Luke Benson Files: Case 0043 – The Lady and the Lamp

Luke Benson Files: Case 0043

“The Lady and The Lamp”

 

Status: UNRESOLVED 

 

She stands patiently by a street lamp outside my office window.  

There’s nothing special about it. If anything, it’s one of the most mundane and standard pieces of equipment bought and paid for on behalf of the good folks of the township—Mettle City.  

My home 

My hell. 

My everything. 

When they’d first erected their illuminated phallus—the mayor was fast to take credit for “lighting up the dark times”.  

Little did he know, that all those trident looking bastards would do is ensure that the junkies walked away with the correct amount of change and something lethal to shove in their arms—among the other popular methods of ingestion.  

I suppose that it also assisted in the mob warfare.  

Bodies began to collect around the drips of wax that’d tricked down to the cobblestone and mixed with the blood; just to make the nauseating discomfort a bit more insulting.  

It’d be sad if they weren’t worthless.  

Then again, it’s not like there’s a price-tag on my ass either.  

My head maybe.  

Truth be told, if you die in Mettle City, that’s exactly what you deserved.  

By choice or by trade.  

Fair-trade to me.  

There’s nothing like thinning traffic to make you appreciate the devil. Good job, Satan—you son of a bitch.  

“Luke…” I’d almost forgotten that he was here. “Luke? Are you with me?”—Thomas Thompson.  

My partner. 

“Yeah, rookie. I’m alright. Just a little buzzed on the road back to normal.”

I keep a flask of whiskey in my breast-pocket to ward off the shakes. The damn stuff gives me nightmares–but after all the shit that I’d seen, exploding babies were like a wet-dream compared to the usual.  

People die. No getting around it.  

God never said that I have to be sober for it though.  

“You know that junks liable to kill you right Luke?”  

He’s concerned.  

It’s one of the few weaknesses that accompany his otherwise advantageous youth. Barely out of his teenage years, he sits across from me at a student’s desk in a suit that looks like he’d borrowed it from pop-pop. 

He was trying his best.  

I can respect a man who tries.  

“If it does, it’ll be the first of its kind,” I say and prove it with a long chug that must look like it hurts—it does—he can’t take his eyes off of me.  

I let the lava burn down my throat until I can feel the simmering highway it’s made down to my gut, bubble and boil over. It’s not for him, it’s just how I know I’m in for a good day. Couple hours, really. 

I wipe the dribble from my lips and continue—  

“Gonna’ need a stronger stomach than that kid.” Particularly if he’d ever planned on making it to twenty-one. “Way worse things go bump in the night than an old lush and his growling gun.” 

“Noted…” He broke his meditative gaze at me and my, soon to be, sloppy speech to glance out of the window.  

He’s a good kid. Concern is plus when you can manage it.  

“She out there again, boy?” 

His answer was preceded by a trembling nod. 

Must’ve spooked him. 

“Yep. Left side of the lamp. Red dress. Black-strap purse on her shoulder.”  

She’d always appeared to be looking for something—manically twisting her head about the side-street like a gazelle on the lookout for predators.  

Is that what she is? I think and glance out the window as well.  

Is she but a lowly gazelle—stalking the lions to avoid the hyenas? 

Is she even there at all? 

An aberration?  

A ghost?  

A fiend?  

“I’m gonna’ go say something,” Thompson said, with his frustratingly persistent confidence.  

“For what?” 

“Luke, it’s been nearly two weeks…you’re not curious?” 

“Not in the slightest.” 

“Well…I can’t take this anymore.” Thompson shoots up from his chair like a red-coat at the Boston Tea Party. It was fitting—given his origins and the perpetual bloody glow of his otherwise stale looking skin.  

“I’m going,” he says and waits for permission. 

Kid’s about as lily-white as a klansman, dipped in bleach, and built about as slim as the ropes they’d used to punish the negros for existing.   

Given who his father was, I’d say it’s an accurate detail, 

—if not somewhat prophetic. 

You can always smell the hate on someone’s skin. We’ll discuss it when he’s ready. For now, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. 

“Alright, then.” I too, stumble to my feet and aggressively adjust my slinking trousers. “You do that.”  

