The late-May rain came down hard as the Evansville PD detectives, uniformed officers, and SWAT team staked out the downtown alley behind Turley’s Jewelers. Thanks to a tip from a reliable informant, today they would take down the Solazzo gang, armed robbers who had done a Godzilla on the downtown small businesses recently.
Bobby Solazzo had recruited the team carefully, finding only the most vicious and psychotic bastards and leaving the ones with an ounce of compassion in them to join Kiwanis or Civitan. Solazzo’s crew were the kind of guys that said, “Give me the money and I’ll kill you.”
Solazzo and company had already eluded authorities in a high-speed chase and a shoot-out at a liquor store that left two employees dead in a pool of blood, and had been lying low for the past ten days, but now they were ready for their next heist.
Detective Jack Murphy was in charge of the stakeout. He was crouched uncomfortably behind a Dumpster, wiping rain from his eyes, while the deputy chief of detectives was on the store’s rooftop, along with one of the SWAT snipers and a reporter from the local rag who was pressing for the perfect shot for their headline: SOLAZZO GANG GOES DOWN. Other sharpshooters were strategically located in vantage points overlooking the alley, already designated the “kill zone.” They didn’t have to wait long.
An older black Suburban with darkened windows slid into the mouth of the narrow alley and eased along, coming to a stop directly behind Turley’s Jewelers. The next two minutes seemed to run in slow motion, beginning with the doors of the Suburban flying open and four large and well- armed men emerging.
One man approached the back door of Turley’s and pointed a sawed-off shotgun at the door’s lock. The shotgun blast that shattered the lock on the door spooked one of the cops, who had his pistol pointed into the alleyway, and some reflex caused him to yank the trigger. Jack half-stood and looked around, thinking, Must be the deputy chief. Leave it to him to screw things up.
The shot went wild, but the reaction of the four men below was that of a well-trained military squad, as two men rushed into the back entrance of Turley’s, and the remaining two returned fire at the rooftop snipers’ position and back down the alleyway. Although the original orders to all of the ground team were that no one fired except the SWAT snipers, the air was suddenly filled with deadly projectiles. A bullet zinged into a nearby quad of electrical transformers high up on a telephone pole just above the west half of the stakeout team, sending a shower of fiery debris down on them. The uniformed cops positioned above the kill zone continued their barrage of gunfire, effectively immobilizing their team members on the ground.
Murphy had been waiting for the Suburban to come to a stop before giving the order to the SWAT commander to move in when he’d heard the single gunshot and then all hell breaking loose. Now he was in the middle of a goddamned war, and he was fucked no matter which way he ran. He could flee into the raging fire at the west end of the alley where there were some backup officers at least. Or he could chase the asshole he saw take off east down the alley when the shooting started. Staying put was not an option.
He bolted from his hole and chased the lone runner. The good news was that he’d gotten a pretty good look at this character and was pretty sure it was the leader of the pack, Bobby Solazzo. The bad news was that it was Bobby Solazzo, and Bobby had a sawed-off shotgun and liked to use it.
What kind of moron chases a guy who’s got a shotgun? Murphy thought. But he plowed ahead through cascading rain, the smooth soles of his dress loafers slipping on the wet brick-worked street surface, the smell of sewage from the overflowing storm sewers barely registering.
He gripped the polymer handle of his Glock .45 standard police issue semiautomatic and slowed his pace --- listening, watching for any movement or lack of movement. The alley was so narrow that a shotgun blast down the middle would take out anyone standing there. Not Jack’s idea of a fun time. With the damn rain coming down in waves he could only see a few feet in any direction. For all Jack knew, Bobby was ten feet away, just waiting for him to come into view.
Murphy’s Law says, “Never take a pistol to a shotgun fight.” But, then, he wasn’t supposed to be taking on Bobby’s gang alone, was he? He was a detective. He was supposed to be directing the stakeout at a safe distance, watching the action as the uniformed officers and SWAT team took these assholes down. And that reminded him that Murphy’s Law also says, “Anything that can go wrong, will always fuck you sideways.”
