© E.O. Costello, 2011
Illustration by Kjartan Arnorsson
It’s pretty good advice, and one, thinking ‘bout it, I wish I’d taken.
Usually, the stuff they talk about at roll-call is pretty mundane. This, that or the other place is being burglarized, the tourists are being pestered, this construction site looks like it’s cutting corners, watch out…you know, the usual stuff. After a few minutes of this, your eyes glaze over.
My eyes didn’t glaze over so much, as they were thinking about my next day off. There was a cute little one over on the South Island, who had finally told me that it was okeh to visit her – at her place! -- on my day off.
Lookit, c’mon, I’m a young buck! Mid-twenties. What do you want from me? That’s how we think.
So, like I said, my mind was elsewhere, and the Duty Sergeant was giving me the eye for not putting stuff in my notebook. So I put my grocery shopping list in there, just to keep him happy. He never checked the notebooks, anyhow.
He got back at me, in a way, though. My duty beat tonight was going to be Eastern Island, which is pretty dead boring. Once the seaplane terminal shuts down for the night, not much happens over there. Just a whole lot of empty, dark buildings. Not too bad, but there is a trade-off. After a while, leaning against a building and shutting your eyes for a bit of a nap starts to look pretty good.
One of my buddies, a guy who looks out for my flag, passed me his notebook on the way out. Didn’t say nothing, just passed it to me. I guess my wool-gathering was pretty obvious.
I copied down what he’d wrote. Not a whole lot in there, outside of the usual stuff I said before. I didn’t bother copying down a few of the advisories on wanted furs, just a few notes.
Yeah. Sorta wished I had done that, now that I’m thinking about it.
Anyway. Like I said, my beat was on Eastern Island. Tonight, it was going to be the 2000-0600 beat. Which sounds worse than it is, because they do give you ninety minutes for lunch, and not a whole lot happens. You just make your way around the terminal, the few little shops there, the warehouses, and that’s pretty much it. Do that circuit once every two hours or so, mix it around a bit to keep ‘em guessing, and you’re pretty set. Not much to it.
The sun was starting to go down as the water-taxi was taking me across the lagoon to Eastie. Nice part about these islands is that you can get pretty much anywhere you really want in just a few minutes. And boat rides? They’re pretty good. Nice and cool, and if you’re sharing the ride, a few shillings slipped to the driver ensures he goes nice and slow. Tip him a few more shillings, and he might decide to tie up the boat somewhere, have a nice coffee break, and leave you and a friend some privacy.
No such luck tonight, though. It was just me in the boat, going against the traffic leaving Eastern Island. I could already see some of the lights being turned off in the Pan-Nimitz Building, and a few of the towers were already starting to wink on and off like they had June bugs squatting on the top. Kinda pretty, really.
I flipped the driver a shilling; even though the ride was free, official duty and all, still, keeps things nice with the driver. Shows ‘em respect.
The two guys I was relieving were looking at their watches, but that was just for show. I was bang on time, and they didn’t have any reason to pull my rack.
They gave me the run-down, and it was pretty dull. One plane was due to come in right as dark was coming in, which was a little different. Pilots don’t like to tackle Eastie when it gets dark. But if that was the only thing, it looked to be a pretty sweet shift.
I snagged a cup of coffee from the diner near the terminal, first, from the old lady tigress who ran it. It’s sorta unspoken, that the coffee is free, but it’s to make sure you’re walking around and keeping an eye on her joint. Fair trade, you ask me. Another shilling went in the little china cup near the register.
So I was sipping my java as the plane the boys told me about came in. Cargo plane, didn’t go up to the Pan-Nimitz pier, and a small job at that. I’d probably have to check on it during the shift, just to keep an eye on it. They usually don’t unload those things until morning, when the Customs shed is open and the warehouses have furs in them to haul the stuff around.
One loop around, a nice, easy one. Shine the flashlight down some alleys, jiggle a few doorknobs, and wave hello to the few furs still working in Eastie when everyone else is at dinner, or getting ready for an early bedtime. There’s usually a few clerks, or some fur doing a late fix-it job, or some of the watchfurs that have a much narrower beat.
