Extract

Deal Breaker

Deal Breaker free ebook cover.

The insurance salesman seemed too young to be an insurance salesman to Harlan. They sat across from each other in Harlan's dark, quiet living room. The man was trying to sell Harlan some insurance. Harlan sat there silently, listening. He felt tired. The salesman's words weren't helping. Harlan was growing impatient. But he said nothing.

The salesman continued his pitch undeterred by Harlan's obvious boredom. He was at least twenty years younger than Harlan. Stronger, better dressed. Harlan paid no mind to the words coming out of the man's mouth. He just let his voice drone on while he studied him. To Harlan the salesman was nothing more than a young boy parading around in his father’s suit. The boy’s deep, charming tone of voice and sporty little tie only made it easier for Harlan to hate him.

The boy's voice was just a little too loud for the room they sat in. Harlan figured the boy must have found that this generally worked for him. It projected authority. It suggested he knew what he was talking about. That he could be trusted.

As the boy droned on, Harlan sized him up. It was his favorite thing to do with people. Especially those who made the mistake of invading his home. It seemed to Harlan that the boy had gained too much confidence from whatever past success with this pitch he was reciting at Harlan. The boy obviously had it memorized from saying it many times. Harlan decided the boy had gained faith in his pitch just because it had worked for him in the past. He was still young enough to think life was that easy.

The boy must have convinced himself at some point that success lay in delivering his pitch like a poem or a piece of music. It wasn't the meaning of the words that got to the suckers. It was the sound and rhythm of the words. Especially if they were delivered by a face like his, a face that tried hard to look friendly and trustworthy. That's what got the suckers to sign the papers. Like anyone else getting talked at, Harlan wasn't listening to the words but the rhythm of the words. The difference between him and the suckers was that he hated the rhythm.

Harlan's gaze began to drift. He'd held the boy's eyes for all this time, but boredom and fatigue got the better of him. The boy sensed he was losing his victim. His salesman's instincts kicked in immediately.

"Could I use your bathroom, please?" the boy asked, maintaining his rhythm and tone of voice. This had to be a favorite trick of his. Get the sucker to do something for him. A display of power.

Harlan studied the boy, not answering him. He let the silence linger.

When Harlan felt the boy's discomfort become almost palpable, he said, "Do you need to go to the bathroom?" It was the first thing he'd said to the boy since he first mumbled hello and reluctantly agreed to hear him out. Harlan's voice was soft with a hint of bitterness. He spoke slowly. But he could see in the boy's eyes that his voice commanded a whole lot more attention from the boy than the boy's voice commanded from him.

"No, I was just asking," the boy said, in his same rigid tone, but just a little faster. A little too fast, maybe. He hadn't snapped back at Harlan, but he almost had. Harlan was starting to enjoy himself.

"In that case, no," Harlan replied, his tone just as even as the boy's. But softer, slower. In control. Harlan found the boy's blank, puzzled expression immensely satisfying. But he didn't let on as much. The boy probably thought he was still in control. He didn’t seem to realize that by looking into his eyes, Harlan had the cheat sheet to his mind.

"You don't want me to use your bathroom?" the boy asked. Always the same tone. The mechanical consistency was eerie. Just a little too loud, on purpose. The boy seemed confident he could make Harlan feel embarrassed. Make Harlan surrender just a little. Let him use the bathroom. Make Harlan apologize, maybe with a gesture, like offering a glass of water or cup of coffee. He knew that if he got Harlan to do any of these things, he'd have made a major breakthrough, would be that much closer to the kill. He didn't know Harlan.

"No," Harlan repeated, his tone even as ever, this time with a small shake of the head. The fake charm on the boy's face lost a shade of its brightness. It was replaced by a trace of anger. His eyebrows came together slightly, and the left corner of his jaw twitched a couple of times. Harlan found this very entertaining. He kept his own expression blank. He gave away no emotion except boredom.

"Well, may I ask why?" the boy said. His tone was different. His ego had been bruised, and he sounded slightly indignant. His real humanity was seeping through his artificial persona. He played this note just a little too fast, too close to the upbeat, and the pitch was way off. The boy heard himself and cringed. Clearly he hadn't expected Harlan to just repeat his answer. It threw him off. His rhythm had started to fall out of sync before; now it was going completely out of time.

"Don't want to," Harlan said indifferently.

The boy made a face. A non-verbal cue. Somebody at the training seminar must have told him that silence was the most important note. Mozart had said as much. The boy probably felt it was acceptable to demonstrate some frustration.

Before the boy spoke again, Harlan went on the attack. He said, "I don't know you, I don't trust you, I'm not at all convinced you actually need to go in the first place." Adding some fuel to the fire would make things go faster. And Harlan really wanted to see this kid burn up.

The boy looked genuinely surprised. It was probably because Harlan had just spoken more words than all those he'd said since the boy first walked in. Until then Harlan had barely emoted at all. Now all of a sudden he'd openly expressed mistrust and even some hostility. Harlan wondered if the boy had ever encountered hostility so late in a pitch, and if he did, how often. Harlan had to imagine that fearful or aggressive clients probably showed their colors much sooner.

