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Cold Comfort: Chapter 38

We all got moved into this safe house that was somewhere between the two motels. Mary told us it was very off the books, that only a few select people in the precinct were aware of its location. I would ask as to why we weren’t stashed here in the first place, but I figured there were more pressing matters she had to deal with.

Like Gary Newburn.

He got stashed along with us. Not right away, he came to join us a few hours after we got situated with a hood over his head. “I don’t trust the thieving bastard,” is what Mary snarled at us when we saw her escort him through the front door. I think she trusted us more to not spill the beans on where exactly to find this place than him. Fair point since he’s a bank robber.

He was kept away in the basement of this place, guards outside the door obviously. If I had to guess he was locked up like Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon. Given enough space, room to move, but cuffed so he can’t get any further than he was allowed to go. That’s just my best guess, seriously, Mary pounced on anyone that sniffed around that part of the house that weren’t the guards assigned to watch the door.

This was all done on Saturday, the day everything was supposed to go down, but one of the demands from Jerry and the people he’s with was that it now be done tomorrow, on Sunday night. Said it was their peak business hours.

I will admit this place was far nicer to stay in than the motel and the hospital. Nice AC and heating, decent wifi connection, and a sweet TV area with a PlayStation 4 that alone helped me and Matt relax. Mary brought that in herself when we got moved in here. Said she’s taking it back once all this is done, which I guess meant she got it on her own personal dime. I mean gaming is a good way to deal with stress. Our parents seemed a little more relaxed now that they had some room to breathe. Joel’s security at the hospital got doubled obviously, but I think he’s pretty safe where he is.

The whole stay there could only be described as tense. It was like we were all standing in the middle of a giant powder keg that waited for that one spark to set it all off.

Things didn’t get any better when it dark. Mary called me and Mike and all the other involved parties for tomorrow upstairs to go over our roles in tomorrow night’s plan and what to do should our rendezvous go sideways. Things went relatively fine and smooth, that is until Mary wrapped up and asked if anyone else had questions. Ralph asked if Gary Newburn should have been present.

“I ain’t letting one single soul in this house near that man, be they breathing or not.” That response from her was one of the angriest I’ve heard from her yet. It sounded like that question offended her. “As far as I am concerned he is so far away from this that he has no place out there tomorrow night. His only connection here are those two motherfuckers that got us here in the first goddamn place! I doubt he knows who Doobs is, so no, that son of a bitch stays locked up and locked away until this first mess is cleaned up. Once it is, then you, Ralphy boy can help him and myself with making sure no counterfeit money further gets circulated around town. And then, and then, negotiations about your questionable record can begin.” Those last few words in particular were said with such seething content.

Ralph just then sat back into his chair like a grouchy child that didn’t ever everything they wanted for Christmas. Fitting, given the season.

We got dismissed and fed a lovely pizza buffet that Mary also provided for us. Even had a couple of slices sent down to Gary. It was overall pretty good, delightful evening really. The calm before the storm I guess is what they call it.

We all had to be in bed by 10:30PM, so just a little before then me and Mike sat on the steps outside with a couple of sodas. Unable to successfully stealth some beers away with the present company.

We both got even more introspective about everything again. It was hard not to honestly. This time really felt a little bit different. There was this sense of finality in the air, like we were heading towards a big crescendo.

“Fuck,” said Mike. “Just fuck, man. I really still can’t believe everything that has happened.”

I burped after a particular big gulp of the fizzy stuff. “What were we thinking? I mean really, what the hell were we honestly thinking when we just upped and took that bag?”

“I dunno man, we were smoking some rather good shit that fateful night.”

“Things really aren’t gonna be the same after all of this. We most likely have trust issues out of the ass from this, ones that will probably need therapy to get over. It will be a good while until we even know what normal is again. All because of greed, the most powerful sin of them all.”

Mike looked at me in a really puzzled manner. “Well, shit, tell me how you really feel, Chaser.”

“I just might.”

That made us both laugh a big hearty laugh. Not the near psychotic level that Mary did the other day, but it was still a good release of pent up emotion.

Mary then stepped out on the porch and told us to haul our asses to bed. She went back in and we stood up and then we hugged. We hugged each other close and deeply, as if it were the last time we were about to see each other.

It felt safe. Comforting.

It felt sad.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 37

There I stood in the middle of a hospital chapel with no idea what I had to do now in order to get where I needed to be. One thing not lost on me in that moment was irony.

It was again one of those moments where time just stood still. I could feel myself going about at a normal speed, but everyone and every thing around me is slowed down. I truly do feel lost with all that has just happened, but I’m not exactly gonna let Jesus take the wheel, not too sure he’d steer us in the right direction either.

I sunk my head into my hands and lifted it right back up when Mike stood up and proclaimed, “We’ll do whatever you want. Just tell us what to do.” And I swore right after that I heard Petey chuckling. It was most distinct and could only have come from the positive bastard himself. Then I laughed. Not a chuckle of my own, no, this was watching Young Frankenstein for the 500th time kind of laughing. I laughed so hard that I had my eyes closed, therefore I couldn’t tell what the reactions were of everyone else in the room, but if I had to guess, it was a mixture of confusion and frightfulness.

Time remained frozen to me as I laughed. I don’t remember how long I laughed, I only know when I started and the moment I stopped. When I managed to stop, I wiped the tears away from my eyes and opened them wide to indeed see some confused looks on everyone’s faces, but that didn’t matter to me.

When Ralph asked what just happened, I told him and everybody else how I exactly felt at that moment. “Control, my ginger amigo. That was me taking back some control for myself.”

There was a beat of silence in the room before Ralph shouted back, “BULLSHIT!”

“You gonna cuss in the Lord’s house? Or I guess vacation home in this case.”

“Since when do you care about what happens in any place of worship?”

“Honestly? I actually don’t give a shit, but I can safely and confidently say that I am indeed in control of this!”

I started to walk my way up the aisle to leave before Albert Kyle shouted to ask what the plan was.

Immediately I turned around to face the group. “Oh, right. We’re gonna do our original plan, but do it where they said to do it now, just do what we ere originally gonna do.”

“Is that even the wisest idea,” asked Emma.

“Honestly, yeah. It is more or less still a meet-up where we hand them back their money, only now, we know how guilty they are and don’t need to work them as much into giving up shit. Hell, maybe some beans about the counterfeiting will get spilled. This is the most tense game of poker I’ve ever played. They think they have the winning hand, but what they don’t know is that I have a few extra cards up my sleeve.”

Not a sound uttered after that. Not for even a minute if I had to guess.

And then Ralph.

“You cheat at poker?”

“When this is all done, I’m gonna sew your fucking mouth shut myself, and with great pleasure.”

Ralph’s face went blank as I then remarked, “Well, I am famished actually. How about we discuss the rest of this over some grub? Pretty sure there’s something decent to find in the cafeteria here. Come on!”

Then we were all huddled over a table in the cafeteria as we took in a surprisingly good batch of beef chili. It had a good kick to it and some decently sized chunks of steak.

After a particularly good bite, i proceeded to explain. “Original plan goes ahead, albeit slightly modified. They chose a new location, a spot on the state border between here and Foreman, my best guess is that they are gonna set it up so that they stay over there in Foreman while we’re still here in Hartland. Of course they don’t want any cops around at all, which fucks our plans all up.

“So we’re gonna have to try and be ahead of them as much as possible. We’re gonna still have a team with us, but a much smaller team than previously planned. The location itself is very much open air, not much room to hide some people, but there are some strategic places that can actually work in our favor.

“They still want the boys there to hand over the money, that part of the original plan unchanged.”

I took a few more bites of my bowl before i locked my eyes right onto them two kids. “Now you two, you’re gonna need to be convincing. You need to be as convincing as a politician promising to make everything better, when you know they are only gonna help themselves. I gotta inform the captain about our new circumstances, but I am fairly certain he’ll want to go along with everything. Look, if you believe in me as much as I believe in you, we’re gonna make it out of this. You understand me?”

They nodded, but then I extended my look to everyone at the table and they nodded along. I took one last bite of chili and sip of water.

“Alright, I’m gonna go relieve the officer watching Joel and look over him until the next guy gets here. This is technically a break for me. The joys of adulthood!”

I wished everyone there a good night and made my way up the next floor of the hospital and right towards Joel’s room. When I entered, the officer that was on watch was in the room, just sprawled out on the floor. And stood above Joel with a pillow that just hovered above his face was Gary Newburn.

When I drew my gun, it was probably the fastest I had ever done so.

“Gary Newburn, not dead after all.”

He then gave this guttural grunt and made a noise like he was about to hawk the biggest loogie imaginable. Then he spoke. “Figured with you being here, yous knew I wasn’t retired or dead. I’m just here visitin’ a friend. See him one last time before he possibly goes into the great beyond.”

“Seems like you’re here to help him into the great beyond.”

“Maybe I was just makin’ my pal comfortable. Its an awful thing to accuse someone of something.”

“Blame the job for my instincts. Now you put down that pillow and we can have a calm and civilized chat, okay? But before you answer, there is another officer here with me and another one on their way to relieve the one you just put down on the floor. So how about that civilized chat?”

He then shrugged and threw the pillow on the ground. Almost right away though reached behind him and pulled and aimed his own piece on Joel. Mine still pointed right at Gary.

“I can talks,” he said.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 36

Jerry left and shot Joel on his way out. Thanksgiving in the motel, then the next morning started at the hospital at about 4AM I gleaned from the scroll of the bottom of the news channel that was on the TV. We were just woken up and brought in here by Mary. Me and Mike were still a little tender, not like fully hungover from the beer we drank, but just not quite fully recovered either.

Emma frantically paced about the waiting room, she moved around like a pinball. What was more noticeable to me was Ralph, who I thought would have fired off zingers about the hospital or just anything to keep things light, but he just sat there in his chair and stared off into the void.

Meanwhile our folks were actually still out of it when we arrived here and slept soundly in their seats.

Mike came over to me with a couple cups of coffee and sat right next to me.

“Dude, I don’t really like this stuff.” He scoffed before told me it was to help with the headaches, help sober us up a little. I didn’t see any reason to not trust hum and then we took our sips.

“Hey,” Mike asked, “is this any good to you?”

“You put anything in it,” I asked.

He shook his head no and then we both took another sip before spat it back and tossed them into the nearest trash can just as Mary entered the room, but with someone else. Maybe an officer, I mean he’d have to be involved in all this somehow. Doctor? Nurse? What I really noticed was a scar on his left cheek. It was like a capital C.

After a pitstop at the nurse’s station they made their way over to me and Mike and walked us over to Ralph and Emma. Mary called out to them but Ralph was still catatonic and Emma kept trying to walk a hole into the floor. She tried a couple more times before she reached out and just grabbed Emma by the arm and that got her to stop and look at Mary, who then just viciously shook Ralph out of it.

“Glad you’re all with us,” she quipped. “Now everyone listen, and listen goddamn good. Firstly, Joel is in surgery right now, they will update us when they can, and that means when they can, so don’t be pestering anyone here for updates.” Emma and Ralph nodded so fast I thought they were gonna break their necks. “Next, this is Albert Kyle, an officer not too far from here over in Foreman. I was over there on another case, which then tied into this clusterfuck, and given what happened tonight I felt it was best to throw him into the deep end of this now. Officer Kyle.”

After he cleared his throat he proceeded to continue from where Mary left off. “That is correct, now when Mary here came into my yard investigating a murder here in Hartland, I thought I’d help her out since the proposed main suspect lives in Foreman. She recently sent over a sketch you two boys helped out with and I asked around about them.”

“And,” I asked.

“I managed to find some of Doobs’ pets off of their leash and asked and they confirmed your unsavory pals have been in Foreman from time to time and have directly met with Doobs himself about business.”

“What business did they do there? Anything involving counterfeit money,” Mary quizzled.

There was a bit of a pause before the officer continued on. “Nothing along those lines from what I gathered, they just moved things around, just that they’ve been seen with Doobs, came and went. They maybe picked up and brought back a few things.”

The doors burst open again and a doctor stepped through and we all just ran right up to him, stampede style.

He said that they just finished with Joel and that they were able to get the bullet out of him. He said that he was expected to make a full recovery. Emma begged to go see him and Mary relented, the doctor escorted her out of the room while the rest of us stayed behind.

“We’re gonna change things up, you all just stay here, Kyle, come with me,” and with that from Mary those two made their exit as well.

Ralph bolted away from us and just sat back down and stared back into the void. Our parents then stirred awake and we updated them about Joel.

The day just kinda went on. We were pretty much stuck inside the hospital, but it wasn’t too bad. The cafeteria was actually much better than I personally expected. Then again, maybe that’s just me trying to find what bright spots I can during this difficult situation. At least we got some change of clothes so I don’t spend the whole day in my tattered old baseball shirt that I wear to bed. Mike and I even got to play a bit with the basketball hoop the docs set up for themselves. He beat me easily at H-O-R-S-E.

Sometime later in the day we got brought into the hospital chapel along with Emma and Ralph. Mary and that officer from earlier were already in there upfront and we all proceeded to sit in the pues.

“Okay,” Mary growled, “I have been trying to make the best of this pile of chicken shit that has been dumped on top of us all. But I also just discovered that it has gotten worse now. We received a message from our favorite pencil, Jerry.”

Suddenly the room fell silent as Emma shot right up on her feet before Mary continued.

“Emma, please, not now. He pretty much gave our whole plan to Doobs and he said they want their money back and still wanna meet, but now it is on their terms.”

I then asked, rather nervously, “What about the counterfeit scheme?”

A look of death came across her face, like she already admitted defeat. “I don’t fucking know, I really just don’t fucking know right now. Right now, I am trying to think of how I can still nail both Doobs and Jerry so I even think of how to tackle the fake bills, because I need that asshole Jerry for this shit! Goddamn it!”

Her words echoed throughout the chapel.

Then Mike, out of the corner of my eye stood up, and calmly proclaimed, “We’ll do whatever you want. Just tell us what to do.”

Suddenly, I felt pretty okay about what was going on.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 35

A couple of days after that neverending one at the station actually ended I found myself going back and forth between motels that were each set at the edges of town. It was the day before Thanksgiving as I drove back from the motel that housed the two boys and their parents and thought about how for the first time in a good while, my Thanksgiving plans were fucked. With my folks and Artie’s on the west and east coasts respectively in their retirements, we travel across the country for Christmas, but Thanksgiving was ours. We’d have a staycation that was just the two of us holed up in our place with the phones disconnected, windows closed, and doors locked. 24 straight hours of pure us time.

This year, I’m holed up with a violet woman, a trickster little fucker, and two criminals, one of whom I discovered killed my best friend during the whole mess we’re all in. I have managed to keep it all professional, but I also know I am one bad step away from roughing the son of a bitch up myself.

It was the night before Thanksgiving itself and I had visited Chase and Mike to tell them that Saturday was when our blaze of glory was to go down. I just finished up in the shower and finished changing in there. I opened the door to see her smoking like a chimney. I remembered she smoked when we were in school together, but I heard she managed to quit a few years ago. I guess something like that would be enough to push anyone off of the wagon they’re on. I have no idea how I held on.

As I made my way to my bed, Emma started to talk. “I guess you really can’t outrun your past,” Emma spouted after an especially long drag. “I only did what I did back then because my parents sucked. They were no good crooks and drunks. Being a crook helped for a while, just so I can have my own and better life. At least I can hold my boo-” She then suddenly stopped and looked over at me on the other bed. “Sorry.”

I was slightly pissed about the thought she was about to finish, but I also knew she had to let that all out. I got up from my bed and went over and sat next to her. I took a stick for myself and lit it.

“Thought you didn’t smoke.”

I simply replied, “I don’t.”

She shrugged it off as I took a good drag and exhaled.

“Should I divorce him? I mean sure, he’s doing a good thing, but it’s all because he’s done bad things. He swore to me that his nose was clean. I laid all my baggage out the moment we got serious. Is it me, Mary? Be fucking serious, is it me that’s the problem? I’m just a magnet for this kind of bullshit aren’t I?”

She was badly out of breath when she asked all that. It really came off as this stream of consciousness that just spilled out of her head like a cracked walnut. She just looked at me in desperation for an answer, but I simply hugged her, my cue taken from Ralph and Chase the other day. I wanted to say something, but I’m pretty much as big a mess as she is honestly. Pretty sure what I had to say wouldn’t have done much.

She cried, got tired, and I put her to bed.

I woke up pretty early Thanksgiving morning and got breakfast by myself at a nearby place. Pretty decent omelette, but shit coffee.

Around 11AM I gathered my bunkmates at said nearby place and presented them a giant, succulent turkey in addition to ordering anything they want off the menu. I made the arrangement with the owner, who seemed very happy about how he’d be compensated by the station for his efforts. I then drove off across town to present the other group with their feast, even some libations for the adults here.

On my way back from there I stopped at a station safe house that was located somewhere between the locations. No one was there, which meant that it was indeed still a safe house and I then proceeded to scream. I screamed at everything like I was arguing with Artie again.

I felt like I wanted to drop down onto my knees and cry, but I can’t afford any more outbursts of emotion, especially right now. I let out one last guttural yell before I composed myself and went back to the motel. I partook in some of the leftovers that were on hand which guaranteed I would sleep with a nicely full stomach.

Gunshots rang out around 3AM. I remember the time because that was when everything went to shit. Obviously it woke not just me up, but Emma as well. I grabbed my piece off the nightstand and told her to stay in the room. I exited into that freezing night cold without thinking to put on a jacket and went by Ralph’s room and ordered the officers keeping watch on him to stay in as I marched on towards Jerry and Joel’s room, which was confirmed to be the source of the noise when I saw the door was busted in.

I proceeded to kick that door in then flip the lights on. The room was wrecked and I found Joel near his bed shot in the gut. I screamed out for help and grabbed my phone to ring 911.

I grabbed a blanket and pressed it against Joel’s wound with as much pressure as I could which stirred him awake.

I asked Joel what the fuck had just happened, my mind went all over the place in anger and confusion.

He whispered back to me that it was Jerry that did this with a little bit of help and that was all he could say right there, he just repeated Jerry’s name over and over again. He seemed honestly shocked. Like he didn’t expect betrayal in any sort of way.

It was then at that moment I heard a blood curdling scream behind me and turned to see Emma who had this look of horror across her face. I thought she might have fainted, but she just turned and stepped away.

I felt Joel reach at my free hand so my attention went right back to him as he started to cough up blood.

“Just hold on, Joel, just please hold the fuck on, just do that,” I screamed to him as I heard the ambulance sirens get closer.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 34

That chaotic morning in the police station felt like it would never end, but eventually, it did and we were all sent home.

Not really, after some hefty paperwork that mostly I and Mike had to sign Mary put us and our families up in a motel near the edge of town with a couple of officers assigned to watch out for us. She set up Emma, Ralph, Jerry, and Joel with the same situation but at a different location. She said it was precautionary measures when we asked why. Thus that is where we have been holed up there since then. No school, no work, just some good old premium cable, getting by with the vending machines, and the occasional delivery approved by our watchers.

Needless to say, things were pretty tense with all of us being cooped up like that. I was grateful for the pool they had and the week of Thanksgiving in Arkansas isn’t exactly ideal swimming weather, but I didn’t do any laps. I simply just walked around the pool throughout some points of the day to mainly stay sane. Get some room to breathe. Mike would sometimes join me, but he had actually held up quite well to my surprise given who he had to bunk up with, but lucky us those sofas turned into beds.

It had been a couple of days since everything that went down at the station and it was the eve of Thanksgiving when Mary came by a little after noon and grabbed all of us to one of the vacant room, as well as to relieve the officers that watched us with a couple of new ones that stood nearby outside.

“Happy Thanksgiving everyone,” she said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. My mom raised her hand and Mary just struck back right away when she saw that. “Absolutely no fucking way are either of y’all going to your respective homes even just for tomorrow. I am not repeating that again, it isn’t happening, can you please just let this shit go already?”

Dad then asked, “Well just what the hell are we gonna do for tomorrow then? Put together a dinner of fine Hostess products?”

Frustration washed over on Mary’s face and she groaned before she actually addressed the situation. “Look, I talked with the D.A. and we’ve actually arranged for a lovely turkey day spread for you all to enjoy here tomorrow, on us. You’re goddamn welcome, by the way.”

That shut my mom and dad up pretty fast before she carried on. She said that Saturday was when this plan was going to be executed. Thursday is just meant to be a day of relaxation for us all given the holiday, but Friday would be all planning and strategizing, making sure all of us involved knew our roles and how to play them.

“Now when we map out this plan, I’ll take the boys with me to meet with everyone else to talk about it. Adults, you all stay behind and there are absolutely no exceptions we can make. Your kids got themselves into this mess and it will be them cleaning it up themselves. You will not know where they will go and they are under the strictest instructions not to discuss any of this with all of you.”

She continued on for a bit and then left to go deal with the other group and her own Thanksgiving plans I’m sure. We all just went about our not too exciting day.

Thanksgiving then came the next morning and that turned out to be a rather nice day. Sometime around noon, Mary came by and took us to the vacant honeymoon suite, which itself was the space of two rooms and she was true to her word from the other day. They had given us a massive spread, a feast really. Turkey of course, but there was also a juicy black forest ham, green beans, potatoes, both mashed and sweet, yams, rolls, gravy, just about anything really you could imagine from a Norman Rockwell painting.

They had a little bar for our parents, but I and Mike were nicely treated to a cooler full of any soda imaginable. All in all, it was actually a rather nice day. I mean it isn’t the ideal way to spend Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t the worst either. They set up the TV in there for the games, which were pretty good, and of course, got yelled at by our parents like any other Thanksgiving.

The adults went to bed later into the night and I grabbed my backpack which had a few beers I snuck from the bar. I met Mike out by the pool and we pulled a couple of the chairs there together and cracked open the brews. I know I felt a calm come over me, but Mike pretty much sank into his chair when he put the can to his lips. He had been without his stash for a while of course and I’m sure the drink hit all the right spots for him.

“You know,” Mike said, “bringing up that we were involved in a sting operation would make for a pretty great icebreaker, don’t you think?”

I was mid-sip when queried and once I let the cool drink down my throat I replied, “If they allow us to talk about it, sure. Perhaps you could actually get a date with a cheerleader.”

He chuckled and just stared at his can for a bit. “We’re gonna be okay, right?”

At that moment I looked up at the stars in the night sky. “I honestly don’t know how to really answer that, buddy. I mean neither of us expected this when we just wanted to go out and dick around our sleepy little town.”

“I still want that money, man.”

I leaned forward and put my eyes onto Mike. “Why would you still want it? It’s dirty money that has brought us nothing but trouble since we took it for ourselves.”

“Because I wanna get out of here. I need something outside of my house, outside of this go-nowhere town. I keep hoping that my folks will somehow work their shit out, but let’s get real, Chase, they don’t have much longer until one of them finally surrenders and waves their white flag. Maybe if they can just admit they have problems I could stand to still be around their bullshit, but I’ve just had enough, man,”

“Maybe after all of this is over they can see that they need to work it all out, gained perspective and all that.”

“I tried before to bring this up to them, but either my mom just shrugs it off and changes the topic or my dad just says there isn’t anything to talk about. They must think I’m still a child, even though I am like a couple of months away from turning fucking 19.”

I heard his voice break a little toward the end of what he said. All I thought to do was to rub my thumbs around the beer can. “Were you gonna tell me? You know, if you just up and left.”

Mike sniffled as he turned to me. “I was gonna leave a note.”

We both started to chuckle at that then toasted our cans and hugged. I hugged him like I was never gonna see him again. Some part of my thought that after this was over I wouldn’t. I was so unsure of what was going to happen whenever this ended. All I knew was that I needed my best friend to help me through it.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 33

This is what happens when you make a case personal. When you cannot separate your emotions and your feelings so you can focus on the task at hand. I always prided myself on my ability to keep whatever shit I had going on outside of the station there, outside of my work.