Just before I headed back to the diner for a refill, I phoned in from a call box. No new orders, and nothing to report. The desk sergeant sounded bored. I wasn’t bored, much. Thinking about my next day off helped.
Some silly bastard still hadn’t secured the cargo ramp on the plane that had come in late, so I rousted up one of the guys still on duty, and made him lock up, after I did a once-over with the flashlight. He was not happy about it, since it took him nearly twenty minutes to get a hold of the proper keys to lock up. I kept on him, because I didn’t want to get chewed out for having a walk-over robbery on my shift.
By the time I finished my second circuit, going all around, it was about half-past eleven. The big old tigress who ran the diner asked me what I wanted to eat, and said some fresh tomatoes had come in from the Main Island. A double-decker tomato sandwich sounded pretty good to me, and it’d be enough to pass the next hour. Did a call box visit on my way out, and reported the lockup on the plane.
I was still thinking about my sandwich and my next day off, and not in that order, when I felt my hoof hit something metal, and I heard something skidding away. It took me a few minutes to find it with my flashlight, and pick it out of the verge.
It was a .38, a Colt “Official Police” revolver pretty much exactly like the one I carried, though in looking at it closely, I could see that it didn’t have the Constabulary insignia stamped on it. I snapped it open. All six present and accounted for, and a sniff of the barrel told me it hadn’t been fired lately.
I was pretty damn sure I hadn’t seen this on my two go-rounds, but I wasn’t 100% damn sure. I stood there, pretty much like a dumb-ass, for about a full minute, weighing the thing up and down. I could call this in, but it was hit-or-miss whether the desk sergeant would tell me to shut up already, and figure out how the damn gun got there.
One problem I had to solve was where to put the damn thing. I only have the standard-issue two paws and a holster, which already had my own piece. I decided to switch out the guns. I figured that having my own Colt in my paw felt better, and I still had one paw free to work a door or a flashlight.
Figuring out what to do next took me another few minutes. It was a cinch that there hadn’t been some kind of major fight, because I was sure…well, pretty sure…that I’d have heard gunshots or the sounds of a brawl. So either a fur dropped the gun, or he was made to drop it. The light was pretty poor where I’d kicked the gun, so no wonder nofur saw it.
I squatted down where I’d kicked the gun, took out my flashlight, and turned it on. It was slow work turning around squatting, but I eventually saw something I was looking for. There was a track where dirt had been scraped over the sidewalk. Actually, two tracks, parallel, about a foot apart. The track was about a forty-five degree angle from where the gun had been, like the fur had moved diagonally away from where he’d dropped the gun.
My muscles yelled at me when I straightened up, but I wanted to figure out what kind of path this guy took. The dirt scrapings disappeared after a few feet, but I picked up a few traces where the feet had gone through a puddle of water, and I could see the guy must have been going in the same direction as before.
I got to a gate with a chain and padlock on it, and stopped. Right down where the gate was, I could see some dark splotches on the pavement. Something shiny caught my eye, and I saw that it was a two-shilling silver piece. A few scraps of paper were near it. Maybe the guy had been fumbling around in his pocket for something.
The light from the flashlight showed, when I looked at it first, that the lock was on the gate. I’d turned away and had gone a few feet when I heard the voice of my sergeant yelling at me, inside my head.
“Hey, stupid! How do you lock a gate from the inside?!”
I looked back. Sure enough, it would have been one hell of a reach, at least from the top, to snap the padlock back, so I got up to it real close and looked.
The mesh around the gate wasn’t enough to reach around and close the padlock, but you probably could, with a bit of effort, push the padlock through and make it look like it was closed.
So why the hell would somefur go to all that trouble, just to make it look like the gate was locked?
Maybe that fur wanted, at some point, to get out.
I stood there another minute, trying to figure out what I should do next. The nearest call box was a good few hundred yards away, and maybe the guy could get out while I was calling it in. The nearest beat cop was even further away.
Shining my light just beyond the gate, I could see more dark splotches. I bent down and dipped a finger in one of the splotches on my side of the gate, sniffed, and snapped my ears back.
