Story by Nick Swain
Illustration by Cesar Valtierra
Truth and Trouble
George “Six Shot” McGraw could remember everything about the night he killed Benny Stanton. The low-lighting in the dance hall of the Maroon Star Club, with couples dancing slowly and intimately to the house band’s decent cover of “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me”. The way he stood out amongst the crowd donning his hat and trench coat and moving with deliberate a stride to a specific booth. How Benny’s bodyguards had been so startled and afraid when all at once McGraw was standing at the table, magnum already aimed dead ahead, having failed to spot the approaching hit. They hadn’t even attempted to draw their guns as McGraw pumped the first round into an unwary Stanton; simply lowering their heads and sliding out of the booths with their shrieking dates. The gunshot boomed over the music and gaiety of the atmosphere, clearing the house chaotically. And then it was only the two of them. Benny gaped up at McGraw with almost comical disbelief, clutching his chest where the bullet had struck. And then McGraw fired his final, five, moniker-earning shots, any one of which could’ve killed Stanton – and the city’s biggest racketeer died in his favorite booth with his face dunked a bowl of soup.
There was the long suspension after, no arrests, no immediate filing of charges. McGraw hadn’t expected such leniency. It’d been an impulse murder. But that was what it had been: murder. Hearings were held, deals were made – particularly with the cowardly hoodlums who’d abandoned their boss in the club, who’d each earned their own bit of immunity by going along with the narrative provided to them by other detectives; something about how the spoon Stanton had been holding had appeared like a knife, and how he’d actually lunged at McGraw with it. And that took care of that.
There was the demotion from Lieutenant to Sergeant, but that was it. And as far as anyone who relied on the press’ word of it was concerned, he was a hero. A crusader of justice. Someone who’d done what others could not.
The whole experience had left McGraw feeling somewhat tainted. He and other police had bent rules before, sometimes it was the only way to get the better of a particularly clever crook, but when he killed Stanton, he experienced firsthand just how far the machine would put the fix in to save one of their own. But that’s what they’d done: saved him. And it hadn’t been like Stanton was some innocent bystander or even some low-level thug. He was a ruthless killer who’d gotten what he deserved without anyone else having to pay – for once.
But this thing with Mike Reed was too much. There were the deaths of the Giante brothers, the ex-con, Cook, and of course, the Senter girl. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore, and when he’d turned in his badge and told Reed and that boob Undger what was on his mind, it had stirred up too many feelings stemming from the Stanton incident; frustration, astonishment, disgust. Insinuations, that was all he’d made. There was no solid proof in anything he’d practically accused Reed of, but he was sick of wondering about the man watching his back, and the smug superior who was calling the shots.
When he walked out of Chief Undger’s office, no longer a detective, he was intent on leaving everything where it was. Up in the open. No certainties, either way. There was only one certainty: the department had saved him before, and he couldn’t forget that. No matter how much the weight of the mystery bore down on him.
He found an empty box and began scooping the few personal effects out of his desk; mostly notebooks and a couple boxes of .44 shells. Word had already spread through the stationhouse, and cops would come in odd pairs from time to time to shake his hand or say goodbye. McGraw seemed at peace enough about his decision; at least, as peaceful as he could be. Eventually, Farley came along, a big dumb smile on his face until he saw McGraw’s head. “What happened to you, Serg?”
McGraw frowned. “Someone didn’t like my face, tried to rearrange it. Where the hell you been, Farley?”
“You told me to keep digging into these Giantes. Well, I struck gold.” He dropped his file, opened it to a bookmarked page, and, adjusting his glasses, ran a finger along each line he reported. Starting with the zinger. “There are three Giante brothers, not two.”
McGraw stuck a cigarette in the corner of his mouth and sat down. The curiosity he’d just been so intent to suppress came creeping back. “Yea?”
“There’s Sam, the oldest. Anthony, the middle child. And Charlie, the youngest. Didn’t come up with the other records I pulled before, because apparently, when Charlie got out of prison three years ago, he got married and took his wife’s last name in an attempt to go straight; from what I’ve found on him since the discovery, seems like it stuck. Not a lick of trouble since.”
“’Till now, maybe,” McGraw grumbled, cigarette dangling. “What’s the new name?”
