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December 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Hard Boiled Christmas (Day Fourteen)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Day 14: Old Joe’s Pawn Shop

 

            Looking for a stolen ring, I can think of no better place to check first than Old Joe’s Pawn Shop. Old Joe is the kind of evil old bastard who’d buy up a dead man’s bedclothes and the shirt he was going to be buried in if someone stole it for him. In fact I’ve heard that he has been known to take the bed curtains, rings and all, when he has been given the chance. Old Joe wasn’t an actively bad person though. Really, he just encouraged naughty behavior in others. I can’t say why, but that always made him seem worse than all the muggers and thieves he hands money to.

 

            I pushed the door open, and heard it squeak loudly. There wasn’t a piece of metal in the whole place as rusty and loud as that door hinge. I went into his shop and saw the effluvia of a long time in the business of buying memories. There were Red Ryder BB guns, a sort of pink fur body suit with rabbits’ heads for feet, boxes of old decorations, a towel with the IBC logo on it, a squirt gun that fires jelly, and several other odds and ends that I won’t bother to mention lest this become nothing more than an extended list. The point was, Joe had bought these things and now they were priced to sell.

 

            “Hello Joe.” I said approaching him.

 

            “Hi Jack.” He said lifting a diamond studded wrist watch up to the light. “Some guy traded me this for a hand gun, can you imagine?”

 

            “If you told him that without a receipt it was only worth fifty or sixty bucks.” I said, and he grinned knowingly.

 

            “What can I do for you today?” He asked setting the watch down.

 

            “I’m looking for Christmas’s ring.” I said.

 

            “What do you mean?” He asked, looking confused.

 

            Old Joe is like an old friend, in that I’ve known him a long time, so there is no need to pull punches. My left fist struck his jaw and I grabbed a hold of him to prevent him from hitting the floor where he kept a shotgun. I yanked him close and resisted the urge to talk about a gold engagement ring, as that would have been the wrong holiday.

 

            “Why must we do this?” I asked yanking him close. “Christmas wasn’t wearing her ring when the cops found her, so it’s been on the market for nearly two full days. If you haven’t got it here, you know where it is.”

 

            “I swear to Steve I don’t know!” He shouted, which was good enough to strike like a blow because of his breath. I fell back and he rubbed his jaw a bit. “If somebody stoled it I don’t know where it is. I ain’t heard nothing about it, and I don’t know nothing about it.”

 

            “Tell me what you have heard then.” I said sliding aside a large and complex tree ornament that had probably gotten lost in the night. “Some guy that worked for the Fat Man was trying to put the finger on Church but good. Church didn’t like it and shot the guy. Last I heard they was putting his head in a box to send the Fat Man.”

 

            “How did you hear all that?” I asked.

 

            “Shit.” Joe nearly spat. “Where do you think they come for the box?”

 

            “You’re right.” I agreed. “That was a silly question.”

 

            “If I had her ring, you don’t think I’d keep hold of it do you?” He asked.

 

            “No.” I said, shaking my head. “I was hoping you’d know who was stupid enough to take it.”

 

            “Nobody took it.” He said. “I don’t see how they even could have gotten it off her finger. It was a bitch and a half the last time we helped her get it off, and she’s blown up since then.”

 

            “Why does everyone have to use these terms?” I asked and felt quite an understandable urge to hit him again. “She put on a little weight. You don’t have to keep using words like bloated and blown up.”

 

            “My point is that her ring finger had expanded.” He said, annunciating carefully. “You would have to cut the damn finger off.”

 

            “Hmm.” I held off slugging him as the idea hadn’t struck me before. “That’s a point.”

 

            “I mean someone really dedicated could have cut just the ring off I suppose, but why be delicate what with the rest of what they done to her?”

 

            “Yeah.” I said. “Why?”

 

            “Can’t say?” He said.

 

            “Okay.” I said smiling brightly again. “You hear anything call me first, okay?”

 

            “Hey!” He smiled and held up his hands in a friendly gesture. “We’re old friends aren’t we?”

 

            “We’ve at least known each other a long time and we know a few of the others foibles.” I agreed pushing the door open and listening to the hinge squeak. “That situation shares many things with the ‘old friends’ one. Oil this door.”

 

            I walked out into the cold air, and took in a deep lungful as I walked out into the world again. At least while it as bright out, there weren’t as many lights and colorful things to see. Really, it was the nights I couldn’t stand. You can’t go anywhere at night and not be blinded by a thousand showy lights, each year’s offering brighter than the last year’s. It was as if they had taken the idea of keeping away the shadows in the dark time of the year to mean they should shun the night and put up so many lights that night and day were the same. When there was snow, there was so much reflected light that they really were one and the same as far as brightness went. It was only that the light of day was gray and the light at night was a sort of mixed color with a reddish hue to it.

 

            I got back into my car and tried to decide where I should go next when I saw the most extraordinary sight. Church burst out of a store’s door with his gun drawn and blazing into the place. I watched as he fired three rounds into the store and then turned and ran towards me. For a moment I thought about running him down, but if I didn’t kill him, he’d remember it.

 

            Instead I leaned over and opened my door, yelling his name and drawing the Marley thirty-eight from the holster. He looked towards me and took the hint, jumping into the passenger seat. I slammed the car into gear and gunned the engine. The car took off like a shot and we were away and around a corner before I could see who had even been doing the shooting.

