Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I went out to my car, started the engine and checked my watch. It was one o'clock and I was starved. I drove home, threw the UPS uniform over a chair and changed into jeans and a light sweater. Then I stopped at Eddie's for a smoked turkey on rye and something to wash it down with and went on to the office.

I was unlocking the door of my place, trying to juggle the sandwich, a purse and a can of Bud when Bernie, my landlord, poked his head out of his realty office next door and gave me a big smile. Bernie only smiles when he's raising the rent or throwing someone out. My rent was two month’s late.

"Maggie. Got a minute?" he asked, stepping out into the hall?

Bernie is short, heavy-set, with a mop of black curly hair turning gray, a moustache, and black-rimmed glasses. He was wearing one of his custom-rumpled suits.

"Ah... actually, I'm pretty busy right now, Bernie," I said quickly.

There's no way I wanted him to see the mess Raccuia made last night.

But Bernie was on a quest.

"Here. Let me help you."

He grabbed my keys from my hand, bent over and unlocked the door for me.

"After you," he said gallantly, standing aside and bowing.

I walked into the reception room and dumped my stuff on a secretary's desk that had never been officially christened. He began to walking toward the door leading to my private office and I jumped in his path holding up my arms.

"I've got a client in there, Bernie!" I said quickly. "And I had to promise total anonymity to get him in here. He's testifying against some truck hijackers. I need this case Bernie and if anyone finds out his identity, he's walking and my case is blown."

I grabbed the keys from his hand and steered him back to the front door.

"So, thanks a lot and I'll stop over your office when I'm done."

"I heard about what happened last night," Bernie said.

"What happened last night?" I stammered.

"You were the talk of the "Heidy-Ho Diner" at breakfast.”

The cops get their coffee there every morning. He nodded toward my office.
"Mind if I take a look? I do own the building."

"Yeah," I said, defeated. "Well then c'mon in."

I picked up my lunch and went inside. Bernie followed me and stared at the blood stain on the rug for several minutes before clucking his tongue. Then he contemplated Raccuia's bullet holes in the wall and made some more sounds. While Bernie did some mental calculations, I tore open the paper bag and held up my sandwich.

"You mind if I eat? I'm starving."

"No. Going to cost a fortune to clean this up."

"I already got the money for it. Plus the rent I owe you," I said, my mouth full.

"Might even have to replace the whole rug. I've got a friend who does carpets. Says that blood is one of worst stains to get out."

"That I don't have enough for," I shouted.

"Then maybe we can work something out," he said, turning toward me and smiling again. "Mind if I have a seat?"

I motioned toward a chair. I popped open the beer and held it up.

"You want any? I got glasses. They're clean."

Bernie shook his head.

"No thanks," he said.

I continued to eat while he talked.

"My grandmother lives over in New Seldon," he began. "Nice old lady. Been there since before World War II. The back of her property borders on Gramcey Park. It's a county park. There's a group of kids that have been hanging out there recently to do their drinking and they've been giving her some shit."

"How come?" I asked.

"A couple of weeks ago they started throwing their beer cans into her backyard. She asked them to stop. Hell, there's a couple of trashcans right there in the woods they could use. But you know kids. They kept right on tossing them over so she called the cops. They came and rousted them. Pissed the kids off and now my grandmother's getting obscene phone calls, they're still throwing the cans and someone even tore up her backyard with a dirt bike... she's an old lady, for Christ's sake!"

"She tried calling the cops again?" I asked.

"Yea, but that's like pissing in the wind."

"So what do you want me to do?"

"I don't know! Whatever you detectives do to keep the scuzzballs away from decent law-abiding citizens. Blackmail them! Shoot them! I don't care."

The old Bernie was resurfacing.

"Just get them to stop bothering my grandmother. And if you help her, I'll take care of your rug."

He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and tossed it on my desk.

"Here's her address." Then he turned and walked out.

I finished my lunch and called Barbara, the girl who's responsible for making me beautiful when the need arises.

"You got an hour and a half for me this afternoon?" I asked.