“Carlo. Charlie Carlo. Address: 583 Broughton Street.”
Smoke poured out in a rapid plume as McGraw’s jaw shifted pensively. He smiled, shook his head, silently cursing and muttering something inaudible, then crushed his cigarette in the tray. “You’re a prince, Farley,” he said putting on his hat and jacket and starting outside.
From behind, Farley called, “You going to catch up with Reed? He just started out with Undger.”
Without looking back, McGraw hollered over his shoulder, “No. I don’t work here anymore.”
And with that bit of perplexity, he left Farley to stand there at his empty desk, looking around questioningly and asking around without receiving answers, “What the hell happened?”
— ♦♦♦ —
McGraw found a shell of a woman at 583 Broughton; the lady who answered the door and nodded timidly when asked “Mrs. Carlo?” was of a sickly pallor, with heavy lines at her mouth, and dark, sagging bags hanging under drab eyes. She wasn’t exactly short but seemed smaller with the slouched shoulders and baggy, disheveled clothing. Yet beneath it all McGraw got the impression that she must have once been pretty and sweet enough to convince a career criminal – born of career criminals – to change his very way of living.
“My name is George. George McGr – “
“You’re another screw,” she said, gritting her teeth. “I can see that plainly. You’ve got that smug, heartless look in your eye, and that condescending way of speech. Go away, I’ve nothing more to say to your kind!”
McGraw slipped his foot in the door before she could close it and continued speaking to her through the crevice. “If we’re speaking frankly to each other, Mrs. Carlo, then I might as well tell you now that I’m not a flattie anymore. Just a curious and concerned citizen.”
Her stoic mask of strength yielded, and she broke down into her hands, turning from the open door and letting McGraw walk inside. “What’s the matter with you people? Why can’t you just leave him alone? Charlie’s been square ever since he got out of that concrete-coffin!”
“I’ve no reason to doubt that,” McGraw said, not quite believing it. “But I think that something from his past might be coming back to bite. Something he and his brothers must have done or been involved in while he was still a player. Whatever the reason, Mrs. Carlo, it’s pretty clear that the other party is cleaning house and that Charlie needs help.”
The lines at her mouth deepened downward as her lips tightened shut.
“Where’s your husband?”
“I don’t know.”
McGraw nodded slowly, jaw shifting.
“You’re one of them… I can tell…”
“Yea, you said that already,” McGraw muttered impatiently, crossing the room and selecting a cigarette.
“I don’t just mean a cop. You’re one of those cops. Like your friends who were just here.”
McGraw yanked the cigarette from his mouth and steadied his glare back on the woman. “How’s that?”
“Sure, I can tell. You’re hard like they were. When they came here, I thought one of them was a gangster until he showed me his badge.” She brought two fingers to her mouth and spat between them, onto her own carpet, and cursed in Italian. “Dog Catchers!”
She didn’t notice that McGraw was groping behind himself for the window seal. He found support and forced his voice into its’ natural guttural state. “What did he look like?”
“Who?” he mocked. “Who the fuck do you think? The fucking cop, what did he look like?”
She doubled back as he barked at her. “I… he…he was tall…wore a red tie… I don’t know… and a pinky ring!”
Suddenly he couldn’t think straight. His world had become a blurry, confusing suggestion of the worst. There were suspicions before, sure – but nothing like now.
She was still sobbing, still talking. “… he’ll never forgive me! Never…”
“What? What’re you talking about?”
“Charlie! Charlie will never forgive me!” she blurted, the moisture of her eyes glinting, the tears causing her light shade of make-up to run in black, morbid streaks. “I had to tell them! I had to! They promised me they only wanted to help him! That they wanted to keep him safe! I was so tired of the hiding and sneaking around, and I knew he’d never go to the police himself!”
“What did you say? Hurry up, tell me!”
She collapsed into a chair and cried, “I told them where Charlie is hiding! I had to, they said they’d help! What was I to do? They were the police…” She went back to weeping into her palms, but McGraw took her by the shoulders and shook her.
“Where is he? Where? Where?”
