I finished my drink and braced myself for the heat outside. I stepped out onto the pavement, blinking the sun and sweat out of my eyes. As I turned up the street a figure approached me, little more than a silhouette against the blazing day. The figure stopped abruptly, standing up straighter, as I heard a sharp snap by my right ear. I was already diving for cover when the report of the gun reached me.
I rolled to my left, hoping to dive back into the bar before the next shot found me. The other man stood improbably still, then slowly twisted and crumpled to the sidewalk. A single, clean bullet hole adorned his forehead. His face hadn’t even had time to register surprise as the high-velocity slug bounced around inside his head. As he hit the sidewalk the revolver he had been carrying under his coat clattered to the ground.
A woman emerged from a storefront and almost stumbled over the dead man. She looked at him with distaste until she saw the expanding pool of blood by his head. With a scream she ducked back into the store. The police were going to be here soon. I did not want to be anywhere in the vicinity when they arrived, but I didn’t think I had much choice. Someone must have seen me. It would be easier to talk to them now than explain why I left.
That left me with little to do except keep the corpse company. He had been a big guy, blonde, with that Northern European blockhead look. His hair was short and neatly combed, undisturbed by the violence just beneath its roots. The gun was a .38 Smith and Wesson, clean and deadly. I wondered what he’d been planning to do with it. I didn’t bother looking for ID. The cops would check, but I was willing to guess he wasn’t carrying any. “Who you working for?” I asked him, but he wasn’t telling. I tried another line. “Was that for me?” I asked, gesturing to the gun. I pointed to the hole in his head. “Was that for me?”
His blue eyes were staring straight into the sun. It was starting to bother me, the way he never blinked. I was considering going back into Jake’s when I heard the siren. The patrol car roared to a stop and two uniforms stepped out. I heard more sirens approaching. Anything else the stiff wanted to tell me would have to wait.
The cops were no different than the dead man. There’s two ways for a kid with some muscle but not much brains to get ahead in this city; he can join one of the local gangs, or he can become a cop. It comes down to the same thing either way. They have a boss who tells them whose skull to crack and they go do it. It’s a simple life, and a good living for those untroubled by scruples or the sanctity of human life. They looked me over and told me where to stand until someone with an IQ greater than 12 could come and talk to me. After that there wasn’t much for them to do but stand around looking important and threatening passers-by while the dead guy slowly cooked in the sun.
More squad cars rolled up, with a black sedan hot on their tail, Ed Hennessey hunched over the wheel, grinding his teeth and his gears, coming to a halt in a cloud of blue smoke. I had mixed feelings about Ed. He was a smart guy and a good drinker, but he was a reporter. I’d done some odd jobs for him in the past; once I had produced photos and an address where a priest was engaging in activities decidedly unholy. That story never hit the presses—most of those things don’t—but Ed gave me a nice bottle as a bonus.
I wasn’t enthusiastic about having my name in the paper connected to a story like this one, however. Things were complicated enough already, and having me connected with what appeared to be a straight gang hit was going to make it difficult with some of my usual contacts. I live in a gray world, a world of shadows, and the black-and-white of police cars and the bright light of flashbulbs would send my peers scuttling back under the refrigerator.
Still, if Ed thought I knew something, I’d be able to squeeze a couple of drinks out of him.
If I was ambivalent about Ed’s arrival, the cops were openly hostile. A sweatly-faced patrolman with more more swagger than sense was waiting as Ed unfolded his long frame from behind the wheel of the Chrysler. “You get right back in that car and blow on out of here!” the officer said.
“Hello, Charley,” the reporter called out to me, ignoring the policeman as he might an annoying little dog. “What’s the story here?”
“This is a crime scene,” the officer persisted.
Ed looked at the corpse and acknowledged the cop for the first time. “No kidding?” he asked.
“Stay back,” the cop said. “Stand over there.” He gestured down the sidewalk.
