My humble Christmas gift to you, fellow readers

Well, 'twas the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature... yada, yada, yada.

I'd like to leave you tonight with a little Christmas noir story I wrote around this time last year. It's entitled THE CHRISTMAS THREE.

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas to all. Please be safe!


* * *


Kaitlin sat in the den leafing through a magazine. She was dressed in the red lace teddy she favored for virgins, with matching pumps. The low ones, with heels about an inch high. Not as sexy, but she wore them so he wouldn't feel intimidated. She glanced at the clock. He was late.
She sighed. Closed the magazine, and stood. Paced around the room, arranging picture frames and trinkets. Went to the window, gazed down at the dark street.
Knock knock.
* * *
“It was a good year, Ed. Had a few bumps in the road, but nothing I couldn't handle.”
Vito Di Melo, a 67-year old, second generation Sicilian immigrant, leaned back in his chair and sipped from his glass of grappa.
Sitting across from him at a table covered with a white plastic tablecloth was Ed Greene, a tall, handsome patrolman.
“Ed, I ever tell you the story of my uncle Gio, from Palerma? The one with the peg leg?”
“Ah! Vito! If you haven't told him a hundred times, you haven't told him once.”
Alberta Di Melo, also in her sixties and just about as large as she was tall, came out of the kitchen and made her way to them. She wiped her hands on an apron, took down a chair from the top of a nearby table, and sat next to them.
She turned to Ed. “I'd tell you to forgive him, Ed, say it's the age, you know, the mind starts going a little. But old Vito, he’s been repeating himself since he was in diapers.”
“So long as he remembers how to make that veal scalopini, I'll be alright.” Ed said. He raised is glass, held it there. “A toast, to you fine people and your fine eatery. Salute!”
Their glasses touched and they drank.
They sat silently for a while, before Ed made a show of glancing at his watch and sighing.
“I'd better get going. Gonna be midnight before we know it.” He stood, pulled on his standard-issue winter jacket, and lifted his hat to his head. “You folks better get home, see what Santa left you under the tree.”
Vito and his wife laughed, stood, and Ed wrapped the pudgy woman in his arms. While they embraced, Vito slipped behind the bar, and came out with a gift bag.
“Buon natale, Ed. All the best, from our family to yours.” Ed pulled away from Alberta and took the bag. “Just a little something to show our appreciation for everything you do.”
Ed knew exactly what was in the bag. No need to look.
“Grazie mille, Signore, Signora. Always a pleasure.”
He shook the man's hand, then made for the door and slipped out into the cold night.
Around the corner, out of the couple's sight, he stopped near a vagrant he knew from his beat.
“Merry Christmas, Officer Greene. You been a good boy for Santy Claus?” The hobo, who went by the name of Pint, on account of the format of poison he favored, flashed Ed a toothless grin.
Ed pulled the wine bottle from the gift bag. “I'm only a good boy when I'm being bad, Pint.” He dropped the bottle into the man's shaking hands. “Santa thought you should have this.”
As the man praised him in sounds that might have been words in some unknown tongue, Ed walked away.
After sliding behind the wheel of his squad car, he pulled a wad of bills from the gift bag. He quickly counted the money, smiled, and pocketed the bills.
Almost ten. He'd have to hurry if he wanted to get to everyone before midnight.
* * *
“Can we just sit and talk?” said the man, who asked that she call him Tim.
Kaitlin smiled, nodded. “Sure, honey. Whatever you want.” Not an uncommon request, oddly enough. Lots of them were just looking for a sympathetic ear. “Can I get you a drink?”
Tim shook his head, looked around nervously. “The drink and me don’t get along.”
“Mind if I have one?”
“Make yourself at home.”
He laughed. Kaitlin sighed. Nothing she hated more than folks who laughed at their own jokes, good or bad.
Kaitlin poured herself a glass of bourbon, then shuffled back to the couch. She could feel the man's eyes on her, up and down, stopping on her ample breasts for a long time. He sure seemed to be looking to get laid. But he wanted to talk.
So they'd talk.
“Tell me, Tim. What do you do?”
“I'm a carpenter.”
She smiled. “So you're good with your hands.”
“Yeah.” Not a hint that he got that reference.
Kaitlin took a sip of bourbon. “You live in town?”
Tim shook his head. “Across the river.”
They were quiet for a long time. Kaitlin couldn't say exactly how long. She didn't want him to catch her looking at the clock, like she wanted him gone.
“Why are you here tonight?” she asked. “It's Christmas. Nobody should be alone at Christmas.”
“If I weren't here, we'd both be alone.”
Most clever thing he'd said so far.
Tim looked away. Kaitlin glanced down at his hands. Long, thick, crooked fingers, callused and dry. Scars where he had been cut, by a saw or a nail, she guessed.
He turned back to her, caught her staring. “Do you have any secrets?”
* * *
Jon McNamara looked up from his cards, a large grin spread on his scarred face. “Call.” And dropped a couple of bills on the table.
Ed shook his head. “You'll never get it, will you, Mac?” He let his cards fall to the felt one by one, his eyes watching McNamara’s reaction as the royal flush was revealed. “I try to spare you the humiliation everytime, Mac. But, just like the last broad I had, you keep coming back for more.”
Ed left what must have been 20, 25 bucks in small bills on the table and stood. He downed his shot of Canadian Club. “For the next bottle,” he explained, nodding towards the near-empty bottle. “Merry Christmas, Mac. ”
“Hold on, Ed,” McNamara said. “Been meaning to talk to you about something.” He held up the bottle towards Ed, let it hover over his empty glass.
“Pour,” Ed said before sitting again.
The Irishman did as ordered. “You know the girl who works the bar on the weekend? Tall redhead goes by the name of Christina?” Ed nodded, although, who notices a redhead nowadays? “She's a girl likes to party, sex, drugs and more drugs, and then some. That's all good and fine, I ain't got a problem with it, so long as you don't shit where you work. I so much as get a whiff of that, and you'll be tending bar at some kid's lemonade stand faster than you can say nickel.”
“I'll remember that whenever I apply here.”
“Anyways. It's an expensive lifestyle. So I’m told. Christina makes good money here, always shows plenty of cleavage, guys tip her more than they tip the naked broad shaking her plastic tits in their face. Only it's not enough to pay for all the shit she snorts.”
Classic tale, Ed thought. “She owe you?”
“Ed, you know I don't do that.” McNamara looked downright shocked at the suggestion.
“You banging her? A little late night knob polish action in your office, Mac?”
MacNamara was set to answer, but Ed put up a hand to stop him.
“Forget it, Mac, I don't want to know. ” He looked at his watch, took a sip of rye. “Your point?”
MacNamara sighed, poured himself a glass, looked up at Ed.
“Guy she owes, his momma christened him Melvin Tubbs. To everyone else, he's Melt.”
“I've heard of him,” Ed said.
“Right. Well, past Saturday, was 9:30, maybe 10. Melt comes in with a couple of monkeys. Christina was at the sticks. Melt and the boys started making trouble, hassling her, letting everyone in the place know what kind of girl they were dumping their paychecks on. Then, before my men could even react, Melt pulled her by the hair, pushed her face right down on the beer-soaked mahogany. Told her, and this is she quoting he, “Money. Friday. Or we burn down your mommy’s house.”
Ed chuckled. “All I want for Christmas is my money back.”
“Asshole like Melt, all he deserves is a noose and the tallest tree known to man.”
