Sunday, 12 September 2010
SILENCE By B.R. Stateham
I walked into the kitchen, shrugged off the sport jacket and draped it over a chair, then slipped out of the shoulder holster and dropped gun, holster, and webbing on the kitchen table before moving over to the fridge. Reaching inside I pulled out a Boston Laeger, flipped the cap off and sat down at the table. From underneath the sink I gripped a small gun-cleaning kit and tossed it onto the table top beside the holster before kicking a chair out from underneath the table and sitting down. Pulling out the 9 mm Kimber I slipped the clip out of the handle and ejected the single round in the firing chamber before laying the gun on the table.
And through all these little distractions I tried not to notice my hands were shaking.
Sipping some of the ice cold brew a little of the golden liquid slopped out of the bottle and splashed onto the table top. Setting the bottle down I placed my hands, palms down, onto the surface of the table and held them there. Held them there until they stopped shaking.
I live down in the warehouse district. Up in a long, narrow loft I converted into an apartment. I own the building. It’s a big red brick dump not too far away from the Little Brown River. Used to be a mechanic’s garage downstairs while the upstairs was used as a storage room. But I converted the loft into my living quarters and kept the garage downstairs for my toys. My car collect. I collect Muscle Cars. Have six of’em downstairs. And counting.
The nice thing about living in a loft down in the warehouse district is that there are no neighbors. There’s no lawns to cut every Sunday afternoon. No kids goofing off in their swing sets or trying to run down old people walking on the sidewalks while cruising on their bicycles. No gossiping house wives sitting and talking quietly in the kitchen smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee as they exchange the latest bad news about their ‘other’ neighbors. No boozy ex-jocks lounging round in man-caves watching pro football smoking cigars and reliving youths they really never had.
None of that.
When I come home the district is empty. There’s no truck traffic on the streets. No teenagers cruising around erratically. No mailman walking the sidewalks oblivious to the world around him. Just silence. Silence and emptiness. And there are times . . . like now . . . when I needed silence. When I needed space.
It all began twelve hours ago.
Frank and I were standing in front a Hispanic mother–a woman in her late forties, with a gaggles of small children clinging to her like she was the last life boat on a sinking ship–her hands covering her face and tears making her chubby cheeks glisten under the soft kitchen lights. She was beside herself in agony.
Frank’s my partner in Homicide down at Southside Precinct. We’ve been working together as partners since dirt was invented. First as patrol officers and then as detectives. He’s as big as a Himalayan mountain side with stringy, short, carrot colored hair and tiny little piggish eyes only a mother could love. But he’s married to an Italian that’s stunningly beautiful. And they have kids. Lots of kids.
Lots of . . . kids.
“They have my Jorge,” the woman said between her quiet sobbing. “They took him last night and I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
“Who is Jorge,” Frank asked quietly. “And who are they?”
“He is my son. My oldest. Only fourteen, officers. Only fourteen. A nice boy. A good boy. But they wanted him. Wanted him to join their gang. Call themselves the Tenth Street Boys. They came and got him last night. Dragged him out of the house. Threatened me and my little ones. Said if I called the police they would come back and hurt all of us. But . . . but I fear for my Jorge.”
We knew the Tenth Street Boys. Boys no more. A pack of wolves now. Snarling and deadly and muscling in on just about street crime they could get their hands on. Heavy into drug trafficking. Extortion. Murder. If they wanted Jorge bad enough to come and drag him out of his house there was more to the story than what the mother was telling us. Glancing at Frank I said nothing. But we both knew.
“Can you find my Jorge and bring him back to me? Please. Please, can you do that for me?”
We heard the pain in her voice. The fear. The ragged fear of perhaps knowing her Jorge was already dead–but she didn’t want to admit it yet. Still held onto a sliver of hope. Looked at us with her big brown eyes filled with tears. Filled with a need for us to come to her son’s rescue. So we told her we would find her Jorge. We would bring him back to her. Bring him back if at all possible.
I knew better. I knew from long experience working the streets you should never make promises. Promises you can’t keep. I knew. Yet I heard myself saying these words of hope just before we turned and walked out of the house. But outside and waiting for us on the bottom step of the woman’s porch stood the blue uniformed figure of Charles Flattery. A long, lanky Irishman and street smart cop. The look on his mug told me he wasn’t here to give us good news.
“Over on the next block, Turn. Three members of a family found in their bedrooms. Dead. Shotgun blasts to their faces as the slept. Should be four bodies. Found only three.”
“Who’s missing?” Frank asked.
“Fifteen year old girl. She used to be the girlfriend for the leader of the Tenth Street Boys. But word has it she told him to fuck off about a week ago. Apparently the new guy doesn’t take bad news too well.”
“New guy? There’s been a change?” I asked.
“Yep. Found Huey Johnson in an alley off Baxter with his throat cut and a bullet in his forehead. Rumor is the new guy didn't like Huey dissing him in front of the gang members. Decided there had to be a change in the leadership.”
Jesus. Huey Johnson was one crazy sonofabitch. And mean. If someone took out Huey he had to be certifiable psychopath.
“Who’s the new guy?” I asked.
For an answer Flattery glanced at the house and nodded his head in that direction before turning around and walking back to his black-and-white. Turning, I looked at Frank. All the big man could do was shake his head and shrug.
It went down like this:
The Tenth Street Boys owned a garage on the corner of Toledo and Benjamin Streets. The front part of the building was the garage. And like any garage it was littered with junk heaps waiting to be fixed and big open bay doors with cars and trucks up on lifts and people milling about inside. But the back of the building was the hang out for the gang members. Back there maybe ten or fifteen members could be found at any one time. Armed and dangerous. Packing enough fire power to take on a company of marines. It would be suicide for a cop to walk in there alone without backup–lots of backup–and check the place out.
