I’m sitting at my desk having a drink and cleaning my gun in the second floor office loft when I hear the footsteps running, not walking, up the wood stairs.
“Heels,” I tell myself. “Most definitely high heels.”
I set the semi-automatic onto the desk, grab the bottle of Jack, do my best to shove it into the bottom drawer. But she’s already entered the office before I can manage to get the bottle from desktop to bottom desk drawer. Moonlight the slow-on-the-draw.
Fuck it, I whisper to myself, and set the bottle back down onto the desk where it belongs in the first place. In fact, I set it right beside a sealed envelope that contains a summons and a set of divorce papers that’s supposed to go to a lawyer who works in the high rent district down on State Street. I might have delivered it during normal business hours, but my client requested that I deliver it to a certain downtown Albany address, at a certain hour of the early evening, when for certain he’d be shacking up with his illicit affair. Sounded like a decent enough idea to me, even though it meant I’d be working late again. But as usual, I badly needed an injection of casheshe into a thoroughly hemorrhaged bank account.
“Can you help me?” she says, out-of-breath. “Help me now, please.”
First thing I notice about her, besides her panicked state, is how attractive she is. Long dark hair that’s all mussed up. Big green eyes. Long legs. Nice rack. All of it neatly packaged in a tight, sleeveless lime-green dress that shows off gym-toned arms covered in tats. And as for those heels? Stilettos. Red. My favorite kind.
“What is it you need?” I say. “As you can see, I’m kind of busy.”
“I’ve just been robbed,” she says. “Or I mean, I’m being robbed.” Her eyes are painted with mascara and some of it is running down her face now along with her tears. She’s really upset and if my eyes don’t deceive me, a little strung out.
“Why don’t you call the cops?” I say. “And what did you say your name was again?”
“I’m Carissa,” she says. “And you’re a detective, aren’t you? Says so on the sign nailed to the wall downstairs.”
I should learn to lock the door at night.
“Yeah, Carissa,” I say, leaning back in my swivel chair. “But I’m private. It’s not like I can arrest whoever robbed you or is at present, robbing you.”
She takes a step forward, inhales, exhales. When she pouts with those thick red lips, my heart sinks into my stomach.
“I can’t exactly go to the police,” she says. “Not in my line of work.”
The lightbulb flashes on over my head. Sometimes my brain doesn’t always work as quickly as it should. I’m lucky to be alive, truth be told. Not many men can live after attempting to blow their brains out. But I was lucky to get away with screwing the suicide attempt up. In the end, just a piece of .22 caliber hollow point lodged itself inside my brain, right beside my cerebral cortex. As for the medical prognosis? Situation inoperable. Major problem these days is, I could die at any second. The lesser problem is that during times of stress, I sometimes make the wrong decision. The fucked up decision.
For instance, right now…right this very second…I am fully aware that I should do the right thing and tell this hooker to buzz off. That I should concentrate on the task at hand and deliver those divorce papers to the specified party at the appointed hour. But instead my eyes lock on this damsel in distress….this castaway. Her green eyes pull me in as she slowly crosses over the wood plank floor, her heels providing the rhythmic drum beat to her swaying hips.
When she comes around the desk and positions herself behind me, her long fingers and red-painted cuticles pressing against my chest, I hear that little voice inside my head telling me to kick her lovely heart-shaped ass right out the door and down the stairs. Absolutely nothing good can come of this. But then there’s the voice inside my other head that’s screaming at me to bend her over the desk, pull her skirt up, yank her panties down, and to enter into that most lovely of warm, wet lovelies. Do it before I change my mind.
“Can’t you please help me, Mr. Moonlight?” she says, in the saddest heartbreaking voice you ever heard. “That is your name isn’t it? Moonlight?”
“I have another job to take care of,” I confess. “Can’t yours wait a little while?”
“He’s in my place right this second. If we leave now we can catch him in the act. Please, I’m only down the road. It won’t take you but a few minutes.” She lowers her hands so that they’re rubbing my hardness through my black jeans. “I promise to make it worth your while, big fella.”
“It is kinda big isn’t it?” I whisper.