“Let me guess,” Ed sighed. “Your little honey can't come up with the money in the next 24 hours. And she needs a fix to make it through Christmas with the family. Right?”
MacNamara nodded. “She's agreed to get help. But money don't grow on trees.”
Ed downed the last of his drink, then stood. “I'll take care of it.”
McNamara stood and put out his hand. They shook, then McNamara pulled Ed in, put his arms around him. “See Keith on your way out. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.”
Ed left the office. He walked by the floodlit stage without looking at the black girl with saggy breasts hugging the pole, and stopped at the bar. Turned to look at the room.
Not an empty seat in the joint. He laughed, shook his head. Even on Christmas Eve, bunch of losers couldn't resist the pull of topless women.
A girl who was not Christina was mixing drinks. He got her attention, asked for Keith. A second later, a broad-shouldered mick with shamrock tattoos on his hands appeared with an envelope in his hand. Ed pursed his lips, nodded, took the envelop, and showed himself out.
A minute or so later, he was back behind the wheel. He emptied the envelop, mixing the crisp new greenbacks with the rest to make a thick wad. He'd have to stash some of it away before heading home. If Lauren went through his pants and found so much cash again, she'd lose it. He’d have to make up another story about holding it for evidence and all that. Wasn’t so sure he wanted to expend all that energy on Christmas morning.
He checked the radio. All quiet. He waited a few seconds while Central settled an argument between a couple of boys from another precinct, then checked in. The dispatcher had nothing new for him, so Ed simply put the car in gear and pulled into the light traffic.
Ed checked the clock: five to ten. He was cutting it close. He'd have to keep his next stops short.
And hold off the drink, if he wanted to be in top shape when the clock struck twelve and the party began.
* * *
“Doesn't everybody have them?”
Kaitlin tried to hide her discomfort. She was growing more and more nervous as time wore on. Four years now, she'd been doing this, sitting alone in her apartment and taking male (and a few female) strangers to her bed. Never once during that time had she felt threatened in any way. She was one of the lucky ones, she knew.
But tonight, this short-sighted, odd-looking carpenter with callused hands and thick glasses gave off a weird vibe. He was talking again, better pay attention.
“Is it secret? What you do, I mean. Do your friends know about it? And your family?”
How much should she tell him? Kaitlin had grown accustomed to playing shrink, but it was very rare for the tables to be turned. She simply wouldn't allow it. But it was happening now. Nothing she could do about it.
“I'm not ashamed of what I do,” she explained. “My family's opinion don't matter to me. How you going to live your life if you’re always worried about other people’s opinions?”
Tim looked up at her, grinned. “You never pick your family, right?”
Kaitlin nodded, looked away. They remained silent for a while. One quick glance at the clock gave her hope. She cleared her throat, then told him that he had ten minutes left in his hour.
“Don't worry about it. I've got no other place to go.” He pulled out some bills from the pocket of his trousers, counted off a few hundred. “Would you feel better if I paid upfront?”
Kaitlin shrugged. He leaned forward, dropped the bills on the table between them. She picked them up, stood.
“You sure you don't want a drink?”
* * *
Funny how people think, sometimes.
The second Marty The Party saw Ed climb out of his squad car, he dropped the brown paper bag he was holding and bolted around the corner into a dark alley.
Marty The Party had once been fast, sure. Back in grade school, he’d race little Billy Simpson around the block, winner gets to kiss Amanda from across the street. But that was before Marty became The Party, name given on account of Marty always being the one you called when your party was lacking a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.
Ed caught Marty by the shoulder, slammed him against the brick wall. Marty was huffing and puffing, his eyes glassy, breath stinking of a rum and meth cocktail that would have killed lesser men.
“Marty The Party,” Ed said into the man’s terrified eyes. “What part of ‘Get the heck out of my neighbourhood’ did you not understand, boy?”
Before Marty could answer, Ed put his weight into a hard punch to the man’s gut. Marty gasped, doubled over. “You puke on my shoes, Marty, and the pigs are going to have you for Christmas brunch. Hear?”
Marty coughed, took in several sharp breaths. Straightened so he could look the cop in the eye.
“I... I... I was gone man, I swear. It’s true, I swear. I went upstate for a while, caught up with this girl I used to know. But she went and threw me out on my ass. Besides—”
Before Marty could finish that thought, Ed held him still with his left hand, then reared back and ripped into him. Face, kidneys, face again, two, three, four times, until the man’s legs buckled and he crumbled to the ground. Ed kicked him in the ribs, the cracking sound of steel meeting bones barely audible over the man’s wailing.
“There’s always an excuse with you, Party. I’m sick of it.”
Ed bent over him, sifted through his pants pockets, came out with some bills and a bunch of dime bags packaged in a bigger Ziploc bag. Everything found a new home in Ed’s pockets.
“That’s it?”
Marty nodded, winced.
“Don’t lie to me!” Ed kicked him again, and Marty’s air left his lungs, the sound like that of a balloon deflating. “ Christmas Eve and Marty The Party only has fifty bucks to his name? I know the economy is bad, but even a nitwit like you can make a killing in this business. Am I right, Marty? Where’s the rest of the loot?”
Marty coughed several times before turning his head to the side and vomiting on the asphalt. Ed laughed, kicked him again, ecstatic at the sheer joy of it.
“Where’s the money, Party? Shoes?”
Ed bent over again, pulled at the cheap, soiled sneakers that would have been considered stylish in the nineties. The cop grimaced as the stench reached his nose. He shook the shoe, but nothing came out. He tossed it aside, grabbed the other foot.
“See, Marty, I knew you were better than that.” He shuffled the bills, counted them quickly. “Seven hundred and change. Quite the haul, Marty. Maybe you should have bailed, see if that girl would take you back now, Moneybags.”
Ed pocketed the dough, then pulled Marty to his feet. Ed pulled one of the dime bags from his pockets, dropped it in Marty’s hand.
“Merry Christmas, Marty. You get a present, even if you’ve been naughty.” He slapped the man’s cheek for good measure. “If I come around here next week and I see you hanging around? Lord have mercy on your rotten soul.”
Ed smiled. All in all, a productive evening.
And the best was yet to come.
* * *
“So tell me, Tim,” Kaitlin said, crossing her legs. “What’s your secret? What’s in your closet?”
Tim grinned, rubbed his hands together.
Kaitlin waited for him to go on.
He sat up, on the edge of his seat, opened his mouth. Nothing. He shook his head, closed his mouth, and let himself fall back in the chair.
Kaitlin turned her palms up. “Well?”
There was silence for a long time as they both stared at each other, then looked away before staring again. Kaitlin wished she had put on some music, to fill the silence.
“I have dark thoughts,” he finally said.
Kaitlin had to bite her lip not to laugh. Last thing she wanted to do was to humiliate him. Thing with men is, you never knew how they’d react if you humiliated them. Even if there was no one else in the room.
“What kind of dark thoughts?”
Tim inhaled deeply, sat up straight in the chair. “Dark, you know. About hurt, pain. Death, even.”
“Give me an example,” she asked, hoping to show she was intrigued, keep him going.
