bones.
“Hrn. You want to take her down, right?”
“I want her so far down, the Devil will bury his turds over her.”
Franks tapped the glittering medallion stamped with Scotland Yard’s insignia that swung from his rearview mirror along with a Tarot card of The Tower.
“Remember these?” Franks’ capable smile slid into a figure of nostalgia as cheap and pungent as his cologne. “When they doled them out to all the incoming generation of Inspectors?”
“Instead of bonuses.” Griggson spoke through his lips’ stitches. “Thank you, Tony Blair. Aye.”
“To me, you, Solly, Guinness, Tolsen.”
“Remember, then, how quickly Solly got that boat of his after?” Franks sniffed in humor as the cruiser shot over a curb into a gallery of crumbling factory blocks and exhausted industry. “That great, ugly green thing look like the Jolly Green Giant pissed all over the Minnow from Gilligan’s Island?”
“How much time that take Solly after his promotion.”
“None at all.”
“And Tolsen, sad bastard, always with the wank magazines in his desk, how long did it take for him to land that hot slag for a wife, and her barely legal slag daughter?”
Griggson looked over, caught the dubious spark in Franks’ eye and shared it in his own bleak stare. “None at all.”
“Chances of him getting his end wet in that like without magical fucking powers involved?” Franks’ expression left the humor to his voice. He was grim, as much a partner to the machines that stood in waiting steel and gathering stains within the factories he sped by.
“None at all.”
“Too right.” Franks spoke as though from far away. For a moment of jerking the wheel and punishing the gas pedal, he lived in the hot wiring of pure reflex. His broad face was blank. He let his body speak with the shove of the vehicle into a desolate lot. “God, do you remember getting your end that wet? I don’t just mean up your shaft. I mean all the way up, up to the backs of your ears.”
Griggson’s attention was elsewhere—out the window, in the gray enormity of the tenement building that hunkered on the edge of the lot. He watched it like the sea might swallow it at any moment. Franks frowned in sympathy with his partner.
“Sorry.” Franks maneuvered the cruiser toward the tenement, then turned for an alley beside it. “And you remember Guinness, aye?” The frenzy of motion subsided to a crawl. “How his son needed a ramp and chair and fuck-all-knows what else, much like your Emma needed her braces.”
Franks hit the brake and pushed the car into park. The engine cooled and clicked in a tide of inertia. Griggson’s eyes still hadn’t returned from the sea. He kept staring at the tenement.
“So you can do the math.” Franks flicked the medallion again. “Add up all that, divide by the three other Inspectors in fine standing who are on the desk of Major Crimes in London, and all the Sergeants under them, and figure out how much backup we can expect if we tell them we’re going against the Gypsy Queen.”
“None at all.”
“Exactly the sum of the chance Karen and Emma have of surviving should we alert the authorities.”
“It occurred to me.” Griggson’s stare remained out the window no matter how the intent gravity of Franks’ pulled for it.
“That why I didn’t get so much as a phone call on this?” Franks spoke to the caved side of Griggson’s face. He made each syllable an awl, machined to prize a reply from his partner. “Distrust of me?”
There was no tide to the sea of colorless gravel of the lot outside the tenement. The sky was stapled shut with layers of cloud. London choked on gray as much as ever. But both men could feel the waves pulling in and out in Griggson’s attention. It was awhile, long enough for a bottle to be carried into the ocean from the shore, before Griggson’s voice floated up.
“Not so much. I trust you.”
“I also trust Elspeth to be one step ahead.”
Despite their coats and badges and guns, both men shivered thin at the mention of the Gypsy Queen.
“The difference being?” Franks asked, and again, Griggson’s reply had to float its way to the surface.
“Rosario.” Franks reached for a Silk Cut. Something stayed his fingers on the border of the pack. Griggson’s glare disembarked from the yard and stormed Franks.
“Here I thought Rosario was moving in with his uncle, going to pick olives down in Malta.”
Franks had to remember to shrug.
“That what he said?” Franks’ fingers lifted the pack of cigarettes. “I don’t recall.”
“That’s what he said last time we busted him.”
“I don’t recall.” Franks shook a cigarette from the pack.
“Point is, Donny, I was in no position to take chances.” Griggson’s stare could not be shaken. It picked apart the fleshy superiority of Franks’ expression like tissue paper. And the words came, snip, snip, snip, neat as anything. “Five years, we’ve been on the Gypsy Queen, and if there’s a law, she’s proven capable of breaking it: Legal, moral, Biblical, natural.”
