By Robert W. Walker
Award-winning author and graduate of Northwestern University, ROBERT W. WALKER created his highly acclaimed INSTINCT and EDGE SERIES between 1982 and 2005. Rob since then has penned his award-winning historical series featuring Inspector Alastair Ransom with CITY FOR RANSOM (2006), SHADOWS IN THE WHITE CITY (2007), and CITY OF THE ABSENT (2008), and most recently placed Ransom on board the Titanic in a hybrid historical/science fiction epic entitled Titanic 2012 – Curse of RMS Titanic. Rob’s next, DEAD ON, a PI revenge tale and a noir set in modern day Atlanta. More recently Bismarck 2013, an historical horror title, The Edge of Instinct, the 12th Instinct Series, and a short story collection entitled Thriller Party of 8 – the one that got away. Rob’s historical suspense CHILDREN of SALEM, while an historical romance and suspense novel, exposes the violent nature of mankind via the politics of witchcraft in grim 1692 New England, a title that some say only Robert Walker could craft—romance amid the infamous witch trials. Robert currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia with his wife, children, pets, all somehow normal. For more on Rob’s published works, see www.RobertWalkerbooks.com www.HarperCollins.com www.amazon.com/kindle books. He maintains a presence on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Marcus rushed from the bathroom and the apartment, pushing past two incoming detectives who knew him from earlier days, one being JT—John Thomas, Atlanta Jack.
“Whoa, buddy, where’re you heading?”
Marcus grunted a hello at the younger investigators but kept moving. “Talk to the uniforms. They’ve taken my statement.”
Jack stopped him cold, grabbing hold of his arm. “You know how these things go, Marcus. We gotta hear it from you direct.”
In the hallway, Marcus repeated his story, again making sure to select his words with care. “The girl deserves our best, JT.”
“We all hate child molesters, Marc—cut above private dicks,” he joked. “If I can slant the paperwork in the kid’s favor, well, you know me.”
“Thanks, JT. Glad you caught this one. Now, we done here? I got other business to attend to.”
“You look like hell, Marcus, and why’ve you gone missing lately?”
“Thanks for the assessment Jack, but who asked you?” He skipped down the stairwell, more aware of his bare feet than ever, and once back at his door, he cursed himself for having left it ajar. He ended by stepping inside and slamming the door behind him and sliding down to the floor.
The morning had taken a lot out of him.
Still, he’d planned for this to be his last day on the planet. His fingers slipped round to the gun couched in the small of his back.
He sat in the semi-dark, his curtains pulled tight against the world. In the near distance, he heard the wrecking ball again. It had become his requiem, and it and he had been rudely interrupted.
“Now where was I?” He again placed the gun barrel into his mouth. He fingered the trigger, and then stopped himself again. “Where was I before the plaster snowfall came from overhead?”
The aged, seasoned detective knew better. At fifty-two-years of age, he knew that no one would in the least take notice of his passing; much less his going out with a half-assed, puny punch line.
Marcus had filled a dark little corner with discarded beginnings of his final remarks. Enough morbid notes to fill a wastepaper basket—the sour notes, the vague and bluesy notes, the brave new and courageous notes; the teeth-gritting defiant one, along with a swallowed pride, grief-stricken, broken spirited diatribe, and an excusing monologue. None of it Shakespeare.
One note accused everyone else and no one at once. And one blamed life itself, a note on the danger of being unprepared: when life comes at you with a meat cleaver… He’d ended with jotting down a real gem indeed: I know it’s my own damn fault. Then he asked himself, “How serious am I in this, my final endeavor, if I’m cribbing lines for my suicide note from Jimmy Buffet?
Maybe he’d just leave every twisted, torn up, balled up note for whomever to find and collate. A clear reflection of the scattered energies and broken pieces of his mind. If and when the officious ‘they’ finally looked in on the guy in 48-B. Sure, might be his best plan yet—a serialized suicide note in fifty-two parts, the number of years he’d spent on the planet and ironically the number of cards in a standard deck. Fifty-two sketchy layers of personality; fifty-two attempts at saying g’bye to it all. A ballet of delay until finally comes the single fire straight through the palate and into the brainpan.
Who needs-be conventional about a suicide note? he asked himself and immediately became angry at this latest seesaw of indecision and silliness.
Why haven’t I already pulled the damn trigger? No guts? Coward. Come’on, you won’t feel a thing . . . not ever again. Perhaps it was the finality of it all that made going through with it so difficult.
But then there was the fear of doing it here in APD’s jurisdiction; it’d mean jerks like Dobbins and others would catch the call. The idea of former friends like Atlanta Jack working his suicide, people he knew in life pawing over his body, autopsy included, everyone making cop jokes over his suicide notes.
