I awoke in a back alley filled with more trash than your average popular music station. My head clanged like the Vatican on Christmas Eve, and I put a hand to it in an effort to stop my bells from ringing. Grumbling, I shook my head. Finding my hat, I put it on my head, and stood up. It wasn’t the first time I had been punched out and ditched in an alley, but it was the first time in broad daylight. Why didn’t anybody help me?
“Jerks,” I said, grumbling and groggy. Putting a hand on the red, rough bricks to my left in order to steady myself, I saw a large, folded piece of paper laying in front of me in a puddle. Although most of the ink had blotted away in the continuing rain, (I was a likely candidate for hypothermia) I could still read a few words.
“No hard feelings, just felt…” here it got blotchy and unreadable, but the jist of the note was Eddy just wanted to punch me in the face. Couldn’t blame him, lord knows I feel that way about a couple ‘a mugs about town. “…man you’re looking for is Everett Donning. Best of luck!”
I looked at the paper. Eddy apparently had tracked down the man who had bought the ring. More than that, he had known who it was. More more than that, he had known I was on the case, and looking for the same man. Slowly lowering the paper, I spoke in a hushed whisper, “Eddy is a waaay better detective than me.”
I scanned the paper once more then balled it up and threw it back in the trash heap whose biggest piece of refuse had just upped and walked away. I wasn’t quite sure why Eddy had decided to help me, and I was even less sure why I had decided to accept that help. The man was a face-punching stomach-rencher, like too many tequilas on a Friday night. But there it was on the paper, blotchy and hastily scratched. I walked out from the alley, tired eyes scanning the street. He had even had enough pity for an unconscious acquaintance in his jet black coal rock of a heart to stash me in an alley not far from where I had parked. Naturally, he probably wasn’t going to be able to squeeze out a little regret in order to pay for the parking ticket I found stuck to my windshield. I crumpled it up and threw it into the passenger seat, unworried. I would finally being able to pay it (and its dozen or so friends) off with the money I would be making from this case. I just had to solve it first.
I got behind my wheel and drove off, windshield wipers flipping the rain from side to side. I found the phone booth Eddy had been waiting for me in, and checked to make sure he wasn’t planning the same dirty trick. The streets had cleared out considerably while I was out, a fact I found a little frightening for my mental health. Flipping through the phone book hanging by a large wire, I turned to the D’s and scanned down to the Donnings, and from there to the lone Everett. Checking against the receipt from the pawn shop, I found the name and number matched. The address listed a neighborhood way on the end of town, and not the end of town separated from the plebs by golf courses and yards measured in acres. The area of town where the policemen only travelled well-lit streets in pairs.
I wasn’t scared of the bad part of town. I had grown up near an area exactly like this town’s Lowlands, and had to travel there for work. I had my sources of information inside the borough, but most of them were like Eddy and I felt like my jaw could use an hour off, so I would have to cross into the Lowlands alone.
My car bumped over the tracks that signaled the beginning of Lowlands turf, and I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. Finding the address that had been listed in the phonebook, I was startled to find that on the wide lot sat a quickly degrading warehouse. Several panes of glass had been broken by what I hope had been rocks, and grass grew through the cracks in the pavement, as if the entire wart of a building was being reclaimed by nature herself.
I circled the place several times and found only one car in the lot, looking lonelier than the gas station sign that stood across the road without a corresponding building. I parked in the former gas station’s lot, and got out of my car. The rain had lessened to a constant drizzle instead of the flood from heaven, so at least one part of my day was improving. I still had the collars of my coat up to my fedora, and my socks were starting to swell up like sponges because of all the puddles I had walked through.
Eyes never leaving the windows of my target warehouse, searching for movement inside, I scampered across the low, knees bent. I didn’t immediately enter the building, and instead put my back against the wall outside of a door that hung off of two of its three hinges. I carry two Magnums. One I keep in a holster beneath my armpit, and the other is at home in my wallet. The first I use in cases of danger, and the second I use to impress cute cashiers. I removed the former and spun the revolving magazine, checking to make sure it was loaded. I always carry it loaded, and under my coat. When the latter fails to conceal it, I can use the former to solve just about any problem. I hoped I wasn’t going to need it in this situation, but it was better to be safe than sorry. I pointed the gun to the sky, next to my cheek, and slipped inside the hanging doors.
Unfortunately, the last hinge broke off of the wood frame, and the door came crashing down. Luckily, the top missed the back of my legs, and I could continue easily into the warehouse. Unfortunately again, the door made a racket louder than a blind tennis player. It sounded like an all-percussion and 5th grade violinists orchestra just pulled into town, and was practicing their symphony.
