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A fine hard-boiled tale by Ed Lynskey ... be nice or get thumped! Mr. Lynskey lives and works near Washington, DC. He enjoys writing/reading hardboiled crime and adventure fiction. His work has appeared online at HANDHELDCRIME, CRIME SCENE SCOTLAND, PLOTS WITH GUNS, 3RD DEGREE, HARD LUCK STORIES, and ORCHARD PRESS MYSTERIES.
A fine hard-boiled tale by Ed Lynskey ... be nice or get thumped!
Mr. Lynskey lives and works near Washington, DC. He enjoys writing/reading hardboiled crime and adventure fiction. His work has appeared online at HANDHELDCRIME, CRIME SCENE SCOTLAND, PLOTS WITH GUNS, 3RD DEGREE, HARD LUCK STORIES, and ORCHARD PRESS MYSTERIES.
By Ed Lynskey
Copyright 2003 E.C. Lynskey
"You need an education, country. After brunch, you and I" -- Sue Chan's spearmint green nails indicated each of us -- "will take us a little ride. Learn how the upper crust lives."
My lips stopped blowing on the too-hot coffee. "Pass, thanks."
She laughed in that silvery rasp. "Eyeballing the rich and famous can't hurt you. Their decadence and corruption won't taint your sterling reputation. I'll protect you."
I felt a whisper of irritation stir my guts. "No, Gatlin represents the extent of my tolerance of them."
Switching on a half-quizzical, half-derisive expression, she arose. "Are Gatlin and you gay? I mean, like, you're always dragging him into our conversations."
That stumped me for a beat. Not that either of us saw eros qualities in our fellow man. It was just this unbearably hideous image popped to mind: Gatlin's seduction of an equally hefty mama. I shook my head to rattle it out. "No, no, my dearest. Worth Bill Gates times two, Gatlin pays me peanuts to smooth out any rough edges in his law practice. Nothing more."
"Very mysterious," she said, shucking off the red kimono. "Perhaps one day Gatlin and I will meet"
"Perhaps," I said. "Is your shower a communal one?"
"Does a prize bull cherish his balls?" She sprinted naked down the hall and I was the rotten egg, the last to vault into the shutting stall doors. Being quite filthy, we used up all the hot water and much of the scented shampoo.
As Sue decreed, we left in her late model two-tone blue Crown Vic. Her mature, stout clientele preferred to be chauffeured around in such spacious vehicles. That's what gout and arthritis did to you. Her windows to stare out of were tinted a gritty green.
Cruising through Washington, DC never blew the wind through my hair. Truth be told, I'd rather have my brains blowtorched than touch a toe in any large city. What defense did I have that morning? The orange sun tattooed on Sue's nether regions hypnotized me. I'd tag along with her to the ass-end of space.
There on our right bounced the spindly Washington Monument and the Pentagon, its patched bulwark where one of the 9-11 bastards had T-boned the 757. I listened harder. That distinct hiss wasn't air leaking out of America's balloon but a lit fuse to our big bang damn near ready to detonate.
"Hear that?" I asked Sue.
She patted my thigh. "Just the antsy thrum of the city."
We tracked along the Potomac River, its waters a perfidious shade of jade. Maybe it was algae, a euphemism for "slime." My eyes cut left and right, seeking trees and rocks, the wild stuff reminding me of my native Virginia Piedmont. Cherry blossoms were so afire in virgin pink I toyed with revising my dim regard for our nation's capital. Soon enough, the stacked heels to Key Bridge appeared and we crossed over to Mars, also known as Georgetown strewn along M Street.
"The Hawk's Nest," said Sue, "is a historic home. There are few like it left in the city."
"Did George Washington really screw Martha there?" I asked.
"He didn't have the right pedigree to get inside," Sue replied. "Can you stay with me, not be distracted by sex?"
"Fine and dandy with candy." I studied the street map. "It's located two blocks off upper Connecticut, left on Pontiac Drive."
Sue nodded, shifting through the CVs' gears. Cops liked CVs, a police pursuit package powered by a 440 cc, bent 8 engine. I liked CVs for other reasons -- I restrained an impulse to grope the sculpted muscles to Sue's legs backing off the pedal.
"Look sharp, country," she told me. "No Night Train or Thunderbird wine bottles line the curbside. You hear no Karoke, spot hibachi cookouts. Nothing but class in these neighborhoods."
"Shucky darn, I'm now an enlightened rube," I said. "It's not much further. Suck a right here."
Granite gateposts were surmounted by brass eagles, wings outspread and faces fierce. Goosing the gas, Sue zipped us up the vertical climb with pep to spare. The absence of "FOR SALE" signs on the yard confused me. Oh yeah. These exclusive properties were visited by appointment only. The grass to step over was plush as that shag carpet lining cunt wagons in the '70s. Pausing on the flagstone patio, I peered behind us. Atop this knoll, I had a hawk's view angling across the river to bustling Reagen-National Airport.