"Sir, I think-" the boy started. His tone was off, his fake grin sagged at the sides, tired. For the first time, he broke eye contact with Harlan, if only for a second. The boy was losing what footing he thought he had. He probably rationalized his fearful slip as him backing off a little. Extending the olive branch.

Harlan complimented himself on letting the boy in in the first place and sitting through his dull talk. Watching the little bastard squirm made it all worth it.

"And don't talk louder than me," Harlan added. Same voice, same face, same speed. Quiet. Bored. Slow.

The boy's frown deepened.

"Sir," he started again. He wasn't sure just what tone of voice he was using anymore. He was a mess.

"And don't interrupt me neither," Harlan said. "My house, my rules. And you give me the creeps. So get out." Harlan nodded once, curtly, at the door. On the inside, he tingled with excitement. This was the sacrifice play. If the boy left now, it would all be over. Harlan wouldn't get to finish what he'd started. Harlan always made this offer, and it was always genuine. Few took it. But still, it was a risk.

The boy stayed.

He held Harlan's gaze. He really did look incredulous. All this because he'd asked to go to the bathroom?

"Listen," he said, but didn't continue. His energy was gone.

"No," Harlan sighed, barely loud enough for the boy to hear him. Without moving from his seat, Harlan reached under a newspaper on the table next to his armchair. He took out his revolver. His hand came up slowly, smoothly. Harlan appreciated how surreal it must seem to the boy that a weapon could be in the warm, sleepy, safe living room.

Harlan held the gun at chest height and fired once without sighting. He got the boy just above the eyebrows, right in the middle of the forehead. Harlan bet it hurt, a lot. He hoped it was the sharpest pain the boy had ever felt in his life.

The boy coughed once gutturally and fell to the floor, face up. He was still alive but had lost control over his body. At least that's what Harlan hoped. But of course the best part to watch, the part Harlan savored was the boy's dawning realization, that apart from the literally head-splitting pain, he wasn't dead. The confusion on the boy's face was delightful. Confusion seemed to be a new emotion for him. An added bonus for Harlan. Shouldn't he be dead, he seemed to be thinking. He'd just been shot in the face. He couldn't know or guess, especially in the state he was in, that Harlan had shot him with a rubber non-lethal round.

Harlan stood, for the first time since letting the boy in. He lifted the cradle of his old fashioned telephone and dialed a number from memory. It picked up on the first ring.

Harlan spoke into the phone in a very different tone from the one he'd used with the boy. Louder. Authoritative. Clipped. Giving instructions, confident they would be obeyed. His real voice.

"Who am I speaking to?" Harlan asked. "Margie? This is Harlan. I've got a live one. I want you to come pick it up. Yes. How long?" Harlan paused for a second, thinking. "OK. Fine. In the meantime, I'll get to work."

Harlan put the phone down. He turned around and leaned over the still dazed boy. Fear and panic, emotions just as new to him as confusion, were spreading all over his face, albeit in slow motion because of his weakened state. Harlan grinned.

He looked straight into the boy's widened, terrified eye before and said, "You really shouldn't have asked to use the bathroom."

The End

###

Honor Among Thieves

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The two men outside the bank inhaled the last of their cigarettes, dropped the butts on the ground, rubbed them out, put on their ski masks and walked to the entrance.

The leader, in the red ski mask, pressed the button on the door, the light above the handle turned green, and both men entered. The door locked automatically behind them. Through the glass of the door in front of them, they could see the bank's interior, clerks and clients, and in the back, the safe.

A pre-recorded female voice said to the two men, "Please look up to your left." The men turned their heads and stared into the security camera. The light on the second door turned green.

The men pushed through the second door and into the bank. They pulled out their bulky revolvers and pointed them at the cashier.

"Okay," the leader said, clearing his throat. "Uh, this is a stick-up?" The cashier, the clerks and the clients waiting in line stared patiently at the two robbers.

The cashier and clients pointed to a small sign stuck on the glass divider on the counter and read it aloud, in unison, "The bank is monitored by close circuit television. The safe locks with a time lock."

The leader turned to his assistant, in the orange mask, and said, "Bummer." They lowered their guns.

"Uh, you wouldn't happen to know where there'd be a bank around here without a time whatever?" the leader asked the cashier. She smiled and rose from her seat behind the counter. "Of course," she said, and led them outside.

Outside, on the pavement, the cashier gave the robbers, still masked and armed, directions.

"Take the third left, and you should see it right in front of you," she said, pointing down the street.

"Thank you," the robbers said, waving their handguns in gratitude as they moved on.

Fifteen minutes later, the robbers pushed through the door of the next bank, which had not yet installed a safety entrance. Once again, clients and clerks stared at the two masked, gun-toting men.

"Okay," the leader said. "Open up the safe, and make it fast, 'cause we're boiling with these things on." He pointed the barrel of his gun at his mask.

A regulation bank clerk, about thirty, anemic, with short, slightly thinning hair, and a shirt and tie which did not exactly fit him, stepped in front of the robbers, his fingers intertwined in front of him as if in prayer.

"I regret to inform you," he said, "that you are late. The last consignment of cash was just picked up by the armored car."

The leader robber lowered his gun and grunted, "Oh, nuts."

"Would you care for some lemonade? Orange juice?" the clerk asked.

