The Patrolman & Other Stories - #3 White Lights, Bright Sirens (Part III)
She withdrew her hand quickly. Lacey saw her eyes lower. ‘O.K. then, I’m just going to go and powder my nose. Order dinner, I’ll have whatever you’re having. Are we enjoying appetisers this evening?’
He forced himself to smile a nervous smile.
‘Thought so. O.K. you order and by the time I get back, you’ll have figured out what it is you’re gonna tell me. Deal?’
‘Yes, Ma’am.’ She walked silently through the restaurant. Jake’s eyes followed her, like the rest of the other men in Commare’s, though not staring woefully at her ass.
Instead of following her all the way, his gaze came to rest on the guy sitting at the counter on his own. His friend from the barbershop who he nicknamed Mr. Outfit. Mr. Outfit seemed preoccupied, he ignored everyone at the bar and kept largely to himself. The only time he interacted was when he snapped his fingers for another scotch, and he was throwing them down his neck regularly. You’d think he was after attention the way he was dressed. Something was on his mind. Jake saw him looking down into his drink, a mixture of sadness and woe in his eyes. The bartender washed the bar down with a wet cloth around him, staying well clear.
Lacey removed his necktie and stuffed it into his pocket like a pocket handkerchief. He took out his wallet, the notes inside too. He estimated the meal and drinks to come in somewhere around the ten-dollar mark. Hopefully, Evelyn would cough up the two-dollar tip, his budget didn’t stretch far enough for that. His rent that month alone was just over a hundred, he needed to start budgeting. He really was going all out on dinner tonight, only to break her heart. Jake tapped one of his Luckies free of the box and let it burn all the way down to the filter, going over in his head what he was going to say and how exactly he would say it.
Suddenly, the chair opposite was pulled out. Evelyn retook her seat. She smiled up at the waiter and thanked him. He was hitting on her, Jake hardly noticed. The man produced his pad, licked his thumb and forefinger and slipped the last page over, jotting their table number down.
Everything around him went quiet, couples were talking animatedly to one another, but no noise came from their mouths. He felt light-headed and nauseous. Lacey heard, or thought he heard, Evelyn asking him what he was having to eat. He shrugged and stared into his cranberry juice, swirling the glass around in the air like the pheromones in a good whiskey. The small bits of fruit took some time to settle on the bottom. The waiter looked at him and moved away.
Evelyn shook his hand. Sound returned at once. A jazz band had struck up in the corner, playing some Tommy Dorsey number. ‘Are you feeling sick?’ she asked.
He struggled to meet her eye.
She took his hand in both of hers and smiled, the eyes which were usually hard-looking were smiling too. ‘Jake, whatever it is, we can cope. God knows you and I’ve been through enough as it is, this ain’t gonna do shit to us. You understand that, right?’
There was a thud, like the drummer hit the snare and the cymbal simultaneously.
Lacey’s head snapped round. He focussed it. The guy at the bar was looking out through the window, vacantly. A single bloody tear ran the length of his cheek. Jake flung himself over the table and tackled Evelyn to the ground, he shielded her face with his own and his arms. She grabbed onto him and held on. He looked back at Mr. Outfit who sat on his stool for a seemingly long, drawn-out moment. His head bobbed form side-to-side, like a drunkard’s, before collapsing over onto his back awkwardly flinging the snifter glass across the floor. Everyone took that as the cue.
Carnage ensued. Scores of people clambered over one another, hurling themselves out through the kitchen in droves. Whoever was left behind, the elderly or the rich bitches with their kids, were left to hide under the tables. They covered their heads with their arms and sobbed profusely. Mothers pulled the white table clothes over their children and buried them in their arms.
Jake turned back to her. ‘Are you O.K.?’ She nodded, unable to get the words out.
‘O.K.’ He said, finding his feet, his confidence and taking out his police badge. He cried: ‘Nobody move, I’m a police officer. Everybody stay right where you are. Do as I say and nobody’ll get hurt.’ He dropped back onto the floor, commando crawling over to the bar. Moving past the body, he worked his way over to the counter slowly. The limbs were already starting to spread out, the way all corpses do post-death. One of the shoes had completely worked its way off his right foot. ‘Where’s your gun?’ he asked the bartender, trying his best to keep his voice nice and calm.