This time it was my ego that I prided myself on. I couldn’t allow anyone else to do this, I had to do this for Petey. After everything he did for me, I had to do this for him. To pay him back for all his help.

That’s all I could think after Meloni screamed at me outside of the interview room where I just put my hands on Jerry and assaulted him. He asked what the hell I was thinking and that was all I thought about, that I owed Petey. The only other thing going on in my head was the loud, pulse-pounding rining that got louder and louder. I then wondered if this had happened to Artie would I be so adamant and motivated like I am with Petey.

That thought quickly went away as I saw Captain Bunn saunter around the corner towards us since obviously what just occurred spread throughout the station like wildfire.

I finally had enough courage to start speaking. “Look-” but then Bunn just cut me right off. He asked if what happened was true and I simply just nodded. I couldn’t look him directly in the eyes, but I felt the disappointment resonate off of him.

It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out I was just about to be removed from the case in one fashion or another, but somehow I made my plea to him and Meloni that I should see it out. I was without a partner on these cases and therefore no one else had as intimate of knowledge on Petey’s murder and the counterfeit scheme. I could now realistically connect them together and they somehow agreed and that once this whole mess was over I was to serve a lengthy paid suspension from the force.

I still don’t believe in divine intervention or prayer and anything like the sort, but I couldn’t think of another way to describe that other than as a miracle.

The boys came out of the room and we caught them up on all of that before I took them aside myself towards the cells in the back. Neither of them could remember who it was exactly that pulled the trigger on Petey that night.

Mike then asked, “What now?”

“Now we get ourselves some fucking fake money,” I sighed before I signaled them both to follow me a bit towards the back of the room where Ralph and Emma were being held in a cell, both cuffed.

“So what would I get if I flip on my aunt,” Ralph sarcastically asked, which was met by a punch to his arm from Emma.

“Emma, wait until after this is all over to kill him, or at least don’t do it here, it’s gonna turn this place into even more of a shitshow than it already is.”

“Hey,” yelled Ralph.

“Now you,” I said, eyes locked right onto him like a heat-seeking missile, “you are gonna help us out here if you want even the smallest chance of escaping this whole mess unscathed somehow.”

Ralph then cleared his throat. “First off, I want a private boat-“

“Stop right the hell there, first, what the hell are you gonna want with a boat in this fucking town of all places? Secondly, I’m not the one you negotiate with, you have to talk to Meloni about all that.”

“Then maybe I can tell you my terms and you may kindly relay them to him.”

“Or, just follow me here with this, you shut the hell up and listen. You are our best case of learning more about this operation. Now I need to understand that you will fully cooperate, which I know is like asking the scorpion to not sting the frog as they cross the river, but sadly I trust you more than I do your associates.”

“I may be a trickster, sure, but I’m not as gullible as my marks. I am not going to help you unless I know I get what I want out of this.”

His snide tone managed to help his words worm their way under my skin. I could imagine myself reaching through the bars to grab his head and start slamming it against the door, but thankfully I had some restraint this time. Could have used that a few moments ago, but I’m not gonna dwell on that too much right now.

I leaned closer on the cell door and looked Ralph right in the eyes. “Help me, and you’ll get whatever you want, well, within reason. Keep acting like a little shitheel and the next time you get caught doing something absolutely stupid, which is only a matter of when, not if, you better hope that your record is expunged for your help or that I’m reinstated from my suspension because I don’t think any of the other officers here will be as nice as I am.”

“Wait, all this has been you being nice to me?”

“Yeah.”

A few moments later I brought Ralph and those two kids along to meet with Meloni and Jerry and Joel, we kept them in the interview room, mainly for some calm since having them within Emma would most likely just be the worst idea at the moment.

“Listen, everyone. This is how things are going to happen. We are going to organize a meeting between Tweedledee and Tweedledum to tell whoever hired them. You two are gonna tell them that you found their money and arrange a meet here in Hartland so you can return said money, maybe even talk about your partnership with each other and how you all orchestrated that events of the original event that lead to the cold-blooded murder of an innocent man. Oh, and also help us stop this counterfeit scheme involving Gary Newburn.”

Jerry then spoke up, “Why are we gonna do that?”

“Easy,” I responded rather coyly. “Reduced sentence, a very good chance at parole, maybe some good financial help to Emma and Ralph.”

Jerry was quick to pipe back with a “no” but then Joel’s head snapped up and his voice boomed out, “Deal. We accept those terms and are happy to help.”

“My associate here is-” Jerry didn’t finish on account of Joel who continued to talk.

“Not speaking for me,” he screamed, Jerry went immediately silent. “And if it is any consolation, detective, Jerry was the one that pulled the trigger and shot that man that night. He’s the killer.”

The ringing in my head then became a boisterous thunderstorm.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 32

Something snapped in Mary.

As Jerry confessed to the murder that me and Mike witnessed that not so fateful night something just went off inside Mary’s head because like a spilt second after she heard that she was all over him in murderous rage. She slammed his head right into the table and held it down, gripped his head like she were a bear that just caught a salmon.

I was genuinely perplexed by what occurred. I kept asking myself if it was what he said, how he said it, or maybe his breath just stank that much. The room was then flooded by those that were outside just a moment ago and they were just as shocked as we were.

Some portly guy in a suit yelled at Mary, “Parker! Stop this at once and unhand the suspect! Stop it! Parker, goddamn-“

She then snapped out of whatever fugue state she was in that made her go crazy and let Jerry go. She took a step back after she released her hold and let out a huge shocked gasp, she couldn’t believe she actually did what she did.

Jerry then popped his head back up and cracked his neck. “Should I just tell you how much money I want for the unlawful treatment this police officer just demonstrated on me or would you rather I make a whole show out my lawsuit to your local press?”

Mary then promptly kicked his chair out from under him, which caused his head to smack against the table as his knees hit the hard floor. His head hitting the table sounded like a thunderous thud, like the type of impact a bird makes when it smacks into a window or a glass door.

“Fuck you,” she yelled down at him.

Emma then spoke up. “Go ahead and give my sack of shit husband the same treatment. I wave his rights or whatever. Fuck him up!”

“No one is fucking anyone, I mean fucking up, I mean… goddamn it,” the portly man in the suit shouted. “Parker, outside now!”

Mary followed him out, but as soon as they were out, Emma shut the door behind them and rushed over to the table and right in front of Joel.

“I am going to ruin you, you lying asshole,” she growled before she then reached over and actually started to choke him. Like really choking him, her hands wrapped tightly around his neck as he started to gasp for air. Jerry then came around and saw the scene in front of him, he yelled for help, but then Ralph bolted for the door and locked it.

“Dude, what the serious hell?!”

“Stay, the hell out of this, Chance!”

“It’s Chase!”

“What the fuck ever!”

“Open the goddamn door!”

“How about no?!”

Jerry kept yelling, which Ralph then pointed out, “The door is closed, paintbrush!”

Which was then met with loud pounding on the door.

Mike then chimed in. “But, I am sure they can still hear us just fine even through a closed door.”

“You goddamn sack of pissing ass shit, I thought I married good. I finally got that fucking life behind me, be a boring bitch that just does a bunch of suburban mom and teens’ hair, but here you and your big swinging dick get all up in my business!”

And there I was witness to all of this and really wished I hadn’t learned so much about everyone today.

Emma kept at Joel and when Jerry stood up to try and help, she gave him a headbutt right into his face, which caused him to scream in absolute pain before the door was kicked in and officers grabbed Emma and dragged her out. Another cuffed Ralph and brought him along too.

“I think that bitch broke my nose,” screamed Joel.

Mary then stood in the frame and called for us to come outside, to which me and Mike obliged and she then immediately began to take command again when we stepped outside. “Okay look, both of your parents are somewhere else.”

“Did you kill them or something,” joked Mike.

“Shut the hell up,” Mary sniped back, “also, how about I finish? The suit here is our district attorney, Martin Meloni, who has agreed to let me stay on to finish this case and then serve an immediate paid suspension.”

I asked if that was even possible and got a response from another officer who just strolled up like a cowboy and started to speak with this deep southern drawl. “Normally not, but seeing as she has gotten herself deep into this fine mess and is indeed the most knowledgeable about everything that’s going on. I don’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be able to ride this out. Hi, boys, I’m Captain Mark Bunn.”

“Yes,” Martin interjected, “and Mary has called in an officer from a nearby town whom both have had contact with the drug runner they suspect your uncle sometime does business with. But as for you two-“

I then interjected myself. “Okay, we will do whatever it is you want, we will cooperate, just please don’t throw us in jail. We were just stupid kids that wanted to get rich quick.”

“Ain’t everyone that comes through here,” said the captain.

“Martin, Mark, I would like a moment to speak to these boys.” To which she then shuffled away from them and walked with us towards the back of the station. I wondered where exactly she was taking us, but then it was towards the cells in the back. “Alright look, the reason I went nutso in there was the man you guys saw murdered, the one that beanpole admitted to popping? He was pretty much my best friend in the world.”

“No shit,” said Mike.

“Yeah, but what I need to know is who exactly pulled the trigger. If I know that, then I could maybe convince the other to further flip on the triggerman.”

I then gave her an answer she wasn’t going to like. “Well, if I’m being honest, I don’t think either of us really remember who exactly pulled the trigger.”

She of course didn’t like it as indicated by the scowl that then came over her face.

“What now,” Mike asked.

“Now,” Mary sighed, “we get ourselves some fucking fake money.”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 31

“Holy shit,” I yelled as I immediately pulled out my gun when I saw what pulled me out of interrogation was Joel and his thin companion.

When my gun went out, so did the guns of every other officer in the building there as I ordered them to keep their hands up. Turning themselves in after they pulled that stunt the other night?

In that moment time sat still, everything was just frozen in place. That was until the piece of paper in front of Joel suddenly cracked a smile and spoke up. “Hello, what a nice surprise to see you both here. Oh, and a friend too, hey Ralphie,” he said with each word oozed out like slime.

“Keep those hands in the fucking air, damn it! Somebody cuff these assholes!”

Two officers stepped forward to do so as I turned around to see that the boys made their way out of the interview room, which I guess is what prompted the human stick figure to talk.

I turned around to see how the peanut gallery were doing and that is when I saw Emma. Emma looked like a crazed, wild animal and in her eyes was pure, raw, and unfiltered rage that then just exploded like a volcano, her vicious words focused onto one target only. “You motherfucker, you lying goddamn asshole! Is your whole life a fucking lie? I want answers you shiny bald dickhead!” She sounded almost demonic in her delivery.

Joel just looked like a wounded puppy dog with how hard Emma laid into him. She only stopped when Ralph managed to calm her down when he came up behind her and hugged her. She slowly mellowed out as Joel responded with humbled words for such a powerful voice. “Emma, I’m so sorry, I really am. You deserve much better than what you have just discovered. Forgive me if you want.”

Emma’s calm didn’t last long as she put him back on full blast. He seemed unmoved, but I had to get this circus under its rightful tent so I just grabbed his partner by the collar and dragged his ass right into the room previously occupied by Ralph, Emma, and Meloni. Joel wasn’t too far behind.

I gave strict orders to the officers to make sure they were firmly secured in their chairs because nothing was gonna get me or them out of that room. The kids followed us inside, but that barely registered to me as I had my eyes firmly on Dumb and Dumber. Joel stayed calm and unmoved, but that thin piece of shit had the widest grin plastered across his face as he just stared at me.

I was ready to unload a flurry of every horrible word imaginable at them, but above all else I had to maintain a degree of professionalism.

“What in the honest fuck are you two doing in here? You gotta have some huge fucking balls or a death wish to even waltz in here.”

Well, I tried.

Joker then leaned forward and spewed out some more sleazy words. “Well, we felt like it would be best to come here ourselves in order to clear up any confusion about last night.”

I couldn’t even get a word out before that Mike kid just blew up. He was just as enraged as Emma was outside and was so mad I honestly couldn’t have kept up with his words they came out so fast and furious. The other kid, Chase, came up and pulled him into a hug to calm him down, like Ralph did for Emma. And like with those two it seemed to have done the job. Maybe a hug is what I needed all along. Is physical intimacy really what I need to open up and show myself as just a regular fucking person? Why is now the time I am thinking about this shit?

The paper clip then said he and Joel had useful information to share with us, which no doubt was more info about the counterfeit ring, but Ralph then spoiled his fun. “I already told them of Newburn’s counterfeit plan, Jerry”

“Goddamn it, you little sniveling shit,” yelled Jerry. Joel and Jerry, sounds like country folk duo.

Ralph thankfully explained a bit about the tandem. “Look, these guys are like work for hire I think, they often brought up the times when we would go over our parts in the plan and kept checking their watches.”

Jerry then graced us all with context to this whole situation. “Well of course we did. Me and my associate here didn’t want our time wasted. We had other investments that needed to be checked out, I mean we’re pretty busy guys. Look, we’re criminals, okay? But we don’t like to be one certain type of criminal, so we diverse our portfolio by engaging in various enterprises.”

Chase asked if point blank if they were like criminal stockbrokers, which is what this all sounded like.

Jerry then pondered, “Well, aren’t all stockbrokers really criminals?”

Ralph made some lames response and I just gave him a death stare until he apologized.

“I’ll clear something up right now, the money my associate and I left behind on the night you two geniuses saw us pop off that old dude, that money is legit,” Jerry said unprompted, but that cleared that up at least. Shame to waist some poor expert’s time today. “It was given to us by some drug runner we do business with from time to time to get that old fuck off his back and outta his business.”

Time stopped again. I suddenly developed tunnel vision with my sole focus being Jerry. He continued to speak and I hung onto every word he uttered.

“Now we were just supposed to give him the money and hope he’d just go away, but he was just being a persistent problem, so I made the judgment call to pop the bastard.”

It’s him isn’t it? He pulled the trigger.

“Just be done with it, but I do admit, I was startled by it, just a spur of the moment thing so yeah, me and my associate accidentally left the money he refused behind.”

He’s the one that took away the kindest soul I have ever known. Then it also hit me, Doobs, that motherfucker is involved.

“I feel silly about that and getting those kids involved. Egg on my face, am I right?”

A flash, a blinding light came over me and a deafening bell rang in my head, it overcame me and then everything went dark. The next thing I knew I stood behind Jerry and his head was pressed against the cold steel of the table. The ringing then went away just as Meloni screamed at me to stop hurting Jerry. I looked down and saw my own hands were what had him pinned down. All I could think next was how good a drink would be right about now.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 30

The three of us sat there together in confusion as to what just went down outside. Mary’s initial exclamation was followed up by the demands that someone put their hands up. Our eyes all locked onto the open door.

“Shit, wonder who it is,” inquired Mike.

I then replied, “Maybe it’s someone strapped with a bomb here to help put us out of our miseries. What do you-“

We turned to ask Ralph, but when we did he wasn’t there, which prompted us to turn back towards the door and there he hung outside of the doorframe. “Uncle Joel,” he said in a bit of shock.

He then just fully walked out of the room and we followed suit to see the sight of Mary and other officers in the station with their guns out and pointed at Thin Man and Joel with their hands held up in the air. It honestly looked like a scene out of one of the zillion cop shows ever on TV.

Thin Man’s attention then turned to us. “Hello,” he said, “what a nice surprise to see you both here. Oh, and a friend too, hey Ralphie.” All in a playful, cocky tone, which made him more insufferable than before.

“Keep those hands in the fucking air, damn it,” yelled Mary. “Somebody cuff these assholes!”

Just as they lowered their hands to comply, a silver-haired woman just went ballistic. “You motherfucker, you lying goddamn asshole! Is your whole life a fucking lie? I want answers you shiny bald dickhead!”

That was indeed Ralph’s aunt Emma, which was confirmed when he walked up behind her and softly hugged her in an attempt to calm her temper. It worked as she gradually stopped yelling and flailing her arms until she started to cry.

As the cuffs snapped onto their wrists Joel actually spoke up. First time I’ve heard him talk since he cornered me in my drive way. I forgot how deep and impactful his voice was.

“Emma, I’m so sorry, I really am. You deserve much better than what you have just discovered. Forgive me if you want.”

She then went back to yelling at him while he looked honestly remorseful and full of regret. Mary then grabbed Thin Man by the collar and dragged him into the room across from us while Joel was calmly escorted by the officer that cuffed him.

Ralph went in right after them and I wasn’t going to hesitate about joining them or not. I tapped Mike on the shoulder he knew what exactly I wasn’t saying and we went in there to see Mary looming over them like a bird of prey as they were being cuffed to the desk. Joel was stoic, but Thin Man had this Cheshire cat grin on his face.

Once they were secured Mary asked them in the nicest way possible, “What in the honest fuck are you two doing in here? You gotta have some huge fucking balls or a death wish to even waltz in here.”

Like I said, as nicely as she could.

Thin Man leaned forward with his hands clasped together and said, “Well, we felt like it would be best to come here ourselves in order to clear up any confusion about last night.”

Just then Mike exploded. like a raging volcano. “You came into my home you fucking sick bastards! You held a gun on my parents after simply just harassing me and my best friend! There was nothing confusing about what you have done, now own up to that, to the murder, and go rot in hell, you douchebags!!!”

The sheer volume of anger he voiced was truly deafening and I just grabbed his arm and pulled him into a hug with me. I patted him on the back and he let out the biggest sigh possible as he hugged me back. I thought he was about to cry too and I just wanted to whisper to him that it was okay to do that, but something in my gut said this just wasn’t the time or place for that. Not some macho pride shit, it was just how I read the room.

“You want what we got or what,” interrupted Thin Man. “We also happen to be here as concerned citizens with knowledge of a plot that threatens the very foundation of our community. We really just-“

Ralph then interrupted. “I already told them of Newburn’s counterfeit plan, Jerry.”

Finding out they’re actually named Jerry and Joel was admittedly not as cool as thinking of them as Thin Man and Ginger Claus, man do answers sometimes suck.

“Goddamn it,” yelled back Jerry. “You little sniveling shit!”

Ralph then continued on. “Look, these guys are like work for hire I think, they often brought up the times when we would go over our parts in the plan and kept checking their watches.”

“Well of course we did. Me and my associate here didn’t want our time wasted. We had other investments that needed to be checked out, I mean we’re pretty busy guys.”

Every eyebrow in the room that didn’t belong to the Odd Couple were raised by what had been said.

“Explain,” demanded Mary.

Jerry cleared his throat before he continued. “Look, we’re criminals, okay? But we don’t like to be one certain type of criminal, so we diverse our portfolio by engaging in various enterprises.”

I then responded in utter disbelief. “Wait, you guys are like what, criminal stockbrokers?”

“Well, aren’t all stockbrokers really criminals?”

“Yowza,” Ralph yelled out before he chuckled at his own response and received dirty looks from me, Mike, and Mary. “Sorry.”

“I’ll clear something up right now, the money my associate and I left behind on the night you two geniuses saw us pop off that old dude, that money is legit. It was given to us by some drug runner we do business with from time to time to get that old fuck off his back and outta his business.”

Mary had this intensity in her eyes as she watched him talk. Like a very personal interest in his words as he continued.

“Now we were just supposed to give him the money and hope he’d just go away, but he was just being a persistent problem, so I made the judgment call to pop the bastard. Just be done with it, but I do admit, I was startled by it, just a spur of the moment thing so yeah, me and my associate accidentally left the money he refused behind. I feel silly about that and getting those kids involved. Egg on my face, am I right?”

Mary looked ready to kill him.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 29

I shoved Ralph into the other interview room I had occupied after his introduction. All these little shits were connected together somehow and I was gonna get to the goddamn bottom of this or go mad trying.

Then one of the adults spoke. “Who in the hell is this? And where have you been, detective? You know I should report you-“

“Please take your Yelp review and shove it up your ass, sir. I have a goddamn job to do! This is Ralph Shipp, I thought you two might know him since he goes to your school. Or should I say, went. Young Ralph here is a recent dropout.”

That was the second dad I snapped at, but then the dad who I already gave the riot act asked maybe the dumbest question I have heard in a good long while.

“Is that why he’s here? Did some new law get passed?”

Thankfully I wasn’t the only one that looked at him for how stupid he sounded. But not for long, I still had to chug along and get questions answered, good questions that is. “No, he was here just by some other happenstance, but apparently knows one of the men that came to visit you and your family last night.”

I put the sketch copy from the folder down on the table and politely nudged Ralph into identifying him. “The one with the beard, he’s my uncle Joel.”

The bright boys darted their eyes between the sketch and Ralph faster than the best track team in the tri-county area. Chase asked Ralph what Joel did exactly and Ralph explained, “Well, I thought he was a courier, but then we ran into each other when we both got involved in a counterfeiting scheme. How do you know him?”

They mentioned seeing them murder Petey and that they found the money they accidentally left behind. Things were pretty calm until Chase then wondered out loud, “Wait, did we steal fake money?!”

I responded, “I dunno, how about you tell us where it is and we can find out,” which was more than Ralph’s shrug and smartassed answer.

Chase nodded then proceeded to talk. They went over how they found it, just pissing about the town and the unfortunate fate they saw for Petey. My ears then perked up when they got to acquiring said cash. “We took the money back to my house and counted it up. I’m sure you saw it in the report but it was $82,000 in total. We split it right down the middle and stashed it in both of our lockers at school.”

“So that means you both have $41 grand in your respective lockers. That is astonishing. Now gimme their locations.”

I exited the room after they gave me their locker numbers and gathered two officers to go to the school and retrieve the money, but I advised the boys to look into replacement locks. “Now hurry your asses down there or I’ll get you both sent back to the academy!” As they hurried out and I pulled out my phone and called up the local bank and got put right to the manager. “Hey, listen, we got a pretty damn juicy lead on the counterfeit bills. Whoever you got there or on your bench, send them down here, we’re getting some cash we think might be fake, but we need to know for sure. Alright, just give them our address. Okay.”

I hung up and turned to the room containing the band itself. I knocked on the door to the room Emma and Meloni were in as I went back into the kids room. “Hey, adults, can I speak to you all outside for a moment please? Just a small thing I need to go over.”

They all followed me to the door where I let them exit first before I walked out with them. Emma and Meloni joined us all outside. “Okay, good. Emma, Meloni, Ralph is in there with two other kids that are about his age and they somehow have a connection to Joel and the fake money.”

“What-“ Meloni was going to ask before I cut him off.

“-is the possible connection? I am going to find out that, but I honestly can’t do that with another adult in the room. Especially parents.”

“What the hell?” “Are you crazy?!” “But he is my son!” All and more were yelled loud and clear by everyone and of course some pot-banging about lawyers.

“You all wanna be arrested for interfering in active investigations,” my voice boomed out and suddenly they all fell silent. “Good! Look, just let your kids feel safe in a less judgmental zone than they have been all day so far and we can all get some fucking answers here. You all see the little trick window/mirror next to you. You all get free admission. So shut up and let me do my job.”

I grabbed a chair from the bullpen then made my way back into the interview room. “Alright, down, all of you,” I shouted. And then they all acted accordingly and sat down across one side of the table next to each other as I planted my ass into the newly acquired chair and locked eyes with them. “Alright, now let’s just talk. All of us, openly, honestly, and with the absolute truth. That sound good?”

To my annoyance, Ralph raised his hand like he was back in school and I nodded towards him. “Yes?”

He then uttered out, “We know they’re out there. I mean that mirror right there? We can’t see them, but we know they can see us, I was just in the same kind of room across the damn hall.”

“That wasn’t for your benefit, Ralph, but for them. In order to find how you’re all connected in this, I want you all as relaxed as possible. I know that seems to be your default mode, you little sneaky shit, but unlike you, these two seems to have some morals, which I think is an uncommon trait in teenagers. And trust me, I have been in my job long enough to exactly gauge that.”

Chase seemed to humbly appreciate what I did. “Detective, thank you for that.”

“Look, I know admitting to things in front of your folks, it’s scary and it can make you distort your truth to make them feel better. Now they are on the other side of the glass, as is your aunt, Ralph. But I just figured y’all would feel better with less of an audience.”

“Thanks again. I, uh, certainly feel safer without my dad as close to me. Hell, my mom too if I’m being real,” said the other kid, Mike.

