The suspect sweated under the lights in the interview room like a cheap sandwich in plastic wrap.

‘So, you think you’re a big character,’ said Detective McBrade. ‘You want respect. You want all the fine folks who read the New York Times and Washington Post to know what a criminal mastermind you are. Well I don’t buy it. You say you’re bad. Show me how bad you are.’

The suspect ran through the events of the bank job. Detective McBrade listened to his monotone without interest.

When the suspect finished speaking, McBrade got up from his chair and checked his appearance in a long mirror on the wall. His ebony skin shone in the tinted glass. He winked at the mirror.

Suddenly, he was in the suspect’s face.

‘You know your problem?’ he said. ‘You’re a mouthpiece. You just describe what you see. You’re a fly on the wall, a bird’s eye view. You never get involved. How am I going to bust you for that?’

Sweat sprang from the suspect like exclamation marks.

‘Look man,’ he whined. ‘I told you everything about that last caper, I told you how it went down. I’m a bad mother, you gotta understand that.’

McBrade took a fresh soda can from a vending machine and banged it hard on the table.

‘Oh, sure, Mouthpiece. You’re on the corner at ten o’clock, when the job goes down. You see the Big Man’s guys go in the bank. You see the customers get on the floor. You see the clerks empty the registers. Then you see the getaway car drive off, and get caught by the cops.’

‘Do you see what the problem is Mouthpiece? You’re a fake. You’re a storyteller, you ain’t no big fella. You wander around near the action, but you never get in it. You don’t do nothing bro’.’

McBrade moved to the door.

‘What you doing?’ whined Mouthpiece.

‘I’m letting you go,’ said McBrade, holding the door open, ‘I don’t need another eye witness.’

Mouthpiece stood up shaking. ‘But you gotta charge me! I was there. I’m one of the Big Man’s guys. If I don’t get busted with them, they’re gonna think I sold them out.’

‘I don’t do favors. You’re free to go.’

‘Please, man,’ squealed Mouthpiece. ‘I’m a major character in this.’

‘Look, you freak. What you’ve told me, you could have read in any newspaper, or heard on the TV. The bank was full; the street was crowded. I’ve a got a book of people who tell me exactly what you did.’

McBrade shook his head. Not in thirty years of police work had he had a suspect so desperate to throw himself in jail. But a collar was a collar. It was what mattered in his line of work.

‘Mouthpiece, you’re one crazy cat, but I’m going to give you a break. If you can tell me something juicy about the Big Man, something I can’t get from anyone else, then I’ll see if the DA can’t put you away.’

Mouthpiece swallowed. This was his big chance. This was his opportunity to be central to a really great story.

‘There’s a card game every Friday. The Big Man likes me to be there.’

‘Why? What do you do?’ asked McBrade.

‘There’s no one listening?’ Mouthpiece pointed at the dark mirror.

‘Nah, don’t worry about it,’ replied McBrade. He smiled at the invisible audience waiting for Mouthpiece to spill the beans.

‘OK, well, the Big Man, like he’s a really big man, and he has to sit in this really big chair, and because of that he can’t reach the table. So he lets me hold his hand, and he tells me the cards he wants to play. I go over and put them on the table where all the other big guys are playing poker.’

‘That’s it?’ asked McBrade. ‘You’re the Big Man’s butler?’

‘No wait, there’s more,’ said Mouthpiece, thinking quickly. He lowered his voice so McBrade had to bend over and get close to hear.

‘The Big Man’s a really bad poker player,’ whispered Mouthpiece. ‘I mean he’s really rotten. He stinks. But he thinks he’s great, and he’s gotta win. If he doesn’t win, I take the beating. So, I do the dealing, to the Big Man’s advantage. But what he doesn’t know is, I play the cards for him. And I’m good. I win. The other guys thank me for it. I keep the Big Man happy.’

McBrade stood up and loosened his tie. This guy was certifiable.

‘Do I look like a charity to you, Mouthpiece. What should I arrest you for? Being a soft touch?’

‘Yeah, well it’s not only cards I deal out. There’s manilla envelopes as well. I don’t look inside, but you can guess.’

McBrade rubbed the stubble on his chin. The police occasionally turned up such envelopes, stuffed with hundred dollar bills, or coke, or photographs of politicians in bordellos. If what Mouthpiece said was true, then he was an accessory to a lot of heavy-duty crime. The City of New York could easily put him away for two to five.

But rather than dump him in the trash with all the other cardboard cutouts, what if McBrade worked on Mouthpiece as a snitch? At the moment, Mouthpiece was just a voice-over in the dark, a mere narrator who passed along from one scene to the next. But if Mouthpiece was built up, and made integral to the plot of the Big Man’s operations, then who knows what story would emerge: with Detective McBrade as its hero, of course.

McBrade turned off the lights and drained his soda. Mouthpiece faded into the shadows. The guy sure needed developing.

© Mark Carew 2000

Winner Second Prize, Fiction Writing Contest, Smallmouth Press, New York, NY.



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