Crust by Trey R. Barker

“What you doing, Detective?”

“Saving you,” I said.

“Cain’t tell if you asking or telling.”

“Does it matter?”

“You…you cain’t prove anything. I ain’t going to jail.”

“Does this look like the way to jail?”

I drove through an ugly part of town, the last bit of civilization before the desert took over. Light industrial pocked with auto body shops, oil industry supply houses, busted-neon strip clubs, head shops, drinking dives of all stripes. These streets had long since become the asphalt graveyard of the lost and rejected and those who sheltered in the hidden alleys and darkened doorways.

“Then where you taking me, dick?”

“Trust me, Crust.”

He breathed out anger. “That’s not my name. It’s just what the cops call me. Detectives who can’t find their own dicks.”

“Funny. Dicks who can’t find their dicks. But it wasn’t the dicks who named you.”

PD found him sitting on a bench. In a small park that was populated by squirrels and the lonely old. He’d been bloody. Dried, the red gone brown and crusted over.

“Six months’ of crust,” one of the black-and-whites had said.

“It was blood crust,” he said, picking at his hands.

PD held him for six months and he never said a word. Patrol and dicks came up empty beyond Crust’s bloody clothes. Typed, printed, DNA’d and nothing useful, of him or the victim, ever came back. The investigation went dead straight nowhere.

Crust had given a confession in search of a victim. Eventually he had walked free.

A year later Crust popped up again. More blood, another confession, again zero evidence. Nine months after that…another. Then another.

“Lots of bodies at your feet.”

Crust said nothing.

“Texas desert is damned big.” Flophouses and massage parlors slipped past, tired women, exhausted men, both watching my unmarked but obvious squad. “Ever troll down here? For victims?”

The muscles on his jaw tightened down like screws under a thumbnail.

“No,” I said. “Because there are no random victims. They’re specific, aren’t they?”

More silence.

“Almost there,” I said.

* * *

When Crust and I entered the shitty motel room, Dennis’ eyes were buggy, like a terrified Boston Terrier. His sweat was a shedding second skin. He moaned, but the sound was shoved back down his throat by the ball gag. Before I’d gone looking for Crust, I’d tied Dennis with rope that I’d twisted between limbs and balls. Every time he moved, the entire thing tightened around his scrotum.

“What was his name?” Crust asked.

Crust wasn’t talking about Dennis. “Jess.”

“They called him a suicide. Ate a bullet.” Crust eyed me. “From one of your guns?”

“PD never figured out where he got it.”

“Bullshit. We know.”

“I’m not magic, Crust, I can’t make anyone do anything they don’t already want to do.”

“Uh huh. Newspaper said you read Jess’ text messages to those girls.”

“Nearly 30,000 of them.”

Crust nodded toward Dennis. “He the same as Jess?”

“No. Prefers boys. But young. About the same age.”

“As what?”

“As you were.”

Crust wanted to hit me. I saw it in his clenched fists, heard it in his hissing breath. But mostly I tasted it in the poisoned air he breathed out at me.

Dennis’ room was mostly bare. Three or four crumpled soda cans, a mostly-smoked bag of weed. A half-empty container of lube. The detritus of Dennis’ life and his proclivities in this small, cramped room in a non-descript, by-the-hour motel.

“He don’t have any pictures,” Crust said.

“No.”

“They took a ton of pictures.”

I swallowed. “Of you.”

“Yeah.” Crust dropped the lube on the floor, crushed it until it was dead. “Why not take him to jail?”

“I could ask the same of you.”

Crust’s broken teeth threatened me like a spurned lover. “Ad-seg? Safe and isolated from the mainline cons?” He eyed Dennis. “A few years and back on the street? Too. Fucking. Slow.”

“No one ever knows of this,” I said. “Our secret.”

“We’d both go to prison.”

“We’d go to death row.”

Dennis pissed himself and his saliva, drooling from around the ball gag, spattered the stained carpet. The tang of fresh urine saturated the air.

“This guy never hurt me,” Crust said.

“Not him…but Them,” I said. “All of Them hurt all of You.” I shrugged. “Maybe I’m mistaken.” I held Crust’s eyes. “He is my gift to you.”

“Why?”

