THE NAMELESS DETECTIVE - STORY 1
It’s not that I have anything against guns. In the right hands, there is a greater chance of proper use. Right hands as in law enforcement, military, such and such. But there’s the irony, I’m not a fan of guns. Never have been, never will be. Never known anything good to come out of owning one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those anti-second amendment types. In fact, I’ll be one of the first to support your right to bear arms. Because once they start taking guns, the slippery slope begins. Next, they will take away your blades. I love my collection. My katanas, broad swords, spears, and shuriken. They start taking those from me then we sure as shit will have a problem. Who are ‘they’? Hell if I know. Isn’t that who people always say? The Man. Big Government. 5G. Hell, they say Biggie and Tupac are still alive, splitting an island somewhere not far from Guam. Sorry, Daphne. I promised you I’d stop cussing. You kept saying I needed to set an example for Helen. Sorry, Helen. Love you, babygirl.
Still, they never say who the ‘They-People’ are, do they? Nameless, faceless. Oh, crap. I almost forgot the irony. The irony being that I’m a cop. Well, I used to be. But I was blessed to never have to pull my piece. Not even once. Okay, but my point is I may not like guns, but I respect a person’s right to own one. That is, so long as it’s legal ownership. Fairly sure the guy who just shot me doesn’t have that gun in the proper way. Pretty sure they still don’t give guns to a convicted felon. That’s another thing. You know, I was a cop for almost thirteen years. Detective First Grade for five of those years. Private detective in the years since. In all this time I still don’t know the difference between a convicted felon and a ‘just a’ felon. I mean, is ‘convicted’ thrown in front just for emphasis? Let’s just call this guy a felon. Fewer syllables.
Lester Grimes. Up until tonight, he wasn’t even on my radar. How he escaped from Lincoln Correction, I don’t know. Right now, I don’t care. Were it not for the bullet proof vest Daphne always insist that I wear, that bullet would have done serious damage to my heart. It’s already been broken, does it have to be shredded, too? Still, the impact at close range knocked me flat on my ass. Butt. Sorry, babygirl. Still, from this view looking up at the nighttime sky in New York City, not bad. Well, not bad if you disregard the fact the two of us are in the middle of a rain-soaked, trash heaped, rat-infested alley in the middle of summer in the middle of the night. So, there is that.
So here I lay splayed on my back, splashed into a mud puddle. My dark brown London Fog trench coat soaks up some of the dirty water. Jeans sponge a little more. I hold my breath to soak up the pain I’m feeling. Need to play dead for a bit while I listen to his phone call.
“Yeah, I made it. I’m just two blocks away. Send Nick, tell him to bring the fake passport. Corner of 5th & 145. Yeah, that bridge by the river. No, it’s just two blocks. I’ll be there. Gimme ten minutes. Got a loose end to tie up. Yeah, tell Nick to come on. Tell him I’ll see him in ten.”
Lester made two mistakes during that call. He turned his back to me, giving me time to get back to my feet with my walking stick. He also relaxed his gun hand to his side. One hard whack to the scaphoid bone in the wrist was all it took. The gun sounded like discarded metal as it slid across the wet concrete. Lester Grimes wheeled around surprised. His brown eyes so dark they look pitch black. His black hair slicked back into a ponytail. He’s a big man. Not fat, just massive. Like a former sports player. Sure, time and age had its way, but not by much. He clearly still put time in the gym. The tight black shirt his way of saying, ‘yeah I still got it’. Guess we’re about to find out.
“So, by ‘loose ends’, I assume you’re talking about me?”
“I thought I put a bullet in you.”
I shift my trench a little to show the bulge beneath my shirt.
“You know what they say about assume. Makes an ass out of you and me.”
He takes a quick glance at the Glock a few feet from him. I gauge that he and I are about twenty feet from each other. Give or take a foot or two.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“If you’d have looked in the wallet you took from me, then you’d know.”
“Hell, it doesn’t matter now. Do you know who I am?”
“Lester Grimes. Second-in-command of the Bronx718. Escaped Lincoln Correctional two days ago. No one knows how. I personally think it was an inside job.”
“Wait, you a cop?”
“So, what, private dick?”
I grin at such a casual reference.
