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Hard Boiled Christmas (Day Twenty-Five)

Hard Boiled Christmas

A Jack Collier Mystery

By Brett N. Lashuay

 

Day 25: The Last Day

 

            I woke up in the hospital bed that I’d been sleeping in for a few days and found that the trouble had not ended yet. Frost was standing over me, watching me as I woke up. He didn’t look amused, but he didn’t look angry either, he didn’t look anything. My eyes moved around a little and I saw a man standing in the corner, just waiting.

 

            “Oh fuck.” I muttered. “Look, I know I didn’t do what you said, but there’s a good reason for that.”

 

            “Oh yes?” His cold voice was like a void that you could just fall into and never stop dropping.

 

            “Yeah.” I said nodding as best as I could. “I just can’t think of what it might be at the moment.”

 

            “Well, nevermind.” Frost said, almost sounding life like for a moment. “You’ve got enough problems as it is.”

 

            “It’s all going to be blamed on me, isn’t it?” I asked.

 

            “No.” Frost said shaking his head. “It’s all come down on Church.”

 

            “What about Christmas?” I asked. “Is she okay?”

 

            “That’s why it’s all coming down on Church.” He said.

 

            “Because she told them everything she said she was going to?” I asked, even though I knew how lame it must have sounded.

 

            “Because she’s dead.” Frost said. “Church shot her three times in the chest. She missed him with every shot she fired.”

 

            “So he’s okay?” I couldn’t help but feel strangely relieved to hear this. I had been about to shoot him, and outside of her thrall I realized that I really didn’t want to.

 

            “Yes, just like you’ll be soon.” Frost smiled, but he unable to look reassuring. “You’re lucky she was using such a small gun. The bullet in your side got caught in your ribs, the one in your leg only went far enough in to tap your bone and the shot in your arm is little more than a deep cut. You’re in for a few weeks of physical therapy rather than a few years.”

 

            “Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m so lucky that someone who planned out the deaths of, what is it, eight people?”

 

            “Something like that, probably more.”

 

            “So, yeah.” I looked Frost in the eyes, and realized there was something he was worried about. “I’m very lucky that someone who meticulously planned the deaths of eight plus people managed to only have very weak rounds in her guns, despite having two snipers set up.”

 

            “Pardon?”

 

            “She had two snipers set up to take out Church.” I said watching his expression for the tiniest sigh, even a little flicker.

 

            “How do you know that?” He asked, his shell of cool starting to show the tiniest signs.

 

            “They could have shot us at any moment, and a good moment would have been when I was leaving because they might not have another chance with me.” I watched and thought I saw the slight change in his expression. “And if she’d died there, then Church would have known I’d hunt him to the end of his days. Besides, she seemed sort of disappointed that I’d killed all of them. So they were there to plug Church, which is why she was ready with small little bullets that would hurt me but not kill me. She was going to have them kill Church and then shove me out of the way without killing me. Then she would have come back for the show and everything would have been wonderful. Then she would have come for you.”

 

            “Oh?” He said, and I think he was beginning to grow uneasy under my gaze. “How do you figure that?”

 

            “Easter’s dead, Patrick too.” I said staring into him. “She and the Fat Man had been pushing the others out of the way or killing them so she could slowly take over the whole year. Her stuff already was starting in September, and despite everyone being very afraid of Sam, she was moving in on his turf. She would have taken out Thanksgiving, and no matter how powerful you are she’d have come for you one day.”

 

            “Well that won’t be an issue now.” I almost thought he was beginning to look slightly flustered. “She’s dead and the world need never know about the rest of it?”

 

            “Why not?”

 

            “Because everyone thinks she died in that hospital bed.” He said, and he smiled uneasily. “She’s was dead before she died.”

 

            I wished that he wouldn’t try to smile, because it looked horrifying. I wished that he would just go back to the unflappable cool he had been showing all the years he’d been vaguely threatening me to stay away from his business. However, I had him by short hairs and decided to give them a tug. I could see the figure in the corner more clearly now, and if I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to, I would be okay.

 

            “No.” I said shaking my head slowly. “Sandy Cloose died in that hospital bed and I’ll back her parents if you don’t acknowledge that fact.”

 

            “Would you?” Frost asked, and in his emotionless demeanor a person could imagine a threat.

