By Jim Cort


Mama Jolene makes the best barbecue in the city, maybe in the world. She’s a big black woman, must weigh 275 easy. She calls her place Mama Jolene’s BBQ Heaven, and that’s what it is. I get the pulled pork sandwich with plenty of coleslaw. I was eating one when Mrs. Sanchez came in to talk to Rainey.

I’m not a good guy. I know what I am and I know what I do. But there’s guys worse than me, and one of them is Rainey. He sells dope: crack, weed, H, whatever’s hot at the moment. He gets kids to run it for him. If they get busted it’s not so heavy a rap. Rainey’s about five foot eight and built. He had the cue ball look, and I swear he must polish his head. His skin was pockmarked and yellowish and there was something mean in his eyes.

He was sitting at a table across the aisle from me with Ice, his go-to guy if he wanted somebody cut up or shut up. Ice was thin as a rail and hard. He was black as an eight ball and wore his hair in dread locks down to his shoulders. He always wore shades and he was always twitching. The movement made his dreads wriggle around like snakes.

Mrs. Sanchez runs the bodega over on Rose Avenue. She’s just this little old Spanish lady, short, round, gray hair pulled back in a bun. She went right up to Rainey and said, “Seňor Rainey, I want talk to you about Raphael. He is my only grandson. His Mama, she is dead, she die from that venero you sell. His Papa in the prison. Raffy got no one but me.”

Rainey didn’t stop eating his ribs, didn’t even look up.

“I want you leave my Raffy alone,” Mrs. Sanchez went on. “He is a good boy. He got to stay in school. He must not be mix up in this maldad. Please, you leave Raffy alone.”

Rainey finally looked up from his meal. He put his hand on her chest and shoved her hard. “Get away, bitch.” he said. Ice started giggling.

Mrs. Sanchez stumbled back and landed on my table. My plate went sliding off on to the floor. I grabbed her to keep her from falling and said, “Rainey, what the hell! Lay off, she’s just an old lady.”

That was the wrong thing to say. I had barely gotten Mrs. Sanchez on to a chair when both Rainey and Ice piled on me. They knocked me around until Ice got a grip on my arms and held them pinned at my side. Rainey reached in his pocket and pulled out a straight razor. To me it looked as big as a samurai sword. He said, “You up in my grille, white boy? You mess in my bidness? Hey, Iceman, what you say we shave this cracker? ” Ice just giggled. “Yeah, we gon’ shave you real good,” and he came at me, smiling.

He got so close I could see my breath fog the blade. All at once, something hit Rainey from behind and knocked him off his feet. It was Mama Jolene with a broom. She hit him again and shouted, “What you think you doing, you trash! You don’t pull that stuff in Mama Jolene’s place!”

She swung the broom again. I ducked as best I could and it caught Ice full in the face. He let me go and threw his arms up, trying to protect himself.

The two of them never had a chance. Mama Jolene was swinging that broom like Sammy Sosa, yelling the whole time. “Whoppin’ on old ladies, cuttin’ up my customers! Where you think you is?” Ice and Rainey retreated from the broom and scrambled out of there like their hair was on fire.

Mama dropped the broom and bent over Mrs. Sanchez. “How you doin’, honey? You set there and Mama gon’ make you a cup of tea.”

Nobody asked me if I wanted another sandwich, so I guessed it was time to go. You may wonder if Mama Jolene had let herself in for trouble from Rainey and Ice. The answer would be no. Mama Jolene was untouchable. Like I said, she made the best barbecue in the city.

I wished I knew how to cook.

              *  *  *


Later that day I dropped by the bodega to pick up a few things and see how Mrs. Sanchez was doing. I looked around for Raphael, but he wasn’t there.

“I am OK,” she said. “I have here a contusion—what what you say—a bruise,” she lay her hand on her right side, “but is nothing. You are a good man to help me.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

You do what you can. Is good, no? That Rainey—el monstro—why not somebody do something?” She looked at my purchases: a couple cans of soup and a can of chili. “Ay, you eat from cans. What you get always is cans. You come to my house, I make you nice milanesas a caballo.” She said something like this every time I came in.

