First place winner in the hardboiled category!
THE ROYAL CROWN KILLER
By Victor Gischler
Looking out the window of the dingy little motel room was part of my job, but it also distracted me from the long, tan set of legs attached to the blonde bombshell on the bed. I had to stay focused. If she caught a bullet or slipped under a cement truck, I simply wouldn't get paid. So I kept an eye on the street and the parking lot, hoping I wouldn't see anything.
"You're a curious sort, Mr. Samson," she said. "You've hardly said two words. Most men would cut off an arm to be alone with me." A sneaky smile spread across her heart-shaped face, and she popped another chocolate in her mouth. She'd gone through most of the box.
I grinned at her. "Call me Conner."
"Conner." She said my name like it was the best thing that had ever come out of her mouth.
Naomi Spain had learned all of her come-hither dialog straight out of the gold-digger's handbook. She was Jimmy Tune's squeeze, and the Pensacola Police Department had convinced her to rat out her crime boss boyfriend. That's why I'd pulled babysitting duty. Normally, Naomi would be guarded by plain-clothes cops instead of a third-rate private eye. But Detective Sergeant Frank Morgan was a pal of mine, and I sure needed a paycheck.
A knock on the front door.
I went to the peephole, looked. It was the brunette from the front office, Laurie, a frumpy, bored motel clerk. She carried a wad of towels, but I didn't answer. Frank had said nobody in or out.
Frank was the boss.
Laurie got tired of waiting and left.
"Who was that?" asked Naomi.
After three days crowded in the motel room it was hard not to look at Naomi. Her butt was round. Her eyes deep green. When she bent to rub lotion on her legs, her breasts hung in her loose tank-top like a ponderous invitation.
The phone rang. I answered with the code word.
"Jackrabbit," said Frank Morgan.
This cloak-n-dagger shit was wearing thin.
"Listen, Conner," said Frank. "I've got bad news. The grapevine says Jimmy Tune wants blondie just as dead as possible. He's contacted some top-notch heat to come deep-six his girlfriend."
"You always have such good news for me."
"Ever heard of the Royal Crown killer?"
"A hit man. Nobody knows who he is or what he looks like. They only say that he's a cola addict. Drinks RC around the clock."
I sighed, glanced at Naomi to see if she could hear, then talked low into the phone. "Dammit, Frank, why don't you just send over a couple squad cars. I feel naked over here all by my lonesome."
"You know I can't do that, pal. There's a rat in the department someplace. Somebody's on the take. Nobody knows where you are except me and the district attorney. Just hang tough. Everything's going to be fine."
"Right." Corrupt cops. Great.
We hung up.
I went back to the window. A sleazy guy with a sad mustache leaned against a Firebird. He wore an army surplus jacket which might have concealed about a hundred guns, and he puffed hard on a cigarette like he was in love with the thing. He sure as hell didn't look like a hired killer, but maybe that was the point.
The phone again. I picked it up.
"Uh . . .what?" A woman's voice.
"Nevermind. Who's this?"
"It's Laurie from the front desk. Are you staying another night, or shall I make up your bill."
Frank had said not to pay ahead on the room in case we had to move suddenly. This was the first time Laurie had called from the desk. Usually I'd have been down hours ago to renew for another night. I'd forgotten.
"Another night please," I said.
I hung up and went back to the window. Sad mustache had gone.
Naomi had done a few laps with the remote control but decided nothing was on. She switched off the set. "I'm bored."
"I'm paid to keep you alive, not entertained."
"But there's only so much two people can do for kicks in a motel room." She stretched on the bed, arching her back and pretending to yawn. You're nice, Mr. Samson."
"It's my cologne."
"You are a tough guy, aren't you?"
"I've been practicing." I peeled a cigar out of its wrapper and stuck it in my mouth. "I learned the snappy talk at Shamus school."
"You signed up for the weekend course?"
"Yeah, but I stayed the extra day, learned how to shrug off cheap come-ons."
"There's nothing cheap about me, I assure you."
"I never said --"
"It's okay, Mr. Samson." She kicked off her shoes, curled on the bed like a cat. "You don't like all my little tricks. I've been nibbling my lip and batting my eyes and crossing my legs in front of you for three days, and you don't even sweat. I know I'm attractive. You don't like my little tricks, but I like you for not liking them."
"And what's left when I get past the tricks?"
She pulled off the tank-top. Her nipples almost put my eyes out. "A lonely, frightened girl," said Naomi. "That's all, Mr. Samson. Just a girl."
I went to her, pulled her to me. "Call me Conner."
It was night when I awoke. Naomi curled warm and naked in front of me. I looked at her face in the pale light which spilled in from the bathroom. She was different asleep. The years fell away, and instead of being a gangster's moll, she could have been somebody's daughter, a young coed, the girl next door.
