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!
* * *
THE CHRISTMAS THREE by Seb Duper
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.
* * *
“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.
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.”