Story by Tony Deans
Illustration by L.A. Spooner
In this world, there are bad men and there are bad men. Bad men are the ones who are in the game for money, respect or some other goal that in itself doesn’t pride itself on hurting others. It’s about status. You can reason with these men. Bad men are those who don’t care about any of that. For them, it’s about cruelty for the sake of cruelty. You can’t talk to these men or reason with them. The only way to deal with them is to eliminate them from the game entirely.
Jackie Lawson understood these truths. A long time ago Jackie was a hero cop. He didn’t differentiate between the two types of bad men. A criminal was a criminal and that was all that mattered. In a city like this where most cops can be paid to look the other way, Jackie was the law. Being a good guy makes you a lot of enemies so being the good guy makes you public enemy number one.
If they can’t get to you personally then they have ways and means of finding an alternative route. For Jackie that was his son. The thing that the bad guys didn’t understand was that taking a man’s reason for living takes away his need for restraint. Jackie exacted his terrible revenge on the men who took his boy and the underworld was never the same again. He gave up the badge and decided that you can’t stop the seedy underbelly of the city. All you can do is try to contain it.
So, he made a deal with a small-time Jewish gangster named Simon Arubavich. Jackie would use his knowledge and connections to make Simon the top dog in the city. In exchange, Simon would use his powers to keep a tight leash on the underworld. The bad men would police the bad men and make as much money as they could possibly dream of making. A match made in hell.
That was five years ago.
Simon rules the city now and Jackie is his top enforcer. That’s a bit misleading as he’s more of a consultant. Jackie gets all of Simon’s vast resources and support, and in turn Simon gets Jackie’s number which he can call whenever he needs his help. Simon might be known as the kingpin, but the reality is his empire hinges on Jackie. Without him, it would crumble in a week.
The perverts, pederasts, sickos, and psychos are still out there. They might have retreated to the darkness but they’re still there. You’ll never get rid of all of them, Jackie knows that. But you can be damned sure that he’ll die trying. He’s got the scars to prove it.
Jackie returned home from his son’s grave late in the evening. It had become something of a tradition for him to go the graveyard on a Sunday. He came into his apartment, grabbed a bottle of Whisky and poured himself a glass. That was another tradition.
Jackie was midway through his second drink when his phone rang. He picked up the handset and didn’t say a word.
“Detective Lawson?” said a sultry voice.
Jackie recognized the voice immediately as belonging to Madam LaBouche. She ran a brothel in the Negro Quarter. Jackie had first encountered her as a young cop when he raided her establishment. Over the next few years on the force, Jackie would time and time again break up her businesses leaving her back at square one. Since Jackie had left the Police, she had become a part of the Arubavich empire.
Jackie liked that she looked out for her girls, kept them off drugs and tried to make her dirty business as clean as possible. Madam LaBouche liked that Jackie had been the only cop to ever care about black folks.
“It’s just Jackie now.”
“I’m sorry. Jackie. How are you doing baby? Is life treating you fine?”
“What do you want?”
“Oh, baby you never were much one for small talk. I need your help.”
“One of my girls has gone missing.”
“Jackie, baby. You know I wouldn’t be calling if she was a runaway.”
“Where are you?”
“At my place.”
“Stay there. I’m coming now.”
Jackie hung up. He grabbed his gun and notepad before leaving his apartment.
It took him an hour to reach the Negro Quarter. Madam LaBouche’s brothel was hidden down a dark alleyway behind a nondescript steel door. Jackie entered and made his way to Madam Labouche’s office where she was waiting for him with a glass of fine aged whiskey. He turned it down.
“Just tell me the details,” he said.
She told Jackie about Rochelle Susan. She had been working for Madam LaBouche for a year now. She had a son named Michael around the age of eight who she lived for. The father wasn’t on the scene. Madam LaBouche had seen her last week but had only discovered she was missing when Rochelle’s sister called to say that she hadn’t been seen for the past week.
“Who’s looking after Michael?” he asked.
“The sister has him.”
“Any clients you know who might have done this?”
“No. You know how I am Jackie. I vet every client before they see my girls to make sure they won’t hurt them.”
“You can’t be sure about people.”
“I can. I know none of my clients would have hurt her. If it was, I wouldn’t be calling you I’d be sorting this out myself.”
