A fallen cop tries to tie up some loose ends before his retirement.
Ebook available for free at Smashwords
Published in the September 2008 issue of Suspense Magazine
Featured in the "Mystery Newsletter (November 14, 2007)"
Featured in the "Short Stories Newsletter (May 26, 2010)"
Featured in the "Drama Newsletter (October 2, 2013)"
Glancing at his cheap watch, the detective sighed at the digital readout of two hours past midnight. Jesus, Mary and the fucking goat. He uttered a weary sigh while patting his belly. To hell with the paperwork, and to hell with the captain.The officer shook his head, unable to fathom the new captain's obsession with reports. "Twelve arrests in one night and she'll still chew my ass for not dotting the I's." Sharp pain from an old hip-pointer caused him to grimace while rising and walking away. "I'm too old for this."
Squeezing his slight paunch between a maze of empty desks obstructing a direct path, the weary cop meandered his way to the women's restroom, now the co-ed bathroom because of a bad pipe. In the triple-stalled bathroom, the officer stared at a pathetic image in the mirror while washing his hands. Tired, sunken, azure eyes stared back. A wrinkled hand traced the lines along his clean-shaven face. One more and you can turn me into a raisin. Combing over an ever-expanding bald spot in a futile attempt at concealment, he once more contemplating shaving all of the silver hairs and being done with it, and once more rejecting the insanity. Look like one of those Saturday Night Live Coneheads if I did. Straightening the chestnut tie, the vice detective pursed reed-thin lips as a chocolate stain revealed itself. Fifty-bucks down the drain. That's enough for one day. Time to go home.
Three minutes later, the officer began the journey home in a standard issue, ebony Expedition. He decided to check in on his partner, busy stashing away the cocaine from the earlier bust. The senior detective pressed the autodial on his Nokia. "How's my investment, Ernie?"
"We got a problem, Duvall." Mandrel sounded strained, and not from his forty-year-old smoking habit.
Duvall assumed the worst and leaned for the half-empty bottle of Rolaids stashed in the glove compartment. It never ends. He sighed, a mingling of weariness and preparedness. "What's up?"
"I got mugged. They took the key to the safe."
"Shit," Duval squeezed the leather padding of the steering wheel as his mind reeled off plans and counterpoints, rejecting each one in an instant, making new ones and tossing them as well. Not yet, maybe it's not as bad as I think- just coincidence. "They take your wallet?"
A huff answered, then a gasp for oxygen and a sigh of relief, "No."
Damn! Two state troopers occupying an unmarked Chevy riddled with wires along its roof passed by, peered at his tinted windows, giving him twin nods of recognition before speeding by. Duvall Broward almost ducked, and chastised himself for the foolishness. Think, think- a coincidence? "Gun? Badge?"
"No, boss. Just the key. They knew what they wanted. They're on foot, couple of homies- Crips."
Not a coincidence. Pulling over beside a hydrant, Duvall paused to assess the all too familiar situation. They were in the shit again, and the duty belonged to him to pull them out- again. "What's your twenty?"
"East 28th and Stanford."
He gave the nearest streetlight a habitual glance, already realizing that they jumped Ernie a couple blocks from the station, not to mention a spits throw away from their bust a few hours prior. Assholes are bold, or desperate. The dueling hypothesis warred in his mind as recent events flashed by. The Crips broke their neat arrangement, thought they could expand out of the black neighborhoods. I had every right to bust them. They broke the rules. A sole, unanswerable question lingered. Why? Why break the deal? Why assault a cop? Anger swelled within as Ernie's voice requested an E.T.A. over the cell. "Get off your ass and follow them."
"They beat me up pretty bad, boss. Where are you? I could use..."
"Get off your fat, lazy ass and follow them Mandrel! I'm on my way." Duvall slammed the Expedition in gear and shot off into the night.
Duvall picked up a second phone, prepaid and untraceable. He dialed a number stored in speed dial. The line clicked over yet remained silent. "It's me," Duvall strained through pursed lips.
"Broward?" A deep voice sighed. "If it ain't my favorite cop on the take? How can I help you?"
