“So where are we going, Billy?” Ruby’s voice had a whiney quality, one I liked, it made me feel in control even if it weren’t true.
“I don’t know, Doll,” the lie came easily to my lips. We were in my car heading toward Sin City West, otherwise known as Las Vegas.
“Well, it’s a good night for a drive. Mind?” She asked raising a pack of cigarettes to her lips.
“Knock yourself out.” A filthy habit, smoking, which was why I only smoke the ones I could bum off of other people. And cigars, when I could afford them. We’d gone and retrieved my car to make the trip in. I’d checked, the money was still in the glove box and stuffed in between the seats. The car had been unlocked sitting outside my place for 3 days, sometimes looking rundown is all you need to keep from being robbed. I’d followed Ruby back to her place so she could park there and then we made a couple of stops before leaving town. First was to the house of Garrett Shoemaker, also known as ‘Dog.’ I still owed him, and the widow Shoemaker didn’t know who I was or if she should open the door to me at nine o’clock on a Monday night.
“Ma’am, Missus Shoemaker?” she nodded, and I said, “I’m a friend of your late husband.”
“Call me Ellie, and you are?”
“Yes, ma’am. My name is William Greer, though he may have talked about me using the name ‘Compass.’” I told her.
“Compass?” Her face recognized that name, “You were on the news this morning. Yes, of course, Garrett mentioned working with you. You killed the man who killed Garrett.”
“SCaCU did that ma’am, not me.” I said with a shake of my head. Behind her, a couple of older men appeared, probably her father and Dog’s, from the look of them.
Her brow furrowed for a moment, “Do you want to come in?”
“No ma’am. I just brought you this.” I took a manila envelope out of my pocket and handed it to her, it was thick, resembling a brick and stuffed with hundred dollar bills. Thirty thousand dollars’ worth. “You may not have known this but I owed Garrett some money, and while another man might think that on account of his death and no one else knew about it, my debt would be gone with it. I’m not that kind of man, and I thought you might need the cash now that he’s gone.”
“This is cash?” She said, restraining herself from grabbing the envelope.
“Yes, ma’am. You’ll be okay.” I hooked a thumb down the street to an unmarked car with two undercover officers sitting in it. “They’re still watching over you, and no one is going to rob you in this part of town.”
She took the package from me, and I nodded, “Thank you, ma’am. I was worried you wouldn’t take it and I really need you to have it. I owed him twenty-two and a half. I rounded what I owed up to thirty because….because he died and it’s the right thing to do.”
“Thirty…thirty thousand! Do you need a receipt for this?”
“It wasn’t that kind of debt, ma’am. The only receipt I need is in my head; I’ve paid my debt. Please, if you could, keep this under wraps; there are other people who might get upset if they found out I’ve paid Dog’s marker before I’ve settled theirs.”
“You aren’t going to be in trouble are you?”
“No. And the money is legal, I owed him legally. There is nothing illegal about this whole debt, so if any authorities ask about it talk all you want. I’d just prefer you don’t bring it up is all.”
I turned to go, and she stopped me as I took a few steps down her front walk. “Compass.”
She sat the envelope inside on a small table next to the doorway and came out to me. “Compass. He said you might come by. He said you might have something for him. This was before…before he was killed. He said you were a good guy and I could trust you if I could find you. Is that true?”
“I like to think so. I worked with the force for years, just as a contractor though, finding people and things for them.”
“But you aren’t on the force?”
I shook my head.
“Good.” She glanced at the officers down the block, the driver got out of her car and looked our way. She waved, and he nodded and got back in the car. “Can you come around and talk with me when this all dies down?”
Uh-oh, if Dog had confided in his wife about what I can do I would be pissing on his grave. “I will, yes.” I fished a card out of my pocket. I always keep business cards handy; they’re part of my three-pronged marketing strategy which includes the yellow book and word of mouth.
She took hold of my card and nodded, her finger lingered over mine and traced down the side of it. Her eyes made it clear this was purposeful, and she tugged me into a hug and patted my back soundly. “I have a job for you.” She whispered before letting me go.
Goddamnit! “Okay, sure. I’m taking a little trip now, and I’ll look for you when I get back if you haven’t called me.”
“Wait for me to call. I will call, I promise.”
“Fine, you’ll call me. I don’t much like a mystery, though, can you give me an idea of what you need?”
“Not right now, Compass. When you get back, okay?”
“Sure, Bright Eyes, sure.” I don’t know why I called her that, but she nodded, and her eyes welled up with tears before she turned and fled into the house, leaving me wondering what just happened. Broads.
Hopping back in the car I sat down under Ruby’s heated gaze, “Who is that, Billy? You seem awful close to her.”
Normally I would have held up my hand and said something about how there was no ring on my finger, but my heart just wasn’t in it tonight. “Dog’s widow. I just met her. I had to stop and pay my respects.”
