By: Antwan Crump
There’s a story that I used to tell the rookies. More of a riddle, I suppose. The old chief was adamant about making sure that the new recruits were sound of mind and had the stomach to make tough calls.
This is back when the MCPD was still interested in first-hand tutorials and reality as a general concept. Not the pipedream fantasy of “dying a good death” in the field or letting your bang-bangs fly free at the first sign of trouble.
That’s what they teach now. That’s all they teach. That’s why all of their students are either dead or rolling around in wheelchairs with skinny legs and limp dicks. Hmm…ironic.
Dumb lesson. Dumber kids–playing cops and robbers with real ammunition and thinking that it makes their pricks swing lower…children. All of them.
When he asked me to teach them, I presented him with the same synopsis. He failed, then approved of my methods…thinking he’d passed, of course.
It’s not that I didn’t have the gall to tell him. I was a rascally little shit back then. I would have loved to shove it in his face. But then it hit me–my own personal lesson. The right answer doesn’t matter. It’s not the point.
The story goes as follows–
You wake up on a desert island to the sound of waves and bickering. You wipe the sand from your eyes and get up. You pat yourself down and find that you have a gun.
You crack it open and see four bullets. You look up as the arguing gets louder. Two men are hurling fists at one another. They’ll beat each other to death if it keeps up. A gorgeous woman watches–laughing at them as she eats a pineapple.
Days go by this way. Each day, the same argument. Each day, a new pineapple. Each day, the woman eats and you slowly starve along with the two embattled men.
One morning, you can’t take it anymore. You fire a round into the sky to grab their attention. The men don’t pay it any mind but the woman does. She drops the fruit. You ready another round.
What next? —
A giving man would pick up the pineapple and split it into quarters.
A selfish man would kill the other two and eat it.
A manipulative man would do both things and sleep with the broad–under threat of a bullet to the head.
An evil man would kill everyone.
A weak man would kill himself.
What would a good man do?
And there you have it. A moral quandary. An ethical farce. A joke and by all accounts, the human dilemma–wrapped up nice and tight in an annoying little package that lets you play God. There, you have every day, of every life, at all times.
I pull up on East and 17th just in time for the sky to spit out its nightly round of tears. It always rains out here–either just stopped or about to start. Most people get used to the grey skies. A few feed themselves a bullet. The smart ones leave.
I pat my pocket to make sure the thumbs are still secure. They are. Just as well. I’m not lucky enough to misplace things. I dig into my glove compartment. I keep a flask there for when I’m out of the office for too long and get the shakes.
In my little metal canister is a bathtub brew–confiscated. Tastes like slop, but it’s potent in small doses. I shoot the air from my lungs and pray for mercy. The cap spins open. My head tries to run off my shoulders. I hold it still. “It’s for your own good,” I tell myself.
I can already smell it. It’s nicknamed “Donkey-Juice”. That should paint the picture clear enough. I was ‘gifted’ a nice crate of the stuff from a tubby Polak with a bad attitude and more body hair than a damned grizzly. He won’t miss it. I’m sure there are better drinks in hell.
I put the metal to my lips and let it burn me for a second. It’s warm. It shouldn’t be. The skin of my bottom lip sizzles. Sounds like sunny eggs in a pan. I think of something pretty as I tip it in and guzzle a mouthful. No mercy to be had.
Tastes like dog shit, but it does the trick. No more shakes. Just a case of bad breath. I lower the flask, tighten its top, and throw it in the back seat like a red-headed stepchild. I hold my cough and breathe in. Air is good. My mouth waters.
My tremors calm.
My head clears.
I swing my door open and stretch out of the car–into the rain. My legs are strong. Steadied. God bless Poland. I’ve parked on the street in case I’ll need a quick exit.
Capone’s is known to end its nights in something for the cops to clean up the next morning. A hotspot. An infested hole. Perfect place for a guy like me. If only I’d been born with that lust for trouble…better yet, the other side of it.
They’ll know who I am by the way that I’m dressed. Not the law–too well for that. Not a friend–not well enough. In the middle. As I am with most things. A grey area.
I’ll get in, but I need a reason. I check my money clip. “Just enough,” I whisper. I pull out a twenty from the bunch and shove it in my other pocket. It’s empty aside from my keys. Might be useful. I bankroll every move on options. It’s kept me alive this long.
A crack of thunder warns me to go home.
I don’t listen.
I never listen.
“Let’s go, Lucy. Daddy’s got business.”
I walk in and don’t bother taking my hat off. There’s a big guy at the door. He’s got eyes for me already. I don’t flatter him with acknowledgment. He’s unimportant. Wouldn’t want him thinking otherwise. I ignore his glares and press forward to the bar.
This place is seedy. Awash in smoke, loose cash, and bad decisions. Yep. This is the place. I take a seat at the bar. It’s impressive. Like they chopped down a redwood and propped it up on a silver stand.
