Cowboys and Indians
L.C. Bailey was pissed. He ducked back in the alley next to the Blue Lagoon tavern as the black and white squad car rolled by. L.C. wasn’t angry because the war in Viet Nam was claiming over a hundred American lives a week, a great many of them black. He didn’t care that Richard Nixon was president. Martin Luther King’s verbiage and Jessie Jackson’s mouth didn’t stir him. L.C.’s scope was far too narrow for that. The events of the planet pulled him less than the orbiting moon, but he was pissed all right. L.C. was thirty-seven years old and the world had yet to give him his due.
At ten o’clock that morning he’d awakened with a screaming hangover on the floor behind the counter of the Delight Snak Shop. Delight Brown, owner and proprietor of the Delight Snak Shop, prodded L.C. with the toe of his shoe.
“Git yo’ ass up, Muthafucker, an’ git on outa here. I ain’t got space for no raggety niggah layin’ on my damn floor.”
“C’mon, Delight,” moaned L.C., “I sick!”
“Damn right you sick! Lookit the damn mess you made. Clean that shit up an’ git outa here for I call the police. They lookin’ for your ass anyway.”
“What, my butt! You whup up on Minnie Hudson one too many times. She sign a complaint on your ass. Now the police lookin’ for you, Elsie, an’ I doan need no police sniffin’ round here. Git the fuck up an’ git your black ass out.”
Delight shuffled his heavy seventy-year-old body back to the front side of the counter and eased his bulk down into a ratty green recliner, the only chair where he was even close to comfortable.
“You doan git up an on outa here, Elsie, I go an’ git Rackjack. Rackjack be lovin’ to throw you out on the street for me. Special since the police got paper out on you for kickin’ the shit outa his half sister.”
The mention of Rackjack pushed L.C. into action, and he got to his hands and knees. He’d seen Rackjack get arrested once, and the handcuffs wouldn’t fit around his wrists. L.C. lurched to his feet and bright lights fired behind his eyes. He leaned against the counter and panted.
“Gimme a drink, Delight.”
“Fuck you, niggah. You ain’t gittin’ shit from me. I oughta charge you for sleepin’ on my damn floor. My girls had to step over you all night long, layin’ there in your puke an’ snot. You better git your ass low an’ slow, Boy. Minnie Ha-Ha all bandaged up an’ shit, cops lookin’ for you, Rackjack looking for you. Damn Elsie! What the fuck is the matter wif your mine?”
A strangled scream came from overhead, and the sound of flesh hitting flesh.
“Shit,” grumbled Delight, forcing his mass out of the chair and lumbering toward the stairs in the backroom. “That’s Precious. She done hit a john jus’ ‘cause he want somethin’ she doan like. When I git back, Elsie, your ass better be gone.” He waddled through the curtains and disappeared.
L.C. leaned on the counter for a moment, then reached beneath it and opened a worn cigar box. He withdrew nearly ninety dollars in ones and fives that he put in his left front pocket, and an old Smith and Wesson snub-nose thirty-eight that he put in his right front pocket.
“Muthafuckahs!” he mumbled. “I got the shit now. Ya’ll doan give me no shit. I got the shit.” In spite of the tilted room and the flashing lights, he made it out the door and headed off down the street toward Poochie’s Place. He could lay up in the alley until Poochie opened, then have some ribs and fries. Git some a his strength back. Shit. Got some money, got a fuckin’ piece! Hell, Saturday night was coming. He wasn’t gonna hide from no goddam body on no goddam Saturday night.
Bunker Scott was pissed. Thirty-one years on the force as a line patrolman and that new dispatcher had the balls to order him around. Bunker was perfectly happy sitting in the squad car under the shade of the big elm on the northeast corner of Piper Park, taking the occasional sip of Black Jack from his silver plated hip flask. Less than six months away from retirement on that little lake down in Tennessee, Bunker didn’t deserve to be hassled, but here he was, dragging his six-foot-five inch, two-hundred-ninety pound, high blood-pressured frame out of his un-air-conditioned squad, sweating like a pig in the July heat, at the goddammed Delight Snak Shop like some fuckin’ rookie. Jesus.
Delight was behind the counter as Bunker squeezed through the flyspecked door and looked at him. “What the fuck you want, Brown?” he growled, then grinned in spite of himself.
Delight smiled. “Bunker. How ya doin’?”
“Well, I ain’t fuckin’ retired yet.”
“Soon. Then I leave your black ass behind. Why don’t you retire? You’re a damn sight older than me.”
“Shit. I look like white folks to you? How a poor man like me gonna retire. Somebody gotta keep this shop open.”
“And run the games in the basement and the dope off the back porch and the girls upstairs. Delight, if you left, the whole damn north end of town would shut down. You are a man of the people, Brown. You were when I was a rookie and you still fuckin’ are.”
“Can’t bullshit you, can I, Bunker?”
“No more than I can bullshit you. What’s up?”
“That black trash Elsie Bailey spent the night on my floor an’ got up this mornin’ an’ walked off with my money out the cigar box.”
“Damn near three hunnert dollars.”
“I tole you how much.”
“You gonna stick with that?”
“Speck I will.”
“You wanna sign a complaint?”
“Naw. Jest thought you oughta know they might be some trouble ‘cause a that low life cocksucker.”
“He hit the cigar box under the counter?”
“L.C. get your gun?”
“Gun? Shit. I ain’t got no gun. I’m a convicted felon. Convicted felons can’t have no guns.”
“I need to know if he got your gun, Delight.”
“Now he might a had a gun on him. I don’t know for sure, but he coulda had one.”
“Uh-huh. What kind of gun might he have had?”
“It coulda been a six shot thirty-eight with a little bitty barrel, I really don’t know. You police lookin’ for him ‘cause he touched up Minnie Ha-Ha. She sign papers on his ass. Just thought you might need to know he most likely got a gun.”
