"Just a minute," I said. I got up, went to the kitchen sink and filled a plastic tumbler with water, then rinsed out my mouth. The cold water sent a renewed lance of pain through my top front teeth.
I returned to the chair and sat. "Now, what happened? Why did Father Albright send you to me?"
"He said you'd help."
"Not until I know what happened to you. Maybe not even then."
When she finally spoke, her voice trembled with fear. "I saw... something."
"What did you see?"
"I saw someone killed."
"Tonight," she said, and again her gaze traveled the room, as if she feared someone might overhear.
"You're sure about that?"
"I'm sure." She shivered again, more violently than before.
"And you didn't go to the cops?"
"One of the killers was a cop."
"How do you know that?"
"He wore a uniform."
"A cop’s uniform?" She nodded. "How sure are you that it was a cop’s uniform?"
"Pretty sure—it looked like one. And I think they saw me."
"The killers saw you?"
She nodded again.
"Did they get a good look at you?"
"I didn't hang around long enough to find out. I just ran."
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. "What did you see?"
"Like I said, someone was killed."
"Do you know him—the guy who was killed?"
"I know him. It was Billy."
It was my turn to fall silent. I knew that name. Billy Simpson was a large black man of somewhere between forty-five and fifty years, a small-time drug dealer operating in and around Denver.
I no longer used drugs, and was doing my damnedest to stay away from them. Whiskey was my current poison of choice, applied in quantity and often. I'd quit drugs more than a year ago, but I knew Billy from when I used. He was my supplier back then, and I'd seen him on the street a handful of times since I'd quit buying from him. He was still around town. Or had been, if what Crystal was saying turned out to be true.
"How did you know Billy?"
"He was my ant. I got my stuff from him."
"What kind of stuff?"
I was right—she was a meth head.
"How do you know Father Albright?" I figured I knew the answer to that question, too, but her response mignt give me something.
"I've been going to his church for food for the past year."
Father Chester Albright took care of the homeless around Holy Sacrament Catholic Church in lower downtown Denver. He ran a sandwich line most days, handed out socks, hats and coats, and saw that those who needed medical care got it. I'd had considerable contact with the priest over the past three years. We attended local mixed martial arts contests together where I competed about once a month—not trying for a title, just feeding my addiction. We worked out together at the downtown YMCA gym four times a week, and met for an occasional handball game. In special cases, when someone needed a place to stay for a week or two, Chester sent them to me.
But this was the first time he'd sent a woman to my apartment, and that bothered me.
"What exactly did you see?" I asked.
"I saw a short man pull a knife from his pocket, while the policeman held a gun on Billy."
"What was the short guy wearing?"
"Jeans, a gray sweatshirt, a Rockies ball cap."
"Was he white or black?"
"And the cop?"
"What else happened?"
"The third man—a large white man in a suit—held Billy's arms from behind."
"Was he large, or just fat?"
"Both. He wasn't as tall as you—maybe six-one or two—but he was fat."
"About Billy's size?"
"What color was his suit?"
"Does it matter?" I noticed a sudden edge in her voice.
Crystal frowned, thinking, then said, "Black, I guess. It looked black in the alley’s dim light."
"Did Billy have his weapon?"
"He always carries a gun."
That was true enough. I, too, had seen Billy's gun on a number of occasions—a small nine millimeter Beretta. He had no problem waving it in everyone's face. But he knew better than to wave it in my direction. Had he ever done that, it would have become a permanent piece of his anatomy.
"He didn't use his gun tonight?"
"He didn't have a chance to pull it."
"So, the guy in the sweatshirt and jeans stabbed Billy."
Crystal nodded. "Twice. Once in the stomach, then once in the chest."
"The cop didn't shoot him."
"No. And the other two were taking orders from the man in the suit."
"What makes you say that?"
"The man in the suit told the man in the sweatshirt to stab Billy, and he did."
"Then what happened?"
"The man in the sweatshirt wiped his knife on Billy's hoodie and put it away." There was something strange about that, but I couldn't figure out what it was.
"He picked up a sledgehammer." She stopped and shivered again.