So we called for backup and then drove over to the garage, just the two of us, to check out the place. Climbing out of the car about six of the members came strolling out of the garage. And in the middle of the pack was the new gang leader with a big grin on his young face. Beside him was a girl. A girl much younger than he was. A girl with bruises on her face and terror in her eyes.
“What the hell are cops doing down here in my neighborhood?”
“Came down to take the girl, scooter.” Frank said, nodding toward the girl as we walked around to stand in front of the Mustang we were driving. “And to take you in as well. Seems like you’ve been a bad boy lately. Have some questions to ask you downtown. And then we need to take you home. Get you out of this bad influence.”
“Take me downtown? For what? I haven’t done anything. Get the fuck out of here before you two get hurt.”
“Sorry, scooter. But we’re here for the girl. And for you,” I said, smiling and turning to stare into the face of a particularly large teenage male who carried himself like some kind of wannabe thug. “So how do you want to play it, Jorge. You’re call.”
Behind us came the rumble of a big diesel engine. Turning onto the street leading down to the garage appeared the blocky form of an armored truck with a bumper made of steel plate and about as wide as an aircraft carrier riding on its front.
“I’m not going anywhere! And I’d like to see . . . .”
“Shut up,” Frank grunted, looking at the small kid named Jorge and not looking happy. “Tell your men to look at their chests.”
“What?” the kid asked, blinking in confusion and starting to say something, but glancing at his men and suddenly growing very pale.
Plastered dead center on the chest of the six goons standing around Jorge and the girl were bright red laser dots–laser range finders from six snipers hidden from view. But close enough to drill each of the six with a 7.56 mm bullet with deadly accuracy.
“Make a wrong move and lot’s of people are going to be hurt,” I said, looking over at the fourteen year old killer and straight into his eyes. “And believe when I tell you you will be the first to go down.”
“You wouldn’t kill a kid,” Jorge grinned, dropping his arm from the shoulder of the girl beside him.
For several seconds I could see it in his eyes. For several seconds his dark brown eyes stared at me, blinked a couple of times, and then glanced over at Frank. Both Frank and I were standing with are feet slightly apart, our hands down by our sides. On either side of the kid his six goons looked scared shitless as they stared first at the red dots painted on their chest and then up and out toward where the dots were coming from.
But Jorge wasn’t scared. He was grinning. Grinning, blinking his brown eyes, and thinking about doing something crazy. I could see he was going to do it. Going to test me.
He shoved the girl toward Frank violently as he dived behind one of his goons, a hand reaching up to yank a .357 out of the goon’s blue jeans. The kid was fast. Very fast. But not quite fast enough. As he dived toward the ground, raising the Smith & Wesson up at the same time, my lift foot kicked the gun out of the kid’s hand. A hand reached out, grabbed Jorge by the collar, and yanked him up to an upright position where it met the boney knuckles of my other hand as it smashed into the kid’s face. The kid’s eyes rolled up into his head but I didn’t let him go. Twisting him around I pulled both of his hands behind his back and slapped cuffs on him before he shook the cobwebs out of his skull.
We arrested them all. Took their guns. Their dope. Their stolen goods. Took the terrified statement of the girl who had seen her family slaughtered. Booked them all for Murder One downtown. And after the paperwork was done I went home. Went to my loft. Went to drink a beer and clean my gun. And found my hands shaking. Shaking violently. Shaking at the thought of the carnage that might have happened.
Went home to sit alone and think about coming oh-so-close in killing a kid with my own hands.
I heard the collective thuds of several people climbing the wooden stairs leading up from the garage floor to the loft. I recognized the sounds. Frank. Frank and his entire family. Without knocking the Morales clan came striding into the kitchen with grins on their faces and plates of food in their hands.
“Thought we’d drop by and sit down and have supper with you,” Frank grunted as he came over and laid a big hand on my shoulders.
“That sounds great, buddy. But right now I’d just like to be alone for awhile. “
”You big dope,” Frank said, shaking his head but speaking surprisingly gentle to me. “When you gonna learn sitting in this dump alone isn't good for you? Especially so when you know you have family waiting for you. Besides, the little one has a present for you.”
I turned and looked at little Bianca. Bianca Morales. Age six and the spitting image of her beautiful mother. She came walking up to me dressed in a dainty little blue dress, holding in her hands a big yellow envelope. She stood directly in front of me where I was sitting and looked up at me with her beautiful blue eyes and smiled.
“I made this for you, Uncle Turn. With my own hands.”
It was a piece of paper with stick figures drawn in crayons on it. One stick figure was labeled ‘Uncle Turn’ on it. Above it was a big red heart drawn in a child’s jagged script.
“Here, take it Uncle Turn.”
A soft voice. A quiet child’s voice. A tender voice. I dunno . . . for some reason I found myself choking up and my vision blurring. It was hard to breath. Wiping moisture from my eyes I reached down and took the card from her tiny little hands and then picked her up and held her in my arms.
And within me, like a violent thunderstorm suddenly erupting, my soul wept.
B.R. Stateham is sixty-one years old yet, if appearance is a factor in determining age, he looks like he must be over two hundred. Still, he has a heart of a kid and writes noir. His homicide detectives, Turner Hahn and Frank Morales, can be found in their first adventure, Murderous Passions. The second book in the series, ATaste of Old Revenge, is still seeking a publisher.