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“Detective Michaels? We spoke at the hotel. About Miss Sprinkle. She’s in the room now, with Dan.”

“Good. We’ll have some men there in a few minutes. I’ll fax you the arrest warrant, and you can deliver it to the officers when they arrive.”

Sounded good. I gave him the fax number, and hung up. I walked to the back office, to the fax machine.

Not only was it not hooked up, it didn’t appear to have any cords or cables. For fuckssake, why put a fax number on the stationary if the fax isn’t fucking hooked up?

I called back. “Bit of a problem. The fax is fucked.”

“Shit. . .I can drive it there, but I’m a half an hour out. Just wait for the officers, and I’ll handle it.”

The officers arrived five minutes later. There were six officers total. I led them down the hall to the room, and stood to the side as the lead officer banged on the door.

“Gertrude Hansen, police. We are here to execute a warrant for your arrest.”

Cue sounds of breaking glass, rustling paper, and toilet flushing.

“Do you have anyone by the window outside?” I asked the lead officer. He pointed to two men, and they exited the building. None too soon, as I heard the window open, followed by an officer’s voice yelling “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, MAN, PUT SOME FUCKING PANTS ON!” The window slammed shut, and I could hear Dan’s voice on the other side of the door, panting “Ohfuckohfuckohfuck. . .”

One cop had his tazer out, with a big grin on his face. “Been dying to use that, haven’t you?” I asked.

“Yup. Just got ’em this month.”

“Think you’ll need it?”

“Oh, god, I hope so,” he said, grinning even wider.

“Mind if I watch?”

“Knock yourself out, bro.”

At that point, an officer walked up. “Sir, I was just on the horn with Michaels. There’s a wreck on South Liberty. He’s stuck in traffic.”

“Sir?” I asked. “Do you need the warrant to get the door open?”

“Unless an occupant willingly lets us in, yes.”

“And if you’re in there, and there’s evidence of illegal activity in plain sight, you can act on it without a warrant, right?”

“Right. But I doubt very seriously she’d just let us walk in.”

I jingled my keys. “She might not. But unlike you, I don’t need her permission. This is a hotel, not an apartment complex. I’m authorized to enter any room for any reason, and I’m damn sure authorized to grant you entry.”

The officer grinned, and stood aside. I found the key, ulocked the deadbolt, and tried the door. It opened a crack, and was stopped by the chain. Through the crack, I could see Grace trying franticly to stuff various dildos and smoking devices into a suitcase, and Dan struggling to put his sweatpants back on while trying to eat a handful of pot. The air was a thick mix of pot and crack smoke, and I stepped back to get my face out of it.

The officer glanced at the chain, and back to me.

“Go ahead. Kick it in, break the chain. I’ve got a whole box of ’em in the office.”

“Thanks, kid,” he said, and kicked the door hard. The chain snapped, and there was a loud THUD, followed by a shrill shreik. The officer started laughing uncontrollably.

“Oh, fuck. . .she was trying to look out the peephole when I kicked. . .”

*********

EPILOGUE:

Dan, as per the arrangement, was not booked for soliciting. He was, however, booked for the drugs. And hitting an officer, but I wasn’t present for that. He was fired and evicted.

Annie/Grace made bond, and showed up at the hotel a week later, shouting at my window from the parking lot. Saying she was going to sue me for letting the cops in. I just put on some headphones, cranked up some Floyd, and ignored her until she left. I never saw her again.

After her arrest, the police went through her stuff, and went over the evidence. They said to keep everyone out of the room, and touch nothing until they bagged and tagged everything. That night, curiosity got the better of me, and I crept in for a peek. The room had been decorated like a brothel in a bad movie. She had put up velvet curtains, paintings of fat naked chicks, red satin sheets on the bed, fake marble statuettes. Her belongings were neatly organized on the bed and table. Every sort of sexual device and smoking apparatus imagineable was present, including the biggest vibrator I had ever seen. It was almost horselike in size, and had a wall cord with a grounded plug.

Dan The Army Man was about the most useless man you could ever meet. He was, as his name would imply, retired army. He lived on a steady diet of Kool-Aid, incredibly old MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat. . .things like chipped beef, mystery meat in mystery gravy, etc., cooked by popping a bag of chemicals that would heat up into a cardboard box with the food).

He would rail on and on about gooks, niggers, kikes, and spics, and how they were all in league with the Taliban to put queers in public schools, or whatever nonsense he was spouting any given week. He constantly smelled like gaping asshole and feet. He spent most of his free time in the shooting range in the abandoned wing, firing at crudely drawn targets of Muslim men in gigantic turbans, while shouting “Die, camel jockey!”

He constantly bragged about all the women he slept with. His stories ranged from Letters To Penthouse Forum (he was angry that they never published his letters, and claimed Larry Flynt was a Jew, in spite of my insistance that Larry Flynt published Hustler) to the grotesque (claiming he fucked an elderly woman in her colostomy hole while her granddaughter rimmed him).

He was a subscriber of Soldier Of Fortune, and would obsess over it like a speedfreak Dale Gribble. He worshipped Ronald Reagan, and would sit in the office watching The Gipper’s westerns with an obvious, raging hardon. And when a man wears sweatpants damn near every minute of every day, you become painfully aware of every hardon.

For example, the day Grace checked in, Dan was wearing sweatpants.

***************************

Grace returned three days after my visit with Michaels and Robbins. She walked up to the desk, and asked if anyone had come to see her. I bit my tongue, and said no. She thanked me warmly, got a cup of coffee out of the break area, and made her way down the hall to her room.

