The cemetery was quiet, which only seemed fitting.
Bruno, Wally, and Champ stood in front of the gravestone that marked the final resting place of Paul Louis Cushing and his surprise guest.
“How’s anyone going to know that Charlie is buried here?” Wally broke the silence.
“Those who will need to know will know so they can pay their respects,” Champ assured them.
The homeless man then shuffled over to the headstone, and placed the white King from the chess board on the stone’s pedestal.
Bruno nodded his approval, but remained silent. He had been taught at an early age by his superstitious mother that the dead could not only hear everything, but also took great pleasure in haunting anyone who said something that displeased them.
“May he rest in peace,” Champ whispered as he rejoined the others.
Bruno worked up the courage to speak. “We owe you big time for tying up the loose ends on this one. If you ever need anything, you ain’t gotta ask twice. Just let me know.”
Bruno held out one of his business cards, but rather than accept it, Champ smiled.
“There is something you could do for me right now…”
The Scorpion Pit could be described as whatever level sat beneath “dive bar” on the hierarchy of drinking establishments. It was in a bad part of town, looked like it hadn’t been maintained in anyway since its grand opening, and served as the home base of The Heathens.
“Do scorpions even live in pits?” Wally asked as he looked at the crooked sign above the door.
“Do I look like National Geographic?” Bruno grumbled. “I ain’t gonna miss your stupid questions, kid, once you go back on patrol.”
Wally lowered his head so that Bruno wouldn’t notice his frown in reaction that that hurtful comment, but the detective wouldn’t have even noticed. He was already through the front door and focused on putting this case behind him once and for all.
The inside of the bar somehow looked worse than the outside. The Heathens were not very welcoming. Those who didn’t straight up ignore the newcomers, hurled curses in their general direction.
“We don’t serve pigs here!” a brave soul yelled from the back.
“We’re looking for Zeus,” Bruno announced to no one in particular.
“No one by that name here,” the bartender replied.
“Then I guess he ain’t getting his bike back,” Bruno stated and signaled for Wally to follow him back to the door.
They didn’t make it two steps before one of The Heathens stepped forward. “Wait here.”
The others went back to ignoring them, and cast a wide berth around the two men.
“I think it’s interesting that Charlie told Champ even he wasn’t sure why he took the bike,” Wally said just loud enough for Bruno to hear.
“We’re in this hell hole right now because he knew exactly what he was doing when he took it,” Bruno advised the rookie.
Before Wally could ask an annoying follow up question, The Heathen returned and signaled for Bruno and Wally to follow him.
Zeus was exactly how Bruno had imagined. Big, bald, arms covered in tattoos, and enough rings in both ears to support a shower curtain. He had his feet up on his desk, and showed absolutely no sign of being intimidated by the presence of law enforcement.
The guy standing behind Zeus was another story. He was a mountain of a man with arms that were thicker than Wally’s torso. He looked like he wanted to eat the guests, after first tearing them limb from limb, but never once smiling because no one had ever taught him how to do so.
“You the men who found my bike?” Zeus asked.
“Ain’t anyone ever taught you that it’s polite to stand and greet your guests with a handshake?” Bruno asked like he was determined to rattle some cages.
Man Mountain growled, but Zeus smiled.
“Maybe my lack of manners explains how I fell into this line of work,” Zeus replied.
Wally braced himself for a fight, and was beyond relieved when Bruno snickered.
“We didn’t find your bike, but the Good Samaritan who did asked us to return it for him,” Bruno explained. “He ain’t exactly trusting of gang lord types, and was afraid you might stiff him on the reward, or blame him for stealing it and let your boys use him like a pinata.”
“That guy knows what I’m talking about,” Bruno added as he nodded at the bodyguard.
“It’s a shame that people think that way,” Zeus countered. “But I do appreciate you returning my prized possession. I believe the reward was $2,500…”
“Make it an even three grand,” Bruno demanded. “This guy went through hell to get it back for you, and if you ain’t willing to pay that, I’m happy to help him find a buyer who will pay much more.”
“Finders keepers and all,” Wally added.
Zeus looked at them both and then threw up his hands. “What the hell? I’ve got the money. I’m assuming you brought the bike with you?”
Bruno pulled out his phone, called up a photo of Wally posing next to the motorcycle, and held it out for Zeus to view.
“You hand over the cash, and we walk outta here without having to kick any of your asses, and I’ll make the call to have it delivered to your front door,” Bruno promised.
Zeus shrugged, got up from his desk, and walked over to the unique piece of art on the wall. It was a painting of the members of the band KISS, in full costume and makeup, seated at a card table where they were playing poker.
“That is some painting,” Bruno remarked.
“Thank you,” Zeus replied sincerely. “I found it at a yard sale for five dollars. Can you believe someone was willing to part with it?”
