The Christmas Three

Kaitlin sat in the den, leafing through a magazine, dressed in the red lace teddy she favored for first-timers. She wore matching red pumps, the low ones, so he wouldn’t feel intimidated by her height.

She glanced at the clock hanging above the gas fireplace. He was late.

She sighed, closed the magazine, and stood. She paced around the room, arranging picture frames and trinkets, went to the window and gazed down at the dark street. Large snowflakes were falling, covering the parked cars with a fresh, powdery film.

Knock knock.

* * *

“We had a good year, Ed. I mean, sure, there were bumps in the road, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”

Vito Di Melo, a 67-year old, second-generation Sicilian immigrant, leaned back in his chair and sipped from a generous glass of grappa.

Sitting across from him at a table covered with a white plastic tablecloth was Ed Greene, a 45-year-old patrolman who was built like a fire hydrant.

“Ed, did I ever tell you the story of my uncle Gio, from Palermo? The one who got the peg leg?”

From the kitchen of their restaurant, Alberta Di Melo called out, “Ah! Vito! If you haven’t told him a hundred times, you haven’t told him once.”

The woman, who was also in her sixties and just about as large as she was tall, came out of the kitchen and made her way to the two men. She wiped her hands on a stained apron, took down a chair from the top of a nearby table, and sat next to them.

She turned to Ed. “I’d tell you to forgive him, Ed, and blame it on the age. Since, you know, the mind starts going a little. But my Vito, he’s been repeating himself since he was in diapers.”

“So long as he remembers how to make veal scallopini, he’s got nothing to worry about, as far as I’m concerned,” Ed said. He raised his glass and held it there. “A toast, to a fine couple and their fine eatery. Merry Christmas!”

Their glasses touched and they drank.

They sat silently for a while before Ed made a show of glancing at his watch and sighing.

“I should go. It’ll be midnight before we know it.” He stood, pulled on his jacket. “You folks better get home, find out what Santa left you under the tree.”

Vito and his wife stood, laughing. Ed wrapped the pudgy woman in his arms. While they embraced, Vito went to the bar and returned with a gift bag.

Buon natale, Ed. All the best, from our family to yours.” Ed pulled away from Alberta and accepted the bag. “Just a little something to show our appreciation for what you do. And please, Ed, send our best to Mister Kingston and his family.”

Ed knew better than to look inside the bag. No need to insult the old man.

Grazie mille, Signore, Signora. Always a pleasure.”

He shook Vito’s hand, opened the door and slipped out into the cold night.

Moments later, he came across a vagrant he knew from his days walking the beat.

“Merry Christmas, Officer Greene. You been a good boy for San-tee Claus?”

The hobo, who went by the name of Pint-- on account of the format of poison he favored-- flashed Ed a toothless grin.

Ed pulled the wine bottle from the gift bag he’d just received. “I’m only a good boy when I’m being bad, Pint.” He dropped the bottle into the man’s trembling hands. “Merry Christmas.”

As the man praised him in sounds that might have been words in some unknown tongue, Ed walked away.

After sliding behind the wheel of his squad car, he pulled a wad of bills from the gift bag. He quickly counted the money, smiled, and pocketed the bills.

It was almost ten o’clock. He needed to hurry if he wanted to get to everyone before midnight.

* * *

Kaitlin nearly gasped when she opened the door.

The man stood in the hallway, hands clenched behind his back. He swung lightly from side to side like a slow-moving pendulum. He was handsome, with dark hair, and dark eyes peering into hers. He wore a tailored, a navy blue peacoat with a light blue shirt and yellow tie with matching scarf.

“Hello,” she said. “It’s Tim, right?”

He nodded, then looked nervously up and down the hallway.

Kaitlin took the hint. “Come on in, Tim.”

She smiled and stepped aside. As he moved past her, she caught a whiff of his cologne—a familiar scent she identified instantly. Aqua Di Gio. That brought back memories, both good and bad.

Kaitlin lead him into the den.

When she brushed by him and touched his arm, she felt him stiffen. He looked away.

Kaitlin wondered how he would react when she really put her hands on him.

“Do you mind if we just talk?” Tim asked right away.

“Not at all.” Kaitlin smiled and pointed to the couch. “Have a seat.”

This was not an uncommon request, oddly enough. Lots of the men—and most of the women—who hired her were simply looking for a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on.

“Can I get you a drink?”

Tim shook his head, looked around nervously. “The drink and I don’t get along much.”

“Mind if I have one?”

He shrugged. “Go ahead.”

Kaitlin smiled and went into the kitchen, where she pulled out a bottle of wine. While she poured herself a glass, she glanced into the den. Tim sat on the couch, still, hands folded in his lap. He stared ahead and barely batted an eye.

His demeanor rankled her. She was used to men being enthusiastic when they showed up, eager to get down to business the second they walked in. Most of them never bothered sitting down; they practically had their clothes off before she answered the door.

Kaitlin took a deep breath and picked up her glass.  He wanted to talk, so she’d talk.

Tim didn’t look up when she returned. She noticed an envelope on the coffee table.

“Thank you,” she said, picking it up and leaving the room again. The envelope was thick and heavy. There was probably a lot more money than there should have been, but she didn’t question him on it. She never did. Discussing money always made things awkward, so she avoided it as much as possible.

She slid the envelope into the safe in her bedroom and went back into the den.

He finally looked up when she sat across from him and crossed her bare legs.

“Tell me, Tim. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a carpenter.”

She smiled at the obvious lie. What carpenter dresses up like that? He probably spent his whole paycheck on the suit and tie, thinking the Don Draper look would attract women.

“So you’re good with your hands.”

“Yeah.” There was no hint that he picked up on that reference.

Kaitlin took a sip of bourbon. “Do you live in town?”

Tim shook his head. “Across the river.”

They were quiet for a while. Kaitlin tapped a fingernail against her glass. She smiled whenever their eyes met, hoping she could somehow drag him over to her bed.

But he showed no interest in that.

“Why are you here tonight?” she asked. “It’s Christmas. Nobody should be alone at Christmas.”

“If I weren’t here, we’d both be alone.”

That was the cleverest thing he’d said so far.

Kaitlin glanced down at his hands. Long, thick, crooked fingers, calloused and dry. They had scars where he had been cut, by a saw or a nail, she guessed.

He turned back to her and caught her staring. He smiled and asked, “Do you have any secrets?”

* * *

Jon McNamara looked up from his cards, a large grin spread across his pock-marked face. “Call.” He dropped a couple of bills on the table.

Ed shook his head. “You’ll never get it, will you, Mac?” He threw his cards to the felt one by one, watching for McNamara’s reaction as the royal flush was revealed. “I try to spare you the humiliation every time, Mac. But, you keep coming back for more. Just like the last broad I had.”

Ed left what must have been 20 or 25 bucks in small bills on the table and stood. He downed a shot of Canadian Club. “Buy another one,” he explained, nodding towards the near-empty bottle. “Merry Christmas, Mac.”

