His fists felt like sledgehammers. Thank God he was holding back some, but I couldn’t let on I was grateful. I could brace for impact when I catch a glimpse of the monster’s chiseled jaw clench and powerful body wind up, but I didn’t know where he was going to land the blow. Besides, he had a knack for mixing it up, keeping it a guessing game. I tried to amuse myself by guessing how many correct locations I could get in a row. As a result, I forget the questions he asks before each shot, which in turn wins me more shots. Damn, my ribs hurt. The broken ones feel as if they’re punching holes through my lungs and I can’t breathe. He pauses to remove his dress shirt. I guess using me as a punching bag is taking its toll on him, probably wishful thinking since I don’t think he’s even broken a sweat.
My left eye has pretty much swollen shut, my lips are split and numb. My tongue has stopped hurting though, but that could be because this brute has knocked out enough of my teeth to keep me from biting it again. My nose is shattered, that was the first to go.
I’m sitting on a wooden chair with my arms wrapped behind the spindle back, and he, this guy working me over, tied my wrists so damn tight the blood flow has been cut off to my hands.
His two buddies watching are calling him Rene, and how an ape like this got a handle like that is mystifying. Probably toughened him up through the years. Whatever. What I do know is Rene has given me a newfound respect for pain.
Before he could lay another mitt on me, Rene’s buddy standing in the shadows, in the near corner of the warehouse, decided to ask questions again. His name was Oliver.
“Hold it. Let’s ask him again.”
Oliver emerged from the darkness to accompany me under the hanging bay light. I’ve been too tired to lift my head to get a good glimpse of him. Rene is giving me the once over when the other goon huddles nearby. This one is short and quiet, with a slight build, and has a 9mm in his right hand. I don’t recognize him.
“Okay, Harry,” Oliver continued, “Should we start from the top, or do you want to cut to the chase?”
My name is Harold Dunaway. I’m a skip trace; I used to be a cop. These guys weren’t cops. These were the type of guys I regrettably got mixed up with, and as a result, was subsequently kicked off the force three years ago. The relationship earned me a trip to the clink and me, the big city cop, was an unlucky low-life in a matter of days. I get pinched by a Johnny Do-Good who makes lieutenant after the bust. Congratulations. Put on the books one time and it cost me my life, and all for a lousy ten grand. But I needed the money, bad. I’m no angel.
The trio were small time, I’d never seen the two hovering over me and I knew all the big players in this city. Could be out-of-towners. Regardless, they were irate and wanted what I knew, or what they thought I knew. Didn’t help I was the reason they were now a trio. I shot one of them this morning outside on the docks. Didn’t recognize him either. And this was all before I realized the girl wasn’t here and wasn’t in trouble from these goons. The Cro-Magnon is gearing up to wallop me again. Time to answer Oliver.
I spit blood and whatever else between my legs to the concrete below. There’s so much of it I can see my reflection. And to think, I agreed to be here. For her sake.
“The girl told me where to look, it wasn’t there. Then I got word she was kidnapped and held here.” My fourth time to utter these words. I’m hoping they buy my story, I only have maybe one or two more poundings left in me. I’m hoping they believe that I’m not glutton for punishment and that I was actually duped. Sold down the river by a sultry and deviant redhead, a real minx.
The air is still, but tense. There is capitulation in Oliver’s voice, though. I sensed it from my experience in interrogations. Then came the bad news, of sorts.
“Okay. Funny thing is, I think I believe you,” he says with a chuckle. Then a very long pause. “Although I was hoping for better results to report, you and this vixen have left us little recourse.” He takes a step closer. “Do you have any final requests?”
Terrific. The big sleep. Put me out of my misery.
“Sure,” I say, still staring down at the puddle of blood and puke. “Scotch. And would you mind calling the police?”
I think the short one had a laugh. Rene was unamused, another left to the body and another broken rib. Oh well, that should make all of them.
I cough and groan a bit. "Now where were we? Oh yeah, final requests." I wince, the talking is painful. "How 'bout my piece? I was just thinking it's been off lately." I nod in Rene's direction. "Maybe give your gorilla a banana and can use him to sight it in."