“You started out a bag boy. Running errands for King Carlos. You made your bones in the streets, running protection grifts on the mom and pop bodegas. The occasional arson for those that refused to pay. All the while you remained loyal to the King. You refuse to bite the hand that feeds you. And you quietly take care of those that do. Even took a bullet meant for Carlos two years back. You can’t buy that kind of loyalty. But King Carlos rewarded you anyway. Made you second-in-command of the Bronx718. Even gave you a part of Staten Island for your own start-up. Lester the Prince, it’s what the streets are calling you.”
The rain starts coming down a bit more now. Not quite a downpour, but definitely more than just a drizzle. Any other time this rain would feel good in the middle of a New York summer. But this wasn’t any other time. This was life or death between two men in a trash littered alley.
“Well, you know New York is a kingdom unto itself. Maybe that’s why royal purple’s always been my favorite color. But hell, you know my story, Dick. What’s yours? When I saw you on the bridge you didn’t look like someone just looking over across the water on a rainy night.”
I know he’s playing for time. He doesn’t think I notice him side-eyeing the Glock. It’s like he’s playing double-dutch like the kids do with the jump rope. Waiting for his chance to go for it.
“You’re right. And why not? I’ve got some time to kill. See, two years ago this week I was driving with my wife and daughter. My Helen was just barely four years old. Still had to sit in a car seat. Days before, my wife Daphne had been saying the brakes were going bad and it looked like one of the tires was worn. Wanted to take the car in to the shop. I told her I’d get them tomorrow, then another tomorrow.”
“But tomorrow never came, huh?” Lester takes another slow step towards the gun. I let him.
“Well, you know how it goes. What happened next is what people call ‘a perfect storm of events’. It’d been raining pretty hard that night. Pretty much like it’s starting to do now. Slick tires, bad brakes, high speed.”
“Lemme guess, London Bridge came falling down. Wait, that car that hit that closed-off section of the 145th Bridge couple of years back. Made the news and headlines. That was you?”
“Plunged twenty feet. I got loose. Crushed leg and concussion, hence the walking stick. I couldn’t get my girls free. I tried. Lord knows I tried. All while we were sinking in the dark, I tried.”
“Dude, man. That’s harsh as shit.”
“Yeah. Leg healed. I mean yeah, walking stick, but yeah. My mind though. My mental state. Knowing all I had to do was fix the brake and tires. My babygirl, my wife. Something broke in me. I lost something that night. More than just my wife and child. Something in me most people have, but apparently, I don’t anymore. So yeah, the past three nights this week I went to the bridge. Thinking it over.”
“Trying to get the nerve, huh?” He’s within range of the gun. This just got even more interesting.
“Nah, the nerve’s there. Was trying to determine the maximum impact.”
“So, hold up. If you trying to off yourself, why the bulletproof vest?”
“Guess I’m a sucker for irony, my line of work being what it is. Daphne always insisted I wear this thing everywhere. It also adds ten pounds. Like I said, maximum impact.”
“So, tonight was to be the night, huh?”
“Yeah, I pulled out my wallet to look at my wife and kid one last time.”
“Guess this is the part where I came in.”
“Had you simply taken the money and left the wallet, I’d have considered it no harm no foul. Had you even straight-up robbed me at gunpoint, I’d have given you the money. You didn’t even need the wallet.”
“But instead I ran up behind you, snatched the wallet, and kept running.”
“What I don’t get is this. You’re big time in the streets, Lester. Wallet snatching should be beneath you at this point in the game.”
“Yeah, it is. Guess I wanted to teach you a lesson about pulling out a wallet in New York without looking first.”
Wait, is he grinning?
“I didn’t even get a chance to see them one last time.”
“Well, I took the money, but I tossed the wallet. Didn’t think you’d be a dick, Dick, and follow me into this alley.”
“Clearly, it’s why you wheeled around and shot me.”
“So, backstories told all around. What’s the play now, Dick?”
“Way I see it, one of us isn’t leaving this alley alive.”
“Question is…which one.”
“Well, I think it comes down to this. You have a gun by your feet. I just have my walking stick.”
“And your vest.”
“But I’m betting you’re a good enough shot that you can work around that, right?”