“When I was a kid, and my parents would go out for dinner or to see a show, I’d sit up in bed with the lights off, listening to the sounds of the night. And I’d make up stories in my head, how the cops would come knocking, tell me my parents had died in a brutal murder. Or in a fiery car crash. Or poisoned in a restaurant by a sick fuck of a cook.”
Kaitlin sat, frozen, rendered speechless by the man’s words. “And you weren’t sad? To think that your parents could die like that?”
Tim smiled, shook his head. “I was sad when they came home. Wished the bastards would die and leave me alone.”
Kaitlin should have been shocked, but she’d heard it all before. “How old were you?”
“Ten or twelve,” he answered, not a trace of shame in his expression. “As best as I can remember, that’s when I started having erections. My penis would get so hard thinking of the bullets ripping through their skin, or the meat cleaver slicing them open like I’d seen in a movie. I’d lie in bed for hours, not knowing what to do to make the pain go away.”
“Do you still have them? These thoughts?”
“Very often. Only now, I think of people from work. Or kids I knew back in school. The bullies that would beat me up after school for not having the right shoes or for wearing glasses.”
“Do you sometimes have nice thoughts? Happy thoughts?”
Tim shrugged. “Sometimes. But they are few and far between.”
“What about now? Are you having dark thoughts now? About me?”
* * *
At eleven thirty, Ed called it quits. It was quiet on the streets tonight, wouldn’t get more jumpy until three or four the next morning, when folks would start leaving their parties to head home, and some drunk would cause a head-on crash that would kill a nice family of four coming home from Grandma’s with a trunk full of new toys the kids would never get to play with.
So, Ed guided his cruiser to the station, parked in the far back lot. He popped the trunk open, moved his equipment to get to his duffel bag. He unzipped the bag, checked on the contents. The money, all five thousand, was still there. He closed it and slammed the trunk door.
He jogged to the back door, let himself in out of the cold. The squad room was practically deserted, save for a couple of homicide dicks playing cards and sipping gin in the coffee room. Ed went the other way into the showers.
There was no time to waste. Seven minutes later, he had showered, towelled off, then put his uniform back on, making sure to put on a fresh shirt.
Had to have the uniform. She loved it when he showed up in uniform. Never seen a girl go crazy like she did when she laid eyes on him in his blues.
Standing in front of the mirror, he took a good look at himself, turned away satisfied. From his locker, he collected the tiny box he had had wrapped earlier in the week, slipped it into his coat, and left the room.
“Merry Christmas, fellas,” he yelled from across the room to the card-playing dicks.
They returned his greeting, and Ed hopped down the stairs and into the bitter cold.
Which he did not mind, now.
Because in a few minutes, he’d be in the hot, damp place he loved.
* * *
Kaitlin poured herself another drink. She had managed to stop shaking. She was curious now, actually. She wanted Tim to keep talking. Wanted to know everything about him, what made him tick, what kept him going.
She wasn’t sure why, exactly.
Maybe because, deep down, they were so alike.
“I hope you’re not offended because I only wanted us to talk,” Tim said when she returned to the den.
“Not in the least, Tim. I get that a lot, actually. Don’t worry”
“I’m just not very good, you know, with women.”
Surprise, she thought. Had to bite her lip, again, so she wouldn’t say it out loud. “Why do you say that?”
Tim shrugged, chuckled. “I never know what to say. How to approach a woman.”
“Is it because you’re afraid of them? Afraid they’ll say no?”
He gave a curt nod. “They always say no. And when they say yes, finally, all they can do is laugh at me. Bitches, is what they are.”
Kaitlin furrowed her brow. “Why do they laugh?”
Another chuckle. “Usually happens when I take off my pants. They see my penis, you know, and they can’t help themselves.”
“What’s so bad about it?”
He just shook his head, looked away. Burned a hole into the wall, he looked so long at it.
“Is that when the bad thoughts start?”
* * *
The streets were quiet, as if a midnight curfew were in place.
Ed, his shoulders hunched against the cold, came upon the tenement. He looked up, saw the light on, and smiled.
He let himself in, and climbed the stairs. He stopped on a landing, turned to look at himself in the window. All good.
He bounced up the final set of steps to her front door.
* * *
“Therapy might help.”
“You're probably right. Thanks.”
Kaitlin smiled, shifted her legs from under her, and drank from her freshly-filled glass.
She jumped as there was a knock at the door.
Tim looked at her looking towards the door. “You expecting someone?”
“No.” She stood. “Probably someone looking for a party. Wrong apartment.”
She took a couple of steps towards the door, Tim's eyes on her all the way. “Be right back.”
* * *
“Ed, what are you doing here?”
He brought the flowers out from behind his back, smiling widely.
“Those are lovely. But you've got to go,” she said, trying to shut the door on him.
Ed's grin melted, a frown taking over. “And a merry fuckin' Christmas, to you, too, Kaitlin.”
He pushed the door open. Kaitlin got out of the way a mere second before being crushed between the heavy oak and the wall. Ed closed the door behind him, and removed his coat, started on his boot.
Kaitlin's hand on his shoulder stopped him. He looked up at her.
“Now is not the best time,” she said, pointing to the den with her eyes.
Ed laughed. “Who is it?” He took a step toward the den, but Kaitlin put a hand on him to stop him, mouthed Leave. Now.
“I want to see him.”
“Ed! Get out!”
The cop pouted playfully, pulled her in close to him. Brought his lips to hers.
“Just thought we could party a little, that's all,” he said after the kiss. “It is Christmas, after all.”
* * *
Sitting on the low leather chair, Tim was growing increasingly impatient. He could hear voices, hers and some man’s, whispering. This was obviously not someone knocking on the wrong door.
He stood, shuffled to the edge of the room, peered around the wall.
The man was a cop, in full uniform. His hands were all over Kaitlin as they kissed.
Tim felt the heat rise to his face. He took a few deep breaths, pulled the Luger from under his belt, held it against his thigh, and came around the wall and into the room.
“Kaitlin. Everything alright?”
* * *
For the rest of her mortal life, Emily Tomlin, aka Kaitlin, would be able to recall every single frame of the 20-second film that took place under her eyes on that night.
Ed kissing her, his firm hands feeling oh so good on her body.
That man, Tim, walking in on them, clearing his throat.
She turning away, embarassed like a teenager caught making out at Lookout Point.
The two men looking at each other, Ed's voice clear in her mind. “Hey, aren't you--?”
No answer from Tim. Just the ringing sound of the first explosion. She was sure there'd been more, but she never heard them.
Ed's body crumbling to the floor, blood spattered all over the wall and the door, her couch ruined. Brain matter on her red teddy.
Tim walking toward her, stopping at the bloody corpse to check for a pulse. Emptying the cop's pockets, whistling at what he found.
“Merry Christmas to me,” he tuned, like a caroler spreading joy on this festive night instead of the cold-blooded murderer he was.
Kaitlin shriveled under his touch when he came to her, laid a hand on her shoulder.
“You did good, kid,” he said, trying to turn her head so she'd look at him. “I'll make sure Mr. Kingston knows how great you were tonight.”
He stepped over the cop's body, opened the door. Turned to her one last time.
“Some guys'll be here in a beat to clean up. G'night. Merry Christmas.”