“And that’s what I want. I need you all the be real. So how about it?”

Chase then once again recounted all the details previously discussed, which thankfully with as many years on the job I’ve had I am used to going over every little detail. For infinity.

Just then the front desk officer barged right into the room. “Detective, there is something you need to see.”

I am beyond any bullshit that isn’t related to the bullshit I am involved in at the moment. “I don’t give a fuck. It could be actual Batman out there for all I care, I got work to do!”

“But you’re really gonna want to see this. Trust me.”

I thought fine, why the hell not, just play along with whatever roadblock I have now so I can get back to the task at hand. I followed him outside and I certainly was surprised by how right the officer was.

“Hello, detective, can we talk,” asked the thin man from the sketch.

“Holy shit!”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 28

Detective Parker just brought in some kid in cuffs to our lovely tea party. He looked kind of familiar, like someone I go to school with given how old he looked. Though to be honest when it came to his head, I was less focused on his face and more on the bright red mane on top of it. It looked exactly like, if not a bit brighter, like the fuzz strapped onto Ginger Claus’ chin.

My father then spoke up to eloquently ask, “Who in the hell is this? And where have you been, detective? You know I should report you-“

“Please take your Yelp review and shove it up your ass, sir. I have a goddamn job to do,” Mary responded upon further bringing the mystery kid in. “This is Ralph Shipp, I thought you two might know him since he goes to your school. Or should I say, went. Young Ralph here is a recent dropout.”

“Is that why he’s here? Did some new law get passed,” ask Hal, who rightly got some dumb looks from everyone in the room.

Mary continued, “No, he was here just by some other happenstance, but apparently knows one of the men that came to visit you and your family last night.”

She then got out a sketch copy from the folder and placed it on the table, which prompted the Ralph kid to actually speak up. “The one with the beard, he’s my uncle Joel.”

Me and Mike then leaned over the desk and looked at it. We focused mainly on Ginger Claus. We darted our eyes between Ralph and the sketch until we accepted it ourselves.

I then wisely asked, “Wait, what does your uncle do, exactly? I mean we’ve seen him do some pretty bad and shady shit, Wendy- I mean, Ralph.”

“Well,” went Ralph, “I thought he was a courier, but then we ran into each other when we both got involved in a counterfeiting scheme. How do you know him?”

I just had this dumbfounded look only my face after I heard that. Counterfeiting? What the actual fuck? “Um, you know, saw him and another guy shoot an unarmed man and accidentally leave behind a huge bag of money and me and my best friend here stole.”

Mike waved at Ralph.

And only then did it really hit me to really ask myself, and by the volume of my voice, pretty much everyone else in the room as well, “Wait, did we steal fake money?!”

Ralph shrugged at my question. “Shit, maybe.”

“I dunno, how about you tell us where it is and we can find out,” Mary said.

We spilled the beans to her as to where we stashed the money. She called the school and had them check our lockers and sent an officer there to pick it up and bring it back. She even said she called the bank to have someone sent down to look at the money too.

We even told her how we came to get the money, which I’m sure she read about in that folder, but hell, we already started the confession marathon, might as well cross the finish line.

After all of that she escorted our folks out of the room and left Mike and I in there with Ralph. She didn’t fully close the door behind her, it was slightly ajar, but I pretty much made out what went on. She ordered them out of the room and our parents were not happy about it. Then some other voices came and spoke, voices I didn’t recognize.

That was all but a minute or two before she came back in with another chair, mainly for her. When she closed the door behind her she ordered all three of us to sit down and we complied.

Mary then sat right across from us. “Alright, now let’s just talk. All of us, openly, honestly, and with the absolute truth. That sound good?”

Ralph raised his cuffed hands up and Mary acknowledged him. “We know they’re out there. I mean that mirror right there? We can’t see them, but we know they can see us, I was just in the same kind of room across the damn hall.”

“That wasn’t for your benefit, Ralph, but for them. In order to find how you’re all connected in this, I want you all as relaxed as possible. I know that seems to be your default mode, you little sneaky shit, but unlike you, these two seems to have some morals, which I think is an uncommon trait in teenagers. And trust me, I have been in my job long enough to know.”

“Detective, thank you for that,” I said in a very humble tone.

“Look, I know admitting to things in front of your folks, it’s scary and it can make you distort your truth to make them feel better. Now they are on the other side of the glass, as is your aunt, Ralph. But I just figured y’all would feel better with less of an audience.”

“Thanks again,” said Mike. “I, uh, certainly feel safer without my dad as close to me. Hell, my mom too if I’m being real.”

“And that’s what I want. I need you all the be real. So how about it?”

I then started to recount the tale. “Me and Mike were just out and about. Killing time here in this town one night, we were just screwing around. We came about where that church used to be, you know the one. We decided to check it out. We then heard something and saw who turned out to be his uncle and this very thin man talk to an old black guy. Then one of them shot him.”

Mike then piped in, “But we had no idea what they were talking about, we were just trying to figure out ourselves what the fuck happened. Then they just revealed themselves to us days later. They found us from my report card. I had it on me and it fell when we ran away after they shot the guy and we grabbed the money.”

Mary nodded. “Okay. Ralph, you said your uncle is in on the same counterfeit scheme you weaseled your way into.”

“I didn’t know he was involved when I got in,” he exclaimed, “we just saw each other when Gary introduced me to everyone involved in the plan. He took me aside and we promised not to say anything to my aunt because she had no idea about his real line of work. Sorry, aunt Emma.”

Mary then continued on Ralph. “Was an old black man involved? A man named Peter Brubaker? Did he have any part in all of this?”

Ralph looked confused by the question. “No, not that I’m aware of. I mean from the sounds of it my uncle and his partner got their hands in some other pies because they always wanted to know how long the meetings would last because they had to be somewhere else or meet someone else.”

“Do you remember where these meetings took place?”

“Nope, Gary would always pick me up personally and blindfold me until we were inside. Can’t help you there.”

An officer then entered the room and Mary just brushed him off, but said she had to come out immediately. She walked out and all we heard from her with door open was, “Holy shit!”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 27

One of the parents ripped the sketch copy out of my hand after I asked those kids what exactly was going on. They set their eyes right on that paper and then joined me at staring holes into them. We all wanted answers and I could tell by how them boys looked at the scowl on my face I would most certainly get them.

I swiped the copy back and put it aside on my desk so I could ask someone if we had any other free rooms to talk. I looked about and locked onto Officer Goldberg, who appeared to be enjoying his usual breakfast of a jelly donut. “Are there any other rooms open? I gotta stash this crew someplace.”

He didn’t answer, but rather took his sweet time to relish his first bite. It was maybe, I dunno, five seconds, but it felt so much longer. He finally got it down his gullet to respond. “But you already got a room, leave some for the rest of us, why don’t ya?”

My hands were clasped onto the back of my head, but they dropped down to my sides and I gave Goldberg the same dirty look I did to the kids. I am the meat in a sandwich made of shit bread and seriously do not have the time for just about anything.

He finally put the baked good down his throat and humbly told me, “Room across from the one you’re already using.”

“Thank you,” I yelled back and signaled my motley crew over to where we have to go.

I saw the room only had the two chairs when I peaked in and as everyone made their way in I stepped away and grabbed a spare one, but another officer came up to me as I got it to hand me a folder. “Here you go,” he said. I honestly forgot who it was that handed it to me. Everything so far that day threw me through all the loops.

“And this would be?”

“The report of what happened with those kids and their folks last night. I figured you might kinda need it if you’re gonna talk to them.”

“Thanks, I was just about to ask for this.”

“Sure you were,” he said slightly aggressively. I guess I gave off one of those tones I sometimes project. Fucking autism.

I closed the door behind me as I entered the room and pushed the chair along to them and we all sat down to break bread. However, I was gonna start with the adults. “Alright. Your boys came to the station here a few days ago to inform me that a couple of shady people had been following them. I took down what they wrote, they met with our sketch artist, I worked on it when I could since then.”

I thought the kids were gonna turn into blocks of ice from the cold glares their parents gave them. Then my focus turned towards the file and the boys. “And from what I have gathered from this report of an incident that occurred last night, these men paid a visit to Michael’s house. I’m glancing over this report and sounded like a wild night.” Her eyes then met us as she closed the folder. “You boys are by my account, all kinds of fucking stupid.”

Michael coughed. “I honestly cannot disagree with you about that.”

“I don’t think playing cute and shit is gonna help the situation much.”

“Worth a shot, right?”

Oh, this fucking kid is gonna make my head explode. I excused myself from the room before I straight up strangled one of them and took the file with me and traced right across back into the other room where I was greeted by Meloni with a lovely, “Where the hell have you been?”

“Martin, just please just fucking don’t with me right now! I got dragged into some other bullshit I got assigned to and they had their parents with them this time.”

“Maybe some former classmates of yours, Ralph, up to some incredibly dumb shit too,” Emma said.

“I doubt they did anything on the level of my exploits,” quipped Ralph.

“How about I throw you in the other mess I’m in across the hall, huh?” I stomped over to the table and slammed the folder down on the desk. “They’re around your age, maybe you can share gamertags or whatever social media shit is popular now! What? No comeback for that?”

“Uncle Joel?”

I was confused by why he said that but then I looked down at the table and saw that some papers fell out of it and one of them was another copy of the sketch those kids helped make. Emma then walked over and looked down at it too and said the name too. “Wait, who are you two talking about?”

“That’s my fucking husband,” shouted Emma, “what the fuck is a sketch of my husband doing in your fucking file?”

“You goddamn sure that is him?”

“Yes, I’m fucking sure that is my fucking husband.”

“Wow!”

“Oh yeah, you must have met him while you were pissed out of your mind, yeah, why should I expect you to remember anything about me other than my goddamn nephew.”

I wanted to say something, but whatever I could say would not have made any difference. I knew Emma back when we both went to school, yeah. We hung out, ate lunch together sure, but like, she was a year ahead of me in high school. When she left I spent senior year truly alone. That was when I got diagnosed too, when I first thought I understood myself and why I am what I am. But not really. We didn’t talk much, I don’t remember seeing her until that night she confessed to her fleecing past before I graduated the academy. Then it was always calling her about Ralph.

Ralph who finally snapped me back into reality with this revelation.

“Uncle Joel is part of Newburn’s scheme!”

The echoes of that made my turn my attention to him, Emma as well.

“No,” exclaimed Emma, “your uncle is not some goddamn two-bit criminal!”

“Then what is he,” he shot back.

“He’s a scout for the high school athletic teams.”

A sad look was all Ralph gave his aunt as he shook his head and Emma started to produce tears.

“So what is uncle Joel doing with some kids?”

“Good question, let’s go find out shall we?”

I reached over and grabbed Ralph right by the collar and dragged him along out of the room and into the one across where everything was oddly silent as they looked towards us as we stood in the doorway. “You kids need to talk.”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 26

“Okay boys, just what exactly is going on here,” asked Mary upon her reveal to our parents that not only had we spoken to her before the events of last night happened, but helped aid in a sketch of Thin Man and Ginger Claus, that they gazed upon in some shock.

I felt like I was put in front of a firing squad, but I imagined Mike still reveled in the verbal bitchslap Mary just gave his dad. I could tell he still had a slight smirk out of the corner of my eye, but then my eyes were back on Mary who, I don’t wanna say looked perturbed, but rather pissed I would say.

Mary took back the copy and placed it on her desk before she turned toward the more open area of the station and locked eyes onto another officer, who was mid-bite on a donut. “Are there any other rooms open? I gotta stash this crew someplace.”

She just looked at him as she waited for him to swallow his bite or at least shift the food around to where he could respond. A moment passed before he gulped it down his throat and would respond. “But you already got a room, leave some for the rest of us, why don’t ya?”

Her arms immediately dropped to her sides and I swore if this were a movie her hair would suddenly have burst into flames too. Maybe melt the poor guy with lasers out of her eyes. I felt as uncomfortable look at this as I’m sure the officer on the other end did.

He leaned back and cowered down in his chair. His response was in a humbled tone. “Room across from the one you’re already using.”

“Thank you,” she barked and signaled with her head towards the room and we all calmly followed right behind her. Hal barely even looked at her. Once we got in Mary stepped away for a second then brought in another chair and placed it on me and Mike’s side. She also had a folder with her.

She handed the spare chair to me and Mike and we both took our seats and got as comfortable as one could be given the circumstances and Mary took her seat across from us.

“Alright,” Mary sighed before she looked up and spoke to our parents. “Your boys came to the station here a few days ago to inform me that a couple of shady people had been following them. I took down what they wrote, they met with our sketch artist, I worked on it when I could since then.”

I nor Mike turned around, but we didn’t need to since we could feel our parents glare right into our souls. I imagined their eyes pierced us as if we were in the most intense staring contest ever in the history of time.

Mary then opened the file and looked at it as she kept going. “And from what I have gathered from this report of an incident that occurred last night, these men paid a visit to Michael’s house. I’m glancing over this report and sounded like a wild night.” Her eyes then met us as she closed the folder. “You boys are by my account, all kinds of fucking stupid.”

Mike coughed before I replied, “I honestly cannot disagree with you about that.”

“I don’t think playing cute and shit is gonna help the situation much.”

“Worth a shot, right?”

She rubbed her temple and grabbed the folder before she excused herself and stepped outside of the room.

“I can’t believe this bullshit,” Hal exclaimed, “I just really can’t.”

“Hal,” Courtney yelled back.

Then my mother jumped in. “Okay, while I’m not letting a wild hair get up my ass like Hal here, I do share more than enough of his sentiments given the situation we find ourselves in being here. Why didn’t you boys just say anything when all this started? We could have helped you, we could have done something to make sure we didn’t get to where we currently are.”

“Catherine is right,” said my father. “You two should have come to use from the start of all this.”

I then stood up and faced my folks. “Did you really think that was ever gonna happen, guys?” Gasps didn’t come from their mouths as the reaction I expected, but rather some pretty dirty looks that conveyed the juicy four-letter words they wished to verbally yell at us. But I persisted and cleared my throat to provide my best argument as to why we kept mum about everything.

“Look, if it was just the murder we witnessed, absolutely, we’d come right to you guys, I mean what thinking kid wouldn’t. But what happened to us is what I’m sure would have happened to you guys or anyone in our shoes, you see a big thing of money there and you take it for yourselves. I mean, holy hell, that’s covering some college costs and a personal shopping trip. Like come on here, folks, y’all would have done the same thing me and Mike did without hesitation. Maybe it wouldn’t have gotten to the situation we find ourselves in now, but yeah. We’re just human, you guys. Can’t you understand that?”

Hal then jumped on the response, “As far as I’m concerned, you boys should be lucky you’re even still breathing right now!”

“Hal, you shut your mouth,” my mom yelled.

Hal then focused on my parents. “Cat, Tom, this is how you’re raising your kid?”

My father, Thomas, then shot back, “Hey, how do we know your kid just didn’t drag ours into this situation?”

“I doubt Mike could think of something like this all on his own,” screamed Hal.

Mike slammed his hands on the desk and pushed the chair out as he snapped right up from the desk and bellowed out, “Would you even have given a single fuck about me if I had come to you from the start?!”

The room went immediately quiet. Shock came across Hal and Courtney’s face, my parents seemed more dumbfounded by the sudden outburst from Mike.

No words were spoken until the door opened and Mary stood in the doorway, which some kid that looked familiar from school, but all I really noticed was his flowing locks that were as bright as the beard on Ginger Claus.

Mary shifted her attention between our group and that kid before she said, “You kids need to talk.”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 25

Upon Ralph’s revelation that he was involved in a counterfeit money scheme with Gary Newburn, notorious bank robber in the state who hasn’t been seen or heard in a good damn while, I responded accordingly. “Motherfucker. Motherfucker, are you serious?! How?! How in the blue honest fucking hell did this happen?!”

“I can start over again. One day-“

I then proceeded to grab the chair opposite of Ralph and threw it towards the back of the room behind me. Emma grabbed me and walked me away before I could reach over and choke the life out of the little bastard. Though given our exchange outside the room a moment ago, I doubt she would have put up much a fight to stop me.

D.A. Meloni was understandably shocked by this as well. “Son, are you for real? Gary Newburn?”

“Yeah,” the sneaky ginger nodded. “What’s the big deal about him?”

Meloni then stood across from Ralph, fists planted on the table and hunched over and explained. “He is maybe the most well known bank robber throughout the state of Arkansas. It is said that over his career he stole well over $30, maybe $40 million from banks across the state. Hell even some branches within the tristate area.”

“So he’s bad news.”

“Kid, I’m willingly to accept that you didn’t hear of him at first since most of what he did was probably before you were born, but you’re involved with him now, so you had to have some idea of what type of shit he was involved in.”

Ralph’s voice broke when he spoke up. It honestly sounded pretty regretful. “Okay, okay. Before I go on, can I just please say something? Could I perhaps explain why I’m caught up in this whole mess? Am I owed at least that?”

I had managed to calm down enough and walked back over with Emma and stood behind Meloni. “Go on, kid,” he nodded.

“I can’t deny that I have been, hell, still am a menace. I mean I’m in a building that has proof of that. I just wanna say that I’m sorry, aunt Emma. I’m sorry that I became what you once were ashamed of, well according to dad. Honestly if I had to pinpoint an exact reason why I am what I am, I just wanted to spread around chaos. The same type of chaos that surrounded me my whole life, share the misery.

Sniffles came from Emma when she heard this.

“Sometimes the reasons I do things is purely for shits and giggles, other times because I just wanted some money. When I came across Newburn and saw what he had planned I loved it. It was a great trick, really. Fooling the whole town, playing with them on a much bigger scale than I ever had before, it made me salivate with excitement. Honestly, I giggled a bit when he showed me his operation.”

“But this isn’t a joke,” interjected Meloni, “this is something that compromises the stability and integrity of this town’s economy, dammit! We’re a small town, you know independent businesses are all over Hartland. Including your aunt’s.”

A conflicted look washed over Ralph’s face. “I did think about aunt Emma for a bit, but then I just said fuck it. I mean sure, this Gary guy just wanted to put out fake bills in the town and pick up the new, legit ones when they came in, but I wasn’t about just getting greedy, though getting my own cut of the cheddar was nice. I just wanted to spread some mischief around since I’m no longer gonna be doing it around the school.”

Meloni spoke up again after that. “We can protect you, son. Are you willing to tell us and several other authorities about what Gary Newburn and his plans? We will offer you the best protection imaginable and immunity from all of this, but that all depends on what you give us, understood?”

The room was silent for a few moments. All eyes were on Ralph as he stared down at the table and thought over what Meloni said when suddenly the door opened and an officer said someone asked for me.

“Um, tough tits, I’m in the middle of something. Whoever it is, have them come back later.”

The officer continued, “Yeah, he’s asked for you specifically and said he ain’t going anywhere.”

I excused myself and stepped outside with the officer. “I really don’t give a shit,” I said in a huff, “if it’s the mayor, governor, my dead dad, or the first sign of alien life, I am in the middle of something huge.”

“But-“

“Who the hell wants me?”

He explained to me it was some kids and their parents and when he said that, I had a fleeting idea of who he meant. I popped my head back in, “Hey, I gotta deal with something out there. Meloni, keep talking to him, I’ll see what’s dragging me outside, remember, you forced that poker up my ass!”

I closed the door behind me and stomped right over the the group gathered by the front desk. I had my eyes dead set onto them and one of them stood and held out his hand to say, “Hello detective, now-“

I was still plenty pissed that this jackoff had just pulled me away that I really let him have it as I angrily told him, “Hi, I dunno who the hell you are exactly, but you are prying me away from a very important investigation that I have been on for a good while. I happen to have suddenly made a break in it, but somehow you’re more important, why?”

My words certainly had an effect on him. I could tell by how he shuttered in his response. “I-I-I, ahem, I and m-m-my w-wife are here because my son Michael, and his friend Chase, have gotten themselves into a lot of t-trouble and said they would explain it all to us by talking to you. Ma’am, I mean, detective.”

It was exactly who I thought. Chase and Michael, those two kids who came in to tell me about their stalkers. I guess things got really serious now. I pushed this guy to the side and saw the kids sat there and one of them waved at me rather awkwardly. “You two again?”

“Wait, what do you mean again,” asked one of the mothers before not just me but all of them glared at them kids.

“Yeah, you boys were in here a few days ago to report a couple of people had been following them, more like stalking from what I recall. They met with our sketch artist to give us a description of who these suspects are.”

“Where is it,” the other mother yelled.

“I have it at home, but I made a copy for here. It is in my desk, just a second.”

I went over and opened the top drawer of my desk and pulled out the copy I have made with the print here and showed it to everyone. The adults all gasped in shock which definitely gave the story these two told me some weight and now I am convinced these bozos were after them, but why still perplexed me.

After all, I had some bigger things to worry about on my plate before I can even think about dessert.

This fucking day.

“Okay, boys, just what exactly is going on here?”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 24

Thin Man had his gun aimed right at my head from the moment the police knocked on Mike’s door. That’s what Mike’s parents saw as they walked back into the room to see who was at the door.

They just froze and then Thin Man suddenly turned and faced them to wave the gun at the nearby chairs for them to sit down. His gun and glance were then right back on me. “You lying sack of shit. I thought we could trust each other, Chase.”

I shot back the only way I knew how to in a dire situation like this. “Well, if anyone here is lying it’s you and your friend. I mean were you really even with UA?”

Thin Man then cocked the gun and the knocking got louder and so did the voice on the other side. “Is anyone home? We received an emergency call from this address.”

The police knocked again.

Frustration was all across his mug while Ginger Claus was completely stone-faced as he stood over Mike and I don’t think panicked was the right way to describe how Hal and Courtney felt at that moment. Thin Man just grunted and put the gun back into his coat. “You know, I’m not even mad. Just means we’re gonna get what we want back very soon. Toodles.” He signaled to Ginger and they both made their way towards the backdoor to make a hasty exit.

Once they were out of our sight the knocking at the door was replaced more with banging on the door and Courtney then sprang to life and bolted right right to the door and opened to see two uniformed officers stood on the other side before she then just collapsed onto the floor.

When she woke up all attention was put on me and Mike from his folks and the officers. We admitted everything to do them. About the shooting, the threats, all of it.

The money too of course, but when the officer that questioned me, I can’t really recall his name, but I remembered when he asked, “And now where is the money you and your friend hid,” in his husky voice, I decided to play coy to make sure me and Mike can get our protection, so I leaned over a bit and nodded at him and he nodded back to me.

“We will be happy to let you know the location of the money, but not tonight,” making sure I was heard enough by everybody, especially Mike.

The husky voiced officer asked in a confused state, “Excuse me?”

“Yes, I am not recalling where my half of the money is until we’re able to talk to Mary Parker at the station tomorrow.”

He looked dumbfounded before he turned to his partner who questioned Mike. “Hey, get a load of this. Moneybags here ain’t gonna reveal where his stash is unless he talks to Mary tomorrow.”

The partner responded in her higher toned voice. “I got the same here, partner.” Lucky me Mike knew to follow my lead.

“What?!”

Hal then piped up with the same question and then I explained. “Listen, we first went to a detective, Mary Parker when these men began following us. We are happy to tell you officers about what happened that led up to tonight, but we prefer to share the more important details with Detective Parker tomorrow down at the station.”

They then turned back to look at each other and this time in befuddlement and turned their respective attentions back onto us. They tried for a few minutes to get us to spout out where the money was, but then my parents showed up. Small town, word always travels fast. My mom yelled at us while dad dealt with the cops and said they’d bring us down to the station tomorrow.

I didn’t remember much of the rest of that night. It was all a blur of yelling, crying, and every imaginable swear word and variations of said swears words being uttered.

The next thing I remembered was that I woke up on Monday morning next day and school was not at all on my mind. Breakfast was awkward, mostly silent aside from sips of coffee and orange juice, the clanging of forks and spoons against plates and bowls, and coughs.

