Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Short Story by Bryan Koepke


        The blue Chrysler slid around the corner fishtailing ahead of us.I glanced for a moment and caught the sight of Haisley gripping the armrest between us. His big black hand was mashing into the vinyl-covered foam like he meant to leave a mark. He was silent yet I knew he was worried. These guys were the real deal and we’d been after them for over a year. We both wanted justice, but not like this. It was supposed to be in a controlled situation where we had plenty of backup, not in St. Clair County where anything goes. I wanted Shanks and his men because it was my job as a detective for the fine city of St. Louis. A city that was going to hell in a hand basket with murder rates increasing at a clip that put us on the map next to LA and Chicago. We were a far smaller city, but no less evil.
     The Chrysler disappeared around the curve. I stepped off the gas pedal and mashed the brake, but tried not to skid. The steering wheel was taking us left around the curve as I turned it. The rear end broke loose and the right quarter panel collided with one or more parked cars. I didn’t have time to stop and count, but judging from the noise of the impact I knew I’d made a mess of someone’s car. I stepped on the accelerator and tore off down the two-lane street squinting ahead for that damned blue car. 
     Haisley spotted them passing on a side street two blocks north. It was a lucky break. We turned and gave chase deciding this time to hang back and follow at a distance. It was Haisley’s idea. He’s my partner but knows the city and the mob better than most anyone else in the squad. They’d put me with
him four years earlier when I’d made my way from a job as a traffic cop into detectives. I was green and he knew it, but we hit if off shooting caps at the range on weekends, and drinking big glasses of scotch with our ladies out by the river. Growing up he’d been the athlete I’d always dreamed of being baseball, basketball, all of it. He had a house full of trophies to prove it.

