Monday, March 27, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 008 - Graham Wynd

Copped It by Graham Wynd

The only sound in the squalid room was the relentless dripping, as if someone had neglected to turn the tap all the way round. Their breath filled the small space, too, but that was slowing, quieting. Dixon looked over at Burnett, worried by his lack of movement. He slumped on the pile of boxes on that side of the storeroom.

‘Hey, hey. You still alive, right?’

A cough, a gasp, then an oath. ‘Who were those guys?’

‘Fuck if I know. They came out of nowhere, eh?’ Dixon leaned back against the brick wall. It was cold and rough, but it held him up. The bullet hole through his shoulder hurt like a bastard but it went through clean as far as he could tell. He craned his neck to look at Burnett. In the murk it was hard to tell how bad he was. ‘I texted the big guy. He’s sending someone.’

No noise from Burnett. Just that annoying drip, which continued at the same pace. Now he knew what water torture was all about. Funny it had never occurred to him. They tended to use more direct methods—tried and true and quick to produce results, like a confession or a location. ‘Hey, who were those guys?’

Burnett coughed again. ‘They cops, you think?’ His voice rasped the words. Was he shot in the throat, too? That couldn’t be good.

‘No, I’d have been worried then. They wouldn’t have given up, either. But they didn’t follow us for all that long,’ Dixon said, thinking things over quickly. It had all happened so fast. They didn’t complicate it. It was meant to be a quick in-and-out, business closed, no alarms tripped. The big man made sure. The plans were clean.

So who were those guys? ‘Hey, Burnett? What’s that movie where they say that? You know, who are those guys? A western. It’s on the tip of my tongue.’

A grunt from Burnett. And that damn dripping continued. It was maddening. Burnett hardly seemed to be breathing. He had to do something. Just needed to make him last until the cavalry got here.

‘You know it. I know you know it. We seen it not that long ago. Remember when Wolf picked up those sixes and dropped in. We was at my sister’s. You remember.’

Not a peep from Burnett. ‘C’mon, you remember, right?’ The drip was making him crazy. The pain, too: Dixon tried to use one to keep his mind off the other but it was making him mental. ‘Hey, that guy, whatshisname. He’s in it. Western. Big wild country. Knife fights and train robberies.’

No sound from Burnett. Dixon stretched out his foot to kick him. Even that effort made his head sing with the pain. How much worse must it be for Burnett. ‘Hey, hey.’

‘What?’ The word came out as a gasp.

‘You sleep with my sister?’

Burnett coughed. It may have been a laugh. ‘The fuck you say?’

‘I mean it. I’m not going to be angry. Just tell me.’

The drip continued. Maybe it got a little faster as Burnett tried to rise. ‘The hell you ask me a thing like that at a time like this?’ His breath rattled a little but the movement seemed to do him some good. He was almost sitting up now.

Even better, the drip stopped. That had to be good.

‘I’m just saying, you know. I left. You were there. Sis didn’t answer in the morning until late.’

‘What the fuck? So you jump to conclusions—’ Burnett’s voice almost sounded normal again, but then he started coughing again. Dixon got up and sat on the box next to his, slapping him on the back in hopes that it would help.

His hand came away wet.

‘Where’d they get you?’ Dixon wondered if they should risk putting on a light, but he wasn’t sure there was a switch in here. He looked up. There was a pair of those long fluorescent tubes in a fixture on the ceiling. There must be a switch somewhere.

‘I dunno. Grazed my neck. Stings like a sonovabitch. And through my ribs.’ Burnett hacked again, swearing incoherently as he did so. Dixon thought his neck didn’t look that bad. It must be the other wound.

Just then they heard the sirens. They both froze though no one could see them inside this storeroom. They were two blocks away from the robbery. The guys who shot them hadn’t followed. Probably.

The sirens screamed louder. Dixon checked his gun again. Three more bullets. A few more in his pocket. Maybe he should reload now. Why hadn’t he done it at once? His head was fuzzy. Must be the pain. And the running.

