August 14, 2007

The rain came down hard as I waited for the 11:15 out of Pemberton. I wanted a smoke, but my last one was rattling around in the box and the little store at the train station was shuttered for the night. I didn’t enjoy much of anything these days so I figured what I could enjoy I ought to save. Pemberton had been a bust. Another half-baked lead pointing to another shitty little town and I still wasn’t any closer to finding my wife’s killers.

I strained to hear the train whistle, or anything over the thunder and rain, but all I heard were her last words, hounding me like they did every second of every day. Maybe trying to exorcise them from my mind, I screamed them into the night:


“Heh heh. That’s what she said!”

I turned. Standing a few feet away on the platform, someone I hadn’t noticed. A muscular kid, no older than twenty, his hair close-cropped like my father’s was when he got out of Korea, in khaki shorts and a sweater that had “CENTRAL STATE UNIVERSITY” embroidered across it. He held his hand up in the air, open palmed, with a big stupid grin on his face. His second and third mistake.

I blunted his grin with my fist, twisted the hanging hand around, and planted my knee in his back.

“HOW DID YOU KNOW?” I yelled over the rain.



“What who said? Jesus, dude!”

“My WIFE! How do you know what my wife said? WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?”

“Oww! Nobody! I don’t know your wife! I was just joking.”

He read real-dumb, not play-dumb. I released his hand and let him up.

“Awful sorry about the haymaker, but just what kind of joke is that, college boy?”

“You never heard ‘That’s what she said?’ It’s like, this classic thing where…ah, never mind.”

He wasn’t such a bad kid. Reminded me a little of Celia’s kid from her first marriage, who blamed me for her death and was now bumming around somewhere in California. I decided to let him in a little.

“I used to be a cop. My big thing was I put away Marcos ‘Tiny’ Velazquez, this big time drug kingpin. Real old school. He swore revenge, and it got so I worried for the safety of my wife. I sent her to stay with her sister for a little while until things cooled off. But ‘Tiny’ didn’t forget. The day she came home, I was still at the office. They were waiting for her. When I got home, they were gone, but it was too late for her. She hadn’t seen me in a while and I hadn’t had a haircut in about as long. She ran her fingers through my hair. ‘It’s so long,’ she said. And that was it. The next day, I put in for my pension and I’ve been chasing Velazquez’s thugs ever since.”

“Wow,” said the kid. “You find ‘em yet?”

“Turns out I ain’t even chasing them. Turns out there’s this whole dirty-cop conspiracy I won’t get into, and my wife…turns out she and my former partner had a thing a few years back. And my partner, he’s in on it. Long story. We used to be best friends.”

“Aw man, that’s fucked.” said the kid. “Bros before ho’s!”

I couldn’t believe it. Nobody taunts me like that and lives. The motherfucker hung that big stupid hand out there again. This time I pulled out my old service revolver and shot it.


“Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, you lose your jerkin’ off hand! Now spill it! WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?”

He was doubled over, hugging the mangled hand to his sweatshirt. “I’m not working for anybody! OWW! You shot my fucking hand!”

“What you just said, you trying to tell me that wasn’t some sort of clue? The night my wife died. The two men: The Gardenia Brothers. First they assaulted my wife, then they strangled her with her own pantyhose. ‘BROS BEFORE HOSE.’ Very cute, now tell me how you know so much or you lose the other hand!”

“Bros…before…it’s just this thing you say…it means, like…Jesus, man, I don’t know anything!” he sobbed. “Just please don’t kill me, man. It’s cool, okay. It’s chill!”

“That’s it!” He winced like I was going to hurt him again, but I could’ve hugged him: It’s CHILL. Of course!

Tony “Chill” Agribedian. My old informant from my beat cop days. He was the missing link! If I could find him, I’d find the answers. The whole mess snapped into focus for me.

I gave the kid some money and put him in a cab for the hospital. He still wouldn’t own up to working for anybody, but I didn’t care. I had what I needed from him, whether he’d meant to offer it up or not. I apologized about the hand and lit up my last cigarette as the cab pulled away.

The 11:15 whistled in the distance. For all the rain coming down, it may as well have been sunny, I was all of the sudden in that kind of mood. I was on my way to putting this whole slimy business to bed, and I wondered if there would be anyone on the train to play pinochle with.

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