“I’ll say,” she says, her voice deep, sultry. “I don’t know if I’d be able to fit it all in my mouth.”
That does it.
I push out my chair and stand. I pick up my gun, slap a full magazine into the grip, then shove it into the shoulder holster. Grabbing the summons, I shove that into the interior pocket on my leather coat. Maybe I can kill two birds.
“Let’s go get this bastard,” I insist. “Make him regret the day he was born.”
We exit my riverside office in the abandoned Port of Albany, and take my dad’s old black 1978 hearse into the heart of the city. Not far from where I’m supposed to be serving the divorce papers in five or so minutes.
She tells me to drive up to Lark Street where all those Victorian townhouses still stand, most of them converted into cheap walkup apartments with the first floors converted into headshops, or tattoo parlors, or gay bars, or Ben and Jerry’s overpriced ice cream parlors. We climb four flights of stairs until we come to a top floor that’s been divided up into four cramped apartments.
“That’s me there,” she says. Then, her ear pressed against the door, she raises up her index finger, presses it against her luscious lipstick red lips. “Shhhhhhhh. Be quiet. I think he’s still in there.”
I draw my gun, thumb the safety off.
“You really gotta use that, Mr. Moonlight?” she says. “Guns scare me.”
“You want me to do my job or not, lady?”
She cocks her head towards the door.
“Just remember,” she whispers. “You shoot him, you won’t be able to go to the cops. You’d have to dispose of the body all by yourself.”
“I just plan on scaring him a little is all, Carissa.”
She raises up the gold chain that’s hanging from her neck, and reveals a single key that’s connected to it. Pulling off the chain, she slips the key into the door lock.
“Allow me,” I say, grabbing her arm, pulling her backwards. “You stay close behind.”
I twist the lock slowly, turn the opener counter-clockwise. The door opens. I give her a look like, I’m going in.
Her face tight as a tick, green eyes wide, she nods.
My gun gripped in my hand, palm sweaty, heart beating in my throat, I step inside the dark apartment and…
“Whaddya wanna do with him?” It’s a man’s voice. It’s the first thing I hear when I come to.
“I don’t know, Brad,” says a voice I recognize. A female voice. Definitely the voice that belongs to the tall drink of water that arrived at my office unannounced and uninvited this evening.
“Whaddya mean you don’t know, doll?” the man says. “We can’t just keep him tied up like this. We gotta take care of him like we planned. You know, before the wife shows up. Shoot him in the brains.”
If that last comment doesn’t loosen up my bowels, nothing will. I attempt to shift myself on the chair, but the hold is too tight.
Here’s the deal. I’m blindfolded and tied to a ladder-back chair with arm rests. Rather, not tied, but duct-taped. Wrists bound together behind my back, ankles bound to the chair legs, respectively. There’s a piece of tape covering my mouth, so I can’t say shit. The blindfold however, is a kerchief. The kind for blowin’ not showin’. It’s not all that tight around my eyes so that if I position my head at just the right angle, I can aim my eyes downward and at least get a look at their legs and feet.
Carissa’s still got on those stiletto heels, and he…Brad…is wearing loose charcoal trousers with two inch cuffs, blue and white polka dot socks, and a pair of black Gucci loafers that would cost me a small mortgage. That is, I had any credit.
“Moonlight’s kind of cute,” she says. “Kind of sexy. Be a shame to have to kill him prematurely.”
That’s it, baby. Stall, stall, stall…
“All you think about is sex, Carissa,” Brad says. “You’re a freak. A freak of nature.” I can hear him inhaling on something. And I smell dope. Definitely dope. Maybe laced with something else. Like smack, or crack. I hear him drinking too. Ice cubes clinking in a glass. Scotch. I can bet it’s scotch. I can bet broads-to-bullets they’re wired out, on edge, fucked up.
Carissa says, “You happen to enjoy the freak of nature quite a bit these days. And give me a hit off that. I’m coming down already.”
“I blame my parents,” he says. “They didn’t raise me right. All those dirty magazines they had all over the trailer. All that dope they used to smoke. The way I was raised, it’s a wonder I was able to put myself through law school without getting arrested for touching some underage teen.”