"Longtime no see, stranger," she said. "What do you need an hour and half
for, girl? You're usually a fifteen minute cut."

"I have to look irresistible tonight. And I need my nails done too."

"Let me about five?"

"That's great. See you then."

"Where you going that you need so much sprucing up?"

"A private party."

"You're moving up girl," Barbara said.

I looked at my watch. A five o'clock appointment with Barbara gave me two hours to check out Bernie's grandmother. I put the answering machine on and locked up the office.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Nobody likes a good murder better than a private investigator. But I was always under the impression that "one a day" was reserved for apples, vitamins and sex. Not corpses.

I went into the kitchen, picked up the phone with a paper towel and called the crime in, hoping like hell that Broderick had the day off. Then I started nosing around before the cops arrived and destroyed any leads.

The place had been professionally trashed. Drawers had been removed and emptied and the furniture tipped over to examine the backs and bottoms for anything that might have been taped there. Against one wall two cherry wall units had had their shelves swept clean of knick-knacks and shards of glass and crystal and the fine powder of crushed porcelain lay scattered everywhere like a light blanket of fresh snow. A tall brass lamp lay on its side next to the body and on top of a blood-stained sofa lay a woman's clutch purse.

I picked up the bag and opened it. Besides the usual bullshit we ladies carry around was a red leather Gucci wallet containing four fifties and some change. Stuck in a zippered pocket on the inside of the bag were some credit cards, all in Sharon's name, and a color photograph showing her on the beach posing with two male body builders. The string bikini she was wearing barely covered her nipples and the two guys were holding hands. On the back were three names: Larry, Buck and Sharon.

I looked down at the bloody pulp on the floor and back at the picture. Broderick had been right on both counts. Sharon had been a real good looker and she was too young for him.

I heard a disturbance downstairs at the front door and slipped the picture into my pocket just as Broderick bounded up the stairs.
He stood in the archway for a few seconds, staring at the mess on the floor.

"Sweet Jesus!" was all I heard as I rushed past him and beat a hasty retreat down the steps.

I’ve never been very good at comforting grief-stricken people and wasn't going to start now.

I squeezed past two uniforms guarding the front door and walked across the lawn to the street, taking several deep breaths. Death was beginning to become a familiar smell. I pulled out a pack of Newports and was lighting up when a white Cougar screeched to a halt at the curb. The driver's door flew open, Folley jumped out and ran around the back of the car to me.

"What's up, Maggie? I just got off a double shift and was on my way home when I picked this up on the radio."

"Someone killed Broderick's latest girlfriend."

"Shit! People are dropping like flies around you!

"Thanks. I needed that."

"Broderick know?"

"He got here a couple of minutes ago. He's inside."

"And what are you doing here?" he asked.

"They had a fight a couple of days ago. Broderick hasn't been able to get in touch with her since. So he asked me to come over and make sure she was alright. She wasn't."

"You know, you guys are divorced," he said jamming his hands into the pockets of his jeans and walking toward the crime scene.

"And one of these days you're gonna stop doing his dirty work," he called over his shoulder.

"It was a favor," I shouted back.

I sat down on the curb and kept on smoking. I was on my fourth butt and had watched two County cars, one State and the coroner's wagon come and go when Broderick finally appeared in the doorway. He glanced around and spotting me, wandered across the lawn. As he got closer I could see that the perpetual Irish grin was gone from the corners of his eyes and the handkerchief hanging out of the pocket of his jeans was wrinkled and damp.

He sat down next to me, pulled a butt out of his shirt pocket and lit up. The look on his face was strictly "Don't fuck with me" so I shut up and let him pollute his lungs for a while.

"I'm really sorry about Sharon," I finally said. "You okay?"


I put an arm around his shoulder and watched some smoke drift out of his mouth up into his eyes, making them tear again.

"I want to know why they had to beat her and cut her up like that!"

His shoulders started to shake and for a second I thought he was going to lose it again. I thought us girls were supposed to be the emotional ones.

"How well did you really know Sharon?" I asked.

