It's Only Make Believe

Michael Panush

They buried Mayor Miles Fairweather and High Magus Gideon Fairweather the next day. I went there to watch – not to pay my respects. I parked my Caddy across the street from the Scaulsbury Cemetery and watched them lower the coffins inside and throw on the dirt. The Fairweather brothers went in side by side, in the Fairweather family plot. I sipped whiskey from my hip flash and leaned against the side of my battered car, eyeballing the crowds. It had been quite a turn-out. Susan Fairweather was there, with a black dress and veil. She seemed sad as she tossed a rose into her husband's grave, which I wasn't expecting. Still, I couldn't see a single tear on her face. I sympathized. I wouldn't be shedding any tears either. Her son, Chester, was there as well, standing next to her like a dog stands near its master. He wasn't crying either.

The white-haired priest started his sermon. I couldn't hear his words, but I watched his lips flap as he turned the worn pages of his bible. They were burying both brothers in the morning, the night after Mayor Fairweather had kicked. It seemed that everyone wanted to get them both underground and move on. I didn't blame them. It was a cold day in Scaulsbury and even the Southern California sun seemed to have given up on dealing with the gray sky and the clouds. The smoke from the cigarette smoldering in my lips seemed to match the gray clouds. I wanted out of Scaulsbury and I wanted out fast.

Sophie came over to join me. She had walked down the street and stood next to me by the Caddy. Earlier, Sophie and Felix had headed into town and I hadn't asked why. I figured it wasn't exactly my business. I looked back at Sophie and dropped my cigarette, stomping it out as I talked. "Quite a turn out, huh?" I said, nodding to the cemetery. "Looks like all the respectable citizens and surviving cops made it out to say goodbye."

"Looks like," Sophie agreed. She stared across the street, looking over the rows of white graves which seemed as pale as bones. She turned to me and held out her hand. I gave her my hip flask and she had a quick sip. "I didn't really want him to die," Sophie explained. "Mayor Fairweather, I mean. He was a bastard but maybe his dream of happiness was still something worth fighting for. If he just didn't wage his war so cruelly."

"Where's the kid?" I wondered as Sophie handed me back the hip flask.

"I dropped him off at the diner. We got a call this morning from Eliza Castor and she wants to meet with him at the same little diner where they had such a good time a few days ago. He's there now, waiting for her. After this, I'll walk back over and see if they're done talking. Then you can pick us both up and we can get the hell out of here."

I slid the hip flask back into my coat. The priest had finished making his speech and closed the bible. They were shoveling in the dirt now, putting both Fairweather brothers to rest. "Sounds like a plan," I agreed. "I got an appointment of my own – back in the Mayoral Manor. Susan Fairweather wants to see me in her office, right after the funeral's finished. I should probably head back there soon, just to be ready." I turned to face Sophie, looking away from the funeral. "And then I'll pick you up and we'll get the hell out of here."

"You're anxious to leave." Sophie let her hand fall on her side, where a bandage still clung to her skin. "And I can't blame you. I'm actually looking forward to getting back to LA. Christ, doesn't that sound strange to say."

"You're going back as a full partner of the Harrow and Gold Detective Agency," I explained. "And then we'll see about getting Felix officially adopted into your family."

"That's Gold and Harrow," Sophie corrected. "And thanks, boss."

"I won't be your boss anymore."

"Well, maybe I'm just not used to being in charge. Not yet at least." Sophie pointed across the street. "It seems like the party over there is breaking up. You should probably start heading to the manor, if you don't want to be late to your meeting with Susan Fairweather." She gave me her best smile. "And I know you don't – partner."

I walked around the length of the Cabby and slipped behind the wheel. "Thanks for the advice." I started the car and sped into the road, leaving Sophie on the sidewalk. In the rearview mirror, I could see her wave as I sped away. I waved back as I stepped on the gas. I wanted out of Scaulsbury. So did Sophie and I had a feeling that Felix felt the same. There was just one more thing that I had to do. I kept the Caddy going at a good rate and drove to the Mayoral Manor.

I got there maybe a half an hour early. Carson Kincaid was standing by the stairwell, waiting for me. Without a word, he turned and headed inside and I followed. They hadn't done too good a job of cleaning up the mansion. There were still blood stains – like splotches of rust on metal – over the marble stairwell and pillars. There were bullet holes too. Kincaid led me inside and brought me past the waiting room and the mayor's office. He let me stay there and left, all without speaking. I didn't mind it. I didn't have much to say. I walked over to the mayor's office.

Slowly, I pulled back the door. Even though nobody wanted me dead, I still felt something in my stomach clench. I was still carrying my automatics in crossed shoulder-holsters, with more firepower in the car, but I didn't know how much good that would do. Especially once I saw who was in the office, waiting for the meeting to begin.

Susan Fairweather sat her husband's desk. She had shed the veil, but still wore a stiff black mourning gown and a matching pillbox hat. Her gloved hands were folded neatly. I didn't see her husband's bottle of brandy anywhere. Flanking her was Chester Fairweather on one side, now wearing a formal black double-breasted suit, and Ellis Cross in his same rumpled army jacket. Cross kept a hand inside his jacket, staring at me with his cold, expressionless eyes as I came inside. I returned the gaze and then looked at Susan.

