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.”
“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?”
“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.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 24: The Exciting Climax
It had begun to snow again by the time we’d gotten to the park, a fortifying dinner in our stomachs. The sun was just a memory now, the only light coming from land-based sources. I pulled into the parking lot at Firefighter’s Park and looked around at the woods, the half dozen soccer fields, the woods, and the subdivision that backed up onto the park. No one else seemed to be around. All was quiet.
We got to the park and stood under the glow of a lamppost, illuminating us for the world to see. Mine was the only car in the lot, and yet I didn’t feel like we were alone. My sister claims I jump at shadows, she thinks I’m paranoid. I looked around and as the wind shifted, I swore I could smell doughnuts again. Paranoia, my sister would tell you that I’ve always been paranoid and secretive. We were half an hour early, I checked my watch to make sure. I looked at the small patch of woods and thought about the field beyond them.
“Can you be very patient?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She nodded, “Why?”
“Church has someone watching us.” I said walking back to the car.
I drove out of the parking lot and took the car to the subdivision, trying to remember the best place to enter the field. There were two different subs, and thus two different entryways. I decided to drive into one instead of the other and just parked my car in front of a house. I pulled the Webley from my pocket as I started moving through someone’s yard. I didn’t tramp through the cold and snowy field, but I didn’t exactly move with stealth and grace either. I could have skipped the field though, because I found the shooter near the stream that bisects the field section of the park from the sparse woods section of the park. He was leaning in some of the remaining brush and looking through the scope of his rifle with his partner. The partner was crouching, looking through a pair of binoculars, ready to spring up when he needed to. He wouldn’t stand up far though, there is only so far you can go when your full height it three feet.
I watched as the shooter carefully reached into a box and withdrew a doughnut, taking it to his mouth with care. Nice to be right once in a while. I thumbed the safety on my Webley-Fosbery Automatic before he bit into the fried dough, because I hate to see food wasted. He stopped and the still figure of the shooting partner stiffened. I walked towards them and plucked the doughnut out of the shooter’s hand.
“Hands up then.” I said.
“Fuck.” Opus said turning his one good eye at me. “Shit. It’s you?”
Cocoa made no such speech, simply turning and firing at me with his handgun that he’d drawn while my attention was on Opus. His shot went wild and stuck a tree behind me and I managed to fire a shot through his heart, knocking him down into the stream. Opus made an attempt to grab at Cocoa’s gun when I put the barrel of the Webley into his one remaining eye and fired, making good my promise to kill him if he ever crossed me again, and only three crosses late too.
I saw where Joe and Hardrock were now because Hardrock had fired a shot at me, which oddly stuck the same tree that Cocoa’s round had hit. He hadn’t had time to check with his scope and had just fired. I leapt down into the deep trench the shallow stream ran in and made sure Cocoa was dead by plugging him with one more round, lowering the shots in the Webley to three. I started along the stream trying to decide on the best place to pop up when Joe came running across one of the footbridges the straddled the stream, which was more or less over my head. I fired once, catching him in the chest, fired again and that one brought him down. I kept along the stream and came up the other side of the ten-foot deep bank slowly, because of the steep sides of the bank. I figured that Hardrock probably knew the bank was steep there and would be waiting for me to come up nearer the road, where the incline was shallower. I saw him leaning on a park bench the gun perfectly silhouetted against the new fallen snow.
I kept my hand very steady, which was hard because my soaked feet were so cold. There was so much cold that it was painful. My legs cramped and wanted to cease up like my dad’s old Datsun used to do on pretty much any morning. I did my best to block out the pain and the cold though, just like Tracey had taught me. I watched as he waited for me to come up in the most obvious place and I made sure to focus on his head. I held both hands on the gun, and squeezed the trigger very carefully when firing the gun.
It seemed to take forever for the hammer to fall, and then it took another infinity for the gun to fire and the bullet took so long to hit its target that I thought I’d missed him. I was about to throw the Webley down and pull out the Marley thirty-eight for another try when the side of Hardrock’s head burst open and he collapsed to the ground.
I walked back across the field to the place where I’d left Christmas and didn’t find her there, I then looked at the small brick building there the bathrooms where kept and saw her poke her head around, a small Drexel automatic in each hand. I slid the Webley into my coat pocket and pulled the Marley out, as I walked towards the building.
“It’s okay.” I called out to her. “Church prepared a surprise, but I discovered them.”
“Who was it?” She asked as she stepped out from the building.
“Oh, just Opus and the Fat Man’s helpers.” I said.
“You shot them?” She asked, sounding as if I’d spoiled some plan.
“Would you have preferred they shot us?”
“No.” She said lowering her guns. “You just don’t normally shoot anyone. You hit them, but you don’t shoot them.”
“Well, they deserved it.” I tried to think of a reason I was defending my actions to her.
“You out of bullets then?” She asked looking at the Marley in my hand.
I didn’t get a chance to answer because Church’s car came roaring up the street and stopped near the concrete structure. He got out of the car, the bandage across his nose almost glowing in the harsh light of the streetlamps. With his gun in hand, he walked towards us without bothering to close his door. He didn’t aim the gun, but he held it in his hand like he might aim at any moment.
“You set us up Church?” I asked.
“What the hell are you talking about?” He asked me as we started walking towards each other.
“Hardrock, Cocoa, Joe and Opus.” I said pointing over his shoulder in the direction of the corpses.
“Opus is dead Jack.” Church said, but sounded unconvinced.
“Yeah, now.” I announced. “I plugged him.”
He didn’t answer me, but looked at his ex-wife and took a few steps towards us. We were less than ten feet away from each other, in a perfect triangle, which was enclosed in the circle of light from the overhead streetlamp. He was to my right, and she was to my left, each of them a perfect ten feet from me and ten feet from each other.
“Oh, you set me up good this time, didn’t you darling?” He asked her.
“Beg pardon?” I asked.
“Wake up Jack.” He said pointing his gun at her but looking at me. “She’s killed everyone in her way and now she can not only be free of all of us, but she can rule the circuit too. Is it any wonder that Patrick and so many others were killed this year? She’s going to be the only one left on the circuit when she’s done, and she’s killing all of us to make sure no one can contradict her story.”
“That’s not true.” She said, holding her two guns pointed at no one, but just holding them up so they could be pointed.
“Oh come on.” I said, annoyed now. “You were so anxious to know where Thanksgiving was when you came to me. You only backed off when I hinted that I might not be completely stupid.”
“Are you going to side with him now? Is that it?” She demanded.
“No.” I said, with my gun arm still down by my side. “I’ve always been on your side.”
“So I’m to be the sacrifice, am I?” Church asked. “The two of you might remember you’re not the first to try killing me.”
“I don’t have to kill you Church.” She said. “I only have to wound you and get you taken in.”
“You have some proof?” He asked.
“Like they’re going to believe you over me?” I noticed her right hand now focused in on him and her left hand moved in a way I couldn’t quite define.
“What’s it going to be then Jack?” He asked holding up a questioning hand. “Me or her? Or are you once again going to just wait it out and see who wins and claim to have been on their side all along?”
I looked from one of them to the other, trying to decide. I wanted her, and I didn’t like him, but something wouldn’t let me announce a choice for her. Sandy Cloose had just been an innocent, just some girl trying to earn some extra cash for the holidays. She hadn’t been part of this world, and Christmas had just rolled right over her. My thumb pulled back the hammer on the Marley without my telling it to as my hand started to rise on its own. At that moment, I think I was about to gun down Church. However, Christmas’s left hand twitched in my direction and three shots tore into me.
I fell to the ground and heard the action around me more than I saw it. Strange to relate, the sounds of the shells hitting the pavement, which were distinct and clear sounded louder than the gunshots themselves which were muddled and mingled with each other. The two of them shot at each other and in a few moments, whatever it was, it was all over.
I would like to point out that I did not pass out. I kept my mind about me the whole time. It’s just that now, while sitting here trying to consider things, I can’t exactly remember how I got from the snow covered parking lot to the hospital bed. I’m sure that if I really try, I can recall the whole thing, but at the moment it’s just a big dark blur. The hospital was just a big light blur for many days too, so there was probably just something in the pain killers they gave me.
This is part twenty-four of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for the final installment. 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.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 23: The Two of Us, Alone
I’ll skip the unimportant details if it’s all the same to you. We met at the mall, and then we adjourned to a hotel were we could have our conversation in some kind of privacy. It wasn’t a cheap room, it was in one of the business class hotels dotted around Troy for out of town executives to come stay at and feel important. We’d gotten the best room in the place, which had more floor space than my first apartment. Any other day of the week, this place would have seemingly important people talking about seemingly important things. Today, actually important people were going to discuss actually important things, which made me feel like we were in the wrong place.