He took a deep breath, let it out, and then moved forward again. Bobby’s got to be close now, he thought, as he neared the end of the alley where it turned to the right. He stopped and, blading his body against the concrete-block wall, he glanced around the corner and spotted a shotgun lying on a pile of trash.
He’s unarmed! Jack thought, as lightning flashed overhead. The resultant thunderclap was immediate and deafening in the tight alleyway, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. He had just moved out from cover when another flash caught his eye. This one close. Too close. Moving at him with the speed of lightning. But not lightning. A blade, he thought, then, too late, and tried to turn away, but he felt the point of the blade cut into his face and scrape downward, gouging a path through flesh and bone.
He lifted his .45 toward the direction of the attack...
Jack wiped the shaving cream from his face and looked in the mirror.
“Why, Detective Jack Murphy, you are one good-looking hunk of manliness,” Susan Summers said from behind him.
Murphy looked in the mirror again and then gave her a questioning look. “Are you seeing the same thing I am?”
His face was cleanly shaven, but that only made the thick, white scarf --- running from below his right ear, across his chest, and ending above the left nipple --- stand out from his skin like a thick, white snake. It was hard to believe that he had been put in the hospital twice in as many months
He smiled at Susan. “You’re right. I’m a stud muffin,” he said in a sarcastic tone.
She laughed and snuggled against him, nuzzling his neck. “Don’t be so vain, Jack. The scars make you look dangerous. Women can’t resist a dangerous man.”
She backed away, and he watched in the mirror as she slipped into one of his long-sleeved shirts. He admired her body and wondered for the umpteenth time how he had ever attracted a beautiful woman almost ten years his junior.
Susan was a runner and had already completed three miles along the river roads before he had gotten out of bed. Her body was tan, her muscles firm, and the curves were all in the right places. Her strawberry-blond hair, which she usually wore down, was pulled back to show the smooth curve of her neck; her eyes were a bluish-green that reminded him of the sea.
She gave him a peck on the cheek and headed toward the kitchen, and as she did he checked out the part of her that never failed to make his heart race.
She said over her shoulder, “If you don’t stop checking out my butt and get dressed, you’ll be late for your first day back, Romeo.”
“Whoops,” he said, and looked one more time in the mirror at the scar on his neck. The doctor said the itching was a good thing; it meant his cut was healing. It had finally stopped keeping him awake with its insistent, burning itch, but it looked like hell. The doctor had also said the scar would eventually blend in. He wondered what it would blend in with, and then thought that if his face were a pizza, it would probably blend in. Meanwhile, he looked like shit.
With Susan in the kitchen, the sounds of pots and pans rattling and banging could never be mistaken for cooking, but her skills with a microwave were superb and she had a thorough knowledge of pizza delivery routes.
The thought of Susan naked made him smile. She was an excellent lover and a kind and caring woman. When he was released from the hospital, Susan had taken over as his personal nurse. That was a real step up from the physical therapist who had kept him screaming profanities in the hospital. The nurse’s name tag identified her as an R.N. Jack had asked her if that stood for “Retired Nazi,” and she had stretched his painful wound even tighter. So much for the “angel of mercy” label, he had thought.
Susan, however, had babied and pampered him, and spent more time at his cabin than at her own home. She had fed and dressed him, treating him like a sick child.
At first he’d enjoyed the attention from Susan, especially the sex. But there was a problem. His ex-wife Katie. She seemed to pop into his mind daily. Everything they did, places they went, and somehow he couldn’t help but compare everything in his present life to his past life with Katie.
He and Katie had been married for five years, divorced for almost a year now. He’d hoped they could fix the problems between them, and maybe get on with their life together, but the things that had driven them apart were still there. He was still married to his job. He was still someone who would stupidly run into danger instead of away from it. And when he got on to a case, he couldn’t let go. He would work day and night until it was finished.
Katie had wanted a stable, safe relationship. One where her man came home from work at five, ate a meal and chatted about how their days had been, made love, and then didn’t have to leave at the drop of a hat. That would never be his life.
“Are you ever coming out of there?” Susan’s voice came from the direction of the kitchen.
Jack closed his eyes, willing the thoughts of Katie from his mind, and feeling guilty about having them. He rallied and stepped into the kitchen, naked. “No. I’m not coming back to bed. And you can’t make me, woman. By God, you’re an animal.”
