A Man of Mystery

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Summary

A young woman on a wild spending spree crashes a regular night at Duff's favorite watering hole. She seems like she's out for a good time, but is she really? This is a standalone short story with characters from THE SINGLE TWIN: An Abe & Duff Mystery, available on Kindle eBook or in paperback from your favorite independent bookseller.

Genre:
Mystery / Humor
Author:
Sean Patrick Little
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

A Man of Mystery: An Abe and Duff Short Story

The young woman walked into the bar with all the subtlety of a tornado touching down in a suburb. She kicked open the door with a long, slender leg and strode into the center of the narrow club with all the eyes in the place on her. She had a short black skirt that hugged her hips and a billowy white pirate blouse that was cut in a low vee at the neck. She flashed a brilliant smile and made eye contact with all six of the men in the bar. “What’s up, gents?

None of the men answered her. Women were not forbidden at Wheels’s Bar, but they were never exactly running rampant there, either. There were a few ladies who might stop in now and then, but none of them were regulars. Wheels’s place was one of those hole-in-the-wall dives that had a couple of TVs that played a nonstop dose of Chicago-area sports and a few tables along one wall opposite the bar where the regulars took up tall stools. It was not a hip hangout. It did not have fancy blender drinks. Most of the place seemed to be the exact opposite of the sort of joint a woman of any sort of discerning taste would ever set foot. From the outside, the place looked like it was a few days away from being condemned. It did not attract customers. If you were there, it was because you wanted to be there.

None of the men in the bar could be considered a catch. The bartender, Wheels, was a former one-percenter gone into nomad status in a sort of semi-retirement. At one point in his life, he would have struck fear into the heart of anyone who saw him coming down the road on a heavily customized Harley-Davidson, but now he spent his days reading Stoic philosophy and pouring beers. The other five guys were all pudgy, soft, blue-collar minions, most with a Tinder profile that went perpetually unswiped.

The men in the bar were not exactly agog at the sudden presence of an attractive and dynamic woman, but neither did they know how to process her suddenly showing up in their depressing little den of waning testosterone.

The woman did not seem to notice their discomfort. She walked right up to the bar. “How’re the Cubs doing?”

Rodridgo “Sally” Salazar, a paunchy Latino who normally worked as a painting contractor, swallowed the mouthful of Miller Lite he’d forgotten to swallow when the woman kicked in the door. “Uh, not great.”

“Typical.” The woman slapped a black Visa card onto the bar. “You take fantastic plastic, I assume?”

Wheels Wright shrugged. “All forms of legal tender and credit are acceptable at Wheels’s Bar. What are you drinking?”

“What do you have that’s expensive?”

Expensive drinks were not usually served at Wheels’s place. A retired bus driver with abnormally hair eyes named Billy Butkis, leaned forward. “I think Wheels has a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue somewhere in here.”

“Perfect!” The woman nodded toward the stack of bottles at the mirrored counter behind Wheels. “Let’s crack that sucker open and pour some drinks for me and all my new friends.”

“I can’t afford to drink no JW Blue,” said Billy.

“I’m buying, friend. I’m Tracy, by the way. C’mon, let’s have some fun.” She pushed the card toward Wheels.

The bartender picked it up and swiped it through the old card machine next to the register. After a second, it spit out a receipt. His eyebrows arched in surprise; he had probably been expecting it to be rejected. “I guess everyone’s drinking Blue tonight.”

There was a mild cheer from the guys at the bar.

Sally was impressed. “Can I make mine a double? I ain’t never had any fancy whiskey before?”

“Fuck it; make ’em all doubles,” said Tracy. “Doubles for everyone.”

Wheels stacked up five glasses and poured a healthy slug into each.

Tracy did a quick headcount. “There’s seven of us here. We need two more.”

“Nah.” Wheels pointed to his ever-present mug of black coffee. “I’m sober almost ten years, and that sad sack in the corner only drinks beer.” Wheels jabbed a thumb at a chubby man in a hooded sweatshirt and Milwaukee Brewers cap. He was bald beneath the cap with a clean-shaven face and a pale complexion. He had dark, serious eyes.

“You only drink beer?” Sally looked at the guy in the Brewers cap. “I never noticed.”

