Lowlifes

Chapter Twelve

It was another of Grieves’ lies.  I closed my eyes, but my fog-cloaked memories reassembled the events of that night.  I realized that Grieves was speaking the truth.  I remembered it all.

I’d popped the pills at Ludo’s and driven my car to Union Square where I picked up an iPod Touch for Victoria as a pizza-night surprise.  The ruffie worked its black magic on the ride down in the elevator.  I felt as though my body was about to crash and there wasn’t a thing my mind could do to stop it.  I just wanted to get back to my car. 

Cuban Heels and the Reaper picked me up a block before that.  The Reaper grabbed my arm and Cuban Heels swooped in alongside us in an SUV.

“You look a little buzzed, son,” the Reaper said with a smirk and bundled me into the back of the car. 

The world seemed to fly by at a million miles an hour outside the windows.  To look at it put my brain into reverse.  I closed my eyes to block it out.  I didn’t open them again until Cuban Heels and the Reaper dragged me from the vehicle. They carried me into the building on Jones Street and down into the basement.  Jon was there, duct taped to a chair.  They’d worked him over.

“He won't tell us what he told you,” Cuban Heels said. 

“You need to talk, Jon, before he gets hurt,” the Reaper said.

“I ain’t telling you shit,” Jon shot back.  “What are you doing with these jerks, Larry?”

I tried talking but the words spilled down my chin.

The Reaper shoved me into a wall.  “And don’t think you can get away with not talking.  You know something.  This hobo prick don’t do anything without snitching to his cop buddy.  Talk or make your friend talk.”

More half-formed words failed to make it past my tongue.

Cuban Heels slapped me, not hard, but enough to stun me.  I stared dumbly into his eyes.

“Are you a cop or a clown?  C'mon, talk.  What do you know?”

I shook my head.

Both Cuban Heels and the Reaper took turns shoving me around, punctuating the shoves with a rabbit punch or a slap.  Their words whirled around my head and their questions sloshed through my brain.  Jon shouted at them to stop, but his yelling only added to my confusion.  Through the haze, a stream of thought entered the drugged vacuum. 

“He knows something, Larry.  He needs to tell us.  Make him tell.  You can go home if you make him talk.  He needs to talk.  We need to know what he knows.  None of us can move on until we know.  Larry, you're the only one who can make him talk.  Do it, Larry.  Make him.  Make him.  Make him.”

I remembered the words, but not who had said them.  It could have been Cuban Heels or the Reaper or both, each taking turns.  It was just a sharp-edged mantra raging through my skull, cutting my thoughts to ribbons. 

I swung at one of the faces closest to me.  I missed and hit a wall.  The jolt of pain that knifed through me failed to clear the fog in my head, but it pushed me to my knees.

Cuban Heels kicked me onto my back.  “Jon, you might care about yourself, but do you care about your friend?  How bad do we have to hurt him to get your attention?”

The Reaper lashed me with two fast kicks to the guts.  “I can do this all day.”

“I’m not telling you anything.  I’ll die first.”

Cuban Heels and the Reaper exchanged a look.  The Reaper brought out a knife.

“No,” I yelled and scrambled to my feet.  I threw myself at the two thugs, leading with my fists.  Drugged, my blows were wild and ill-conceived, but I connected once.  I enjoyed the crackle of pain racing up my arm, knowing I’d landed a direct hit.  It was the last good thing to happen.

Cuban Heels and the Reaper tag-teamed me, smashing me with blows and kicks.  The onslaught was such a blur I struck Jon by accident.  Someone hit me and it cut my puppet strings.  I was down and I wasn’t getting back up.

The next thing I remembered, the Reaper was holding me in front of Jon.  The knife was in my hand and Cuban Heels’ was wrapped around mine.

“Don’t do this,” Jon pleaded.

“Too late,” Cuban Heels said.  “You had the opportunity, but you didn’t want to talk.”

Jon fixed me with a look of desperation that I will never forget.  He willed me to do something—and I did nothing.  I succumbed to the drug in my system.  Cuban Heels thrust my arm out again and again.  Each time, the knife disappeared into Jon’s body.  I tried resisting.  I really did, but I had nothing.

I closed my eyes to the memory, but the images of Jon’s crumpled form intensified.  I opened my eyes and was back in the present nightmare.