She unbuttoned the shirt she was wearing and walked slowly toward him, and then let it slide to the floor.
“I told you that you couldn’t handle me,” she whispered in his ear.
Later, he took a quick shower and dressed in the clothes Susan had laid out. He normally wore a suit and tie to work, but today he was going to wear slacks with a soft knit golf shirt. There was no way he could stand a tie around his neck.
“Susan, have I told you how much I appreciate everything you’ve done?”
“Yeah. Only about ten thousand times,” she said and rolled her eyes. “I’ve never met anyone so reluctant to be taken care of. Before I met you, I thought men only wanted a maid that would sleep with them.”
“Well, now that you mention it, I still have about thirty minutes before I have to report in.”
“You’re a bad man, Jack Murphy.”
He wrapped his arms around her small waist and said, “I mean it. I can never repay you for what you’ve done. All of it.” He bent and kissed her on the forehead.
“Oh. I think you can do better than that,” she said and gave him a long, deep kiss.
When their lips parted, he looked at her and felt himself becoming aroused again. She must have felt it too because she pulled away, saying, “I’ve made coffee.”
“Be right there,” he said as she left the room. He took his department-issued pistol out of the dresser drawer, released the clip, dropped it onto the bed, and worked the action several times. He deftly disassembled the pistol, blew lint from anyplace it had accumulated during the month he had been home, reassembled it, then slammed the loaded clip into the butt and jacked a round into the chamber.
The Model 36 Glock .45 is a work of art. Weighing seven ounces less than its big brother, the Model 21, it is more compact and carries an awesome ten rounds of .45-caliber firepower. Unloaded, the pistol weighs about the same as the ammunition. Each round of .45-caliber, brass-jacketed, hollow-point ammunition is capable of striking the human body with the force of a sledgehammer.
Jack slipped the gun into its holster and slipped it onto his belt. He’d forgotten how heavy the gun was and was surprised to see that he’d lost a bit of weight. He tightened his belt to the last notch.
Going into the kitchen he poured a cup of coffee and saw that Susan had gone out to the front porch.
Eddie’s normally close-cropped dark hair had gotten long in prison. He liked it that way. And his almost waiflike physique had turned into a sculpted mass of muscle. Lifting weights several hours a day, eating regularly, and the desire to stay alive tended to do that to a convict. The only thing he’d changed after he got out of the pen six weeks ago was his tan. The constant fluorescent lighting had a way of making a man’s skin look like roadkill, but there was no way he was going in the outside exercise yard without a shirt and denim jacket. Denim didn’t stop a shiv --- a homemade knife --- but it was better protection than nothing.
Eddie picked up the binoculars when he saw a light come on inside the cabin. Someone was moving around, but his angle of view didn’t allow him to see inside. He had first spotted some movement over an hour ago. Murphy must be putting on his makeup, Eddie thought and smiled at his own humor. But then he thought maybe Murphy had gone back to bed because it had been so damn quiet for the last hour. His ass was hurting, and his legs were getting stiff from sitting on the wet ground along the river bank.
He twisted the focus knob and grumbled at his brother, “Dammit! I told you we shoulda got the good ones!”
“We ain’t got no money, Eddie,” Bobby said.
Eddie couldn’t help but notice how bad Bobby was looking. His skin was sallow, and his muscle tone was that of a man thirty years older. Bobby had always been the leader. The strong one. The one that all the girls wanted. But being on the run for the better part of a month was taking its toll on them both.
Bobby stretched out on the ground, hands tucked behind his head, and stared up into the empty October sky. Eddie didn’t understand how Bobby could be so calm. It was all Eddie could do to keep from kicking in the cabin door and finishing this business.
“We could find a cabin like Murphy’s to stay in. I’m sick of livin’ in roach-infested motels, Bobby. Worse yet, I’m fucking tired of sleeping on the ground out here. That damn river stinks worse than you do.” He hoped that would get a rise out of Bobby, but Bobby just looked at him and shook his head.
“And if we take over one a these cabins out here, what do we do with whoever’s living in the cabin, Eddie?”
