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“Goddammit,” I said laying the gun down on my kitchen table. “Two assholes dead and I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet.”

I suppose that wasn’t such a great yardstick, I hadn’t brushed my teeth in three days at that point, but in my defense I had drank a lot of bourbon, so I imagine that would have killed anything too dangerous hanging out between my gums. Either way, it was early, too early to be dealing with this kind of shit, but that didn’t change anything, I still had two meat sacks taking up floor space in a studio apartment that was short on square feet to begin with.

It was bold, coming into my apartment like that. I had to give them that, but it didn’t bode well for the rest of my day. I’d been happy to stay boxed up here in my place for the past four days, and if I had had to guess, I would have been happy to stay another four. I was in no hurry to head out into the over eager world where people wanted you to take on extravagant responsibilities like showering and putting on clean clothes. My place, my little twenty by twenty cubicle was just fine by me, and as long as I didn’t have to take care of anything pressing, like disposing of two dead bodies, I could happily hide out there until the liquor store stopped delivering.

That said, now I did have two dead bodies that I had to get rid of before they started attracting flies. It was the flies I worried most about, not the smell. I didn’t imagine two bodies could ever smell any worse than the place already did, so it was unlikely that people would complain about that. Flies on the other hand, well, they’d certainly make a mess of the product they were cooking in the tub in the unit above mine, so, I’d have to get rid of the bodies before they started attracting flies, but, still and all, it would have to wait. Even in my shitty building folks would notice someone dragging a couple corpses out the front door at ten in the morning. Well, probably they would.

Since disposal would have to wait I figured I might as well finish my coffee and try and figure out who these goons were. They were dressed nicely, not suits or any shit like that, just nice, like, ya know, no holes in their jeans. Clothes were clean. They had recent haircuts and were both clean shaven. Definitely not from around here.

I ruled out petty burglars since I had nothing worth stealing. Hell, no one in this part of town did, except maybe the meth lab upstairs. Maybe they just had the wrong place. Unlikely though, their teeth were white and their skin was clean and clear. These weren’t junkies looking to steal a score, no, they were after something specific.

Since I had nothing that anyone would want that left two possibilities. One, they mistakenly thought I had something they wanted, or two, I was that thing. The first seemed more likely. I’m not really anything special, hell, I’ve been turned down by three dollar hookers. Plural, as in more than once. The only thing that would make you notice me on the street is my smell. That said, I do seem to have a way of pissing folks off. It’s kind of like my superpower. The question is, is it enough for someone to pay a couple of mouth breathers to off me? The answer, I suppose, is that it’s never happened before, but it wouldn’t surprise me either.

The list of potential who’s on that list was too long to pick apart without having some more information to narrow down the list. It was most likely someone from a previous case. It couldn’t be current because I didn’t currently have a case to work on. I knelt next to one of the assholes and stuck my hand in his jeans pocket. In retrospect it seems obvious that that’s when someone would walk in my door.

The first thing I saw was her ankles. They were nice. Shapely in nude stockings, set atop slender feet in red suede heels, the left one circled by a delicate gold chain. Honestly, I’d be better off if that’s all I’d ever seen of her, the rest just caused me problems.
“Holy shit, you fucking killed him!”

I looked up slowly and honest to God, the rest of her almost killed me. Legs to the sky, barely hidden inside a light, loose fitting red dress with black lace trim at the edges. Hips you could drive a Jaguar around and butter white skin dotted with caramel freckles in places that made you embarrassed to notice. She had fire red lips that rested with a part between them that made the imagination run wild, and hair the color of roses that brushed at her shoulders in a way that gave me shivers.

“Well, I mean, he started it,” I said.

She looked at me dumbfounded.

“So, who is he anyway?” I asked. “And while we’re at it, who are you?”

“You’re Bishop right? Bishop Church?”

She held out a thin slip of scratch paper.

“You’re a P.I.? A private dick?”

I took the scrap from her. It was from my ad. I have flyers around town with tear off tabs at the bottom with my name and number on them. No address though, which made me wonder how she found the place.

“Not really,” I said. “The city requires a licence to be a P.I. and the private nature of my dick is less by my choice than others. We’ll say I’m more in the category of freelance services provider.”

“That sounds like a distinction without a difference,” she said.

I shrugged.

“I’m still waiting on your name,” I said, “and theirs.”

“Penny,” she said. “Penny Steeler.”

“Of course,” I said rolling my eyes.