Rene advances again, but Oliver steps in front of him.
“A comedian,” Oliver stated dryly. “I tell you what, funny man, last chance….you give me what I want, and I’ll make sure Rene here finishes you and your girlfriend quickly. Otherwise, our schedule suddenly loosens up to watch Rene work, judiciously. And we love to watch him work…..judiciously.”
I managed to lift my head to get a glimpse of the man behind the voice. The man who had been barking questions at me in the shadows for the past hour while his henchman Rene went to “work”. And there he was, Oliver….I knew I recognized that voice.
“Well, well, well…” I can manage a half-hearted smile. “Lt. Do-Good. You sure got ‘em fooled. Hell, I was even anointing you.”
It had been a while, but I would catch Oliver here on the news from time to time. The city’s golden boy. A good cop, and the bastard who climbed the ladder using my back and reputation for the rungs.
“Tell me something, Lieutenant.”
“Make it quick, Harry.”
“Sure,” I spit out more blood to clear my voice. “I understand. You’re a busy man. But what I want to know is, when you took your first handout, did you sleep that night or did you toss and turn like me?”
No answer, but Oliver’s leer was intensifying.
“Me?” I continued. “I couldn’t sleep for weeks. But knowing what little I do of you, I bet you had a tough time, too. That is, until you rationalized that sellin’ out real cops was a better career move. How many of our boys died on your watch, anyway?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Nothing was funny about this situation, it was just a reaction. One that earned me a right cross from Rene. Whack!
Oliver stepped closer. He removed a handkerchief from his breast pocket of his jacket, and raised my chin. “I sleep like a baby. On a pile of money next to gorgeous women. And you, funny man? You get to sleep with the fishes.”
Oliver’s threat and Rene’s shot to my chops begged the question: How did I get here? Well….
It was cool for March, and had been drizzling all morning. With hands buried into my trench coat pockets, I walked along the pier with determination, mulling Valerie’s warning in my head. Nothing but lifeless warehouses littering the wharf. Up ahead I could make out a lone figure, not a seaman. He was dressed like me, slightly out of place. He never wavered his focus on me, just remained still, two hands in his coat pockets.
I slowed and stopped several paces before him, at which point he removed his hands from his pockets. One empty, one not. The barrel of his gun jerked skyward two times, indicating the man’s wish for me to raise my arms. I obeyed, and removed my empty hands and assumed the usual position for weapons check. Without a word, the man, dressed in a gray suit complete with fedora, moved toward me, never dropping eye contact. He slowly passed by an outstretched arm and positioned himself behind me, then a pause. A very long pause. I felt an uneasiness in the air, and thought of turning to see what was delaying the inevitable frisk.
Then a hand appeared from behind and began fumbling across my chest, around my waist, and eventually up and down my legs. Shortly thereafter, I heard the hammer from his .38 click to rest.
“Move,” he said firmly. “Straight ahead, to the door.”
The man referred to the faded red door of an aluminum sided warehouse twenty yards down the boardwalk. Once again, I obeyed.
Freighter foghorns could be heard in the distance, but anything else was devoured in the thick fog. As we neared the door, the man ordered me to stop. He slid in between me and the warehouse door, then removing a key from his trouser pocket. After a quick glance back to me, he proceeded to unlock the door. I reacted.
With one unwavering motion, I reached up the left sleeve of my trench coat, a common place where frisking doesn’t always occur. There, duct taped to the inside of my forearm was my .22, too small to be noticed casually. I ripped it from its hiding place and aimed the sight to the back of his head before he could turn the doorknob.
I can say I hesitated, but I would have to be timed to be sure. The .22 popped and he slumped to the boards at the foot of the door. The shot was loud and reverberated along the wharf. Too loud.
There was no element of surprise, and I reacted again and opened the door to the warehouse. It was mildly lit inside, and after my first step in, I received my first right cross of the day, at the hand of Rene.
