FOR DAPHNE AND HELEN
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 need 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 flak 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 were 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, 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.