What's in a name?

Dear readers,

Due to complications (and possible legal ramifications) arising from my first choice of a pen name, I've had to change identities.

Hence, say goodbye to the blogosphere's version of Deegan Stubbs (R.I.P., 2010-2010).

You'll still find the fiction you've (hopefully) grown accustomed to and have come to expect, only now, it will be penned by the illustrious SEB DUPER.

Also note that the blog's url link has changed, for those of you who have it stored as a favorite.
Please update with this.




F-F-F # 40 - Hide and Go Seek

Well, after almost 2 months off, I'm back at it with Friday Flash Fiction. Once again, gracious words go to Cormac Brown for hosting.



* * *


            I heard footsteps on the wet sidewalk and the sound of keys. How many sets of footsteps? I concentrated. That’s one. Two. Three? No, two. For sure.
            I tightened my grip on the gun, made my breathing as quiet as possible. I couldn’t see them, so no way could they see me, right? Here’s to hope.
            ?Nelson? Where are you? We know you’re there, shithead. Come on out and face me like a man.@
            That’s Paul B. Wilson. Yes, the Paul B. Wilson. Uncle Paulie. The very same jerk you saw on the six o’clock news much of last year during his trials for extortion, dismemberment and first-degree murder. Needless to say, he beat all charges. (By the way, the B. stands for Bitch, but you didn’t here it from me, cool?)
            Now, he was back to his old ways. Only this time, he wasn’t leaving anything to chance. No witnesses was his new motto.           
            Say, guess what I was?
            Give yourself a pat on the back if you answered witness. Daily Double if you said witness to the murder of a crack whore who’d crossed Uncle Paulie and whose torso and head now rested in a freezer in the basement of Paul’s house.
            ?Hey, Nelson, you nosy little prick. If you come out now and play nice with your Uncle Paulie, I’ll go easy on you. That way, that sorry-assed mother of yours can give you the send-off you don’t deserve. What say you, Nelson?@
      How many bullets were in my gun? Checking would make noise, so that’s a no. I know I’ve got at least one. I hope I’ve got more than that, because, no matter what you might have heard before, from me or from anyone else, I’m not that good a shot.
            Oh, and I’d rarely shot the darn thing, much less killed anyone with it. I’d never even seen a man die. My gun was a prop, a tool really, to take with me on robberies and shakedowns, scare folks who couldn’t tell I was petrified.
            ?Oh, Nelson, where are you?@ Uncle Paulie singing like a child.
            The rain wasn’t letting up. I was freezing. My raincoat was useless now and my clothes were drenched. Sitting in a growing puddle wasn’t helping. My legs were asleep. Not the ideal conditions to be stuck in the predicament I was in at this very moment.
            One might say I’d gotten myself into this shithole and deserved what was coming to me. And one might be correct, seeing as how I went knocking on Paulie’s door way back when to ask for work like a zit-filled kid going to Mickey D’s and applying for a minimum-wage job where he could don a paper hat and nuke deep-fried quasi chicken.
            ?Do you know who’s here with me, Nelson? Your friend Jackson. He’s pretty pissed off. See, Jackson’d only just asked me for time off, on account of he’s getting tired of kicking ass. Oh, he enjoys it, alright. But it’s getting to be hard on him. All he wanted was to spend some QT with his woman, but you had to poke your ugly nose where it ain’t welcome and fuck that up for him. So, he’s pissed. And the only thing that will make him happy is using you as a pinata.@
      The footsteps started again, only now, they were getting closer. What if Jackson walked by me? Could I take him, one on one, mano a freako? Go ninja on his fat ass and take him down?
            Maybe I wouldn’t have to. I did have one card up my sleeve. Might be my ticket out, if I played it right.
            Let’s see.
            ?Paulie,@ I called out as I stood, gun drawn.
            The man stood some ten or twelve feet away from me, just now turning to face me and my gun.
            ?Well, well, well, lookit what we have here,@ he said, flashing his yellowed teeth at me. ?Dead man packing.@
            Behind me, Jackson had stopped to look at us. Something told me he was just waiting for the words to turn me into dog food. I turned my eyes to him, still holding my gun on his boss.
            ?Remember what I did for you, Jackson,@ I told him. ?Shithead over there wasn’t there to help you and your sister when it was needed. He don’t give a damn about you.@
            ?Don’t listen to him, Jackson,@ Paulie pleaded. ?Take him out and go back to your woman.@
            I cocked my gun, shutting him up. ?What’s her name?@ I asked Paulie while looking at Jackson.
      They both asked, ?What?@
            To Jackson, I said, ?I bet he don’t even know her name. Go on. Ask him.@
            Silence as Jackson turned his gaze to his scared-out-of-his-wits boss.
            ?Monique. Mona. Juanita.@
            Jackson shook his head with every wrong answer. ?Bastard.@
            I turned the gun in my hand and held it out butt-first to Jackson.
            ?Enjoy,@ I said as he took the weapon and rubbed his hand on the grip, getting a feel for it.
            He took two steps forward, got between Paulie and I.
            Paulie was bawling now, his knees slapping together, eyes wide as they made contact with the barrel. ?You want money, Jackson? How much? A hundred? Two hundred thou? More? Name your price!@
            Why is it that people hold their hands out when a gun is pointed at them? Do they really expect their hands to turn back the bullet? Like Superman?
            Yeah, it didn’t do Paulie a lick of good. The bullets (turns out there were three left) tore right through the hands and proceeded to shred his face and most of his skull, pieces of which littered the sidewalk, soon to be washed away by the downpour.
      ?How’d it feel?@ I asked Jackson as he lowered the now-empty gun and turned toward me.
            ?Goo--@ He stopped when he saw the gun pointed at his chest. ?Motherfucker!@
            Gotta give it to him, his hands stayed down.
            About me being a good shot? I underestimated myself: I put one in his heart. He crumbled to the sidewalk, falling face-to-bloody-face with the man he’d sworn to protect.
            Paulie really cherished his luscious lifestyle. He never settled for anything less than the best.
            So I enjoyed the ride in the high-end Benz, speeding through the rain all the way to his lakefront home. There, I could have listened to any CD in his collection on his Bang & Olufsen system, or watched a movie in his miniature version of a multiplex, complete with popcorn machine.
            But I had other meat to mince.
            I made for the basement, opened the freezer.
            Some part of me thought I should stop and thank the frozen torso of Diana the crack whore, who’d been an unknowing, yet vital, actor in this play. I decided I’d have a fruity drink in her memory in my next life.
I moved the various body parts out of the way like they were vulgar TV dinners, and got to the bottom. I tore at the side panel until it loosened to reveal an opaque plastic bag. I pulled it out and closed the lid, dropped the bag on top, tore it open.
            Loot! Wads and wads of cash. All mine.
Upstairs, in his bedroom, I found a leather duffel, filled it to the gills with used green bills.
            Back into the Benz. Ask the GPS for the quickest road to the airport.
There had to be a flight leaving soon for somewhere, right?
            I wasn’t picky or anything.
            So long as it didn’t rain, I’d be happy.



