I forget how long I had been standing there, but a cloud of four cigarettes-worth of smoke hung over my head, trapped above me by the warehouse’s ceiling. I knew that it was at least still nighttime, a lighthouse light beaming through each of the warehouse’s windows as it swept along the blackened coast. Outside, some seagulls did that thing they do, cawing? Or is it really just screeching? They made an unpleasant sound, is what I’m getting at. My time waiting here paid off, though; I got the drop on Deacon, damn near got him to confess. Unfortunately, Bishop showed up a couple minutes later with a gun trained on me. I guess I broke even, then.
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a Mexican standoff,” I said, holding out a pistol in each hand to the other two men with me: Deacon on my left, Bishop to my right.
“You…watch too many movies,” Deacon replied, his right hand wavering with the weight of the pistol he held level to Bishop.
“John Woo is a brilliant man,” I shot back, a puff of gray cigarette smoke spilling from between my lips.
“Sure, he’s perfectly documented our lives,” Bishop added, readjusting his grip on the pistol he pointed at me.
What a collection of cliches we were; me, a washed-up dick; Deacon, a crooked cop; and Bishop, a hitman disguised as a priest. Three morally ambiguous fellows, pumped full of adrenaline and ready to pump the other two full of lead. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the universe was playing reruns.
“So…how does this all work?” Deacon asked.
Deacon was a weird man. I knew him from back in the academy. We weren’t really friends, but he was a decent cop. At one point he had scruples, but he lost them around the time he first got a suitcase full of unmarked bills from the mob. He’s done a pretty good job keeping the fact hidden, but once I got a photo of him actually taking the money, things changed.
“I don’t know, I think we shoot if…the other guy shoots,” Bishop answered, hiding a smirk behind his curled up shoulder.
Bishop was probably a lot like Deacon – unscrupulous. I mean, he’d have to be, given his vocation. Granted, what little I know of Bishop is based on a lot of hearsay, and I’m roughly 69.3% sure that “Bishop” isn’t his real name, but this is a guy who has allegedly snuffed out eight lives for the mob just in the past year. The Fibonacci crime family he works for calls him a “Cleaner,” but it’s a misnomer; there’s no way his hands are clean.
“So…w-who shoots f-first then?” Deacon stammered, noticing the enkindled tip of the cigarette pursed between my lips.
“Let’s all do it on the count of three,” I joked.
What can I say about me? I became a private detective after getting tired of being a beat cop. I wanted to solve mysteries, not shuffle through the streets making sure people didn’t spray paint walls. Blue also wasn’t my color. The jobs were always interesting, as this was a very interesting town. Although, contrary to cliché, this current job had nothing to do with a dame with legs that stretched through Saskatchewan.
“W-well…uh…who-who…should count?” Deacon stammered again.
“Rock paper scissors?” Bishop answered.
“Best two out of three? Oh wait…my hands are full,” I responded, wiggling the pistols in my hands.
“Back to square one,” Bishop muttered.
I sighed, and Deacon cleared his throat, the sharp noise echoing through the empty warehouse, bouncing off rusting shipment containers.
“Y’know…we could always…uh…not shoot each other. We could put our guns down, and…uh…walk away?” Deacon suggested.
“You don’t really know how this whole standoff thing works, do you?” I scoffed.
“Well, maybe there’s a way we don’t have to shoot each other.”
“Deacon, you’re hardly a negotiator. You don’t even have a megaphone,” I said.
“No, he has a point,” Bishop interjected.
“Well, I’ll put my gun down if you promise not to kill me,” Deacon said, addressing Bishop with as much calm as he could muster.
“That’s not in the cards.” Bishop shook his head.
I sucked on my cigarette, the dull, amber tip glowing into a scorching sun-like orange as a fire filled my lungs.
“How ‘bout you put your gun down and I promise not to kill you?” I asked Bishop.
“That could be arranged.”
“And you promise not to kill Deacon,” I added, raising the stakes.
“Can’t do that – if word gets out he’s in the family’s pocket, a whole lot of things will unravel,” Bishop explained.
“I can’t just let you kill him, he’s gotta stand trial. The suits, the jury, the judge with his little wooden hammer – the whole nine yards,” I said.
“You…you don’t have to turn me in! Get rid of those photos and we’ve got nothing to worry about. Then we can all go home and not be dead,” Deacon chimed in.