I muttered a few curses, and ran to hide behind some luckily placed large crates. Maybe they weren’t that lucky. In my lifetime I’ve only been in one warehouse without randomly placed crates, and believe you me, I’ve been in more warehouses than a junkie with a blue collar job. From across the factory floor came a flash of light- a door had opened from a bright room into the great open expanse that contained the crate I was currently peeking around. Inside the light stood a skinny man’s silhouette, and he tentatively walked out, hand trailing on the door frame.
The man walked closer to the door that was lying flat on the floor. Even from my spot from behind the crates I could see he was shaking like a small dog that had been inside for too long. This guy was going to be easy. I expected a man-shaped mountain like from back at the pawn shop, or at least a jerk like Eddy to be waiting for me in this warehouse. I looped behind the man, who couldn’t seem to focus enough of his attention on fallen door. I ran towards him on my tip toes in the same crouched position as I had approached the warehouse. Right before I reached standard pistol-whipping distance, he turned to face me.
I saw his eyes widen with surprise, and his mouth open. Out of that gaping maw (the man looked like a fish that had just been broken up with) came a quick grunt that was the beginning of a question. I didn’t have time to hear the entire query, because I pushed my shoulder into his midsection and wrapped my hands behind his thighs, a perfect form tackle. This was going to be a little bit louder, but I had to think quite literally on my toes. The man grunted questioningly again like he was asking just why I was tackling him so violently. Finally I ran out of momentum, and dropped him to the hard concrete floor, pushing my shoulder even farther into him. This time all the air left him, and he had no breath to keep grunting question sounds at me.
I placed one knee on his chest, and pointed my revolver straight at the man’s long, protruding nose. He rocked his head back as far as he could, still gasping for breath, as if three inches was going to be the deciding difference from a .45 pointed at his face. It was more than a little gross that at this angle I could see every single booger he had up his nose, and he seemed to have a lot.
I looked straight into Boogerman’s eyes with my steeliest gaze, and whispered in my gruffest voice. First impressions are important. “Where is the ring, Skinny Jim?” I don’t know what it was about today, but I just seemed to be in a “(blank) Jim” mood.
“What?” he mouthed, still searching for air more desperately than a hormonal snowboarder looking to impress nearby girls.
“You heard me. The ring. You bought it from a bearded pawn shop man…” I dug the receipt out of my pocket, careful to not let my barrel drop from the front of his face. “… four days ago at three thirty seven in the afternoon. It’s gold, and has a rock that could make the Shah speechless.”
For the first time since I had seen his silhouette, Boogerface had stopped looking terrified. In fact, he looked relieved. For his change in demeanor, he got another booger. This one was made of metal, and connected to a very large gun. “What are you playing at, Boogerface?” I demanded. I realized too late that by speaking my nickname for him aloud it sounded like I was simply bad at cussing. In order to keep him from getting the wrong opinion of me, I let out a stream of curses that would make a sailor moonlighting as a construction worker blush.
“Yes, I know exactly what ring you’re talking about,” Boogerface said, finally regaining his breath. He sounded exactly like a man named Boogerface would be expected to sound. All of the voice came from directly behind his large nose, and rattled every snot pebble on the way out. He learned from his new Magnum-shaped nose piercing not to show any positive feelings around me, but still spoke confidently. “Let me up, and I can take you to it. It’s in my desk drawer.”
I didn’t know why I should trust him, but it was most likely due to his lack of muscle or anger or any sort of weapon. I took my knee off of his chest and motioned with the barrel that he should stand up. He did so silently, and I finally escaped the sight of all of those nosecave bats.
Boogerface seemed to be all too conscious of his arm position, and kept trying to put them in more supplicating positions. They started out limply at his sides but slowly crept up to straight out in front, before he realized how silly this looked. Next they slid through the air to his shoulders, and finally rose all the way up in the air, like a Frenchman waiting for a rebound. I watched this all through bemused eyes. Boogerface had slowly but surely surrendered to me standing in one place, so I could not follow him to the ring.
“Put your damn hands down,” I said, barely holding back derisive laughter. “Normally I would say ‘I’m not going to shoot you, so relax,’ but I haven’t quite come to a conclusion on that yet.”
Boogerface put his hands back down by his sides as comfortably as a man who has a cannon pointed at him could. He finally began walking towards the rectangle of light that he had emerged from, and I followed behind him, gun still pointed at his back. We walked the length of the dirty warehouse floor, and entered into a surprisingly well finished study. I had apparently caught Ol’ Boogerface at some sort of reading, as a book remained open on the desk. He seemed in a hurry to get to the back of the desk, but I had had too many guns appear in empty drawers to let him go about this trickery for free. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a good way to keep him from reaching into whatever drawer he wanted.
I couldn’t think very well, because what sounded like a freight train buzzed past my ear and smacked into a bookshelf in front of me. I dove behind the door frame, and told Boogerface to hide behind the massive desk. Whoever was behind us in the room we had just left was certainly not a fan, judging from the loud noises his gun was making as he fired at us.