I took my hand out of the dead guy’s trousers and stood up. I held the hand out to shake hers. She glanced at it, then busied herself by opening her handbag and taking out a pewter cigarette case and matching lighter. She flipped it open and drew out two Pal Mals, offering one to me. I took and and accepted her light. While she lit up I walked over to the kitchen to get my coffee. We stood there looking at each other, smoking. I took a sip of my coffee and spat it out into the sink. It was cold.

“Penny,” I said. “I was making eggs.”

“Oh, no thank you,” she said. “I’ve already eaten.”

I took a drag on my cigarette and blew the smoke at the floor.

“I wasn’t offering,” I said. “It’s what I was doing when your boyfriends showed up this morning.”

She glared and me and dragged on her smoke.

“They’re not my boyfriends,” she said exhaling smoke as she spoke. “I’m not that kind of girl.”

I shrugged.

“What do I know?” I said.

I swirled the cold coffee around in the mug and stared at it contemplatively. After a moment I lifted the mug and swallowed the rest down. I took the last hit off my fag and dropped the butt into the mug. It hissed and then went out.

“Aren’t you going to offer me a seat?” she asked starting to seem annoyed.

“I didn’t even offer you to come in,” I said with as much ambivalence as I could muster.
She sighed, sucked out the last of her coffin nail and crossed over to me and dropped it in my mug. Then she walked over to the body and stared down at it for a while.

“He’s been following me,” she said still gazing at the corpse. “This one, the one you were groping when I came in.”

I squinted at her.

“I was search… I mean, I wasn’t, oh, fuckit, never mind.”

She looked at me quizzically.

“For how long?” I asked.

“Couple weeks,” she said.

“And the other guy?”

“Never seen him before.”

I put the mug in the sink and grabbed to metal folding chairs from next to the Fridgedaire. I set them out and gestured for her to sit.

“Ms. Steeler,” I said setting an ashtray down on a milk crate between us. “What is it I can do for you?”

She glanced at the bodies laying on my floor.

“Well,” she raised her eyebrows, “not much of anything now I suppose.”

“You were here about them?” I asked.

“Well, him,” she said nodding at the one closest. “Just the one. Like I said, he’d been following me for a while. I wanted to know who he was, what he wanted. He was making me nervous. When I saw your sign I thought maybe you could help.”

“And other than him following you, you’ve never seen him before? You don’t know his name or have any idea what he wanted?”

“Look, Mr. Church,” she was anxious. “I’m a good girl, I don’t know what you may have heard that runs contrary to that, but it’s true. I’m a good girl and I don’t have any clue as to who this man is or why he would be following me.”

“Ms. Steeler,”

“Please, Penny.”

I smiled.

“Penny, I haven’t heard anything about you. I’ve never heard of you before, or them. Honest to God lady, I was just trying to make some eggs for breakfast.”

***

After that she left. She was content with the knowledge that the guy who had been following her, whoever he was, wouldn’t be following her anymore. She didn’t seem to care about his motivations as long as he was on ice. I cared, and I tried my best to persuade her to stick around and fill me in on a bit of her backstory so that I could start putting the pieces together, but the suggestion that she tell me more about her just served to hasten her departure, and don’t think for a second that that didn’t make me more suspicious.

Once the light clicks her heels made as she walked down the hall disappeared I turned my attention back to the intruders still mucking up my humble abode. I still had hours before the sun would go down, and it was good because I had a lot to do if I wanted to dispose of these guests without attracting attention. First things first though, I went back to frisking the stiffs on the off chance that they were carrying something that might help shed some light on this whole messed up situation.

You try not to look in their eyes when you’re sticking your hands in a dead man’s pants, it just serves to make things awkward. The first guy, the one that had been tailing Penny for the past few weeks, didn’t have much on him. No wallet or I.D., just an old beat up black pocket notebook with a phone number scratched into the spine. It was local based on the nxx prefix, but I didn’t recognize it.

The situation with the second guy was a little worse. He had plenty of I.D. on him, mostly in the form of a fancy brass badge that said F.B.I.. Dead goons were a pain in the ass, but they were a pain in the ass I was prepared to handle. Roll ’em up in a rug, most likely the one they were bleeding on right now, although, I really did like that rug dammit. I knew what to do and it wouldn’t be the first time I’d had to do it. But a dead fed, well fuck. That was going to cause all kinds of trouble.

I couldn’t figure it out either. Why was an Agent pairing up with some local thug? Why were they following that Penny girl around? And what the hell were they doing here? She’s getting chased around for whatever reason she wasn’t inclined to share with me, she pulls a tag off of one of my flyers, and before she even gets a chance to chat me up I’ve got these two breaking down my door and forcing me to shoot them up while I’m still in my skivvies.