"Pretty well..."

"Well enough to know where she got the bread to afford a place like this? I mean, we're talking three or four hundred thousand even in a bad market."

"She was married for a while to some guy with money. Real estate broker or something. They split and she bought this place with the settlement."

"Where did she work? Do you know what kind of crowd she hung out with? Whoever 'did' her wasn't playing paddy cake."

"I could see that!" Broderick said angrily.

He stood up, dropped his butt onto the lawn and kicked at it, taking out a divot the size of Rhode Island.

"I just never really asked a lot of questions because they never came up. I thought she was playing straight with me!"

"I've been there," I said.

"I'm going back inside. See if forensics has found anything."

We began walking back across the lawn.

Broderick disappeared inside the townhouse and I walked over to one of the cops guarding the door.

"Can I borrow your flashlight?"

"Sure," he said, detaching a Maglite from his belt.

I could feel him and his buddy watch admiringly as I bent over and examined the locks on the front door. The only pick marks I could see were mine. I returned the flash and joined Broderick in the living room. Someone had thrown a body bag over Sharon and two geeks were crawling around on the rug picking up samples of debris with tweezers, stuffing them into clear plastic baggies.

"Never seen a place trashed so well, Sarge," said one, looking up at Broderick. "Must have been a burglary and whoever it was got pissed because there wasn't anything here."

"The lady knew how to party, though!" said the other one, a red-headed Howdy Dowdy clone. "Check it out!"

He held up a book of matches that he had snagged with his metal claws.

"Found this underneath the sofa."

"Whoa!" cried the other one. "The Tiger's Navel! Excellent party place!"

"Give me that!" Broderick cried, snatching the matches from him.

"Getting a little kinky in your old age?" I kidded him.

"What the hell do you know about this place?" he demanded, waving the matches underneath my nose.

"Only that if you've got the bucks, they've got the diversion... or is that perversion? Heard that they take plastic, too."

"Well, I never took Sharon there! Never even been there myself," he muttered.

Broderick stomped away down a hallway and I slowly followed. We ended up in a bedroom that had been destroyed with as much care and precision as the rest of the place. A slashed mattress and box springs lay against a wall and a disassembled bureau lay on its side nearby.

"This wasn't a robbery," I said.

"And how do you know?" he demanded.

"Are you blind? First of all, I'm the only one who has ever picked the lock on the front door. And there are no windows broken, so either Sharon let the murderer in or they had a key. She's also got some cash and plastic in her wallet. And did you see that ruby shiner on her finger? Had to cost a couple of grand."

"Her ex gave it to her," Broderick said quickly.

"You show me a second story man who's going to pass that up. Any fence would give you at least five hundred for it. This was no B & E."

I nodded at the matchbook still clutched in his hand.

"That's where you answer is, Broderick. That place has the people kinky enough to do what was done here. And if you dig around deep enough, you'll find a reason. You just may not like what you find."

Broderick licked his lips.

"The chief will never let me work on this case. I'm too involved." he said. "But I want to see somebody burn. Are you for sale?"

"Right now, you're the only game in town," I said.

"How much?" he asked.

"I'll knock a hundred bucks a day off my regular fee because I like you."

"I get paid tomorrow." he said. "Three days advance okay to start out?"

"Done," I said.
The next morning I rolled out of bed at ten feeling like a million bucks, thanks to the aspirins and three tabs of vitamin C I had popped before going to bed.  I showered, dressed and, after feeding my two wards, a mutt named Holmes and a cat named Watson, whipped up a batch of Eggbeaters and slapped them between two pieces of toast with some ketchup. 
It was a cool sunny day and when the coffee was perked I sat out on my deck and had two cups along with four Newports. By eleven I was ready for work.  I put on a UPS uniform I keep in the closet for an east disguise, locked up the house and drove over to Sharon's.

