~ Pt. III~


It wasn't easy getting out of the hospital. There wasn't anything they could do to keep me in that bed, but they sure could make me wait for just one more check-up, one more X-ray, one more look at things. The usual.

But they let me out, eventually. They had to - I was fine. The doc couldn't believe his own eyes, especially when he looked at the X-rays they took the second time around. This time he couldn't see the fractures at all.

Now, that I could understand. Sometimes you take an X-ray and you see all kinds of shit that isn't really there. It's rare, but it happens.

But what I couldn't figure was my throat. It didn't hurt to talk so much, anymore. Now, that was a damn good thing, considering all the talking I had to do to get out of that room. But at the same time I couldn't really figure how I'd gone from being a mess of crushed, bruised meat and hardly able to whisper without wincing to being able to shout at the Candy Striper when she told me to be patient.

The doctor was calling my quick recovery a medical miracle. Me, I was calling my earlier prognosis sloppy work on their part, and made sure I got the receipts for all that extra labwork so I could add it to the per diem at the end of the ride.

I wasn't really thinking, then. I just wanted to get the hell out of that hospital and go find that guy. I wanted it like I'd never wanted anything before. I had the jitters so bad I was shaking like a Dutchman in a wooden church.

I got my stuff - except for my gun, which the cops had impounded for "further evidence" - called a taxi and went back to my office, shaking all the way. The driver kept asking me if I was trying to quit cold turkey or something. I just told him to shut the fuck up and drive.

When I got there, I had something like ten calls on my phone. I didn't recognize any of them as being the cops or the last client, so I just erased them all. Then I took a swig of the hooch I keep in my desk drawer, breathed in and out, and tried to calm down. It didn't work, though.

It was that second wind I'd picked up - I was sure of it. It'd had done wonders for getting me ambulatory, but right then and there I didn't wanna do anything but find the creep who choked me and beat some answers out of him.

And that was no good at all, mostly because I was having some real problems planning my next move. And you know what they say...

Oh. Yeah, I guess you don't. Basically, they say that if you don't plan your next move, you won't make it.

They told us that in Academy, and I never had a reason to doubt it - especially in Chi-Town. I lost track of the number of good guys who took a cold nap on the pavement because they thought they could just make it up as they went along. The job doesn't work that way. It just doesn't...


I think what brought me back was the footsteps, coming up the stairs.

It was three in the morning. There was no other reason for anyone to be there, least of all me. For a moment I thought it might be the clown we hired to look after the place at night, and then I remembered that the super fired him about a month back for drinking on the job.

I didn't recognize those footsteps. And they sounded wrong, somehow. Out of sync. I don't know if I can describe them any other way. Just wrong.

Now, if I'd been thinking, I would have just got out my other piece - which I keep next to the hooch bottle in the drawer - sat down at my desk and waited for the guy to come to me. That's the way you do things. Show them you're not afraid of them, whoever they are.

But I wasn't thinking. I just imagined it was either someone from the cops, who'd keep me from finding the guy for a little while longer. Either that or it was someone trying to kill me, which would have really fucked up the whole production. And my whole body was just screaming at me to get the fuck on the road and find the guy.

So I did.

The office had a main room, where I worked, and then it had another room which wasn't used for much. If I'd had something approaching a real case load I could have had a secretary in the main room, and I could have used the other one for myself. But I never had a secretary, so I just used the other room to catch some winks on a slow day.

The window in the other room opened up onto the fire escape. I made it there about the time I heard someone rattle the doorknob. I think he called my name, too, but I was pushing the window up and crawling out, then, so between that noise and the usual 3 AM traffic sounds I couldn't hear a damn thing.

The escape was wet with early morning condensation, and I slipped on my ass sliding out. For a scary moment I thought I lost my piece, but it just clattered on the railings next to my hand. I got back up and hoofed it down the stairs.

I was about a floor down the fire escape when I heard my front door's window shatter. And by the time the guy could have poked his head out my window and yelled after me I was in another taxi, heading off.

I didn't even look back. Maybe I was afraid of what I would have seen there, maybe not. Maybe I was just too busy looking ahead at what I figured I had to do.

Hell, you tell me. It's what you're here for, isn't it?

Yeah, I know what your notes say about the next time I got in the police's headlights. But I don't want to talk about that, yet. I think I oughta tell you about how I got from my point A to their point B, right? It'll make more sense that way, anyway...

Like I said, the next move - near as I could think straight to make one - was to find the guy who choked me, and then find the ledger he had on him. Maybe return the favor, too. Like I said, I wasn't thinking too straight at the time.

