Authors: Tim Maleeny
“Young man, get your ass in here.”
Gail gave Sam the come-hither motion with her hand, then disappeared inside her apartment. He’d barely made it halfway down the hall before her door had snapped open.
He stepped across the threshold, shut the door, and made his way to the living room, taking the seat he’d occupied the day before.
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?” he asked. “It’s late.”
“Sleep is for babies and drunks.”
“How’d you know I was coming?” asked Sam, wondering if maybe the girls down the hall were right, and Gail really was a witch.
“These walls are tissue paper.” Gail gestured vaguely toward the front door, the age spots on her hand making Sam think of a leopard. Fortunately her claws seemed to be retracted. “Besides, you have a very distinctive walk.”
Sam unconsciously rubbed his left leg where the bullet fragments had lodged so many years ago. He’d walked with a limp so long, he was the only one who didn’t notice it.
“What’s on your mind, Gail?” Sam tried to fight a yawn, lost, and gave into it.
“I figured you’d need some coffee.” She gestured at the service on the coffee table, surrounded by carefully arranged cookies and chocolates.
“Martha Stewart’s got nothing on you,” said Sam as he poured himself a cup.
“You want an almond cookie?” asked Gail, gesturing at a cluster of pale ovals to her right. “They’re to die for.”
Sam shook his head. “I’m good, thanks.”
“Are you?” Gail leaned forward, her eyes bright.
“Am I what?”
“Good,” said Gail. “Are you good, Sam?”
“I try to be.”
“Good answer, young man.” Gail nodded, satisfied for the moment. “Most people would say
yes, of course
I always do the right thing
. Let me tell you something—no one
does the right thing.”
“You going somewhere with this, Gail?” Sam leaned forward and refilled his cup.
“I don’t like bullshitters.”
“Me neither,” said Sam. “Who knew we had so much in common?”
Gail barked a laugh. “You’re waking up—I can tell from that smart mouth of yours.”
“The coffee is working.”
“That’s not what I meant,” replied Gail. “I can see it in your eyes. This case has you hooked.”
Sam put his cup down. “I’m not a cop anymore, Gail. There is no case.”
“Now who’s bullshitting?”
“You want to know if I talked to our neighbors.” Sam smiled despite himself.
“I’m not stupid, young man. I know you talked to our neighbors. I want to know what they said.”
“Shayla and Tamara, the “sexy young things,” think you’re a witch.”
Gail cackled. “I do like them,” she said. “But I called them pretty, not—”
Sam held up a hand. “Trust me, Gail, they’re sexy…and dangerous.”
Gail’s eyes were backlit. “How dangerous?”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Sam. “Dangerous to unsuspecting young men. But they didn’t kill our landlord.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Let’s just say they had him on a short leash.”
“He killed their dog,” said Gail.
“I just remembered that,” said Gail, “when you said leash. They had a cute little thing, white and fluffy. A Coton, at least I think that’s the breed.”
“And Ed killed it?”
Gail nodded. “He told them to get rid of the dog, even though our rental agreements clearly state pets are permitted. So naturally they refused.”
Sam thought of Shayla and Tamara, their
“A week later, the doggie was run over by a car, right in the courtyard. Behind the penguins, in fact.”
Gail shook her head dismissively. “Hit and run, so of course they couldn’t prove anything.”
Sam sighed. “But you know it was Ed.”
Gail clenched her jaw. “You should’ve seen the look on that bastard’s face the next time he saw those girls. I was there, sitting in the lobby waiting for a friend.”
“And this happened when?”
“About a month ago.”
Sam shrugged. “They didn’t mention it. Must have been more traumatic for you than them.”
Gail arched her eyebrows but didn’t say anything.
Sam took the bait. “I thought you liked them.”
“I do!” Gail leaned forward, put a hand on his knee. “They’re a couple of spitfires. They remind me of me.”
“But you just established a motive.”
“I’m just trying to help with the investigation.”
There is no investigation.
“Besides, I’m not suggesting you turn them in or anything.”
Sam laughed. “Even if they did it?”
“Nonsense. I’m just saying…”
“What are you saying, Gail?”
“I’m just saying that whoever killed out landlord did this community a great service.”
Sam shook his head but remained silent.
“What?” demanded Gail.
“Let’s just say, I’ve never seen an investigation like this, that’s all.”
Gail arched an eyebrow. “I thought you said there wasn’t an investigation?”
Sam turned his hands palms up. “You got me.” He put both hands on his knees and stood up.
“Time for me to go to bed,” he said.
