The Goodnight Kiss
The water that rushed from the tap didn’t look clean enough to drink, but it was all I needed to get rid of the blood dripping from my knuckles. I flexed my fingers watching the red swirl down the rusty drain, water mingling with the thick coat of dust that decorated the sink. I felt the sting of a cut on my hand. I guess the tooth I knocked from his jaw got the last word. My eyes were drawn to the space above the sink where a mirror hung. It was nothing but a shiny spider’s web of cracks. The man in the mirror was blurred and broken, yet I still couldn’t look him in the eye. I shut the water off and turned away from the sink, trying not to stare at the drops of blood glaring at me from the floor boards. As the cut on my hand started to glow red, I thought ‘at least some of what’s spilling is mine’. I fixed my attention on the man sharing my handcuffs with the radiator as he sat in a pool of dim yellow light. The shadows on his bloodied face moved around as the light bulb swung on its chain. His head was back against the wall as he tried to burn me with the fire in his gaze. I stepped up to the edge of the light so he could just see the front of my suit and the points of my shoes.
“Are you planning on answering my question, Seamus?” I asked. He spat a mouthful of blood in my direction by way of reply.
“If you tell me the truth I might help you.” I said.
“Yeah I’m sure you will, Grimm.” he said, his Irish accent glowing shamrock green. Calling me by my last name was just another brick in the wall he was building between us. I was not Derek to him anymore because Derek was a friend. Grimm was the guy standing between him and his fairytale ending.
“Did you kill Javier?” I stared at him waiting for a reply, but all I got was a swollen glare dripping red.
“Sorry Seamus, but this innocent act of yours won’t make it past opening night.” I took a step forward into the swinging light, letting it turn my face into a dance floor for the shadows.
“The night of the murder I was at home pouring a second, maybe third, glass of scotch, not truly appreciating how simple my days had been. I have had a few cases that have left me black and blue from head to toe, but this case has beaten me to an inch of my life even though no person has so much as wrinkled my coat. Do you know why?”
Seamus was smart enough to stay quiet, so I kept talking.
“Because the only man I trust is waving a smoking gun in his bloody hands and telling me he didn’t do it.”
“I did what I had to. If you were in my shoes you would have done it as well.”
“You mean if Ms. Sinclair had batted her lashes my way, I’d be the sorry murderer making friends with a pair of fists?” His cracked and bleeding lips parted to let another venom-painted sentence slip through, but surprise seemed to stop the words in their tracks.
“You know about Clara?” his voice surrounded her name with cotton and a gentle caress, which was more than enough proof that the dame had this Irish dog chained up.
“Yeah I know about Clara. I know how she begged you to save her from Javier, and I know she told you he had enough cash to buy a happy ever after. It sounds like a bad joke to me. Tell me, Seamus, how many bodies does it take to screw a showgirl?”
“It’s not like that! What we have is real.”
I rolled my eyes at the battered man’s cheap Hollywood script.
“I’m not arguing that point, my friend. Those bullets in Javier’s torso are real as they come.”
I watched the frozen blue of his one good eye melt as he thought of the doll pulling his strings.
“Have you ever been in love, Grimm?” the words were delicate as china leaving his blood stained lips.
“I’ve been drunk on a merry-go-round.”
“You have no hope of understanding why I did what I did.”
I sent my fist across his jaw again. I felt another tooth loosen under the sense being knocked into it.
“I understand why you killed him like I understand why Punch and Judy communicate with a wooden bat. You see, just like those puppets you’ve got someone pulling your strings. One look at her and she got a hold, spinning you until you got dizzy. Yes, I understand exactly what happened. In fact I understand better than you do, thanks to a burned body that showed up a few nights ago.”
I got a cigarette and lighter from my pocket. As Seamus watched me light my smoke I saw recognition hit him like a train. He stared at the lighter in my hand, the orange flame dancing its light across the silver surface, giving a halo to the words engraved on the side. I flicked the cap closed and drew in a breath. As I let the smoke glide through my lips I read the engraving aloud.
“‘To my sweetheart Clara, love Seamus’.” I looked at Seamus as he cast his eyes down, unable to meet my gaze.
“Found it in the ashes of the back seat. I wonder if the charcoal fella we found in the burnt up car thought he might have a fairytale ending with Ms. Sinclair. It’s a shame he only found out she was pulling his strings as she was cutting them.”
“She didn’t kill him. She wouldn’t.” his voice was a hoarse whisper absent of all conviction.
“He got dizzy with a dame and got himself cooked. The same thing has happened to you.” I turned away from Seamus and put on my coat. “Only difference is, you weren’t watching as she cut the strings.” The wail of a siren screamed out on the street as I put on my hat and opened the door.
