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Christmas Noir: Day 15

“Dead?” Church asked.

“Well yeah, being shot in the chest a bunch of times usually does that to you.” I said, wanting to re-use Noonan’s Shiatsu joke but knowing better.

“And they think Opus shot him?”

“Exactly.” I nodded.

I was keeping the Marley thirty-eight in my hand, and his desk on the desk next to my left hand. If Church suddenly decided that playing nice wasn’t what he wanted to do today, I was perfectly prepared to shot him with as many bullets as each gun carried. He didn’t look like he was going to jump me though, he looked confused.

“Opus was with me all day.” Church said after a moment’s thought. “We were collecting today, that was what we were doing in that store. He was collecting a debt from someone when the three helpers came out from the back and started shooting.”

“Noonan says that Joe is down at the station giving a statement.” I tried to keep my voice steady and my finger actually off the trigger, hooking it around the trigger guard instead.

“He might be now.” Church said. “But when you found me he had just pumped a lot of bullets into Opus’s chest. I got Cocoa and I winged Hardrock, so they probably sent Joe because I missed him.”

“So you didn’t have Opus kill the fat man earlier today?” I asked.

“He was with me.” He said. “And I didn’t know he was dead until you told me. If you remember I said I was going to kill him when I got in your car. Am I going to kill him in retaliation for his guys trying to kill me which was in retaliation for me killing him? How many times am I supposed to kill him today?”

I leaned back in my chair and the springs sang out as they stretched to support me. I rubbed the stubble on my chin and looked at his face. He wasn’t thinking when he told me he was going to kill the fat man for this, he had just been talking. He was angry and out of sorts and if he had indeed killed the fat man he wouldn’t have sworn to end the fat man’s life. I thought about it, but I considered that Church could be a far more clever player than I was giving him credit for. After all, the number of people who had underestimated him and lived was a very small one indeed. In fact, it might not really be a number after all, but merely a place holder that had been invented somewhere in the Middle East in some year I can’t really remember.

“So the police are trying to frame you?” I asked leaning forward again. “They shot the fat man and they want to pin it on you?”

“Someone is.” Church said leaning forward in his chair, crossing his arms and setting his elbows on the table. “It’s not like I haven’t got enemies. Ambitious people and little groups who would like to push me aside.”

“But who would be able to get past the fat man’s people and shoot him?” I asked leaning forward.

“I don’t know.” He said leaning forward a little more. “But I intend to find out.”

Now if I were a smart guy, I wouldn’t have gotten into that position of leaning half way across the desk while he was doing likewise. My desk isn’t really big enough to try and use as a fortification, otherwise IKEA would be selling a version of my desk it as a combination desk and fortress. Of course since my desk didn’t actually come from IKEA, I’ve only got my own thoughts on this project.

The point here is that I am not a terrifically smart guy, and it is proved by the fact that I let myself get into a position where all Church would have to do is snap one of his arms up to hit me with his fist. It was actually his elbow that smacked into the side of my jaw and then his fist came down and smacked into my cheek. I’m not exactly sure what happened after that, but I didn’t pass out, it just all happened very quickly.

I was knocked to the ground, and I began to get up I noticed something cold against the side of my head. The barrel of Church’s gun was about the size of a sewer tunnel and fired bullet approximately big enough to crack the world asunder. I put my hands flat on the floor, and it was then that I noticed I no longer had the Marley thirty eight in my hand. I wondered where it was briefly, but then I heard the chamber open and the bullets fell and tapped out a short rhythm on the wood floor. I was fairly certain that I was in deeper trouble than before. Or at least I was in the same trouble but had gone down a few floors. I was only slightly gratified to find that I was right, this trouble had been big enough for the fat man to be swallowed up in.

It wasn’t much of a comfort as my lifeless body was looking to be tossed in after him. I waited for Church to finish me, but I only heard the sound of the Marley clattering against the side wall and then to the floor. I then felt the pistol pull away and wondered exactly how long that had really gone on for. I sat up and saw him walking towards the door of my office. I opened the middle drawer and yanked the Webley out and stood up aiming it at Church’s back.

“Church!” I said, and he turned, pointing his gun at me.

We stood looking at each other for a long time, neither wanting to fire incase the other one had better aim and got a chance to fire. He stood watching me and I watched him and eventually it became clear that neither of us was going to shoot the other. He took a few steps back and was probably as surprised as I was to have Debbie’s keyboard smash him across the back of the head. The keyboard broke and keys flew in every direction. Church turned suddenly and Debbie’s knee came up to meet the spot where his legs split. Unlike Opus though, he didn’t turn his hip away from her knee, which smashed into his pelvic bone. She then hit him with the edge of the keyboard and it broke both his nose and itself. He dropped his gun and went to the ground after it, and she hopped around gripping her leg in pain.

I ran around the desk and kicked Church’s automatic away from him as he rolled on the ground and moaned about the fact that his testicles were now somewhere in the region of his kidneys. I stood over him and this time put the barrel of my gun to his head and thumbed back the hammer. That didn’t actually seem to accomplish much so I let the hammer down slowly and moved away a bit. I looked at the keys to Debbie’s key board which were scattered around the front office like seed casings long after the seeds have been eat by birds or flow away on the wings of the wind.

Debbie was sitting on one of the chairs and rubbing her knee with the heel of her palm and looking at me. She seemed amazed at the fact that he’d gone down so quickly, and that striking him had hurt so much. Church began to recover and got himself up onto his hands and knees. Blood was pouring from his nose and right onto my floor, which caused me a moment of worry, but I figured the janitors could clean it up if they tried hard enough.