I put my arms around her as we looked out the window towards the exploded and confused suburb that is Troy and as I place my hands at her waist I felt a small flat automatic pistol in each of her jacket pockets. They weren’t big guns, but they would do to kill a man if fired properly. I moved my hands away from the guns though and wrapped them around her waist, pulling her back into my front. She smelled like cinnamon, like holly leaves gently simmered, like the way sparkling crystal looks. She smelled like heaven and she was soft and warm and in my arms again and I could have just melted away right there. She might have killed five or six people though, some small voice mentioned in the back of my head, and that voice made me break away from her.
“I need something to drink.” I said and walked towards the small bar where a stocked mini-bar explained that while I couldn’t get drunk on the contents there might just be enough to get tipsy for the price of the national gross product of New Zealand. Except I couldn’t because I wanted Chuck to get that little bronze medallion for sobriety.
She took off her jacket and moved around the hotel room, looking around like she always had. That is to say, she was so beautiful that just watching her made me want to weep. She walked aimlessly, knowing how beautiful she looked. She wasn’t looking for anything in particular. She just liked examining things, seeing how nice they were or where corners led. In a way, she was like a cat that had to sniff around before she could be comfortable.
I poured myself a seventeen-dollar mini can of coke, which was just enough to get a mouthful of liquid, but little else. I down the drink in one gulp and looked at the beauty before me. She looked so small, sitting on the large industrial sized couch. She looked even smaller, now that she’d taken her jacket off and let it rest on one of the hundreds of chairs around the table that could have seated a meeting of all the shareholders in both Dow and Jones’s many companies.
I would like to have been hard with her, to tell her that she was going to start telling me everything I wanted to know or she was going to feel the back of my hand. In truth though, I couldn’t even show her the rough side of my tongue, which some of a perverse mind might wish to call a tragedy. She looked up at me with doe like eyes and smiling lips, patting the seat next to her.
“Come sit my darling.” She said placing her hand on the cushion and rubbing it with her hand. That couch cushion is a filthy son of a bitch. I would have given so much to be touched so tenderly at that moment.
I was supposed to be questioning her, I was supposed to be finding out what the hell was going on, but all I wanted to do was to crawl into her lap. I wanted to press my lips to hers, to hold her so close to me that we would become almost one being. I wanted to take off her clothes to examine every inch of her and see if everything was as I’d left it so long ago. I wanted to be with her, I wanted to have her, I wanted her to have me and I knew if I started having answers, I would stop having her.
A pair of voices were having an argument in my head, and as heated as it was getting there would soon be broken furniture up there. One side was pointing out, with much swearing and thrashing about that she was probably a killer, that even if she hadn’t killed anyone she had been instrumental in their deaths. The second voice, with much smack spoken about the first voice’s mama, pointed out that she could have been the devil incarnate for all it cared so long as she wanted us near. There was also a series of grunts from the lower quarters of my being, but those were base and don’t bear repeating in something so lofty as the written word.
The argument raged in my head, which meant that the rest of my body was left to fend for itself and make its own decisions. Of course, the body is a piece of meat without the brain to think for it, so the outcome of this situation should surprise no one. I walked to the couch and sat down near her. I could feel her warmth from where I sat, it radiated off her like the electric heater Debbie kept under her desk. She was generating heat like there was a fire inside her.
She looked at the space between us and closed the gap by pushing her smooth firm thigh right up against my own. She leaned into me and slid her arms around me, her body acting like water to make as much of her body press against mine. The argument continued, but I must admit that the side arguing for trusting her and to hell with consequences won when her face turned up towards mine. I tiled my head in and pressed my lips against hers.
A firestorm exploded in my brain, the two voices were burned away and all that was left was the grunting animal located in the nether regions. Kissing her was like what I imagine having religion suddenly dawn on a person must feel like. It was as if a world that hadn’t made sense for so long had suddenly come into focus, like having a gauze curtain pulled away, like seeing color TV after having only known black and white.
As she tilted her body to lean into me and press the fullness of her weight against me it dawned on me that I didn’t care about answers any more, because I had the one answer I wanted. There was nothing more important than this moment of return, which was all I’d been looking for. I felt her body shudder as I gripped her and pulled the both of us up to a standing position. She pressed her head against my chest and we adjourned from that living room to one with furniture more amenable to our ends.
I will not go into a description of the fumbling of buckles and the discarding of clothing as I have always found the making of true and genuine love is embarrassing for those not involved and if I have no other form of privacy, I will have this one. I will not fall into some trap about numbers of times, or if the sound was in stereo or DTS 6.1 surround sound with the bass turned all the way up. These things are none of your business, and they do not bear any great amount to the tale beyond the fact that they happened. I will simply advance the story to a point where something that might in some way be your business happened.
It was dark when we lay in the bed, her body half stretched across mine and half on the bed. I could feel desire still raging within me, but I was receiving calls from my body reporting that they couldn’t comply with demands anymore. The body complained that it had gone far above and beyond the call of duty, and had performed more events for longer periods than it could ever recall having done. My desires weren’t sated, but I couldn’t respond to those desires at the moment. I would at the very least have to have something to eat to gain back essential proteins and zinc which had been lost in the process. Besides, it wasn’t like we wouldn’t have time for more of that. I wasn’t going to let her go, not ever again.
I pulled her closer to me, squeezing her in so that her nose was right up against mine. She smiled and put her arms around me as well, then she kissed me, and again it was like seeing white fire burning in my brain. We only whispered to each other, our faces so close that our lips kept brushing against each other’s as we talked.
“We’ll have to talk about this sooner or later.” I said to her.
“I thought we were doing, not talking.” She said with a giggle.
“Not that.” I said, smiling at the thought. “We’ll have to talk about what comes next.”
“Dinner?” She asked.
“And after that.” I sounded more serious than I felt.
“I know.” She sighed slightly, but didn’t move away like I feared she might.
“We’ve got to keep you safe from everyone, find someway to get you out of all this crap, push it off on someone else so you can be free of all this.”
“How do we do that?”
“Well, for starters what happened and when?” I pulled away, and pushed myself up on my elbow. I could tell I was investigating now. “And don’t go giving me that story about Sandy working with you for months and months. I know she only worked long enough to get her face smashed in.”
“How did you know that?” She asked, looking genuinely surprised.
“I am a detective you know.” I tried to keep hurt out of my voice.
“Oh.” She said as if considering this for only the first time. “Right, sorry.”
“So let’s be honest about it.” I said sitting up, “How much trouble are you in really?”
“Big trouble.” She said sitting up and getting out of the bed, increasing the distance between us. I would like to say I was too in tune with my detecting skills to notice the perfection of her nude body as she stood, but that would be lying. “I guess I’m in as deep as I’ve ever been.”
It was distracting, looking at her butt while she half turned to let me see one naked breast. Had my body not sent a note to the brain reading, “Fuck? No!” then I would have once again abandoned the line of questioning in favor of further explorations. As it was though, my brain was able to keep just enough of a hold on the problem at hand, which proves my brain is a bastard that doesn’t want me to be happy.
“Who killed Sandy then?” She looked at me with a worried expression and I sighed, I could feel anger beginning to boil in. “Alright, if you don’t like that question, why did you have to kill Kwanza and Chanukah then?”
“What?” She asked as she slipped her shirt on and buttoned a few buttons to keep it closed.
“I’ve got two points where I know you’ve lied to me.” I told her holding up two fingers as a visual example. “Frost doesn’t know who killed those two because while Frost knows it was your guns he thinks that you were in a hospital bed. The second and stronger point is that you told me you hired Sandy Cloose months ago and it was more like days ago.”
“Noonan was supposed to take care of Sandy.” She said looking out the window. I wondered for a moment if she even knew she was standing in front of a full-length window completely naked. “He was just supposed to arrest her, or pretend to. I was supposed to disappear you see? I think he really got the Fat Man’s little helpers to get her. They must have misunderstood, or Noonan gave them different instructions.”
“And Chanukah and Kwanza?” I asked, placing my hands on my knees.
“Yeah.” She nodded and began to cry. That made her look small and vulnerable, which was like a spike right into the back of my brain. “Noonan said he could prove I tried to kill Sandy, he said he could pin the whole thing on me. He said that I would have to do what he said.”
“And what else did he want you to do?” I asked, trying not to interrogate, but knowing I was.
“He said I’d have to go back to Church eventually, but that we would have fun together before that.” She sat down on the bed and started to sob into her hands. I pulled her close and she sobbed into my chest for a while before regaining her composure. “We never did anything. I put him off long enough.”
“Why did he want you to go back to Church?” I asked.
“He never said.” She told me while wiping her eyes on the bedspread. “I guess Church got to him, Church gets to a lot of people.”