Ed came over and stood by me. He wasn’t making any new friends on the force by acting that way, but considering some of the things he had printed about the local constabulary I didn’t think he had much to lose. He had more he could print, and the cops knew it, or they might have opted to end his career early by making sure his fingers would never operate a typewriter again. A delicate balance of power. I knew he had the goods on them because I had helped him collect some of it. The cops didn’t know that. I don’t think they knew anyway.
“What happened?” Ed asked me, glancing at the corpse.
“Someone shot him,” I said.
Tune in next time for: The Devil You Know!
I think I’m about to get myself into trouble with too many characters arriving at once. I had no plan to have a reporter until I typed him in, and I’ve got no idea what I’m going to do with him. I guess that’s a risk you take when writing without thinking.
Good warmup for November, though.
You claim FTE is a lark, but I think it’s pretty good writin. Now that I’ve built you up I can put on my critic’s hat and bring you down. The word smithing in thei episode is not up to your usual. And I have a BIG problem with, what I perceived you to write, a bullet coming from behind the protaganist and impacting the lummox’ forehead. Afterwards, the protagonist is lolling around in the street, hangin out by the corpse, COMPLETELY FORGETTING there is a sniper still back there somewhere that could pop another round right down Santa Claus Lane. You even say he worries the next slug will find him, then the believability ends there, as he starts to fret more about cops.
Man, what is up with haloscan. In the beginning there were a few growing pains, but then for most of this blog comments and commenting have been quite smooth. Now, everytime I come on to MR&HBI, the comments take forever to load, and if I comment, it’s a crapshoot if I’ll lose my text.
Over the last few days crunching The Monster Within I really sapped my creative juices. This episode felt more like work than the others, and I agree that it shows in the prose.
I could have sworn there was another paragraph about no next bullet coming, but apparently that one didn’t make it out of my head and onto the page. Darn head.
Maybe I’ll retrofit it, but I think that might not be in the spirit of the Eels.
I was just thinking this morning that the comments were working better than they have been. I’ve thought about finding another system or writing my own, but one thing that’s stopping me is I don’t know how I would move over the 2K comments already here. Legacy’s a bitch, man.
I, too, am enjoying FTE @ MR&HBI.
Since it’s election season, who the heck is voting for Lumpy Gannett as the shooter?!? If you recall, he “accidentally shot himself twelve times with his revolver” (which I’m sure Precinct Captain O’Malley described as the worst case of suicide he’d ever seen).
It should be obvious that the shooter is Willie the Weasel. Perhaps he thought the dead guy was after him. Perhaps Willie is trying to help the protagonist out of desperation (unlikely). Perhaps it’s something else.
Please vote for Willie early and often.
Now, if only we could get internet access for all those dead Rio Ariba County voters …
I’ll be returning the “who pulled the trigger” poll after the required automobile mourning perios has passed, so don’t wind down your campaigns yet!
Speaking of Rio Arriba County, one of the things the New Mexico State Legislature this year did was to vote down a proposed law that called for the removal from voting rolls upon a person’s death. A voter, no matter how dead, must stay on the rolls until that voter fails to show up for four major elections. Funny thing, they just keep showing up.
There’s debate going on here about whether to start requiring people to provide identification when they vote. I was amazed to learn that ID wasn’t required when I started coming to the polls here.
In New Mexico, ID is required of first-time voters if they registered to vote by mail. If they registered in person at a county clerk’s office, they aren’t required to show ID to vote. The grey area is those voters who didn’t register by mail, but also didn’t register in person — they were signed up in voter-registration drives by political parties or other organizations.
The Democrats argue that since these people didn’t register by mail, they shouldn’t have to show ID. The Republicans argue that since these people didn’t register in person, they should have to show ID. The most recent court decision has been that these new voters won’t have to show ID.
That’s troubling, since a whole lot of the new registrations seem to be, at best, inaccurate. Many organizations have been paying people commissions based on how many new voter registrations they bring in, and it seems many of those people have been inflating their counts through questionable registrations.