“Retribution, with Extreme Prejudice” by Glen Bush

I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. That made me even more nervous, so I started to turn around and answer him but that’s when he hit me with a hard punch to my kidney.

“Mr. Quinn?” The whisper slipped from the young man’s trembling lips. He looked maybe twenty, five ten, a buck forty-five, if wet, with pale brown eyes, neatly cut hair, and beads of sweat peppering his forehead. The red polo player on his shirt rhythmically bobbed to his quick heartbeat.

“Liam, this is Tom Martin, from Omaha. He’s a student at Killian. He needs your help.” That last sentence caught me by surprise. Marge Jones, the best gatekeeper in the P.I. business, seldom offered that last bit of information. She’s a pudgy woman in her mid-forties who’s been around more than a couple of blocks, and who rarely ever uses the words needs and help when introducing a potential client. But today, not even the abundance of her black and purple mascara could hide the concern in her doe soft eyes.

“Thank you, Marge, I got it from here.” She winked at me, turned lightly on the balls of her feet, and glided her wide hips through the doorway toward the outer office. “So, Mr. Martin, what can I help you with?” I motioned to my maroon leather chair. “Please, relax. Coffee, water, bourbon?”

“Thank you, sir. I don’t care for anything but thank you.” I couldn’t tell if his politeness came from his Nebraskan upbringing or his fear. Something, though, had definitely scared this kid.

“Take it easy, Mr. Martin. I can see you’re shaking. Just tell me your story and I’ll do the rest. Remember, you came to me for help so let me do my job. Start at the beginning like you’re writing an essay for one of them college classes of yours.”

“Thank you, Mr. Quinn.” He rubbed his sweaty palms on his khaki slacks avoiding the razor-sharp creases. “Well, it’s this detective on campus, Ed Massey. He’s making me do stuff for him that I’m afraid is going to get me killed. He says if I don’t do these things, he’ll turn me over to the city police and have them arrest me on drug charges and ask that I do jail time. Mr. Quinn, I’ve never been in trouble with the police in my life. My parents will die if I go to jail. My father runs the family business in Omaha. Furniture business. His grandfather started the business during the Depression. We’re honest people. Hard-working people. Good people. But Detective Massey says he doesn’t care about any of that.”

I sat back, easy, with my Number 2 pencil in hand, scribbling more circles than notes on my yellow legal pad.

“It started last year when I got back from Spring Break in Padre Island. All three of us, my fraternity brothers Mike Wilson, Jesse Ortiz, and me, drank on the plane. We had been drinking the whole week. We had also been using some drugs, not a lot, nothing heavy, just party stuff, so we were all still feeling pretty happy. When we landed, Mike and Jesse went to Mike’s car, and I went to mine. That’s when I saw Mike had left his small duffle bag next to my two bags. Like I said, we were all happy, a little drunk, and I didn’t think anything about it. I grabbed his bag and tossed it in my car and headed to my apartment off-campus. Just before I turned into the parking lot, Detective Massey pulled up behind me and turned on his lights. I was nervous. I thought about the booze on my breath. I couldn’t find my breath mints. That made me more nervous so when I opened the car door to get out, my right foot got caught and I stumbled. That’s when it all started.

“It was like a bad movie about a redneck cop. He’s telling me to get out of my car, put my hands on top of the car, starts padding me down. Talking like I’m a criminal. I could feel his breath on the back of my neck. That made me even more nervous, so I started to turn around and answer him but that’s when he hit me with a hard punch to my kidney. When I fell to the ground, I was looking up at him thinking he was going to beat me to death. I was really scared.

“He says something like, ‘See, college boy, I knew it, drunk. You can’t even stand up. Yeah, boy, you’re goin’ to fuckin’ jail.’ When I tried to get up again, he put his foot on my back and pushed me back down and held me there for a few minutes.