My parents and Mike’s agreed to go to the station first thing in the morning when ready. They agreed to only go down there when both of us felt ready to go down and let us get prepared at our own pace. Mike’s dad said that was the one caveat there were going to give to us.

Somewhere around 9:30AM or so we signaled to our respective houses that we were ready and went down to the station. Mike and his clan drove behind us. It was dead silent in our car except for the radio. I imagine Mike was still being read the riot act and got it from both barrels. Things were not fun in his house before all this mess, but now I fear it will only get worse.

We all entered the station together and were greeted by the same officer that worked the desk from our first visit. Hal stepped forward and asked to see Detective Parker.

“Sorry, sir, but she’s in the middle of something,” the officer said.

“Well, whatever it is, I’m sure can wait,” Hal responded in a curt tone.

“Look, sir-“

“No, you look, officer, I’ve had the most rather fucking insane past few hours thanks to my son and his friend and they said they aren’t further getting themselves out of the mess they made until they talk to this detective. So drag her ass out here before I cause a shitstorm here.”

The officer had the most annoyed look on his face and I nor anyone could have blamed him. He waved another officer over and asked them to go find where Mary went and alert her of our presence.

They left and the desk officer told us to sit down and wait. We sat and I leaned over in my seat a bit and saw the the other officer went towards the back and knocked on one of the interview room doors. I wasn’t able to hear a thing, but then I saw Mary step out and exchanged words with her messenger. She poked her head back into the room then closed the door and made her way out.

She locked eyes on us then walked right over and our respective parents stood up to meet her with Hal once again speaking up. “Hello detective, now-“

She cut him off immediately and went into a rage. “Hi, I dunno who the hell you are exactly, but you are prying me away from a very important investigation that I have been on for a good while. I happen to have suddenly made a break in it, but somehow you’re more important, why?”

Hal didn’t seem ready for how stern and direct Mary’s words were when he stuttered to reply. “I-I-I, ahem, I and m-m-my w-wife are here because my son Michael, and his friend Chase, have gotten themselves into a lot of t-trouble and said they would explain it all to us by talking to you. Ma’am, I mean, detective.”

Mary then pushed Hal to the side and saw me and Mike still sat in our chairs. I awkwardly waved at her. I don’t think that did anything to help this shitshow.

“You two again?”

“Wait,” said my own mother, “what do you mean again?”

Then it wasn’t just Mary’s eyes, but our family’s too that glared at us.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 23

I moved Ralph over into an interrogation room since he said he wasn’t gonna talk any further until he was moved into a “more forgiving” setting. I obliged, but in addition to the usual handcuffing to the table, I cuffed his ankles to the chair. I wasn’t gonna be that forgiving yet.

I made a call to D.A. Martin Meloni. All I had to do was just utterly the first syllable in counterfeit and he would be here stat. However, he wasn’t who I first called after Ralph’s admission.

That first call went to Emma, who I saw blast through the station entrance and the front desk with little resistance. That might be because she had been here enough times to reign in Ralph and was one of the few people in this town that wasn’t a cop, politician, or involved in high school athletics you didn’t mess with. She controlled your image and in a place where everybody knows and sees everybody, that was important.

She seemed so furious I thought her silver hair was gonna turn into a fiery red. She dyed it that color ever since junior high and it has looked even better since she started up the salon.

“I don’t think I can, Mary. I just honestly think I can’t,” was what she said when she stopped stomping. “He made a goddamn promise! To me, to you! I guess nearly crashing in the fucking jeep wasn’t enough for him! He’s kept this shit up hasn’t he and just been more careful? Well not enough if his ass is in there!”

She then suddenly stopped and looked over at the one-way window and walked up towards the glass. She reached up and put her hand to it and let out the heaviest sigh I could ever recall hearing.

“Emma,” I let out as I walked up behind and placed my hand on her shoulder, “I made sure to call you first and foremost when this got out of my hands.”

“Was that out of friendship or to let me see him one last time before I just give up on him entirely?”

“Because he needs you.”

She then snapped around to face me, tears in the corners of her eyes as her voice began to break a little. “He clearly doesn’t. He doesn’t need that shit of a brother of mine and now he’s made it absolutely clear by being in that room right now that he doesn’t need me. Ralph only needs Ralph and it is time I just fully accept that fact.”

The words she just spoke sounded genuine. It truly sounded like she was here to cut the cord once and for all.

I didn’t know what else to do to convince her to not leave, but to tell her the truth as I grabbed her shoulders and looked her right in the eyes as I explained, “Ralph is involved in a counterfeit money scheme.”

Emma just stared at me in deep confusion and rapidly blinked her eyes, which was a good sign that she was still here with me.

She then shoved my hands off of her and raced right into the room and stood over Ralph as if she just came up from the pits of hell.

“You lying little shit,” she barked at him, rage echoed in her voice. “You have gone beyond the pale now, Ralph, you have truly outdone yourself in sheer hubris of what the hell you are capable of! Why?! Just, why?!”

It was at that moment I came into the room and pulled Emma back as D.A. Meloni walked right in and shut the door behind him and slammed his briefcase down on the table.

“Hey, hey, hey! Parker, what the hell is going on, why is she in here?” I could see the raven caterpillar on his upper lip twitch.

I put Emma off to my right and with Meloni on my left that put me right in the center of this. “Alright,” I yelled. “Meloni, I called you down here because this young man has some information on the counterfeit bills that have circulated around here and the surrounding towns.”

His eyes went wide and he just rubbed his forehead before he responded. “This kid? Seriously?”

Emma kept her eyes fully locked onto Ralph as I explained. “I brought this young man in just to simply scare him a bit for lifting my wallet off of me.”

Meloni shot back, “You realize I am the last person you should admit that to, right?”

“Yes, but at one point Ralph here started to go off on a tangent where he slipped up and admitted to being involved in something that would have him brought up on fraudulent charges. I demanded he speak up, but he wouldn’t until he were moved into here.”

“I- what?! This just fell into your lap, Parker? Have you even been working the case?”

“Yes I have, now how about you accept the horse’s fucking gift and offer up something in return!”

Those words shut him down right away as he tugged on his collar and gulped. He adjusted himself and his glasses before he sat down the meet Ralph face-to-face.

“We will protect you to the fullest extent of the law,” Meloni said in a cool, calm demeanor. “Whatever details you may have will not only save you, but your loved ones too. But we can’t negotiate terms of how to help each other unless you tell us what has happened.”

Ralph cleared his throat then proceeded to spill the beans as calmly as one could in this situation.

“Okay, but before I begin I want it to be known that I am really, really, really, really, really, really sorry about everything and will happily help you stop all this before it goes any further. Secondly-“

“On with it,” exclaimed Emma.

“So just the facts? One day I was just about town, just minding my own business when I was at the local market. I felt antsy so I saw this guy with a terrible grey mop top and lifted his wallet then bought myself some snacks. When I was outside of the market, said mop top grabbed me and threw me up against the wall. He looked crazed, insane really, like he was about the throttle me. He yelled that he wanted his wallet back so I just handed it to him. He frantically pulled out all his bills and counted them then got angry again. He threw me against the wall and asked what bills I used. I told him and he explained that those were fake bills I just used, that he had to be the one to use those.”

“Why was that,” I asked Ralph.

“He said it was because of his plan, his plan that he had so thought out and couldn’t afford any distractions or complications.”

“Who was it, Ralph?”

“I glimpsed his wallet, but the license in it was a fake. I told him I’d share what bills I used if he told me about his plan and his real name.”

“Out with it!”

“His name is Gary Newburn.”

“Motherfucker.”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 22

Thin Man and Ginger Claus stood right behind us as we made our way into Mike’s house towards the dining room. Thin Man had his gun pressed against Mike’s back whereas Ginger Claus had a switchblade up against mine. The blade wasn’t out, but he made sure to show us it was there. I’m not entirely sure if he can open the blade and have it go right into me like that, but I wasn’t gonna test that.

As we entered said dining room Courtney made her entrance in there too. “Um, Michael, are these friends of yours staying for dinner?”

Mike was going to say something but I could tell that the gun got pressed further against him so he closed his mouth as fast as he was about to open it before Thin Man spoke.

“Yes ma’am, we are. We’re here on the behalf of the University of Arkansas, the very one in Fayetteville. We been meaning to find time to talk to your son, Michael here, but timing always seem to be an issue. He said we should come over for dinner on Sunday and talk with you guys as well.”

Hal, Mike’s dad, then entered the room. “Honey, who are they?”

Courtney soon responded, “Oh, Hal, these are recruiters with the University of Arkansas. They are here to meet with Mike, but I guess also talk with us.”

“Michael, why are we just now hearing about this?”

“I just forgot dad, okay? Work was pretty exhausting yesterday and I had a ton of homework to catch up on,” said Mike.

“You know this is so damn typical of you, you just leave some things to the last minute and it is sloppy and now we got some extra mouths to feed.” The words from Hal were the kind Mike usually got from him and it wasn’t making this particular situation any better. “What talents do you think you’ll have to offer to UA next fall? Huh?” Those last words were said with a particular kind of cruelty to them.

Thankfully Courtney interjected again. “Now Hal, stop it. You are being rude and this isn’t good for our guests to see.”

Not good for their guests. No defense of Mike at all in that sentence.

“Sir,” Thin Man piped up, “it really is no bother to us at all. We understand and just wanna show you why we think Michael here is a great fit for UA next fall.”

Hal grunted, but he relented.

Courtney then asked, “Chase, are you staying for dinner too?”

I could only reply, “Yes ma’am, I already let my mom know.”

“Okay, well it is ready, just have a seat.”

Hal and Courtney left and I made a step towards the bathroom before I got pulled back by the looming lumberjack.

Thin Man asked, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Um, I gotta take a leak and I was going to let call my mom and let her know I’m not gonna be at dinner tonight.”

“Okay, but first you’re making that call. I wanna see you do that.”

So with that I pulled out my phone and showed off my mom’s contact info. I then “dropped” my phone. “Sorry,” I said before I leaned down and as quickly as I could switch over to the keypad and punched in 911. I hit the call button and stood up, phone pressed securely against my ear like it was a facehugger.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

I paused for a bit after I heard the operator. Made them think it still rang. “Hey, mom, just wanted to let you know I’m having dinner over at Mike’s place. His folks invited me to stay.”

“Sir, this is an emergency line, are you in need of assistance?”

“Yes, absolutely, I understand it is last minute, but I’m just calling to let you know I might make it in a little late tonight, so maybe save me some dinner?”

“Sir, are you in any danger?”

“Yep, fully understand. I am right over at Mike’s place, same address as usual.”

“Okay, we have your address, please stay-“

“Alright, bye mom.” I hung up immediately.

Thin Man shrugged then allowed me to go to the John. I was honestly gonna make the hushed call in there since I really didn’t need to go, but being in that situation actually did make me need to pee.

After I relieved myself we all sat at the table. The “recruiters” sat by me and Mike. They continued to spin their tale of how Mike was actually a very talented and creative kid at school, which they weren’t really wrong about, he is a talented artist actually. He’s made banners for the teams and pep rallies, murals, etc. I doubt they knew that since they used very vague language about everything Hal and Courtney had to ask.

It was pleasant, but also dangerous. I can’t remember how me and Mike did so well in that situation. I was so scared that I would fuck up with each next word and get myself stabbed or really everyone killed, but those bozos didn’t know where we stashed the money so they needed us.

“You know the cost of a great education can be a problem for some people,” Thin Man proclaimed at one point. “But we think no one should really have to worry about that. Am I right?”

Hal nodded right away as he placed his fork down and swallowed his recent bite. “I had a bitch of a time paying off my own student loan debts.”

“Hal,” Courtney shouted.

“It’s fine, ma’am,” shot back Thin Man. “It is a bitch, we agree. See, don’t tell my superiors this, but money has become a disease I think. I know to get what we need requires payment all over, but money can blind us with greed and the want of more of it so that we can think we matter. It can even scare many of us away from our dreams and desires. Maybe I shouldn’t have this view given where I work, but I honestly do this to help find the great minds for the future and to help provide my own family and their future.”

“What is it you’re saying exactly? You spent all this time buttering us and our son up, now you’re giving us the opposite of a sales pitch.”

“Mr. Sale, I am simply saying too much money is both a good and a bad thing.” His eyes started to dart between me and Mike, to show us who he was really talking to. “It corrupts the soul and leads to bad, rash decisions even if we think what we’re doing with said money is the right thing. I’ve seen it happen and I don’t wanna see it with Michael here too.”

The tension became thicker with each sentence he uttered.

“But you really shouldn’t worry. We’re considering Michael for a full ride scholarship, on the house.”

Hal and Courtney breathed huge sighs of relief. Then Thin Man turned his head and looked right at me and Mike. “Besides, one shouldn’t worry about the price that their life is worth, right?” He grinned an unnatural smile at us after he said that.

“Yeah. No one really should,” Mike said.

Courtney got up from the table. “Well, I say this calls for some dessert. I still have some cake leftover from the recent school bake sale. Oh Chase, you have to stay for this, it is delicious!”

“Actually,” replied Thin Man, “me and my associate must be going along, but rest assured, we will be in contact very soon about your son’s future. We’re very invested in it.”

They both stood up and pushed in their chairs. That’s when there was a knock at the door.

“Hello? This is Hartland P.D., we received a 911 call from this address a while ago. Is everything okay?”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 21

Ralph Shipp lifted my wallet after I had just talked to officer Albert Kyle about Doobs and how he possibly tied into Petey’s death. I’ve never been one to have many coincidences in my life, but I was happy to have had this one happen to me.

“Okay, cuffing my hands, I get,” shouted Ralph from the backseat in his high-pitched tone, “but my feet too?!”

Yes his feet too. He is too slippery and if I could I would’ve put him in the trunk of my car as we headed to the station, but I didn’t want the shit storm nor the paperwork that would come from such an ordeal.

He kicked the back of my seat, which prompted me to ask, “Ralph, how many times have we had to deal with each other?”

“To be honest I have really lost count. After a while it all starts to kinda blend together, you know?”

“Sadly, I actually do,” I replied as we continued along to the station.

When we arrived I pulled Ralph out and took the cuffs from his feet and slapped them on his wrists with the pair already there.

“Double cuffs? Really?”

“You think I’m honestly that stupid? If I had my way, I’d bring you in right now tucked up tight in a straightjacket.”

He just smiled that dubious grin of his that with his flowing ginger locks perfectly framed his diamond shaped face.

I grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him in and that drew no surprising looks at all from everybody in there given his history. I asked Marcus at the desk and he informed me that the drunk tank was free and there is where I threw Ralph into after I took the cuffs off.

“Shouldn’t I be in another room? One less imprisoning?”

“You lost the right to ever being interviewed in an interrogation room after a couple years ago when you lifted the keys off a guard, escaped, and locked the arresting officers in said room.”

“You weren’t one of the cops I locked in were you?”

“No, but I do gotta admit I was kinda impressed by that and the stunt you pulled with the donkey in the hallway that brought you in that day.”

He just smiled then proceeded to walk his way over and stood opposite me from the cell door. He leaned against it and locked eyes with me. “So, uh, what am I here for anyway? You just missed me and wanted to catch up for old time’s sake?”

“Actually yeah. Where you hanging your hat these days?”

“At home of course.”

“Not according to your dad.”

“Was he sober enough to actually talk to you?”

The tone in Ralph’s voice wasn’t sarcastic but that of sad truth. He got dealt a bad hand being born to a bitter drunk father who peaked as part of the high school football team and a mother who checked out of the family long ago due to said father.

“Okay, new topic. So were you expelled from school or did you drop out?”

“I was on the verge of expulsion, but I decided to drop out.”

“How noble of you. So you’re staying with Emma?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Aunt Emma, older sister to the aforementioned father. Used to be a magician under the name of the Incredimazing Emily. Whenever she wasn’t entertaining kids at birthday parties, she helped herself to whatever the parents had laid about. Her brother helped, but when she went to college he fell into a bad crowd which had a hand in him not having much a future beyond high school stardom.

Emma confessed about the thefts to me a few nights before I graduated the academy, albeit after some beers we shared. I kept it a secret. Ralph clearly took to his aunt and learned her tricks, but I’m fairly certain she didn’t intend to groom him into the new her. I knew Emma back in school and well I hadn’t really kept up with her too much I think since I graduated from the academy. Only times I seemed to see her now was when I either needed my hair done at her salon or when she came to help/bail out Ralph.

“Look, just… I don’t wanna cause her anymore trouble, Mary, I mean detective.”

There was actual honesty in what he said. Emma was the only one around these parts that really cared about Ralph and his future. “You broke your promise.”

“Yeah, the same one she had me make in front of you and her after I took a joyride in my gym teacher’s jeep. I just needed to say what she wanted to hear. I’ve kept my ongoings quiet and lowkey since then.”

He had a mournful look on his face. One full of regret and self-hatred. I truly felt for the kid.

I was gonna say something to cheer him up, promise him that Emma wouldn’t find out about this or the school situation, at least from me, I doubt even he could keep that covered up.

Then he just rambled on.

“I know, I know! I’ve been lying to the one person who has given an actual shit about me because I’m an asshole. Thanks dad!”

And on.

“Maybe if that bastard paid attention to me instead of Jim Beam now and then, I wouldn’t have needed to set loose a donkey or stink bomb a pep rally to get his attention.”

“Look, I only brought you in here just to mess wit-“

And then…

“I mean hell, then perhaps I wouldn’t be involved in fucking fraud!”

“I’m sorry what?”

He suddenly snapped his head towards me and looked as if all the blood was drained from his face. “Fuck!”

I blinked so rapidly it was as if the lights had been flickered on and off in the room.

“Excuse me?”

He then stood right up, spine as straight as can be, and went right back into being calm as he walked back over to the door and stood across from me. “Say, if I were to tell you about a big, um, fraudulent scheme that is currently ongoing and I have stumbled my way into being part of it, what sort of protection could I possibly be offered?”

I just stared at him. I actually felt how frozen my face was, my eyes only concentrated on Ralph like I was a heat seeking missile.

“Ralph,” I finally spoke. “What the hell are you talking about?”

He cleared his throat before he simply stated, “I have gotten myself way in over my head, detective and I was wondering if you could maybe help me out and kinda not let my aunt Emma know about this. Cool beans?”

“Those beans are most certainly not cool, Ralph! You’re going to explain just what the hell you’re involved with or I can come in there and pretend I don’t have my badge on me at this moment!”

“Where do you wanna start?”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 20

Mike was terrified when I told him about my chance meeting with Thin Man and Ginger Claus.

Just how freaked out was he? The second after I explained everything that happened to him he immediately went for his closet, grabbed his roller bag, and started to chuck whatever clothes he grabbed right into it.

“Mike, Mike, Mike,” I belted out as I stopped him after he already managed to get about three shirts and I think a couple pairs of jeans in there. “Let’s maybe chill the hell out for a moment!”

“Chill out, Chase? You just more or less said these strange men wanna rough us up. Me a little more because of a big misunderstanding. Did you even clear up how I got my wheels?”

“They were not very interested in that. They are clearly set on believing you used the money we took from them to buy it.”

“They also admitted it was them there on that night? With the bag and that they killed that guy?”

I nodded.

“We’re going right back to the police. We have to.”

“It’s been two days, Mike.”

“Well, how much work in a couple days do you think that bitch has really done? I mean come on, Chase, I’m betting not much.”

“Didn’t we agree to let the police handle that problem for us so that all of this can’t lead back to us in any way?

Mike went right up to me and grabbed me by my shoulders. His hands tightly gripped me, almost like how one of Ginger Claus’ paws did to me early. Though thankfully not as hard, but it still wasn’t exactly comfortable.

“Chase, bro, we just need to come clean.”

“But-“

“Chase! We gotta let it go.”

I was in shock over what Mike had just said to me.

“Hey man, let’s calm down a little bit and maybe breathe-“

“No! Chase, I’ve been with you from the start. Not just this, but everything and I’m sorry man, but I think we’ve gone as far as we can with this whole situation. These people have killed a man, they want to hurt us, maybe kill us.”

“The police will handle them, it’ll be okay. They get caught, we keep the money, we can do this!”

As I said all that I just saw Mike shake his head in disagreement. He actually shook faster the more I went on. Like he tried to make sure his disapproval was known.

“You don’t get it, Chase. You’re still under the spell!”

“What spell?”

“A fucking greed spell, you dumbass! You are asking me to calm down about mysterious people wanting to hurt me. Over $41,000!”

“Hey fuck them, they’re bad guys, they probably did some real evil shit for that money. They didn’t keep good track of it, so I say it’s ours.”

After I said that what came next all happened in a flash as I remember.

A bright, blinding flash.

I felt a burning sensation across my left cheek. A really hot one, like I was doing some serious sunbathing. My hand reached up to touch my cheek but as soon as I touched it I winced in pain. It hurt, stung really and that is when I realized Mike had slapped me.

“Ow,” was all I said to that. My best friend just struck me, I honestly didn’t know how to really process that, but once the ringing in my ears stopped I heard him clear as day.

“Chase, it is not just our lives in danger here.”

“B-b-but no one else knows. We haven’t told our parents, anyone at school, not even the detective. It-its fine,” said with a little bit of shock still left in my voice over what had occurred.

“But what if they find out why we got hurt or killed? They could do something to them.”

At that moment his words finally did hit me. The money had completely taken over my mindset. Logic and reasoning were probably gone the first moment I glanced inside that stupid bag.

“Chase, is any of this worth it? The money? Constantly looking over our shoulders? I mean, I’ve been with you, but we gotta know when to cut ties.”

“No, no you’re right. Mike, you absolutely are. I am sorry. Greed is a hell of a drug man, we’ll absolutely go to the police.”

Then we hugged. It was maybe the best hug I had ever had. I felt safe and I think unworried for the first time truly since this whole clusterfuck started.

“Oh, dude, we got her card, we can just call that detective.”

“Is it her actual number on there, though,” Mike asked. I mean she did have a stationary phone on her desk and I assume she ain’t there on the weekend.”

“Maybe? I dunno.”

This continued for a moment until Mike’s mother Courtney appeared on the staircase and got our attention.

“Michael, some people are at the door for you. And Chase too, they just asked if he happened to be here.”

“Who is it, mom?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never seen them before. For all I know, son, they’re classmates of yours. Can you two just come up here and just whatever with them? I got a roast beef to take care of,” she yelled as she ascended back up the stairs.

We both looked at each other puzzled but made our way upstairs and headed right for the front door and opened it to find Thin Man and Ginger Claus on the other side.

Thin Man immediately greeted us. “Hello gentlemen, how are you both this fine Sunday evening?”

Before I could even say something Mike did his best quiet shouting.

“Get the fuck outta here, you pencil-neck geek! I don’t care what Grizzly Adams there does to me but before he can have his way with me, I’m gonna tackle you down to that lawn and beat the shit out of you.”

“So I’m sure your friend told you about our conversation from a little while ago.”

I then contributed to the situation when I pointed out to them, “You said you’d find us in a few days.”

“Kid, look at us, do you really think we’d keep our word on that? Yes, we just happened onto you at that restaurant, but we figured you’d go right to him and we were right.”

“You followed me?”

“No, no. We finished our lunch there and then we came over there. We already knew where he lived obviously.”

“Chase, they saw my mom, dude.”

“Pretty,” piped up Ginger Claus. “I like pretty.”

Mike started to make a step towards Ginger, but then Thin Man pulled out a gun. Cocked and pointed right at Mike.

We froze.

“So, Michael,” Thin Man said. “What are we having for dinner?”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 19

The last week of my life had been a rollercoaster, but it might have helped me prepare for the week ahead.

The week of Thanksgiving is one of my least favorite times of the year. Distant family members coming in seems nice at first, then they get to talking and some pour themselves a little something to even wanna talk and we get called in to calm shit down as much as we possibly can. Hell, it’s an already stressful time with us at the station trying to make our own plans concrete, make deals among each other to see who wants to cover who’s shift, and the shopping. Fucking hell, the shopping.