Ridgeton is an upper middle-class part of town that I would probably be living in if I had fulfilled my parents' dreams.  I've had a few divorce cases that have landed me on this side of the tracks and I know that most of the homes are expensive splits or ultra-modern two-stories with built-in pools, large manicured lawns and even larger mortgages.  Sharon's address was in a group of tall Victorian brick townhouses huddled together in groups of two.

Every one was identical to the one next to it.  On the first floor was a single-car garage, an asphalt driveway and a path that wound through a rock garden and a small patch of front lawn to the entranceway.  The second floor sported several large expensive cut-glass bow windows. 

First I took a leisurely drive through the neighborhood and noticed that the cheapest car in the whole development, outside of my Olds, was a Seville.

Then I drove past Sharon's place slowly and parked around the corner.  I pulled on a pair of UPS overalls I carry in the trunk for a quick disguise, and got out.    Someone had over watered the lawn and my running shoes got soaked on the way to the front door. 

I rang the doorbell several times and heard the chimes tinkle somewhere inside and above me on the second floor but there was no answer.  Then I knocked on the screen door.  Still nothing.  I walked around to the garage door and peeked in a dusty window.  On a whim I had checked out Sharon's place on my way home the night before.  There had been a black Celica parked in the garage then and it was still there.  It looked like it hadn't been moved.

Walking next door, I rang the bell of the connecting townhouse.  The door was opened by an out of breath blonde dressed in a multi-colored sweat suit.  In her right hand was a wooden spoon covered either with custard or pus and balanced on her left hip was a baby that resembled Andy Warhol.  Loud dance music was blasting in the background and above the beat a heavy-breathing Hanoi Jane was ordering everyone to shake their flabby thighs double-time.

The blonde's empty smile quickly faded to a "Why the hell are you bothering me?" look as she eyed the uniform I was wearing. 

"Got a delivery for your neighbor." 

I waved an empty package in her face. 

"She around?"

The bitch gave me the once over and her lip curled up into a condescending sneer. 

"Haven't seen the whore in days, sweetie.  You might try asking half the men in town." 
Then she slammed the door in my face.

"Starting with your husband," I muttered, wondering what her reaction would have been if I had been a male driver. 

I went back to Sharon's driveway and, under the pretense of re-tying a lace of my running shoe, kneeled down and scoped out the area.  The only people in sight were two middle-aged women taking a morning constitutional.  I waited until they had wandered around the corner and then got up and, not having left home without it, used a green plastic card to open the screen door.  Then I pulled out my lock pick gun and shoved it into the keyhole of the doorknob.  Three pulls of the trigger and I was inside.

I pushed the front door shut behind me with my foot, listening and looking around.  The only sound was the dull thump of a bass drum coming from blondie's exercise tape next door.  So much for quality soundproof construction.

I was standing in a small six by six entranceway with three doors and a wide staircase leading up. 
 "Sharon?"  I shouted.  "I'm a friend of Broderick's.  You home?"

There was no answer. 
 I began checking doors. 
The first was a coat closet filled with several jackets and sweaters.  A set of skis and poles were buried in the back.

"My name is Maggie,"  I called out, trying to make conversation.  "He hasn't heard from you in a couple of days and couldn't get you on the phone.  He asked me to stop by and make sure you're okay."

The second door was a small powder room done in a black metallic wallpaper and the third led to the garage.  On a hunch I felt the tailpipe of the car.  It was cool as a cucumber.

"Are you up there, Sharon?"

Things were quiet and I felt uncomfortable. 
I pulled my 9mm Beretta from underneath my shirt and, holding it down by my side, slowly climbed the staircase.  At the top, directly in front of me was a modern kitchen with all the bells and whistles.  On the right was a small balcony leading to the front of the townhouse and the living room. 

I stepped through the archway into the living room and before my eyes could tell my brain what they were seeing, my instincts kicked in:  I dropped to a crouch against the wall, weapon front and center.  An adrenalin rush started buzzing in my head and I slowly scanned the place, my eyes sucking in every detail.

Someone had decided to re-decorate Sharon's townhouse.  The contents of a roll top desk, a china closet and several bureaus were spilled across an expensive oriental rug.  Right in the middle of this mess lay Sharon. 