Human Cannonball

This evening, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: seeing a human cannonball. Live! Landing a mere 15 feet away from me!

As part of the Just For Laughs festival (work with me here...), a fellow by the name of David ''The Bullet'' Smith Jr. was in town. He's a second-generation human cannonball, as his father holds the world record for the longest cannonball launch.

The setup was long, but the stunt itself happened in the blink of an eye. One second the shot went off, the next, he landed in a huge net, stumbled to get up, and teetered down to the ground, safe and sound.

The whole crowd was amazed, but it was the look on the face of my 4-year old son that thrilled me the most! He's going to be talking about this for months and months!!!

Now, how does this relate to crime fiction? Well, though I know next to nothing about this Bullet fellow, I couldn't help but think he would be perfect in an Elmore Leonard novel. Right? Dutch had gone that way before: see Tishomingo Blues, which features a professional high diver. Good read!



F-F-F # 35 - The Golden Egg

Thanks to Cormac Brown for hosting Friday Flash Fiction.

* * *

“I don't disagree with you, but you have to admit, this puts me in a delicate position.”
And it did. I wasn't just bullshitting him. This deal was of the damned if I did, damned if I didn’t variety.
“Delicate position? You kidding me?” Jumberson laughed. “The only delicate position you ever get into is when you let Ms. Ken Landry get on top.”
“You don’t get it,” I told him.
He nodded. “Oh, I get it. You and Longman were tighter than a fourteen-year old. Sweet. Save the waterworks. Should have thought about that before you gave another man’s wife a back rub. Pissed him off right, did you.”
I tipped back the whiskey bottle, let the nectar torch my throat. “So, what is it you suggest I do?” I asked before wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
Jumberson grinned. “Quite simple, I must admit. Get it done. Or else.”
I frowned. “Or else what?”
He stood, shrugged as he put the chair back. “Or else.”
Jumberson turned and made for the open front door. I looked up at the clock. Five minutes, he'd been in. Such a short time, yet enough to get his point across.
I lifted the bottle again, stopped when Jumberson's head popped back in.
“One more thing,” he said. “Be fast. Gotta be done before sunset.”
Looked like my evening was shot.
Patty Longman's ranch sat in the foothills on the western edge of town. The road leading to it was dusty and sineous, one you wouldn't care to navigate while guided only by the faint light of a half-moon.
Lucky for me, it was still light enough to keep my trusty old Ford pickup on the road. It wasn’t fast, but I got there.
All seemed quiet on the ranch and beyond. No sign of Patty. Or of anyone else, for that matter.
I killed the engine, grabbed a shotgun from behind the seats, and walked gingerly toward the ranch.
There was nowhere for me to hide, so I had to rely on my lucky star. And my quickness. I'd always been quick, no problem there. Tonight, I needed to be Kenyan-quick.
I made it behind the main building without being seen. There, I found what it was I was looking for.
On instinct, I raised my shotgun and curled my finger around the trigger. Took me longer than it should to realize how stupid that was.
I approached the target, grabbed it, and dashed madly to the Ford.
There, I dumped my loot into the bed, slammed the door shut, and climbed in.
I drove toward town for a few miles before pulling to the side of the road. I took  my cell phone out and dialed. While I waited for Jumbo to pick up, I glanced at the rearview. Nothing but setting darkness. It appeared I had made a clean break.
Jumberson's ever-so-kind greeting.
“It's done.”
“Good work. Bring it out by the house. Park the truck in the back, then leave. You can come back tomorrow to pick it up.”
“I'm supposed to walk home?”
Jumberson chuckled. “You can slap the missus and ride the wave home.”
Again with the knock on my spouse.
And I had nothing to drink.
When I got to Jumbo's house, I did as I was instructed and waited.
A short time later, a car pulled into the drive behind me and three big men piled out of it. They strutted over to my truck, peered into the bed, and exchanged satisfied grunts.
Jumbo crawled out from wherever he’d been hiding. I joined the party.
The bigger of the men, bald guy with a heavy gait, looked over at me. “Any trouble?”
I shook my head, spit on the ground. “Quietest goat I've ever stolen.”
The man nodded, turned to Jumbo. “He's a good man. Must be why you didn't want him killed.”
Jumbo smiled, shrugged. “I just don't want his missus to get depressed over losing him and start eating her emotions. There's already too many children going hungry, know what I mean?”
Jumbo got a good laugh out of that one. The big man reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. He counted off a bunch of bills, too fast for me to keep up, and handed them over to Jumbo.
“Now, I believe this is mine,” said the big man, and he and his buddies grabbed the goat and pulled it out of the truck bed.
While the two henchmen pinned the goat on the ground, the big man locked his hands around the animal's throat and broke its neck. There was a slight yelp, and I turned away.
I finally dared to turn back, but what I saw made me regret it. The goat was on its back, feet pointing up, and the big man was cutting it open, slitting the fur from the neck down. Blood gushed everywhere, and the big man reached into the cavity. His hand travelled inside, searching as he grimaced and grunted. I looked away again, feeling my guts churning.
“Son of a bitch!” he hurled when he withdrew his hand. “Finally!”
“That's it?” one of the henchmen asked, sounding excited.
“That's it.”
Intrigued, I took a tentative look.
The big man held a bloody bag in his hands. It looked so big, I couldn’t begin to imagine how that poor goat must have suffered from having that inside him.
The henchmen congratulated each other, slapping hands like they had just won a Little League game.
The big man turned to Jumbo, nodded. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Jumbo nodded back and the three men piled back into their car, drove off.
“Crazy fuckers.” Jumbo looked down at the goat's corpse, shaking his head.
I had questions. Thousands. “What was in that bag?” was the first one out.
Jumbo looked over at me, shook his head. “You should know better than to ask, Landry.”
“So you don't know?”
Jumbo smirked. “Could be the Colonel’s friggin’ secret recipe, for all I know. Or the love doodles George W. Bush made for Condoleeza Rice. Fuck do you care? You got paid, and your little indiscretion is all but forgotten.”
I scoffed. “Until the next time.”
“Keep your hands to yourself and your pecker in your pants, you'll be fine. Save it for Grimace. Put a smile on her pretty little mug.”
Jumbo looked down at the goat, nudged it with his foot.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to get this back to its rightful owner?”
I shook my head. “Leave it there. Bear’ll come and eat it.”
“Didn’t you say her name was Janet?”

The end



F-F-F # 32 - Eyes On The Prize

Well, it's been a while since I've contributed to this series. Since March, actually. Yep, I missed it.

Without further ado, here it is.

And, as usual, thanks to Cormac Brown for hosting Friday Flash Fiction.