“Yeah, he does.” I commented while thinking of what complete shit she was talking. “But not Tom Noonan.”
“What?” She sat up.
“If you keep lying to me, I can’t help you.” I said slowly and distinctly. “Tom didn’t have much brains but he knew better than to go up a blind alley with someone like Church. Tell me what’s really going on or I won’t be able to protect you.”
“But.” She started and I cut her off.
“I don’t care.” I almost shouted. “I don’t care what it is you’ve done or had done. I don’t care who’s died because of all this, I don’t want to see Frost or Smith’s colleagues or anyone else get their hands on you and put you in a little cage to only come out during the month of December. If they get a hold of you, you won’t even get a show trial. They’ll just lock you up and tell everyone that you’re afraid for your safety. If we’re going to save you, I’ve got to know everything and I’ve got to be able to put it on someone. Church is the best candidate because he deserves to go down and if necessary he can take care of himself.”
She broke down again, sobbing like a chastised child, which was her usual defense in these situations. She cried, and I felt wretched for yelling at her, but it had to be done. She sobbed and I put my arm around her and waited. I didn’t tell her it was okay, or soothe her, I just held on. She was going to have to find out that I was serious.
“You don’t care if I did it?” She finally asked in a small and cracked voice.
“I love you.” I said, and hated myself for it. I knew I was going to betray her, so I completed it by lying to her. “All I need is to know what you’ve done so I can make sure the best way to frame up Church.”
“I’m in too deep for that.” She said shaking her head. “Any kind of trail would make the whole story fall down, it wouldn’t work.”
“Why did you really kill Kwanza and Chanukah?” I asked. “You can at least tell me that.”
“The Fat Man told me to.” She said, changing her story completely. “He wanted them out of the way because they competed with me too much. He set up this whole thing with Church, so they could get rid of all the competition and make peace between them. Noonan was trying to help me get away, he was supposed to attack that girl.”
“Sandy?” I asked to remind her that Sandy Cloose had a name.
“Right.” She said pointing a finger. “Church and the Fat Man had been negotiating for sometime, but they kept up the appearance of animosity until everyone else had been pushed out of the way. Since I was supposed to be dead, they knew Frost wouldn’t be able to tell who’d killed the two of them so they made me do it. I thought if I got away, if I could go into hiding, it would cause them to suspect each other and I could slip away while they fought it out.”
She was lying, but I couldn’t bear to accuse her again any more than I could stand to try and sit through another version of the story. I was pretty sure that if I asked her another question it would turn out that Hardrock was the second shooter on the Grassy Knoll, Cocoa was shooting from the book depository window, and Joe was the magic bullet that Opus found on that stretcher.
“How long have you been planning to get away?” I asked.
“For a while.” She said wiping a few more tears away. “I don’t know how long really I’ve planned it, but I decided I was going to do it after the show last year. The fat cunt got drunk and tried to force himself on me. I shoved him away and he got mad and threw a bottle at me. His three little helpers got him out of my room and I guess they made sure he understood what he’d tried to do was wrong, but I decided he had to go after that. That piece of shit tried to take my clothes off? Tried to tell me that it was because of him that I was so successful?”
She shook her head and I could see a look on her face that I didn’t like. She was getting into telling the story now, and a lot of bitterness was flowing out of her. I had a feeling that before she was done, she would have told me everything. All I had to do was to keep her talking.
“I managed to get myself off the stuff during the winter and early spring. It was hell, and I lost a lot of weight and almost died, but I managed. I managed and I started working out to put muscle back on my body. I mean look at me, I was never in as good of shape as I am right now. So I decided to kill the fat son of a bitch, to get rid of everyone. I wasn’t going to be anyone’s bitch anymore, at least no one’s but my own. I was going to do things the way I wanted, the way I’d always wanted.”
“Opus didn’t kill the Fat Man, did he?” I asked.
“No.” She said. “Opus couldn’t have gotten close enough, Hardrock would have shot him in two. I did it. I walked right up to that child molesting little bitch and I plugged him three times in the chest.”
“Why didn’t Hardrock shoot you in two then?” I asked, letting it roll out towards her.
“Hardrock, Cocoa and Joe never liked that piece of shit.” She said turning towards me. “They were conveniently out trying to kill Church for me while I shot that fat fuck.”
In spite of all she had just said, I wanted her. I wanted to kiss her, to hold her, to make love both savage and soft to her. She was right, her body was better than it had ever looked, and I really wanted it. I decided to lob out the last question that I had, which I hoped would put everything into place.
“So what was my role in all of this to be?” I asked, leaning back against the headboard. “Why has everyone come to me?”
“I didn’t know they were going to.” She said kissing me, “I never knew they would come to you.”
“We’ll have to get Church to meet us somewhere.” I said changing the subject. “Have to find a way to ambush him.”
“He always meets people at Firefighter’s Park.” She said.
“Does he?” I asked.
“Just about.” She said. “Which is dumb because it’s easy to ambush someone there.”
“Is it?” I asked, remembering the smell of doughnuts at the park.
“Yeah.” She said nodding. “That’s usually where he does it.”
“Okay.” I said nodding. “I’ll call him and tell him that we’ve got to talk.”
This is part twenty-three of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part twenty-four 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.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 22: Mr. Smith Goes to Hell
As I stood around waiting for Church, I started to go over the whole business in my head. It formed an unfortunate picture in there, which I tried to change around to no avail. The problem was that I had sort of been told who had done it and pretty much how from the beginning.
No one could get close to her, so it had to be someone on the inside. Of course it hadn’t been her, and when the chips came down no one was around to save the fake her. However, it could easily have been someone who was inside for her, but then they would have known about the fake. It could have been someone who had gotten a little carried away, or it could have been someone had been told to destroy the face. They might have wanted her dead, but messed it up. Maybe Sandy Cloose was a stronger fighter than they knew. The lights were just to try and look like they were making a point.
Why then, if the lights were just for show? Well, she had wanted to get away, out from under as she always put it to me. If everyone thought she was dead, and if someone got Church and the Fat Man to kill each other, then they would be dead and she would still be alive. And wouldn’t it be oh so nice when she appeared and announced that it had never been her? Church and the Fat Man would be dead and she would be alive and…
No, it didn’t work. Why would Opus and be with Hardrock and Cocoa and Joe then? Why would either Opus fake his death or would Church perform that fairly elaborate charade for my benefit? Why would Hardrock and Cocoa and Joe have let anyone just shoot their boss and walk away?
I remembered the Fat Man putting his hand on Hardrock’s head, and the fact that Hardrock didn’t like it. In fact, he seemed to dislike it intensely. I would bet that if the right person told them that they were going to kill the Fat Man and take over, those three would be delighted to follow them. Someone beautiful, someone that everyone loved, someone like her.
I couldn’t tell if I was worried, or thought I’d given Church enough time, but I got back into my car and started to go home. I think I was being paranoid and that he got me to go somewhere else while he kicked my door down and shot Christmas. I got behind the wheel and started for home.
Mithras has said she would had to have done it to herself, though that might not be what he meant at the time. Everyone I’d talked to in fact had said that the only person who could have done it was her, but there was a problem there. She didn’t have the arm strength, in my experience, to smash someone’s face in. I then thought of what the Fat Man had said about sending Hardrock and Cocoa and Joe to beat someone. They would get carried away, they would kill someone instead of just scaring them. Christmas wouldn’t have been able to do it, but they would have.
It would of course take a cop to fake paper work, and check her double in as Christmas of course. Noonan wouldn’t bend for money, nor power, but he might for Christmas. He had fallen in love with her too, in a more unrequited way than I had, and he would have sacrificed everything for her if she asked him to. And then someone had shot him in the back, to cover him up along with the rest of this case.
I didn’t like where my mind was going with this, it seemed like there was no other alternative though. She had wanted to get away, out from under, and this would get her out from under. The only problem for her would be getting away, making sure that no one knew that she’d done this. I pulled around to my street and saw something that was worse than the last sight I saw in a parking lot. A big black SUV was parked in my driveway, the doors hanging open. For that matter, my front door was hanging open too. I pulled out the Webley as I walked up the drive, intending to shoot Smith through the head. I got to the front door and found that I was too late.
He was face down on the ground, blocking the door with his body. He had been walking out of my place when someone decided that he had lived on the earth long enough. I bent down and looked at the small black hole behind his right ear, where a river of blood was pooling and permanently staining my welcome mat. The bullet had gone out through his left eye and broken his big stupid mirrored sunglasses, which now hung limply from his right ear. I couldn’t help but notice the spent shell sitting about three feet away on the carpet. I stood up and noticed another body in my living room.