She was a tall girl with long athletic legs and a spectacular shape squeezed into a dazzling scarlet Spandex jumpsuit.  I'd have to take someone else's word that she was good-looking, though.    Her face had been pounded into raw beefsteak and several bullets fired into it.  Then someone had chopped her up a little bit.

She was dead.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I'm new at this folks, and as of tonight, it looks like I've got a new case.  I'll let you follow me through it but like the old TV show said, "names and places have been changed to protect the innocent".

Louis Raccuia was a tall heavy-set hulk with terminal prison-pallor, a hooked nose that had been smashed too many times and never set properly and one long bushy eyebrow that ran from temple to temple across a broad flat forehead.

Thirty pounds of flab spilled over the waistband of his Wrangler jeans and the brightly-colored Hawaiian shirt he was wearing demanded earplugs.  He held a .38 Colt snub-nosed revolver with the barrel pointed at my head and he was going to kill me.

"... and I told you what would happen if ya testified against me Broderick..."

It had been a miserable day from the start.  First, a client of four weeks had suddenly decided that it didn't matter if her husband was having a spectacular affair with her twin sister.  She had pulled the plug on the case and I had lost, at least temporarily, all visible means of support. 

Then, while I was staking out a tenement waiting for a bum who was six months behind in his child support, three different guys had decided I was the woman of their dreams and hit on me.

"...and you don't forget who you're gonna pump full of holes when you're sitting in the Big House, either..."

And finally, after I had just begun working the kinks out of my back and looking forward to a half-decent dinner, I walk into my office and this joker springs from behind my sofa like it was a surprise party.

"...ain't no way you're gonna get out of this office alive, Broderick..."

I had recognized him immediately.  Even ten years won't let you forget the mug of a degenerate who raped and killed his wife and stepdaughter and then announces to the court after the verdict is read that when he gets out he's going to put you through a Vegematic because you were the prosecution's primary witness.

As Louis rambled on and on about the terrible things he was going to do to me and how much he would enjoy it, I noticed that he had two very dangerous habits. 

The first was that when he had a gun pointed at you, the guy just wouldn't shut up.  It's like he owned your ears.

"... and this is gonna be a lesson to all the other finks out there that..."

Louis' second bad habit was that while he bored you to death with his asinine dialogue, he'd use the gun barrel to accentuate any points he was trying to make. 

So there I was, trapped in my office with Louis, a bad case of diarrhea of the mouth and his epileptic .38.

I kept throwing in the appropriate "yeh's" and "But I was only doing my job" while I inched my way to my desk.  He was so busy pontificating that he never noticed. When the barrel of the gun was at twelve o'clock high, I dove for the floor, right hand groping for a .32 Walther PPK I keep taped underneath the middle drawer.

Prison life hadn't improved Louis' reflexes and as he blasted away at an empty wall, I rolled on my left shoulder, came up on one knee behind my desk and placed a nice tight little three-round group in the middle of his forehead.

Louis went down and while he died I called 911 and reported the shooting.  I debated placing some kind of pan underneath Louis' head but decided that the forensic boys wouldn't be too crazy about it. 

My landlord Bernie was going to be pissed as hell when he saw the mess.

I unloaded my weapon and put it, the clip and my license on the desk.  Then I pulled out my compact and fixed my face.  A girl likes to look nice when company comes over.

Broderick was the first one through the door and it's no coincidence that we both have the same last name.  He was my Rhett or I was his Jezebel, depending whose mother is telling the story, but at one time we did share wedded bliss underneath a single roof. 

The big red-faced Irishman glanced down at Louis lying on the floor as he holstered his weapon.

"Maggie!  You okay!" 

He scanned me quickly for dripping red and, not seeing any, seemed to relax.  The guy had more emotion on his face than the day we signed the divorce papers and I appreciated it.  Just because we couldn't make it as a married couple didn't mean that we weren't friends.

"I'm fine," I said. 

The adrenalin rush that follows a shooting was starting to wear off and I shivered.