“Slip an’ slide, Bunker. Watch your fat ass. It make me sick to see you get shot this close to retirement. Hate ta lose another old white guy.”
“Stay away from the pussy upstairs, old man. At your age you got a prostate the size of a bowlin’ ball.” He could hear Delight chuckle as the door slammed behind him.
Gary Frost was pissed. Gary Frost was pissed because it took him almost two years to figure out his wife was cheating on him, and she still ran up the credit cards, cleaned out the checking and savings, and didn’t make a rent payment for two months before she left. Gary Frost was pissed because his unfortunate financial condition forced him to share a goddamn ten by fifty-foot trailer with a fuckin’ rookie so he’d have a fuckin’ roof over his head. Gary Frost was pissed because his wife took the good car and left him with a beat-to-shit ‘64 Thunderbird with a power steering fluid leak that he couldn’t find, bad tires he couldn’t afford to replace, and nearly a hundred thousand hard miles on its back. Most of all, Gary Frost was pissed because the results of the detective exam had been posted, and he was second behind Fred Baker. Fred Baker, for chrissakes! Fred Baker was a fuckin’ dumbass. With twelve years on the department and three years in the army, Baker was awarded fifteen bonus points on the exam to Gary’s nine. He beat Frost by one point. Even though no detective slot was open and might not be for a year or more, Fred dumbass Baker would get it, then there’d be another exam and Frost might not do as well. Shit.
Gary walked into the cop shop at about two-thirty in uniform with his gun belt thrown over his shoulder. On the way downstairs to the locker room he met a day-shifter named Cramer on the way up. Cramer was laughing.
Gary grinned. “What’s so funny?”
Cramer leaned against the wall. “I’m ridin’ to the city garage with Brady to pick up an unmarked car, and we cut through campus on the way. We’re stopped at 6th and Wright, an’ here comes this hippie kid, got hair down to his ass, boppin’ down the sidewalk, stoned out of his tiny freakin’ mind. I mean the little fucker is so high, he wouldn’t leave footprints on wet toilet paper! He gets to the curb on the west side where the bike lanes are and see’s us sittin’ there in the squad. Almost dislocates his spine tryin’ to straighten up. Down the bike lane, here comes another hippie on one a them ten speed bikes about thirty miles an hour, hair flappin’ behind him like Underdog’s cape for chrissakes, and hippie number one, lookin’ at us and nowhere else, steps right out in front of hippie number two. Blam! Hair, teeth, elbows and wheels flyin’ all over the place, two hippies and the bike all mangled and tangled. Ol’ Brady pulls up beside ‘em, keys the mike, an’ says, ‘seventeen to headquarters…I wanna report a freak accident’, then drives away an’ leaves ‘em bleedin’ in the bike lane. I thought I’d shit, Frost. I ain’t laughed so hard since the night Jackson got his earlobe bit off!”
A freak accident. Frost chuckled halfway to the locker room. Life could be worse. He could be pumpin’ gas someplace.
L.C.’s hangover peaked about noon. He sat behind the dumpster next to Poochie’s Place cussing the world and bemoaning his life until around two, when he heard Poochie’s Buick crunch gravel in the back lot. He swayed to his feet and headed for the rear door, arriving just as Poochie unlocked it.
“Hey, Poochie,” he said, forcing a grin to his dirty face. “How you doin’ man?”
“Elsie. What can I do for you?”
“I hungry. Gimme somethin’ to eat, man,” L.C. replied, wiping snot off his lip.
“Look at yourself, Elsie. You is fucked up! You been sleepin’ out by my dumpster?”
“I been waitin’ for you, man. I need somethin’ to eat.”
“Why doan you go on home an git yourself somethin’? I ain’t open for three more hours.”
“Aw shit. You in some kinda trouble agin’, ain’cha?”
“Police lookin’ for me, Rackjack lookin’ for me.”
“You slap Minnie Ha-Ha aroun’ agin’?”
“Bitch talk shit to me, I slap her ass down!”
“Oh yeah. You a real man, Elsie.”
“Damn right! Motherfucker tell me I doan know nothin’, cain’t do nothing, an’ git the fuck out! I ain’t gonna take that from no bitch. I knock her on her fat ass!”
“An’ now Rackjack after you. They is a whole bunch a folks I’d soon have lookin’ for me as Rackjack.”
“Rackjack ain’t shit!” L.C. blurted, trying to wipe some dried vomit off his sweat-sticky nylon shirt. “I pop a cap on that motherfucker, he fuck with me, an’ the goddamn pigs, too. Rackjack, police, doan make no shit to me! Lookie here, Poochie, lemme git somethin’ to eat. I kin pay.”
Poochie looked at the skinny, filthy, figure swaying before him and took pity. “I doan want your fuckin’ money, Elsie. Git on up in here and have some soup an’ bread.”
“Soup an’ bread? Man, I wants me some a yo’ ribs, an’ slaw, an’ fries.”
“You git soup an’ bread or nothin’, Elsie. You ain’t in no kinda shape for food like ribs an’ shit. They tear yo’ ass up!”
“Well then sell me a bottle a goddam wine!”
“I ain’t sellin’ you shit! You can have some soup an’ bread, or you can drag your narrow ass on down the fuckin’ road! I am tryin’ to do you a favor, Elsie. You lay attitude on me, you lay your feet on the street!”
L.C. reached into his left front pocket and threw several bills on the floor. “I ain’t playin’ no motherfuckin’ game wit’ your ass, Poochie. Sell me some fuckin’ ribs!”
“I didn’t stutter, nigger. Fuck you.”