I walked in and looked at another agent, with three shots in his chest. He must have been about fifteen and had he lived, shaving would come soon. His gun hadn’t been out so he hadn’t been expecting it. She probably pushed that little Drexel into Smith’s ear, pulled the trigger and then turned to shoot the young agent before he knew what was going on. My shoulders slumped as I looked at the two of them, looking so damn pathetic.
I heard the sound of a car engine pulling up in my driveway and walked out to greet whoever it was that had come to visit me. Church emerged from his big black Mercedes and looked at me with annoyance. The large white bandage that had been applied to his nose helped him look even more annoyed. He had his gun in hand, and I noticed that he was alone, which probably meant that Opus really wasn’t working with him. I put the Webley back behind my back and he slid his automatic under his coat. He looked at the SUV and then at me.
“Agent Smith?” He asked, sounding odd because of the packing in his broken nose.
“Is no more.” I said. “He has departed this world of tears and has gone to the big dress shop in the sky, where all the federal agents look good in chiffon and none of them have to tuck.”
“She killed them, didn’t she?” He asked.
“That’s a pretty sudden conclusion to come to.” I said wanting to pull the gun back out. “Considering you just got here and I’ve been investigating for three days.”
“Tell me I’m wrong.” He said looking at me with a hard pair of eyes, reminding me again that he had been underestimated before. “Tell me that she didn’t decide to get rid of everyone around her in the mistaken idea that killing us all would make her free.”
“Maybe.” I said, and I felt my shoulders slump again. “But I think there’s more than that.”
“What else?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” I countered, which was a brilliant verbal parry in my opinion. I then followed with a thrust. “I intend to find out though.”
“How?” He asked, which I must admit was a question I hadn’t thought to pose to myself.
“Never you mind.” I said, translating the age old ‘I have no idea’ into something more palatable. “I’ve got a plan, I just need a little room to maneuver.”
“You’re only going to get a little, tiny bit of room.” He said looking at my front door.
“I know that.” I said, wondering if I sounded as full of shit as I felt. “But you’ll have to give me as much as you can.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” He said looking at me over the white bandages and then at my door again. “You know we’re going to have to either take her in or take her down right?”
“Yes.” I said, trying to decide if I could just shoot Church and blame everything on him. “I guess we won’t have much choice in the matter.”
“I’ll be going then. I don’t want to be around if Smith’s friends decide to show up.” And with that he turned on his heel and walked to his car and left. It occurred to me later that I could have shot him right there and then made up any kind of story I liked.
I looked over my shoulder and decided I didn’t want to be here when Smith’s friends came to get him either. I got into my car and decided to drive back to the office, and then nixed that idea because Smith’s other friends were busy bleeding out onto the pavement. This certainly wasn’t going to look good for me when it was all written down and everyone decided not to believe my side of the story. My phone rang and I pulled it out and pressed it to my ear without looking at the number.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“Oh darling.” Christmas said in her most plaintive voice. “I’ve just driven by your office, are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I said, nodding “What happened at my place though?”
“They came and said they were going to take me away.” She said in a panicky voice. “I got scared. They said they were going to lock me up for my own good and I had the gun in my purse and that Smith man was being so mean. It just sort of happened. I didn’t mean to kill him, but he broke down the door and he was threatening me and I shot him.”
“It’s okay.” I said cursing myself for not checking the door like a professional should. “If he broke down the door then it was an illegal entry and you acted in self defense. We just have to work up a decent story is all.”
“I’m just so scared.” She said. “I thought I saw Opus following me a little while ago. Church knows I’m alive and he’s sent Opus to kill me.”
“Calm down.” I said, trying to sound soothing. “Church only knows what I’ve told him and I haven’t told him anything. Church is in the dark vis you.”
“He knows I’m alive.” She pleaded, and then her tone changed slightly, “You have to help me kill him. We have to kill him and then we can be free of all this. We’ll go away somewhere, just you and I.”
“We can probably find a way to make sure he goes away or something.” I said, trying not to whine. “I don’t want there to be anymore killing.”
“Well, I don’t know of anyone we can trust who could arrest Church.” She was on the verge of panicking again.
“Just calm down.” I said, trying to sooth again. “Where are you? I’ll come get you and we can just sit down and talk it out, okay?”
“Okay.” She said. “I’m at the mall, near the food court.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes.” I said, and headed to the most secret public meeting place in the world.
This is part twenty-two of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part twenty-three 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.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 21: The Same Gun
I pulled the phone towards me and used the speed dial to call Frost’s number. After exactly three rings he picked it up and I could almost see his hand raising it to his ear. I heard the sound of a crystal brandy snifter being set down and then his breath was in the receiver before his voice came.
“Yes Mister Collier?” Frost said.
“Hello Mister Frost.” I said, trying to form my words with great care. “This is broadly speaking a courtesy call, but I’ve been bothered by something for a little while now and I was hoping you might be able to help.”
“What ails you?” He asked.
“How did you know what the shooter was drinking but not be able to tell who it was?” I asked. “And was it the same gun that killed Noonan?”
“You’re asking how I gather information.” He said.
“Well, no.” I said, realizing that I was. “I was sort of hoping you could help without telling me that.”
“An agent told me what the drink was. They were on hand as soon as the shooting occurred. You may have noticed that they are annoyingly precise in unimportant details.”
“Yes they are.” I said. “What about the gun?”
“That is a bit odd.” He said. “There were two guns at each killing. The bullets that killed the boys shattered in their heads and I understand they couldn’t reconstruct the fragments. They can however compare the shells these days and the guns that shot the two boys also killed Noonan.”
“What’s odd about it?” I asked.
“The guns are a pair of Drexel twenty-fives that Christmas owned, but she couldn’t have done it.” He cleared his throat, which was like a massive scream of panic from him. “She was in the hospital, and is now dead.”
“Unless she’s in my apartment.” I said.
“You have a dead body in your apartment?” It was as if he unable to grasp the concept.
“No.” I told him. “She showed up this morning telling a tale of about a young actress taking her place for the last few months. Only when I talked to the mother of said actress, in response to the missing persons report filed the day after the attack, she said her daughter had only just gotten the job.”
“Are you suspecting the person who was supposed to be dead and is now in your apartment?” Frost asked.
“She’s either lying to cover up something, or she’s not sure how much she can trust me.” I said.
“Those are broadly the same thing.” Frost said after some thought.
“You always do that to me.” I grumbled.
“Tell me your suspicions.” Frost commanded.
“Noonan was involved in a cover-up.” I reported, “I think he planted one of the wallets, he might have even been involved in smashing Sandy Cloose’s face in. I don’t know who exactly is behind it, but I suspect Christmas knew it was coming and took measures.”
“Then to what extent did she know things?” Frost asked, trying to sound simply interested.
He wasn’t just interested though, under his calm façade I could hear something I’d never heard before, or since come to think about it. He sounded concerned, and maybe even a little worried. I’d never known him to do anything but radiate confidence bordering on arrogance. Now though, he actually sounded like he might think about being scared one day.
“I’m not sure.” I said trying to find a way to excuse her.
“Very well.” He sighed, and it almost sounded like a guillotine’s blade falling to scythe her head off. “What arrangements have you made for her?”
“I locked her in and told her not to come to the door.” I told him, and then nearly slapped my hand over my stupid mouth to stop it from telling him where exactly he might find the key on my body after he had someone shoot me.
“It will take some time for anyone to get to your office.” He said, and I could see him checking his watch in my minds eye. “Stay where you are, someone will come and get you in an hour.”
“Okay.” I lied. “I’ll wait here.”
“We’ll have to put her away for her own good, and then we can work out what has happened and what’s going to happen as a result.” He said, sounding a lot like Smith only less reptilian and a billion times more dangerous to cross. “We probably don’t need to alarm her, I’ll send someone over and you can go get her with them.”
“Yeah.” I continued to lie. “No problem. Whatever.”
“Fine.” He said. “I will see you in three hours.”
He hung up and I put the phone down in its cradle, wondering how much time I might have. I stood up slowly and then ran across my office in three steps, putting on my coat as fast as I could manage. I threw the door open and stepped into the middle office where Debbie was pecking madly at her keyboard. I put my hand in my pocket and discovered it was taking my safety deposit key from my ring. I didn’t notice at first, but words were pouring from my mouth without any help at all from my brain.
“Give me the Webly and then go in my office and grab the two boxes of bullets. I haven’t got time to explain, but if anything stupid happens, go to my bank and get the money out of my box. Take it and get the hell out of here. Don’t worry about me, just take the money and run.”
I slapped the key down on her desk and picked up the Webley-Fosbery from the place where she’d left it. I slipped it into my right coat pocket on top of my gloves, which was likely to cause trouble later. She came out of my inner office with a box of bullets in each hand. I took them and dropped them both into my left hand pocket, grabbing my keys and looking around at the office for anything I might need.