I head for the door and toss my coat over the shoulder that hurts. It’s always best to make your weakness seem like a strength. “I’m going to head on down to Capone’s and see if I can’t get a few things wet tonight.” 

“Contessa?” 

I choke down my surprise at his boldness.  

“Yes.” I give him the same stare that I’ve given to countless others who’d wound up in the ground for crossing that line.  

Lucy growls. 

I pull her from the strap on my side so that she could see that he’s a friendly—it doesn’t help. She wants to bite him. “Is that a problem?” 

“Whoa!” He backs away. Nearly hurling himself out of the window. Needless to say, I don’t expect to have this conversation again. “Is that really necessary?” 

“My gun or your question?” I growl too. 

“Nothing. Nothing. Never mind. Just…”  

He’s concerned again.  

I keep telling him that a bleeding heart belongs at the Vatican–not here. An open hole in Mettle City never stays vacant for long.  

“Can you just promise that you’ll come back without having bankrupted us? We’re teetering as it is and she has a habit of wringing you dry.” 

“What I do with my funds is my business.” 

The trip to Capone’s wasn’t entirely meant for shits and giggles. Contessa had been one of the most profitable madams from one edge of the island to the other.  

Over the years, any dainty eyed beauty, less a rich family, would find employment, shelter, and safety under Contessa’s semen-soaked roof. She and her girls were off limits so long as they’d been working there (and often for a good deal of time afterward). 

“Besides, if anyone’s got any information on your mystery woman out there, it’ll be her. Pretty face like that, fairly new clothes, jewelry—unless Santa Claus is working a double-shift, I’d say that she’s got a hand or two in something bigger than city property.” 

His face tells me that I’m full of shit.  

His mouth is less ballsy.  

“You can tell all of that just by looking?” He asks and studies me like a textbook. 

“Kid, first rule of the private investigator business—know your fucking target. If you’d spent less time inspecting the details around her breasts, you’d have come to the same conclusion.” 

“I’m–I’m not…” 

“Save it.” I wave him off. It’s better to let him stew. “Just lock everything up when you leave. I may not be back tonight and the last thing I need is a bigger mess to clean up.”  

The irony doesn’t escape me. 

I grip the doorknob and open it.  

My actions are joining the conversation.  

“Can you handle that?” I throw a shoulder to the wind and wait for the breeze to kiss the tip of his nose.  

“Yeah,” his voice pops and cracks like he’s just been thrown back into the fray of puberty. I guess, in a sense, he has.  

Good for him.  

Rookies need to run solo missions every now and again. Good for breaking the spirit and teaching reliance on the mind.  

“Good. Back here 08:00. We clear?” 

“Crystal, Sir.” 

Good kid.  

After I’d thrown my little hissy fit about the corruption in town—and then quit the force via a straight jab to the chief’s shit-kicking grin, most of my former brothers in blue reclassified me to the ranks of gutter trash and wayward wanderers.  

Along with my reputation, I’d also had the definitive misfortune of losing just about every contact that I’d made through my years of service. Thompson, my protégé, was the only one who’d stayed by my side.  

It was ill-advised but I appreciated the company.  

It didn’t hurt that it also made the chief sick to his stomach.  

The kid’s in better care with me anyway. Wouldn’t want him in there on that day when everything would inevitably go to shit.  

 

Especially because I’d probably be the one pulling the trigger.  

*** 

I woke up no more than three hours later at Capone’s—covered in lipstick and bodily fluids. 

The good kind.  

Contessa knows just what I like.   

After a few more minutes of counting what bills I’d had left, it was time to go. My departure was always unceremonious. Women love a man who doesn’t care and hookers tend to be sweeter to men whose lives they don’t yet own.  

I leave Contessa filleted on the bed—uncovered, cold, asleep, satisfied 

A wiser man would’ve just joined her back in the bed and waited until morning for work.  

I don’t consider myself a wise man and more than comfort, I needed to check on the kid. There was no telling what trouble he might have followed some bush into.  

Best to intervene before he’s in over his head.  

I kiss Contessa on the forehead—an act that I can’t convince myself not to do, 

 

—and leave. 

*** 

His car’s still here.  

Odd. I’d never known the rookie for working any later than absolutely necessary—particularly not with that hot young wife of his waiting at home.  

Gumshoe must’ve found something.  