“Gravitational.” Franks raised his voice to drown out the scissors. He mugged, fresh cigarette a comedian’s prop, his mockery thick as greasepaint. “She’s not a goddamn demigod, Griggson. She’s just a woman who can look nature in the face, in all its cruelty, and not flinch.”
Griggson didn’t flinch either.
“Dogs not being able to eat chocolate without dying.” Griggson didn’t so much speak as swear. “That’s nature’s cruelty. What the Gypsy Queen inflicts on mother’s sons and daughters without a look back, wouldn’t even make it into the Old Testament.”
The next shared chill couldn’t be shrugged away. Franks tried. He could no more dislodge it than he could Griggson’s stare. He did the only thing he could: Snapped open his lighter and inhaled the fire deep as his lungs would take it.
“Is that why you didn’t call me?” Franks exhaled. “Or was it just you as usual, trying to bear Atlas and the weight of the world’s woes besides on your shoulders by your own?”
Even the smoke wouldn’t shade the stare he got in reply—got and kept getting.
“That’s not all I am,” Griggson ground from behind his teeth. “A bearer of burdens.”
“Aye, well, maybe you see it that way after pulling the weight of others for decades on, when any lesser man would’ve cracked. Meaning any man.”
“Meaning with all Emma’s problems and Karen’s nerves…”
“I’d never leave them on their own.” Griggson spoke bleak as gunmetal.
“Alright, but why insist on handling it on your own?” Franks leaned into the press of his words. Griggson turned his lips into a tight stitch, turned a tighter stare on Franks.
“Are we here to save them or for her?” Griggson pressed.
“Is that why—you think only you can save them?”
“If them, let’s get gone—back into the city, into civilization, and away from here.” Griggson, this time, didn’t move. Neither did Franks. They stared at one another as if already buried. Only the smoke moved.
“To protect them?” Franks pressed.
“Them and you.”
“Protecting me?” Franks’ hand went to the door handle. The rest of his attention stayed locked with Griggson’s. “Mighty big of you, governor.”
There was no humor left in either of them. There was nothing but the gray of the city, leeched into their tired bodies, blended with the ale and bad purpose. There was only Franks’ hand waiting on the door and the tenement waiting in the chill beyond.
“No.” Griggson made no hurry to leave. He took his time explaining, as though it were all he had left. “It’s no different than protecting someone from HIV or an airborne plague. It’s more about the disease than the patient.”
Franks let the smoke own the next dozen seconds of silence. Then he pushed the door open.
“Come on. They’re inside.”
* * *
“Second floor?” Griggson was three steps behind as Franks stepped around a chipped corner and onto uneven stairs. His voice might as well as come from under the floor. Franks didn’t turn back to answer.
The pair stalked through the folded shadows of the tenement, the crush of the place like a tomb hidden by ages of smoke and sand. Graffiti clutched the splash and drizzle of stains on the walls in a gaudy quilt. Holes gaped, strange and haunting, and split rebar shoved up between cancers of molting plaster. Franks and Griggson moved with the blank intent of doctors navigating the interior of some critical tumor.
“Rosario was thorough in his directions.” Griggson flowed in Franks’ footsteps, and Franks moved like his legs had drawn the first map of every dim space they entered. One corridor turned into another, into a fourth, Franks moving in the shadows with a native surety.
“I’m going on a hunch.”
“Did a hunch buy you those duty-free cigarettes?”
Franks stopped. An instant framed him in the latticed light from a barred window. The animated stuff of his face had gone stone, indistinguishable from the gray cast on it.
“Your Silk Cut.” Griggson had stopped in place behind him. “They weren’t from the Picadilly cabstand like usual. Weren’t even bought local, or in any other country, going by their lack of stamp. That leaves the possibilities either duty-free, or from an illicit source.”
“You should be a detective.” A smile slithered from the heavy stuff of Franks’ face. His hands sunk down the yards of his coat. Griggson nodded at all this with the remove of a stage director watching his lead actor set for a final monologue.
“Rosario told you where to go, hm?”
“Rosario.” Franks’ smile twitched. “Or someone like him.”
“You know I don’t like lying to you.”
“There was no van. No tire marks.”
“Rosario was full of shit, aye?” Franks’ expression kept slithering, crawling closer to Griggson, eyes and smile slinking around from profile.
“Or someone like him.”
Now Franks nodded. His hand answered the nod by dipping into his coat pocket. He drew out his gun, the metal clean and brilliant with meaning, and showed it to Griggson.