“Are we stopping by the other cop’s houses too? For God’s sake, Billy, it’s near ten o’clock at night! People are sleeping. What did you give her? Money? Did you give her money?”
“I had to settle something. It’s a cop thing. She is the only widow I’m visiting; I didn’t know the other men.”
Ruby made a harrumphing noise and said, “Good. I didn’t like the look she was giving you, what’d you say to her at the end?”
“Nothing, Ruby. Nothing at all. She must still be traumatized over Dog’s death.”
My next stop was the local police station. I went in and bellied up to the glass that separated me from the desk sergeant, “Is Officer Patricia Wellstone on duty here?” Police policy dictated that she’d be riding a desk job for a few weeks if her partner was killed on or off duty.
“I’ll check.” Desk sergeant was just another way to say receptionist. “She’s at her desk, who should I say is asking for her?”
“Billy Greer. Compass.”
She scrutinized me through the bulletproof glass, “Oh, sorry Mister Greer! I didn’t recognize you! You look better than this morning’s news conference.”
“I’ve had a chance to get some sleep. It’s made a world of difference.”
“I’ll buzz you back.”
“No need, if you could ask Officer Wellstone to meet me at the garage, I would appreciate it.”
A brief conversation followed, and she nodded at me, “Sure, she says she’ll go back now. I’ll call the gate guard and let him know you are coming.”
“Thank you, Mrs..er Sergeant Benson.”
“It’s ‘miss’ or sergeant thank you. But you can call me Julie. Have a good evening Mister Greer.”
I pulled the car around to the small shop they had onsite, and the guard let me through with a nod. Patricia met me outside the garage door, her eyes were a little red, it looked like she had had a rough day too.
“Hi, Billy. What’s this about?”
“Hi, Patty. First, let me tell you how sorry I am for your loss. Dog was a great man, and I’ll miss the son of a bitch.”
“Thanks. This is only the first night we’re not working together, and I miss that mutt.” She gestured at my car, “But I take it we’re not here just for that. What? You need an oil change, Billy?”
“No, I use the QuickieLube for that. I am here to see if I can get some things removed from my car, not replaced.”
“I’m going out of town for a while. You know, to let things calm down. The governor himself recommended it. The guys at the SCaCU seem to think I might be a marked man, note the unmarked Lexus parked across the street.” A pair of them had been following me since I left Ruby’s house. Patty looked over and nodded. “So, given their….concerns. I was hoping you would use some of your new-fangled police gear to check my car for trackers, bugs, malware, and mal-human-devices.”
She laughed and shook her head, “If you were that concerned you probably shouldn’t have driven it over here, Billy.”
“I’m not expecting an actual bomb, not in this day and age, but a tracking device wouldn’t surprise me. So? You got any boys here that can do the job?”
“Boys? Oh, Billy, you are so behind the times, we employ women here too. Let me check what Roddie is doing.”
‘Roddie’ turned out to be Rodanata, a heavyset Greek woman with a better mustache than I could grow. I guess she was free because she put down her ‘Playgirl’ and waved me in after the garage door went up.
“We just undressing you or the lady too?” Roddie asked after I got out of the car, but Ruby stayed in.
“Lady wants you out, Ruby.” I said tapping on the window.
Ruby got out and came to stand with me and Patty off to one side. The three of us all watched Roddie work, and she kept up a running commentary as she popped the hood and checked the wheel wells. She pulled three bugs out of the car and pointed out the other two.
“I ain’t touching those without authorization; they’re ours.”
Great, SCaCU has me bugged.
“I’m pretty sure this one.” She held up a long skinny wire with a black lump on the end, “This could be Federal, but who knows? What do you want me to do with them?”
“Put ‘em in a bag, and I’ll take them with me.”
She pulled another one off of the work bench, “Ain’t no point in this one, it was wired to your power, so whoever was monitoring it knows it’s dead by now.”
“Well that breaks my heart in so many ways I can’t begin to describe it,” I said.
“Hah! He yours Babs?” Roddie said to Ruby.
“Sometimes.” She admitted.
“Better hang on to him, he’s moving up in the world.” To me, she added, “If she gets tired of your shit, come and see me.”
“Did you find anything else?”
“Your front tires are wearing badly; you need an alignment.” She glanced at the tires again, “And probably new front rubber, at least. Oh, and your driver’s side rear tire is low on air. I didn’t spot anything stuck in it, no damage that I could see, just looks low. You going on a trip?”
“Yeah, leaving now, in fact.”
“I’ll top your tires off and check your fluids.” She put the bugs into a used plastic shopping bag and tossed them into the car before moving back to work.
“Thanks!” I called after, not even getting a nod in response.
“Looks like you need the team following you Billy. Where are you headed?” Patty asked.
“I don’t know yet. Just out and away. You can get me on my cell, at least for the next week. I’ll get my new number to you when I have it.”
“You changing your office location too?”