I waited two minutes, took a deep breath, and picked up the phone.

“Dan? Joey. Hope I’m not bugging you, but it occurs to me you had a birthday two weeks ago, and I just plum forgot! Tell you what, man. . .”

Do you have a guest here going by the name Annie Sprinkle?” asked Detective Michaels. Detective Robbins remained silent, eyeing me sternly from the foot of my bed.

“Annie Sprinkle. . .the seventies porn star?” I asked nervously, hoping to god the two men didn’t notice the roaches in my ashtray. Detective Michaels scowled. Robbins nodded approvingly, as afficianados of classic porn often do when they meet their own. Detective or not, he knew the score.

“Not THE Annie Sprinkle,” Robbins answered, slight amusement in his voice. Michaels shot him a disapproving glance, and Robbins returned to silently scowling.

Michales cleared his throat, and continued. “Annie Sprinkle, also known as Jeannie Pepper, Ginger Lynn, Nikki Charm, Christy Canyon, Vanessa Del Rio, Barbara Dare, Nina Hartley, and Gertrude Hansen.”

I let out a laugh. “Yeah, I know all those names, except for Gertrude. They live in my sock drawer.”

Robbins’ face began to crack, and he began giggling madly, clutching his abdomen. “Can it!” snapped Michaels. He turned back to me. “This woman, smartass,” he spat, holding out a mugshot.

The face was bruised, and a bit younger, and the hair was lighter. But it was–

“Grace. Yeah, she lives downstairs. Hooker, I think.” Michaels seemed taken aback by my candor. “She hasn’t been around in a couple days.”

“She’s more than a hooker,” Robbins chimed in. “She’s running a prostitution ring up and down the gulf coast, with girls stationed in shithole motels from here to Biloxi. No offense.”

“None taken. It IS a shithole.”

“We think she’s been using this hotel as a base of operations for weeks, if not months.”

“Probably.”

“So either you can help us, or we can compel–”

“No problem.”

Michaels and Robbins exchanged glances.

“Yeah, no problem. Like I said, she hasn’t been here in days. But our day guy, Dan, has a room right next to hers. She came in with a ton of luggage, and if she had skipped out, he’d have known. I can give you a call when she gets back, and you can send some guys over to collect her. Hell, I can even make sure she stays put until you get here.”

Michaels eyed me uncertainly. “How exactly do you plan on doing that?”

“I’ll have Dan knock on her door with a couple hundred in his hand. They’ll negotiate. Dan’s a stubborn bastard, so that should be plenty of time.”

“How do you know he’ll go along with it?”

“He won’t know about it. I’ll pass him some bills, point to her door, and say ‘Happy Late Birthday, have fun.’ Just promise me you won’t book him, and you have my full cooperation.”

Robbins grinned. “Won’t he be pissed?”

“Fuck him, he’s an asshole.”

Michaels was visibly suspicious. “Sounds like a good plan, but I don’t get why you’re so eager to do this. What’d she do to you, kid?”

I grimaced. “Nothing. Not HER, anyway. . .let’s just say I have my reasons.

“I fucking hate crack whores. Let’s just leave it at that.”

No, not THE Annie Sprinkle.

We had a live-in named Grace. An obvious crack whore, her eyes were severely jaundiced, skinny as a rail, missing all of her front top teeth so that her bottom teeth would jut out in a Looney Tunes bulldog underbite. Her stomach, while devoid of fat, was wrinkled and saggy, like a weeks-old balloon that had slowly leaked out the last bit of air. Her tits looked as if they had once been nice, perky little globes. Now, they drooped and sagged, formless and wobbly like fried eggs stuffed into the toes of a pair of nylons, one drooping lower than the other by quite a bit. Quasimodo’s eyes come to mind.

The odd thing was how she carried herself. She didn’t shuffle from foot to foot, scratching her arms, mumbling every word. Her rheumy, yellow eyes didn’t shift wildly from side to side. She didn’t wear the usual uniforms of her trade, the tube tops, Daisy Dukes, and the like.

She carried herself with confidence and authority. Her voice was strong, pleasant, and her laughter was like the tinkle of windchimes. She never cursed, and her speech was educated and unaccented. She dressed in modest blouses and slacks, with conservative pumps. Her smell was perfumey, and almost pleasant, once you got past the undercurrent of burning polystyrene.

I honestly had no fucking clue what to make of her.

Men would stop by constantly asking for her. Evey third call to the hotel was someone asking to be transferred to her. She never left the hotel for long, and never came in with anyone. I never could figure out how she did it. As I said, she wasn’t anything to look at, but men would flock to her. I REPEAT, MEN WOULD FLOCK TO HER. She may have looked like Janis Joplin’s corpse, but to her gentleman callers, she may as well have been Princess Grace of Monaco.

Ah, the Gentleman Callers. Men from all walks of life: construction workers, business types, a couple of the local TV weather guys, local political figures, and occasionally, cops. All equal in their enthusiasm, and, on a few occasions, adamant that “You never saw me.” The latter was sometimes followed by slipping me a hundred.

Aside from whatever the hell she did in that room, she was the model guest. And her “friends” always behaved themselves, and never bothered anyone. And, like Mr. Blackstock, she always refused maid service. In the two months she lived there, nobody had been in her room but–

“Are you in charge here?”

I looked up from my comic book with a start, to see two rather sour looking men in pressed, black suits peering at me from behind mirrored Aviators.

“Um. . .right now, yeah. Can I help you?”

The man on the right handed me a business card with the police department logo in the top left corner.

“We need to speak with you. In private. Now.”

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