I took my coffee mug back out of the sink and poured bourbon in it. Then I sat down on one of the folding chairs again and inspected the G-man’s badge. Special Agent Raymond Reynolds. I rubbed the shield with my thumb just to make sure it was real then I looked over at Mr. Reynolds layin’ on my good rug.

“Well Agent, what exactly are you doin’ here?”

I gulped down the bourbon in my mug and looked at the clock. It was eleven-forty-five in the morning. I set the badge back down on the milk crate and ran my fingers through my hair. I’d have to get another rug. Two really. I couldn’t possibly carry them both out together, I wasn’t close to that fit. So I’d have to wrap one of them up in this rug, and get a second to wrap up the other one. Then I’d need a new rug for my floor if for nothing else than to cover up the blood stain that was certainly forming on the wood under the current rug now.

So I needed two new rugs, and some twine to tie them up. If I played my cards right at the thrift shop I could get the twine thrown in when I picked up the rugs. Two rugs was going to cost me though. I was pretty sure that I had a buck or two stuffed in my pants pockets somewhere, but I’d probably have to donate some blood or something to make up the rest.

I dug around the laundry next to the bed for the cleanest pair of trousers I could find. I considered taking a shower, but decided against it since I didn’t have any clean clothes to put on anyway. I ran a black comb through my hair and washed my face and pits in the sink. I found my mostly clean, white button down shirt under the television set with my black tie still knotted around the collar. I dug through the various socks on the floor trying to find something that wasn’t stiff, but they were all too far gone, so I threw on my loafers over my bare toes. I grabbed the paper clip that held my door and car key and my drivers licence from dish next to the door, and closed the windows on my way out so as to keep the flies at bay.

***

First stop out the door was going to have to be the bank. For most of you that probably means a nice brick building with well dressed young women and effeminate men distributing new bills in small white paper envelopes. For me though, the bank is what I call the pawn shop at the end of the street I live on. It doesn’t have a vault, but it’s got a cage and a sawed off shotgun so it’s almost the same thing. They’re not FDIC insured, but that’s okay because they don’t take deposits. You can cash checks sometimes though, for a 30% service fee.

I didn’t have a check today though, and I still owed on a loan I took out nine months ago, but I needed money so I was going back to basics. I had a pair of opal cuff links that my ex wife had given me on some occasion or other. I never understood why she bought me nice things. I didn’t like to go anywhere nice and I certainly never had the money to take her anywhere where nice things would be a requirement. Most of the holes that I frequented, nice things had better odds of getting you mugged than raising your status. On the other hand, that’s probably why she was my ex wife and not my wife wife. Anyway, I had these cuff links and I figured even with my outstanding balance they should be enough to get me what I needed for a couple of area rugs.

That’s mostly how it went for me between cases. I’d get paid, then pay enough of my back rent to keep from getting kicked out of my place, then I’d drink whatever was left and when that ran out I’d start pawning stuff. At this point there wasn’t a lot left to sell though. After these cuff links all I really had left was my watch and my wedding ring. The watch was an Omega Speedmaster. A gift, also from my ex in a failed attempt to get me to be on time for, well, anything I suppose. I think it cost her a couple grand when she bought it. I’d probably be able to get thirty bucks when the time came. I figured I could live with that. My wedding ring was platinum and circled with diamonds. If I went to a real jewelry shop I could probably get a couple G’s for it, but that wasn’t going to happen. I’d never sell it.

What I needed was more cases. My last gig was four weeks ago and it had only paid five hundred dollars. That meant I walked with three-fifty after the bank’s cut. Two-seventyfive went to housing and the other seventy-five bought four liters of canadian club and a stack of flyers that I tacked up to telephone posts around town leaving me four dollars and twenty-seven cents crumpled in my slacks. The upside of this was that it was two dollars more than I thought I had, the downside being that it was significantly short of what it would take to buy the rugs I needed.

The flyers hadn’t been much help so far, in fact, the only thing they had led to was my dead pals currently stinking up my place, and since I was having to spend money I didn’t have to get rid of them, overall I would call it a net loss on my end. It was tough getting work without a license. There wasn’t a lot of legit work in this town. Nashville isn’t big enough to need dicks looking into corporate crime or missing persons. Most of the legit work is divorce stuff, and even the skeevy stuff ends up getting farmed out to guys with their city P.I. card. I mostly get the dregs that are left after that. A little collection duty for a couple of the less respected loan sharks. Some gigs for low rent pimps checking in on their girls. Nothing heavy handed, just some shouting and waving around my piece. It’s not even loaded most of the time, bullets cost a lot of money. The work isn’t regular and it pays for crap, but I take it when it comes and when it doesn’t, well, I don’t need nothin’ five star. If it never rained I wouldn’t even bother with keeping up on the rent.

