Story by Tony Haynes
Illustration by L.A. Spooner
It was real blow discovering that my partner, Stephanie Jones, wasn’t the perfect human being I’d always made her out to be. After discovering she was responsible for killing her cousin, even though most would argue he deserved to die, I cooled on her for a while. Not mooning around after Steph did wonders for my productivity levels. In the six months that followed her minor indiscretion, we cracked more cases than San Francisco’s finest did in the same period. Consequently, Steph and I made more than our fair share of enemies. There wasn’t anything unusual about that. If you were in our line of work to make friends you were in the wrong business.
Gradually, over time, my Cold War policy began to thaw. I couldn’t stay mad at Steph forever. After all, she was the love of my life and although that love had been unrequited – to date – one of life’s unwritten laws was that you had to cut such people a little slack, even if they had committed a mortal sin.
It soon reached the point where I swear I could feel Steph’s eyes on me across the office; watching, wondering, willing me to cross the threadbare carpet, park myself on the corner of her desk, tip my trilby back, lean down, gaze deep into those hazel eyes of hers and ask her if she would like to go out for a drink sometime. The only reason I stalled was because I had made a foolish promise to myself: before saying anything to Steph, I had to crack the case I was working on. Annoyingly it was proving to be the toughest I’d tackled in a long time.
By the nineteen thirties the W.A.S.P’s and the Israelites controlled so much of America there wasn’t much room for any of the latter-day migrants to feed at the trough of big business. Consequently, the more enterprising of them decided to tear up the rule book and play by their own laws, which was fine by me. Firstly, they were no less morally repugnant than the Robber Barons and the slime who worked on Wall Street. Secondly, they kept me in business, so I was hardly going to complain.
I don’t mean to be prejudiced when I tell you that it was the Italians and the Irish who tended to be my best customers. It was their descendants who had sliced up large parts of the city between them like it was a giant birthday cake. The only trouble was, from time to time, an uninvited guest like Kieran O’Donoghue came along. Kieran didn’t just want a slice of the action, he wanted the whole cake.
Large swathes of San Francisco didn’t know what hit it. O’Donoghue was into everything: murder, extortion, racketeering, kidnap, human trafficking. A beat cop once caught him stealing candy from a kid outside Edgewood orphanage. OK, it would have only been a minor charge, but it would have been nice to at least see the slippery Leprechaun in court. A week before the trial O’Donoghue bought a controlling stake in the orphanage and the kid in question O.D’d on cotton candy. Case closed, not for the first time. By my perverse way of thinking I figured that if I could put O’Donoghue away it would somehow atone for Steph killing her cousin. The only slight problem facing me was a lack of hard evidence. With Steph looking more alluring by the day, my grubby little conscience came up with an idea I don’t mind admitting I was none too proud of.
It took a week to come up with the ‘evidence’. After all, I wanted to make sure it was watertight. When I delivered it to Homicide’s star detective, Jack Calloway, it took him nearly the whole morning to read through the file. I wasn’t surprised, he’d only recently finished his A-B-C. Calloway eyed me suspiciously when he finished.
‘How come this has only just come to light?’ he asked.
‘I was saving it for your birthday.’
‘My birthday’s in November.’
‘Not this year.’
Calloway hauled himself out of the chair in which he had been sitting, crossed his office, closed the door and pulled the blinds. ‘You made it up.’
‘What does it matter? I’m handing you O’Donoghue on a plate.’
Calloway rubbed his sandpaper chin thoughtfully. ‘He’ll come after you.’
‘He wouldn’t be the first.’
‘No. But he could be the last.’
‘I can take care of myself.’
‘That’s what Bill McKinley said just before he was shot.’
‘I promise I won’t get shot, Jack.’
‘Oh yeah? How come?’
‘Because you’re not going to disclose this evidence until the case comes to trial. Then, when you do, I’m going to take a nice long vacation until things cool down.’
The semblance of a smile threatened to form on Calloway’s face. ‘You mean I get to put O’Donoghue away and get you out of my hair for six months?’
‘I didn’t say anything about going away for six months.’ Calloway’s smile faded speedier than a Walter Johnson fastball. I sighed and shook my head. ‘Six months is a long time in my business.’
‘It’s nothing,’ Calloway said. ‘Remember, dead is for life.’
I tried to argue. It was no use. Me taking a six-month vacation was part of the deal. The only thing that would make it bearable was if Steph agreed to come with me to Canada. As Calloway prepared to go and pay O’Donoghue a visit I headed back to my office to ask her.