“Fuck me?” shouted L.C., spittle running down his chin. “Fuck you, Poochie!” he roared, and clawed the Smith and Wesson out of his right front pocket, pointing it in Poochie’s general direction as he tried to keep his balance.
Poochie shook his head. “A gun,” he observed.
“You goddam right it’s a goddam gun, Muthahfucker. Enough goddam gun to kill the shit outa your black ass! Now sell me some goddam ribs!”
Poochie grunted and began to walk away toward the front of the restaurant. “Elsie, I knowed you since you was ten year old. I fed you for nothin’ many a time when you was a hungry little kid. I watched your grandma do the bes’ she could for you, I watched all kinds a folks treat you good, an’ still you a asshole. You ain’t grateful for nothin’, you ain’t responsible for nothin’, you ain’t good for nothin’.” He paused beside the bar with L.C. leaning on the frame of the kitchen door thirty feet away, the revolver still pointed loosely in Poochie’s direction.
The old man looked at L.C. and smiled. “Now you come in my place pointin’ a gun in my face, tellin’ me what the fuck I am gonna do? I speck not! Lemme show you somethin’ my daddy give me, Elsie.” Poochie reached under the bar, lifted out about twenty inches of shotgun, and swung the double barreled monster level at L.C. Very quietly he continued.
“This here a ten gauge. It hold two shells. Each shell got nine double ought lead balls strung about ten inches apart on piano wire. I pull the trigger, an’ them balls spread out with that wire tight between ‘em. It won’t just kill you, Elsie, it cut off whatever it hit. Now what the fuck you gonna do with that little pea shooter you got? You gonna keep tryin’ to threaten me? You gonna keep tellin’ me how bad you is? Or, is you gonna get the fuck outa my place before I decides to kill you? I ain’t open for bidness, you got a gun, I here all by myself. I can dust your ass an’ still be servin’ ribs on time. What you gonna do, Elsie? Make up your mind. I got a pit ta git fired up.”
From L.C.’s point of view the shotgun looked like the end of time. “Shit,” he muttered, lurched his way back to the rear door, picked up most of the money he’d dropped, and weaved out into the parking lot. He was still hungry and not nearly high enough.
Poochie built a fire in the pit, spread some partially cooked frozen ribs on the grill, then picked up the phone to call the cops.
Gary Frost was sitting in the pre-shift briefing, listening to Bunker Scott tell everybody that paper was out on L.C. Bailey for kickin’ the shit outa Minnie Ha-Ha, and that L.C. was probably armed and seriously fucked-up. Frost was eyeballing a rookie whose name he couldn’t remember who was going to be his partner for the night. Frost’s regular partner, Roger “the Dodger” Dix, was on vacation, so Gary drew the rook. Shit. Just as the Ell-Tee was getting to the stolen cars, the shift Sergeant, Bill Miller, walked into the room.
“Frosty,” he said, “you and Thompson saddle up. Poochie just called. Needs to see the law.”
“Ah,” Frost said. “C’mon, Rook. This could be your big chance to fight crime.” He grabbed his briefcase and headed for the door, Thompson trailing along behind him.
Outside, squinting in the afternoon sun, Frost looked at the rookie. “What the fuck is your name?”
“Don’t call me sir, Rook. Call me Frosty. What squad we got?”
“Thirteen, S…uh, Frosty.”
“Okay. You do the walkaround, I’ll check the trunk.”
Once they had determined that there were no new dents, the required equipment was in the trunk, the siren and red lights worked, the scrambler cube was in place, the shotgun was loaded, and a dozen other things were as they should be, Frost, sitting behind the wheel, picked up the mike.
“One-three to the head shed.”
“One-three en-route to Poochie’s Place on North Fourth to save the free world.”
“Ten-fa! Fifteen’ll drift that way when they get upstairs.”
Frost eased the 1971 Dodge Coronet through the cop shop breezeway, made a left onto Neil Street, cruised with traffic to Fourth Street, turned left again and entered the black district. Frost was a member of what was called the “Dirty Dozen”, a group of twelve officers that regularly worked that area on the three to eleven shift. The rookies referred to the three to eleven shift as “The P.M. Watch,” probably because it sounded more like dialogue from Adam-12. Most of the seasoned officers, even the black ones, called the black district the “Nairobi Patrol”, the hours the second shift, and the Dirty Dozen “those crazy assholes.”
Frost passed the front of Poochie’s Place and beeped the horn, then continued to the rear and stopped beside the back door. Poochie walked out of the building and grinned.
“Frosty, you ain’t dead yet?”
Frost chuckled. “Rook,” he said, “this poor, tired, old man that just insulted me, is a certified genius. Open up your nostrils and catch the scent of heaven. Nobody, since God made Eve, can do as much with a rib as Poochie. Poochie, this here is just another rookie.”
Poochie leaned over to look in the window. “Glad to meetcha, Officer. You stay aroun’ long enough an’ we’ll git ta know each other.”
“Nice to meet you, Sir.”
“Sir,” grinned Poochie. “You hear that, Frosty? That fine young man call me Sir!”
“Hell, I called you a goddam genius!”
“Yeah, but the rookie meant it.” The rookie squirmed in his seat and blushed.
“What’s up, Pooch?”
“Elsie Bailey was by here ‘bout a half hour ago. All fucked up. Wanted me to feed him some ribs. I offered him soup, an’ he pulled a piece on my ass!”
“Some little short revolver, pointed it at me an’ everthing. I run him off.”
Frost grinned. “With what, that ten-gauge?”
“Yeah,” Poochie twinkled.
“That piece a shit is older than the two of us put together. It’s got Damascus barrels for chrissakes! You ever shoot that thing and you’ll lose your hand!”
“Couldn’t shoot it if I wanted too. It’s rusted shut. Cain’t put no shells in it.”
“L.C. don’t know that, huh?”