“Thanks,” I said, “I’ll do that.”

As I was paying for my stuff Queenie came in. Queenie was a working girl. She lived down in the Hartford Hotel at the end of Fourth Street. She’d been in the life for a while, but she’d kept her looks. Her face was pretty good, bright brown eyes and skin the color of hot cocoa. A nice shape, a little heavy in the hips, but some johns like that, I guess. This week her hair was blonde.

She had on a pink halter top cut way down and a short jacket, and a tiny skirt that almost covered her thighs. I could see the little filigree silver cross on a chain nestled between her breasts. She told me once it had been her grandmother’s, and that she never took it off.

“Hi, baby,” she said, “hi, Miz Sanchez. Cup of coffee, please, milk and sugar.”

“Hi, Queenie, how’s everything?”

“Baby, I’m tired. I been in bed so much, I can’t get no sleep.” She smiled. She had a good smile. It kept me warm all the way home.


              *  *  *


I was out late that night, so I slept in the next day. About ten o’clock or so I woke up to a cop knocking at my door. Cops have a certain way of knocking. They knock like it pisses them off they have to knock at all, and not just kick the door down. I rolled out of bed, pulled on some pants and opened the door.

It was Swain, my parole officer. She’s short and a little dumpy with hair like Brillo. She could be anywhere from fifty to seventy-five, I never did find out. As usual, she had a cigarette dangling from her lips.

“Hello, Eddie. Can we come in?”

When your PO says, “Can I come in?” you’re not allowed to say no. I said, “Sure. Always great to see you, Officer Swain.”
She stepped inside, and then I saw there was someone with her. “Just thought I’d pay you one of my little visits,” said Officer Swain. “I went over to Sammy Wong’s, but he said today was your day off.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“I brought along Detective Kells, here. He’d like to ask you some questions. You don’t mind if I look around a bit?” She didn’t wait for an answer.

Kells was built like a linebacker with a blond crew cut and a hard face—all straight lines and angles. He started right in. “You know a guy named Mitch Rainey?” His voice was more like a growl.

“Is that his first name, Mitch?”

Officer Swain was going through the drawers of my bureau. “Answer the question, Eddie,” she said.

“Yeah, sure I know him. Everybody around here knows him.”

“When’s the last time you saw him?” said Kells.

“Yesterday.” Sometimes it helps to lie, and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes, even though it doesn’t feel right, it’s best to tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember what you said.

Swain crushed out her cigarette in a saucer on the table and lit another one. She walked over to the closet. I tried not to watch her.

“Where did you see him?” asked Kells.

“At Mama Jolene’s. Is that what this is about? I don’t want to press no charges.”

Kells said, “That’s funny,” and did something with his mouth that was maybe smiling. “You had a fight with Rainey.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it a fight.”

“I hear he tried to carve his initials in your face.”

Swain held out a sleeve from a leather jacket hanging in the closet. “Is this Eddie Bauer?”

“What? No,” I said, “it’s just a knock off. I got it from a guy on Prince Street.” They were double-teaming me, trying to throw me off balance.

“What about the fight?” barked Kells.

“Yeah, well, we had a little thing, you know. Jolene broke it up. Nothing happened. What’s this all about?”

Kells leaned right into my face. “This is all about finding Rainey in a vacant lot with three slugs in him. He was very dead. We’d like to know who made him dead.”

“We’re funny that way,” said Swain.

“What, you think I—”

“Where were you last night, Eddie?” said Swain, looking through my dishes.

“When last night?”

“Last night!” Kells roared. He even made Swain jump.

OK, time to lie. “I was home; I was here.”

“By yourself?” said Kells.

“Yeah, I was watching TV.” I couldn’t tell them where I really was, because last night I was robbing a house over on Ridgemont Lane. I had a coin collection and some pretty good jewelry stashed behind a panel in the ceiling of my closet, the one Swain couldn't seem to stay away from.