Jackie nodded. He knew she wasn’t lying.
“What’s Rochelle’s address?”
Rochelle lived in a small apartment in the tenements on the edge of the Negro Quarter. The tenements were run down and dilapidated. Jackie let himself into Rochelle’s apartment. Inside the décor was organized and neat. Children’s books and toys were all over the house and Jackie’s gut told him that she hadn’t run away. Her boy was clearly her world.
He canvassed the house and found a small locked drawer inside of Rochelle’s room. He jimmied it open and found a small notepad. As he opened it a small photo fell out onto the floor. He picked it up and saw that it was a picture of Rochelle holding Michael. Photos were expensive to have taken. Rochelle must have saved up for months to afford it.
He leafed through the notepad. It was full of men’s names. Jackie crosschecked them with the list of names Madam LaBouche had given him of her clients. They didn’t match. It would appear that Rochelle had been working off the clock. The last name in the notepad was circled. The client’s name was Anthony James and he was due to meet Rochelle last Friday. An address was listed.
Jackie put some feelers out before making his way to Anthony James’s address. It was a large house in the suburbs of the city. The man had money. It was early morning when he saw Anthony for the first time. He left the house impeccably dressed and hopped into a Silver Thunderbird.
Jackie followed Anthony as he made his way to the Central Museum of Art. From what Jackie could see Anthony was the curator at the museum. That explained the money. The museum was one of the most prestigious in the world. Around lunch-time Jackie got in touch with his contacts who told him that Anthony was a well-respected member of society. He was married with three kids. A normal man.
The monsters always are.
Jackie came back in the afternoon and used a coat hanger to gain access to Anthony’s Thunderbird and laid down in the back. It took three hours for Anthony to return to the car. As he sat down Jackie produced his revolver and placed it to the back of Anthony’s head.
“Anthony James?” said Jackie.
“Oh my god,” said Anthony as he started to hyperventilate. He was panicking.
“Listen to me, Anthony. I need you to take some deep breathes. All I want to do is talk. You keep your cool, then there’s a very good chance you walk away from this alive. Understand?”
Anthony nodded his head and did as he was told. Soon his breathing returned to normal.
“Do you know Rochelle Susan?”
“Negro girl. You requested her services last Friday.”
“I’ve never met a Rochelle.”
Jackie pulled the hammer down on the revolver. The loud click was usually enough to get people talking. Anthony proved to be no exception.
“Talk. I’m growing impatient,” said Jackie.
“I’ll talk okay? Don’t do nothing rash. I did contact her, but it wasn’t for me. One of the artists at the gallery said he wanted to meet a working girl for a piece he was painting. He asked that I contact her and arrange the meet.”
“He’s got his reputation to think about.”
“What’s the name of this artist?”
“I couldn’t possibly tell you.”
Jackie dug his revolver into Anthony’s neck.
“You don’t tell me you die. Simple as.”
“Don’t hurt me! It was Ricardo Everett.”
Ricardo Everett. Jackie had never heard of him but then again, he wasn’t a great fan of the arts. Jackie put the gun away. He wrapped a blindfold around Anthony’s eyes and made him count to a hundred. Jackie was gone before he reached ten.
Jackie found out that the museum would be hosting a celebration of Ricardo’s work that evening. It was a black-tie affair. Very exclusive. Exactly the kind of thing that Simon Arubavich would have access to. Jackie gave him a call.
“I need tickets for the Ricardo Everett event at the Central Museum tonight.”
“You need tickets? I didn’t think you were the artsy type, Jackie?”
“Can you get them or not?”
“You’re not the most cultured man Jackie. You don’t get tickets. You get your name put on a list. If you’re lucky.”
“Can you get my name on it?”
Jackie hung up. He didn’t have time for small talk. The evening rolled around, and Jackie rented a tuxedo. He turned up at the museum and skipped the queue. An added bonus of being a guest of Mr. Arubavich. Inside of the museum were the great and the powerful. Athletes, politicians, musicians, artists. You name them they were there. Anthony James was flanked by two large men. He never left their side. His earlier encounter with Jackie had shaken him up.
The night seemed to drag as he waited for Ricardo’s entrance. Jackie made his way around the gallery looking at the paintings. He wasn’t impressed. Most featured animals being tortured or in distress. Jackie couldn’t understand what pleasure there could be in seeing suffering.
