Lowlifes

Chapter Four

Kate backed her car out onto the street and I locked the gate.  I was about to get into the car when my cell rang.

“Inspector Hayes?” the caller asked.

“Yes.”

“This is Officer Stanley.  Are you on the job?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you might want to take five minutes off because your car is about get towed unless you come get it.”

“Where are you, Officer?”

Stanley hesitated instead of asking me why I didn’t know the location of my car.  “I’m on the twenty-seven hundred block of Larkin.”

“I’ll be right over.”

“What's that all about?”

“My car.  Can you take me over to Russian Hill?”

Kate frowned.  “Sure.”

All the good will I’d generated with Kate disappeared with my request.  Just like Officer Stanley, she wasn’t impressed by my need to ask where my car was located.

Thankfully, it only took a few minutes to get me to the address.  A squad car sat parked behind my Crown Victoria.  My car had no place being out there and neither did I.  It sat at a decidedly shaky angle half in front of a fire hydrant.  Kate stopped her VW across the street from my car.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” I said. 

“Sure,” she snapped.

She burnt a little rubber when she pulled away.

I crossed over to Stanley with my hand out.  After we shook, I showed him my inspector’s shield.

“Sir, you know better than anyone you can't park your car in front of a hydrant.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry.  Mea culpa.  My fault, one hundred percent.  I got picked up to assist on this homicide on Larkin and Geary.”

“Moving the vehicle will be all the apology I need.”

Stanley wished me a goodnight and returned to his unit.  Just as he was getting in, I asked, “Do you know how long the car’s been here?”

Stanley hesitated again.  I was asking all the wrong questions for a sober man.

“Some time before eleven p.m.”

I checked my watch and whistled.  “Grieves said he'd only need me for an hour.”

“Are you off the clock now, sir?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

Was it my questions or did my dubious reputation precede me?

I watched Stanley pull away, then I noted the address.  My car being here didn’t make sense.  I had no reason to be parked here—high or otherwise.  If I’d dumped my car here and gotten high, it meant I’d staggered more than a mile across town to end up in the alley on Larkin. 

I gunned the car’s engine and let the hill carry me back towards the Tenderloin.  I stopped at a more respectable spot at the corner of Post and Hyde in front an apartment building where my dealer, Ludo, lived.  My night hadn’t turned to shit until I had taken his pills.

Ludo was small time and worked out of his apartment.  He was a white-collar dealer who operated a discreet service.  He dealt to the urban professional with a reputation to uphold, and not to your common crackhead.  He charged premium rates because of his discretion and provided a safe environment for his clientele. 

The building didn’t have a locked door so I let myself in and climbed the stairs to the top floor.  Theo saw me and put his hand out to stop my approach.  He was Ludo’s first line of defense.  A second line wasn’t necessary.  He was a mammoth son of a bitch and he exuded violent intent.

“Mr. Hayes, you don’t have an appointment.  You'll have to leave.”

I pulled my service weapon and aimed it at Theo.  The sight of it failed to strike a chord in him, but it did stop his approach.

“Mr. Hayes, what are you doing?”

“Showing you my pass.”

“You're making a big mistake.  You're a cop with no warrant.  You have no probable cause on your side.  What you're doing is unconstitutional.”

I pressed my pistol into Theo’s guts.  “Right now, I’m not a cop.  I’m a disgruntled client who needs to discuss the issue with Ludo.”

I guess if I’d been someone else, Theo probably would have ripped my arm off and beaten me to death with it, but he knew me as a cop with a good rep and that I wouldn’t be giving him shit without a reason.  For this reason alone, I respected Theo.

“I’m going to go for a coffee, Mr. Hayes.  Please don’t make any trouble while I’m gone.”

I holstered my weapon.  “I won't.”

We passed each other.  Just as I reached Ludo’s door, Theo called my name from the top of the stairs.

“This is your one and only pass.  I won't let you pull a gun on me again.  Is that understood?”

“One hundred percent.”

Theo nodded and disappeared down the stairs.

I knocked on Ludo’s door.

“Theo, I said I wasn’t taking visitors,” Ludo said.  His voice sounded distant, coming from the depths of the apartment.

I knocked again.

“Jesus, Theo.” 

The sound of footsteps approaching the door increased in volume.

I waited until Ludo pulled back the deadbolt and just as he started pulling the door open, I slammed my shoulder into it, driving it into him.  The impact sent him crashing onto his butt.  Shock, surprise and confusion overwhelmed his expression.

“What the fuck, Larry?”

I slammed the door shut behind me and snapped the deadbolt in place.  “Ludo, you’ve got some explaining to do.”

Ludo scrabbled to his feet.  He looked more like an accountant than a drug dealer, but the atypical look worked for him.  The competition didn’t view him as a threat and his clientele didn’t view him as intimidating.  That was why he needed Theo looking out for him. 

Pulling my Glock, I hoped to threaten Ludo more than a little bit.

Ludo raised his hands.  “Hey, hey, hey.  There's no need for guns.”

“I don’t know.  Something bad happened to me and it’s your fault.”

