Tuesday, 27 March 2012

NoHo Noir: Family Secrets

 Family Secrets
by Katherine Tomlinson
Illustration by Mark Satchwill
Illustrated by Mark Satchwill

The police had calmed down when they discovered the gun Alex had brandished was a prop gun. Of course, once they realized it was a prop, they wanted to know where he’d gotten it and that had gotten sticky. He didn’t want to say and they told his lawyer they weren’t going to release him until he did. He might have held out but his wife was close to hysterical by the time she arrived at the station and there didn’t seem to be much point in clamming up.
He’d told the unsmiling detective he’d “borrowed” the gun from the web series he was working on; adding that he’d planned on returning it the following Monday before anyone noticed it was gone. “That’s not going to happen,” the detective had said snarkily.
“What the hell were you thinking?” he’d added.
Well, that was the problem. Alex hadn’t been thinking. He hadn’t had a coherent thought since his son had died.
Not died. Been killed.
The police had kept the gun and that was a problem because it had been established as the weapon the series hero was using and it was the only gun they had.
The producer had wanted to fire Alex but they only had two more episodes to shoot and replacing him would have been a PITA. Alex was playing the hero’s father and he was heavily featured in the storyline.
The mood on the set had not been supportive. Alex’s comments at the job fair had been widely quoted and even with asterisks inserted in place of strategic vowels, any reader could get the picture.
Jeroyd the sound guy had heard about the “nigger” line.
Alicia, the hot girl who played the hero’s fiancée, had heard about the “cunt” remark.
Alex didn’t even try to explain because he knew there was no way he could. He didn’t think of himself as either a racist or a misogynist, but those words had come from somewhere, hadn’t they?
And never mind that he never used words like that. He had used them and there had been witnesses and now there was no unsaying them.

There had been no living witnesses to his son’s murder but a security camera at the ATM had caught the moment a black kid had come up behind him and shoved a gun in his back. Jamie had frozen and the camera had clearly captured the fear on his face. He had not turned around to face his assailant, who had leaned close to him, close enough to whisper something in his ear.
At least it looked like he was whispering.
There was no sound on the video Alex had seen. For all he knew, the black kid had been yelling at Jamie.
His son had handed over the cash in his hand, again without looking at the kid with the gun, but that hadn’t been enough. The robber had jabbed Jamie with the gun, hard enough to hurt.
Jamie had said something to the kid, something that had enraged him. And then the kid had shot Jamie and run away.
The police later told Alex they’d had a lip-reader analyze what Jamie had been saying. He was telling the kid he’d already taken out all the cash he was allowed to withdraw daily.\
Three hundred dollars for a few minutes work and it hadn’t been enough.
The young female cop who’d come to the house to tell him his son was dead was not prepared to deal with that kind of emotional reality, and she’d barely met his eyes while delivering her awful message. He’d told her to go away and she had, not staying long enough to tell him where he could find his boy.
His wife had wanted to see Jamie and against his wishes had gone down to the coroner’s before the funeral home picked him up.
She’d come home tight-lipped and angry.
They’d had Jamie cremated and his ashes had been returned to them in a sealed brown plastic box about the size of a VHS cassette.
The box weighed a little more than nine pounds.
Jamie had been a big baby, weighing just a bit more than nine pounds at birth.
Alex was having a hard time dealing with that dreadful symmetry.
He’d mentioned it to his lawyer, who’d been surprised that he’d weighed the plastic box, then had quickly jotted down a note.
He’d asked her what she’d written and she’d told him it was something she could use to convince the judge he wasn’t thinking clearly when he showed up at the job fair with the prop gun.
Fair enough he had thought at the time but the more he thought about her response, the angrier he got. She didn’t understand.
No one understood. Not even his wife.
Karen was grieving of course, but she was mourning for her child.
He had lost a son.
It was different.
He had tried to explain that to her but without success.
There is nothing like the bond between a man and his boy, he’d told her. You wouldn’t understand.
She had looked at him with an expression somewhere between pity and contempt and had walked away.
That had always been Karen’s problem. She couldn’t handle reality.
Alex still wasn’t too clear what had brought him to the job fair, what had led him to his confrontation with the young cop. His lawyer kept prodding him to explain it. And meanwhile, the gossip sites had fastened onto the case, exploiting his meager celebrity status to maximize interest.
They’d posted pictures of him from his glory days, network publicity shots of him in costume as the sidekick in a science fiction show that had been cancelled after only six episodes. Most of the stories mentioned that he’d been Jamie’s age when Colony Five had aired. He guessed that’s what passed for irony these days.
He’d tried to segue into civilian jobs after the show’d been cancelled, but he could never quite achieved escape velocity. There were enough guest shots to keep his SAG insurance current, and even now he could always count on two or three television gigs a year.
His last had been a role on Castle, playing the bereaved husband of a murder victim.
He’d had a good time. The show’s star was a bonafide geek who’d said nice things about Colony Five.
Since the murder, Alex had gotten a lot of calls from talk show bookers who wanted him to come by and cry on camera so the host could pontificate about the case without knowing anything about it. He’d told them all to fuck off and then simply turned his phone off.
Karen, though, decided they could use the smarmy pseudo-journos to their advantage as a way of keeping Jamie’s case alive even though there were no leads.
Alex hated that idea and was sure Jamie would have hated it too. He knew his son.
Still, he accompanied Karen to the studio for the taping of the Larry Morgan Show.
The host had been lobbing softball questions to Karen for the last half-hour and Alex was getting bored.
How can a black man be that white bread? he wondered.
“So Karen,” Larry asked, leaning forward to show he really cared about her answer, “do you think your son’s sexuality had anything to do with his murder? Do you think this was a hate crime?”
The cameras zoomed in on Karen’s face as she answered.
“I’d love to think this was a hate crime Larry,” she answered, “because then I’d know why my beautiful son was killed.”
Karen’s eyes narrowed then and Alex had the distinct impression she was looking straight at him through the monitor.
“But being gay didn’t get my son killed, going to an ATM in the middle of the night got my son killed.”
What? Alex thought.
Why was he going to the ATM in the middle of the night?


  1. Well done, Katherine. So often, in crime fiction (especially tv and movies) an antagonist is just a generic hood, or loon, with no examination of his humanity and inner life.

  2. Thanks Manuel...I'm looking forward to exploring this storyline...