Eddie thought about it. “We kill ’em. Sink their bodies in the river.”
Bobby sat up and looked at his brother.
“Well,” Eddie demanded. “Why not?”
“Because someone might come around looking for them, ya think? And then what? Kill everyone that comes to the door?”
“Well, shit!” Eddie spat on the rocks. “That’s bullshit.” But he knew his brother was right. Bobby was always right.
Motion from the cabin caught Eddie’s eye. He raised the binoculars again just in time to see the cabin door open and a very shapely strawberry-blond woman walk onto the porch. She was carrying a coffee mug and wearing only a long-
sleeved shirt, unbuttoned most of the way down. When she lifted the cup to drink he could see her panties. He’d never seen her almost naked before.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said to his brother, and as much as he hated Jack Murphy, he had to give him credit for his taste in women. Of course, that meant that he was disappointed in Susan Summers for exactly the same reason. What would she see in a piece of shit like Murphy?
“Looks like Murphy’s shacked up regular-like with our lady parole officer,” Eddie said.
The look on Bobby’s face said it all. He couldn’t believe
Murphy’s luck either. Murphy didn’t deserve any luck. He was a bastard.
Eddie sat down next to his brother and said, “This is what kills me, bro. Here we are, almost homeless, and that murdering asshole is living it up.” He jabbed a finger at the cabin. “Look at that place. He’s got a nice boat and even got a goddamn private dock!”
Bobby just shrugged.
“Fuck him, man!” he said and spit in the water. “Why him? Why not us?”
“Let it go, Eddie,” Bobby warned. “Murphy’s only got one thing we want. We don’t need his cabin, or his boat, or even that slut of a parole officer. When we’re through with him, he won’t have nothin’ --- not even his life.”
Eddie focused the binoculars across the river again. Susan was a nice piece of ass, but she’d always acted like she was better than them. Treated them like dirt.
He wondered what it would be like to slide into that, do the nasty, hurt her a little. Women liked that --- being hurt.
His thoughts were interrupted when Murphy came out onto the porch of the cabin. Eddie zoomed in on the face.
“Son of a bitch!” he said as he watched Murphy move behind Susan and put an arm around her waist. Murphy was tall, at least five-ten, maybe six-foot even, and it was obvious he was built lean and hard like a fighter. From what Bobby told him about that night, Murphy was lucky to be alive. But to watch him move you’d never know he’d been hurt. Eddie smiled, thinking he’d have to do something about that.
Susan leaned into Murphy and nuzzled his neck.
“You shoulda cut his dick off, Bobby!” Eddie said and spat into the rocks. “I can’t do this, Bobby. We gotta do it now. I ain’t hiding like some goddamn Peeping Tom.”
“Just watch him, bro,” Bobby said patiently.
“I’m watching, dammit!”
Eddie’s hands sweated against the metal body of the binoculars as he twisted the focus knob. He concentrated on Murphy’s face. “You gave him one hell of a scar, bro.”
“Time to go.” Bobby was on his feet, making toward the area where they had hidden the van. “We need to get over there and follow her. She may come in handy later.”
“Just a minute,” Eddie said, and watched as Murphy turned Susan around to face him. She leaned forward on her tiptoes and gave Murphy an unbelievably unchaste kiss.
“Houston, we have tongue,” Eddie said with a snicker. “Maybe we’ll send him that pretty little tongue as a gift, but not before I get a chance to check out the rest of her.” Watching Susan respond to Murphy’s caresses excited him. He could feel the pressure building in the front of his pants.
“We stick with the plan, Eddie.”
“First we punish him, then we finish him. Right?” Eddie said.
Bobby grinned. “Ab-so-fucking-lutely.”
The fish aren’t biting. Damn the luck!
Timmy Ryan expertly cast his weighted line into the river, dropping the cornmeal-encrusted hook in between some overhanging branches like he’d been shown. The guy that owned the cabin down the way was a cop, a detective, and he fished here all the time. Timmy had watched him from a distance until his curiosity finally won out. He’d approached the man and found out his name was Jack.
