Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Malone Saves the Shady Lady

Perk Malone hadn’t visited “The Duck” very often in his years as a patrol officer or as a private investigator. The place had been there, for sure, he just never had the opportunity to grace it with his presence. But in the last couple of years he had, indeed, gone there, had a few beers, met a few people, and avoided the few fights. Generally. In Madison City, a fight, where the cops got called, resulted in a fine for the business and enough fines the business was gone. It was a contested ordinance, but it was still an ordinance.

Today was not much different than any other time. He and one other guy were at the bar. The oversized televisions were on, on mute, highlights of last night’s baseball games. The barkeep had propped the door open to let in some fresh air and it must have been working since the interior didn’t overwhelm with the smell or sweat, beer, or cigarettes. The Duck was two blocks from the interstate and it’s rumblings filtered through the open door, too, along with a draft of fresh spring air.

The other gentleman at the bar paid no heed to Malone and Malone returned the favor. It was a nice afternoon to have a cold one, even if it wasn’t a craft brew, and the place was relatively quiet and dark.

He had his chin resting in the palm of his hand, elbow on the bar when he sort of felt the presence of someone behind him and then next to him.

She let her knees slightly brush his hip as she slid onto the bar stool. Her name was Hazel something-or-other. He’d met her at the justice center, one time, when he was waiting to be called as a witness and she was waiting to be called to the DA’s office. Malone hadn’t quite understood what that was supposed to mean. He didn’t remember much about that encounter but he did remember she was bull-legged.

“Hey, sailor, buy a girl a drink?”

He smiled with his chin still in his hand and with the other hand waved the barkeep to bring the lady a cold, tall one.

“How are you,” she said.

“Good. You?” He could talk well enough with his chin in his palm.

“Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“Always, my dear. Always.”

Now he slightly turned his head to look at her. She was half brunette and half redhead, tanned, eyelashes the size of tent awnings, and eyeshadow that looked like something a five-year old might have applied, and one very obvious shiner under her left eye.

“I fell down the stairs,” she said.

“Okay.”

“No, really, I fell down the stairs.”

“I believe you.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do. I do! Drink your beer.”

She wore a grey hoodie with the arms ripped off and faded blue jeans and tennis shoes. Her hair looked like it hadn’t been combed since winter solstice. She took a long slug of her beer. He had hardly touched his. She took out a crush-proof box of fags and a gold lighter.

“Nice lighter,” he said.

In Tennessee, if under-18-year olds were prohibited from the establishment then smoking was allowed. The Duck was one of those establishments. She didn’t look anywhere near 18-years old. More like 50, thought Malone.

“Thanks, it was a present.”

“You know,” said Malone, “I never did learn why you were at the jail to talk to the D.A.”

“Probably, because it was none of your business, sweetie.”

“Can I ask another stupid question? What does this oak leaf on the lighter supposed to mean?”

“I think it’s the brand name.”

Perk Malone nodded as if he understood. What he understood was different from how she might have interpreted his nodding. He knew, as did most of people in his line of work, as did most of the detectives he knew, that the oak leaf was a signature emblem for the area’s highest ranking importer of pills, marijuana, and women although the Mary Jane side of the business was about to get the kibosh from the legislature. His name was simply Ralph Rose. He was Caucasian, educated, locally born and raised, “free range” one attorney liked to call him, behind his back, but generally not a nice person.

The word was that Ralph Rose (nobody called him “Ralphie” either) did not take fools, women, or enemies kindly. Everyone was potentially an enemy which Perk Malone understood. His respect for Rose did not include kowtowing but it also did not include being foolish. But, for Perk Malone, one thing that had remained true for the years of the rise of Ralph Rose, Perk had never seen the man in real life nor could he recall seeing a picture of Rose. Also, at one time Ralph Rose had portrayed himself as some kind of Mafioso, dressing in a suit, talking tough and mumbling, letting hints drop he wanted to be called “Ralph the nose.” No one knew what to do about that and Rose’s nose wasn’t particularly interesting. It was just a nose. “Rose the Nose” was the inevitable very hush-hush joke.

For whatever reason, the woman now decided to leave. She picked up her purse, package of cigs, and headed straight for the door, not saying “Adios” or “Kiss my Grits” or anything. Perk Malone’s eye flowed from watching her hips wiggle to the old man at the bar as he turned, too, to leave, leaving a half-glass of beer on the counter, and Malone’s eye caught the brown of a pistol butt stuck in the man’s waistband of his grey slacks against a white shirt. Underneath he was dressed a little too nice to match the beat up sport coat and scruffy bearded look on the outside.

Perk Malone had always, and he would emphasize “always,” carried his 32-caliber five-shot in a holster. One, it was required by his license. But, two, he’d been around too many gunslingers who thought a heater in their pocket or belt was way too cool until it caught on in the stitching or belt loop or he managed only to grab the butt not the trigger guard which Perk had seen a cop one time draw his night stick and wallop some youngster across the forehead when the kid tried to quick-draw from his hip pocket only to grab a chunk of wood and not much else.

The two times Malone had used his pistol he knew to get up close, jam the barrel in to where ever you want to hit the man, and then pull the trigger. Both of them survived but both were still spending their nights and weekdays and weekends in west Tennessee curtesy of the state.

Perk Malone wasn’t sure what was going to happen, now as the man really seemed to follow the woman out the door, but he felt he ought to go check it out.

He’d just closed the door behind him, stepping into the sunshine, and breath of fresh air, when he heard the pop of a heavy pistol. A woman screamed, terrified, and then a man screamed, a wounded dog sound. At the back of the parking lot with only five or six cars (for four people), Perk Malone could see the blond head over the roofs. Not sure what to do he instinctively scurried to one side and came up on the man, sitting on the pavement, back against a car, a pool of blood already forming under him. The blonde stood, bent over, hands to her face, now silent screaming. The man’s hat had fallen over his face.

“Oh, God,” she said. “Ralph? No?”

She jumped as Malone approached.

“I didn’t do anything,” she was saying. “It went off by itself. I swear. Oh, God! He’s dying!”

Malone knelt down and put his hand on the man’s chest. His breathing was slow and his heart was hammering. Blood spurted from his left thigh. There was the faint odor of cordite and Malone could easily see the butt of the pistol still peeking out from the waistband. The man had obviously gone for his gun, managed to set it off, and drilled a hole through his upper thigh, the femoral artery, and now his life draining away onto the pavement. The man had a blank look on his face. Malone guessed that he was in shock already from the pain of the bullet and the heat of the discharge in a place where such discharge was not a common thing, but almost instantly his body began to shut down. He was past first aid and past a tourniquet. The next stop was last rites.

Malone grabbed the blonde by the arm and shoved her away telling her to get in her car and leave. Don’t look back, he told her, and don’t come back.

There in the sunshine Perk Malone watched Ralph Rose, Ralphie, Rose the Nose, die. He called 911 but by the time he got through with all the questions before they asked where he was or what had happened, Ralph Rose had pumped out most of his blood and the last was draining by gravity. His chest was still. His heart had stopped. Malone told the 911 operator she probably ought to also call the cops and medical examiner, too. She asked if he needed the fire department rescue squad. Had there been a wreck, were there other injured?

Malone thought about the “others,” not so much the girl, but anyone who had a run-in with Ralph Smith. It took him a moment to get his thoughts back to the parking lot.

He said, “No. No others. No wreck.”

There was nothing left to rescue.
###

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