Lowlifes

Chapter Nine

I’d convinced myself I hadn’t stabbed Jon, but my prints were on the knife.  Someone drugged me for a reason.  It could have been to plant my prints.  Or maybe killing Jon had been a side effect of the Rohypnol.  I was back to investigating myself.  I felt sick.

I couldn’t do this alone.  I was completely out of my depth I needed someone to turn to.  I punched a number into my cell and Kate answered on the second ring.

“Kate, I need help.”

She didn’t question and she didn’t bitch.  She heard the pain in my voice.  She just said, “Where are you?”

I kept moving.  I’d slipped the cops, but I didn’t want to take any chances.  Kate picked me up on Market Street.  She didn’t look pleased.  I didn’t blame her.  Another plea in the middle of the night.  My condition didn’t help.  I caught my reflection in the door mirror as I got into the car.  I looked strung out.

“What's going on, Larry?”

A squad car trawling the streets lumbered towards us.

“Can we just go?”

“Not until I get an answer.”

The squad car slowed at the sight of us parked at a green light.

“I’m in trouble, alright?  I need someone to talk to before I make my next move.”

My answer satisfied her.  She took her foot off the brake and shot across the intersection before the light changed.  The cop car didn’t light us up.  I counted that small blessing and kept it for later.

“Why is it every time I see you, you look worse than the time before?”

I didn’t have an answer for that.

Kate didn’t talk to me for the rest of the drive to her apartment.  I climbed the steps up to her door like an old man.  The pain forced me to cling to the wall for support.  She’d bounded up the steps and was busy unlocking the door when she noticed me groaning.

“Are you hurt?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Yeah, it looks like nothing.”

She pushed the door open before dropping down the steps to slip an arm around my waist and help me inside.  She got me into the kitchen and sat me down on a wooden chair.  The lack of cushioning made me aware of every twisted vertebra, but it was better than the soft sofa in the living room.  I never would have gotten out of that chair.

“I want to check you out,” she said.

Kate wasn’t a nurse by training, but she’d treated enough of the homeless passing through the food bank to diagnose what was superficial and what wasn’t.  She peeled my jacket off and unbuttoned my shirt.

It had been a long time since someone had shown me any TLC.  In fact, Kate was the last person.  I knew this wasn’t love, but I’d settle for compassion.

She slipped the shirt from my back and gasped.  “Jesus, Larry, what happened?”

“I could start at the end, but you need to hear this from the beginning.”

I paused for an objection, but it didn’t come.  She disappeared into the bathroom and returned with a first aid kit.  She checked me for broken bones and internal bleeding while I talked.

I told her everything I could remember about the night I woke up in the alley, including Ludo slipping me the ruffies and my subsequent four missing hours.  She pressed too hard, forcing a yelp from me when I mentioned going to Ludo for oxy in the first place.  I ignored her disappointment and disgust at my confession and kept going.  It didn’t matter what she thought of me.  I couldn’t get sidetracked.  I had to tell someone who would believe me about what was going on before it was too late.  I ended my account by placing my bruised and swollen hands on the table. 

“I hurt someone that night,” I said.

Kate stopped what she was doing.  I didn’t need to spell it out for her and I didn’t want to say it.  She came around and fell into the chair kitty-corner from me.  Her gaze went from my face to my damaged hands.  She didn’t seem to be able to tear her stare away from them and what they might signify.

“What are you saying, Larry?”

I ignored the question and kept going.  This was proving to hurt more to say than the pain in my back.  “After I left you, I tried to retrace my steps.  I spoke to my dealer.  Someone came to him and forced him to give me the pills.  Someone wanted me out of the way.”

Kate shook her head.  “Why would someone want to do that to you?”

“It’s tied to Jon.”

“Jon was a homeless man.  What did he have that someone would kill him for?”

I didn’t know. I had theories, but no answers. 

I was losing her.  She was getting bogged down by details and wasn’t seeing the big picture.  She had to hear the worst.

“I found a bloody knife in my trunk.”