I got no one to impress. I don’t love no one and no one loves me back. Most people flat out hate me, and that’s alright by me. I understand completely. I hate me too, but something keeps me climbing out of bed each day, and until it doesn’t I’ll just keep doing the bare minimum I need to to stay mostly drunk and technically not dead.

At the end of the block I walked into the bank. The little springy bell above the door jingled and Bruno, the proprietor of the establishment, looked up from the sports page. When he saw me he dropped the paper and pointed at me shaking his head.

“No no no. No way Church. We ain’t givin’ out any loans today and I ain’t cashin’ no checks. The last one you dropped on me bounced, and the cops showed up lookin’ for the guy who wrote it. I lost six customers while they sat in their black and white outside my shop all day.”

I put my hands up defensively and sort of half bowed in concession.

“I know, I know, I’m sorry about that. Jackie told me that they came here and hassled you. I’m really sorry, I had no idea.”

“You owe me five hundred dollars asshole,” Bruno said.

“Whoa, Bruno, you only paid out three-fifty.”

“Five hundred dollars mother fucker.”

Bruno stood up and leaned aggressively over the counter.

“Plus, you still owe me two large from that loan last November.”

“Hey, I’ve paid some on that,” I argued knowing full well that I hadn’t.

“Do you have money for me?”

I nodded, then shook my head.

“No, no I don’t. I’m working on it though. I’m on a job. I’ve got a big payday coming at the end of this week and I’ll be able to set you straight, and in cash.”

He looked skeptical.

“Thing is,” I said. “I’m going to need a little capital up front.”

“No way,” he said shaking his head.

“I’ve got colateral,” I said reaching into my slacks and producing the cuff links.

I walked up to the counter and laid them on the plexiglass surface. Bruno leaned in close and checked them out. He picked one up and slid on a jewelers loupe to inspect it.

“Do you even know what you’re doing with that?” I asked mockingly.

He glared at me then went back to the cuff link. He took off the loupe and stared at me.

“And the watch,” he said.

I took a step back.

“No way,” I said.

“Come on man, you’re gonna give it to me one of these days. You gotta be runnin’ out of shit to sell me.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but today is not that day.”

He crossed his huge arms and stared at me.

“Those are worth a lot,” I said. “You take those, give me two-hundred, and we’ll call it even for the check.”

Bruno gave a deep belly laugh.

“Church, you motherfucker, you crack me up. Fifty bucks and you still owe me juice on the bounced check.”

I looked at him offended like and he laughed again.

“You owe me a lot of money Church. If you was anyone else I’d already have your kneecaps hangin’ here on my wall. I’m not handing these jewelrys back, so either take the fifty bucks or walk out empty handed.”

I looked at him with my dirtiest face, then dropped my shoulders and held out my palm for the cash. Bruno laughed again and dropped the cuff links in a box of mixed men’s jewelry on the counter. He punched a button on the register and it clanged as the drawer slid open. He stuffed two twenties and a ten dollar bill in my open hand then slammed the register drawer closed.

“Now get out of here, and don’t come back until you have the rest of my money asshole.”

I tried to give one last tough look, then gave up and turned and walked out of the store.

***

Fifty dollars wasn’t going to get me two new rugs. It wasn’t going to get me one new rug, but it could get me a couple shower curtains, and I could make that work. I walked the block back to my building and ducked down the alley to where I parked my car.

I had an old police cruiser that had been stripped down for resale at a police auction, then stripped down again by thieves outside the owner’s apartment. It was missing the radio, the heater panel and the passenger seat. The passenger doors were crashed in and the hood was a different color than the body of the car, but it got me from place to place when I could afford to put gas in the tank.

I kept the car parked in the alley behind my building. There’s a nice spot on the opposite side from the garbage dumpster that allows a clean straight away into the street. It’s convenient for those times when you gotta get outa dodge quick. Of course, it’s a no parking zone, but I have my ways around that too.

I bent over and unlocked the yellow boot I keep wrapped around the front driver’s side tire. I picked it up a couple years back at a fire sale hosted by, probably, the same guys that stripped down my ride in the first place. I rigged the thing so it didn’t need a key, so I could slap that sucker on and off at will. That coupled with a couple fake parking tickets I kept under the wipers and I could park just about anywhere for a day or two before the cops even bothered looking twice.