The robbers and the clerk sat at a tin table in the small yard behind the bank, sipping lemonade. The robbers had lifted their masks over their heads to enjoy the cool breeze. By way of conversation, the leader asked, "This bank thing, you do alright, huh?"

"Oh, yes," the clerk said, "we charge eight and a half percent interest on mortgages-"

The leader nudged his assistant. "And they call us thieves!"

The End

###

Survival of the Fittest

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Caveman Socrates Leatherrock sniffed the jungle air. His prey was close. He treaded lightly, making almost no sound at all. He followed the scent. The prey couldn't be more than three feet away now. Silently, he took an arrow from his quiver and threaded it through his bow.

Because of the dense growth of the jungle, Leatherrock couldn't see the prey even though he could smell it. But it was so close, he decided to stand up from his crouched stance, at risk of giving his position away. He did so and immediately spotted his prey, in front and to the left, lying scared at the foot of a tree. Leatherrock released the arrow from his bow.

Paf!

The arrow punctured the wrapping paper on both sides of the hot dog.

Leatherrock approached his dead prey and removed the arrow. He put it back into is quiver, as he was an environmentally conscious primate. He picked up the skewered hot dog and took the first bite. He spat it out.

"Coleslaw! Again! How many times do I have to tell them?" He sighed, wore his bow over his shoulder, and walked on home, taking a second bite from the hot dog. "What the hell," he muttered, "It's edible."

After the semi-successful hunt, Leatherrock returned home to his cave. He took off his bow and quiver and rested them against the carved rock wall before sitting cross-legged on the ground. He took his reading glasses from inside his animal hide vest and switched on his laptop. The Internet connection took its sweet time. He swatted the computer a couple of times.

"Broadband my ass," he sighed.

Finally the computer connected to his home page, the "Neanderthaal Today" e-zine. He clicked the link to an article about G.R.U.N.T., the organization for Neanderthaal rights. The article began, "Neanderthaals are not dead. They have adapted and live among us. They even take positions of government." A picture of a recent President followed.

"Excuse me," said a voice, catching Leatherrock off guard. He took off his glasses and looked up.

A young man stood in the sun outside Leatherrock's cave, sweating in his business suit.

"Are you Mr. Socrates Leatherock?" the young man asked, reading the name off an official-looking paper.

"That depends," Leatherrock said. "Who's asking?"

"I'm with the Inland Revenue Service," the young man said. "It has come to our attention that you did not file a tax return last year. Consequently you have been selected for an audit." The man never got to finish the sentence. Somewhere between 'Inland Revenue' and 'tax return' Leatherrock's instinct for self preservation kicked in, and with lightning speed he fired off an arrow. The young man fell to the ground.

Leatherrock threaded another arrow through the bow and carefully approached the taxman, checking to see if a second shot was needed. It wasn't.

"Socrates?" Leatherrock's wife called from inside the cave. "Who was that?"

"Dinner."

The End

###

A Horrible Secret

A Horrible Secret free ebook cover.

Psychologist Dr. Manic sat at his desk, waiting for his four o'clock appointment. He glanced at his watch. The big hand had not swiped past twelve when the door opened. Dr. Manic looked up.

The patient was a man in his mid-thirties, slightly plump, slightly balding, and a businessman, judging by his suit. Dr. Manic was confident that whatever this man's problem was, he could fix it. In the appropriate number of sessions, of course.

The man sat on the couch across from Dr. Manic's desk. He launched right into his problem. "I...there's something," he began nervously, "A..secret, I'd guess you call it, something that I keep from most, well, everyone."

Ah, thought Dr. Manic. Yet another man with unremarkable features, prematurely entering middle age, who, because of his justifiable lack of success with women, automatically assumes that he must be a closet homosexual. Dr. Manic dealt with several of these cases every year. Even though he could treat them for breakfast, he usually did it over five sessions, at two hundred dollars a session. Dr. Manic smiled. "Go on," he said.

The patient blushed. "Something...well, I'm not exactly ashamed of it, or perhaps I am, but in any case, it's a bit awkward, embarrassing, actually would be the word for it..." The man's voice drifted off. Dr. Manic was not concerned. These types always took their time to cut to the chase. "Please, take your time," Manic said.

The patient cleared his throat, took a deep breath, and began again. "You see, I haven't told anyone this, in fact I've had to lie about it...I- I've never been with a woman." The patient paused to let the information sink in.

Despite his best efforts, Dr. Manic's face contorted once, twice, and then, not able to contain himself any longer, burst out into vindictive hysterics, his entire face going red.

The patient looked like he might die from shame.

Dr. Manic whistled loudly. "Wow! You've certainly taken your time about it! Oh, Jesus, oh," he paused to catch his breath from the uncontrollable laughter. "Another five years and you'll be the forty year old virgin, just like the movie! Ah, ha, ha, ha!"

The virgin patient scowled and walked out, slamming the door behind him. Dr. Manic called after him, "Make sure no chicks trip over your dick, now, you player, you! Ah, ha, ha, ha!" Dr. Manic wiped the tears from his face, blinked a few times, and muttered, "That guy needs help."

The End

###

Bagel

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Mack was about to take the first bite of his bagel when someone behind him shoved him and it fell out of his hands.