"You coming inside?" Sue asked me, followed by: "Honestly, Frank. You'd think you were bred in a barn. Slip off your shoes first, please."
* * *
My fun for that week was running a surveillance for Gatlin. A rich client residing in posh Middleburg suspected her husband of balling her kid sister. It fell on me to photo the affair. It was pathetic as perusing a skin flick shot on the cheap with over-the-hill players. Even from afar aiming a 35mm with telescopic lens, I suffered their every groan. No number of showers washed off that sleaze. The ugly duty merited double time pay. I jotted a mental memo to hash that out with Gatlin.
By Friday evening, I craved Sue. I checked out of Roach Motel, the one on U.S. Route One over near Mount Vernon, tossed my bags in back of the CV Sue had lent me. Gatlin would squawk, demanding more "hard evidence" but my peeping tom gigs were done.
As soon as I let myself into Sue's row house, I got that bad gut feeling. My sensory receptors responded to certain airborne odorants. As smells go, it's universal but unique. Pulp novels describe it as "coppery" but I liken it to burnt cork -- the smell of bloody murder.
Sue Chan was seated at the table like at our Sunday brunch. On this occasion, her three eyes watched me enter the kitchen. The red one centered in her forehead was most riveting. An icy sweat paralyzed my backbone.
Stumbling like through wet cement, I toggled on the swag lamp. Light gave a testimony of violence. Judging by the prim but fatal hole, I was glaring at a .25, possibly a .32. Nothing heavier. No pulse. No body heat. Maroon lividity setting in fingers and hands. Ballpark estimate: dead for at least a day, no more than forty-eight hours. My hand reached for the cell phone to dial Arlington's Finest when common sense weighed in.
Whoa, country. The kitchenette, the entire row house for that matter, was smothered with my prints. My DNA was all over the mattress and shower stall. Easy enough to explain away, maybe. I'd been an overnight guest. Frequently.
Sure. Tell it to the judge. You have the right to remain silent . . .
First, I prowled through the upstairs, then downstairs. Poked in closets. Looked under the bed. Checked locks. Sorted through the medicine cabinet. The place was clean. No evidence of forced entry. Windows all clasped secure. No blood stains. No nothing.
Motive? Suspects? Opportunity? One pulp novelist had called it "The Trinity of Police Work." Trite as it was to think, my brain told me anyway: you don't even have an Amen to give them. No amen for the Trinity of Police Work.
What did I know about Sue, really know? She was a real estate broker. She carted rich, constipated clients around from manor to manor. Rummaging through her cubbyhole for an office, I peeked inside a bank statement. She had .87 in a checking account. Her purse carried 48 dollars. Robbery, then, as motive seemed farfetched.
Frustrated, I plunked down at the table beside Sue's corpse. The smell I was used to by now. Murder I was used to by now, too. "Who did this to you?" I quizzed her pointblank. In hermetic silence, she didn't even muster a sly wink.
Or did she?
Somehow my eyes swiveled to The Washington Post folded back to a news story about Federal authorities scouting various sites around town. They were interested in investigating any prime spot where a spineless degenerate might touch off a Stinger missile to grease an airborne jetliner. Stingers were 23 pounds of pure hell.
It was too convenient, too easy. In fact, at first I dismissed it. My fingers rubbed eyes that kept seeing flying Stingers. We were well acquainted, the Stinger and I. Back in the 1980s, I'd written SOPs for a propulsion house manufacturing them by the countless thousands. We built the launch motor that vomited the Stinger rocket out of a pod and the flight motor for winging it toward the intended target.
Where the Stingers went was anybody's guess, or so the reporter at Sue's elbow now suggested. In the 1980s, Uncle Sam had doled out a few to the Mojahedin guerillas fighting in Afghaninstan. The shoulder-fired rockets humbled the Red Russian invaders, belting down their helicopters. In due time, they nailed a few of our own, too.
I gritted teeth when that hillside, "The Hawk's Nest," settled into my thoughts. I added two plus two. Nope. Can't be. Couldn't happen. Too James Bond. Except my mind's eye squinting atop The Hawk's Nest could draw a clear bead to Reagan-National Airport. Had Sue caught on to some devious plot?
Whenever in doubt, sad to say, run for a lawyer. Gatlin picked up before the first buzz ended. "You're calling to tell me you've got oodles of lurid pictures showing hot monkey sex. Right?"
Gatlin snorted. "Same as you read in the papers. Nothing titillating has turned up on the cocktail circuit, if that's what you mean. Why? What's cracking?"
