Maggie McGee’s was always packed after dinner, but Bruno had used his pull with the owner to secure a booth in the back corner of the establishment.
He sat across from Wally and ADA Ambrose. There was a half full (or was it half empty?) pitcher of beer in the middle of the table, and each of them had a mug.
Maggie appeared out of the crowd with a full pitcher and a mug of her own. Bruno’s face lit up, and he rose to greet her.
“Maggie, this is Wally and ADA Ambrose…”
“If we’re going to hang out outside of work, you have to call me Michelle,” ADA Ambrose insisted with a kind smile that confused the hell out of him.
“Chip has told me so much about you both,” Maggie explained after she placed the pitcher next to the other, and then slid into the booth very close to Bruno.
Bruno’s face hardened. “You gotta problem with that? Maggie’s can call me whatever she wants because she’s my…”
They waited for him to finish the thought, but Bruno found himself at a loss for words.
“Special someone, significant other,” Maggie finally let him off the hook. “Mr. Romance over here apparently needs a speech therapist because he can’t seem to say the word ‘girlfriend’. He’s lucky I think the world of him because otherwise I’d kick him out of my bed and ban him from my bar. The sad thing is, I’m not sure which one would upset him more.”
Maggie laughed, which gave permission to Wally and Michelle to join her.
Bruno blushed ever so slightly, and fought to hold back a grin.
“The point I was trying to make is you ain’t gonna call me by my childhood nickname. And you ain’t gonna tell nobody about it, either. That goes for you, too, counselor.”
Michelle saluted him and then took a drink of her beer. Wally snickered, but made sure not to make eye contact with Bruno.
“When she ain’t too busy needling me about how I introduce her to people, Maggie also uses her position as the owner of this joint to feed me information that people willingly share with her because she’s just so damn charming. Ain’t that right, Sweetie?”
Maggie shook her head and kissed him on the cheek. “I’ve asked around about your missing corpse, and what little I’ve learned shouldn’t be news to you. He was a respected mechanic, who fell on old times, pulled the occasional job when a situation presented itself, and was currently public enemy number one with The Heathens because he absconded with their leader’s beloved motorcycle.”
While Maggie spoke, Bruno refilled all the mugs.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” he admitted as he placed the empty pitcher at the edge of the table. “I’m convinced, after all the digging we’ve done, that Charlie White presented a version of himself that he wanted the world to see, and held the truth close to his chest.”
“So what does that mean in regards to our case?” Wally asked in confusion.
Bruno raised an eyebrow. “What did I tell you about choosing your questions wisely, kid? I swear you don’t listen to a word I say.”
Maggie slapped Bruno playfully on the arm, much to Michelle’s delight.
“Dial it back, Chip,” she advised. “You’re off the clock, so Wally is your peer. Don’t talk down to him.”
“Thank you, Maggie,” Wally added.
Bruno shot him a dirty look, but knew to hold his tongue to avoid any trouble with the real boss at the table.
“Would I be correct in guessing you fudged Charlie’s credentials as a thief a little to make him look more bad ass to The Heathens in hopes of getting him in better with the crew?”
Michelle drummed her fingers nervously on the side of her mug. “Yes, you are correct.”
Wally’s eyes widened in surprise, while Maggie smiled proudly at her man’s intuition.
“I apologize for not telling you the truth from the start, but Charlie was an important CI, I’m never sure who I can trust in the department, and I was trying to get a feel for your interest in him while wrapping my brain around the fact that he was dead.”
Bruno nodded like he understood, but Wally looked concerned.
“You didn’t think you could trust me?” he asked liked a wounded lover.
“Don’t freak, kid,” Bruno advised. “It’s me she wasn’t sure about. I hope this little sit down, and the information I sent you today about our investigation, convinced you that I’m one of the good guys…”
“Actually, it was Maggie who convinced me,” Michelle quipped without hesitation. “She’s clearly an excellent judge of character.”
“Oh, I like this one, Chip,” Maggie purred. “We’re going to get along just fine.”
Maggie extended her mug to Michelle, who reached out with hers to tap it.
Wally smiled in relief and took a big gulp of his beer.
“Charlie wasn’t the career criminal we made him out to be,” Michelle explained, “but we set him up with a fake record just in case The Heathens had someone on the payroll who did any digging to check his bona fides.”
“He was still pulling a few little jobs, though, right?” Wally asked like someone who was late to the party and desperately wanted an update. “He clearly needed money. That’s why he went to his boss to demand a raise. And he probably stole the bike so he could sell it…”
“I’m gonna circle back to that,” Bruno promised as he refilled Maggie’s mug and his own. “Why do you think a guy, who was very good at his job, suddenly decided he wanted to play cop and try to bring down one of the baddest gangs in the city?”
Michelle shrugged. “To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought. At least not at first. I just knew that bringing down The Heathens would be a major feather in my cap. If this guy who had access to them and had earned their trust and respect suddenly wanted to turn on them, who was I to question it?”
Michelle drummed her fingers nervously on the side of her mug.
“We’re all friends here,” Maggie assured her as she reached out to touch her hand.
Michelle looked over at Wally, who smiled reassuringly.
“My gut tells me Charlie was this lonely, nerdy guy, who enjoyed the attention and respect he got from the scary gang bangers. They were amazed at what he could do with an engine, and he wasn’t used to anyone, let alone someone like The Heathens, thinking that was cool. He decided he liked the attention, and he wanted to be like them, too. His knowledge of tools made it easy to figure out how to pick a lock or get into a vehicle. The rush of it all made him feel alive for the first time in ages.”
Bruno smiled and nodded. “Looks like we’ve got the same gut.”
“So then why did he suddenly decide to turn against these guys he so badly wanted to impress and be like?” Wally asked.
Maggie put her hand on Bruno’s. “Before you answer that, tell the young man that was an excellent question. It’s the least you can do after you jumped down his throat earlier.”
Michelle chuckled. “I really like you, Maggie.”
“Back at you,” Maggie replied.
Wally looked at Bruno with a wise ass smirk on his face.
“Excellent question, Wally,” Bruno said in the most monotone voice possible. “He had a change of heart, an epiphany, or better yet, a catastrophic life change that made him look at everything differently and caused him to completely upturn his life.”
“What are you talking about?” Wally asked what everyone else was thinking.
Now it was Bruno’s turn to smile slyly. He then milked the moment by taking a sip of his beer, which caused an impatient Maggie to nudge him in the ribs.
“We ain’t working a murder here,” Bruno announced confidently. “Charlie White knew he was dying…”
TO BE CONTINUED…