 

            “Thanks.” Church said, “I owe you one.”

 

            He leaned his head back and panted as I drove away as quickly as I could, both understanding that this could be aiding and abetting and also understanding that client service was a must if a small business owner wanted to stay in business. After all, I had to make sure that if nothing else my bill would reach someone willing to pay me. Of course I could just give that much more of a bill to the Fat Man, but as I was planning to soak them both with the understanding that I wasn’t taking the other guy’s money, it would have been pointless.

 

            “What the hell was that?” I asked.

 

            “Fucking fat bastard tried to hit me.” He said looking over his shoulder. “His three little helpers just showed up and shot at us. They got Opus with the first few shots, he never even got his gun out.”

 

            “So it was Hardrock, Cocoa and Joe?” I asked.

 

            “Yeah.” He said. “Just came out of nowhere, I can’t believe Opus was caught off guard like that.”

 

            He slid the clip from his gun, stuffed it into his suit jacket and pulled out a fresh clip. He out the loaded magazine in and shoved the gun away into its holster. He ran his fingers through his short graying hair and rubbed at his scalp. He then put his hands on his thighs and looked out the window for a long time. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with him, he was too dangerous to keep near, but I wasn’t sure of what he’d do next. Well I was pretty sure he’d start arranging to kill the Fat Man.

 

            “I’m going to kill that fat mother fucker.” He said, proving that maybe I did know what I was talking about. “Son of a bitch makes a run at me, after all this time, that fucker must be really desperate. He must have done it huh?”

 

            “Well, we can find out.” I said. “But I don’t want anyone killed, not one more person if we can manage it.”

 

            “You’d probably better let me out then.” He said pointing ahead. “That gas station will do.”

 

            I pulled into the gas station and stopped near a pay phone, knowing that he would want that first. He buttoned his suit coat, which was all the protection I had ever seen him wear against the cold. He wasn’t even wearing a tie today, just his shirt and suit. He didn’t look particularly cold, but I couldn’t help to think he must be. I got out and walked towards him.

 

            “I don’t like leaving you here.” I said shivering a little with the cold. “At least, not without a coat or anything.”

 

            “I don’t need a coat.” He said looking at the phone.

 

            “Oh come on.” I said looking around us at the bleak Michigan winter that we were both in. “In this weather?”

 

            “If you gave me a coat, I’d only go and give it to the poor.” He said, and began to walk towards the pay phone looking for change in his pockets. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a quarter.”

 

            “Let me take you back to my office at least.” I said and then my cell phone rang.

 

            “Answer it.” He folded his arms. “I’ll wait.”

 

            “Yeah?” I asked as I held the phone to my ear.

 

            “Jack?” Noonan’s voice came over the line. “Where are you at?”

 

            “I’m at a gas station, why?”

 

            “The Fat Man got hit.” He said panting.

 

            “He dead?” I asked.

 

            “Fourteen rounds to the chest ain’t exactly a Shiatsu massage.” He said coughing in to the phone. “I’d say the Fat Man lost about twenty pounds worth of blood, as most of it is on the floor around him.

 

            “When?” I asked.

 

            “About an hour ago.” He said. “They just picked up his body.”

 

            “He would have just gotten off the phone with me then.” I looked closely at Church’s face as I spoke.

 

            “That’s what I heard.” He said, still panting. “His assistant Joe said he’d just gotten done talking to you about this head in a box he’d got.”

 

            “Joe’s there?” I asked, and was glad that I still had the Marley thirty-eight in my hand, no matter how absent-mindedly it had been there before.

 

            “Well no, he’s going to the station for questioning, why?”

 

            “Who did it?”

 

            “They don’t know for sure, but the guy they described matches Opus’s description.”

 

            “Opus just walked up and shot the Fat Man?” I asked loud enough for Church to hear.

 

            “Seems that way.” Noonan said.

 

            “Where the hell was his security?”

 

            “No idea.” Noonan said, “They must have let their guard down for the one crucial second.”

 

            I watched Church who was looking at me with confusion and concern in his face. I didn’t do anything foolish like thumbing back the hammer of my gun, but I did watch him carefully. I thought about what he had said and what Noonan had said and tried to decide where my interests lay. I couldn’t decide just like that though, so I decided to stall.

 

            “Tom.” I said, trying to phrase it properly. “I’m going to have to make a couple of calls. If nothing else, this changes my client situation greatly. I’m going to have to secure some kind of funding or something. I’ll give you a call in a little while.”

 

            “Sure Jack.” He said. “I understand.”

 

            “Thanks.” I said and hung up. “Now you really can’t make that call and you really are coming back with me to my office.”

 

            “What’s going on?” He asked.

 

            “First, your gun.” I said pointing my gun sort of in the direction of his feet.

 

            “I can see this just isn’t going to be my day.” He said pulling the gun out and holding it towards me butt first.

 

            “Not going to be a lot of people’s day.” I said taking the gun from him. “Let’s go, I’ll tell you about it on the way to my office.”

           

This is part fourteen of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part fifteen and every day this month until we’re done to see what happens next. If you get lost, one of the tags here should help you. The HBC tag will take you to the story while the Jack Tag will take you to Part One of every story we post here.

December 14, 2008 Posted by | Fiction | | Leave a comment