“When he did let me up, he cuffed me and sat me in the back of his car and started searching my car. That’s when he found my two bags and Mike’s small duffle bag. He dumped everything out in the trunk. There was nothing but dirty clothes and my laptop in my bags, but when he dumped Mike’s bag, there was some clothes and two packages wrapped in brown paper. Cutting the two packages open, he found one had some weed, about a half pound, and the other had cocaine about a quarter kilo. I had no idea Mike had the stuff. He never said a word to me about the drugs. I guess he was bringing it back for the next fraternity party.

“Massey really started in on me then. Saying I’m a drug dealer and a junkie. He starts laughing about all the things that are going to happen to me in jail. He was mean, Mr. Quinn, really mean. Then he says he wants my phone so he can check that. A few students stopped and asked what was going on, but he told them to move on or he’d call a squad car and have them locked up for obstructing an investigation. When he was going through my phone, he saw my texts. Nothing there. Just college talk about Spring Break and classes. But then he went to my pics. He opened one from Jesse and saw the ones he sent me from this whorehouse across the border. I was nude, sitting on this bed and this Mexican hooker was sitting on my lap. She was nude as well. She was holding a bottle of tequila and kissing me. He got all happy and excited when he saw that. You’d a thought he struck gold. He starts going on and on about me being with little girls, calling me a short eyes, and saying he was going to send the pictures to my parents. He was laughing and acting like a real jerk. I kept telling him none of that was true. I wasn’t that kind of guy. That’s when he tells me that if I want to avoid jail, I need to be his C.I. I didn’t even know what a C.I. was. He had to explain it to me.

“And from that night on, I’ve been doing Detective Ed Massey’s bidding for him. I’ve helped him arrest three of my fraternity brothers, including Mike and Jesse, and a half dozen other students, mostly for drugs, but also for some other stuff I don’t really understand, shady stuff. Now, he wants me to reach out to some gangbangers who hang out with some athletes and set them up. I’m afraid I’m going to get caught, maybe killed. That’s why I need your help.”

It was a tough story. A street kid would have been used to Massey’s strongarm tactics, but a guy like Martin, nope, not even in his imagination. I felt sorry for the kid. I could understand why Marge gave him the thumbs up.

“How does Massey contact you?”

“I meet him every Wednesday at ten p.m. at the Blue Light Bar across town, away from the campus. He’s always there on Wednesday nights between nine and eleven. Do you think you can help me?’ His voice was still soft, but a little less shaky.

“Yeah, kid, I can help. When I’m not chasing cheating husbands and two-timin’ wives, I’m setting the world back in balance. I call it my retribution business.” After saying that, I had to smile to myself thinking about how much imbalance I had brought to the world. “This is Wednesday, I’ll take care of it. Just go to the meeting as you always do. Don’t act froggy. I’ll have somebody there to check things out. You just do what you always do. I’ll call you tomorrow. For now, relax. Go have a slice and a beer.”

I didn’t tell Tom that it would be me checking out the bar that night. Since I’d worked a few cases involving the police, I thought it better for me to set up shop outside the bar and watch who came and went. From my car, parked under a broken streetlamp, I counted twelve cops I knew personally, and seven college types go into the place. Each one walked up to Massey and said something. None of the cops did more than shake hands and go on about their business. The college boys, however, each sat down with him for fifteen or so minutes. None of them shook hands. None of them looked happy to be sitting across from the cop. A little after eleven, Massey left, so did I. I followed him back to his house on the south side. After thirty minutes, he turned out the lights and the house went dark. Tomorrow I’d check with Tom and Joe Holly, a cop I knew.

When I asked him about any problems or complaints that Massey had, he got defensive. Holly didn’t like talking about the negative stuff a cop gets involved in.

Tom was in class from nine to one forty-five. Since it was a little before lunch, I decided to call Joe Holly from the One-Five. Holly and I had crossed paths a couple of times on other cases. He was a decent cop, not the sharpest tack in the box, but decent, not the most virtuous, but decent. Sometimes that’s all a P.I. can ask of a cop . . . or a cop of a P.I.

