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. 

"Okay."

"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."

"Deal."

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.



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