Anger strained to near bursting at the criminal's nonchalance, and Broward held on to reason by a fingernail. "Deal's over, Daz. You broke the rules. Your ass is mine." Without paying attention to the reply, Duvall hung up the phone while rolling the window down and threw it out.
As Duvall rounded the corner to East 28th, he grimaced at a fat white guy in his forties trailing two black youths with matching azure scarves hanging out the rear left pocket of their jeans. The gap widened as time stretched on. Duvall bashed the horn twice, swerved around a faded blue Honda attempting to parallel park, and stopped beside Ernie. The poor man looked the fool in his tight jeans, cowboy boots, and leather jacket, buckled over with hands on knees, gasping for breath. "Get in before you have a heart attack, you old mule." Duvall sped away before Ernie fastened the seatbelt, eyeing the bangers a mere twenty feet away.
He paid Ernie a passing glance. "Do they know where the stash is?"
Shaking his flushed face now purpling with bruises, Ernie coughed. "No."
Broward sighed before asking the obvious. "Do we follow?"
"For a million five? Shit yea."
A few seconds ticked away before Duvall wheeled the vehicle onto the sidewalk in front of the targets, cutting off their escape.
With strength renewed, or perhaps wounded pride, Ernie leaped from the SUV. "Stop asshole!" He reached out and tackled the taller of the two. His partner ran back down the street while Mandrel cuffed his collar. He searched the perpetrator with an unprofessional frenzy. "Wrong one."
"Dammit, I'll go after the other while you-"
The sound of tires screeching paused Broward mid-sentence as a sky blue Civic screeched off into the night.
Duvall searched the desolate streets, looking for witnesses. A woman, young and well endowed, ran screaming toward them. "¡Ayudarme! ¡Tomaron a mi bebé!" She clutched Duvall's suit. "Ayuda."
Duvall shook his head and sighed, part regret, part annoyance. One and a half million Latino's in Los Angeles and he never took the time to learn the language. And why should I? This is America dammit! No matter his past deeds and current misconduct, he possessed a willingness to help those in need, and the inability to do so frustrated him. Pleading for mercy to Mandrel with a glance, he passed the short woman over. "Little help." They switched places. Duvall loaded the nameless crook in the truck, and Mandrel tried to calm down the frantic citizen, speaking fluent Spanish between her shrieks.
"We got a problem boss." Mandrel turned from her to look at Duvall. "She's got a kid in the back seat, seven years old." Duvall did not hesitate before he ran to the driver's side.
"Tomar mi tarjeta," Ernie said before he gave her a business card. "Permanecer aquí, otro oficial vendrá te consiguen. La conseguiremos detrás." She nodded as he joined Broward. The partners sped away after the kidnapper.
Ernie reached for his phone. "I'll call Mick to sit on the woman. We'll have to cut him in, boss."
Duvall nodded, intent on the chase, thanking Jesus and Mary that traffic was light at this ungodly hour. They followed the pale blue vehicle down East 28th before it ran a red light and turned south on South Central Avenue. Unperturbed, Broward pressed on.
Ernie coughed an uncomfortable, deliberate cough. "We might need to get rid of-"
Duvall punched the leather dashboard. "No! Don't say it. Not one more word you son of a bitch. She's a kid."
"They got dirt on us, boss; the woman, the kid, Mick; too many loose ends."
Duvall pondered in silence as the four-lane road reduced to two. He searched for a rebuttal and found none. Ernie, simple minded but infallible, spoke true. But I won't sell my soul. "Ernie, everything we do saves lives. We let the niggers and spics and skinheads have their turf and it keeps the violence down. We let 'em sell their shit and it keeps the people in line. And you take a piece of the pie for yourself. Shaking his head against the small voice sounding like his ex-wife, penetrating his logic, denying the uttered fallacies with the plain truth. Face it Duv, you're in this to save your own ass. "We keep the peace, man. As long as they keep that shit in their own neighborhoods." And as long as you get your cut. He swiped the air at an invisible adversary, angry at his musings. "They broke the truce, crossed the line. We had every right to bust those fuckers last night, Ernie." And to resell the coke to the competition? "I'll think of something, Ernie," shocked by his constricting whisper, Duvall repeated the moniker, "I'll think of something."