“Naw. He lef’.”
“Which way’d he go?”
“Didn’t see. Had to fire up the pit.”
“Okay. Thanks a lot Pooch. I’ll let ya know how it turns out.” Frost slipped the car in gear.
“For ya go, Frosty, you wanna little taste?”
“Does a fat dog fart?”
Poochie reached inside the back door and retrieved a white paper bag with grease soaking through the sack. He passed it through the window.
“Ribs an’ sauce an’ fries, Frosty. Be careful. Elsie nuts.”
“Love ya, Pooch,” Frost called, easing out the drive.
“You loves my ribs, Boy,” shouted Poochie. “That’s what you loves!”
“Thirteen one-three, fifteen one-five.”
Gary Frost keyed the mike. “One-three, go ahead, one-five.”
“You gonna share the wealth?”
“Ten-four. Lot M, south side.”
The rookie looked puzzled. Frost grinned. “The guys in fifteen want some ribs. They were laid back someplace watching us when Poochie handed us the sack.”
“I didn’t see ‘em.”
“That is the object, Rook,” Frost replied, heading south on Fifth Street to University, then across to municipal parking lot M. Waiting on the south side of the lot was another black and white squad car, this one a ’70 Chevy. Frost accelerated the Dodge through the lot, turned a sharp right and braked so the car slid to a halt, driver’s door to driver’s door, about three inches away from fifteen. The rookie, braced against the firewall, exhaled and relaxed. In the next car Stan Merle grinned.
“Hey, Frost,” he said. “Did he shit?”
“I dunno. Hey Rook, did ya shit?”
Riding shotgun in fifteen, Fred Baker piped up. “You got the ribs, Frost?”
“Yeah, Fred, I have the ribs.”
“Well, fuckin’ pass ‘em over.”
“Well, fuckin’ say please, Shithead,” Frost growled. “Stan, I don’t know how the hell you tolerate being caged up all evening with a fuckin’ Neanderthal.”
“You can used to anything, even Fred,” Stan said, taking one of the two boxes that had been in the bag. “What now?”
“Let’s take a few minutes to pig out, then you guys exercise your practice of omnipresence of the police and the rook and me will see if we can find Sleepy.”
“Stay in touch,” Stan said. He accelerated away, back toward the north end of town. Frost stayed where he was.
Grabbing a French fry, the rookie spoke up. “What’s the matter with Fred?”
“Fred just ain’t real bright. Smart enough to beat me on the dick’s exam, though. He’s number one in line.”
“And you’re number two?”
“And I’m number two.” They ate in silence for a while.
“Good Ribs,” said Thompson. “Who we gonna go looking for?”
“Sleepy Lowe. Sleepy is a businessman dealing in controlled substances. Mostly speed, Black Beauties and stuff. Sometimes mescaline, rarely reefer. If L.C. is looking to get wired, he’ll probably go to Sleepy. His nickname’s Sleepy ‘cause he’s got some sort of condition that won’t let him open his eyelids all the way. Tall, skinny black kid in his mid-twenties. Walks with his head tilted way back so he can see where he’s going. Easy to spot. Stick with me, young lad, and you’ll meet all the celebrities.” He eased the car into gear and headed north on 6th Street as he grabbed the mike. “Fifteen, thirteen is on the roll. Thought we’d see if Sleepy’s on his back porch yet.”
“We’ll be around, one-three.”
Things were beginning to pick up a bit on the beat. It was getting close to suppertime and foot traffic in the area was growing, a few gang members cruised in purple Super Bees and lime green Dodge Chargers, profiling for the populace. Turning from 6th onto Ash and heading west into the thick of it, the occasional cry of “pig!” or “oinker!” floated on the breeze, causing Thompson to look around and Frost to smile. At the corner of Ash and 4th, Frost turned right, then quickly right again into the alley. Two doors down on the left, Sleepy sat on the back stoop of his mother’s house. They stopped.
Frost smiled. “Hey, Sleepy,” he said.
Sleepy tilted his head back a little farther. “Fuck you, Pig. What the fuck you want?”
“Words, Sleepy. Just words. C’mere.”
“Kiss my black ass, Pig,” Sleeply replied, looking around the area.
“Now don’t be getting’ all froggy, Sleepy. I got another car out front of your momma’s house with two more cops. Runnin’ ain’t gonna help. If you don’t come here and I have to get out of this car, I am gonna arrest your ass.”
“What the fuck for?”
“Moultry with intent to gawk.”
“You heard me. And if you run, sitting right next to me is the human greyhound. This sumbitch can run faster than anybody you ever saw in your whole life, and he loves it. He will run you down, he will drag you down, and you will still be arrested. Now get your dog ass over here to this car before you piss me off.”
Ever so slowly Sleepy, laden with attitude, stood up, eased down the steps, and sauntered toward the car in a stylish gait that made him an obvious candidate for physical therapy, making sure Frost knew he was a baaaad man.
“Hey, Rook,” Frost whispered out of the side of his mouth. “Real quick, open your door and stand up.” By the time Thompson was on his feet, Sleepy, abandoning his lurching stride in favor of speed, materialized beside Frost’s window.
“Whatchoo want, man.”
“Seen L.C. Bailey?”
“Elsie? Naw. I ain’t seen him.”
“I said I ain’t seen the cat, man.”
“Here’s the deal,” Frost said. “L.C. has a gun he stole from Delight. Already today he’s aimed it at Poochie. Yesterday he beat the shit outa Minnie Hudson. The fucker is a one-man crime wave with more on the way. If he hurts somebody, Sleepy, and he’s speedin’, I am gonna come lookin’ for you. I do not care what you sold him or gave him, but I need to know what kinda shape he’s likely to be in. You tell me and you are back on the steps, doin’ business. You fuck with me over this and I will wax your ass. I absolutely guarantee you that your new ride will burn to the ground within a week. Do the right thing, Sleep. Talk to me.”
