Lowlifes

Chapter Five

Someone really wanted to see me take the blame for Jon’s murder.  Drugging me wasn’t enough to trash my alibi.  They wanted to seal the deal by planting the murder weapon on me.

The answer was simple—call it in.  But there was no way I could.  The evidence was piling up.  My hands were busted up, four hours of my life was missing, I had a cell phone message from Jon telling me to meet him, and to put the cherry on top, I had the murder weapon in the trunk of my car.  Even I had to wonder about my innocence in the light of the facts.  Screwed didn’t begin to describe my situation.

The alternative was just as easy—cover it up.  It would be so simple to take a ride out to the Golden Gate Bridge and toss the knife into the bay.  If anyone quizzed me on my missing four hours, I’d gotten wrecked in a bar.  I was so wrecked I couldn’t remember which one.  My colleagues would have their suspicions, but the burden of proof was on them, not me.  Innocent until proven guilty.  It was a black and white line in the legal system filled with grey.  My innocence could be as grey as all hell, but it still made me innocent.

I didn’t care for the alternative.  I was an honest man, despite reports to the contrary.  A pill problem didn’t make me dishonest.  It just made me a liability, a crappy friend, a bad husband and a shitty dad.   Besides, trying to cover this up was the action of the guilty and I wasn’t guilty.  Well, I hoped I wasn’t guilty.  More importantly, me covering up my part in Jon’s murder only protected the people responsible for Jon’s death and for trying to implicate me.  The only course of action I had was to run my own quiet investigation and hope I got to them before the evidence caught up with me.

I snapped on a latex glove, slipped the knife into an evidence bag, and sealed it.  I wanted to preserve the blood and DNA evidence and if I was lucky, any prints.

“I hope you're doing the right thing, Larry,” I told myself.

I put the knife in the lockbox with my bottle of warm piss.  I’d gathered quite an incriminating haul against myself.  Thank God, I hadn’t popped the trunk in front of the uni.   It made me wonder if getting my car towed was part of the plan.  It gets hooked and booked and hey presto, the knife is found in my trunk and off to jail I go.

A queasy feeling overcame me as I slipped back behind the wheel of the car.  Had I killed Jon?  The fact that the Reaper had gotten Ludo to dope me proved someone was out to frame me, but ugly thoughts scratched at my conscience.  What had I done in my four missing hours?  I hadn’t just scraped my hands.  I’d taken a beating and given one back.  So who had I fought?  Jon battered body filled my mind’s eye.  He'd been worked over pretty hard.  Did that mean the knife in my trunk hadn’t been planted there?  My investigation might lead me to myself.  Someone might have wanted me doped up tonight, but had they intended for me to kill someone?  A shiver rocked my body.

“Please don’t let this be me.”

Throwing everything over the Golden Gate became a more appealing proposition.  No, I needed to snap out of this shit.

“You didn’t do this.  Believe it.  Own it,” I told myself.  “Someone is trying to frame you.”

And the way they'd gone about it was a mistake.  I could prove I’d been doped.  I controlled the murder weapon, not them.  That didn’t mean they couldn’t take it back when they wanted.  They'd proved they could get to my car and people I knew.  There was no reason they couldn’t again.  That made the contents of my trunk white-hot and I couldn’t risk leaving them there overnight.  I couldn’t hand the evidence off until morning, so I needed to put it somewhere safe.  I had only one place for that.

I twisted the key in the ignition.  The dashboard clock read 2:45 a.m.  The days of pulling all-nighters were behind me, but I still had work to do.  Wheels had been set in motion and I had to keep up.

I put the car in gear and pulled away, watching for anyone joining traffic with me.  Someone had picked me off pretty easily tonight.  That meant they would more than likely be monitoring my every step.  With the scant traffic, it would be hard for someone shadowing me to hide.  I watched my mirrors for a tail, but no one stuck out.  The lack of a tail gave me little comfort.  It could mean they didn’t need to shadow me because the die had been struck; the damage against me done.  Well, at least no one would follow me to where I was going. 

It didn’t take long to cut across the city at that time of night.  Normally, I liked moving through the city while it slept, but not tonight.  I didn’t like its silence.  It left me feeling naked and exposed.

Drawing up in front of my ex-wife’s house in Daly City brought a smile to my face.  Despite the divorce, I still thought of this place as our home and always would.  This house represented some of the happiest moments of my life.  They usually centered on Victoria.  I looked up at her bedroom window and imagined her sleeping.  It gave me the drive to carry on. 

I grabbed the evidence bags from my lockbox, jogged over to the house and lifted the latch on the garden gate.  It didn’t make a sound until I lowered it with a clink.  I paused, waiting for a stirring from inside the house.  When I heard none, I rounded the house to sump pump well.  I’d installed a more effective drainage system the first year we moved in, rendering the original sump redundant.  I never bothered removing the old well since it was a lot of hard work.  It was easier to plant a few plants and shrubs to hide it.  You wouldn’t have known it existed unless you had inside knowledge.  Once the foliage took over, I realized I had a secret drop box more secure than any bank vault. 