Rydell had gone over all the missteps of his checkered career as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department, and the disgraceful way his career had ended. From all accounts, he’d gotten three other cops killed, his partner and two uniformed officers, on a routine errand—serving papers on a guy named Iden Cantu. But they all knew going in that it was a celeb job—as Cantu had become well known in and around Atlanta for two reasons—something bad that’d happened with men under his command in Iraq, and the fact he’d become a local “professional” hunter of big game. In fact, Stan had hoped to get the man’s autograph on something other than a legal document. The restraining order against the burly ex-marine had been violated. Now it’d turned into a subpoena situation. But it’d gone badly—very badly indeed. Backfired in fact, as in kill the messenger. Messengers in this case.
It’d been a brutally slow month at headquarters. Marcus and his partner, Stan, wouldn’t normally be serving papers, but orders came through, and the stacks of un-serves threatened to tickle the roof. In addition, Stan thought it’d be a hoot to meet Iden Cantu, while Marcus had gone in resenting the duty. In fact, Marcus decided from the outset that their two uniformed guides would do the actual honors. After all, he and Stan were detectives, but at the last minute, Stan had insisted. Atop Stan’s idol worship—talking non-stop about Cantu’s ability in the bush with a high-powered rifle, Stan was somehow related to someone related to this creep’s wife and kids. Going in, it never occurred to any of them that the guy was wired on steroids.
Deadly routine was the cop’s phrase for being shot while writing a parking ticket or serving papers.
Iden “Big Head” Cantu had come at them with an arsenal. Out-gunned and taken by surprise, all hell’d broken loose that day, and Marcus had lost time—had actually blacked out. He’d done so amid a hail of gunfire coming at them.
When Rydell awoke, shaken, perspiring, and confused, incapable of making any audible sense, he lay in a pool of blood that day. The blood of Stanislav “Stan the Man” Miersky commingled and congealing with that of Officers Terry Mallory and Joely Blankenship. He recalled how the blood looked purple and shinny against the two blue uniforms worn by Mallory and Blankenship. Saw how their nametags had been smeared with it.
Sadly, Stan left a wife and two children, Mallory had a young wife in the picture, and Blankenship was a woman preparing to marry a stockbroker that summer. It’d been almost four years ago now.
IAD had instantly swooped in on the shooting, and while the creep Cantu had disappeared clean away, Marcus hadn’t been grazed by a bullet or in the least harmed, despite a suit covered in blood. Marcus hadn’t an explanation for the lack of wounds, the black out, or why he was alive. And the more he used the black out as explanation, the more it became characterized as an excuse, and so the more it sounded like a lie, as if he’d simply lost his nerve and hid among the dead during the gun battle. Some did indeed assume he’d played possum among the dead, thus allowing Iden Cantu to literally walk through the carnage and the blood of his victims and straight out the front door.
Cantu had left other carnage as well. Across town. Deep inside the ex-wife’s home, the bodies of his children and his ex—executed.
Unfortunately for Marcus, this hadn’t been his first dance with Internal Affairs, and they set their combined will against him. He was a marked man after that, and the rumors and innuendo only mounted as the weeks, months, and years had gone by. Other cops began to avoid him, and he became more and more a pariah in everyone’s eyes, including men he’d held as friends, including his commanding officer, Captain Paul Brunner.
Soon no one wanted to work with Rydell. “When IAD wants your head, they will have it eventually,” Captain Brunner had warned him early on. “They’re gunning for you, so you just go in for that psych evaluation and that physical, old man. No questions asked.” Old man was a term of admiration for any copy who’d lasted to his fiftieth year on the force without burning out or taking early retirement. Brunner had begun to hint that perhaps retirement was in the cards for Marcus.
“To hell with tests and doctors and shrinks, Captain. I wanna go after Cantu.”
““You’re in for evaluation and overhaul, Marcus!” Brunner ordered. “That’s the holy all of it.”
“I want that murdering SOB!”
He was ordered to stand down, jockey a desk, take the tests, and all the while Cantu avoided capture, using the thick, Georgia mountains as his refuge.
In fact, Cantu had disappeared like smoke. No one knew where he was, and now four years later, the fugitive cop-killer remained at large. Some people wanted to believe he’d fallen off the earth, was swallowed by quicksand, gored by a monster razorback in the wilds and devoured by the hog. Certainly would be a fitting end to the monster. Satan wanted Cantu as much as Marcus did, but not by much.