Did they leave a trail with all the blood?

Dixon’s heart stopped for a moment as the siren blared outside and then he realised it was going past. Probably over to the fence’s place to clear up the mess. His phone vibrated. It was going to be okay. The big guy would sort things out.

‘C’mon, let’s go. They’re coming.’

‘Who?’ Burnett croaked the word.

‘The big man sent a car around for us. We just have to get outside quiet like.’ Dixon hopped off the box, swayed for a moment, then righted himself. Burnett hadn’t moved. ‘C’mon, we’re going to spend more money than a millionaire’s seen. Patch us up, we’ll be dancing tonight.’

Burnett shuddered. ‘No cops, right? You didn’t see no cops out there, did you?’

‘Cops? No.’ Dixon tried to get hold of his pal’s arm to help him off the box but he wasn’t moving.

‘Good. For a minute there, I thought we were in trouble.’ Then Burnett started shaking like he had the DTs and then he stopped breathing. Dixon swore under his breath, then slipped the Ruger back into its holster under his arm. He picked up the two black gym bags.

‘Did you sleep with my sister, Burnett?’ Dixon whispered.

BIO: A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Publications include SATAN’S SORORITY from Number Thirteen Press and EXTRICATE from Fox Spirit Books, as well as tales in the 2016 Anthony Award-winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks and the Anthony Award-nominated Protectors 2: Heroes . Wynd’s stories have been translated into German, Italian, Polish and Slovene.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 007 - Paul D. Brazill


Things I Used To Like by Paul D. Brazill

I used to like playing football when I was a kid. Loved it, I did. I could spend hours kicking a ball around a muddy field or up and down a dirty back street. When I got older, I even played in goal for the local pub’s Sunday league team. But I put on weight because of all the beer and pork pies I liked that bit too much, and it became hard work. A slog. No fun at all.

That was another thing, too. I used to like spending a few nights a week and the odd afternoon down the pub but heartburn, indigestion and ulcers soon put paid to that. Sitting sipping a mineral water when other folk got pissed wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, so I lost interest.  I began to fear I’d lost my capacity for joy, I really did.

You see, life has a way of wringing the passions out of a man. I read that in a book once. Which was another thing I used to like doing. Reading. I loved science fiction books. Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke and the like. But I lost that habit, too. My concentration faded along with my eyesight.

Yeah, and I used to like Benny Liens. He used to be my best mate. My mucker. My partner in crime. Until he screwed my missus, that is.  I sharp went off him then, I can tell you. Which is why I killed the fucker. I tied a belt round his neck and strangled him. Then I strung him up to make it look like a suicide. I never got caught, either. And I discovered something about myself after that, too. I found out that I liked killing.

*

Alison Pearce had a twitch. Nothing particularly pronounced but it was there, especially when she got stressed or angry. And talking about her husband Danny certainly made her angry, alright. Which was fair enough since the bloke was a bastard. He always had been, mind you, and most folk were well surprised when him and Alison got hitched but who understood affairs of the heart, eh? Not me, anyway.

Alison fiddled with a packet of Polo mints and offered one to me. I declined. Not good for the guts, mints. After she popped one into her gob, she took a brown envelope from her handbag and handed it to me. I didn’t check the cash. I knew I didn’t need to. She was a straight arrow, our Alison.

‘This Friday?’ she said.

She rubbed the bruise on the side of her face. Turned up her raincoat collar. We were sat on a bench in Peaslee Park. A bunch of pigeons where fighting over the crumbs of a Greggs pork pie I’d just scoffed.  I still enjoyed the odd pork pie, despite the gut rot they gave me.

‘Aye,’ I said.  ‘You’ve nowt to worry about. Should be a doddle. Are you going to be staying at your Tina’s place?’

