I’m waiting inside one of the many dockside bars for almost an hour before see Case ‘Brock’ Brockton stoop into the small confines of the establishment. Brock is every bit as big as I was told he was. If I had to guess he’s easily six and a half feet tall and topping out 280 pounds of slabbed muscle. His fists are huge and the jagged scar that runs beneath his eyes and across the bridge of his nose is prominent. The kindest term I can come up to describe him is rugged, but he simply looks mean without even trying.
He sits next to me at the bar and I hear the stool strain as it supports his weight. The leather jacket he’s wearing creaks and occasionally I hear a stud or buckle from it hit the bar with a heavy sound. He briefly acknowledges me and brings over the bartender who fearfully prepares to take his order.
“Whiskeys,” he grunts. “And keep ’em comin’.”
The bartender skitters away. As I survey the establishment I see that everyone is pointedly minding their own business in traditional Exham Bay fashion. Brock pulls a cigarette and lights it up. I almost remind him that the city has a smoking ban in public places and then remember that if I want this interview to be anything other than posthumous, I might want to keep my mouth shut unless it has something to do with the interview.
“So you’re the reporter, huh?” he says. There’s no malice in the voice, no anger. It’s a very calm tone, if unsurprisingly deep. But, it’s also clear he isn’t impressed. I answer in the affirmative.
“Figured. You got any money on you?”
I tell him that I do – I agreed to pay him and I won’t Welsh on the deal.
“Good, I’m broke, so you’re buyin’. Let’s get this over with. Got work tonight.”
I break out my recorder and we start the interview.
Me: So, Mr.-
Brock: Oh no, guy. No names. Not on that recording doodad or in the paper. Part of the agreement right? You want the dope on the seedier elements in the Bay. I want anonymity and the cash you have in your wallet. Those are the terms and the rules follow suit. Got it?
Brock: Good. Now, what was the question you were gonna ask me?
Me: Well, I guess the first question is what do you do?
Brock: I do odd jobs.
Me: That’s pretty broad.
Brock: Sure is.
Me: Can you be more specific?
[a silence hangs between us for a moment when I realize that while he can, he’s not going to]
Brock: I’m just screwing with you, man. You wanna hear about the illegal stuff, right?
Me: I guess, sure. I won’t ask for the nuts and bolts or any names.
Brock: Everyone wants to hear about the illegal stuff. Can’t say I blame you, though it ain’t really as exciting as it sounds. All right. What do you know about Maroney?
Me: I thought you said you-
Brock: Everyone knows Maroney’s a goddamned crook. Mobbed up with the Micks seven ways ’til Sunday. He don’t bother to hide it and don’t care who knows. It surprise you that a guy like me took work from Maroney every now and again?
Me: I guess not.
Brock: Surpise, surprise. I started all of this stuff with Maroney. Drop-offs. Pick-ups. I never did any hits or legbreaking – he’s got his own family guys that do that, and despite my looks, it ain’t my thing.
Me: But… you’re so big.
Brock: [grunts] Yeah – but just cause I got size on me don’t mean I got no other uses for it than crackin’ skulls.
[our whiskeys arrive. I politely sip at half the shot and Brock knocks it back like water and hails for another]
Brock: People see a guy like me, see the scar, y’know. Assume I wanna fight ’em. I’m not really all that bad. Mostly. My momma always taught me not to start fights, but that it was okay to finish them. I mean, sometimes I hurt people, but I’m usually more reasonable than that. Mostly I was loading trucks for Maroney’s smuggling jobs. Sometimes we’d have to hijack a truck and move the contents into new vehicles quick. Nobody busted their hump faster than me on those jobs. It got me steady gigs.
Me: Obviously though you don’t work for Maroney any longer though right?
Brock: You mean since he got pinched and ‘rehabilitated?’
Me: Well, yes, I guess.
