David Harry Moss makes his TKnC début with a story featuring Mark Keating, a parole officer who made his first outing in a story I published at The Flash Fiction Offensive called Santa Noir. Well worth a read.
Without further ado.....
SIDE STREET HOTEL
David Harry Moss
In a crowded bar on Pittsburgh’s South Side, Mark Keating sat on a corner stool so that he had a view of the traffic cluttered street. A white woman and a pony-tailed white man in a gray hooded sweatshirt stepped off a bus. The woman approached the bar. The man ducked into the yawning, shadowy doorway of a building.
The woman, mid-twenties and shivering in a dark wool coat, eased into a stool next to Keating. She had frizzy red hair, a gaunt, makeup free face, and nervous, twitchy eyes. “You look the way you said on the phone. I spotted you right away.”
Keating was white, forty-one, an inch shy of six feet, and slender. He had dark brown hair, but the woman couldn’t see his hair because a black knit cap covered it. He remembered telling her that he had brown eyes, a small bump on the bridge of his nose, and a slight, faint scar on his chin. He wore a dark green army parka and packed a gun and handcuffs. “You said something about one of my parolees being in trouble.”
The woman kept flexing her fingers. Her twitchy eyes flitted around like anxious birds but never landed on anything. “You gonna buy me a drink or just sit there stroking your play thing?”
“I’m gonna just sit there stroking my play thing. It’s nine fucking degrees outside. Why did you drag me over here?”
She gritted her teeth” “Fuck you then, you cheap prick.”
Keating pushed his beer glass away, tossed a two dollar tip on the bar, and started for the door.
“Wait.” The woman caught Keating. “Your parolee, Tanya Novak, murdered that guy last night in the Side Street Hotel.” She licked her dry, cracked, lips, shoved past Keating, barged outside, and almost got hit by a pickup truck running across the street to join the man in the doorway. Keating watched them hurry to a corner and board a bus.
Keating drove up the hill to Mount Oliver and entered the building where Tanya Novak had rooms. He banged on the door and got no response. Keating left the building and in heavy rush hour traffic drove to the suburbs. He found the neighborhood and the house he wanted. A thirtyish blond answered the door and guided Keating away from the door and deeper onto the porch.
“I don’t want my kids seeing me talking to a cop about their aunt.” She shook from the cold.
“Is your sister inside?”
“No, but you can search if you want.”
For a moment, Keating chewed on his lower lip. “I believe you.”
Half an hour later, Keating re-entered the building where Tanya Novak lived and used lock picking tools on her door. When he opened the door and stepped into the room he switched on a light and saw Tanya, wearing a blue robe, and sitting in a cushioned chair. She stared at him with haunted eyes.
Tanya had a photo of herself on the dresser, taken when she was eighteen. Back then, eight years ago, she could be considered beautiful. Not anymore.
His eyes strayed over the worn gray carpet and drab furniture, and then levelled on Tanya. “Were you here before, when I knocked?”
Tanya blinked her eyes and nodded.
Glowering, Keating said, “Open the fucking door when I come calling.”
Tanya stiffened. “Don’t talk to me like that.”
Keating scowled. “Before I turn you over to the police, is there anything you want to tell me?”
“When I went into that hotel room last night that man was already dead.”
Keating leaned against the dresser. “You’re on parole. You’re not supposed to be doing tricks.”
Through a glare and tensed lips, Tanya said, “I need money. No one will hire a whore.”
“Then quit being one.” Keating shoved his hands into the pockets of the parka. “Who sent you to that hotel?”
“A friend.” She sniffled and rubbed her eyes.
“Does this friend have a name?”
She sat up straighter and pulled the robe tight around her body. “Janet Cross.”
He lifted his hands. “A skinny, redheaded crack whore?”
“Yes. And you’re so fucking mean.” Her eyes were bitter. “Can’t you see I need a hug?”
From the hall came thumping footsteps. Two men wearing overcoats appeared in the half-opened doorway. They exchanged “hello” nods with Keating and glared at Tanya who dug bare toes with red polished nails into the cushion of the chair.
Detective One shifted his gaze back to Keating long enough to ask, “How’s the family? The kids? The wife?”
Keating sucked in air, and exhaled. “We separated three months ago.”
Detective Two hooked a thumb at Tanya. “Is she ready to travel?”
Keating shrugged. “She said she didn’t kill that guy in that Side Street Hotel.”
Detective One grinned. “What did she say about Janet Cross? We found her shot to death in an alley half an hour ago.
