The Dead Bin
by Gary Clifton
Chapter 6: A Moment of Terror
The cop business: Hell, usually it’s easy. Doughnuts are plentiful, war stories up the wazoo. But once every so often, an incident throws sand in the gears.
Before 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning, I was at my desk, punching the report on the gorilla-suit arrest into the computer when the telephone rang.
My partner answered. “Narcotics Task Force, Detective Washington.”
He scratched notes for several moments, hung up and looked over at me, a trace of smile.
“What?” I stopped typing.
“That hump, Dwight, wants to roll over on Kuznov. Wants witness protection.”
“As bad as the Feds want a piece of the Russian mafia action, they oughta pony right up on that,” I said. “Intelligence bulletins and street talk both allege Kuznov and friends use Crawford Liquor’s import facilities at Love Field to smuggle other stuff. Dunno what, exactly.”
We didn’t really know a lot about Crawford Liquors beyond street talk, but we would soon learn.
He nodded and began making telephone calls. By midafternoon, we had re-interviewed Dwight in the Sterrett Center, listening to the Chief Deputy U.S. Marshall drone on about protecting scumbags. We could see visions of busted Russian Mafiosos forming on the horizon.
We stopped back by the office to trim up some paperwork. The Narcotics Task Force Sergeant, Tom Gaulding, a tall, skinny guy with a permanent forward stoop strolled over. “Sounds like great work on the Russian deal, guys.” He grinned. “But Lieutenant Ass wants this puke arrested yesterday.” He nodded toward the Lieutenant’s glass-enclosed office.
He tossed a folder with a photo stapled on the front on my desk. Trapped beneath the celluloid was the scowling face of Darby Jackson, a 26-year-old redneck, low-level dope dealer. “Grand Jury indicted him Friday. Captain’s got a flea up his nose somehow. Sorry, guys.” He walked away.
At 10:00 pm that night, Washington and I were squeezed into a battered old undercover Chevrolet in the parking lot of a rundown apartment complex just off Gaston.
Two rats darted into a sewer ten feet away, brushing past a drunk passed out on the sidewalk. Two street types strolled by, then broke and ran at the sight of a strange vehicle containing either cops, dope dealers, killers, or the bogeyman. Folks who took chances around there shared a history of bad luck.
“This jackass has been busted so many times,” I said, “he oughta have a handle labeled ‘loser’ on his back.”
A marked squad car whipped in beside us. Washington held up his badge, and rolled down the glass.
“Dammit, Washington, you guys oughta have dispatch notify us you’re sitting in this district,” a raspy voice carried from the car. “Call on channel three if you need help.” He pulled away.
“Elaine says pot roast this Sunday, after church,” Washington said in the darkness, “Bring Janet and Tim.”
“Can’t beat that.” I leaned forward and craned my neck. “It’s been three hours, and this mope is a no-show. No lights, no car, nobody home.”
The drunk rose from the cardboard, staggered over and urinated on the rear fender of the Chevy, too drunk to see us inside or realize that the engine was idling to operate the air conditioning.
Washington laughed. “That was the mayor.”
“A critique of our ‘serve and protect’ mode.”
“Hey, I got two tickets to the Rangers Wednesday night. Forgot it’s my daughter’s birthday. God, man, she’s sixteen... we gotta have a family function. Want the tickets?”
“Yeah, I’ll take Tim. He’ll love it.”
Washington leaned forward, looked upward. “Lights just came on. Musta came in the back. Let’s pop this wimp and go to the house. Wanna call for backup?”
“Not for this amateur.”
Washington opened the trunk. “Vests?”
“Naw,” I said. “Too hot tonight.”
Washington tossed the vests back in the trunk and disappeared into the darkness of the parking lot. I followed him quietly up the debris-littered stairs. The door was locked, but I slipped it with a Visa and stepped inside. A dim light came from the right. I nodded to the left.
From an alcove on the right, Darby Jackson sprang and fired two rounds at me at point-blank range from a large automatic pistol. The bullets passed over my shoulder and caught Washington full in the chest. Without sound, he fell like a limp coat, his throat rattling in death on the floor.
Jackson’s pistol jammed. He clawed at the weapon, tried to fire again, then fell backward over a sofa, trapped against a wall. I flashlighted him, sniveling, and centered my Glock in his face.
“Don’t shoot, pig, I surrender,” he sobbed. “I got rights.” He struggled to stand.
I squeezed the trigger, and his face exploded like a bursting melon. He’d tried to turn away, and I put two more in the back of what head remained. I slid out the sofa and stomped his head, then again, then again.
“Murder?” you say. I only meant to accomplish total rehab to a sorry snake. But Internal Affairs had some strange ideas about that process.
The optimism generated by my alcohol treatment program, the bright horizon of Washington’s children, the prospects of using Dwight against the Russian, all crashed and burned in one giant heap. Washington, the best man I’d ever known, lay dead on the floor like yesterday’s garbage. And my nonchalance had helped put him there.
Holy mother of God, why didn’t the guy shoot me? Milton was dead and I was circling the drain.
Copyright © 2017 by Gary Clifton