Monday, August 2, 2010

Hollow Point - Chapter 2, Part 1

The familiar chill of excitement fluttered in my chest at the sight of Billy Simpson's mutilated body. Disgusted with myself, I forced the sensation down.

I suddenly knew what had struck me as wrong about Crystal’s description of the murder scene. She had said the man who’d stabbed Billy wiped his knife on Billy's hoodie. The body spread out before me was dressed in worn and soiled clothing—including a blood-smeared hoodie—all of it too tight, in contrast to Billy's trademark tailored suits.

And his customary bling was gone. He always wore rings, a white-gold pendent, and a gold watch. But none of it was present.

From my conversation with Crystal, I knew the mutilation to his head and hands had been caused by a sledgehammer. I scanned the alley. There had to be something more left by whoever had killed Billy, a hint that might lead me to their identities.

I walked in ever widening arcs out from the Dumpster, trying to locate some small clue—the knife, the sledgehammer, a blood trail, a dropped quarter or dime, anything. I saw nothing but glimpses beneath the snow of the normal refuse that collects in a city alley around a Dumpster. Fast food wrappers, beer cans, scraps of nondescript paper, used condoms, and other things I really didn't want to think about.

I had been hoping, too, for footprints, anything to indicate the route the killers had taken into or out of the alley. But, predictably, the scene around the Dumpster had been well traveled, the snow trampled and packed, and here were far too many footprints to distinguish any in particular. I couldn't determine which direction the killers had taken entering or leaving.
My thoughts were clouded and grim by the time I reached my apartment. Not since Afghanistan had I seen anything like what was in that alley. I hadn't expected it in this part of the world, in this city. It left my legs weak and shaky—something I wouldn't have thought possible. Yet thought of it still sent the tingle of excitement fluttering in my chest, just as combat had done in Afghanistan.

Damn! I thought, and again suppressed that feeling.

Descending the five well-worn cement steps, I knocked on the door as I'd told Crystal I would, then used my key and let myself in. Although the covers on the futon were considerably more rumpled than they had been before I left, I didn't think Crystal had been sleeping. Her gaze was unfocused, her movements more jerky than before as she glanced around and scratched her neck. She hadn't bothered to change the sheets.

I took the weapon from the small of my back, then placed it on the table beside the easy chair. I put the newspaper's front section on top of it. Crystal watched me.

"What did you find?" she asked as I straightened up.


"What do you mean nothing?" Her voice quavered, and I knew my tactic had only frightened her more.

"Not nothing," I said. "It was exactly what you described."

She nodded hesitantly.

"I have to go out again," I said.

"Why? Where?"

"I have to see someone." I didn't want to tell her who, or for what purpose; I didn't know what would come of it.

I reinforced the instructions about not opening the door, then told her to get some sleep. I went into the bathroom, shaved the stubble on both my head and my face and took a quick shower. Crystal was asleep by the time I finished.

Not wishing to wake her, I took my dark three-piece pin-stripe suit and fedora into the bathroom and dressed quickly and quietly. When I was finished, I took my overcoat from the closet and tucked the .44 into its flap pocked. I locked the deadbolt with my key as I left.
Snow still fell heavy and the wind howled. This was the season that produced blood about half the time when I blew my nose. The air was too cold to hold much moisture; it cracked my nasal membranes, and it hurt to simply breathe. In spite of having retired from the Navy SEALs and returning to Denver nearly three years before—Forced to retire, I reminded myself—my body was still accustomed to a more humid climate.

The two winters I had spent in Denver with Sylvia were beautiful. With her, the city became a winter wonderland—the weather not just bearable, but fun. Now, without her, the storms seemed simply cold, and a general pain in the ass.

I walked to the Market Street bus station through the driving snow and caught the free shuttle bus toward the Broadway end of the Sixteenth Street Mall. Small LED lights, strung in the leafless trees along the retail strip, whipped in the wind. Some of the shop windows were decorated for the holiday with bright dioramas.

The shuttle was nearly empty and I sat in a side-facing seat near the front. Two drunks sat at the rear of the bus, watching me with obvious bad intent. I was positive both the scar on my face and my six-foot-four, two-hundred-forty pound frame kept them from jumping me. It certainly wasn't the way I was dressed; my suit was cut to minimize my muscular build, no matter how unsuccessfully.

Part of me wanted them to try it. I craved the violence. Excitement again fluttered in my chest, and I forced it down, even as my hand rested on the pistol in my coat pocket.

The shuttle ride up the mall gave me time to think, and my thoughts turned to Angel. The rat and I had talked again tonight, as we had so often in the past three years. I'd told her what I planned to do and why I planned to do it. And in the end, although reluctantly, she had agreed with my reasoning. After all, under the circumstances it was the only logical thing I could do.

Of course, I knew the rat hadn't talked to me at all. It was all in my head, in my addled mind. I had been in a very fragile state tonight, before Crystal knocked on my door and pulled me out of myself—much more so than most nights. It was on such nights that Angel and I talked.

How long had it been since I'd slept? Four, maybe five nights. Too damned long. But then, I didn't want to sleep; I couldn't. The nightmares came when I slept, more memories than dreams. Memories of my last assignment in Afghanistan, and of my wife, Sylvia, and our unborn child.

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