He was eating lunch at Carl’s Diner, a greasy spoon near the barge landing. When I walked in, he was just finishing a bowl of chili and eyeing the cheeseburger sitting in front of him. Looked like he was washing everything down with black coffee.

“Hello, Joe. How’s the chili?”

“Hey, shamus, chili’s not bad. This here hot sauce makes it a little better. Have some?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Looking at the counter jockey, I asked for a cup of chili and a coffee.

After the typical small talk about this and that, I gave him a song-and-dance about working for a non-profit who wanted to present Ed Massey with a community award. Holly liked that. With all the bad press cops were getting, he liked anything that came close to good news for any cop.

“Yeah, Quinn, Massey used to be in the Three-Three a few years back. Some kind of dust-up and he up and quit. Joined the college cops. Easy time. Good money. Benefits. No hassles from the press. He just had to watch out for all them liberal professor types.”

When I asked him about any problems or complaints that Massey had, he got defensive. Holly didn’t like talking about the negative stuff a cop gets involved in. Cops, he said, are on the streets, and the streets are full of dirt. Goes with the job. Everybody gets a little dirty.

“Come on, Quinn, cut the shit. What else is going on?”

I didn’t want to say anything, but I had to take a chance and give him something or he’d go off thinking something worse than I had in mind, maybe say something to Massey.

“Joe, this is strictly an A and B conversation. No one else needs to know. Got it.”

“Yeah, shamus, I got it. So, what’s what?”

“This non-profit heard Massey was putting the arm on some college kid named Tom Martin. Seems that one of the big donors for the non-profit is friends with Martin’s family. The donor is a little worried about presenting an award to a cop who leans the wrong way on certain Killian students. Got the picture?” I thought my story was pretty good. I hoped Holly would go for it.

“Nah, I ain’t heard nothin’ about that, but I’ll keep my ears open, and, yeah, shamus I know, A and B.”

When the conversation was ended, we said our good-byes and see-you-laters and headed out. Not much information, but something Marge could add to whatever she’d find when she did her computer search. Something in my gut told me Holly knew a little more about Massey, but he didn’t want to play nice.

Before I could make it past her desk, smiling Miss Marge was telling me about Ed Massey.

“Yeah, Liam, Detective Massey is no stranger to trouble. Before he left the city police, when he was in the Thirty-third, he’d been investigated by I.A. three times for alleged corruption, shakedowns, usually college students or people fresh out of school. In each case, the victims decided not to testify, and a couple of other cops would show up and back Massey’s story. His protector and mentor was a cop named Lou Dickens. Massey’s also got a string of complaints for strong-arming suspects. The suspects run the gamut from ghetto teenagers to drunk salesmen. Just like the corruption thing, nothing went anywhere. I read a few accounts online, interviews with other cops, and they all say Massey is a cop’s cop. Seems to me like this cop knows when and how much to butter his bread.”

“Send that to me so I can look over it. I wanna think about this cop’s cop.” That twisting in my gut made me wished I still smoked.

Holding up her hands as if surrendering, Marge said, “Sorry I don’t have more. Give me a little more time and I’ll dig up a couple of more things. This bum’s got to have more crap hanging around out there. I’m thinking there’s a connection between him leaving the city and joining the Killian police.”

“I’m with you on that, in fact, I’m thinking Massey’s probably working with some other cops, maybe that guy Dickens. After all, it’s not unheard of for a crew of cops to start their own side business. By the way, what type of car does he drive?”

“Jaguar. XJ8. 2015.”

“Not on a cop’s salary, he don’t. What about the kid? What ‘cha find out on him?”

“Like I thought. Clean-cut. No record. Couple traffic tickets, but nothing bad. Looks like his dad’s business has fallen on some hard times. He’s in debt up to his ass. I think that may be one reason Tom wants our help but didn’t tell his family anything. They’re under enough stress as it is.” When saying this, Marge looked toward the window as though she was thinking about something in the past.

