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Authors: Tim Maleeny

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Chapter Five

The Sandwich Brothers considered adding murder to their menu. One minute they were back in business, able to profit from the addictive properties of cannabis in the spirit of a free-market economy, and the next minute they had some fat fuck breathing down their necks for his share of the spoils.

“His share?” yelled Jerome from the couch. They were back in their apartment, Larry pacing furiously in the kitchen, Jerome slouched on the couch, his face and half the room obscured by great halos of smoke. “His fucking share of what? He didn’t do any of the work.”

Larry stopped pacing and caught a glimpse of himself in the chrome on the refrigerator. His face was distorted by the curve of the handle, his features twisted and angry. Then he saw himself across the room, in the mirror over the couch, and realized he really looked like that. He was stressed beyond belief, struggling with a sudden, overwhelming urge to get stoned with his brother. He knew it would make him sick, but it might be worth it. Sit down next to Jerome and smoke all his troubles away.

But they weren’t going away. Walter was real, and he had them by the short hairs. Larry had felt the guy’s belly brush up against his back as he leaned over their table. He shivered at the memory. The guy was a pig.

“What did he say he did for a living?” called Jerome from the cloud of forgetfulness. “Besides ripping us off?”

“He’s a producer,” said Larry. “He makes movies.”

“Like what?”

“B-movies,” said Larry dismissively. “Like
Revenge of the Scorpions
.”

Jerome sat up straighter on the couch. “
Scorpions
was a cool movie. This giant scorpion, well, it starts out small, but then a nuclear bomb goes off in the desert. Well, this fuckin’ scorpion gets big, and I mean really big—and then it gets loose and, well, it pretty much
eats
Scottsdale, Arizona.”

Larry shook his head impatiently. “That was
Scorpions
. Walter didn’t make that one. He made the sequel,
Revenge of the Scorpions
.”

Jerome shrugged. “I don’t think I saw that one.”

“Neither did anyone else,” snapped Larry. “He made some other movies, too, all direct-to-video shit. That’s why Walter needs to supplement his income by blackmailing us.”

“Oh.” Jerome nodded. “Still,
Scorpions
was a fuckin’ good movie, bro. Maybe this guy isn’t so bad.”

Larry squeezed his eyes shut and counted to ten. Jerome kept talking.

“I’m just saying, maybe we could work out a deal.”

Larry’s eyes snapped open. “Walter’s already worked out the deal for us, you moron.”

“He did?” said Jerome. “That was nice of him.”

Now counting down from ten
.

“No, it wasn’t nice,” replied Larry. “Apparently he went drinking one night with Ed, our recently deceased landlord and former business partner, and dumbass Ed spilled his guts to his new drinking buddy.” Larry visualized Ed’s big toothy smile. It reminded him of Walter’s smug grin, back at the Mexican restaurant. Smiles of victory.
We’ll see, you fat son of a bitch
.

“And he wants two percent?” asked Jerome.


Twenty
percent,” corrected Larry. He watched Jerome from across the room, waiting for it to sink in. He counted. Jerome’s eyes bugged out after eight seconds.

“Twenty?” said Jerome, on his feet now. “Twenty fucking percent?”

“Twenty.” Larry nodded. “Or he goes to the cops.”

Jerome blew out his cheeks. “Maybe we could run over him with our truck.”

Larry enjoyed the visual for a moment, Walter’s big gut dragged under the grill, his eyes wide as they disappeared under the hood. The SUV lurching as four-wheel drive kicked in and they ran over him, a minor speed bump on the road to success.

Larry blinked away the image and shook his head. “Too messy. Might be witnesses.”

“Baseball bat to the head?” asked Jerome, trying to be helpful.

Larry was suddenly back in little league, squinting under the brim of his cap, his arms cocked, his hands tight around the bat. Stepping forward on his left leg, he realized that the pitcher had not thrown a baseball after all, instead substituting Walter’s head, shrunken down to ball-size, tiny seams stitched across his forehead.

A home run!

Larry reluctantly let go of the image. “No, even worse than the car. We’d be behind bars by the end of the day.”

Jerome frowned and returned to the couch, this time lying down. His cheeks sucked inward as he took a deep hit on the joint. “So we’re just going to pay him?” he asked in a strangled voice.

Larry shook his head, his jaw set. “Who do we buy our pot from, Jerome?”

Jerome responded immediately, proud to know the answer to something. He slapped his hand repeatedly in the air against an imaginary buzzer, like a Jeopardy contestant having a seizure.

“Buster!” cried Jerome.

“Buster is the middle man,” said Larry softly, not wanting to dampen his brother’s constructive energy. “The go-between. Where does Buster get the pot?”

Jerome nodded, ready for the challenge. A two-part question. No problem. It took him a few seconds, but his hand shot up again, slapping wildly in the air.

“Zorro!” he shouted. “Fuckin’ Zorro, man.”

“That’s right,” said Larry, as much to himself as his half-baked brother. “Zorro.”