“The Beltone!” she cried, panting between the words. “The Beltone… under Ralph Goodis…”
McGraw pushed himself up and made for the door. Behind him, Mrs. Carlo called out, “I had to! He wouldn’t tell me anything, but I know that he’s in danger! I heard about those brothers of his! I was so scared, I thought he’d gone crazy; saying people were after him! That it wasn’t safe for me if he was home! That he was being followed by, by, men in white hats!”
“But I have told you, monsieur has specifically requested not to be disturbed by anyone – even our hotel staff. I’m afraid it’s out of the question,” the Beltone manger explained to McGraw from behind the desk. It was a pretty small joint. Brownstone front, five stories, six rooms each floor. The barren lobby echoed voices of tension throughout a wooden room, adorned in dozens of hunting trophies; plaques engraved with detailed accounts of the kill were nailed below each of the severed heads of boars and bucks.
“Look froggy, this is important. I’m a cop, got it? This guy is a dangerous criminal.”
The manager eyed him over suspiciously. “Let me see your badge.”
McGraw smiled, nodding his head. “Ok.” He reached inside of his jacket and came back out holding his magnum. He thumbed the hammer back and let the tiny Frenchmen observe the cylinder spin. “This is my badge, see?”
“Wi. Wi,” the manager agreed vigorously, flipping through the hotel registration. As his finger ran about the page, McGraw noticed the framed map of the hotel layout on the wall behind him.
“Room 9, Monsieur. Second floor.”
“That’s an adjoining room, isn’t it?”
— ♦♦♦ —
The adjoining room proved the Beltone was a flophouse if there ever was one. A single, almost cot-like bed was situated against the far wall in the middle of the tight room. A metal chair that didn’t match the desk it was with was the room’s only other furnishing. Charlie Carlo had been cautious about the adjoining room, as the manager told McGraw how he’d paid extra for the use of both rooms. He’d even tried purchasing the skeleton-key, so no one could get in with it. The manager said he’d denied its’ existence despite the enticing offer, but somehow McGraw had been more persuasive, and he handed it over after being warned that alerting the local police about what was happening now would only lead to a gunfight in his hotel. McGraw had used the key to slink into the room. For the first twenty minutes or so he stayed on his toes. He’d been certain that he would arrive too late; again, only able to clean up the mess. But after the first half-hour, he moved the chair in front of the door and sat down to listen. From the other side of the door, McGraw could hear Charlie Carlo’s pacing and nervous tweaks with the radio’s volume.
By the third hour the sun was beginning to set, and the room grew darker. McGraw had gone through half a pack of cigarettes and three ponies from a bottle he’d found in the desk drawer next to the Gideon. As he gave into the fourth, shadows suddenly lingered from under the door to the hall. The figures paused at his door, and McGraw drew his gun and took silent aim that way. Soon the shadows kept on; McGraw held his sights on them as they disappeared from the crack of the door, to presumably where they were sauntering by on the other side of the wall. He stood, and carefully maneuvered by the door to the adjoining room, mindful not to cast his own shadow. Through the thin wood piece and over the steady, muffled swing music, he could hear bits and pieces of what transpired: Like the abrupt opening of a door and the screeching of chair legs, and the word, “…Oh…”
“…Hello Giante,” said a voice that sent a cold surge up McGraw’s back. “…Just take it easy, now. Don’t make any fast moves…”
McGraw gently thumbed back the hammer of his revolver, as a third voice – this one, though deep and full of dominance, he found rather pestiferous – told Charlie Giante to stand still while he frisked him.
“…L-Look… I’m out of it, ok?… I’ve been out of it since…” much of the sentence was cut out by the ritzy clarinet solo from the radio, but the end of it was clear enough. “…you’ve already killed my brothers. Both of them…”
“…Relax, Giante,” the first voice said. “…We’re just here on a friendly call. Never mind the heaters. Here, we’ll put ‘em away. Feel better?”
McGraw didn’t hear an answer from the third, strange voice.
The first went on. “…All we want is to get a few things clear… Now, what did your brothers tell you before they died?”
