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at the crest-Poem by Meg Baird
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a subtle karate pose-Poem by Mark Young
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

multiplechoice.jpg
Art by John Thompson 2017

Multiple Choice

by Bill Baber

 

The address the boss gave me was over in the East Bay. South of Oakland, where Castro Valley, Union City, Hayward, and Fremont all blend into one sprawling suburban shithole. Forty years ago, it was the American Dream come true for the white middle class. Now, it was nothing but a nightmare for the rest of the melting pot.

The guy’s name was Carl Morgan, an ex-cop living on disability, got shot on the job about ten years back, when a stickup went bad in the Tenderloin. Junkies, no doubt. He owed the boss fifty grand, didn’t know if it was for home improvement, putting his kids through school, or bad bets on the ponies—didn’t ask, didn’t care. I was just doing my job.

I didn’t like it. Most ex-cops are paranoid wackos, sitting around half-gassed, with a gun in their lap. At any moment liable to shoot someone or swallow their fucking gun. I drove by the house first: dead lawn, peeling paint, nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the dumps on the block. Obviously, he hadn’t used the dough to fix the place up. I knocked on the door, and my fears were realized.

He had a .38 revolver in his hand. The ripped T-shirt he wore was stained and struggled to enclose a huge gut. His gray hair hadn’t been washed, combed, or cut in quite some time. Three days worth of gray stubble covered his face, and his eyes had the yellow cast of a hardcore boozer.

I could have gone all OK Corral and just started throwing lead right at the door, but I’m a professional and like to keep things neat. This would require some tact.

“Officer Morgan?” I offered, with a real attempt at respect.

“Who the fuck wants to know?”

His voice sounded like the rasp of a saw being pulled through an oak. He kept ahold of the .38, pulled a pack of Camel straights out of the chest pocket of the T-shirt. Reaching into his pants, he came up with a lighter, lit his cigarette, and blew smoke in my face.

“I’m a lawyer with Patrick, Dibbs and Kornheiser,” I said, producing a phony business card from my suit coat pocket. “We do pro bono work for the Policeman’s Benevolent Association. We are going in front of the Mayor’s commission to try and get an increase in disability for officers hurt on the job.”

Warily, he looked me over.

“Frankly, sir, I think the city of San Francisco is screwing you without the Vaseline every two weeks when they send you that check.”

“What the hell do you want from me?”

“We want you, along with some others, to testify before the commission. How long has it been since you had a cost of living increase?”

I noticed a glint in his eyes. The possibility of more money had the sucker hooked.

Turning into the house, he told me to come in.

We sat at the kitchen table. He finished a full glass of bourbon in two swallows. A lone drop dribbled out of his mouth, drained through the stubble, and added to the collection of stains on his shirt.

He got up to refill his glass.

“You want a snort?” he asked.

“Sure. Thanks,” I replied.

When he turned to get a glass, the silenced .22 Colt Woodsman came from behind my back.

I shot the dumb son-of-a-bitch in the back of the head. He slumped forward into the kitchen sink. This one was too stupid to produce a kid who could get into college.

So it must have been the ponies, then—in situations like this, it almost always was. Sometimes you liked to think it might have been something else.

 

 

Bill Baber’s crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies. His writing has earned Derringer Prize and best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2017