‘No. I’ll be out of town. There’s a coach trip going to Blackpool that Tess and Minnie organised. Gets back early doors Saturday morning.’

‘Perfect,’ I said. ‘You’ll probably get a call from the coppers around midnight.’

Alison disapprovingly watched a couple kids in hoodies mess around on a skateboard and then she got up.

‘Thanks, Stan,’ she said, not looking at me.

‘No worries,’ I said.

She walked across the park and shouted at a tall blonde who was letting her French poodle shit on the grass.

I chuckled. Same old Alison. 

Same old Danny, too.

Every Friday night, come rain or come shine, Danny Pearce went to the Mecca Bingo Hall for a couple of games of bingo and a skinfull of cheap lager. I planned to nab him after he staggered out, break his neck and then throw him over the old railway bridge.  

I pushed the envelope into my overcoat pocket. The money from Alison was nice but it also felt good to help her out. That was another thing I liked these days. Helping people. Well, those that deserved it.

I stretched my legs to get the circulation back and then slowly got up.

As I walked, I wondered what I was going to do to bide my time until Friday. I looked over at the blonde bird as she stuck two fingers up behind Alison’s back. I considered drowning her in the park pond but then thought better of it. The dog might get put in a home if she croaked and I did like animals. Especially dogs.

Mind you, it was a poodle.

© Paul D. Brazill.

Bio: Paul D. Brazill's books include The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, German and Slovene. His blog is here.

A Twist Of Noir 006 - Elizabeth Zelvin


Flash Point by Elizabeth Zelvin

"Are you glad to be home?" Martin asked.

He swung Samantha's suitcase down, wincing as his bad shoulder protested. Samantha never traveled light, even for two weeks at a spa famed for its austerity. The shoulder was a legacy from his days as her roadie, ushering her sound equipment and costume trunks on and off planes and trains and stages. Since their marriage, he didn't tour with her, but there was plenty to do at home. She collected antique furniture in need of restoration. The house had grounds and gardens, sometimes open to the public. They kept sheep, which she considered picturesque. When her voice went, Samantha said, laughing in the way that meant of course that was absurd, she'd take up weaving. And there was that eighty pound block of burled walnut in the barn, if he ever got back to sculpting. If he ever found the time.

"Remember," she said, "I'm not to have a scrap of animal fat or sugar."

"I know," he said. "I've memorized the sheet you sent. No white flour. No wheat. Nothing cooked at all."

"You'll have to humor me," she said. That laugh again. "I could do it at the spa, with a chef and all the others eating it too."

"I've been inventing recipes," he said. "And I'll eat with you."

"I have to lose fifty pounds," she said. "I need to for the surgery. If I don't, the pain will keep getting worse. Martin, I could die."

"Don't worry, love," he said. "We'll do it together. I'll make only the food you can eat, and we'll take every bite together."

By the end of the first week, Martin had learned that Samantha required an enthusiastic affirmative whenever she pulled her clothing tightly around her, sucked her belly in, and demanded, "Do I look thinner? Honestly." By the end of the second, he thought he would choke if he had to eat another mouthful of grated raw carrot. Samantha, on the other hand, was thriving on the new regime.

"I've lost eight pounds already," she announced, "and that kale and quinoa salad you made last night wasn't bad at all. You know, I never quite believed that white flour could cause cravings, but it must be true. I don't miss bread or pasta at all any more."

Martin could not suppress a moan. He missed hot croissants for breakfast, slathered with butter and honey. He missed thick-cut homemade pappardelle—Samantha had bought him a pasta machine for Christmas—tossed with veal rag├╣ flavored with rosemary, fennel, and coriander and sprinkled with freshly ground parmigiano reggiano. He missed the cassoulet at Chez Armand in the village. Armand, the owner-chef, actually born and raised in Toulouse, had learned to cook it at his mother's knee. He had promised to give Martin his secret recipe on Martin's fiftieth birthday—if he lived that long on Samantha's diet of grass and birdseed.