Dennis’ face, built on abject fear, wrapped in on itself until it was unrecognizable. Did the kids look like that? Did they have that totality of fear in their eyes? So was I doing this for those kids? Or for future victims? Or to put a salve on my own inadequacies? “An apology? That no one stopped the men who hurt you.”

Crust had killed at least four people. I knew of the deaths but not of the people. I had talked to him ten or twelve times – formal interviews, informal interviews, casual chats on the street when I’d followed him – and he’d answered every question with a clenched jaw.

Dennis shook his head. Violently. Like he had when I grabbed him this morning while he prowled in a skate park. He was a known offender, convicted twice of molestation, unconvicted countless times.

“He’s been in ad-seg,” I said. “Three meals a day, laundry twice a week, books…letters. Internet access, for fuck’s sake. He killed some of his victims, Crust. Killed them. But we couldn’t convict. It’s possible, you know…to kill and get away with it.”

“Yeah.”

I held Crust’s gaze tightly. “Dennis told me those little boys understood his love. That they loved him, too. He told me those boys loved how deeply he loved them.”

Crust ground his jaw.

I glanced at my watch, “My lunch break is over, I have to get back on duty. There’s a car out back. Enough gas to get to the desert.”

“And back?”

“Yes, Crust, there and back.”

6/8 by Trey R. Barker

Jazz bop rebop and she won’t leave my head.

But I got Miles, too, bopping cool but hot as a gun barrel.

Touch it and the hot burns and why’s it always night time dark time when I’m digging Miles?  Or Brown or Rollins.

Night and rain and she’s two years gone.

Thunder like jazz bop cannon shot.  POP to my heart and I revel in the punch.

Playing in 6/8 time.  Six beats to the bar, galloping along.  Miles calls it ‘Flamenco Sketches,’ but I call it 6/8.  Six of one, eight of another.

The music low ‘cause it’s just for me now.  If she hears it, she’ll tumble: ‘He’s here.’

Someone else’s woman now and that jazz cuts deep.  Every day deep.  She couldn’t take me.  Didn’t get me.  She lost her own rhythm inside my head…didn’t dig my heart.

Hated my jazz.

Didn’t hate me, not at first note.  My first notes snapped her fingers.  First note was anything she wanted please just keep that smile on that beautiful face.  Second note repeat plus listening to her tunes.  Third note same and fourth note fifthsixthseventh note give you everything you want, scratching every itch you got.

Just tell me what’s bopping in your head.

Tell me where you’re going…

…who you’re bopping with…

…when you’ll be home…

…damn well don’t be late…

…you’re not gonna leave me playing solo.

I gotcha…locked up deep and tight inside; you and me and Miles, ain’t nobody leaving rebop.

Miles digging in my head right now, ‘Flamenco Sketches’ as I park in the dark, a shark on a lark, looking to score six in eight.

Tried to play her different songs but there’s only jazz, baby, my jazz and hard bop atop the night.

Ain’t nothing else.

Gotta cool my head.  Hot as Miles melting trumpets.  The jazz, mine and hers with the new him, doesn’t cool.  White hot rebop now, burning me inside out.

Tape’s not even playing anymore but tunes bang bang banging in my cool shot head top.

She might hear my heart but won’t hear the six.  Definitely the first.  Maybe the second.  Nothing after that.  Can’t hear when the beats are banging inside you.

1-2-3-4-5-6.

In eight.

Steps from the train and climbs in his car.  Eight seconds.  Train to car.  Used to be my car, sitting train-side, driving home-side.  His car now with shitty tunes.  Screeching Doris Day when I’m Howlin’ Wolf.  Warbling Pat Boone when I’m juicing Lena Horne.

His car, his house, his arms, his sex.

But my barrel…smooth as her skin, hot as my sin.

Jazz bop rebop white hot.

Six in eight?  Too many?  Barrel says do it, whispers “absolutely keep the rhythm burn the bitch.”  Lee Harv shot three in some number of seconds.  Killed the world.  I only have her.

Six shots…eight seconds…6/8…just like ‘Flamenco Sketches.’  Maybe I’ll go to Spain when she’s dead.  Jazzing in Spain and she should have stayed.  Not so hard to fix. I could have dug up the right key for us…tune up the heart, tune up my head.  Stay and let’s play, whaddya say.

No more music but I’m walking up her walk, laying down the stomp.

Eyes flash when she sees me.  Yeah, baby, that smile I needed to see.