"You wanted to see me, ma'am?" I asked. I walked over to stand in front of her desk. The booze may have been removed from the office, but something else wasn't. The golf club – the one that Mayor Fairweather's father used to strike him with - still rested in its little stand by the wall next to the desk, within easy reach.

"That's right." Susan stared straight ahead at the door, like I was some curtain that was gonna swing past and admit someone else. "And we'll talk, Mr. Harrow – but I think I've got something else scheduled right now."

The door opened behind me. I turned to see Irving Rose, Moe Sands and Rex Garland stroll into the room. Garland had taken to wearing his revolvers openly on his belt, just like some cowpoke out of the movies. Since Scaulsbury was now under Rose's thumb, I guess he thought it didn't matter. Little Irving was even with them, pawing along next to his master. Irving scanned the room and took in everything. His eyes settled on Susan.

"My condolences for your loss," he offered.

Susan merely smiled. "I feel like I should say the same thing." She tapped the table. "Let's get down to business, Mr. Rose. You want Scaulsbury and I bet I know why. Sure, there's money to be made in the Cleft, but the Negroes and Mexicans already have all the vice they need. You can make more exporting to the upstanding white citizens, but it's still not much of a market. You don't strike me as the type to sell reefer to high schoolers. No, I'm thinking you're expanding south for a whole other reason." She folded her hands. "Dope. You track it up from Mexico, store it in Scaulsbury and ship it to Los Angeles and the rest of the country. Having this town in your pocket will make your job a lot easier."

Irving listened to her silently. "You are a very smart woman, Mrs. Fairweather."

"Smarter than you think," Susan continued. "I'll deal, but I want half."

Moe Sands sputtered, his fat lips striking together and leaking spit. "Half! There's no way that you can ever—"

"Pipe down and listen." Susan pointed to Chester. "This is Mayor Fairweather's only son and heir. He's already put in the paperwork to become the head of the Ivy Club. Also, I got everyone scrambling to start a special election and he's gonna be on the ballot. I've still got some contacts in the police department and you can be damn sure he's gonna be elected. You'll have to deal with him if you want to move into Scaulsbury and that means you'll have to deal with me." Her eyes darted to Chester. "Isn't that right, darling?"

Chester's head bobbed up and down. "You got it, ma."

Now it was Garland's get angry turn to. "You ain't in no position to give us orders," he snorted.

"I got the feeling that I am. If you make the new Mayor Fairweather your enemy, I'll make sure he asks the FBI, the LAPD and every other law enforcement agency worth a damn to harass your supply routes. You'll never move a single grain of powder through Scaulsbury. You can fight and corrupt some of our cops, but we've got the money to bribe them back to our side." Susan played it as cool as could be. "And one more thing, Mr. Rose – I don't want this overgrown Texas chicken squawking around Scaulsbury, if we decide to work together. He's okie trash and his kind isn't welcome in a fine town such as mine."

That set Garland off. I saw his lips curl back and his hands drop to his revolvers. Then the bastard drew. I knew that Garland was the sort to spend hours practicing his quick draw skills before a mirror – probably right after straightening his bolo tie. Unfortunately for him, all the practice in the world couldn't stop someone being just a little faster.

I grabbed the golf club's handle in the instant it took Garland to draw. I'm not sure why I did it. I still ain't. Maybe it's because, for all of Mayor Fairweather's flaws, he was still a man trying to follow a dream. That dream was a lie, but it was a good lie and Irving Rose had ruined it. Because of that, he needed to get his nose bloodied.

I swung the golf club around and drove it against Garland's hand, just as he came up with the revolver. The club slammed down on his arm, and I heard the high and clear crack of bone. Garland's pistol hit the ground and he followed. I brought the golf club down again, somewhere on his back. He wailed and hollered and then I pulled the club back and paused, about to swing it down like an executioner's axe and crush his skull like a rotten egg. That's when I noticed Moe Sands had pulled a snub-nosed revolver from his coat and had leveled it at me. I held the golf club high and kept it there, my limbs turning to stone as Sands took aim.

Sands' good luck didn't hold up. Cross had drawn out his own huge revolver and taken aim, almost casually pointing the hand-cannon in Sands' direction. It was a Mexican stand-off all right and for a few seconds there was nothing but silence, Garland's whine and Little Irving's nervous whimpering. I cursed myself a thousand times for pulling that club and beating Garland. I had almost gotten the hell out of Scaulsbury and now I was going to die for showing a little charity to Susan Fairweather. It was funny, I suppose – except I wasn't laughing.

But Rose raised his hand. "Now, now," he said, brushing his fingers against Sands' arm and making him lower his pistol. "We're civilized people and we can discuss this like civilized people."

"You could've fooled me," I muttered. I set the golf club back on its little rack. Cross lowered his revolver. We were all friends now – except for Garland, who lay on the ground in a moaning mass. He didn't bother getting up.

