~ Pt. IV~


You know what they say about those moments when you think you're about to die, and your whole life flashes right in front of your eyes?

Yeah? Well, forget it. That's bullshit. You don't remember anything while it's happening. Not a damn thing. You just see what's in front of you and nothing else. You can't even think.

Ralph was looking right at me, and so was his gun. And I knew, right then, that if he so much as twitched I was going to die. The bullet was gonna go right out of the gun, right through that hole in the door, right through my eye and right out the back of my head.

If he hadn't been looking right at me, I could have ducked right back beside the door. I could have waited a few seconds, just to make sure I was ready. And then I could have whipped around the corner, kicked down the door and taken him by surprise - just like they taught us, just like I'd done lots of times before...


Now that I think about it, I probably could have done it, anyway. I should have done it, too. I might have been just fast enough to react in time, and if he'd fired and missed I might have been able to get him to panic...

But I didn't even try. I just sat there, dumbfounded and unable to think, looking at that gun like a deer caught in the headlights.

So neither of us did a damn thing. It was me staring at him, him staring at me with those dead, cold eyes of his. Neither of us moved for a whole minute. We were both just waiting for the other to do something. The only thing.

Then I heard this buzzing noise. It was a fly, there in the other room. I could see it whizzing its way through the air every so often, almost too fast to really watch.

It buzzed towards him and circled his head once. Then it landed, right on his left cheek. It sat there for a second, and then moved up close to his eye.

And he didn't even blink once - not even when the bug crawled right across it.

That's when I stopped looking at the gun - which was what I'd really been doing all that time - and started looking at him.

His face looked even worse than it had the night I'd seen him, if you could imagine that. His skin was so pale that it was almost transparent. Turning just slightly blue, too.

I caught sight of something moving on his lip. Then I realized there were lots of them, moving all over his face. Maggots inchworming their way across the crack of his mouth, the folds of his eyes, in and out of his nose...

One of them slipped down from his nose to his chin while I was watching. It reminded me of some poor schmuck trying to swim across a river too close to the waterfall. It hung there, just for a second, and then it dropped off and fell into that nasty beard of his, which was just squirming with them...

Yeah, I guess you got the picture. He was dead. He'd been dead the whole fucking time I'd been there.

And I'd been so busy looking down the barrel of the gun that I hadn't even noticed. Hell, I'd been so torn between wanting to jump through the door and shoot him in the fucking face and needing to do the obvious thing and duck...


Yeah. I guess that's my question answered right there.

What did I do? Well, first I let go of the breath I'd been sitting on. I looked down at my shoes, and just sat down on the floor on my ass. There was broken glass all over, poking into my butt, but I didn't give a damn.

Maybe I thanked God, maybe I didn't. I don't even remember, anymore. All I remember is sitting there on the floor with my gun in both hands, shaking like I was coming down from the worst case of the flu you'd ever seen. Like when junkies come down hard, all their get up and go gone right out the back door like a scoring partner who heard the sirens before you did.

Relief? I dunno about that. It sure didn't feel like it. It felt...


I felt empty. Let's just leave it at that. I said I don't spook easy, but this time...

Yeah, yeah. Let's just leave it at that. For now. Lemme get back up to speed, maybe we can talk about it later.

If there's a later...


Of course, it didn't take long before whatever I might have been feeling turned right into panic. He was dead, he'd been dead for some time, and the last time I'd seen him I was damned sure I'd put at least one bullet right into him. You add that up with Fred's little idea on how it all went down, and it equaled me and a cell.

No... there's no real way the asshole could have made it stick long enough to have me sent up. That whole thing Fred was handing me was a pile of dogshit, and he knew it. He should have known it, anyway.

But I wasn't thinking too clear, right then. You remember my mad dash to get to that bar in the first place, right? Well, now that whatever had gotten me over there and even deeper into shit was gone, I was feeling the exact opposite thing just as strong. I felt the need to get me out of the shit, and then right outta fucking Dodge.

So I got my ass off that floor, and half-ran into the other room, hoping I was wrong. I kneeled down in front of the guy, trying not to get my knees too close in case he started leaking, and took a look at his t-shirt. Most of it was hidden under that nasty beard of his, so I had to push it out of the way with one hand and pull the shirt down with the other, just to see.

Just my luck, I wasn't wrong at all. There were bullet holes, alright. Two of them, one right next to the other, right in middle of his chest...

Why couldn't I have seen the blood? Because there wasn't any. You were paying attention when I told you about what Fred said back in the hospital, right?