“The dude got six hits a white cross. Two bucks a hit. That’s all, honest.”
“Is it good cross?”
“Fuck yes!” Sleepy said, indignantly. “I sell the shit, it’s good shit! People depend on me, motherfucker.”
“Alright. Thanks, Sleepy.”
“Fuck you,” Sleepy said, backing away, “an’ fuck that fuckin’ human dog you got with you.” Chuckling, Frost eased off down the alley. “Well, Rook,” he grinned, “you got a reputation.”
“Yep. Within three days, you be the fastest man alive. Sleepy will spread the word that you got wings on your heels. He’s scared of your speed or he wouldn’t have bad-mouthed you.”
“All I did was stand up.”
“Legends have started with less, Legs, my boy. Legends have started with less.”
They cruised for about an hour, then parked the car at the end of an alley a half-block east of the Blue Lagoon Tavern. Fifteen went rolling by and never noticed them. A few minutes later, so did the Sergeant. A mike click informed them they had been seen.
“Bill don’t miss much,” Frost said.
“At you service, Sarge,” Frost replied.
“Rackjack is behind me ‘bout half a block, walkin’ this way.”
Frost sighed. “Perhaps I should interrogate the young fellow.”
“Uh-huh. Watch yourself. I’ll wait around the corner.”
“Fear not, Sarge. I have Legs to protect me.”
“Officer Legs Thompson, the human greyhound. If ya see Sleepy, he’ll explain it to ya.”
“Geeze, Frosty. Now you’re gonna have everybody callin’ me Legs,” complained the rook.
“Beats the hell outa shithead. Now listen to me. In a minute a black upright freezer is gonna walk by the front of the car. I am going to attempt a conversation with that major appliance. If he is in a good mood it will be no problem. If he is pissed off, it will be dicey. If he is in a bad mood, shoot him.”
“Quick as you can, several fucking times.”
“How will I know if he’s in a bad mood?”
“He’ll be in the process of pulling my arms off.”
Leg’s eyebrows elevated. “Jesus,” he said. “Are you serious?”
“Almost. Rackjack is a fuckin’ monster. I saw him rip the door off a Mustang once. He’s been in prison about half his life, liftin’ weights and shit. Most likely there will not be a problem, but if he grabs me, shoot him. More than once.”
“I am completely serious, Legs. This fucker scares me to death.”
“Yeah. Wait’ll you see him.”
The wait was short. Almost at that moment, Rackjack, looking very much like a bald Bigfoot with stomach cramps, rumbled past the front of the car, his elbows held out from his body by the bulk of his muscles, forearms the size of water mains and solid oak biceps rippling beneath the sleeves of his hot-pink t-shirt, thighs stretching his blue jeans to the ripping point, his immense shaved head glistening ebony in the glow of the setting sun.
Legs jerked. “Holy shit!” he squeaked.
“You got that right. Stay with the car Rook,” Frost said, sliding out the door. “Hey, Rackjack!” he called.
The apparition stopped dead in its tracks, stood stock still for a moment, then slowly rotated its bulk to face him.
“Wha?” The voice sounded like a toilet backing up.
“Need to talk to ya a minute.”
Wheels ground slowly while Sasquatch considered this new information.
“’Bou’ wha’?” asked Rackjack, as Frost approached to within a respectful six feet.
“About L.C. Bailey.”
“Uh-huh. Ah goan keel dat muthuhfuckah fo’ wha’ he done ta Minnie.”
“See, Rackjack, that’s what I want to talk to ya about. I really wish you wouldn’t kill him. I’d kinda like to put him in jail, and if you kill him, I can’t. Then I’d have to put you in jail.”
“Jail ain’ so bad,” said Rackjack, flexing the muscles over his chest and slapping a closed fist into an open palm. Frost was sure he felt the concussion through the sidewalk.
“Yeah, but I’d rather put L.C. in jail than put you in jail,” he replied, sweat breaking out on his upper lip. “Before you kill L.C., I need you to give me some time to find him.”
“You fine him, an’ put him in jail, Minnie jes’ goan bail him out agin. Thas how she do. Be bes’ if ah jes’ keel his ass.” Rackjack’s hands closed around an imaginary throat.
Frost swallowed. “I know,” he said, backing up a step. “As a rule, Rackjack, I wouldn’t give a shit if you killed L.C., but he’s done some other things too. He stole some money and a gun, and he threatened to shoot Poochie.”
Rackjack cogitated for a minute. “I like Poochie,” he said.
“So do I. That’s why I wanna put L.C. in jail.”
“Elsie hurt Poochie, ah goan be real piss’ off, Fros’.”
“Gimme ‘til tomorrow, Rackjack. I don’t want this to get outa hand tonight. You might get shot or something.”
“Christ, Rackjack, I know ya have!”
“It ain’ so bad.”
“Look, as a favor to me, your ol’ pal Frosty, just don’t get in the middle of anything tonight.” He was sweating freely and just beginning to catch fleeting glimpses of scenes from his childhood. “Whadaya say, Jack?”
Rackjack froze for a moment, contemplating something about four inches above Frost’s head. “Okay,” he said.
“Okay? Okay! Great, just great. Thanks a lot, Rackjack.” Frost resisted the urge to fall to the earth and weep.
“Ah see Elsie tomorra, I goan keel his ass graveyard dead.”
“Fine. Just fine, Jack,” Frost said, backing toward his car. “Tomorrow you can kill him if I don’t catch him tonight. Thanks for your time.”
“Sho’,” Rackjack gurgled.
Frost eased back into the car feeling like he’d just run a marathon and collapsed onto the seat, breathing heavily.