"Thief!" shouted a female voice. Mack turned around and saw the thief, a man running like crazy holding a woman's hand bag. The runner must have been the one who'd pushed him. Mack started to slowly walk after the man.

The purse snatcher darted across the street. Cars slammed on their brakes to avoid hitting him. On the opposite pavement, three men stood in his way, blocking him. The thief panicked. He pulled a pistol out of his pocket and grabbed a woman who hadn't had time to get away. He pressed the pistol against her throat.

"Nobody take a step closer, or she gets it!" he screamed.

Mack walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. The thief turned around.

"You want to die, man?" he yelled at Mack, his voice high-pitched with fear.

"You owe me sixty cents," Mack said. "And an apology." He kept his voice perfectly calm, hiding his rage.

"What are you talking about, man?" the thief said, confused.

"Friend, you're not making this situation any easier."

"Situation?" the thief retorted. "I've got a gun, man! Can't you see it? What are you, blind?" In his panic, the thief relaxed his grip on the woman. She seized the opportunity and ran off. The thief aimed the pistol at Mack. Mack stuck his finger in the barrel.

"Go ahead, pull the trigger," Mack said.

"I'll blow your finger off!" the thief cried, convincing no one.

"Maybe," Mack said. "Maybe not. Either way, the moment you shoot, the slide will fly back and nail you straight between the eyes."

"I'll shoot you!" the thief persisted.

Mack tired of the game. He grabbed the gun from the thief's hand and threw it into the street. The thief's eyes popped open and his jaw dropped.

"What are you doing?" he yelped. "Are you serious? That was my granddad's gun!"

"You thought of that too late," Mack said, and grabbed the thief by the lapels. The thief squirmed. Mack slapped him across the face a couple of times. The dazed thief crumpled to the pavement. Mack reached down and took the thief's wallet from his back pocket. He opened it. It was empty.

"You don't even have sixty cents?" Mack asked.

"Why do you think I steal, because I'm rich?"

Mack threw the wallet into the gutter.

"Wha- No! No! I had my unemployment card in there!" the thief protested. Shaking his head, Mack picked up the lady's bag to return it to her and walked back to the bagel stand to buy another bagel at his own expense.

The thief crawled on his belly across the pavement. He stuck his hand into the opening above the gutter, but couldn't reach the wallet.

He felt a finger tap him on the shoulder. Not that guy again.

"Go away!" he said and pushed the hand away.

The finger tapped him again.

"Listen, man, what-"

The thief turned around and came face to face with a policeman.

"What's the matter?" the policeman asked. "Somebody stole our wallet?"

The End

###

Black's Anatomy

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Surgeons Todd Whiffelspoone and Claudia Dragabond stood over the operating table, performing an emergency appendectomy on patient Jared Rangnob.

"Scalpel," Whiffelspoone said to one of the nurses present, avoiding Dragabond's gaze. The nurse handed him the scalpel.

"Squib," Dragabond said to another nurse, looking down. The other nurse handed her the squib.

Neither surgeon proceeded with the surgery. The nurses exchanged tense looks but said nothing. Finally, Whiffelspoone let out a sigh.

"Claudia," he said.

Dragabond looked up, and their gazes met, their eyes concealed behind their medical goggles, the rest of the faces hidden behind surgical masks and nifty decorated hair caps.

"Claudia, I love you," Whiffelspoone said after a good five minutes, his voice soft.

"I know," Dragabond responded after another five minutes, her voice almost a whisper.

A bare hand reached up and grabbed Whiffelspoone's gown-front, and patient Rangnob lifted himself up from the operating table, his hair disheveled, his eyes haggard.

"Why don't the pair of you fuck so we can get on with it?!"

The End

###

Pandora

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"Says here this trunk contains 'unspecified goods.' What does that mean?" the customs man asked Derk.

"Don't know," Derk said. He was telling the truth. He knew what he wanted it to contain. He had no way of knowing what was actually inside.

"Come on, fella. You had this thing shipped to you. You came all the way out here to take delivery of it yourself. And you want me to believe you don't know what's in it?"

"Believe what you want," Derk said, "But I don't."

The customs man gave Derk the look. Derk knew the man must have heard the story a million times, and it was never true. But that wasn't his problem.

The customs man sighed and moved on to the next question he had to tick off his checklist.

"Value?"

"Minimal," Derk said. There was no way to price what may be inside the trunk.

The customs man frowned. Derk could tell he'd decided he was being taken for a ride. The man kicked the side of the old wooden trunk. Unsurprisingly, it didn't budge.

"Sure is heavy. Old wood? Some kind of antique?" he asked Derk. He was trying to find an angle. If what was inside wasn't valuable, maybe it was the trunk itself which was the contraband.

"Mahogany maybe," the customs man suggested. Derk shrugged. He didn't know wood.

The customs man sighed again and set his sheaf of papers on a nearby table.

"I'm going to open this," he said. "There's no tariff for 'unspecified goods.'" Derk cringed at the mention of opening the trunk. It was a bad idea. He reached into his pocket. The gesture wasn't lost on the customs man.

"If I could somehow persuade you to change your mind," Derk said.

"Are you talking about a bribe?" the customs man growled. Of all the customs men in the world, Derk thought, I lucked on the honest one. He took his hand out of his pocket.

