I woke up with an anvil lying on my head and a mouthful of dirt. I can’t say it’s the first time.
Thankfully, I have a hard head and a stubborn nature, otherwise, it was damned inconvenient, and I was sorry for whatever snit I’d let myself get into that had prompted the activities leading to my worse-for-wear condition. The throbbing, pulsating pain in my skull was preventing me from remembering much of my night.
Although, I’m sure said activities, and their resulting consequences, were warranted.
I’d been a beat cop before I took up the trade, and before that, a grunt. I’d learn the drill the hard way, without opening my eyes, I could tell I was outside. The birds were calling in their early morning voices. I figured it to be no later than five am, probably closer to four.
I recognized the cold, clammy fingers of the river and detected a rumble off in the distance. The Southern sounded her whistle on the morning fog, like a call to lost souls. That meant I must be on the East side, not far out of town. That was good, since I knew I’d be hoofing it back.
When I heard the fighting cocks crow over Sultana’s way and didn’t get a boot in my side as a good morning, I figured I’d played dead man’s bluff long enough and opened my eyes.
I had two reasons for keeping my head still. One, moving it’s a good way to get it blown off. Two, it was still pounding from whatever I’d done to it, or had done to it, the night before.
I tried to use my right hand to feel for my .45, but couldn’t get it to work. I managed to wiggle the fingers of my left into my coat pocket and experienced the night’s first real moment of disappointment when I discovered that it wasn’t there.
I’ve got a hard and fast rule about losing my gun—don’t. It’s paid off for me over the years, and while I don’t mind breaking other people’s rules, damned if I like breaking my own.
I wasn’t excited about making the effort to stand up. Pain has that effect on me. Two things decided it for me. One, I’d opened my eyes to discover I was lying beside an open grave. Second, my partner, Jake, was lying in the bottom of that grave with a hole between his eyes.
It took me sixty seconds to jump in the pit, toss my partner’s pockets, find the second and third leakers, and scramble back out again. Then I checked myself, my raincoat was wrinkled, nothing unusual there. I had a receipt for pie and coffee from the Uptown Café, a dog eared business card belonging to Madame Lulu, masseuse and tarot reader, and three dollars and some change in my pants.
Problem, someone had shifted my I.D. from my back pocket, where I usually kept it, to my inside jacket pocket. Why, I didn’t know. Yet. Maybe, they just wanted to make it nice and convenient for the coppers to find.
What I did know was, I hadn’t killed my partner. I knew, because despite the fact that he had been a right bastard and someone’s best effort to make it appear to the contrary, I wasn’t in the habit of shooting my friends. Proof being, I’d had one up until last night.
No, more likely I’d been Mickeyed, then dragged or lured here to take the fall. I wasn’t known to be an angry guy, but this set-up was making me see red. With pink stripping the sky, I took the first step of a long walk home.
I got lucky and hitched a ride with a guy hauling a load of cantaloupes to market. I had to sit in the back on account the dog had the front seat, but it was better than walking. Anyway, I felt lousy the whole way and was just as glad not to talk.
Jake was a skirt chasing bum and a lousy drunk, but I was sorry to lose him as a partner. We’d started in this business together. We’d seen some tough times and fought over a dame or two, sure, he cheated at cards and ponies, but it was his old man’s money feeding the coffers and three dollars and some change wasn’t going to replace that.
I jumped out at 43rd and High Street, planning to work my way home, maybe grab a donut and coffee on the way. I was dog bones tired. But first, I needed to make a call, I stopped at the first box I came to, dropped a dime and dialed up the best guy I knew on the squad. Luke and I had sat trenches together and we still got together to spill beer every now and then.
I spent a couple of minutes describing what I’d woken up to and a couple more vowing I’d be at the precinct by noon, no, he didn’t need to send a patrol for me.
I hadn’t gone half a block when the beat, twirling his stick, stopped me for a little friendly jawing.
“Somebody been using your face for a punching bag?”
“You don’t look so good yourself.” His face hadn’t been pretty to begin with. The black and blue bruise on his jaw just made him look mean.
He snarled, “You look like hell. Your eyes is half swolled shut. I need to run you in?”
This copper, saddled with the unfortunate handle of, Giles, happened to be one of the men I used to work the job with. I notice he’s shuffling his feet around, like he’s looking for any excuse, but then, he’s been pea-eyed ever since the Marlowe case.
I nod my head, “No, just out for my constitutional.”
I take the first step away from him and feel the bite of his fingers as he yanks on my bad right arm. “One of these days, I’m gonna land a punch that sticks.” He leans into my face wearing a tough guy grin and snarls, “I ain’t always gonna be in this uniform.”
He gives me the back of his hand and I discover that I hadn’t spat out all the graveyard dirt after all.
I think about how good it would feel to introduce my knuckles to his jaw. I have to remind myself that I’m trying to avoid irritating the boys today, under the circumstances, and that I need to be on the outside if I want to find out who really killed Jake. Still, I’m tempted. Somebody needs to pay for the cracks in my ribs, and who better than the flatfoot?
Instead, I leave him there whistling Dixie and make my way the few blocks over to my place. I’m dreaming of my bed and a tall gin in a short glass, when I hear the flap of well-worn shoe soles behind me. I turn in time to watch the news hawker rounding the corner.
“Oh, you made it, then.”
I’m surprised by his greeting. “Yea,” I say.
“Well, ok, then. I’ll just go, then.” He couldn’t be more than thirteen, “Oh, do you want this now, then?” He holds out a grubby hand with a flat palm and a .45 that looks familiar.
“Where’d you get that?”
“You dropped it when you came out with that lady.”
I ask him what lady and he says, “The one with the skirt and all the rings.”
I ask him what about her skirt, but I already know, don’t I? Hadn’t I known all along, anyway?
The memories come flooding back.
“I figure me saving its worth at least a quarter.” The kid’s enterprising; I’ll give him that, “I did it, so...”
“Here,” I hand over two quarters and give him a scowl to scare Jesus.
I make it two steps in my door before I’m stopped by Luke’s fist in my gut and my rubber knees.
“Ok,” I say, “Ok.” I’m nearly laid flat again by my woozy head but I manage to clamber to my feet.
“Lulu.” Even I can hear the gravel in my voice.
She takes one look at me and starts crying, “You killed him.”
I think- beautiful trouble is still trouble.
“You could’ve just divorced him, Lulu.”
She looks first at Luke, then at me, “Don’t pretend you don’t know what he was like.” She’s crying and I can tell its working.
“You came over last night, hypnotized me, didn’t you? Sent me out there to take the fall for your next patsy?”
Luke lunges at me, “Why you…”
He swings his fist and I duck.
“What happened, Lulu, you’re occult powers go on the fritz?”
Luke’s going for his piece when Lulu screams and I realize I’ve got my .45 in my hand.
“You killed him!”
Yea, now I don’t just want the gin, I need it.