“He has a point, we wouldn’t be in this predicament if you didn’t have those photos. I don’t have to kill Deacon if you give up the photos,” Bishop said.
“But then I can’t stick it to the family and have a nice big paycheck,” I pleaded.
Deacon’s gaze darted from Bishop, to me, to Bishop, then back to me. His pistol followed, sweeping from the hitman towards my chest. I sighed, smoke blowing from my nose.
“Great,” I muttered. I couldn’t quite tell if my luck had changed or not. At least Deacon wasn’t in any immediate danger anymore. Me on the other hand, well, just pile that trouble right on my shoulders.
“Two against one, now,” Bishop said.
“Sure, but I’ve got iron for the both of you,” I said, again wiggling the pistols in my hands, still pointed at the two men. You never realize how heavy a gun is until you have to hold it steady for several minutes.
“Come on, hand ‘em over,” Deacon demanded.
“What? The guns? Gonna go with a big ol’ ‘nope’ on that one,” I said.
“No, the photos, hand over the photos.”
“I don’t have them on me. You think I just keep incriminating documents on me wherever I go. Geeze, some cop you are.”
“Where are they then?” Bishop asked.
“If I tell you, promise not to kill me?” I said, built-up ash falling from the tip of my cigarette as I spoke.
“Maybe,” Deacon answered.
“Holy shit, Deacon, ‘maybe’? You are one horrible negotiator. I can’t believe this was your idea,” I said.
“This is giving me a headache,” Bishop complained.
“Join the club. This is all your fault Deacon. Why’d you go and get all snuggled up with the mob?” I snapped.
“You wouldn’t understand,” Deacon muttered.
“You’re taking money from the mob. I understand money; I detect things for money.”
“It’s more than that you jerk.”
“Enlighten me, then,” I chuckled. “It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”
“It’s my wife…”
“What, she likes money? Hot damn, get divorced.”
“No!” Deacon shouted. “She’s not some gold digger, you asshole. Her cancer came back.”
My eyes widened. “Oh…well that’s different.”
Well this certainly changed things a bit. Deacon’s got some trouble on his shoulders I couldn’t bear for him.
“I needed the money to pay the medical bills, and the Fibonacci family was the only way I could cover them. My entire pension was already shot from when we treated it the first time.”
“You did all this for your wife?” Bishop asked.
“Of course, why wouldn’t I? I love her. Thought I was gonna lose her to the cancer before. I got scared when I thought it could still happen.”
“Deacon, lots of people died while you were paid to look the other way,” I said. “You might as well have been the one pulling the trigger.”
“You went black just to pay those bills, but do you think she would have liked that?”
“I KNOW!” Deacon gritted his teeth. “That’s why…I can’t let you go. I’m sorry. Not unless you give me the photos.”
“Deacon, I don’t have the photos, and if I did, I still wouldn’t give them to you.”
“Then I’ll have to…y’know, shoot you.”
“I don’t want to let you do that, either.”
“Those photos – if you don’t have them, they’re with someone, aren’t they?” Bishop interrupted.
“Yup. And they’ll send out those photos to the press if they don’t hear back from me by tomorrow,” I responded, my cigarette bobbing up and down in my mouth.
“Thought so,” Bishop said. “Do it.”
Two shots drowned out the world around me for a split second, and I flew backwards onto the floor after taking two rounds to the chest. The bulletproof vest underneath my coat held, but my lungs didn’t. Air shot from my mouth, my cigarette launching like a rocket from my lips. “Well…that was…uncalled for.”
I nearly blacked out, but managed to stay conscious and try to get my diaphragm working again. I’ve been shot before, but it’s never really a pleasant experience. Deacon let out a sigh a relief, his shoulders sinking as he lowered his still-smoking pistol. Another shot rang out in the warehouse, followed by a solitary rattling as a shell bounced off the concrete floor. Deacon stumbled back, looking confusedly at Bishop who held his pistol raised to him. Deacon lost his footing, falling back against a stack of crates.
“What…? I thought we…” he stammered, sliding down to the floor.
I rolled onto my side, gasping for air as I shuffled up against the wall behind me.
“I’m sorry Deacon, there was really no other way,” Bishop said, kneeling down next to Deacon, taking the pistol from his hands. “You heard him, those photos are going out no matter what. The most I can do is prevent you from going to trial.”