Zeus removed the painting to reveal the safe built into the wall. He quickly dialed the combination, opened it, and removed three stacks of cash.
He walked back to the desk and handed the money to Bruno.
“Please thank the Good Samaritan for me, Detective…”
“Bruno,” he replied as he accepted the cash. “Don’t let me hear you went looking for this guy. He chooses to remain anonymous. Another thing: call off the search for Charlie White. He’s dead.”
Zeus raised an eyebrow to that bit of news. “That’s a shame. He was an excellent mechanic.”
It was obvious from Bruno’s facial expression that he wanted to say something about Zeus’ reply, but the logical part of his brain told him to keep his mouth shut.
“I’ll make that call once I’m outside, and your bike will be here shortly.”
Bruno nodded for Wally that it was time to go. Wally gave the bodyguard once last look, and decided that we was glad he’d never crossed paths with that brute on the gridiron.
“I owe you one, Detective Bruno,” Zeus called after them.
“You ain’t owe me nothing,” Bruno corrected. “This was a favor for an honest citizen, not for you.”
“Regardless, I’m still in your debt,” Zeus insisted. “There might come a day when you need my help, and if you do, I’ll be here.”
Bruno did not reply. He just opened the office door, and led the way back into the bar.
Back at the station house, Wally was all smiles. “I had no idea that you had a soft side,” he teased as they entered the detectives’ bullpen. “Getting that landlord to take on Champ as a tenant was not the move I expected.”
“What’s with you, kid? You get a bonus every time you piss me off?” Bruno grumbled. “The old guy deserved a break. He had the money to put down a deposit and make rent, and he’s got me to vouch for him. Besides the landlord owed me a favor.”
Wally’s smile grew. “So you do collect on favors? Does this mean you’ll be asking Zeus to give Champ a job at the Scorpion Pit?”
Bruno stopped walking when he arrived at his desk.
“No, but that ain’t a bad idea. Maybe that brain of yours is good for something other than just keeping your skull from floating away. Maggie’s been looking for a dependable bar back for months. I’m gonna ask her to hire Champ.”
A rare smile appeared on Bruno’s face.
Wally looked down at the white envelope that sat in the middle of Bruno’s desk.
“I think someone’s pulling a prank on you,” he said as he pointed at it. “That envelope’s return address is The New York Yankees in The Bronx, New York, but it’s postmarked from here. I guess someone heard about your mysterious past.”
The smile quickly vanished from Bruno’s face, and he snatched the envelope off the desk.
“You didn’t tell anyone, did you?” he asked threateningly. “Because if you did, kid, my favor from Zeus is gonna be asking for a steel cage match between you and his bodyguard.”
“I swear I haven’t told a soul,” Wally insisted.
Bruno looked in Wally’s eyes and instantly knew he was telling the truth. “I know you’re dying to call your pretty ADA and tell her all about how we wrapped things up. Why don’t you go call her, and then invite her to join us at Maggie’s tonight for a celebratory drink?”
Wally smiled. “I’d love that. And if I can be annoying one last time?”
Bruno sighed and nodded.
“It’s been an honor working with you. I’ve learned so much, and I appreciate your taking me under your wing. I know how much you hate working with anyone…”
“You’re gonna ruin it,” Bruno barked. “Go call ADA Ambrose and you can gush more later over drinks when Maggie ain’t gonna let me cut you off.”
Wally smiled and headed over to one of the other desks to make his call.
Bruno turned his attention to the envelope. All kind of alarms were going off inside his head, but he took a deep breath and sat at his desk. He put on a pair of evidence gloves, and then cautiously opened the envelope and removed the single piece of folded paper.
The letter was neatly typed.
Dear Detective Bruno,
We have never met, but I am a huge fan. The very first baseball game I ever went to also happened to be your last. I think that gives us a special bond, don’t you agree?
I’m sorry you never got to pitch in the Majors because I would have loved to have seen you on the mound at Yankee Stadium. I’m sure you’re sorry about that, too.
I’ve heard that you should never meet your heroes because it’s often a letdown to see them in real life when they are off their pedestals. However, I don’t think that would be the case with you.
I would love to meet you, even though that would ultimately lead to bad news for me.
I’m curious to get your opinion on that when our paths finally cross.
I’ve killed a man, Detective Bruno, and I plan to kill many more until you stop me.
Can’t wait to meet you!
Your Biggest Fan
Bruno checked the envelope and removed the single Polaroid that he had left there because his gut had told him he’d need time to prepare himself for it. He took a deep breath, and then turned over the photo to look at it.
It was a close up of the face of a dead man. His left cheek, below the eye socket, had been smashed in and his left eyeball was missing.
Bruno’s jaw dropped, but only for a moment. He quickly regained his composure, and marched towards Captain Hamel’s office with the envelope, letter, and photograph.
TO BE CONTINUED AT SOME POINT IN A NEW STORY…