Short, round, middle-aged and bald blew out the door of the liquor store, scanning side to side with a large, long, orange wood and black steel rifle from one of the world wars. He spotted Meyers. “Vawtdavock?”
“Call an ambulance,” Meyers shouted over his shoulder. “And the cops.”
“Yah, yah.” Shorty turned, shouted something Slavic sounding to what could have been his twin standing in the store’s door before he waddled stiff legged to the alley’s mouth where he found Meyers talking to a woman’s hand that protruded from inside an industrial plastic dumpster. Shorty stood vigilant, his gaze shifting rapidly between Meyers and the van wedged at a 45-degree angle and resting on its side between the walls of the alley. He motioned to the van with the rifle. “Vot I can do?”
“Anything moves in that van, shoot it.”
“Ho-boy. One a doze tings.” Shorty walked around the dumpster, poked the rifle inside where the windshield used to be. “I tink, fren, for tonight you shoot dem plenty enough.” He returned to Meyers’ side. “Da girl? She ho-kay?”
“Ho-kay maybe.” Sunny’s muffled voice oozed from inside the dumpster. “The crazy van mofos didn’t kill me, but if somebody don’t like get me the fuck out of here all this nasty-ass shit I’m swimming in will.”
Lieutenant Purcell rolled up in a shiny new black sedan, complete with on cue lightning, stayed inside long enough to compose himself. He climbed out, motioned for the ambulance parked around the corner to move in, walked to the streetlamp Meyers was handcuffed to and set him loose before turning his attention to the two uniformed motorcycle cops hiding behind a graffiti covered steel dumpster they’d wheeled into the middle of the street, between them and the liquor store.
The male officer had shaved until he was pink-cheeked and had enough man-whore products in his hair to make him flammable. The female officer wore no makeup except some cakey Chapstick and five pounds of eyelashes, her hair severely pulled and slicked back into a small purple ball. She spoke first.
“With respect, sir, you should take cover. There’s an armed psycho in the liquor store.”
“Is that right?” Purcell leaned his right arm on top of the dumpster, pulled his pipe out of a jacket pocket with his left hand.
“Yes sir. We radioed for SWAT.”
“I canceled that. Budgetary concerns.” He dropped the handcuffs he’d pulled off Meyers, turned to face the liquor store, packed his pipe, lit it. “While my back’s turned, whoever belongs to those cuffs should pick them up. Whoever has the PI’s gun, set it on the ground. Either of you intrepid crime busters call CSU?”
“No, sir. It… this… Wasn’t a crime scene. Yet. Exactly. We were still engaged with… uh -”
“An old man holding an old rifle?”
“He point it at you?”
“No, sir, not-”
“‘Exactly’? Be damn glad. That old man can take your ears off at a hundred yards and leave you standing like the jackasses you are wondering where the hell they went. I’m gonna count to five. I expect you both to be long gone by three. One…”
Sunny lifted a hand in a feeble wave. Meyers lifted one in return before the ambulance door closed. He watched it light up and roar away in a cloud of diesel, rubbed his wrists.
Purcell handed off Meyers’ gun. “Been through the van yet?”
“No,” Meyers holstered the gun, pulled his windbreaker around it. “The bumblefuck twins showed and put me out of business.”
“What can I say? We hire the handicapped.” Lightning lit up the intersection, thunder echoed off the buildings, through the alley.
“Explains why the department gets sued every other week. You’d think downtown would put that together.”
“Don’t strap logic to politics, Meyers. Lots of fit, youthful bodies fighting crime is a photo op. Undertrained gung-ho crime busters doing stupid shit in the line of duty is always down to suppressed mental health issues leading to ‘unfortunate and unforeseeable circumstances’. Do I need to empty your pockets? Make sure you’re not shittin’ me, withholding vital evidence?”
“‘Vital evidence’? Of what?”
“Of why you emptied a seventeen-round clip into that van.” He tapped his pipe out on the lamppost, pocketed it. “You don’t look too smug, so we’ll give it a look. Together. While you tell me what the hell you and Sunset were doing down here.”
“We weren’t together.”
“So the van might be yours, might be hers?” He pointed a flashlight as bright as a carbon arc spot at the dash of the van. The circle of light crawled from top to bottom, stopped on the two bodies jumbled together in a dead man’s embrace. He moved closer. “Jesus.” He yanked a handkerchief and covered his nose. “These stiffs are too fresh to smell that fuckin’ bad.”
