Waffles is a 24-hour breakfast diner, a step down from just about any other resteraunt you’ve ever eaten at and it is attached to the Waffle Bar. The two places share the same owner, but the Waffle Bar is not, as you might suspect, a place to get more waffles. The Waffle Bar had illusions of being a sports bar, like cats had illusions of being Lions. It’s hard to say which establishment was dragging the other deeper into the muck faster. The bar part of the place opens at 7 am, the earliest a hard liquor joint can open in the state, it closes every night at 3 am and is not closed for any holidays. Consistency, that’s what the owner, Mel, said he strived for. Cops loved the place. Cops ate free; this was a courtesy Mel had extended even to me, as I was a ‘friend of the officers’. Once the free grub started being served up the robberies and trouble went way down. Mel reinvested his non-stolen profits into God knows what; the money certainly didn’t make its way back into either business. Despite the sketchy legality of such gifts, Mel was also known to serve liquor up to the off duty police too. I didn’t get that benefit, probably because Mel knows a losing bet when he sees one.
Clarence was already there when I arrived. In Waffles, not the bar. He looked too damned refreshed and rested for my taste; it wasn’t natural. At least I had clean clothes and a few hours of sleep under my belt. I nodded at Shirley for coffee and sat down in the booth across from Clarence.
“What happened?” I asked.
“About nine-thirty somebody got into Dog’s house and cut him apart. Like Mister Three Piece, same m.o. as before.”
“Anyone check on Slice?”
Clarence nodded and took a sip of coffee, judging by the empty sugar packets he was on his third or fourth one. “Slice is gone. Not in lock up. There was a lot of blood at the scene, not all of it was Dogs’. We are having it tested against what we have on file for Slice.”
“It’ll match.” I sighed heavy, “So we got a teleporter, someone was getting him in and out.”
“The prison checked the cameras. Most of the shiners are under 24-hour camera surveillance because he was due on parole, Slice was in the general population, they didn’t have a camera trained on him at all times. His roomie, also being released in a few weeks, swears he didn’t see anything.”
“Great. Slice is out and already wanted for capital murder, probably two counts. How’d the fight go down?” What I meant was how did Dog even have a chance to fight back. Slice could have cut his head off first unless he was playing. Mister Three Piece hadn’t been tortured, as far as I could tell whoever killed him had done it quickly and humanely.
“I don’t know. There are no signs of forced entry. Dog’s kids were in school, his wife was at her job, he was there alone. He was…” Clarence paused while Shirley set down my coffee. He waited until she was out of earshot and continued, “His right arm was off, at the shoulder, his left hand was gone at the wrist, then there was a lateral cut, left shoulder to right hip that finished him off. He had a gun handy, behind the headboard and it looks like he got the gun out before he lost his arm, the gun fell on the floor, clutched in his left hand, he got off three shots. 410 buckshot, won’t go through walls, but it’s plenty good at point blank range. He hit was he was aiming at, there was plenty of blood and splatter where we know the perp had to be standing. Then, well, that last cut finished him off.”
“Geezus.” I took a gulp of black coffee, lucky for me it wasn’t boiling, only warm and I was able to get it down.
“Yeah. Two kids and a young wife. You knew Slice, didn’t you? Back in the day?”
I nodded, “I knew him.”
“Before you straightened out?”
“We were associated with the Vitellos, yeah, couriers and stuff. He was destined for greater things, his shine had already come out, and I was still finding mine.”
“You saw his handiwork?”
I nodded, not wanting to relive this part of my past.
“So you recognized it last night?”
“Which is why I said what I did. Look, Clarence, you were a rookie back then too, I know you saw what he could do as well. So why are you asking me this?”
“You didn’t turn him in, Billy. And you didn’t testify against him either.”
“He was my wake up call. The district attorney never contacted me, I wasn’t involved in the killing he went down for. I thought he got life for murder one, so by the time sentencing rolled around, we were splits. Then the gang war started, and I was out. Took a vacation. For a year. Went and lived with my mom and dad back in Cheyenne, got my head on straight, figured out what I was good at.”
“Why’d you come back?”
“Cheyenne doesn’t have a real call for my kind of talent. What’s with the questions, Clarence? You think I was involved with this?”
“Here is what I think.” His expression grew grim, “I think if some young punk would have stepped forward thirteen years ago, maybe Slice would have went down for murder one, maybe he would have got the needle, and I wouldn’t have two more bodies on my hands.”
I thought about that for a moment and nodded, “Could be. Three, though, don’t forget Hawk.”
Clarence shrugged, “Yeah, well maybe Hawk wouldn’t have been killed either, maybe he would have. We matched the blood from Mister Three Piece to what we found at Hawk’s place. We’re running the DNA, and we should know for certain in a day.”
“I know for certain now. Dog knew for certain too. Mister Three Piece was out of town talent, probably from way out of town.”
“C’mon Clarence, investigation 101, the kid was tan. He wasn’t from around here, we’d have heard of him. So some other warm climate, did he look Hispanic to you?”
“This time of year…yeah, I can see that he came from somewhere warm. Not sure on the race thing, he looked more…Greek to me. Italian?”
