As I mentioned earlier, the hugely influential San Francisco zine publisher, editor, event organizer, radical sex activist and punk rocker Bill Brent killed himself this past weekend. I am devastated. He was a very good friend of mine; we lived across the street from each other for eight years on 14th Street in San Francisco. His Black Sheets was one of the first zines to print my work. You can read my tribute to him here at Tiny Nibbles (the link is NSFW).
In memory of Bill, I am posting his short story “I Want Candy,” which is Episode 1 in his “Dick Death, Punk Detective” series. I included it in my 1996 anthology Noirotica, which is long out of print. I do not have the rights to reprint it. I hope that means that Bill’s ghost will haunt my ass for royalties.
R.I.P., Bill. You will be missed.
Each of us wants to hear someone shouting back as we scream into the abyss.
DICK DEATH, PUNK DETECTIVE
By Bill Brent
Episode 1: “I Want Candy”
She was a mess. Her eyeliner, thick and black like her hair, ran down her cheeks like fast graffiti. Her dark, matted hair blew in the San Francisco wind, exposing blond roots. Her baby doll dress was torn and shredded — it could have been a fashion statement, sure, but the way it hung off her teacup breasts, nipples exposed, suggested otherwise. Her lovely limbs sprawled every which way like a swastika tarantula. And her beautiful, pale neck was slashed.
She was a mess.
At first I thought some street person had wandered onto the stage and was slurring incoherently, but then I realized it was the lead singer of the band we’d come to see.
“You suck!” I screamed. “Get your shit together.” He didn’t even notice me above the amplified roar. “Hey, lighten up,” Bong said. I scowled at him. “Fuck you,” I retorted, storming out of the club and into the foggy night.
“Dick Death, Punk Detective.”
It was Mitzi Bitzi, Candy’s roommate.
“Dick. I want to talk to you about Candy. Do you think you can find the psycho who killed her? These jerks at Northern Station are dicking me around, and it’s obvious that the only way to flush out this creep is to hire a private eye. Are you into it?”
She sounded high. Probably crystal. Shit, just what I needed, a fucked-up, trust-fundee, art-school washout for a client. But what can I say, the rent was due, and it was always fucked when a punk got offed or beaten, because the cops just blow us off.
“I’m into it if you’re into paying. Come by tomorrow around two and we’ll talk. Bring your checkbook. And don’t come in all fucked-up.”
“Okay. No problem.”
I remembered the last time I saw Mitzi Bitzi was at some art show opening, done up in some punk cowgirl drag.
“And leave the spurs at home. They’re hell on the floor here.”
She showed up at 2:43 p.m. in a plastic leopard-print raincoat. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
“Mitzi. I thought maybe you’d been hit by a bus.”
“Sorry I’m late. How are you, Dick?” She actually seemed friendly.
“I’m here, and now, so are you. Have a seat.”
She landed like a sack of potatoes.
“Now, you were the last person to see Candy alive, right?”
“About a quarter after midnight, in front of the Mob. We were smoking her cloves.”
“That was the Mutilations show, right?”
“Yeah. They were great.”
The band with the drunken singer. “Whatever.”
“Not a big Mutilations fan, huh?”
“Fritz is a mess.”
“Well, yeah, but so’s everyone.”
“Everyone isn’t charging $10 cover at a sewer pit like the Mob on a Tuesday night.”
“Well, that’s Denton’s fault. The band probably sees a fifth of that.”
Denton was the club’s owner, an ex-con who’d gotten lucky and married into money. Around the club, rumors flew that his wife was probably a “sugar mommy” with a strap-on. Or maybe he was just one helluva good fuck. Or both. Anyhow, when her brother decided to get out of the nightclub business a while back, she bought him out. Dent had made the North Beach club into a modest success by appealing to the punk crowd (and slumming tourists) and overcharging them for watered-down drinks.
“Then why didn’t I see you? I was at that show, too.”
“Well, I waved at you, but you were too busy having a bad time, I guess.”
“Did she say anything about where she was going? What her plans were the next day? Anything about who she came with?”
“Just that she was tired and she was going home. I think she came alone, and I told her I thought that leaving alone was a bad idea. I said I’d drive her, but you know how stubborn she is. Was, I mean.”
“Was she seeing anyone?”
“Lots of guys, but no one special.”
