I liked the Deluxe Diner, though I'm not sure what was so deluxe about it. The service was shitty, but the coffee was good. Not that fancy cat-shit barista stuff they serve at Starbucks, but old-school coffee, the kind that comes with the little thumb-sized paper creamer containers that the waitress carries in her apron. Not that I ever take cream. I like mine black. Usually, I pocket the cream to take back to the office to feed to the stray tomcat that lives out back. One-eyed Willy. Yeah, I named him after the pirate from The Goonies. It's a good flick. But I digress.
I took another swallow. My coffee had gone cold. I waved at Lorraine for a refill, then struck a match and lit a Camel because I knew it would be a couple minutes before she hobbled out from around the counter. I don't use a lighter. Sure, I carry one, just in case, but I rarely use it. The smoking experience is more visceral, more real somehow, when a match is used. I think it’s that whiff of sulfur and the acrid fumes that burn the eyes a little. After taking a nice long drag, I set my cancer stick on the ashtray and watched the lacy ribbon of smoke climb its way toward the ceiling.
This was my booth. I never sat anywhere else— not that I had to, since the place was always empty. I'm not sure what I'd do if it got busy and my seat wasn't available. Sit somewhere else, I guess. But it was a good booth for me. The flickering neon sign just above the window created enough glare that someone outside had to look really hard to see in, but I could see out just fine. Not to mention my flat was right across the street.
Because the place was never busy, it was always quiet— and I like quiet. It makes for good thinking. And right now, I needed to think.
Outside it was dark and raining. But this was no surprise. It had been raining for two weeks straight: not a constant deluge, but a light drizzle with intermittent showers, and the occasional downpour. At least that's what the weatherman said. Right now, it was a downpour. Small rivulets of rainwater flowed down the window beside me, converging near the bottom before disappearing from view. The weather fit my mood perfectly.
I looked out to the ugly rose-colored building across the street and took another drag. My flat was on the second floor and the light in the front window was still on. Of all the screwed-up things I've seen, this one beat 'em all. There was a dead man in my front room, and I had no idea how he got there.
I was working late at the office, which was pretty typical. I'm not much of a morning person, so I stay late to catch up on paperwork. It suits me fine; I get more work done when I'm there alone. My boss, Frank, is a good guy— actually, he’s a great guy, one of the best— but he's a talker. About eight, I grabbed a couple files I was working on, locked the place up, and went to meet a new client. Nothing special, just some accountant who suspected his wife of infidelity and needed evidence for the divorce proceedings. We get them all the time. It’s a pretty simple job: follow the mark and snap a few compromising photos. We call it a "tail and nail."
After the meeting, I swung by the corner market to pick up some snacks and a bottle of gin. One of the perks of not having a car is that I can drink all I want and not worry about DWI's. Not that I'm an alcoholic; I just like my gin. It’s like Christmas in a bottle. I headed on home after that.
As soon as the cab pulled up in front of my flat, I knew something was hinky. There was light coming from the front window. Most people would think they'd accidentally left it on, but not me. I never, ever turn on the overheads. They hurt my eyes. I don't even know why I bothered putting bulbs in them when I moved in. If I have some reading to do, I turn on a lamp. There's a few scattered around. The thing is, they all emit a nice soft yellow glow, not the harsh white glare shining through the window.
I paid the cabbie and went around back. I always use the back steps; that way it’s not so obvious when I come and go. At the top of the stairs I sat the groceries down on my pathetic excuse for a balcony and drew my pistol from its shoulder holster, feeling the weight of its false reassurance settle in my hand.
I'd never shot anyone before, not even back when I was on the force. Sure I went to the range on a regular basis, and I could put five out of six rounds in a three-inch bull's-eye at thirty yards, but there's a big difference between throwing lead at a paper target and at a living, breathing human being. It doesn't matter how good of a shot you are if you ain't got what it takes to pull the trigger when it counts. For a man with a soul, it takes conviction; a certainty that whoever's on the other end of that barrel deserves to die. Now, considering how the deadbolt was busted and the door was pried away from the jamb, I figured my first time might be right around the corner.
I nudged the door open with my foot and glanced inside, pistol leading the way. The kitchen, illuminated faintly by the living room light filtering down the hallway, was empty, except for the pile of dishes in the sink. I stepped inside and eased the door shut behind me, muffling the noise of the outside traffic. I stood there quietly for a few minutes, listening for any movement in the place. Hearing nothing, I moved down the hallway, checking the bathroom on the right and the bedroom on the left, making sure they were both clear. At the end of the hall, I froze. Illuminated by the overhead light was a figure lying on the floor— a man dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt.
A dark puddle of blood emanated from his head and was slowly soaking into my area rug. Dammit, that rug had belonged to my grandmother; they'd better be able to clean that.
File folders and loose papers littered the floor around him. My desk had been thoroughly ransacked.
I moved closer for a better look, being careful not to contaminate the scene. I could see two entrance wounds in the back of his head— small caliber— what the cops call a double tap. It was the sign of a professional hitter.
Certain now that the apartment was empty save for the corpse adorning my living room floor, I went back to the kitchen and grabbed a pair of gloves from "the drawer". I got the term from my mother. Anything that didn't have an otherwise logical home was tossed into it. With the gloves on, I carefully fished out the man's wallet. By this point, my nerves were a little frazzled, so I went across the street to the diner to figure out my next move.