The XXX shop was a steady business catering to the perverted lusts of all classes. The cashier on shift was a skeletal forty-something in a Yankees Baseball cap. He was known to many as Stain, a nickname which had haunted him from grade-school. His most distinguished feature were his eyes, magnified by his bottle-cap glasses, were large against his face which was no more than cling film on his skull. A bootleg cigarette hung lazily from his mouth, as he observed the suited man creeping near the window. He knew him, though not too well as he often filtered through the back door collection out of his sight. When he did return, he would slap a dog-eared copy of Celebrity Sin which would be paid for in crisp dollars. Most of the vagrants who entered would try to pay in counterfeit dimes but a visit from the Don soon stopped that little practise.
Across the road, he had seen the body of a young woman lying on her back. With every disturbed thought going through his mind, Stain crept towards the corpse of Angela, but he had guessed she was passed out. His excitement showed as a shape pushed against the fabric of his pants. But when he entered the alley, he saw the blood. And the blood had killed his erection. Twenty minutes later, the police had arrived and he was shut up in the shop with only suit-man for company. Funny, after all the magazines the guy bought, he never once learned his name. Suit-man it is, he thought dully.
Suit-man had suddenly jumped and hurried to the back room. The wife on your ass? Stalking the big boy through his daily jerk off? Stain smiled with those cracked lips of his. Only the mafia’s men went into the backroom. They never said why, but Stain guessed it was where they conducted their business. Which was fine by him; as long they kept him in green they could do whatever they fucking liked.
Half-gone, the cigarette dropped a chunk of ash onto the counter where the sex toys were modelled with their ‘Need a hand?’ and ‘Spiked for his displeasure’ labels. As he wiped it off the glass surface, the door clinked announcing the arrival of another customer. He raised his head in a disinterested glance.
No one came in this early other than the suit-man.
When James opened the door, his eyes were over-come with the depressing glare of red light that showered the shop with a dark aesthetic. Several aisles were lined in perfect symmetry, each stacked with volumes of depraved, pouting women in a variety of situations. Heath and James exchanged looks of disgust; maybe it wasn’t a good idea to enter but then again, a jobs a job.
“How the fuck did I agree to this?” asked Heath bitterly.
“It’s your duty as a police officer. Hell you should be doing this. I am only a private eye”.
Heath shook his head when he realised James was laughing. One hell of a place to be making jokes; particularly when Heath saw an open edition of Black Maids and almost recoiled. He had been in the war and seen his partners head get blown off before his eyes, but nothing could prepare him for the perverse pleasures this particular shop held.
Stain, who was stood at the counter silently, decided to speak up. He had hoped they would have walked out; they made him nervous. Even the cops from uptown made him anxious, even when they would buy the most depraved smut that even Stain himself had shied away from.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” He asked in his oily voice.
James and Heath exchanged glances again, as if to decide who was going to speak first. James did, realising how small the shop was. Every aisle seemed to have grown taller than him; the books of sin glared with their shared taboo.
“I am Private Investigator James Sloane and this is Officer Charles Heath” he began, eyeing Stain with repulsion. Something about him seemed off. “We’d like to ask you some questions”
“Yeah... so?” he replied, adjusting his large glasses. In the dim light, he looked younger than ever.
“As you may have seen, there was a murder across the street.”
Stain shrugged lazily. No skin off his back.
“Did you see anything?”
“Nope” Stain grinned, showing his yellowed teeth.
James sighed. No one ever saw anything unless they were persuaded.
“Are you sure? This could help with our investigation”. Stain’s eyes suddenly darted to the back room; James did not miss this. Guilty people had a problem with eye contact.
“What’s in the back?” James said assertively. He knew that this was where the most illicit material was kept; but Stain didn’t seem nervous about a few scatological videos.
Stain did not reply. Instead he fumbled with the cashier and withdrew a handful of crumpled bills.
“T-take it and go. Just l-leave please!” he cried, as his face turned white. His eyes darted to the back room again, betraying himself once again.
With surprising haste, Heath started for the back room. Stain tried to lunge at him, but was easily overcome by James. Lying helpless on his counter, Stain was successfully pinned at the neck.
“Stop struggling asshole” Heath barked, turning his head slightly. But Stain was determined to stop Heath. In one last attempt to free himself, Stain elbowed James who doubled over, gasping for air.
“Asshole” he spat, as he made his way down the ‘Multi-Racial’ aisle. But before he could stop Heath, he collapsed with a sharp pain erupting in his leg. Stain looked down and saw a crater missing from his knee, which emerged a fusillade of dark red. Howling with pain, through his tears he saw James holding his Glock in police fashion. But to him, it seemed like a black blur. The room became a solitary beacon of white as Stain passed out.
Heath did not turn around at the gunshot as he knew James had hit his target. Instead he laughed and offered him the same joke he had told him when he shot his first felon.
“Man, the Chief is gonna be pissed about this”
They both laughed quietly; they had used that one-liner too many times before. As the funding was cut, they were not able to conduct paperwork and they did not have to record any discrepancies. As long as they got the job done, they could do what the fuck they liked.
Stepping over Stain, James was standing beside Heath who had one hand on the door handle leading to the back room.
“Ugh, this isn’t gonna be good. I bet all we find is an ancient copy of Penthouse or something” said Heath who retrieved his own Glock from its holster.
“I have a gut feeling about this” James reasoned, remembering the last time he trusted his gut feeling. The sobering thought of Officer Warren’s empty eyes replaced his humour.