Yeah, I should have thought about that. But there was no time for really thinking. I was in a whole different world, right then, and that world was rotating around me taking care of my little problem. Anything else could go fuck itself...


Anyway, I got back up, walked behind him and pushed him away from the wall a little. I was hoping they might have gone on through. A piece like mine, they shouldn't, but you never know.

But, sure enough, they hadn't.

I stood there about a minute, looking down at him and trying not to gag from the smell, thinking about how to deal with the problem. I must have walked it back and forth in my mind a hundred times until I had something that actually made sense.

I had to get rid of the evidence. That's what I was thinking, right then and there. Fix it so that there was no way anyone could connect the corpse to my gun, and then my ass.

Now, burning the fucker would have been ideal, but then I might have burned down the whole building. And there were people living upstairs. Even then, just one more piece of bad news away from blind panic, I could figure that was a real bad idea.

So, at the time, the only thing I could figure was to get the evidence out of the evidence, if you know what I mean. It wasn't gonna be pretty, but that's that way it goes - shit happens, and then you gotta clean up the mess.

I took a good look around the place to see what I could find. I figured this used to be the bar's dry store, once. There was a big hole on the left of the door that probably used to be where the cooler was, and there was a long stretch off to the right that ran parallel to the bar. Couple of long, short and broken windows, way up high, boarded up to fuck with just enough space between the slats to let light through. No back door, no nothing.

That went for the rest of the place, too. There'd been shelves back here - judging from the screw holes in the wall - but they were long gone, right along with everything else. Just some piss-soaked mattresses for junkies to nod off on, couple of dirty spoons, broken, plastic lighters... the usual shit you find in a shooting gallery, right down to a couple O'Tolley's bags full of mold.

As I was looking, I saw the place had been tagged, too, along the walls. Not too much, and most of it was old shit. Rival gangs that'd been all run in or shoveled under a couple years before. I guess they must have fought over that place, sad as it sounds.

But there was one that was pretty fresh. Maybe a day or two, and it didn't look like banger tags, either. Just normal writing, done in bright red, on the other side of the door I'd come through. There was a huge, uneven splotch of red underneath it, as though the spraycan had blown a serious leak. Either that or someone'd gone a bit overboard testing the can out before using it.

The writing said:

smile and frown
walk and dance
tell me, whom do you own?


Yeah. No shit. Right down to the comma after 'me.'

These days... shit, I could tell you what I should have done, right then and there. But I didn't know. I couldn't have known. I might have done the odd favor, here and there, but no one ever fucking told me...


Right. Yeah... that would be getting ahead of myself. Way ahead of myself. One step at a time, here.

Of course, that's how I got myself into this fucking mess in the first place...

I'd been in that back room for about a half an hour, by then. Just looking around, uprooting everything I could - again, too panicked to be careful - and not finding shit that was gonna help me.

I figured I was gonna have to do it with my bare hands, which was a pretty sick thought. But if you're desperate, you'll do almost anything. Just ask the junkies who live there.

But then I got lucky. I looked down at something I'd thought was a shadow, off in the far corner, and it turned out to be a garbage bag. Best of all, it was a clean garbage bag. Hadn't even been used. It was all folded up in that nice, neat way that garbage bags come out of the box.

I almost pounced on it. That's how I know what I felt earlier wasn't relief, because I was feeling relief all over, right then. It was like finding water in a desert right when you're about to croak from the heat. That's relief.

I whipped it open, gave it a few pulls to make sure it wasn't too brittle - which it wasn't - and then I stuck my arm in it, putting my hand in one of the corners. It kind of came across like a weird kind of oven mitt, but I could still feel through the bag. That was gonna be important...

And then what? Well, what do you think I did? Put on a puppet show for the asshole tried to break my neck? Jesus...

I think the first bit was the worst. I had to grab hold of his shirt with the other hand and pull it on up, so I could get a better look at what I was doing. Lucky me, he wasn't so far gone that it all let go and spilled out, but it was still pretty bad to look at. You could see things under his skin, since it was going translucent, there were maggots pooling under his tits, and the smell...

But there were the holes, right next to each other, and right under his sternum. If I'd fired any higher I'd have had to make a hole and go up, instead of poking into the actual wounds and fingering my way along...

Oh, I sound like an old pro, huh...? You think this is a regular thing for me?

Well, fuck you. Alright?

Yeah, it's fucked up thing. But it's a fucked up thing that you gotta do every once in a while, just to stay free and clear. Either you do it right and no one knows, or you do it bad and then you get tampering with evidence stuck on top of everything else when they add up your stretch. Maybe something else, too. Depends on how bad the Court wants to fuck you.