“You okay, Marge?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just don’t like crooked cops messin’ with decent people. Fuck! Why don’t Massey stick to doing his campus Barney Fife-job?” Whatever Marge was thinking about was eating at her and it was being magnified in young Mr. Tom Martin. I could help with the kid, but the past was gone. I couldn’t help with that.

“Pour us a couple of bourbons and let’s put our heads to thinking about this cop.”

Marge didn’t need to be told twice. She reached into her bottom desk draw and pulled up a bottle of Jim Beam Black and two rocks glasses and poured three fingers into each. Like me, Marge was kicking the bottle-monkey—slowly.

About four that afternoon, I took a chance and cold-called on Tom at his apartment for that chat about the night before.

“Mr. Quinn, what are you doing here? Is anything wrong? I was taking a quick nap.” Tom was standing in the doorway in his boxers, shirtless. He was developing the body of an accountant.

“Nothing kid. Remember, last night, I need to know what you found out.”

“Oh, sure, sure, no problem. Have a seat while I get dressed. I’ll be right back out.” He looked at the two bags I was carrying but didn’t mention them. While he dressed, I started checking the over-and-under for Michigan and Ohio.

Ten minutes later, Tom walked out of his bedroom.

“How you feel? Ready for a little dinner? I know it’s early, but I took a chance you probably skipped lunch today. I brought us some barbeque from Willie Jean’s. Best rib tip sandwiches and brisket in the city.”

I set two bags of barbeque, bread, and potato salad on the kitchen table, and popped a beer. It was good timing. The ball scores and calculations of who owed more, me or my bookie, showed the black was getting smaller and the red bigger. I didn’t want to know the final red and black right now. Jimmy the Nose could wait.

Tom tried to nonchalantly brush the tears away. The number one thought in my head was a simple one: I’m going to nail this sonofabitch.

Sipping our beers, I began asking Tom about any of the other people from last night. Did he remember any other cops? Strangers? College students? At first, nothing that he hadn’t already explained, then he remembered something.

“Nothing from last night. Typical Wednesday night. I told him about a couple guys who were starting to deal at the fraternity parties. He didn’t have anything new for me. But about three months after I was working for him, I saw him with a girl from school. She was sitting next to him in his booth. She had a black eye and swollen lip. When I asked her what happened, Massey told me to shut up and mind my own business. I wanted to hit him, but, but . . . I’m sorry, Mr. Quinn, I’m not like you, I’m . . . I’m a coward. I don’t know how to fight. I’d only lose and end up getting both of us hurt. I’m sorry, Mr. Quinn.”

I could see tears welling up in the kid’s eyes. “Tom, you’re not a coward. You did the right thing. He would’ve enjoyed hurting you. Men like him are in a different class than you and your college buddies. They live in a violent world, a world they like, and make even more violent. They don’t think like you. They react by instinct. Massey gets pleasure out of hurting people, especially innocent people like you and the girl. I guess that’s why God made people like me, to step in between the bastards who deliver pain and good people like you. No, Tom, you’re not a coward, you’re just a good guy who got caught up in a world of bad guys. And I’m going to do everything I can to make it right. Where’s the girl now?”

“She turned up dead about three weeks later. Killed in a car accident along the river. Funny accident. Hit-and-run. Cops never did find out who the other driver was.”

“Yeah, Tom, funny as in Ed Massey funny.” I wondered then how many other hit-and-run accidents there had been.

Tom tried to nonchalantly brush the tears away. The number one thought in my head was a simple one: I’m going to nail this sonofabitch.

“Anything else from last night? Anything? Remember, Massey’s a cop. He may be crooked, but he knows how to spot a glitch in a person before the person even knows he has a glitch.”