“Hold on, Ed,” McNamara said. “Been meaning to talk to you about something.” He held up the bottle towards Ed, let it hover over his empty glass.

“Pour,” Ed said before sitting again.

The Irishman did as ordered. “You know the girl who works the bar on the weekend? Tall redhead, nice rack. Real, too. She goes by the name of Christina?”

Ed nodded, although, who notices a redhead nowadays?

“Christina’s a girl who likes to party. Sex, drugs and more drugs, and then some. That’s all good and fine, I ain’t got no problem with it, so long as you don’t shit where you work. I so much as get a whiff of that, and you’ll be tending bar at some kid’s lemonade stand faster than you can say blow job in the alley.”

“I’ll remember that when I apply here.”

“Anyways. It’s an expensive lifestyle. Or so I’m told. Christina makes good money here. Guys love the cleavage she’s always showing, so they tip her more than they tip the naked broad shaking her plastic tits on stage. Only it’s not enough to pay for all the shit she snorts.”

Classic tale, Ed thought. “She owe you?”

McNamara looked downright shocked at the suggestion.

“Ed, you know I don’t do that.”

“You banging her? A little late-night knob polishing in your office, Mac?”

MacNamara was set to answer, but Ed put up a hand to stop him.

“Forget it, Mac. I don’t want to know.” He looked at his watch, took a sip of rye. “Your point?”

MacNamara sighed, poured himself a glass and looked up at Ed.

“The guy she owes, his momma christened him Melvin Tubbs. To everyone else, he’s Melt. As far as I know, Melt is not a friend of Mister Kingston’s.”

“I’ve heard of Melt,” Ed said. “And you’re correct about that last part.”

“Right. Well, this past Saturday, it’s 9:30, maybe 10, and Melt comes in with a couple of his henchmen. Christina’s at the sticks. Melt and the boys start making trouble, hassling her, letting everyone in the place know what kind of girl they’re dumping their paychecks on. Before my guys can even react, Melt pulls her by the hair, pushes her face down on the beer-soaked mahogany. Tells her, and this is she quoting him, “My money. Friday. Or we burn down your mommy’s house.”

Ed chuckled. “All I want for Christmas is my money back.”

“Asshole like Melt, only gift he deserves is a noose and the tallest tree known to man.”

“Let me guess,” Ed sighed. “Your little honey can’t come up with the money. And she needs a fix to make it through Christmas with the family. Right?”

MacNamara nodded. “She’ll get help after New Year’s. But money don’t grow on trees.”

Ed downed the last of his drink, then stood. “I’ll take care of it. But I’ll have to tell the boss about this.”

McNamara nodded and put out his hand. They shook, then McNamara pulled Ed in, threw his arms around him. “See Keith on your way out. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.”

Ed left the office. He walked by the floodlit stage without looking at the black girl with saggy breasts hugging the pole and stopped at the bar. He ordered a double rye on the rocks and turned to look at the room.

Not an empty seat in the joint. He laughed, shook his head. Even on Christmas Eve, this bunch of losers couldn’t resist the pull of topless women.

When the girl who was not Christina brought him his drink, Ed asked her to get Keith. A second later, a broad-shouldered mick with shamrock tattoos on his hands appeared and handed Ed an envelope. Ed nodded and showed himself out.

Inside his car, Ed emptied the envelope, mixing the crisp new greenbacks with the rest to make a thick wad. Might be a good idea to stash some of it away before heading home. If Lauren went through his pants and found so much cash again, she’d flip out. He’d have to make up another story about holding it for evidence and all that. He wasn’t so sure he had it in him to spend so much energy on Christmas morning.

He checked the radio. All quiet. He waited a few seconds while Central settled an argument between a couple of douche bags from another precinct, then checked in. The dispatcher had nothing new for him, so Ed simply put the car in gear and pulled into the light traffic.

Ed glanced at the clock: five to eleven. He was cutting it close. He’d have to keep his next stops short.

And he would have to ease up on the drinking if he wanted to be in top shape when the clock struck twelve and the party began.

* * *

“Doesn’t everybody have them?”

Kaitlin tried to hide her discomfort. She was growing a little nervous now. In the four years she’d been doing this, sitting alone in her apartment and taking strangers to bed, never once had she felt physically threatened in any way. She was one of the few lucky ones, she knew.

But tonight, this handsome carpenter with calloused hands who insisted on talking gave off a weird vibe.

He stared at her, his cold eyes boring into hers. She broke the stare and looked away.

“Is it a secret?” he asked. “What you do, I mean. Do your friends know about it? And your family?”

How much should she tell him? Kaitlin had grown accustomed to playing shrink, but it was very rare for the tables to be turned. She simply wouldn’t allow it. But it was happening now and there was nothing she could do about it.

“I’m not ashamed of what I do,” she explained. “My family’s opinion doesn’t matter to me. How are you going to live your life if you’re always worried about other people’s opinions?”

Tim looked up at her, grinned. “You never pick your family, right?”

Kaitlin nodded, looked away. They were silent for a while. One quick glance at the clock gave her hope. She cleared her throat, then told him that he had ten minutes left.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Kaitlin threw back the last of her drink and stood.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?”

* * *

It’s funny how people react sometimes.

The second Marty The Party saw Ed climb out of his squad car, he dropped the brown paper bag he was holding and bolted around the corner into a dark alley.

Sure, Marty The Party had been fast, once. Back in grade school, he’d raced little Billy Simpson around the block; winner got to kiss Amanda, the first girl in their class to develop breasts. But that was before Marty became The Party, name given to Marty on account of his always being the one you called when your party lacked a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.

Ed grabbed Marty by the shoulder and slammed him against the brick wall. Marty huffed and puffed, his eyes glassy, breath stinking of a rum and meth cocktail that would have killed lesser men.

“Marty The Party,” Ed said into the man’s terrified eyes. “What part of ‘Get the fuck out of my neighborhood’ did you not understand, boy?”

Before Marty could answer, Ed put his weight behind a hard punch to the man’s gut. Marty gasped, doubled over. “You puke on my shoes, Marty, and the pigs are going to have you for Christmas brunch. Hear?”

Marty coughed and took in several sharp breaths. He straightened so he could look the cop in the eye.

“I... I... I was gone man, I swear. It’s true, I swear. I went upstate for a while, and... and... and I caught up with this girl I used to know. But she went and threw me out on my ass, I swear. Besides—”

Before Marty could finish that thought, Ed held him still with his left hand, then reared back and ripped into him. Face, kidneys, face again, two, three, four times, until the man’s legs buckled and he crumpled to the ground. Ed kicked him in the ribs, the cracking sound of steel meeting bone barely audible over the man’s wailing cries.

“You must have a never-ending barrel of excuses, Marty. I’ve had enough of your fucking shit.”