 

            “Yes I would. I’ll tell everything about everything. Including all those who have died under your watch.” I nodded. “That will bring in the big boys, and you will be in a world of shit.”

 

            “This requires you to still be alive.” He said snatching a pillow from the side of the bed and holding the ends tightly in his hands. “You could just die from your wounds and no one would say a thing.”

 

            Chuck Struble can move, though you wouldn’t think so. I’ve personally never understood why people think fat men can’t move quickly. With all the extra bulk, you’d have to have extra muscle under there, and unless he’s going to knock things over every time he walks he would have to be nimble. Chuck was quick, and quiet as a cat. And I’ll never have to ask which side his loyalties are on so long as Debbie and I stay friends because there is nothing he wouldn’t do for her.

 

            Frost froze suddenly when the barrel of Chuck’s Berretta touched the back of his right ear. No one moved for a very long time, and eventually Frost dropped the pillow on my lap. Chuck drew the pistol away maybe ten inches, giving just enough room for Frost to turn and look at my fellow Private Eye.

 

            “Who are you?” Frost asked.

 

            “I’m a friend of Jack’s.” Chuck said in his clear voice. “That’s all you need to know.”

 

            “His name is Chuck Struble, a brother gumshoe.” I told Frost.

 

            “If something were to suddenly happen to him, I would come for you.” Chuck said, keeping the gun pointed directly at Frost’s forehead. “If something were to happen to me, my five employees and four special gentlemen that you couldn’t bribe with the Claughman Diamond have instructions to kill you first.”

 

            “I see.” Frost said, sitting down on the chair next to my hospital bed. “What would I have to do?”

 

            “All you have to tell the truth about is how Sandy Cloose died and that Church killed Christmas.” I told him, “We can just leave all the rest alone and when they ask questions we just tell then we don’t have the answers yet.”

 

            “All right then.” He said. “I can deal with this I suppose.”

 

            “It’ll hurt a bit, but you’ll feel better in the end.” I told him.

 

            He stood up again, and took a good look at Chuck and then at me. He turned and walked out the door, vanishing away from my story. I wanted to put my hands behind my head and smile at Chuck, but it hurt like hell to move.

 

            “What will he do about the show then?” Chuck asked. “I mean Yule might be able to take over this year but she’s not really up to the whole thing.”

 

            “Oh that won’t be much of an issue.” I waved the idea away with my left hand. “He’ll just go ask someone else for a performer in that area. The show has been going on just the same for years, only an occasional actor has changed. It was once Mithras, then Yule, then Christmas. Maybe he can get someone from Buddha to play a part.”

 

            “What?” He asked incredulously. “You’ll get candy canes for Buddha day?”

 

            “Why not? It’s all part of the Vague Early Winter Possibly Religious Festival.” I tried to snuggle back into the bed, but really being shot means that everything hurts and you can’t be cool and snuggle back. Also, the hospital gown makes you terminally uncool. You can’t ever imagine you’ll be cool again after wearing that stupid thing.

           

            It was another week before I was able to leave the hospital and go home. Home however had been closed up and was still the site of ongoing investigations. I went back to the office, wondering what I might find there. I had to take the building’s elevator, as my leg wouldn’t support me up the stairs. The wounds weren’t big, but they did hit the bone in all places despite Frost’s statements. My leg hurt a lot and I was told that I’d probably not being running much in the future. There was also my arm that was probably going to be in a sling for sometime and then if I was able to raise my hand over my head that would be remarkable progress.

 

            I opened the locked door of the office and looked at the empty desk where Debbie no longer sat. She must have taken the money and ran for it, which was just as well because I was thinking of closing up shop. I wasn’t going to be able to be much of a detective anymore, not with a limp and a bad arm. Still, I couldn’t help but feel abandoned, but I also couldn’t help but feel that I’d deserved it. I left the door open and limped across the floor to my desk.

           

            The whole thing was over now, all over and there was no more. No more home, no more detective agency, no more Christmas, no more me. I leaned back and closed my eyes, wondering what exactly I was going to do with myself now. I heard someone walk into the office and opened my eyes to see them. Church was standing at my desk and looking at me. I leaned forward and looked back at him.

 

            “Hello Jack.” He said after a while.

 

            “How long until you have the trial?” I asked, assuming he was just out on bail.

 

            “A little while.” He said smiling slightly. “But it’s only a weapons charge.”