It was a little after 8AM on Monday morning when I entered Louise’s Diner. I took to a booth and ordered a cup of joe as I waited. I spent the weekend trying to make some headway on the counterfeit bills case and as far as those two kids who came in about stalking on Thursday, well I took the sketch home and really that was about it.

Few more minutes passed with Albert Kyle finally walked in and spotted me. He asked for his coffee right away too, a true pro. He contacted me on Saturday to update me on our mutual friend Doobs. I was too into working the counterfeit case so I told him to come up and meet me whenever he could. We agreed on a Monday breakfast meeting.

“Safe drive?”

He took off his jacket and threw it into his side of the booth as he answered, “Pretty good.” He then slapped a folder right on top of the table. “Too early for Christmas gifts?”

“Well, you certainly got ahead of the shopping rush.”

“I’m considerate like that.”

We shared a chuckle as a waitress brought his coffee and we both made our orders.

The moment he sat down he went right into business mode. “So Doobs got out.” His words were of no surprise to me.

“Not too shocked given when I last saw him in your neighborhood. Lawyer, remember?”

“Yeah, I know but I have been keeping tabs on him.”

I opened the folder up and sure enough he had kept an eye on Petey’s old friend.

“Those are the only two locations I’ve seen him at, getting his stuff out his locker of the Piggly Wiggly and meeting a couple other guys at a booth in the diner over where I am.”

“That’s it?”

“Pretty much. He’s been holed up at his apartment, though there have been lots of visitors coming and going. Curiously, none of them his lawyer.”

I looked through the pics he got outside his complex and he was right. They might as well have set up a revolving door at the front with the amount of foot traffic it had seen. None of them though was the kid that came into his place during our interview.

The waitress then came with our food and we ate and talked shop. Scrambled eggs and bacon for me again, lightly done toast too. Albert ordered himself a cheesesteak omelet.

We were both I think halfway through our meals when we arrived at this point.

“Okay, so Doobs used to be good with your vic, right?”

Vic.

I knew who he meant, but it was like nails on a chalkboard to hear Petey be referred to as that.

Vic. Fucking hell.

“Thick as thieves,” I replied. Thankful that the bacon I chewed on helped disguise my distain at that moment.

“Do you think he was involved?”

Had to think carefully and deliver the info I knew about Petey and not sound like his best friend relaying that. Be professional. Above all else, be professional.

“Not from what I gathered. Like I told you when I brought Doobs in, they were pals, but Doobs got pinched and Peter went clean and tried to get him to do the same. Never spoke again.”

“Yeah, but, I mean there has to be something right? How many people were at the scene when Peter got shot?”

I finished my last sip of coffee before I answered. “From what we gathered, two, maybe three people. Though there was another print there that was interesting.”

“What kind of print?”

“Not a shoeprint, but something else. Like a package that was there. Maybe a bag.”

“Perhaps this Peter wasn’t so clean after all.”

When Albert said those words I saw a vision flash in my mind telling him to fuck off before I stormed out of the diner.

“Tox report showed absolutely no signed of drugs or alcohol in his system. But Doobs did say often some of his people in Hartland would say they were preached to give up the life, go straight by some old guy.”

“Peter?”

“Doobs guessed so, but never found out since he just told his sellers to go elsewhere in town and well he’s been in Foreman ever since he got out.”

“So maybe Peter caught wind somehow or saw something going down again. Tried to set someone straight and they didn’t take too kindly about being lectured.”

“That is what I’ve been thinking too.”

“So we’re on the same page.”

“Apparently so, officer Kyle.”

He clapped his hands in excitement, that he found a kindred spirit, but then soon realized there was more work to do. “But if Doobs isn’t leaving his apartment anytime soon other than to deal with his P.O., how are we even gonna get close to him to find out?”

I saw my opening.

“The kid.”

“Kid?”

“The kid I told you that came into Doobs’ apartment when I talked to him. I gave a description to you guys down there and I ain’t heard shit.”

“Maybe that’s a sign.”

“Look, you see the kid around or find him, call me, I’ll trek back over to Foreman and we can talk to him about getting us some info.”

“You wanna use this kid, if he even is still around, as an informant?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

“I dunno, I mean what if Doobs has passed our names among to his crew to be on the lookout for? I mean he does have people working here in Hartland.”

“Maybe, but it has to be worth a shot.”

“Alright, if I catch wind of the kid, I’ll get right on the horn to you.”

We shook hands, finished our food, and went our separate ways in the parking lot.

Albert went off first in his car as I waved him bye then made my way to my car when someone bumped into me.

“My bad,” muttered whoever it was. I heard the diner door bell and knew they went inside.

Which was good for me since I immediately checked my pockets and noticed my wallet was gone. I turned around and went right back into Louise’s and sat right next to the person that bumped into me at the counter

They removed their hat and I made my introduction.

“Hey Ralph, detective Mary Parker.”

Ralph Shipp. The tricky little shit.

He looked at me then smiled. He went to bolt, but I grabbed my cuffs and slapped them on his right wrist and the other side to my left wrist. Joined together as he fell and I picked him right back up and sat him on his stool.

“Why don’t we have breakfast? My treat.”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 18

Sunday came and it was a typical one here in Hartland, Arkansas, just a whole lot of nothing. People went to church and me and my peers would either be playing video games, sneaking around for some alone time away from the folks, or doing the homework we got assigned on Friday.

It had been a couple days since me and Mike talked to that detective and we still haven’t had any sighting of our secret admirers in a while. Friday was just another day at school for us and Saturday I just caught up on a few video games while Mike worked a shift. All I had been doing that next was more video games and some of the aforementioned homework. Thankfully none of it algebra. Mike worked another shift.

I wasn’t feeling up for gaming and I already completed my homework when late afternoon hit, so I thought I’d just get in my car and drive around for a bit. I knew when to be back for dinner, mom decided to make her family’s homemade pizza recipe tonight.

Outside it was as quiet as I thought it would be. Again, Sunday in a small town, nothing was going to get too exciting. I had no destination in mind, I just took the time to enjoy this moment with all that had gone on. To just relax. Then I got hungry, because I of course have the black hole of a stomach all teenagers have, but know mom would be pissed if I was too full before dinner. Next thing I knew I pulled into Greggo’s drive thru. I figured a little snack wouldn’t be too much. So I pulled up and decided I’d just get the spicy chicken sandwich by itself, well, and a soda too. No fries, even though I smelled them right from where I was and thought about how delicious they are because of the right amount of salt and how Greggo double fries them.

I made my order and pulled up to the pick-up window where I was greeted by Lacy Enoch, a classmate of mine that got a job there over the summer, but decided to stay on when the school year came.

“Oh hey, Chase Carter, right,” asked Lacy when I pulled up. I’m sure she saw plenty of us from school on any regular given day, but admittedly this is the first time I saw Lacy in action at Greggo’s. I sparsely went during summer break and never saw her there when I was.

“Yeah,” I said back.

“Spicy chicken sandwich and a diet soda, right?”

“Yeah, that’s my order.”

Lacy had a pretty smile, like really pretty. Cute little dimples too. Hadn’t really noticed that, or her outside of classes much honestly.

“Okay, be right back.”

She stepped away to go get it and I turned my head towards the window and peaked into what was going on inside, it was a minimally busy crowd inside for them at this time.

Then I saw Thin Man walk by the window on the inside. It was him, so I immediately face forward towards my windshield. My heart started to race and I thought I could feel some sweat form on my forehead. Maybe my mind played tricks on me.

Lacy came back with my order and I got my bag and sat it in the passenger seat and said bye. I started to pull out when at the end of the exit down there was Ginger Claus. Then I saw Thin Man come out the side door on the drive thru side sipping on his drink and he pointed towards the parking lot.

They pretty much had me so I pulled into an empty space in the lot on my left. I saw Ginger Claus coming up from my rearview and I already unlocked the car for them. He got in the backseat behind the passenger seat, which is where Thin Man sat himself after he threw my bag in my lap, loudly slurping. The only sound in the car at that moment.

He finally stopped and asked, “Hey, how ya been?”

Before I even said anything Ginger Claus kicked the back of my seat and I spoke up immediately. “Fine, I’ve been fine.”

“Well that is good to hear,” he continued. “So, you and your friend find any bags of money lately?”

“Not that I recall.”

He slurped on his drinking again. I think he did that just to intentionally annoy me.

“That’s too bad. I-“

I interrupted. “What the fuck makes you so sure or think me and my friend know anything about your missing church money?”

He slurped again then threw his cup out of the window. “Well you see, it’s because I know that you have my money. And the neon green duffle that encased it. See I noticed something as me and my partner made our hasty exit after excusing someone from this mortal coal, that we had forgotten the bag we were there to retrieve. I briefly turned back to get said bag, but it was gone.”

My ass fiercely tensed up.

“And while I did hear sirens, I also heard some items being knocked over from far away and went to see what happened. I saw two teenage boys running away with the bag I needed.”

“Wasn’t it dark? Could’ve been anyone.”

“Correct, but I distinctly saw, not only that bright neon green bag booking it down the street, but also at my feet, a report card.”

He then pulled out said report card. I remember that same day we saw that guy get shot, they handed out report cards at school. The one he held couldn’t have been mine, it was still in my backpack, so that had to be Mike’s.

Which it was. He unfolded it and pointed to Mike’s name on it.

“Yeah, but that’s not me.”

“I’m aware, young man. But as me and my associate noticed when following up on your friend, you were involved in this too. He was at your house, he was driven around by you until, he suddenly procured wheels of his own.”

“That’s a funny story actually…”

“I’m sure it is, but what concerns me when he did this that it was bought with the money from our bag.”

“No, it…”

“Silence,” he said, his tone raised up a bit. “I’m speaking to you about this first, because, well I honestly didn’t know you’d be here. It all just sorta came together. Me, you, him, all at the same little burger joint. Kismet. I wasn’t expecting to be in your car any more than you expected me to be in your car.”

I turned to look at Ginger Claus and he must have had his eyes on me the entire time because I saw him stare daggers into my soul.

“Now, I do hope that after we make our exit, you’ll tell your friend about this little chat, since we had planned to have it with him soon. Do pass along we will come around soon to collect our money, and we would like interest. You know, for the new set of wheels.”

I then felt one of Ginger Claus’ hands on my shoulder and it felt like I was put into a vice grip.

“We good, kid?”

All I did was nod. Hell, even if I wasn’t afraid to say something in that moment I just would have said and agreed to whatever just to get them out of there.

“Then we’ll be seeing you boys in a few days. Don’t try and look for us, we’ll come to you.”

He held his hand up and I felt my shoulder be let go, which was a great relief. They got out my car and waved at me as they walked off to their own vehicle and drove off.

When they were out of my sight I looked down and saw my bag was still in my lap. That spicy chicken sandwich. I felt so scared I didn’t know I could eat. I just knew I had to talk to Mike.

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 17

I met Artie upstairs in the kitchen where he already started on breakfast, making scrambled eggs, our favorite, and had the bacon going too. I plopped my ass down on a seat at the counter and just looked at him for maybe a minute before either of us said anything.

I went first. “Last night was unavoidable wasn’t it?”

As he flipped the bacon over Artie responded, “Yeah. It was gonna happen sooner or later I guess. Hell, it could have been a couple months from now we would have had that fight. Maybe a year.”

“Worst thing was that some of the words we both said were true, Artie. You had become less important and I failed to see that. I failed to see how that made you feel and I truly do feel awful about it.” He didn’t turn around, just kept scrambling the eggs. “I am sorry.”

He paused for a moment then turned around to face me. “Thank you. I am sorry too. I didn’t bring up my problems in a very healthy or constructive way at all. I just let my shit boil over until it just needed to get out. That wasn’t fair to you. At all.”

He then just swiftly turned back around to tend to the eggs and make sure the bacon hadn’t gotten burnt.

“Thanks,” I said back. “And some of the things I said were unnecessary and just, you made me so fucking mad, last night, Artie. I had never felt that enraged, ever. In my life. Like not even when that bitch, Sherry Summers deliberately elbowed me at basketball on the playground in middle school.”

Artie remained silent as he moved the bacon off the pan and onto a big plate. He made a lot of bacon, and put each of our eggs on their own plates. He came to the counter and sat across from me and put our plates down.

Artie asked, “What now?”

“So, I know this is gonna be crazy coming from me, and especially after last night. But, how about marriage counseling?”

My suggestion stopped Artie from putting his first bite of eggs into his mouth. He dropped his fork and focused his eyes right on me. “You’re right, that is a crazy idea. Especially for you.”

“I know.”

“So what, we just argue in front of someone as opposed to each other like last night or ever?”

“I’m suggesting we find a healthier, more constructive way to work out our obvious problems. My plan with the department covers therapy, so cost wouldn’t really be a problem.”

“Does it say anything about couples therapy?”

“Not necessarily, but it just covers any therapy should an officer in the department need it. We don’t need to see anyone affiliated with the department.”

He rubbed his face, still in disbelief that I have brought up this idea.

“Look, just please think about it. We don’t need to decide right now. Let’s just enjoy breakfast together, okay?”

Artie nodded and I actually felt well not good per say, just, okay. It was a small sense of relief, but honestly, I would take it over how I felt last night.

Me and Artie did have a nice little breakfast. We made some small talk, said what we were gonna do for the day and we both got ready and went to our respective jobs.

I felt madly exhausted all day at work however. No surprise given how shit my sleeping was. The majority of my night was spent in my basement/office talking to a ghost. Worked a bit on the counterfeit bills case, filled out some paperwork I had to catch up on, and got a few good games of solitaire on my computer done.

I really felt it around after 3PM so I poured me a good cup of coffee in the breakroom and saw that there was a bear claw left so I grabbed it for myself when officer Marcus Hardy came in.

“Hey some kids here need to talk to someone about some creeper, and thought you could take them.”

“What?!”

“Hey, I just got told to find the nearest one who can take a statement.”

“Can it be somebody else, I’m still working a couple cases of my own. You’re free right now, you take them.”

“I would, but you owe me for when I covered for you on that ‘sick day’ on your anniversary.”

“Shit! Fine, just gimme a sec.”

He nodded then left before I gave out the most epic yawn I think I ever had. Fuck me.

I made my way back to my desk, piles of paperwork still atop it and other shit sprawled across so I thought I might wanna be a little neat for whoever they sent my way. I sat and placed my coffee and bear claw on the biggest pile as I started to clear the desk of loose papers and a bunch of random shit scattered across when I saw two teenage boys come towards my desk, both about the same sight, but one was blonde and the other was brunette. That was all I saw aside from their clothes to tell them apart.

“Ah, hi, please sit down, just pardon the mess,” were my first words to them as I got my desk to look somewhat presentable and grabbed a pen and notepad to take their statement.

“Names?”

Dark hair spoke up first. “I’m Chase Carter and this is my friend Mike Sale.”

Brunette Chase and Blonde Mike. Got it.

“Alright now. You two are here to report someone missing? A theft?”

Then Mike spoke up. “Well detective, you see, we’re here to report about stalking.”

“Stalking, you say?” My tone of surprise was the only one I could give off. Were they serious? I thought usually high school boys like them were the ones stalking. Whatever.

Then the other kid, Chase piped in. “Yes ma’am, we believe some people are stalking us.”

More than one stalker? Well, my interest got peaked. “Okay, so just start from the beginning.”

Mike then proceeded to go on. “We noticed this a few days ago. When I was on my way home from school one day, I noticed a car behind me. I believed it was just on the same path going a different direction somewhere, but I saw it whenever I stopped and when I could peek into my rearview.”

I didn’t think they were fucking with me as they went on, the first kid sounded real concerned, like he never had experienced something like this before. I could tell he was a bit spooked by it all.

Then it was back to Chase. “I noticed something too a day later. I spotted someone around my house and I can safely say I have never seen this person before in my life. He looked rather shifty, like he was casing my house or looking for something in particular.”

This other kid too, his voice echoed with worry as he kept talking. My eyes went back between them and the pad so I can take down all they said.

“And I did see that same car that followed me parked outside my house one night, parked a few spots down from my house on the curb. Like he looked at me directly when I took the trash out there,” Mike responded.

They kept talking and I kept writing. Then I asked who they thought followed them and I got some interesting descriptions.

“Okay, so a very thin man and, um, Ginger Claus as you say, are who you suspect is following you?”

“Well what we could see of them, we haven’t been able to catch a good look at them, that’s the best we got,” Chase replied.

“Right, okay. You two are sure you have no idea why anybody would be following the both of you?”

“I can’t see why,” said Mike. “We’re just two ordinary high school seniors trying to get through to graduation next summer.”

“We really aren’t sure why, ma’am,” Chase added.

“Stop calling me, ma’am, detective will do just fine.” And like that they both shut up.

“Alright, I got all your information, here is my card for each of you, now I’m gonna have you meet with our sketch artist. Just tell him what these schmoes look like then you can be on your way. I’ll call if anything comes up. You guys just, I dunno worry about grades or whatever it is kids worry about today. Okay?”

They nodded and I steered them towards Alan, the previously mentioned sketch artist. He’s honestly a really damn good one, like I would seriously just pay him to draw or paint me anything. Maybe I will one of these days, who knows.

An hour or so later Alan did come by my desk after the kids left and showed me what he brought up.

“Why in the hell would a couple fucks like these be after two high school seniors?”

Alan mused, “Maybe they wouldn’t get off their lawn.”

I chuckled and Alan left the sketch at my desk.

Great, now I got these kids to worry about on top of my shaky marriage, Petey’s killer, and someone dummying up money outta thin air.

I looked and Petey wasn’t there to lend a helpful word. Damn.

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 16

I never imagined myself being the type to practice a speech or anything like that in front of my mirror, yet there I was doing that so I can make sure my words to the police sound convincing. I certainly gave more effort into that than I ever did for an oral report, class presentation, or mock debate in social studies. Then again none of those situations had a big stack of money riding on them.

I had to be sure that whatever I said came from a concerned citizen. That was key to this plan.

“We noticed a couple of shady people following up lately and it has made us really worried about our wellbeing.”

Nah, that sounded a bit phony to me. I should have worded it better.

“My friend and I started seeing a couple of unfamiliar faces recently. It has made us really nervous recently.”

Sounded a little better, might keep it in the backpocket.

“There have been some unsavory…”

Nope, I dunno why I even thought to try that one, I regretted it right when the words left my mouth.

I tried a few more lines, psyched myself up a few times by slapping myself across the face and some deep breathes.

“Well, me and my friend have noticed someone, or some people, that has followed us lately. They know where we go to school and possible where we live.”

Getting good, stay on track.

“We haven’t gotten good looks at them, but we never seen anyone that looks like them in our lives and we’ve become very worried.”

Now that was more like it.

Me and Mike agreed to not sound so sure that somebody could be following us, just sow those seeds of doubt like anyone in this situation would. Like how me and Mike were so sure no one could have followed us until it was proven right. We needed to play up how shook up we were that someone could be doing this to us, but not to go over the top about it.

I ran my lines a few more times before I went to bed.

We planned to go to the station after school that day. I called him up that morning before he left for school to go over our plan one last time. We each touched on what we’d contribute to the story we would tell. It gave me some hope that this would go over well. I actually felt pretty good throughout my classes that day. Like I had an extra spring in my step.

When the bell rang we each got into our own cars and drove over at Mike’s place where he then dropped off his backpack and got in my car so we could drive to the station together. We felt it would be best to go together rather than arrive separately, really solidify a united front between the both of us. I dunno if that would actually do anything for our situation, but it made me feel a little better about our situation that we were really in it together.

I had the directions on my phone and we got there without a problem.

“Alright,” I turned to Mike, “we got this, we are gonna be fine. We just stay on par, and hopefully, we let them handle this.”

“I believe you dude.”

We then powerfully high-fived each other. I remember it stung throughout my hand, but it gave me so much confidence.

We entered on what appeared to be a bit of a slow day for them and told the front desk officer what we had come for. He told us to wait in the nearby seats and we did until we got told there was someone free to talk to us. We waited for maybe half an hour, but it felt like an eternity for sure. I always heard the wait to see someone at a police station varied on what crime you were reporting. I guess that is true.

We got taken to the desk of detective Mary Parker, who had a fresh cup of coffee and a bear claw sat atop piles of paperwork on her desk. When she did look up and made eye contact with us she was noticeably tired, like she binged a whole season of TV throughout last night or just woke up like maybe just recently and is trying to get situated for the day.

“Ah, hi, please sit down, just pardon the mess,” were her first words for us.

She shuffled around more papers and assorted items on her desk and in her drawers before she finished and brought up her pen and notepad, attention fully on us now.

“Names?”

“I’m Chase Carter and this is my friend Mike Sale.”

“Alright now. You two are here to report someone missing? A theft?”

We had a coin toss to see who would go first. Mike won it, so he kicked off our story.

“Well detective, you see, we’re here to report about stalking.”

“Stalking, you say?” She sounded surprised, like that we were here to report something else entirely. Was it because we were boys? Because we were so young? Maybe she thought we were there to pull a prank on her.

“Yes ma’am, we believe some people are stalking us,” I piped in.

Mary shot back, “Okay, so just start from the beginning.”

Mike resumed. “We noticed this a few days ago. When I was on my way home from school one day, I noticed a car behind me. I believed it was just on the same path going a different direction somewhere, but I saw it whenever I stopped and when I could peek into my rearview.”

Her eyes darted back and forth between us and her notepad. Mike sounded really good, very convincing. Then I chimed back in.

“I noticed something too a day later. I spotted someone around my house and I can safely say I have never seen this person before in my life. He looked rather shifty, like he was casing my house or looking for something in particular.”

“And I did see that same car that followed me parked outside my house one night, parked a few spots down from my house on the curb. Like he looked at me directly when I took the trash out there,” Mike responded.

Mary kept on jotting down what we said. He stuck to what we rehearsed, not word-for-word, but we hit the key points we needed to make. We made sure to let on that there were two people that followed us, not just one singular person.

“Okay,” said Mary after we gave her our descriptions, “so a very thin man and, um, Ginger Claus as you say, are who you suspect is following you?”

“Well what we could see of them, we haven’t been able to catch a good look at them, that’s the best we got,” I replied.

“Right, okay. You two are sure you have no idea why anybody would be following the both of you?”

“I can’t see why,” said Mike. “We’re just two ordinary high school seniors trying to get through to graduation next summer.”

“We really aren’t sure why, ma’am,” I added.

“Stop calling me, ma’am, detective will do just fine.”

We both went quiet.

“Alright, I got all your information, here is my card for each of you, now I’m gonna have you meet with our sketch artist. Just tell him what these schmoes look like then you can be on your way. I’ll call if anything comes up. You guys just, I dunno worry about grades or whatever it is kids worry about today. Okay?”

We both nodded then stood up. We got pointed to where the sketch artist was and gave him the descriptions we agreed we would give. To his credit, the guy was a pretty damn good artist. After he drew them both we headed out and got into my car.

“So,” I said, “you think that went well?”

Mike responded, “Actually yeah I do. That was a lot more painless than I thought it would be.”

“All we gotta do is hope that they can find out who these guys are and they will be in our rearview soon.”

“Agreed.”

We high-fived again then I drove us out of there and towards our respective homes.

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 15

“Fuck,” was all I muttered as I made my way into the basement.

I couldn’t sleep upstairs, not after what me and Artie did. He was up there out like a light, but I was unable to get any continuous sleep. I dozed off here and there, but I couldn’t exactly get off to dreamland as it were.

The words we said, the yelling, and all that anger just bounced around in my head like it were an uneven load in the wash. I got up to get some aspirin and after I just stood there at the kitchen counter for a few minutes, I came down here.

When me and Artie got this place years ago, I didn’t plan on doing much with the basement outside of storing our boxes, holiday decorations, and a bunch of other shit down here. But when we first got a tour of the place, the space was far bigger than we imagined. So I got the idea then and there. Yeah, we do store all the stuff I said mentioned, but I carved out my own special little corner there. Artie helped too, we installed a whole wall of cork, got a couple dry erase boards and markers, and we even put in a couch. That was more for me to have a space to rest if I ever went hard at it down here. That itself was a good find as it had a bed built into it, so we have a guest room. Though we hardly ever have overnight guests to use it.