Oh, great. A nympho. This was not gonna be easy.
“Was there anything strange about the way she acted, did she seem okay?”
“Well, she was acting much nicer than usual, actually. I figured it was pot, since it does that to me sometimes. But she’s usually really snotty, just on general principle. None of that. It was like she was on happy pills or something.”
“That isn’t much to go on. Was she likely to go off with someone and get laid?”
“Once in a while, maybe, if she thought some guy was really cute. Oh, sure, she could do that.”
“Fuck me, Dick. Harder!” she screamed, forgetting my warning about the dried-up cunt of a landlady who lived underneath me.
I picked up the tempo, my thighs slapping loudly against Kendra’s. Almost a squishing sound. Damn, the bitch was wetter than the toilet floor at the Death Club. Her tits shook like the heads on those toy dogs that you still see sometimes in rearview car windows. She pinched my nipples as I rammed away. That always sends me over the edge.
“Stop it!” I pulled her hair, and she yelled, but she did stop. “It’s too intense. I’ll blow my load, and that’s it.”
“Then you can eat me out!” she squealed.
“Kendra, I’ve told you, the walls have ears, okay? My landlady would love nothing better than to throw me out and move in some nice, quiet, sexually-repressed student instead.”
We were both sweat-soaked and panting. San Francisco was unseasonably warm for June; usually it’s the old joke about “the coldest winter I ever spent was in San Francisco one summer.”
“Let’s stop for a minute. I need to catch my breath and piss.”
“Then we can do it doggie style, while you slap me on the ass!”
Kendra wasn’t terribly bright or attractive, but her blunt approach to sex was refreshing. Who could say no?
“Sure, yeah, whatever.”
“What’s wrong, Dicky?
“Nothing, really. I’m just distracted by work a little.” I smiled at her, a supremely benevolent gesture, in my case. “Why don’t we shower, and I’ll fuck you there. Mrs. Tandy can’t hear a thing with the fan on.”
Dent Denton, the owner of the Mob, was tired.
“I don’t know anything about her except that she was in the Outfits and came to a lot of other bands’ shows.”
“That’s not what Mitzi Bitzi says.”
“Well, let’s take Miss Bitzi’s words with a grain of salt,” he said edgily. “Candy was just like a lot of other girls, only she happened to get killed behind my club.”
“Which makes you a suspect.”
“Look, I wasn’t here. I’ve seen the Mutilations more times than there are cig burns on this bar. Fritz puking his guts out is nothing new to me. I was down the block, having a steak.”
“Do you have a receipt? Can someone confirm this?”
“I don’t know what you want,” he said. “If I knew anything, I’d tell you.”
“You’d better be right.”
Slasher Studios was where a lot of bands rehearsed. A decrepit warehouse in China Basin. For $5 an hour, you could rent a semi-soundproof room with a creaking door and moldy carpeting tacked to the walls.
I was looking for guys who might have boffed Candy. Maybe one of them went apeshit on her for fucking around. I’d brought a friend, whose purpose was to point out guys he’d seen her with. I stood outside, smoking a Camel unfiltered. The late night mist slapped my face till it stung.
“Why don’t you just inject some nicotine and tar directly into your veins,” Bong asked. “You’ll die faster. Why the slow, boring wait by smoking it?”
“That’s really hilarious, coming from someone named ‘Bong,’ I snarled. “Why don’t you go eat a granola bar or something?”
“Yeah, right, when all they’ve got in this roach hole is vendo junk food.”
“Holy shit!” I cried. “I’ll be right back.”
There was a wall full of pictures of various bands and personalities over by the candy machine—a departed manager’s wan attempt to add a homey touch to a decrepit warehouse that the city should have condemned years ago. Lately some punk fags had been decorating the picture of Candy with wilted carnations and candy wrappers.
Her picture was taken in Denton’s office.
Kendra had a pizza waiting when I returned.
“Hi, Dickie. How’s work?”
I’d been thinking about Denton’s alibi. “I’ve got this suspect who was probably sleeping with Candy, but there’s no way to prove he saw her the night of the murder.”
“Well, did you think to check his garbage for evidence?”
“Yeah, sure, but what kind?”
“How about a used tampon, for one thing? Candy was on the rag. Told me the day before she was killed. If the blood type matches, there’s your murderer.”
I stared at her, jaw agape. “You’re pretty sharp, you know.”