Old friend of mine from Chi-town? He went into the business not long before I did, and he got sent up for shooting the wrong person. He didn't even make it a year in the federal pen - you figure out why.

That ain't gonna be me. Not if I can help it...


Oh, yeah. The body.

Well, the bullets didn't go too deep, thank Christ. I'd have had to spend more time rooting around in that rotten mash if they had, and I was barely able to keep from puking all over Ralph as it was. The inside of him felt ten times more gone than the outside, if you can believe that...

I had my finger in up to the knuckle in the bigger of the two holes. I was rooting around, looking for the bullet, but I couldn't find it. My finger went all the way to the end of the hole I'd made in the guy, but it just wasn't there.

For a minute, I thought maybe it'd ricocheted off of something and went somewhere else. But the hole felt pretty clean. It'd just gone straight in and lodged, as far as I could figure. But it just wasn't there, so that could only mean that it had bounced somewhere else.

So I got my finger outta that hole and slid it into the other, hoping to find that one. But I didn't find a bullet, there, either. No matter how much I rooted around, it just wasn't there.

Yeah, you're damn tootin' that pissed me off. And you want to know something else that pissed me off? The whole time I'd been going around that place, looking for something to go looking for bullets with, I hadn't found that big ledger, either. It was nowhere to be seen.

I pulled out, yanked my arm out of the bag and just sat there for a minute, cursing up a streak. I was so mad I could have shot him all over again. First I'd been all intent on getting there to get the ledger, then I was too intent on getting him to get out the way of the gun, and then I was too intent on getting my bullets outta him to look for the fucking ledger in the first place... real nice self control there, huh?

But the panic was gone, by then, so I could think just a little better. And I figured I still had at least one ace up my sleeve. Time.

So I got the bag and turned it inside out, so the gunk was on the inside. Then I nudged the gun out of his hand with the bag, taking care not to get any fingerprints on it. I kicked it across the room.

Then I put the bag over him, pushed him onto his side and kicked him into it. I think I felt something let loose on that last kick, so I guess it's a good thing I stopped trying to find the bullet when I did. It might have made a real mess.

I tipped him up and over, and lifted the bag up along with him, tying the end shut over his feet. And then I picked it up, very fucking carefully, and marched it into the main room, and over to the bathroom. Then I put him in the ladies, right next to the toilet, and left him there.

See, junkies might be desperate, but you can count on there being one line even they won't cross. They won't go to the cops - not for protection, not for money, not even for more fucking junk. They're so paranoid that whenever they see a badge they figure it's all over, someone ratted them out they're gonna be parted from the only thing that makes their sorry-ass lives worth living.

So if you want to lose some evidence that no one'd even think of fencing, you leave it at a crack house or a shooting gallery. It'll just sit there 'till kingdom come, because no one's gonna want to explain to the cops how they came to find it in the first place. They'll just cover it up, leave it alone and pray that it doesn't bring any heat on them. Either that or they'll get rid of it for you.

Way I figured, I could come back later and maybe find the bullets, once the Seattle climate did its usual thing and got rid of Ralph's meat. Either that or just leave him and hope none of the gallery's regular patrons suddenly got civic minded, or found Jesus.

I figured I oughta take one last look around, just to make sure the ledger hadn't been hidden. That was a wasted hour right there, but at least, at the end of it, I was sure I'd looked everywhere for it. I even lifted up the mattresses, but there was nothing down there but moldy, old porn.

I picked up Ralph's gun with the edge of my sleeve and took a look at it. It hadn't even been loaded, and it didn't smell like it'd been fired in a while, either. And, sure enough, the serial numbers had been filed off. I figured they would be.

But it turned out I had another ace up my sleeve, too. I noticed that there were big red splotches all over the handle and trigger. They were paint spots - probably the same paint used for the writing on the wall. And those spots had partial handprints.

Yeah, not too big. Maybe just enough to tag someone, maybe not. But the weird thing was that Ralph's hands hadn't had any paint on them, did they...?

Yeah. Exactly what I'd thought. There'd been someone else, here, with him. That person had tagged the wall, and left the gun in Ralph's hand, pointed right at the door. And then he'd left.

And something told me if I was ever going to find that ledger, it'd be in his hands. That's just the way these things work, you know?

Yeah. Right. Except when they don't...

So let's just say I got outta that bar. Maybe an hour or so before Noon, maybe an hour or so after. I don't remember, anymore.

Yeah, It took me a while to squeeze out the way I got in. I think I lost another button off my shirt on the way back up, too. But, lucky me, no one saw a damn thing.

