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Christmas Noir: Day Ten



My head was spinning, my ears buzzing, and all I could be sure of was that I didn’t actually pass out or anything like that. My vision started to clear after a moment and the pain in my head started to thud heavy and deeply. He had hit me above my hairline, which meant that I wouldn’t have a visible bruise. I would there fore, not get any of the sympathy from beautiful women that so often comes from having a big bruise on the side of your head. I would just have the pain that comes from having a big bruise on the side of your head. All of the drawbacks and none of the benefits.

If nothing else this was indeed shaping up like every other time I’ve had to deal with Christmas. The headache was already here, and I hadn’t even been on the job a full twelve hours yet.

“I should probably apologize for that.” Church said as he leaned back again. “Bad phrasing, I can see that now. Never mind, no real harm, right Opus.”

“No harm.” He said as he began to stand up, gasping for air. Clearly I was either a bad shot or he had been wearing protection.

He looked as if someone had smacked him in the chest with a hammer, which was probably how he felt. There wasn’t any blood though, which probably meant that he was indeed wearing some sort of preventative. Debbie opened the door, her disconnected keyboard raised over her head to be used as a blunt object at any moment. The spring shaped wire bounced around behind her as she raised it up. She looked at me and then at the other two and back at me with a look of concern.

“Jack?” She asked.

“It’s okay Debbie.” I said holding up my hand. “Nothing to worry about.”

I worried that she might come rushing into my office and strike Church about the head with her keyboard. She would then most likely finish Opus off as he stood dazzled by her beauty. The problem there was two fold, one I’m the heroic one around here and two, if she broke the keyboard then what would she tap at like a coked up rooster looking for the last piece of grain on earth?

“We’re fine.” I said. “Just a slight misunderstanding.”

“Okay.” She said and closed the door behind her as she went.

“You are trying to figure out who did this?” Church asked, even though he didn’t really mean it as a question.

“That’s right.” I said nodding.

“Then you can do it for me.” He said reaching into his inside jacket pocket with his let hand. I noticed as he did that he was gripping the handgun by the barrel.

He tossed a white envelope onto the desk between us. It didn’t look to be over stuffed, or full of used bills. I picked it up and opened it to check the contents. There were some new hundreds in there. I touched the edges of the envelope and without touching the money spilled it out onto my desk. I then began to crumple up the envelope and watched carefully as Church shifted in his chair, as he always did, but never once let his grip on the barrel of the gun shift even a little. I took a pen from my pen cup and pushed the bills around the table, counting out all ten of them.

“Retainer?” I asked.

“Right.”

“You know the fat man sat in that chair earlier today and made a similar offer.” I said placing the envelope onto a small metal tray I keep on my desk for my keys and wallet.

“I’d heard that.” He said watching me take a book of matches from my desk. “But I’m willing to bet he didn’t offer anything in the way of money. He promised you a check, and I have cash in hand.”

“That’s true.” I said striking one of the matches and touching it to the crumpled envelope. “So what exactly do you want?”

“I want you to find out why and how that fat bastard did this to her.”

“What if it wasn’t him?”

“It was.” Church said as the envelope caught fully and burned on the desk between us. “He tried to frame me.”

“But what if it wasn’t?” I asked. “Can you be sure that’s even her blood on the baseball bat?”

“I’m finding out now.” He said. “I’ll know by morning.”

“But you don’t know.” I said. “And it might have been someone else, that guy could have been moonlighting. Or the fat man might have had a supply of her blood on hand and smeared it all over to see that you got caught because he can’t have the culprit running the streets this close to the show. Even if they can’t have the show, they can have the candle light vigil. But they can’t have that if the attacker is still out there.”

Church nodded slowly, his hand pressed against his cheek to help support his head. Clearly some of my words were hitting the mark, if not all of them. He seemed to understand that the investigation would take longer than he had thought. He looked like he was considering something for a moment and then finally nodded again.

“Very well.” He said starting to get up. “Investigate until you find who ever did it.”

“Hang on.” I said pointing at the chair. “Sit back down.”

“What?” Church asked, sitting back in the chair.

“First things first.” I said holding out my hand. “The gun.”

“What?” He asked.

“How far do you think you’ll get with that ruse?” I asked still holding my hand out. “Opus shoots someone, you make sure I get the gun from him, then I shoot him and then you have not only the powder burns on my hands, but my prints on the gun that shot the person Opus shot. You then put a whole bunch of money in front of me, but I’ve caught on to that situation already.”

“To what end?’ Church asked.

“I don’t care.” I said, leaning forward with my hand out. “Give me that gun.”

Church looked at me and then slid the magazine from the gun and ejected the round from the chamber before handing it over. I took a handkerchief from my drawer and wiped the gun clean of prints. I made sure to rub it all over, breathing on it to get a nice shine and then set it down in front of Church on the cloth. He looked at the pistol and then at me.

“It was an insurance anyway.” He shrugged and picked the gun back up, handing it over to Opus and then giving him the expelled round and clip. “Just to make sure.”

