They drove in silence, which would normally have been perfectly fine with Bruno, but not today.
“Out with it, Kid,” he demanded as his eyes remained focused on the road.
Wally stared dreamily out the window like he was suddenly bored to death. “What do you mean?”
Bruno’s face tensed. He hated playing games. One of the reasons he liked working alone was because partners got moody, and if you ignored it, the mood only worsened.
“This car ain’t big enough for you, me, and whatever the hell’s on your mind, so just say it.”
Wally sighed, but then spilled it. “Is this case really just about a skateboard punk who stole a Christmas decoration for a failed musician who got punked by a retired mobster?”
Bruno knew that was what was eating at the rookie, but the only way to defuse the situation was by having him talk it out.
“Yeah,” Bruno confirmed. “It ain’t always gonna be serial killers, bank robberies, and the kinda cases that John McClane curses about, but reluctantly agrees to solve as long as he gets to leave behind a bad ass body count.”
“And that’s a good thing,” Bruno reminded him. “Our job is to extinguish the little flames before they become wildfires. Most days are gonna be boring as hell, Kid, but ya gotta find a way to make that excite ya cuz that’s the job. If that ain’t enough for ya, maybe now is the time to get out and find something more your speed.”
Wally turned to Bruno with a hurt look on his face.
“I’m not saying I’m disappointed that there isn’t a high body count, and people aren’t in danger,” he quickly clarified. “I’ve been trying to develop this gut I hear you talking about so often, and I just had this sense that there was more to this case than hunting down an inflatable Santa.”
Bruno smiled. While he always gave the impression that Wally bothered him, and he most certainly did a large portion of the time, it was flattering that the rookie wanted to be like him.
“So ya got a gut now?” Bruno teased. “What’s it saying?”
“I don’t know if you’re teasing me, or setting me up to make me feel stupid,” Wally confessed. “That’s a talent I definitely need to develop, but you’re hard as hell to read.”
Bruno laughed at that one, which made Wally feel a little less on the defensive.
“Ya gotta perfect that talent for sure,” Bruno agreed. “This time, though, I ain’t yanking your chain. Tell me what your gut says.”
Wally took a deep thought to compose his thoughts. Impressing his mentor was always priority one, so he needed to get this right.
“Not to stroke your ego, but you’re too important to the Department to waste your time on a case that’s so trivial. I get that the retrieval of the Santa Claus was a personal favor for a neighbor in need, which you did on your personal time, which means it didn’t affect your caseload.”
Wally looked to Bruno for feedback, but the Detective remained silent and focused on the road, so he just continued on with his gut’s theory.
“The fact that it’s Monday, and you still haven’t officially closed the case, tells me you sense there’s more. And your gut it rarely wrong. Tex was an annoying prick, but you put up with him. You sat through all of Viv’s stories about the Astro Cowboys. But Frankie Napkins really took the cake, and you barely batted an eye. You let him hold court while he rambled on in that pseudo intellectual speak as he tried to make himself sound deeper than he clearly is.”
Bruno chuckled. “I really can be patient when I gotta be…”
“Which makes me wonder why you can’t be more that way with me, but I digress,” Wally countered. “You were probing, gathering information, and now you have a theory. It has something to do with Irish Tony, and something to do with the way Napkins reached for the crucifix around his neck when he mentioned his birthday…”
“So ya picked up on that, too?” Bruno commented with a proud smile. “Nice work, Kid.”
Wally beamed. He didn’t care if Bruno saw the smile and decided to mock it. Praise was praise and he was going to celebrate it.
“So this isn’t just a boring case of Santa theft?” Wally asked hopefully.
“Ain’t ya know Christmas is the time of miracles, Kid?” Bruno turned to give him a wink. “Time to deck the halls of our favorite dive bar, and we’re gonna do it will all the trimmings of the season!”
Bruno hit the switch that turned on the lights and sirens, and then floored the accelerator.
Wally braced himself against the dashboard, not expecting the sudden burst of speed, and let out a loud whoop like a kid on a roller coaster.
Bruno had been generous when he’d described The Scorpion Pit as a dive bar. The establishment was so much worse than that. Aside from being rumored to have received the only “Demolish Immediately” rating awarded by the Health Department, The Scorpion Pit served at the home base for the Heathens.
The Heathens were part motorcycle gang and part street gang, but one hundred percent the scum of the earth and an assembly of the worst human beings ever put on the planet.
They concentrated mostly on running drugs, but nothing illegal was off the menu when it came to this crew. When the members weren’t out terrorizing the city, they liked to hang out in the hell hole known to the world as The Scorpion Pit.
Zeus was the proud leader of this fraternal organization, and his office was in the back of the bar. He rarely left the room because, like most other people, he didn’t like associating with the Heathens.
When Bruno and Wally strode confidently into that office, Zeus was in his usual seat with his feet up on the desk.
His man mountain of a bodyguard stood behind him, massive arms crossed, and looking like he wanted to bite the head off the world.
“If it isn’t my favorite Detective and his silent, but deadly sidekick,” Zeus tossed out in ways of a greeting. “Have you finally come to collect on that favor I owe you?”
Bruno had seen to it that something near and dear to Zeus’ heart had been returned to him at the end of the case that had brought the Detective and Wally together. Bruno wasn’t one to accept favors from criminals, but Zeus had insisted that he was in his debt.
“No, I ain’t. In the spirit of the Christmas Season, I’m actually in a giving mood,” Bruno explained.
Bruno parked himself directly in front of Zeus’ desk. He did not sit, nor did he show any sign of respect to the man who was used to being feared.