Whatever my position was, I made up my mind I’d better have a look-see beyond the gate, to see where this fur was, and if he needed help.
I left the gate wide open; there wasn’t much point trying to fiddle with the padlock to put it back where I found it, even supposing I wasn’t interrupted doing it.
Shining my flashlight along the pavement, I could see a few more blotches of blood, which told me I’d probably be best off getting my flag in gear and seeing about this injured guy.
There was a group of warehouses in the area, all alike, brick-work with tin roofs. No light, really, outside of some small fixtures near the front doors. Following along the blood-drops led me to one warehouse specially.
GENERAL PROVISONERS COMPANY, read the sign, at least as much as I could see from my flashlight. Not all that informative.
A bit more helpful was the pavement in front of the loading bay and the door to its right. Both had splotches of blood; you could even call ‘em small pools. The lock, though, was still intact on the bay door.
The other door, not so much. The window was busted, and it was pretty obvious somefur had reached around to unlock the door from the inside.
I took out a pawkerchief, and tested the doorknob. Locked again. So I unlocked it the way I figured was done, and walked in.
A crunch of glass bits told me I was probably right, that the door had been busted open tonight. The room the door opened into it, a small office, was pretty neat, and you can’t guess a fur who kept his office like that would want to have busted glass underhoof.
The office had only one other door, which opened up into the area behind the locked loading bay door. There was also some more blood in front of this door, too. Whoever had been cut was losing a lot, it looked to me.
Once I got beyond the office, things changed a bit. For one thing, it smelled pretty strong. All kinds of spices, jumbled together. For another, there was a weird sort of trick echo I could hear from water dripping, I guess down from the ceiling. You could certainly hear my hooves, and I wasn’t even really clumping around, neither.
It was also dark as hell. There were a few windows high up on the walls, I guess for air circulation, but it wasn’t easy to pick things out without the flashlight. I’d move the beam around, and it was just a yellow cylinder lighting up the dark and moving on.
I had the flashlight in my left paw, and my own service piece in my right, and I was mostly looking down, trying to find the trail of blood spots. I’d pick the trail up, lose it, and pick it up again.
I didn’t look at my watch, so I don’t know how many minutes it was before I heard it. A sort of low, strangled noise accompanied by a soft drumming. It was a little in front of me and to my right.
I found the source of it, inside a dead-end of a bunch of sacks of meal. Lying, face up, was a cat in a uniform, a dark-green one like I’d seen the warehouse guards use all the time. The drumming noise came from his heels hitting the floor of the warehouse. Why he was doing that was pretty apparent when I shone the light on his head.
He was pretty badly messed up, with his headfur matted with blood. He’d gotten knocked pretty hard on the back of his head, and it looked like once or twice in his face. One of his eyes was swollen shut.
There was a batch of empty sacks, luckily, right outside the dead-end, and I kicked a batch over near him. I jammed the flashlight in a stack of sacks, so it pointed at his face, and I put my Colt down on the floor next to him.
I didn’t have a first-aid kit or anything like that, but I could elevate his head with some sacks. His face, even if it was worked over, didn’t seem like it was the problem. It was the nasty gash right in back of his head. And the only thing I had for it, really, was my pawkerchief. I pressed it on the wound, and grabbed one of the guy’s paws, and tried to get him to hold it firm against his head. Luckily, he got the idea pretty quick.
I was looking close at his face, when I realized he wasn’t looking me in the eye, with his one good one. I was wondering if that had anything to do with getting smacked hard on the head, but it was only when I got a certain sense something was wrong, that I shifted my eyes where he was looking.
I caught a glint, just a faint one, and something told me I had to get the hell out of there, fast. It was damn lucky that I could grab my Colt, but there was no way I could grab the flashlight, the Colt and move at the same time. Not that I didn’t try.
The loud, crashing sound of the gun, and me jumping over the sacks of meal, made me drop the flashlight, and the yellow light snapped out with the sound of breaking glass, putting the whole area in darkness.