I looked around and I thought back when I last was actually in here. It was before…

“Hey, kid,” that familiar raspy voice said.

I turned my head towards the couch and there sat Petey. “So I’m imagining this, right?”

“Yeah, I’m still as dead as roadkill. But it is nice to see you again, detective.”

Now I’ve never been so loaded that I started to see things and I haven’t dabbled into anything hallucinatory since college. Perhaps it was stress, perhaps it was my lack of sleep. Maybe a little bit of both.

“So, there an afterlife?”

“Oh come on, I know you never believed in anything like that. I might not be up and at it anymore, but I know how to smell bullshit on you.”

I chuckled because I knew that is just what he would say to me. I strolled over and sat next to him on the couch. He still wore what I last saw him in, his fur collared denim jacket and flannel shirt and tattered jeans.

“How goes things?”

“You’re inside my dome, why don’t you tell me?”

“Not too good.”

“And got it in one.”

“You a tough one, you’ll do just fine.”

“I would find more believe and solace in that were you actually here. I mean I still kinda believe you, but… fuck I dunno.”

Petey’s ghost, spirit, whatever didn’t say anything as I slumped forward with my face in my hands.

Then I popped right up with a question I should have asked right away. “Say, who killed you?”

“Took you a bit to get to that huh?”

“Petey, you’re gonna make my life a hell of a lot easier if you just tell me who shot you.”

“I can’t really tell you that, I don’t know them. I never seen or met them in my life until it ended.”

“What the hell were you up to, Petey? I mean I just thought old age would get you, not a goddamn bullet.”

“I was just trying to do some good.”

“Some fucking good you did.”

I looked forward towards my corkboard wall. I have indeed not been down here since Petey was shot and before that happened I got put onto a case about counterfeit bills. Someone started to funnel in some funny money into Hartland and I had managed to get a solid start on it, I interviewed the storeowners that first came across said bills and worked with the banks here and in nearby counties to get word out. We so far have gotten $750 in fraudulent bills.

I saw Petey’s head turn that way too.

“You working that?”

“Was, well, still am I guess. I’m trying to find out who did you in. I worked that before you bit the dust.”

“What is it?”

“Someone’s using counterfeit bills here in town. I just cleared a couple cases when that came in so I picked up the slack.”

“Those two up there outstanding citizens?”

I knew who he referred to. I had only two suspects to report since the banks really wanted answers so I gave them Gary Newburn and Ralph Shipp.

Newburn is a career bank robber in the tristate area, but no one’s heard anything from him in years. Shipp is a low, but talented grifter and a juvie regular. I heard he either finally dropped out or he pulled one trick too many and HHS just cut all his remaining strings, no matter how it went he was no longer a participant in school activities of any kind.

“You could say that.”

“You like either of them for it?”

“I mean Newburn robs banks. What does he get out of unusable bills being in there? I just said his name to shut up one of the bank bosses who brought him up every five fucking seconds. Shipp, not his style. I doubt he has the skills or equipment to even do it. He’s about lifting everything not nailed down. Also being a little shit too.”

I sighed then sat back. I turned and really looked Petey in the eyes.

“I’m lost.”

“Some detective you are.”

“I don’t mean that, I mean I am really lost. You’re gone and I don’t have a compass anymore.”

“Kid, I believed in you the moment you stepped through our doors.”

“You’d say that for everyone.”

“Maybe, but ain’t none them know me like you do.”

“Pete, we all know so much about you, you were the most open book out of all of us. They know maybe a quarter of the stuff you really know about me, and that’s when I even feel like speaking up. Why was I so different? What made you think I was worth any trouble?”

“Because when I looked into your eyes when we first shook hands, I saw that hurt. The damage that was done to you. The only other soul I saw that bad was my own. I had to help you.”

“You’d be better off if you didn’t.”

“Now I ain’t hearing that. Even if we weren’t attached at the hip like we was, that don’t mean what happened to me would be avoided. Life just goes as it is.”

I put my head back, eyes on the ceiling as I replied. “Maybe. Maybe. I just really need you right now, more than I have ever needed anyone. I am so lonely, I just can’t do any of this alone and I will do everything I can so I can be good, not just for me, but for you.”

Petey didn’t say anything, but Artie did when I heard the stairs creak as he descended into the room. “Thank you, sweetie. I really appreciate that, it means a lot for you to say.”

I lifted my head up and turned to Artie. Petey wasn’t anywhere in my sight. Just Artie with my phone that he tossed to me. He said the alarm just woke him up. He offered to cook breakfast and I agreed.

As he went back up the stairs I got up and walked towards the corkboard wall where Newburn and Shipp’s photos were tacked on. I looked at them then chuckled.

“Smooth, Petey. Very fucking smooth.”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 14

We didn’t hit the big lottery jackpot. We knew that, but figured that hey, $82,000 was better than nothing. Hell, if you were to just give me a cool stack of $1,000 right on the spot I would be giddy as all hell, like it were Christmas.

But Mike’s words still rang in my ear.

Someone out there knew me and Mike took their money and began to wonder if a split cut of $41k was worth all this trouble and hassle. Though to be honest my mind was still perplexed a bit that some form of crime this organized existed in Hartland.

After school ended I just got into Greggo’s car and returned it right to him and profusely thanked him as much as I could for the loan. When I got to the parking lot I didn’t see Ginger Clause anywhere and wondered how long he hung around until he got wise that I wasn’t there. I got back into my own ride and went home only to be confronted by more numbers in the form of my algebra 1 homework.

God I hate this subject so much. I dunno when I plan to use any of this information in my later life, I still don’t know what I want as a career. That is if I live long enough to maybe find a career worth pursuing.

I worked on the algebra a little more before I headed out to see Mike and I knew he’d be at On the Head after school. I knew why Mr. Andrews named his hardware store that, but it would always just sound so corny.

My drive over there was the most cautious I had ever been on the road in my life. Any stop I made I looked over my shoulders and in every direction I could to see if Ginger Claus or Thin Man tailed me. They didn’t, but man the thought of that kept me on my toes. I guess any amount of fear will do that to you.

I walked in and told Marcy at the door I was looking for Mike. She told me he was stocking up some new hammers and I knew where to go.

I cleared my throat to let Mike know I was there. He turned around and put a couple more up then made his way over to me. Usually when I came by and if he had anything to do with hammers he’d swung them around and act as if he were Thor himself, but I assume Mr. Andrews put the kibosh on that since the last time I saw Mike fool around like that here.

“Yo, dude, what’s up?”

“Yeah, hey, there was something I wanted to bring up since our meeting in the school lot today.”

“Sure, what is it, bro?”

“When did you get a car? You don’t have a license remember? I mean what’s up?”

That was another thing that bugged my mind all day when I got the text from Mike to meet him at his car along with Thin Man. Clarity always comes after you’re in a pants-shitting situation.

“Hey, keep it down. My weed guy has his own fake ID/license guy so I asked for one and just borrowed one of my grandpa’s old rides he doesn’t use anymore. You seriously came all this way to ask that?”

“Well with everything that happened it kinda did blow by me to ask, but since when? You rode with me the night we found the money.”

“My guy’s guy was still working on the license when all that went down. I got it a couple days later, hit up my grandpa and boom.”

“And your folks didn’t notice?”

“They’re still too busy ripping each other’s throats out to pay attention.”

Those last words were said with sadness in them. His parents hit a rough patch a good while ago and it’s gotten so bad that you can’t seem to remember when the last time was they were pleasant towards each other. Part of me wants to ask Mike why they just don’t up and get a damn divorce, but that is the textbook definition of ‘not my business’. I have been there for him ever since that all started, whenever he needed to vent his frustrations. With the money recently and all it had slipped my mind to ask how things were.

If I had to guess, Mike would either buy some good noise-cancelling headphones to block out the shouting or he’d buy the first ticket outta here.

I just did my best and put my hand on his shoulder and patted him. The smile he gave back to me was all I needed to see that he was okay.

“Hey,” a voice shouted from the end of the aisle. It was Mr. Andrews and his thick black mustache there, clipboard in hand.

“Sorry,” Mike piped back.

“It’s fine, say I can actually handle those hammers. You go on break.” Mr. Andrews nodded at us. Even from that distance he saw that Mike needed a breather. Mr. Andrews always looked out for everyone, be they employees or just someone in town. He’s loved and respected everywhere in Hartland.

Me and Mike made our way to the back of the store and outside the employee smoking area and we could only talk about what had happened at school. Well now, I did still need to know how he suddenly procured wheels.

“So those guys are serious business. I mean they know where we go now.”

“Well school and our houses at least. Did you see anyone follow you here, Mike?”

“Nah, man, I didn’t notice anything strange.”

As I looked down at my feet that stood on top of loads of cigarette butts, I thought the answer, the solution would come to me. Instead I began to count the butts to see how many there were. I think I got somewhere up to 23 before I heard Mike pipe up.

“So we go to the police?”

“I mean, what else can we really do?”

We sighed and Mike walked on over to me.

“I trust you, bro, like with everything. If you think this is what is important, then yeah, we go to the police.”

“Again, we just need to be so straightforward about everything. Well, except the money. If we even give them a hint of why these guys are after us, we can say goodbye to all of it and we will get into some trouble ourselves.”

Mike and I then hugged each other in relieved confidence. That moment felt good, safe, and reassuring.

Mike broke the hug to ask, “So you know anyone on the force here?”

“No, but hey, can’t be too hard convince someone of our story right?”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 13

That was the first time I spoke at a meeting. I mean like really spoke.

Sure, I’ve talked to the group loads of times and had to do the obligatory introduction when I entered, but I honestly felt like for the first time ever I truly spoke at AA.

When I got my Asperger’s diagnosis at 16 my developmental woes growing up made sense to me. Weirdly after finding out I had it, it made me open up more. A little therapy, both speech and the regular kind, helped me become more outgoing, social, and interact with a hell of a lot more people. Suddenly I could say out loud what I was forming in my head somewhat coherently.

Though that didn’t mean I was suddenly up for any chance at public speaking. I still often didn’t wanna open up unless I really wanted to or someone really sparked my interest.

Someone like Artie, who I got randomly paired with for a speaking presentation in our French class during our first year of college.

I went right home after the meeting and woke up Artie, who had dozed off on the couch during the Razorbacks gott demolished by LSU with no chance of a second half comeback.

From there I went on to tell him about the rollercoaster ride of a day I had and as I told him about everything from my visit with Doobs to my breakdown, I paid attention to the reactions on his face rather than listen to how I was articulating what I said. First was dull interest followed by surprise then shock and it all wrapped up with… well I don’t know. It was a mixture of happiness, which his smile showed, but in his eyes I sensed resentment.

I know what is about to come so I stood up, locked our door, and pulled in the curtains.

“Out with it.”

Artie replied, “What?”

“I know what you’re feeling, just come on.”

“Babe, it is nothing, I’m just amazed by this wild day you had. I think Petey would be so proud of you.”

“Are you proud of me?”

“Of course I am.”

“But, are you really proud of me?”

He rubbed his eyes then sighed. Hands went right to his hips.

“You know I do this on a regular basis right, Artie?”

“So I’m some perp that needs to do right and tell you everything?”

“I would like my husband to really express what he’s feeling right now.”

“What I feel like is a ghost to you.”

“What do you mean you’re a ghost?”

“It’s like you’ve lost all interest in me without the booze around.”

Those words pierced me, hard. Like he just threw a dagger right into my heart. “That’s not true, Artie.”

“But it is, Mary. I know you can’t read every situation well, but come on.”

“You’re the one that pushed me into AA, in case you forgot. You said it was either you or the bottle. I think choosing you over a double of scotch at the end of the day says how much I love you.”

“It says how much you did love me.”

“So I was in love with you only because I was hammered?”

“No.”

“That’s exactly what it fucking sounds like.”

Artie often was a reserved kind of man. He would just kindly let things go by unless something came across his radar he really found unpleasant, say like bad referee calls or perfectly fine people parking in handicapped spots. Right now at that moment I wondered how long he’s really held this all in. Also wondered how long he could’ve kept it held up inside.

“I mean… ok.

“When you started going to AA, everything still felt the same and that was good. We still leaned on each other, told each other everything. We were still in love. But as time went on you seemed to more and more make work your new addiction. I know you’re dedicated to the job, but after a while you started bringing more case files home than you usually did and any available hours you had were spent in your little office in the basement. I would only see you when you asked me for a cup of coffee, at dinner, and when you came to bed. The few date nights we’ve gone out on, I practically had to beg you to on them.

“Petey became the most important person in your life, and honestly I could understand that given how much he helped you. You came alive whenever you’d call him or he’d call you. But more and more each day you would put me away on this… this island and you seemed to feel so much better talking to complete strangers than your own husband. It didn’t matter if they were part of a case you were working on, if it was Petey, or a room full of random drunks.

“Just as long as it wasn’t actually me.”

He then stopped and just looked at me. He looked disappointed. In that moment, I felt disappointed, but I also felt very angry.

“Fuck you, Artie.”

“When’s the last time you’ve wanted to do that?”

“Oh shut up! Goddamn it, I love you. I have loved you ever since that stupid assignment all those years ago. I mean you’re honestly the only man I’ve really been with, you quiet little shit!

“I was a drunk. No denying that, I have been ever since 17. That is how I coped with a lot of things, drinking. In fact, before you, drinking was how I honestly got along with people so well. Sure, therapy and training helped, but it was sweet, sweet alcohol that made it all possible. The day we got paired in class, my water bottle was filled with strawberry vodka. Admittedly for how good it tasted, but also it was so I can be able face anyone. But you fascinated me and I felt like I could tell you everything, which I did. At first I didn’t need the booze, but that was only with you. With everyone else, I needed a little bit of the sauce.

“I was blind to how much I was drinking since I made detective because, babe, there is some sick shit I see.”

“You could have just talked about it if you wanted to.”

“I have the goddamn floor right now. Yeah I could have, but I’ve just been so done with therapy and its sort since high school and I didn’t wanna tell you because you’re my world. My bright, shining world and telling you all about my work would just dim your light and I would be so lost. So yeah, I just drank my feelings away until you showed me what I was doing.

“But now that I’m not doing that anymore that upsets you? Realizing I kinda half-assed my job because I was drinking so much made me wanna be better at doing my job.”

“You just admitted it!”

“Admitted what?”

“That your work took over for you drinking.”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You more or less did!”

“Jesus, Artie, yes, fine. Is this what you wanna hear? I threw myself further into my job because if I took one more sip of bourbon ever, you’d leave me!”

“Thank you!”

“Fuck you, you manipulative asshole!”

“I’m the asshole?!”

“Fucking right you are! I have been nothing but my absolute self around you when I stopped drinking! I mean what the hell says I haven’t? So we haven’t fucked in a while, I think that tends to happen in marriages, sorry we’re not the sex machines we were back in college. Would giving you a blowjob right now help? Sucking your cock gonna make you happier, baby?

“Artie, goddamn it I am just trying to do my best to get by in life, which has felt a little harder since I’ve been sober. You didn’t know what that was like, but Petey did so I needed him a little more than I needed you,” and my voice broke with those last words. I didn’t breakdown like I did at the meeting, but tears were in my eyes at the moment.

After that we just stared at each other, both broken, exhausted, and really lost about where we were. But I also felt guilty because deep down I felt this overwhelming sense that Artie was right since personally, I had to prove myself as a good sober detective rather than a good drunk one.

But you know, there are a hell of a lot better ways to really bring that up and not be such a dick about it, so I still felt pretty justified in being royally pissed off at Artie.

“Artie, I am sorry if I’ve neglected you and never realized that. I am sorry for how I’ve made you feel, but you talk to me like that ever again and it might just be the last time you ever speak to me.”

I could feel the harshness of my words as they left my mouth.

A few seconds passed before Artie walked over and kissed my forehead then walked off to our bedroom. I followed him a little bit after, we got in our pjs, got into bed, and slept.

Everything has truly changed.

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 12

The mysterious man sat behind Mike was thin. Thin was all I could take away from him. He was skinny, which meant he had a thin frame for a body. His face was thin, like he had fasted for a good amount of time, and he had light facial hair, mainly above his lip which gave him a pencil-thin mustache. The only other noticeable thing about him was his black hair with frosted blonde tips atop of it. He looked like he stepped right out of the early 2000s.

He called me ‘young man’. He had a youthful appearance about him though, like maybe, I might say early 30s.

I think he’s gonna ask about the church.

“Do you happen to know about the Catholic church that burnt down a while ago here in town?”

And what do you know.

“I am aware that happened, yes.”

“Good, well see, I’m helping in the rebuilding of it and a large sum of money going towards the reconstruction has been taken. Stolen. Imagine, taking money from a church. I mean really.”

All I did was politely nod because I wasn’t too sure he had something on Mike. He angled himself pretty well.

“Now, I just wanted to ask you, since your friend said you might know something, have you happened upon any large sum of cash outside of the contents of your wallet lately?”

“Why do you ask sir? In this manner, particularly.”

I saw his eyes widen after I asked it, as if it just hit him that this was maybe not the best way at all to be asking these sort of questions.

“Well this is a pretty sensitive matter we think and well, we don’t wanna upset people anymore than they are. I mean they look to the church for hope, light, guidance, and solace. Hearing that some vile soul has taken the means to help rebuild their solace would just upset them more.”

“Wouldn’t it be more helpful to like have a town wide search for it? Say like offering up a reward for it?”

“This was not my decision. I’m merely a member of the congregation doing what has been asked of its members.”

Mike then piped up with, “As I told you kind sir, I have not noticed anything of the sort you have mentioned lately.”

The Thin Man then looked at me.

“Oh, same here, nothing really.”

Thin Man sighed and nodded at me before he exited the backseat door and closed it before he turned back to us.

“Well, I thank you boys for your help. May God, go with you wherever you travel.”

We waved and waited, and I mean waited until we though he was good and gone. It must have been two or three minutes but it felt like an eternity.

But then the silence was broken when door on Mike’s side opened and he leaned out and heaved up his breakfast.

It was not a pleasant sound.

He then closed his door and turned back to me.

“I was right, someone knows we took that money and they are looking for it. Please present your case as to why I might be wrong.”

“I was followed by Wayne, the ginger Santa this morning. I just got here by borrowing Greggo’s car after ditching Wayne in his parking lot.”

He just stared and blinked at me with his blank face.

“You are not wrong, Mike, someone knows we have taken the money.”

Then he let out a huge breathe and just turned and face back towards the wheel of his car. “We’re fucked.”

“Mike…”

“We’re fucked.”

“Mike, listen to me…”

“We… are… fucked.”

I grabbed him and made him face me so that I could say, “We will get out of this.

“All we have to do is go to the police and simply tell them there are two men following us around. We don’t know why and they make our lives feel threatened. Give them descriptions of these guys and they can take care of it. It might scare them off for a while or hopefully just make them go away.”

“What about the money, Chase?”

“The money never needs to come up. We just go to the police as I said and tell them we’re being stalked and who we suspect is doing it and they can take care of those problems for us. We will hold on to the money and graduate next summer with a slightly larger sum of money than our classmates.”

“Sure, but how exactly do we do this without raising the attention of our parents?”

“I think we’re old enough now to just report something to our police as concerned citizens.”

“You think that is a good solution?”

“What else can we do? The guy that visited me had a gun. Last I checked, we don’t have any fucking guns between us. Also, pretty sure despite the skeleton in the backseat from a few moments ago, they are surely gonna beat the shit out of us. Though I am sure ginger Santa will just be on his own there on orders from the skeleton.”

“Chase man, we are deeply, seriously, truly fucked.”

“No, no we are not. We are fine, everything is going to be fine. Hey, we found that money! If whoever had it even really cared about it they would have done a much better job at guarding it and not have it leave their sight!”

“Chase, is this much money worth it though? It’s not even millions, man. I mean $82k is probably like loose change to these sort of guys.”

I thought I could answer that, but when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. It honestly sounded like a question I should have asked myself a while ago when this all started.

I just could not think of a good answer to give to Mike, good or bullshit.

“I don’t know. I… I guess…”

BRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!

And there went the bell to start the day. Once that sound rang out me and Mike bolted from the car and just hurried as fast as we could along with the other stragglers of the parking lot to get to our first classes.

But as the day went along, from class to class all I could think about was Mike’s question. I couldn’t be bothered to remember what Hamlet was all about that day.

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 11

The police station at Foreman wasn’t a bad setup. Pretty nice actually, but Hartland has it beat by a country mile.

I brought Doobs in not long after our little interview at his apartment and he got carted off to an interview room while I talked to Albert Kyle, a local officer here that was more than helpful when I showed him who I brought in.

We talked in the room next to where Doobs was being kept.

“So,” he said in his soft, well-spoken voice, “Dewey here wasn’t so clean.”

“Hell of an act though. Had it not been for that kid’s bad timing, I would have just gone back to Hartland and not given this a second thought.”

“What were you doing over here anyway?”

“I was questioning him about a murder back in my town. A former friend and associate of his.”

“Another dealer?”

“No, this one had gotten on the straight and narrow.”

“Then why suspect him?”

“They were best friends for the longest time. Maybe my victim was still trying to get him to see the light.”

Albert made his way over to me with Doobs’ file. I told him I had already seen it. Albert was a rather skinny guy, but looked like he could hold his own when the moment came up. He carried himself with confidence, which in this line of work you have to, rank be damned. He had this scar on his left cheek, which he said was from his first day on the job when he dealt with a domestic call and the husband went wild with the knife he brandished. It was curved like the letter C. Part of me wondered if he ever used that to pick up anyone.

“You like him for it?”

“I dunno, he was at work the night my victim was shot, but he might be connected somehow. Mind if I further talk to him?”

“Well, I can give you a few minutes, but that’s about it. Just be gentle.”

“I can try.”

I made my way next door and there sat Doobs with his hands cuffed to the table and with a look of confidence of his own across his face. Cocky really is how I’d describe it.

“Hey buddy, so you’re now in a whole lot of trouble.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You’ve violated your parole in more ways than one and have been distributing again. I don’t think the Piggy Wiggly is gonna give you a warning about this. Your days of stocking pasta and ice cream are over.”

“Well, we’ll just see about that.”

“What’s up Doobs? Why aren’t you scared?”

“Doobs? Only my friends call me that. Not no cop bitch.”

“My apologies, Dewey. You’re looking at the rest of your life in prison. Someone your age should be scared. You’re only gonna see daylight when they let you out into the yard.”

“I got friends.”

“You’ve been able to maintain an attorney all these years?”

“Someone like me in my profession, you gotta be smart about money.”

“Fine, whatever, make bail, fight this all you want, but Peter.”

“What about him?”

“Was he the one your dealers said tried to talk out of dealing?”

“I told you I don’t know who the hell that was that did that up in Hartland. I barely left this damn town since I got out. I got people in surrounding towns I know to handle that.”

“Who do you got in Hartland?”

“Well, I don’t seem to remember. I had an awful fall in my apartment as you know…”

“Cut the bullshit, tell me who your contact in Hartland is!”

Then the door opened and in stepped a woman in a suit and a briefcase in her hands. Didn’t take much to know who she was and so I made my way back to the next room over with Albert.

“Too bad about that.”

“How did she get here so fast? I mean he hasn’t made his phone call has he?”

“He did actually, when we took him back here and you were still upfront he wouldn’t shut up about his call and made a phone ringing noise so we just let him make his call to stop him from further making a ruckus.”

“Any idea who she is?”

“None, but we can fill you in if you like.”

“Please do, I’m still certain he’s connected to what happened to my victim somehow.”

“Well, enjoy your visit to Foreman?”

“Could have been better. I need to go, I got somewhere to be.”

“Another case?”

“No, just somewhere I need to be.”

He nodded and I made my way to the car and drove off.

I entered Hartland an hour later, it had started to get dark. Which meant it was nearly time.

