Authors: R. Barri Flowers
Sometimes so did I, especially when it got me
into trouble. I drank more beer.
We both turned our heads as a brawl broke out
in the game and both benches emptied.
“These overpaid assholes today don’t know
what it means to fight,” complained Gus, unmoved. “In ‘Nam when we
fought, we kicked ass. It was kill or be killed.”
“Times have changed, Gus,” I told him,
glancing at the screen. “Most of them weren’t even in diapers back
then. Today the fight is not about war, but respect and higher
salaries. Unless you happen to be a private eye. Then you fight
sometimes just to stay in business.” I finished off my drink and
rose. “I’m outta here. See you later, Gus.”
“Yeah.” He lifted his massive body. “Drake?”
he called out.
“Have you given any more thought to comin’ to
work for me? We’d make a dynamite team, and all the drinks would be
on the house.”
He really was serious. I had to wrap my head
around that. “Still thinking about it, Gus,” I sort of promised.
“I’ll let you know—”
* * *
It was a cool night as I left Jasmine’s and
began the walk home. No sooner had I gotten into a groove when I
heard footsteps coming up behind me so rapidly that I failed to
react to them. Until it was too late. I was sandwiched by two large
men. It didn’t take me long to realize they were Ben Vincente’s
“You don’t listen too well, Drake.” Clarence
had me in a neck lock. “You were supposed to forget you ever heard
of The Worm.” He was stronger than I expected. I felt as if I was
having the life squeezed out of me.
Yet I foolishly remained defiant. “Kiss my
“This is gonna be fun,” hummed Dirk
He pounded his fists liberally into my sides,
stomach, and kidneys. Then used my face as a punching bag. All I
could do was watch, bleed, and wince from the pain.
As I sank to the ground, semi-conscious,
Clarence finished me off with a hard kick to the groin. Before I
passed out, I heard Dirk say: “If the asshole doesn’t get the
message this time, next time we’ll make sure he never walks
I wasn’t sure if I would ever even breathe
again at that point.
I woke up in Gus’s back room, lying on a not
so comfortable couch with an ice pack on my forehead. I was still
seeing stars, but managed to hone in on Gus’s concerned face.
“You had me real worried, D.J.,” he said
hovering over me like a bear to its cub. “A customer found you
sprawled out on the ground as if you’d been struck by a land
“I feel like I was.” My head pounded like it
was ready to explode into a thousand pieces. The rest of me wasn’t
feeling so hot either.
“What the hell happened?” Gus demanded.
“Two tons of rotten beef decided I was
sticking my nose where it didn’t belong.”
Gus’s face contorted with anger. “Sons of
bitches! Tell me what I can do to help.”
“This isn’t your fight, Gus,” I told him,
though I imagined if anyone could get physical with the likes of
Clarence and Dirk, it was Gus. “I’ll deal with them in my own
He looked at me skeptically. “Are you sure
you’ll live long enough to deal with anybody
That was a very good question. And I had no
sure fire comeback. I rose and my body collapsed back onto the
couch like a man too long without sleep. Or, perhaps, too much time
out like a light.
“Don’t try to get up, man,” said Gus. “An
ambulance is on the way.”
“Forget the ambulance,” I hissed. I hated
hospitals about as much as I hated pain. “I’ll be okay,” I
insisted. “Just need a few minutes to catch my breath.”
Gus tried valiantly to talk what he called
some God given sense into me. But I wasn’t about to let this
setback keep me down and out.
I managed to mask the pain and get to my
feet. “Thanks for being a buddy,” I told Gus, appreciating it more
than I could say. “But I can handle it from here.”
Somehow I made it home without falling on my
It took me a couple of days to get back on my
feet. I was bent on revenge, but more determined than ever to find
the man who was at the root of my aches and pains. But first I
thought it was time to pay Frank Sherman a visit.