I drove the three miles to the mega box discount store figuring it was the best place to find dead body wrappers. My intuition proved insightful as I found plastic shower curtains on sale for nine dollars. I grabbed two of the most opaque patterns I could find and tossed them in the blue basket of the shopping cart. Two curtains meant I’d only spent eighteen dollars of the fifty-four I had on me so I swung the cart down the aisles and navigated over to the liquor department.

I tossed two jugs of Evan Williams bourbon into the basket and pointed myself towards the front of the store. At the service counter I grabbed two packs of Pall Malls and paid for the bourbon and curtains. I left the store with a dollar and ninety-seven cents and enough smokes and drink to get me through the weekend. Once I was back to the car I realized that I had forgotten to pick up twine to wrap the bodies. I thought briefly about returning one of the bottles of whiskey to buy some string but decided that the cost benefit return wasn’t really worth it.

***

Back at my building I drove around the block a couple times to make sure that there weren’t any Fed types hanging around all sneaky like. Once I was satisfied I put the car back in the alley, locked down the boot around my tire and grabbed the shopping bags from the back seat and headed up the back stairs.

I lit up a Pall Mall as I stepped through the back door into the hallway. I choked on the smoke as, predictably I suppose, there was someone waiting for me outside my apartment. This guy wasn’t the same ilk as the goons this morning. He was thin and delicate looking, well dressed in a gray suit and had shiny slicked back hair. He leaned nervously against my door jamb until he noticed me, then stood up strait, shoving his right hand conspicuously into his trouser pocket.

“It’s been a long day,” I said approaching my door, and the man standing in front of it.

“Are you Bishop Church?”

He was nervous, agitated, speaking in staccato bursts and shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“It’s been a long day man, can we maybe do this tomorrow?”

“Do what?” he asked looking confused.

I gestured at him

“I don’t know, whatever it is, whatever you’re, whatever we’re about to do, can we do it in the morning.”

The left corner of his mouth dropped and he looked a little defeated. He turned his body slightly like he was going to leave, then stiffened and straightened back up. I saw his right hand ball up in his pocket and he turned back to me, his face twitching.

“So that’s a no?” I said.

“I want you to stay away from her.”

I emptied my lungs and dropped my shoulders.

“I’m serious,” he spat. “I don’t know,” he looked me up and down, “what she sees in you, but she’s mine and we’re gonna work it out, and you need to stay far away from her. Got it!”

I didn’t know for sure what she he was talking about, but considering the day I’d had, I had a pretty good idea.

I glanced at his hand shaking in his pants and at his face, quickly becoming soaked in nervous sweat.

“You’re gonna shoot yourself in the foot,” I said.

“What?” he said.

I stuck my hand into my jacket to get my keys. The man’s face went white and he jerked his right arm up, but his hand got stuck in his pocket and he lost his balance. A loud crack filled the hallway and the man howled and fell to the floor screaming.

“Told you so,” I sighed.

He was just laying there holding his foot and screaming. I stuck the key in the door and opened my apartment.

“Come on,” I said, “let’s get that bandaged up.”

He looked at me helplessly and I bent over and lifted him up and helped him hobble into my place. I set him down on one of the folding chairs, dropped the shopping bag on the floor and found the switch to turn on the lights. Then he started screaming again.

I jumped at the scream and spun around to see the bony man staring at the floor in front of him. I followed his eyes to the bodies waiting to be wrapped and disposed of.

“Oh them?” I said relieved. “Don’t worry, they’re already dead. Can I get you a drink?”

He just sat there shaking and staring at the floor, mumbling incoherent sounds and bleeding on the clean part of my floor. I set down two glasses on the wooden milk crate next to his chair and popped the cap on one of the bottles of whiskey. I filled both glasses halfway then produced a bottle of rubbing alcohol from under the kitchen sink. I dug around next to my bed and found the cleanest undershirt I could and tore it into three inch wide strips.

“Drink up,” I said with a tone of encouragement.

He looked at me with unrestrained panic and downed the firewater in one gulp then slammed the glass down on the milk crate table for another. I refilled his glass, three quarters of the way this time, then lifted his right foot and set it in my lap. Gently I slipped the loafer off his foot and inspected the dime sized hole that passed through the top of the shoe and the leather sole.

“Ya see,” I said with a smile, “that’s why you carry your gun in your jacket, not your trousers.”

He tried to smile, but could only manage a grimace.

