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!