His new friend, Jack, had shown him how to make cornmeal bait, and although Jack would never talk about his work, Timmy had heard stories about him, had found out his name was Jack Murphy, and that he was sort of famous around Evansville.
What would it be like to get shot? Or kill someone? Timmy wondered.
He’d seen the scar on Murphy’s neck and had asked him once if it hurt. Murphy just said, “What do you think, tough guy?”
Murphy called me “tough guy.” Wow!
“You won’t catch nothing here, Tommy,” the voice stole into his thoughts, and came from close behind him.
Timmy turned and saw a man sitting in the rocks. The guy was dressed like a soldier --- beige pants tucked into desert boots, mud-colored T-shirt, and deeply tanned skin ---
but Timmy knew this creep wasn’t a soldier. His dark hair was long and greasy, and his eyes were the color of the sky, except cloudier, like he was looking off somewhere.
“Did I get your spot, mister?” Timmy asked out of politeness. He knew it wasn’t the stranger’s spot. He knew it was his and Murphy’s spot. And the guy had called him Tommy, so he sure as hell didn’t know him. What a dweeb! But since Timmy was playing hooky from school, he didn’t need any trouble. The guy might be a creep, but he was a grownup creep, and grownups were grownups.
The man chuckled and tossed a rock into the river. The rock came close to Timmy’s head.
“Hey! You don’t have to do that. I’ll just move on, mister.”
“Tommy, Tommy, Tommy,” the man said almost caressingly. “You don’t need to worry, little man. Everything will be okay.”
Of course everything will be okay. Why wouldn’t it? And quit callin’ me Tommy, shit-for-brains, Timmy thought.
Timmy started to reel in his bait. He wanted to be quit of this place and this guy as soon as possible. Then a thought struck him: this was “his” fishing spot, his and Murphy’s. Why should he let some dirt bag run him off? Murphy sure as hell wouldn’t run. Murphy’d do some fancy moves and this ass-wipe would be swimming in the river.
Showing more courage than he felt, he said, “I fish here a lot, mister. And my friend fishes with me. He’s a famous police detective.” He hoped that would shut this guy up.
The man stood slowly and said, “I know.”
He came down the rocks and stood beside Timmy Ryan, placing a dirty hand on his shoulder. “Tommy, me and my brother seen you down here with Murphy. You think he likes you, don’t you?”
Timmy was more surprised than he was scared, and he didn’t care for the way this guy was talking. “Me and Murphy are friends, ass-wipe,” Tommy said, pulling away from the hand on his shoulder. “And how come you keep calling me Tommy if you know so much? You don’t even know my name.”
The man laughed and said, “You ever heard of Tommy Tittlemouse, little man?”
The heavy blade appeared magically in the man’s hand. Timmy put his hands out defensively, but the heavy steel sliced through fishing rod and flesh until it found its mark, deep in the tendons and bone of Timmy Ryan’s neck. He was dead before he hit the ground.
When Maddy Brooks found the envelope, her first instinct was to throw it in the trash with her junk mail. But the envelope was addressed in red crayon, her name written in a childlike, scrawling hand. She opened her middle drawer and pulled out the letter she’d found on her desk last week. That one had contained a poem or something about Punch and Judy, or some such nonsense. She looked at the crayon-
scribbled handwriting on the two envelopes, and they appeared to be the same.
As one of the top news anchors for Channel Six, she had made more enemies than friends. Making it to the top wasn’t easy for a woman in the news business, but she’d found that most men could be led around by their lower extremities. She knew she was beautiful, and she felt no shame for using her God-given looks to attain her goals. But she could be as treacherous as she was beautiful, and when she found out who was playing these practical jokes on her…
“Not funny, guys,” she said loudly enough for everyone in the newsroom to hear and tossed the envelopes back onto her desk. She would need them when she filed her “hostile work environment lawsuit” against the station. At the very least, the letters would give her some leverage for another promotion.
Her phone rang. She picked it up and said, “Maddy Brooks, Channel Six News.” She listened a moment before hanging up and yelling for her cameraman. Then she was out the back door and heading for the Jeep Liberty the station let her use.
Excerpted from THE CRUELEST CUT © Copyright 2010 by Rick Reed. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.