“Damn,” Legs said, “that was close. A couple a times when he kinda swelled up, I thought he was gonna go for ya! I was ready though, Frosty. What’s he like when he’s in a good mood?”
Frost’s smile was wan. “Shit, Rook,” he said. “That was a good mood.”
By the time dark arrived, the North End was jumpin’. Things were in full swing at the Delight Snak Shop. Across the street, the Blue Lagoon Tavern spilled yellow light and loud music onto the sidewalk. Through the nearly Mardi Gras scene moved players and slayers, landlords and warlords, dealers and feelers, whores, grifters, good-timers, two-timers, short-timers, gangsters, pranksters, and just plain folks trying to enjoy the evening. A typical Saturday night. About six blocks to the northeast the infamous “Blood Warriors” were holding their meeting at gang headquarters, known in some deluded white circles as the Martin Luther King Youth Center. A block to the west, dark in an overgrown alley, sat thirteen. Frost braced his binoculars on the steering wheel.
“Slow night,” he said.
“It is?” replied Legs the rookie.
“Yeah. No shots fired yet. Usually the shooting has started by now.”
“Shooting?” Legs became a bit concerned.
“Sure. These little assholes start tellin’ each other how bad they are, how they’re mean and tough and righteous. After a while they get to believin’ their own publicity and come outside. Pretty soon they’re yellin’ and jumpin’ up and down and shit, then the shooting starts.”
“Shooting at what?” Legs’ voice had risen half and octave.
“Usually not much, but sometimes at me, uh…us now, I guess.”
“They’re gonna shoot at us?” The rook was now singing soprano.
“How do they know we’re here?”
“They got binoculars too, Legs, and spotters to use ‘em. They knew we were in this alley thirty seconds after we got here.”
“We can’t leave for the same reason that, now and then, they shoot at us. We gotta show those shitheads we aren’t afraid of ‘em.”
“Oh. You’re not afraid of ‘em?”
“Sure I am. There’s two hundred of those assholes in there, a lot of ‘em with guns better than anything we got. I just go with the odds and remember that they are a damn site more afraid of us than we are of them. If they weren’t, ten or fifteen of ‘em would sneak around our flanks and kill us. Wouldn’t be hard to do. If they had one good leader and fifty competent soldiers, they could keep us out of the North End altogether. Shit, Rook. We yell for help, the best we’re gonna get is six more guys, all drivin’ cars that got signs on their sides sayin’ ‘shoot me’! These are kids. If they had adult control and adult discipline, they’d fuckin’ eat our lunch! The only thing that stops ‘em is fear. That doesn’t mean you gotta be an asshole or treat these folks bad. It means that you gotta be the baddest sumbitch in the valley. The baddest sumbitch in the valley don’t go around being the baddest sumbitch. He doesn’t have to. He is the baddest sumbitch.”
“Oh. Uh…how do you do that?”
Frost smiled. “You are already doin’ it, Kid. You are the human greyhound. Just ask Sleepy.”
“But, I’m not that fast.”
“Yes, you are, Legs. As of today, you are…and you better believe you are, ‘cause if you believe you are, you may never have to prove it. Word will spread. Part of the mystique of the badge is that, now and then, some of us get to be a little bit superhuman. We have special powers, my boy.”
Legs grinned. “Oh yeah?”
“Okay, Frosty, what’s yours?”
“I am Threat Man,” Frost boomed, snapping his hands to his hips.
“Threat Man?” the rook giggled.
“You betcha. I don’t ever make a threat that I won’t carry out. You remember when I told Sleepy that his Super Bee would burn to the ground?”
“I meant it, and he knew I meant it. He told me what I needed to know, he’s back dealin’ and his ride is safe and sound.”
“You would have set fire to his car?”
“Yep, but that’s not the point. The point is, I didn’t have to. I won. He won. Nobody lost anything. I got what I needed, Sleep got what he wanted.”
“He had superhuman powers too, ya know.”
“And these guys carry guns?”
“Yep. However, most of these fuckers couldn’t hit sand if they fell off a camel.” The rook snickered. “A couple of years ago,” Frost continued, “me and the Dodger were sittin’ right in front of the Blue Lagoon, getting’ ready to get out of the car to cross the street and see Delight about somethin’, I forget what. Just as the Dodger keys his mike to let the head shed know we’d be outa the car, a gunfight starts in the tavern. Dodger kept his mike open through the whole thing and we checked the tape later. The gunfight lasted for twenty-two seconds and at least one hundred and nineteen shots were fired in the barroom. Squeak Moreland got the end of his left little finger shot off. That was the only injury, and Squeak wasn’t involved in the fight. He just came in for a beer.”
“A hundred and nineteen shots and only one guy got hit?”
“At least a hundred and nineteen shots. Some of the reports could have been two or three shots at once. Can’t tell on the tape. These guys don’t practice much. It’s real hard to hit anything with a handgun if you do practice. These idiots think a gun makes ‘em bad. A gun just makes ‘em hazardous.”
“The problem is, sometimes hazardous is enough.”
“You ever been shot?”
“Ever shot anybody?”
“Not yet,” Frost grinned. “I cranked one off at Cornelius Benson one night while he was running down an alley, but I wasn’t really serious about it. He’d taken a few shots at me and the Dodger a couple of nights before. I was just lettin’ him know that he shouldn’t do that.”
“Who’s Cornelius Benson?”