There was only silence from the room then, but someone must have made a convincing gesture to Giante because soon enough he was speaking. “…Nothing… They didn’t tell me a thing… Except… Except that they knew you hadn’t forgotten about them… They heard about O’Neal and Frost from inside the Can. They knew better than anyone else what really happened… What they thought would happen to them… I thought they were crazy… until… until…”
The second voice: “…Go on, you crumb…”
“… You hacks are more murderous than any of us ever were! You think it matters if you don’t pull the trigger personally?”
“…Now don’t go getting excited, Giante…” said the first voice. “…I don’t want to have to take my rod back out… Then we can see how personal you want to get about it…”
McGraw couldn’t be certain, but it sounded like a sob might have escaped the final Giante. “…Please…” he begged, “…please… I’ve been out of it for years… I’d forgotten all about you until they got out… Please, I have a wife now!”
“…That’s swell. That’s real swell,” the first voice went on in a patronizingly playful tone. “… I’ve had a few of those myself. Don’t expect any medals for it… And don’t worry so much, Giante. I told you we’re not going to hurt you… We’ll be leaving in just a minute now… But before we go, I want you to dig deep, real deep, understand? Dig deep in that noggin of yours and think… is there anyone else out there who knows about us? All of us… Anyone at all? Think hard now…”
The skeleton key McGraw had lifted off the manager had been resting in the keyhole to the next room for hours, and now, gripping it delicately, he shifted his feet into a ready, stealthy position, careful to move on the balls of his feet to avoid creaking floorboards, mindful that the long-barrel of his gun didn’t knock against the door.
“… I told you, I’m out if it… I wouldn’t know if there was…”
A minute passed, presumably so the uninvited guests could contemplate the authenticity of the answers they were receiving, and then there were footsteps. “…It’s ok, Giante… I believe you… it’s ok, don’t worry anymore… just stay put, we’ll let ourselves out…”
With no finesse, McGraw twisted the key, then the knob, and kicked the door open. The gun at his waist led the way into the room. “No!” he ordered. “Stay awhile.”
In the little room he’d pounced into, McGraw spotted a swarthy, dark-haired man sitting on the same shabby bed he’d had in the next room; his eyes were the size of half-dollars and full of fear. It was clear he thought he was about to be murdered. McGraw had passed a quick, inspecting glance over the stranger he knew to be Charlie Giante, but his dictations and gun were aimed at the pair by the room’s entrance. There, on the other side of the room, frozen in incredulity and chagrin, were Chief Undger and Detective Mike Reed. Their mouths gaping, their hands looming by their beltlines.
“McGraw!” Undger snarled, whipping back into his natural, authoritative state. “What is the meaning of this? Not only are you not an officer of the law anymore, but you’re holding two high-ranking men who are at gunpoint! What the hell’s gotten into you?”
“Shut up,” McGraw said drily. He was staring at Reed, but not speaking to him directly. “Come on back in, boys. That’s it, nice ‘n easy. We’re going to have a little chat.”
“McGraw, there’s a time and a place for this, and this isn’t it,” Reed said, almost pleading with him subtly.
“I’m sorry, I meant Mr. Giante and I are going to have a chat.” Keeping his gunsights on his former coworkers he turned his attention to the man on the bed. “Hello, Charlie. We’ve never met, but I bet you know what I want to hear about, don’t you?”
The stranger said nothing. His eyes ran about one man to the next. Perplexity seemed to have replaced a certain amount of his fear.
“McGraw, you’ll do time for this!” Undger growled. “And I’ll see that you do every bit of it in the dungeons with the schizos and the queers!”
“Undger, if you say one more word, I’ll blow your kneecap off. And you know with this cannon, you’d never walk right again.” He said this with no hostility, only a matter-of-factness. The eight-inch barrel of his .44 slanted at a downward angle, and though the Chief swayed nervously in place, the muzzle of the gun followed.
“Don’t do this, George,” Reed implored one last time, “these heels aren’t worth the trouble you’re going to. None of them.”
McGraw said nothing to his former partner. Only nodded his head up and down slowly, shifting his jaw in that old, pensive habit. When he spoke to Giante, he spoke from the side of his mouth. “Come on, spill! Who killed your brothers and Cook? How do these mugs tie into it?”
“I… I don’t know…”
“Look now, there’s no tim-“
“But I don’t know who actually did the shooting!” he insisted. “Some hired guns, I suppose.” He glared at the two officers then. “They don’t do their own dirty work.”