“You killed your friend, Larry.  Not us.  You,” Grieves said.

“Stop.”

“Remember now?”

“Shut up,” I shouted.  The echo of my demand bounced off the walls.

“I think he remembers,” Grieves said.

I sagged under the weight of my own shame.  I stared at the dirt-strewn ground, unable to look anyone in the eye.

I’d killed Jon.  Someone would tell me there were mitigating circumstances and I knew there were, but it couldn’t change what I’d done.  Did I deserve to be punished?  I didn’t know.  Probably.  I would be punished one way or another.  If a judge didn’t throw the book at me, I knew I would punish myself.  Shock numbed me, shredding my thoughts of right and wrong.  The revelation was a mental ruffie.  It left me dazed, confused and sick to the heart.

“You’re a killer, Larry,” Grieves said.  “I have to take you down for it.”

“Take me,” I said, the words tasting of dirt on my tongue.  “I’ll talk.  I’ll take you down with me.”

Cuban Heels and the Reaper laughed.  Grieves swapped a grin with them before turning back to me.

“I know and that’s why you won't make it to the Hall.  You'll eat a bullet from your own weapon and take your crime to the bay where you may or may not wash up.  Either way, no one will much care.”

“Have faith, brother,” Rawlings said to me.  “The forces of evil won't prevail.”

Cuban Heels and the Reaper laughed like that was the funniest joke ever told.

Grieves held out his hand and the Reaper tossed him my department issue 9mm Glock.  Something didn’t make sense.  Grieves had recovered my gun at the scene of Ludo and Theo’s murders.  The weapon should have been booked into evidence.

“Kill me with that and you screw yourself.  That weapon should be booked into evidence.”

Grieves looked at me with total confusion for a long moment, then a smile took over.  “This wasn’t used to kill your dealer and his bodyguard.  Have you seen your short-barreled .38 revolver lately?” 

I hadn’t.  I hadn’t any reason to.  The .38 was my old backup piece I kept on me when I used to be in uniform.  I hadn’t seen it in years, because...  The answer hurt me more than I could say and I let out a sigh.

“Jennifer gave it to you.”

“Boys, I think it’s all beginning to make sense.”

I kept the weapon at the house.  I’d taught her how to shoot when we’d first gotten married.  I didn’t take it in the divorce, leaving it there as protection.  A cop’s wife, ex or otherwise, was open to retaliation by disgruntled parties and there were plenty of those to go around with my arrest record.  I never wanted anything happening to Victoria.

I choked on the thought that I’d never see my daughter again.  I swallowed the heartache down before it got the better of me.

“How’d you rope Jennifer in?”

“It wasn’t hard.  Your marital problems are common knowledge.  At first, I just provided her with a shoulder to cry on, but she saw through that soon enough.  I told her you were a danger to yourself and others and it was better if you weren’t on the streets anymore.  I let her know if I could arrange for your competency to be called into question then you'd lose your job and any custody claims.  She liked that.  She told me all about your dealer and handed over the gun when I asked to see your things.”

My mouth went dry as I asked the question, “Did she know you'd use the gun?”

Grieves leered.  “Sorry to disappoint you, but she didn’t.  It’ll ensure her silence when she finds out she's an accessory.  The devil is in the details.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Enough chit chat,” Grieves said.  “It’s time.  Get them up.”

Cuban Heels jerked me to my feet as the Reaper did the same to Rawlings.  They shoved us to the edge of the slip.  Cuban Heels spun me around and pressed a gun under my chin. 

“This won't hurt a bit,” he said and laughed.

The drone of a car engine freeze-dried the moment.  A car slid through the doors. 

“Didn’t you lock them?” the Reaper barked at Grieves.

Grieves’ face tightened into a grimace.  “Put the guns away.”

A Toyota sedan driven by a woman rolled towards us.  The driver didn’t know what she was doing to the situation.  I wanted to kiss her for making the wrong turn.  The edge she was giving me might just save us.  The Toyota came to a halt behind the van.  The driver parked at an angle so that the van partially shielded her from a shot.

Grieves walked towards the sedan.  “You have to leave.  Police business.”

A good-looking Latina emerged from the vehicle.  “Hi, I think I’m lost.”