“Don’t worry, I know plenty a gents walkin’ with a limp for just the same reason. You’re not in it alone.”

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t find that all together comforting.”

I smiled as warmly as I could muster.

“I will indeed.”

I filled his glass back up with bourbon and filled the hole in his foot with isopropyl, then I wrapped his mangled limb in the shredded undershirt parts, making sure not to use the yellowing pit fabric on the first layer. I went to the kitchen and washed the blood off my hands, dried them on my slacks and lit a cigarette while I leaned against the counter.

“So, Twiggy McBadshot, how ya feelin’?”

“Stupid,” he said. “Sorry.”

I laughed and then coughed.

“Hey killer, it’s your foot.”

“I’m not that good at confrontations,” he said.

“You don’t say?” I grinned.

“What’s your name shooter?”

He seemed to think about this, deciding whether or not he wanted to share that information with someone like me.

“Devon,” he said.

“Devon….?” I probed.

“Just; Devon.” he insisted, and I left it alone.

“Alright Devon,” I said. “You wanna tell me what I did that deserved you puttin’ a bullet in me?”

He looked at me like a parent looks at a child who’s done something wrong and really should know what that something is. I looked back at him like that child. I shrugged and dragged on my cigarette. Finally he let out a sigh and capitulated.

“Penny,” he said with irritation.

“Oh,” I said. “Penny.”

He finished off his glass of whiskey and refilled it himself.

“I found your name and number in her pocketbook,” he said.

“And you assumed…”

“And I followed her,” he said. “This morning, I followed her here.”

“I see,” I said.

He swallowed his drink and tried to stand up, dramatically, accusingly, but he winced at the pain in his foot and dropped back into his chair looking angry and frustrated.

“I think you might have the wrong idea,” I said.

“You have two corpses on the floor of your apartment, am I supposed to just take your word for it?”‘

“Hey now,” I said defensively. “To be fair, they were with your girlfriend. They showed up just before she did and she knew one of them. Honestly I they have nothing to do with them whatsoever.”

I took a hit off my smoke.

“You mean other than them being dead on your living room floor?”

I blew out the smoke.

“Well, sure, there’s that.”

Devon shifted in his seat and looked like he was trying to come up with the words.

“Look Devon,” I said. “Let’s not get sidetracked with the dead guys. Let’s try and stay focused on you, me, and that gun that you’ve displayed such mastery of.”

He reached into his trousers and pulled out a shiny chrome six shooter and set it on the wood crate next to him.

“I thought you were having an affair,” he said downtroddenly

“Like I said,” I told him, “I think you have the wrong idea.”

He took a deep breath and for the first time looked around my place. It was small, my place was. One room. Kitchen in one corner with a sink, stove, oven and fridge. Not much in the way of counter space. I had a little rolling cart with a cutting board that sat next to the sink. My dining room was a pace and a half from the fridge. Two metal folding chairs and an old wood milk crate like the kids make racecars outa. I had a twenty seven inch color tv in the middle of the room sitting on a sofa tray and a twin mattress and box spring on a metal frame where the sofa should be. There was a phone I leased from AT&T on the floor next to the bed with the cord stretched across the room to the jack in the kitchen. Under the cord, and the bodies, and between the TV and bed was a cheap persian rug that, while dusty and ratty and fraying at the corners, was still and all, the only thing in this entire place that I actually gave a shit about. I was glad that in the end I was going to be able to keep it.

“So what’s the right idea?” he asked starting to sound a little calmer.

“Well,” I said, “I’m kind of a helper of sorts. A fixer. A finder or loser if that’s what’s called for.”

Devon leaned back in his chair and refilled his glass. This little encounter was costing me an awful lot of whiskey. These two bottles might not get me through the weekend after all.

“Well, I certainly believe the last one,” he said.

I frowned, not understanding, then I got it and shrugged.

“And Penny?” he asked.

“She said one of these goons was following her. Had been for a couple weeks. Came to me to see if I could find out why?”

“So you’re a private eye?” Devon asked.

“No no no, no sir,” I said. “Private investigators are licensed by the city and require registration and bonding. No sir, I simply provide freelance services to folks when they need them. I’ll mow your lawn for three dollars and fifty cents if you like.”

He looked at me sideways.

“Sorry, you looked like the kind of gentleman that might have a lawn,” I said.

“So which one was it?” he said.

I cocked my head and squinted at him.

“Following her. Which of these guys was following Penny around?”

“Oh,” I said and took a swig of bourbon. “That one.”

I nodded at the body closest to us.