* * *

Eyes On The Prize

                So much for plan B.
                First, it was Thompson taking a swan dive from the roof porch of a downtown high-rise, splattering his brains all over a Drummond Street storefront.
                Now, on page six of the paper, came the news that the body of a man in his thirties, yet to be identified, had washed up in the St-Lawrence, between the Jacques-Cartier and Champlain bridges.
                Buck Narson would bet his father's stamp collection that it was Jenkins who had been feasted on by whatever creatures swam in that sludge. Narson hadn't heard from the man in more than a week, highly unusual, especially this close to pulling off a job.
                Just his luck. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the men who would help him pull it off were dropping like flies.
                He'd just have to go it alone.
                Getting tools and a gun was easy. Narson called in a favor from an old connection, who got him what he needed. Cheap, and fast.
                Next up: blueprints. That took a few more phone calls, and cost a few more bills, than Buck cared for. But he had them, and that was all that mattered.
                Things were definitely looking up. But Narson wished he didn't have to do this alone. He did cast a few lines, but nothing bit.
                That weekend, Narson spent Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon casing the museum, learning the lay of the place and getting acquainted with the piece.
The rest of the time, he walked around, getting a feel for the neighborhood. Even for a native, it never hurt to reconnoiter an area before a job.
                He repeated that the rest of the week, varying his hours and costumes so as not to be too conspicuous. His plan began to take shape.
All he needed now was to find the perfect time to pull it off.
                That came a few weeks later. The heads of some African nations were coming to Montreal to attend an economic summit in a ritzy hotel downtown. These guys were the talk of the town, which made Narson feel dumb for never having heard of them.
                Point was, this summit was going to keep the cops busy. That's all Narson was asking for.
                It was a sunny, muggy morning that was only going to get warmer.
                The museum was quiet, until a tour bus pulled up. About forty elderly tourists rushed the doors and assembled around their insouciant tour guide. When their tour started, a chubby man with salt and pepper hair and bottle-thick spectacles joined them.
                Buck Narson followed along, listening half-heartedly to the guide's explanations. When they came into the room he was interested in, Narson hung back, his eyes on the prize.
                His heartbeat quickened and he felt himself get hot under the collar. The wig didn't help, and he was afraid some sweat would run down his cheeks.
                Narson took a few deep breaths and waited for the group to move on to the next room.
                Now, he was alone with it. But he could hardly detach it from its pedestal and run out the front door.
                Right now, all he wanted to do was disable the alarm. Once he was sure nobody would come looking for him, he got down to business.
                The alarm was exactly what he expected it to be, and the work was done in no time flat, as it needed to be.
                He pocketed his tools and quickly walked off to catch up to the group.
                The tour couldn't end fast enough for Narson. Of course, Babbling Betty here, she had questions, questions, and then some. Buck silently cursed her, looking over his shoulder, half expecting to be grabbed by Security and dragged off to a windowless room to be bludgeoned to death.
                Didn't happen.
                He was home within an hour. He showered, prepared his costume for the afternoon run, and lay down for a nap.
                Narson woke just before five p.m., which left him a few hours to kill before the museum closed.
                He watched the local news while dressing. A big grin lit up his face as he watched live footage of the front of the downtown hotel where the summit was being held. Protesters filled the street, some of them waving flags while others threw various projectiles toward the hotel and the cops in riot gear who protected the building.
                This should keep them busy for a while, Narson thought. One less thing to worry about. By the time the museum people realized what had happened to their prized possession, and the cops reacted, Narson would be long gone.
                It hadn't moved.
                The room was too crowded to act on it, so Narson circled, admiring other works, until the room cleared.
                He squatted near the pedestal and looked under it at the alarm. No change there.
                A female voice came over the p.a. system. Mesdames et Messieurs, le musée est maintenant fermé.
                Time to move.
                Narson pulled on his gloves, and delicately lifted the piece from its stand. He kneeled slowly and set it down into the case he had placed in his duffel bag. He zipped up the bag and stood, looking left and right.
                Coast clear.
                He made a beeline for the front door, bumping a couple of Asians on his way out. He'd probably never been happier to see the sun in his life.
                Narson walked a couple of blocks to catch a bus heading west. In his seat, he resisted the urge to peek into the bag. Instead, he held on to it so tightly his knuckles turned white.
                The bus dropped him off on the western edge of downtown, where he had parked his car the previous night. He opened the door and gently dropped the bag on the passenger seat.
                Narson pointed the car westward. While he drove, he scanned the airwaves, looking for a news report. Each one he caught was all about the summit. Nothing regarding a theft in a museum. Narson smiled, exhaled deeply and switched to a Miles Davis CD.
                A lifetime ago, Buck Narson had rented a self-storage unit in the industrial sector of a small suburb off the island. He'd never missed a payment, even when he'd been forced to go away. The unit mostly served as a holding cell for material that needed to cool off before he could put it out on the market.
                And this one was definitely hot.
                Narson let himself in using his access card. Not much had changed since he'd last been in. Walls had been painted, extra cameras added, but that was pretty much the jist of it.
                Narson made his way through the maze and stopped in front of unit # B-117. He slipped the key into the lock and turned the handle.
                He heard them before he saw them.
                Oddly enough, Narson wasn't surprised. In truth, he should have seen it coming.
                Narson reached for the light switch, but he already knew what he'd see.
                Guns. Pointed right at him.


Jason Duke's Red Hot Writing Contest

My entry into the Red Hot Writing Contest put together by ace writer Jason Duke. Details and other entries are here.



Riding shotgun in the blue and white, Ken Best, a barrel-chested 26 year-old patrolman, smiled as the car rounded the corner and the driver goosed it down Beach Avenue.
“She working?” Best asked.
“Don't know,” Lance Grimwood answered. “If she ain't? Plan B. Need my fix.”
They laughed.
Grimwood eased his foot off the gas as they came up on the corner of River.
Best looked out at the girls strutting, the cold breeze blowing on their scantily-clad bodies to no effect.
“Vice boys were here last week,” Grimwood explained. “A few girls are still in the joint, waiting for their pimps to bail them. As if.”
Best laughed as the girls nodded to him, some with defiance, others with plain old fear.
“Explains why it's deader than a nun's cunt. Where is she?”
Grimwood scanned the street, shook his head. “Damnit.”
“Wanna try 7th?”
“Negative. She don't go with Worm.”
Best pouted. He'd been looking forward to spending some time with her, but it wouldn’t happen. Time for something new.
They came up on a pair of girls dressed in flashy micro-skirts, a blonde, wide hips, wider derriere, and a raven-haired, skinny girl with store-bought fun bags.
“Stop,” Best said.
Grimwood pulled to the curb, and Best lowered his window. The blonde he’d seen here before. Her friend seemed new, so he turned to her and smiled. She spat on the ground. “No freebies.”
Best shrugged. “That's alright, Darling. We just like to party. Ask her, she knows us.”
The blonde smirked. “Go, V. They won't leave you alone if not,” she sneered, her eyes gunning down Best.
“Fuck,” V said.
Best winked at the blonde, who gave him the finger as her friend climbed in the backseat.