Looking so relieved…like Miles when the solo is done and packed away until another love comes along.

Wants me here.  Wants me putting it all back together for us.

6/8 and jazz bop rebop cool shot straight POP to the heart.

Flashing now not eyes but blued steel and this ain’t right.  Wrong song, I wanna say.

“Finally,” she says.  “Knew you’d come.  Now we can be done.”

Then I’m hearing six shots…her barrel…mine’s fallen in the mud and rain and I can see it in the lightning.  Six shots like thunder buried deep in ‘Flamenco Sketches.’

Six shots watching my red and knowing it’s nothing but dead, baby.

But only hearing one.

6/1 and still those tunes are banging banging.

Cheating by Trey R Barker

He shoved his fingers deep inside her, dug for evidence.

Her skin crawled.  “Find anything?”

“Eighty percent of women cheat.”  He looked at his fingers, wiped them on her shirt.

“And one hundred percent of men.”  She jerked her shorts up.

He glared.  “You’re cheating.  Why else would you ignore my Kingsnake?”  His voice softened like it always did after his fists worked her.  “I know this is tough on us, but when it takes off, we’ll go anywhere you want.”

Anywhere?  How about backward ten years?  She wanted to warn her younger self the marriage would be a disaster.  In the house they’d fled a week earlier, the living room had been lined with wedding pictures, trophies from the life they were supposed to have lived.  A happy, beautiful couple, certain the world was at their feet.

“I can’t do this anymore, Reed.  We’ll never get out from under this.”

He grinned and she weakened.  That total confidence was what had caught her ten years ago.  “Baby, they don’t even know where we are.  Anyway, we’re gonna hit it this time.  Make half a mil easy.  More than enough to pay up.”

“Pay up?  It’s not about payback, not anymore.  It’s about you telling them to fuck off.  You cheated them.”

Reed had called them out in their own bar.  In front of their drinking buddies, for fuck’s sake.

“You were holding a bottle of 60-year old Jamison’s.  Daring them to get their money back.”  His audacity still stunned her.

“I was drunk.  And fuck you, Christi, I can make this work.”

His head had always been full of plans and schemes and he’d always believed – fervently – every idea would make them rich.  But mostly his ideas were shit and rarely made enough to even cover rent.

Then this biggest idea, cobbled together from a night of bad booze and bad mafia movies.  Borrow $20,000 from off-street bankers…then threaten to hang them out with the media.

“Damnit, Reed, they killed Charlie.”

“That was just to scare us.”  He snorted.  “Besides, Charlie was a fucking dog.”

“Charlie was my fucking dog and they dragged him behind their car with a chain.”

His anger boiled, bright red flooding his face, and she wanted it.  She wanted it to explode and leave handprints on her cheeks, blood on her lips.

I won’t fight back.  Not this timeTonight, if you hit me, it’ll be penance.

She checked her watch.

He’d wanted the 20 big to open a business.  After that crashed because having an idea wasn’t anything like executing an idea, Reed had decided to invest the dwindling cash in a buddy’s idea.  When that buddy went to jail for making a thirteen-year old slop his knob, the money became their daily nut.  But then the Horse stamped its feet and blew its hot breath and Reed had to ride.

“We’ll sell the skag,” he’d said.  “Make a shitload, get outta town.”

Trash talk.  By the time he’d said that, half the heroin was gone, shrinking and hardening his veins, and the loan officers were whispering at the door.  She knew what was coming: an OD, the full debt still on the books, the moneymen coming after her to settle accounts.

Unless I solve the problem first.

“Why you always fucking doubt me?”  Reed’s eyes flashed.  “You ain’t no smarter than me.  That money was a great idea.”

Except for that one little problem.

“They were dirty, Reed.  Why’d you go to them?”

“No, no, this ain’t about me going to dirty cops for money.”  He chest bumped her.  “This is about you cheating.”

“Can you, for cripe’s sake, focus on the money and not your dick?”

“Forget the fucking money, damnit.”  His voice rose.  “They don’t know where we are.”

“Are you really that stupid?  I can’t believe I married you.”

He lashed out, a hard hand across her face.  Rocks exploded in her head.  His second slap was just as hard.  Warm blood flooded her mouth.  “Maybe next time I’ll take some teeth.”

“And maybe you won’t.”