“Yeah, great.” I said. “Now we talk about this.”

“I promise, the gun was just.” He began.

“Not that.” I said. “When did you first meet Christmas?”

“You start with me?”

“No.” I said shaking my head. “I started this morning, I haven’t taken your money yet.”

“So who are you working for?”

“Christmas.” I said. “The fat man might be paying the bills, but I’m working towards her interests as I understand them.”

“As always.” He said darkly.

“When did you meet her?”

“When I was just getting started.” He said rubbing his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “I ran some of the joints where she first got started. In fact, much as that silly old fart would like to think otherwise, I got her started. I’m the one who got her the money to buy the costumes, told her which groups to steal her act from, I helped her every step of the way.”

“When you were small time?” I asked.

“Yeah.” He said nodding, almost proud of the fact. “I had nothing, she had nothing, but we had each other and we built each other up strong.”

“So why did she leave?” I asked. “If you were building each other up?”

“Because I was and sometimes am still a violent individual who cannot control his impulses.” He admitted as if he were reading it off a card a therapist had given him. “I never hit her, I was never mean to her, but she didn’t like the way I ran things in those days.”

“Lots of broken bodies in the streets do tend to put a lady off.” I agreed.

“I was fine with it though.” He said. “I gave her the money to go north, let her do her wandering thing with her little friend, and then she came back and we got married. We were quite happy for sometime after that. She tempered me to a great degree I think.”

“And then later things went wrong again.” I said, also not a question.

“Well, you know all about that.” He said.

“Yes.” I agreed. “I do.”

“But I would never hurt her.” He said. “You understand that don’t you?”

“You weren’t quite giving me that impression last time.” I said.

“But you also know that I’ve not even tried to hassle her since then.”

“That’s true,” I admitted, even if I only sort of knew this.

“We have been talking though.” He said. “After the divorce, we started talking.

“I didn’t know that.” I said.

“We’ve been sort of friendly.” He said swallowing. “Just a bit.”

“So who would want to smack her like that?” I asked, trying to see what he’d think.

“Fat man.” He said. “If she was talking about coming back to me, and telling him she was done with his garbage, he might have.”

“Done?” I asked, shaking my head.

“Oh he didn’t mention that did he?”

“Mention what?”

“She was tired of it.” He said shifting in his chair again. “She wanted to quit. She wanted to slow things down, go back to doing a smaller show. You know, the same thing she’d been talking about for years?”

“Yeah.” I nodded, “I knew about that part.”

“She sounded like she was really ready to do it though.” He held his hands out as if supporting a silver platter. “If she told him that she was done with his child molesting ways and that she wasn’t going to let him treat her like a whore any more, who knows what that fat pimp might do?”

“Well that’s a point.” I said.

“She’s wanted out for years.” He said. “She was starting to sound desperate about it lately, I told her that she had nothing to worry about. I thought that having me around would keep the fat man in check. I guess I was wrong.”

“So why not just go shoot up the fat man?” I asked. “His distribution system is powerful enough that it can do without him, and the next guy might not have a thing for kids.”

“Can’t kill a man unless you know you should.” He said standing up. “You find out who it was, and we’ll make sure it’s taken care of.”

“And my fee?”

“You tell me what it cost and I’ll make sure you get it.” He said over his shoulder as Opus opened the door for him.

I watched the door close and looked at the money on my desk, still untouched by my hands. I looked at the ten bills on my desk and then at the door as Debbie came in. She looked over her shoulder as she sat down in the chair next to the one Church had occupied. It was as if she was afraid even to sit in the same chair his warmth still resided in.

“Are we in trouble?” She asked.

“Are we ever in anything but?” I asked leaning back in my chair and looking at the patters of light on the ceiling. “Just keep the place open. Just keep it open and accept the odd job if some comes.”

“Pardon?’ She asked.

“Nothing.” I said still looking at the ceiling. “There’s a thousand dollars on the desk, it’s your bonus.”

“I thought my bonus was going to come with my next check.” She said.

“It will.” I said, twitching my feet as they dangled. “This is extra special money for you to spend on presents for your parents and your sister’s kids or something.”

“This is what Church paid you, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“And you don’t want to touch it and you don’t want it found anywhere near you.” She said, not asking.

“That’s right.” There was a sound of her hand wooshing through the air and when I didn’t get the slap I was expecting I heard her feet walking towards the door.

“See you in the morning.” She said as she closed my office door behind her.

I sat up, and was glad to find that the money was indeed gone. I shook the burned envelope out into the garbage can and wiped the ashes away with a tissue. When I set it back down, then nothing might have ever happened. Besides my nerves, the tiny powder burns on my hands, the pain on the side of my head, and the feeling that I was in deeper trouble than ever, I might have just come back to the office and found it empty.

But as I said, I would have to account for the pain at the side of my head, and the jangled nerves, and the high rate of my heart beat. With those items needing to be explained, I had to admit that Church had indeed been here, and I had indeed been hired by him to some extent. Or at least I’d taken his money, and that was greatly the same thing.

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