"Martin, do you want to do this? You don't have to. You never gain an ounce, no matter what you eat. I wouldn't mind if you made yourself a cheeseburger. Really."

At two months, Samantha had lost twenty-eight pounds, and Martin had sneaked out twice for a quick steak frites at Chez Armand. He knew from long experience that Samantha was incapable of keeping a promise not to reproach him for less than absolute supportive devotion. Besides, as a compulsive eater whose seven food groups were fried, sugar, chocolate, fat, crunchy, ice cream, and more, she didn't know the difference between a beef Wellington and a cheeseburger.

Neither successful weight loss nor occasional furtive good eating was enough to prevent them from becoming cranky. Martin had maintained a strict policy of appeasement for years to avoid the kind of bickering that erupted at ever shorter intervals as time passed and Samantha dropped pound after pound. As for Martin, it was as if his belt, which now hung loosely on his lanky frame, had been holding in not only a ravenous, growling stomach but a gutful of rage. As Samantha neared her goal, bickering gave way to spats. Spats gave way to bitter quarrels. Hurtful things that could not be unsaid were uttered on both sides. The quarrels ended with both combatants drawing back from the brink of the unforgivable and retreating into a cold silence followed by a semblance of normalcy. But they both knew, and perhaps wished, that that could not last forever.

Samantha's flash point came on the day her doctor's scale finally registered a fifty-pound weight loss. She came home bursting with the good news to find Martin frying a cheeseburger in the kitchen. He had reached his flash point the night before, when she told him he had always been a lousy lover, all her orgasms with him faked. It had been her response to his refusing sex, saying her fat body had turned him on more than the bag of irritable bones she had become. But he chose not to remember that, and he still seethed with anger. She had forgotten all about last night.

"You should be happy for me! What's wrong with you? And why are you eating that poison? Don't you care about me at all?"

She fingered the handle of the heavy hardwood cutting board on which he had sliced bacon and cheddar from high-quality slabs. He lifted the iron skillet and flipped the burger in the air.

"You've got your skinny body," he said. "So you can go back to stuffing your face. I don't care if I never see another brussel sprout."

"I can't go back, you moron!" she shrieked.  "I'll die without surgery. You don't care!"

"Why should I, you control freak? Nobody could love you. And the rabbit food? Count me out from now on."

"I never asked you to! That was your idea!"

The blow, being unexpected, did the job. A shocking accident, everyone agreed. Such a devoted couple. After the funeral, the surviving spouse ate a hearty meal.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 005 - Preston Lang

The Bold Colon by Preston Lang

It started with a meeting—a three-and-a-half-hour meeting. The whole department was there, with eleven execs teleconferenced in from around the country. We talked about whether the colon in a heading should be bold or not.

When we write an internal report, the heading might be Funding or Departmental Interface. That’s in bold. No controversy there. But after, say, Funding, there’s a colon, right? Some people were putting that colon in bold, some people weren’t. And everyone got very worked up about the issue. There were factions: pro-bold-colon faction; anti-bold-colon faction. You want to know what faction I was in? I was in the extreme don’t-talk-to-me-don’t-look-at-me-because-I-don’t-even-give-a-walrus-fuck faction. But I was the only one in that faction. Everyone else had really strong views and saw nothing wrong with sitting around talking about it for three-and-a-half hours.

Fine, you say. One meeting, and then it’s settled. No. The meeting just served as a kind of opening salvo to what would become an all-out war. It spread to all other departments. There were email chains, conflicting style guides, appeals to the writings of Michel Foucault, Steve Biko, David Hume, Martin Luther King, and Enid Blyton. Seating arrangements were completely overhauled, canvas partitions were set up, and there were post-work meetings—well-attended and completely voluntary—where officers were elected and minutes taken. Leaders emerged.

“I can’t believe Henry,” Janis said to me one morning. “He knows he’s wrong. It’s all just ego at this point.”