One painting was covered by a curtain. Jackie asked an attendee why it was covered. She replied it was Ricardo’s new painting which was due to be unveiled for the first time tonight.
An hour later Ricardo finally arrived. He was a short man with greying hair dressed in an expensive suit. Yet despite his stature, the rest of the attendees seemed awed by him. Jackie was unimpressed. Ricardo went to the covered painting and stood next to Anthony James who clapped his hands together. The room fell silent. Ricardo began to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for coming here tonight. I’ll keep this brief. This is my masterpiece. A culmination of my work over the course of my lifetime. This is my final painting. I have nothing more to say.”
Ricardo walked away from the crowd and left the building flanked by a large bodyguard. Anthony grabbed the curtain and pulled the veil away.
“I present to you A Perfect Moment” Anthony James declared.
The room gasped as they looked upon the painting. Jackie didn’t. Jackie clenched his hands in fists of rage and felt anger flow through his veins. The subject of the picture was a negro woman bound and tied. Her eyes were twisted in agony and her mouth was letting out an agonized scream that nobody would ever hear.
It was Rochelle.
Jackie turned and pushed his way past the other attendees. He could already hear them speaking in hushed tones about the awe-inspiring nature of the piece. They loved it. He came outside and began to walk.
He walked for a long time. He walked until his legs hurt and his feet went numb. He was in a haze. A boy’s mother gone forever. For a piece of art? Did Anthony James know that he was delivering Rochelle to her death? Jackie had a lot of questions.
His feet had brought him outside of the apartment where his contacts had told him Ricardo lived. He felt the cold, prodding metal of his revolver in his pocket. He decided that he wanted answers.
He wanted justice. He was going to get it.
Jackie walked into the building and slipped the concierge a fifty-dollar bill to look the other way. He came into the elevator and told the bellhop to take him to the twelfth floor. Ricardo’s bodyguard was standing outside his apartment. Number 125. Jackie produced his pistol and cocked it.
The bodyguard heard and tried to reach for his gun.
“Don’t. I’m faster than you. The only outcomes here are you leave, or you die.” said the bodyguard.
“I’m not being paid to leave at the first sign of trouble.”
“Is money worth dying for?”
“No. But my reputation is.”
“I work for Simon Arubavich. You know him?”
A flash of recognition in the bodyguard’s eyes. He withdrew his hand away from the pistol and dropped it to his side.
“Do you know who I am?”
“I’m guessing you’re Jackie Lawson?”
“You guess correct. The man you’re guarding isn’t a good man. I’m here to right a wrong. Mr. Arubavich will compensate you well if you walk away.”
The bodyguard weighed up his options. It didn’t take him long to decide. He walked down the corridor and gave Jackie the key to the apartment and made himself scarce.
Ricardo was in the shower when Jackie entered his apartment. There was nothing remarkable about it. No evidence of dark deeds having taken place. Ricardo came out of the shower wearing a towel around his waist. He entered a darkened living room where Jackie sat waiting for him. A glint of light reflected the revolver that Jackie held. Ricardo didn’t move.
“Sit down Ricardo.”
“Who are you?”
Ricardo complied and took a seat.
“Are you going to kill me?” said Ricardo.
“Why? I haven’t done anything,” said Ricardo in a pleading tone.
“Don’t try to play games, Ricardo. You know what you’ve done.”
“The negro girl. Rochelle.”
Jackie cocked the gun.
“I know you killed her. She’s the girl that you painted. You are going to die. That’s the crux of it. But I’d like some answers and I’m sure you’d like a few more minutes of life. If you play dumb or ignorant again, I’ll put a bullet through your skull.”
Ricardo’s demeanor changed, and Jackie saw his true nature It was a side of Ricardo he doubted many people had seen before. Ricardo dropped his facade and transformed into the predator that only his victims had seen. Jackie knew that there was probably a lot more before Rochelle.
“Fine. I’m sick of playing games anyway. All those people, those fools. They don’t understand. But I know you do. Whoever you are. What is your name anyway?”
“You’ve killed people haven’t you Jackie. I know you have.”
“I’ve killed my fair share.”
“Then you know what it’s like. All that power. To see that look on people’s faces when they know there is nothing they can do to stop you. It makes you feel like God.”