Brock: Rehabilitation my ass. He’s still the same guy. Still pullin’ jobs. But, you’re right. I’m not working for the Mick anymore.
Me: Other dons then?
Brock: Nah. You know the money ain’t as good from those bozos as you’d think if you aren’t ‘the right people.’ Besides, I’m so much of every kind of nationality that none of them really want me in la Familia. Can’t go to the Yaks either and the Triads ain’t looking for any more help. They got that all sewn up. The Families would never bring me up to join them at the big kids’ table.
Me: So, who do you work for now?
Brock: The people who ain’t shy about spending the money on whoever comes to hand.
Me: Care to elaborate?
Brock: Sure. People like Samhain Jack.
Brock: I stutter?
Me: No, but… Jack? He kills people.
Brock: Who doesn’t?
Me: I don’t kill people.
Brock: Whatcha talkin’ about, man? ‘Course you do. I hazard to guess you killed at least a dozen people.
Me: I assure you, I don’t know the first thing about murder.
Brock: Sure you do. You make it happen all the time. Exham Bay’s got the death penalty, don’t it?
Me: Yes, it does, but-
Brock: Who you think pays for the injections, or for the voltage on ol’ sparky, huh? Who pays the guards who beat the shit out of the guys who die during interrogation?
Me: The taxpayers, but-
Brock: No buts about it, man. You pay your taxes, you’re responsible. You’re paying them to do it. They pretty it up behind services, sure. Roads and cops and whatever else they decide to spend it on. But, that money gets blood on it every time the hit the plunger or throw the switch. You bet your bottom dollar, you and everyone else in this city on the grid pays for that. Don’t care if they deserved it – hell, some of ’em probably do. Ain’t like assisted suicide. I’m pretty sure most of the guys on the table or in the chair ain’t really thrilled to be going out. But killin’ another guy is killin’ another guy. Last time I checked, that was murder.
[another whiskey arrives. It is devoured in the same ritual that the last one was]
Me: That’s a bit of a stretch.
Brock: Okay, let’s try it another way. You spent a lot of time with the papers, right?
Me: Of course. I’m a reporter.
Brock: You ever write the blotter or cover a crime, or, better still, you ever cover the aftermath of something one of those costumed dopes breaks up?
Me: Of course. The Cowl has been prowling the streets delivering vigilante justice for what, twenty years now?
Brock: Okay, so what happens when those guys get rounded up by the capes, huh? They end up in the papers. High profile. Everyone who reads the rag gets a good picture and a list of names. Take a stab [he grins] how many of those guys get a chance to become repeat offenders?
Me: I don’t follow. there are plenty of career criminals out there.
Brock: S’a lot of dead ones too. Those guys show up in the paper too sometimes, but the Obits ain’t as exciting news as cape nabs. The guys they work for have a way of cleaning up messes that’s surprisingly messy.
Me: I never thought of it that way.
Brock: ‘Course you don’t. You’re doing your job. Spreading the news. Selling papers. Never crossed your mind that some of those guys end up pushin’ up daisies cause people like Samhain Jack don’t like snitches?
Me: I don’t think I spend a lot of time thinking or caring about what happens to the kind of folks the Cowl or the G-Men pick up.
Brock: Few do. But, I assure you. The people these hoods work for? They give a shit. This business don’t like fuck ups. You fuck up bad enough, you’re gonna find yourself in a world of hurt working for people like Jack.
Me: So you’ve met Jack?
Brock: Plenty of times.
Me: And you…
Brock: No. don’t get excited. Everyone knows that Jack likes to do his own killin’. I don’t do it for him. Like I said, not my thing.
Me: And somehow this excuses you from-
Brock: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Get off your high horse. It is what it is. Ain’t no more than that. Just like it ain’t no more than that when a guy that wears a suit costs more’n this bar writes off a bad mortgage and throws a family out on the street. Or when some exec closes another Exham plant down and sends the work overseas, letting loose people with no other training into the alleys where people like me pick them up and pay ’em good. Legitimate and illegitimate business alike cause people to die or suffer. May as well make a buck while I can. Ain’t no sense in doin’ otherwise. It’s a circle of life kind of thing.