Relief flooded Christi.

Reed startled.  “What the hell?  Who the fuck’re you?”

“Where’s our money?” a cop asked.  He bulged in the doorway.

“Get the fuck outta here.  I got the TV stations on speed dial and I’ll tell them the story of the fucking year.  Cops on the take, stealing from evidence rooms, shaking down drug dealers.  Arrests, perp-walks, trials.  You gonna be a big star.”

The cop, Christi didn’t know his name, crossed the room in a flash.  He slammed Reed to the floor, jammed a knee in his back, cuffed him violently.

“The fuck is this?” Reed said.

“Thought you could cheat us?  Guess what?  Time to pay the bills.”

“The hell’d you know where I was?”

Jenn strolled in, sexy in her uniform, gun on her hip, her badge flashing.

Christi’s breath sped up and her face flushed.  “Didn’t think you were coming.”

Jenn’s eyes twinkled.  “Was going to meet you when I got off duty, but…I wanted to see you.”

Reed bucked against the cuffs.  “Give it up, Serpico.  You ain’t gonna touch me, you don’t want my blood on your hands.”

“I’ll wash my hands in your blood, bitch,” the cop said.

Jenn’s face was serene.  “Reed, you poor guy.  Christi told us.  Well…told me.”

His face was splotched with rage, red circles dancing on his skin like spotlights.  “You lousy cunt.  You fucking sold me out?”

Christi whispered, “For something we had a long time ago, Reed, something I found again.”

He spit at her.  “I knew you were fucking around.  Fucking every cop in town.  Gonna blow blue?”

Jenn gently kissed Christi’s cheek.  “I’ll take personal time the rest of my shift, if you want.  We can leave tomorrow…grab a few days somewhere else.”

“Yeah,” Christi said.  “I want.”

Flashing Tin by Trey R. Barker

He flashed tin and I laughed.

“Why’re you laughing?  I’m on the Merit Commission.”

As the junior member of minor commission that handed out minor Sheriff’s Office promotions.

“And?” I said.

“I gotta get home.”

“Road’s closed.  Whole town’s closed.”

“I know that.”  Red-faced, he shook his badge at me.

“Got some tin, huh?”  I made no move to let his minivan through the barricades.

“Your boss – the Sheriff – is a friend of mine.”

Pulling out my cell while my emergency lights cast us in red and blue shadows, I said, “A friend of yours, huh?  Well, then let’s call him.”

Two miles in front of us, the entire town seemed to burn, though it was really only the remnants of a freight train.  Better than twenty cars had derailed, most filled with ethanol.  The fire had been burning for two days now.  All of the town’s 350 residents had been evacuated, though only two houses had burned so far.  When I was doing a door to door search, I’d found this guy standing in his backyard watching the fire.  He adamantly hadn’t wanted to leave.

Now here he was, flashing tin and demanding entry.

“That badge give you arrest powers?  Or just free sodas and maybe some pussy every now and again?”

He gripped the wheel of his minivan so hard I thought he’d tear it off.  “You son of a bitch.  You can kiss the sergeants’ promotion goodbye.”

“My bad.”  I shrugged.  “It’s a mandatory evacuation…Commissioner.”

He smirked.  “Which doesn’t have the force of law.”

“As opposed to your badge.”

“Goddamnit, I’m going in.”

The delicate moon was hidden behind thick smoke.  When the smoke occasionally parted, the moon looked somehow sad.  “Why?”

“Why?  Because I damn well say so.”

The environmental guys kept telling us the smoke wasn’t lethal, just made it tough to breathe.  Their overriding concern was the remaining cars.  They thought those cars might get hot enough to explode.

“Deputy, I’m going in, that’s how it is.  I gotta get my animals.”

“Animals?  You should’a said so.  I have animals, too.  Listen, let’s start over.  I’m tired and maybe we got off on the wrong foot.  I apologize.  I just don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

His face eased up, relief as bright as the fires.

“How about I escort you in?”  I held his gaze.  “Then I can escort you and your animals out.”

His head tilted.  “Well…I appreciate that, but…I’ll pass.  I’ll be fine.  And anyway, my animals don’t like strangers.”

“Uh-huh.”

“It’ll be easier if I go alone.”

I let him pass.  “Please be careful.”

Nodding triumphantly, he drove off without a word.