The man held up his Miller Lite. “If you’re buying, you can refill this thing for me.”

“Done.” Tracy nodded at Wheels. “Give the man with the bad taste in baseball teams a Miller Lite on me and split whatever’s left in the bottle of blue into these glasses.”

Wheels did as she bid and killed the rest of the bottle, filling each of the five lowball glasses to a potentially lethal level. “That’s a lot of whiskey, hey?”

“Hey, indeed.” Tracy picked up her glass and held it aloft in front of her. “To new friends.” The other men at the bar quickly snatched up their glasses and held them aloft, echoing her toast. Tracy clinked her glass to the other four glasses of whiskey and nodded toward the Miller Lite drinker in the corner. He did not return the gesture, only picked up his bottle and took a drink, his eyes drifting back to the TV where the Cubs were blowing a three-run lead in the top of the seventh.

Tracy was bubbly and fun. The regular barflies were a little shocked by this. They usually sat at the bar in sullen silence, ate the free peanuts while they drank their bottles of major-label beers, and cursed at the Cubs’ middle-relievers when they hung curveballs over the center of the plate that ended up getting tattooed into the deep left-field bleachers. Tracy told bawdy jokes. She laughed easily. She asked the guys questions that made them feel like she was really interested in them. And most importantly, she kept buying drinks.

At one point, she noticed the dusty jukebox in the far corner of the bar. “Does that thing still work?”

Wheels nodded. “Works great. None of these cheap-asses ever uses it, though.”

“We’d rather hear the game,” said Sally.

Tracy turned on her stool and dropped to the floor on unsteady legs, the effects of the copious amounts of booze evident as she swayed over to the machine. She flipped through the lists of available songs. “Christ. Is there anything on this thing from before 1976?”

“No. I wouldn’t risk accidentally hearing disco,” said Wheels.

“I tried to get him to put some Duran Duran on there once.” Sally covered his neck with his hands defensively. “Wheels threatened to cut me with a broken bottle.”

“Plenty of Beach Boys, if you’re into real music,” Billy added his two cents. “Far as I’m concerned, Brian Wilson is twice the musical genius John Lennon ever was.”

Tracy patted her miniskirt. “No pockets. Anyone got a dollar?”

Sally rushed over to her side, his roly-poly body jiggling all the way. He handed her a five-dollar bill. “Least I can do to pay you back for the drinks.”

“This will get us thirty songs.” Tracy fed the bill into the machine. She started tapping in the codes for different tracks. In seconds, the thin audio of the ball game commentary was buried beneath the harmonies of the Beach Boys.

Tracy danced on wobbly legs. Sally started dancing along with her, doing his own, arrhythmic version of the 1950s craze, The Jerk. Tracy danced back to the bar and bought another round. The Blue was gone, so she had Wheels fetch his second-best whiskey, a liter of J. Henry & Sons from a micro-distillery in Dane, Wisconsin.

Wheels watched Tracy with concern. “You’re kind of poring it on there, miss. You going to be alright?”

“Are you my dad? Believe me, I can hold my liquor.”

“I never doubted you could. Just pointing out that you’ve had a lot for someone your size.”

Tracy winked at Wheels. “You calling me skinny?”

“Something like that.”

“I’ll take it. How ’bout you use my card and order us a few pizzas? You boys want some pizzas?”

“I could eat.” Sally resumed his seat at the bar.

“I ain’t never seen you turn down food,” said Billy.

Dirty Ernie, a tall, almost anorexic black man who got his unfortunate nickname because he worked for Waste Management, ponied up to the bar next to Sally. “Get extra. I only got this skinny because I end up in the chow line behind Sally too much.”

“Hey, if you can’t outrun me, that’s on you, Ernie.”

Wheels handed Tracy the cordless phone from under the bar. “You want pizza, go ahead. I don’t have a problem with that.”

Tracy winked at Wheels when she took the phone. She called the place down the street, ordered three large pies, and gave them her credit card info over the phone. Twenty minutes later, three pizzas were walked through the door by a college kid. After he set them on the bar, he handed Tracy the receipt. She scribbled out her signature on the receipt along with a tip.