I step out of my green bucket and slam the door shut to see if anything will rustle out of the darkness. I prefer to face my demons upfront—before I get cozy with my desk chair and the pickling of my insides.   

That woman’s still there—standing over by the lamp—looking like a damsel in distress. 

These eyes have seen that stance before.  

A black widow posing as a caterpillar—posting up in her web and sensually taunting her prey with wicked hips and a mating scent.  

Contessa confirmed my suspicions.  

She’s a two-bit hustler who gets her kicks by draining folk dry—man or woman—and disappearing shortly before their bloated corpses are found floating around the Hudson like an empty bottle of hooch. 

A killer by the name of Sugar. 

“Fuck,” I grit my teeth as I stare up at my office window—only to realize that the lights are off.  

The woman looks at me and smiles.  

God damn it, kid…  

“Hey!” I scream.  

What have you gotten me in to?  

“You!” I roar again.  

She doesn’t flinch.  

She barely even seems to notice this old man hollering as loud as his octaves will allow. She casts her gaze back to me and softly holds it.  

Inviting.  

“Stay right there. I’ve got some questions…” I walk away from the car and pace across the street with purpose. “…and, I’ve got a damn good feeling that you’ve got answers.” 

“Anything, detective.” She sounds breathy… just like she looks. “Anything at all.” 

Same dress. 

Same purse.  

Same devilish smile.  

To my surprise, she smells like something flowery—rich broads always do—like she’d just taken herself a nice long bath in lilacs and the tears of the men she’s broken.  

“You mind telling me what you’re doing out here at this time of night?” 

Her eyes are blue and built to bleed the soul into submission.  

Her lips are plump and rounded with the secrets of their earned ability and quiver with a hint of recognition at my presence.  

I’m nothing but another victim to her.  

She’s holding eye-contact, but barely.  

She’s intimidated. Playing intimidated. 

Good. Nothing mutes the loins like a heavy dose of fear. I’ll take pretend in the meantime. 

“Simply minding my own matters, detective.” She slips a leg loose from a slit at the front of her red dress—it splits the thighs and stops just below the bait that gods planted between her legs.  

Bold.  

Classy.  

Bitchy.  

My kind of gal.  

“Why,” she asks as if I was born that second. “Is something the matter?” 

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.” I reach into my breast pocket for my medicine. I always swill the strong stuff when I’m on the job—stops the shakes and deadens the eyes. I suppose that I’m also knocking some years off of my life.  

It’s fine.  

I’d planned on dying decades ago.  

“Do you have identification?”  

A word to the wise—if you’re going to question a woman, either look her directly in the eyes or not at all. Every other part of their body is custom-made to trip you up when you least expect it. Most men tend to jump on that metaphorical grenade. 

I take a swig and return the flask to its rightful place beside my heart.  

I make sure the bitch gets a nice long glance at Lucy. 

“I’m sorry, officer.” Breathy. Lustful. Weak. “I—I’ve never had a need for such things.” 

“Hmm,” I light a cigarette. “Odd.” I sneer and look up at my office window. The kid should be watching. He always was. Where the fuck are the lights? 

“I wouldn’t bother with that, detective.” 

I breathe a cloud of smoke. “Excuse me?” 

“Your partner…he–” She stops to weigh her options. No lingering eye contact left in her. Just fear. “…Have you ever been in love, detective?” 

I let the ash hit the base of my lungs and erupt from my nose like I’m Mount fucking Vesuvius. “I don’t see how that’s relevant.” 

“Love is always relevant, detective. That’s what will bring you to the end.” 

“The end?” I toss the fag on the ground and stomp out its flame. Might be time for Lucy to join the conversation. “The end of what?” 

“Everything,” she looks off into the distance—down the road, where the cobblestone melts into the darkness.   

She whispers, “The devil is coming, Luke…And you’ve a long way to prepare.” 

“Lady…” I pull Lucy from her sheath and let her barrel stare at the ground for a while. “You’ve got about seven seconds to make some god damn sense or the only thing we’ll be preparing for is your funeral.” 

I’m not sure if I’m lying. 

But Lucy’s not a fibber.  

“Do you promise me, Luke?” 

She turns and floats my way—looking like a bride ready to be cracked open on her honeymoon.  

