Fragment of Fiction

Don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead. Fuck. Jason Ramirez felt cold sweat ooze from his pores as he watched the man stop coughing and his eyes start glazing over. He frantically listened for breathing and felt for a pulse, his hands trembling. No wind in the sails and pulse weak, fading. Fuck. Jason had killed in Fallujah, but always intentionally and from a distance. This…this was entirely…fucked.

His partner Rich pressed the radio button down and stood there, mouth open. Godamnit! Rich! Rich’s eyes and mind began swimming back towards the surface of the grave present moment. Call it the fuck in! Rich’s lips began moving, but Jason couldn’t hear him. All he could hear was that pulse, which weakened by the second. The man’s eyes posed a thousand questions before they had rolled backwards, questions now echoing on repeat through Jason’s head.

Why did you have to kill me? He didn’t.

Jason knew this stronger than he knew the ground he was kneeling on over this guy. But shit, he shouldn’t have… Why did he… Godamnit!!! Jason screamed. He couldn’t stop it. A crowd was forming. Rich was becoming more useful. Back up! Stay back! I won’t say it again! He put a palm in an over-zealous onlooker’s chest. Put that camera away! The wait for the ambulance was the longest of Jason’s life as the blue and red flashed on his pale face, minutes melted into months.

This is how Officer (technically Corporal) Ramirez earned his paid leave from the Cleveland Police Department. He beat a man to death. It was an accident, but he couldn’t see it that way. His supervisor had to take his service weapon away from him because he was nervous it might end up in his mouth in the next few days. Jason sat listlessly, waiting for the counselor to see him. He had chewed his nicotine gum until his jaw was sore.

Faces

She remembered dancing in the parking lot, their hands clasped in the hospital room, frolicking and laughing on their lover’s couch. But now he looked at her with hollow eyes. It shook her. The world had broken its promise again–and it was too much. She woke up to vomit, one eye opening and thinking to herself how the pills looked like faraway stars in an impressionist galaxy. A kind, benevolent galaxy she mused. Wouldn’t that be nice?

He fished through his ipod for something with a little more giddyup. He had to get his mind off of work. FUCK FUCK–wrong lane! The steering wheel fought him. That was close. But in the rearview tires bit into the road and the sedan screamed into the ditch. They’ll be fine. Can’t get another ticket. Just go slow. He was talking aloud now. His spine rigid and fingers quaking and heart barely filling in time to rush the blood back out as if the fluid kept reminding him what he was doing.

Her heart lazily chugged as if it was forgetting what it was doing in her chest anyway. Her breathing was shallow and evaporating. Peace. Like she had never known. Wasn’t this what he wanted for her? He said so. He told her to be calm. It made her laugh like a dragon. But really she wasn’t sure he had anything to do with it. He was more like a witness, until he disappeared. She had seen through the matrix already, years ago. She had just been indecisive. She could see all this from on the mountain. Her science teacher–what was her name?–was ahead of her on the trail, but she didn’t feel like saying hello. And was that the lawyer from the bad commercials sailing above them on a rainbow parachute? One would think if they were going to skydive in a suit, it had best be slim fit. More vomit. Wait. No. Nothing left. Pardon the interruption.

He clumped up the stairs. Kids were still playing with one of those marble looking balls from K Mart. The cat litter was dirty, but fuck it. He needed a red bull to get to sleep. Seven new emails, two of which he cared about. He wanted pain to drown out the pain, or the numbness where he knew the pain should be. Halfway through his red bull, he passed out in front of his laptop. The cat opened the refrigerator and began eating anchovies off of the pizza.

 

Stretched Chapter 3

“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water,

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

and Jill came tumbling after”

“Got any coffee?” Lois asked anxiously as she surveyed her surroundings, the dimly lit interior of a humble condo on Sheridan overlooking the baseball fields in Loyola Park, a skip away from the lake shore.

“Iced, hot, espresso?”

“Hot,” her eyes found a desk that looked like a bomb had hit it. Case files were strewn about as if the surface was prepared to slaughter a hog upon.

“I know. I really need a secretary,” his crow’s feet creased as he put on a half-hearted grin. His instinct wanted to put her at ease, but his intellect knew this goal was not likely achievable nor desirable, given the circumstances.

“No. You need a file cabinet. Or a dumpster,” she retorted. He chuckled, it seemed it was her who had put him at relative ease. “What is all this about? Why were those men following me? Why did you contact me?” She should have been an investigator, she knew just how to disarm and interrogate.

“Well, I’ll tell you what I know. Someone tipped the state’s attorney off, and her office is quietly investigating some old, closed cases involving people connected to the upcoming mayoral race.”

“Alvarez is a real shark, isn’t she. What kind of old cases?” Her gut turned and she tried to cover her reaction with a sip of coffee. “This stuff’s kind of strong.”

“You know your politics.” He pretended not to notice her reaction. “Different kinds. One concerns a police shooting in ’94.” Another is–”

“–Wait. Who hired you? I need to know where your interests lie.” Lois’ face flushed, her vision collapsed to focus only on Ramos’ face.

“Enyia’s campaign manager came to me.”

“Amara Enyia? The candidate? What’s her angle in this?”

“If you let me talk, for chrissakes… She got wind about the investigations. Says one of them may implicate a large donor for one of her opponents.”

“Who, Emanuel?” His practiced lack of reaction confirmed her guess. “They say he’s eyeing the governor’s chair though?”