Just that kind of neighborhood, I guess. You go blind or you go nuts. Especially if you can't get out...


I walked away three blocks, took the bus out to the city limits. Then I got off, went into the bus station and did as good of a job cleaning myself up as I could in the pisser. Lucky me, they actually had the liquid soap in the dispenser for once, rather than spilled all over the sink like blood at a shootout.

Then I just... well, I fucked around. Let's call it what it was. I knew I had to made it look like I'd actually been somewhere, just in case someone back around that bar decided to cure themselves of their blindness for an hour or two.

That and I wasn't looking forward to going right back to my office. For all I knew, the fucker who busted down my door might still be there, waiting for me. And maybe he'd called up some friends, too.

So I got a cup of really crappy coffee and a magazine I didn't really feel like reading. I took a seat out by the waiting area so I could pretend to wait for a bus, pretending to read the magazine and - after I'd had a few sips of the shit - pretending to enjoy the coffee, too.

Then I made a show of looking at my watch, cursing up a storm for no reason and going to get a taxi, instead. Just another guy who'd realized he'd missed his bus. Nothing unusual, right?

I had the driver take me two blocks from the office, and then I took the roundabout way on over to it. Getting to the place, I started getting one of those feelings, again. At the time, I put it down to not knowing who was up there. Now...

Well, yeah. One thing at a time, okay?

I got to the main entrance and the stairs, and stood there about a minute, wondering how to play this. Then I heard some footsteps coming down the steps, and I put a hand on my piece, just in case.

But then, after a couple seconds, I recognized the sound. It was the janitor, stomping his way downstairs with his big-ass workboots.

The janitor's the super's grandson, and they got the same kind of face. Everything's all scrunched up, like they took one too many prizefighter hits in the kisser and never recovered. So you can't usually tell if they're happy or pissed as all hell, unless they say something.

Well, this time I could tell the kid was totally pissed. He had a broom in one hand and a butler in the other, and that thing was just full of glass.

'Oughta shove this up your fuckin' ass and kick it, man,' he said: 'Got better things to fuckin do.'

Yeah, real charmer. I guess he worked at O'Tolley's for all of three days before they fired him for a bad attitude, which is saying something. You ever go there at lunchtime? Must be something in the food...

'Is there anyone else still up there?' I asked him. I was the only tenant on the floor, thankfully. If there'd been other folks on the same landing it might have taken a while to explain the concept to him. That's one other thing he's got in common with the super - not too quick on the uptake.

He just looked at me, shook his head and said 'Fuck you,' which I took for a 'no.' I mean, if there'd been someone in my room then the kid either would have said something about my friends, or he'd be dead, right?

So I took off up the stairs, and he called on up about how the super wanted to talk to my ass right fucking now. I just ignored him and galloped on up to my landing, wanting to see what the heck was left of my place. Now that I was thinking a little more straight, I had all these worries about broken file cabinets, rifled-through desks and Jesus knows what else.

Turns out I didn't need to worry. Other than the window being smashed to hell and back, everything else was just fine. The cabinets were still locked, nothing was taken. Hell, the guy had even locked the door on his way out, which was really funny when you consider anyone could have just reached back in and unlocked it, right?

Yeah, a real funny guy...


But someone had gone through the desk. And the reason I knew was because there were two of my envelopes, sitting on the desk right next to one another.

Someone had written on both of them, and the writing was... hell, you know that really fancy writing some people do when they got nothing better to do?

Calligraphy? Is that it? Well, it damn near looked like that - all long, flowing loops and lines, like someone took their time doing it. Except I got the idea that the guy scribbled these off in a hurry, which meant he wrote like that all the fucking time.

One of them said for your door, and it was stuffed with six Franklins. The other said for your consideration, and it had a printout from a digital camera inside it.

The picture was what was left of two bullets. They'd been fired into something, and still had red gunk and meat on them. I didn't need a calculator to tell me what that meant - not after all that time I'd spent at Josie's, that morning.

And written on the printout, in the same hand and with the same pen as the envelopes, were some friendly little instructions:


Fülöp's. 8 O'clock.
Sharp, if you please.

No guns.


I just stood there, for about a minute or two, looking at the picture of those bullets. I got the cold spooky shivers again, and tried to drive them away with a righteous swig from the bottle of hooch. Didn't help, much, but at least it got the taste of that bus station's crap coffee outta my mouth.

That's when I really started to feel it... that other feeling. The same feeling I'd had in that fucking basement bar, only a heck of a lot stronger. The feeling that I wasn't in control of what was going on. Not one fucking bit...

Yeah. That's when it all really started. And it's only gotten worse since.

* * *