“No, sir, like I said, everything seemed normal.” Then, stopping a for minute, setting his rib tip down, and looking up at the ceiling, the college kid seemed to have a flashback. “Well, Massey did tell me to stick to campus and not drift too far off campus. Said a lot of college kids get hurt talking to people off campus when they should be in the library studying. Funny, he never mentioned anything like that before.”

I felt that old twisting in my gut. This time it was like a little white lab rat gnawing away at my intestines. Massey knew something, or, at least, thought he knew something, and I needed to find out what it was—quick.

“Listen, Tom, this is probably nothing, just Massey’s tryin’ to put a scare into you, but for your own sake, take his advice, stick to the library. I’ll stay away from here and text you when I have something for you. If you see or hear anything, anything at all, even if it’s nothing, call me asap.”

It had been a good plan, keep your eyes and ears open, kid, call me, but like all good plans, there’s always the not-good side. In this case, the not-good side was fuckin’ bad. When I answered the phone, my gut told me the bad had happened. It was Joe Holly. His usual dry monotone was a little softer, a bit more rapid than normal.

“Liam, bad news. That kid of yours, Martin, Tom Martin, just got shot. Your guy was getting out of his car at Killian when a dark SUV drove up. The bastards used shotguns. No witnesses. No video. He was rushed to St. Mark’s. I’m on my way over there now.”

My mouth went dry. I could feel my blood churn and darken. Massey had just made it real fuckin’ personal. He wanted a fight. Fine with me, but it was going to be a knife fight in a dark closet.

“I’m on my way, Joe.” I didn’t need to talk to him anymore. I needed to think.

When I walked into the Emergency Room, Holly was talking to two uniforms. They were just finishing up. When he saw me, he walked over and together we went outside into the late morning sun. It didn’t seem right, standing in the fresh morning sun, clear, bright, clean, the kind of sun that makes all the colors around you jump out at you, shouting their welcomes to you and ushering in the great day ahead.

“Give me a smoke.”

“I thought you quit?”

“Yeah, I did. Couple of years ago. But this ain’t then. Now, give me a fuckin’ smoke.”

Holly reached in his pocket and pulled out a pack of generic menthols and tapped one out for me. The menthol tasted good. It would have been relaxing, but the thought of Tom being ambushed canceled that feeling. Blowing the fumes out my nostrils, I asked, “Anymore news on the hit?”

“Actually, we caught a break. Two college girls were getting out of their car about fifty feet away when the hit went down. They hit the ground behind their convertible. We don’t think the shooters saw them. Hope not, anyway. Turns out one of the girl’s dads owns a used car dealership so she grew up around cars. She gave us a pretty good damn description of the vehicle. That’s what the two patrolmen were explaining when you came in. It was a late model GMC Yukon, dark green, tinted windows, no license plates, Yokohama mud tires, burning oil, leaving black smoke in its wake. Not bad for a college girl, eh?”

“Damn! Not bad for anybody. Too bad she didn’t see their faces.”

“Surgical masks. Gloves. Black ones. Kept their heads inside the whole time.”

“Well, that’ll give us a start. Just keep me posted. Let’s go see what the doc has found out about Tom.” I flicked the half-smoked cigarette toward the street, and we turned to go in.

The doctor gave his summary. Seems Tom had turned directly toward the shooters. He’d been wearing an open windbreaker and a tee-shirt. The shots caught him in the chest, arms, and face. His chances for recovery were good, but full recovery was doubtful. His face would have scars, small, black, pot-marks. Damage to his lungs and arteries was still unknown. As the doc walked away, I looked at Holly and shook my head in disgust. I slid my hands into my pants pockets and said, “All the kid wanted was to come here and get a college education so he could help his family’s business. Drink a few beers, smoke a little weed, get laid, just be a normal college kid. And then he runs up against that fuckin’ asshole Massey. The patron saint of crooked cops.” Looking squarely at Holly’s brown eyes and ruddy face, I finished my little tirade, “Joe, I’m gonna get him and make his crooked ass pay for every bit of that fuckin’ buckshot. Every last BB. Don’t get in my way.”