“Then how about the next question? How about the why?”
A sort of croak came out of Undger then, but whatever words were working their way out were stifled by the inch or two McGraw raised his gun when he heard it.
“Why?” Giante repeated. “Why? You’re saying you really don’t know why?”
“Cut the dramatics and get to the facts.”
“Here’s a fact: Along with two other former detectives – who are also dead – your pals over there are responsible for killing six people in cold blood! And that was three years ago. That number’s been going up recently.”
“Six people? What’re you…” McGraw’s words fell short. His eyes trailed back up to the officers he held at gunpoint. Undger’s eyes were fixed on the floor, but Reed met his solemn gaze. “You don’t mean… the Turner gang… the Broad St. Massacre?”
“That’s exactly what I mean. Before the Chief over there became a big shot, he was just another cheap badge on the take, along with Reed and two others named O’Neal and Frost. Two years ago, O’Neal and Frost were indicted on corruption charges and these two were certain they’d sing for leniency. They handled it the only way they know… and it looked like a drug bust gone bad, all right. But that’s only because they had the triggermen plant the junk there for the cops to find!”
“YOU SHUT YOUR GODDAMN MOUTH, YOU MISERABLE SONOFA-“
Before another word could pass Undger’s lips there was a deafening explosion in the room, and the Chief’s leg buckled under him after chunks of flesh and bone burst from his leg. He crumpled to the floor, crying and cursing McGraw. “My knee! My knee, you fuck! You fuck, I’ll be a fucking cripple!”
Reed took a step away, closer to the bed. McGraw only looked back to Giante. The stare was enough, and the last Giante brother went on with his story. “I-It was always to shut someone up. They had the boys in the warehouse killed because after they refused to supply us with anymore pinched-dope without raising the prices, this fellow named Yorke – our leader, I guess – got it in his mind to tell them that we not only wouldn’t pay more for it but that we’d spill the juice about what they were doing to their copper buddies if they didn’t hand the stuff over for nothing. None of us thought this was smart, but before anything could happen word got back to those four about it, and that was apparently enough to have everyone clipped. My brothers and I would’ve been in the ground a lot sooner if we hadn’t been locked-up at the time. And now… I guess my brothers were just loose ends to something that was supposed to be over. I never knew Cook, but Anthony and Sam mentioned him plenty in their letters. Said he was on the level.”
“They used their pal Cook to lure them out for the killing,” McGraw said disgustedly, a revelation in his voice.
“It was more complex than that, George,” Reed said, speaking above Undger’s caterwauling. “It’s always more complex than that. You should know that better than anyone! Why else would you have knocked-off Stanton the way you did? We did what we needed. And sure, we used their own to take care of it. Why not? They do it for sport every day, so what if we kept police safe by using button-men? They all get it soon enough anyway. We did exactly what we’re supposed to do: We stopped violent criminals. We looked out for our own. Period.” Reed had begun to saunter McGraw’s way. “Just listen to the details, George. You’ll see things clearly when you hear how it really was.” He stood in front of his former partner, grinning amiably.
McGraw’s jaw stopped moving, and soon his lips curled in a strange, receptive smile. He began to laugh. It began as a light snicker but grew into a hearty chuckle. He laughed and looked at each man in the room. Reed hesitated but joined in. Giante only watched in bewilderment; not understanding anything anymore. Even Undger had managed to lessen his sobs to observe McGraw. The laughter died down, and soon McGraw lowered his pistol. With his free hand, still tittering here-and-there, he fished out his pack and offered it toward Reed; who smiled and accepted a cigarette.
The second he pulled it free McGraw brought the butt of his gun up, rapping it against Reed’s jaw. The detective toppled backward, tripped against the bedpost, and collapsed onto the floor, unconscious.
Then McGraw turned his attention to Undger. Taking slow, deliberate paces his way. “You louse,” he growled, “You yellow, weaseling, louse. I ought to…”
With the knock at the door, everyone who was awake froze. BANG BANG; another knock.
“Expecting company?” McGraw kicked Undger, then whispered to Giante. “Slid under the bed. Keep quiet and stay put.”