* * *
Considering the fact that as a cop I had
often been at odds with the D.A.’s office, it was a strange feeling
to occasionally be working on their side. Since this was my first
time dealing with Frank Sherman as Deputy D.A., I hadn’t really had
a chance to feel him out. Things were happening that he hadn’t
bothered to enlighten me on. And I wanted to know why.
“You look like hell, Drake!” Sherman stated
without subtlety while seated at the desk in his posh office.
I didn’t doubt it. My face was still swollen
and bruised after being worked over. “You would, too, if you’d run
into two Mack truck bastards at full force.”
“You’re breaking my heart.” He sat there
smugly. “I never said there might not be a few bumps and bruises
along the way. Look, if finding Jessie Wylson is more than you can
handle, just say the word and I’ll pay you for your time and
“I can handle it,” I said as my voice rose an
octave. “All I want is for you to be straight with me. We both know
that you’ve got enough manpower at your disposal to go after a
hundred Jessie Wylsons. Why the hell aren’t you using it?”
“He’s only one scum of the earth out of
countless offenders we have to deal with on a daily basis,” Sherman
snorted, playing with a pencil like it was a baton. “That’s why I
“Cut me some slack, Sherman.” My eyes fixed
his sternly. “Why is the D.A.’s office really after Wylson?” My
instincts told me there was much more to it than he had let on.
He continued to play hardball. “I told
you—the man’s a drug dealer.” After a short breath, he said
patronizingly: “That’s all you need to know.”
All I need to know?
“I don’t think
so!” I leapt to my feet like I’d sat on a porcupine. “I’m getting
tired of this BS, man. You either give me some answers or find some
other asshole to do your dirty work.”
Sherman’s face turned blood red. He looked as
if he hadn’t counted on my smarts, anger, and ultimatum. “Sit
down,” he requested in a taut voice.
I did, but only after I gave him a moment or
two more to sweat.
“What do you want to know?”
“For starters, tell me about Ben
Sherman’s hairy brows rose. “Another asshole
on the streets who should be locked up for life. He’s been in and
out of the slammer for everything from pimping to extortion to drug
“What’s his connection to The Worm?” I had
rejected the notion that the two were really cousins.
“They did time together. Why?”
“Vincente knew you hired me to find Wylson.”
I leaned forward. “How do you suppose that leaked out?”
If Sherman was uncomfortable, he didn’t show
it. “Think about it,” he said evenly. “We’ve got snitches in and
out of here, arrestees trying to bargain their way out of trouble,
investigators who may open their mouths too much. There are a
million ways that information could have reached Vinny.”
My suspicions were
growing. “Since when does the Deputy D.A. of Multnomah County refer
to this ‘asshole who should be locked up for life’ as Vinny?”
I got the strong impression from Vincente
that his nickname was used primarily by people he was acquainted
with on friendly, or at least semi-friendly, terms.
was the nature of his relationship to Sherman?
He tried his best to dismiss any suggestion
of a personal connection to Vincente. “Everyone knows that Vinny is
short for Vincent or Vincente,” Sherman said with a straight face.
“My cousin’s name is Vinny, but that doesn’t mean I’m in cahoots
with the likes of a slimeball such as Ben Vincente—”
I wondered if he was trying to convince
himself or me. “Just curious,” I said in a way to make it seem as
if I really was. In reality, I wasn’t convinced that he was being
totally honest with me. I moved on, for now. “Is there anything
else you can tell me about Jessie Wylson that might help me to find
Sherman stared carefully at the question, but
responded as if the answer was obvious. “Like what? It’s all there
in the dossier. The man’s a career criminal hiding in a hole,
hoping his troubles will somehow disappear.” He sighed heavily.
“Not a chance in hell! The Worm’s going down, one way or the
One way or the other
couldn’t help but wonder exactly what Sherman meant by that. Was he
somehow suggesting that Jessie Wylson might be better off dead than
in police custody? I sensed that I had worn out my welcome and
stood, still left with more questions than answers.