When the kid saw the tip, his eyes got big. “Ma’am, I think you made a mistake.”

“I know what I did. It’s a gift. Thanks for all you do.”

The kid could barely stammer a thank-you. He backed out of the bar with a smile on his face that even a kick to the nuts would not have washed away.

“What’s the occasion?” Dirty Ernie helped himself to a couple of slices of pepperoni. “You’re spending a lot of money here tonight.”

“I won the lottery,” said Tracy. “I just wanted to spread some of my good fortune.”

“No foolin’?” Sally’s jaw dropped open. “I been buyin’ them fuckin’ tickets for twenty years. Once, I won twenty-four bucks. That’s about it, though.”

“Some days, it just feels good to be lucky, I guess.”

Tracy kept buying drinks until the rummies were good and soused. They ate the pizzas, even Wheels and Duff had a couple of slices. They danced to the thirty songs. Billy and Pauly Ryecliff fell asleep on the bar. Sally eventually got logy and collapsed in a sitting position against the wall. Ernie fell asleep sitting up with his jaw propped up on his hand.

Tracy took the hint. She was practically asleep herself. “Well, I should get on home, I guess.”

“You want me to walk you home?” Wheels looked around. “I could lock these idiots in here for a while. They’d never notice we were gone.”

Tracy held up her phone. “I’m getting an Uber. I’ll be fine.” She kicked off her heels before she dared to climb down off her stool. She was listing hard. It took effort and a hand on the bar to steady herself to pick up her shoes. “I’ll be fine,” she reiterated. “I had a good time with you guys. Thanks.”

“Come back anytime.” Wheels held out the black credit card for her. She grabbed at it, missing a few times before she finally caught it. “You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m perfect.” Tracy saluted Wheels. “It was nice meeting you all.” Her words slurred together in a drunken jumble. She looked at the fat man in the Brewers cap. “Even you, Mr. Baseball.”

The man just nodded at her. He hadn’t said more than three sentences all night. He just kept watching the game.

Tracy inhaled a deep, cleansing breath of stale barroom air and let it go slowly through pursed lips. It helped to clear her head. She glanced down at her phone. “My Uber is almost here. Thanks, fellas.”

From his spot on the floor, an extremely inebriated Sally tried to say something, but it only came out as nonsense. Hearing the nonsense made him laugh. Laughing made him tip over onto his side, which only made him laugh harder until the laughter suddenly switched to snoring.

Tracy smiled down at him. “Lightweight.”

“Might be the first time he’s been called lightweight in his lifetime.” Wheels flipped the switch by the end of the bar that controlled the open sign in the window. The red neon in the window went dark.




Tracy stumbled out to the sidewalk. It was late September and far too cold for a miniskirt and pirate blouse. The booze had screwed with her internal thermostat, though. She felt the cold press at her skin, but that was as far as it got. Her head was hot, and her face felt warm. The cold air felt good. It was trying to balance out how hot the booze made her feel.

Tracy walked down the block. There was no Uber. There had never been an Uber. She did not even have the Uber app on her phone. Where she was going, she did not need an Uber. She walked to the parking garage down the street on the corner. She ditched her shoes in a trashcan next to the garage. Then, she slipped into the enclosed staircase and started walking up the sixteen flights to the eighth floor. Ten steps up, turn around on the landing, and another ten steps to the second floor. Repeat until she hit the top.

She was winded and jelly-legged by the time she got to the eighth floor. The booze was really surging through her bloodstream now. It made her eyelids heavy and her body feel like lead. She had come to far to fail, though. She had a plan and was going to carry it through.

Tracy pushed through the door at the eighth story of the parking garage and froze. The fat guy in the Brewers cap was standing there leaning on a cane.

At first, Tracy was amazed. For a brief moment, she actually thought the big man must have flown to the top of the ramp, but that would be silly. She took a step back and let herself get angry that he would dare confront her like that. “Are you stalking me? You some kind of pervert?” She could not remember his name. Dan? Dave? Fluff?

“Nope. Not in the least. I just figured I’d come up here and try to talk you out of killing yourself.”

His words ran through Tracy like a spear. She suddenly felt very, very cold.

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“How? How did you get here before me?”

