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Christmas Noir: Day Nine



I didn’t spot the headlights of any old Buick’s in my rearview mirror as I drove back, but my corduroy-wearing friend might have kept his lights off. Just because you can’t see anyone, doesn’t mean they’re not around. This is what paranoid lunatics tell themselves all the time. I however am fine. I am not insane, because usually there really are people following me.

When I got into the parking lot I slammed the door good and hard, just to make sure my annoyance with how the day had gone was properly registered with all members of the team. If Debbie wasn’t going to be there, I at least wanted the motor department to know that I wasn’t happy with the way things had gone. I had nothing so far, and it wasn’t looking like I was going to get anything anytime soon. As I came up the stairs I noticed that the light in the waiting room was still on. I checked my watch and noticed that Debbie should have gone home some time ago.

Debbie almost never works late, save for a very rare occasion when we’ve got something really hot and I can’t be both at the office and elsewhere. We didn’t have anything hot though we had something cold. We had something as cold and lifeless as the remains of a turkey dinner left out in the December snow. Of course the fact that there was no snow, and there was no turkey, and the light was on did indicate that perhaps things weren’t quite that cold.

“Hi Jack.” Debbie said as I opened the door and looked at her behind the little curved reception desk we had built for her so she could hide behind it if she needed to.

The dark wood was all that stood between her and Opus in the waiting room. Opus’s attention was singularly fixed on Debbie as she leaned back in the chair and smiled at me, stretching her arms back to allow the fabric of her blouse to strain against her breasts. The singularity of Opus’s vision was my fault on two parts. First, I’d hired Debbie and taught her the best way to distract an opponent. Second, I’d taken his right eye a few years ago when his boss was bothering Christmas again. I often though I should have kept it, so I could pull it out and wave it at him at times like this. Instead I’d thrown it into the St. Claire River to be eaten by maggots and fish. I stand by my choice.

While Opus was looking at Debbie with his one eye, I kneed him in the groin. The movement distracted him and he turned his leg to block my knee, which is when I hit him in the neck with my left fist. On his way down he met with my right fist and he spun before hitting the ground. I put my knee into his back and patted his sides, feeling the gun under his left arm. I took his gun away from him and stood up quickly placing my back against the door.

“Stand up nice and slow.” I said.

“You didn’t need to do it like that Collier.” Opus said rubbing his neck as he stood. “I was just going to tell you the boss wants to talk to you.”

“That’s nice.” I said thumbing back the hammer and hoping that he hadn’t put the safety on because I’d totally forgotten about it. “You could call and set up an appointment like anyone else, we have business hours posted.”

“Yeah.” Opus nodded, “But he’s here now.”

“Where?” I asked looking around quickly. “I don’t see him.”

“He doesn’t wait in here like I do.” Opus said.

“Well you go into the office like I do.” I said hefting up the gun. “Or I’ll plug you and risk the damage to the carpet.”

I wasn’t about to have him sitting here ogling my secretary as I talked to his boss. Who knows what someone like Opus might get up to while we talked anyway? He might debauch her and make an assault on her questionable virtue. If anyone was going to ogle Debbie, it was going to be me. If anyone was going to assail her and attempt to partake of her charms I certainly wasn’t going to let it be that creep.

“Take the safety off first.” He said turning around and opening the door to my office.

The office was dark, and as I walked in I saw the silhouette of Church standing behind my desk, looking out the window at the street below. I noticed, or at least I surmised by the tilt of his head, that he was looking at the street in the same way that I do. He was looking away from the gaudy displays down to the part of the street that didn’t show itself with a flourish of trumpets.

I could make out his tense shoulders, hunched up higher than he normally kept them. He was wearing a suit, as he always did, but it was easy to tell that he was tense in it today. Church might look like a street thug that’s been stuffed into a suit and had economic theory explained to him, but it would be folly to dismiss him like that. There are a lot of plots in the cemeteries filled with people who decided that Church was just some dumb thug, and he was still here.

The fact that Church still existed in a world where life expectancy for new recruits was twenty minutes said something. The fact that he rarely ever dealt with anything that actually happened on the street anymore said quite another. If one saw him without the suit jacket or shirt, they would notice that his torso and arms were littered with tattoos be speaking of his former thughood. With the coat though, he was almost a respectable citizen, one who had even been married to Christmas for a while.

It was the divorce of Church and Christmas that had first brought he and I into conflict the last time. He thought she should stay with him forever and ever, and I thought otherwise. In the end he had sent Opus to convince her that she should come back home, and I went to his home and delivered the message that she wouldn’t be coming home. I’ll give Churches doctors this much, they certainly made his nose look more or less like it did before.

Opus switched on the lights to announce our entry and began to walk towards the back of the client chair. Church turned and looked at Opus and then at me and seemed to smile for a moment before walking around my desk and sitting down in my client chair. Opus switched on the lights as he walked to stand behind Church and I sat down behind my desk.

“I suppose the fat man has been to see you?” Church started.

“Yes.” I said setting the gun down on my desk but keeping it close to me if I needed to make a grab for it.

“He’s hired you?”

“No.” I said shaking my head.

“But you’re investigating what happened.”

“Yes.” I nodded.

“There has been a development.” Church said after rubbing his chin for a moment. “A person known to be in the employ of the fat man was found trying to break into my car.”

“Odd that someone would try such I thing.” I said back, just to be saying something.

“Yes.” Church nodded. “Doubly odd because he had a blood covered baseball bat wrapped up in a garbage bag with him. I suspect that he was planning on placing it in my car and having me arrested for the crime.”

“Suspect?”

“Yes.” Church said. “Opus shot him before he could explain why he was trying to break into my car while carrying a blood covered baseball bat.”

“I’m surprised he could get anyone with his total lack of depth perception.”

“You don’t need depth perception to shoot.” Opus said.

“Yeah, but you do need a gun.” I said placing my hand on the pilfered pistol.

“Yes.” Opus agreed nodding carefully.

“Have you given the fat man notice that you have the remains of his employee?” I asked.

“I am sending him the relevant pieces needed for identification.” Church said as he shifted a little in his chair. “That should be enough of a message for him, don’t you think? Just leave the head and hands in a nicely wrapped parcel on his door step. Very festive, don’t you think?”

“Yeah.” I said. “Festive. No note about who it came from?”

“Since he sent his little monkey to frame me, I’m pretty sure he’ll know what happened without the addition of a guess who card.”

“So why come tell me all of this?” I asked.

“Because I need something that only you can deliver.”

“What’s that?”

“A certainty.”

What with him mentioning being certain about things in the way he had a moment ago I decided not to risk any possible mincing of words. Opus jumped to my left, meaning to come around my desk on the shortest route possible. My hand snapped to the gun and lifted it up. It all happened so quickly, since I had been waiting for it, that to an observer it would seem like it all happened at once.

I turned and fired a single round at his chest, and then I remembered all about distraction. Church’s fist struck the side of my head, and then something smashed my hand and something else hit the side of my head again. I think I might have been dazed for a few moments, but I certainly wasn’t knocked out. I didn’t blackout, there was just a buzz in my head for a moment.

As the universe swung around me from the blows, I was at least pleased in the knowledge that I had been right. This was trouble, wide and deep, and I was stuck down at the bottom of it.

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