Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hollow Point - Chapter 1, Part 4

It took nearly half an hour to get her started talking again. She became incoherent, then cried for a while. We ended up sitting together on the futon. Holding her awkwardly, I let her sob herself out against my chest. I flashed back to the times I had held Sylvia like that, and again wondered why Chester had to send a woman.

When she finally calmed down I made coffee—instant. I keep a jar of decaf and a jar of regular in the apartment. I made two mugs of decaf; I figured neither of us needed the caffeine.

I handed her a mug, then sat in the easy chair. "What happened after the guy in the sweatshirt picked up the sledgehammer?"

She blew across the top of her coffee. "I don't know. That's all I saw. Then the man in the suit spotted me and pointed. The policeman turned toward me and I ran."

"To Father Albright's church."

"That's right.

I took a sip of my coffee. It was too hot. "Why did you run to the church?"

"That's all I could think to do. I couldn't go to the police."

"Did you get a look at any of their faces?"

"No. It was too dark."

"Where did all this happen?"

"In an alley somewhere east of Blake Street."

I waited until she drank some coffee, then said, "Where east of Blake?"

"I don't know—maybe between Seventeenth and Eighteenth. It was just a block or two from the ball park."

"Were you out to score? Is that why you were there in this weather?" During off-season, the neighborhood around the baseball stadium served as a meeting place for drug dealers, hookers, and their respective customers.

"I was supposed to meet Billy at the main entrance to the park. He was going to fix me up."

I put my cup down on the table beside the easy chair and got to my feet. "I'm going to look at the scene."

She jumped up from the futon, scratching at her neck and glancing around. "You’re going to the police. I told you, one of them was a cop."

"Calm down. I’m not going to the cops. Like I said, I’m just going to check out the scene."

"That’s all?"

"That’s all." She sat back down.

I took the .44 from beneath the newspaper and her eyes widened with fear. She scratched furiously at her neck, and her breathing became rapid and shallow.

Tucking the pistol inside my belt at the small of my back, I went to the small closet beside the nearly-as-small kitchenette. I pulled my short jacket from a wooden hanger, shrugged into it, and zipped it up.

"Take the futon," I said. "There are clean sheets in here." I nodded toward the closet.

Again she scratched at her neck. "I… I can't take your bed."

"You can, and you will." My tone informed her that the discussion was at an end, but I felt a sudden need to moderate it. "I'll be fine in the chair."

I went to the apartment door. "Put the deadbolt on when I leave, and don't open the door for anyone. I'll knock three times, pause, then knock three more before I use my key. Understand?"

She looked into her hands, folded in her lap. She didn’t respond.

"Do you understand?"

"Yes." She still didn’t look up.

I opened the door, stepped out into the blowing snow, and pulled the door closed behind me. I heard her set the deadbolt.
My eyes stung and watered in the stiff wind that blew snow around me in eddies. I walked north-east along Seventeenth Street.

It was the third week of December, just six days before Christmas, and already it looked like it would be one damned cold and snowy winter. The National Weather Service and the various almanacs called for a mild one, but I wasn't so sure. I only hoped there wouldn't be as much snow as there had been last year. For two weeks Denver had shut down, and only those who were willing to trudge through the four foot drifts went anywhere.

I hurried past stores and bars decorated in red and green Christmas lights. The stores were closed, but the bars were open, and the lights only served to make them appear more forlorn. They did little to improve my mood.

Somehow, those sad lights got me thinking about Chester and why he'd sent Crystal to me. He knew what I was going through—another Christmas without Sylvia. So, why had he sent her? And why in hell had I let her in? She'd interrupted my plans, and that upset me more than I cared to admit.

Of course, I knew the answer to that last question. It was because I'd had to let her in. This was all part of my atonement. Obviously, I wasn't through yet. If I had been able to kill myself tonight, it would all be over by now. But I hadn't, and it was beginning to look like it would never be over.

The universe simply wasn't finished messing with me yet. It had more in store, and I suspected none of it would be good.
I checked my watch in a street lamp's glow as I crossed against the light on Lawrence Street, heading at a brisk pace through LoDo—lower downtown—for Seventeenth and Blake. It was 12:22. Not many people were out at this hour, certainly not on a night like this. It was still too early for the bars to let out, and much too late for those not yet in a bar to head for one. The hookers would already have their last Johns for the night, and the only ones about were drug dealers and their customers.

I went down the alley between Lawrence and Blake, toward Eighteenth, my right hand resting on the .44 at my back. I glanced around, making sure I wasn’t being followed. I wasn't. At the end of the block I continued down the alley toward Nineteenth.

I found what I was looking for about mid-block, beside an overflowing Dumpster. Although it was too dark to make out the fine details, it ranked among the worst things I had ever seen.

The body was unrecognizable as Billy Simpson's; the man with the sledgehammer had seen to that. Hands and head were pounded to pulp.

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