Tom Larsen was born and raised in New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Civil Engineering. He has worked as a carpenter, construction superintendent, small business owner and building inspector. He is the author of six crime novels and his short fiction has appeared in “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” and “Mystery Tribune” among others. He and his wife Debby currently live in Cuenca, Ecuador.
“Keep Portland Weird.” I see it on signs all over town, but what does it even mean? I’ve been a cop here twenty-seven years, the last seventeen as a homicide detective, and one thing this town is not, is weird. It’s a nice town, and the people are pretty mellow.
Except for that stretch we seem to have every August, where the temperature gets up to ninety-five or a hundred, and stays there for a week. That’s when things get weird.
Just for an example: I got a call out in the Hawthorne Neighborhood the other night.
Almost midnight and 92 degrees. On Channel Six, they said that’s about as low as it was going to get.
The victim, lying on his back in the gutter, could have been anywhere from mid-fifties to early seventies. His clothes could have used a cleaning, but he wasn’t a bum. He was a hard drinker, as evidenced by all the gin blossoms on his face, and the fact that he’d been killed out in front of Sewickley’s Tavern, a notorious dive bar.
The guy sitting at the picnic table that they set up on the sidewalk for smokers looked a lot like the vic— without the bloody open wound at the back of his head.
“I’ve got his statement right here,” the patrol sergeant said, opening his notebook.
I waved him away. “I wanna hear it from him.”
“So, me and Frank….” my star witness began. “We’re just sitting here, smoking and minding our own business. There’s this little dog, lying there on the sidewalk—some kind of a mutt—and his water dish is empty.
“The dog’s panting like crazy. Frank, he don’t like for an animal to suffer, so he starts to get up and look for some water, when this skinny kid in dirty jeans and a T-shirt comes out of the bar. He pulls an open can of Pabst—a sixteen ouncer—from his back pocket, and pours some into the bowl. The dog starts lapping it up.
‘“You’re going to dehydrate that animal,” Frank says, and the kid jumps. “’What?’” he says.
“Frank says, ‘That dog’s been lying there all night in the heat, and now you’re giving him beer? He needs water.’
‘“Aw, he’s alright,’ the kid says. He scratches the dog’s ear and starts pouring more beer into the bowl.
“Some people say that Frank gets mean when he drinks, but I never seen it. Like I said, he don’t like for an animal to suffer. And, the heat might have had something to do with it, I suppose.
“Anyway, he gets up from the table and grabs the kid by his hair—he’s got these nasty, matted-up dreadlocks—and slams his head into that sign pole, not enough to do any permanent damage, just to get his attention.
“Some people say that Frank gets mean when he drinks, but I never seen it…”
‘“The kid yells, and the dog, the ungrateful little shit, locks down on Frank’s ankle like a freaking pit bull. Frank leans down to swat him away, but the kid pushes him, and he goes down.
The dog rolls away, yipping like crazy.
“The crowd here,” my witness informed me, “runs about fifty-fifty. Half of them’re Reed College students and such, because of the cheap drinks. The other half’re old guys, like me and Frank, that’ve been drinking here for years. Well, when the fight starts, the kids come streaming out, but the old-timers stayed inside. Too damn hot, I guess.
“Frank, he’s tougher than he looks. He gets up and kicks the dog, gives him a good one.
Guess he forgot about not liking to see animals suffer, but can you blame him?
“The kid’s been leaning over and holding his ear, but when he hears the dog whimper, he stands up. The crowd’s on his side, and they’re all yelling at him to do something. The kid’s still got the beer can in his hand, and it’s almost full.
“He drills Frank from about five feet away, right in the side of his face. Frank grabs for the sign pole, but he misses and goes down again, and the back of his head hits the curb. I seen right away he was done for, but the rest of them, they’re all cheering and high-fiving.
“The dog hikes his leg and pisses on Frank’s shoes, and he and the kid head on down the street like nothing’s happened.”
“Keep Portland Weird.” The sergeant muttered, putting away his notebook..
“Shut up!” I told him, heading for the bar. “I need a drink.”