Kenneth James Crist
Living under a
bridge in an urban environment, along with an ex-police dog and a six-foot
black rat snake, would not be most people’s idea of a good deal. To me it’s
heaven. I have everything I need and nothing I don’t need. I have friends who
will not abandon me or ever fuck me over for money.
I’m Robby Metcalf
and I was a soldier. Like many others, I was wounded in a war over in the
sandbox. Unlike most, I actually gained something from the experience. Instead
of PTSD, I got a different “disorder”. I inherited the ability to talk to
animals. Not just dogs and cats, either. I can understand bird chatter, rat
squeak and snake hiss. I can understand the silent language of animals that
move stealthily enough to walk up your ass and kill you.
They don’t always
like me very well. Some never like me at all. But they all talk to me, sooner
or later, even when they think they won’t.
“Fuzzy, cut it out…”
“What’s he doin’?”
Alice Ann and I were in bed at the Holiday Inn, first floor, first door inside,
where it was easy to let Fuzzy out to pee. Amazing what an NSA Special Agent
could get, when she put her mind to it.
“Why, because we
“I never heard him.”
“I could hear his tail
thumping the rug. That’s the same as laughter.”
“So, he thinks it’s
funny when we’re boinkin’?”
“Yeah, he calls it
‘that puppy-making thing you guys do.’ When we get noisy, he really digs it.”
Alice giggled and
pulled the covers over her head. We’d been meeting whenever we could, ever
since the NSA had booted me out of their program and let me go back to my life.
I had convinced them my talent for talking to animals was lost, or at least of
no value to them anymore. Alice knew better, or I was pretty sure she did, but
she wasn’t saying anything. Life was good.
On a Wednesday morning, after resting up from a strenuous weekend with Alice
Ann Ackerman, I woke up before sunrise and slipped out of my sleeping bag and walked
over to my outdoor pee spot. I love the fall in the northeast. In spite of
being in a rather large city, in spite of traffic smells and cooking odors,
fall was in the air and the temperature was crisp. Fuzzy joined me in a few
moments, yawning and peeing at the same time. When we were both finished, he
said, “Hungry, Boss. What’s for breakfast?”
“How about we go see
Slim over at La Bagatelle? Haven’t been there for a while, and he makes
the best omelets…”
“Sounds good. Can we
“Yeah, we can,
Buddy.” I called over to the big snake, who was still in my sleeping bag,
“Lucille, you can bite anyone that fucks with my stuff.”
I heard a muffled,
“Hurry back, Lover.” I knew if she had eyelashes, they’d be batting at me.
Fuzzy rolled his
eyes and said, “Sheesh.” Or what passes for that in dog-ese.
As the white guy
with the big German Shepherd walked south from his nest under the freeway, a
sawed-off punk named Jerome Fontaine, an employee of a drug dealer named Levi
Espinoza, watched them and talked on a cell phone.
“He’s out and about,
Bro. Find out what the boss wants ta do…”
“Call ya back,”
voice on the other end said, and then cut off.
Robby had ripped off
Espinoza for twenty-two thousand bucks while Fuzzy killed one of his Pit Bulls.
This had happened the previous year and Espinoza had sent a couple torpedoes to
find and kill Robby. They had been killed and disposed of by agents of the NSA.
Espinoza didn’t know that, of course, he only knew his money and his two gay
friends had disappeared along with a pink antique Imperial. The car was now
painted black and residing in a cartel member’s garage in Ensenada. The two
pink gunsels were in fairly deep graves in a different part of Mexico.
twanged a couple bars of La Cucaracha and he picked up. “Boss is dealin’ with
another thing right now. Just keep an eye on ‘em and he’ll call ya in a little
“Okay, you got it,
Bro.” Easy enough duty. Just creep along and watch a white dipshit and a
“You hearin’ that,
Drivin’ me nuts…”
“I don’t hear
“Shit! That guy needs
ta get his car fixed.”
“It’s car noise?”
high-pitched. Brake squeal, like.”
“Which car is it?”