The bartender, a colored man in his sixties scrambled around for a minute. He returned with a worn, double-barrelled shotgun. ‘Slide it across the floor to me, just with your hands on the stock.’ The bartender did so, and with a brilliant slide at that. Jake Lacey caught it mid-journey, twirled it into his hands and stood up. Walking straight at the window in confident strides, he canvassed the window with his weapon. There was nothing to train it in on, nobody shuffled along the sidewalk. He estimated that the shot would have had to come from somewhere up above. There wasn’t a refraction of light from a sniper-scope, he would have to venture outside to find him. Evelyn was still on the floor, clutching her dinner knife.
‘When I step out, you need to take everybody out through the back. When you’ve got everyone out, you need to keep them there. Find a telephone and call the police, tell them it’s a Code Three – lights and sirens. You got it?’ She nodded. Lacey wasn’t convinced. ‘Whatever you do, don’t come out front. Please, whatever you do.’ He got up and headed for the door. He snatched a took a steak knife off one of the tables on his way out. Edging the left door open, little by little, he saw it was still clear at ground level and made cover in the doorway. To anyone watching outside, there was a flurry of movement and then nothing.
It was freezing out; the gales were much stronger now. Lacey slid down the wall, pressing as much of his centre mass into the doorway as possible. When the sniper realized he was now outside with him, he would refocus his sights and squeeze one off. He’d try and get a shot off first, establishing his dominance, before changing positions for the kill-shot. At the very least, he’d blast some of the concrete doorway out to get a clearer second shot. Thinking things over meticulously, Jake drew a deep breath and let his shoulders sigh. In a matter of moments, the calm would break. The sniper would do exactly what he predicted.
Mr. Slate slid his finger into the trigger guard. He pressed his eye into the scope and squeezed on the trigger. The wall remained intact for a split-second. Then it erupted into chunks. Concrete was blown out in a small explosion, scattering the sidewalk. The unknown figure darted from cover. He saw the gun cradled in the man’s arms and ducked down. The face, which was white, looked in his direction. Mr. Slate had given away his position carelessly, the guy had been quick to draw him out. He imagined glass raining down on his head, pellets tearing through the above window like paper, but nothing came.
He lifted his head up, just for a moment. He ducked back down, the figure, whoever he was, had gone. Mr. Slate pressed his eye against the sniper-scope and got to his feet.
The middle window was blown out.
The shot was way off-target. Pellets blasted it out. At that range, the shotgun and the shooter had to be hidden behind a parked car on his side of the street. It was a navy-blue ’40 Plymouth. Mr. Slate popped his head up, taking out one of the rear tyres. There was a quick hiss and the rubber exploded in scraps. The Plymouth levelled, tilted down on one side toward the floor. ‘Fuck!’ he cried, could this night possibly get any fucking worse? He left the Springfield’s muzzle poking out the window as a distraction.
He crossed the room, deftly. Pulled his shirt back on, threw the overcoat over the top of it and tried to make himself look reasonably presentable. He patted himself down, smoothing the creases over. Once he buttoned his top button, he grabbed his celloo case. It was no use him staying here. He’d done what he needed to. He would need to live in order to fight another day.
The muzzle was poking out through the window on his furthest right. Lacey took a sharp intake of breath and held it and thought of Noah ‘Toad’. Was this how he felt? Trapped, like an animal. Moments before they shot at him and he jumped to his death? Lacey wasn’t going to let that happen, he quickly decided to weigh the odds in his favour. ‘Fuck,’ he yelled.
The double barrel led the way, the rest of his body followed suit. He charged down the sidewalk and stopped at the door. He started to count to five when he began breathing a little too quickly. He compartmentalized: smelt the gunpowder floating on the evening air, tasted the cranberry on his smoky breath, he saw the paint peeling off the door in cracks.
One – two -- Movement. Bootheels clacked from somewhere around the corner. Lacey charged after them with the shotgun pointed high. He was going to take the pissant’s head clean-fucking-off. ‘Stop right there, cocksucker. LAPD.’
A colored man was standing before him. He raised his arms in an awkward surrender, using his free hand to cover his face. The other hand held up some sort of case. Lacey figured a violin or something, it was on the larger side. ‘You sure bo’ that?’ the colored man said.
Lacey took out his badge and held it up for the guy to see. ‘Officer Jake Lacey, Badge 5759. Did you see anyone run down here? Anyone at all?’ The guy was stunned, he was in the process of remembering not to piss his pants. He’d seen that look before. ‘Answer me!’