Zorro
. The Spanish word for fox, an apt name for a predator. Larry smiled, feeling in control of the situation again. He walked over to the couch and sat down next to his brother, moving Jerome’s feet with surprising gentleness.

“Jerome, one more question,” said Larry. “This time for double points.”

Jerome sat up, his bloodshot eyes bright with excitement. “Shoot.”

“Who’s scarier, that fat bastard down the hall…or Zorro?”

Jerome’s hand shot into the air like a rocket and slapped the imaginary buzzer again and again. But he didn’t need to say anything. He just looked at his brother with a big, lopsided grin.

The Sandwich Brothers both knew the answer to that one.

Chapter Six

The old lady accosted Sam before he was ten feet down the hall.

Mud. Mudding.
Muddridge.
That was her name. A nice old woman, according to Marie. Always smiled at Sam on the few occasions he’d seen her in the hall. But today she had her door open, apparently waiting for him to emerge from his apartment.

“Hello, young man,” she said warmly. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Ma’am?” Sam reflexively moved into polite cop-speak but let his confusion show.

“Come in, come in.” She opened the door wide and waved him inside. Sam looked over his shoulder once, then shrugged and followed her into the apartment.

The layout was identical to his own, except in reverse. The view looked over the park next to the building and the nearby skyline instead of the water. From the foyer Sam could see the Transamerica building piercing the morning fog like a rocket waiting to be cleared for launch.

Sam stopped short of the living room where a couch and loveseat were separated by a table already set with coffee and a large silver tray full of cookies. His hostess sat down on the loveseat and smoothed her skirt, looking expectantly from Sam to the empty couch. He started to say something, but she cut him off with an upraised hand.

“Call me Gail,” she said abruptly, then lowered her hand. “You had that look about you.”

Sam tried not to sound defensive. “What look?”

“Like you were about to call me Mrs. Muddridge, or even worse,
Ms.
Muddridge…God, I hate that. Thirty years of feminism and that’s the result? My husband was the greatest man to ever live, let me assure you, but he’s been dead and gone now ten years, and I had a name before I met him, and it was Gail. Still is, unless I decide to change it.”

Sam smiled. “I wouldn’t change it, Gail. It suits you.”

Gail nodded once. “You bet your ass it does. Want a cookie?”

Sam gave into the situation and stepped over to the couch. “No thanks, Gail,” he said, shaking his head. “Not ready for breakfast yet.”

“Don’t know what you’re missing.” Gail pointed emphatically at the silver tray. “These are almond cookies—to die for, believe me. Those have cherry filling—take forever to make but really pack a punch. These are chocolate mint, great with coffee. And those—those are macaroons—coconut’s not my favorite, but I do love saying
macaroon
.”

“I don’t blame you,” replied Sam. “But thanks just the same.”

“Suit yourself.” She gestured past the tray. “Coffee?”

“Not ready for that, either.”

Gail narrowed her eyes. “Hung over, are we?”

Sam leaned back on the couch. “You don’t miss a thing, do you, Gail?”

“Not much,” she agreed, sitting back with her coffee balanced delicately on her lap. “I’m going to send you home with one of each in a Ziploc, for later. Unless you don’t like cookies.”

“Who doesn’t like cookies?” Sam noticed the age spots on the back of her hands and the folds in her neck. He put her in her late sixties, though everything else about her radiated youthful energy. Her pale blue eyes were practically backlit, and the wrinkles on her face made her more expressive than any girl of twenty. Sam felt energized just being near her. He was a mere mortal, tired and hung-over, and she was a Sun Goddess, bearing gifts of warmth, hope, and macaroons.

“You going to ask why I dragged you in here?” she prompted, a bit abruptly for a Sun Goddess.

Sam shrugged. “Figured you’d get around to it—you don’t seem particularly shy. Is your name spelled with an ‘i’ or is it G-A-L-E, like a hurricane-force wind?”

Gail laughed, a high-pitched sound like parrot squawking. “Well said, young man.”

“Call me Sam.”

“Fair enough,” she replied. “I knew your wife; she was a lovely woman. I was sorry to see her go.”

Sam sat up straighter on the couch. “That makes two of us.”

Gail’s voice got quieter. “I used to talk with her sometimes, if I saw her in the elevator or in the hall. You could tell she was a good person.”

Sam didn’t say anything.

“I’m telling you this because she told me about you,” said Gail, the energy in her voice picking up. “How wonderful you were, how hard you were working all the time. She told me you were a policeman.”

“I’m retired.”

“I heard.”

Sam looked at her quizzically before putting it together. “Lieutenant Rodriguez told you.”

“Was that his name?” asked Gail. “The handsome man who knocked on my door? Had those Latin-lover eyes.”

“Yes,” said Sam. “Danny Rodriguez. He was the officer in charge, making the rounds to see if anyone saw or heard anything unusual.”

“Like our landlord jumping off the top of the building?”

“You think he jumped?”

Gail’s eyes lit up. “You think he didn’t?”

Sam shrugged.