But Seattle's a big town to be looking for one guy in. Ask the police about that, sometime. They'll tell you all about it.

I knew Fred had the description of the guy who'd done it to me, but considering what a putz he was he'd be lucky to get a half-decent likeness of him... especially if he couldn't corner me in a hospital bed and ask me if the picture looked like him or not.

So I figured I had an edge. I also figured I should use it right away, before it evaporated on me.

I went around to one of my friends' place. He's a freelance illustrator who was trained as a police sketch artist. These days he doesn't work for the cops, since he found out he could make better money doing piecework for the private sector. But if you need a picture made, he's the one to go to. Damn genius. That and he keeps his mouth shut.

I got there maybe an hour after leaving the office, since there was an accident or two on the way. But I knew he'd be up 'cause he was a night owl. Did his best work before the Sun came up; Not as much noise outside the window, he always said.

I banged on his door for about a minute, and he came on down. Of course, the first thing he asked me about was my neck, and what the fuck happened. I told him I'd tell him later, but I needed a sketch made ASAFP before my memory went out on me.

And he just nodded, opened the door up wide and told me to sit my ass down while he got his stuff. He even got some coffee going for us, too. The man knows how to treat a customer, that's for sure.

The whole thing took about a half an hour - me describing the guy, and him drawing all the while. The noise of the pencils going over the paper helped me to think, and maybe get my mind back on track. I was still shaking like a leaf, but I was able to see a little further ahead than just the next step.

I think it took about two or three tries, but he was on the right track from the get-go. By the time I was really noticing how bad my throat still felt - the second wind was wearing off, you see - he was done with the picture. And damned if it wasn't an almost-exact likeness of the creep, right down to the gummy crap in the corners of his eyes.

I thanked the guy and slipped him a Franklin for the trouble. I also let it be known that I hadn't been there, which he was always happy to say, since his SO didn't really like me that much. I think I said the wrong thing to her when we first met. You know what they say about first impressions...

Yeah, I definitely made one with Fred. But can we get to that later? I don't want to think about him until I have to. I really just don't.

Anyway, the guy offered me a shower and breakfast, but I turned him down since I wanted to get on the road. He said he understood and wished me luck, and then I was back on the street.

Where was I going? Well, like I said, Seattle's a big place to look for one guy in. But you can shrink it down if you can figure out where that guy's most likely going to be.

And someone as fucked-up as that guy was... I figured he wasn't going to be eating at the Needle or sleeping in the Expo Center, if you know what I mean. He'd have probably been turned out of most places that cater to tourists as well, for fear of scaring the customers. And I figure he didn't have a real roof over his head, either.

And that left the homeless shelters.

Yeah, you aren't supposed to enter them if you have a warrant, and I didn't. But you'd be surprised what a small donation to the shelter's fund will do for that problem - especially if all you want to do is ask the caretaker if he's seen someone. They'll usually drop the legal crap for a fifty, tell you if they know who you're looking for, and maybe where you can find them. It helps if you let them know they've got a dangerous guy bunking down in their flop: nothing gets a shelter shut down faster than a drugs raid or a stakeout, and these guys mostly just want to get their city paycheck for a job half-done.

I struck out the first few places. None of the caretakers had seen him, and none of the bums I talked to seemed to know who he was. Some of these guys did a real double-take at the picture, but I knew they weren't hiding anything. I think they were just surprised at how dead the guy looked.

Then, maybe about nine in the morning - right where I'd started wishing that I had taken that shower - I hit paydirt.

The mission on the West side of town handles a lot of real low-end clientele, and just my luck the supervisor had seen this guy before. He said the guy's name was Ralph, and that he was a real sorry case: drugs, alcohol, criminal record for assault, theft and attempted rape - the sort of guy who's in lockdown when he isn't in the shelters, in other words.

The super also told me that the guy was a real problem to have around: a real violent case. Most of the time he just sat there, staring at the walls, but if you touched his stuff or messed with him then he'd put you in the hospital for sure. My neck was starting to really sing again, so I didn't need him to go into too many details on that one; I'd already seen it up close and way too personal for my liking.

Now, the super told me that he hadn't seen Ralph in about three days. He'd wandered out one night and hadn't come back since. But he knew of a shooting gallery, maybe a block away, where the bum and some of his friends went to go do their thing...

Yeah, that's "Shooting Gallery" as in "shooting up." I figured there'd be at least a few guns there, though. When you get desperate enough to rotate your whole life around junk, a dead guy with your bullet in him's no big deal at all.

