Elizabeth Ashley O’Shea was one of those women who was so tough you’d have no trouble seeing her on an oil rig or in a Seal team. Instead she had become a cop like her father and her father’s father and probably that poor sap’s father all the way back to when some dumb mick decided busting heads in America as John Law was better than getting his head busted in Ireland by some snooty Brit.
Understandably, she had a chip on her shoulder the size of China, being the only woman in her precinct to make detective. You’d never have known it from looking at her, of course; she took all of those ‘go home and play with your dolls’ jokes in stride. But there was a desire to prove herself that, combined with her love of helping people and desire to make a difference, made her one of the best homicide detectives in town.
Connor had known ‘Lizzie’ for four years now, and, ever since they had met, he knew that she could outdrink him, outfight him, outcuss him, and outrun him. The only thing he could really do was outtalk her, and cops didn’t really appreciate that. As such he had been eager to make friends with the detective. Better to be friends than have a person like her as your nemesis.
It worked out in a mutually beneficial way: she didn’t have any need for a small time grifter and thief, and he didn’t have any need for people who went around the streets killing random people. They had a deal, more an understanding really, where he kept her in gravy with any of the big hitters as long as she didn’t press him on his business, particularly Joey business. In the intervening years, a sort of odd-couple friendship had formed, such that she was the only one he would have trusted to pick him up when a lie-detecting limey was threatening pain. Had he known how bad things were really going to get, he would have told her to hurry and bring back-up.
As she drove the cruiser, she looked frequently into the rearview mirror. Connor figured it was to make sure they weren’t being followed by the shadowy man, but several times he noticed her eyes peering over at him instead, a look of extreme worry in them. Lizzie was 5’8” with hair that was orange more than red and a build that was broad and only a little curvy. She was cute enough, but with too many freckles to be truly pretty. Her eyes, however, were that kind of shamrock green that glowed whenever she was feeling intense emotion. This had led to her being the object of desire for a few years among the single men of the precinct, a fact that she deeply resented.
She had turned each one down, politely at first, then with great vehemence later. Apparently having nothing better to do detective work on, the boys at the precinct found out that she didn’t really date anyone ever. This, of course, had earned her the lovely moniker of ‘Lizzie the Lezzie,’ because the men clearly couldn’t conceive of a world where a woman wouldn’t want to get with any of them. Lizzie had let them keep the nickname, even occasionally hinting it was true. Better to keep the chauvinist rhetoric focused on her unavailability than on gossip about how fuckable she was, she figured.
Strangely, Connor was among the small circle who knew the truth: she had been with a joe that tried to beat the shit out of her, and it kind of soured her to opening up to guys. The only reason Connor was probably in that small circle was that he was smaller than her, and she had enough information to arrest him ten times over, should he decide to blab.
“Where are we going, Connor?”
“You can take me back to my place.”
“You sure that’s safe?”
“Believe it or not, me and that guy back there didn’t exchange addresses while we was braiding each other’s hair.”
The shamrock glow was back in Lizzie’s eyes as her gaze met Connor’s for a moment. “What in the name of Satan’s fiery sphincter was that guy?”
Connor had always admired Lizzie’s way with words. “Probably something you shouldn’t stick your nose into. It’ll be safer for both of us, I think.”
“Are you kidding me? The guy didn’t just disappear, he fucking melted, Connor. Melted! I shit a brick so hard it almost punched through the floorboard and hit the asphalt.”
The car’s backend skittered a little erratically as she took a corner too fast. Despite the hyperbole, he knew she was serious in her shock. “That’s way too much information, L.”
“You know what I mean though, that’s some x-file shit right there. You’re gonna’ need someone watching your back.”
“Last time I had someone watching my back, it didn’t turn out so well.” Connor felt moody at the thought of it.
Lizzie stopped the car and pulled it to the side so that she could look Connor full in the face, “So you’re not going to tell me what’s going on? You’d rather die than trust a cop, even though this cop has never locked you up.”
“Hell if I know what’s going on. I was just trying to have a beer when, all of a sudden, trouble just appeared.”
She looked at him again, her eyes awash with the glow, “That’s it, huh?”
“That’s it, dolly.”
She slammed on the accelerator, knocking Connor back with the momentum of her displeasure. “You know how much I hate those stupid, older than dirt, pet names, Connor. Bury them in a bomb shelter with the poodle skirts and oppressive gender roles and talk to me like you’re not a fucking wax museum relic, please.”
“Sorry, Lizzie, I forgot.”
“Whatever. So you’re really not gonna share anything else?”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“You don’t think I hear what the word on the street is, do you?”
“What’s the word on the street?”
“That you’re about to take the express route to heaven.”
“Why would I do that?”