The fat man pointed with his cane toward the opposite corner of the garage. “Elevator over there.”

She looked over and cursed under her breath. “Well, I came up here for a reason.”

“I know. That’s why I followed you.”

“How did you know?”

The fat man shrugged. “I’m a private investigator. That’s what I do.”

Tracy turned and walked toward the nearest ledge. “That didn’t explain it.”

The man followed her limping badly and leaning heavily on his cane. “I knew you were planning to kill yourself about thirty seconds after you came into the bar.”

Tracy stopped and turned back to him. “How?”

The fat man stopped. He ticked off the reasons on his fingers. “Four things, really: First, you were spending way too much money on strangers. That meant you did not care about paying bills; you were having a last hurrah. Second, the fact that you came into a dead-end bar where you knew you wouldn’t know anyone. You didn’t want to run into anyone you knew either because you felt they might know what you were doing and try to stop you or because you were scared or too sad to see them. Third, you were drinking like someone who wanted to get drunk enough to make bad decisions. You weren’t about to have sex with any of us pathetic degenerates from the bar, so it had to be that you were prepping yourself for a different sort of mission, one where being too drunk to think would be helpful. And lastly, and most importantly, that’s a hell of a tan-line on your left hand where the engagement ring used to be.”

Tracy’s cheeks were suddenly cold. She was crying and the wind was freezing her tears on her skin.

“You want to talk about it?”

Tracy shook her head. She started to climb up the chest-high wall at the edge of the garage. “Don’t try to stop me.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it. We are all free and independent, aren’t we? If you want to take yourself out of this world, well that’s your right as a sentient being with free will.” The fat man limped over to the wall ten feet to Tracy’s right. He was taller than she was. He leaned his head over the edge and looked down. A low whistle escaped his lips. “That’s a long way down. That’ll do the job, for sure. You won’t even know what hit you.”

Tracy boosted herself to the ledge by using a Volkswagen bumper as a stepping stool. “I’m here for a reason.”

“No doubt. If you want to die, this is a guaranteed way to do it. You’ll probably bounce when you hit the pavement. Did you know that? Human bodies actually bounce when they hit the pavement from these sorts of heights. People think they just go splat, but it’s actually way more disgusting.”

“Stop talking.” Tracy’s stomach was starting to roil. She looked over the edge and a combination of booze, fear, and adrenaline made her guts lurch like she was going over a big wave.

“The trauma of hitting the sidewalk from this height, there’s no surviving it. You’ll probably break a lot of important bones. Your chest cavity will collapse, and rib fragments will pierce your lungs and heart. Your skull will probably fracture. Your aorta will tear. You won’t feel a thing, though. You’ll be dead the second you hit the ground. Your brain won’t even have time to register the impact. No pain.”

“Stop. Talking.” Tracy tried to put emphasis on her command, but her stomach betrayed her. She suddenly spewed a whole night’s worth of pizza and booze eight stories down to the sidewalk.

“That was a good precursor to the main event.” The guy limped a little closer to her. “Before you do this, why don’t you tell me why you’re doing it? You know, for the statement I’ll inevitably have to give to the police who show up and demand to know why I didn’t try to physically restrain you before you did your best Franz Reichelt impression?”

“Who?”

“Franz Reichelt. He invented the parachute. Well, sort of. He tried to test his invention and took a header off the Eiffel Tower. It’s not important. Tell me what brought you up here.”

Tracy did not want to be on the ledge at that moment. Her stomach was still reeling. She launched a second volley of vomit to the sidewalk. Her sinuses were burning from bile and whiskey.

She dropped off the wall and slid to a sitting position alongside the silver Jetta. “It’s been a bad year.”

The fat man limped around to the front end of the Jetta. He stopped eight feet from her. “Tell me about it.”

Tracy swiped vomit from her chin with the sleeve of her shirt. “It’s just another woe-is-me sob story. Everyone has one.” She was suddenly very lucid and sober as if puking the booze in her stomach eight stories down had rid her of all the poison in her bloodstream. Maybe it was the adrenaline that was giving her clarity.

“I like woe-is-me stories,” said the man.

Duff. Tracy suddenly remembered his name.

“What kind of a name is Duff?”

“Irish.”

