(From the Pulp Crime stories)

I’ve got problems, and it’s not just the fact that I woke up with a 9mm pressed to my skull. My problem is that the gun and the uneasy resemblance of a man connected to it hardly phase me. The third time this month I’ve let this happen. That’s more often than I floss. And to think I call myself a professional.

I try to think about where I last left my gun. Come on, think back to when you arrived you despicable drunk. That’s right. I pulled open the bottom drawer on my desk, placed the gun inside, and pulled out my bottom shelf whiskey. Damn. The gun is impossible to reach without being seen by my captor. My problems keep piling up. I’m not even going to count drinking until I pass out, forehead pressed against the desk, mouth dripping saliva. I’ll worry about that another day.

 The figure slid back into the shadows before my head can clear its way thorough the haze of whiskey. The only thing I can make out is an outline, and a gun gleaming in the light of my computer monitor.

Maybe the third time will be the charm. Maybe this guy will kill me already. He probably knows it would be a waste of ammunition. More likely this guy doesn’t know shit. Just another idiot who I pissed off. He came barging in here full of adrenaline, thinking he had a plan. Now that he’s inside and in control, he’s slowing beginning to realize what the hell he just did. This is a man of reason. Someone who’s never even held a gun at a living thing. He’s probably scared and would have run away if he hadn’t made a point of waking me up. He’s at a loss and the silence proves it. If I don’t say something we’ll be here all night, and I’d like to get back to that dream. The pretty brunette with the curly hair was just about to reject me. That’s always my favorite part.

Come on focus. How do I want to approach this situation? Time to decide between my two favorites. The first is the classic Bogart approach. Start talking tough. Point out the shaking gun and silence. Show him I’m not scared. Prove that I’m in control. He’ll freeze, I’ll make my move, and just like that I’m holding the gun and his hands are pointed toward the ceiling fan.

Approach number two isn’t nearly as impressive, but it has gotten me out of several one- man firing squads. Start begging for mercy. That’s all most of these impetuous thugs ever want. I’ve caught them cheating, stripped them of their manhood, now they are going to take away mine. I give them the whimpering fool that they want. They punch me in the gut and run off. I’m normally too out of breath to kindly remind these idiots to steal those incriminating photos.

Either one of these should work today. Wish I had a coin to toss.

 No time to pick. The gun fires. An echo blasts through my ears and a bullet comes to a halt somewhere inside my left shoulder. I hope he was aiming for that because if he was trying to kill me he did a terrible job. Worthless.

I try my best not to scream, instead, I send out a grimace through grit teeth. I turn and look out my second story window to see if anyone may have heard or seen something. Maybe someone heard the shot, but there was no way they saw anything. A fog had covered the entire cityscape.

My mother used to tell me that the fog was God smoking cigars. As a kid I always thought that seemed cruel. Why would God give us all second hand smoke? Then I grew up, spent a little more time in public, it all made sense.

I should have noticed the fog on my way back to the office. I used to be aware of my surroundings and able to anticipate change. Lately, I’ve just been going through the motions. I was too busy worrying about my next drink and ignoring my future. I should have taken notice of the ominous sign. It’s rare for a fog like that to settle in. It means a major change is coming. Most of the time it means colder weather. Today, it meant someone was going to waltz into my office and shoot me. And I call myself a professional.

Enough was enough. I need this guy to start talking so he can leave. If he doesn’t leave I can’t get to the hospital. I may hate myself, but not enough to bleed to death. Not to mention leave a nasty mess to clean up later. I try to be as polite as I can.

“I’m just curious. Are you a mute?”

Good job. Maybe now he’ll shoot you in the other arm. One day I’ll learn to stop being an ass.

“Will you quit trying to egg me on into killing you? You are not getting out of a failed life that easily,” he countered.

His voice was calm, confident, lacking the quivering lips I had expected. Every now and then I find myself underestimating people. It always gets me into trouble. Should learn to stop, but I must enjoy self-destruction.

The second he finally spoke I knew who was attached to the gun. It was the one man I had hoped it wouldn’t be. Bill Decklan, my former professor and advisor. A month ago his wife had requested my services. She had grown suspicious of Bill. His schedule was constantly changing. This was rare for a man that had followed the same routine for over 20 years. He was someone who threatened to leave his position at the University just to ensure his schedule stayed the same. This sudden change was a trademark sign of a cheater. His wife wasn’t stupid, and she needed to know the truth.

 I didn’t want to help her. Bill was the closest thing I had to a trusted friend. Without him, I could very well be in prison right now. A year ago, I wasn’t a private investigator, I was a blackmailer. I made it possible for students to gain influence over their professors. They paid my partner and I well. We were able to leave behind our careers. They were a disgrace to our degrees anyway.

Things took a turn for the worse like they always do. A girl, one of our clients, was murdered. The police are always looking for the quickest way out. We were pegged for the murder. My partner, never one to be noble, skipped out of town leaving me for a patsy. I never would have been able to avoid the cops long enough to set things right without Bill.