He caught Ernie's tightlipped smile from the corner of his eye. "You always do, boss."
Duvall tried to follow through another red light, but almost collided with a small Ford Escort. He flashed a golden badge at the distraught woman and turned the corner to follow the vehicle, but they lost it. "Shit!"
Turning toward their guest, Broward delved into the vice cop persona, building up his reserve of strength and willpower, a necessary mixture in his line of work. He stared into ebony eyes filled with hate, anger, and vengeance, yet refused to blink, refused to look away. Never show weakness. "Where's he going?"
Skin so ebony as to appear purple, the slim banger gave an incredulous blink followed by a stiff laugh. "Screw you pig. This Trey Dog and The Dog don't snitch." The post-pubescent voice reminded Duvall of Mighty Mouse, and he fought to suppress the comical image that might shatter his hostile visage.
Broward and Mandrel exchanged a glance, speaking an unheard conversation, reaching a decision, and sharing a resolve to follow through- all in a glance, all in a moment. Duvall turned around in the middle of the intersection and sped back down East 28th.
Ten minutes passed before reaching their destination, an abandoned warehouse on the corner of the unlit street of East 45th and Pacific. Wooden planks shored up twin windows along the front. A sign warned Danger! and Condemned! in front of a door secured with a silver chain. Broward produced a MasterLock key from his pocket and removed the chain. The steel door swung inward on rusted hinged, adding a symphony of creaks and squeals to the stench emanating within. Grimfaced, he turned to Ernie who clutched the self-proclaimed Trey Dog with a meaty forearm around his throat, before entering. Ernie trailed with equal stoicism, the ever-squirming prisoner preceding him.
A row of hooks lined the far wall, suspended by thick chains, as if giant anglers sought to catch men without bait. Chains bolted to concrete columns quartering the room littered the dusty floor. The concrete floor dipped to a large drain, lined with crimson stains, in the room's center.
The Crip squirmed against a shorter but bulkier Ernie. "Kill me motherfu..." A kidney punch from Ernie ended the demand with a squeal of pain. He let the kid fall to his knees.
Duvall, clenched and unclenched his fists, a calming exercise one of the cop shrinks taught him a few years back when a bad case of police harassment lingered over him. His boiling anger's focus came not from the teenager before him; the boy was a lost cause, a wasted life in his book. It was that damnable voice in his mind, sounding like Ellen before she ran off with kids in fear, sounding so- right. Now there's a child and her mother involved. Now you know why I left, Duv. He gave Ernie the nod.
Ernie pounded The Dog's face with huge hands. "Where's he going?" A left to the cheek, "Tell us!" A right below the eye. Trey Dog's arms provided a poor shield against Mandrel as his finally bore them in front of his shattered face. His partner kicked through the barricade with the hard sole of his boot and sent the gangster sprawling across the floor. "Come on Trey Dog. Where's your homie?" A kick to exposed ribs followed the taunting query. The Dog howled in misery. Ernie took the time to catch his breath and grab a Benson & Hedges from his left breast pocket.
Frustrated at the lack of progress, Duvall snatched the slim prisoner by the scruff of his neck, and dragged him toward a column. Without a word, he stood the boy up and chained both arms above his head.
"So," Trey Dog slurred through a busted upper lip dripping blood, "you gonna be the good cop?" Those eyes, half closed and swollen still stared at Duvall with anger.
Duvall leaned in and whispered, "There's a kid in the back seat." The chains rattled as Trey Dog stiffened. "You're big time now, Trey Dog. One call from me and the Fed's will be after you and your little boyfriend.
Silence stretched, filling the house of horrors with its eeriness. Duvall pulled away, certain the boy would snitch. Trey Dog spit in his face instead. Wiping the slimy streaks with his ruined tie, Duvall sighed and shook his head, part weariness, part preparedness. "Ernie was the good cop. Now it's my turn."
Reaching in to his pants pocket with one hand and his gun holster with the other, Duvall attached a M9-SD silencer to his nine-millimeter Beretta. Without preamble for idle threats, he shot Trey Dog in the foot, and waited without expression for the screams to die down. "I need you alive, Trey. I can make this last all day."
