The battered Crown Vic cut a U-turn and stopped at the curb. The cop behind the wheel sent his passenger window down and leaned toward me.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
It was a fair question. In this neighborhood, an outsider was usually shopping for illicit substances.
I stood with both hands away from my sides. When I was sure he was okay with my next move, I pointed at my ID on its lanyard.
“I’m with the library. We’re reopening the branch.”
He seemed unimpressed.
“You were supposed to be notified,” I said.
“Yeah, well, we weren’t.”
I thought a little bonding might help. We were both grunts, weren’t we?
“That’s the brass for you.”
“You must be out of your fucking mind.”
He floored his gas pedal and made another U. This time, at least, he was traveling the right direction on the one way street.
I unhooked my key ring from my belt and opened the front door. The lock was stiff, but the door moved well enough.
Inside my stomach lurched. To me, mildew is worse than the smell of blood, and yes, I know them both. I left the door ajar. Closing it wasn’t an option.
My task for today was to make a list of repairs needed and furniture and equipment to be replaced. If I had time, I would start to evaluate the books, still on the shelves four years after our budgetary retreat.
I heard nothing, but I felt a subtle motion in the air, too slight to be called a breeze. A civilian would have missed it, but I wasn’t one yet.
I turned. A young man, no more than seventeen, stood in the doorway. Just by occupying space he had stirred the stagnant air.
“Morning,” I said.
No reply, no smile, no expression at all.
“We’re not open today. I’m just getting ready.”
He looked around. “I like it. Good place to do business. Better than that damn street corner.”
“That is definitely not happening,” I said. “Not today, not any day.”
“I own this place. Clear?”
I took a step toward him. He reached behind his back. I could have told him that his oversized T-shirt would add a second to his quick draw, but I didn’t. Two more steps brought me in range. His hand reappeared holding a semiautomatic pistol, but he was late, and the toe of my boot was right on time.
He landed hard on his back. I stepped on his wrist, and his fingers splayed and released the gun. He should have been grateful, because now both hands were free to tend to his groin.
I looked at the gun on the linoleum, just within his reach. “A Glock. Very state of the art.”
He looked at it and considered his options, but I swept the gun away with my foot.
I took my cell phone from my pants pocket and called 911. Five minutes later the same cop sidled through the door with his gun drawn. I pointed at the Glock.
He looked me up and down and nodded.
“Marines?” he said.
“We have a situation here.”
“You know this gentleman?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I remember Jason from when he wasn’t just another dirt bag.” He thought for a while and stooped to pick the Glock up. “Jason, my man, here’s how it’s going down.”
The young man was looking better. He sat up without permission from the cop, but he and I both sensed that this wasn’t going by the book.
“I’m going to keep this,” said the cop. “With me so far?”
He waited for a sullen nod.
“Good. Here’s where you start listening, and listen good. This place is off limits. So is my friend here. You get the message, and I don’t have to tell your boss a librarian ate your lunch for you. Got that?”
“Good. Now get lost.”
The young man picked himself up and made a lengthy provocation out of walking out of the building. As long as he went, I was okay with that.
“Later,” said the cop.
I went back to work. Twenty minutes later, something made me swivel toward the door again. This time it was a ten-year-old boy. If he had a gun, I quit.
“Miss, you open yet?”
“Not officially,” I said. “But come on in.”
Albert Tucher is the creator of prostitute Diana Andrews, who has appeared in more than sixty hardboiled short stories and the novella THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE. In 2013 Albert Tucher made his debut in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine with a stand-alone story called HANGMAN’S BREAK.
Copyright © 2015 Albert Tucher. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.