Grieves kept walking, his hand resting on his holstered weapon hanging off his hip.  “Yeah, you are and you have to leave.”

I glanced over at Cuban Heels.  His gaze was on the woman and not me.

“I was looking for the Ferry Building.  Can you direct me?”

“Just go back the way you came.  Someone will be able to point you in the right direction.”

“Can’t you do it?”

“I’m busy ma’am.  Crime scene.”

“You're a cop, you're supposed to help.”

“Ma'am, please.”

“What are you doing with those men?”

Reflexively, Grieves looked back our way.  The second he did, the Latina leveled a 9mm on him.

“Gun,” Cuban Heels yelled.

Grieves spun back around at the woman.  Disbelief consumed his expression, but it didn’t stop his cop reflexes from kicking in, and he went for his weapon.  Even with his speed, the Latina had the drop on him.  He had to draw, aim and fire.  She had to simply pull the trigger. 

“Don’t,” she screamed.

Grieves pulled his Glock.  I expected him to shoot.  He didn’t have a choice now.  She was a witness.  Hell, they were planning to execute me just for knowing Jon.  This woman’s life wasn’t worth shit. 

“Put the gun down, lady,” Grieves said.  “I’m a SFPD Inspector in the middle of an arrest.  I need you to put the weapon down.  I don’t want to shoot you.”

“I don’t want to shoot you either,” the Latina said.  “Put yours down first.”

A tremor broke out in the woman’s gun hand.  It had been rock solid a second before.  Thought had crept in, overriding reflex.  I’d seen it a thousand times.  She wouldn’t shoot now.

“Ma'am, I’m a police officer telling you to put that weapon down.”

I felt Cuban Heels’ grip on me wane as he edged to one side.  I saw what was happening.  He was going to circle around behind her and take her out.

“Hey, lady, these guys ain’t no cops,” I yelled.  “Get out of here and call 911 before they kill you.”

Cuban Heels stepped back and backhanded me with his gun hand.  I saw it coming and managed to take the blow across the shoulder instead of across the side of the head.  The impact still pushed me down on my back but I used my momentum to sweep Cuban Heels’ legs out from under him.  He hit the deck on his side, cracking his head on the concrete.  I pounced on him, going for his weapon.

The Reaper drew a bead on me and Rawlings sprang into action.  He launched himself at the Reaper, smashing into the gunman’s side and sending both of them to the ground.  Rawlings might not have had all his oars in the water, but he had his street moves down.

“Don’t even think about it, Hayes,” Grieves said, rushing towards me with his Glock  aimed.

With Grieves’ aim on me, the woman came out from behind her car and ran to the side of the van, using it as cover.  “Freeze,” she screamed.

I ignored Grieves and elbowed Cuban Heels in the face, then grabbed his gun off him.  I swung my aim on Grieves.

Grieves stopped. 

“It’s over.”

The Reaper elbowed Rawlings.  Rawlings yelled my name and pounced on the Reaper, but it didn’t stop the Reaper from opening fire.  He fired twice and missed both times.  I didn’t.  I fired once, striking the Reaper high in the chest.  He went slack and Rawlings scrambled over him, pinning one of the aliens to the ground.  I was sure it would be a massive inspiration for his next sermon.

Grieves opened up on me.  I dove behind Cuban Heels and he caught a bullet in the thigh.  I enjoyed hearing the prick scream.

The woman fired twice, then once more.  The first two shots missed, but her third nicked Grieves’ shoulder.   He shook off the injury, spun around, and fired twice at the woman.  His two shots ripped through the van’s windshield.

That gave me all the time I needed.  I squeezed off a shot and put it in the center of Grieves’ back.  The detective staggered once in a feeble attempt to stay upright, then he crumpled to the ground on his face.

“It’s okay.  It’s over,” I called out to the woman, then realized I was saying it to myself.  It was over.  Everything was okay. 

My Latina angel raced over to me with her gun up.  I tossed mine away and Rawlings did the same with the Reaper’s weapon.  She dropped to one knee at my side and checked me for injuries.

“I’m fine.  Who are you?”

“Lauren Ortega.  I’m a PI.  I was told you were in trouble.”

“Who by?”

“Victoria.”

I shook my head.  “Call 911.  But first, can you find the keys to these cuffs?”