“On your head, be it” said Heath, who didn’t see the shadow cross James’s eyes. With their guns at the ready, Heath raised his right doc marten-clad foot and kicked the wooden door open. Within the darkness, they saw four individuals, two of which had their guns raised at them. In less than a second, they opened fire.
James and Heath parted like the red sea, amidst a hail of gun-fire. Looking up, they saw two suited men who they both recognised. The muscular of the two was Jackson Butcher; a meathead who regularly beat his wife. A small lamplight reflected in his bald head, which bore a poor tattoo of what was meant to be a dragon. Rumours detailed he had beaten the tattoo artist to death after seeing his flawed tattoo. These days, he was apt to fly off the handle at anyone who happened to look at him the ‘wrong’ way. The other man was known simply as Leon,, a wiry, pony-tailed mouth-piece who used Butcher to get his point across when his own emaciated frame did little to intimidate. Leon was the one who ran the drug racket in Downtown; which was not the best idea as he had copped a serious cocaine habit. Even now, grains of white clung to his five ‘o’clock shadow like snow on a car window.
Both were aiming to kill, as James and Heath ran for cover. Not the best fucking idea shooting that cashier thought James bitterly. No fucking advantage now. He had dove behind a sofa, which reminded him of his own back in his apartment. He couldn’t see Heath, but he knew he was returning fire. Each report hammered through his head with agonising repetition.
The two other individuals had backed onto the furthest wall with their heads in their hands. They obviously were not used to a good old fashioned shoot out.
Leon and Butcher shouted at each other above the din, as they backed out towards the large exit at the end of the room. James saw this as his chance; he stood up and fired several rounds at them both. With all the bastard luck in the world, Leon was unscathed. Butcher however, was not so lucky. A huge chunk of his arm had been blown off, expelling galleons of warm blood onto the concrete floor. He shrieked at an ear splitting volume, shooting back at where he saw James a moment ago. James had ducked almost instantly, as his clip had run dry. Several bullets had smashed into the wall above him. He felt his hair ruffle as a bullet streaked just above his head. Fuck! He thought, as he was stunned temporarily.
Large footsteps crashed around somewhere above him. Daring to look up, he saw Butcher escape through the fire exit. Leon clicked his teeth audibly, as he shot at Heath. Heath was crouching behind a large metal container about the size of a bed. The bullets seemed to flatten on impact with the item.
“Just fucking die” he shouted, as his twin Uzi’s sprayed the room in an idiosyncratic fashion.
James searched his pockets desperately, looking for another clip. He must have left it at home again. Fucking Hell... he cursed. All he held in his pockets were loose change and his apartment key. Heath must have done the same thing, as he slammed his Glock onto the floor in apparent frustration.
The monotonous streak of bullets had suddenly ended. James heard a brief ‘come with me’ which he guessed was Leon. A female voice told him to eat shit as another male voice whimpered. James thought that he Leon must have run out of bullets also. On instinct alone, James stood up again in unison with Heath. The whole room was cratered with holes; some of which still had steam rising from them. Leon, who saw them rise, darted to the exit in sudden haste.
“You fuckers... just you wait” His eyes narrowed. And with that, he slammed the fire exit door shut and a clicking noise signalled he had locked it.
Heath ran to the door, slamming his body into it several times. The bar on the door would not budge.
“Fancy that, he locked it from the outside” He turned to James. “How the fuck did he manage that?”
James shrugged as Heath threw up his arms in defeat. In the past ten minutes, he seemed to have aged by ten years.
Instead of thinking about it, he kneeled down to the two who remained. The older was a greying, middle aged man clad in a suit which probably cost more than James’s apartment. He sat with his head in his hands, trying to hide his tears with no success. The other was a young woman whose azure eyes were dull with an unknown melancholia. Her ochre blonde hair fell to her shoulders gracefully over a faded Daughter t-shirt. She lived around here that much was true; no one who lived uptown could achieve such a defeated look living in luxury.
“You two, come on” James began softly. He sheathed his gun, as he did not want to seem intimidating at all. He had dealt with shell-shocked witnesses before but anyone who was unwillingly in the company of the Mafia had more trauma issues to deal with. “We’re going to go to the station”.
He realised how weary his voice sounded; like Heath he felt he had aged some years. They stood up, though slowly and weakly. “What are your names?” Heath asked, his voice also sounded weary.
“Samantha Adams” breathed the woman. She faced the ground defeated.
“G-Gary Parker” managed the man before he broke out in fresh tears. Heath patted him on the shoulder sympathetically.
“It’s okay man, it’s over now” He said.
“N-no it’s n-not” Gary replied, his voice cracking. “My wife... is out there” He pointed to where James and Heath had come through only a few minutes ago. “She’s dead because of these b-bastards”.
Gary resumed crying, as Heath tried, in vain, to comfort him. James looked up at the ceiling and hoped God was listening. He felt He had been ignoring him and New York since Kinney became Mayor.
When they exited the XXX shop, the corpse of Angela had been bagged and tagged and the alleyway was cleaned from its blood-stained mess. Carter and Collins had already left to report back to the station, which was a sensible thing to do in this particular neighbourhood. Calling this rundown, cess pool a neighbourhood was laughable in its own right.
Silently, they walked down the street to find Heath’s car parked as close to the crime scene as he legally could. Thankfully, it had been untouched. James doubted the two mafia grunts would try anything like a car bomb; one of those took weeks to do. Plus one of them was missing an arm; or at least a bicep if Butcher had seen to it. But James and Heath were cautious however, they flipped the bonnet and checked under the car before deciding to drive off. Be better to be safe than dead.