Meyers kneeled, shined his flash through to the back where a pile of maybe half a dozen dead, bloated dogs lay jumbled up like the driver and his wingman.
“This was meant for me, Purcell.” He reached into the van, palmed a sheaf of bloody paper sticking out of the passenger’s shirt pocket.
“Hey, get outta there. The crime scene boys’ll make an inventory.”
“And you’ll let me know.” Meyers pushed off his knees, the paper disappeared up the sleeve of his jacket. “If there’s anything you think I should see?”
“If I know what you’re up to by then and think it’s germane.”
“I been in court for two days.”
“That explains vital evidence and germane. But not the new car.”
With practiced indifference the crime scene crew’s latex clad thumbs and fingers gingerly swept and dusted, lifted arms and legs, emptied pockets and bagged miscellaneous loose paper and shell casings while Meyers cryptically explained his reason for being in the area as canvasing for the whereabouts of definitely missing, possibly stolen, dogs.
“That’s a noble pursuit,” Purcell said. “But it don’t tell me jack except you can’t get any real private dick work. Or tell me how I’m supposed to write up seventeen rounds into a van full of dead dogs. And Sunset Sutton smellin’ like shit on a stick, ridin’ off outta here in a city ambulance.”
“Sunny has a problem.”
“Like that’s fucking news.”
“A Five Block Cherries problem.”
“Now I’m listening. Unless you’re about to tell me Sutton’s thrown in with those dykes.”
“You should keep Sunny in the hospital for a couple of days.” Meyers took the stick of gum Purcell offered. “That crew is short just enough cards to come grind her on her deathbed.”
“From the EMTs I heard a broken leg and some bum ribs. Maybe a collarbone.”
“The Cherries don’t know that.” Meyers flicked the gum wrapper into the sideways dumpster. “Wire her room, put a trigger-happy recruiting poster quality bumblefuck wants to play undercover doctor on her floor. And wait a couple of days.”
Purcell loaded and lit his pipe, watched the coroner’s people extricate the bodies from the van, zip them into black body bags and drop them unceremoniously on stretchers. The entire scene played out under an occasional strobe of lightning.
“Gang Unit says the FBCs are tryin’ to be real gangsters. Extortion. Brokering containers of desirable stolen goods and bootleg lux logo junk. Talk of a murder that hasn’t hit my desk yet.” He puffed the pipe in silence. “You’re sayin’ all I gotta do is sit on Sutton and I’ll wrap that? What’s your angle?”
“Have the body baggers check the dogs for ear tattoos and get that to me, keep the dog part off the press dailies. For a week or so, at least.”
“A couple of dead by misadventure no ID dog fighters in this part of town’s not news, Meyers. We got a deal, though. If you’re right, and if I can squeeze whatever pigs the Cherries send in…” Lightning cracked, thunder on top of it rattled glass.
“Figure the Cherries as more motivated to sell out their jailed sisters after you make an arrest than they are now.”
“I heard damsel in distress and saw Meyers fly by on his white horse. Try not to kill anybody doesn’t need killing. We have other customers.”
“I don’t like to shoot women.”
“That’s not in your favor here. Not that they’re women in any sense other than plumbing.”
“I plan on taking the Bishop. He’ll shoot anything.”
“I didn’t hear that. So now,” Purcell used his fingers to enumerate, “I have your tap dance about lost dogs,” finger one, “and in self-defense you killed the perps tried to run you down,” finger two, “and your gifted bust that ties the Cherries extortion racket to Sutton,” finger three. “But… I’m still squat on why Sutton was down in this rat hole.” The lightning and thunder exploded simultaneously.
“She was here to rob the liquor store.” Meyers reached between the dumpster Sunny came out of and the grimy wall, pulled out a rolled-up paper bag, offered it to Purcell. “I intervened. She admitted it was idiotic.”
“I hear being self-aware is a good thing.” The first raindrops hit, splattered like raw eggs. Purcell opened the bag. “God help us.” He shook his head. “Some people, you wonder how they remember to breathe. What was it you called my Kawasaki kiddie cops?”
“Yeah, that.” Sunny’s bag went back to Meyers. “Let’s hope it’s genetic or age-specific, not contagious.”