“All night?”

“Yeah. This is crazy I didn’t pop nobody. Swain, you know I never use a piece.”

“First time for everything, Buster,” said Kells.

We went around like that for a while longer, but they couldn’t get any traction. The two of them finally left. Swain reminded me to keep in touch. Kells gave me a look like he wanted to bite my leg off.


              *  *  *


I wanted to get down to the Turk’s to see what he’d give me for the coins and the jewelry, but I decided to ask around the neighborhood to see who might be selling me out to the cops. Nobody knew much. A lot of people just naturally assumed I’d smoked Rainey after what had gone down at Mama Jolene’s. I even got congratulated a few times.

I wound up at Dewey’s, hoping to drown my sorrows. I sat there making my beer disappear, and Dewey wandered over polishing a glass. “Some say you did, and some say you didn’t,” he said. “I’m thinkin’ you didn’t. Not your style.”

“Tell that to the cops.”

“Yeah, I hear they really like you for it.”

I drank some more beer.

“Listen,” said Dewey, even more confidentially, “This is on the house. I think you’re gettin’ a raw deal. Rainey had a lot of enemies. There’s this dealer Carlos been tryin’ to move in on Rainey’s turf. He’s got a tame cop he uses for muscle, a real piece of work. It coulda been some of Rainey’s old pals from the West Coast, too, or maybe Ice hopin’ to move up in the world. But my money’s on Carlos and this crazy cop. He’s a detective. Name’s Kells.”


               *  *  *


I had too much to think about on the way home. There was Rainey and Ice and guys I never heard of from the West Coast, and Kells. It always came back to Kells. Dewey seemed pretty sure he was the guy. And if he was the guy, there was no hope for me. I was just a deer in his cross hairs.

Like I say, I had too much to think about. I never saw him coming. I was almost at my building when Kells popped up out of nowhere and grabbed me. He dragged me to the side of the building away from the street and slammed me against it. He had my right arm twisted behind my back. It felt like he was going to snap it off. “Jeez, Kells,” I grunted, “ease off. You’re breaking my arm.”

“I’ll break more than that, Buster,” he said, twisting it tighter. “Now shut up and listen. Tomorrow morning, you’re gonna come down to the station and confess to killing Rainey. You got that? You’re gonna confess. Dirtbag like Rainey, you won’t hardly do no time.”

“Jeez, Kells, I —”

He slammed me against the building again. “Didn’t I say shut up? I don’t want no argument from you. There’s rumors and talk pointing at a certain police detective. But you’re the one, Buster. I don’t want ‘em looking at nobody but you.”

He spun me around and kneed me in the groin. I crumpled to the ground. He grabbed my hair and yanked my head up. “You mind what I say. You be there tomorrow, or I’ll come looking for you.” He gave me a kick goodbye and walked away.

I lay where I was for a long time, and then I unfolded myself and leaned against the building. I couldn’t think what to do. All that stuff about me not getting much time, that was a load of crap. I’ve done time; I know how it works. Kells would fix things so I never got out alive.

I was screwed. Kells knew where I lived. I had to hide somewhere, get my head straight. Where? Dewey’s? I remembered what Dewey always said: “I can’t have you around here if you’re hot.” I was starting to panic. I couldn’t think of anything. And then I remembered Queenie. She’d always been good to me. Queenie would help me.

A fine cold rain was falling. It was getting dark fast. I didn’t even go back to my room. I just started walking to the Hartford Hotel. I was hurting and I walked real slow. The hotel was way down at the opposite end of Fourth. I passed the Elite Diner, and Bibbo’s Shoe Repair, the Lion Pharmacy and the plumbing supply store. The rain came down colder and harder.

I came up to the construction site where they’re remodeling the old Reese Building. Word was they’d gutted the whole inside. They’d taken the top two floors right out to the girders. There were piles of sand and lumber and bricks and other stuff behind a chain link fence.

