His name was Jeremy Mills and he was the police chief in Laredo Falls.
He called me two days earlier, but didn’t tell me what he wanted, just that we should meet.
Not at my office nor his, but somewhere neutral.
When I asked why, he was evasive, sounding paranoid.
A paranoid cop.
Was there any other kind?
I’m a cautious person by nature with a lot of training and discipline, but curiosity got the better of me. So, after a bit of hesitation, I gave him the time and directions on where to meet.
    “What kind of a lowlife five and dime dick conducts business in the back of a sleazy rat trap?” He had said.
I replied by hanging up, wondering what the hell I was getting into. But, on the bright side, if I don’t like him, I’d let Mikey know what he said about his establishment.
Mikey’s office was utilitarian. Your basic set-up; two metal filing cabinets which matched his desk, a couple of folding chairs, and a black leather couch, that probably cost more than I made in a year.
There were crates of Irish whiskey stacked in a corner, which were for Mikey’s personal use.
Stryker was decked out in his usual black attire of jeans, cowboy boots, and leather jacket, which no doubt concealed his .44.
His head was freshly shaved and my reflection stared back at me from his sunglasses.
He was stretched out on the sofa, with a six-pack on the floor next to him.
Mills sat behind the desk like he owned the place.
I put him in his mid to late forties. He was short, pudgy, with a receding hairline that was turning gray.
He chewed on a cold cigar stub.
I took a chair across from him.
    “About fucking time,” he said.
I turned the chair around to face Stryker and sipped my beer.
    “How was your trip?” I asked. “I thought you weren’t coming back until next week?”
Stryker shrugged.
    “I’m talking to you!”
    “I take it everything went well?” I asked.
He nodded.
If you gave Ricardo Stryker a chance, he’d talk your ear off.
There was a slam on the desk.
I shifted in the chair.
Mills stood up and his face was a deep red.
    “Mikey won’t appreciate you abusing his furniture like that,” I said.
    “I don’t give a flying fuck what he likes or doesn’t like.”
Stryker and I grinned at each other.
    “I don’t have all night,” Mills said. “I don’t know what the hell is going on here, but I asked specifically for you. I’d like to know what in the fuck Mr. Clean is doing here?”
I looked at Stryker.
    “Mr. Clean?” I said.
He shrugged.
    “It’s the earring,” he said.
    “Oh,” I said.
I turned back to Mills.
    “Okay, Jeremy. May I call you Jeremy? Let me tell you what’s going on here. He’s with me and anything you have to say to me you can say to him. You called me, I didn’t call you.” I paused for effect. “Are we clear?”
His attitude annoyed me.
He sat back down. He looked deflated and took in a deep breath.
    “Okay,” he said, exhaling. “You’re right and I apologize. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. Can we pretend this never happened?”
I nodded and shook his extended hand.
    “What can I do for you?” I asked.
He reached on the floor and came up with a brown valise. He opened it and extracted a large manila envelope.
He slid it across to me, but kept a hand on it.
    “This wasn’t supposed to leave Laredo Falls, but from what I hear about you, you’re very honest and discreet.”
    "I have a couple of ex-girlfriends who might beg to differ," I said.
He looked at me a moment.
    "Jokes?" He said.
I shrugged.
He released the envelope.
It was the string type.
I untied it and slid the contents out onto the desk.
The first thing I saw was a black VHS cassette tape. It was the standard kind you used to be able to get anywhere. It was wrapped in a protective baggy.
It was dated last week.
I held it up.
    "I didn't think they made these anymore," I said.
Nobody replied.
The next item was a police report, detailing the fatal shooting of a forty-five year old high school principal. Martin Brandow. There was an autopsy report attached, along with a death shot of the victim.
Death had a distinct way of making animate objects look peaceful in repose.
Of course, it wouldn’t be dignified if the object of said death had their eyes crossed and their tongues sticking out, snubbing their noses at the Grim Reaper.
His skin looked flawless, as if it stood in time and was never allowed to age. Then again, it won't anymore. I quickly skimmed through the autopsy report.
He died of a single gunshot through the heart.
The bullet was a NATO round and was fired from a high-powered rifle.
The autopsy also revealed small bone fragments lodged in one of the ventricles of his heart.
I shook my head and handed Stryker the materials.
    “I don’t understand,” I said. “First, what’s up with the bone fragments in his heart? And second, what does any of this have to do with me?”
He nodded gravely.
    “It's one of the reasons why I'm here.”
I waited while he pulled out his wallet and produced a photograph.
    “There was another person involved,” he said. “The bullet went in and out through her shoulder. She survived with only a dislocation and minor blood loss. We’re fairly certain she wasn’t the intended victim.” He paused. “It was way too clean of a shot.”
    “You think it was professional?” I said.
He nodded and handed me the photo.
    “She’s your daughter,” he said.

The End

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