Monday, June 13, 2011


After watching the ten o’clock news from a barstool, Jack knew he wouldn’t be going back to his office anytime soon. All that was left of Jack Farber’s Private Investigation Agency were pipes sticking up from the foundation and half of a toilet.
          He auto dialed his ex-partner’s number. She owed him big time; he still carried the bullet with her name on it and the scar to prove it.
“Detective Darnell,” Maggie said, sounding on edge.
“Hello, Maggie. It’s Jack.”
"Where in the hell are you? There’s an APB out on you.”
He traced his finger along the sticky bar. "Some stinking dive called The Bloody Bucket."
"Good God, what are you doing in that death trap? If you don't have a gun when you walk in, management issues you one."
"I brought my own."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"What’d they find in the rubble?"
"Fire investigators found two suspicious items: a pipe wrench lying next to a natural gas line and the charred remains of a mannequin."
"That's it?"
"What's up with the mannequin? Are you pulling our chain?"
He suspected the telephone call he’d received earlier in the day was a set up. Pulling the shades down, leaving a lamp on, and staging the dummy in his chair with its head down on the desk had worked. The threat was serious all right, and he had made a mistake that nearly cost him his life. He knew he was lucky to be alive. He pressed harder on his chest trying to keep the blood flow to a trickle.
"No. Just trying to stay alive," he replied, pressing harder on the chest wound.
A man sitting a couple of bar stools over from him looked down at the floor. "Hey, man. You're leaking blood."
      "Mind your own business,” Jack said, getting the Bartender’s attention. He pointed toward the man. “Give him a drink and put it on my tab."
The bartender poured the patron another shot. “Must be your lucky day.”
The man nodded, before downing the free drink.
“Maggie, are you still there?”
“Yeah, I’m still here. Where were you when the fireworks started?"
"In the alley behind the place. A little too close. I expected a shooter, not a bomber."
"Who is it?"
"I don't know. I got a call earlier today. A man offered me five grand in cash to drop the Hamilton case. He said he'd meet me alone in my office at nine tonight."
"That's a dead end case and you know it."
"The widow Hamilton begged me to keep working it. Besides, she's got plenty of money, and who am I to turn down a case that pays the bills.
“I wasn’t being critical. I was stating a fact.” There was a long pause. “I heard you’re doing all right.”
“If things get any better, I don’t think I could stand it.”
“You know what I meant. It ripped my heart out when they took your badge.”
“Thanks for your help. Fourteen years on the force gone to hell.”
“I thought I was saving your life. You’d still be on the force if you hadn’t told the psychiatrist where he could put his therapy sessions.”
“I’ve got a better one for you. I’d still be on the force if your machine hadn’t cut off the rest of my message,” Jack said, looking at the glass of bourbon he had ordered.
“Damn you, Jack. Tell me you’re kidding!”
“If you'd gotten the whole message, you would have known I was waiting for you at The All Nite Coffee Shop. Waiting for the one person I thought I could trust with my life. The next thing I know I’m told I’m suicidal and not fit for duty.”
“Are you coming in, or are you going to make us come after you?"
After hearing the troubled tone of her voice, Jack decided not to tell her the reason he had kept that information to himself until now.
"Right after I make a phone call," he replied. "You can call off that APB.”
"You're not coming in are you?"
He had no intentions of turning himself into the police, He closed his phone and looked at his watch.  He auto dialed his secretary's number.
"Hello," she said,in a barely audible voice.
“Did I wake you?”
“No, I was just resting my eyes. Of course you woke me. Why are you calling me at this hour of the night?”
"What does my lease agreement say about building repairs?"
"Have you been drinking?"
"Not tonight, kid." He pushed the untouched glass of bourbon away from him.
"The landlord has a maximum of thirty days to fix any problem with the building."
“In that case, you better work out of your apartment for the next thirty days.”
“There's a natural gas leak at the office and with your sniffer, you'd complain about it before you even walked in the doorway.”
“What am I suppose to do from my apartment?”
“The same things you do at the office: paint your nails, make personal phone calls, and watch game shows.”