I forget my place.  

“Listen, whatever you think this is, the only thing that I can promise is that this isn’t going to go how you think.” 

She laces her fingers around my wrist. She pets Lucy’s bottom. “Is she loaded?” 

“You assume my gun’s a she?” 

“Every man’s got a mommy complex.”  

She lifts Lucy up to her chest and lets its cold tip lick her. She holds it steady—letting Lucy straddle her collarbone. “The same as every girl having a daddy issue or two.”  

She drops her hands from the gun and reaches into her purse. “Hold it straight now, detective. Wouldn’t want me to get away now. Would you?” 

At that point, I’d just wanted some fucking answers.  

“Lady, you’ve said a lot of haywire things that I’m not often apt to forgive. However, given the fact that you’re clearly delusional…” I lower Lucy back down to my side. “I’m willing to look past it.” 

She lights her own fag. “Well isn’t that a pity.” 

Her smoke smells like a desert. Then again, that may just be her saliva. Focus is getting harder. I’ve got to get out of dodge.  

“I thought that we were having a good time,” she says and lands a palm softly on my cheek. “At least, I was hoping that we would.” 

“Sorry, honey.” Thanks Contessa. “All drained.” 

She leans in to kiss my lips.  

It’s nothing like what I’d thought it’d be.  

There were no clear skies or sunshine.  

No romantic rain or dramatic pause to flee the country.  

No passion.  

Just a vision.  

She pulls her lips away from mine—leaving a sweet glaze on my tongue that I can’t help but suckle. “Do you see it, Luke?” She whispers. 

Opiates make people hallucinate.  

She must’ve slipped one on my tongue.  

The world had run full with magma while a horned figure treaded its way through homes and cities—leaving in its wake, nothing but destruction. 

Nothing but pain.  

“I see it.” 

“What is she telling you?” 

There’s no way out.  

There never was.  

“A world on fire.” 

“Yes, Luke…” 

 

This is going to get tricky.  

*** 

09:00 the following day and still no word from Thompson.  

I’m still having a tough time remembering exactly what’d happened the night before. A lifetime of double vision will do that. All I know is that I’m sick to my stomach and feel like I’ve been kicked in the nads by a spike-booted militia.  

His car’s still here.  

His coat, wallet, and gun too.  

“Thompson!” I yell.  

There’s no answer. 

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that he was hiding in the crapper or gone for a smoke around the corner—but I’ve been up for an hour or two and he hasn’t so much as left a note.  

Knock… 

Knock…  

Knock.  

About time.  

“Thompson, you son of a bitch, get your ass in here! You scared me half to death.” 

The door swings open like it’d been propelled by a brick of dynamite. 

“Don’t mind if I do?” He charges in—ahead of about a dozen armed officers, who follow his tail-end like baby ducklings.  

“Boeing?” I say and look for my whiskey.  

“Benson,” he answers and promenades into the room with his hands roped behind his back and a shit-eating grin crowning his jowls and layered neck. “It’s good to see you, old friend.” 

I find my whiskey. The legal stuff. Thank God. 

“I wish that I could say the same,” a dozen guns point in my direction. If I had to guess, I’d say that they’d all been aiming at pre-discussed vital organs.  

I sip straight from the bottle.  

“Did I forget your birthday or something?” 

“Yes,” Boeing searches around the office. He seems particularly attracted to Thompson’s things. “But, that’s not why I’m here.”  

“Oh…” I don’t wish him a happy belated. As far as I’m concerned, guys like he and I are on borrowed time anyway. “Then, may I kindly invite you to fuck off?” 

“You may…” 

“Good then…” 

“However, I’d hate to have you booked for disrupting an ongoing investigation.” He gives me a side-eyed glance.  

“Disrupting,” I snarl and take a second sip to keep me in the seat. “You’re not here for me?” 

“Not specifically. Though, I was hoping.”  

He drags on his words like they’ve got his heart attached by a string—stuck in the vowel as if to buy himself time. “I’m here for your boy…Thompson. Do you know where he is?” 

“Haven’t seen him…” I should’ve lied. “What the hell do you want with the kid?” 

“Not much of a reader, are you Luke?” Boeing unfurls a newspaper from his coat-pocket and tosses it onto my desk. “Go on. Take a look at what’s been festering right under your nose.” 