Ed bent over him, sifted through his pants pockets and came out with some bills and a bunch of dime bags packaged in a larger Ziploc bag. All of it found a new home in Ed’s pockets.

“That’s it?”

Marty nodded, winced.

“Don’t lie to me!” Ed kicked him again, and Marty’s air left his lungs, the sound like that of a balloon deflating. “Christmas Eve and Marty The Party only has fifty bucks to his name? I know the economy ain’t doing so good, but even a nitwit like you can make a killing in this business. Am I right, Marty? Where’s the rest of the loot?”

Marty coughed several times before turning his head to the side and vomiting on the asphalt. Ed laughed, kicked him again, ecstatic at the sheer joy of it.

“Where are you hiding the money, Marty? Shoes?”

Ed bent over again, pulled at Marty’s cheap, soiled sneakers that were stylish back in the nineties. The cop grimaced as the man’s stench reached his nose. He shook the shoe, but nothing came out. He tossed it aside, grabbed the other foot.

Jackpot.

“See, Marty, I knew you were better than that.” He shuffled the bills and counted them quickly. “Seven hundred and change. Quite the haul, Marty. Maybe that girl would take you back now, Moneybags.”

Ed pocketed the bills, then helped Marty to his feet. Ed pulled a dime bag from his own pocket, dropped it into Marty’s hand.

“Merry Christmas, Marty. You get a present, even if you’ve been naughty.” He slapped the man’s cheek for the fun of it. “If I come around here next week and I see you hanging around? Lord have mercy on your rotten soul.”

Ed smiled. All in all, this was quite a productive evening.

And the best was yet to come.

* * *

“So tell me, Tim,” Kaitlin said, crossing her legs. “What’s your secret?”

Tim grinned, rubbed his hands together.

Kaitlin waited for him to go on.

He sat up, on the edge of his seat, opened his mouth. Nothing. He shook his head, closed his mouth, and let himself fall back against the soft leather.

Kaitlin turned her palms up. “Well?”

There was silence for a long time as they both stared at each other, then looked away before staring again. Kaitlin wished she had put on some music.

“I have dark thoughts,” he finally said.

Kaitlin had to bite her lip not to laugh. The last thing she wanted to do was to humiliate him. The thing with men is, you never knew how they’d react if you humiliated them. Even when there was no one else in the room.

“What kind of dark thoughts?”

Tim inhaled deeply, rubbed his hands again. “Real dark, you know. About hurting someone. Causing pain. Death, even.”

“Give me an example,” she asked, hoping to show she was interested, keep him talking.

If he kept talking, she thought, he couldn’t do anything else.

“When I was a kid, and my parents would go out for dinner or to see a show, I’d sit up in bed with the lights off, listening to the sounds of the night. And I’d make up stories in my head, how the cops would come knocking, tell me my parents had been murdered. Like Batman. Or that they’d died in a fiery car crash. Or poisoned in a restaurant by some sick fuck dressed up as a cook.”

Kaitlin sat, frozen, rendered speechless by his words. “And you weren’t sad? To think that your parents could die like that?”

Tim smiled, shook his head. “I was sad when they came home. Wished the bastards would die and leave me alone.”

Just when you think it’s going to be a routine date, Kaitlin thought.

“How old were you?” she asked.

“Ten or twelve,” he answered, not a trace of shame in his expression. “As best as I can remember, that’s when the erections started. I would get so hard thinking of the bullets ripping through their skin, or the meat cleaver slicing them open like I’d seen in a movie. I’d lie in bed for hours, not knowing what to do to make the pain go away.”

“Do you still have them? These thoughts?”

“Yes. Very often. Only now, I think of people from work. Or kids I knew back in school. The bullies who would beat me up after school for not having the right shoes or for wearing glasses.”

“Do you have nice thoughts sometimes? Happy thoughts?”

Tim shrugged. “Once in a while. But they’re few and far between.”

“What about now? Are you having dark thoughts now? About me?”

* * *

At eleven thirty, Ed called it quits. It was quiet on the streets now. It wouldn’t get much jumpier until three or four the next morning when folks would start leaving their parties, and some drunk would cause a head-on crash that would kill a family of four coming home from Grandma’s with a trunk full of new toys which the kids would never get to play with.

Ed guided his cruiser to the precinct and parked in the far back lot. He popped the trunk open and moved his equipment aside to get to his duffel bag. He unzipped the bag, checked on the contents. The money was still there. He closed the bag and slammed the trunk door.

He jogged to the back door of the station, barged in, and stood there for a minute, letting the heat make its way to his chilled bones. He looked into the squad room and saw no one. Everybody had gone home.

Ed heard laughter coming from the coffee room down at the far end of the hallway. A couple of homicide dicks were playing cards while they knocked back shots of gin. Ed made a right and ducked into the locker room.

There was no time to waste. Seven minutes later, he had showered, toweled off, then slipped his uniform back on, making sure to put on a fresh shirt.

Had to have the uniform. She loved it when he showed up in uniform. Never seen a girl go crazy like she did when he wore his blues.

Standing in front of the mirror, he took a good look at himself and turned away satisfied. From his locker, he collected the tiny box he had had wrapped earlier in the week, slipped it into his coat, and left the room.

“Merry Christmas, fellas,” he yelled from across the room to the card-playing dicks.

They returned his greeting, and Ed hopped down the stairs and into the bitter cold.

Which he no longer minded.

Because in a few minutes, he’d be in the hot, damp place he loved.

* * *

Kaitlin poured herself another drink while she tried to calm down.

She was curious now. She wanted Tim to keep talking. Wanted to know everything about him, what made him tick, what kept him going.

She wasn’t sure why, exactly. Maybe because, deep down, they were so alike.

“I hope you’re not offended that I only wanted us to talk,” Tim said when she returned.

“Not at all, Tim. Trust me, I get that a lot. Don’t worry”

“I’m just not very good, you know, with women.”

That’s a surprise, she thought. Had to bite her lip again, so she wouldn’t say it out loud. “Why do you say that?”

Tim shrugged, chuckled. “I never know what to say. I have no idea how to approach a woman.”

“Are you afraid of women? Afraid that they’ll say no?”

He gave a curt nod. “They always say no. And when they say yes, finally, all they do is laugh at me.”

Kaitlin frowned. “Why do they laugh?”

Another chuckle. “It usually happens when I take off my pants. They see my penis, you know, and they can’t help themselves.”

“What’s so bad about it?”

He just shook his head, looked away. Burned a hole into the wall, he stared so hard at it.

“Is that when the bad thoughts start?” Kaitlin asked.

* * *

The streets were so quiet, it felt like a midnight curfew had been implemented.

Ed came upon the tenement. He looked up to the third-floor window, saw the light on and smiled.

He let himself in and climbed the stairs. He stopped on a landing, turned to look at his reflection in the window. All good. Better than good, in fact. Spectacular.

He bounced up the final set of steps to her front door.