The Dog's eyes, hate filled, stared at Duval, a silent refusal to acknowledge. "What doesn't kill me, makes me-"
Ernie stormed off into a dark corner in wide strides, his boots echoing throughout the warehouse. He grabbed an old broom looking woefully out of place to Duvall. Tapping the handle into one hand, Ernie strode toward the prisoner, pushed Broward out of the way, and proceeded to strike Trey Dog's chest with the cleaning instrument.
The wood splintered after a dozen strokes, sending half of the handle flying across the room. Duvall walked toward it and picked up the shard. His lips pursed in deep thought, Broward strolled toward Trey Dog, the jagged edge of the stick in full view. He leaned in once more and whispered, "Start talking, meat, or we stick this where the sun don't shine."
"Fu- fuck you- The Dddog don't-" Tears flowed from eyes now swollen shut as Ernie stripped the suspended prisoner from the waist down, Duvall brandished the shattered piece of wood like a sword, and Trey Dog moaned as if he lost his soul.
* * *
Minutes after completing the grim task, Mandrel and Broward sped back to South Central. The drive To Daz's location took twenty minutes. The empty streets of early morning Los Angeles sped by in a passing frenzy. The partners exchanged no words during the trek.
Only when the Expedition screeched in objection to Duvall slamming of the brakes did Ernie speak. "Maybe they'll let the kid go. It's the coke they want."
Duvall looked away and rolled his eyes. He loved Ernie like a brother, but the man had a bad habit of stating the obvious. Schooling his face to neutrality, Broward peered to the auto body shop next to a rundown Sonic Burger, just as The Dog admitted.
Ernie checked his service piece, ejected the magazine, and inserted it once more. "Got a plan, boss?"
Duvall nodded, slow, calculating, precise. "Go in and trade the money location for the kid." He ignored the pole-axed expression from Ernie. "Then we call Mick, tell him to steal the safe before the Rolling 40's get there."
"You think they will get pissed when we tell them we sold the dope to MS-13."
"We won't tell them that, obviously. Let's go."
They walked across the street, calm and relaxed. Old friends catching up on lost times, eh Duv? With a grimace, Broward pushed Ellen away. "Remember Ernie, they broke the rules. This isn't a sewing circle." His partner nodded, and sucked air as sweat trickled down his battered face. As they approached the entrance, Duvall grabbed Mandrel by the elbow. "Put your piece away."
Ernie obeyed with a small frown and the opened the employee entrance of the chop shop. Florescent lights overheard bathed the warehouse filled with Fords, Hondas, and Toyota's of various makes, models, and degrees of disrepair. A familiar looking Civic lined the far wall by itself, and the partners weaved in between the maze of vehicles to reach it. The sound of approaching footsteps prompted both officers to lift their guns at the sound.
"Well," a deep voice coming from behind a navy blue Taurus with its engine gutted, "if it ain't my favorite cop on the take."
Duvall holstered his weapon, but halted Ernie from doing the same. He displayed a sarcastic smile, ready to play this out to the logical conclusion. "If it ain't old Scarface," Broward motioned both hands toward his chest. "Now give me the kid and we can work this out."
The man stepped into the light, tall, athletic, and garbed in an azure Armani suit with a matching handkerchief peeking through the left breast pocket. His mahogany hands gripped a 45 drawn at the Mexican girl he utilized as a shield. With a deep sigh, he shook his head at the cops. "I asked you not to call me that, Broward."
Duvall shrugged, full of the arrogance and swagger necessary to negotiate with gang bangers. "Sorry. It's hard sometimes. You know what I mean. The whole burn scar on your face kinda stands out. Think of it as a complement. You've seen the movie right?" Broward paused in mock contemplation. "But then again Tony Montana didn't lose an acid fight to a Mara Salvatrucha."
The extraordinary criminal appeared unaffected by the banter, choosing to kneel before the slim girl before him. "¿Entender el inglés?"
Her tear streaked face bobbed in affirmation, long ebony strands of hair concealed her face, "Yes, sir."
"My name's Daz, what's yours?"