"Here."  Broderick started to shed his windbreaker.

"Put it back.  I got something."  

I went over to a closet and pulled out an old long sleeved sweater and slipped it on.
Broderick picked up the clip and my weapon and examined them. 

"You fired three shots?"

"Check out Raccuia's head," I said.

By this time my office was starting to look like a combination PBA/Morgue attendant convention and we were slowly being herded into a corner as more people arrived.

"Nice shooting, Maggie." 

A tall skinny plainclothes cop in a running suit who had been examining the body pulled a pencil out of Louis' left nostril and Raccuia's head flopped back into the congealing red puddle on the floor.  I winced as he cleaned the eraser on the rug.  The cop stood up, walked over and joined us.

My ex and Folley had met at the academy ten years ago and became inseparable ever since.  With Folley's deadpan expression and dry humor and Broderick's Irish "hell with it" attitude, they made the perfect pair.

"So what happened?"  Folley asked.

"A couple of years ago this guy put a shotgun in his wife's mouth and pulled the trigger.  Re-decorated the whole apartment.  He did the same with to his stepdaughter.  I saw him do it and testified in court.  He said if he ever got out he'd come after me and get even."

I nodded at the hard-on being loaded into the body bag.

"Tonight he thought he'd get lucky."

"He never saw your range scores.  Here you go."
Broderick handed over my weapon and the ammo to his partner and gave me back my license. 
Folley held the gun up in the air.

"Brand new Walther.  And I hear you do your serious shooting with a 9mm Beretta.  You PI's must be pulling down some good money these days.  Maybe us cops are in the wrong business." 
He gave my ex a wink and I gave Folley the finger.

"Stop by the station tomorrow when you have a chance and file a report,"  he said.  "This will have to go over to the state lab but I'll put a rush on it.  Should be back in a day or two."

"Thanks," I said as he wandered off to supervise the cleanup.  

"C'mon.  Let's get out of here,"  Broderick said, grabbing my arm.  "I think we both need a drink."

Ten minutes later we were perched on wooden stools in Eddie's Tavern washing down shots of Wild Turkey with cold frosted mugs of cream ale.

Eddie runs an old-fashioned blue-collar drinking man's bar where a shooter and a beer cost you a buck, the bartender never lets the baskets of pretzels get more than half empty and all the food will kill you.

One wall of the place is covered with shelves of trophies. Eddie's back room is one of the best-known pool halls in northern Jersey.  The other three walls are painted a drab brown with thin wavy white lines that give the impression that the place was put together with giant Lincoln Logs.

Tonight the bar looked like a ghost town with three guys at one end of the bar, their eyes glued to a Ranger game on the tube, and a couple huddled in a dark corner booth, laughing and groping at each other's crotches like high school kids.

"So, how is business?"  Broderick asked after we had knocked off the first round.  "As good as Foley thinks?"

"No. It sucks,"  I answered.  "Damn economy is stiffing everyone.  Had a client cancel out on me this morning and my back is stiff from a stakeout I did this afternoon in West New York."

Broderick signaled for another round. 

"What was that all about?"

"Guy owes his wife back child support.  Told the judge he's broke and yet every weekend he and his new honey are down in Atlantic city dropping a couple of grand.  Two weeks ago he disappears.  I spent the afternoon parked outside his apartment folded up in a Volkswagen Beetle like a Swiss Army knife.  I've got one week to trace him down before the wife's attorney puts more operatives on the case.  After that I'll have to split fees."

"How much do you getting for an hour's work these days?" 

Broderick finished off his shot and signaled for another.  Then he lit a cigarette and his right hand started twiddling with the hair on the side of his head.  We had been together long enough for me to know that something was bothering him.  Probably girl problems.

"First you tell me what's wrong," I said.

"Why do you think something is wrong?"  he asked.

"You're playing with your hair."

"Fuck that!  How much for an hour's work?"

Our pleasant interplay was interrupted as Daphene, a well-endowed little redhead whose boobs are stand-ins for a popular B-grade horror actress, dumped new drinks in front of us.  She was wearing a flimsy halter top and gave  Broderick a big grin. 