Behind the open log is a wall of Mettle City’s best. Enough to put a distillery to shame. Long glass shelves topped with tall, crisp, bottles of liquid goodness. It’s pretty. Almost worth a tear.
Now, I remove my hat. The bartender should know I care. He’s scrawny with a bare face and moves like a brittle leaf. He’s got a healthy bounce but you can practically smell the afterbirth on him. He’s not a grip. He’s a teenager. Just some sad sap who lucked his way into a job. I forgive him for being here and order.
He obliges with a nod and reaches under the bar for my glass. He slides it on the table and pours. No talking. Just service. Good service.
The smell tingles my nose. It’s fresh. Good stuff. Likely the best in town. I thank him and down the drink before the liquid can settle in the bottle. “Another.” He obliges with a smile and pours…Good service. I may have to tip him.
“How much I owe ya’ kid?”
He parts his lips to answer. A woman’s voice emerges–dominant but sensual. “Your money’s no good here, detective.”
For a split second, I think it’s his. It’s not. By the scared pale look on his face, it’s someone important. “Go clean some tables or something, Danny. Leave the bottle.”
Danny has no words. He slides the bottle beside my drink and speeds off like he’s got a rocket tied to him. Too bad. I was gonna’ tip him.
“How are you, Luke?”
I don’t look back. I let her come to me. She stands in the space just between my thigh and the next stool over. Close enough for the frilly folds of her dress to graze my cheek. She stays there and pulls the empty seat behind her.
I kill my second vodka. “Contessa…” I pour another. This pair of legs is a smooth criminal. A madam and, for a long while, Capone’s main squeeze.
That is until she hit thirty. She was mine for a year or two after that. I can’t recall. I don’t want to. “Have a seat, why don’t cha?” She does and runs her heel against the length of my leg. Damn, this broad knows how to get me going.
She looks at my drink. I try not to stare at her low neckline dress and the cleavage that it can barely hold. Don’t stare, Luke. Don’t stare. You’re here on business.
“It’s been a long time.” Her voice slithers into my ear and takes my mind on a little trip down memory lane. She ashes her cigarette on the bar. Classy. “Too long by my count..” Her heel runs down my leg. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
I sip my vodka and place it back on the bar. “Work…”
“Oh!” she sounds more disappointed than anything “…As if it could have been for anything else”.
She reaches for the bottle and takes herself a gentlemen’s swig. I look at her now–with her head slung back. I watch it slide down her throat. I remember the good times. She slams the bottle on the table and takes a hit of her smoke before she could catch her breath.
God, I loved you. “One of your girls go missing recently?”
Her face recoils. I give her a cold stare. Then, she remembers who she’s talking to. She looks away. “Yes. A beautiful young mixed girl, by the name of…”
“Annie Maye,” I interrupt before she get’s going.
“Yes…Have you found her? Is she in any trouble?”
“Yes and not anymore.”
“More like a hacksaw.”
She puffs her flapper. “Damned shame…I liked that one.” She’s cold when she speaks. It wasn’t unexpected. She’s shocked, but not enough. She knows something.
“Did our little friend have any frequent flyers?”
She dabs her cigarette out on the bar. “Perhaps. But client information is strictly…” I throw my money clip on the bar. She glances at it, then back at me. “For?” She knows. Whether she wants to admit it or not…she knows.
“Luke…I can’t.” She looks around, grabs the money and shoves it in her bra. “All of my girls are occupied at the moment. If you want to wait…”
“It’s not for them.” I stare straight at the bar and feel her heel drift off of me. I kill my third drink and leave her cold hooked. I wipe the spittle from my lips and look deep into her brown eyes. I want to see her soul. “It’s for you, Contessa.”
She slaps me…hard.
The echo of the smack rings around the bar a few times before settling back in my ear. Some people take pause. Most don’t notice. My swelling cheek does. “You bastard!” she snipes at me through her teeth. “All this time…” Her lip quivers. She’s emotional…good.
She lays a fat one on my lips. She’s wanted this as badly as I did. She tastes like she hasn’t aged a day. “Come on…” She orders me like a lap-dog and swivels out of her stool. She looks back at me–trying not to sound as hungry for it as she is. “Are you coming?”
Not yet, but soon.
“Yes, Ma’am.” I signal Danny as I put my hat back on. He jogs back over like a kid on Christmas. I pull that twenty from my pocket and slam it in his hand. “Keep the change, kid.”
It makes his day.
Contessa and I head upstairs for a trip down memory lane.
Suddenly, we’re young again. Cracking bones and raspy moans make Johnny a happy boy. She’ll give me what I want afterward. It’s all a part of the dance.
Remember that riddle?
You give her the gun.
Keep the bullets.
Ask her where she’s hiding the fruit…
Luke Benson will return in…
Episode #5: Fighting Words