“No, I mean, what does it mean?”

“It means I’m mad at my dad. What’s your story?”

Tracy shook her head. She looked up at the night sky. In Chicago, only a few stars were visible high above them because of the light pollution. “I never knew my dad.”

“By choice?”

“My mom said he died in Iraq when she was pregnant with me. She never told his family.”

“Ah. By accident, then.”

“My mom worked her ass off to raise me and keep a roof over our heads. She only had a G.E.D., but she did it. I didn’t have much, but I never went hungry. And we used to laugh all the time. We had fun together.”

“Past tense, I see. I imagine she died, then? I’m going to guess she died in what? March? April at the latest?” Duff took another step toward her. He leaned against the front fender of the Jetta.

“March twenty-third. Breast cancer. How’d you know?”

“It would take that long for you to get the bottom of your proverbial barrel. Let me guess what’s next: Your fiancé was banging your best friend?”

Tracy’s eyes went wide. “Yes! How’d you know that?”

“Logical guess. Your mom’s death was traumatic. You probably retreated into yourself for a bit. Your best friend was around a lot trying to make you feel better. Your boyfriend was doing his best but felt powerless. You were too depressed to do anything for him, so he felt neglected. Things happen. I’ve seen it before.”

“Found out about their affair a few weeks ago when Danny called off the wedding. He got Jasmine pregnant. All my friends sided with them because I’ve been so depressed. They actually blamed me for the affair.”

Duff grimaced. “Ouch. That’s a kick in the ass.”

“I lost my mother, my fiancé, and my best friend inside of six months. I’m stuck in a dead-end job I hate, but I can’t find anything better even after years of searching. I’m still drowning in student loan debt. I’m just...lost.” Tracy paused. She felt a rising lump in her throat. It hurt to swallow.

“Let me guess—it gets worse?”

Tracy bit back a sob. “I found out last week that I can’t ever have a baby. Congenital infertility.”

Duff’s eyebrows raised on his forehead. “Wow. That’s...wow. I get it. All that shit happens to me, I’m probably chucking myself off a parking garage, too.”

“Why am I even here?”

“Because you were going to go out in a blaze of street pizza. Did you forget?”

Tracy rolled her eyes at Duff. “No, I meant, why am I here in the big picture sense? What’s the fucking point?”

“Of Life?”

“Of Life. Why do we bother? All my dreams got wrecked in six months. My mom never got to see me walk down the aisle in a white dress. I went from planning a wedding to being single. I lost my best friend. I’ll never get to be a mom. What does it all mean if I can’t have the life I want?”

Duff shrugged. He slid down to a sitting position alongside the Jetta. It was a painful series of movements to get to that point. He moved like an old man despite being in his mid-forties. “You want to know a secret? Most of us never get the life we want. My parents wanted me to be a Ph.D. in some sort of highfalutin degree program. I ended up being a dirt-poor private detective because it’s the only thing I’m good at. It’s nowhere near the life I wanted, but it’s the life I got.”

Tracy looked over to Duff with red-rimmed eyes. “What keeps you going?”

Duff thought about it for a moment. He weighed a few options in his head before he declared, “Pure fucking spite.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Duff gestured toward the sky. “Look at that. You get more than a few miles up and we die without oxygen tanks or pressurization. Get out of this atmosphere, and we die. Seventy-something percent of this big, stupid rock is covered with water. We can’t breathe in that water. A lot of this planet is freezing cold. We die without proper clothing and shelter. A lot of the planet is burning hot. We die there without shade and water. The parts of the planet that do adequately support human life have things like tornados, flash floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.”

“What are you getting at?”

“I’m saying that since we evolved out of our great primate ancestor as a minor surface annoyance to the planet, we’ve had to deal with the fact that Earth doesn’t want us here. It is constantly trying to kill us. Not only that, but we’re the only creature that understands that this grand failed experiment eventually ends. We have to live every day with the specter of death hanging over us and the knowledge that none of us truly knows what comes next. That’s a pretty heavy burden for a normal mind. That’s an even heavier burden for a mind that’s dealing with trauma. Believe me, lady, it never surprises me when someone chooses the easy road out. In fact, I’m surprised most of us don’t do it. This world is crazy.”