‘No, suh. Ah hoard gunshots comin’ from up they-re.’ He pointed. Lacey nodded his thanks and rushed back into position. The musician walked past, wiping his face. Lacey watched him move down the block. The guy dragged his right leg with each painful step, he was crippled. Probably a War vet or something, he thought. Lacey smashed down the door, using the shotgun as an ax. He was met with total darkness.
When he made it onto the landing, the colored man outside straightened up and moved briskly, walking with perfect posture. Jake Lacey missed it. Mr. Slate whispered angrily to himself, he realised he’d forgotten his new hat.
In the room at the front of the building, Jake Lacey was met what could be described as a bloodbath. Two bodies, of a man and a woman, had been shot in the groin and chest apiece. The man was surrounded in a pool of blood, piss, which looked kind of milky. The shots had been expertly placed, mere centimetres apart. Two in each of their left breasts. The man and woman were laying on top of a plastic sheet, ready to be carted away. Had that been in the shooter’s plan? It looked planned. Had some fucked-up sex game gone seriously wrong? Had the shooter killed them in the act, or did they catch him in the act? Lacey didn’t know.
The rifle half-hung out through the window. It was propped up to look level on the bedpillows. Jake Lacey screamed a single-syllabled profanity and fell on the bed, his head landing in his hands. Seconds, minutes, maybe a half-hour passed-by before he looked around.
He walked over to the door and crouched over. He took it in his hands, turning it over in them. It was a Trilby hat. One question was on his mind. Did it belong to the husband or the killer?
Jake sat on the sidewalk, still looking at it. The shotgun was set down by his side. Blue flashing lights were everywhere, K-Cars blaring sirens lined 7th Street top to bottom. The area was declared a Code 4 – A-OK. A patrolman known to him as George Carruthers charmed the locals. The County Coroner, who he knew by sight and not by name, took a step back and judged the scene impartially. Detectives from Central and Wilshere Station scribbled names and home addresses. A cordon was erected by Linklater Avenue, it finished a few hundred yards down the street behind Commare’s. As for 7th, the whole road was closed off. Drunks from a dive Jazz bar woo’d and wow’d. Their evening’s entertainment was being brought to them by the LAPD no less, great value for money. An orderly line of taxicabs had formed outside the cordon. They’d give the shell-shocked restaurant diners a free ride if they gave them the skinny. They’d pass the deets on to the local and regional papers.
Miss. Evelyn Lacey was sitting in the back of an ambulance with a blanket draped over her shoulders. She was holding a Marlboro but not smoking it. The wind whistled.
He went over and joined her, putting his arm around her and pulled her closer to him. ‘Well done, Ma’am. You got everyone out alive. Might be a medal in it for ya.’
She looked up at him, there were tears in her eyes.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I should never have left you.’
Head tilted to one side, Evelyn said: ‘Sorry? What are you sorry, Jakey? Why say your sorry when you’re gonna leave me again?’ His back went jack-knife straight. He opened his mouth to say something meaningful, nothing came out. She resumed: ‘I know you’ve got too much of your father still let in you to do anything else. But whatever you do, for fuck’s sake, whatever you do and wherever you go, don’t forget to write to me. Promise me.’
Jake got down on his knees in front of her. He looked into the gray-blue eyes. ‘I promise you, Aunt Evelyn.’
She laughed. ‘Less of the Aunt shit. I’m old enough to be your big sister. When d’you go?’
‘One week from now.’
She sighed. From behind them, a voice spoke. It was Carruthers, the new cocksure bastard of Central Police Station. There were a lot of them in that mob, but he had established his own reputation. ‘Officer Lacey, I’m Georgie. If you’d kindly ride with me, the Chief wants you down at Central to give a statement to the press.’
‘Sure,’ he said, still holding the hat. He stood up and kissed his aunt on the cheek.
Evelyn smiled back at him. The lips mouthed the word ‘Go’ and took a pull off the cigarette in front of them. She was warm and wasn’t in the biggest hurry to leave just yet. They’d give her a ride home; he was sure of that.
Taking the forgotten Cuban out of his mouth, Mr. Slate coughed phlegm on the floor and stepped out of the phone box. He watched the police car pull away, rolling past him in the direction away from the river. Lacey was looking straight ahead. He made a mental note to remember that name, Officer Jake Lacey, the cop that nearly caught Mr. Slate. He stalked back the way he came from. He needed the walk.
JAKE LACEY WILL RETURN IN
D O S
P R I M E R O S