I saw Henry later that day.

“Man, can you believe those people? It’s like Salem 1692 with them.”

He drew comparisons to inquisitors, Maoists, Dickensian villains, and of course Nazis. All because they wanted to put a colon in bold. No. Wait. He wanted the colon bold. Sorry about that. Henry and his cohort wanted the bold colon.

One day it all came to a head in the breakroom. Henry and Janis screaming, throwing things, people backing their champions with chants and handclaps and hysterical insults. Butchers of decency. The harsh punctuation of terrorism. Two dark dots of hegemonic wrath.

Great, then. Have we gotten it out of our system? Can we go back to being humans? No, we’d just fortified the armies, drawn the battle lines a little clearer. No one was going to back down. This was going to tear us apart. Well, someone had to do something. In a world gone mad—as you may have heard—a hero must rise. 

That Monday evening I went to the library, created a new email account, and wrote to Janis:

If you do not agree to boldface the colon I will reveal everything. I have access to your computer. I’ve seen it all.

I sent the same message to Henry, changing bold to unbold. Then I waited. Janis came in early the next day, surly and unkempt, but she sat down and did her work. Henry didn’t show.

“Sick, I guess.”

The next day he was still missing. The day after that the Boss called us for an all-hands meeting.  

“It is my sad duty to inform you that we have lost a friend and a colleague. Henry Porter took his own life on Monday evening. There will be a memorial service on Friday.”

There were gasps and inane expressions of disbelief. And crying—real genuine sobs from the folks in his faction. They were rudderless, bereft without their sage and seer. Even the women in editorial who were against him on the colon started tearing up a bit. The Boss worked the room—pressed a few shoulders, murmured a few sensitive words. Finally, Janis spoke up.

“Sooooo. No bold on the colon, then?”

A Twist Of Noir 004 - Tom Leins

The Last Dog And Pony Show by Tom Leins

They say you always remember your first fight.

Your first fight and your first fuck.

I sure-as-shit remember mine. I was at the carnival, watching the kootch show, when Alvin Lupus broke his right wrist and four fingers on his right hand trying to shatter my jaw. I didn’t blame him – he had just found out that I had fingered his older sister up against the Crippled Civilians’ clothing donation box the previous Saturday night.

I was only 14 at the time.

The carnies dragged him off and beat him with cut-down baseball bats in the woodland behind the wrestling tent. A few people said that they murdered him, and buried him in a shallow grave along with a couple of rabid dogs, but I later found out that he had hitched down to Mexico in search of a wrestling promoter with deep pockets and lax moral standards.

Most guys I knew who fought in Mexico came home in a box or in a wheelchair, but Alvin was different. He came back tougher, meaner. Every time he got suspended, for some infraction or other, he wound up down south: dick-deep in senoritas and wrestling like his life depended on it. His hook-up down there was a fighter known as Gringo Starr – an old juicehead who liked to get drunk and slash faces like some men slash tyres. Those two boys were tighter than a nun's pussy.

On my 17th birthday Shriek Watson told my father that I was too short to be a wrestler, so Daddy bought me a crate of imported Metandienone for my birthday, and had me chopping logs and digging drainage ditches for a full year. I don’t know if the ‘roids helped, but by the time I was 18 I was as tall as any boy in Testament.

Shriek still wouldn’t train me, but by that point I didn’t give two shits – I was earning real coin fighting men twice my age in parking lots and abandoned factories. 

I didn’t cross paths with Alvin again until we met in prison. He had been convicted of a stabbing and a shooting, although nobody died. I was just passing through jail on a vagrancy collar. By 1989 I was back fighting, and got my big break in the Deep South Wrestling Association, fighting under the name Tiny Diamonds. I was a big man, obese, but not morbidly so, and I still knew my way around the canvas.