“Where we going?” V asked.
Grimwood looked at her in the rearview. “Nice place, where nobody’ll bother us. It’s our spot.”
Best nodded, then fetched a brown paper bag from under his seat. Out came a pint of bourbon. Best twisted the cap and brought it to his lips. He took a long swallow, then handed it to Grimwood.
Grimwood took his eyes off the road and drank. “Thirsty?” he asked V.
She sighed. “Let's get this done.”
Grimwood frowned. “Drop the attitude.”
“I fucking hate wasting time with a couple of drunks.”
Grimwood looked at his partner, and pouted playfully. “I think Missy needs to cheer up. Do we have something to get her in the mood?”
“Yep.” Best reached into the bag again, his hand coming out with a plastic baggie this time. He pulled out a couple of tightly rolled joints. Grimwood told him to wait as he pulled car into a dark alley running between two abandoned buildings. It opened up into a deserted parking lot.
“Alright,” Grimwood said as he cut the engine. “Light’em up!”
Best struck a match, put the flame to the tip of one joint. He handed it to his partner. Best lit the other, turned to pass it to her.
“This better be good,” V said as she locked her lips around it and took a deep pull.
“Not as good as what you're gonna get,” Grimwood said, laughing. He opened the door and slid out of the car.
Next thing she knew, both men were opening the back doors, and the one who'd been driving was pulling her out and tearing at her clothes.

The grass was very potent. Or the booze was. So V blacked out. She wasn't sure how long she was out, but when she came to, the driver was slapping her and prying her mouth open so she’d take him in.
He was sitting in the back, legs hanging out. V was bent over him, her naked ass in the air as the other cop stood behind her. They passed a new bottle back and forth, laughing their heads off, calling her names, their screams echoing off the building walls.
Suddenly, a shadow passed over the car.
Seconds later, a deafening explosion tore through the silence, followed by three more bursts.
The shadow vanished.

Detective Al Timlin bent under the tape and greeted Sergeant Luis Clemente, a burly latino who'd been on the job forever.
“They yours, Luis?” Timlin asked as they shook hands.
Clemente nodded, pursed his lips. “Best and Grimwood. I had my doubts about Grim, but Best? I would never have thought...”
The men walked towards the cruiser, which was lit by a portable floodlight and surrounded by CSU techs.
“Where's the girl?”
“Memorial Hospital. In shock.” Clemente coughed. “Needed a shower, too.”
Some scene. The cruiser's doors were open. On the driver's side, Ken Best's body lay on the ground. Timlin knew him from past cases. He’d been hit in the head and chest. The back seat, covered in blood and brains, hosted another officer whose flaccid penis hung out of his boxers.
Timlin sighed. “You notify the families yet?”
Clemente shook his head. “Grimwood's divorced. No kids, ex lives out west. I'll let her sleep, call later. Best has a wife and twins. Madre de Dios, Al, they're barely out of diapers.”
Timlin clasped the man's shoulder. “Lieutenant Cooper is on his way. The Chief of D's too, for all the good he’ll be. I'll let the techs work before the shit hits the fan. I'll be at Memorial. Keep me posted. Sorry about your guys.”

Head down, Timlin zipped through the hospital lobby, and climbed the stairs to the sixth floor. He inspected his loafers all the way to room 609, where an Asian patrolman, Vuong, stopped him.
Timlin flashed his badge.
“She’s sleeping,” Vuong explained. “Nurse checks in on her every so often.”
Timlin nodded. “Anyone come by?”
“Alright. Excuse me.”
Vuong took his seat and Timlin let himself in the room.
Timlin shuffled to the bed, and took a closer look at the sleeping woman. Her black hair was matted to her scalp, her forehead beaded with sweat. Her lips moved, but made no sound.
The room door opened. A nurse grabbed a clipboard at the end of the bed. She glanced at Timlin, her brow furrowed. He showed her his badge, and she nodded. She looked up at the bedside monitor, jotted something down, and put the clipboard back.
She gestured for Timlin to follow her, and they stepped into the hall. “If and when she comes to, you can talk to her. She was quite shaken. I don’t know how much help she’ll be.”
Timlin nodded. The nurse left, and Timlin went back in.
He located the remote for the overhead set, pulled up a chair, and settled in.

“What- where- what am I doing here?”
Timlin shut the television and stood. “Memorial Hospital. Room 609.”
She looked up at him through slitted eyes, frowned. “What happened?”
“Why don't you start by telling me your name? Your real name.”
“Melanie Little.”
Timlin noted it, then described what he assumed had happened.
Timlin nodded.
“Do you remember anything?”
She inhaled deeply, then rubbed her eyes with slender hands. “Those cops came around, right. My friend Carmen, right, she told me to be cool, she knew them, said they were looking for Kanesha. But Kanesha hasn’t been around all week, so they told me to get in the car, right. They had booze and weed. We went-”
Timlin held up a hand to stop her. “Back up a bit. This other girl? The one they were looking for?”
“Yes. What's her full name? Do you know her?”
Melanie shrugged. “Not to talk to. She’s a bitch, right. Always fights. She wrong up here,” Melanie tapped her temple.
“So, they took you to the parking lot?”
“They said it was their place. We drank and smoked, right, then we--”
She stopped, and her mind seemed to wander. Timlin thought he’d lost her.
“Is that when it happened?” Trying to get her started again.
She turned toward him, fear written across her face.
“Don’t worry, Melanie. You’re safe with us.”
She nodded. “I was going down on the bigger one, right, so my face was in his lap. I saw a shadow out of the corner of my eye, and then there was blood all over the place. Shit, brains were in my hair.”
Melanie closed her eyes and let her head fall on the flimsy pillow. “I’m tired, right.”
Timlin closed his notepad. He thought of putting a hand on her arm, but refrained. “Thanks. I'll be in touch.”
She was asleep before he left the room.

Over in the Vice squad room, Ed Spencer scanned the overnight event log while the coffee percolated. The murders were not logged, but it was all the rage this morning.
Al Timlin was waiting for Spencer when he got back to his desk.
“No rest for the wicked,” said Spencer. “You catch it?”
“Who else?” Timlin grabbed a chair from another desk, fell into it. “The patrol boys picked up a pro off the corner of Beach and River. You guys hit that block last week, correct?”
“We did,” Spencer answered as he shuffled papers. “Mayor’s orders. Some Trump-wannabe wants to buy the waterfront, build condos. We drop in, slap the cuffs on a few johns, run some girls in. Hizzonner wants it clean.”
Timlin nodded curtly. “Wanted to run a couple of names by you. Melanie Little. And I’ve only got a first name on another. Kanesha.”
Spencer rolled his chair to a filing cabinet, and pulled out a thick manila file. He skimmed the first few pages before stopping.
He handed Timlin an arrest report.
“Kanesha Lamont's been around,” Spencer explained as Timlin read. “First arrest was in '04.”
Timlin looked up. “Born in 1987?”
“Started young,” Spencer chuckled. “Still looks young. Never a shortage of johns hunting for just that.”
“Where can I find her?”
“Last-known is on there. Ain't been verified, mind you, but give it a shot.”
Timlin jotted down the address. “Anything else I should know about the area?”
Spencer smiled. “Wear a hat.”

Cooper grabbed Timlin as he returned to the squad room.
“Missing Persons called,” Cooper said. “Little's a runaway.”
Cooper extended a printout to Timlin. “Left Colorado six weeks ago. Folks waited to report it. Seems she's done it before. Now, get this: she’s 15.”
“Lovely. Spencer knows Lamont, who our guys wanted. She’s a veteran, started out young and still looks the part. Got her last-known.”
Cooper grinned. “Should be an interesting meet.”
“Why we sign up, Coop.”