He’s a lawyer. Interesting. His name is Brad too. Sounds familiar. Maybe too familiar. But why did Carissa accuse him of stealing from her? Why did she come all way to my office to bring me back here only to tie me up? What the hell is she talking about when she says they’re supposed to kill me before the wife shows up? Doesn’t make an ounce of sense.
“It’s okay, honey,” she says. “I don’t mean to upset you. Here, let me take care of you.”
I shift my head so I can get a look at what she’s doing. Damn if she isn’t lowering herself onto her knees. She’s unbuckling his belt, pulling his pants down. She’s taking him in her mouth, working the hell out of him.
That’s where I stop watching.
“Yeah, sweetheart,” he moans. “You know just what to do.”
A silence then fills the apartment that’s not really silent. There’s the flesh-on-flesh sound of her working him, and the traffic down below on Lark Street, and somebody in a nearby apartment blaring classic rock. Free Bird. I fucking hate Free Bird.
Then, “Wait, Carissa,” he says. “Don’t make me cum yet. I want you to do something for me. Something nice.”
“What is it, Brad?” she says.
“Take a look at Moonlight,” he says. “You seein’ what I’m seein’?”
They shift themselves so that they’re facing me.
“My, my,” she says. “He’s got quite the tent poll going, now doesn’t he?”
Maybe I can’t see the tent poll she’s referring too, but I can damn well feel it. Moonlight the head-case.
“Tell you what,” Brad says, “why don’t you ride him for a while, and I’ll take a picture or two.”
“Bradly,” she snaps. “You naughty boy.”
“Come on, Carissa baby,” Brad says. “You know I like watching you. It’s one of my favorite things. And having Moonlight here, tied up like that, well, it’s like a freebie. An opportunity we can’t pass up.”
She slowly gets up off her knees.
“Well, since you put it that way,” she says.
I see her use her hand to lift up her skirt, and drop her black lace thong. She kicks the thong to the side, steps over to me. She unbuckles my belt and unzips my pants. Meanwhile, the adrenalin pumped into my brain is reaching a boiling point.
“You ready with that camera, Brad?” she says.
“Filming, baby,” he says.
She sits slowly onto my lap, and just like that, I lose it. Whatever Hugh G Rection I was sporting just seconds ago disappears like dust in the wind. It’s a case of total shrinkage. A case of a man with a piece of .22 caliber hollow-point bullet lodged inside his head who can’t always control his other head.
“Damn it, Brad,” she says. “There’s nothing I can do. He’s totally lost it.”
“Maybe if you cut some of the tape,” he says. “Could be you’re cutting off his circulation.”
“I never thought of that.”
“I’ve got his gun,” he adds. “So it’s safe.”
“He’s in pretty good shape. Muscular. We must be careful.”
“Just cut some of the tape away,” he says. “Leave the ankles tied to the chair legs.”
I recognize the sound of a switchblade opening, and then I feel my wrists being freed. Here’s the thing: I could totally grab hold of her now, break her neck. But the detective inside me wants to play this one the right way. And okay, I’ll admit it. Having her ride me isn’t the worst idea in the world. So what if Brad is filming it?
She approaches me once more, goes to sit down on my lap. But that’s also when Brad’s cell phone rings.
“Crap, Carissa,” he says. “I gotta take this.”
She stands up, pulls her skirt back down.
“What the hell does a girl have to do to get laid in this town?” she groans.
“The truck has arrived?” Brad says. “And the Chink girls? Twelve of them? Bring them to the warehouse immediately. I wanna see them before I pay for them, you got it? I want–”
He gets cut off mid-sentence.
“Brad, what’s going on?” Carissa says. “What’s wrong? I can tell by your face something isn’t right.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Brad says. “You’re being followed? By a cop? Are you sure it’s a cop?”
“Oh shit,” the girl says. “You gotta do something, Brad.”
“Tell you what,” he says. “Pull the truck up around front of the apartment building, and come on up.”
“But what about the cops, Brad?”
“I have an idea,” he says. “A bye bye cops once-and-for-all idea.”