“What about the others?” asked Gail, almost coming out her seat. “Those two suspicious-looking boys down the hall.”
“Who do you think I was having drinks with?”
Gail’s eyes went wide. “And…what do you think of them?”
“I think they are suspicious.” Sam moved toward the door. “But for a different reason.”
Sam ignored the question. He had reached the threshold, the door knob in his hand. “I also spoke with Jill.”
A deep smile as Gail said, “I like Jill.”
“So do I. Good night, Gail.”
Before she could say anything, Sam was out the door, leaving the interrogation room behind.
He was almost to his apartment when he heard the footsteps. Before he could turn, a hand seized his elbow with an iron grip. Sam started to pivot, his right hand cocked for a roundhouse punch, but he caught sight of his assailant before he finished the move.
A man of at least seventy stood before Sam, bright blue eyes fixed beneath a headband, the terrycloth kind worn on tennis courts in the 1970s. Glancing down, Sam noticed the rest of the outfit matched: a Fila shirt over white shorts, banded socks, and tennis shoes. He checked the guy’s other hand for a racket but only found a wristband, also terrycloth.
“Guess how old I am,” said the man.
“You want to let go of my elbow?”
The man complied. “How old?”
Sam shrugged. “Seventy?”
“Hah!” said the man. “Try 84, junior.”
Sam was genuinely impressed and said as much. “You look good.”
“You got that right,” replied the man, sticking his hand out. “I’m Gus.”
Sam nodded, remembering the name from his earlier conversations. He shook, reclaimed his hand. “Sam.”
“The cop down the hall.”
Gus waved a hand. “You retire, you die. You want my advice?”
“Does it matter?”
“Get back on the job,” snapped Gus. “Work keeps you young.”
“Work,” said Sam. “And tennis?”
Gus gestured toward his clothes. “More time on the courts, less time at the Doc’s. You play?”
Sam shook his head. “Got a bad knee.”
“Want me to pick you up?”
“Lift you in the air,” replied Gus. “Show you how strong I am.”
“Don’t think I can, do you?” Gus shifted sideways like a crab, started to bend into position.
Sam held out a restraining hand. “I’m sure you can, Gus. You’re a regular Jack Lalane. Now, if you don’t mind, I was just—”
Sam smiled. “Gail.”
“You don’t deny it?” Gus reared up on the balls of his feet.
“She invited me in for a cup of coffee.”
Gus gave him a hard look. “That’s your story?”
“Yeah.” Sam fought back a smile. “She was just being neighborly.”
“Neighborly.” The word seemed to have a soothing effect on Gus.
“She thinks the world of you,” added Sam, unable to resist.
Gus lit up. “She say that?”
“Not in so many words,” said Sam.
She was too busy accusing your neighbors of murder
. “You know how women are.”
Gus gave him a sly look. “Do I ever.”
“She wanted to talk about—” He caught himself before he said
. “About Ed dying. She’s a bit torn up over it.”
” spat Gus. “Now you’re yanking my chain.”
“What do you mean?”
“Gail torn up?” Gus was incredulous. “She hated that bastard.”
Sam chuckled. “I guess you two are close, after all.”
“Told you,” said Gus. “I’d kill for that woman.”
“I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea,” said Sam. “You know, that I was giving Gail a hard time.”
“The day anybody gives my girl a hard time, that’ll be the sorriest day of their life.”
Sam held up a hand, started toward his doorway. “Nice meeting you, Gus.”
Gus shuffled his feet as if he might give chase.
“Wait a minute, don’t you want me to answer any questions?”
Sam shook his head. “You just did.”
Walter awoke to find a hand on his crotch.
It took a moment to realize the hand was his, shoved down the front of his pants while he slept. Lord knows what it had accomplished while he lay snoring on the couch. No matter how or where he fell asleep, he always woke up in this position. He’d considered setting a video camera on a tripod to record himself, see what the Hell was going on, but decided that would be too kinky. Besides, these days his right hand was the only action he was likely to get.
Morning already. He stood and made his way to the kitchen, scratching himself every step of the way. Checked the clock on the stove. Rush hour, people headed to work. Walter sighed, relieved he didn’t have a nine-to-five job, almost felt sorry for the dumb saps who did.
He yawned, tasted beer on his breath as he surveyed the wreckage of his living room. Empty bags of chips, crumbs on the couch. Twelve beer bottles lined up like toy soldiers. It was only when he saw the DVDs scattered across the coffee table that last night’s revelation returned, rushing back on him like a cold shower.