When Alvin got out of the Big House he looked me up. He was meaty with prison muscle, and looked fucking dangerous. My weight had ballooned by this point – underactive thyroid, my physician said – so I was grateful for a tag-team partner who was willing to work up a sweat on my behalf. We had a good run, even picked up a couple of belts along the way. We earned a reputation as men who would go the extra yard for a promoter. Blading was commonplace, and by the end of our first summer working together, Alvin’s face looked like a roadmap of hell.  

Not long after, we joined the Testament Wrestling Alliance – as a result of a hostile takeover. When people ask me what a hostile takeover is, I tell them it is just like a regular takeover, but the guy signing the papers has a sawn-off shotgun barrel between his teeth. Our new boss was a guy named Fingerfuck Flanagan. Never liked the man, personally – he walked like his balls were too big for his fucking pants.

I was mostly used as a jobber, but Alvin was a headline draw. By this point he was using the name The Jazz Butcher, and Fingerfuck had him wearing more make-up than a deformed hooker. Alvin hated gimmicks, hated costumes, and he especially hated wearing face-paint. One evening – shortly before he was due to fight Freddie Regal in a Punjabi Prison Match – he put on his duffel coat and walked right out of the auditorium, past the ticket-taker, past the queue of fans, and drove away in his shit-coloured jalopy.

Fingerfuck called me into his office. He was twitching – sweating like a rent boy in church. I thought he was having a heart attack, until I saw a cut-price hooker under his desk, working him with her misshapen mouth. I was worried that he was going to ask me to fill in for Alvin in the Punjabi Prison Match, but he had other plans for me.

“Tiny, you will never eat lunch in my canteen again, unless you track down that creepy bastard Lupus, and bring him back to Testament.”

I spent a month trawling carnivals and bareknuckle fights, slaughterhouses and dive-bars. I drove as far north as Hellbelly, as far south as Crooked Timber. When I eventually tracked him down he was working as a bouncer at Short & Sweet, a midget strip club in a shit-hole town called Small Pond.

The alleyway behind the strip club was piled high with discarded appliances. Alvin was sat atop a rusted A/C unit, wearing a bomber jacket and a bolo tie. His lank hair had been scraped back with its own grease. He grunted when he saw me, and flicked his half-smoked cigarette toward my face.

“I’m not going back, Tiny. I fuckin’ like it here.”

A couple of the midget strippers were watching from the fire exit, cigarettes dangling from their tiny painted mouths.

I rolled my shoulders, and Alvin was all over me like a cheap leotard. He reached between my legs, hoisting me into a powerslam, and upended me onto a pile of rubble.

I felt something give way inside of me, and a brief bubble of pain evaporated on my chalky lips. 

The midgets started to applaud, and Alvin took a bow.

I looked down at the jagged shard of metal embedded in my fat gut as my shirt started to turn crimson.

Lousy fuckin’ Alvin. He always was a Goddamn crowd pleaser…

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 003 - Albert Tucher


Plumber’s Crack by Albert Tucher

“Now that,” said the mainlander, “sums up Hawaii for me.”

The man spoke to Coutinho, but he kept his eyes on the young woman across the street. She was kneeling to paint an ornamental picket fence in front of one of the houses in the middle of the block.

As she leaned forward to touch up the bottom of the foot-high fence, her low-rise jeans did what came naturally. The hem of her cropped T-shirt climbed, and the fabric stretched across her toned back.

“Usually it’s a middle-aged fat guy flashing you plumber’s crack. Here it’s somebody like her.”

Coutinho could have agreed about beautiful island-born young brunettes of Portuguese descent, but he was busy. Not that he looked it. The lift at the Philips 76 station had a white Camry up in the air, but Coutinho hadn’t touched it all morning. He glanced down at the oval name patch on his mechanic’s coverall. For the moment, his name was Joe.

An onlooker might have wondered why he wasn’t holding a wrench, or what was so fascinating about the plastic bucket on the ground that kept him hovering over it. A glance inside would have shown nothing but a rag.

But there weren’t any onlookers.