He fixed back on Undger. A vicious grin spreading across his face. “You really weren’t going to hurt him, were you? No, no, you’ve got special friends with fancy toys to do that business for you. Well, let’s see if they’ll do it for me.”
Another knock, McGraw sheathed his pistol and his powerful hands fell over Chief Undger, covering his mouth and dragging him up and to the door. He took a big step aside, and, keeping the latch hooked-on, he jerked the door open, giving it the impression of being answered. In that same instant, he stomped Undger in his bad leg and leapt back.
The Chief straightened in agony, hopping on his good leg desperately, screaming, “Don’t! It’s me!” But bullets were already shredding past the door and ripping into Undger. He hit the floor, but the volley went on a second longer. His friends were giving him the same through-the-door special they’d nearly given McGraw back at Cook’s apartment. His corpse tumbled around in different grisly poses until the shooting ceased.
McGraw drew his pistol back out and jumped over the Chief’s mangled body, stomping the worn heels of his shoes as loud as he could. As he made it to the archway of the adjoining room he turned back. The butchered door was creeping open, the chain shot off in the hail of gunfire. A machine-gun muzzle was peeking into the room. McGraw fired a shot, slamming the door shut on the weapon, then he dashed into his room. Cursing himself for locking his own rooms door, he unlocked it, flung it open, and leapt into the hallway, where peered around and saw a pudgy little man dressed in black; a yellow bow-tie where his neck should have been. He had a snub-nose revolver in his hand.
“Out here, out here!” the small gunman’s reedy voice blurted into Giante’s room.
McGraw shot at him. Clipping the doorway just above the man’s shoulder as he dove for cover. That was when the volley came ripping through the wall of McGraw’s room, narrowly missing him as he tripped up and fell backwards. The bullets kept on, and odd bits of plaster spilled down onto him. He regained his feet and made for the staircase nearby. Before he could take his first step down, a shot rang out from behind, and suddenly his leg gave out from under him.
McGraw went crashing down the stairs, the sound of his own head pounding at each step, echoing throughout the narrow, wooden staircase. He smashed into the wall at the first-floor landing, then began groping around frantically for his pistol. He could hear the footfalls coming from above. He spotted the gun at the second to last step and pounced on top of it. He juggled it in his hands, fumbling for a proper grasp as he drew a bead on the crown of a white fedora peeking from the second floor. A nasty-looking man with a pointy, slanted-nose like a vulture and face full of scars came out sneering and blasting away with the Tommy gun in his arms.
McGraw rolled on the landing, avoiding the stream of shots that ran up the wall behind him, and unloaded his final three rounds back to back in a panic. The first shot missed completely, digging into the ceiling, but the second went up through the gunman’s chin and out the top of his head and into the ceiling next to the other; his head rocked stupidly, and he gave a death-grip squeeze of the trigger and released another wild volley of gunfire. But the third shot struck his chest and he bumped off the post and fell onto the railing, sliding down by his torso toward McGraw while still somehow holding onto the stockless-machine-gun; until his body crashed against the post at the bottom of the stairs. The smoking weapon gave a resounding thud as it toppled down one stair to the next, an acute slowness in its’ every decent.
McGraw fired twice more at the folded body before he realized his gun was empty – then he heard the resonating voice of the pugnacious gunman from above, shots coming between each threat. “I’ll kill ya! (bang!) I’ll kill ya, you sonofabitch (bang!)! I’ll kill ya! I’ll kill ya (bang!)!”
McGraw felt the last shot whiz by as he dove down the final stair-set in a reckless attempt to land on the Tommy gun. He felt the impact of each stair against his ribs as he went sliding down, catching up with the machine-gun at the bottom and rolling over on his back.
The little killer was slow, McGraw could hear his hefty footfalls as he rushed down the stairs for him. “I’LL KILL YA! I’LL KILL YA!”
He heaved and spun the gun toward the bottom of the second-floor stair-set and pulled the trigger, spraying wildly about the area where he thought he’d heard the movement. He dipped the gun up and down, left and right. He kept unloading. Sawdust came powdering down onto him along with giant splinters of oak, cutting his face and blurring his vision. But he kept shooting. He kept the bombardment up until the only thing coming from the muzzle of the gun was smoke.