Kendra grinned. “Not as dumb as I look, you mean.”
Uncle Mike fished me off Polk Street when I first hit San Francisco, a scared, tenth-grade dropout. He was a private investigator who eventually taught me everything he knew in the two years I lived with him. And he gave great head, too, better than anyone save Kendra. But that’s another story.
Nothing I learned about sleuthing from Uncle Mike prepared me for the indignity of sorting through Denton’s dumpsters in search of used tampons.
The gate was easy; someone had left it open, so I didn’t even have to pick the lock. It was the creaky, clanging dumpster covers that worried me. I just wanted to do my job, not get hassled for trespassing at 4 a.m. The dumpsters were set against a concrete wall at the end of a short alley, surrounded on all sides by flats with windows.
One of the dumpsters was uncovered, so I decided to start there.
“Holy fuck!” I hissed.
A tall, lanky skinhead was fucking a homeless guy, right there in the dumpster. The skin had one of those hairless, compact bubble-butts that shone white under the streetlight because it had never seen the sun. The homeless guy was on his back, his trenchcoat spread open, his rosebud being savaged by one of the fattest dicks I’d ever seen.
They looked up at me, scared shitless, and I realized that the homeless guy was actually Fritz Mutilation.
The fat dick slid out of his ass with a loud plop.
I wondered what Uncle Mike would have done in a situation like this.
“Pardon me,” I said. “I’m looking for something I lost. I’ll start at the other end.”
“Uh, never mind. We were just leaving,” the lanky guy replied. He ran off without Fritz, who was still gathering up his pants. What a gentleman.
“You’re Fritz, right?”
“Oh, God,” he slurred. “Please don’t tell anyone about this.”
“Okay. On one condition. I need to get into the Mob.” What luck. Dent had recently hired Fritz as a janitor, which worked when his binges didn’t make him too unreliable. Dent was too cheap to hire a regular janitorial service, availing himself instead of the ever-renewing pool of punk labor.
“Oh, no, can’t do that,” he croaked. “Why you wanna go into the club? It’s closed. No one there.”
His breath could have launched a small rocket. “If you don’t let me in, every punk in town is gonna know that Fritz Mutilation takes dick up the ass. And not just any dick, skinhead dick. An enemy of the punk state. Now let me in, and then disappear, okay?”
“Oh, God, please, don’t take anything. I’ll get fired,” he wailed.
“Don’t worry, I’m not interested in ripping off the club. But don’t tell anyone you let me in, or I’ll spread your little secret into every scene between here and D.C.”
It took me less than three minutes to pick the lock on Dent’s office door. I was hoping that Fritz hadn’t cleaned its bathroom.
The office was a mess. There were stacks of old newspapers everywhere, along with empty pizza boxes and take-out Chinese containers. A cockroach scurried beneath the chipped desk.
There was an alcove at the back that held a rumpled futon bed, and to its right was the bathroom.
And in the can was a blood-soaked tampon.
What was the motive?
Dent Denton. Busted in St. Louis twelve years ago for possession of narcotics with intent to sell, served two years in prison on a ten-year term before release for good behavior. Married six years ago, still married, with one boy, 15, from the wife’s previous marriage. Owner of the Mob for the past four years.
Candy Cane, née Candace Canalli, 22 years old. Raised in Lafayette, an affluent suburb about 50 miles east of SF. Mediocre attendance and grades throughout school, with the exception of visual art. Designed a campus mural honoring women in rock, was voted “most likely to steal your boyfriend,” and then mysteriously dropped out of school three months into her senior year. No contact with her family since.
I wanted to look at Candy’s personal effects again. I called Mitzi and got her machine. Blondie’s “Call Me” blasted my ears.
“This is Mitzi. You can call me anytime, but usually I’m out. Tell me your name, phone number, and a good time to reach you, and I’ll talk to you later. Bye.” BEEP.
It was 4:15 p.m. when the phone woke me at my desk. I’d dozed off in the midst of a database search of runaway kids that led nowhere.
“Death here. Speak.”
“Dick, it’s Mitzi.”
“You gonna be around for about an hour?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“I dunno. Something’s been bugging me. I need to go through Candy’s stuff again. Is it all still there?”
“Yeah, no one’s touched it. Come on over.”
“I’m on my way.”
The place was a mess.