I entered the meeting and I immediately felt the somber tone that filled the room. Petey’s chair was left untouched with a framed picture of him sat in it. Many people used their chance to talk to remember Petey. What a kind, good spirit he was, how he helped them, how he was a beacon of hope for those new to AA, and welcomed them like they were family. Some were too choked up to talk, but you could see what Petey meant to them.

Then I was the last to speak. As if they all expected me to have this big speech ready. It was known that Petey was my sponsor so I could understand the expectation there.

I didn’t have any words ready, but I figured saying something was better than nothing. Better than the stares I got at the moment, just to get all those eyes off of me.

“Hi, my name is Mary and I’m an alcoholic.

“Petey was my rock. Not my sponsor, my rock. He helped me really see and understand my problem when I just didn’t want to. Petey forced me to actually look at myself and I didn’t like what I saw, but he didn’t care. If Petey ever saw a tarnished piece of silver he’d just wanna polish it so it can shine brightly again.

“Petey made everyone, no matter how hopeless feel welcomed and that’s what programs and people like us need. A big smile and someone to go, ‘Hey, it’ll be alright. Trust me.’ And you could trust him. I mean I trusted him honestly with my life, with my mind, with… with… everything.”

Everyone just looked on at me and that didn’t help how I felt inside.

Broken. Lost. Scared.

My heart raced and I knew deep down I could feel the tears waiting to burst out like a dam.

“He made me a better person really. Petey made you feel like you mattered, that you weren’t a mess. He was just ever positive and I never really got used to that. I just never seen someone care about others the way he did. Maybe I never will again.

“My name is Mary Parker and my last drink was a glass of Johnnie Walker Black on September 23 last year.”

I couldn’t hold back anymore. I cried and the tears broke my speech.

“I’m… oh god… no. I wanna drink right now. Please God, just let me have one drink so I can forget this.

“I want my best friend back!”

This was the most vulnerable I have ever been in any public setting in a long time. A private meeting of AA isn’t exactly too public I know, but the last time I let myself be seen emotionally around this many people was my wedding years ago.

Those around me came to my side right away. Patted me on the back, rubbed my shoulders, wiped my tears. It just became a huge group hug. I never wanted much focus nor attention on me at these meetings. I just wanted to get weekly help and go on with my life as is.

This meeting fully proved to me that nothing was ever going to be the same again.

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 10

Did I steal church money? Does that make me the biggest asshole possible in the world right now if I stole church money? Wait, what church money handling would be done in the manner that Mike and me saw?

“The Catholic one?”

“Yes,” he gleefully replied. “See, we had a sizable collection of money put together to start the repairs, and I’m awfully afraid some scoundrel or two has made off with our earning.”

For a Catholic he sure sounded an awful lot like a southern Baptist type.

“I wouldn’t know anything about that, sir, I don’t really go to church and such.”

“Well that’s just okay, son, the lord still loves all his children.”

“Uh huh.”

“Look, if you happen to just hear something about a stack of money, please do contact me. This is my personal card.”

He opened up his jacket to get a card out and for a brief second I got a glimpse of a gun in a shoulder holster on his left arm. I didn’t imagine this, he had a gun. I’ve been around plenty to know what one is and right now it made me nervous some church man with a gun asked me about the money.

Once he handed me his card he smiled and got back into his car and drove off.

Fuck!

I ran right inside and rang up Mike again.

“Yo, Chase, it is all good man, don’t be paranoid, but then again, who am I to talk, right?’’

“Dude, a guy with a gun just asked me about the money?”

“Fucking what?!”

“He said he was from the church and that the money had gone missing. When he opened up his jacket to hand me his card, I saw him wearing a shoulder holster. Dude had a piece on him.”

“What kind of money handling goes on for a church like that?”

“That’s what I thought too man!”

“Dude, was I right?”

“I think you might be right, Mike.”

Holy shit, Mike is right.

“Holy shit, I am right! Yes! Wait, what do we do now?”

I didn’t know how to respond. I was just beyond stunned. Someone was either after us personally or maybe we were just caught up in their own pool of suspects. No way anyone who was there that night saw us. I was sure of it.

“We keep the money where it is right now.”

“So who was it that visited you?”

“Name on the card says Wayne Sandler. You ever heard of him?”

“Never in my life, bro. Total blank.”

“We can just ask around right?”

“I think that would raise more questions. Don’t you think?”

Mike had a point. After all I didn’t have much experience with dirty money.

“Maybe Dude, let’s just go about our days and if either of us think of anything, we’ll let the other know.”

“Okay, dude. Catch you later.”

So after our conversation I did the chores mom and dad had set for me, did my homework, and took a shower. I was convinced I smelled like the dead animal we had to dissect in science class today and that was seriously messing with my nose.

Not gonna lie, the money was on my mind for the rest of the day. Still convinced it was best to leave it put up in the lockers at school. But now I thought even more about what to do with it. I mean $41,000 isn’t like a gold mine or anything big but man that could do a lot of things for someone like me.

A good chunk of change towards college. A new car. All the video games I can carry out of the store. So much beer for a raging party. Maybe buy out a restaurant for a date with Sally West and tell her how I really feel about her. Yeah, that can all be doable with just $41k.

A kid can dream.

I got up the next morning and started my drive over to school. At a stop sign I stopped the same jeep that Wayne, if that is his real name, drove behind me. I even saw his unmistakable beard in the rearview. So was this just coincidence or was there something more going on?

The left turn at the stop sign would take me right on the path to school. So instead I went to the right and saw that the jeep followed me on the right turn. I had to calm myself a little. I continued to drive around a little bit, aimless really until I thought about what I had to do next.

Wayne kept on my tail as if he were attached to me, so I pulled into the parking lot of Greggo’s and he parked a couple spaces over from me. The place wasn’t opened yet, it usually wasn’t until 9AM and the only person there was Greggo Millar himself as he got things ready for another day. A look at my watch showed I had about 15 minutes until the bell rang for classes.

I waited a couple of more minutes before I got up and knocked right on Greggo’s door. We had a pretty good relationship so he’d let me stay around a little some nights in the summer after he would close and he’s always been helpful within the community.

He came right up to the door and let me right in.

“Ah, my boy Chase, not going too fast today I hope.” Greggo always had a positive attitude about him. Also an unforgettable Italian accent.

“Yeah, say Greggo, I was taking the more scenic route to school and I heard something funny in my engine. I parked it over in one of the spots in your lot. I don’t wanna risk taking it all the way to school and have it crap out there. Mind I leave it here and I can take your ride? I’ll bring it back once school lets out.”

“Of course you crazy kid. Look, just be very careful with it okay, it is brand new. Well to me, bought it used as an early Christmas gift for myself.”

“Parked out back?”

“Yes, now go, go, get educated, become smart.”

“Thanks, I owe you!”

Greggo patted me on the back and I made my way through his burger joint and got to his car. I got in and snuck my way back on the road towards school. I still saw Wayne parked two spots over from me.

I wondered how long it would take him to notice I was gone.

I made my getaway, which was a weird thing to think to myself, and got to school with just a few minutes to spare until the bell rang.

Then I got a text from Mike that said to come to his car. I walked across the parking lot towards his car and saw he was still in there so I got into the passenger side.

“Dude, what are you still doing out here, we’re gonna be late for Spanish. Mrs. Hernandez is very particular about time.”

Mike didn’t say a word, but he didn’t need to as the man that sat behind him made himself noticed.

“Hello, young man. I’d like to speak to you and your friend about something of mine that has gone missing.”

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 9

Foreman was but an hour and some change drive away from Hartland, however this time it seemed to go a little longer. As if I had made the trek from town to town on foot, but I sure as hell felt the cranked up heat in my car on the way up.

Information I found on Doobs showed that he worked at the local Piggly Wiggly, but when I went by there as I got into town I found out it was one of his days off. So I went by his listed address at Fairview Apartments and talked to the landlord, a nice old lady, but I’m sure goes full bitch with the rent. Told me he was up in 3C.

I waited outside the door for a couple of minutes. I hate to admit it, but I was still working out how to approach my questioning. I have done this over a hundred times with countless people, but this was a little more personal than anyone else I talked to. Right now would be a good time for Petey to talk me out of a drink so I can have extra courage.

I thought that was enough and knocked on the door. A few seconds passed before I heard some footsteps shuffle towards the other side of the door. When it opened I saw Doobs in the flesh with his full grey beard, thinning grey hair, and glasses. He was a couple of years older than Petey, but if I didn’t know that I would swear they were born around the same time.

Then he spoke. “May I help you,” he asked in his own gravelly voice.

“I’m detective Mary Parker,” after I cleared my throat. “I have a few questions to ask you if you have the time, sir.”

“What’s this about? Because I check in with my damn P.O. every time I have to and I am following every goddamn rule given to me.”

“I’m here about Peter Brubaker, sir.”

“Petey?”

“If I may come in, sir?”

He stepped aside and I entered his apartment, which was a decent size, but seemed bare bones actually. There were a few pictures hung up, but really the main decorations was the TV and coffee table in the living room and pretty much everything in the kitchen. Sure someone lived here but it didn’t seem much like he made a home here.

I made my way into the living room and stood by the window as Doobs shut the door behind him and came to sit down on the couch. I simply kept standing.

“Now what’s this business about Petey?”

“I hate to tell you, but he’s dead. Shot twice in the chest.”

“My god.”

“Where were you on the night of November 15? Say around 10PM?”

“I was working one of the registers at work. If you don’t believe me, they have cameras all over the place.”

“I’ll look into that. From what I asked around, you two were close buds.”

“Who told you? Marsha?”

“I’m not at liberty to tell you, sir.”

“I bet it was Marsha.”

“Again, I can’t divulge that to you. So you knew the victim?”

“Well since I’m in your little system you know my little track record don’t you? Yeah, I knew Petey. He was maybe my best friend. See my momma drank my daddy away and was never sober enough to really raise me so I just got by fine on my own. Ran with a bad crowd, sold and used, drank, and then I was assigned Petey as a partner on some school project. Well we gotten to know each other and I did very little to stop him from getting into the circle of hooligans I ran with. I didn’t care, but Petey, he was somewhat of a kindred spirit to me. I’d always sell with him, hangout at school together, we became like brothers. We laughed together, got arrested together.”

“So what happened?”

“I got sent away. Gun possession, and yeah it was mine, but I wasn’t gonna go down easy. Petey though, well he had his own live outside of me. After a while he kinda just stopped coming to visit and then I heard from one of my crew that Petey wasn’t slinging no more. He cleaned himself up and was trying to persuade everyone else to get clean.”

“I guess you didn’t care for that.”

“I didn’t give a damn, I was about protecting myself and surviving.”

“You see Petey since you got out?”

“Once. I invited him to come grab a bite and well he tried to give me the sales pitch. Get clean, find Jesus, walk them 12 steps, but I wasn’t doing that. Ain’t no one ever gave me a helping hand. But he was persistent, but I just told him to stop. We said bye in the parking lot. That was many years ago. I think about eight or so. I ain’t seen or heard from him since.”

I wrote down everything Doobs said. I didn’t think he’d be involved. He’d apparently been a model citizen since he got sprang. I thought that too.

That was until some kid came in through the door holding a duffle bag by his side, dressed in the thickest parka I’d seen in some time.

“Doobs, yo, I got that collection from over at 5th…”

He stopped talking when I looked up and me and him locked eyes.

“Oh shit!” That’s all he yelled before he dropped the bag and ran out.

Then out of nowhere, Doobs lunged and knocked me down. Spry for someone his age. He ran towards the bag, but up on my knees I pulled out my gun. “Stop!”

He froze right away. His hands up in the air immediately after he dropped the bag back to the ground.

I got up and went right behind him and put his arms behind him, then dragged him back over and sat him on the couch, gun still pointed at him.

“So, what’s on 5th? Good barbeque?”

“Goddamn kid!”

“Still in it huh? Kids do the heavy lifting for you?”

“Yeah and they collect too. I run this damn town, you bitch! All I do is smile and do my little dance for the system and those dummies think I’m as clean as a whistle.”

“Were clean. So before I have to haul your ass down to the station here and make you their problem, how far does your little business go?”

“Mainly here, but there are some sellers in nearby towns.”

“What about Hartland?”

“Yeah there too, detective lady.”

“Did Petey know?”

Nothing.

I cocked my gun.

“Did Petey know?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“Hey, again I ain’t spoken to him in many years.”

“So what’s with maybe?”

“A while ago a couple of my boys told me some old man caught them slinging out there. He didn’t turn them in or nothing, just bought them a meal and tried to talk them into walking away from it. Set them on the right path and all that. I knew that had to be Petey because I know no one else up there. I told them to ignore that fucker and just be more discreet or find new locations. Petey was far from a concern for me.”

That honestly sounded like Petey. He was always one to give a helping hand.

All of this has convinced me a little bit more that Doobs somehow played a part in what happened to Petey.

This has to be connected.

Featured

Cold Comfort: Chapter 8

“What do you mean by a problem? You got your half on you right?”

Mike just turned his head both ways like he was about to cross the street and opened his backpack to show off his part of the money that was atop all his books and binders.

“You idiot, why is it in there like that?”

“Dude, I got the money here, what’s the big deal?”

Then I suddenly remembered why Mike wanted to talk in the first place. “Hey, you said we have a problem, what do you mean?”

“I think someone knows, about the money.”

“How is that remotely possible?”

Mike looked very nervous, like really nervous. I’d seen him get nervous before, but this seemed completely different. He appeared to be shaken.

All I could ask was, “You okay?”

“I think I might have been followed.”

“Followed? Where? By who?”

“I think I was when I left your place yesterday. I noticed a black car behind me for a few blocks, then later that night when I took the garbage out to the trashcan, I swear I saw the same car parked down the street looking right at me.”

“Was it dark?”

“Yeah, but it was right under a street light when I saw it later on. I could see it as clearly as I did earlier.”

I really couldn’t buy into any of this. I just thought it might have been his weed talking, but Mike never lights up before school or when he knows he’s coming over to my place.

“Did you smoke some when you got home? That stuff can make you paranoid and I know you have to be with your folks always checking on you.”

“No dude, I saw it plain as day. I didn’t light up at all yesterday.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, why would I lie about this shit?”

I honestly trust Mike with my life. He never has lied to me and never had any reason to.

Right then the bell rang for classes to begin. First period Spanish, our only class together.

“Mike, look, when my lunch period hits, I’ll come in to use the bathroom. I think maybe about ten minutes in. You ask for a hall pass to go use the bathroom and meet me there.”

“Then what?”

“I dunno, I’ll think of something, I got a while to do so. Right now, let’s just go learn some Spanish.”

The class went by well and we just went along with the program. A couple of hours later was the first lunch period, which I had. They served up hamburgers that day. I really didn’t eat in the cafeteria because, well why the hell would I? I mostly just hung out with a few other friends in the common area outside and got something out the vending machines.

I looked down at my watch, it was about ten minutes past and I made my way into the school and headed towards the boys room and luckily no one was in there. Then in came Rory Irons with Mike right behind him. I stood around the urinal in case and mimed that I was taking a piss.

Rory passed behind me and I nodded to him as he went into the stall next to the urinal. I flushed and went right over to Mike and whispered as best as I possibly could. “Hey did you see anybody driving that car you said followed you?”

Mike responded in his own hushed tone, “Nah man, I couldn’t really see anybody and when I glanced in my rearview leaving your place the visor was down, didn’t see who it was.”

Before I could say anything back to him, I was cut off by the loud grunts and groans of Rory that came from the stall. We looked over and saw his pants around his ankles as he dropped one out. My mind was then focused on the lack of shyness Rory seemed to have about his bowels in public.

Thankfully Mike shook me back into perspective.

“Dude, hey.”

“Sorry, just, damn. Look, if you think someone is following you, I believe you, but we have got to slow our roll first. Did you see anything suspicious when you left your house today?”

“I didn’t look, I was so spooked I just wanted to get here so I could feel safe.”

“Alright, so…”

“AGH! Come on, push it out, push it out,” yelled Rory from the stall. His volume increased from before and now filled up the facilities with an utterly foul stench, so foul when I breathed it in through my nose it made my gag reflex act up.

“So… so… oh god, I’m gonna die, this is how it happens? Shit?”

Mike then grabbed me and guided us out of the bathroom, just near the door and there we stood in the hallway. I was never more thankful to be in that hallway.

“Thanks man, okay, look, we just go home to our own houses today. Then call each other on our phones and let each other know if we spotted something unusual on our drives.”

“Yeah that sounds like a good idea.”

“Cool, alright I gotta head back out, stay safe man.”

Mike nodded and made his way back to his class as Rory made his exit from the bathroom and stretched out his arms. He had a huge smile across his face and just turned to me.

“Dude, can you believe Mr. Taylor’s science test? What a ballbuster.”

I just looked at him, still in disbelief of his utter lack of restrain.

“Rory, shut up.”

Back to lunch I went.

School ended around late 2PM and I went right for my locker to get all the books and such I needed. I caught a good glimpse of the plastic bag and for a second thought of putting back in my backpack, but it quickly passed.

When I reached the parking lot I didn’t see Mike’s car so he was already on his way home and soon so I was too.

I made sure to catch glimpses in my rearview whenever possible without getting in any accidents. Dad would straight up murder me for wrecking the car as it was my birthday gift over the summer. I spotted a few cars behind me, but nothing that stuck out of the ordinary and some of them made turns to go elsewhere.

I made it home and parked in front of the garage and rang up Mike and told him I saw nothing strange on my drive. He said he didn’t see anything either. He took a couple of deep breaths.

“Hey Mike, let’s just calm down. No one knows we were there, no one knows we took the bag, it is all good man. We’re so in the clear.”

“You sure about that?”

“Positive. Look I gotta get a good start on my assignments, I’ll catch you later okay? Cool.”

I hung up and got out my car when I then noticed a big, bald man that stood behind my car. He had the biggest, bushiest red beard I could ever have imagined. I never seen anyone like this in my life.

“Um, hi. Can I help you?”

“I hope you can, young man,” he said in his deep, booming voice. “See you may have heard that our church here in town burned down and well, someone stole money from us to help rebuild it. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that would you?”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 7

Petey’s service was a few days after I had notified his sister, Marsha. She was there with her two sons and a few of the regulars from our meetings attended. I was there too, but I mostly stood off in the back away from everyone. That was a little shitty of me, but Marsha was the only one there who knew of my job and I still wanted that to be kept a secret from my fellow group members.

Being that close to the casket though was also gonna mess with my head badly because I was still working the case as well. I already struggled with my morals about being the one to do this. No one on the force knew my personal connection to Petey, but Artie had brought up that it was maybe best that someone else investigate his death. I considered it for a fleeting moment, but I told Artie that I had to do it. If it were anyone else I was going to get myself involved in the case one way or another, which in turn was gonna raise some eyebrows in the department. I owed it to Petey. I asked him to help me when I really wanted nobody else to help me. He seemed to know what my pain was exactly, what was truly hurting me. He never asked me for anything in return but to show up every week to keep on the sobriety path. He made me better.

After they lowered him into the ground and everyone had dispersed I walked up to Marsha as she put her boys in the back of her car.

“Mrs. Hickman, Marsha,” I called out to her. She slammed the door and turn around to meet me. “I’m sorry again for your loss.”

She gripped the scarf around her neck and tied it closer to her. We were all pretty bundled up, it was deadly cold like it had reached into the negatives that particular day. I’m surprised there were able to even dig a hole in this weather.

“Thank you,” she said back to me. “I am surprised to see you here though. Shouldn’t you be finding out who exactly did this?”

“I’m in the middle of the investigation, yes, I just… I wanted to see how you were doing. Actually glad to see it wasn’t just you here.”

“Those were friends Peter had made here. He always had a way with him.”

I silently nodded in agreement.

“He was sober.”

I started to make my exit, but those words stopped me and had me turn back around and lock eyes with her. “Excuse me?”

“Peter. He had a bit of a bad past, drugs and drinking, lots of drinking.”

What she said was nothing new to me, but she didn’t know that, so I played dumb with her and act surprised. “Why tell me this?”

“Because before he had gotten clean, Peter ran with some bad people.”

“Mrs. Hickman, are you implying that someone in your brother’s past could have killed him?”

“Maybe, he told me he stayed in contact with a few of his old friends, tried to help them out like he had been helped.”

“Can you think of a motive? Any reason why this would happen?”

“Maybe he tried a little too hard with a lost soul.”

“That’s really not telling me anything, Mrs. Hickman.”

“Marsha, please.”

“Marsha. Okay, Marsha, then could you maybe give me some names of people Peter knew? I can round them up and ask some questions about the night your brother was killed.”

“I never really paid much attention to his friends except one. Dewey Johnson, though he mainly went by the name Doobs.”

Doobs. The name Petey himself mentioned to me a few times. Doobs. The same name that popped into my head just the other day. Now I have more to go on.

“You’re sure you can’t recall anyone else your brother knew? This would be most helpful for both of us.”

“There were many faces that came and went with my brother, but Dewey was always there by his side. For better and for worse. You can find him somewhere in your system I am sure.”

“Marsha…”

“If you’ll excuse me, detective, it is awfully cold and I have my children in the back who would sure love to be somewhere warm.”

“Of course, you have my card and I have your number. I’ll, uh, be in touch if anything develops.”

“I appreciate that, detective. You have a good day now.”

We nodded to each other before she entered her car and left the cemetery.

I headed home after and changed out. I could have gone onto the station wearing what I had on, but wearing funeral clothes all day wasn’t gonna sit well with me personally. Once I got into the station I headed right to my desk and booted up the system to find Doobs. I wasn’t surprised by the drug possession charges, I figured from what Petey told me, but also attached on his sheet were more than a few parking tickets, most of them paid off, and a charge for possession of an illegal firearm that sent him away for a while. He got out on good behavior, but always seemed to be in police crosshairs as he was a person of interest in a few murders and some disappearances. Nothing really solid it would appear.

Lucky for me he wasn’t too far away, he was just a town over in Foreman and listed at an apartment complex. Figure I can make the visit tomorrow so I can get my questions straight.

Part of me hoped it was Doobs just to simply put this to bed, but my gut told me there was more to it than that. The Petey I knew was a good soul, joyful, and made everyone smile. He shared enough about his past for me to know he did some bad things, but nothing I imagine that would come back to possibly kill him.

But then again, my job requires me to sift through lies and find the truth. No matter how much it’s going to hurt.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 6

There I stood across from my mom in our kitchen and part of me wished I was tense because she caught me partaking in underage drinking or having unprotected sex before marriage. But instead of a half-naked girl in my bedroom, it was my best friend and $82,000 in cash that we found after witnessing a murder.

I begged in my head that I was caught drinking.

“How was school?”

Her question snapped me back into the moment and I did my best quick response. “It was fine, just you know, another normal day. Nothing special about it at all.”

I was so unaware how I sounded because all I could hear was how hard my heart pounded. I probably sounded suspicious somehow, I’m just not sure in which way given the look of confusion that came across her face with my response.

“So I’m cooking dinner tonight, what do you want?”

“Huh?” I shot back in genuine confusion.

“Dinner,” mom said, “I’m cooking tonight, what do you want, chicken or meatloaf?”

Before I could even get out an answer a thud came from my bedroom. Couldn’t be ignored, we didn’t have any pets, I’m an only child, and playing dumb at that moment was not gonna be my best move.

Right away my mom’s head shot up and asked what that was. She took a couple of steps forward and I kept pace with her to try and get my hand on the doorknob before she could. I could feel the sweat develop on my brow and could only imagine how loud her reaction to the money would be.

Then Mike piped up.

“Oh, hey Mrs. Carter! It’s me, Mike, I was just sitting down and leaned back too far in my chair!”

I had never been happier in my life to hear Mike.

Mom greeted Mike then focused back on me. “Well, chicken or meatloaf?”

“Oh, uh chicken, just however you wanna make it.”

“Okay, just let me know if Mike is gonna stay over. You can go now.”