"I never said that."

"Good," the customs man said curtly and kneeled to open the trunk. He undid the buckles on the leather straps. That left the lock.

"Got a key for this?" he asked Derk. His tone suggested he knew the answer.

"No," Derk said, still telling the truth.

"Of course you don't." The customs man left and soon returned with a crowbar. The old lock was no match for the crowbar.

"Now we'll see what you're all about," the customs man sneered at Derk. He threw the lid open and looked inside.

His eyes opened wide. Derk knew immediately the trunk didn't contain what he'd hoped for.

"Oh my-" the customs man said. His eyes rolled back in his head. He reached for his throat, as though he were choking. He collapsed head first into the trunk. His legs sprawled on the floor.

Derk knew what he had to do. He looked out the window of the little customs office. Storage workers went back and forth in the large warehouse. No one looked their way. But it was only a matter of time. Derk moved quickly.

Taking extreme care not to look into the trunk, he collected the customs man's legs and lifted them over and into the trunk. He swung the lid shut on the man and fastened the leather straps as tight as he could. There was nothing he could do about the broken lock. He gathered the sheaf of papers off the table and went to the front office of the shipping company's warehouse.

"Cleared it with customs?" asked the lady behind the counter.

"I changed my mind," Derk said.

The lady looked up, surprised.

"Ship it back."

The End

###

Whodunit

Whodunit ebook cover.

Detectives Tuggs and Croquet arrived the crime scene, a sealed-off apartment. They stopped just inside the entrance and looked down.

"Whoa," Croquet said. "What happened here?"

"My guess?" Tuggs said. "Jealous husband caught this guy munching his wife’s carpet."

On the floor lay a dead man with a carpet in his teeth, a maniacal expression on his face, and two bullet holes in his chest.

Standing next to the body was Hawthorne, the precinct’s CSI expert. His elaborate rig of ultra violet lights and other gadgets were set up around the body.

"Hawthorne. What can you tell us?" Tuggs asked.

Hawthorne studied the body closely before replying, "He was shot. Twice."

Tuggs made a note. "Right. Anything else?"

"The C.O.D. appears to be severe puncture trauma in the chest area..."

Crocket leaned forward and asked Tuggs in a whisper, "C.O.D? Cod?"

Tuggs turned back and muttered out of the side of his mouth, "Cash on delivery."

Croquet nodded with understanding.

"So," Hawthorne said. "Do you guys mind bagging the vic for me? We’re a bit short on manpower right now. Union’s on strike. What are you gonna do, right?"

Hawthorne moved away to search the rest of the apartment for clues. Croquet and Tuggs looked at each other, confused.

"Bag him?"

Tuggs shrugged his shoulders. They looked around the room. There was an unzipped body bag on the floor next to the body. Tuggs spotted a small rubbish bin in the corner of the room. He reached down and took the plastic bag from inside the bin. Croquet grabbed the body from under the shoulders and carried it out into the hall.

Tuggs followed him and stretched the bag open. Croquet lifted the dead body and put it head first into the bag. The bag tore under the body's weight and the stiff corpse shot down the stairwell, cascading from wall to wall. Tuggs and Croquet stood motionless, looking down.

"Start the canvas?" Tuggs proposed.

"Yeah."

The End

###

Leo

Leo.

"To whom belonged the 603 testicles in Hot Gates?" asked the Spartan soldier of his comrades.

"I don't know, to whom?" said another.

"The 600 to the 300 soldiers, the two to Leonidas, and the last one was that nut, Ephialtes!" said the first soldier. Everyone burst into laughter. Except Leonidas.

"Silence! Silence!" Leonidas called. "Do you want the Persians to take us for complete fools? We await their messenger any moment now."

Sure enough, the Persian messenger arrived on a moped. He opened the box on the back and handed Leonidas a clipboard.

"Sign here."

Leonidas signed, the messenger gave him a sealed envelope and left. Leonidas opened the envelope and read the Persians' ultimatum. He scoffed.

"What's it say, boss?" asked one of the soldiers.

"It says here that they'll attack us with 10,000 soldiers..." Leonidas started to say, but stopped because he noticed the sky darkening. He turned to the horizon, where he saw the thousands of advancing Persian troops blotting out the sun behind them.

He gulped.

"Oh, bollocks."

The End

###

One Too Many

One Too Many free ebook cover.

Detective David "Davie" Croquet parked outside the bar. This night he was working alone, without his partner, Richard "Dick" Tuggs. Croquet walked into the establishment and headed for the bar, where he had arranged a meeting with an informant. He checked the time. He was a few minutes early.

"Where’s the restroom?" Croquet asked the barman.

"Over there," the barman pointed. Croquet walked in the pointed direction and opened the door to the men’s room.

Two men stood just inside the door. One was handing the other a small cellophane bag of white powder when Crocket popped his head in.

"Do you mind?" one of them snapped at Croquet. "We’re dealing drugs in here."

"Sorry," Croquet said, and retreated.

He returned to the bar and sat on a stool.

"Cider. Neat.”

"You got it," the barman said. As he poured the drink, Croquet looked around, examining the surroundings. No sign of the informant. He turned around and took a sip of his drink. He spat it out.