     Up ahead the blue Chrysler slowed and parked on the side of a ten-story red brick apartment building in East St. Louis; an area know for projects, drugs, and bad things that happened at all hours day or night. I kept on going and parked in an elevated lot about a thousand yards past. We were out and on our knees behind the side of the parking garage with binoculars to our eyes in record time. We needed this bust - me to get a raise and make enough to send my youngest boy Reece to college. The older boy, Raymond, looked like his love of baseball might pave his way through, or at least that was what I was hoping for. I wasn’t sure what Haisley wanted to prove, or to whom, but I didn’t care because we had the same goal, and a way of working together that insured we’d succeed.
       In the distance we could see that Shanks and the others had met up with a group in a beat up white 70’s era Sedan Deville. They were talking, about what we didn’t know, or for that matter, care. We left the garage on foot just as they disappeared through the south door of the large structure. We both knew it would be risky going into a big building after eight guys when there were only two of us, but it was too early to call in any of the others. We didn’t have anything except a few suspicions and the knowledge that Sam Shanks worked for the Mafia. We knew that, as did most anyone living in St. Louis two years after nine eleven.
       With our guns out we got to the building and started in. I went first, the eager young guy, wanting to catch the criminals. Haisley was just behind with his big .44 magnum in his right hand, and his police issued .38 in the holster on his left hip. He was prepared. I was too with my Presidential .357, fancy grip and all, and a .38 that matched the one all of us in the police force carried stuffed into my jacket. We heard a noise and froze. It was up ahead in what looked like a large and open area with shiny white concrete walls in some kind of warehouse setting. I rounded the corner and spotted all eight guns pointed our way. They were camped out behind a tower of wooden crates. There was a row of large wire spindles the size of circular kitchen tables dumped over on our side of the room. I sprinted right, made it behind the second spindle, and felt the collision of Haisley’s shoulder against my shoe a few seconds later just as the gunfire stared. Big splinters of wood caught air and rained down on us as the mobsters unloaded with a barrage of violence. The noise was horrific. They didn’t know who we were, and probably didn’t care. They just wanted us gone. 
     I slid my gun over the top of the curved wood and pulled the trigger seven times in quick succession emptying the .357P and saying hello back to them. Haisley was slower and more precise, and after two shots I heard the sound a man makes when opened up with the hot lead projectile from a large caliber firearm. It was an “oomph” noise followed by an agonizing whine or maybe a shriek. You get the idea. One down seven to go I thought as I scooted right looking for a vantage point and spotted a staircase going up the far wall. I stopped after finding a spot where two of the big spools where pushed together making a perfect peephole. I could see Sam Shanks’ squatty head and beady eyes on the other side. He was nearest to the right and sliding toward the staircase.  
     I reached back to bump Haisley’s shoe, pointed toward the stairs, and saw him on his cellphone.
     “We’ve got back up coming,” he yelled above the shots that ricocheted off the concrete wall behind.
      “Looks like Shanks is headed up those stairs. If he does I’m going after him,” I said.
     “Culver, don’t play hero. Wait for the others. He’s not going to get away this time. We can get him…”
Just then Shanks made a break for the stairways. I gave Haisley a nod and with both my guns firing I kept low and ran after him. Getting to the stairways was easy and before I knew it I was up on the next floor chasing what looked like two men. A bullet came my way. I lunged back left out of the site line. It slammed into the concrete splintering into grey dust and missed my head by an inch. Down below the gunfire continued, and I prayed the others would arrive and save my partner before the guns that outnumbered him did any harm.
     I listened and heard Shanks and the other guy running upward. With my revolver reloaded I took off after them slowing at each turn in the stairs ready to be fired upon, but counting myself lucky each time nothing came.  I continued up and knew we must be close to the top when I heard the slam of a heavy steel door somewhere up above. Shanks and one of his men were above me and I wanted them worse than anything.
     My son Reece was an amazing kid and I knew he belonged in college where he could be guided to a position better than dodging bullets and working nights to catch criminals that the lawyers would have back on the streets selling drugs sooner than was reasonable. I was doing this for him.
     I heard the bang before the bullets hit the wall to my left. I ducked and for a moment felt heat in my scalp and thought I was hit, then realized it was a wayward piece of concrete that had peeled off the side wall and smacked me in the side of the head. My hand came back dry after I reached up to check for blood.
     “Fuckers. I’m going to get you and when I do they’re won’t be any lawyers saving your ass.  I’m going to fill you with lead,” I whispered under my breath in my best Dirty Harry imitation as I took off up the steps. After two flights I came to a primer red door that lead out onto the roof.
     I stopped and checked that both guns were full before slowly pushing open the door. I listened and heard the sound of feet running north across the crushed black pebbles that covered the roof. I wondered about the integrity of the surface, but not long enough to consider not giving chase. I flew out from behind the door and spotted Shanks in his flashy white blazer with pressed blue dress pants running across the roof about a hundred yards away. He looked more scared than charming. I wanted to take a shot, but waited, and instead gave chase with both guns held out ready. He dodged right around an air conditioning unit and I sped up my pace.
     The rooftop was covered in old rusted HVAC boxes and heating ducts – perfect hiding places for bad guys. I didn’t care at this point and was all in wanting only to puncture Shanks’ heart with one of my bullets. I came around the same air conditioning unit he’d dodged past earlier and ran smack into something hard, and immobile. I was down
     A splitting pain throbbed from the crest of my forehead to the top of my nose. I’d been hit with something, but I wasn’t sure what it was or who’d done the hitting. I fought to open my eyes and slid my right hand down my pants leg searching for one of my guns. You can hit me, but you can’t kill me. I thought not entirely sure I believed myself, but it helped having attitude.
     “Ha, ha, ha. You stupid asshole cop,” someone said in a thick southern drawl. I blinked and was blinded by strong sunlight. I smelled the tar underneath the half-inch of crushed black asphalt pebbles that covered the roof.  I rolled to the right toward the voice and peeled open my eyes. There were three of them all dressed in cheap JC Penny’s suits, each in their own color scheme. My hands were empty and I wondered where my two guns went, then I saw the tall blond haired freak that spoke earlier. He was close to my right leg with a two inch black steep pipe about as long as a baseball bat in his left hand. There was the stench of a cigarette fuming from his mouth.
     “Dumb cop. What did you think would happen? Coming after us all alone,” he said raising the pipe. He came down hard with it colliding against my left ankle and the pain was way more violent than the earlier blow to my forehead. All three of them jumped in taking turns thumping me with their steel. I knew I was going to die, but not expeditiously, or without pain.
     I was going to suffer for this mistake. Playing tough guy, and chasing mobsters out on to the rooftop of an East St. Louis apartment building when I knew backup was coming. I heard the sirens about then and wondered if they’d find me before the last hit, a fatal one, had descended upon a part of my body not designed to sustain it.
     “That’s enough,” I heard someone yell in a thick Chicago accent. The voice came from somewhere out past the dizziness and throbbing behind my eyes. I fought past an earlier hit to my left cheek and forced open my eyelid against the pain of its swelling eye socket. I caught a glimpse of Sam Shanks. He was puffing a cigar and the cherry tobacco odor somehow pleased what was left of my stunned senses.
      I heard a laugh, and the same southern accent.  I rolled my head a few inches to the right feeling a weird sensation as I did and saw the tall freak with his long blond hair. His left eye was clouded and he had an evil grin worse than any I’d seen. The pipe came down on my knee and everything went black.
     It was an ordinary Sunday morning like the previous four, except this day I was awake. My wife Helen gripped my arm and wouldn’t let go. She was smiling, but I could tell she’d cried plenty of tears during the past month. The doc had told me about the coma and their wait and see. He said I had a good wife and she’d been at my bedside everyday for as long as he could remember.
      “Well it’s about time you woke up. I was starting to think you had a problem or something.” I heard someone say from the doorway of my hospital room. It was Haisley and he didn’t sound happy. I spotted a nurse, leaned forward, and motioned for her to adjust the bed so I could sit up and see my company.  She came over and pressed something on a grey colored box on my left side.
      It felt good to be upright and the glass of water with the sippy straw that Helen handed to me was a welcome relief to my sore throat. I looked across the room and spotted my two sons Raymond and Reece standing next to Haisley and his wife Mavis. It was a full house.  All that was missing was a couple of pepperoni pizzas and a case of beer. Haisley made eye contact with me and gave me a wink.
            “Buddy, I’ve got to ask. Did you guys get him?” I said.
            “No such luck. Shanks got away in that Blue Chrysler.”

Copyright Bryan Koepke 2013

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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