“Massey? What the fuck ya mean? What about the fuckin’ non-profit?” Suddenly, I got the idea that somebody had sharpened a couple of Holly’s tacks. “There’s no fucking non-profit. This was the whole deal, wasn’t it, Quinn? Martin’s a client and he’s mixed up with Massey, right?”

He nailed me. The only thing I could do was set it right. “Yeah, Joe, Massey’s been putting the hooks into Tom and a few other college kids. I’m not too concerned about the other kids, but Tom is my client, I don’t plan on letting Massey get away with this. You understand, right, Joe?” I was looking squarely into Holly’s eyes, and I could see the detective didn’t like hearing about another rogue cop causing trouble for the cops doing their job the right way.

“Quinn, I’m in this with you. I’ll start my investigation on the down low. I know cops like Massey never work alone. Like you said before, this is strictly A and B.”

“Thanks, Joe. I got to get going. I’ll call. Call me asap when you hear something.”

Before Holly could respond, I walked out of the hospital and into the fading morning sun. As the tinted glass door was closing, I could hear Holly’s voice. The only word I heard clearly was “think.” He was right there, no matter what the rest of the sentence was.

The two passenger side windows were rolled down. I had my piece out of my waistband, but not quick enough.

I needed to run some ideas and questions by Marge so she could broaden her computer search. It was Wednesday afternoon, tonight Massey would be at the Blue Light holding his rogue’s court. I decided to go by, check around for the SUV, and this time I was going to introduce myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was no need for that, no need at all. I was already a fuckin’ celebrity at the Blue Light.

I never got there. The SUV found me before I found it. At a stoplight in the warehouse district, the SUV pulled up beside me. The two passenger side windows were rolled down. I had my piece out of my waistband, but not quick enough. The two men were wearing surgical masks and holding twelve-gauge tactical shotguns. It had been quick. The only thing that saved me was when the shooting started, my foot hit the gas and I fell to the right, bringing the steering wheel with me. I crashed into the lamppost next to the stoplight. Most of the buckshot took out my left windows. I woke up in the hospital on the same floor with Tom. Birds of a feather, and all that crap.

“I told you to think, Quinn. What the hell happened?” Holly was sitting next to my bed sipping a soda, shaking his head. “Y’know Massey’s put a bounty on ya, and ya drivin’ around like you’re on a Sunday drive with moms. Keep this up, and I’m gonna start thinkin’ you wanna get dead.”

“Bounty? When? How you know?”

“Word is on the street. Ya know, the streets with bad guys who carry guns. Seems like Massey’s put one and one together and figured that it’s better to whack Martin and you instead of just the kid. Less lose ends.”

The doctor came by and explained that my wounds weren’t serious, but I needed to stay overnight. Apparently, more damage was done to my vehicle than me. The doc seemed real pleased with himself. I was just pleased to be getting the fuck out. When Joe and I were alone again, we started hatching a plan to trap Massey and, hopefully, whoever else was working with him. I was banking that they thought I was either dead or in bad shape. That could give us a couple of days to see what it is.

Our plan was simple. Joe would contact Massey and tell him he’d heard that Massey and a couple of his cop buddies were involved in shooting Lincoln and me. Holly was willing to trade the information for a small slice of Massey’s pie.

Massey took the bait. The meeting was set up for tomorrow afternoon at Jimmy B’s Tavern on the Park, across from the Hyde Park Pond on the north side.

Three o’clock the next afternoon, I was sitting in my rental, another nondescript black SUV, three spaces down from the front door of the tavern. Joe was already inside, waiting. He had his phone on so I could hear any conversation. We decided to play it by ear, but with our pistolas lock and loaded.