“Wait.” I turned as Seamus called out. The tough guy was gone, leaving the shell of a beaten and broken man. “Javier’s club. That’s where she’s going. She’s going there to get the money and his car.”
I knew he wasn’t lying. For a man to lie to a friend he has to have something he is fighting for, and there was no fight left in this one. I started to leave, knowing I didn’t have long to catch Ms. Sinclair before she got out of dodge. I tossed the lighter on the floor in front of Seamus on my way out the door. The engraved message glowed with every pendulum swing of the light bulb and the bloody fingerprints I left behind stood out on the silver surface like bull’s eyes. At least some of the blood was mine.
I tossed my spent cigarette and flipped the collar of my coat uselessly against the rain. Water poured from the brim of my hat as I stood in the dark beside Javier’s car. The lights were on in his club, in spite of the fact that it had been closed for a week. When people said there was no club without Javier, they meant it. The club died with him, which meant Ms. Sinclair could search for Javier’s stash unnoticed.
The lights went out and the door opened a crack. Slowly as she checked the street for witnesses, Ms. Sinclair made her way out of the club, clutching a black bag in one hand. She unfurled an umbrella and started in my direction. Looking at her through the water pouring down that hand held canopy, I could see why Seamus fell so hard. She was a beautiful doll. If I didn’t still have his blood spotted on my fingers I might have gotten dizzy too. She came close enough to get a hold on the car door so I stepped from the shadow with my .38 in hand. She gasped as she saw me, almost dropping the bag of money in the flooded street. I stepped close so she didn’t try anything and as I did I finally saw her face in the light reflected from the car’s side view mirror, a face I had hoped to never see again. She smiled as she recognised me, her eyes glittering like emeralds. Or perhaps they were glistening like wet scales on the back of a snake.
“Derek Grimm. I never thought I’d see your handsome face again.”
“Sally McQueen. I thought this case was a familiar brand of tragedy.” She laughed at my dark tone and closed the gap between us as though I didn’t have a gun aimed at her stomach.
“Oh Mr. Grimm, how I have missed your dreary tone.”
“Hand me the bag, Sally.”
“Why are you so glum? The girl who got away is right in your grasp. Surely you can spare a smile?”
I slapped a cuff around the arm holding the bag of stolen cash. Sally looked down at my hand on her wrist.
“Well isn’t this an interesting last dance?”
“Shut your trap, Sally. I’m bringing you in.”
“Under what charge? Breaking your heart, or making you look bad?”
“How about robbery and murder? Seamus O’Malley will be sure to testify.”
“Looks like I’m cooked. I should have known the big bad P.I. Derek Grimm would be the man to lock me up.” She stretched the fingers of the hand holding her umbrella to slide them along the trim of my coat. “We certainly had some good times though, didn’t we, Mr. Grimm?”
I jabbed my gun into her ribs to give her an idea of where this strategy of hers was leading.
“You’ll come with me and you will not say a word. I don’t have any duct tape on me but I hear you can make an equally effective gag out of hot lead.”
In an instant the playful stupid act was gone and Sally let her true colours shine through.
“You’re going to regret saying that, Mr. Grimm.”
“Is that so, Ms. McQueen? Because from where I’m standing the only regret seems to be radiating from–” before I could finish my sentence Sally locked me into a kiss. I should have pulled away, knocked her out or at least pulled the trigger, but it was too late. I was drunk on the merry-go-round and before I could remind myself of who she was everything went black.
Waking up on the dirty rain soaked street with a chill cutting me to the bone and my head ringing like church bells, I could taste the bitterness of a sleeping drug on my lips. ‘The Goodnight Kiss’ as the boys downtown called it. No doubt Sally had it spread on a clear seal over her lips in case she had to make a hasty escape from someone. Javier’s car was gone and my handcuffs were sitting on my chest. I never should have underestimated Sally. Since the first moment we crossed paths all those years ago she had gotten the better of me. I slipped my hand into my coat pocket to see if my wallet was still there. My fingers clasped around a piece of paper which I pulled free. It was a moment before my foggy head cleared enough for me to make out the message on the note: “Perhaps next time I will leave you with more than just a kiss goodnight.” Beside the message was a print of red lipstick. I checked all my pockets but I knew that while I may in fact see Sally McQueen again, my wallet was gone forever.
Rach Hopkins is a severe story addict making no efforts toward recovery. She is enrolled at UNE studying a Bachelor of Arts doing a double major in English and writing in order to feed into her filthy habit and increase the quality of her own product.ct.