* * *

“Therapy might help.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Kaitlin smiled, shifted her legs from under her, and drank from her freshly filled glass. She was starting to get a buzz from the alcohol, so she decided this would be the last one. Until Tim left, that is.

There was a knock at the door. She jumped, startled.

Tim looked at her as she turned towards the door. “Are you expecting someone?”

“No.” She stood. “Probably someone looking for a party. Wrong apartment. Be right back.”

Tim’s eyes followed her all the way as she walked to the door.

* * *

“Ed, what are you doing here?”

He brought the flowers out from behind his back, smiling widely.

“Those are lovely. But you’ve got to go,” she said, trying to shut the door on him.

Ed’s grin melted, a frown taking over. “And a merry fuckin’ Christmas, to you, too, Kaitlin.”

He pushed the door open. Kaitlin got out of the way a mere second before being crushed between the heavy oak and the wall. Ed closed the door behind him. He removed his coat and started on his boots.

Kaitlin laid a hand on his shoulder to stop him. He looked up at her.

“Now is not the best time,” she said, pointing to the den with her eyes.

Ed laughed. “Who is it?” He tried to look into the den, but Kaitlin pushed him back, mouthed Leave now.

“I want to see him.”

“Ed! Get out!”

The cop pouted playfully, pulled her in close to him. Brought his lips to hers.

“I thought we could have ourselves a little party,” he said after the kiss. “It is Christmas, after all.”

* * *

Sitting on the leather couch, Tim was growing increasingly impatient. He could hear voices, hers and some man’s, whispering. This was obviously not someone knocking on the wrong door.

He stood, shuffled to the edge of the room, peered around the wall.

The man was a cop, in full uniform. He pawed Kaitlin’s body as they kissed.

Tim felt the heat rise to his face. He took a few deep breaths, pulled the Luger from under his belt, held it against his thigh, and came around the wall.

“Kaitlin. Is everything okay?”

* * *

Kaitlin saw the gun out of the corner of her eye. She pushed away from Ed, who—idiot— kept his hands on her ass.

“Y-yes, Tim, all fine,” she said, her eyes stuck on the gun. “I’ll be right with you.”

“Who’s your friend?” Tim asked, not even bothering to hide the gun behind his leg.

Ed finally took his hands off Kaitlin. He looked at Tim for the first time, took him in from head to toe and snickered. Typical loser, Ed thought.

“H-he was just leaving,” Kaitlin explained as she lunged for the door. “Right, sir?”

Ed’s eyes widened as he looked closely at the man approaching him. He seemed familiar. Ed’s brain went on fast forward, and he came up with it in a flash.

Ed pointed a finger at Tim as his right hand reached for his own gun. “Hey, aren’t you—?”

Tim didn’t answer. The only sound was the boom of the first explosion.

The sound deafened Kaitlin, whose only reflex was to fall to her knees and cover her head with her hands.

Ed crumbled to the floor, inches from her, his blood splattered all over the wall and the door, brain matter landing on her red teddy.

Tim strutted over, stopped at the bloody corpse and checked for a pulse. With frightening calm, he went through the cop’s pockets and whistled at what he found. He pocketed the money, tossed the dope on a nearby coffee table.

“Merry Christmas to me,” he sang, like a cheery caroler on this festive night, instead of the cold-blooded murderer he was.

Kaitlin shriveled under his touch when he laid a hand on her shoulder.

“You did good,” he said, trying to turn her head so she’d look at him. “I’m a friend of Mr. Kingston’s. I’ll make sure he knows how good you did tonight.”

Tim stepped over the cop’s lifeless body and opened the door.

He turned to her one last time.

“A couple of guys’ll be here soon. They’ll clean up the mess. Merry Christmas.”

 

THE END

Silver Dollar Returns

This week's theme for Flash Fiction Friday was very enticing: the wild west. Land of gold rushers, robbers, gunslingers and cattle drives. I have wanted to do a western story for a long time, but for some reason, I kept putting it off.

Now, there was no way I could pass on this opportunity.

So I hit play on the score to Quentin Tarantino's Hateful Eight, masterfully done by the great Ennio Morricone. That set the mood perfectly.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and pretend that this story matches the works of such western masters as Grey,  Leonard, McMurtry or L'Amour. I need to work on making the dialogue more colorful, more in touch with the era's way of speaking.

Here's what I've come up with. Saddle up!


Arizona Territory, shortly after the Civil War

Blanche left the comfort of the post office and crossed the dusty street to the saloon.

She pushed the doors open and entered the watering hole. It was quiet, on account of it being 10 a.m. Stan Brown made himself look busy behind the bar. A lone customer had parked his wide derriere on a stool.

Two of Brown’s ladies threw themselves at the burly man. Despite the filth covering him from head to toe. They drank house bourbon and laughed, their roars echoing in the near-empty bar.

Blanche made a point of not looking at the gals. She’d escaped that life years ago, and thanked God for it every day.

She went around the bar and grabbed Brown by the arm to lead him away from the small crowd.

«You need to see this, Stan,» Blanche said, handing him a telegram addressed to Lee Watson.

«Why that look, Blanche?»

Brown fixed his eyes on hers while he unfolded the paper.

«Read it,» Blanche told him when he hesitated.

Brown squinted down at the paper for a minute, then shook his head. «My spectacles are upstairs.»

Blanched sighed and ripped the paper from his hands. «It’s Silver Dollar Tom. Stan, it says he’s gonna be here in two days.»

Brown stomped his foot on the floor and cursed under his breath.

Silver Dollar Tom’s name brought back horrible memories.

Blanche questioned him with a look.

«Who else have you told about this?» Brown asked.

«Nobody.»

Brown tossed the paper into the wood stove. He bent under the bar to retrieve his gun belt, tightened it around his waist. He checked his Colt and dropped it into the belt.

«Watch this place, Blanche.»

Blanche looked at the girls and frowned. «Be quick please, Stan.»

 

Brown walked down the middle of the wide street, making sure he didn’t step in the fuming piles of horse dung and ruin the shine on his boots.

Dark thoughts entered his head and he pushed them away. Tom Haskins had done him and this village wrong more than once. Now he was coming ‘round for more.

«Howdy, Stan!» Owen Johnson, the banker, saluted Brown from the porch.

Brown waved lazily and kept walking.

Father Frank’s horse, groomed and saddled, sat outside the chapel. The old pastor was headed out.

Inside, Brown found Father Frank kneeling at the altar.

The bartender stopped a few feet behind the pastor and cleared his throat.

Startled, Father Frank dropped his beads to the floor and turned to the sound.

«Need a word, Father,» Brown said.

«You scared me, Stanley.»

Brown pointed to a pew and both men sat down.

«We received a telegram,» Brown explained. «From Tom Haskins.»

The pastor’s eyes filled with a hatred uncommon for men of the cloth.

«Thought that devil was in hell.»

Brown shook his head.

«Guess he heard that Watson expired at Mesilla. That’s why he’s coming back.»