They had watched the whole episode. Probably from a vantage point at the murky windows of the warehouse nearly twenty feet above the floor. Damn. But, in retrospect, I couldn’t exactly have waited for backup. And probably the most painful blow was the absence of Valerie herself. That broad did a number on me, and I guess when your number is up….
Turns out she was playing both sides like fiddles. Rene’s initial punch as I was creeping into the warehouse knocked me out cold, but I was conscious before the three realized, and they were unaware of my eavesdropping. As it turned out, our girl put us on a collision course, no doubt hoping the right people would be eradicated. As I listened to their muddled conversation, I began to put it together–
Valerie had an affair, with someone up on high, I knew this before hand and from what I could make out now – the boss of the goons here at the docks. But she wasn’t in it for love or material things, no, she was jostling for position. Not initially for money, but for dirt. She had stumbled onto something detrimental to the parties involved, either by mistake or on purpose – as we came to realize, she was a clever girl. And the clever girl was playing spy, for an adversary of the boss of these goons. Clear as mud? Here’s the rundown –
The boss had aspirations, political aspirations. His opponent was the incumbent and mayor of our fair city, Oswald Lagrosse, a man of dubious reputation among the law biding officers, something I had personal experience with, but that’s another story.
The goons’ boss seemed as nefarious as his opponent, but with a weakness. A secret buried deep in a full dark closet. One that would derail any future ambitions and send him on a one way ticket to Disgraceville. He would never work in any upstanding position again, not in law enforcement, and certainly, not as the Chief of Police. The boss was my former chief, Raymond Crompton.
Ray was pulling double duty, as I had stumbled upon before my own transgressions, he was dirty. He was also careful. He had reached a plateau as Chief of Police, and yearned for more, after all, his connections and knack for backdoor dealings were ideal for this natural progression. Why not political office?
But he needed help. Enter Oliver. Ray sicced his media friendly attack dog on me, to dig up some police corruption. Very appealing to registered voters. And Oliver succeeded, finding my name on some lackey’s ledger for dirty cops. My life, my job, all for a promotion and political gain. Damn.
And now it makes sense, from Valerie’s point of view. Hire the guy to kill the man that took his life away. I do Oliver, and either get pinched, or get dead. Not too many guys want a piece of a contract that involves rubbing out a cop. But Val knew I would never agree to murder, even if it was the lowlife that took my life away from me. So, she devised this scheme for me to play on her sympathies, to allow emotion to cloud my judgment, to fall for her irresistible, let’s say, charms. It’s true, there’s a sucker born every minute.
My first meeting with Valerie was by chance, or so it seemed. I was busy taking a bite of steak sandwich at my favorite diner when she strolled up to my booth.
“I understand you help people.”
Her beauty took me off guard and left me temporarily speechless. Before I could roll my tongue back into my mouth to reply, she slipped a note under my fork.
“Call me soon.”
And with that, she swiftly removed herself from the premises. Around the corner and out of sight. I hadn’t even swallowed my bite of steak sandwich, but I had already fallen for her. I did call her, soon, more like immediately after I ate. She was in trouble. The rest is almost history.
With Oliver out of the picture, Val’s mark, the Chief, has no one to do his dirty work. Remember the secret? This is what Oliver and his stooges were after, what Valerie had on the Chief, and what Mayor Lagrosse was pining for his reelection. It must have been tapes or negatives. I didn’t learn of it until afterwards, after Oliver noticed me lying on the concrete floor listening in on their conversation, after Rene’s display of boxing skills, and after the short goon’s 9mm nozzle now resting on my temple.
So here I am, sitting in a warehouse, chasing after a ghost named Valerie, bleeding from every visible orifice, stalling.
“Final request, you say?” I look up at Oliver. To this I get no reply.
I wait for an answer, and got it. The gun’s hammer cocked.
“What was the secret? The dirt.” I used my most distressed voice. “I gotta know.”
Oliver reached out. “Gimme the gun, Lou.”
Lou, the silent short goon, offered Oliver a bit of a surprised look.
Oliver responded by snapping his fingers of his outstretched hand. “C’mon, c’mon.” He snapped again in the direction of the door. “You two go check the dock, I got this.”