"Maybe nothing," I said. "Just a couple things suggest a pattern to me. But it's bull. Let's talk about your porn."
"Hang on a sec, Frank. My client can wait. What's eating at you?"
"For starters, I'm standing in this dead lady's kitchen. Drilled in the forehead by a small caliber handgun."
"Either that or I'm in a cocaine psychosis. Listen, there's this hill downtown we know about. Offers a perfect angle on Reagan-National. A gated big house surrounded by one-point-five acres. Remote and private. Abandoned right now."
"If I'd a half-mind to zap an aircraft using a Stinger, that's where I'd God sure be." Excitement juiced Gatlin's tone. "You near it?"
"Take me a few minutes," I said.
"Kick your scrawny ass in gear," said Gatlin.
"Sure, sure," said Gatlin. "Too weird. Never happen in a thousand years. Know what? Folks figured likewise at sunup on 9-11."
"But these are crackpot suspicions, a long shot."
"Do it." His inflection fell to his courtroom presence, authoritative and abrasive. "I've got your ass bullet-proofed."
I burst out the kitchen door. The CV rallied to life and I prayed nosing out to the street that I could remember the directions to "The Hawk's Nest." Traffic was snarled on Key Bridge with Friday night revelers, so I whipped down an underpass and traversed one of the other bridges. I raked fingers through my hair. Calm down. My general direction was to be northwest, traveling away from the sluggish river and upslope. I bust down an alleyway, bumped over a sidewalk.
Even without the aid of GPS, I somehow bungled across Connecticut Avenue. The CV galloped like a ghost through bleary city streets. A glittery orange bathed both gate eagles in brassy defiance. Batwing wrought iron gates were parted. I darted to the summit, braked to a sliding stop by the detached garage.
The manor was a dark gothic box except for light that oozed around curtains in a downstairs window on the far corner. A razor ripped up my back. This was an opportunity to excel.
For once in my career, I didn't pack a nine. We peeping toms watch love, not war. I found myself treading over grass. By a ragged hedge, I knelt and prairie dogged up. A light source splintered semi-darkness. Humanoid silhouettes stooped within its illuminated globe. Wealthy eccentrics out playing a round of starlit crochet?
The luxurious grass silenced my approach in a semi-crouch. My mouth sucked buggy air. Calm down, country, is what I told myself. We were by the covered swimming pool where I ducked to squat behind the utility shed.
Shouts. Male. Animated. Gibberish to me. Arabic accents? Thick and guttural, anyway. Right then, a diffused thrum vibrated the air space over us. The blinking red wing and taillights to a descending aircraft streamed by hugging the Potomac River, its standard landing approach.
Their uplifted faces boiled with pure malice. In tandem, both lifted pointing hands. Something metallic clanged to concrete. What was in my front? To the right, blue canvas capping the pool. Thugs span ahead. A low cyclone fence left. A double-mantle Coleman lantern behind them hissed out its spotty shadows. I worshipped the ground that awaited them.
Vibram soles scuffed before I'd closed half the distance to them. Each man, there were two of them I now saw, turned to confront the offending noise. Curled lips exposed a waxy white sheen to their teeth. Hands fumbled for something. Pistols, Taser, grenades?
Hollering, I uncorked a left hook made sloppy in the meager light. Still, it impacted hard bone, broke teeth. This first man, also the smallest, lurched backward. He shrieked what I supposed was an obscenity about my mama.
Charging in, his cohort's hand made tight, tricky circles. A long knife blade glittered.
A deft jab nicked my forearm hoisted in defense. Once it was on, it was on. Dirty fighting was sanctioned. The sawed-off bastard throwing a knee to my nuts instead ate a roundhouse right. My left hook snapped inside to his pointy chin. That combo defused him for the time being.
A rabbit punch to my kidney stood me upright. Pain spasmed in a hot white sunburst to my brainstem. A dancing grizzly, I arm-barred the first smaller man in the nose.
Winded, my breaths came in hoarse heaves. Adrenaline refused to let me ease up. Either could shove me through the canvas into the pool and I couldn't swim a lick. Both were on their hands and knees, busy retrenching. I wore a size 10; a mulish heave stomped one in the crown.
Dead or alive, he lay flat out there, coldcocked.
His buddy dragged to his feet, groggy but pissed as a wet-back hornet. My hands scooped down. The metal cylinder measuring three-foot long made a swell war club, only a bit clumsier than a Louisville Slugger. It imparted a swat to his chops. My attacker grunted once, toppled to an inert mass. Coldcocked, also.
Yeah, I thought, shining the lantern on the green Stinger flight motor case. In the cosmic swirl, I was just a little bug. Still and all, I'd keep my shit tight as long as my foe was the one coldcocked first.
These dire, dark days, nothing less would do. Amen.