"Hey, this had alcohol in it!" he said to the barman. "This must be like five proof!" He flashed his badge.

"OK, you’re under arrest." He took out a pair of handcuffs.

"But-but everyone knows cider has alcohol in it," the barman said.

"That’s a lie. Cider is apple juice."

"No it’s not!" said everyone else in the bar.

Crocket looked at them disapprovingly. "You’re really lucky I’ve only got one pair of handcuffs," he told them.

###

Five hours later, the bar was empty. The barman slept on the counter, his wrist chained to the railing that ran underneath the bar. Croquet sipped his cider. He looked at his watch.

"He’s late," he said, and decided that the informant would not show. He left his glass on the counter and reached for his wallet.

"What do I owe you?" he asked the barman.

The barman waved the matter aside.

"You're too kind," Croquet said, and got up.

"Mind locking up on your way out?" the barman mumbled, half asleep.

"No problem."

The barman, his eyes still closed, rummaged around in his hip pocket with his free hand, found the keys and gave them to Croquet. Croquet walked to the door, paused to turn the lights off, stepped outside and locked the door.

The End

###

Cop Car

Cop Car ebook cover.

Detectives Richard “Dick” Tuggs and David “Davie” Croquet walked into the police station garage. They were greeted by Lonnie, the mechanic.

"First in the squad, boys. You’ll be the first to drive it," Lonnie said as he showed them to their new, specially equipped unmarked car.

"Features all the new standard accessories: GPS, fax machine, Department of Motor Vehicles computer, nine inch high definition plasma television monitor with satellite feed, lifetime subscription to the Playboy channel, and a radio tuner with AM and FM."

"No way," Croquet gasped.

"It’s amazing what technology is capable of," Lonnie concluded.

###

Half an hour later, Tuggs and Croquet parked their new unmarked a few feet down from the crime scene, an apartment building. They got out of the car and entered the building.

A teenager walked past their parked car. A few seconds later, he backed up and put his face against the glass and peered inside.

He mumbled as he checked out the car's equipment, "Global Positioning System... fax machine... computer... high def TV screen... holy sh- a radio tuner."

He looked to the left and right before trying the door handle.

Three car lengths down the street, directly in front of the apartment building's entrance, a man opened the back of his car and took out a suitcase. He carried the suitcase up the front steps of the apartment building, leaving the trunk open, with two other suitcases exposed.

Another man approached. He conspicuously looked to the left and right, then went to grab one of the suitcases from inside the trunk.

"Hold it!" Tuggs called from the building's front steps. He and Croquet were just exiting the building.

Croquet trained his gun on the thief while Tuggs slipped handcuffs around the thief's wrists.

"I was just lookin’ after the stuff until the guy got back," the thief said.

"Sure," Tuggs said.

They dragged the thief away.

Seconds later, a second thief appeared and conspicuously looked left and right. He took both suitcases from the trunk and left.

Three cars back, Tuggs and Croquet walked the thief to where they had parked their unmarked. There was a noticeable gap along the curb. The car wasn’t there. They froze.

"What’s up?" the thief asked.

Tuggs and Croquet stared at the empty street, as if hoping that the car would suddenly reappear. They looked at each other.

"You guys gonna book me or what?" the thief asked.

Tuggs turned the thief around and unlocked the cuffs. The thief’s gaze darted back and forth between the two cops.

"Hey, what’s the deal here?" he asked. "What are you guys up to?"

Tuggs pushed him aside and gave him a kick up the ass.

"Go on, get lost."

The End

###

Hole in One

Hole in One ebook cover.

Detective Dick Tuggs posed as the caddy of Miles Sanderson, an elderly millionaire, suspect of financial foul play. Sanderson took the putting iron from Tuggs' hand and crouched over to putt. He swung lightly, sending the ball into the hole ten feet away.

"Oh, nice shot," said Willard Mullberg, Sanderson's equally aged partner, from his golf cart.

"Thank you, Willard," Sanderson said, straightening up. "You know, I've heard a rumor that Vulton's stock will drop five dollars and twenty cents -approximately- this coming Monday. Just a rumor." He and Mullberg grinned smugly, delighting in the knowledge that they were getting away with a crime.

"Excuse me, but was that insider information?" Tuggs asked. The question was for the benefit of the lapel microphone hidden inside his shirt collar and the sound recorder back at the clubhouse.

The two old men's expression dropped simultaneously.

"Of course it's insider information," Sanderson snapped. "Why the hell else do you think I pay twenty-five grand a year to be a member of this place? So I can get a bad back playing this stupid game and wear this faggy outfit?"

"OK, boys, we got it," Tuggs said into his collar mic.

Tugg's partner, Davie Croquet, burst out of the clubhouse, dressed as a waiter, and led a pack of SWAT troops onto the golf course.

"You're ruining the green!" Mullberg cried, as the half dozen SWAT officers pounded holes into the finely trimmed lawn with their boots. They all piled onto Sanderson.

Tuggs drew his sidearm on Mullberg.

"Get out of the cart and place you hands where I can see th-"

"Screw that," Mullberg said and hit the gas. His golf cart whined away.