Out of the shadows and on to the pavement in front of me stepped Ice. His shades were gone, and he had the razor in his hand. He must have been on about seven different things at once. His eyes were so crazy, I thought they were going to explode out of his head. The twitch was worse, and his dread locks squirmed and wriggled around his head. “You killed Rainey,” he hissed.

“Ice, I swear to God I didn’t do it. That cop Kells, he’s the one did it. It wasn’t me.”

“You cracker. You lyin’ piece of crap. I’m gon’ gut you like a catfish.” He started toward me real slow, holding the razor out in front of him. His movements were jerky, uncoordinated. He started giggling.

In the shape I was in I couldn’t outrun him. All I could think to do was grab him before he made his move. I jumped forward and latched onto his right arm, the one with the razor. I tried to wrestle the blade away from him, but it was no good. He was stronger than me and threw me against the fence. He slashed with the razor and caught my left arm above the elbow. The blade was so sharp, I wasn’t sure it had hit me until I saw the blood.

He came at me again, and I kicked him in the leg. He went down and I tried to kick him again, but he rolled and came up with the razor, slashing my pants. As he tried to get up, I kicked him as hard as I could in the chest. The blow knocked him backwards and he landed on his back, stunned.

I took this chance to clamber over the fence and take off toward the building. I had some idea of losing him inside. It took a lot out of me. My arm felt like it was on fire, and I grabbed the wound with my other hand to try and slow the bleeding.

The stairs were intact, but not much else. The two lower floors were mostly big empty rooms. No place to hide. I kept going to the third story. That wasn’t finished--it was just a floor and bare girders, no walls, no nothing. I turned around and started back down the stairs. I heard Ice coming, heard that insane giggle. Too late now; I had to keep going up.

The fourth floor was the same as the third. Here and there were piles of lumber and other building materials. I scrambled behind a stack of six-inch PVC pipes and tried to figure out what to do. It was only then that I noticed I’d been leaving a trail of blood drops behind me.

Ice was going to follow that trail right up to where I was and slit my throat. I looked around for something to use as a weapon. There were no tools, no boards within reach, no buckets, no nails, just the pipe. The pipes were eight-foot lengths, too long to use for a club. I didn’t have anything to cut them with, and I didn’t think I could break one.

I could hear Ice getting closer. He was calling to me, telling me all the things he was going to do before he killed me. I kept staring at the pipe, listening.

I worked a length of pipe loose from the pile and tucked it under my good arm. I got on my feet in a crouch and waited. At first I could only hear the rain. Then there were Ice’s footsteps on the dusty floor. He was still giggling, still talking. His voice got nearer and nearer. All at once he appeared at the far end of the pipe stack. I jumped up and charged, holding the pipe out in front of me like a lance, like some kind of crazy jousting knight.

The end of the pipe caught him square in the midsection. He grunted and fell back. I kept stumbling forward and shoving; he kept falling back.

And then he was gone.

I stopped, fell to my knees and dropped the pipe. I couldn’t see him anywhere. It was like a magic trick—I had made him disappear. I started to laugh; I couldn’t help myself. I shook it off finally and crawled to the edge of the floor and looked down.

Ice was lying four stories down in the pelting rain. I don’t think it bothered him. He had landed on a pile of bricks, and his body was twisted like no body ever should be. His eyes were open. I scrambled across the floor to the opposite side and was sick over the edge, I don’t know how many times.

I lay there for a while. The rain on my face felt good. After I struggled to my feet I shuffled around and found somebody’s shirt hanging on one of the girders. I ripped a sleeve off and bandaged my arm as best I could. I retraced my steps downstairs, wiping up all the blood I could find.

When I got outside I made my way around to the brick pile. I wanted to make this look like a robbery. I went through Ice’s pockets and got his wallet. I couldn’t face his endless, dead stare.  I had this crazy idea that his hair really was snakes, and they would bite me if I got too close. I took his watch and rings and tore off the gold chain around his neck. As I was leaving, my foot kicked the razor in the grass about three feet from the bricks, and I picked that up, too.