He’s considering this. I see it in his eyes. He looks at his watch, then back to me. The rain is coming down harder now. It’s officially a downpour. The setting couldn’t be more noir. Two men in a dark alley, trash bags smelling up the air, rain falling on both the good and the bad. The evil and the just. The quick and the dead.
We both obsess, he and I. We both have somewhere to be. Both of us waiting. Neither of us wanting. Less than twenty feet from each other. Standing in this alleyway. This dark, dank, corridor of despair. Fitting for a midnight standoff. Neither of us expected the night to go this way. We both had other plans. I get that. He didn’t think I’d follow him. I get that, too. But it should have at least crossed his mind, hard-edged gangster that he is. He did mug me, after all.
Lester sees now that it wasn’t about the wallet. Personally, I’ve never been the ‘all about the Benjamins’ type. Lester now sees it was about the picture. Pure and simple. My one last chance to see Daphne and Helen. One last reminder of the good times before the accident. But Lester took that one last chance away from me. So now I’m going to take something away from him.
As he looks me eye to eye, man to man, it starts to sink in for him. One of us really won’t be leaving this alley. As sure as the rain, it comes down to one inescapable truth. A battle between two opposing forces. A man, tense for what happens next…against a man without fear.
He gauges the distance between us. The time it would take to go down for the gun and squeeze the trigger. Smart move would be to just fire and hit me. Even if he hits the vest, the impact will knock me off balance. Give him time to square off a proper aim. He’s gotta be weighing the odds. Figures it’s in his favor against an unarmed man.
But I’m not unarmed.
My walking stick is hollowed out. In reality, it’s a sheath, a scabbard housing a 30-inch sword blade.
Lester makes his move. I make mine. He drops low, his fingers touch the Glock. I’m already in motion. The sword comes out, but he’s too far away to stab or slice. Instead, I throw the stick hard for his face, bouncing it off the forehead. He shakes it off and points. I brace for what’s about to come next. He takes the shot, but I’m already in motion. The bullet catches me in the vest, just outside the ribs. Hurts like a bitch but I use the impact to whirl me around. I was close enough. I sliced the blade across his chest. He shot again but it went wide, but it was so loud it felt like my eardrum burst. I twirled the sword for a downward angle. The blade plunged deep into the chest. The soft, squishing sound of the heart being punctured. I see the blade tip dripping with blood. I stay in position until the gun slips the grip. I look him in the eyes. What was once the look of vim and vigor and vitality now seemed vacant, venous, venting as the soul vapors away. The knees give way and Lester slumps, sliding off my sword and falling into a heap to the ground. I use the rain to rinse off the blade, as I look down on what used to be a living, breathing person.
“Sorry, Lester. We both knew it could come to this. I just knew it would come to you. Rest in peace, Price Lester Grimes.”
I house the sword again. An innocent walking stick once more. I check my watch.
“Darn it all to heck. I have ten minutes. If I hurry, if I push it, I can make it to the bridge just in time.”
Daphne, Helen, I’m on my way.
THE NAMELESS DETECTIVE - STORY 2
It’s not raining as hard anymore. Little more than a drizzle at this point. There are still the occasional lightning streaks to light up the midnight New York sky. I count the Mississippi’s for the thunder that follows. The lightning’s miles away. Soon it will be just another night in the city. The calm after the storm. I guess here is as good a place as any to start this story. “Here” being after the fact.
I should probably back up a bit. Give a little context to the story. There’s this bridge in New York. The 145th. Spans across the Harlem River. Same bridge I’m standing on now while I tell this story. Same bridge I was driving on two years ago with my wife and daughter, Daphne and Helen. Some days prior to that drive Daphne kept telling me the tires were worn and the brakes had been giving. Told her I would take care of it tomorrow. Then another tomorrow. Then tomorrow again. Then came the night we were driving in the rain. A hydroplane, a freak jump. A car plunges into the Harlem River. I make it out. I tried to free them. Underwater. Cold water. Dark water. For as long as my breath held, I tried. I broke my leg in that tragedy. But I broke something else, too. Something mental. Something in my psychological make-up. The leg healed. The mental, it never did. Whatever broke up there in my head stayed broken. I left something down there in the deep with my wife and child. I can’t really put a finger on what it was. Thing is, whatever it was, it got replaced by a healthy dose of guilt. Of infinite sadness. Survivor’s remorse is a bitch.