Thinking of my office solicited a groan from me, “Aw! Geez, yeah maybe. I hate to leave; I sort of have an arrangement with the landlord…” I pictured my arm lying there next to me, no longer attached, not pulsing blood, but seeping red slowly from the cut end.
“They should be cleaning up the organic material already, it’d probably be done in a few days. We have people for that.”
It made sense, sad to say we’d evolved as a society to the point where we needed such services. “I still might relocate. Hell the landlord might kick me out even if I wanted to stay.”
“He wouldn’t dare!” Patricia said.
“Maybe not, I’ll talk to him when I get back.”
“Okay, keep me up to speed, Billy. I’m sure the department will be using you again, at least I’ve not heard otherwise. Can you tell me how long you’ll be out of town, at least?”
“Probably a week.” I said.
“Good, clear out, get your head back on straight. Remember not to leave the state or the SCaCU can’t follow you.”
Roddie was done with my wheels, and I thanked both her and Patricia for their help before Ruby and I headed out. My place apartment wasn’t far from the police station, I didn’t approach it too closely in case it was being watched, but I did stop to top off my fuel at a station a block and a half away. While I was pumping the gas, I dumped the plastic sack with the bugs into the trash can there.
We got on the road after that, headed east, not up the coast like I had said. Paranoia A few boring hours later I was fast approaching the Nevada border, talking with Ruby about smoking.
The car behind me flashed police lights at me, I sighed and pulled over.
“You speeding, Billy?” Ruby asked around a puff of smoke.
“No, it’s about something else.” When the car rolled to a stop, I got out and went to stand at the trunk. We were on a long, straight stretch of road, with no other cars in sight.
“Agent Skol,” I said to James as he got out of the car behind me and approached.
“Nice night for a drive.” James said, “I thought you were going up the coast?”
See? Someone had been listening. “I wanted to keep things random. You know they found more than your tracking device on my car?”
He nodded, “They told me. So you’re heading out of state?”
“I figure that’s best.”
“You should have sought Federal protection; you know I can’t operate in Nevada.”
“I’m okay with going alone.”
“Everything okay, Billy?” Ruby asked, out her car window.
“We’re good, Ruby. It’s, James, from this morning.”
“Oh. Okay. Hi, Jimmy!”
“Hello, Ruby.” James replied, “So you’re sure you can take care of yourself and her?”
“Reasonably certain, yeah. Plus, there is the fact that they probably shouldn’t know where I am right now, or where I end up. Unless you think, there’s a leak in SCaCU?” His face spoke volumes about that, prompting me to ask, “Oh? Anything you want to tell me about, James?”
“Nothing I can tell you about, Miser Greer. You take care of yourself in Nevada.”
“What? You’re not asking me where I’m going?”
“Would you tell me?”
“I might tell you.”
He shook his head, “No, you’re right, it’s better this way, what I don’t know can’t be beaten out of me.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that. Any words of advice for me?”
“Yeah, don’t die.” He smiled, “You seem like a decent guy, a little shady, but okay, friends almost everywhere. If you lay low long enough, you should be okay. What about her?”
“Ruby? Oh, she’s a tough broad, and what was I going to do? Leave her to fend for herself in Auroria?”
“She was a loose end. I was worried you didn’t know what you were doing.”
“I don’t, but my shine will carry me through; it always has.”
James shook his head again, “Okay, well if that’s how you feel. Can you wait here for a minute?”
I watched him move to the driver’s side of the car, have a few brief words with the woman in the passenger’s seat. He came back to the front of the car and handed me a card, “This has our number on it, you should already have it, but here, on the back, is my direct number. Memorize it.”
He held it up, and I looked at the ten-digit code. I nodded after a few seconds, “I think I got it.”
I nodded, “Yeah, I got a head for details.”
“So you know we can’t officially take care of you in Nevada.”
“Yeah, we covered that.”
“Still the governor has said if any of us should find ourselves over in Nevada for, oh a weekend off, he might forgive us for lending you a hand.”
“He didn’t strike me as being all that altruistic.”
James smiled, “He plays politics like some people knife fight. I can assure you it’s nothing personal in your case.”
“As in, he normally wouldn’t care if something happened, but thinks he can get some political mileage out of me?”
“Next year is an election year. Having a bonafide hero making a few stump speeches for him could help bring in the votes.”
“Well, I’ll try to stay alive to assist him with that.” I said.
“Call if you need anything, sometimes other states do us favors too.” James held out his hand, and I shook it.
“Will do, Agent Skol.”
“Take care, Billy.”
“Have a safe ride back.”
I climbed back into the car, and Ruby asked, “What was that all about?”
“I think they wanted me to know they still have their eyes on me. I figured they did. They know whatever Slice was involved in isn’t over.” I pulled out onto the highway and continued heading towards Vegas.
After a few kilometers, we came to the last exit before the state line and James took it, flashing his high beams at me one time before he left. Soon enough it was just Ruby, and I driving alone down the highway, headed toward Sin City and all the pleasure that awaited us there.