“Then why haven’t you?”

Duff looked around them. He shrugged. “Because it’s the only way I can flip middle fingers at the whole system. The system doesn’t want any of us here. The Earth is trying to kill us. The Universe is trying to kill us. We can’t live in the oceans. The atmosphere occasionally throws wind, arctic cold, and random bolts of electricity at us in an attempt to kill us, and we just keep going.” Duff raised his right arm to the sky and extended his middle finger at the dark blue-black heavens above them. “I’m still here because whatever runs this whole thing hasn’t figured out how to kill me yet. I keep living because by living, it means I’m outsmarting the big organism that continually tries to shuffle me off its mortal coil.”

Tracy swallowed hard. It felt like there was a stone in her throat. It burned when she swallowed. “I don’t think I can go on, though.”

“Why not?”

“Because I just feel like I can’t. I can’t stand to see one more day. I don’t know why.”

“If you don’t know, then you’ve got a mystery on your hands. You can’t quit life with a mystery to solve.”

Tracy bit back a sob that tried to escape. “Spoken like a true detective.”

“Spoken like a guy who has been where you are. Spoken like a guy who knows what you’re going through. I weighed it out. I did the math. Quitting Life is easy. For some people, maybe it’s the right thing to do. Emphasis on ‘maybe.’ Me? I want to piss Life off some more before I finally go. We get few enough precious spins around the Sun anyhow. It’ll be over before we know it. No need to end it early.”

There was a long silence between them. Tracy let tears slide down her cheeks.

“My ass hurts.” Duff listed to his right side and rubbed at his butt with his left hand.

This made Tracy laugh. It was a short, barking laugh but it was still a laugh. “Was I being stupid?”

“When you were rooting for the Cubs earlier? Absolutely.”

She smiled. “No, dummy. I mean just now.”

“There was a Superman comic some years ago where a girl was going to jump from a ledge. Superman told her if she honestly did not believe she would never again have another happy moment, then she should jump, and he would let her fall.”

“Did he let her fall?”

Duff shook his head. “She took his hand, and Sup’ got her the help she needed.”

“So, I need help?”

“We all need help.”

“Even you?”

Duff gave her a sad half-smile that never reached his eyes. “Especially me. I’m a fucking slow-motion train wreck.”

Tracy got to her feet and walked back to the ledge. Her legs were unsteady. She felt sick and dizzy. She looked down at the sidewalk far below. “If I want to jump, will you let me?”

Duff gestured at his bum ankle with his cane. “Look at me, lady. I’m half-crippled, obese, and about as slow as a sloth on Benadryl. If you wanted to jump, you could be kissing pavement before I could get to my knees.” Duff made no move to get up. He laid his cane across his lap. “We are all creatures of free will. If you want to go, you’ll go. Maybe not now. Maybe not tomorrow. But, if you’re dead set on going, pardon the pun, no force on the planet could stop you.”

“Not even you?”

“Especially not me.”

Tracy looked back at the sidewalk. Her eyes drifted up to some of the high-rises around them. People were living in those buildings. Actually living. They had lives. They were doing things. They were watching TV or sleeping. They were raising families. They were raising pets. They were learning new languages, or learning how to play guitar, or playing a PlayStation game they played too many times before because it was a comforting escape from reality. At that moment, Tracy realized that none of them would care if she died. The sun would rise tomorrow. The sun would rise whether she was there or not. Suddenly, she realized that Duff was right. As long as she lived, she was a nuisance to a system that was completely apathetic to her. The system wanted her to die, and she wanted to make the system unhappy.

“Duff?”

Duff said nothing.

“Duff, I think I want to go home.”

Duff still did not answer her.

Tracy turned around. The big man had somehow gotten up silently and was already limping away toward the elevator. He walked slowly, but with purpose.

“Did you hear me? I said I want to go home.”

Duff stopped and turned to face her. He shooed her away with his hands. “So go. Free will, remember. You’re a creature of choice, not habit. You choose your path.”

“But, you—”

Duff turned back toward the elevator. He kept going.

Tracy was confused. She started to walk after him. She called to him again.