"Garland's decision was regrettable, but understandable." Rose kept staring at Susan. "Half is simply too high. You'll get a quarter of the profits we make from selling the dope on the streets of LA. And I'm being generous when I give you that." He straighter his tie and then leaned down to pat Little Irving. "You're right about something else though – I'm tired of shedding blood for a town like this. I'll let you run it like you want and let you collect your cut."

"Make it a third," Susan suggested.

"A third it is." Rose held out his hand. "Shall we shake on it?"

"I don't really want to touch you." Susan pointed to Garland. "Now I think you should leave, Mr. Rose." She pointed to Garland. "And take that with you."

"Of course." Rose obviously wasn't in the mood to argue. "Give him a hand, Moe, will you?" He was already heading for the door. Little Irving traipsed after him. Moe grabbed Garland's shoulder and yanked him along. The wannabe cowboy wailed the whole way, but Moe managed to get him out of the door and drag him away for good. We heard Little Irving's toe nails clicking on the tiled floor, even after the door shut.

So Susan was in charge now. It wasn't what I expected, but I didn't feel like challenging her claim. I turned to look at her. "So what did you want from me?" I asked.

"Two things," Susan explained. She nodded to Cross. "For both of you." She reached into her desk and withdrew two envelopes. Each envelope seemed as thick as my arm. Susan held them out, one in hand. "Payment," she explained. "For all your troubles in Scaulsbury. Please take the money and then please leave Scaulsbury immediately and never come back."

I grabbed the envelope. "I got no problem with those terms," I said, tucking the dough into my coat. I looked up at Cross. "What about you?"

If he had any feelings, he didn't show them. "I'll leave," he said. "There's other jobs." He walked right past me and headed for the door, without looking back. I didn't bother watching him go. Cross was a psychopath. That was obvious just from spending a small amount of time with him. If I never saw him again, it would be too soon.

Then I looked back at Susan. "Well, I guess I'll be leaving myself," I explained. "Gotta pick up Sophie and Felix and then I'll be on my way. I do have a quick question, though. It ain't important – just something I'd like to know if you don't mind answering."

"You can go ahead and ask," Chester suggested.

"You think it was worth it?" I asked.

Susan just glared at me. "My daughter's life. My husband and brother-in-law ruining themselves for some damn stupid rivalry based on a damn stupid lie. Of course it wasn't worth it. Now get out of here, Dwight Harrow. You're a detective who makes his life on sin and you're not welcome in Scaulsbury." She scowled, her forehead folding like newspaper. "You're as rotten as your face is ugly. Get moving."

I didn't need to be told twice. I turned out of the office and walked away. Now I just had to pick up Felix and Sophie and I'd be through with this miserable town and everyone in it.

I drove down to the diner. Just like she said, Sophie was standing out front with Felix. Her arm was on his shoulder. The kid's face was angled towards his shoes and his eyes were red. He was swaying on his feet and he looked sick. Behind him, standing behind the closed glass door, was Eliza Castor. I pulled over to the curb and they got inside. Felix practically leapt into the back seat. He crawled to the window and stared outside, saying nothing and occasionally shivering. Sophie got into the passenger seat and I sped down the street. I went for a couple blocks and neared the highway entrance before I decided to risk a question.

"So," I finally said. "How'd it go?"

"She won't have me." Felix stared out the window, watching the houses speed by. "She's going to stay with her aunt in San Francisco and she refuses to have much of anything to do with me. Not after what happened."

"It wasn't your fault," I said.

"Perhaps that is correct – but in her mind, I am irrevocably linked to her father's death. She does not know if she can ever forgive me. She apologized. But she still refused to continue or relationship." Felix lowered his eyes. "And now I do n-not. I don't know what—"

Sophie leaned back and patted his shoulder. "Don't worry, Felix. Don't worry. She'll overcome her rage, I'm sure of it. You're a good young fellow and you've proved that you can overcome hate and violence to do what is right – which is more than I can say for most of the people in this town." She turned to glare at me. "Isn't that right, boss?"

"Sure." I looked at Felix. "It's this town, kid. It's a rotten lie and it ruins everything."

"T-thank you," Felix managed. "Thank you."

He looked back at Scaulsbury as we finally left the town. I knew that he had been looking for Eliza that whole time, like she would be riding after us and saying that she had changed her mind and nothing mattered but the way they felt about each other. But that didn't happen. She had turned him down and she hadn't even waved when we drove away. Felix had known heartbreak time and time again in his short life. I guess he'd just found it again.

But he wasn't bitter. He finally settled into his seat, rubbed his eyes and blew his nose, and smiled at Sophie and me. "Well," he said. "We are going to Los Angeles, then? Most excellent. You know, I will gladly offer my expertise and skills to the Gold and Harrow Detective Agency. It will be a small price to pay for all that you have helped me."

"Thanks for the offer, kid," I said. "But I think you ought to enjoy a normal childhood – as normal as a childhood can be in LA, of course. You have a family now, made up of me and Sophie and we'll look after each other. I don't have Scaulsbury to thank for much – but I'll thank it for that."

We reached the freeway. I took the exit and felt my Caddy's wheels speed over the asphalt. We started the long drive back to Los Angeles and we were glad to leave Scaulsbury behind.

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