Marcus’s personal life had fallen apart in tandem with his professional life. Beverly had filed for divorce soon after the drinking and depression had claimed Rydell along with the guilt that mired him. Bev said it was for the sake of the kids and her sanity. A faithful devotee of the Oprah and Dr. Phil TV shows, Bev went for the jugular, first emptying their joint accounts and then moving on to divorce him. She’d taken his kids to freaking Ohio, and the courts gave him no recourse to her actions except to order him to pay child support. His son, James Wesley, fifteen, precious; his daughter, Kelsey Marie, eleven, priceless. His bank account in 2009 zero.
It’d been close to two years now since the divorce, and four since the divorce from Atlanta PD. Internal Affairs Detective Self-Righteous-Ass, otherwise known as Robert Charles, had made his life hell. The rat had made it a personal vendetta to see that Marcus turn in his badge and gun.
A buyout of sorts, supported by Brunner at that point.
He might have fought it a few more months, but he learned he had no one on his side. Even his union rep and his lawyer doubted his black out story since no medical cause had ever been established for the black out that day—or any of the subsequent black outs— which only he knew of.
As a result of all this personal and professional turmoil, Marcus had gotten his license as a private investigator—otherwise known as early cop retirement. He’d tried to make a go of the Insite PI Agency, even set up a website for the agency as he worked largely from his computer, demonstrating some techniques on YouTube. But cases were few and far between; even the handful he did sign amounted to catching some idiot dropping his trousers someplace other than home. Catching indiscretions on camera, now a popular TV sport as well, proved as tedious and as unfulfilling as Marcus had always imagined. His more interesting cases so far involved bounty hunting, cases wherein for whatever reason, a guy had bolted from a bondsman, a girlfriend, the law, or a spouse. It came as no surprise to Marcus just how many people wanted to disappear.
Marcus was the first to admit he was no DAWG, and after a while, this kind of work felt like following alley cats about. The only reward was payment. No such thing in this racket as a job well done and pride in the doing of it. No real winners, while up to his neck in pathetic losers. No sense of justice served; no proper feeling of closure. Line between right and wrong, good and evil completely blurred. Just wasn’t there, and the money couldn’t make up for the need to bathe afterwards.
As a once respected and admired city detective, he’d never judged success in terms of the paycheck. He’d measured his life out in a series of cases, many of them sensational, and all of them solved except for the one that brought him down. All the cases in the win column meant nothing now. In detective work as in sports and many another field, you were only as good as your last win.
So here he sat in the darkened room.
Gun in hand.
Clock ticking away.
Gun barrel wet from his sucking on it.
A wrecking ball pounded somewhere off in the distance, strangely, seemingly growing louder, nearer with each explosion of brick and mortar. Outside his sparse apartment the usual Atlanta nightlife had revved up. In fact, life went by in the manner of an old Nickelodeon theater—the noisy music of the street. The kind of thing Neil Diamond turned into music. But here the same sounds only brought on more isolation.
Still, that pulse, the rhythms of life, electric and vibrant and exclusive to a city the size of Atlanta somehow reverberated in his veins and arteries as well, hinting at music within, hinting at life within.
The ’Lanta, Georgia night had come awake The apartment building, too, had come awake. Part of the city’s pulse. Here came the incessant stomping in the hallway, shouting on the stairwell, and clanging and banging in an overhead apartment that he’d learned to ignore, now filled with a CSI team and detectives. All the while, Marcus had sat in silence alongside darkness, wondering if he’d ever again see morning light. But now came an added, unusual shuffle of life and activity banging about overhead. He couldn’t chalk it up to the usual domestic squabbles that fill an old apartment building. This was the noise of sirens, stretchers boarding elevators with rusty springs. Why should this venerable old place on Oleander Street, here since 1979, be any different than any other place in the city—a possible crime scene?
Sleep had been so fitful. One reason for his inability to find slumber was how terribly he missed his children, Kelsey and James. A real problem, insomnia. Too much pressure. Too much on his mind. Enough to drive a good man mad.
He looked again at his latest crummy suicide note. Mrs. Page, his high school English teacher would reach out from the grave, scrawl a big red D+ across this one only because she liked him. Marcus wadded it up, tossed it on the pile in the corner, and pressed the trigger slightly harder this time. This time, it’s done…over…kaput.
An enormous explosion rocked his ears, he’d heard right. Didn’t feel a thing. Why’m I alive to hear the explosion? After all, who but the wounded remain alive to hear and feel the reverb of the explosion? Oughta be stone dead or at least stone deaf from a Glock going off in my mouth. Then he thought that damn wrecking ball had somehow come through his wall. Then he realized the giant bang had not come from his nine-millimeter or a wrecker, but from the apartment overhead. As fine plaster rained down over him. Some fool among the authorities had no doubt slipped on the blood and had hit the floor hard. Hopefully, it was Dobbins.
He’d love to know that Dobbins had landed on her ass. Still not reason enough to postpone a good suicide, he told himself and went about the attempt anew.