Daz nodded, looking at Duvall, then back to the girl who clenched her fists in jean pockets. "Now listen, Maria. I want to let you go. Understand?" She nodded. "But if Detective Broward tries to screw me," he waved his gun at Broward's direction, "I will not hesitate to blow your fucking brains out." Maria stiffened, shut her eyes, and nodded.
Duvall, uneasy and afraid, felt control slipping from his sweaty grasp. "A federal rap won't be good for business."
The banger nodded with a frown before standing to his full form. "Yea, let's talk business." Daz whistled, and ten Crips popped up from behind cars, semiautomatic weapons drawn. "Give up your guns, and we can negotiate."
Broward and Mandrel exchanged glances, exchanging plans and tactics in a moment, and rejecting each idea in the next. Finally, Duvall shook his head.
Mandrel's mouth slacked open in disbelief, "Boss?"
"It's alright Ernie, it's alright." Both men surrendered their guns. A youth not old enough to shave confiscated the weapons and turned them over to the leader.
Daz smiled. "Let's talk about my crew you busted last night."
Anger stoked across emotional coals, Broward strode forward in defiance. "You broke the rules, Daz! I told you to keep that shit on your side of the tracks!"
"Don't pull the sanctimonious bullshit with me, Duvall. Where's my coke?"
"How did you know about the key on Ernie?"
"Where's my shit!"
"Gone." Bolts cranked and slammed home as a dozen weapons loaded a round in each chamber. Duvall closed his eyes and fought to remain calm. "We sold half, the other half we turned in. I'll tell you where the money is as soon as you let the girl go."
Daz smiled once more, a victorious stretch of thick lips. "Good, Broward. That's real good. See, you ain't the only cop on my payroll, Broward. I got people watching you while you watching me. I knew you split the shipment in half. I just didn't know where you took the half you kept."
Swallowing his pride with a glance at the frightened child, Broward confessed. "It's in a safe, in a warehouse on East 45th and Pacific. Now let her go!"
Daz nodded to a familiar face, Trey Dog's comrade who started this mess. The kidnapper took off without a word using the same Civic he acquired a couple of hours ago.
Daz let the girl go as the car sped off. She fled toward Broward as he knelt with outstretched arms. A shot echoed throughout the shop. Maria's arms flailed as fell into Duvall's chest.
Broward's jaw dropped in disbelief. The sound of Ellen's chastisement stunted awareness of the event. Only the trickling of liquid in his hands shook the stupor. Shocked, he shied away from Maria, letting her frail corpse drop to the oil-slicked floor.
Daz stepped forward, leveled a nine-millimeter at the dead girl, and fired once more.
Broward, in a hot rage, reached for his gun. Realization hit as he remembered surrendering it. Looking up, the crooked cop stared down the barrel of his own gun in Daz's hand. He shot her, with my gun. Ellen shattered the barrier muffling her voice. And you wonder why we left you!
Clutching Ernie's gun in one hand and Duvall's in the other, Daz engaged each clip release and dislodged the magazines. He threw the useless weapons at each cop. No maniacal laughter of the insane, no mock retort of the brutish victor, lined Daz's stoic features, only the calm visage of a man handling business.
Another hood stood over the girl with a Polaroid camera, snapping twin photos of Maria. Without comment, he tossed one print to Broward and pocketed the other. Two other nameless gangsters wrapped the body in plastic and wordlessly exited the facilities- just men doing their jobs.
Broward, still kneeling, looked up at Daz. "What the hell did you do?"
"This is what you call an insurance policy. If you ever steal from me again, this girl's body will turn up somewhere public, filled with rounds from your gats." Daz's cell phone rang. As the voice on the other line spoke, his demeanor seemed to get angrier. "Is he alive?" The response soured his mood further and the cool businessman slammed the flip phone shut while aiming his 45 at Broward.
Trey Dog, they found him. Broward stared up at Daz, unafraid, taunting. "Guess he found his boyfriend with a broom stuck up his ass."
Daz, his face grim, eyes hard, stared at Broward with unflappable hatred as he leveled the gun once more. "Looks like we won't need that insurance policy after all, Detective. Such a waste." He pulled the trigger.
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