I nodded and darted right back into my room. Once I closed the door behind me I saw Mike wasn’t lying, he was in my chair and just leaned back too far. I thought he just tripped over his own shoes or some shit.

“You, dick,” I said immediately. I was so not prepared for whatever would have happened if my mom discovered everything.

“I am so sorry, I am way, way sorry, dude.”

I went right towards the money and shoved it all back into the bag. “We have to do something.”

“But what?”

“We need to put this in a safe place, I mean we just can’t put this in a bank, our parents would get some kind of notification or something about it right? They still oversee our accounts and shit.”

“You know how shifty my folks are, it’s not going to be safe in my basement at all.”

My heart started beating faster and faster, like it was about to burst out of my chest right then and there. I was going in and out of focus, unable to find solid ground of which to have an answer about the money until it hit me. I looked right over at my backpack and I knew the solution.

“School.”

Once the words left my mouth, Mike stopped and looked at me with surprise.

“Look,” I continued, “we both have our own lockers, we only have the combinations to them. Yeah.”

“What?”

“No, look, we split the money up and we stash it in our locker until the end of the school year and after graduation, we can put it all back together and figure something out then.”

“So, hey, one questions, what about breaks?”

“Huh?”

“Genius, we got winter break coming up.”

“Right, damn it. Then…then… we just bring it home with us and put it back in our lockers when we go back to class. Maybe.”

“Again, I have parents that aren’t exactly trusting of me at the moment.”

“You got a better idea? Because I really have no better place to stash this shit, man. It is so simple. We’re gonna be the only ones with access to it. Look as long as we’re model students and all that and don’t cause a stink between now and graduation, then I say our lockers are the best bet.”

“What about the hardware store?”

“No offense, Mike, but if you were working full time there, I might feel a little more secure in it being there.”

“Fuck you, I know that place well, hell better than Mr. Andrews does and he owns that bitch.”

Lockers. It was all I could think. It is safer than anything.

“Mike, come on man. You know this is right. Look, we stash half in our own lockers and keep them there until our last day of school.”

“What about the administration?”

“They can’t open our lockers unless we give them a reason to.”

I saw concern on his face, doubt this could work, but I think he knew deep down that there was no better option for us.

Mike nodded his head.

“Alright, dude, thank you. Look, we got this.”

“Okay,” said Mike. “So what’s half of 82?”

I just stared back at him with a blank look on my face. “Seriously?”

He just gave me a similar look back.

“It’s 41. How the fuck did you not know that? That’s some simple kind of fucking math.”

“Well, let’s just say math isn’t exactly my strongest suit.”

I opened the bag and counted up both stacks. We put them in our backpacks and thought the worst was behind us.

Mike went on home and I had a regular, boring dinner with my parents that night.

I slept a little more soundly that night, but my mind would often wander to my backpack. What if Mike was right about the lockers? What if that wasn’t going to be good enough? I didn’t think too much about it since even when I still thought about where to possibly stash it, it all just goes nowhere because of one reason or another.

Next day I got to school and before the bell rang, I made sure to get right to my locker. I had put the money in a plastic bag and stuffed it far into the back of my locker as I possibly could then slammed it shut and put my lock back on it. I felt relieved.

Mike then came up behind me.

“I think we have a problem, bro.”

So much for relief.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 5

I stood outside the AA building after I left the house that morning. It was an old house in town that someone bought back in the 80s and turned into a support group building. Dude did permits, business loans, the whole nine yards. I always knew it was there, but I had just drove by it so many times in town. When I stepped inside last year it was like I had discovered a whole new world.

I had seen people I didn’t know but I did see a few people I recognized. Joan Muller who runs the flower shop had been there for two years. Dave Way was there for about a couple of weeks when I stepped in. Paul Sandler, Bruce Nutter, Natalie Berk, all people in town I knew, but I guess really didn’t know. I interacted with them before but it’s not like we were invited to each other’s barbecues every July 4th.

I just looked at that building intently and wondered what the scene would be next week at the meeting. Petey was there ever since my first night and when he spoke that night he was magnetic. I was just gravitated towards him and a month later I asked him to sponsor me since I knew I was gonna need some help in this.

After that moment of contemplation I headed down to the station. Grabbed a bear claw out the breakroom when an officer dropped off a folder at my desk. It was the pictures taken from the scene.

Pure luck I got this case, thank goodness for the anonymous part of the group. It was tough to still see Petey like that in the photos, but I had to be a big girl now and do the job. Find out who and why this happened. So there I looked at Petey dead on the ground and there were footprints all over. I guessed maybe three people were there, perhaps four maybe five, some of them ran together and overlapped.

The ground was nothing but dirt and some grass, but mostly dirt. Some of the foundation the church was built on was still there, but it looked mostly untouched, whatever went down happened a few feet away from that. I looked over the photos over and over. Typical of anything when I was about to give up, I noticed something. It was a print left in the dirt, not from a foot, but from an object. I looked very closely and I think it was a rectangular object, I could make out a short line that looked incomplete but a longer line connected to it at the end.

I grabbed my magnifying glass and circled in on that and saw it a lot clearer. There was something there that night, but I can’t be certain what. I knew a closer look was going to be needed.

I drove up to the scene to give it a once over. The yellow tape is still mostly up, some has dropped to the ground. I didn’t waste time looking upon the wreckage of the church, I’ve done that enough, but head right for where it happened. I scan my eyes over it all until I see that imprint I’m after. I walk up towards it and stop just short of stepping on it. There is another short line with a longer connected line. Something definitely was there, but it had to be lightweight enough that whoever quickly grabbed it could get out. The dimensions stood out to me and I started to think it was maybe a duffel bag. What could Petey have been doing here that required a duffel bag be present.

Suddenly I thought back to some stories Petey used to tell. He didn’t just have a drinking problem, but dabbled in drugs too, even sold a little. I’m reminded of a parking lot talk we had last year, I think in August, it wasn’t too long after I had started the program when he shared some stories of his dope selling days. Yeah, he sold weed and gave that up sometime after his drinking. He used to run with a guy named Doobs, nickname obviously, but that’s all I can seem to remember.

Doobs.

Who are you Doobs? How tight were you and Petey? You still out there slinging? You sell to kids? I got a million questions.

Back at the station I headed into the captain’s office. Mark Bunn had been in that position since 1995 and still hasn’t planned on retiring anytime soon. “So you picked up the body found in the church?” His gruff, rugged voice was unmistakable, like an old west sheriff. He relished that and the swagger it gave him.

“Yeah, Peter Brubaker, 63.”

“Shit, no natural causes for that old timer. Status on the body?”

“Still at the morgue.”

“Any family come and identify him?”

Shit, I forgot Petey’s family. He had an ex who was out of state, things ended badly between them. I remember he has a sister, I think she lives just on the outskirts of town, but that’s all I could remember, we mostly kept to working the 12 steps when we talked.

“I’m looking that up,” I said as confident as I could.

“Alright, keep me updated. I’ve had to deal with the construction crew and the people behind the church today wondering when they can start the build on that church.”

“Well good luck with that.”

“Dismissed.”

Back at my desk I threw the folder on top and went to enter Petey’s info into the system. He had priors so he came up right away and the next of kin is listed. His sister, Marsha. I look up her records and make the call.

One of the hardest calls I ever had to make on the job.

I dialed her up from my desk phone and it rang for a few good seconds before she answered.

“Hello,” I heard her say on the other end.

I took a second, swallowed my emotion and had to say it. “Um, Mrs. Hickman, this is Detective Mary Parker. I’m calling to sadly inform you that we have found your brother, Peter Brubaker dead a couple days ago. We would ask you to come into town and help positively identify the body.”

I didn’t need to keep going because I heard the crying right away. It lasted a good minute before I heard her say she’d be in first thing tomorrow. I told her to take her time and where to go exactly. I hung up then just leaned back in my chair.

Petey, what the hell man?

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 4

My heart raced. It raced just like that time I took a joyride in my uncle’s vintage Mustang when we visited him up in Little Rock for Thanksgiving a couple years ago.

We sat in my car, still parked outside of Mike’s house on the curb. Him in the passenger seat, me behind the wheel, both of us having a panic attack that we were pretty sure was a full blown heart attack. I was still unsure if it was the running, the marijuana, the money, or all the above that made us breathe so heavily. Maybe the running, there was a reason we weren’t on the track team for the Stallions.

The neon green duffle bag was gripped tightly to my chest by my shaking hands, I held on to it as if it were my own child. I don’t think either of us had taken another good look inside of it since…

Oh god, I kept forgetting we saw an old black man get shot. Twice in the chest. It felt like an eternity but then Mike said something and I think that is what snapped me back into reality.

“Dude, what the hell just happened?”

I couldn’t give him a response, I was still just trying to process this while he started to grab at his hair and continued freaking out.

I then felt my phone vibrate and I picked it up and saw that not only was it my dad, but that it was 10:27PM, three minutes to my curfew. I immediately answered.

“Hey dad. Yeah, no I know what time it is, I just looked it up. We lost track of time. Yeah, Mike is still with me, look I’m just heading out the door, I’m coming home. Yes sir, bye.”

How I kept myself straight during that I have no idea.

“Fuck the curfew right now, we need to deal with this.”

“And we will, Mikey, but tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?!”

“Look, we need to just get through tomorrow alright, just calm down and stay that way. We can meet up at my house tomorrow, tell my folks we’re studying and shit like that. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Alright, I’ll take the bag…”

“Who says you hold on to the bag?”

“Well I’m the one that went to go get it and discovered what is inside of it.”

“So you found it first? Bitch you dropped it and I grabbed it and ran past your ass.”

“Yeah, then you dropped it and I picked it up and held it all the way back here.”

“I should…”

“Mike, please, just trust me. My dad might likely have another long shift at the steel plant, my mom will be working, just, trust me?”

“Alright, alright.”

We hugged it out and Mike got out and headed back into his place.

I threw the bag right where he sat and I backed out and went on home. I knew my dad was gonna wait up for me, which he did. He read me the riot act about keeping my word, said he still loved me, then I went to my room.

That night was the hardest I ever slept. I had stuffed the bag deep into my closet and whenever I’d toss and turn my eyes were locked onto the closet doors. There had to be thousands of dollars in there. Maybe a million? That’d be asking for a bit much I admit, but yeah. I still slept, but I’d wake up every so often and just stare back at that closet door and yeah, on occasion my mind would think about the things I’d wanna spend that money on. Man, the things I could buy.

I kept my cool throughout the next day. Or at least I hoped I did, I just went along with the flow, breakfast at home then right onto school where I did well enough on that history test. Didn’t ace it with all the other things on my mind, but certainly didn’t fail it. Mike and I only shared one class together, first period Spanish and had different lunch periods. Good thing too as I imagine if we got within five feet of each other all we’d talk about was the bag and risk someone overhearing us.

I was in my last period history class and I swore that clock moved slowed than it had ever before, like when me and my classmates used to countdown the seconds on the last day of school in elementary. It just went on and on until the loud ringing had finally come.

I was out the door towards the student parking lot when I saw Mike sat upon the hood of my car, Mike didn’t have his license yet so I was his personal chauffeur when he really needed to get around. Didn’t mind, just more time with my best friend.

The drive to my house was the same as it had been, just the radio making up the only noise in it, but I saw Mike, he was anxious and so was I.

I pulled into the garage and went to the door and checked if my folks were there, they weren’t, no one was in so I motioned to Mike it was all good and he bolted into the house and right into my room. I came in to find him already sat on my bed as I went to the closet and pulled the bag out. The bag that haunted my mind for the last few hours.

I pulled back the zipper and let it all fall out. Time slowed down and I watched the green stacks come down like a beautiful snowfall, our eyes were glazed over.

Then it stopped and we just looked down at the assorted piles.

Mike uttered, “Wow.”

I could only say the same. We then grabbed our own little piles and started to count. Me at my desk, Mike on my bed, we had to find out what we had.

I think it was an hour or so when we finished and we had a grand total of $82,000.

$82,000. Why that specific amount? Why even that much?

Like I said, it was as if we were in a movie and we just pulled off some big score. At least in the movie the take would have been a lot bigger, but I wasn’t complaining. This was the most money I had ever seen and it was in all honesty, the best moment of my life.

Until I heard my mom come into the house.

“Chase? Chase you here, I’m home!”

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 3

The loud and infernal sound that came from my phone the next morning wasn’t my alarm, but rather my ringtone for actual phone calls, just a couple of minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off.

I didn’t need to look at the ID on the phone to know it was Bruce Moore, my former partner on the beat. He never saw himself going much further than the street and to his credit he is a force of good out there and a damn good cop. A better friend too.

“Hidey ho there, waking up?” he asked as soon as I answered.

“I think we both know the answer to that and unless you’re offering to take me out to breakfast, get on with it.”

“Remember the church that burned down?”

“Oh yeah, what denomination was it again, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist?”

“Catholic, faulty wires.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, well, there’s a body down here. Two to the chest.”

“At the site? I thought they already started building.”

“It was due to start in a couple of weeks, but not anymore.”

I look at my watch on the nightstand and see its already five after 6AM. “Alright, be right down.”

I hung up and got to the bathroom to make sure I don’t wake Artie as I get up.

Brush, shower, dress. That’s it. I sometimes will stay and have a bite to eat, but more often than not I just rummage in the station breakroom. I took up work for my addiction in place of booze, for the good and bad that has done.

I made sure to make the water extra hot, I still felt cold from talking to Petey after the meeting last night and at this point of the morning, it keeps me alert too. I took care of myself and got dressed. Business casual, but still looked pretty damn professional. I looked over at Artie before I left. I used to get up with him, but for the past year I’m up and at it before he is. He understands, for now. I go over and plant a kiss on his forehead and smile before I grabbed my keys and left.

I radioed Bruce I’m on my way, didn’t bother for the address since it was pretty self-explanatory where the scene was.

Hartland, a tiny, little speck in the southwest region of Arkansas. Really nothing to speak about, well except for the high school football team. The Stallions, currently on route to its fourth state title in a row. I think they play Ashdown next week, I can’t recall. I don’t think I’ve been to a game in a few years.

I pulled up and saw Bruce, uniform and all, not even wearing a jacket. He is crazy. He is great.

I exited the car and went right up to him.

“Morning there, beauty.”

“You flatter me, Bee. I merely just woke up like this. So what’s the damage here? You said two to the chest?”

“Yeah, one in the heart. African American male, looks to be in his late 50s, maybe early 60s.”

“Shit, anything unusual at the scene?”

“Not really, Mary, but I called the bus, should be here any minute, you can go and take a look for yourself.”

“Thanks.”

I went ahead under the caution tape and saw the sheet that covered the body. Good thing I didn’t see it right away because I would have probably just walked right then and there, but the covering of it brought me in and there he was. Petey. The man I had just talked to hours ago and the one who kept me straight.

I look at him for what could only have been a few seconds, but as I gazed upon him, bullet holes in his chest, eyes open, arms to his side it felt like I stood there for much longer. Minutes turned into hours in my mind and there I just think that the one barrier between me and the bottle is gone. Screw the group, Petey was what kept me in check. Him alone.

I heard footsteps, but they didn’t faze me, Bruce put his hand on his shoulder to let me know the bus and CSI team were there. I snapped out of it and told Bruce I was heading to the station and to leave anything related to this at my desk.

I got in my car and when I was at least a couple of blocks away, I parked outside the local barber shop, not yet open.

I composed myself. I took a deep breath and held my head up high. Then I cried. The tears came out of me. They poured from my eyes in a steady stream. I cried because I wanted to drink. I cried because I lost my friend. I cried because I was lost.

I don’t remember when I stopped, I just remember then being in the station and staring at my email inbox. I think it was somewhere between 8 and 9AM. Time lost all meaning that day as I filed reports, answered calls, followed up on any paperwork, just another average day. One with a very dark cloud over it. Literally and figuratively.

It was sometime around mid afternoon when I got a call. It was the lab with the results and I just drove right on over without so much as a blink.

I was greeted by Dale Richards, best medical examiner in three counties and owner of one glorious grey mustache. We exchanged some pleasantries, found out his daughter got into the University of Arkansas. Good on Paige, she was always a good kid.

He walked me in and seeing Petey was still a sight I didn’t believe. The lights shined on his dark skin and I’m reminded how he always said he was the chocolate no one could refuse and I smiled for a second. Damn charmer. Dale said what I expected, that the second gunshot, the one in the heart, is what did him in. No drugs or booze in his system, which I was the happiest to hear since I knew he had his own troubles that went beyond the bottle.

Dale went on with the report, I just hear bits and pieces, seemingly going along when really I was just ready to get out. He asked if there was anything else and I politely said no and told him to give Paige my best and I left.

The day just went on until I felt okay enough to leave. I made sure it was night when I went home because I needed the other important man in my life.

I drove up and saw Artie was in the house, he texted earlier he was just thinking of picking up a pizza. I went in and saw that he did. I plop my keys on the counter then look over at him on the couch. He waved hi and I just stood there. I walked over and sat next to him on the couch.

After I told him about Petey and what my day had been we just held each other there on the couch. It felt nice, maybe the most intimate I’ve been with him in a while.

“You sure you’re okay?” I heard him ask.

I looked up at him and saw his cute little round face and his shiny bald head, just a little bit of sauce on the left corner of his lip. He looked adorable and all I did was nod.

I fell asleep and Artie after a while carried me into bed and put a blanket over me. I found him on the couch the next morning, which he didn’t have to do, but I appreciated it.

I looked over at him, his back sure to have bothered him, but he just wants to make others happy, especially me.

It’s a new day and starting now, I’m going to solve the murder of my best friend.

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Cold Comfort: Chapter 2

I had only really seen a big pile of money when the collection plate went around at church, or when I was going, I’m glad my parents have given me myspace. But this was something like out the movies or those crime book grandpa collected.

I didn’t expect this after a fairly boring and usual day at school. I was just in my room, doing a little homework when Mike called me up and as I suspected, he was a little baked right after school.

“Chase, dude, what are we doing tonight?”

“I dunno man,” I replied to him, “I got a test to study for, which also means you have a test to study for.”

“Fuck that shit, I know my history, white dudes did everything, took credit for everything, and hated everyone else.”

“Says the white dude to another.”

“I ain’t wrong though!”

Somehow that made me laugh, something about Mike that always loosened me up ever since we met as kids. Maybe because he was the only other kid in a Ninja Turtles shirt when we both started first grade. Also I liked his stupid jokes. Still do.

“Let’s just explore the town and see what’s what tonight, we’ll have plenty of time for studying in the morning.”

“Says you, I like being prepared and haven’t we explored enough of this town? It’s not exactly the hotbed for activity like a city is”

And then came the loudest hit of a bong one could hear over a phone. “How have your folks not caught you or found your stash yet?”

“I’m just that good my man, just that good. Come on dude, it’s… I need to get outta this house for a while.”

I heard it in his voice. He couldn’t be around his parents one more minute at that time, hell I would imagine no one wanted to be around Mr. and Mrs. Sale. Like a cat and a dog married each other and then one day remembered the way of nature.

“Yeah man, we’ll go walking and see some sights. Maybe grab a couple sodas down at Greggo’s, a burger too.”

“Diet Coke does sound really good.”

“Diet Coke, you never had a weight problem a day in your fucking life.”

“I like the taste, good sir.”

We both shared a good laugh before we both hung up. Right then I heard my father come in and call me out from my room.

“Heya son, you around?”

“I’ll be right there sir,” I yelled back and fixed up my hair. No reason really, I just notice my dad always looked his best no matter what so why shouldn’t I as well.

“Chase, what’s up? Anything to report from school?”

“Nothing that I can think of, unless you want a version where Godzilla came and at my science teacher.”

“Maybe another day, son. Head’s up, your mom is gonna be working late then have a meeting at the church so if you’re planning on being out tonight, let’s say 10:30 alright?”

“Sure, I was thinking about it, maybe just hang out with Mike tonight.”

“And I am shocked,” his dry tone filled the room with that remark.

I went to leave but I saw my dad lift his head up from checking the mail. I knew he was about to have a bit of a tone from listening to him.

“Look, I do love you, but I’m not sure you and Mike need to spend much more time together,” concern coming out of his mouth. “I just think he’s changed much differently as a kid than you have. I hear things.”

“Like what dad? What things?”

He slammed the mail down, “Look, I’m just looking out for you and your future alright young man? I want you to have something good as you grow up and get outta of this town maybe. I just think Mikey has a much different outlook right now. That he’s not focused like you are.”

“Well, seeing as he’s my friend, maybe I should be concerned with what he thinks about, which might not what you think it is dad. You got anything else to say to me?”

I could see a slight twinge of anger come across my daddy’s face, but he wasn’t up for blowing up or having a fight with someone of any kind. He was tired from working the line down at the steel plant. He just wanted a hot shower and a cold beer.

“You just make sure you get something to eat tonight. Go on,” he said.

I nodded back at him and went to my room with my door slammed behind me.

I just can’t stand anyone still questioning me. I mean I am a high school senior, I got enough shit on my mind with worrying if colleges will actually accept me, living up to what my folks expect of me when I do go out of my own, and now doubting my best friend? Mike has enough himself. His folks might be on the road to fucking divorce. I gotta put it all to the side and get his mind in a good place. Well more so than the weed possibly could.

I finished up my homework, studied a little, and went to Mike’s. We hung out in the basement, which is also his bedroom, I smoked a little bit of grass myself, just a little. We bullshit around then went on out walking, I left my car there. Hartland wasn’t so big.

We got our usual at Greggo’s, double bacon cheeseburgers, no pickles, and mine with no mustard with fries, and yes, a Diet Coke. I must admit I love the taste of it too.

The hours felt like they flew by like nothing since next thing I know it was dark

We must have walked around town for a few hours because the night just seemed to have flown by until it happened.

It was at the site of a church in town, I forgot if it was a Methodist or Catholic, but it had burnt down one morning a month ago and it was fixing to rebuild, when we noticed the boarded fences around the area.

We walked along it, not a care in the world. I looked over at Mike who had his arms held out. One hand flew with the air, the other strummed along the wooden fence. He then started humming and singing some Willie Nelson. Mike wasn’t too bad a singer.

“I should be on one them shows shouldn’t I? Just make all the money I need that way. Maybe get my folks to come down.”

I was right behind him, making sure I stayed straight behind him. I smoked, but not as much as Mike did. So sometimes I might feel like it hit me more than I like to think.

“Maybe,” I responded. “Shit slow down man.”

I did catch up to him and we stopped in front of a sign for the construction company.

“You think it burned all the way down?” Mike asked.

“Maybe. Why don’t we see?”

I helped get Mike over the fence and then he found the chain link opening to let me in.

It hadn’t burnt down completely, there was still bits of the foundation left, no big equipment or anything yet, so we could get around.

Now see, this is what I loved. That moment. Just two high kids messing around where they shouldn’t be messing around. Having fun.

We then heard something close by in the yard. Maybe it was a bottle clinking or something that hit the ground, but enough we scurried over and stayed out of sight of the people we found a group of people gathered around. There was an old black man who sounded like he smoked a bee hive. A couple of other dudes, but we really couldn’t see them.

It was like a scene from a movie, people stood around, there was some talking going on, it felt weird. We just looked on and made guesses about what was going on. I could barely tell what was going on, maybe just a few names here and there. I think I heard Petey, but none of it mattered when we heard…

BANG!

BANG!

Two gunshots rang out like they were fireworks down at the local park.

The black man fell to the ground and a bag was dropped when he did. The people opposite of him just upped and ran. Me and Mike, we just froze there. we couldn’t believe what we just saw, we just saw a guy get murdered.

I felt Mike tug on my jacket to bail out, but I was mesmerized by the bag. I mean a neon green number? What was in there? I went right for it, Mike scurried behind me. I ran out and grabbed the bag and there it was. A shit load of money. I couldn’t even really think to count because of the suddenness of it all. That and the weed too.

Mike couldn’t believe it.

“Holy shit,” he bellowed out as we started to hear the sirens.

“Fuck,” was all I could think to say.

We ran away back to my house. We needed to count this money.

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