“That old, nasty one
back there,” Fuzzy pointed with his nose back the way we’d come. “He’s been
back there ever since we left our place, just creepin’ along.”
I finally woke up
and realized we were being followed and the squeal from the old car’s shitty
brakes was probably too high-frequency for me to hear. To Fuzzy it was like a
“Okay, stop lookin’
back. If we’re being followed, let’s not let him know we’ve figured it out.
Let’s see what he does.”
And that was exactly
nothing. He just hung back and when we went up to the back door at Le
Bagatelle, he parked a block back where he could see us. I knew this was
not any government agency. They would never be that sloppy. They would have
some type of small device embedded in my phone or maybe even up my ass, so they
could track me without being made. I suspected this was from the dope dealer
I’d ripped off almost a year ago and that meant we were probably going to war.
It was sort of a
letdown to find out Slim wasn’t there. There was a new cook and he looked us
over and said, “Slim told me bout youse guys. Wait here. I’m on break in
fifteen.” Then he closed the door. Dude had long, greasy hair and a pock-marked
face. He was six feet and about 200 pounds. Looked like he marinated himself in
sweat and grill grease.
Fuzzy said, “Who was
“I dunno. New guy…”
“We gonna get fed?”
“Don’t know that,
either. He said fifteen minutes.” We sat down at the old picnic table we’d used
on many occasions and waited. While we sat, I kept stealing glances at the car
down the street. Old, nasty Ford LTD, maybe an old cop car. Guy sitting in it,
wearing a hoodie and dark sunglasses, trying to look all bad. I hoped he didn’t
decide to try a drive-by or something ridiculous like that.
It was almost
fifteen minutes on the dot. The man came out with two large Styrofoam carry-out
boxes and said, “Here ya go, guys. On the house.” He wiped his hands on his
apron and sat down with us to have a smoke.
As he lit up, I
asked, “What’s your name?”
He offered a
semi-greasy hand and said, “I’m Deke, Slim is my cousin. He’s in the hospital
with some kinda foot infection. Asked me if I could fill in for a coupla weeks.
I din’t have nothin’ goin’ on and I could always use the work.”
“Well, it’s nice
make your acquaintance. Thanks for the chow.”
“Oh, yeah, no
problem. You really talk to animals and shit?”
“Yeah, I really do.
Comes in handy, too. This big guy here is Fuzzy. Hey, Fuzz, offer the man a
pushing his foam container around and sat up on his haunches and stuck out his
Deke shook with him
and said, “I’ll be damned…”
“Fuzzy’s glad to
make your acquaintance, too. Hey, Deke, do you recognize the dude in the old
Ford Crown Vic down the street to your left?”
Deke was really
cool. He took a drag and looked down under the table, then let his gaze travel
up to the sky. Checked out a bird and then took a glance at the Ford.
“Oh, yeah. I know
that little bastard. He robbed me almost two years ago. Got off cause he was a
juvie at the time. He’s the reason I started packin’ a gun every goddamned
place I go. Fontaine. Jerome Fontaine. Goes by ‘Rome’, thinks he’s some kinda
great lover, too. Limp-dick little loser…”
“Yeah, well, that
little shit is followin’ me around, and I know why. I just don’t know yet what
I’m gonna do about it.”
“He’s hooked up
heavy with a dope-dealin’ shitbird named Levi Espinoza. Dude’s a bad one…”
“I know. I ripped
him off a few months back and Fuzzy here killed his favorite Pit Bull. Then,
when he sent some guys to try and kill me, the government made ‘em disappear.
Now I’m at the very top of ol’ Levi’s shit-list.”
Deke stubbed out his
smoke in an old, cracked Bakelite ashtray and said, “That’s not a good place to
be, my man, but I’ll tell ya what…anything I kin do to help ya out, you just
holler and I’m there.”
“Know where I can
get a gun?”