Ludo looked around me to the door, hoping to see Theo come crashing through.  It suddenly dawned on him that Theo wasn’t coming.

“What did you do to Theo?”

“Nothing.  He understood I had a grievance that needed addressing.”

Ludo backed up towards the living room.  “Okay, what's the problem?”

“That oxy I bought from you tonight.  It was bad.”

“Hey, my stuff is the best.  Blame a bad burrito, but don’t blame me.”

“I hit the oxy you gave me after I left you.  The next thing I knew, I woke up face down in an alley and I have no idea how I got there.”

“So you had a bad dose, it happens.”

He scurried into the living room and opened up a cabinet filled with baggies and bottles of everything he hustled.  “It’s not like this branch of the pharmaceutical industry works within FDA guidelines.”

“Oxy doesn’t wipe you out.”

“So what are you saying, Larry?”

What was I saying?  I wasn’t a chemist.  I didn’t know all the side effects, but  I’d worked on enough rape cases to know the signs of date-rape drugs.

“I’m saying you dosed me.  You got any Rohypnol, GHB or Ketamine lying around?”

“Hey, man, you're dreaming.  Have you been hitting the powder?”

“Stop bullshitting me, Ludo.”

“I’m not.  I’m not.  Let me see the pills.  I’ll be able to tell if they're bad or not.”

Now it was my turn to be on the back foot.  “Someone lifted them from me while I was face down in an alley.”

Ludo frowned.  “Larry, you're killing me here.  I can't do nothing if you don’t have the product, but because it’s you, I’ll replace everything you lost, gratis.”

He attempted a grin, but it came off weak.  He grabbed a bottle of pills and held them out to me.  I snatched them and held them up to the light.

“These bad too?”

“Screw you, Hayes.”

I’d had enough of Ludo’s dance.  I snaked out an arm, grabbed his shirt and thrust him back onto the sofa.  The freebie bottle of oxy bounced out of his hand.  I scooped it up.

“Start talking, Ludo, or so help me God, I’m calling this in.”

“You wouldn’t.  You'd be incriminating yourself.”

“Wouldn’t I?  You won't believe what a story I’ll put together.  I’ll have the narcotic division in here and when they get a hold of your client records, it’ll get real messy for you.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

I put one of my swollen fists in his face.  “I’ve already hurt someone tonight.  Don’t think I won't do it to you.  Now, if you don’t want to look as bad as my fist, you'll tell me why you dosed me.”

“I didn’t.”

“Ludo, don’t bullshit me.”

“I’m not.  I was told to give you those.”

My stomach clenched.  I lowered my fist.  “By whom?”

“I don’t know.  It was some guy.  I’d never seen him before.  He gave me the pills and told me they were for you and you only.”

“And you just did it?”

“You're a little self-absorbed tonight, Larry.  You’ve got cause, but you need to widen your perspective.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My dog.  She should be gnawing your leg off right now, but she isn’t.  Look around.”

Ludo was right.  The pit-bull he owned was nowhere to be seen.

“The dickhead killed her.”

“What?  In front of you?”

“No, I came home and she’d been poisoned.  He asked me how my dog was and I knew it was him.  He told me to give the pills to you or I’d end up like my dog.”

“Give me the rest of the pills.”

“I gave you everything he gave me.”

“Goddamn it.  And you don’t know who he is?”

“No, man, I don’t.  I would tell you if I knew the prick.”

“Did he use a name?”

“The Reaper, if you can believe that.”

I didn’t know anyone using that handle.

“What’d he look like?”

“Nothing special.  Six foot.  Decent build.  White.  He had shoulder-length, shaggy, dark hair.  Brown eyes.”

“What else?  Scars?  Tattoos?”

“Jesus, Hayes, I wasn’t taking notes.  We weren’t dating.”

“Then find out.  I want a name and address for this asshole.”

“I don’t know him.”

“Just do it,” I said pointing the gun at his face.

“Okay.  Jesus.  You're wound too tight tonight. I can give you something for that.  Free of charge, naturally.”

“You’ve got one day.  After that, I’m making you Narcotics’ bitch.”

“Sure.  Consider it done.”

I stepped back and let Ludo get up.

Losing the pills to my Cuban-heeled, lisping alley thief had really screwed me, but not entirely.  I rifled through Ludo’s drug cabinet for the largest pill bottle I could find.  I grabbed it and dumped its contents on the carpet.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Finding out what you gave me last night.  The pills might be gone, but their effects aren’t.”

I unzipped and peed into the bottle.

“Jesus, I have a toilet for that.”

“Sorry to be so informal, Ludo, but I don’t trust you.  I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

I finished, zipped up and capped the bottle.  “See you tomorrow, Ludo,” I said heading for the door.  “I want to know who he is.  The clock is ticking.”

Theo hadn’t returned.  I let myself out, crossed the street to my car and popped the trunk with my remote key.  I kept a lockbox bolted to the frame for storing evidence.  My urine was evidence now.  Not for an official case, naturally, but it was part of my off-the-books investigation.

I lifted the trunk lid.  Next to the lockbox was a butcher knife, its blade sticky with blood.  I didn’t have to get it analyzed to know whose blood it was.