So much for talking to the brothers. He’d managed to pass out on the couch avoiding his big confrontation with his erstwhile partners. After trying their door that first time, Walter had come home and waited for them, keeping one ear cocked to the door. But he was jumpy from the movies, needing to wind down, so he turned on last night’s baseball game, which he had recorded on his Tivo. Then he started drinking, because everybody knew you couldn’t watch baseball without drinking beer.
Opening the refrigerator, Walter saw a barren wasteland of half-eaten Chinese and stale milk. Not breakfast material, even with his stomach. And no delivery scheduled until Monday. Walter could feel the hangover headache working its way across the front of his skull. He patted his pockets, found his wallet still in place. Much as he hated to do his own shopping, Walter had to get some food and coffee into his gut before he did anything else. Brushing his teeth and taking a shower could wait. It’s not like he had a date.
The elevator ride was mildly suspenseful, his stomach rolling with the motion. His legs buckled slightly as he stepped from the lobby, the fresh air a slap across his face. Good thing the grocery store was just on the other side of the courtyard. He walked with his head down, unsteady on his feet, watching the cobblestones warily.
He didn’t notice the Dodge wagon parked at the far end of the courtyard, its rear hatch ajar.
There were always cars parked there—people visiting the rental office, guests of other tenants. But in this town most of those cars were Japanese or German sedans, SUVs, or roadsters. Wagons were a rarity, and American wagons several years old even more uncommon.
But Hernando had stolen the car from a parking lot on 25th Street the night before, following Carlos’ instructions very carefully. They needed a car with a long cargo area in which Carlos could spread out, pointing the rifle through the rear hatch, which Hernando would raise at the last minute. That way someone would have to be directly in the line of fire to see Carlos or the gun, and by then it would be too late.
.” Carlos spoke in a raspy whisper, his face barely visible over the edge of the rear window. “Wait until he returns from the grocery store.”
“How do you know he’s going to the grocery store?” asked Hernando, tracking Walter’s progress in the rearview mirror.
“Look at the belly on that guy,” replied Carlos. “A man like that, he only walks somewhere if there is food at the other end.”
Hernando shrugged. He would’ve shot the guy.
Get it over with
. But he kept his mouth shut, even though he couldn’t stand Carlos.
. Hernando thought Carlos was a fucking terrorist asshole. A sociopath. Shitheads like Carlos gave professionals like Hernando a bad rap.
But today Hernando was just the driver, so he kept his mouth shut and the motor running.
Walter typed his PIN into the keypad and waited for his groceries to be bagged. The young Asian woman at the checkout smiled so brightly he wished he’d worn his sunglasses.
“You got miles!” she exclaimed happily.
Walter frowned. “Miles?”
“Frequent flier miles, from your club card.” She beamed proudly.
“Hoop-de-do,” said Walter acidly, grabbing the bag.
“You want your receipt?”
The enthusiastic checker didn’t have a ready answer, and Walter showed her his back before she could reply. She gave his back her middle finger as he left, then turned and beamed at the next customer.
As Walter stepped onto the first cobblestone, Carlos licked his lips and pressed his cheek against the stock of the rifle.
“Open the hatch,
I’m not you’re fucking amigo
, thought Hernando as he pushed the button. The hatch opened silently on pneumatic hinges. Carlos worked the action and slid the bolt into place, ramming a 7mm cartridge into the chamber and cocking the gun. He sighted along the barrel, keeping both eyes open and fixed on Walter.
Walter eyed his groceries as he made his way back from the store. Bagels, orange juice, a box of powdered donuts, and a six-pack of beer—just in case he didn’t make it out again for a few hours. He’d stop at the coffee shop in the ground floor of his building, then take the elevator upstairs and crank up his blood sugar, start the day off on the right foot.
But Walter’s right foot turned out to be the wrong foot as he took his eye off the cobblestones and twisted his ankle, falling to the pavement at the precise moment Carlos pulled the trigger.
Before the sonic boom reached anyone’s ears, the bullet had scorched a path through the air, speeding over Walter’s head and ricocheting off the stone pillar supporting the corner of the building. The angle of deflection caused the bullet to bounce against the cobblestones and rocket back the way it had come at an oblique angle.
By the time the bullet hit the underside of the Dodge wagon, it was moving close to the speed of sound and had achieved a surface temperature as hot as the sun. The
of the rifle finally caught up with the bullet, but nobody heard it—the sharp sound was muffled by the
of the gas tank exploding. The Dodge leapt three feet into the air.
It landed in a heap of twisted metal, shattered glass, and melting Mexican mobsters.