— ♦♦♦ —
On arriving, I discovered that Steph wasn’t there. Whilst I waited for her to show up I tidied up various loose ends to ensure that nothing would be left outstanding when we went away. When. Was I so sure she would agree to come with me? As the afternoon dragged on, more and more doubts crowded into my mind, so that by the time she appeared – a little after four – I was convinced I was going to make a fool of myself by asking her to accompany me. The moment she entered the office she could tell something was wrong.
‘What’s the matter?’ she asked.
‘Nothing,’ I lied.
‘Mike, it’s me, remember?’
‘So, what is it?’
I decided to approach it from the long way around. ‘We’ve had a breakthrough in the O’Donoghue case.’
‘That’s fantastic news!’
Instinctively, Steph threw her arms around my neck to celebrate. In doing so, it brought her lips dangerously close to mine. Although I was out of practise at playing the Gentleman I paused, giving her the opportunity to pull away from the kiss that felt kind of inevitable. We gazed deep into one another’s eyes. Did she really harbour those kinds of feelings for me? It was time to find out. Taking a giant leap of faith, I leant forwards to kiss her.
If I could offer you one piece of advice, it’s this: Don’t ever hesitate. Life’s too short. That gentlemanly pause I was telling you about cost me dearly. Just as our lips were about to meet the phone rang, causing us both to jump. Whether it was professional instinct or whether Steph was using it as a monumental get out clause, I couldn’t be sure. Either way it didn’t matter. The end result was still the same. She pulled away from me and answered the call.
‘Lasky and Jones.’
After delivering the standard greeting she allowed the caller time to state their business. I couldn’t help noticing she took a little longer than usual. As the caller spoke the expression on her face changed. I found it difficult to read.
‘But when? Where? How?’ she asked.
She broke off as the caller said something else.
‘What, right now?’
The caller launched into another lengthy monologue. As he did – I somehow knew it was a he – Steph’s cheeks reddened slightly. I’m not sure I’d ever seen her blush before. I only wished I had been the one who had said something to cause her to do so. Blushing really suited her.
Steph glanced at her watch. ‘OK, I’ll see you in half an hour.’
She put the receiver down.
‘Who was that?’ I asked.
‘Who the hell is Preston Thorndyke?’
Steph and I had never spoken about the nine lost years she’d spent away from San Francisco. I figured she hadn’t spent them living in a convent but, naively as it turned out, I never expected her to have an Ex.
‘You don’t mind if I catch up with him for an hour or two, do you Mike?’
Trying my best to display a degree of nonchalance I didn’t really feel, I replied, ‘Of course not.’
‘Thanks.’ She pecked my cheek, grabbed her handbag, rammed a six-shot automatic into it, then left. I didn’t blame her for packing heat; my ex-girlfriends often did when they called on me.
I paced up and down for a couple of minutes and told myself that it would be a lousy thing to follow her. But, being a lousy kind of guy, my resolve soon snapped, so I snatched my hat and went after her.
— ♦♦♦ —
As I tailed Steph to the bar where she was meeting this schmuck, I tried to imagine what kind of guy Preston Thorndyke was. If his name was anything to go by he sounded like one of those glasses wearing Ivy League losers, with the forearms of a tiddly-wink champion and the charm of an Arizona rattler. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
To my immense disappointment Preston Thorndyke was so good looking it was all I could do not to develop a crush on him myself. What, with his quarterback shoulders, slicked back hair and brooding Clark Gable smile I wondered how come Stephanie Jones wasn’t tucked away in the cosy mid-west somewhere playing happy-ever-after with two point four children, a Ford convertible in the garage and a German Shepherd called Rin-Tin-Tin.
Having weighed up my rival for Steph’s affections I had just enough of a conscience to settle for only the one drink, then I left them to it.
It wasn’t the wisest decision I ever made. Wrongly, I assumed that Preston was simply passing through, paying his once true love a flying visit. It was just my luck that it turned out that he was a hot-shot lawyer and he’d got an important case on in town. Wasn’t I the lucky one?
— ♦♦♦ —
Over the following couple of weeks, I saw less of Steph than I did of my family at Thanksgiving. With the news having leaked that it was ‘Yours Truly’ who had supplied the evidence that had put Kieran O’Donoghue behind bars, Calloway couldn’t understand what I was still doing in town. He tried every trick in the book to get me to leave. When his Bad cop / Worse cop routine failed, he gave up.
‘Just don’t expect me to come to your funeral,’ he told me for the millionth time when I turned up at his office the morning before the O’Donoghue trial was about to start.
‘Aw, Jack, I never knew you cared.’
‘Go fly a kite.’
Feeling like I’d outstayed my welcome, I got up to leave.
‘Wait,’ he snapped.
I paused at the door. Calloway frowned. The creases in his face disappeared beneath the overhang of his eyebrows. ‘He wants to see you.’
