A Dark Tale by Jenean McBrearty
When Marty’s friends heard what happened, they said he was crazy. His enemies said he was a son-of-a-bitch who deserved to have his balls eaten by cannibals. I said they’d all die if they swallowed a bite.
For three years me and Marty schlepped around San Diego chasing cheating husbands and spying on bratty kids of the rich and infamous, and hoping we’d be paid. Not that we planned it that way. We wanted blue uniforms to replace the olive drabs we wore during WWII, and then sport gold shields instead of purple hearts.
We envied guys who got paid for doing paperwork in the doughnut shops. We wanted to be detectives instead of gum shoes. Gum-shit on the bottom of somebody’s shoes they mean. Being stepped on and ripped off until people need us. Like MaryAnn Steel needed us when her boyfriend, Nick DiFranco, took three .38 slugs to the chest and bled all over her pink peignoir.
Nick was a hood from Jersey who blew into town looking to make a wad of green betting on the Del Mar ponies. Word had it he’d picked up 10 Gs on an inside tip. MaryAnn had been questioned, of course, but one look at those teary blue eyes and those chest melons and no cop would mistake her for anything other than a grieving mistress. At least Marty believed that’s what she was when she hired us to find the person responsible for allegedly
punching her meal ticket and running off with Nick’s ten grand.
“Maybe there’s a jealous Mrs. Nick DiFranco back in Jersey who paid to have him tailed,” I said.
“Looking at MaryAnn, I’d say she had reason to be jealous,” Marty said. Then he got that look on his face that told me he’d do anything she asked. She asked him to return her retainer. He gave it to her and an extra two-hundred. For female incidentals, he explained it to me. Sure. Incidentals like Kentucky Bourbon and a room at a hotel with a pool.
“Who but a local would know DiFranco’d made a profit?” he wondered aloud.
“Somebody who tailed him to the track,” I said.
“Would a Jersey dick risk a murder wrap?”
“When he saw all that cash? Hell yeah, Dumbass.”
Me and Marty liked a guido in Little Italy named Mackie for the hit, when it made the headlines. Now there was a bookie who could get real pissed off! Mackie could erupt like Etna. We called all our sources. The mole in the San Diego PD. Pete, the newspaper hawker in the Marston Building. The bartender at the Manhattan Club on Upas Street. Parker Hunt, owner of Shooters at the foot of Broadway. They all said the same thing. No street talk, and Mackie had been laying bets at the Plaza Monumental bullring in T.J. when the hit went down.
“Face it, Marty,” I said. “MaryAnn plugged DiFranco, lifted the cash, and expected her baby blues to get her past being suspect number one. We were just hired to make her look sincere to the D.A.”
There ain’t a man breathing who can stand being played. Being a fool for a pretty skirt is lower than being a horse junkie, and Marty’d fought two years to get that monkey off his back—the tracks on his arms were deeper than the ruts at Del Mar.
When MaryAnn blew town after the D.A. was through with her, Marty knew I was right. But being right is worse than being wrong when it comes to friendship. It put me on top of the brain heap, you might say. I could deal with it, but Marty? It was eating him alive.He took after her with both guns cocked.
Three days later he was rapping on door 312 at the Knickerbocker Hotel. My door.
“Christ, it’s 3 AM, Marty, how’d you get past the night clerk?”
He held up a thick wad of Franklins.
“You look like shit. Com’on in.”
He sat down and tossed the money on the table. I closed the door, turned out the light and sat opposite him. “How much you got left?”
“Nine thousand, nine-hundred and fifty dollars of DiFranco’s money. Take it.”
“I ain’t touching blood money. It’s bad luck.”
“I said take it! You earned it. Beside, the late Sebastian Sompanano drew first blood.”
“Let me guess. The Vegas boyfriend.”
I noticed he was leaning 90 degrees right. “You hurt bad?”
“Just a flesh wound to the shoulder. Drunks can’t shoot straight. Hurt like hell, but I nailed him. One shot straight through the son-of-a-bitch’s heart.”
“Sompanano had the money?”
“No. Another mistake. The bitch had it stashed in her overnight case all along. You know she didn’t scream when I plugged the ape? Never shed a tear. I figure Sompanano shot DiFranco—and she watched him die with those wide-eyed blues of hers enjoying every second; the way they enjoyed watching her Vegas cock bleed out. She got all hot afterwards. Screwed me good!”
I admired his stamina. If MaryAnn was still alive afterwards, he’d need an alibi. “You ditch your piece?”
He took out his .38 and laid it on the table next to the money. “Don’t worry. She won’t be picking anybody out of a line-up.” He reached in his pocket and took out a cobalt blue bottle the size of a dime-store perfume bottle. “I gagged her good so she couldn’t scream and let her have some with this.”
I’d seen Marty’s little bottle before. Caustic lye mixed in water from his mother’s house. He kept it in his pocket in case he ever ran out of bullets. I’d seen him use it once on Iwo Jima. Threw lye in the face of a Jap who’d sneaked up on the four of us from behind while we were reloading. The guy got off one round before the lye hit him. He went down quick and Marty gutted him with his bayonet. “Follow me!” he yelled to us grunts. And we did. In and out of one foxhole another all the way up Surabachi.
“Where’s MaryAnn now?” I was hoping he’d say a Vegas hospital.
“You brought her back?”
“Chemical burns ain’t hard to treat. Flush the injury well and shoot the victim up with morphine. That’s what they did to me on the ship home. I know where to get smack in Dago.” He smiled a crazy smile and I knew I’d better keep the money. A monkey the size of King Kong was back and ridin’ him ’round the track. “She’s all mine now,” Marty said as the sweat poured off his face. But he was wrong. She owned him now. They both had wounds that would never heal.
Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who
taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and
photographs have been published in over a hundred and fifty print and
on-line journals including subTerrain Magazine (#68 noire edition), Down
in the Dirt Magazine, and The MOON Magazine (fiction); Lyrical Passion,
3 1/2.9 Poetry Journal, and Page & Spine (poetry); Foliate Oak
Literary Journal, Off the Coast Magazine, and the American Journal of
Nursing (photography). She won a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir
short story: Red’s Not your Color. Her serials Raphael Redcloak:
Guardian of the Arts (chosen by the Santa Clara County Library as an
on-line YA selection), and Retrolands can be found on Jukepop.com.