Allen’s hands shook and perspiration beaded his forehead as the first twinges of deprivation gripped his body. Before long the pain and cramps would consume him, coming in waves that would drive him to the brink of insanity. He walked faster down the dark street, hunching his shoulders as he fought to control the trembling that was beginning to build. He had to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.
There were no streetlights. Grotesque shadows from the dim city lights cast a despairing pall over the street. But Allen wasn’t aware of the darkness or the gloom. His aching body pushed him desperately along the sidewalk. He turned the corner and looked down the street where a figure stood in the entrance to an alley midway down the block. Allen stumbled forward, walking as if he were wading through water, finally reaching the man.
“I need it. Now.”
“Sure, kid,” the man replied. “Where’s the money?”
“I don’t have it.”
The man laughed hollowly. “No money, no stuff.”
“Trust me,” Allen whimpered. “I’ll get the money. I’m dying. Can’t you see that?” His teeth chattered and, in spite of the hot August night, he shook violently.
The man laughed again. “I see a kid with a big habit and no dough. This ain’t charity, my friend. I run a cash business.”
“You gotta help me,” Allen said. “For Christ sake, help me.”
“Get lost,” the man growled. “You’re wasting my time, punk. I got paying customers waiting to see me.”
“Just one fix, man. I’ll have the money tomorrow.”
“Then you’ll get the stuff tomorrow,” the man said. He shoved Allen aside and started to walk away.
Desperation gave way to blind fury. Allen picked the larger man up by the shirt and hurled him against the wall. “I can’t wait. I need it now!”
The man’s eyes widened and his mouth opened in a silent cry. He crumpled to the street and lay still. Allen stood over him, his wild eyes rolling back and forth as he waited for the man to move. After several minutes Allen kneeled down and felt the man’s chest. He was dead!
Allen accepted the fact without feeling. Quickly he dragged the lifeless body into the alley and searched through the man’s pockets. With a satisfied exclamation he pulled out several small plastic bags.
Allen turned and ran down the street, adrenaline giving strength to his drug starved body. He tripped once, scraping his outstretched hand on the hard cement, righted himself and ran up a flight of stairs to a small shabby room. He kicked the door shut and fell on the bed. The cramps were stronger now and he was shaking uncontrollably as he groped under the pillow for the needle. He worked quickly, tearing at one of the bags with his teeth. The bag tore, spilling some of the precious powder on the floor. Allen cursed and poured the remainder into the spoon. Perspiration fell from his forehead onto the bed as he dissolved the powder and filled the needle.
The soothing effect of the drug was immediate. He lay back and closed his eyes. As the warm soothing glow spread over his body, Allen thought of Jake, the man he had killed a few minutes ago. The realization of what he had done made him shake once again. He had never killed a man in his life. He was not a violent person; he hated killing of any kind.
It was an accident, he told himself, an unfortunate accident that never would have happened if Jake had been reasonable. Allen fell into a fitful sleep.
* * * * *
Detective Sergeant Calloway inspected the body disdainfully, then straightened up and lit a cigarette.
“Jake Mills,” he said. “Pimp, pusher, scum of the earth.” He turned to the white coated attendants standing beside him. “Take him away.”
“What do you think, Sergeant?” the balding patrolman asked.
Calloway took a handkerchief from his hip pocket and wiped his hands. His hard eyes narrowed to slits as he stared at the spot where Jake’s body was found. “I think he got what he deserved, Pete.”
“Any idea who did it?”
The sergeant shook his head. “Could have been any junkie in town. Or one of his girls, or another pusher. Crumbs like Jake Mills have an army of enemies.” He threw the cigarette on the ground and crushed it with the heel of his shoe. “I really don’t give a damn,” he added. “Whoever killed him saved us the trouble.”
“Yeah,” Pete said. “But that won’t wash at headquarters. They’re going to want some answers.”
Calloway shrugged his broad shoulders and sighed. “I guess you’re right.” He glanced absently down the alley, wrinkling his nose at the musty dank smell that hung in the summer air. “I’d say it was a junkie. There wasn’t any stuff on him, but his wallet was there with a wad of money in it. As far as I’m concerned they could put it down as ‘unsolved’ and go on to more important things like running these scumbags in while they’re still alive and stringing them up by their thumbs.”
“Are you going to put that in your report?”
Calloway smiled wistfully. “I don’t have to. They know how I feel.” His eyes met Pete’s and the patrolman looked away quickly.