I felt like this might just be the last time I’d see the office. I looked at Debbie, seeing her as something more than a secretary for the first time in a long time. I stretched my left hand out and she took it in both of hers. It occurs to me now that this is possibly the most intimate we’ve been with each other. I gave them a squeeze and then put on my hat and went out the door. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could and saw an amazing sight as I walked onto the sun-drenched parking lot. Opus was standing in the parking lot standing over a couple of agents who were laying in puddles of what looked like blood, but could have been melt off from the snow which was no longer in evidence.
I couldn’t tell if Smith was among the fallen, but it was definitely Opus standing over them, a long and wide knife clutched in his hand. He turned to me and a broad smile came across his face. He then gritted his teeth and licked his lips, before starting to charge towards me. I reached into my coat for the Webly, deciding to kill him, but the hammer of the gun caught on my coat pocket and I couldn’t do anything. He was fairly close when he swung the big blade in my direction.
I jumped back, slipped on the last piece of external ice in the tri-county area, and landed flat on my back onto the concrete. Opus stood over me, his big knife ready to carve me up like a Thanksgiving turkey, or possibly a Christmas ham. One has to consider the season when one is about to be cut to ribbons. I let the Webley go and swung my left leg up as fast as I could, pivoting my hips and bringing my right leg in for a sweep. Opus’s legs left terra firma and a moment later, he was the one on the ground and I was standing over him. I didn’t actually stand as such. I more crouched before jumping on him.
I would like to report a highly interesting and cinematic fight took place, one with much kicking, and high flying that would require wires and imagination to recreate on film. I would like to impress you by my great knowledge of eastern fighting arts, and my memorization of each pressure point. I would like to do all that, but then I wouldn’t be telling you the truth. In reality my fists came down on his face with all the speed and strength I could muster.
The first bullet didn’t make any noise as it left the barrel of the gun. In fact the only sound it made was as it smacked a hole in the side of the black SUV the agents had come in. The large hole with the circle of lost paint just sort of appeared along with the sound of someone smacking a car door with a baseball bat. I leapt off Opus, who started to roll away as other gun shots tore into the SUV just above me. I pulled my Marley from its holster and fired in the direction of the shooting, only to miss by miles because I was firing too high. If you shoot at elves, you should shoot where their heads are instead of where a normal person might keep them.
“Come on.” Cocoa’s voice called out. “Opus, c’mon!”
Hardrock and Joe fired at me from the side of their car as Opus ran towards them. The door opened and he got in and the four of them drove off. I fired two rounds at the back of the car, cracking the rear window, which would give the police a way to track them easily. Or at least it would, if the police weren’t in on it with them. Everyone was on the wrong side this week it seemed. I ran to my car and drove out of the parking lot like a restrained bat out of hell. I couldn’t speed away, but I had to get away fairly quickly.
In the car I pulled out my cell phone and found the number Church had given me for his cell. I hit the send button and the phone started to ring, I drove as carefully as I could while waiting for him. It seemed to take forever for the rings to happen. Each ring seemed to be approximately as long as the Gettysburg Address and the pauses in between would have had Stanley Kubrick tapping his fingers with annoyance. After three rings, which took about four hours, Church answered.
“I thought you said Opus was dead.” I accused him without so much as a ‘hi’ or ‘how ya doing’ from my lips.
“I saw him shot three times.” Church said. “I thought you said the Fat Man was plugged a bunch of times with a nine.”
“That’s what I was told.” I said.
“Well the police think he was shot three times and that the person must have been right on top of him because of how small the rounds were.”
“How small?” I asked.
“It was a twenty-five, they haven’t been compared with the guns that killed the other guys yet. They would have to have been right on top of him, no shooting from across the room for this. It’s a pretty under powered gun.”
“Fuckmonkeys.” I muttered.
“I beg your pardon?” Church said.
“Where are you now?” I asked.
“Because your ex-wife isn’t dead,” I told him, proving that subtlety is one of my strong points. “A ringer was put in at the last moment.”
“That’s a very poor joke.” Church said.
“As poor as having Opus nearly cut me open despite his being killed yesterday?” I demanded, probably louder than I should have.
“You have a point.” He agreed. “I can be at Fire Fighter’s Park in ten minutes.”
“I’ll be there in five.” I said. “Back by the pond, you’ll know me because I’ll either be feeding the ducks or because your visual cortex is still connected to your memory.”
I hung up the phone and started to drive to Fire Fighter’s Park, trying to keep my hands from shaking. It wasn’t easy, but I would have at least five minutes before Church got there to try and sort out my thoughts. I pulled into the parking lot and chose as spot as close the pond as I could get without walking out into open ground.
It’s not like Troy is exactly a sniper’s paradise, but if someone was waiting for me there, they would have had plenty of places to hide while getting their aim. If there was such a sniper, I hoped they had been given at least one doughnut. Oh sure, the smell of a doughnut might give their position away, but if they were going to wait for me they should have something to eat.
I got out and walked across the gravel path towards the pond, looking at the clear sky and then the sparkling water. I approached the pond and saw that a few industrious sparrows were still scratching around on the ground, trying to find something they could charitably call food. The air felt more like early spring than early winter, and the sun had scorched away all the snow a while ago. It was warm under the bright sun, and I slid off my coat as I waited, taking the opportunity to remove the Webley from my pocket carefully and sliding it into my pants at the small of my back.
It was actually a beautiful day, and that depressed me. That we should have to do this on such a lovely spring morning that had gotten lost and arrived months ahead of it’s brothers. It also depressed me, because I do like a bit of snow for the Vague Early Winter Possibly Religious Festival. I’m not a big time participant, but I do like a bit of snow now and then. I looked out at the street, which I could just see around some playground equipment, and waited for Church to arrive.
For a moment, I thought I could smell a single donut in the air, but I was probably being paranoid.
This is part twenty-one of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part twenty-two 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.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 20: Sandy Cloose
A lot of the snow had vanished in the bright sun and was still melting away. I guess it hadn’t snowed as hard as I’d thought last night. There were blades of grass sitting up between the broken dusting of white that still remained, by noon you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that it had snowed at all.
When I got into the parking lot I saw an interesting sight. There was a large black SUV parked next to the slot I normally took and as I was pulling into my parking space, the door of the SUV opened and Smith got out with a box of doughnuts. Because of the sun, he was still wearing his large sunglasses, but with the doughnuts he almost looked like a gecko that was trying to imitate human behavior. It wasn’t human, it wasn’t even mammalian, but there was a feeling of “Oh look he’s doing cute little human things with his hands” that I found sort of endearing. Also, since he had doughnuts, we could almost be like friends.
I got out of the car and looked at the agent and his doughnuts, trying not to smile a little. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a peace offering or if he’d planned a long stake out and he was still just holding the box because it had been on his lap in the car.
“Morning Collier.” He said.
“Those for me?” I asked,
“It’s early.” He said looking down at the box. “I haven’t had anything to eat yet, I figured you hadn’t either.”
“That’s almost civil of you.” I said taking the box from his unresisting hands.
“Let’s go in, and you can explain why I needed to come down here.” He said as I pulled a vanilla cream from the box.
“She’s alive.” I said as I turned and started towards the door.
“What do you mean?” Smith asked at my heels.
“I mean Christmas isn’t dead.” I said as we went up the stairs.
He took the box from me and pulled out a piece of fried dough that was as dusted with powered sugar as the lawn outside. He stuffed it in his mouth and began to chew as we went up the stairs. He must have been very hungry, as I’ve gone whole meetings without ever noticing him blink or even breathe. Now he was munching in a way that a living breathing animal might if it was famished, unlike the dead-hearted thing he was.
“She’s lying low at my place, so it might be good for you to have some people watch my place and make sure no one comes or goes.” I said over my shoulder as we went into my office. “Morning Debbie.”
“Just barely.” She said as Smith and I crossed to my inner office.
Smith already had his phone out and was talking to someone as I started taking my coat off. He was telling whoever was on the other end to watch my house but that they shouldn’t actually do anything unless someone besides me tried to get in. As he was speaking I took off my coat and then waved a hand at him to get his attention.
“See if there is a missing person’s report for a Sandy Cloose.” I said.
“Spelling?” He asked.
“I only heard it.”
“Look for a missing report on a Sandy Cloose.” Smith said and then shook his head. “No idea, it’s probably recent though. We probably don’t need to run a search beyond this month. See if there are any relatives we can talk to or anything.”
It hadn’t struck me when I told him, but I had a feeling that the report was probably only a few days old as well. I needed another donut. I picked up the box, pulled a jelly doughnut from it and started to chew. It was good, and it fortified my body with the energy I would need for the day. It seemed like I was going to have a very long day today, I could just sort of tell.