"H-H-Help me," Sanderson groaned, reaching out from under the mound of SWAT cops. Tuggs took the putting iron from Sanderson's outstretched hand and ran after the golf cart.

Mullberg floored the golf cart's gas pedal and held the steering wheel in a white-knuckled death grip. Tuggs jogged alongside the cart. He swung the putting iron at Mullberg, smacking him in the face. Mullberg's false teeth shot out of his mouth. He fell out of the cart onto the grass. The golf cart rolled away. Tuggs jumped on Mullberg, planted his knee between the old man's shoulder blades, and handcuffed him.

The dentures slid out of the sand pit, skipped across the artificial pond, and landed in the tenth hole. Mullberg's eyes widened and he exclaimed, "Hole in one!"

The End

###

Occupational Hazard

Occupational Hazard ebook cover.

Detective Richard "Dick" Tuggs stopped by his partner Detective David "Davie" Croquet's house, to pick him up to go to work. Tuggs walked up the front steps of the shabby bungalow and knocked on the door. No reaction. He knocked again, louder.

"Hey, Davie! You in there?" he called.

The door flew open. A woman carrying a baby stormed past him.

"I’m leaving, Davie! I can’t stand it anymore!" she yelled over her shoulder as she climbed down the steps. Tuggs stared at her as she walked away.

Croquet staggered out barefoot onto the landing. His shirtfront hung over his trousers. His hair stood on end. Tuggs had never seen him like this. Croquet squinted. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun.

"Jeez, Davie, I’m so sorry," Tuggs said. "I didn’t know you were married."

"I’m not," Croquet said. "That was Janine, the cleaning lady." He beckoned to Tuggs, "Come inside."

Tuggs followed Croquet into the house.

In the living room, Croquet plopped on the sunken couch. He started to put on his socks and shoes. Tuggs noticed a shot glass and an open bottle of orange liquid on the coffee table. The bottle was near empty.

"Been drinking?" Tuggs asked.

"Yeah," Croquet said in a hoarse voice.

The label on the bottle read, "Granny O’ Riley’s Homemade Apple Juice".

Croquet ran a hand over his face. "Sometimes... sometimes I feel like eating my gun."

Croquet’s gun lay on the table, next to the bottle. Tuggs picked it up. He held it in his hand and studied it. He took a bite out of it.

"This isn’t bad, you know," Tuggs said, pointing to the half-eaten gun, munching. "Mind if I have the rest of this?"

"Nah, go ahead," Croquet said, putting on his other shoe. As Tuggs ate the rest of the gun, Croquet stuffed his shirt into his pants, threw on a blazer, and combed his hair down with his hand. He took a new gun from his small refrigerator, tore off the cellophane wrapper, and put it in his holster.

"Let’s go."

The End

###

Chinese Whispers

Chinese Whispers ebook cover.

Detective Richard "Dick" Tuggs sat at his desk, clumsily typing at his computer. His partner, Detective David "Davie" Croquet hovered beside him.

"Yang... Yang..." Tuggs mouthed as he typed the words. "Here we go." He hit a key and a printer in the corner churned out paper. Croquet walked over and picked up the print-out.

"Ridin’ in the hood, slap my bitch up good..." he read. "What is this?"

"His rap sheet. Flip to his current address."

Croquet turned the page.

"Unknown. He skipped his last probation meeting. Has been missing since."

"Last known whereabouts?"

Croquet turned another page. "Chinatown... The Fuschia Dragon club."

Tuggs picked up the phone on his desk. "Better get Lee on this," he said and dialed Lee's extension. Lee was a Chinese American detective who worked in the precinct. He would serve as interpreter.

###

Two hours later, Tuggs, Croquet, and Lee burst into the station, having returned from the Fuschia Dragon club. Tuggs pushed the newly apprehended, handcuffed Yang toward the interview room.

The room was occupied. Through the one-way glass in the adjacent observation room they observed Caruthers, an older, gray-haired detective, interrogate a suspect.

"Look, there’s nothing to be afraid of," Caruthers told the petrified suspect.

"Afraid of?" the suspect said. "Are you kidding? I’ve heard about what goes on in here."

Caruthers grinned and waved the implication away.

"Urban legend. Here," Caruthers offered the suspect a cigarette from his pack. Hesitantly, the suspect accepted the cigarette. Caruthers lit it for him.

On the other side of the glass, Croquet frowned. "That's against regulation," he muttered.

"See?” Caruthers said. “We try to create a friendly atmosphere here at the station. Just relax and tell me what happened.”

The suspect stared at the table for a minute, lost in thought.

"OK. OK. I did it," he said finally.

"Are you sure?" Caruthers asked.

"Yeah. I got the gun... Sneaked around back... I did it," the suspect confessed.

Caruthers leapt out of his chair and slapped the suspect in the face so hard that the cigarette flew out of his mouth and across the room. Caruthers grabbed the suspect by the shirtfront.

"You son of a bitch! You killed him!" Caruthers yelled. He slapped the suspect across the face repeatedly.

The door opened. Tuggs and Croquet pushed Yang into the interview room. Lee followed behind them.

"Hi," Tuggs said. "Are you done in here?"

Caruthers pulled back from the cowering, terrified suspect and wiped his brow.