He explains his idea to her. Trust me when I say it’s as stupid and drug-inspired as it is dangerous for me. Meaning, what he’s proposing is guaranteed to get me killed. But then, I guess that was their plan all along.
Brad has placed my gun in my right hand and taped my fingers around it, so that I have no way of separating myself from it. He’s also taped my right wrist to the arm rest which means I’m pointing the gun at the door. My left wrist is taped to the left armrest. His plan, such as it is, is for whoever is driving the truck to jump out, take the stairs all the way up here, thus drawing the cops up here too. That’s when they’ll unload on the cop and no doubt, blame me for it.
“I’m scared, Brad,” Carissa says. “What if this doesn’t work? Can’t we just get rid of Moonlight like we planned and avoid the cops altogether?”
“It’ll work, baby,” he says. “Believe me. Cops are stupid. They’re like rabbits. All you gotta do is give them a chase.”
“Yeah but will it work?” she insists.
“Sure,” he says. “Soon as that cop opens the door, he’ll see Moonlight waving a gun at them. The cop will fire and we’ll fire back. After the cop is good and dead, we’ll shoot him again in the face with Moonlight’s own piece just to make it all look good, ballistics wide. You know, copasetic.”
Footsteps coming up the stairs. By the sound of it, one or two sets of footsteps.
Heart pounding in my throat, pulse soaring. I’ve got a blindfold on. It’s a goddamned firing squad. I’m gonna fucking die.
“Now remember, Carissa, the first one will be the driver. Don’t shoot him. It’s the cop we want.”
The door flies open.
All hell breaks loose.
Five or six shots are fired. Or is it seven or eight?
I lost count what with the rapid-fire exchange.
I could almost feel the bullets whizzing past my head like wasps.
More footsteps on the stairs and men shouting. “Stop her! Stop…her!”
“Hold your fire!” someone shouts from the doorway. “It’s too damned late.”
The blood is pumping through my veins and capillaries so fast, so rapidly, I’m having trouble working up a breath. That piece of bullet in my brain…If I get too worked up it can kill me. At the very least, I risk passing out.
Not now, I tell myself. Stay awake. Stay alive, Moonlight.
I shake my head violently and the kerchief falls away. It takes me a second to adjust my focus, but when I do I see Carissa lying on her stomach, a pool of blood collecting under her head. Brad is down on his side, his eyes wide open, mouth gaping wide open, his blue tongue sticking out like a dead leech. A pool of dark blood is also forming under his chest. There’s a third body too, and more blood. Must be the truck driver.
There’s a woman standing in the doorway.
She’s blonde and thin and tall, and wearing a black dress. She’s holding a gun in her hand. By the looks of it, a Colt .45 caliber 1911. Just like you see in the old gangster films. World War Two pictures too. There’s smoke coming from the barrel. Soon as the gun falls from her hand, one of the two uniformed cops pounces on her, pulls her down onto the floor, yanks her arms behind her back, starts cuffing her. It’s a total face plant.
“You okay, Moonlight?” Lead Cop says, returning his sidearm to the holster on his utility belt, and peeling off my gag. “You are the private detective, Dick Moonlight, am I right?”
“I’ve been better,” I say, through the pain of having the tape ripped from my face. “Can somebody cut me loose?”
He cuts the tape from around my wrists, frees up my semi-automatic from my fingers, sets it aside. I slowly stand.
“You know what this is all about, Moonlight?” Lead Cop inquires.
My eyes drift to the dead woman and her dead boyfriend, Brad.
“Brad here was buying Chinese girls,” I say. “When he got word you were following him, he lured you up here. He was gonna kill you, blame it all on me.”
“But that’s not what really happened, is it?” Lead Cop says.
“Don’t blame, Moonlight,” the cuffed woman says, while Second Cop pulls her up from off the floor. “He had nothing to do with this. He was supposed to deliver divorce papers to my husband, Brad, tonight. Brad must have somehow gotten word of my intentions. That’s why he lured Moonlight here before he had the chance to officially serve the summons. My guess is that he and his whore were going to threaten, Moonlight, make him think twice about serving the papers. Maybe they were planning on killing Moonlight, and somehow blaming it on me.”