Smith was writing something down on a pad of paper and then hung up his phone and slipped it in his pocket. He looked at the pad of paper for a long time and then his snake like eyes flicked towards me. He sighed, tore the slip from his pad and held it out for me to see. I took it from him and saw a phone number and the name ‘Helen Cloose’ written on it.
“Her mother filed the report the day after Christmas was attacked.” Smith said. “Which means, I guess, the day after Sandy was attacked.”
“You’re going to give me this to just run with?” I asked.
“Right now, you and I are the only people who know Christmas isn’t dead.” Smith said. “At least as far as we know.”
“And Debbie.” I said. “And of course Christmas knows.”
“Fine.” Smith said and rolled his eyes. “Four of us that you and I know about know she’s not dead.”
“So what, you can’t look this up?”
“I start looking it up, and people start wanting to know why. I’ve got to file reports and things. I’ve got to be accountable.”
“You sure you work for the government?” I asked.
“And you said you thought Detective Noonan was in on it, so how do I know no one from my agency isn’t in on it?” Smith asked taking another doughnut. “Whoever has done this has killed at least five people and has tried to kill more. We must protect what little secrets we have.”
“What do we do about her though? I can’t hide her at my place forever.” I said, realizing that it probably wouldn’t come to that anyway.
“Tonight, we can take her into custody. We can protect her, keep her in a secure place until she has to perform and then tuck her back until we can figure out who’s doing this and make them stop.”
“What if there isn’t anyone doing this?” I asked, trying not to feel like a bastard for suspecting the victim. “What if she did it?”
“Then we can just leave her in the prison after her show.” Smith said setting down his doughnut. “We have her tell everyone that she’s very scared after the attack and she’s only going to come out of hiding each year to do the show.”
“You’d just keep her in prison and let her do the show every year?”
“It’s an idea.” Smith said, and I could see the reptile gleam in his eye again. “The world needs Christmas. Or something during the Vague Early Winter Possibly Religious Festival season to let off that last bit of steam before winter really kicks in.”
“Well, let’s find out who really did it first, shall we?” I asked, disgusted that I’d actually listened to his plan for a moment.
“We shall indeed.” He said cracking his knuckles. “Frankly, I hope it’s Church. I would enjoy a reason to take him off the street.”
“I’m sure you would.” I said, masking my annoyance perfectly.
“You’re going to call the mother?” Smith asked.
“Yeah.” I nodded at him.
“I won’t keep you then.” He said standing up. “We’ll have to figure something out about her though.”
“Yes we will.” I said.
“I’ll call you later.” He said and turned to go.
I watched him leave, and wondered if I could just shoot him and place a baseball bat covered in blood in the back seat of his SUV. Probably not, they were probably just from a motor pool and would be checked each night. It wouldn’t be possible that he’d have the bat in the car this many days later. I looked at my office phone and decided that I would have to call Frost and let him know that his precious show might just be able to go on as planned.
First I decided to call Sandy Cloose’s mother though, and what a tough job that would be. I decided to just gather information if I could. I would try to play it as cool as I could, and certainly try not to let on that her daughter was dead. I picked up the phone and dialed. After a few rings, a woman’s voice answered.
“Hello?” she said.
“Mrs. Cloose?” I asked.
“Yes.” She confirmed.
“My name is Jack Collier, I’m a private detective.” I said.
“Is this about my daughter?” She asked.
“Sort of.” I said, trying not to let the damn burst. “Can you tell me when she disappeared?”
“The day before Christmas was attacked.” She said. “The police said I had to wait before I could file a report, but she’s never been out more than a day without calling.”
“What was she doing when you saw her last?” I asked to as not to tell her that her daughter was no more. “What was she supposed to be doing that day?”
“She was excited because she’d just gotten a new job. She was supposed to start that night. Working with one of the show people. She wouldn’t say which one, but she was supposed to be some kind of stand-in.”
“She was standing in for Christmas.” I said. What the hell, she had to find out sometime. “I think she might have been attacked instead of Christmas. I’m not certain, but the police are looking into it. If you call a federal agent named Smith, and tell him I told you to call, he can help you find your daughter.”
“You mean it was her that…” She let it trail off.
“I think so.” I said, and heard nothing else but sobs for a long time.
The phone must have fallen from her grasp because I heard it bang once against something. I then heard her shriek with rage and something that sounded like a drying rack full of dishes smashed to the ground and she screamed with anger. Someone else came to the room and there was a half intelligible discussion made up of screams and sobs. Finally a man’s voice came to the phone, he sounded like his heart had been broken, but he also sounded determined.
“Give me the number of this man.” The voice said. I simply obeyed him. “And this man will be able to tell us what happened to our daughter?”
“Yes sir.” I said. “I think so.”
“Give me your name again.” I did so.
He didn’t say thank you, or give me any sign that the conversation was over. He just hung up on me. I didn’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to talk to some private detective at a time like this either. He probably didn’t really want to talk to a federal agent either, but he was going to have to in order to get his daughter’s remains back.
I hoped I was right, it wouldn’t be fair to put them through all that to find it wasn’t their little girl. Sadly, I knew that I wasn’t wrong, that family had been destroyed by this affair. I felt like it was raising the death toll from five to seven, since I was fairly sure that the death of their daughter would kill both of them. I also wondered for a moment how Smith would go about keeping the two of them quiet now, particularly since he would have to give them the facts. If he lied to them, I would shoot him myself, and I think he probably knew that.
I leaned back and looked at the phone, if only to confirm what I knew in my heart I was going to have to call. I knew she’d lied to me though, she hadn’t had that young woman for months, only just a few days. I leaned forward and looked at the phone, knowing that I needed to dial.
This is part twenty of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part twentry-one 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.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 19: Where Have You Been?
I am not what you might call a morning person. I’m much more a mid-afternoon person who is forced by unreasonable circumstances to get up in the morning. It was late morning though and Christmas standing in the middle of my living room was a bit of a shock to wake up to. Not a completely unwelcome shock or an unpleasant one, but a shock nonetheless. I mean, she was supposed to be dead and in a morgue. Not that I had believed that, but it was a bit of a surprise to find the proof of that fact standing here in front of me.
She didn’t look like she had the last time I’d seen her on TV, she looked thinner, leaner, like she’d been working out in secret. In some ways, she looked younger too, although that might have been just because I’d thought she looked prematurely old lately. The bags under her eyes seemed to have receded, her dress size was down to one digit, and she seemed to have a clear expression of mind. In many ways, she looked better than I had ever seen her. She looked beautiful, and wonderful in the golden rays of the morning sun.
She just stood there, smiling at me in my torn t-shirt and sweatpants. She seemed to glimmer in the light of the sun as it shot through the window and filled the room with an orange tint. She looked out the window at the snow covered landscape and then at me. I looked down at my sleeping gear and then looked up at her smiling face, which seemed to glow not so much with the golden dawn but with an inner light. It probably was just the sunlight though, and my fuzzy frame of mind.
“Hi.” She actually didn’t say that, but I have to pretend she did to start the dialogue for this section.
“Morning.” I said rubbing the stubble on my chin. “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
“Well, that’s what CNN says anyway.” She said sitting down on the couch and crossing her legs demurely.
“And what do you say?” I asked, trying not to interrogate her.
“I’m breathing.” She said smiling again. “I’m fine. You still have this couch.”
“It’s a good couch.” I lied.
“No it isn’t.” She said, shaking her head. “Are you that hard up, or have you kept it out of sentimental remembrances?”
“If I kept every piece of furniture we did it on, I’d never replace anything.” I said.
“This was where we did it first though.” She smiled up at me, and slid her legs together in a way that meant she had gone from her left crossed over her right to the other way around without ever letting them get far enough apart to show anything.
It meant that my attention was drawn to the two muscular pegs rubbing against each other. She never did play fair. However, in thinking that she was succeeding in distracting me, I remembered what she was distracting me from. That’s the problem with a mind like mine, distract me and I wonder why and leap toward what you want me to look away from when if I’d been left to my own devices I might never bring it up again.
“So who got her face kicked in?” I just couldn’t help it.
“Back in August, when Thanksgiving went missing, I decided I needed a double.” The smile faded as she realized what had happened to that stand-in, or at least I’d like to think so. It might just be she realized I wasn’t going to be distracted. “She looked enough like me, sounded enough like me.”
“So you’ve been in hiding since August?” I didn’t want to bombard her with questions, I wanted to look at her legs, but there were so many questions and only so many legs.
“Yeah.” She nodded and then touched her throat. “Do you have anything to drink?”
“Yeah.” I said and looked towards the kitchen. “What would you like?”
“A glass of water to start.” She said.
