A Shot in the Dark

“I’m telling you, I’ve got no choice but to be a pessimist, Doc,” I shrugged, a less than pessimistic smile clearly on my face. Discomforted, I tugged on the gauzy bandage around my elbow. “It’s a part of the job. Just like how the nights have to always be dark and stormy, the women are hot as they come, and the men always have guns and play a mean hand of poker, it’s the natural order of things.”

Doctor Jeff Roberts sighed as he handled a small vial of my crimson blood. Squinting, he looked at it through the light, then nodded and placed the glass tube into a rack full of similar samples. Still silent, he sat down at his desk and clicked through his computer. After a few minutes, he sighed again and looked up at me over the circular lenses of his silver-rimmed glasses and said succinctly, exasperatedly, “Sam, you’re a private investigator and an ex-cop, not James Bond.”

I grinned cheekily at the doctor and shrugged, ruffling through my heavy, brown hair. “Can I be Jack Bauer, at least?” I cracked at the doctor.

Roberts sighed and cradled his head in his right hand before running it through his short, gray-flecked black hair in irritation. “No, Sam,” he groaned, “You aren’t Jack Bauer, either. You’re just a private cop.”

“Then how come I’ve got my very own personal doctor, huh, Doc?” I kept up my juvenile charades. It had always been fun to watch Jeff get agitated, and he got exasperated so easily, he was always a barrel of laughs. I knew just how to push his buttons; I’d better have known. I’d known him since before he’d become a doctor and been his close friend ever since my sophomore year at Brooklyn High.

Jeff clenched his fists and his face twisted into a scowl, about to give me the angry reprimand I definitely deserved. Then, suddenly, he relaxed and smiled. He pinched the frame of his glasses between his thumb and forefinger and said to me in his light German accent, “Well, maybe Rick Blaine, at least.”

I caught my snicker before it escaped my lips and managed to stifle it into a poorly disguised cough. Jeff’s sardonic smile waxed into something a little friendlier. “Nehh,” I growled in my throat, comically emphasizing my Brooklyn accent, “Well, Doc, you’ve got at least something right in your head,” I joked.

Jeff Roberts nods placidly, smiling a little ashamed of my aloof behavior. He always took his job very seriously and he always disdained me a little for making such light of mine. “Oh,” he mentions as I stand to leave, “I’d almost forgot, Sam, someone called you, and I took a message. I looked into it a little bit, and what I found wasn’t pretty. I don’t have the time to be your Watson on this one, Holmes, so take this one easy. Listen up, Sam You were called because the police are struggling on it.”

I took the scribbled message from his hand and gave it a cursory glance before shoving into my breast pocket of my overcoat. As soon as I reached the door, I grabbed my trilby from the hat stand and tipped my hat to him. “I’ll give you a call if I need a walking library, Roberts,” I said, kidding on the square. I made one last comment as I headed out the door, “Say hello to Rigby and Jude for me.”

His occupation and name always gave me, as an unashamed third-generation fan of the Fab Four, something to joke about. Ah, poor Doc Roberts.

I called the number Jeff had written down and was greeted by a weepy voice. Crying off and on, I could barely understand her problem, but I accepted the job anyway. The fee was nice and she gave me all the information I needed to get me started on searching, apparently she was a barista at a café somewhere, I couldn’t quite make it out. It wasn’t until that evening and a look at the week’s headlines that I realized just how much trouble I’d gotten myself into by accepting that job. Two days ago, on Sunday, four NYPD cops were gunned down in a Manhattan internet café. Martha Jones, Harrison Mustard, Paul Sawyer, and Ike Matthews were the cops killed according to the paper. Four good friends, without a care in the world, just taking a siesta.
Then this blackguard, a son of a gun the police have already identified as Josiah Carver, comes in with a pistol and blows their brains out, all four of them. The police had done most of the job for me. Before he died, Ike Matthews managed to wound the Carver guy—that name sounded way too proper for a murderer—making him easy to spot. The police already knew the guys name—it rung a bell with me, too—since he was apparently a known murderer from the slums of Chicago.
Fruitlessly, I tracked lead after lead and watched it turn into red herring after red herring. Traveling up and down town looking for even a hint of this nut’s whereabouts was taxing, on both my mind and my wallet. I’d given Jeff a few rings on the mobile over the course of the week, but he hadn’t been able to drudge up any dirt, either. His voice was as exasperated as ever, but this time I’m sure it was with work... and not my shenanigans.
Two weeks after the shootings, almost to the day, was when things started getting interesting. All the same, it was an embarrassing victory for me. It was three in the morning on a Monday and I was full of nervous energy. The Doc and I still hadn’t found anything that could even remotely link back to him. He used a common gun with cheap bullets, and it was unlicensed, worst of all. No one had followed him away from the scene, and he’d lain perfectly low for two weeks. He must’ve had a virtual stronghold in the area, because he’d been under silent siege for weeks. To drive around down so listlessly, looking for clues proved mind numbing, so I’d dropped by the local library just for a moment to grab a book; a Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October.
I had parked my car on a local street and rolled down my window for a bit of air, turned on my little clip-on map light, and began to read. I’d begun to doze off, leaning against the book, when I heard a car drive up and park on the other side of the street. I jolted awake and glanced at the glowing clock on the dashboard; 4:23 AM. Not every day that someone comes home at four-thirty in the morning, especially not in a car with an Illinois license plate up here in the New York suburbs. I silently rolled down my window a hair—(it was one of the old, manual windows)—and peeked out. The man was all in black, and he was walking with a pronounced limp. My heart skipped a beat; Ike Matthews had shot Carver in the leg before he’d been killed. I watched the man slowly limp his way to the apartment with hand fidgeting in his right coat pocket.

I withdrew my revolver from my own right coat pocket and exited my car. I leveled the gun at the man, prepared for a fight, and announced, “Hands up!”

I’m not the police, but shouting “Hands up!” gets everyone’s attention. It was safe for me, too. If this guy wasn’t dangerous, then I just had a startled civilian to make amends with. If not, then… The man whirled around and drew his own gun. I was pretty sure he wasn’t a civilian then. I was glad I was pessimistic enough to already have mine drawn. I shot before he could, and he fell to the ground. I reached into a small pouch in my belt and grabbed another bullet while simultaneously flicking my wrist to open the gun’s revolving chamber. I reloaded the magnum and cautiously approached the man. My aim was true; the man was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, dead. I scrutinized his face and took a look at the picture of Carver I’d clipped from the newspaper. No doubt about it, they were one and the same.

I called Jeff later that night, the joy of a job well done in my voice, but also the anger of having done it all with two lucky shots in the dark.





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