Father Frank mumbled a short prayer. Stanley Brown stood, his massive bulk towering over the short pastor, and toyed with his Colt.

«We gonna fight him, Stanley?»

«Nobody’ll do it for us, Father. There’s a posse for hire in the next town over. War veterans. You don’t mind, I’ll send a telegram. Hire them.»

Father Frank nodded. «May God be on your side, Son.»

 

Brown made his way back to the saloon.

The dirty customer had made his choice and disappeared with Lucy. The other girl, older and thicker around the waist, sat across from Blanche. The women were gossiping about the village’s few amorous affairs.

Blanche looked up when Brown walked in.

«Need you to send a telegram, Blanche.»

They walked to the post office, where Blanche sat at the desk and waited for instructions.

«There’s a posse for hire in the next town,» Brown said. «Gonna need their help for when Haskins shows.»

Blanche’s face lost all colour. The mere thought of more mischief in this town was enough to throw her stomach into a funk.

«Stan, haven’t we buried enough men? What with this darn War? And now you want to fight Tom Haskins?»

«I buried my only son because of him. Can’t let him come back and ruin our lives again.»

Blanche sighed and read the words out loud as she typed.

«Colorado City. Stop. Need gunmen. Stop. See Saloon. Stop. Quick.»

«That’ll do it,» Brown said. «Let me know when they answer.»

He left the post office and crossed back to the saloon.

Blanche, her lower lip quivering, pulled her drawer open and found her husband’s last letter.

She read the final line over and over again, this line she knew by heart, but no longer believed.

Love always, your Lee.

Weeping, she tossed the paper back into the drawer and slammed it shut.

 

Two days later

Stan Brown woke to the thundering sound of hooves in the distance. He bolted from his bed and went to the window.

He looked west and saw a dozen or so dark specs crossing the valley. Lightning fast.

Brown dressed and hopped downstairs.

Behind the bar, he poured the day’s first bourbon and took it out to the porch.

The sounds of hooves got closer and closer. Brown smiled as his hired men arrived.

Fourteen in all. Their horses filled the street. Father Frank joined them at the saloon, followed by Johnson and a few other villagers.

Brown held court in the full saloon and told everyone about his plan.

«All we know is he will arrive today,» Brown explained. «I don’t know when. Nor do I know how many men Haskins’ll have.»

He wanted the gunslingers to have a clear shot at Haskins whenever he rode in. Brown knew Haskins would head straight for his saloon, so he placed most of the men around it. A few others would be placed to the east of the saloon, where they would see Haskins approach and sound the alarm.

«Up and at ‘em, gentlemen,» Brown said.

With everybody in place, Blanche walked into the saloon and joined Brown and Father Frank at a table.

«Everything will be fine,» the pastor reassured her.

«I hope so,» Blanche replied with a faint smile. «We must rid ourselves of that devil for good.»

«He’ll find his way to hell one way or another,» Father Frank said.

They were silent. From time to time, Brown would go to the front window and check on the situation. Satisfied that the men were good and ready, he returned to his drink.

 

As the sun faded in the distance, one of the look-outs perched at the top of the chapel noticed a small shape in the distance. The galloping horse raised a cloud of dust so thick it was impossible to tell how many men were in the group.

The man ran to the bell and rang it twice.

In the saloon, Brown jumped to his feet and ran outside. Blanche sobbed nervously.

Out in the street Brown looked up to see the leader of the posse staring down at him, hands on his guns, ready for action.

Brown held a hand up. Wait. Both men turned their eyes eastward and noticed the dark shape growing larger by the minute.

The chapel’s bell rang again, three times now. The group was close.

«Wait for my signal,» Brown called out.

He squinted. Brown made out two horses, only one of which had a rider in his saddle and lead the other.

Odd, thought Brown. Figured Haskins would come with a full crew.

When the horses slowed to a trot in front of the chapel, the bell rang once again, then fell quiet.

As the group approached the saloon, the gunslingers trained their weapons on the rider. They awaited Brown’s signal.

Now Brown could make out the familiar traits of the rider’s face. For a minute, he thought he was dreaming. He stepped forward.

Cripes. It was really him.

«Lower your weapons,» Brown called out.

«You sure?» the leader of the posse replied.

«Don’t shoot!»

Brown looked back to the saloon. Father Frank had just stepped onto the porch, Blanche right behind him.

The rider stopped his horses when Brown reached them.

«Howdy, partner!» Lee Watson called out, touching the brim of his hat as he smiled at his long-time friend. «I believe you know this dirt bag?»

Watson pointed his chin to the bloody corpse of Silver Dollar Tom Haskins laid across the horse’s back.

«What’s with the gun show, Stan?» Watson asked.

Brown sighed. «We was ready for a fight.»

«No need for that, now, is there?» Watson laughed and dismounted. «Now, where’s my wife?»

He searched the crowd for Blanche’s golden hair.

Father Frank stepped aside, revealing a weeping Blanche. Watson strode toward her.

«Miss me, love?»

Watson wrapped his arms around his wife, swearing to himself never to leave her side again.

THE END


If you're looking for more Western entertainment, you could do a lot worse than picking up any of these movies or books :

(links will open on product's Amazon page - purchase and support me through the Affiliates program)

Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey

Valdez is Coming, by Elmore Leonard

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry

The Man With No Name Trilogy, directed by Sergio Leone

The Legendary Italian Westerns - Ennio Morricone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spill It

AUTHOR'S NOTE: for this week's installment of Flash Fiction Friday, we had to write a story comprised solely of dialogue. So much fun! I love these types of stories. A very interesting challenge in which my innermost Tarantino steps into the spotlight.

Enjoy!


So, Mike Walls. That’s quite the rap sheet. We should give you a key.

What’s this about?

Where were you the night Maggie Ellis died?

Maggie’s dead? Nah, man, you playin’ me.

Don’t be a wise-ass. Tell me. Wednesday night. Where were you?

Shit. Working.

Where?

Donnelly’s.

When’s the last time you saw Maggie?

Lemme think. Must be three weeks back. At her job.

Wrong answer. I’ve got a witness puts you with her this past week. Saw you at the movies, all lovey-dovey. Even heard you call her cupcake. Says you were tongue-wrestling a lot. During the best part of the movie, too.

That be one lying witness.

I don’t appreciate this Mike.

Do I give a flying fuck what you appreciate, Detective?

Wednesday night. Between ten and midnight. Where was your ugly ass?

Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. They all the same, you ask me.

Donnelly’s. That’s that Irish pub down by the waterfront, right?

Best fish and chips in town.

I’ve been there. Never seen you though.

I work in the shadows.

That where you always work? The shadows? Were you in the shadows on Wednesday, Mike? Waiting for Maggie to come home so you could jump her?

Your imagination be wilder than wild, Detective.

Isn’t that your M.O., Mike? 1998. Lisa Ming. You jumped out of the bushes, pulled her to the ground and had your way with her.