 

            “Pardon?” I asked.

 

            “They decided not to press charges on anything but my gun.” He waved his hand carelessly. “I forgot to get a permit or something.”

 

            A permit wouldn’t have helped him, as a convicted felon he was unable to get a permit for a gun in Michigan. He wasn’t ever supposed to be able to have a gun. However, a minor weapons charge after the events of the last week seemed amazing to me.

 

            “But you shot Christmas.” I said flabbergasted, “Surely they still charge when you kill someone.”

 

            “I can prove she shot you first.” He said smiling a bit more. “I had someone with a camera watching the whole thing. They don’t want to go there with me. Not after the mess they allowed her to make and all those little helpers with rifles.”

 

            “You were ready for it all huh?” I asked.

 

            “I was.” Church nodded. “She shot you and tried to shoot me so I shot her dead and then I took you to the hospital and you got blood in my car.”

 

            “I’d offer to pay you, but I think my secretary ran off with the company funds.” I sort of wanted to unload, to tell him that I would have shot him if she hadn’t shot me, that I was feeling like a real piece of shit. I wanted to tell him how I sort of guessed that it was all over for me. All I could actually manage though was, “Besides, I’m thinking of closing up shop.”

 

            “I thought you might.” He said and reached down for a gym bag at his side. “I brought you this, as a last payment.”

 

            He set the bag down in front of me and pointed to it. I opened the bag and found it stuffed with neatly stacked hundred dollar bills in ten thousand dollar bundles. I looked at the money and then looked up at him. He in turn looked down at me, which made it nice and circular.

 

            “There’s a little over two hundred and ninety thousand. I calculated a rate for you, hope you don’t mind.” He said nodding to the bag. “I’m sure you could find some way to make a bit of money on your own with a start like that.”

 

            “Yeah.” I said considering the money. “I probably could.”

 

            “Well, I’ll be seeing you.” He said and walked out of the office and into the hallway.

 

            I looked at the money for a moment or two. I could just burn it. I didn’t really deserve the money, not the way I’d acted. It wasn’t just that I almost shot him, it was that I’d come so close to helping her. She’d killed, terrorized, and lead me around by my… heart. Despite all that, I had been willing to help her out of all of this and get away. It was just as well Debbie was gone, I should be so lucky to be able to run away from myself.

 

I looked at the still open door between my office and the waiting room. I watched as the door opened again and Debbie came walking in with a bag of fast food. She smiled at me behind my desk and came into my office. She placed the lunch bag next to the gym bag, pressed her palms on the desk and leaned over to either give me a view of her cleavage or get a good look at me.

 

            “I thought you’d have gone.” I said.

 

            “Where was I gonna go?” She asked me. “Besides, with a quarter of a million in cash I’d have been found pretty quickly.”

 

            “Oh, so you did go to the box?” I asked.

 

            “Well, yeah.” She said nodding. “You said to.”

 

            “It’s nice to know you kept the office open.” I told her.

 

            “I didn’t have anywhere else worth going.” She said. “And after what happened I figured I didn’t need to fear anyone.”

 

            “Not so long as you still have your keyboard handy.” I said.

 

            “Yeah.” She nodded. “How are you?”

 

            “I’ll be fine.” I said, trying to smile. “We might need to close the office, or change our line of work, but besides that I’m good.”

 

            “You’re sure?” She asked.

 

            “No.” I said. “Take this gym bag down to the bank and put the money with the rest of the emergency funds.”

 

            “Don’t you want to deposit it? Get some interest?”

 

            “No.” I shook my head. “I don’t want him to think that I used it for anything. I don’t want anything to do with that money. I don’t even want to look at it.”

           

            “Okay.” She picked up the gym bag and walked out of the office with her lunch.

 

            After a while, a long while I guess, I could hear the clatter of her keyboard and considered how much had been destroyed over the last couple of days. If nothing else, a sense I had of myself was going to need serious repair. It was too much to think about though, and after a while I just looked out at the clear sky as it darkened. I could see a long way out the window, but not half as far as Christmas had gone.

 

 

 

 

This is the end of Hard Boiled Christmas. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. Wonderland, the second story in the Jack Collier Series, will begin next week on Thursday the 1st.

If want to read the rest of this story, 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.

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December 25, 2008 - Posted by | Fiction, Jack |

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