* * *

Here’s the thing: I’d already checked all the houses…three times.

There were no animals left.

 

* * *

 

When I got there, Commissioner Frances Magnarelli was already tied up.

“Deputy.”  Bruises stained his face.  “Thank, God.  This psycho attacked me.  Arrest her.”

The psycho grinned at me, melted ice cream dripping down her chin.  “Rocky Road.  His.”

“Figured you’d help yourself?” I asked.

“Hey, man, it was already getting melty.  Man’s got no electricity, I’m helping him out.”

“Deputy?”

“Shut up.”  To her, I asked, “Ready?”

“Tee it up.”  She tossed the ice cream over her shoulder and in three steps crossed the room.  She slapped him hard enough to bloody his lips.  “Lucky for me that train derailed, I guess, huh?”

He blinked rapidly, his wheels turning.  “I…I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.  How’d you get  into my house?”

“’Cause otherwise, we’d still be going at it, wouldn’t we?  Well, you’d be going at it.  A little hard for me to participate, being drugged and tied up and all.”

During that last search I’d found her in his basement.  Bound and suspended from the ceiling. Naked.  Bruised.  Crying.  Dried semen in her hair and red welts on her ass.

“I thought I was going to die.  But you came back.  We – “ She indicated me.  “Knew you would.  One last hurrah before you split, huh?”

“I bet he was going to drug you and drive your ass out of here,” I said.  “Take you to some new place.  We’d have never found you again.”

His badge was lighter than mine, as though it were just trifle rather than a real thing.  “You people,” I said.  “Fucking holster sniffers.  Don’t have the balls to do the actual job.”

Magnarelli smirked.  “Gonna lecture her, too?  Bitch didn’t look at me until she saw the badge.  Made her as wet as a fire hydrant.”

She punched him.  His nose exploded, blood covered his shirt and carpet.  She hauled him to his feet and dragged him toward the basement stairs.

“Deputy.”  His voice was as wobbly as an old man.  “You can’t let her do this.”

She balanced him precariously on the edge of the first step for a heartbeat, then pushed.  He fell like stone.  Tied and unable to break his fall, he bounced down the stairs and slammed into the concrete floor.  Somewhere in that fall, I heard a bone snap.

“My leg’s broken.  Help.  Heeeeeeeelp.”

I headed out of the house.  A broken leg was a stroke of luck.  That way, when someone eventually found the body, an autopsy would show an accident.  A man – with a predilection for kidnapping young woman and raping them repeatedly while they were tied in his basement – fell down his stairs and broke his leg.  There was simply nothing he could do to save himself when the fires came.

I looked back, saw her pull out a Zippo lighter and flick it once, just like I’d shown her.

It flashed to life and for a split-second, the flame was the color of tin.

Twenty-Four by Trey R. Barker

My steel – cool as the falling rain – is jammed right in his face.

He pisses himself, an ammonia rain between his legs.

“You gonna pull me over, motherfuck?” I say. “The hell you think you are?”

His name is Chance. ‘Officer Chance,’ he told me two nights ago.

“Wha…I’m not…whoever you’re looking for.”

I sniff. “Yeah, same stench.”

“Oh, please, God. I didn’t…didn’t do anything.”

But his eyes can’t lie. He knows what he did.

My Sig is cold steel now, but how many hot nights has it seen? “Twenty-four.” And I remember every moment of every night. Every whimper and moan, every beg, every finish.

“Twenty…what?” His eyes never leave my gun.

In the beginning, those twenty-four nights, spread over weeks and months, had been exotic. They’d filled my brain with electric steam and kept me hard for hours afterward. Twenty-four nights later, I am soft. I can’t even see the twenty-fifth night on my horizon.

I tap my skull with the Sig. “Every detail from that night.”

He is confused and has no idea who I am. But then again, no one does. I never get stopped; never run a red light, never touch a yellow. Always use a turn signal, never speed. Never stop anywhere until I get home.

Sweat those details and you’ll never sweat a cop.

Until this fucker came along.

“You said speeding. We both know that’s shit. So why’d you stop me, Officer Chance?”

He has no legitimate answer. He’d stopped me because his outsized, cop-ego wouldn’t allow him not to. He revels in the glory when passersby see him holding someone hostage while his blue light ignites the darkness. It is a desperate, phallic stand-in for a self-esteem he’s never found.