Crap. I did it again. Made a promise to my daughter Helen. Helen would be almost six years old now. I promised her I wouldn’t curse anymore.
So, awhile back I became convinced it’d be better to join them down there below the water than live and breathe above it. And yes, I know the bodies are no longer there. I know they’re at Eternal Peace Memorial Cemetery. But it’s about the symbolism, you know? Tonight would have been the night for the jump. The forecast was for heavy rain. I arrived at the bridge and took out my wallet to look at their picture one last time. Well, right at that moment, the wallet was taken out of my hand. A snatch and run. Took a moment to catch up to him.
The wallet snatcher turned out to be Lester Grimes. Escaped convicted felon. I caught up to Lester in an alley not too far from here. Well, then Lester pulls out a gun and – hold up. I’m missing something in the backstory. The part where I mention I’m a former cop and now a private detective. I even have that private detective look. London Fog trench coat, dark denim jeans, a white button-down shirt, and a bulletproof vest underneath. The only thing I don’t have is a gun. Not a fan of guns. Even when I was a cop. I carry around a walking stick, though. Doesn’t exactly fit the private eye motif, I know, but it works for me. Nice stick, too. Dark brown, hardwood with a smooth finish. Round ball padded handle on top and rubber grip at the bottom. So anyway, here’s where I’ll make a long story short. Lester Grimes shoots, thinks I’m dead. I’m not on account of my vest. We fight, he dies. End of story. Well, end of that story. The backstory.
I feel like I’m missing something in that backstory, though. No worries, if it’s important, it’ll come to me.
So, I’m here I am. Back at the 145th bridge. Thirty minutes later. So why am I doing this soliloquy instead of jumping to join Daphne and Helen? Wait. Soliloquy? Monologue? Narration? My little brother’s tutor would have had a field day with my poor choice of words. Ms. June Brooks. Let me tell you, I was so enamored of her. Now here’s the thing, my brother is eight years under me, and Ms. June Brooks and I were near bout the same age. She had a voice that could hypnotize, curves like Aphrodite, and a butt that swung like a pendulum when she walked.
My bad, I kinda digressed a bit. Let’s just say I was "hot for teacher". I never made any moves on her though. You know, on account of my brother. But maybe that was part of the reason why I was so drawn to Daphne when we met. She was a teacher. Taught middle school English classes. Probably why I won her over after taking her to karaoke our third date in and did Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”.
Wait, am I digressing again, or is this a segue way? I dunno. And I still feel like there’s something I forgot to mention in that backstory. So anyway, I made it back to the 145th bridge with my walking stick and with about three minutes to spare. The rain had started to come down nice and good. Lightning in the distance drew closer. I was trying to gauge how much ground speed I’d need to jump for maximum distance. I was crunching numbers, doing a calculation of distance and weight and momentum. Never was the best at math but I needed to get it to track. I was only gonna get one shot at this.
Then I heard it. A feminine voice. Firm. Loud. Distressed.
“Just take my car and go! I don’t care! Just leave me alone.”
I didn’t look, despite how close the voice sounded. I tried to ignore it. Even told myself I couldn’t hear anything over the thunder. After all, I had two minutes to get the timing right. I laid the walking stick on the curb and got ready for my running start.
Then I heard another voice. Deeper, masculine, and even louder. “C’mon Becca! Get in the car. Get out the rain. I didn’t mean it.”
Domestic squabble. Let them work it out. I had a family to get to.
“But you never mean it, do you, Leroy?”
At that moment I turned my head to see a car that at first was moving to a slow crawl came to a stop. A woman walking as brisk as her rainboots would allow. Her dark blue overcoat had a swaying flow that would have been better served had it been buttoned up. A light-toned man in a black wife beater with jeans and suspenders got out the driver's side. He ran up to her and grabbed her by the elbow. His muscles flexed, making the tattooed female image on his bicep shift.
“I said get in the car! Now you made me get all wet.”
He had her in height and weight. Had me as well, if I’m being honest.
“Look, my students at the school need me and I have to have my head right for them. Please, Leroy just let me go.”