Massey walked in a few minutes after Holly. He was being cautious. Slow walk. Looking side-to-side. But not so cautious as to draw attention to himself. Yet, at three in the afternoon, there wasn’t much going on. Other than a couple of bangers sitting on a stoop waiting for the whatever, the neighborhood was straight up Mr. Rogers.

A few minutes after Holly and Massey began talking, I spied two construction workers walking by me. Typical construction guys, denim pants, sweatshirts, orange down vests, and ball caps, and Nikes. Nikes? No big-ass steel toe work boots?

I was thinking how best to warn Holly. But that was the same as wishing I had gone to medical school instead of the Rangers. Spilt milk. I could hear Massey talking to Holly, still cautious, with a bit of anger in his voice.

“Holly, what’s yer deal? Ya been a cookie jar-snatcher for over fifteen years, why all the sudden ya want to start hangin’ out with the junkyard dogs? And don’t give me any bullshit about medical bills, gambling debts, or kids goin’ to college. I checked ya out. None of them apply to ya. And while yer tryin’ to think up an excuse for that, think up one as to why ya want to clue me in on the who, what, and where of Quinn and the Lincoln kid getting hit.”

I imagined Massey’s beady eyes getting narrow and his fist clenching his beer bottle.

“Easy Ed, you’re right about them excuses, but the true thing is I’m tired of the protect-and-serve thing and livin’ week-to-week and month-to-month. I want a few pieces meat for my potatoes, even if it’s only hamburger instead of ribeye. I’m old, not gettin’ old, I’m fuckin’ old. I wanna die in Miami Beach, not here shovelin’ my car outta of a snowbank.” He sounded convincing to me.

“Ummm. Well, maybe I got a little sumthin’ for yer. But, first off, what’s this about Quinn?”

“Pretty straight forward, Ed. After Quinn and the kid got shot, word started floatin’ around the District that you’d put a bounty on ‘em and somebody fucked up. The bounty was for dead, not dead or alive. Some TV reporter got ahold of the chatter and is doin’ a story on it. You’ve put some brass in a sling.”

“Yeah, I heard sumthin about that, too, but y’know, Holly, I ain’t that dumb. I didn’t put no bounty or hit on Quinn.”

“Iffn you didn’t, who did?”

“What the fuck, Holly? This ain’t no fuckin’ twenty fuckin’ questions. Forgit about it before ya find out what it is!”

“Hey, calm down, Ed. I’m just tryin’ to give ya a head’s up. That’s it. Nothin’ else. Maybe I should be talkin’ to somebody higher up your food chain, huh?”

“Like I said, forgit about it. Sarge don’t need ya . . .”

Bang! Bang! Bang!

As soon as I heard the gunfire, I was out of the car and standing on the streetside of a parked pickup. When the two hitmen came out of Jimmy B’s, I opened up with my Colt. I skipped the movie part about reaching for the sky. I couldn’t tell if Holly had been shot, or, in fact if anybody had been hit. It was all gun smoke and noise. I fired. They fired. I emptied my Colt, ejected the magazine and reloaded. The yellow construction vests were covered with blood and feathers. Red, yellow, and white. Fluffy and wet. Reminded me of some piece of abstract art from another deranged artist.

Rushing through the door, I saw Massey and Holly on the floor in a large, running puddle of blood. Massey was still, dead still. Holly was flinching and semi-conscious. His moaning was little more than muffled guggling. Luckily, he’d only been hit once. A miracle considering the amount of lead flying around the barroom.

Three dead, one in the hospital. One case was closed. Massey was dead. He wouldn’t bother Tom Martin anymore. But who had called the hit, and why?

When Holly got out of the hospital, he was on leave for three months. To keep himself from going stir, he started hanging out my office with me and Marge. He turned out to be a funny guy with an old-fashion sense of justice.

Stepping into the orange glow of the streetlight and soft snow, I could see it was Lou Dickens….