“You fucked with the wrong guy.” I breathe him in like a lover. Our lips are less than an inch apart, our souls hot in each other’s mouths.

“But – ”

“You started this madness when you pulled me over. Two nights ago?”

There is no recognition in his eyes.

“But I didn’t…I’m not even a cop.

Adrenaline dumps heavy in my blood; hot and fresh. This is more exciting than the twenty-four nights. His fear is a new, altogether unexpected and delicious kind of fear. It is exquisitely different than just slipping through their doors and ending their nights.

Two nights ago, beneath the safety of his flashing lights, in what looked like an unmarked squad car, he hadn’t been scared. He’d had big, swinging, cops’ balls, with their stench of arrogance. Less than three blocks from her house, he’d been in command, telling me this and that while waving a finger in my face through the open window.

“Not a cop. Then how did you come to stop me?” I take the gun off him, give him room to breathe.

“So you practice.”

His eyes flash and I know he sees a way out. “It doesn’t hurt anybody. I stop people, tell them to slow down, let them go. Not a big deal.”

“If you’re not a cop, where’d you get this squad?”

“It’s old, man. They stripped it down and sold it at auction. Still looks like a crime cruiser, doesn’t it? Bought the lights on-line. Got a badge, too.”

“You carry that stuff around?”

“Fuck, yeah. Wanna see it?”

The twenty-four always almost always beg. Tell me I can have anything I want if I just leave. “Do you get offers?”

At first, he doesn’t understand. Then his head rocks up and down. “Fuck, yeah. Mostly blow jobs. Pop it right in the window. Those chicks go to town, man. They’re all sluts.”

I slap him hard. He yelps and blood trickles down his chin until the light rain washes it away. “You terrorize them and then denigrate them for taking the only way out they have?”

I want to shoot this simpleton. Running around, terrorizing women for blowjobs. Probably doesn’t understand the drive that pushes him. Gets all jonesed up by a having a badge and ignores the delicate dance of soul against soul.

The rain slicks me. “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

“Uh…no.”

“You could have solved it, Mr. Cop-Wanna-Be.”

He frowns.

“Two nights ago. Three blocks from where you stopped me.”

Eventually, the bells ring in his empty head. A bit of moonlight peeks out from the clouds and shines his face. “That was you.”

Now our lips nearly touch, and I whisper: “You could have given me to the world.”

I kiss him. Lightly. Just a touch, lip to lip, as I had done with the twenty-four.

Then I yank him from the car and shoot him twice in the head. Through the silencer, the shots are as quiet as distant thunder. I toss him deep in the underbrush and drive away in his squad. The truck I’ve stolen to track him down is two blocks away, on the side of the road, hazards flashing as though it’s having a mechanical problem.

The adrenaline is going to last all night, maybe all week. This is different. Exciting in a way it hasn’t been for a while. The uniform, the badge and squad, the sheen of authority. Everything will have new life.

So this isn’t the twenty-fifth night.

This is the first night.

Smoke by Trey R. Barker

Interstate 80…mile marker 47…1:38 a.m.

“Don’t fuck this up.”  Frankie says to Driver.

“We got no problems, man.”  Driver stands on the shoulder, face harsh in the squad’s glaring spotlight.  Hands up, shaking.  Driver is scared to death; staring at the .45 staring at him.

Frankie and Gary had pulled three Hefty bags stuffed with weed.  Sitting on the trunk now, two hand guns, a knife, eleven tins of heroin.  A mostly-smoked spliff.  Half-empty Southern Comfort.

Cars and trucks thunder past on the highway.  Some drivers honk. One yells something.

Frankie’s partner, Gary, talks to his shoulder mic.  “Dispatch from 106.  Myself and 107 have two in custody.”  Then clanks the driver’s wrist into a set of sleek, black handcuffs.

“You ain’t gotta do this.”  Driver pulls his free arm.  Gary dances him hard to the trunk.  They bang against it and one of the Hefty bags hits the ground.  Weed spills.

A semi-rig, horn blasting like a screaming prison, rockets past.  Breeze bangs against their faces.  Marijuana slips away in the gale.

“Why we gotta go to jail?” Driver asks.

“Three Heftys’ full of smoke, that’s why.”  Frankie says.

