boom boom was not too happy about ashlee showing up, but what was she going to do? at least she was helpful in getting mack over to the 953 club on seventh street. in fact she practically carried him over single handed, and boom boom was able to stay under her umbrella and hardly get wet.
the 953 club was almost empty, just as boom boom had hoped. there were no customers in any of the booths, and only one at the bar talking at the bartender.
the customer turned and stared at boom boom and ashlee as they dragged mack in and propped him up in a booth. the bartender followed his gaze, and then came out from behind the bar and over to the booth.
the customer, a fat man in a cheap suit, continued to stare.
what was the big deal?
"can i help you ladies?"
"no thank you," boom boom answered. "i think we've got everything under control. this gentleman needs to rest a while. maybe a nice glass of tomato juice or v-8 juice would suit him."
"i have my own special recipe that i think would be just the thing."
"thank you, that would be very nice." the customer kept gawking at them and the bartender was in no hurry to get his special recipe. it was a bar on seventh street, hadn't they ever seen a drunk before? suddenly the great light dawned on boom boom - they weren't interested in her or mack but in ashlee.
"anything else?" the bartender finally asked.
"uh - i'll have a kahlua and cream. i guess it's not too early."
"if we're open it's not too early."
"you can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning," the fat man at the bar put in. he was ignored.
"how about you, ms treacher?" the bartender asked ashlee. "sorry i can't offer you anything too strong. i got a license, you know?"
"you got gatorade?"
"uh - that's one thing we don't have. we have milk."
"how about orange juice?"
"yeah, we got all kinds of orange juice."
"i'll have your most organic orange juice."
while all this palavering was going on, mack was gradually slipping out of boom boom's hands holding him upright in the booth. she pushed him deeper into the booth and sat down beside him.
the bartender still could not tear himself away. "my pleasure. it isn't every day we get a first round draft pick in here."
"uh, thanks, " ashlee answered. "but - um - it's still kind of a painful memory."
"you mean because you fell a little bit? hey, i wish you fell even further."
"yeah, all the way to the niners."
"ha ha. yes, i guess that would have been kind of cool - in its own way."
"yeah. well i'll get that order. special recipe, orange juice, kahlua and cream, right?"
"right," boom boom answered. as she turned in the booth to face him she lost her grip on mack and his face hit the table.
it took about ten minutes - ten long minutes - to get mack's eyes open again and at least some mumbling out of his mouth. they got some of the special recipe down his throat - to no visible effect.
boom boom hoped that maybe ashlee would give it up but she just sat sipping her organic orange juice, obviously not going anywhere.
at least no other customers had come in. outside the wind and rain had picked up and could be clearly heard in the quiet bar.
"fuck this," said boom boom. "let's get some hair of the dog in him."
"no argument here," ashlee answered.
"excuse me, " boom boom called to the bartender. he and the customer had gone back to muttering with their heads together.
"i think a double whiskey might be in order here."
"coming right up."
"nothing against your special sauce here," boom boom told the bartender when he came over, "but we are a little - just a little pressed for time, you know?"
"sure, sure." he put the whiskey down. "how's the orange juice?" he asked ashlee.
"good, thanks. i'll have another when i finish this one."
mack snatched up the double whiskey and got it down in one gulp. "ahh ----."
"better now?" boom boom asked him.
"a little." he rubbed his eyes.
"ready to talk? actually, you don't even have to talk, just listen."
the bartender returned to his post. the customer, now acting nonchalant, kept his eyes straight ahead.
"you read the papers, mack? you read about the zombie negative 5.748 murders?"
"that's what you said before. let's try to be a little more specific. do you ever read the papers?"
"hell, no. they're nothing but lies."
"you don't even read my column? i'm hurt. do you read the news online?"
"that's even more and bigger lies."
"that is certainly true." boom boom reached into her coat which she had hung on the edge of the booth and took out a slightly soggy copy of the paper she worked for, the bugle. she spread it out on the table.
the headline read: 5-7-4-8. it's getting late
"i will read you just a little bit: 'district attorney sandi chen and chief homicide detective mona malaika effectively confessed themselves at a total loss yesterday when asked about any progress on the zombie 5.748 murder cases.
detective malaika even professed to not understand the term "zombie 5.748" despite the considerable evidence unearthed by this newspaper and the occasional corroboration from other media…"
"did you write that?" ashlee interrupted.
"sort of. i reported it and the desk cut it to shreds, the way they do."
"but is your name on it?"
"yes, they were nice enough -"
"i need a drink," said mack.
"bear with me," boom boom told him. "let's at least get started here."
"can't you buy your own drink?" ashlee asked.
"i just checked. i must have lost my wallet."
"oh? you have any i d in it? anything - anything - "
"incriminating?" boom boom asked.
"nah, i don't carry around nothing like that. everybody knows who i am -"
"maybe everybody used to know who you were," ashlee told him.
"there was nothing except a few bucks. that's all i carry on benders. and maybe that was all gone." mack looked down at the empty whiskey glass in front of him.
"come on, boom boom, get to the point." ashlee pointed to the paper. "is this zombie 5 7 whatever even real? is anything in the story real?"
"i will tell you this - the investigation is real. mona and sandi can blow their smoke, but you can believe they are taking it seriously."
"so what's it got to do with us?"
"us?" boom boom laughed. "it has nothing to do with you!"
"i mean, anything besides mom being on the case? i mean, she is head of homicide."
"we've got a tip at the paper - that mack might be involved. but i wanted to hear his side."
"oh, please! he may be a total hopeless drunken asshole but he's not some kind of zombie serial killer. and you know it."
"the tipster seemed to know quite a bit about him."
"right. from those stupid books about him that nobody reads any more."
"this person knew a little more than that. real classified stuff."
ashlee laughed. "how classified can it be if you know about it?"
"you'd be surprised."
"how about it, mack?" boom boom took a sip of her kahlua and cream. "ever hear of operation canebrake bluesboy?"
"bogota - 2002. mongolia - 1999. ring any bells?"
"don't play dumb."
"i need a drink. that's all i know."
"really?" boom boom took another sip of her drink. "what about - the professor?"