“He is, but he’s still the most powerful politician in town right now.”

“So, you’re supposed to dig up the dirt first to what, blackmail him? Offer to bury it better for a favor?”

“Something like that. Investigator-client privileged information, you understand.”

“Sure.” Her thoughts swept back to that cold night, November, 1994. Her own cries reverberated off the walls and gave her further chills. Leaves rushed in through the open apartment door which flailed as if in the throws of an epileptic seizure. He lay there, his eyes pleading, his hair sticky and warm in her hands. He coughed and rasped. She leaned in, touching her ear to his mouth. “Run, girl. Run to auntie Mina’s. When you get away, you remember…overcome it, overcome them with love.” His eyes clamped and he grimaced. “Go, please,” he managed. Her tears dropped onto his face. She sniffled and looked up. The navy blue uniform stained with crimson. She couldn’t see how she was supposed to love him ever. Her feet pushed her up, with an urgency contradictory to her aching soul, which was firmly planted by her father’s side. She ran against the wind, crimson and blue flashes reflected off the windows and engines hummed as her little bare feet turned the corner.

“I want to ask you some questions, but I’m sure you’re tired. I’d recommend you stay in a hotel tonight, there are a couple around here. I’ll call you in the morning, if that’s alright.” Her mascara laced tear intrigued him.

“Okay.” She lied. She thought it was a good time to finally visit her sister in Florida. “Thanks for what you did back there. And the coffee,” she flashed her money-making smile.

“No need. I’m just glad you’re safe. You’ve still got to be careful, though. Unfortunately, I don’t think this mess will be over any time soon.”

“I will be careful. Listen, Enyia’s good people. Don’t let anybody else’s cash find your pockets this case.” He seemed surprised by the warning, but whether by her guts to say it or its content, she couldn’t tell.

“I wouldn’t think of it.”

“God, what’s burning? Do you smell that?” She felt faint. She took a deep breath. She reached for the table to brace herself. She looked up slowly, dreamily , to see a smile crawling onto Ramos’ mouth. Then it all went black.

Stretched

CHAPTER ONE

“And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men

couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Her eyes wandered across the room, avoiding making contact with any of the men, but recognizing whether they were regulars or not. The song changed to an even worse one than the previous one, and she had to restrain herself from yelling at the bartender to effing change it to something she could dance to already. As she dipped her hips she was careful not to slip in the spilled beer and she closed her eyes as a husky biker with bad breath stuck a five in her thong above her left butt cheek. She loved this job. There was no sick mother at home. No kids to feed. No excuses. Just her, making a rotten living sacrificing her dignity every week night–she hadn’t yet been able to get a weekend spot when all the real dough came through the place. The door creaked open and she covered her eyes from the blinding daylight with an improvised dance move as she saw a striking silhouette enter. He’s way too well dressed to be in here. Her heart fluttered with anticipation as this out-of-place stranger locked his eyes on her, but not her body, just her eyes, and he strode gently towards her, ignoring the bartender’s inquiry as to what he was thirsty for.

“Diana?” He asked. No one has called me that in years, she thought, her anticipation continuing to swell like a balloon in her chest. The bouncer rushed over.

“Sir, the manager has asked to speak with you. Please come with me.” He rasped.

“Diana Kerr?” Her unconscious nod was unnecessary, he knew he had the right woman.

“Sir,” the bouncer persisted “did you hear me?”

“Hear this,” the stranger quickly replied, “I didn’t come here to speak with your manager.”

“Alright, it’s time for you to go, buddy,” the bouncer gestured.

“Diana, I need to speak with you about something very important. Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner, my name–“

“–I said that’s enough!” The bouncer put himself between Diana and the stranger.

“Very well. I will leave, I don’t want to create a disturbance. But before I go, won’t you allow me to tip the dancer, please?” Before the bouncer could answer, the stranger had thrust a bill toward Diana, which she cautiously took with in her hand. The bouncer went to put his hands on the stranger, but the stranger evaded him and the bouncer stumbled, embarrassed. The stranger strode out, as coolly as he had walked in. Diana worked the rest of her shift, wadding the bill along with the others. By the end of the night, she had nearly forgotten about the bill itself, despite her thoughts being drawn again and again to the stranger through the evening. As she said goodbye to the girls and sat in her car, she unfolded the bill. What was it some kind of Euro? Great, she thought. But something was written on the bill in tiny red cursive. She recognized the area code of the phone number as Cook County.

ELI RAMOS, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR.

She started her car and pulled out of the lot. An ambulance’s siren caused her to pull aside and adjust her rear view mirror. She got lost in her favorite radio show, a wrap-up of the baseball news of the day with guest callers. The rain began to fall about five minutes into her drive. That car’s been behind me a while, she mused, trying to brush it off as paranoia. She couldn’t make out the figures in the car, but there were at least two. She made a left turn and the car stayed behind her. She was only a few blocks from home now. When she was about to turn onto her block, she noticed that her vehicular shadow started signaling even before she did. She didn’t turn. The car didn’t either. She decided to test her paranoid assumption once more when she approached a yellow light. She began to stop, but then, just as she approached the intersection, she floored the accelerator. The car waited for a car to cross, then blazed through it. Her pulse surged. Her hands clamped the steering wheel. My phone better not be dead yet. It was getting late and traffic was thinning out in this part of town. She rerouted to a busier area and thumbed a number into her phone. The dial tone hummed. Again. Again.

“Hello?”

“Ramos speaking.”