I didn’t catch on immediately. ‘Who?’
‘Who d’you think?’
For no good reason, I bit my bottom lip. ‘What for?’
Calloway shrugged. ‘Who knows.’
I considered a second or two before responding. ‘Do I have to?’
‘But you’d like me to see him?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘You didn’t have to.’ I felt like a grandmaster who had put his opponent in checkmate, only for them to wheedle their way out of it at the very last instant by executing a move no one saw coming. Sensing my reluctance, Calloway offered to come with me and hold my hand, which was kind of sweet. I told him so. He promptly retracted the offer, so I wound up having a quiet tête-à-tête with O’Donoghue alone. With just the two of us, it was nice and cosy.
— ♦♦♦ —
O’Donoghue was in a surprisingly chipper mood for someone who was facing the charges he was. Rather disconcertingly he didn’t seem to bear me any obvious grudge either.
‘Please, sit down,’ he said when I entered his cell.
I remained standing. I figured it was easier to make a quick getaway if needs be.
‘Suit yourself,’ O’Donoghue said. He then turned and addressed the guard. ‘A cup of your finest for my good friend here, if you’d be so kind.’
The guard answered with a torrent of expletives, told me to shout if I needed him, then locked the cell door behind him and marched off along the corridor.
O’Donoghue shook his head, sadly. ‘What is society coming to? No manners, some people.’
‘Terrible isn’t it.’
‘Indeed, it is. Take my case for instance. A travesty of justice if ever there was one.’
‘How do you figure that?’
‘Because I’m innocent of the crimes with which I have been charged.’
‘My heart bleeds.’
‘It should do.’
‘But not too much. You’re guilty of plenty of others.’
‘Ah, but that’s not how the law works in this great, glorious country of yours. Even a poor downtrodden migrant, such as my good self, has rights.’
‘More’s the pity.’
‘That’s a terrible thing to say, Mr Lasky. Don’t you care about the law?’
O’Donoghue crossed himself. ‘Mother of mercy.’
‘I care about all those innocent people whose lives you’ve snubbed out just to make a fast buck. I care about right and wrong, like they did in that good book you profess to believe in. And, although it feels like its no longer fashionable these days, I care more about moral justice than human rights.’
O’Donoghue almost looked impressed. ‘Fine words, Mr Lasky. A grand speech that was. The only trouble is, your so-called evidence is as morally dubious as any of the crimes I’ve been accused of.’
‘You’re wrong, Kieran.’ With the conversation going nowhere fast I called for the guard.
‘No, wait,’ O’Donoghue said.
‘What is it now?’
‘Enough’ s enough, you’ve had your fun. Now all I need to know is, how much?’
My eyes narrowed. ‘Do you seriously think this is about money?’
‘Not that I expect you to understand,’ I explained. ‘But sometimes, even if it ends up costing you, you have to do the right thing or else it’s impossible to look yourself in the mirror.’
O’Donoghue regarded me as a loving father might. ‘I’m impressed.’
‘I’m not doing it to impress you.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘You’re doing it because you’re a good man. There aren’t enough of you left in the world. I, of all people, know that. The only thing is, I hope you haven’t underestimated the cost.’
‘There’s nearly always a price to pay for doing the right thing. I just hope you realise how much your actions might cost.’
‘Is that a threat?’
O’Donoghue laughed. ‘I don’t make threats, Mr. Lasky, I make promises. And if you know anything about my people, an Irishman always keeps a promise.’
‘Are you finished?’ I asked.
‘No. But you are.’
‘There you go. A cheap threat. I knew you’d get there in the end.’
‘There’s nothing cheap about me.’
‘I beg to disagree.’
‘It gladdens my heart to see that you don’t mind begging. You’re going to be doing a lot of it in the near future.’
Having had enough of this charmer’s company, I called to the guard. He opened the cell door immediately.
‘Goodbye O’Donoghue,’ I said.
‘God never goes with me.’
‘Oh? And why’s that?’
‘Because I don’t believe in him.’
‘More fool you, Mr Lasky. More fool you.’
— ♦♦♦ —
After my conversation with O’Donoghue I badly needed a drink, so I headed into town. I stopped off at my office to grab the thirty-eight-snub nose that I kept in the bottom right hand drawer of my desk and then I made my way to my favourite bar.
I’d barely touched my fifth drink when Steph wandered in. The white dress she was wearing made her look like an angel. Fuelled by liquor I finally felt the courage to ask her to go to Canada with me. Unfortunately, before the words escaped my lips, she beat me to it by making a request of her own.
‘Mike, I need to ask you a favour.’
‘It’s a biggie.
‘Will you give me away?’
I laughed out loud. The look on Steph’s face told me she wasn’t joking. I stopped laughing, knocked back my drink and ordered another.
