I glance at my watch and suffocate a moan. Only 10:45 am. Not even lunch yet. There’s no way I’m making it through this day.
My eyes return to the work in front of me but soon lose their focus and my mind goes back to last night. Goes back - like it ever left. Collapsed in my bed at three am sleep was as elusive as a snake covered in Teflon; with images of Paulie’s corpse, a thug having Emma B at gun point, and that insane driving display in the yard taking turns dominating the inside of my eyelids, I surrendered and got up after only thirty minutes.
Coffee. I need another coffee.
I push the photographs away and drag myself to my feet, using the desk for leverage. I stare at the pictures one final time - utter crap, all of it. As Junior Art Critic for the Daily Word garbage like this crosses my desk every day. I’m sure the artist was trying to say something deep and tragic with these, but all I’m hearing is, “I’m a spoiled rich kid who’s never suffered for a second of my life.”
I grab my empty mug and make my way to the lunch room. I’ve been trying to get my editor to do a spread on street art for almost a year now but it’s a hard sell when you’re afraid of pushing too hard. If anyone manages to connect the dots between Red 5 and Jeremy Paulo it won’t be because I did anything to help them out.
I hope Emma’s okay - I can still hear her scream after the rear window exploded. I’ll have to check in after work. I hated having to call her for help… but not nearly as much as I loathed turning to Puppy. She’s an amazing kid with a true talent for street art but she really creeps me out. She knows things she shouldn’t, can do things I wouldn’t, and her eyes… they have seen too much. And now, because of me, she’s seen even more.
She called me Joel again last night, I have no idea why. She’s just not all there sometimes. Okay, most times. But I had to rush her out of there before the cops turned up with questions neither of us wanted to answer so there was no time to even try to figure that one out. Maybe I remind her of cousin who carries that name. Who knows.
The TV in the corner of the lunch room is showing the news on low but I barely glance at it before filling my mug with the foulest, strongest coffee this side of toxic. I’m about to leave the room when I hear my name issue forth from the news anchor‘s lips. My other name.
I grab the remote and turn up the volume as Paul Contadino’s employee picture comes on screen. Paulie would be some kind of angry if he knew that’s the photo the news was showing the world.
“… had worked the night security shift at the downtown bus depot for the last thirty years and was set to retire next year,” the emotionless anchor informs her viewers. “Officer Alex Wilkerson spoke briefly to the press about their only suspect in Mr. Contadino’s murder.”
No, they wouldn’t dare…
“This man is known to us only as Red Five. He has been vandalizing our fine city for more than a year now but we only have a partial description of him. In his most recent sighting he was wearing a black ball cap, a dark red hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans. Anywhere from five foot seven to five foot eleven inches tall, he has short dark hair and operates almost exclusively at night.
We are not sure what happened in the yard last night, but we strongly suspect that Mr. Contadino found this scumbag spraying his graffiti all over the city buses and tried to stop him. Unfortunately the victim was overpowered, tied up in his security trailer and tortured at length before finally succumbing to his injuries.”
No no no, oh God no.
“Officers discovered the body shortly after three this morning,” the stoic cop continues. “The front of the body was ‘tagged’ with a large, red, numeral five - the signature of Red Five. This murderer was proud of what he’d done and wanted us to know he did it.”
The coffee mug falls from my numb fingers and shatters on the floor.
“In addition to Red Five, we have a person of interest who was seen in the area last night that we would like to speak with. She has been described to us as standing close to six feet tall, wearing all black and had dark red hair. We are asking the public to contact us with information on either of these individuals.”
I cannot tear my eyes away, no matter how badly I try. I cannot plug my ears to block out this madness.
“In closing, we would like to advise the public that we consider Red Five to be armed and dangerous. If you encounter any male vandalizing public property do not approach him yourself - contact the police immediately.
We will find him and he will face justice for what he has done. Thank you.”