“The Vitellos?” I shook my head, “I doubt they have a horse in this race, they are fine for your common extortion or larceny, but they don’t do murder these days, and this is super high profile. Assuming whoever did this didn’t teleport him around you might keep an eye out for a rental car collecting dust in the next few days.”
“I can do that part of my job.” Clarence said.
“Oh? I’m not so sure you can, Detective. Coming in here, trying to associate three present day murders with something I didn’t do thirteen years ago? We’re supposed to be on the same side.” I drained my coffee and stood up. “Call me when the funerals are arranged would you?”
“Don’t go away mad, Billy…” Clarence called after me.
I turned, “Mad? I’m not mad, Clarence. Just tired. Maybe I could have changed things back then. Maybe I could have made a difference, it’s water under the bridge. Going back and bringing it up doesn’t do anyone any good.”
He didn’t say anything else, and I turned and moved towards the door. I slapped a one on the counter and called out to Shirley, “Thanks for the coffee.” Before I left.
I could have gone back to Ruby’s but decided to head for my office. It was lunch time, so I didn’t bother calling her. Instead, I sent her one of those text messages that she hates so much, to let her know I wouldn’t be around when she finished after the lunch shift.
My office was downtown and came with a parking permit. After I had pulled in I decided I had better do something with all that money Hawk had given me, I gathered it up and filled my inside pockets, peeling off three hundreds, which I wedged back into the seat. I was surprised to find a twenty already there that I had forgotten about. The Bank of Billy paid no dividends, but at least I didn’t have to worry about losing my ATM card.
My office was dark, dank and looked like it came right out of the 1930’s. A look I fostered with great care. It was rented space in a much larger building, I was on the third floor overlooking the parking lot, not the ocean. The space was split into three rooms, a reception area with a massive desk, sporting a typewriter and a phone, a galley kitchen with a small fridge, coffee maker and a hot plate and my actual office, closed off from the other two rooms by a frosted glass door. The bathrooms were down the hall, which was unfortunate, or I could have lived in the place. I hadn’t had a receptionist in years, these days with the rise of modern technology; I could make my own coffee and take my own calls. As I approached, I noticed blood drops on the floor and that the front door to the reception area was open.
There was blood on the doorknob and in splotches on the floor. The smart thing to do would be to call the police. I knew it was Slice. I didn’t call the police. We had history, and I thought it would save me.
I pushed the door open, nothing in reception, the blood trail led to the kitchen and to my office. I closed the door loudly behind me. “Slice? I’m alone.”
“Back here.” Came the muffled reply from my office.
“Fuck.” I whispered under my breath, more loudly I asked, “What are you doing here?
“C’mon back, Compass.”
‘Compass,' there’s a name I hadn’t heard in over a decade. Shiner names come and go out of style every few years, with some insisting on being called, ‘Ralph Jones’ and others picking up a moniker from the media or their peers that they slowly start to use. I’d been called ‘Compass’ a time or two, but it only really stuck with the people I used to run with. I also used it for my company name; Compass Investigations, but that’s as far as it ever went.
Gun drawn I pushed my office door open with my off hand. Slice was there and even in the dim light I could see he wasn’t long for the world. He was lying on my leather divan, a piece salvaged from the trash 8 years ago, also where I had intended to do my afternoon’s work. My inner office had a desk even larger than the reception area; the boss should always have the biggest desk. I kept a filing cabinet too, though it was mostly for show; unlike Hawk’s system, I embraced electronic documents. There was an upright fav with bare metal blades sitting behind the desk, a trash can, my laptop and a stapler for office related items. For décor, I had a huge picture of dogs playing pool on the back wall, picked up around the same time and from the same place as my divan.
“Geezus, Slice, what the hell happened to you? I thought you were in prison.”
He looked at me with bleary eyes, “You never were a good liar. Let’s get down to brass tacks.”
I nodded, watching his hands. One was pressed against his stomach, holding a roll’s worth of blood soaked paper towels to his gut, the other was casually pointed my direction. That’s the one I watched.
“You never sold me out.”
I nodded, “Is that going to save me today?”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“Why are you here?”
“We had some good times, me and you, back in the day. Didn’t we?” Slice said.
“Some and some not so good ones too. I remember them.”
“I…we...made some bad choices.”
“We could have made better ones, I admit. Drink?” I edged towards my desk not letting my gun barrel waver from him.
“Ah, hell, Compass. Let’s not be like this, not now.” He slowly clenched his free hand and grimaced as he shoved it under his leg.
I let the barrel of my gun drop and turned my back on him to pull out the whiskey from the bottom drawer of my desk. I only had one glass, so I filled it and then took two steps to the divan to sit the bottle on the floor beside him. I returned to my worn chair and sat down, spinning to face him.
“Fuck it, Slice.” I set the gun down on the desktop and picked up the glass of amber liquid with my right hand. “If you’re gonna cut me, now’s your chance.”
He struggled to pull his hand out from beneath him, but only reached for the bottle. I raised my glass in salute, and he returned the gesture.
“Why are you here?” I asked him again.
“To kill you.”