“As of now, he’s the tall hog in the Blood Warriors. Then, he was just a snot nosed punk tryin’ to climb up the ranks. He and a guy named Jerry Fortner pretty much run the gang. They’re the ones who goad the simple shits into shooting at us, terrorizing the neighborhood and crap like that. I ever get a chance to pop a cap on either one of those cocksuckers, I’ll take it. Eighty per cent of the bullshit that goes down in the North End goes down because one of those two is bored. One of ‘em gets a bug up his ass and maybe three or four cop cars get shot up, or a couple of houses catch fire so the little darlings can take potshots at firefighters. What amazes me is that when these mental giants start trouble, they do it in their own neighborhood! When they wanna shoot at somebody, they do it here. When they set a house on fire, they do it here. If Whitey is such a goddamn villain, why don’t they go to a white neighborhood to cause shit?”
“Why don’t they?”
“Oh, a sociologist or somebody would tell you it’s because of environmental identification, or some shit like that. Something deep in their oppressed psyche that makes ‘em tear up their own where, cause they’re pissed off at Whitey for all the bad things he’s done to their African-ness, but I think all that’s bullshit. I think it’s just fear. A dog is never as mean in somebody else’s yard as he is in his own. Plus, like most performers, they like an audience, and don’t think for one minute that folks like Sleepy, or L.C., or Benson and Fortner for that matter, aren’t performing. They are playin’ the role, Legs. So are we.”
“Shit,” said Frost. “That’ll be L.C. One-three, go.”
“One-three, 417 North Poplar, man with a gun on the ground floor of that residence. Complainant is Minnie Hudson. She is not at the scene.”
“Fifteen, roger on the back-up.”
“Ten-four, One-five. Be advised, the sergeant is en-route from post.”
“Ten-four. How you want it, one-three?”
“Dark and quiet, fifteen,” Frost replied. “Minute and a half, from the north.”
“Fo’. Same here, from the south.”
“Four. You guys take the rear. Me and Legs’ll take the front. Legs has got his own gun, ya know.”
“Four-roger on his own gun,” chuckled Stan. “I’ll hide behind Fred.”
Frost turned onto Poplar in the nine hundred block, watching Legs fidget. “It’s Minnie’s house,” he said, shutting off his headlights, but not slacking speed. “I’ll stop a half-a-block short. Fred and Stan will stop on Poplar, too. Dogs’d raise hell if they came in through the alley. When we get out of the car, stay right behind me. We’ll give them time to set up on the back door, then bang on the front. L.C.’ll probably head out the back. Use your head, don’t be a hero. We’ll lay the snatch on this asshole and only work an hour or two late. Headquarters, one-three is out at the scene.” Frost braked and pulled to the curb. “C’mon, Rook,” he said, easing out of the driver’s seat. “Let’s get your feet wet. Don’t slam the fuckin’ door.”
L.C. Bailey had had a very bad day. After Poochie ran him off without a bite to eat, L.C. drifted farther east a ways, sticking mostly to the alleys. He tried to get something to eat at Lake’s Café, but Marlene Lake told him he smelled too bad to sit inside and her husband, Earl, threw him out. He thought about pullin’ his gun and going back in, but it was broad daylight and he had always been afraid of Earl anyway. Covered in vomit and wearing clothes he’d put on dirty two days ago, L.C. smelled awful. His head hurt real bad, his vision was blurry, and he had trouble keeping his balance, but that was no reason for everybody to be against him. Everybody had always been against him. That bitch Minnie Ha-Ha was the goddam worst. Jumpin’ his ass when he got home from the game at the tavern. All he wanted was to get a little, and she raggin’ on his ass…yellin’ ‘bout him losin’ her rent money, an’ comin’ home drunk and stinky an’ horny. Grabbed that goddam telephone an’ laid it upside his head. No muthafuckin’ bitch in the worl’ gonna treat him like that! Bam! He’d showed her ass! Knocked her fat ass all over the fuckin’ kitchen. Slammed that fuckin’ drawer on her hand when she went to get the butcher knife, then throwed her ass out the fuckin’ door and kicked her down the steps an’ out into the fuckin’ yard, her screechin’ like a fuckin’ cat. Lef’ her there too, layin’ in the goddam dirt, yellin’ like a fuckin’ stuck pig ‘bout her goddamned money, an’ her goddam house, an’ her goddam hand, an’ blood all over her fuckin’ face an’ shit. He’d showed her ass, all right! Shit! Oughta go back over there an’ touch her up some goddam more, goddam bitch, treatin’ him like some goddam nigger! Oh no. L.C. was not a happy man.
After he saw Sleepy, bought two hits of white cross and six black beauties and chewed up the cross, his head seemed to clear a bit. He laid up in the weeds down the alley a ways and saw the two cops stop and talk to Sleepy. Motherfuckin’ pigs always against his ass too. After they left he slipped on over to the little liquor store on Ash, bought two bottles of Mad Dog, some candy bars, cheese snacks and shit, then crawled into an abandoned station wagon in the vacant lot next door and ate ‘til he threw up a little. He dozed off and on for a few hours, woke up in the late afternoon, started on the wine and the black beauties and, by dusk, was righteous.
Saturday motherfuckin’ night. Saturday motherfuckin’ night! Saturday motherfuckin’ night, an’ L.C. was feelin’ right! He still had almost fifty fuckin’ dollars in his pocket, still had the goddam .38, but where was his goddam suit? Over in that goddam bitch’s house, that’s where. Bitch had his goddam suit! Her fuckin’ fault he so fucked up anyways, goddammit. He jus’ go over to her goddam house, an’ git his goddam suit, an’ if she doan like that shit, maybe he jes’ shoot her fuckin’ ass! Rackjack doan like that fuckin’ shit, he shoot Rackjack’s ass too! Fuck! He a man! Take no goddam shit from no goddam body. They fuck wit’ L. fuckin’ C., they goan git fucked wit’! Damn, he felt good!