I pulled her close, and she murmured contentment.
But I started feeling unprofessional. I slipped out of bed without waking her, pulled on my clothes. I looked out the window and sad mustache was back, just standing out there. I stuck the cigar in my mouth and tried to think what I should do about him.
I had the reckless notion I should go out and put the guy on the spot, just flat out ask him what he was doing. Unprofessional. But I found myself sticking my .380 auto in my belt, covering it with my jacket. Maybe I'd just been cooped up too long. I ran my hand through my hair and stepped outside. I closed the door behind me nice and easy.
I stood for a moment before approaching him, took in my surroundings. Down the line of rooms, an old maid was slowly making the night rounds. The dull orange light of the street lamp cast the empty pool in an eerie glow.
I walked to mustache. He was leaning against the Firebird again. The closer I got to him, the more certain I was I'd made a mistake. The guy was near starved, hadn't bathed in a week, greasy hair. About as dangerous as a half-drowned squirrel. He threw down his cigarette and stamped it out.
I got within arm's reach and stopped. "Okay, pal. You've been out here all day. What gives?"
He squinted at me and frowned. "Don't want no trouble, chief."
"That makes two of us, but you didn't answer my question." I stuck my cigar in my mouth and tried to look tough.
The guy's hand went into his army jacket, came out too quick to be anything good. I saw a flash of silver and didn't wait to feel the cold sing of his blade in my gut. I launched myself at him. I caught the wrist of his knife hand and pinned it against the Firebird.
I brought my knee up hard into his groin. He whuffed air, and went to the ground, rolled on his back. I pulled the gun and stood over him. I stepped on his wrist, and his fist opened. He didn't have a knife. It was a silver Zippo lighter.
"I just thought you needed a light for your cigar, man." The guy groaned, writhing on the ground in slow agony. "Why'd you jump me for, man? Pretty damn unfriendly."
"I thought you were somebody else. Sorry."
"What were you doing out here?" I asked. "You've been standing in this spot for hours."
"This lady, man. She said to watch her car." He nodded at the Firebird. "She said there'd been a few auto thefts, and I should, like, guard her car, right? Paid me five bucks an hour. She only said I had to stand out where people would see me."
"Out in the open?"
"Yeah. Otherwise I'd of just sat under the tree across the lot and watched the car."
Something wasn't right. I opened the door of the Firebird. Something fell out and clanked metallic on the pavement. It was a half-crushed, empty RC Cola can.
"Oh, God." I jerked my head around, looked back at the room.
The night maid's cart was right next to the open door. No. God, no. How could I have been so stupid. I looked back at the guy holding his balls and groaning on the ground. The picture snapped into focus. Decoy.
I sprinted back toward the room, gun in hand.
At the room's open door, I stopped and lifted my weapon. The maid stood over Naomi, legs spread, arms pulling tight a pair of pantyhose around Naomi's throat.
"Stop." The word crawled out of my mouth, a sad little croak. I said it again with authority. "Stop right now!"
The maid let go. Naomi dripped from her grasp like cold water, and pooled around her ankles in a lifeless puddle. Naomi's eyes were locked open, looking at nothing. Her mouth a surprised O pleading for breath.
I pulled the trigger six times fast, drew a line of wet red dots across the maid's chest. When her body hit the ground, the gray wig came off. It was Laurie from the front desk. The Royal Crown Killer had killed her last.
Frank Morgan found me on the bathroom floor sitting with my back to the tub. The place swarmed with uniforms. They took Naomi away in a body bag.
Frank held up an RC can, flicked it with his middle finger to hear the clank. "They found seventy-two of these in the lady's Firebird. All empty. Can you believe that shit?"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I screwed up. Naomi's dead, and it's my fault."
Frank shook his head. "No, Conner, she ain't. I stashed Ms. Spain in a hotel in Mobile. The lady here was a hooker named Maureen Price. She agreed to be a decoy in exchange for a reduced sentence. We picked her because she looked enough like Spain to be her sister."
The look on my face must have worried Frank because he hurried to explain.
"Turns out the guy on the take was the district attorney himself. I tell you, Conner, all hell's going to break loose downtown. I couldn't prove it until now. Sorry I couldn't tell you, but this was a strange one. We didn't know who the bad apple was until the last minute."
"I'm not very happy with you right now, Frank."
"I know, Conner, and I'm sorry. Call me. I owe you a drink."
I didn't look at Frank as he left. I put my face in my hands, trying to burn the image of Naomi's dead eyes out of my head, trying only to remember her warm and asleep.
Copyright © 2001 Over My Dead Body! All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Over My Dead Body! is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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