A teacher. Crap. Daphne would kill me all over again if I went to join her and Helen without doing something about this. Every bit of me wanted to cuss like a Marine who stubbed a barefoot toe.
“Daphne, Helen, give me a moment,” I said. I picked up my walking stick and headed towards the fray. This was most definitely not how I wanted the night to go.
“So, a bunch of snot-nosed brats more important than me now? What about my needs, huh?”
That’s when I saw something that made my blood boil. This Leroy person just up and back slapped this woman so hard she stumbled and fell. So now this became a thing. When I was on the police force, calls for domestic disturbances were always the tough ones. You got the ones who didn’t want to press charges. The ones who blamed themselves for being on the receiving end. And men, like this Leroy, who think he’s God’s gift and talking like he’s got a chip on his shoulder. Saddest part? When they end up going back to the men the next day.
“See what you made me do?” He stood over her like some lord and master. Fist clenched, as if he dared her to get up. “This wouldn’t have happened if you would’ve just gotten in the damn car.”
Well, there was nothing I could do for tomorrow. But tonight, yeah.
“Hey, Leroy! That you, man?” I’d hoped to distract him from going for another strike. Both he and the woman looked up and towards my approach.
“Who the hell are you?” Leroy hadn’t expected interference.
“Oh, it’s just me.”
The Becca woman saw this as a chance to scramble backward to give her some distance. Leroy pointed at her but kept his eyes on me.
“I don’t know a ‘me’,” he said, looking at me intently.
“No worries, you will.”
Becca helped herself back to her feet. Her cheek was clearly bruised. A clear contrast to the soft features of the rest of her. Her makeup ran a bit. Was it due to crying or the downpour? Guess that’s the thing about the rain. No one can tell the tears.
“This ain’t your business, Pops,” he scowled.
“Pops? Wow. Is it the gray patch in my hair?” I looked at this man standing not even twenty feet from me. He was the lean and solid type. That pretty boy looks with just enough facial hair to say he has some. Early thirties, maybe? No wonder he called me Pops. Kids these days. He stood his ground, chest swelling in and out with each breath.
“Thing is, you’re right,” I said. “It’s not my business. It wasn’t, until I saw what I saw. You pimp slapped this woman. Couldn’t unsee that.”
“She ain’t YOUR woman, though, man. Still, ain’t your business.”
“Ain’t? C'mon. Grammar, son. Okay yeah, but see, my mother told me, a so-called man who puts his hands on a woman, well, that isn’t a man. So, what you say bout it, Leroy? You’se a big boy, though. You think hitting a woman makes you a man?”
He made a look that was a cross between a sneer and a smirk as he reached behind his back.
“Pops, I’d say me knowing how to use this, makes me a man.”
He shows me his offering. A twelve-inch fixed blade tactical knife with brass knuckles at the grip.
Seeing him brandish that potsticker of his made me remember the part of the back story I almost forgot. My walking stick, it’s not just for support. The balled handle disconnects to form a hilt to a thirty-inch sword blade, a Japanese import. Forged and folded of Damascus steel. Cost a pretty penny but worth every cent. As I pulled the hilt from the scabbard, I was tempted to say something corny and high schoolish like, “you call that a knife”, or some such. But the sight of the gleaming steel spoke for itself. I lowered the blade and looked at the woman to reassure her.
“Take the car Miss Teacher. Get out this thunderstorm. You got minds to mold in the morning. I got this tonight.”
She nodded in silence and made her way to the vehicle.
“Becca, you stay right here! Rebecca!”
But she ignored him. Guess she’d heard that tune too often before.
I used my body as a buffer between the two. Moved to match Leroy’s direction.
The driver's side door opened and closed. Leroy took a step towards the car but blunted his step when he saw my sword follow his move to intercept.
“No, no,” I said. “This is a school night.”
“You think you bad, Old Man? You think that stick makes you something?”
He glared at me. His eyes had their own sense of lightning about them. He was like a bull ready to charge a matador. Fingers caressed the brass knuckles around the handle of that knife.
“First Pops, now Old Man? Wow. I mean, yeah, my bones do crack a bit. But c’mon, Old Man?”
His growing rage told me he didn’t care for my nonchalant approach. We started circling each other, like boys about to throw down in a schoolyard fight.
