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The Dead Bin

by Gary Clifton

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Chapter 39: It’s Gotta Be Him

Loose ends: learn to tie them up; become a cop.

Stick’s apartment gate rolled back at 6:05 pm. He roared into traffic in his Cadillac.

We sat two hours while he dined at the same Denny’s we often used as a meeting place. By the time he entered his Caddie again, the sun had begun to set. Darkness, the rodent’s playground, would soon take charge. Night life could begin. Stick would drive around, see some of his girls, pick up some cash, do nothing productive.

He drove slowly up Skillman Avenue, leaning forward as if to spot someone. He stopped at two blondes in shorts so short they were nearly nonexistent. They handed him something — undoubtedly cash — then he moved on.

He swung around and drove back toward downtown on Gaston, repeating the stop and collecting an envelope from a second pair of scantily clad girls. He had at least four girls working that night. All the hookers, even though the sun had disappeared over the western horizon, stood out in whatever breeze they could find seeking relief from the muggy heat.

As the sky grew totally dark, he wheeled the Cadillac across town to Harry Hines Boulevard. At the edge of a shabby motel, Stick whipped the Cadillac in beside a tall blonde standing in a shadow.

She handed him something, a package too small to be cash. After she stepped back into the shadow, Stick backed up and drove north on Hines.

By walkie-talkie, I told Maggs and Harper to stay with Stick. I yanked the Cutlass into the motel. The blonde was gone. I got out and circled the area on foot. No blonde. Tall, skinny; I felt the surge of recognition: I’d just seen Lola Blue.

Another twenty minutes of searching shook out several hookers, some plying their trade behind dumpsters or abandoned buildings, but no Lola. How the hell...?

I re-established contact with Maggs and Harper by hand radio and met them on Hines near Love Field. Stick was parked on the four-lane thoroughfare talking to two African-American girls wearing less than the blondes he earlier met on Skillman, if less was possible.

After a few minutes, he pulled into traffic and headed south, back toward downtown. Like a junk-car parade, we followed him as he tuned into a mini-storage warehouse. We stopped up front and watched his headlights above the rows of buildings as he snaked his way to the rear. Maggs and Harper squeezed into my Cutlass, and I followed his headlight path to the back of the complex.

I rounded one corner more than I’d intended with the headlights on and caught Stick a hundred feet away, fumbling a key into an overhead door. He had lifted the door a few inches then, at the sight of my headlights, inched back to the side of the Cadillac.

The move partly shielded him from the tremendous explosion which blew the overhead door across the alley into the unit opposite.

Stick, in full glare of our headlights, flew like a rag doll, landing in a limp heap at mid-alley. I gunned the Cutlass. Maggs tried dispatch on the hand radio, got no reply and dialed 911 on her cell.

Stick was lying in a motionless heap, clothes singed, cuts and abrasions on his face and head. The roar of a high-powered engine peeled away up near the entrance, headlights visible above the buildings. Too late to give chase.

We knelt over Stick as he shuddered and gasped. That the blast would prove fatal was a distinct possibility. “Cadillac saved his life,” I said. “He moved at the exact instant. Stick is supposed to be a dead man. That car that just sped away is probably the bomber.”

“Was the door booby-trapped?” Maggs asked.

“No, I think the bomber followed us in here or, at least, followed Stick. Set off the blast with one of those damned servos — the third, if we’re counting correctly. The signal distance from the front entrance is about maximum, but it would reach.” I looked up.

Maggs said, “But Stick had the servos.”

Kneeling over Stick, I look up at Maggs. “Bet he didn’t have the one that just set off that explosion. He gave it to somebody else.”

Stick groaned, then louder. If Stick was to be murdered, it apparently would take more than one bomb.

“Stick, it’s McCoy. You’re done for, man. The Devil’s coming in the front gate to get your useless ass. Confess, save your soul. Next stop, Hell.”

Harper, picking up on the cue, rattled keys in his pocket. “Hear them chains, dude?”

“Ain’t did nothin’,” he said, rather predictably.

“You made three bombs, man. One of them just killed you. Who the hell ever just sped off up front has finished you off.” I was lying; he was not fatally injured.

“Give them bombs to Lola Blue,” he mumbled.

“Lola... so that was her you met at the motel. She gave you these keys in that package?”

“Sucker said get that ring fixed. Told me to kill Buttercup. Gimme the keys to get the damned briefcase.”

“The bomb was in the briefcase?” Maggs asked.

“And the signal wouldn’t reach the briefcase until the door was partly raised,” I said.

I looked at Stick’s hands — no fight bites visible. Then, I went through Stick’s pockets and pried open the damaged Cadillac door. In the console I found a business card with the address of the mini-storage warehouse scribbled on the back.

“Damn, I’ve seen this—”

“Is it Lola’s card?” Harper asked.

“Not exactly. All the witnesses are dead or damned near. Stick didn’t do any of it. He gave the servos to.... My God, Polly...She knows it all and she’s the last. She’s still staying at the Crawford mansion... alone.” I ran to the Cutlass, motioning Maggs and Harper to follow.

Suddenly I saw the whole picture. I should have seen it from the get-go: Stick had made the bombs, but he hadn’t used them.

Proceed to Chapter 40...

Copyright © 2017 by Gary Clifton

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