“The other one’s a Fed,” I said.

“What?” Devon shouted. “A, a, a Fed?! You killed a fucking Federal Agent?”

Again he tried to jump up, but, the foot, so, he was back in his seat just as quickly.

“Hush,” I whisper shouted. “Keep your voice down. No. Of course I didn’t kill him.”

Devon took a deep breath and seemed to calm down a bit.

“Oh, okay, well then, who did?”

“Well,” I said, “Yeah, okay, I killed him, but in my defense, I didn’t know he was a fed at the time.”

This didn’t seem to asway his feeling on the matter.

“Jesus, well, why did you kill them?”

“Well, come on, I mean, they did try to kill me first,” I said gesturing to the bodies. “I was just standing here minding my own business, trying to make so goddamn scrambled eggs for breakfast. I mean, I made coffee and everything. Real coffee too, not just Kahlua heated up.”

“So why were they trying to kill you?” he asked, clearly trying to find the end of this loop.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, what did Penny say?”

“Nothing!”

Silence for a moment, then astonishment.

“Nothing?”

“Nope.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“I know,” I said.

“Well, you were out all day, what did you find out?” he asked genuinely.

“Discount store has shower curtains for nine dollars.”

He kind of dropped his jaw at that.

“What the hell Church?! You’re an investigator.”

“No sir, I told you very clearly, I’m a helper.”

“But you’re helping Penny!” he said assertively.

“No.”

“You said she came here to hire you!”

“Right,” I agreed.

“So you’re working for her.”

“No, I’m not. She didn’t hire me?”

He looked baffled.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because I already killed the guy.” I said growing exasperated with the conversation.

He groaned.

“Well, then that probably wasn’t the best business decision, was it?”

He was being condescending now and I wasn’t in the mood seeing as how I still had two dead bodies to get rid of that night and he was still drinking up all my whiskey.

“Obviously I didn’t know who he was when I killed him,” I said.

“Oh, so good judgement all over the place in here then.”

I refilled my glass and sat silently; drinking and smoking.

“So, you don’t even care who he is then?” Devon asked finally.

I sighed and looked at the body.

“No, not for free I don’t.”

He rolled this around for a bit, then he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a long billfold and opened it.

“How much was the whiskey?” he asked.

“The whiskey?” I repeated.

“That I drank. How much was it?”

I rolled my eyes up pretending to do math in my head and came back.

“The bottle was fifteen dollars,” I said, exaggerating a little.

He coughed and smacked his lips looking disgusted. He reached in and pulled out some bills. He paid me for the whiskey, and the curtains too.

“I don’t suppose you wanna help me get ’em wrapped up and outa here?” I said.

He rolled his eyes and stood up slowly and carefully, then straightened his tie.

“How much to figure it out?” he asked.

It took me a minute to understand.

“The guy?” I asked.

He nodded.

I shrugged.

“Fifty dollars a day,” I said halfway between a question and a statement.

He seemed to be mulling it over, looking around my place then scoping me out.

“Uh, plus expenses, obviously,” I added.

“Are you considering bourbon an expense?” he said sarcastically.

“Do I look like I work sober?” I said very seriously.

There was a long pause while he stared at me, then he opened back up his wallet and pulled out more cash.

“Two hundred fifty dollars, that’s a week’s advance. Have something by then or you’re fired.”

“You really care that much?” I asked.

“She’s my girl.” He said, and walked out the door.

***

The door closed and I very nearly squealed. It had been forever since I’d had this much cash all at once. I’m not kidding, I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d had more than a hundred dollars in hand, all at once. Now, counting the cash Devon had given me for the whiskey and the shower curtains I had almost three hundred clams and they were already on fire, burning a hole in my pocket.

I also had a case, so that meant I should probably get some sleep. With real work to do I would want to try and be out of bed before noon tomorrow and it was starting to get late now. Plus, I still had these bodies to take care of.

I stuck a hundred dollar bill in an envelope and scribbled my name and apartment number on it and stuck it to the wall next to the door. A hundred dollars should almost catch me up on my back rent and at the very least postpone my eviction for a couple weeks. The rest of the cash I folded and stuck in my pants.

Then I turned my attention to the chore I’d been putting off all day. I opened the shower curtains and laid the first one out on the floor. I rolled the first guy off the rug and positioned him square in the center of the plastic sheet. The curtain was too short to fit the guy without his feet hanging out, so I had to get a little creative. I spun the guy on the diagonal, which was easier than you would expect now that he was on a brand new sheet of slippery plastic. Once positioned, I folded the short corners over his face and feet and one of the long corners over his body. Then I just rolled him up like a giant dead goon burrito.