I thought she was your sister.

And 2002. Wanda Polk. You caught her in a dark alley. A pizza delivery man who got lost because of his GPS saved her from your loving ways.

Past be the past.

Are you a changed man, Mike? Did you find God?

I’m changed, all right. But God ain’t the why of it. I did my time and paid my debt to society. That’s all on me.

Then you won’t mind telling me where you were on Wednesday. That way I won’t have to beat it out of you.

Ah! You’re killing me. Who’s gonna hurt me? You?

I won’t pass up the chance.

You don’t have the cojones to.

Don’t test me, Mike.

Look at you. You never laid a finger on anybody but your old lady. What a tough guy you are!

Watch your mouth, young man.

You can’t fool me. Look at them hands. Probably got a manicure when you finished cop college, haven’t had to get another one since. What’s wrong, Detective? Mommy didn’t love you?

Good-looking woman like Maggie, lives not even a block away from Casa de Mike. Every day, Maggie walks right by your window in a short skirt and a halter top. Flaunts her goods. And damn, those goods look mighty good. Don’t they, Mike? My guess is you got tired of beating your own rocks off. Decided you wanted a piece of that.

Wasn’t like that.

No?

Maggie wanted it bad. Bitch begged me for it.

Maybe, you being a changed man since you got out of the joint, you went about it the right way. Maybe you sent her flowers. Sang a love song under her balcony. Juliet, my Juliet.

Man, I don’t need to do all that. All I do is show up. Works like a charm.

Except with Maggie. What happened? Did she say no to you? Big man can’t handle rejection?

Ain’t never had to.

Really? Is that why you force yourself on women? Is it the only way for you to get off?

Nah, nah, man. All them bitches are liars.

Was Maggie lying when she filed a complaint two months ago?

Probably.

Says someone broke into her house. Turned it inside out.

That so?

Yup. Guy took a few lace panties. Maybe a bra.

Text me when you get to the part where I should care.

Mike, why don’t you tell me what I’ll find if I search your apartment.

Lots of cool shit, man. I got like a big man-crush on Batman, so I got plenty of stuff with him on it. T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs. I even got boxer shorts with the bat signal across the crotch. Glows in the dark.

You’re living the dream. Anything else?

Oh, and I eat Honey Nut Cheerios with whole milk. Buckets of it. Keeps my cholesterol low.

I won’t find those lace panties and a bra or two?

Only if your momma done forgot them when I kicked her out.

I’ve had enough of you. You can deal with Rick now.

Is it time for the good cop, bad cop thing? Man, you guys ain’t original. Crap’s getting old.

Wipe that smile off your face.

Make me, Mister Good Cop.

How do you know I’m not the bad one?

Please. The only bad thing about you is yo breath. So, bring me Ricky the bad boy. I’ll take my chances with him.

Can’t believe the mouth on you, Walls. Let’s see if you’re so tough when you step into the shower with a horny thug who’ll call you Baby while he tears you a new one.

That happen to you?

You killed her, Mike.

Fuck off.

Why did you kill her?

I’ll kill you if you don’t shut yo mouth.

Come on, spill it. Get it off your chest. Why did you kill her?

She deserved it, alright? I gave her what she fucking deserved.

Nobody deserves to be killed, Mike.

Fucking bitch always come around my way, asking do I got any dope. We got high, listened to some music. She danced a little, you know. Like one of them strippers. Teased me, lifting her shirt and rubbing her tits and all that shit. Only when I touched her, she got all shy and stuff. No, no, I don’t want to, Mike.

What happened then?

I slapped her. She fell and then got up and ran for the door. I grabbed her from behind and pinned her against the wall. I wanted to give it to her, you know. Only I couldn’t… well… you know. On account of how high I was. Ain’t never a problem for my soldier to step up, you know.

Of course. What happened next?

Next? Well, I choked her till her eyes popped out of her skull. Fucking blood everywhere. Freaky shit.

See? That wasn’t so hard, now, was it, Mike? Don’t you feel better?

END

 


Hope you enjoyed this one.

Like I mentioned above, I feel like this type of story brings out the Tarantino in me. To me, this guy is the master of all things dialogue. As is Elmore Leonard.

What about you? Who comes to mind when you think about dialogue?

Birth of a Cool Love

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here's another foray into the wonderful world of flash fiction. Up at Flash Fiction Friday, this week's theme was: You arrange for a weekend getaway at a friend’s cabin in the country, but Mother Nature decides to extend your stay with a blizzard. You’re trapped. Tell us what happens. 

So, without further ado... enjoy!

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Birth of a Cool Love

‘Wow, it is coming down hard.’

Tina stood in the dining room looking out at the large backyard. The entire field, which was emerald green the last time I’d been here, was now covered with snow. Same for the frozen lake. The mountain beyond it hid behind a white veil of large snow flakes. Tall, majestic fir trees adorning its flank swayed in the wind.

 

Wayne and I sat in the den, facing the fire. I ran through the keys to a song which Wayne had written earlier. I couldn’t get it to where I wanted it to be, and we’d been trying to fix it for the past hour.

‘Well, it better stop soon.’ Wayne stood and went to join his woman. ‘We can’t have them shutting down the airport. London awaits.’trumpet-858029_640

He wrapped Tina in his arms, kissed her neck. I closed my eyes and blew into my trumpet.

We’d arrived at Wayne’s Palace on Friday morning. His palace – that’s what he called the mansion by the lake he’d bought with the money from our first record. Wayne insisted that we come out here to work on our next album, even if we were set to fly to London on Sunday.

He had insisted, he said, because he was feeling it. He was in a good place.

I wish I shared that feeling.

‘Ben, you want another beer?’ Wayne called from the kitchen.

‘Sure,’ I said and opened my eyes. Tina looked at me, embarrassed. She broke the eye contact and scurried away.

We kept hammering at the song for hours. Wayne played with the lyrics and the music, and I tried them out, in vain. Our frustration grew with every note change.

‘Why don’t you guys call it a night,’ Tina suggested. ‘It’s late.’

I looked at the clock. Half past two.

‘Good idea,’ I said, rising from the couch. ‘I’m beat. See you in the morning.’

I looked back to the den as I climbed the stairs. Wayne was trying to pull Tina down onto his lap. She resisted, insisting it was time to go to bed.

‘I like that idea,’ he said with a wide grin.

I couldn’t get to bed fast enough.

 

Daylight found its way through a slit in the window drapes and onto my face a little before noon.

The house was quiet. The only sound came from the howling wind outside. I could see enough of what was going on outside to tell that the snow was still coming down hard.

Please, don’t let the airport shut down. I need to get out of here.

After slipping out of bed, I put on a pair of pants and an old t-shirt.

Outside the room, the air was frigid. My feet froze at the touch of the bare hardwood.

Down the hall, the door to Wayne’s room was closed.

I took my time going down the wooden steps, careful not to wake the lovebirds.