The razor, watch and jewelry went down the nearest sewer. Ice had a fat wad of bills in his wallet. I pocketed them, wiped off the wallet and tossed it into a dumpster.

There was no let up in the rain. I was soaked through, and my teeth were chattering. My arm was throbbing, and I hadn’t yet gotten over what Kells had done to me. I just wanted to lie down, but I had to make it to Queenie’s.

I did make it, don’t ask me how. The desk clerk at the Hartford paid no attention at all as I crossed the tiny lobby and went up the stairs. You could have sent a drum and bugle corps up the stairs and he wouldn’t have cared. Queenie’s room was on the fifth floor. To me it was like climbing a mountain. I made it to her door, fell against the jamb and started pounding. I called her name a few times, but I don’t think anyone heard it but me.

After a year or so, the door opened a little and Queenie’s face appeared on the other side. She was wearing a white cotton robe, holding it closed at her throat. She had on the silver cross under it, and I don’t think anything else. I said, “Queenie, you gotta let me in.” It was hard to talk, I was shivering so bad.

The expression on her face gave me a clue about how bad I looked. “Oh, baby...”

“Please, you gotta let me in. They’re after me, please.”

From inside the room came a man’s voice, “What’s going on, sugar?”

Queenie turned her head. “Nothin’, baby. I be right there.” She turned back to me, “Baby, I’m workin’,” she whispered.

“Please, please,” I said, “They’re after me. I don’t know where to go.” I was pretty close to delirious.

“Wait a minute, baby, I can’t—I don’t know—Here, I know. She pointed down the hallway to a little alcove wrapped in shadow. “You g’wan down there. You hide. You wait for me. This won’t take long, I know this guy.” The male voice complained again. “Comin’, baby,” she said, and closed the door.

I slid down the wall and crawled to the alcove. I made myself as small as possible in the dark, and then I was dark, everything was dark.


              *  *  *


A voice said, “Baby, wake up. Lord, you messed up good. Open your eyes, baby.”

I opened my eyes. The first thing I saw was the silver cross dangling in front of my face. Then I saw Queenie’s face behind it. “Baby, I thought you was dead,” she said, helping me up.

“I’m not so sure you’re wrong,” I said.

“Don’t talk like that, baby. That’s bad luck.” She pretty much dragged me into her room and sat me in a straight chair next to her dresser. She started fussing with me, unwrapping the makeshift bandage, getting me out of my jacket and shirt. All the while she was muttering to herself, or to me, I couldn’t tell.

“Lord, Lord, you a mess. What kinda bandage is this? Look at all that blood. Ooh, baby, who cut you? That must hurt somethin’ awful. Lotta blood, but it ain’t too deep.”

She got a basin and some water and cleaned the wound. She put some ointment on it, made a pad out of a bunch of Kleenex and wrapped it with one of her scarves. She leaned over me. “Baby, I fix you up, but I can’t let you stay. I gotta be working. Dobie whop my ass if I don’t.”

I kept going in and out, but I heard that. “No, Queenie, please. You gotta let me stay. They’re after me.”

“Who’s after you, baby?”

 I started to tell her, but then I thought better of it. “It’s better you don’t know.”

 She pulled back. Her eyes got wide. “I tell you I can’t do it.”

 “Wait,” I told her, “I’ll pay. What if I pay for the night? I’d be like any other jo—customer. In my jacket, in the pocket.” I had remembered the wad of bills from Ice’s wallet.

Queenie dug out the money and started counting. Finally she said, “Baby, you just bought yourself some ‘commodations.” I never did find out how much was there. She took it all.

              *  *  *


I slept like a dead man in Queenie’s bed. She spent the night beside me. It was a comfort to feel her warmth. I had bad dreams, about Ice’s head swarming with snakes. I must have cried out. Queenie woke me up and held me till I dropped off again.