It was almost eleven p.m. The gray sky and streetlights reflected what the weather girl said would be the last snowflakes of the winter. Holly and me decided to call it a night. As we were walking out the door, Holly said he had to go back in and take a quick wizz. He couldn’t wait. That’s when three figures stepped out of the doorway next to my building. Stepping into the orange glow of the streetlight and soft snow, I could see it was Lou Dickens and two of his cop thugs. With their backs to the street, the three stood in front of me, the thugs held weapons, Dickens stood in the middle with his hands held partially up and out, but empty.

“Hello, shamus, how the fuck are yer?”

“Fine, Lou, just about to take my nightly constitutional. You?”

“Not so good, Quinn. Y’see, me and my associates got a little problem that keeps stinkin’ things up, y’know, like a dead fish. Seems like you keep snooping around my business. So, we figured it was time to get rid of that smell. Take a ride to the country.”

“Well, Lou, I hope you and the boys enjoy the night air. I hear the country is a fine place to get rid of the stench.”

“Oh, we heard that, too, and being the friendly sort, we want you to come along with us.”

“Damn, I wish I could, but you see, I got to get that walk in before midnight or I turn in to a fuckin’ pumpkin. You understand, right, Lou?”

The cop on his right motioned the muzzle of his Ruger toward the SUV behind them, “Shut the fuck up, Quinn, and get in before we decorate the sidewalk with your guts.”

“You heard him, Quinn, what’s it gonna be? And, Quinn, don’t go for that Colt of yers, you ain’t that fast.”

“One thing, Dickens, why’d ya do it to Massey? He was your guy.”

Was my guy. He started screwin’ up. First, the college girl, then yer boy Martin, next you. Hard tellin’ what was comin’ next. Nope, the only solution was what he got. Kinda like you, except you get to see a little scenery.”

Things just got real damn serious. “Don’t be a fool, Dic . . .”

Bang! Bang! . . . Bang! Bang!

The shots came from behind me, loud explosions more than gunshots. Only one person could have pulled that trigger—Joe Holly. While my ears were still ringing, I pulled my 1911 before Dickens could level his weapon on me.

“Thanks, Joe. I was wonderin’ how long you were going to piss.”

“I always got your back, Quinn, always.” The two of us were now standing in front of the two dead men and Dickens. I knew what I wanted to do, what I felt like I needed to do to put the universe back in balance and bring retribution—retribution with extreme prejudice. Pointing my cocked .45 at Dickens’ forehead, I told him, “This is your chance, Lou, if you think you can raise that hog iron of yours up and fire before I pull this trigger, go for it. If not, I’ll shoot you anyway. What will it be, Lou?”

“Forget it, Quinn, forget about it. He isn’t worth it.” Holly was still pointing his weapon at Dickens. The muzzle was trembling, slightly, but still a tremble.

I took a step forward and pressed the muzzle of my Colt against the crooked cop’s forehead. “Like Holly says, you’re not worth it, and as far as I’m concerned, you deserve to die in the gutter with your two thugs.”

The police sirens were blaring, getting closer.

“You’re right, Joe.” Then putting my piece back in my waistband, I took another look at Lou Dickens, the man who had caused Tom Martin and countless other innocent people so much pain and shame. Grabbing him by the front of his shirt, I bitch-slapped him as hard as I could twice so that blood started flowing from his nose and mouth. As he collapsed to the pavement, I pushed him toward the gutter with my foot. “Lou, thank Holly here for saving your life. Now you can spend the rest of it in prison. I hope that sends a message to the rest of the crooked cops carrying their dirty badges.”

When the patrol cars pulled up, I pointed to Dickens and said, “Here you are, officers, the crooked cop that tried to kill Detective Joe Holly. He’s all yours.”

Glen Bush is a retired professor of English who spends his time as an adjunct and writing crime/crime noir stories. He has been published in several magazines and e-zines in the UK and the US. Currently, he is working on a novel and a collection of stories focusing on the exploits of his protagonist Liam Quinn, Private Investigator. Bush lives in the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.

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