He said, “Hang on a
minute.” He went back inside the restaurant and in a few moments reappeared and
handed me a business card. On the front it said, ‘AAA Upholstery—Fine Furniture
Refinishing, Automotive Upholstery, Seat Covers”, then there was a phone number
and ‘R. K. Dickey’ at the bottom along with an address on South Custer.
“Go see this guy.
Tell him I sent ya. He’ll call me to verify, so don’t get antsy. Sometimes
these deals take a while.”
I thanked Deke again
for the handout meal and for the referral and Fuzzy and I stepped out, headed
for an obscure upholstery shop.
It was a twenty-five
minute walk and ol’ creepin’ screechy hung back there like a shadow. Fuzzy
complained that the constant brake squeal was making his head hurt. We arrived
at a single-story building with grimy plate glass windows on the street side,
fake brick siding and garage bays on the side, fronting onto a cracked and
weathered asphalt parking lot. I stepped inside and found a massive black guy
seated behind an old steel desk that looked like military surplus. His voice
was high-pitched, but in no way effeminate.
“Yeah, Deke sent me
over. I need to buy a gun.”
“Don’t know anybody
“Okay…well, he gave
me your card…” I produced the card and showed it to him. Fingers the size of
bananas reached and delicately took the card. He peered at it and said, “Go
outside and wait. Take yer hairy friend with ya.” Not unfriendly, but not
Fuzzy and I went out
and settled on an old bench that was propped against the wall, roughly between
the windows. We waited twenty minutes, then the door opened and a small,
balding white guy about fifty waved us in. As we stepped inside, he said,
We walked back
through the shop area and into a tool crib. He closed the door behind us and
turned and rolled up a rubber mat, exposing a trap door in the floor. He raised
the trap and reached over to a wall switch and flicked it. Light came on below.
“After you,” he said, “dog stays up here.”
I carefully stepped
down a very steep set of stairs into a Disneyland of weaponry. On the walls and
stacked in the corners were every kind of rifle, shotgun and machine gun I’d
ever heard of or seen. In a center glass case were about ninety or a hundred
The guy came down
the stairs behind me and said, “What did ya have in mind, Robby?” Suddenly we
were on a first-name basis.
“I’m partial to
semi-autos, and things that don’t require a lotta care. I need good knock-down
power and high dependability. Low cost doesn’t hurt, either.”
“Glock man, huh?
Okay, I got a few. All these are untraceable. Pick whatever ya like and I’ll
tell ya what it’ll cost.” He rolled open the case and we got down to business.
Ten minutes later, I
was nine hundred dollars lighter and I had a Glock Model 22, .40 caliber,
15-shot in my belt and a box of ammo in a brown paper sack. The cost was almost
exactly double what it would have been from any legitimate gun store. The
paperwork was zero, thus the high price. The man had allowed me to load the
piece before I left and, as an afterthought, he’d thrown in one extra magazine.
Mr. Squeaky Wheels followed us all the way home.
They came for me at four
minutes after four in the morning. I know, because I’d been waiting up under
the bridge underpass by Lucille’s den since just after dark. They came in two
cars and they parked two blocks away. Fuzzy spotted them first, of course, and
I sent him around to the south to flank them and keep them from getting back to
They were pretty
brazen and way overconfident. They walked up out of the dark, looked at my
sleeping bag, which was stuffed with leaves and trash to look occupied, and
I had moved down and
was behind one of the concrete bridge pillars. As soon as they opened up, so
did I. By the time they realized they were taking fire, three of them were on
their way to hell. Three more went down before anyone tried to run. Two more
went down, shot in the back as they fled and Fuzzy got the final guy, just as
he got to his car. I listened to him screaming as Fuzzy tore his ass up, while
I walked around and made sure of the others.
By the time I walked
down to where they’d parked, there was no more noise. I called to Fuzzy and he
ran up, ready to tear up anyone else he could find. I said, “Sirens?”
Fuzzy said, “Yeah,
Boss, they’re comin. Long ways off, though.”
“Okay. It’s time
go to Levi’s house. You up for that?”
“Will I hafta kill
“Don’t know. Maybe.”