[The next whiskey arrives and vanishes just as quickly]
Brock: You gonna finish that? [He points at my half shot]
Me: Be my guest.
[He finishes my shot. Two more shots appear. If he is getting drunk, I can’t pick up on it]
Brock: Point is, people like me, we never had a chance to play in the ‘clean’ system you and yours come from. And you know what? I don’t care. We all get born into something. We all get tied up in the thread of other people’s lives. You got caught up in the Exham Bay Intelligencer. I got caught up with the local rogues’ gallery. We both get paid at the end of the day, though admittedly, you probably get better dental. We both go back to the places we’re from. We both have blood on our hands for something – direct or otherwise. We both have a beer of six and go to bed. Our lives, more similar than you think.
Me: That’s a grim outlook.
Brock: It’s a grim world. You either make the most of your lot or you get the hell out of the way of the people who can get things done. I got nothing against you. Hell, I got nothing against any of the straights of this town personally. I sure as hell don’t let ’em get in the way of what I need either, though. What was it Harvey Keitel said in that movie with the guys in the ties and the suits?
Me: Reservoir dogs?
Brock: Yeah, that’s the flick. He said something about the choice between going to county for the rest of his life and shooting some dumb motherfucker who got in his way ain’t no choice at all. Wise words. We all do what we gotta do to stay out of jail. Cops don’t care if you’re straight or crooked in this town. Mayor Scarsdale just wants order. Doesn’t care how he gets it so long as the blood doesn’t overflow in the gutters and the tourists don’t get dead. The cops in this town are animals anyways. There may be law and order in this town, but it’s the kind that comes at the end of cudgels and bribes.
Me: I don’t mean to offend you, but for a career criminal you’re more… philosophical than I expected?
Brock: Well not to come off as an asshole, but it’s because I’m smart. Don’t gotta get letters after your name to make you think. Had nothing growing up, but library cards were free so I got myself literate and got myself informed. Exham’s public schools were nightmares, but since I was big even as a kid, no one ever thought to pull a book outta my mitts or to give me a hard time about being bookish. Had plenty of time to reflect. To learn how things really worked and how the stuff in my books applied to the world outside the library. I been working the streets for twelve years now. Never got pinched – leastwise not for anything huge that I couldn’t weasel out of – and mostly kept my nose clean even after pulling jobs. I know who to bribe and when. I know how to move through the dragnets the cops set up. I know how to make sure that when I lend my services out to people like Samhain Jack, or the Chiller or the Red Rage that I get my money, and I stay outta jail. I know how to keep my head down.
[Two whiskey shots appear again. I take one and pound it and Brock grunts and lets a little smile out. It’s surprisingly warm – the smile, not the whiskey.]
Brock: And I know – yeah, some of these villains are scumbags. So are CEOs and politicos and even priests for Christ’s sake. No one ever goes out of their way to stope them for shit that’s legal but low, or even the illegal stuff. They just go on keeping on keeping on. We all work for crooks. If you’re wondering, sometimes it keeps me up at night. Not for long mind you. Like I said, crooks all, no other way to make a living. but I try and keep to the jobs that just call for a little brains to go with the muscle, you know? When you stack me up against the rest of this place, I’m a much lesser evil.
Me: I’ll have to agree to disagree.
Brock: S’a free country. One of the things to love about America.
[He bottoms ups the whiskey and I realize I’m tipsy]
Brock: Pay up, fella. We’re done here.
Me: One last thing.
Brock: What’s that?
Me: The scar. How’d you get that?
Brock: ‘Nother story, ‘nother time. Too many specifics in that one. Maybe sometime you ain’t got that tape recorder runnin’ we’ll talk about that.