“I…know,” Deacon said lowly, his breath becoming more labored.
“I’m sorry too, Deacon. I wish things could have been different,” I said, my ability to breathe normally slowly coming back to me.
Bishop rose to his feet, holstering his pistol under his frock. He turned to me with a stern visage.
“I shot Deacon, and then incapacitated you with my gun and his before you could apprehend me,” he said. “Then I escaped…right?”
I nodded slowly. “That’s how I remember it happening.”
Bishop nodded in kind, and then quietly walked away, into the darkness of the warehouse. I took the first of many deep breaths, reaching for the phone in my coat pocket.
“Hey…Angelo,” Deacon said weakly. “Don’t…tell my wife what…I did. Don’t hurt her.”
I flipped open my phone, breathing deeper as I began punching a short number into the dial pad. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Deacon.”
I knocked on the open threshold to a sterile hospital room, entering slowly without waiting for a reply.
A woman sitting in the bed turned, her eyes were still red from crying. “Yes?”
This was a woman who had known a lifetime of sadness in a matter of days. She may have been getting treated for cancer, but there was a pain in her no medicine could possibly cure.
“I’m Angelo Dows. I was…uh, with your husband, when he died,” I said.
Mrs. Jaynes nodded, motioning for me to come further into the room.
“Did you know him?” Mrs. Jaynes asked.
“Uh…not quite. I knew him from back in our academy days. He was…he was a good cop though, from what I hear,” I lied, walking past Mrs. Jaynes’ bed to the window.
“Why was…he out there? Do you know?”
“In that warehouse? He was helping me…with a case of my own. The man who killed him, whoever he was, he didn’t want us getting any further.”
“At least he went out helping someone.” Mrs. Jaynes struggled to force a smile. “He always said that was the only way dying in the line of duty would be worth it – if he was helping others.”
“Yeah…” I nodded. “I’m sorry that you have to go through this…on top of your condition.”
“If there’s anything you ever need, you just let me know,” I said, pulling a worn business card from my jacket. “Give me a call, day or night.”
I handed the card to her, suddenly trying to remember if it had my old, disconnected number on it. She took it, lightly flicking the already-bent edges as she read its face.
“You’re too kind, after I’ve already received such a helpful gift.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
“Earlier this morning, I received a letter along with my bill, this here…” Mrs. Jaynes said, pushing a couple of documents in her lap towards me. “I’ve just been looking at them again.”
I took the papers and looked them over. The first was a hospital bill, outlining the accrued costs of Mrs. Jaynes’ treatments, culminating into quite the hefty sum. Yet, at the bottom of the sheet, the cost due was a lonely little zero. The next page was a handwritten letter.
Dear Mrs. Jaynes,
First, let me express my deepest condolences regarding the untimely death of your husband. To lose a loved one is never easy. I am also privy to your condition and the continuing exorbitant cost it is having on your personal finances. While I cannot bring your husband back from the dead, I can help you out in another way. You will find that your medical expenses have been covered, and will continue to be covered. You don’t know me, and it will serve no purpose in trying to find me. Enjoy your life, and remember your husband fondly.
“Any idea who did this?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Not a clue. They didn’t leave a name or anything, and I don’t have many friends, and I don’t know many people who could afford to do such a thing,” Mrs. Jaynes answered.
At the bottom of the letter there was no signature, in its place only a small, Christian cross shape. I’ll be damned, a hitman with a heart of gold.
“Who says the religious aren’t charitable anymore,” I said.
Some would say there’s a silver lining in every black cloud. Anyone who was there for the formation of a black cloud like the one hanging over Mrs. Jaynes’ head knows that the silver lining is a very thin consolation prize. Built up by secrets and things left unsaid, it was so delicate, you could see right through it, right on through to the tragedy behind it. Fortunately, Bishop obviously wasn’t talking, and Deacon took his secrets to his grave. The only one left to cut through that silver lining was me and mine. Looking at Mrs. Jaynes sitting there in the hospital bed, frail as she fought back cancer with medicine and tears of mourning with composure, any feelings of speaking out for justice were crushed. Crushed by the weight of Deacon and his secrets.
Deacon may have been dead, but he was with both Bishop and me now. Three men brought together by corruption that ran a completely different road, far from greed. Bishop and I now carried the love and care of Deacon’s wife with us. One was gone, but there was still three of us, and there would be for a long time to come.