A weight came crashing down where he’d been shooting, finally slamming onto the same landing he had, along with a blunt plopping. Using the Tommy gun as a prop, he worked himself back up the stairs and could see the tiny hand in a black sleeve laying still by a snub-nose revolver. He made it to the top of the stairs but before he could reach for the dead man’s gun, he heard a pistol cock from above.
He looked up to see Reed. Lip split, but gun steady. Using the guard-rail as support.
The former partners eyed each other down coldly. McGraw spoke first. “Looks like you’ve gotta do this one on your own, Mike.”
“You asshole! What the hell was your problem anyway? Why did you go out of your way to blow this thing up?”
“Is that how you see it?” McGraw asked.
“You’re a hypocrite, George! You killed Benny Stanton. Shot him down like a mad mongrel. Admitted so to me and Undger just today! How the hell is this any different? Tell me that!”
“The girl, Mike.”
“What?” he asked nonplussed. What girl?”
“Exactly, Mike. You don’t even remember her. Sure, I killed Stanton. But I walked up close and I did it myself. And I didn’t get some lunatic hitmen to rack-up the collateral damage by killing a waitress and some ex-con.”
“An accident! An accident, George! It happens every day, all the time. But everything that’s happened since has been on you, George! What happens now is on you.”
“Be sure to chisel that on my stone.”
Reed smirked and shook his head disapprovingly. “Jesus, George.” He rose his revolver and straightened his arm then. McGraw knew he was dead. He couldn’t duck it. If he dove anywhere but back down the stairs he’d get unloaded on in a corner, and if he didn’t break his neck pulling that stunt again, he still wouldn’t have a gun to fight with. “You always were a hard-headed bastard.”
There was a sudden bloody explosion just below Reed’s chest, the gun flipped out of his hands and fell below, he spread his arms as though he were going to fly. And then he went crashing through the guard-rail and down onto the bottom set of stairs in front of McGraw.
From the spiked mouth of the second-floor railing, Charlie Giante stood with Undger’s automatic in his hands. He let the gun slid from his grip and said nothing. Only sat at the top of the stairs and looked on introspectively at the carnage.
A pained groan came from below.
McGraw limped halfway down the stairs to his dying former partner. He bent on his good leg and rolled Reed over. The detective opened his eyes and started laughing, his teeth coated in blood, stopping for brief breaths when the pain was too much, but starting up again each time.
McGraw took a seat beside him and shook a cigarette loose and offered it in Reed’s direction. The detective laughed a bit louder; groaned louder too. “You’re gonna let me have this one, right?”
McGraw took the cigarettes and held one close enough for Reed to bite onto. Then struck a match with his thumb and lit them both. When Reed exhaled, he started coughing, and bits of blood spotted what little white was left of his shirt. But still, he laughed. “Guess the wives’ll be pretty sore. No insurance for ‘em, no more alimony checks. Good.”
Smoke poured from McGraw’s nostrils as he studied his own wound. “There any point in keeping that kid up there under guard?”
Reed coughed out more blood. “No.”
McGraw took another long draw from his smoke and asked, “That true, about O’Neil and Frost?”
Reed shut his eyes, ground his teeth, and nodded.
McGraw only shook his head and kept smoking.
A minute or so passed, the only sound coming from Reed writhing in agony. Then he mumbled, “So it was the girl from the liquor store that got you going on this? You? Big, bad, Six Shot McGraw?”
“I guess I’m just the sentimental-type beneath it all.”
“Nah… you always were a hard-headed bastard…” Reed’s words trailed off, and his eyes leered into eternity.
McGraw didn’t get up; he didn’t need or want to. He had at least one bullet in his leg, and besides, lead didn’t get thrown around in the city like that without somebody calling the law. He guessed the manager had done so when he first blew out Undger’s kneecap.
And so, there he sat; halfway up the first set of stairs, unsure the department would be willing to go out of their way for him on this one, bleeding, smoking, waiting. It was just him, the last witness, and the dead.
— ♦♦♦ —
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made By J.B. Toner, Art by Lee Dawn
Fate’s Soldier… reborn time and time again. It takes time to make his way through the world each time. He has a destiny and he has all the time he’ll ever need.