Calloway made another brief inspection of the alley, shoved his hands in his pockets and strolled to his car. “Wrap it up here and get on with your beat. I’ll take care of headquarters.”
* * * * *
Allen slept a shallow, restless sleep. When he woke the sun was shining through the grimy window over his bed. His head ached as he sat up, and he quickly lay back down. He stared at the clock on the scarred dresser, squinting it into focus. It was almost noon. Allen rubbed a hand over his stubbled chin. The events of last night were lost in a drug hazed blur. He dimly remembered meeting Jake and fighting with him. But he couldn’t remember coming back to his room. He felt in his pockets, pulled out some plastic bags and threw them on the bed. Eight of them. That wasn’t possible. He didn’t have any money, and couldn’t have bought that much stuff. He got up slowly, holding his head as he stumbled into the bathroom. He cupped his hands under the faucet and splashed water on his face, carefully avoiding the reflection in the crazed mirror above the sink.
It started to come back to him now; the fight, the fleeting look of horror on Jake’s face as he crashed against the wall. He had killed him!
* * * * *
“Calloway, what have you got for me on the Jake Mills murder?” Lt. Parks said.
“Not a damn thing, Lieutenant,” Calloway said.
Calloway glared at the bulky red faced man and leaned over the desk, pressing his closed hands against the pockmarked wood. “I haven’t looked for anything.”
“Well, start looking,” Parks said.
Calloway straightened. “Woody, you know how I feel about pushers. I’m only interested in the ones who are still alive. They’re the dangerous ones.”
“Look, Cal,” Parks interrupted. “Nobody on the force likes them. But we have a job to do. And you’re the guy who is assigned to the Mills case.” He cast a meaningful glance at Calloway. “Now get busy.”
A tense silence followed, the two men standing across the desk facing each other in a wordless battle. Calloway was the first to look away. “There are no witnesses that I know of, no murder weapon, no fingerprints.”
Parks snorted. “Don’t play the dumb cop with me, Cal. You’ve been around too long for that. Somebody in this town knows who Mills was going to meet in that alley. Start asking questions. I don’t have to tell you how to run a murder investigation.”
Calloway shifted his feet and reddened. “Yes, sir,” he mumbled. He turned for the door.
“Cal,” Parks said, “I don’t want to appear unsympathetic. I know what you’re going through. But you’re a pro. Do your job.”
Calloway nodded. He slipped through the door, closing it quietly behind him.
Calloway’s investigation was a half-hearted one. As a professional he was usually thorough regardless of the distastefulness of the case. But this time he had no heart for the matter. He had lost his perspective, let his personal feelings dictate his effectiveness as a detective. Maybe it was time to retire. He had been a cop too long.
He sat on a bar stool in a sleazy tavern in the lower end of town where the dregs of society spent their time drinking throat burning booze and making contacts. He studied the customers with the practiced eye of his profession, separating the pimps from the junkies in his mind. He knew most of them by name; they had all been in and out of jail at one time or another. They huddled around the tables in small groups, talking in monotones or staring into space.
Calloway pulled out his wallet, pushed a bill across the dirty bar and ordered a beer. He grimaced at the greenish swill that the bartender pushed back at him.
“Look, Frankie,” he said to the glassy-eyed little man hunched on the stool beside him. “I’m not here to bust anyone. I’m trying to get some answers about Jake Mills.”
“Yeah? Well, why pick on me?” Frankie’s looked around the room like a trapped animal. “All those guys knew him.” He brushed a shaky hand over his face and licked his lips. “Hell, man, I don’t know nothin’. Why don’t you….”
Calloway sighed. “I’ll ask the questions.” He shoved a beer towards Frankie, who took it and drank eagerly. Calloway felt revulsion mixed with pity as he watched the little man drink.
“When did you last see Jake?”
Frankie put the glass down hard, his hands shaking. “I dunno,” he said.
“Who was he supposed to meet in the alley last Friday night?”
“I ain’t talkin’,” Frankie said.
Calloway leaned over and grabbed Frankie’s shirt, twisting it with his right hand as he half pulled the frightened little man from his stool. “Listen, punk, don’t get smart with me. Jake was killed by a junkie, we know that. That’s heavy stuff, pal, and I’m not in the mood for smart aleck remarks. I can run you in right now for possession–maybe murder.”
