Thursday, February 1, 2007

Halvard Johnson

How To Be A Private Eye

Eat two pork sandwiches, a side order
of Brunswick stew, and a cup of gritty black coffee
at Foster’s Barbecue hut. Order another cup of coffee to go.

Take up your stake-out position in the rear lot
of Cooksie’s Texaco station looking out over an unmowed
meadow toward a one-story frame house.

Make your coffee last until sunset, letting the last
few drops go down like chilled linseed oil.

Watch as someone drives up and parks parallel to the house
under the cork elms drooping over the front porch, pausing
in the light of the porch light to look up and down the
street before knocking, looking right up at Cooksie’s for a second.

When the big man doesn’t see you, let your breath out
in a nervous burst.

Get out of your car and scamper down the incline
behind the service station into the meadow beside
the house. Creep around to the back, climb to a
rickety screened porch, ease your way through the
unlatched door. Step up onto an old railway bench
to see what you can see.

Count yourself lucky that the same loud rock
music that prevents you from getting any kind
of good recording muffles the telltale bump
and creakings of your maneuvers on the bench.

Take a couple photographs and step down from the bench,
knocking loose as you do a slat
from the back of the bench, which falls
clattering into an empty metal basin underneath it.

Hop through the door and down the dilapidated rear
steps, moon rolling out from behind a cloud
to spotlight your getaway. Avoid revealing
the location of your car by heading for a
drainage ditch instead of Cooksie’s.

Crouching low in the grass, watch the two
men come out onto the porch, down the
exterior steps, and into the dewy September
meadow. Hear the smaller one shout, “Leave
us alone. Leave us alone!”

(source text: “Unlikely Friends” by Michael Bishop:
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, November 1982)

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