Tanya made a slight shrieking noise and brought a hand to her mouth. Her face had turned ghastly white.
Detective One rubbed his square jaw. “We’re betting that the bullets we dig out of Janet Cross are from the same gun used in that hotel killing.”
Detective Two looked at Keating and said, “An informant fingered your girlfriend here for both murders.”
Tanya said, “I didn’t kill that man and I didn’t kill Janet.”
Both detectives smirked. Detective One looked at Keating. “You believe her?”
“No.” Keating grimaced. “A while ago I saw Janet Cross with a white dude with long hair tied in a pony. Is he your informant?”
Detective One said, “Maybe. The tip was phoned in.”
“Are you going to look for him? This white dude with the ponytail.”
Detective Two said, “Why should we? We got our killer.”
On the way out, Tanya peered at Keating and said, “Will you help me?” She leaned toward Keating and their eyes locked. She said, “Please.” He hugged her and breathed her strawberry shampoo scent. When she pressed against him, Keating said, “Don’t get carried away. This isn’t the start of anything.”
She pushed free and glared with rising contempt at him. “What kind of a person are you?”
It was dark now. The temperature had dropped another two degrees and ice glazed the night air. Keating drove uptown and parked in front of a barbershop. The lights were on and there were four tough looking black guys inside. Keating focused on the black guy with dreadlocks, the one shaving a burly, black man’s bald head.
“What you doing here? I just seen you this morning.” He used a white cloth to wipe shaving cream from a straight razor.
“I’m your parole officer. I can be on you 24/7.”
“What you want, man? Can’t you see I’m trying to earn.”
One of the black men in the shop snickered.
With each breath, Keating inhaled the sharp stinging scent of witch hazel. “I’m looking for a white dude with a ponytail. I figure you’d know him, being he’s probably like you, a dealer.”
“I quit messing with drugs. You know that. I’m a barber. I learned the trade in prison.”
“This white dude is pals with a woman named Janet Cross.”
Tyrone set the razor down and shook a cigarette loose from a pack. “I can’t help you.” He flicked a lighter and lit the cig. “I don’t hang with bad people no more.”
Keating smiled and said, “Okay.” He pointed to a black leather belted coat draped over an empty barber’s chair. “Is that your coat? Maybe I should look in the pockets.” Keating took a bold step toward the coat.
Tyrone raised his hands high. “ I just remembered. There’s a punk ass white dude like the one you want. Ronnie Narem. Snake he’s called. Arrived in the city a few weeks ago. Lives in a room above a place called Frank’s on the North Side.”
Keating nodded. “Anything else you remember? Like maybe something about that hit in that Side Street Hotel. Think about it. I’m still in a searching mood.”
Tyrone sucked in smoke and blew it out in an angry cloud. “I heard a rumor that the murdered guy was from Jersey and that he had two suitcases full of something special worth over 200 grand on the street.”
“Next time I see you, I search that coat.”
Frank’s was a cramped shot and beer dive on East Ohio. It had a dozen stools and a pool table; and it reeked of a rancid blend of urine, beer, and strong disinfect. Keating sized up the half dozen beer guzzlers occupying stools. Local dirt bags, he surmised. Keating saw Ronnie Narem taking on all comers for five dollars a game of eight ball. Keating dropped a fin on the green felt and Narem racked up the balls. When Narem launched the white into the rack, the balls exploded across the table, sending the thirteen ball into a pocket.
A tattoo on Narem’s neck, a green snake with tiny red eyes, twitched when Narem’s lips twisted in a street-tough sneer. “Your ass is grass, Slick. You might not get a fucking shot.”
Keating half smiled. “You impressed me with the way you framed Tanya Novak for that hotel murder and how you covered your trail by taking out Janet Cross. For a few bullets, you got two suit cases worth over 200 G’s. You’re a cool guy.”
Narem’s lips tightened against his yellowed crooked teeth. He set the cue stick on the table. His eyes narrowed. “Let’s talk outside.”
They went through the back door into a dim, garbage littered alley, Narem leading. When Narem turned, he had a gun in his right hand. Keating also held a gun – but shot first.
Bio: David Harry Moss writes fiction and acts in movies. Currently he lives in Pittsburgh but he has also lived in Phoenix and Minneapolis. His story, "Angels With Guns", was published on The Flash Fiction Offensive last year and is set in New York City. Has he been there? Many times, including having run and finished two marathons.