It’s funny: the bullet didn’t make a whistling sound. I just heard it smack into something wooden, probably in line with where my head had been a second before. Checking it out, for obvious reasons, wasn’t something I was keen on doing.
There was one, short, sharp curse behind me as I took to my hooves. I rolled around, and fired twice at where I’d heard the curse, before realizing that it wasn’t going to do a damn thing for me, considering the kind of tangled mess I was in firing.
Two more sounds of splintering wood, one just above my rack and the other about a foot right, told me that shooting was also a bad idea, in that it would give my position away.
Feeling around with my left paw, which I moved in and out, I was able to move around in a maze of boxes, until I finally found an area where I thought I was at least safe. Maybe. I could hear myself breathing, and the warehouse made it sound to me like I was shouting.
My initial thought was to stay put, stay quiet, and stay out of sight. That sounded like a good idea to me, until I realized a few beats later that I was thinking like my ancestors would have, hiding in the woods. Works against somebody dumb. The fact that I came within a few inches of getting killed in a trap made me think that I wasn’t up against a dummy.
Still using one paw to feel, I shifted my location a few times. I licked my nose and took a deep sniff. And let out one hell of a sneeze when I got a dose of dust up my muzzle. It was another close call as a box right next to me splintered, and I reflexively sent off another shot. It gave me a short feeling I was doing something, but I realized it was probably only telling the gunfur where I was, and wasting a bullet.
I couldn’t see the sonuvabitch. I couldn’t smell the sonuvabitch. Which pretty much left trying to hear the sonuvabitch. And in spite of swiveling my ears, I wasn’t hearing anything.
I’ll bet he heard something, though: a repeating thwip-thwip-thwip sound. I couldn’t figure out for a minute, until I calmed down and realized it was my goddamn flag. If there was any light in the place, or if this guy’s vision had corrected for the dark, he was going to be treated to a nice, bright expanse of white. Aim a foot higher than the flash of white, and you were bound to hit something fun. I took a hell of a lot for me to fight it down, and keep my tail still. It ain’t easy going against evolution, let me tell you.
I kept moving, but now I was trying to keep quiet, and I was using my fingers, spread out, to lightly touch the floor and the walls. I was also adjusting to the dark, and I could see the outlines of boxes and bags a lot better.
Ear-swiveling, though, was still picking up nothing. The guy was good.
It was when I was trying to remember things, that I remembered what my buddy had down in his book, when I was copying it. And when I should have been listening in the first place at roll-call. One of the things that they’d told us was something about keeping a lookout for a fur, armed and dangerous, who was suspected of breaking into buildings on Eastie, Casino and Meeting. Guy was ex-British Army, and a combat vet from the Great War.
If half the stuff I’d read about the Great War was true, it sounded like this guy was no stranger to fighting in the dark. And if he’d survived 1918, it was probably because he had damn good hearing, and had gotten the Germans before they got him.
How good his hearing was, I got a demonstration. I was worried about how the hell I was going to reload, since I didn’t have anything like a speed loader with me – I could see now why some furs liked them. I thought about a fresh reload, even if it was in the dark, and I snapped the cylinder open. Two shots just above my rack told me my friend was pretty close. I was lucky to snap the cylinder back and move without dropping the gun.
Six shots from him! I paused, hoping to hear the sound of him snapping open his gun and trying to reload. But I didn’t hear anything.
What was weird was the guy wasn’t trying to get away. Either he was lost – like I was – or there was something else. Like he wanted to kill me, real bad. And unlike the guard, I hadn’t even seen his face. Or maybe it was both, mixed together. I dunno.
I was pretty sure, now, that I was up against a fur who had an eight-shot automatic. I had three bullets left. But the thing was, I didn’t know if the guy had a spare magazine. I wasn’t betting against it.
The good thing about moving slowly and carefully is that you don’t knock your hooves against anything hard. I felt my hoof coming down on something, paused, and picked it up.
It was a crowbar. I hefted it up and down in a paw for a bit. Nice and silent, and light…but I would have to go hoof-to-whatever in order to use it. And with this guy circling me and staying a step or two ahead, that wasn’t likely.