Lou obeyed, and the two made their way for the exit. Oliver’s eyes fell to mine after the door slammed shut.
“Alright, boy-o,” Oliver began, “How about a trade? I’ll let you in on a secret only myself and, I presume you know who by now, the Chief knows…”
I raised an eyebrow.
“…and you tell me where the negatives and tapes are.”
“And what, Harry? What? You expect me to let you walk? Now, the girl, that’s a no brainer. She was dead the moment she beguiled the chief and recorded his, shall we say, unfavorable discretions.”
“By the way,” Oliver placed the 9mm on the concrete floor next to his chair and removed a pack of cigarettes and lighter from inside his coat pocket. “Cigarette?”
I shook my head and adjusted myself.
He took a puff and continued his previous thought.
“Where is Valerie?”
No answer on my end.
“Gut feeling tells me she got her hooks in you, too. Then set up this meeting between us and hoped for a bloodbath.”
“I thought of that.”
“Did you?” His cigarette was dwindling and my time was running out.
“C’mon, Oliver, let’s have it. What was Ray so afraid of Mayor Lagrosse gettin’ his mitts on?”
Oliver smiled slyly and it suddenly came to me this guy was never a good cop. He was a snake from day one, in need of a handler.
“Oh, Ray,” he chuckled. “Seems our boy Ray’s tastes are not publicly viewed as, well, politically savvy. Valerie was simply a red herring. Amazing he’s kept it under wraps this long.”
What did that mean? I thought.
“Oh, c’mon, ol’ boy. Surely you had your doubts after Lizzy’s sudden departure?”
Elizabeth. Ray’s wife of 10 years. Not exactly a storybook marriage, then came the rumors of infidelities of a more guarded nature. They divorced several months back, and she didn’t hang around long enough for the ink to dry on the divorce papers. No one knew she why she left so abruptly, and Ray was a changed man, almost seemed to have sworn off women entir—
It hit me. I shook my head in disgust.
Oliver sensed my revelation and beamed. “Didn’t realize some of those congratulatory hugs from the chief back in the old days were a bit more… personal for him, did you?”
He was amused with himself. “I can’t tell you how much of a relief this is to get this off my chest. I’ve been dying to tell someone about our fearless leader’s flings. And you’d never guess where I find these guys either, Harry…”
“Stop. It’s enough.” I had a bad taste in my mouth. But I abruptly perked up. “Well, I guess I do have a piece of information for you after all.”
“Bout time. Give it to me.”
“My hands are no longer tied.”
He hesitated and eyes widened a bit, digesting what I had said. I had been delicately wrestling with the rope for half an hour.
In a split second, I gathered every ounce of strength I had and lunged for him. My shoulder squared Oliver in the chest before he could react and we toppled over the back of his chair, his head thumping the pavement in the process. I immediately rolled off, and prepared for his retaliation, but he wasn’t moving. That was lucky, because I had nothing left. Oliver lie semi-conscious, and with the gun now in my hand, I allocated a swift swing to full unconsciousness. Relatively quiet.
The next step for me was to carefully open the warehouse door and…Bang! Bang!...shoot the two unsuspecting clods in the back. Rene received extra incentive in the cranial vicinity. Hey, like I said before, I ain’t no angel. I do need a strong drink, though. But I needed Val more. And I have the difficult decision to either give her all my love or all the bullets left in this gun. Both would be satisfying.
Instead, I think I’ll hit the mayor up for some of that blackmail dough meant for Val. I gotta get out of here, I just need some traveling money. Knowing me, I’ll probably try to convince Val to come with. Maybe I'll even stop by on my way out of town to have a chat with the Chief, maybe persuade him to donate to my ‘out of town’ fund. Nah. May end up persuading the chief to swallow two bullets, and at the moment, that’s too much reality for me. Besides, I can always come back and use the Chief to help sight my gun. No, a bottle will do for now, maybe at the bottom will be some answers. I need some time to catch my breath.
Bio: Brandon lives in the deep south and enjoys writing short stories of all genres.