Gail nodded, once. “That’s why I wanted to talk with you.”

“Why, exactly?”

“Well, that policeman wouldn’t tell me anything, but when I asked why you weren’t working the case—being our neighbor and everything, at first he wouldn’t answer. So I asked him if you were a suspect.”

Sam smiled despite himself. It explained Danny’s big smile when Sam suggested the same thing. “You said that?”

Gail blushed a little before continuing. “You said it yourself. I’m not shy.”

“So he told you I was retired.”

“I think he didn’t want me or anyone else getting the wrong idea about you,” said Gail. “He must like you.”

“We were partners for a while,” Sam said simply, as if that explained everything. For a cop, it did.

“But since he didn’t seem to object to my question about there being a suspect, it made me wonder…” Gail let her voice trail off.

“Of course,” said Sam. “If the cops won’t tell you what’s going on, who better to ask than an ex-cop?”

Gail demurely sipped her coffee.

Sam laughed. “Are you typically this nosey, Gail?”

She wrinkled her nose at the suggestion. “Aren’t you curious?”

Sam thought about it. “Not really.”

“How can you say such a thing?”

Sam hesitated before answering. “You go to the grocery, Gail? The one downstairs?”

Gail frowned. “Yes, I do. But what’s that—”

Sam held up a hand. “You ever go to the bank?”

“Of course.”

Sam shrugged. “I work—
worked
—with death every day. My lists of things to do never had groceries or checks on them. Murder and suicide were the files on my desk, the paperwork I had to fill out before I could come home to Marie.”

Gail watched him over the rim of her cup.

Sam continued. “I’m not numb, if that’s what you’re thinking, but after a while, only certain ones get under your skin. Sometimes it’s a dead person, and it’s just awful. And sometimes…it’s just a corpse.”

Gail slurped her coffee before setting the cup down. “And Ed really was a cocksucker, wasn’t he?”

Sam coughed reflexively. Gail was obviously a live wire, but the voltage was getting higher by the minute. A woman like that certainly deserved a straight answer.

“Yeah,” said Sam deliberately. “He was.”

Gail pursed her lips in satisfaction. “I never did thank you for getting those doors fixed. I should have mentioned that when you first came in.”

Sam blushed despite himself. “It was nothing.”

“He tried to run me out of this apartment every year for the past ten years, you know that?”

Sam shook his head. “How?”

“This place is rent-controlled,” replied Gail.

“Yeah, I know,” replied Sam. “Our rent—my rent—hasn’t changed more than twenty bucks a month in the past five years, if that.”

“Well, I’ve been here
twenty-five
years,” said Gail. “Fifteen with my husband and ten since he passed. Wanna know what I pay in rent?”

Sam shrugged. “A helluva lot less than they’re charging me.”

“Damn right,” said Gail decisively. “And a lot less—and I mean
a lot
less—than that dead bastard Ed would have charged to rent this place to a new tenant.”

Sam nodded slowly. “So he wanted you out.”

“One year my asthma started acting up, and the next thing you know, the air conditioner in my apartment breaks. Guess how long it took Ed to fix it?”

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.”

“Five months, and only after I threatened to sue. The next year, I had an ant problem.”

“The six-legged kind?”

“Hundreds of the little fuckers,” said Gail. “When I complained, same story. No response until I threw a fit.”

“Didn’t anyone else complain?” asked Sam.

Gail shook her head. “No one else had the problem, at least not for the first few weeks. I think Ed planted them in my apartment.”

Sam whistled. “No offense, Gail, but that sounds a bit—”

“—paranoid?” Gail cut him off. “That’s what I thought, but then it was the fuses. Every time I turned on a light in the kitchen, the whole apartment went dark.”

“And no one else had this problem?”

“Not even the pretty young things down the hall, and you just know they’re running their blow dryers and stereo overtime.”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know the sexy young things.”

“I said pretty, not sexy,” Gail corrected.

Sam blushed again. “My mistake.”

Gail waved it off, mischief in her eyes. “Tomato,
tom-ah-to
,” she said. “You should meet them. They’ve had their own run-ins with Ed.”

“Such as?”

Gail shook her head. “Better to let them tell you. My point is, well, you get the point, don’t you?”

Sam nodded. “You didn’t like Ed much, either, is that your point?”

“No, young man,” replied Gail, sounding like a disappointed school teacher. “If you had problems with Ed, and so did I, don’t you think other tenants did, as well?”

Sam chuckled. “Believe it or not Gail, that had occurred to me. But it’s nice to know you’re trying to make my job easier.”

“What job?” said Gail. “You said you were retired.”

Sam ignored the question and looked up at the ceiling, talking to himself as much as his host. “How well do you know your neighbors?”

As Sam turned his eyes back toward Gail, she was smiling. “This might take a little while,” she said in a forced whisper. “Sure you don’t want any coffee?”

Sam looked at the service on the table and gauged the motion in his gut.

“Sure,” he said. “Guess it’s about time I opened my eyes.”

BOOK: Jump
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