Greg and I met in 1993. Our friendship began at the fax machine. Somewhere, somehow, the conversation turned to writing, and our shared literary sketches and exasperations. A few days later, the following was delivered to me via the then very primitive Lotus-based email systems of MCI.
Date: Thursday May 6, 1993 9:02 AM EST
From: Gregory J. Zeller/MCI ID: 575-9170
To: Suanne Bierman/MCI ID: 537-6568
O’Loughlin stepped out of the rainy San Francisco night and into that muggy air, removing his fedora and taking a quick survey of the premises. A couple of sailors at the bar in their clean whites, smoking and laughing hysterically at some unknown joke; a high-society dame and some prince sitting at the centermost table, his eyes locked on her and her low-cut formal, and her eyes locked on O’Loughlin; and then, hiding in the shadowy corner of the small room, there was Chins, all four-hundred pounds of him, staring directly at the doorway where O’Loughlin stood. O’Loughlin stared back for a moment, refusing to blink as he peered into Chins’ bloodshot eyes, and then moved slowly and deliberately towards the corner, checking first to make sure that his snub-nosed .38 was resting firmly beneath his left armpit.
Oh. OK. He obviously has game and now wants to see mine. Do I have game? Oh yeah, I got game…
Date: Thursday May 6, 1993 12:47 PM EST
From: Suanne Bierman/MCI ID: 537-6568
To: Gregory J. Zeller/MCI ID: 575-9170
“My friend, you look like hell,” Chins said.
“You’re not so bad yourself, sailor.”
“What’s on your mind?”
O’Loughlin checked his .38 again before sliding into the curved booth and coming to rest kitty-corner to the oriental behemoth, resting his calloused hands on the red-checked cloth.
“A drink?” said Chins, signaling to the club’s oldest and most-trusted waitress, Roxy. Roxy had her circle of clientele, and a honed system of hand signals that her customers used to order drinks. She stepped up to their booth, silent and waiting, her only movement a curt bob of her bleached head when Chins held up one index finger (double vermouth martini, shaken and stirred, one olive) and O’Loughlin made a circling motion with his fingers in front of his face, ending with a stroke of the finger across his right eyebrow (Tom Collins straight up).
“Talk to me,” said Chins.
“You heard about Julie?”
“Who hasn’t?” Chins grunted, but his tone was sympathetic.
“I’m asking you.”
“What exactly did you hear?”
“That her body was found on the side of the FDR at nine o’clock this morning.” [Editor’s note – just the Voice of the Future, noticing with amusement eighteen years after the fact that yeah, I had game, but no regard for my fellow author’s geography; with one sentence I changed the locale from West Coast to East. If Greg noticed the liberty taken, he never mentioned it, and good-naturedly went along to New York.]
“How much more you need?”
“The autopsy, Chins. The path report.”
“You don’t need no path to tell you how she died, my friend. Gunshot to the head, nice and clean.”
“Time, Chins. What time?!” It was an effort to keep the panic out of his voice.
“Oh. Time. Coroner said about two in the morning she died.”
The breath left O’Loughlin’s lungs in a whoosh, and he slumped back against the buttery leather of the booth as Roxy delivered their drinks. He downed his in one gulp and signaled another, this time stroking his eyebrow with two fingers and indicating the next one should be a double.
“What’s going on Oh-L?”
“She died at two in the morning. The found her body at nine.”
“I got a little problem with that.”
O’Loughlin took a deep breath. “If she died at two and was found at nine, then I’d like to know just who the hell I was fucking at two-thirty and having breakfast with at ten.”
Chins spit out his martini. “You were…she was with you?”
“Or someone was wearing a damn good disguise.”
Will this newly-found friendship founder? Can we make our way gracefully from San Francisco to New York? Will any work get done in the midst of this literary exchange? Tune in next time to 5th Avenue Rose.