The front page of the paper isn’t anything out of the ordinary.  

The primary story was always about a murder—or the closest derelict activity that reporters could find, in case the killers did too good of a job covering up their tracks.  

“MURDER-SUICIDE ENDS BRIGHT FAMILY FUTURE.” 

The picture was of Thompson—lying beside his wife and infant child, covered in blood and missing a third of his head.  

“What the fuck is this?” 

“This,” Boeing approached my desk, looking as if he’d been holding back a snicker. “This is what’s hot off the presses, Luke!” He sounds happy. I should sock him like I did our former boss. “It seems that your baby-boy isn’t as cut from the cloth as you thought.” 

“He’s a good kid, Seymour.” 

Was…Luke. He was a good kid. Now, he’s a suspect in a string of unsolved cases.” 

“And…” I pause to decide whether or not the question was worth asking. “—you’re sure?” 

He cocks his head and lowers an eye—it gives him a hackneyed appearance. He thinks I know more than I do.  

It’s possible.  

Haven’t had my coffee yet.  

“As sure as my balls hang and my dick swings,” Boeing says.  

I stop and listen to my gut. 

I doubt all three. 

“You’re wrong.” 

“If only I was, Luke.” He raises an arm and places it on the business end of his man’s shotgun. Lucky for me, he pushes it down—but I’ve never known Boeing to loosen his grip. “I’m gonna’ need you to come with me.” 

I take a third sip. It’s warm. Things are feeling normal now.  

Blurred. 

Tense. 

Normal. 

“You gonna’ make me, Seymour?” 

“If I have to. I’d really enjoy you making me have to.” 

“Hmm.” I chuckle. “You and what—” 

I remember that I’m surrounded by the same trigger-happy gang who’d all been trained to kill me. 

Just me. 

“…Army?” He interjects.  

Three guns cock on the ass-half of his militia.    

Looks like I’ll be doing some time. 

“You have ten seconds to comply or your office will be getting a new coat of red-paint.” 

I picture the red walls and imagine tomorrow’s headline:  

HERO COP CHARGED IN MURDER-SUICIDE. 

Not exactly great press. 

That’s all they’d need to take me down. To destroy everything that I’ve built. To sink the ship. To break a man.  

But I don’t break.  

“What’s it gonna’ be, Luke?” 

What choice do I have? 

What choice do any of us have?  

Damn it, Thompson. I stand and wipe the crud from my eyes as they get their first taste of daylight in weeks.  

It burns.  

“Five seconds, Luke.” 

I look out the window at the street-lamp. The very same one that’d always caught my eye.  

She was there.  

She was smiling.  

As they cuffed me, she seemed to giggle and trot off like she’d never existed. 

Did she? 

“Three seconds, Luke.” 

The other nine guns cock and I feel my rib-cage tighten around my lungs.  

“Two seconds.” 

I hear them.  

“Last chance…” 

S’gonna be a cold night in sing-sing. 

Rest up. 

Sober up.  

Work starts tomorrow. 

“Fuck you, Seymour,” I grumble and present him with my wrists like some war-bride. “Fuck you and all of your little mutts.” 

Boeing smiles. 

“That’s it, Luke. Let it wash over you. Let this moment be the one you always remember as the very instant you’ve lost the upper-hand.” 

The cuffs clink to my wrist like a second layer of skin. “Let’s just hope to God that you’re truly innocent in all of this. Thompson, on the other hand…” 

“Leave him out of this, Seymour.”  

Legacy is everything. 

He yanks me from around the desk and escorts me to the front door—aided by his lynch-mob of gun-toting pricks.  

“Why? Suddenly, you have a heart of gold?” 

“I just don’t want him to see what happens next.” 

“Plan on confronting the devil, Luke?” 

“No.”  

There’s only one place in town that sells that specific grade of flowery perfume.  

DeNiro’s on 7th and Elm. 

It’s a high-end place.  

The kind that keeps records of their clients. 

The kind of place that doesn’t do well under pressure. 

 

The kind of place that has no idea I’m coming. 

 

“Just his bitch.” 

 

To Be Continued…

 

By: Antwan Crump 


 

Follow me on Twitter, won’t you? @I_AM_ANTWAN

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