The Case of the Missing Brother
I was leaning against the bar of a speakeasy on 52nd street when a small sister who had been sitting on the other side of the room with three other people got up and made her way towards me. I took a slug of my drink and shook my head slightly in anticipation.
“Excuse me, but are you Ray Hammett?” It wasn’t uncommon for me to be approached this way. You see I’m a private dick who’s also a sex machine, and it attracts a certain…type. This one looked no different from the others. She had a sweet, pale face with the hint of an angry jaw, and her eyes were ready to ask me for some great favor.
“Yes I am, can I help you?”
“It’s about my brother. He’s missing.”
“And you want me to find him?”
She started to stammer. She wasn’t used to this, to dealing with people of my shade of character. “Cool it,” I told her, and signaled the barman for two drinks. I handed her a scotch and water and let her tell her story without interruption.
That night I was feeling alright for the first time in a long time. I had Curtis Mayfield blasting on the hi-fi. “Get Down” was on and I lit myself another joint. It had been another dark day and I needed some sunshine to stave off the gloom I knew was nibbling at my edges. It had been far too long since I had listened to the Back to the World album and Curtis was just the thing– funk with latitude and attitude. Good God. I felt uplifted, and went to go look for that missing brother.
The kid was a cracker from the East Side who had run afoul of some downtown thugs. Seems he owed the punks a few hundred bucks and then he went missing. My hunch was that he was hiding out, scared like a bitch in a corner somewhere. The night was still young and I was still listening to Curtis on my walkman. Good God. I never solve a case without right soundtrack.
First joint I hit was a little fake hipster bar in the Village. Maybe you know the kind of place I’m talking about: sullen expressions, cigarettes, sexual tension so thick you could cut it with chalk dust and still get high.
The missing brother was known to hang out there. At the bar I ordered a black Russian and surveyed the crowd. I had two pictures of the kid but he looked like everyone else in the place: black hair, sideburns, inferiority complex. The bartender brought my drink and I asked him if he knew the kid. He did but said he hadn’t been in in a while. Said I wasn’t the only one looking.
On the way to the bathroom I spied the jukebox. Scanning the CD cover titles, noticed The Very Best of Curtis Mayfield. Fumbling through my pockets I came up with a 20– the smallest bill I had. I programmed it to play “If there’s a hell below, We’re all going to go” 28 times.
I stayed for two renditions– it’s a good song and I could’ve heard it twice again but I had to get moving. This guy I knew uptown was having a party and it was going to be a good one. The brother would have to wait.
I took the subway uptown to Lexington and 60th. I cut across the east side, walkman still blasting Curtis. His sweet voice and even sweeter guitar was just what I needed. I don’t know why it took me so long to rediscover the man. I guess sometimes when you hear something so many times, you can forget how powerful it is. Curtis makes you wake up to your own soul.
When I arrived the party was in full swing. The host was an old friend of mine from my years in Spain. Now that he was working with the ambassador he thought he was hot shit, but I remembered him puking his guts out six times in one night at San Fermin in 89. He was a good friend and threw an even better party. Just the thing I needed to crack the case once and for all…
Roberto’s place was on the 14th floor, one of two apartments. The door was open and the place was swarming with people. Friends reached across to slap my hand and someone handed me a drink and a smoke. I started to let everything else slip away and started getting funky with few girls on the balcony. Curtis was singing “Can’t Say Nothing” and “Future Shock” in my head the whole time. The lights of New York glittered all around us like shining animal eyes winking through the bushes.
It was then that I realized where the brother was, or rather who he was. The brother was Curtis and he had been missing from my life for too damn long. I needed his power, his strength, his soul and most of all his funk to keep me going in this soup-line world.
Another case closed.
USOUNDS || 2.15.99
The Curtis Mayfield Anthology is a must… don’t be a fool, and buy this record today.