Frankie pulled Calloway’s hand free. “You ain’t pinnin’ nothing on me,” he said.
“Who, then, Frankie? Who was Mills meeting?”
Frankie blinked. “You don’t want to know, man. Leave it alone.”
Calloway sat back and studied the frightened man. Frankie licked his lips.
“Leave it alone, man,” he repeated.
Calloway turned back to the bar, put his arms on the counter, and looked at his frowning image in the mirror.
“Get out of here,” he said. “Get out of here before I run you in.”
Frankie uncoiled from the stool and ran out the door. Calloway watched him go, shaking his head sadly at the pathetic sight of the man. He scooped up his change, pocketed it, and picked his way through the bar to the street.
* * * * *
Allen hadn’t eaten in three days, since the night he had killed Jake. He hadn’t even left his room except to get a paper. It lay on the nightstand, open to the page describing the murder of Jake Mills. Buried behind the want ads, the account was brief. There was no mention of suspects. But Allen knew it would only be a matter of time before the trail led to him. He was sorry that Sgt. Calloway had been assigned to the case. Not that Allen cared for himself anymore. It was too late for that. But to have it end this way–well, a real tragedy. If only there was another way.
Even if he was never caught, the thought of living with the knowledge that he had killed a man was more than Allen could stand. The enormity of his crime weighed on him until even the escape into drugs failed to block it out of his mind.
He pulled open the drawer and took out the plastic packets. There were four left. Allen shuffled them in his hands and stared blankly at the wall. There was only one thing left for him to do, the final escape from the hell he had created.
Throwing the packets on the bed, he took a pencil and paper and started to write. The note would be short and to the point.
When he had finished, he opened the four packets and readied the needle. Calmly, with no show of emotion, he plunged the needle into his arm.
* * * * *
It was another hot humid day, the kind that wrung perspiration from Calloway with the slightest exertion. He was exhausted from the short walk to his office and sat down in his chair heavily, skipping his morning coffee. The backlog of work was piled high on his desk. He contemplated the disarray with a sigh of defeat.
Calloway looked up into the steel gray eyes of Lt. Parks. The red face wore a troubled expression that warned Calloway that the chief had bad news. Parks motioned silently towards his office, stood back and waited for Calloway to enter. He closed the door softly.
“Trouble?” Calloway said.
Parks nodded. Calloway sat down and waited for the stern faced man to speak.
“They found him this morning, about an hour ago.”
“Where? How?” Calloway said.
“In his room. He OD’d.”
Calloway’s brain numbed and he stared out the window. The morning sun blinded him, but he shivered in spite of the heat.
“He killed himself, Cal. It was deliberate.”
Calloway sat for a long time, staring but not seeing. His stomach churned, and a wave of nausea gripped him.
“He left a note,” Parks said.
Parks shook his head. “It was addressed to me. But he said to tell you he’s sorry for all the suffering he caused you.”
“Is that all?”
Parks picked up a letter opener and twirled it in his hand, but said nothing.
“He was my son, Woody. I have a right to know.”
Parks dropped the letter opener on the desk and sat back in his chair. “You’re a cop, Cal. A damned good one. You see the underside of life every day. A good cop never gets used to it. And when his own son is involved, the ugliness is much worse.”
“What are you saying, Woody?”
Parks shook his head. “Forget it. It’s not important.” He toyed with a folder on his desk, sighed and handed it to Calloway.
“The Mills case. It’s a real puzzler. I can’t have you wasting your time on it.” He swiveled in his chair until his back was to Calloway. “We’re marking it ‘unsolved’, Cal.” He turned quickly, and the hurt in his eyes matched Calloway’s.
“Scum like Mills will never be missed in this world. You’ve said that many times.”
Calloway nodded. “’Unsolved’.” He smiled wistfully. “Woody. I…I know the score.”
Parks raised his eyebrows questioningly.
“I got it from Frankie. Oh, not in so many words. It’s what he didn’t say that told me.” His shoulders sagged as he stared at his feet. The whir of an electric fan was the only sound to break the heavy silence of the room.
Parks shrugged. “Frankie’s a loser. You can’t believe anything…”
Calloway held up his hand. “Thanks, Woody. But frankly, I’m glad. It’s one of the last good things Allen did.” He allowed himself another smile. “Funny. It was his job to take the garbage out when he was a boy. I guess he couldn’t get out of the habit.”
His voice broke. Without looking back he stepped out of the office and closed the door.