“Okay, let’s go
I reloaded the Glock
and we headed north and west toward the dope-dealer’s place. No sign of Squeaky
Wheels. I asked Fuzzy if the car with the noisy brakes was one of the ones
parked back there. He wasn’t sure. “Those cars never moved, Boss and I didn’t
notice when they pulled up.”
later, we were across the street from the house that had been Levi Espinoza’s
place. It was entirely dark and there seemed to be no activity. I wondered if
maybe he’d decided to move, of if maybe they only used the house when they were
actually open for business. I sent Fuzzy up to have a smell. He went up to and
then onto the front porch and came back, moving almost silently.
“There are people in
there, Boss. I can smell ‘em. What now?”
“Go around to the
back, in case anybody comes out that way. I’m gonna start some shit.”
Fuzzy moved off into
the dark and I started grubbing around in the street, finding any rocks, pieces
of broken curb stone, bricks, anything I could throw. Before I could get
anything started, Fuzzy was back. He sidled up to me and said, “Mr. Squeaky’s
got his shitty old car parked in the back yard.”
“Okay, good. Let’s
not let him leave, okay?”
“You got it, Boss.”
He was gone again.
I started chucking
rocks at the front of the house. No reaction until a lucky throw took out a
window. Then lights came on and in a minute, old Levi himself stepped out on
the porch. He was in boxer shorts and carrying a big pistol.
“What the fuck’s
goin on out here?” He sounded half asleep.
I spoke just loud
enough so I knew he could hear me. “Killed yer boys, Levi. Now I’m here for
He threw two wild
shots in my general direction and started to back toward his porch, peering
into the darkness. He hadn’t been smart enough to even bring a flashlight.
I reached around the
big elm tree I’d decided to take cover behind and shot him twice. He dropped
like a sack of turds. I saw more movement in the house and two younger dudes
ran out. One started spraying the whole neighborhood with a 9 mm Mac eleven
that was rigged to fire full auto.
On TV, those things
shoot for about an hour. In real life they fire their thirty rounds in about
one and a half seconds and it’s time to reload. If they don’t jam first. He
fired it dry. Clicked the trigger half a dozen times before he realized he’d
run himself outta ammo. Realized he hadn’t brought another mag.
As he turned to run
back to the house, I got a nice clean spine shot on him and stopped his clock.
He made a small puff of dust as he hit the ground. A bullet creased my cheek
and knocked bark off my tree and I ducked back. That stung like a sumbitch and
then turned weirdly numb. My eye was watering like crazy and the guy we liked
to call Mr. Squeaky was boldly walking right at me, capping rounds, determined
to be the hero.
I stepped around the
four-foot tree trunk and fired from the other side, left-handed and right-eyed.
One of my rounds ripped through his shoulder, halting his forward progress. As
he staggered back, I gave him two more, both in the chest. Sucking chest wounds
are almost always game-enders. He went down and landed on top of his boss’s carcass.
I whistled for Fuzzy
and we got the hell outta there. The sirens were a little slower this time.
Maybe they knew a dope dealer lived there. Or maybe they were all tied up at
the other scene at my place and had to get some guys free to make the call.
Fuzzy and I headed
out to an all-night diner over on Inverness. I figured when we got home the
cops were gonna be all over this and it wouldn’t take too long before they’d be
matching my expended casings to both crime scenes. I was looking at going to jail,
which I wasn’t too worried about, except, I didn’t know what I’d do about
Fuzzy. I sat down on the front steps of the diner and told him I was probably
“They gonna put ya
away, Robby?” The fact that he used my name showed his level of concern.
“I really don’t
know, Big Guy. Maybe. If they do, you know where to go to get fed?”
“I can figure it
out. I’m hungry right now.”
“Okay. When in
doubt, eat.” I stepped inside to the counter and ordered two big sloppy
cheeseburgers and Fuzzy and I sat in the parking lot and ate grease and watched
the sun come up.