In the fireplace, the fire was dead. The cold had settled in. In the kitchen, I found a quart of orange juice in the fridge and poured myself a glass.

As I walked over to the den, intent on reviving the fire, I heard light footsteps over my head.

Tina stepped out of her room, closed the door behind her, and went into the bathroom.

I poked the hot coals to get the going, then set a new log on top. The fire caught just as Tina stumped down the stairs.

‘Good morning,’ she whispered from behind the couch.

I turned to her and offered a weak smile. As beautiful as she was when she dressed up for an awards show or a stroll down the red carpet, she looked even better au naturel. Her eyelids still glued together. Her hair all messed up.

All she had on was one of Wayne’s t-shirts. Maybe a pair of panties.

Just stunning.

‘What’s so good about it?’

She smiled and joined me in front of the fire. We let its warmth heat us.

I let her scent invade my nostrils. It was mesmerizing. Titillating. When we were this close, I did not need a fire to warm me.

Tina touched my arm and turned me to face her. She smiled. Our mouths were inches apart. I felt her hot breath on my face.

‘I’m so sorry, Ben,’ she said. ‘I hate this just as much as you do.’

‘Don’t, Tina,’ I whispered without so much as an ounce of conviction.

Ignoring me, she tilted her head and brought her lips to mine.

‘Tina,’ I pleaded, and stepped back.

Her hand reached out and brushed my crotch. ‘I miss you, Ben.’

Our eyes met again as a loud thud coming from upstairs broke the silence.

‘Fuck!’ Wayne yelled out.

Tina sighed. She let her hand linger on my hand before shuffling off to the kitchen. I could feel her eyes on me as I returned my attention to the fire. It was fading fast, so I fed it a couple of newspaper balls.

Wayne stumbled loudly down the stairs. ‘Did you see all that snow? There must be, like, three feet of it, man! Let’s have a snow fight!’

I looked over my shoulder at him. He was smiling like a kid given a bottomless bowl of candy.

‘Where’s Tina?’ he asked.

I nodded. ‘Kitchen.’

My eyes followed Wayne as he stepped gingerly to the kitchen. His girlfriend was at the coffee maker, watching the water drip into a bright mug with a hand-painted heart on its side.

‘There you are, my love.’

Wayne walked up to Tina and playfully smacked her behind. He spun her around and pulled her into a prolonged hug.

An enraged Tina glared at me.

I cleared my throat. ‘I’ll get us some more firewood.’

 

There’s something about snow falling that puts me at ease. Unlike a heavy rain storm, or a thunderstorm, a snow storm is usually calm. Growing up in Quebec, I had my share of chances to sit by the window all day long watching the flakes dance in the sky. It does wonders for your soul.

This storm, however, was anything but calm.

The wind was howling, twisting the fluffy flakes in tornado-like cyclones. My thin jacket didn’t have a chance against this cold.

I looked off in the distance to the shed where the firewood was stored. It was all the way at the end of the yard, right next to the path which led down to the lake shore. Maybe 200 feet away.

Any other day, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But today, there was the small matter of the three feet of snow on the ground.

I tried running through it, lifting my knees way up so I wouldn’t sink. But it didn’t work.

So I walked to the shack. What should have taken a minute or two took at least ten. But I finally made it.

I piled some logs on a plastic sled which we kept for that purpose and began the trek back to the house.

 

I heard the yelling before I opened the door.

Wayne stood in the entrance to the kitchen with his back to me. I couldn’t see Tina, but I heard her crying. Shards of her shattered coffee cup littered the floor.

I shut the door, and Wayne turned toward me. His blood shot eyes were wet. A coffee stain the size of Rhode Island decorated the front of his shirt.

‘Is it true?’ he asked me, shaking his head.

Holy fuck! Had she? Had she told him?

‘What?’ I asked. ‘Is what true, Wayne?’

Tina appeared from the dining room. Tears ran down her red cheeks. She glanced at me, then quickly looked away.

‘You fucking prick,’ Wayne said. ‘You ungrateful, traitorous, backstabbing son-of-a-bitch. After everything I did for you.’

I held up both hands. ‘Let me explain, Wayne.’

His smile dripped with fierce hatred. ‘Oh, spare me the soap opera lines, Ben.’ He looked from me to her, then back to me. ‘Fucking rat.’

Wayne darted toward me. I balled my fists and planted my feet, ready for him. This wouldn’t be our first fight.

Turns out he only wanted to reach the stairs.

I relaxed as Wayne ran upstairs to his room.

Tina hadn’t moved. She sobbed quietly. I went to her and whispered her name, but she wouldn’t budge. She reacted when I nudged her softly.

‘Did he hurt you?’

Tina shook her head. ‘I had to tell him, Ben. His hands on me,’ she sobbed, ‘I can’t take it anymore.’

When I pulled her into my arms, she rested her head on my shoulder. ‘It’s okay, Tina.’

A million thoughts raced through my head.

This whole thing was so sudden, so unexpected, that I couldn’t quite believe it was happened.

I’d finally gotten the girl. After all these years of watching her walk into his hotel suite instead of mine. All those nights I’d tossed and turned wondering if she was making love to him. If she enjoyed it. If she would enjoy it better with me.

There would be no more of that.

The sound of Wayne’s crazy laugh snapped me out of my reverie.

He was standing at the bottom of the stairs, watching us with a huge grin on his face. He’d gotten dressed and his duffel bag was slung over his shoulder.

‘How cute,’ he said. ‘The proverbial fucking knight in shining armor rescues the princess.’ Wayne scoffed as he shrugged on his coat. ‘I hope you’re happy.’

Wayne turned to leave, then stopped and looked over his shoulder at me.

‘Do you know a good trumpeter? A spot just opened up.’

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This story's title was inspired by the title of a classic record by one of the greatest trumpet players ever, Mr. Miles Davis.

Birth of the cool was released in 1957 on Capitol Records.

It features such legendary musicians as Lee Konitz (alto sax), Gerry Mulligan (barytone sax), and Max Roach on drums.

To read more about this record, go here.

Buy it now on Amazon     

Faded Glory

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my first entry for the Flash Fiction Friday operation. I'd been meaning to take part in this for a while now, and this week's theme - Thanksgiving - struck a cord. Inspiration came pretty easy for this one. Hope you enjoy it. All comments welcome. Many thanks to all involved with FFF.


Hockey skatesDetective Tom Sweeney smiled. He still couldn't believe he was having dinner with the great Dan Loftus.
His mind went back to his younger days, days when he'd played street hockey with his friends in Dorchester. And pretended he was Dan Loftus, his black and gold number 51 jersey stretched over his ski coat.
Now, here he was treating the second-best defenseman to ever put on a Bruins uniform to a Thanksgiving dinner at a greasy spoon, a block away from his precinct.
That's after Sweeney had found Loftus in a holding cell.
Oh, what I would pay to see my father's face when I told him this story, Sweeney thought.