“How many have there been?”
“A dozen. Maybe even more. Tell me Jackie, when was the first time you killed somebody?”
“I was thirty.”
“A late bloomer I see. Who was the first person you killed?
“You don’t need to know that.”
“Very well. I first killed when I was ten. I was playing with my friend when I pushed her over. There was a rock on the ground I didn’t see until it was too late. She fell onto it and it split her head open. They all thought it was an accident, but it awoke something in me. Something that couldn’t be satisfied. I knew I’d have to have more. Since then I’ve tried capturing that perfect moment in my art. Mainly on animals, but they don’t possess the same comprehension of dying that people do. I’ve never captured it on canvas with my victims until Rochelle. She was perfect. She gave me what I needed to put it all down.”
“Where’s her body?”
“You’ll never find it,” said Ricardo. Jackie knew he wasn’t lying.
“Did your bodyguard know what you’ve been doing?”
“How about Anthony James?”
“Of course. He’s been very encouraging in my efforts. He appreciates my artistic process”
That sorted that. Anthony would be joining Ricardo in death as well. Jackie was about to pull the trigger when Ricardo screamed.
“Stop! Don’t you want to know anything else?”
“No. You think you’re special Ricardo but you’re not. You’re just like every other lunatic out there with the exception that you can paint.”
“But what about my painting? We have the same kind of soul, you and me. What did you think?”
“We’re nothing alike, Ricardo. Killing people doesn’t make you God. It doesn’t give you power. There’s nothing good to be found in death.”
“You can’t believe that.”
Ricardo seemed to consider what Jackie was saying and took a deep breath. He relaxed.
“I’ve done all I need to do. My work is out there. Forever. People will see my art and even if it’s just for a moment they’ll see what I see. Feel what I feel and there’s nothing you can do to stop that.”
“I’m going to burn your paintings. All of them. It’ll be like they never existed.”
Ricardo began to protest. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure of death if his life’s work didn’t live on after him. Jackie didn’t care. He put a bullet through Ricardo’s eye. Ricardo fell backward and lay limp on the lounger. His towel fell away, and he looked most undignified. Good thought Jackie.
Jackie wiped down the apartment for prints and left. He made it back home and picked up the phone.
“Who is this? Jackie? It’s three in the goddamn morning what are you calling me for?”
“You need to get something done. Now. You need to have your guys go to the Central Museum and set fire to every painting by Ricardo Everett. Then they need to find Anthony James and end him.”
“Can’t it wait until the morning?”
“No. There’s one more thing. A boy named Michael Susan. You’re going to send his aunt enough money every week so that he’s cared for. You able to do that?”
“Yes. I’ll get the boys on it right away.”
“Good,” said Jackie as he put the phone down.
Jackie didn’t sleep for the rest of the night. Instead, he listened to the radio and waited for news. The sun began to rise when he heard the first reports. There had been a fire at the Central Museum of Art. All the works inside of the museum had been destroyed. There had been one casualty. A curator who worked at the museum named Anthony James burned alive with the art.
There was one more call to make.
Jackie picked up the phone and called Madam LaBouche.
“Hello? Who is this, calling at this hour?”
“Oh. Jackie. Any news baby?”
“She’s dead. I found the people responsible. They’re dead now. Her boy will be cared for. I just thought you’d like to know.”
“Oh God, Oh, Christ. Jackie, I don’t know what to say. I’ll help the boy as well and keep an eye out for him. You’re a good man Detective. You really are.”
“It’s just Jackie now.”
Jackie hung up. He sat back into his seat and felt himself crumble. He was tired. So very tired. Tired of this war he was fighting. Tired of innocent people being hurt for petty reasons. But most of all he was tired of being tired. He knew that the only relief he would ever get would be in the long darkness called death that would come for him one day. He hoped that when it came, he would see his son again and that he wouldn’t have to fight anymore. He would be at peace.
But that day wasn’t today. So, he closed his eyes and slept.
— ♦♦♦ —
Michele Black’s interior design business was going well. Violet Stanfield came to her wanting to restore the Stanfield House. Although she had been warned off the job, she trudged onward, dealing with one set back after another. What malevolent spirit resided in the House? Would Michele survive to find out the truth?