After an hour, we
went on toward home. Louis Tambar’s unmarked was parked at our place when we
arrived. Everyone else was gone. No bodies, no mess. My ruined sleeping bag was
neatly folded and tagged as evidence and two techs were leaning against their
van and smoking.
Louis stepped out
and looked me up and down. “Please tell me you weren’t involved in this
cluster-fuck. Or that other bullshit over yonder.”
looked at him as innocently as I could.
“Yeah, right.” He
looked at his two techs and said, “Swab this guy for GSR.”
“You really don’t
need to bother, Louis. Here’s the weapon.” I turned around and raised my shirt.
The lab tech slipped on gloves and took the Glock.
“Gonna read you yer
“Go for it. Do what
ya gotta do, Man.” He produced the card, went through the drill.
“Wanna talk here, or
“I’d just as soon
talk here. These guys came after me just after four. I was ready for ‘em.”
“Obviously you were.
You know who they were?”
“Yup. They worked
for Levi Espinoza. Or worked with him.”
“And you know he’s
“Yep. I made him
“And how did that
“After this deal
went down, I went to his place to try and talk to him…”
“He came out shootin…”
“That where ya got
that nasty-lookin’ hickey on yer cheek?”
“Yep. Let’s go with
He turned to one of
the techs and said, “Get a picture of this injury here.”
The tech came over
and shot four quick frames from different angles and then put his camera away.
“Okay, we’re goin’
downtown now, Robby. You want Fuzzy taken to a shelter, or what?”
“That would be the
last thing I’d want. He’ll be fine right here.”
Louis took me down
and placed me in the little room. My statement was taken and gone over a dozen
times. I resisted the urge to embellish or give details that weren’t
specifically asked for. The chief of detectives came in. The watch commander
came in. I was pretty sure there were a lot of people on the other side of the
one-way glass at different times.
At one in the
afternoon, Louis Tambar came in and said, “Okay, let’s go.”
“Where we goin?”
“Headed over to Wal
“Why we goin’ to
As he cranked up the
unmarked, he said, “You’re gonna need a new sleepin bag. That one’s got bout
thirty bullet holes in it. Listen, I’m not gonna bullshit ya. There are forces
at work here I don’t understand any more than you do. I think you’re gonna be
okay on this deal, but it could still go sour. All I can say is, from a law
enforcement point of view, you have cut through a lotta shit and maybe even
saved some lives at some point in the future. Right now it’s in the hands of
the District Attorney.”
An hour later, we
were back, Louis Tambar had left and Fuzzy and I were getting ready to take a
nap. My cell rang and I checked the number. Area code 202. Washington, D.C. I
flipped it open and said, “Hey…” I was expecting Alice Ann’s voice. Instead, I
got her boss.
“Don Lawson here,
“Yeah, Don, what’s
“Robby, it’s about
Alice Ann Ackerman.
Triple-A. I’d just seen her on the weekend. We’d spent Saturday and most of
Sunday shacked up at the Holiday Inn down on Broadway.
came out in a croak. My heart seemed to have moved up into my throat.
“She was shot this
morning, Robby. We were doing a fugitive apprehension over in Virginia. We got
into a gunfire exchange. She caught a bullet and it was a while before we could
get her to safety. She was dead on arrival at the hospital.”
I was silent.
“I know you and she
were close, Robby. I wanted to be the one to tell you…”
Mr. Lawson. I appreciate you taking the time to call me. I know it’s the most
difficult part of your job…”
“I’m sorry, Robby.
I’ll call and let you know about arrangements…”
After we hung up, I
sat and stared and listened to the traffic. Fuzzy moved up against me and I
wrapped an arm around him. “Tell me,” he said. He knew something bad was
“Alice got killed.
Got shot. She’s dead, Fuzzy…”
He sighed and
dropped down to the ground and laid his head on his paws. I looked at him and
his eyes met mine. Then he said, “I don’t feel it.”
“I don’t believe
I think if she died, I’d know it.”
“They just told me,
Big Guy. She got shot…”
later, my cell chirped. I had a text message and the readout said, “Alice A.”
The text read, “Suck it up,