“You’re wasting your time.” A voice from the door to the stairs stopped her cold. The bartender, the man they called Wheels, was standing in the doorway with two Chicago cops, a tall, Black man, and a shorter, stouter Caucasian woman. They wore matching black uniforms. The woman said something into the radio mic by her collar.

Tracy’s jaw hung open. “How long have you been there?”

“Long enough.” Wheels jutted his chin toward Duff. “You’re wasting your time with him.”

“Why? What? Where is he going?” Tracy was confused. “I thought he was concerned.”

“He was, in his own way. He wouldn’t have followed you if he wasn’t.” Wheels walked over to Tracy and took her by the arm. He walked her toward the stairs leading her gently.

“So, why did he leave?”

“Because he’s Duff.”

Tracy let herself be helped by the two police officers. The woman took Tracy’s other arm. She spoke lowly to her, comforted her. The staircase was warmer than the top of the parking ramp. An ambulance came around the corner of the ramp and stopped at the staircase. Two EMTs got out. They had a mylar thermal blanket, and they wrapped it around Tracy while they helped her into the back of the unit. Tracy let them. She was limp and exhausted, utterly drained from the night’s experiences.

Wheels watched as the EMTs strapped her to the bed in the back of the truck. “Get better, okay?”

Tracy nodded. Her head lolled to the side. “Tell Duff I said thanks, will you?”

I will. He won’t care. But, I will tell him.”

One EMT climbed into the back of the truck with Tracy. The other closed the doors and ran back to the driver’s seat. After a moment, the truck lurched forward and began the slow descent down the parking ramp.

Wheels watched from the top of the ramp until the truck was spat out the ramp’s exit. It drifted off into the night, red-and-white lights spinning on the roof rack, but no siren. In moments, it blended into the wash of lights of the traffic and was gone.




A fat guy with a cane limped back to his apartment. He stopped at the taqueria on the first story of his building and got three carne asada tacos to go, more out of habit than hunger. He climbed the stairs to his apartment slowly, using his good leg to propel himself up each step and dragging his weak ankle after like a dead weight. He stopped to rest twice, and in those short rest periods, a taco met its fate.

Duff keyed the door to his apartment and limped into his room. There was no bed in his room, only a plush recliner. Duff flopped into the chair and popped the footrest. He turned on the TV. A MASH rerun was on. It wasn’t one of his favorite episodes—it was the one where Hawkeye and B.J. pretend to be nice to Frank—but it would do.

The next morning, when his business partner, Abe, would come into the office, Abe would ask Duff, ”What did you do last night?”

Duff would tell him, ”I watched MASH.”

Abe would ask, ”Is that all?”

And Duff would answer. ”Yes.”



–End–


If you liked this story, please check out the full-length Abe & Duff novel THE SINGLE TWIN, available now on Amazon Kindle or order a paperback from your favorite local independent bookstore.

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Further Recommendations

Brian: Great read if you can over look all of the grammatical errors.

cmine3603: 💓💓💓💓💓💓

7120caw: I really don't know what to expect. The suspence is killing me.

vp1pride: I like the book so far..I definitely would recommend to single young ladies. I always hope for a happy ending.

Ericka Martinez: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Sarah Jones Swanson: Love that a fire reunites them

Terri Ferguson: I liked how the story kept you interested wanting to know what the next word was what was going on and how was he going to solve each case it never got boring you just stayed involved great book I would recommend this book to family and friends

Roseann Musso-riggins: Good book I wish the book was completed though

John Primrose: The third book in this ""Bantering series by SJ Wilke doesn't disappoint, and on reflection is probably even better that Books 1 & 2. Very very enjoyable and engrossing. Thank you again SJW.

More Recommendations

Goodreader: Really enjoyed this book

Marisa: R u making more????????Please do

pinkoff88: Am I the only one that can’t find the 3rd book???

Zahra Shakir: Oh God! Gale don't be a jerk

VeahHope: I absolutely loved this book, it has a plot I never would have thought of. The characters are extremely amazing and I absolutely loved how the book progressed! This is an amazing story and I would recommend it to anyone 18+, but if you usually read this type of thing being under 18, I would als...

Jason Huskey: This book brings some amazing twists into the series that really help the series grow. Love the characters and how they continue to develop.

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