Stan Merle had been a cop for seven years. Slight in build and not very tall, Stan was not an impressive physical specimen. He was, however, excessively neat. Unmarried and thirty-four years old, Stan lived alone in a small house with an impeccable yard and perfectly trimmed hedges. To keep his hair perfectly trimmed too, Stan visited the barber once weekly. In seven years, at inspection held every working day before briefing, Stan had never raised the Lieutenant’s eyebrows. His pants were always clean and freshly pressed, the uniform creases in his shirt sharp enough to shave with, his shoes shined and spotless, his leather glowing with fresh polish, his brass gleaming like a Key West sunset. From the bill of his cover to the soles of his shoes, Stan was one squared-away troop. It was rumored that he even polished the bullets in his official four-inch, Smith and Wesson, bull-barreled, Military and Police, Model ten, .38 caliber revolver. He was a competent cop, going by the book, never shirking unpleasant duty, seldom criticizing a fellow officer. He despised Fred Baker.
At six feet two and two-hundred-ten pounds, Fred Baker was an idiot. He had trouble keeping his shirt tucked in, hardly ever polished his brass or leather, walked in the same manner he did in high school when he sought to impress girls, and almost always had a stain or two on his tie. Fred’s I.Q. was less than impressive, he had not had an original thought in his life, he chewed gum incessantly, and had no idea he was a dumbass. As a matter of fact, Fred believed himself to be the only person on the planet who wasn’t a dumbass. He also thought Stan Merle was gay.
“That fuckin’ Merle has got to be queer,” he said to Frost one evening, popping his gum. “Ain’t no man on earth that neat, that ain’t a goddamn faggot.”
Fred also thought he was God’s gift to law enforcement. He believed himself to be a Top Cop Super Trooper. He also believed he had finally taken his rightful place as first on the Detective’s List, disremembering the fact that of the two-hundred-fifty questions on the exam, he had guessed at one-hundred-ninety-one of them and, in some sort of screaming cosmic malfunction, guessed correctly nearly every time. Everyone on the department, except Fred, was amazed at his success. Fred, ideally suited for a career in the food service industry, had no business being a cop, but he was, and because being a policeman is a civil service position, unless an individual commits a blunder of colossal proportions, it is almost impossible for them to be fired.
As Frost and Legs quietly climbed the steps to the porch, fifteen slid up through the gloom. From inside the dark dwelling came L.C.’s voice, ranting a string of motherfuckers and cocksuckers, as he knocked furniture around and tipped stuff over. As they approached the house, Stan trotted down the left side toward the rear, leaving Fred to sprint across the front yard and the down the right side of the building, violating a primary rule of self-preservation. Do not run in the dark if you don’t know the terrain. This platitude was brought forcefully home to Baker when he hit the clothesline. It was a wire clothesline, just chest high, and it slammed Fred to his back in the grimy side yard hard enough that for a brief time he actually lost consciousness.
At that moment, Stan, stepping in a pile of dog shit, became victimized by his own neatness. Realizing what he had done, Merle began to walk rapidly in small circles, dragging his left leg like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, in a futile attempt to free his shoe of the noxious doggy-doo. Meanwhile, Frost and Legs had reached the front door, confident that they’re back-up was waiting at the rear. Attempting to assume some initiative, the rookie made a rookie mistake. Under a burning porch light, with only a screen door separating him from the dark interior of the house and before Frost could stop him, he stood in the doorway and knocked. Several things then happened in rapid succession.
L.C. Bailey, completely fried on Mad Dog and Black Beauties, passing through the dark living room gun in hand, saw Legs through the screen, fired the .38 in the rookies’ direction three times, dropped the gun, and headed for the back door. The first round nicked the doorframe and the second grazed the left sleeve of the rook’s uniform shirt. The third bullet, leaving wounds of both entry and exit, passed through Legs’ brand-new, completely full, official issue can of mace where it hung in its case on his gun belt. In less than a tenth of a second, both he and Frost were lost in a sizzling spray of chemicals designed to incapacitate the average man. Crying, wheezing, coughing and nearly blind, Frost, hearing the backdoor slam, stumbled through the house. Legs rolled around on the front porch complaining he was on fire.
Hearing the shots, Stan gave up his quest to remove the dog shit and sprinted toward the rear in time to see L.C. flash out the door and down the alley. Thirty yards away was a garage sporting a large vapor light. Stan drew his weapon and waited. As L.C. passed through the pool of light he fired, hitting Bailey squarely in the left heel. L. C. shrieked and did a back flip.
The sound of the shots also pulled Fred back to this plane. He struggled to his feet and wobbled toward the rear, revolver drawn and cocked. Dazed and confused, Baker saw L.C. at the instant he landed after being shot. He made his best possible speed toward the suspect as L.C. clambered to his feet and stood on one foot in the glow of the light, hands above his head, calling the cops various descriptive names. Stan shouted at Fred, and Fred, not totally conscious, glanced in Merle’s direction, tripped and fell. When he hit the ground his gun, cocked in violation of all police procedures, discharged. The .357 magnum Super-Vel hollow point crossed the intervening fifty-four feet, entered L.C. Bailey’s throat just below his Adam’s apple, and exited out the back of his neck. L.C. continued to stand until brain dead, then fell to the ground for the second time. Frost wheezed out the back door just as Fred fell and watched L.C. topple to his back. Sgt. Bill Miller arrived at the front of the house as Fred’s weapon discharged and saw Legs Thompson still rolling around under the porch light.
An hour later, back at the station at the beginning of what would be a very long night, Stan Merle ambled over to Gary Frost.
“I been thinkin’, Frost,” he grinned.
“And just what have you been thinkin’?” Frost grinned back.
“I been thinkin’ old Fred has definitely screwed the pooch.”
Frost nodded. “Sure looks like it,” he said.
“And that things are about to get real nasty in the North End.”
“You got that right.”
“I also been thinkin’ that, as of tonight, you are top man on the Detective’s List.”
“Sumbitch,” Frost said.
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