Wally stood a few steps behind Bruno and to his left, which allowed him to keep an eye on the door, the bodyguard, and Zeus. He mimed the cross armed, angry faced look of Zeus’ muscle, but the big guy did not let on that noticed or cared.
“I like the sound of that, Detective,” Zeus said with a smile.
“Word has it some organized guys from New York are moving to our fair city, and it ain’t for the fine dining and great views,” Bruno began to spin his tale. “They already sent their fixer to make sure there ain’t no one stupid enough to get in the way. Not for nothing, Zeus, but your crew is awful stupid, and I’d hate to see something happen to them.”
Zeus decided this concerned him enough to take his feet off the desk, and to sit up like someone who wanted to hear what was being said.
“Why would you come to me with this?” Zeus questioned.
“It ain’t no matter to me who I arrest, but I gotta say I prefer the devil I know to one I gotta learn about from scratch,” Bruno replied.
Zeus glanced back at his bodyguard, who did nothing but continue to stare at Wally.
“What can you tell me about this fixer?” Zeus finally asked.
Bruno shrugged and looked back at Wally, who shrugged as well.
“Gotta be honest, we ain’t got much,” Bruno admitted. “Goes by the name Irish Tony, and has a reputation for whacking with extreme prejudice. How’d ya put it, Wally?”
The unexpected question did not catch Wally off guard because he was laser focused.
“He’s the kind of guy who overreacts, makes the body disappear, and then later wonders if he showed a little too much restraint.”
Bruno nodded like that was exactly the thing he was thinking.
“Ring any bells?” Bruno asked.
The Detective knew he was fishing here, but his gut told him that the bait he was using was sure to reel in something.
Zeus did not disappoint.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” the gang leader turned to ask his bodyguard.
The big guy nodded this time.
“Just the other night, Renegade had a run in…”
Bruno had to cut him off. “Hold up. You gotta guy named Renegade?”
The bodyguard let out a little growl at the slight, and Wally growled right back, only a little meaner and a little louder.
“In a gang like this, you don’t get as much respect if you use your given name,” Zeus explained.
“Ain’t that the truth, Barrett!” Bruno quipped.
Wally chuckled as Zeus’ eyes narrowed and his cheeks reddened.
“The last person to call me that isn’t with us anymore,” Zeus informed him as his voice dropped about two octaves for effect.
“I’m sorry to hear your Nana passed, but we’re getting way off track,” Bruno replied with a sly grin. “Tell me all about Renegade…”
Zeus swallowed his anger because he knew it was the smart thing to do. While it would’ve been fun to try to kick Bruno’s ass, that momentary pleasure would have only been followed by the Police Department’s using every asset at its disposal to destroy Zeus and the Heathens.
“Renegade was racing his bike the other night on the street in from of the Apex Hotel. Some dude didn’t like that the noise was ruining his sleep, so he decided to talk to Renegade about it.”
Bruno smiled. This was exactly what he was looking for. Everyone in this town was afraid of the Heathens, so only an out of towner with a chip on his shoulder would dare confront a biker in the middle of the night.
“How’d that conversation go?” Bruno asked.
“But ain’t Renegade told him he was a Heathen?” Bruno said with a straight face, but with mockery dripping from his words.
The bodyguard growled again, and this time, Wally took a step forward.
The big guy went to take a step of his own, but Zeus lifted an arm and froze him in his tracks.
“The guy said his people would kill every member of the Heathens and their families, if he just gave the word. Of course, I figured Renegade was taking some liberties with what was actually said and how it went down to look less like a pussy, but now I’m beginning to believe him.”
Bruno gave Wally a knowing look, and the young office just nodded.
“Ya gotta description of the guy?” Bruno asked.
“Renegade said it was dark, he might’ve been stoned, and the head injuries didn’t help a guy who already wasn’t the brightest,” Zeus admitted. “He said he was well built, had a hat pulled down to cover his face, and was maybe as tall as your muscle over there.”
“But this all went down outside the Apex?” Bruno asked. “Does your guy know if his assailant came outta that building? Or maybe was staying nearby or just walking past?”
“Again, he’s a little shaky on the details,” Zeus said apologetically.
Bruno nodded and looked over at the framed painting on the wall of the members of KISS playing poker.
“Still get a kick outta that painting,” he said.
“Maybe I’ll give it to you if you get rid of this fixer guy, and convince his friends not to move in on my territory,” Zeus suggested.
Wally laughed while Bruno remained stone faced.
“I ain’t that kinda cop,” Bruno hissed. “Besides, now that I think about it, maybe it ain’t so bad for this town to get some fresh blood. Maybe after they take over your territory, they’ll raze this hell hole and put up a nice Italian restaurant. Ain’t that sound nice, Wally?”
“I love Italian food,” Wally concurred.
Zeus’ mood darkened. “Why the hell did you come down here then? Was it just to gloat about my gang’s possible demise? That’s sick and twisted.”
Bruno shook his head emphatically.
“No, Zeus, I came down cuz I made a list, and I checked it twice. And ya know what? Ya definitely been naughty, not nice.”
“Santa Bruno is coming to town…” Wally sang slightly off-key.
“Get the hell out of my office,” Zeus demanded.
Bruno smiled. It was the kind of smile that got under a person’s skin because it conveyed the message that Bruno knew he’d gotten the better of you.
“Since it is Christmas, I’m gonna stay with the spirit of giving and offer ya this advice: This guy who worked over Renegade ain’t some amateur. Him and his friends are the real deal, and if ya got any stupid ideas about retaliating, ya gotta drive them outta your brain right now or you’re gonna find your brain splattered all over that awesome painting over there.”
Wally simply nodded in agreement.
Nothing else was said as Bruno and Wally exited the office.
TO BE CONTINUED…