“You come between me and my woman and you talking like this is a game, pops? What the hell? You think this is a game, Pops?”
I paused as if to give it some thought, but also to let the rolling thunder pass by.
“No, but I’ll tell you what I think, though. See? I had something planned tonight. What you and…who – Becca? Rebecca? I was gonna leave you be. Wasn’t my business. But then you had to haul off and hit her. See, I can’t let that slide. So here we are.”
He stopped with the circling and stood his ground. I could tell he was trying to decide his next move.
“So, what you gon’ do, Old Man. Make all Zorro like. Try it, Pops. I’m the best blade in Harlem.” He put a spin on the knife around his middle finger and caught it with the remaining three fingers into the knuckle holes.
“Impressive,” I said.
Old Man. Pops. Maybe I needed to teach Leroy a lesson. You know, school of hard knocks. Yeah, yeah, I know it's cliche. forgive me, I'm in a mood. I ran the sword through a figure eight in the air. It’s all in the wrist. I did a quick rotation that went into a parry and thrust and pointed the tip, rigid and unmoving. I then guided it back into the scabbard. An unassuming walking stick once more.
“See, kid. All that’s slick in the flicks.” I placed the walking stick on the pavement beside me. “But where I come from, you’re either good enough to walk on water – or bad enough to wrestle the alligator in the swamp.”
Leroy smiles all teeth now.
“Okay, Pops. We’ll play your game,” he said as his knife clanged to the ground. He dropped low and got into a stance well known in the gym and on pay-per-view.
“A boxer, huh?” I said.
“Yeah, so what? C’mon!”
In retrospect, I don’t know what made me do it. But I stood toe to toe with Leroy and we started exchanging blows. Strangely enough, each punch I took, it was as if my tension was being released. Sure, I blocked my face well enough, but Leroy was experienced enough to get body shots in. His puzzled look didn’t know he was punching my vest instead of my guts. Still, the frustration of not being able to save my Daphne and Helen, it was slowly seeping away. Maybe this was what I needed. A catharsis. Not just this fight, but the giving action to my anger. To shout with my fists instead of my death wish. To rage against the feeling of uselessness. The more he punched and kicked, the more I wanted more. The more I answered them in return. In that one moment, the night was summed up in a cacophony of lightning streaks, strikes, punches, and thunder. I harnessed my guilt. Channeled it into targets on Leroy’s person. I welcomed each hit he gave. Took it and returned to sender. In the end, it was experience over youth. Lester Grimes had lasted longer, but I let Leroy live. My last punch to the throat sent him to the pavement, gasping for air. I hovered over the once towering figure. Now bloodied, bruised and broken.
“Okay, man, okay!” he gasped with a strained voice.
Hearing Leroy’s voice again brought me out of myself. I looked around. Surprisingly, no one was within eyesight. Thankfully, that meant the fight and my face wouldn’t be plastered all over social media. I fixed my soaking wet clothes to look respectable again. Nothing I could do about the blood on my hands but let the rain wash them away. But even the rain was starting to wane. The thunder, many Mississippi’s away.
“You know, Leroy, for reasons you will never understand, I actually needed this.” I looked down at the knife and thought about what could have been. “Maybe Rebecca will leave you. Maybe tonight’s the night. Or maybe she’ll go back to you tomorrow. I don’t know. The struggle between mind and heart and whatnot. But the detective in me? I’m going to be checking up on her. Yeah, I’ll be around.”
I used the tail end of my trench to pick up the knife. I still had some pals on the force. Might want to run prints, DNA, cop stuff. Might be a case that can be closed. Or maybe not. It was a pretty hard rain tonight. But still.
“You can go,” I say to a still on his butt Leroy. “The knife stays.”
Leroy rose and tried to say something, but it looked like the blow to the throat was still stinging. Instead, he glared and gave me the finger and walked away.
A few minutes later and I’m back where I began. Staring over the water. Thinking about Helen and Daphne. But now I’m also thinking about this teacher. This Rebecca. I made a difference tonight. Who knows, maybe I can make a difference again. I am a detective, after all.
Daphne, Helen, with your indulgence, maybe I don’t quit my day job just yet.