Kate pulled back from me.

“I don’t know how it got there.”

“Is it the knife used to kill Jon?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you think so.”

I nodded.

Kate released an untidy breath.  “Larry, did you kill him?”

“No.  I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?  What's that mean, Larry?  That you could have?”

“I had no reason to kill Jon, but as a cop, I can't rule myself out as a suspect.  There are things that scare me, Kate.  Yes, there’s evidence linking me to Jon’s death, but I don’t believe I would hurt him—and there are too many other things at play here.”

“Like what?”

“Someone tried to kill me tonight.”

The remark drew an uncomfortable silence, but it garnered the desired result of pulling Kate to me.

“Jon went to a building in the Tenderloin.  I believe he wanted me to see it.  I broke into it tonight.  The man who attacked me was the same man who'd given the Rohypnol to my drug dealer.  He left me for dead and took my gun.  When you picked me up, I’d just left my drug dealer’s house.  He and his bodyguard had been shot to death.”

The color had drained from Kate’s face.  “Larry, you have to call this in.  You have to tell your people what is going on.”

“I can't.  Someone is doing their best to implicate me and they're doing a damn good job.  If I go in now, I’m finished.  No one will be interested in following up the leads.  They’ll have me and the evidence.  Nothing else will matter.  They’ll have enough to charge me.” 

“So what's your plan—stay here?”

I nodded.  “I can't go home.  My car is outside my dealer’s place.  People will want to know why.  I need to operate outside of the SFPD for a little while until I can work out what happened here tonight.”

I listened to myself.  It sounded like junkie babble—pleading and poor logic to get what I needed to survive.  I really needed to change my life around.

“What do you need to do?” Kate asked.

“I need to find Holy Joe.  Someone killed Jon and my dealer and they tried to kill me.  They're trying to cover their tracks.  They’ll go after Holy Joe next.”

“And me.”

“What?”

“I’m a target too.  You brought me into this.  People know I know you and Jon.”

She was right.  “I’ll go.”

“It’s too late for that now, Larry.  The damage is done.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”  She got up and flicked on the coffeemaker.  “It’s not your fault.  I was involved the second someone decided Jon had to die and you investigated.”

“I’ll protect you.”

She laughed.  “Larry, have you seen yourself?  You're in no condition to protect anyone.  Don’t worry about me.  I know how to look after myself.  It’s you who needs to get your shit together.”  She sighed.  “You look like hell.  Get in the tub.  It’ll help with the pain.”

“Thanks,” I said.

I grabbed my clothes and traipsed into the bathroom.  I sat on the toilet while I let water fill the tub. 

Kate walked in with a coffee mug and placed it on the sink next to me.  “Here’s your coffee.  I found these in my first-aid kit.  They’re Vicodin.  I got them when I had my wisdom teeth out last year.”

I held out my hand she dropped two pills into it.  I rolled the pills around in my hand.  I wondered how these would go on top of the oxy I’d knocked back.

“You’re feeding a bad habit.  I shouldn’t be taking these.”

“For once, you need them.”

“And for once, I don’t want them,” I said and handed the pills back to her.

Kate reached across me to turn off the faucets on the bath.  As she drew back, she kissed me.  A kiss had never tasted so sweet.

I pulled her to me.  She peeled off my shirt and ran her hands down my back.  I winced.

“You will be gentle with me, won’t you?” I asked.

Her grin was more than suggestive.  “I won’t make any promises.”

I kissed her again. I ran my hands up her sides, taking the thin fabric of her top in my hands and pulling it over her head.  I’d forgotten how good she looked.

I reached for her and she pulled back.  “I’m not sure you’re doing anything for your back.  In the tub.”

I smiled.  “Yes, ma’am.”

I stood and Kate removed the rest of my clothes.  She kissed the parts of my exposed body that came close to her mouth.

“You’re killing me.”

She giggled.  “In the tub.”

I climbed in.  Kate helped me lower myself into the water.  I shivered at the sharp contrast between the scolding water and the tub’s ice-cold porcelain.