"Hi'ya Broderick!" 

Daphene started to walk away and before she was on her second jiggle he had downed his shot. 

"Hit me again on the way back, babe," he called out.

"A bullet's a lot faster."   I nodded toward the booze.

"It's just tough talking about girlfriends in front of your ex-wife."

"I guess it was easier when we were married,"  shot back.

"I was kidding then."

And the pope shits in the woods, I thought.  Daphene bounced by again, gave Broderick a big smile and a refill and disappeared into the kitchen.

"Tell you what,"  I said.  "For an hour of my time, you pay for the mess Raccuia made in my office.  That includes shampooing the blood out of the carpet and spackling any bullet holes in the walls.”

He thought about it for a second. 


"Good,"  I said, trying again.  "So tell me what's bothering you."

"I've been seeing this girl for about three months now.  Her name is Sharon.  Nothing serious..."

He stopped playing with his hair and began doodling on the frost on his mug with his fingers, drawing little designs in the condensation.

"... we've had a couple of good laughs together.  Lives over in the Ridgeton part of town."
Which meant bucks, I thought.

Suddenly Daphene waltzed by and stopped in front of us again.  I was getting sick and tired of this chick!  She leaned over so far that I swear that I could see her navel down there between the cleavage. 

"This one's on me!"  she tittered, pouring him another drink. 

Then I got a look that would stop a stampeding elephant. 

"Real ladies don't drink shots,"  she called over her shoulder as she walked away.

"Yeh!  But real ladies shove their fucking tits in everybody's faces, don't they, honey!"  I shouted after her, standing on the pegs of my stool. 

I turned back to my ex.

"Christ, Broderick!  What the hell did you ever see in her besides the twin peaks?"

As I sat down, one of the hockey pucks at the end of the bar turned toward us to see what the commotion was about.  He nudged his partners who swiveled around.  They eyed me up and down, gave my goods an approving nod and a thumbs up, and went back to the game.  I gave them the finger but appreciated their taste.

"She was just a little diversion..."

"Diversion my ass!  If her tits were brains she'd be a fucking Einstein!" 

I finished off the beer in front of me and jumped off my stool. 

"I'm going to the ladies room!” I fumed.  “I've got steam to blow!" 

I stomped away, got rid of my nervous tension and returned five minutes later, a gentler, calmer person, ready to take on a new case.

"You feel better?"  he asked when I got back.

"A lot more than you think.  Now tell me about this Sharon."

He took a drink and cleared his throat.

"Like I said, Sharon lives over in the Ridgeton part of town.  We had a little disagreement two nights ago and she hasn't called me since.  I was wondering if you could maybe check it out and make sure she's okay."

"And that's my hour's work?"
"Ah... yea..."

"Christ, Broderick!  You guys really blow me up,"  I cried.  "Did you ever think of calling her yourself?  Or will your balls fall off if you're not a twenty-four hour hard-ass?"

"Hey, Maggie!  I've tried!"  he protested holding up his hands.  "Really!  A couple of times every day.  I just keep getting her answering machine."

"So why not run over there and see her yourself.  Or if that's not macho, have a friend stop.  I'm sure you could talk Folley into it as a favor.  You're a cop, for Pete's sake.  Improvise!"

"Well... ah... you see, Sharon's a great looker and... ah... she's a little younger than I am.  Nobody knows I've been seeing her.  Not even Folley.  If the guys found out..." 
He looked away and slugged down his complimentary drink.

"So you want me to check on baby and make sure she's alright?"

"Would you?"

"Yeah.  And you buy the next pitcher."


Ten minutes later I was re-filling our mugs when Dean Ruckson, the local renegade from the South who owns the best speed shop in the county walked in and took a seat several stools down from us. 

"Hey Daphene!"  he called out.  "I don't know where you've been driving that "'Z" of yours, but you've got yourself three flat tires out there."

I didn't look up.  I just went right on pouring.