She was still sleeping when I woke up. From the way the sun shone through the window, it looked like late morning. Kells was expecting me to show up at the station and cop to Rainey’s murder. When I didn’t appear, he was going to come looking for me. I lay there, trying to figure out what to do.

I had to get away. I had to blow town. But I needed a getaway stake. I could use what the Turk would give me for the coins and the jewelry I had heisted. But the coins and the jewelry were back at my place, and Kells would be camped out on my doorstep. There was no place else I could get any money. It had to be the Turk, and that meant I had to go back.

Queenie slept until noon. She got up and asked me how I was feeling. I lied and said fine. We had corn flakes for breakfast and some really terrible coffee. When breakfast was over, Queenie said, “I got to go to work now, baby. I got to axe you to go.” I said I would, and she looked in the mirror on her bureau, made some adjustments to the little she was wearing, and left.

I didn’t go far. I hung around the lobby of the Hartford. I bought a newspaper to hide behind and sat there all day in a spot where I could see the front door. The guy at the desk said nothing. As far as he was concerned, I could have been a piece of the furniture.  I saw Queenie come in a couple times, each time with a new john in tow. I saw some of her co-workers, too: Jasmine and Betty and Lila Jane. No Kells.

Night was forever in coming. By the time the sun went down, I had read the front page six times and I had all the comic strips memorized. By ten o’clock I decided to give it a try. I kept to the shadows as I made my way up Fourth Street. It still hurt to walk, but I was in no hurry. I got to my building just after eleven and slipped into the doorway of Holden’s Hardware across the street. From here I could see the entrance to the building and the window of my apartment. I watched and waited.

It was cold. My arm was throbbing. There was only a small sliver of a moon, and everything around me was grey and black. There was almost no traffic, and no one on the street. No Kells, no nobody. I watched and waited some more.

After a half an hour or so I dashed across the street, through the front door, and into the vestibule. There was a straight staircase up to my one-room. I lay back in the shadows and watched and waited. No Kells. No nobody.

I climbed the stairs, unlocked my door and slipped inside. I locked the door behind me and did not turn the light on. In my line of work you get used to making your way in the dark.

The first thing I wanted to do was change into some fresh clothes. I rummaged through the closet and found another shirt and trousers. I undressed in the dark and put them on. I didn’t have another jacket, but I managed to wash the blood off the leather and was left with what looked like a rip in the sleeve. I turned off the water once because I thought I heard something, but I decided I must have been wrong.

I had my new clothes on, my old, bloodstained ones in a shopping bag I was going to drop in the garbage. It was time to get the loot and go. I heard another sound, no mistake this time. Was it the old stairs creaking under someone’s step? I moved closer to the door and strained to hear. Nothing. Something? I moved closer still and pressed my ear against the wood.

The door exploded inward. I was knocked across the room and crashed into the dresser. The light snapped on and there was Kells standing in the doorway, a revolver in his hand. “You stood me up, Buster,” he growled.

He yanked me up and slammed the gun into my stomach. The breath went out of me in a woosh. Before I could recover, Kells had thrown me in a chair by the kitchen table, his heavy hand pressing on my shoulder. He dropped a sheet of paper and a ballpoint pen on the table in front of me.

“Since the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, “he said, “Mohammed’s here to kick the crap out of the mountain. I gave you a chance and you didn’t take it. So here’s what’s gonna happen: you’re gonna write a confession and sign it.”

“What should I write?”

Kells jammed the gun in my ear. “I don’t give a crap what you write, as long as you say you shot Rainey, and you can’t take the guilt no more.”

“And then I’m gonna shoot myself.”

“With a little help from me.”

“I’m gonna shoot myself with your piece?”

“It’s a drop gun, genius. Nobody can trace it to me. Stop stalling and start writing.”

I was getting mad. I was fed up with everything. I said, “Suppose I don’t?”

“Then I’ll shoot you anyway and make up a different story. I thought maybe you’d want to live a few more minutes.”