“Look at the big, tough cop.”

“Hey, I need compassion, not taunts.”

She reached for a sponge and soaped my damaged body.  She was gentle and I felt myself being fixed on the inside as well as the surface.  It felt like old times.  Maybe we had a second chance in us.  The idea of it felt good.

“Now just lean back and soak.”

I did as I was told and Kate pushed herself to her feet.

She grabbed my clothes.  “I’ll see what I can do about cleaning these.”

I was too much in the moment to realize my mistake.  I could have told her no or jerked the clothes from her hand, but it was too late.  I stared in shock as she went through my pockets, emptying the contents.

“What’s wrong?” she asked and then she put two and two together and came up with four.  She turned out my jacket pocket and the bottle of oxy fell into her hand.

“Get out,” she said in a cold voice.

“It’s not what you think, Kate.  I needed something for the fall.”

“I’m not interested.  Get out.”

It was just like old times.  It was almost a replay of when she kicked me out before.  Last time I’d worn her down with my addiction.  No process of erosion this time.   Just a simple break.

“I just needed something for tonight, Kate.  You know it or you wouldn’t have brought me the Vicodin.”

“I know, but you lied to me.  Where'd you get them?”

“Does it matter?”

She threw the bottle of oxy down.  Her hand clipped the coffee mug, sending it onto the tiled floor.  Hot coffee and ceramic shards galloped across the floor.  “Yes, it matters.”

I searched for a lie.  I was too slow on the draw for Kate and she beat me to the punch.

“You stole them from you dealer tonight, didn’t you?  You went there for a fix.  You lied to me, Larry.”

My silence was my confession.

“Get your things and go.”

I climbed from the bathtub and she tossed me a towel.  I dried myself off in front her.  I dressed and scooped up my wallet and gun, but left the pills.

As I walked past her, she said, “You’ve forgotten your precious drugs.”

She’d been smiling when she walked in.  She wasn’t now.  I’d broken it and it had fallen into nasty shards.  I stared into her eyes.  There were tears in them.  “I don’t need them.”

“Because you can always get more, right?”

Explaining wouldn’t fix things.  I needed to work on not breaking things in the first place. 

“Sorry,” I said and walked out. 

Kate didn’t let me escape unharmed.  She waited until I’d opened the door to let myself out before she shot me down.

“I can forgive a lot of things, Larry, but I can't forgive the lies.”

“I know,” I said and closed the door behind me.

I pulled on my shirt and jacket.  It was a delicate maneuver with my injuries.  I walked down to 24th street where I stood a chance of picking up a cab.  There was a motel in my future now.

I should have berated myself.  God knew I deserved it, but I had bigger problems than Kate to worry about.  I just wanted to blot out the screw up.  I didn’t need to remind myself of what an asshole I was.

My cell rang.

For a flicker of a moment, I thought it was Kate forgiving me, but even I couldn’t believe the delusion.  I pulled the phone out.  Grieves’ named appeared on the display.  I answered it.

“Hey, you're still up.  I was a little worried I woke you.” 

Grieves was far too chipper.  Something was wrong.

“No, I’m a night owl.  What do you need?”

“Where are you?”

“Around.”

“Around?  You're not in the vicinity of Post and Hyde are you?”

They'd found my car.

“No.  I was staying in tonight.”

“Really?  I just went by your place and you're not there.”

“I was trying to be discreet.  I’m with someone at their place.  Let’s just say you're killing the mood right now.”

“Hey, I was also trying to be discreet.”

Fear trickled down my neck and took its time slithering down my spine.  “Why do you say that?”

“I’m standing outside the apartment belong to Ludovic “Ludo” Kennedy.  He's a dirtbag drug dealer or I should say, was a dirtbag drug dealer because he and his muscle are dead.  And do you want to know the kicker, Hayes?”

I stopped walking.  A cab breezed by me, followed by another. “Sure, tell me.”

“They were both shot with your weapon.”