I never put two and two together until just now. Carissa coming to my office in a state of panic…it was all about the divorce papers all along.
The cop looks at the cuffed woman, then he looks at me and then at the cuffed woman again.
“You two know each other?” Lead Cop asks.
“She’s Desiree Jones,” I say. “She’s my client. And she just saved my life.”
“Your client?” Lead Cop says. “I don’t get it.”
Desiree stares at her dead husband with contempt, even though he’s already getting cold.
She says, “He had no intention of signing those papers. He would rather shoot Moonlight dead and burn his body along with the papers then divorce me.”
“But why go to the bother of killing Moonlight?” Lead Cop says. “He’s just the messenger. If it’s not Moonlight, it will be somebody else.”
“My husband is, or was, an addict, Officer,” Desiree says. “Addicts don’t think straight.”
“The divorce, Desiree,” I interject. “Why wouldn’t Brad divorce you?”
She looks at me with deep blue eyes. Eyes that don’t blink.
“He couldn’t afford to divorce me,” she says. “I’m the one with all the money. He was dead broke and running girls and dope to make ends meet. He was sleeping with all of them and snorting his own product. He had…this, this, problem. This sexual appetite.” She laughs, bitterly. “He got what he had coming. So did that bitch, Carissa.”
“Don’t we all,” Lead Cop says more to himself than anyone else. Then, “Take her away, Emmet. Take her downtown South Pearl and book her.”
“What’s the charge, Sully?” Second Cop/Emmet says. “Far as I’m concerned, she did the city a favor.”
“Premeditated murder,” Lead Cop/Sully says. “After all the evidence we got lying around this shithole, it’ll stick to a grand jury like dog shit to a shoe heel.”
Emmet shakes his head and takes Desiree away, but not before she offers me the slightest of parting smiles.
“Well, Sully,” I say. “So much for getting paid.”
I retrieve my piece and slip it back in my shoulder holster.
“Look on the bright side, Moonlight,” Sully says. “You dodged a real bullet this time. Those two lovers were gonna fuck you up real bad.”
I nod and snicker to myself. Because maybe they were gonna fuck me up, but I also almost got laid in the process. Go figure.
“Lovers,” I say. “Look at all that love lying there in its own blood on the floor.”
Sully smiles, laughs. “Jesus Moonlight, you are quite the philosopher, you know that? In the end, no one gets out alive.”
“Guess that means we’re all dead men walking, Sully,” I say.
That’s when something dawns on me.
Reaching into my pocket, I pull out the envelope with the divorce papers I was hired to serve. I glance at the address on the envelope. 767 Lark St. Apt. 4B. I glance at the open apartment door. The number painted on it reads, 4B. Guess I should have paid more attention to the address earlier. I toss the crumbled envelope onto Brad’s corpse.
“You’ve been served,” I say. But I know deep down in my heart, that I’m the one who truly got served tonight. In more ways than one.
Turning for the door, I pull the collar up on my leather coat, and make my way back down the stairs into the dark heart of the city.
BIO : Winner of the 2015 PWA Shamus Award and the 2015 ITW Thriller Award for Best Original Paperback Novel, MOONLIGHT WEEPS, Vincent Zandri is the NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY, and AMAZON KINDLE No.1 Bestselling author of more than 25 novels including THE REMAINS, EVERYTHING BURNS, and ORCHARD GROVE. Zandri‘s list of domestic publishers include Delacorte, Dell, Down & Out Books, Thomas & Mercer and Polis Books. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri‘s work is translated in the Dutch, Russian, French, Italian, and Japanese. Recently, Zandri was the subject of a major feature by the New York Times. He has also made appearances on Bloomberg TV and FOX news. In December 2014, Suspense Magazine named Zandri‘s, THE SHROUD KEY, as one of the “Best Books of 2014.” Recently, Suspense Magazine selected WHEN SHADOWS COME as one of the “Best Books of 2016”. A freelance photo-journalist and the author of the popular “lit blog,” The Vincent Zandri Vox, Zandri has written for Living Ready Magazine, RT, New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, The Times Union (Albany), Game & Fish Magazine, and many more. He lives in New York and Florence, Italy.