“Think I’ll go over and talk to her,” said the mainlander. “What the hell? I’m on vacation.”

“She’s out of your league.”

Coutinho could have added that the man must have taken a wrong turn on his way to the Kona resorts. Few visitors found their way to this modest neighborhood in Hilo on the rainy side of the Big Island.

“Jeez, where’s that aloha spirit?”

The man didn’t really seem offended, probably because he was entitled to some confidence. He looked fit and squared away in his forties.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Coutinho said.

The man shrugged.

“Later.”

He wandered off and disappeared around the curve in the road.

Coutinho went back to waiting. He tried to avoid looking too long at anything, especially the young woman, or the house next door to the one where she was working.

The mainlander reappeared on her side of the street. He must have hustled as soon as he got out of sight. When he reached the young woman, he stopped and spoke to her.

She ignored him. He tried again. She gave him a curt nod without looking up from her work. Most men would have taken the hint.

But the mainlander crouched next to her and pointed at a spot on the fence. His other hand rested casually on her shoulder. She shrugged the hand off and duck-walked a couple of steps away from him.

He followed, and this time he flagrantly groped her chest.

She threw an elbow at his face. He parried it. She jumped to her feet and backpedaled.

The man closed in fast and punched her in the face. The unexpected addition to her momentum made her fall on her rump. Her right hand went under the hem of her shirt.

Coutinho pulled his eyes away. This fight was a distraction.

And here came the main event careening around the same curve in the road. An aging Crown Victoria threatened to crush anything in its path. Coutinho knew a throwaway car when he saw one.

He stooped and grabbed the rag and tossed it aside. What he needed was his S&W nine millimeter under the rag in the bucket. He stood and aimed, but his angle was wrong. Coutinho swore and ran into the street.

He pulled his shield out from under his coverall and let it dangle on its lanyard. The driver of the Crown Vic wasn’t impressed. The car kept coming. Coutinho watched the barrel of an assault rifle emerge from the rear window on the driver’s side. The rifle opened up at the house next door to the picket fence. Coutinho could see bullets punching brutally right through the wall and the front door. He responded with three shots into the car’s windshield.

The driver ducked, but he popped upright again and executed a tight J-turn. Coutinho jumped backward, and the right rear quarter of the Crown Vic missed him by inches. The car accelerated away from him. He regained his balance and fired several more shots at the rear window. It disintegrated, but the car kept going.

Coutinho turned and looked. Both the young woman and the mainlander were sitting on the sidewalk. She held a gun in a two-handed grip. He clutched his thigh. Blood dripped from her nose down her upper lip. More blood seeped between the man’s fingers. Coutinho hadn’t heard the shot, but there had been a lot of shooting going on.

“Shit,” the young woman said, as the blood continued to drip. “Face down. Now.”

Her gun didn’t waver as she climbed to her feet.

“Can’t,” said the mainlander. “Somebody put this bullet hole in me.”

“Whose fault is that? Do it.”

He decided to roll over. She looked at Coutinho.

“You got cuffs?”

“Do you?”

She lifted the hem of her shirt and showed him her bra holster.

“Only so much room in here.”

*

The mainlander looked relaxed for a man handcuffed to a hospital bed.

“So, Joe. Where’s my lawyer?”

“It’s Errol,” said Coutinho, “but you can call me Detective. He’s coming.”

“Okay.”

“The witness is in protective custody.”

“Lawyer.”

“You don’t have to talk, but I can. I just want you to know you fucked up.”

It had been close. There had barely been time to evacuate the witness and the immediate neighbors. Then they needed a couple of cops to hang around without looking like cops. Coutinho could pass for a mechanic, and Officer Jenny Freitas would fit in anywhere.

“The plumber’s crack was her idea. Fooled you, didn’t she?”

“Almost, but she took a punch like a cop.”

“She also kept you too busy to call the operation off.”

“So give her a commendation.”

“We will.”