It had been an average day until then for Sweeney.
Along with his partner, he'd finally arrested the perv who'd been showing off his (little) manhood to unsuspecting women in downtown parks. Sweeney had setup an undercover operation with a female patrol officer. She dressed up as a jogger and ran around the Common, trying to draw the man out into the open. When he did, at dusk, Sweeney took him down.
After his partner had gone home for dinner with his in-laws, Sweeney was left alone to book the perpetrator.
As he was taking the man to his cell, Sweeney peeked into another cell and saw a familiar face. It took him a while to put a name to the face, as the man had aged considerably and put on some weight since his glory days, but Sweeney was elated to meet one of his boyhood idols.
The desk sergeant told Sweeney that Dan Loftus was going to be charged with breaking and entering.
"Who brought him in?" Sweeney asked.
"Lemore and Jackson."
Sweeney laughed. Those two were the Abbott and Costello of the precinct. Clowns.
The charge against Loftus was probably a load of crap.
"Let me have your keys, Sarge," Sweeney told the sergeant.
It took a little convincing - and the promise of apple pie - but Peters finally let Sweeney take Loftus out for dinner.

"This is great," Loftus told Sweeney as he chewed on a piece of turkey. "Thanks."
Sweeney smiled. "Glad you like it," he answered through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. He put down his fork. "Can I ask you a question?"
Loftus froze for a second, but whatever bothered him passed, and he nodded.
"Why did the Bruins trade you? It still doesn't make sense to me."
The man sighed, and took another bite. While chewing, he shrugged. "Long story short, I boinked the coach's wife during a Christmas party, and Tim Thompson - fucking jerk - ratted us out."
Sweeney burst out laughing. "Really?" His eyes were sparkling, like a kid unwrapping his favorite toy on Christmas morning. "Well, I hope you enjoyed it, because you broke a lot of young kids' hearts when you put on that Chicago sweater."
Loftus shrugged. "It was okay, I guess."
Sweeney couldn't believe this.
Thirty minutes ago, Loftus was sitting in a holding cell, waiting to be arraigned on breaking and entering charges. He was going to spend the night in jail, but he acted like it was just another day. The man's calm demeanor was astonishing.
"Did you do it?" Sweeney asked as they kept eating.
"I told you I did."
"I'm not talking about screwing the coach's missus," Sweeney replied. "Breaking and entering."
Loftus swallowed and took a sip of a diet Coke before answering.
"Should I be talking to you about that? That's how the cops on TV do it, ain't it? Soften the guy up with dinner, then make him confess."
Sweeney shrugged. "I'm not here to entrap you, Dan. I was just wondering why Dan Loftus is sitting in jail on Thanksgiving night."
"Things happen," Loftus explained.
"Really? I know people, and I don't think--"
"You don't know me."
Loftus looked defiantly at the detective, daring him to go on.
Sweeney figured it was best to change subjects. The last thing he wanted was to argue with him.
"I was at the Garden the night you knocked out that guy from the Flyers. One punch."
"Pete White," Loftus replied. "Never played again."
"Did you ever speak to him?"
Loftus nodded. "I went to see him in the hospital that night. His coach got up in my face the second he saw me. He was yelling, cursing. Fucking Loftus this, god damn Loftus that. All I wanted was to talk to Pete and apologize."
Tears pooled in the big man's eyes, and he looked away.

Sweeney shoved his empty plate aside. "I don't think I'll eat another thing until Sunday," he said. "That was enough food for three."
Loftus was still soaping up the extra gravy on his plate with a slice of bread. "Better enjoy this, I guess, seeing how I ain't gonna get no real meal for a while."
"Do you have a record? If this is your first offense, you'll probably get off with probation."
"With my luck, judge's gonna be a friggin' Habs fan." Loftus laughed, and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. "Time is it?"
He tried to look at Sweeney's watch, but the cop waved him off. "Let me worry about that. You want dessert?"
Loftus shook his head. "Only a cup of coffee. Black. Can I go to the can?"
"You're a free man."
The big man stood and walked to the back of the restaurant. Watching him go, Sweeney noticed his limp for the first time. Now he remembered why Loftus had retired so early : his second year with the Blackhawks, in a game against Buffalo, he chased a loose puck into the corner, and his skate got caught in a crack. His body twisted, but his leg did not. Tore his MCL and ACL for the second time. Good luck coming back from that at 33.
Loftus did try, but he'd lost a step, and opposing forwards were skating around him like he was a traffic cone. So he handed in his papers. And fell off the face of the Earth.

The waitress had just set two cups of coffee and a bowl filled with tiny cups of milk and cream on the table when Loftus returned.
The men drank their coffee in silence, deliberately, watching through the diner's dirty windows as the night people took over the downtown streets.
A woman dressed in bright running gear sprinted by, and Sweeney smiled, proud of himself for having made her run a little bit safer.
"Ready to go?" Loftus asked as he set down his empty cup.
"Sure."

In the car, Sweeney tuned the radio to the local jazz station. They were playing Miles Davis' classic record, Kind of Blue. The DJ came on between tracks to give some information on Davis.
"I saw him play one night," Loftus said suddenly.
"Miles?"
Loftus nodded, smiling widely. "My rookie year, in 79. We were playing in Detroit, and some of the veterans on the team went out to this jazz club. I tagged along. I'd never heard of him, didn't know jazz from a chorus of roosters. I didn't listen to anything else from that night on."
Sweeney laughed. "That's great. My father knew Miles from his days working as a janitor in a nightclub. I met him once, apparently, but I was a baby then, and I cried when he played."
They were three blocks from the precinct now. Sweeney slowed the car practically to a crawl, not wanting this moment to end.
"I tried playing the trumpet in junior high," Sweeney continued, "Deaf people ran for the hills. So that was that. I'd be a listener only from there on in."
Loftus laughed heartily, his broad shoulders shaking.
Sweeney watched him out of the corner of his eye. His decision was made.
When they came up on the precinct, Sweeney stepped on the gas and sped right by the building.
"Where are we going?" Loftus asked with a hint of worry in his voice.
"I can't bring you back," Sweeney explained. "You deserve better."
"You don't need to do this."
Sweeney looked into Loftus' gray eyes. "Yes, I do."

After changing the sheets on his bed, Sweeney returned to the den. Loftus was browsing through his record collection. In his hands, a first-pressing edition of a Sonny Rollins record - Saxophone Colossus, with Max Roach on the drums.
"This any good?" he asked.
Sweeney smiled. "Only one way for you to find out."
He dropped the needle onto the record and waited for the first notes of St. Thomas to pour through his Warfedale towers.
The men sat on the couch, drinking Diet Cokes and listening to jazz records.
Sweeney's smile never left his face that night.
Not even when the phone rang at 3 a.m., sergeant Peters screaming his lungs out, wondering where his prisoner was.
Nothing could ruin Tom Sweeney's mood right then.


© Seb Duper 2015 - All rights reserved