It took five minutes of negociating for Kanesha Lamont to open.
She did look young, but worn: wrangled hair, chewed-out nails, and hollow eyes. She wore a faded gray hoodie that was baggy on her lanky frame. That and torn jeans left most of her body covered.
“This about Marvin? Because I ain’t seen him.”
“Who’s Marvin?”
Lamont exhaled loudly, tumbled into an old, torn black leather chair. “Better ya 'on't know. What now, off'cer?”
“Detective.” Lamont curled up, knees to forehead. She hugged herself. “Word is you like to party with some of our boys. That true?”
Lamont started rocking.
“Kanesha. Kanesha.” She kept rocking. “Ken Best. Lance Grimwood. They your customers?”
Her head popped out. “Customers pay.” She kept rocking.
“They didn't pay?”
“Nah. Sometimes, they'd share some junk. Jus' weed. Basta'ds be too cheap fo' good shit.”
“You see them often?”
She shrugged. “Coupla times.”
“When was the last time you were with them?”
“Dunno. Before jail.”
Timlin nodded. “Why haven’t you been on this week?”
“Flu or sumpin'. Prob'bly caught it in your shithole.”
Timlin scratched his chin.
“Stay available,” he told her as he let himself out.

As he pulled up to the station, Timlin noticed the satelitte trucks lined up, their antennas deployed, ready for their midday live feed. As if they had a built-in honing mechanism, a dozen reporters surrounded his car as he parked.
Timlin gently but firmly opened the door, forcing a couple of reporters to dive out of the way, and let himself out of the vehicle. Questions flew in all directions, but he ignored them and climbed the stairs to the front door.
On the way up, Timlin stopped for an egg sandwich from a vending machine.
He’d barely taken a bite before Cooper was at his desk, worry on his face.
“Give me something good for my meeting at the Hall.”
“Lamont says Grim and Best were regulars who didn’t pay, only shared dope. Afraid that's all I got for now.”
Cooper sighed heavily. “Let's see how fast the politicos tear me a new asshole.”
Timlin wolfed down his sandwich, then grabbed the phone.
Clemente picked up on the second ring.
“Luis. Timlin. How're you doing?”
Clemente sighed. “Been better. Guys are going nuts. You hear the shit Media is putting out? I'm thinking of cuffing the guys to their desks so they don't go and turn the city upside down.”
Timlin had caught the news on the radio earlier. Media Relations, probably under orders from the Chief, who got his from City Hall, had made no effort to hide the fact that Best and Grimwood were rogue officers who disrespected the badge.
“Have you had a chance to talk to them?” Timlin asked. “Previous partners, maybe?”
“Erik Larsen is the only one still around,” Clemente said. “Larsen partnered with Grimwood when he broke in.”
“He knows nothing about Grimwood and hookers. Worst he’s seen was a hand-out from Crown Liquors once or twice.”
“You still see Grimwood as the leader? And Best going along?”
“Yeah. Grimwood, he got hurt a few years back. Got hooked on painkillers while he was off.”
“You get anything from their families?”
“Grimwood ain’t got anybody who’d know anything. And Best, well, his wife and parents never heard him mention any enemies or trouble. Kept to himself. With regards to the job, that is.”
“Thanks, Luis. Good luck with your guys.”

After getting coffee, Timlin passed in front of Cooper's office and caught the lieutenant snapping his fingers at him as he talked on the phone.
“Someone's asking for you,” Cooper said, cradling the phone. “Downstairs.”
“What about?”
“Your case.”
Timlin put his coffee down and ran to the stairs.

“Ray, you got something for me?”
The sergeant hooked a meaty finger towards a thin man with disheveled hair sitting calmly across from his desk.
Timlin approached the man. “Sir? Al Timlin, Homicide. Can I help you?”
The man looked up at him with dead eyes. He smiled, showing awful dentition. The man whispered something which Timlin didn't hear.
“Come closer,” the man said, slightly louder.
Timlin bent forward and grimaced as he breathed in the man's nasty breath.
“Them two cops?”
“Right,” Timlin said, breathing through his mouth.
“I... killed... them...”

Timlin moved quickly.
If this was legit, Timlin wanted to keep him talking. If it turned out he was getting jerked around, better get it over with and get back to work.
“You want me to sit in?” Cooper asked.
Timlin shook his head. “Watch. Make sure the tapes roll.”
Cooper nodded and the men split up.
“Mister... Radomski, was it?” Timlin said to the man, who sat ramrod-straight in his chair, his dead eyes staring straight ahead.
“Call me Kurt. We'll be linked forever, Al. Might as well be on a first-name basis.”
“I have to read you your rights, Kurt.”
“Cut the crap. I don't care about that shit. I confess. I killed them cops.”
Radomski's hand went into his jacket and Timlin froze.
Timlin realized that Radomski wasn't cuffed to the table. Had he been frisked?
Radomski's hand came up.
Timlin jumped up and pulled his own gun, pointed it at Radomski's chest.
Radomski smiled, and slowly dropped the gun on the table, withdrawing his hand.
“A Glock, Al,” explained Radomski with a satisfied grin on his face. “The white coats'll tell you it's the murder weapon. My fingerprints are on it. I bought it, legally. Paper trail. Everything's been done for you, Al.”
Timlin pointed his own gun to the floor, and took the Glock off the table.
“Now, I know what you’re thinking. Guy walks in and hands you everything on a silver platter. It’s your lucky day. I did it, I shot them two cops.”
Radomski shrugged, smiled.
“I felt like it.”

Melanie Little had been moved to the detention ward. A couple of dicks from Denver were flying in on a red-eye to take her home.
She was nibbling at a plate of scrambled eggs when Timlin entered. She looked at him, sighed, and turned to the window.
“Melanie, I'd like you to look at this,” Timlin explained. “Have you seen this man before?”
Timlin held up Radomski's mug shot. She ignored him.
“Melanie, please.”
“You ever gonna leave me alone?”
She tore the picture from him and frowned.
“Who the fuck is this?”
Timlin took the picture. “You've never seen this man?” She shook her head. “He confessed to the murders.”
“That's nice.”
Timlin realized this was going nowhere. Time to cut his losses.
“Enjoy Colorado.”
“Fuck you!” she yelled at his back.
The flying plate hit the wall to Timlin's right, some egg landing on his shoulder.
He brushed it off without breaking stride.

Kanesha Lamont looked like hell. Timlin guessed it wasn't the flu.
“Kanesha, this'll take a minute. Then I'll leave you alone, unless you want my help.”
Lamont scoffed. “Big bad five-oh saving the po' ho. Fuck. What ya want?”
Timlin shook his head, took out the picture. He flipped it to show her.
“Oh! My God!”
Lamont put a hand over her mouth, fell back against a wall.
“Wh- where- what- where did you get that?”
Tears flowed.
Timlin approached her, hoping she'd calm down. “This is Kurt Radomski. He confessed to the murders.”
Lamont nodded.
“You know him?” She nodded. “Where do you know him from?”
“He my father.”