After it was all over I made a promise to leave that life behind. I tried, but I couldn’t do it. Every day I tried, I swear to God, but the guilt of her death and what I did to make things right haunted me. I could have moved on with my life, but I kept punishing myself. Maybe if I stayed a private investigator, I would never amount to anything. That’s what I deserved. Guilt was the only thing that drove me. It kept away any motivation for a real life. Bill could never understand. He resented my decision, and I lost my mentor.

“Jesus Christ, Decklan was it necessary to shoot me?” I asked.

“I wanted you to know I was serious,” he replied.

“A gun to my face isn’t serious enough?”

It wasn’t. Until he shot me I figured I was dealing with another chump.

“I know how stubborn you can be and if I’m going to get those pictures I needed to prove to you I mean business.”

I hate when someone else is right.

 “You shot me you fucking prick. I’m gonna be even more difficult now,” I spat back. “What’s so important about those pictures? Emily is already suspicious, and it’s only a matter of time until she finds out. You’ll just be stalling.”

He stumbled at the sound of her name. You could see it in his eyes as they began to dart across the room. You can look around all you want, but this conversation is going to continue. He had the gun. He had the advantage. I could at least make him uncomfortable. I could tell it was working as he tried to turn the attention away from himself.

“Why are you still doing this stuff? I look at you and see all that potential being wasted away. It’s one thing to give up on a real career if you’ve found another successful outlet. Let’s be honest, though, you aren’t even doing a good job of being a P.I. I spotted you at the hotel before you even had the camera ready. And now from the looks of things you’ve become an alcoholic. Letting yourself pass out, unarmed in your unlocked office where hundreds of incriminating files of powerful people can be found. That’s just pathetic. If someone were to come in here and kill you, the police would call it a suicide.”

So much for making him uncomfortable. He certainly had me figured out. It’s one thing to hate yourself and it’s another thing to have someone deconstruct you in under a couple of minutes. I did my best to seem unfazed. It was time to lie and shift the conversation back at him.

“My conscience is clean. I sleep just fine at night. You, on the other hand, are too busy fucking some girl. Some girl who isn’t your wife.”

He was no longer calm and confident. His speech was rushed and nervous at the mention of the girl.

“I, I never slept with her.”

“The pictures I have of you entering a motel together, at night, and leaving after 45 minutes. Now see, that, tells me a different story.”

“I had to meet her someplace safe, you wouldn’t understand. I can’t let you understand. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve gotten involved with something.” He paused unable to continue.

“Bill, I can’t help you if I have no idea what you’re talking about? Would ya stop being so cryptic? Just tell me straight up without the runaround.”

He cocked the gun and pointed it at my chest. I didn’t think he really would shoot, but everything he did was the act of a desperate man. Desperate men can’t be held accountable for their actions. They are prone to put themselves into greater feats of desperation. A dead detective would definitely fall into that category.

“I can’t tell you anything else, goddammit! You are better off not knowing. You can’t tell anything to Emily either. Not because I have something to hide but because I want her to be safe. Now give me those photos.”

I pulled open the top drawer of my desk, grabbed the manila envelope, and tossed it to him.

“I’m going to need the other set too. The one you keep as a backup,” he commanded.

“I’ll have to move to get the other set. Make sure you don’t shoot me again.”

I pulled the photos out of the filing cabinet. Before I could hand them over, Bill ripped them from my grasp. He put his gun away, and scanned the photos. A triumphant smile crossed his face. Without even looking at me or saying another word he left.

Why the hell wouldn’t he tell me anything? Whatever was going on with him was serious. It was a good thing I had made a third set of the photographs. Sure, he knew me better than anyone, but I knew him well too.

Thought I wouldn’t try anything different on this case did ya, Deckland? I may be a drunken wreck, but I’m still better than any other P.I. in town. People forget that and it makes being the best easy.

I began to walk over to the safe placed strategically underneath the ficus tree. I needed to grab those photos and get this bullet out of me. Before I could get there a loud popping noise came from outside my building. It popped three times. I had heard enough of those to know what it was.

Oh Jesus.

Get your gun and get down there. There could still be time.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I reached the bottom and the front door. I hit the street, pushing the door aside, slamming it against the concrete of the building. Couldn’t see anybody, hell, I couldn’t even see the light post 10 feet in front of me. Goddamn fog. I was afraid to look at the ground. There it was, everything I didn’t want to see. A body draped across half of the curb and half of the road.

It was Bill. His face was pressed against the street, right arm outstretched across the curb, legs bent at the knees. There were three bullet holes in his back. The killer must have wanted to make sure he was dead. Poor bastard, you never saw it coming. The photos were gone.

I could hear the patter of blood draining from his wounds as I inched closer. It slowly dripped down into the sewer grate. The noise made me sick. I’m sure the color of my face became white just like the surrounding fog. I buckled. Vomit came out my mouth and it hurt. I sat motionless for several minutes, unable to accept what just happened. So many unanswered questions. Finally I stood up, ready to find answers to all of them.

It’s funny how a dead body can motivate you.

Andrew Scharf is a volunteer coordinator, for the time being, in the Cleveland area. He sparingly writes as a hobby, but he’d gladly leave real work behind to make copious amounts of money for a publisher. Just don’t ask him to write a decent bio. Comments, constructive criticism, or hate mail can be sent to drewscharf@yahoo.com.

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