So I slipped the super some cash for his time, and said that if Ralph came back there'd be some more cash in it for him if he could just keep him there. The super wasn't so thrilled about that prospect, but flashing some more cash made all his problems go away. It usually does.

Yeah, I'm aware money can't solve everything. In fact I like to keep a tight rein on my own, if I can. But sometimes you just gotta keep the bribes coming - especially when you're so intent on nailing some son of a bitch that you can almost see him, right in front of you...

Does that count as obsession? Maybe I am an obsessive kind of guy, then. I like to really call my cases closed when I'm finished with them. I want to see things done - not just swept under the rug, or filed under U for unfinished. I wanted to feel like I'd made a difference, somehow, and I guess that means that sometimes you have to be a little unprofessional about things...

Look, I said I didn't want to talk about Fred, yet. We're not there, yet. Not even close.

Just let me tell this my way, okay? It'll make more sense that way.

It has to.

As soon as I got on the same block, I knew what I was going to find in that shooting gallery. Same thing you always find in a place like that: Death. I could just smell it...

No, it isn't anything to do with the Sight. It's just Seattle.

Haven't been here long, have you? Well, let me tell you... one thing you can always count on Seattle for is a smell. It's all the wet in the air. You can smell some things a mile away if you know what to pay attention to. Leaking gas, gunpowder, fresh money - you name it.

The mist doesn't carry good smells all that great, but for people like me, it's one of your best friends in town.

The place was a dump - boarded up and abandoned. I figure it must have been a basement bar, back thirty years ago, before the area got its code changed and they had to either move or go out of business. And from the looks of things, this place went out of business.

I could tell the place was called "Josie's," from what was left of the sign. The front door, which was at the bottom of the stairs, was boarded up from the outside. The windows were smashed in, and then boarded up from the other side with half-rotten plywood sheeting.

There had to be a back way in, I figured. But then I saw that the glass in the window closest to the stairwell had been taken out, instead of just smashed in and left to cut kids' fingers with. So I leaned down and pushed on the plywood board, and sure enough it swiveled up a little - just enough to let someone really skinny do a face-dive into the place.

There were no cops on the street, and the morning traffic was minimal enough that I figured it was worth a go. It stunk like hell in there, like I said, but I wasn't going to get any answers playing this one like a candyass. Besides, what was I supposed to do? Call the cops?

It was a tight fit, and I lost a button on my shirt, but I did it. My feet touched down on wet, sodden mattresses that some thoughtful junkie had put there for the ease of his fellow man. And then I was down, and the stink was hitting like a prizefighter blow to the nose.

The lights didn't work, but I had my flashlight with me. Besides, there was enough light coming in from the windows and the door to see by. Not too much, but my eyes adjusted quickly.

Josie's was made back in the 70's, judging from the tacky, orange wallpaper and the make of the bar, itself. Not that there was much of it left: just about everything that could have been boosted was gone, and anything that was too big to take was either broken down or left where it was. They'd even ripped the tacky wallpaper down and torn great, big gouges into the drywall, like they were looking for buried treasure...

Like the previous night? No. Just a coincidence. If some hungry, strung-out junkies got it in their heads to look for a hidden safe, it only makes sense they'd go on a rampage. Right?

I was figuring that out when I first heard the flies. They sounded like they were coming from the corner of the bar where the toilets were. Their doors were both open, slightly, and they looked to be about as big as a closet, each.

I walked over, took out my piece, put my hand over my mouth and got ready for the worst. But when I pushed the doors open, I found that it was just shit and piss. The toilets were overflowing with it, and some of it was recent enough to attract flies.

I closed the doors before I gagged - which really hurt, considering my throat. Then I turned around and looked behind the bar, and then I saw that there was another door, back there. This one was actually closed, but the knob had been torn right out of the thing, leaving a ragged, round hole.

That was murder, walking over there. I just knew I was getting closer to the son of a bitch that did me, but I couldn't walk too fast. There was broken glass and trash on the floor, and I didn't want to make too much noise. I didn't want to land on my ass, either.

So I just took one slow step at a time: all the way from the toilets... over to the bar... then behind it... and then up to the door. I was shaking, again, and I could barely hold onto my piece. But somehow I made it all the way over there, and then I leaned down and looked through the hole in the door, just to see what was in the other room.

It was Ralph, looking just like I saw him night before, sitting up against the opposite wall.

And he was looking right at me, with a gun in his hand.

* * *