At the door, I turned to Sherman and said
thoughtfully: “Someone from Jessie Wylson’s last known address—a
motel called Rest Rooms—phoned the police department. You don’t
suppose The Worm has any friends among our city’s finest, do
Sherman gave me a disbelieving look. “Are you
implying someone in the department is crooked?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“There’s nothing to indicate The Worm is
connected to anyone in the police department!” he roared. “If a cop
is going to go bad, it sure as hell isn’t going to be for a nobody
like Jessie Wylson.”
A nobody that Sherman wanted badly
as if The Worm in his own way was a somebody
. “If you say
so,” I said snidely.
“Ask anything you want, Drake,” Sherman tried
to say as if he meant it. “But ask something that makes sense.” He
sucked in air like it contained the secret to success. “Anything
“I’m sure I’ll think of something.” I left
the proverbial door open, figuring I might need to enter it at any
“Keep me posted,” advised Sherman. “And,
remember, we’re on the same side—”
I chose to keep my opinion to myself on that
Jogging was my instant answer to relaxation
and relieving tension. Even my over forty aches and pains that came
with age seemed to be put on hold when I ran. I spent a good hour
on the sidewalks, grass, and streets of Portland where there was
always something or someone interesting to look at, before making
my way back to my apartment.
I noticed Vanessa King entering the building
in the company of a man. He had his arm around her waist. When he
turned his head, I got a brief look at him. He was my skin color,
around forty-five, medium build, and had salt and pepper hair. It
was the first time I’d seen my vision of the ideal woman—graceful,
elegant, small, lovely—with another man.
A twinge of jealousy mixed with curiosity
overcame me, as if I had a right to know how she spent her time and
with whom. Was he the new man in her life or the prodigal
husband/boyfriend returned from wherever he had been keeping
himself for the past two months? Dreams die hard. I put my
disappointment on hold while turning my attention to one of the two
cases I had taken on.
It was just after three in the afternoon when
I showed up at Gregory Sinclair’s business address. I knew what he
was up to and who with, but decided to get more incriminating
evidence for Catherine to do with as she pleased. And the fact that
I was operating on twice my normal pay didn’t hurt my desire to
stretch this out one more day either.
Sinclair spent at least an hour at what I
later determined was a consulting firm bearing his name. From there
it was a restaurant meeting with a white male I presumed was a
client, and on to a florist. Now, I suspected, we were getting
somewhere. Sinclair emerged with two long stemmed pink roses. More
driving around the city ended at the Oregon Zoo.
Keeping a sufficient distance, I followed him
in. Sinclair shared peanuts with the elephants before his blonde
friend arrived by his side. I captured them with one hell of a
greeting kiss I was sure Catherine would love. Even the
presentation of the roses and the blonde’s exaggerated appreciation
gave ample evidence that this was not a meeting of the minds.
The cheating husband and blonde bimbo (I gave
her the benefit of the doubt) did enough smooching and giggling to
fill a couple of rolls of film. Even the elephants seemed to
notice. Then the giraffes and hippopotamuses. It was almost as if
Gregory Sinclair didn’t give a damn if he was caught with his hand
halfway or all the way in the cookie jar. Maybe he figured it was
worth it to get caught to rid himself of Catherine.
It was her problem. I wanted no further part
of her once this was over, whichever way her marriage ended up. I
figured I had more than enough evidence of a less than faithful
husband for Catherine Ashley Sinclair to mull over. The rest was up
to her. If, by chance, she wanted more intimate indiscretions to
present before the judge, I would gladly recommend another private
For me, the buck stopped here—and the bucks,
too. But I didn’t need the aggravation nor the qualms about spying
on a cheating husband for an unfaithful wife.
I arranged to meet Catherine Ashley Sinclair
at my office two days later when she called for an update. As if
she felt compelled, she explained that between social functions and
having her hair and nails done, she’d been too busy to concern
herself with her husband’s personal agenda.
Catherine stepped inside the door wearing
that same white hat tilted elegantly and an orange dress that
contoured to every part of her body as much, if not more, than the
red dress she had worn the night I met her at Jasmine’s. Matching
orange pumps seemed the perfect fit for this sexy woman of