Bag of Bones
She didn’t speak English, and my sign language had failed us. I didn’t mean to stare for an extra moment, but the tiny, elderly lady was a true hunchback. Osteoporosis -- or something dark and heavy -- had bent her over at a thirty-degree angle from the waist. She only communicated in her native Korean. That and she nodded her head a lot.
“Leave her, Frank,” said Gerald. “Granny is no help.”
“Look, Granny hangs out here all day. She must see things,” I said.
“Sure she does. Now, just pull it out of her,” said Gerald.
Cocking her head, Granny chattered on. My baffled expression set her to bobbing her head again. “Shit,” I sighed. A few minutes earlier, we’d driven into this blue-collar neighborhood to chase down a tip Gerald had received on a bail skip. Late afternoon shadows engulfed us and a chill vaporized our breaths. I saw garbage bags piled up at the curbstone. A feral, black cat crawled into the sewer vent. I had an urge to go join it.
“Yo, this is a dead end.” Gerald spat. “Let’s split.”
“Somebody on this block must speak English,” I said.
Granny elevated her eyebrows to gape at Gerald. Maybe I caught a glimpse of her sly smile. She quit talking, and I next had to wonder if she understood us better than she let on.
Gerald ruffled his shoulders. “Treadwell didn’t haul ass this way. That tip was bogus.”
Feeling uneasy, I didn’t want to argue with him. Gerald could bench press his weight, no sweat. I thought back. Treadwell had been a no-show in court the previous day, and Gerald had his first fugitive of the new year to go grab up. I’d agreed to come along and cover his back. Just then hoisting up the gunnysack, she held in a knobby fist, Granny trilled out a few more lines.
Gerald grinned over at me. “Granny wants you to take her bag of bones.”
“She picked up the chestnuts off the sidewalk,” I said.
This time I shrugged. “Their culture uses chestnuts in dinner dishes. Where do we go look now?”
“Let’s split. Treadwell is white. He’d never lay low in this ghetto,” said Gerald.
“Now that strikes me as a good reason to hide out here,” I said.
“You give Treadwell too much credit. He isn’t that imaginative,” said Gerald.
Speaking in her gibberish, Granny shook the gunnysack several inches from under my chin. Having a second look at her startled me. Her angular face took on a darker cast. Her jet black eyes narrowed into a pair of hot brands even as the air turned colder. I could no longer hear the traffic thrum out on Braddock Road. A new fright stirred in me.
Nervous, Gerald coughed. “What the hell is she going on about?”
I shook my head. “Beats me.”
“Well do something to shut her up. My nerves are getting jumpy,” said Gerald.
I sidled a step to my right and Granny countered my move to block me. She held the gunnysack in two hands. Its flap fell open and all I saw inside was more filthy burlap.
“Word I hear is Treadwell shanked a dude his last time inside,” said Gerald.
My grunt indicated disgust. “And you wait until now to share this piece of information with me?”
“It’s just a rumor I heard from my snitch,” said Gerald.
“A credible snitch?” I asked watching Granny screech at me. The gunnysack smelled rancid.
“Credible enough. Do me a favor, will you?” Gerald pointed a finger. “Just take Granny’s bag and humor her enough to shut up.”
“I’m not going to take it. You take it.” I upraised my forearm as a shield. “Besides it stinks. A rotten smell.”
“Can’t be. Chestnuts don’t have a bad odor,” said Gerald.
Granny shoved the gunnysack into my chest. My lips curling, I grabbed to the burlap. Off to the side, I heard Gerald chuckle under his breath.
“Dig it. Granny has taken a shine to you, home-boy.”
I stuffed my hand into the bottom of the gunnysack. My fingertips groped small, hard chestnuts. Uncertain what I was expected to do next, I dove in my hand deeper. I touched a moist, malleable object, not like the chestnuts. I pinched the object between my finger and thumb to roll like a cigar. A picture flared into my brain as I identified the object. In fact, there were two objects.
“Gerald, who did Treadwell kill when he was in prison?” I asked.
“Some Oriental dude. Why?”
I drew out my fisted hand and opened it. Two fingers, both severed at the bottom knuckle, lay in my palm. Gerald recoiled and I was too damn numb to move.
“Because we just met the Oriental dude’s granny,” I said.
Gerald spoke in a growl. “Give her back the bag, Frank. We’re out of here. I don’t want any part of this. You don’t either.”
I handed the gunnysack to Granny. Accepting it, she winked at me just before we turned to leave.
Ed Lynskey is a crime fiction writer and poet living near Washington, D.C. His first two books are mysteries featuring his PI Frank Johnson: THE DIRT-BROWN DERBY (Mundania Press,2006) and THE BLUE CHEER (Point Blank/Wildside Press, 2007). Two sequels include PELHAM FELL HERE (Mundania Press, 2007) and TROGLODYTES (Mundania Press, 2008).