Something flashed across my mind, and I remembered a story I’d read a long time ago. It was a really short one, and it was set in Ireland, when they had a civil war. Sniper on one roof dealing with a sniper on another roof. The long and the short of it was that one sniper tricked the other into exposing himself, and then plugged him. ‘course, that’s when he found out he’d killed his brother, but that’s not what I was thinking about.
The crowbar could have sailed some distance, and I might have been able to flush out his position, and get him. Maybe.
A bit of thinking convinced me that was a stupid idea. For one thing, if I knew about that story, it was a cinch the other guy knew it. And he was a vet, and probably knew a whole lot of tricks. Also, it would be just my luck if the crowbar caught one of the few gleams of light, or he saw me throwing it in shadow.
I gently put the crowbar back on the floor, and moved on.
I paused near one stack of crates to get a breather. Was time on my side? It was then I realized that it was stupid of me not to call in and get backup. With two furs, we could have pinned this guy down much easier, and even if we couldn’t, we’d have had the Constabulary in force by now, maybe even some of the Naval Service guys from Moon Island.
No, I was on my own, and the gunfur had all the time in the world to complete his job. Whatever it was.
I heard a slight creaking sound, and at the same time, I both earswiveled and hit the deck, crawling fast. Two close shots, and this time I felt wood splinters hit my cheek. There was nothing I could do but fire twice to try to keep the guy down or away, and buy myself a few seconds.
Pretty expensive buy: a few seconds for two of my remaining bullets. The price went up when I heard it.
A long, slow chuckle, and the snapping and clicking of an automatic being reloaded with a fresh magazine.
The bastard wasn’t even trying anymore. He knew that the odds were well on his side, and that’s what I thought, too.
I wanted to run real bad, just get the hell out of there, and it took everything I had to fight that. My mouth was full of acid from my stomachs, and I had to relax my grip on my gun when I realized I was giving myself a cramp trying to strangle it.
“You’ll need to be a good shot with that one you have left.”
The voice, when it came out of the dark, was low, drawling and sneering. Funny thing, though. Hearing the voice didn’t make me more scared. I wasn’t being chased by a ghost. I was being chased by some bastard who was all too real.
“You’re pretty good. Most furs would be dead by now. Guess you have a lot of experience running. Don’t you?”
I had been thinking about doing a bolt for it, all right. But I stopped. This bastard was pissing me off. Now I wish I had picked up the crowbar, to beat his skull in. No such luck, though.
My free paw, feeling on the floor, found a wooden pallet, and I did a quick snap of the neck to look around.
I had managed to get moved around so that I was in the middle of a long, long row of boxes. And it didn’t look like there was much in the way of side alleys. I’d probably have to run maybe 20 yards before I could, maybe, get out of a straightaway.
The best thing to do, I thought, was have both paws free to move around, so I reached to holster my Colt. And remembered that I had stashed the guard’s gun in my holster.
“Don’t worry, chum. I’ll make sure to shoot you in the chest. You can have an open coffin.”
I hoped to hell the guard wasn’t one of those furs who carried around guns for show, and drew his gun as well. After a beat, I remembered that I’d checked the gun outside, and it did have six rounds in it, and not fired.
If I was a dead fur – and certainly both of us seemed to think so – I wasn’t going to go down easy. It was a stupid idea I had, but it was the only one on the table. If I was going to do anything, it had to be this. I was going to have to pull a card out of my sleeve, one the gunfur didn’t know I had.
There were about six or seven deep and silent breaths taken by me, and then I moved. I ran down the corridor about a third of the way, and fired the one shot I had left in my piece sort-of random behind me.
That gun I dropped, hard, on the warehouse floor and it made a noise you could have heard anywhere.
And it was heard. I’d turned around and just dropped into my crouch when for the first time, I saw the shadow.
He’d stepped out of the line, more or less where the pallet was, and started to chuckle, raising his automatic. The chuckling stopped and was replaced with a curse when he realized I wasn’t running, was crouched, and had something in my paws.