I walked out of his reach and leaned over to pick up the Marley from the floor and tossed it onto my desk. I then picked up Church’s automatic and placed it on my desk as well. I kept the big Webley trained on him and started trying to think about what I was actually going to do with him. I would have been happier, in the end, if he had just walked out of here and left me alone. However, I preferred the idea that if anyone tried to pull a gun on me they’d have to deal with my secretary. Being quick with your fists is one thing, having a secretary that could strike fear into the heart and the nose of the underworld was another.

“You stupid son of a bitch.” I said as I walked towards him.

“I didn’t kill the fat man.” Church muttered. “I didn’t kill anyone.”

“That hardly matters now.” I said, “You tried to stick me up and you’ve faced the wrath of my secretary and her keyboard-fu. I hope this has taught you a lesson.”

“Jack.” He said looking up at me. “I didn’t kill the fat man, I didn’t have it done, Opus wasn’t there.”

The phone rang and I put the muzzle of my gun up against Church’s head, to inspire him to stay put and stay quiet. He seemed to understand the message because he froze when the barrel touched him. Debbie’s face seemed to fall as she listened and then pointed at my phone. I kept the gun trained on him as I walked to my desk and picked up the line.

“Yeah?’ I asked.

“Jack?” Noonan’s voice said. “It’s Tom.”

“Hi Tom.” I said, “What’s up?”

“The attack on Christmas is now being handled as a murder.” He said, and I thought I heard something that wasn’t quite a sob catch in his voice. “She died about five minutes ago. I thought you should know.”

I felt as if I’d been shot and all my blood had drained away in a few seconds. My legs felt too weak to hold up my bulky frame, I had to put my hand on the desk to keep from falling over. My head started spinning and my heart began to pound something fierce. I don’t know how many days I stood there, but I would guess at least forty.

“Thanks Tom.” I said. “I guess I’m going to have to… uh.”

“I’ll work it out so you can get paid.” He said, his voice calmer than it should have been during a time of national tragedy. “I’ll see about getting you temporarily deputized too, we’ll keep you on this case.”

“Thanks Tom.” I said, trying to think of something else lest I start to repeat myself. “I’ve got a few leads I’d like to chase down, let me get back to you.”

“Sure Jack.” He said. “Sure.”

I hung up and it suddenly occurred to me that I was training a gun on my only remaining paying client. Not only that, but my secretary had broken the nose of the only person left besides Solstice who had offered to keep our hand in at all. The fact that they were going to try and tie him to the murder of the fat man, if he indeed had nothing to do with it, was a little troubling but there it was. I was going to have to make amends. If nothing else I was going to have to find a way to explain the current developments.

“She’s dead.” I decided that there was no use in beating about the bush. “So you’re the only one left that I can claim to be working for.”

“What?” He asked looking up at me.

“She’s gone.” I said taking his gun from my desk and sliding it across the floor. “The wounds proved to be too much. Christmas is dead and for what it’s worth I believe you when you say you didn’t do it.”

“Dead?” He asked, and tears welled up in his eyes.

“Yes.” I confirmed with a nod.

He placed his hand over his eyes and I think he actually began to cry. Debbie walked over to him and placed a box of Kleenex in his hands. He took them and wiped his eyes with them. He then proceeded to stuff his nose with them to stem the bleeding. He looked up at me, and his eyes were still wet with tears. He got to his feet, the box of Kleenex still in his hand, and he reeled a little.

“We’re going to find out who did this.” He managed to sound strong, even through the now stuffed nose. “Anything you need… anything.”

“Yeah.” I said nodding.

“Sorry for breaking your nose.” Debbie said.

“It’s okay.” He managed as he opened the door. “I should have been looking out for it.”

He closed the door and walked down the hall, his steps sounds about six times as loud and seep as they should have as he made his way towards the elevator. I heard the door to the elevator open and close a few moments later. I then went out to check and see if he was still around, but he had left.

I came back into the office and found Debbie on her hands and knees picking up the stray keys from the floor. I looked at the broken board in the garbage and I felt like I wanted to cry. That was the only thing she ever used and this case had destroyed it. Christmas had that way about her, and I suspected she was still going to, even dead.

“I’ll get you a new keyboard.” I said.

“No need.” She said throwing the keys into the garbage,

“Oh, come on.” I pleaded. “Don’t tell me you’re going to quit.”

“Of course not silly.” She said pulling a new keyboard from the box it came in. She blew off the top and plugged the keyboard into the side of the computer. “I wear these things out in about a month, I’ve always got at least one on back up.”

The computer made that little sound that lets you know that the computer has recognized there is a new piece of equipment plugged into it. She then smiled up at me and went back to typing madly. I walked back into my office and closed the door behind me. I picked up Church’s gun from where he’d left it and tossed it on my desk next to the Marley. I then picked the bullets up off the floor and sat at my desk to reload the revolver.

I can’t tell if it was resignation, confusion, or just some inner coldness, but I never did break down about it. I didn’t even feel particularly sad about Christmas’s passing, I just felt like I’d had a minor set back and now had to redouble my efforts to make up lost ground. I put the Marley back into the holster and slid the Webley back into the desk drawer. I then leaned back and turned my chair around to look out the window. The glare of lights usually bounced off one of the buildings and could see the glow on the side of the opposite building, but not today. It wasn’t quite dark enough for it yet, but I had a feeling they wouldn’t be lit up tonight. Tonight they probably would be dark, dark and quite.

I looked at the gray sky and wondered if it was ever going to snow, snow would have been nice. I didn’t expect any snow though, just the cold and the dark which was coming.

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