“I’m saying…take it.”  The driver’s voice screws into a whine.  “Smoke it.  Sell it.  I don’t give a shit…but cain’t we boogie outta here?”

Driver flexes.  Gary turns the guy’s wrist backward.  Then up.  The man howls.  Gary says, “Stop fighting, buddy.  Relax.”

“Dude, you’re breaking him.”  The passenger, Mookie, stands on the shoulder.  Eyes hard, fist hot and ready.

Frankie puts his Glock against Mookie’s head.  “Don’t let that be your last thought.”

The driver fights some more, but Gary gets him cuffed.  Walks the guy back to the squad car and puts him in the backseat.

“Can’t believe we’re going to jail for weed.”  Mookie says.  Watches Gary.  Testing the cop, daring the cop to cuff him.

Gary steps up.  “Wanna go?”

“So all your cop buddies can fucking Taze me up?  Spray me and Taze me?  I’ll pass.”  Mookie backs away.

Gary winks.  “I don’t carry a Taser.  Don’t need one.  We’re not state police and there’s not a city cop for 50 miles.  We’re county.  Our back up is…twenty miles away?”

“Thirty…at least.”  Frankie says.

The radio squawks.  “…107…status?”

“Secure, dispatch.”  Frankie says into his shoulder mic.

“So…you and me,” Gary says.

Mookie licks his teeth.  But keeps his hands up.

Another semi passes, three or four cars follow; a midnight caravan, bathed in moonlight and the flashing reds and blues.

“We going to have a problem?”  Gary says.

Mookie glances at the moon, watches cars pass, shuffles his feet.  “Why you doing this?  Just take my dope.  And the guns, too.  Take it all.  Price of doing business, man.”

“You think we’re dealers?” Gary asks.

Frankie holsters his gun.  “We’re the good guys, Mookie.”

“Justice and apple pie and all that shit?”

Gary taps his silver badge.  “Damn straight.  You’re the bad guy.”

Frankie says, “We can fight if you want but you’ll still go to jail.”

“Just a little bloody, right?”

Headlights paint Gary and Frankie’s faces.  The new car pulls up quick, parks behind it all.  Flashing red and blues pop to life.

“No back-up, huh?”  Mookie says, then spits.  “Fucking liars.”

“Didn’t think anybody was close.”  Frankie says.  “Just the guy gonna drive you to jail.”

“If I go.”

Gary moves in close.  “Do it.  I want you to.”

“Gary.”  Frankie says, his voice hushed.  “Who the fuck is that?”

“Bagged yourself a keeper, looks like.” The new officer says.  “I’m Dean.  With the task force.  I was headed to Chicago for a little night work.  Saw this circus.  You guys need a hand?”

“I think we’ve got it.”  Gary nods toward the squad.  “One already in cuffs and ready to go.”

“Coolio.”  Dean glances at the loot arrayed over the trunk.  “Shit mariah, that’s a load of smoke.”

Frankie laughs.  “Not a bad night’s work.”

“Gonna get better yet.”  Dean looks at Mookie.  “You know who they are, right?”

Gary stiffens.  “What?”

Dean gracefully draws his weapon, swivels it between the two cops.  “Rogue cops, Mookie.  They might’a been officers once…somewhere.  Task force is pretty sure they bought their gear at an army-navy surplus store.  Squad came from an auction down in Bloomington.  Outfitted in their garage, at least that’s what the old lady across the street told me.  Drive around the highways, stopping whoever they want and taking whatever shit those people have.  We’ve been trying to catch them.  I’m a little surprised they managed to stop an actual drug dealer.”

Mookie’s jaw sets.  “They were hustling me?”

“Are hustling you.”

“Who the hell are you?” Frankie asks.

“Just a cop trying to do the right thing.”

Gary raises his hands, palms out.  “I’m not sure what’s going on, but let’s ease up with the guns and talk a little, okay?”

“No…I don’t think so.”

Dean fires and Gary falls in a spray of red.  Before he hits the ground, Dean fires again.  Frankie’s forehead disintegrates.  He falls on top of Gary.  Blood covers both badges.

Mookie stares, wide-eyed.  “Task force don’t fuck around, do it?”

“What’s your name?”

“Mookie.”

“Mookie, listen: they were going to kill you.  They don’t leave witnesses.  They take your shit and smoke you with a bullet or three to the skull.”