“Get real. I have my nails done at Phoebe’s Nail Salon, like you would ever notice. Where are you going to be?”
“I’m going to be incognito.”
“What state is that in?”
“That's a good one, Denise. I’ll get in touch, if I need you."
"Wait. Does this have anything to do with why you sent me home early today?"
"Be careful."
"You can bet on it."
Seconds later, the first loud boom rattled the walls and shattered every piece of glass in the joint. Four people, at a table behind him, hit the floor. In the process of scrambling behind the bar, he opened his chest wound. Hunkered down, he placed his left hand over the wound and his right hand on his Sig Sauer automatic. The second boom was louder than the first one and resulted in hunk of metal flying through the window. Cheap Vodka and rot-gut Bourbon rained down on him when the projectile smashed six bottles of booze stacked up behind the bar. He recognized the side view mirror of his old Ford sedan when it came to rest beside him. It was time to go with Plan B.
Maggie looked across the street at her partner.
“Let’s go, Dan, code five."
He dumped two cups of coffee on the sidewalk and ran back to the cruiser. He slid behind the wheel and stared at her. “Where?”
“The Bloody Bucket.”
“Another shooting?”
“No, we’re picking up Jack Farber.”
Eight seconds later and a half block down the street, Dan asked, “Who gave you the tip he’s at the bar?”
“He called me.”
Dan glanced at the radio. Are you going to call it in?”
“I heard you two were a good team.” He took a hard left and put the pedal down again when the car straightened out. “Too bad about his wife and daughter, that would bring any man to his knees.”
“Shut up and drive,” she said, staring out the window.
The cruiser’s radio came alive. EMS and fire units were in route to The Bloody Bucket. All police units in the area were ordered to respond. Maggie shook her head and mumbled, “Damn it.”
       When they arrived at the bar, Jack was gone. He’d left behind a trail of blood that led out the back door of the bar and a note he told the bartender to give to Detective Darnell.
Whatever happens, we’re even.
She looked at the stained napkin in her hand. Why had he left her the same message she had interpreted as a suicide message twenty-two months earlier, unless, it was to tell her, and her only, where she could find him, The All Nite Coffee Shop.
“Dan, you stay here. I’m taking the cruiser,” she said on her way to the door.
He shook his head. “That’s against procedure.”
“Stick procedure.”
I felt someone shaking me.
“What are you doing on the floor? Is it your chest?”
I opened my eyes and found Eddy hovering over me, dialing 911 on speaker phone.
“You’ve reached a 911 operator. What is your emergency?”
I grabbed the phone from his hand and put it to my face. “Sorry, wrong number.”
I handed the phone back to him. “I’m okay. Must have fallen asleep and rolled off the lounger.”
“Man, I thought you were having a heart attack, Eddy said, taking the phone back.”
Using my right knee and his hand for balance, I rose and sat in one the four Adirondack chairs on our back deck overlooking the lake.
 “Thanks,” I said looking at the cooler he had brought over and set between two of the chairs.
One Friday night of each month, My neighbor, Eddy and I get together and drink beer while we stare out at the water. He and his wife, Darla are my beta readers, although Eddy has yet to read more than the first couple of pages of one of my romance novels. He considers himself a man's man, rough and tough and doesn't read romance novels.
He eased into the chair next to mine and pulled two beers from the cooler. “How come you to fall off the lounger?”
“I was dreaming about a man and a woman.”
He rolled his eyes. “That must have been one wild dream. So why did you have your hand on your chest?”
Something about the grin on his face told me he thought the dream might have been the kind young men have. “Bomb blast.” I said, taking one of the beers from him.
Two birds flew overhead and landed in a tree to off to our right.
I leaned back in the chair and stretched my legs out. "Hey, Eddy, if I write an old fashioned private eye story, would you read all of it?
"Only if it doesn't have any mushy romance talk in it."
I unscrewed the top from the bottle of Samuel Adams beer and took a drink of the cold tantalizing liquid, and then lowered it, gazed at him, and smiled.

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