I saw a few flashes, heard two strings of gunshots, felt some red-hot rods rammed into my chest, and things went black pretty quickly after that.
It’s funny. When you lose consciousness, you never get the sense of “Hey, I’m knocked out. I wonder when I’ll come back?” You’re just sort of there. So it’s always a bit odd when you start to come out of it.
I had a vague sense that when I started to come out of it, it wasn’t the first time. But this time, no one stopped me. I drifted a bit, and soon I realized that I was in a bed, and the big black things that I saw in front of my eyes were my hooves.
They were pretty interesting, and I must have stared at them, wiggling a bit, for a while, before a big, ugly old nurse waddled in and without an introduction, moved me around some. I wanted to cuss her out, but all I got out was a scratchy bleat. A stab in my arm, and I was out again for a while.
The next time I woke up, I was in a different bed. A bit nicer, and the room was a lot cheerier. The backside of the sugar glider nurse that I saw was a lot cheerier, too.
Somewhat less cheering was the sight of one of the detectives, chewing on the end of a cigar. He was reading a paper, and when he caught some movement from the bed, he lowered it. I wish he hadn’t. The tie he was wearing was loud enough to make my head hurt.
The fox ambled over to the door, and poked his head out.
“Hey, Doc! He’s stirrin’.”
I heard some paw-steps, and in came the doctor, who nodded at me, and yanked the cigar out of the fox’s mouth without even looking at it.
“Ah. Good. Hello, Constable. I’m Doctor Meffit. I’m sure you know your colleague, Detective Sergeant Brush.”
The skunk took my chart, and squinted at it.
“Well, you’re not the first young damnfool I’ve had to put back together, and God knows, you won’t be the last. It’s a lucky thing you’re in good physical condition. If you were less fit…” Here, he glared at Sergeant Brush. “…or, if you smoked…well, you wouldn’t be here.”
I looked around a bit more. This was a joint I’d never seen.
“Ah. You’re at my clinic, Constable. More convenient for my operating room. You’ll be here for a few weeks, I think, until you can start your rehabilitation.”
I looked down where the bedsheet covered me. The sawbones read my mind.
“Four shots. Left shoulder, left lung, a stomach shot and your hip. You won’t be going back to duty for some months, I should think.” Seeing my look, he patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry. I expect you’ll make a full recovery, and in any event, you’ll have your salary. I don’t think the Constabulary could do otherwise.”
I raised an eyebrow. The fox went over to the table, took up a few papers, and held them in front of me.
They were the local tabloid rag. One of them showed a picture of me, and a picture of a scowling wolf alongside it.
“Two-Gunned Constable Brings Down Wanted Felon”
The other copy showed my girl looking frozen, like a flashbulb had gone off in her face, all over the front page. She looked like she’d been crying.
“TWO-GUN CONSTABLE OUT OF SURGERY”
“Sweetheart Keeps Vigil at Hospital”
I swallowed hard at that, and I didn’t hear anything that the doctor said after that. He copped on to the fact I wasn’t paying attention, and he left.
The detective hung around. He guessed what I was thinking.
“Oh, yeah. When y’didn’t pick up yer dinner, the dame what runs the diner called it in. The gunsel? One of yer shots got him in the leg. Female artery, or somethin’ like dat. Anyhow, bled t’death. Good riddance.”
He must have seen the look on my puss, and he reached around and patted my (good) shoulder.
“Yeah, y’made some screwups, kid. But lissen. Youse got outta it, dat guard lived, too, and dere’s one less piece of spraint in th’ world. Take it from me, kid. Nothin’ gets ridda violations of th’ book like bein’ right. An’ livin t’tell it. I been in lotsa hospital beds fer stuff like youse done.”
He put on his hat and made for the door.
“Oh, hey, Two-Gun?” He laughed when he saw my expression. “Yeah, you ain’t livin’ down dat nickname, Two-Gun. Lissen, kid, one more bit o’ advice. Take it easy wit’ yer sweetie. Save somma dat energy fer’ gettin’ better.”
That made me think. And until visiting hours, I was thinking of nothing else.
New York, New York
May 17-22, 2011.