“Yeah, but – “

When he fires, Mookie looks surprised.  Eyes are big, round O’s.  He gurgles and it sounds a little like, “What the fu – “  Then he falls.

In the squad car, the driver screams.  Another shot and he’s quiet.

Dean snatches the loot off the trunk and deposits everything in his car.  As he closes the door, he hears the police radio, crackling over the shoulder mics.

“…106?  Status?”  Then silence.  “106 or 107…please respond.  What’s your status?”

6/8 by Trey R. Barker

Jazz bop rebop and she won’t leave my head.

But I got Miles, too, bopping cool but hot as a gun barrel.

Touch it and the hot burns and why’s it always night time dark time when I’m digging Miles?  Or Brown or Rollins.

Night and rain and she’s two years gone.

Thunder like jazz bop cannon shot.  POP to my heart and I revel in the punch.

Playing in 6/8 time.  Six beats to the bar, galloping along.  Miles calls it ‘Flamenco Sketches,’ but I call it 6/8.  Six of one, eight of another.

The music low ‘cause it’s just for me now.  If she hears it, she’ll tumble: ‘He’s here.’

Someone else’s woman now and that jazz cuts deep.  Every day deep.  She couldn’t take me.  Didn’t get me.  She lost her own rhythm inside my head…didn’t dig my heart.

Hated my jazz.

Didn’t hate me, not at first note.  My first notes snapped her fingers.  First note was anything she wanted please just keep that smile on that beautiful face.  Second note repeat plus listening to her tunes.  Third note same and fourth note fifthsixthseventh note give you everything you want, scratching every itch you got.

Just tell me what’s bopping in your head.

Tell me where you’re going…

…who you’re bopping with…

…when you’ll be home…

…damn well don’t be late…

…you’re not gonna leave me playing solo.

I gotcha…locked up deep and tight inside; you and me and Miles, ain’t nobody leaving rebop.

Miles digging in my head right now, ‘Flamenco Sketches’ as I park in the dark, a shark on a lark, looking to score six in eight.

Tried to play her different songs but there’s only jazz, baby, my jazz and hard bop atop the night.

Ain’t nothing else.

Gotta cool my head.  Hot as Miles melting trumpets.  The jazz, mine and hers with the new him, doesn’t cool.  White hot rebop now, burning me inside out.

Tape’s not even playing anymore but tunes bang bang banging in my cool shot head top.

She might hear my heart but won’t hear the six.  Definitely the first.  Maybe the second.  Nothing after that.  Can’t hear when the beats are banging inside you.

1-2-3-4-5-6.

In eight.

Steps from the train and climbs in his car.  Eight seconds.  Train to car.  Used to be my car, sitting train-side, driving home-side.  His car now with shitty tunes.  Screeching Doris Day when I’m Howlin’ Wolf.  Warbling Pat Boone when I’m juicing Lena Horne.

His car, his house, his arms, his sex.

But my barrel…smooth as her skin, hot as my sin.

Jazz bop rebop white hot.

Six in eight?  Too many?  Barrel says do it, whispers “absolutely keep the rhythm burn the bitch.”  Lee Harv shot three in some number of seconds.  Killed the world.  I only have her.

Six shots…eight seconds…6/8…just like ‘Flamenco Sketches.’  Maybe I’ll go to Spain when she’s dead.  Jazzing in Spain and she should have stayed.  Not so hard to fix. I could have dug up the right key for us…tune up the heart, tune up my head.  Stay and let’s play, whaddya say.

No more music but I’m walking up her walk, laying down the stomp.

Eyes flash when she sees me.  Yeah, baby, that smile I needed to see.

Looking so relieved…like Miles when the solo is done and packed away until another love comes along.

Wants me here.  Wants me putting it all back together for us.

6/8 and jazz bop rebop cool shot straight POP to the heart.

Flashing now not eyes but blued steel and this ain’t right.  Wrong song, I wanna say.

“Finally,” she says.  “Knew you’d come.  Now we can be done.”

Then I’m hearing six shots…her barrel mine’s fallen in the mud and rain and I can see it in the lightning.  Six shots like thunder buried deep in ‘Flamenco Sketches.’

Six shots watching my red and knowing it’s nothing but dead, baby.

But only hearing one.

6/1 and still those tunes are banging banging.