He was looming over me, watching to see what I would write. I moved the paper in front of me. I picked up the pen, swung around in the chair, and jammed it as hard as I could into his leg. Kells howled. I threw myself against the back of the chair and the three of us—me, Kells, and the chair—landed in a heap on the floor. I untangled myself and headed for the door. A shot went off behind me and a puff of plaster dust exploded from the wall next to the door. I threw open the door and kept running.

I half-ran, half-stumbled down the stairs. Kells was limping out of my door and took another shot at me. I heard it snarl past my head like an angry hornet. The outside doors were glass. I realized I’d be silhouetted against them if I tried to get out, a perfect target. I ducked into the shadows around the bottom of the stairs.

Kells was having a little trouble on the stairs with his wounded leg. I wanted to slow him down some more. “Come on down, Kells,” I yelled. “I found a chair leg down here. I’d like to break it over your head.”

I heard him stop moving. “You little punk. I’ll kick your brains out.”

Big talk for a gimp,” I said. “The only thing worse than a cop is a dirty cop. You killed Rainey, and everybody knows it.

“Suppose I did.” he yelled. “Rainey was a cockroach. He deserved to be stepped on. “I’m only sorry I—”

“Police!” a voice yelled, “Put your weapon down!” There was a figure in the doorway with its arm outstretched.

Kells could have flashed his buzzer and tried to talk his way out of it. To this day I don’t know why he didn’t. Maybe he was just too far gone. He swung around and aimed his pistol down the stairs.

Three gunshots, three flashes. Kells crumpled and toppled down the stairs, landing in an ugly pile at the bottom. I stepped out slowly from the shadows with my hands up and moved toward the figure in the door. “Always great to see you, Officer Swain,” I said.

She put her gun away and lit a cigarette. “You seemed awful nervous the last time I was here,” she told me, “so I thought I’d pay you a surprise visit, find out what the trouble was. I heard everything, Eddie, you’re in the clear.”

I would have smiled, but I was just too damn tired.


              *  *  *


“More cans,” said Mrs. Sanchez. “All you eat is cans. You come to my house, I fix you nice pollo a la estanciera.”

“Thanks,” I said, “I’ll do that.” It was a few days after Kells got shot. They’d picked up Carlos for ordering the hit. He denied everything, of course. I had spent some of those days answering questions from three different detectives in three different rooms at the old station. Swain stood by me, said she’d heard Kells confess, and they finally cut me loose. The rest of the time I’d spent in bed just getting over it all. I’d gone down to the bodega to pick up some dinner.

Mrs. Sanchez put my stuff in a bag. “I hear this Ice—some ladrón rob him, kill him.

“Yeah,” I said, “That’s what I heard.”

She said, “Is it true, this detective, he shoot Rainey?”

“Kells, yeah, he’s the one did it.”

“This Kells, he was a bad man?”

“Bad enough, I guess,”

“To do a murder, ay, that is terrible. But I do not know—a man like Rainey—I do not know...”

“Rainey got what was coming to him, and so did Kells,” I told her.

“You think so?” she said.

Raphael came out of the back with a case of canned peas and started stocking the shelves. She looked at him fondly and then said to me, “I am sorry you are mix up in this.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Yeah, well, stuff happens.”

“All this killing, so sad. We all do what we can. Maybe some good will come of it.”

As I was walking home, I kept replaying the conversation in my mind. Something about it bothered me. Mrs. Sanchez seemed awful upset about somebody she’d called a monster only the day before. I couldn’t make any sense of it. What was bothering her? Rainey was gone. Kells killed him; he said so.

Didn’t he?

Didn’t he?

Holy Jeez. I stopped still on the sidewalk and looked back at the bodega.

If I tried real hard, I figured I could stop thinking what I was thinking. Rainey was dead. Ice was dead. Kells was dead.

Maybe something good would come of it.

Jim Cort has been writing since God wore short pants. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available from Smashwords:

Copyright © 2014 Jim Cort. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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