‘Congratulations,’ I said. ‘Who’s the lucky guy?’
‘Please don’t be like this.’
‘Do you expect me to be happy for you?’
‘You expect too much.’
She sighed. ‘Is that really so much to ask for?’
‘Because I love you,’ I said.
The world stopped turning for about one minute sixteen seconds. Not that I was counting. By the time it started turning again Stephanie Jones had disappeared. I headed after her, but I was too slow. I knew that if I returned to the bar they would have to send out a search party for me sometime the following week so, for once in my life, I did the vaguely sensible thing and headed back to my apartment.
— ♦♦♦ —
Disappointingly I stopped off at a couple of bars along the way, so that by the time I reached home I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. As I turned the key in the lock I thought I heard someone inside. Feeling paranoid, having been threatened by O’Donoghue earlier on, I drew the thirty-eight I was packing, even though I knew it was a mistake. The trouble with loaded guns is they have a tendency to go off.
Opening the door, I found Preston Thorndyke in my hallway. He was on his knees, clutching the folder that contained the original copies of the evidence that I’d fabricated that was going to send Kieran O’Donoghue down for a long time. I thought I’d hidden it carefully, beneath the loose bit of carpet in the hallway. It was the first place Thorndyke had looked. He smiled that charming smile of his and tried his best to bluff it out.
‘What are you doing back so early?’ he asked, rising to his feet.
‘What are we, married now?’
‘If we are I don’t appreciate this.’ He held the file aloft. ‘I’d call this a betrayal of trust.’
‘Talking of trust, what are you doing here?’
I didn’t really need to ask. I did though. ‘Who for?’
‘Come now,’ he said. ‘You’re better than that.’
‘So how much is O’Donoghue paying you?’
‘Enough,’ he said.
‘You don’t care about his past crimes?’
‘Do you care about anything?’
‘Wrong answer,’ I said. Taking a step towards him I aimed the thirty-eight at his chest.
Thorndyke laughed. ‘Behave. We both know you’re not going to fire. Now, please get out of my way.’
He took a step towards me. I cocked the hammer. I stared deep into his eyes. I figured it was only fair to do so to a man I was about to kill.
Thorndyke was quick, I’ll give him that, but not quick enough. He tried his best to put me off by throwing the folder at me. It nearly worked. It brought him enough time for him to draw the gun he was carrying.
We fired near enough simultaneously. My bullet found the target. His aim was slightly off to my left. He died with a faint smile on his lips. I didn’t understand why until I heard Steph catch her breath. I never even heard her enter the apartment. She must have opened the door at precisely the moment we’d both fired.
I span around. A blood stain appeared on Steph’s pristine white dress. Frozen to the spot I watched it spread. She opened her mouth to speak.
‘I…’ was all she managed before she slumped forwards. Instinctively, I caught her.
— ♦♦♦ —
There aren’t many worse places in the world than a hospital bedside at night. If you’re sitting next to one, it rarely means good news.
They’d operated immediately. They told me the odds were fifty/fifty.
Around one in the morning, Calloway showed up. Silently he handed me a cup of insomnia strength black coffee.
‘I came as soon as I heard.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
We didn’t speak for several minutes. There wasn’t much to say. It was Calloway who eventually broke the silence. He did so with a platitude. ‘She’ll be fine.’
I responded with one of my own. ‘I know.’
Silence returned. It felt like it might hang around for a while this time. Calloway stood up, squeezed my left shoulder and turned to leave.
‘Where are you going?’ I asked.
‘What does it matter? You don’t want me to stay.’
‘Yes, I do.’
I took a deep breath. ‘I guess not.’
‘Call me if you need anything,’ Calloway said.
‘Don’t mention it.’
He said goodnight to Steph, then left. He was right. It would have been unbearable if he had stayed. It wasn’t much better after he had gone. I was stuck in the middle of the scene that we all dread, the one that happens to us all at one time or another: sitting at the bedside of someone we desperately love, praying to a God that probably doesn’t exist that they’ll pull through. Feeling helpless I did the only thing I could do. I took a sip of coffee and waited.
— ♦♦♦ —
Hexen’s Ghosts. By Russell Hemmell, Art by Jihane Mossalim
Join us again next week for “Hexen’s Ghosts” by Russell Hemmell… “Apologies for this blunt approach. My name is Williams. Francis Williams, from Boston, MIT,” he said. “I won’t take much of your time. I know the kind of articles you write – you investigate unusual facts and legends, trying to assess the truth about them. And just like that Miss Ewine Stewart-Miller was thrust into a case that not only completely baffled her, but placed her very life at stake. Read all about this remarkable case of the paranormal next time.