“Have you found anything yet?” Mitzi asked. “Are there any suspects?”
“You know I can’t talk about that. But yeah, stuff’s been happening. That’s why I’m going through everything again.”
“Well, you know where it is.”
“Candy ever give you speed?”
“Mmm, yeah. Twice, I think.”
“Ever say where she got it?”
“It’s funny you ask!” she said. “She was real mysterious about it. Like the cat that ate the canary. I just let it go. I didn’t need to know her source.”
Candy’s room. Rumpled yellow sheets. Dozens of photocopied flyers for various punk shows taped to the walls, many designed by her. A green plastic nightstand clock, a camera, and some art supplies. A small pile of her belongings, the material sum of a short life. Lots of make-up spilling out of a small, unzipped cloth purse. A few notebooks and a pile of thrift-store clothes. Her electric guitar.
I opened the case. A vintage Fender, and I wondered who she’d had to screw to score a beaut like this. A pawn shop proprietor, maybe. I played a few short bursts and started to put it away. I opened the compartment for holding picks, extra strings, and the like. They spilled onto the floor. Under the strings was a packet of photos. I opened them.
The pictures showed Dent and Candy in a variety of bare-assed poses—Dent eating Candy out. Candy sucking Dent’s dick, Candy riding his hard-on.
Somehow I didn’t think she took those for sentimental reasons.
I figured it was time to pay Mr. Denton a return visit. I didn’t bother to call first.
It took forever to get across the fucking bridge. Sundays with good weather were like that. Everyone tore ass out of the city and out to the beach. I exited at the small town of Mill Valley. Ten minutes later, I was ringing the front door of a beige two-story house with a neatly trimmed lawn. It felt a long way from the Mob.
I tossed my Camel into the juniper bushes. No answer. I rang again. This time, the stepson’s head appeared through an upstairs window. I probably caught him jacking off. “Yeah?” he hollered.
“Hi. I’m here to see Mr. Denton.”
“He’s out back,” he said. “Go through the gate.”
It was like something out of Better Homes and Gardens. Dent was barbecuing steaks on a Weber kettle, and there were maybe six guests. He even had on a paper chef’s hat.
“Hi, Dent. Mind if I talk to you for a minute?”
He looked like he’d seen a ghost, then he got angry. “Couldn’t this wait until tomorrow?”
“Well, I decided to go for a Sunday drive in this beautiful weather,” I sneered, “and my car just kind of pointed in your direction.”
“Excuse me,” he said to his guests. “Hank, will you keep an eye on these?”
We sat at a breakfast nook off the kitchen. “What the hell is this about?” he snarled.
“Well, I’ve been busy lately, and I felt like you deserved an update,” I said.
“This is a joke, right? Someone at the club put you up to this.”
“It’s no joke. You killed Candy Cane. I found some pictures. I think you know which pictures I mean. So I know that you and Candy were getting it on, and I figure that you’d been supplying her with enough speed to keep her coming around. I think she decided to play with the time release on her pawn-shop camera and took some snapshots of you having sex. But later, you began to worry about getting caught fooling around, and you tried to back off. Your wife would probably be pretty angry—I mean, she didn’t set you up at the club so you could chase young punkettes.
“When Candy saw her best source drying up, she decided to blackmail you with the photos. I figure Candy went around to your office after saying good-night to Mitzi. When she asked you for some party drugs, you said no. Then she played her trump card, and you freaked out and killed her. You probably used a knife from the kitchen and ran it through the dishwasher later.”
“Okay. Yes, we did mess around some. And I was sorry I let her talk me into those pictures. But that was it. It was a heat-of-the-moment thing. I wouldn’t kill her. And there’s no way you can prove I did!”
“Your alibi doesn’t hold up,” I replied. “That steak house closes at 11:30 on Tuesdays. The manager told me the lights were out by midnight. Candy was killed after 12:15. Mitzi told me she was on the rag. Fritz helped me recover the tampon that she left in your bathroom the night you killed her. The blood types match.”
Dent looked out the window, where a squad car was parked. I’d requested backup. “You’d better tell your wife you’ll be leaving for a while.” He sighed. He almost sounded relieved.
A tall woman, presumably Denton’s wife, entered the kitchen.
“What’s going on, Dent?” she questioned.
“What a mess. What a fucking mess,” he muttered.