Griggson didn’t need to nod. When Franks stepped on, toward the dented, paint-spattered door third on the right, he followed.
“You know I don’t like lying to you either.” Franks waved on with the gun. “Let’s get this over with.”
* * *
“Why did you have to bring me here?” Griggson sagged, the thin angles of his body beginning to crack under the weight of what was lying on the tidy room’s floor.
It was a small room. Franks had no space to escape. He could only sag in sympathy. Both men stared at the floor, at what was clustered like rubbish on a butterfly of red liquid.
Karen’s body lay, wrenched in death, on the pink faux tile of the floor. In her twisted embrace, Emma’s bent body was clutched. The gory hollows where their faces used to be were pressed together in a kiss that would never feel fruition.
Franks’ neck failed to lift his head. It rolled, his eyes lolling around the finery of the little room—the elaborate beaded curtains, the carnivals of furs, the mystic icons that leered in dim gilt, dense on the walls.
“She said…” Franks began. And at the mention, a curtain of beads parted. She walked out. The Gypsy Queen, draped in a scant calamity of colorful silks, entered the room with all the poise of a sudden winter.
Franks’ gun shoved at her. “You said you wouldn’t kill them, you cheeky cunt!”
The Gypsy Queen gave the gun no notice. She slid near to an appointed position as if the idea of an uncalculated movement were alien to her. Her attention closed over Franks with the chill inevitability of a season.
“I did not kill them, Inspector Franks.” The Gypsy Queen’s voice had all the patience of ice to it. Just the hint of warmth lived in its inflection. No warmth could survive her eyes. “I concern myself only with charity.”
Griggson straightened his shoulders. Franks flamed the gun about.
“Well I’ve got another set of bracelets for you,” Franks sobbed, “so get your fucking hands on your head!”
“A boat to fulfill a lifelong dream, tickets to a faraway country, braces for a child even when unrequested.” The Gypsy Queen lifted her hands with the quietude of communion. It took an edgeless moment. In that moment, Franks noticed her stare had captured Griggson. “Whatever loyalty follows from such charity, whatever events transpire, those are my concern. Killing is beneath me. I leave it to others in my family.”
Franks snapped around to follow her stare. His eyes entered the barrel of Griggson’s pistol.
“I held out.” Griggson had no apology in his voice. Only explanation, simple and indelible as scripture. “It didn’t matter.”
Franks pulled in a hitching breath. He kept pulling. No part of him escaped the pull of his partner’s gun barrel.
“Erich.” The Gypsy Queen said. “Do not be cruel. End him.”
Griggson did as he was told. His bullet blew a hole through Franks’ head the exact size as the ones in Emma and Karen’s. Franks fell on the bodies of Griggson’s family.
* * *
After, in the close and gilded room, the Gypsy Queen ran fingers through Griggson’s thinning hair. The fingers stirred the aromas of cordite and of cloying blood into a perfume. The smell was a solvent, stronger than any sea.
“You are free now, Erich.” Elspeth said. “Just as I promised you would be, despite yourself.”
The smell was peace to Griggson when pushed from the Gypsy Queen’s lips. She cradled Griggson in her arms like a finely wrought toy, petting him and purring her satisfaction.
“No more Southerndown paradise lost, her sleepless sobbing and her griping about money.” Elspeth said, as her fingers worked in their untying way. “No more watching your child suffer.”
Griggson sighed from tight lungs just learning to breathe anew. He looked up into her. In her eyes, he was deaf to London. He was deaf to the oceans of the past. He heard only the purr that hatched from every certain beat in her breast.
“No more lies.”
Griggson leaned into that breast. It did not lean back. Elspeth was unmoved as she stroked on. She was just the fact of her fingers and her flesh.
“Just truth, Erich. Truth and freedom.”
She was just perfect. All forgiving, all embracing, never changing. Griggson sank into the boundless green of her eyes and felt her submerge him entirely. Elspeth took him to her—as she had from the first time they touched and would ever after—like a perfect and unending sea.
“Freedom from woe and want and confinement.” Her hand curled like a wave about his chin, and under her fingers, all his pocks and scars and sadness were rinsed away. He breathed without air. He breathed her. “The kind of freedom only eating from my palm can grant you.”
Griggson breathed in the Gypsy Queen and smiled in drowning.
BIO: Matthew C. Funk is a professional writer in marketing for corporate America, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Twist of Noir; Pulp Metal Magazine; Six Sentences Volume 3 and his Web domain.