I went to the kitchen to get her a glass of water and suddenly found myself wondering where my Marley was. If it was in my coat pocket I could be in trouble, if it was in the holster with my shirt I was probably okay. I couldn’t immediately explain why this thought went through my head, but there it was. I walked from the kitchen with the glass in hand and gave it to her. She took a sip and smiled at me again, a true show person, always smiling.
“I’ll just go get some actual clothes on.” I said pointing towards my bedroom.
“Why don’t you take a shower?” She asked standing gracefully. “We can go get some breakfast.”
“Um, yeah okay.” I said thinking about where the gun might or might not be.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to be too far away from the revolver, even if I couldn’t explain why exactly I wanted it near. Paranoia might sometimes be an unreasonable thing, but a lot of the time it turns out to be right. I didn’t want to risk that this time I was just being silly. I walked to my room and closed the door behind me, I pawed quickly through the clothes I’d discarded last night and found the Marley in its holster. I took it into the shower with me and stuck it on the shower rack with the shampoo. It might be that I was being paranoid, but it also might be that something was terribly wrong.
If nothing else, the dead were walking around and who knows if she wasn’t going to try and eat my brains or something. If she came busting through the door, I was going to be ready. As I washed my armpits I was ready. As I shampooed my hair, I was ready. As I sat and let the conditioner do its thing on my head, I was ready.
Of course, nothing happened, and I just felt a little foolish trying to keep the gun dry as I slipped it into the pocket of my bathrobe as I walked out of the bathroom and back into my bedroom. It might be that the reason nothing had happened was because I’d had the gun with me though. Even if you can’t see a gun, you can see how a man’s shoulders sit when he’s armed and ready. You never know about these things.
Either that or I’m just paranoid.
I got dressed, slipping the gun and holster in place under my suit coat. My cell phone rang and I reached out to pick it up. It was the office number, which meant Debbie was trying to find out what had happened to me. I looked at the clock and noticed that I was a good two hours late for work. I pressed a button and pushed the phone against my ear.
“Hi there.” I said as cheerfully as I could. “I overslept.”
“Well, you’ve had a busy night.” Debbie said as calmly as she could manage. “That’s what the paper is saying anyway. I thought we were a low profile agency.”
“Usually.” I said, trying to keep the cringe I was feeling out of my voice. “The thing is, right now…”
I stopped, trying to think of a way I could put this. How would I explain it, how would I tell her? Not only that, but how could I inform her while not informing any others who might be listening. I must have been thinking a lot longer than I thought because Debbie’s voice came back to me after a while. She sounded annoyed, and with good reason.
“Yes?” She asked.
“The Client is here.” I said, my voice dripping with meaning.
“What? Church? The police want him, so do the feds. Smith’s had some pimply fifteen-year-old here waiting and staring at my chest all morning.”
“No, not that client.” I said. “He was just paying some bills.”
“The original client.” I said, forcing even more meaning into my voice. If I needed much more meaning she’d think I was trying to use the bathroom. “The one I told the Fat Man I was going to be working for?”
“That client is dead Jack.” She said, trying not to give too much away.
“You come to my apartment and tell her that.”
“If I said I was deadly serious, that would be a very bad joke.” I said while thinking that trying to come up with a better line than that was too much effort. Honestly, I was disappointed in myself though.
“What will you do then?”
“I would like to put her somewhere safe, but the only place I can think of is the office.”
“No.” She said. “That wouldn’t work because you’d need to bring doughnuts.”
“Is he in the office right now?”
“Looking at my chest, as I said.” She reminded me. “No, now he’s gotten embarrassed and is pretending to look at a magazine.”
“Okay, then the office is out.” I said, and an idea dawned on me. “Tell him to go get Smith and bring him to the office.”
“What?” She asked, almost shouting it. “Are you sure about that?”
“Yes.” I said, making my voice as calm as I could. “Very sure. I’m not sure I trust anything right now and this is not a situation I want to go into on my own. I need to make sure that someone else knows about this. Besides, Smith just might be able to take things off my hand and keep her safe.”
“Okay.” She said, her breath seeming to catch in her throat a little.
“Don’t worry.” I said, thinking about the keyboard she had as her only weapon. “In the second drawer down on the right hand side of my desk is that Webley revolver. Why don’t you go grab it once the kid leaves and hang on to it at your desk?”
“You think it might get that bad?” She asked.
“No idea.” I said. “I’m just being extra careful at the moment.”
“Yeah.” She said, sounding a little more worried than I wanted her to if she had an audience. “I’ll do that in a little while.”
“Okay.” I said. “I’ll be in the office in a little bit.”
“See that you are.” She admonished.
“Will you have any doughnuts for me?”
“No.” She said. “You’ll have to get your own.”
“Damn.” I said.
“You’ll just have to deal with the effects of your own wickedness.” She reminded me.
“Yeah. I guess I will. Bye, bye.”
I hung up and looked at the door to my room. I opened the door and found Christmas sitting on the chair, looking out the window and holding a smoldering cigarette, proving there were certain habits that she still hadn’t broken. She looked at me as I came out and stubbed the cigarette out on a plate she was using as an ashtray. She smiled at me apologetically and waved her hand at the smoke to try and dispel it.
“I still smoke.” She said waving her hand furiously. “I needed a smoke.”
“That was the office.” I said pointing at my room with my thumb as if that meant anything. “Something else has come up. Where are you staying?”
“I was staying at a hotel until last night when I came over here.” She said toying with her purse. If she pulled a gun right now, the gun under my arm might as well have been in Yonkers for as fast as I could get to it.
“Where have you been for the last few months then?” I asked as she opened the purse and pulled a pack of cigarettes from it.
When she set the purse down on the table next to her, it was held open by the metal supports on the side of the purse. I could see into the purse and could plainly make out the small short-barreled Drexel revolver she was keeping in there with her cigarettes.
“Mostly at my house.” She said pulling a fresh cigarette out of the pack, still absentmindedly. “I still had to perform business, but I decided that I’d have this imposter come and go in public for me.”
“But you decided to make a run for it when they attacked your doppelganger?” I asked, and suddenly realized that it made no sense. She could have stayed in her house with her guards and been safe.
“I didn’t know who was behind it.” She said pulling out her lighter from the purse, dipped her head and lit the cigarette. “It might have been the Fat Man, or Church, or someone else. If they knew where I should be, they might have discovered it wasn’t me in the hospital.”
“Right.” I nodded, and despite the fact that it didn’t, I still said, “Makes sense.”
“So I needed to hide out.” She tossed the lighter back into the purse and then closed it to shield the Drexel from view.
“So why come to me?”
“You know how to keep me safe. You always knew.” She blew out a plume of smoke and smiled at me again. “I should have never let you get away from me.”
“Who do you thinks behind it then?”
“It’s got to be Church. It was either him or the Fat Man and now the Fat Man’s dead.” She said waving her hand, a trail of smoke tracing the air where her hand had been. “I mean he killed the Fat Man too, he’s out to get everyone.”
“Can you stay here another hour or two?” I asked her. “I’ll close the blinds and everything.”
“Why?” She asked, looking a little panicked.
“If I need to protect you from somebody with a whole syndicate, I’ll need a bit of help.” I said rubbing my now smooth chin. “I mean they didn’t think anything of shooting Noonan in the back. I’ll need more than just me.”
“Who will you get to help?” She asked.
“I’m not sure.” I said, still rubbing my chin. “I’ll probably just hire a few guys I know and not tell them who we’re protecting. You remember Chuck Strubel right?”
“Big guy?” She asked. “Not as big as the Fat Man, but big?”
“Yeah.” I said. “I’ll get him. Either that or I can call some feds and get them to put a bunch of agents around you.”
“I don’t trust the feds.” She said, and a look of disgust crossed her face. “For all I know, they’re with whoever’s doing this to me. Can’t you just get me to the same place you’ve got Thanksgiving?”
“Well I can see about that.” I said thoughtfully.
“I’d like to be safe.” She smiled.
“What was this woman’s name?” I asked suddenly
“What?” She looked and sounded thrown. “Why would you need that?”
“Well eventually someone needs to tell her family what happened.”
“Oh. Right.” She nodded as if this had never occurred to her before. “Sandy Cloose. She’s a local actress.”
“Will you be okay here for an hour or so?” I asked looking at my watch.
“Yeah.” She nodded. “I suppose.”
“Okay.” I grabbed my coat and slipped it on. “Don’t answer the door to anyone, keep the blinds drawn, just sit here and watch some TV. Somewhere on cable, It’s a Wonderful Life is playing.”
“Not anymore.” She corrected. “That hasn’t been true since the early nineties Jack.”
“I’ll come back as soon as I can get a hold of some people.” I said to change the subject.
“Thanks.” She said.