"Yeah, we’ve pretty much wrapped it up," Caruthers said. "Come ‘ere, you bastard," he grunted to the suspect. He hauled the suspect to his feet and out of the interview room.

Croquet uncuffed Yang and shoved him into the chair. "Sit down."

"We know you did it, Yang," Tuggs said.

"I’m not talking until my lawyer gets here," Yang said.

"We’ve heard that one before. Look, if you won’t tell us what we need to know on your own, we’ll light a fire under your ass until you do," Croquet said.

"So, Yang? How are we going to do this?" Tuggs pressed.

Yang spat something at Tuggs in Chinese.

"What did he say?" Tuggs asked Lee.

"How should I know?" Lee said.

"What do you mean, you don’t know? You’re supposed to be the interpreter."

"Yeah," Lee said.

"So?"

"He speaks Mandarin. I don't know Mandarin. Just Cantonese."

The End

###

Silly Buggers

Silly Buggers ebook cover

Detective Richard "Dick" Tuggs sat in a shoeshine's chair on the sidewalk opposite the police station. He had been sitting in that chair getting a shine for the previous three hours.

Tuggs looked up subtly. Half a block away, his partner, David "Davie" Croquet kneeled on the sidewalk, tying the lace of his left shoe. He had been tying that same lace for as long as Tuggs had been getting a shine. They were on stake out, waiting for their surveillance subject to exit the police station.

Tuggs spoke into his cufflink microphone.

"How you holding up, Dave?" he asked.

Tuggs saw Croquet press a finger against his ear, to hear better through the discreet, flesh-colored earbud. Then he spoke into his watch.

"My back’s killing me," Croquet's tinny voice came over Tugg's earbud. "I don’t know how much longer I can do this without someone getting suspicious."

"Try the other shoe," Tuggs suggested.

"Smart thinking."

With difficulty, Croquet started tying the laces of the other shoe.

Squatting in front of Tuggs, the shoeshine wiped the sweat from his forehead. Tuggs looked down, appalled.

"Why did you stop shining?"

"I ran out of shoe around noon. I’ve been doing your toenails for the last couple of hours."

Tuggs looked down. His shoes had holes in them from too much polishing. But his toenails sparkled.

The surveillance subject they had been waiting for walked out of the building. The motion wasn’t lost on two keen pairs of eyes.

"We have movement," Tuggs said into his cufflink.

"I’m on it," Croquet said. He stood up to pursue the subject but froze. His bad back had seized up on him. He winced, gritted his teeth and overcame the pain. He took a step forward and tripped on his shoelaces, which he’d tied together.

"How ‘bout I get the next one?" he groaned.

Tuggs jumped out of the shoeshine chair.

"Hey!" the shoeshine yelled.

Tuggs handed the shoeshine a credit card. The shoeshine ran it through a machine and handed it back. Tuggs ran to his car and followed the surveillance subject, who got in a cab.

Tuggs tailed the subject to his place of work, a nondescript office building downtown.

###

The next day, Tuggs and Croquet obtained a warrant for wiretap surveillance and bugged the subject’s phone line. They set up their surveillance post in an empty apartment across the street from the subject's building.

They sat on the floor in the bare room, on either side of their recording equipment, listening, waiting for the one incriminating phone call that would nail their subject.

Each had his own way for passing the time. Tuggs watched a cheesy horror movie on a portable TV set with bad reception. Across from him, Croquet worked on a crossword puzzle.

A woman's scream echoed from the TV set. Tuggs didn’t flinch. Croquet’s gaze remained fixed to his paper. "What’s happening?" he asked.

"He’s cutting her foot off," Tuggs said.

"Oh. Soda?"

"Sure."

Croquet felt around in the cooler they'd brought with them and handed Tuggs a can of soda pop, then took one for himself. He filled a word in the crossword puzzle and moved on to the next one.

"Latin word for erection," he read aloud.

Tuggs thought, sipping on his soda.

"Bonus," he offered.

Croquet counted the boxes. "Hey, it fits."

The tape machine on the floor in front of them clicked and whirred. Tuggs and Croquet abandoned their pastimes and leaned over the machine, giving it their full attention. Their subject's voice came over the speaker.

The subject spoke to a man he called Lucas, who had a South American accent. Keys, powder, and certain embarrassing photographs were discussed.

This was it. This was the phone call they had been waiting for.

The subject and his friend Lucas hung up. Croquet pressed the stop button.

###

Back at the police station, Croquet and Tuggs barged into their lieutenant's office. They found the lieutenant pacing his office, looking at his watch impatiently.

"In the nick of time, boys, in the nick of time," the lieutenant said. "It better be good."

"Believe me, Lieu, it’s good," Croquet said.

"Let’s hear it."

Tuggs set the tape machine on the lieutenant’s desk. Croquet plugged it into the wall socket.

"Man, we’ve got this guy so nailed-"

Croquet pressed the "play" button. The tape machine made a strange whirring sound that died away. Nothing happened. Tuggs went to touch the machine, but when his hands were an inch away, the machine jumped back to life in a fast forward screech, chewing up the tape, spewing it into the air.

Both Tuggs and Croquet desperately tried to contain the damage, their hands flying over the controls as the lieutenant looked on, but it was too late. The machine chewed up the whole tape.

The End

###

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