I fought my way through the foliage to get to the concrete access cover.  I removed the bolts with an adjustable wrench and lifted the heavy cover free.  The well went down three feet.  I’d capped the drainage lines to ensure it remained dry.  I reached down and came back up with my combination safe.  It contained little these days beyond a few papers.  In its past, it had held everything from sensitive materials to my pill stash.  I deposited the evidence bags and put everything back in its place. 

In five minutes, I was driving back to the city.  I wished I were driving back to Kate’s.  I’d screwed up a good thing with her before it had a chance to flourish. 

With every creeping mile, the remnants of the ruffies wore off and a hunger replaced it.  I’d missed a fix.  I needed my painkillers.  The onset of my pain was double this time.  The pounding I’d taken in the alley had really turned the flame up on my old back injury. 

I had turned to pills because of an on-the-job injury.  I screwed up my back saving some scumbag.  He got fifteen years and I got a spine that looked like broken crockery.  Recovery was slow and addiction was fast.  I needed more and more painkillers just to keep up with the pain.  When the pain finally left me, the addiction didn’t.  The department would have helped me, but it would have been a stain on my record.  I tried kicking the habit, but ended up succumbing to the buffer the pills put between the world and me.

My seat turned into a torture device and no matter how I shifted my position, it managed to jab me in the wrong place.  It was a blessing when I arrived back. 

I parked on the street.  For once, my parking karma was working and I got a spot out front cutting my agonizing walk short.  When I reached the door of my studio, my spine was on fire.  Pain held a lighter to each disc, boiling the fluid inside and igniting every one of nerve endings.  It took every ounce of concentration to shut out the pain and perform the simple task of sticking the key in the lock and twisting.  I blundered through the door and staggered into the bathroom.  I flicked open the mirrored door to the medicine cabinet, ignoring the glimpse of myself I caught in the mirror.  I grabbed the vitamin bottle off the shelf sending three others tumbling into the sink.  Hiding my dope inside a vitamin bottle was a third-grader’s idea of a deception.  It didn’t have to fool anyone other than me.  I dropped onto the toilet clutching the closest thing I had to a friend and lover.  I twisted the cap off and shook out two oxy.  I’d gotten to like the cloudy-at-the-edges feel painkillers gave me.  I didn’t have to worry about credit cards, a collapsing marriage or abandoning a daughter when oxy could nibble the sharp edges off my problems. 

Raising my two friends, salvation and oblivion, to my mouth, I stopped.  How did I know these pills weren’t tainted?  I didn’t was the simple answer.  This could be round two of a very short fight.  I dropped the pills into the toilet and tossed the bottle in the sink.

For once, I didn’t want the damn things.  I didn’t want a buffer between me and my life.  I wanted to feel something.  Needed to feel something.  If I let myself ride a pharmaceutical haze, I was going to end up exactly where someone wanted me—fucked.  

No pills tonight or tomorrow or the night after.  My dependency had to end.  I’d get help.  Get clean.  It wouldn’t be pretty and it could cost me my job, but it had to be done.  Tylenol would have to do from now on, so I heaved myself off the toilet, grabbed my keys off the kitchen counter and lumbered out the door.  It was time to make a trip to the all night drugstore. 

I pressed the button for the elevator and listened to the slow clang and whine of the car rising up from the first floor.  The doors slid back to reveal a stone-faced Grieves on the other side. 

“Hayes, you need to come with me.”

Had I missed a vital piece of evidence that implicated me?  I couldn’t sweat it.  If Grieves had something concrete on me, it didn’t matter.  He had me. 

“Sure,” I said and stepped into the elevator.

Grieves made the pretense of checking his watch. “Going out?  I thought you'd called it a night.”

“I’ve got a migraine.  I was going to pick something up.”

It sounded weak and Grieves showed no signs of believing me. 

“Did you find anything out?” Grieves asked.

“Not yet.  I’ve laid the groundwork.  I got the word out to the community before they bedded down.”

“Did you run it by that homeless advocate?” 

Homeless advocate?  It was just like Grieves to see Kate as some crusading hippy.

Grieves snapped his fingers.  “What’s her name?  The one you were banging a little while back.”

Grieves was trying to rile me up with this little song and dance act, so I played along.  “Kate Meadows.”

“Yeah, Kate Meadows.  Did she know anything helpful?”

“She’s going to get the word out.”

Just like my migraine story had failed to convince Grieves, his little song and dance act about Kate failed to impress me.  What was his interest in her?

The elevator doors opened.  He walked me out onto the street and pointed at my car.

“There’s a problem with your car.”

Had someone tipped him off about the knife?  “Is there?”

“Yeah, you have a flat tire.”  Grieves’ hard glare collapsed as he broke into laughter.  “Christ, you should have seen your face.  Did you think I’d come to pick you up for crimes against the state?” 

Yeah, I thought you had.

He clapped me across the shoulders.  “You really need to lighten up, Hayes.  I just swung by to see if you'd come up with anything and saw the flat.  C'mon, I’ll help you change it.”  He dropped down next to the flat tire and ran a hand over the surface.  “You probably ran over a nail or broken glass.”

“It’s okay.  It’s late.  I’ll do it in the morning.”

“Don’t be stupid, Hayes.  I’m here.  I’ll help.  What’s the problem?  You got something in the trunk you don’t want me to see?”

Not anymore, I thought and tossed him the keys to the trunk.  I wondered how long my luck would hold out.