She then stood up and kissed me softly on the lips. She was warm, fragrant and wonderful. I could feel my spirits rise as her lips pressed gently against mine. I wanted to stay with her and tell Debbie to close up the office forever. I wanted to keep her safe and hold onto her and never let go. However, there was something hard that felt like the flat shape of an automatic in the front pocket of her jacket as she pressed against me. There was also that paranoia that had kept me out of human civilization for so long, and it was shouting at me. It knew that something was terribly wrong, even if the rest of me couldn’t quite work out what it was. Two guns was a problem, even if she were on the run. My higher brain was in a dull haze, but something deep in the reptile brain wanted to snap and scream.
I broke away from her though, after a much longer period of kissing than I’d meant to be involved in. I walked out into the bright sun’s light and locked the door behind me. I walked to the car and drove to the office, trying to decide what about this situation seemed the most wrong. The whole damn thing was wrong, so the main challenge was deciding which wrong was the most wrong out of the whole wrong thing.
This is part nineteen of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part twenty 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.
Hard Boiled Christmas
A Jack Collier Mystery
By Brett N. Lashuay
Day 18: Standing in the Snow
I watched the agents move around the crime scene, knowing that their efforts would come to nothing. Knowing what kind of car the killer had driven wasn’t going to help solve this case. Being able to tell at exactly what angle the shooter had fired the bullets would be useless as well. Anyone who had deliberately worn bigger boots to cover their tracks probably had covered all the others as well. Once they had gotten away, they were gone.
I’d given my statement about nine times already, and although it covered all the pertinent points, it was a load of cheese water. I think that if you took apart my statement, and sifted it very finely, you might find ten words that were honest. I even told them that Noonan had eaten sweet & sour pork, just to see if they would call me on it. Our meals hadn’t been cleared up by the staff of the restaurant yet, and so they were on display for the world to see. All one had to do was look. I was standing on my own by my car when Smith broke away from a gathering of his agents and walked towards me. He stopped about ten feet away from me and crossed his arms.
Because of the late hour, he wasn’t wearing his big sunglasses, which lessened the lizard-like look of his normal appearance. He slid his thin tongue out of his mouth and licked his top lip very carefully. He then walked another seven feet until he was closer to me than I would ever like him to be. I found it odd that his breath didn’t show in the cold air, but then if he was as cold-blooded as I thought, then it probably wouldn’t.
“You want to tell me what really happened?” He asked as his eyes fixed on me. He knew deep in his heart that I was in trouble, and I knew I was in trouble. He must have been thinking that I couldn’t possibly be as dumb as I look and would give him the straight story if he just asked nicely.
“Did you ever find her ring?” I asked back, proving that I am about as stupid as I look.
“No.” He said shaking his head. “Did you find it?”
“Not a trace.” I said and then started to move in on my point. “Did you fingerprint Christmas after she died?”
“No.” Smith said, looking sort of shocked by the suggestion. “Why should we? She’s been identified.”
“By her wallet.” I said smiling at him. “Of which there were two of them. Except now there is only one.”
“So we should run a check?’ He asked.
“Well if you want.” I said shrugging and then dropped my bomb. “I’ll bet you a million billion dollars that it isn’t Christmas that died in the hospital. That was never her. It was an imposter, and Noonan knew something.”
“How do you know this?” Smith asked.
“Noonan’s face showed it in the restaurant when I mentioned the ring and the two wallets. Tom was scared. He’d helped set this thing up to some degree and he never thought about how bad it would get. He’d clearly gotten into something bigger than he thought. He knew the jig was up, he just didn’t know how much I knew. He was going to try and work it out of me, which is why he had his gun out. I sapped him and when he got up from that, someone shot him. If his nerves hadn’t been so jangled, I would have never gotten to hit him like I did.”
“So then where is Christmas?” Smith asked.
“No idea.” I shrugged. “Maybe she’s been dead for months, maybe she went into hiding like Thanksgiving did and put a ringer out for safety’s sake. I have no idea, but when you find her, she’ll have that ring on.”
“How sure are you about this?”
“I wouldn’t bet you a million billion dollars if I thought the government couldn’t pay up.” I said with a confidence that bordered on arrogance.
Smith watched me with those reptilian eyes for a very long time. I decided to look back at him. Being a warm-blooded creature, and also alive, the cold air was starting to get to me. However, I wasn’t going to be the one to break our staring contest so I kept looking at him. He took in a deep breath and let it out through his nose after what seemed like hours. I took in air and let it out, showing him the plume of steam that comes from a warm-blooded creature just to rankle him.
“Do you know where Church is?” He asked, not blinking at all.
“Then neither do I.” I explained.
“Would you have told me if I said I did know?”
“No.” I said trying not to shake my head because it would break the stare. “It would also have told me exactly where Church was. If you knew where he was, you’d have arrested him. As it is, I don’t actually know where he is right now.”
“What about the claim that his man servant shot the Fat Man?”
“I doubt it. I have information that Opus was shot about five to ten minutes after the Fat Man, and that before that time he was with Church.”
“You’re suddenly a fountainhead of all kinds of useful information aren’t you?” he asked.
“I’ve always been. I just never gave much to you.”
“I see.” He said, biting his lip momentarily. It was quite a feat really, I was amazed that his teeth could sink into something so narrow. “Do you know where Thanksgiving is?”
“You’d have to ask in another way.” I said.
“What sort of way is that?” Smith asked, although I sort or felt there was a bit of resignation in his voice, which made him almost mammalian. “The sort where I get a judge to threaten to put you away if you don’t tell us? That sort of way?”
“I can be a pain in the ass, can’t I?” I skirted the border of arrogance again, but barely avoided invading. “You’d also have to show why you really need to know, and then I tell you somewhere while signaling to outsiders that he needs to move and by the time you work out where he was, he won’t be there anymore.”
“Do you really not trust us?” He hissed. “Or do you think you’re being clever or careful or what?”
“Why Smith, I trust you as much as I trust any man.” I said, not finishing the statement to point out that the only people I’ve ever found I could really put my trust in are all women.
“I’ll have the prints checked.” He said after what seemed like another hour.
“That’s quite charitable of you.” I said, trying to sound as close to friendly as I could get with Smith.
“You can probably go.” He said turning on his heel, which meant I won the staring contest. “If we need you, we’ll come find you.”
“Don’t forget.” I said too his narrow shouldered back. “A million billion dollars.”
“You know.” Smith said turning. “I almost hope you’re wrong, we could use the budget influx.”
“While I would enjoy trying to collect the money, it would explain too many things if you’re right.”
“Nice to know it would be appreciated.” I crossed my arms against the cold. “Besides, it might mean that all will be well and she’ll show up at the last moment.”
“Yes.” He nodded just once. “But until then, perhaps we should keep this between yourself and myself.”
“No sense raising false hopes.” I agreed with a yawn. “And now I’m going home, so I can go to bed.”
“Good night then.” He turned and walked back to the gaggle of young agents.
I got into my car, thinking about how Smith had actually wished me a good night and noticed a black car at the edge of the parking lot. It was a small European model, and it was just sitting with its motor running. I could see the plume of the exhaust coming from the back of the car. I began to drive away and after I’d gotten out onto the road, the other car began to follow.
I wondered briefly if they had any doughnuts, and then started to make my way through the streets. After a little while of driving, I lost my tail and went home. I wondered about that small black car as I finally crawled into bed. Sleep came within a few moments and the world was replaced by a dream world.
In my dream, there was a banging at the door. I got out of bed and opened the door to find a familiar face. It was Christmas, and she was beautiful. It was a dream, so this Christmas was young, and thinner than her current incarnation. She smiled at me and I could feel my heart starting to give way suddenly. My body is supposed to be under control of my brain, but my brain let go of the handle bars and my body reacted all by itself.
“Hi.” She said. “I heard you’ve been working for me.”
My dream then got very weird, for the part about being at the door just ended right there. It’s not like I fainted, stress can’t effect you in a dream and even with the fatigue I was facing, seeing the dead wouldn’t do that because it was a dream. The next part of my dream involved many small hands carrying me, and then someone was putting me into my bed, and then there was a bit about Rita Hayworth giving a giraffe a hand job, which made about as much sense as anything else.
I must say though it was odd to wake up in the morning and find that there was a woman in my living room. When I stumbled out of bed to use the bathroom I noticed her and when I came back from that chore she’d stood up and was smiling at me. She was young, beautiful, and much thinner than she had been the last time I’d seen her, besides in the dream. The early sun glinting off the ring on her finger and its ruby flanked by two emeralds.
“Hi Jack.” She said smiling at me.
“Christmas.” I said her name aloud and then followed it with… “Son of a bitch.”
Had I been thinking, I would have looked out the window to check if I could see either Rita Hayworth, or the giraffe.
This is part eighteen of twenty-five, come back tomorrow for part ninteen 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.