The second guy was even easier now that I had my technique down. I lined them up next to each other and inspected my work. It was good, not great, but it was dark out and people didn’t tend to hang out in the alleys at night in this part of town. I had forgotten the twine to keep them wrapped up but I had some duct tape wrapped around the drain pipe of my kitchen sink to fix a small, quarter sized hole that had rusted through a few months back, so I pulled about a six foot length off of that and split it in two. I taped the outside corners of the curtains and picked up one of the bodies to make sure it held.

I dragged the wrapped corpses, one at a time, out into the hall then down to the back door and out onto the back stairs. I wasn’t about to carry them down two flights of stairs, so I just heaved them up over the rail and dropped them onto the pavement. The good thing about them having been dead most of the day already was that they didn’t really bleed when their heads cracked on the asphalt.

I popped the trunk on my cruiser and dumped the bodies in then slammed it shut. I went back up to my apartment, took a swig of bourbon from the plastic bottle and grabbed the envelope from the wall. I locked up and made my way back down to my car, removed the boot, turned the engine over and drove off to find a good place to dump the bodies.

I know the river seems like the place to dump a body. It’s what you see in the pictures and it’s got a certain romance to it, I suppose, if that’s how you’re heart works. The truth is, it’s awful. Bodies float, and trying to weight them down in deep water is a hopeless task. However you try, the weight will separate quickly and then your corpse is like a damn airline seat cushion. Also, rivers have current which makes floaty things move around. Invarieabley the body will wash up on shore, dry out in the sun and perfectly preserve all that beautiful evidence. You’ll be in cuffs in less than a week.

No, what you want is a lonely place with shallow standing water. Something knee deep in a place where people don’t come to picnic. I had a place I’d used before, not recently mind you. That’s the other thing, you can’t be dropping bodies in the same place week after week. Really, you shouldn’t be dropping bodies anywhere week after week. If you have a scheduled body disposal day it’s probably time to spend a few hours reevaluating your life. That said, I try not to be too judgy, I mean, I had two rotters in my trunk at one time, so I wasn’t generally on the solidest moral ground to begin with.

Anyway, I had a spot near J. Percey Priest Dam. It’s about a mile from the Tennessee Women’s Prison, which, unsurprisingly is how I found the location in the first place. I got a lot of exes living in that joint, so I’m out this way from time to time. I have, what you might call, questionable taste in women. I guess I’d call it that too, but I swear it’s not intentional. They all seem so normal at the start. I’m just putting that out there now because, well, let’s face it; you don’t need a black belt in cliche to see where this shit is going.

So yeah, large rocky banks, shallow still water, and generally unattended. The bodies would be found eventually, but in my experience it would take a few weeks, or possibly even months. That’s what you want. You want the body all the way under water, face down, in the mud. Eyes and mouth open if you can. You want entry points is what you want. In these situations bugs and small fish are your best friends.

When I got there there was a car leaving, but whoever it was didn’t seem to take any notice of me. I parked and sat in my car for a while, probably twenty minutes, just to make sure the place stayed empty. It was a beautiful night, not a cloud in the sky and far enough from downtown to let you see the stars. I got out and stood a few yards from the engine and listened. The place was empty. Only the sound of the water moving through the dam could be heard.

I got back in and rolled the car as close as I could to the water and popped the trunk. I pulled out the bodies, then dragged them one at a time down to the water. You want exposure so they needed to be unwrapped. I unrolled the two goons and carried the crumpled shower curtains back to the car and stuffed them in the trunk.

I spaced the bodies about fifty feet apart in the water and piled some of the large stones from the banks on top of them for weight and cover. Once the physical labor was done I sat on the rocks next to the water for a bit to catch my breath. I looked down and saw blood on my white button down shirt.

“Fuck,” I whispered.

I pulled the shirt and tie off and walked back to my car. I popped the trunk again and stuffed them in with the curtains then shut it up and drove away. I stopped at a bar on the way into town and threw the shower curtains and the shirt and tie into their dumpster out back then wound my way back to my place.

Still no heat scoping out the place, which I actually found odd. Surely the fed would be seen as missing by now, at least within his department, and while I doubted that his associates would have any reason to suspect him dead, I also figured that they knew where he’d been and if he wasn’t checking in they’d be checking up. Still, I had nothing to complain about if they weren’t, so I stuck my car in the alley, threw on the boot, and headed up to catch whatever sleep I could before I had to be out in the working man’s world.

 

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