The car veered around another corner, “Because apparently Joey’s got an itching to teach you a lesson. Some people say you’re in for a big sum, others say he owes you the big sum and would rather kill you than pay it, and others say you slept with his daughter, which I would find pretty repulsive if it were true as she’s only 14.”
“Wow, ‘they’ really do have a big mouth.”
“Yeah, you don’t really look like you got a lot of friends in this town right now. I had three different hoods trying to fill in every little detail of your life story this week. I shouldn’t need to tell you what that means.”
“That you’ve become better at using your womanly arts to obtain information?” He usually didn’t rib her about the sex thing, but she was being pushy and he was feeling pissed after the terrible night he had.
The car slammed to a halt again as she turned to face him. “That you’re about to be fucked so hard your ass will become inverted. Jesus Christ, Connor, will you please tell me what you did?”
“You know the deal, Liz. I don’t discuss Joey business. That’s the shortcut to pushing up daisies for me and for you.”
“Not if you turn state’s evidence.”
“Drop the dime on Joey?”
“I can get you into protective custody, put you in witness protection too. Nobody will find you, nobody will touch you. Not Joey, not even Mr. Melty-Fucking-Creepy-Dark-Looking-Fucker.”
“I doubt that would help. That guy you just saw shouldn’t have known where to find me as it was. I don’t think he’s the kind of fellow who looks people up in the phone book. Just to be safe, though, can you get this car moving again, please?”
“No. After that creepy ass scene, I need some consolation grub. I figured you might want a ‘glad I’m not dead’ celebratory burger as well.” It was only then that he noticed that she had stopped the car right in front of a little drive-up fast food stand.
“Ah. Sure, why not. A guy should probably eat at least once a day, right?”
“You haven’t eaten today?’
“Ain’t exactly got a lot of moolah on me nowadays, Detective O’Shea.”
“You got enough money for beer, though. Whatever, come on.”
He got out of the car and walked up to the order window with her. Irritated by his lack of nutrition, she ordered him a triple, which was about five times more burger than he really wanted. She watched him while she ate her meal, fussing over him like a momma cat if he tried to stop. By the end his belly hurt from the effort of trying to contain a burger that was almost as big as he was. He grimaced as his stomach groaned so loudly that she could hear it. He forced down a bit of soda and simply said, “Thanks, Liz.”
“So you’re not going to budge, are you?” She intoned with that same note of irritation as she pushed him into the front seat.
“L, I don’t even know what you could do about this guy, honestly.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he doesn’t seem to care much about bullets, or doors, or hiding places. I couldn’t even tell you what he looked like. It was like he was, I don’t know, not really completely there.”
“You mean you think he was a ghost?”
“No, it was more like he wasn’t really a he at all, more like he was made of …” Connor couldn’t finish the sentence. It had been one thing to play along with all of these crazy tricks and weird happenings when it was happening right in front of him, but quite another to say it out loud. Somehow he felt like, if he said it, it would become more real.
Lizzie waited for him to finish. She kept glancing from the road to him, back and forth, until she got impatient, “Made of what?”
“Do you know how fucking insane you sound right now?”
“You’re the one who saw the guy melt. What explanation do you have?”
“I was kinda hoping he was an illusionist.” They turned another corner. Conner could tell that they were getting closer to his neighborhood now.
“Maybe he is. But, if he is, he’s really good.”
“Connor, you’re going to need some help.”
“Know any good exterminators?”
“I’m fucking serious, you little pipsqueak! Joey’s gunning for you, and you have a guy made of bugs and rats chasing you? Do you know how many shades of fucked you are right now?”
“That’s not fucking funny.”
Connor at least had to give Lizzie credit. You tell most people you’ve seen a man wandering around made of bugs, and they go measuring out a padded room for you. Liz was the only person he knew that would take his word on something even if it sounded ridiculous. He suddenly wished that he could have her help. He could use a friend like that to help him sort out the insanity that had become his existence. Hell, who couldn’t use a friend like that all the time?
“Look, I’m sorry Lizzie. I know you want to help, but you can’t. If you get into this, you’re never getting out. Just like …”
The car slammed to a halt again, but this time in the middle of the street. She sat there, her shamrock glow clearly one of anger. “Just like you? Is that what you’re going to say? The great thief and grifter doesn’t have an exit planned? That’s a first.”
“Don’t see no exit except the obvious one.”
“Well, maybe if you pulled your head out of your ass, you wouldn’t mistake your hole for the light at the end of the tunnel. You’re not done yet. You need to pull yourself together and come up with a plan. No more moping, no more drinking, and no more whining about how sad and hopeless things are just because you got a little more trouble than you’re used to. I mean, Fucking Mary and Joseph, could you get any more emo?”
“I love what a good Catholic you are, Liz. Talking with you always gets me a nice dose of religion.”
“Shut the fuck up and think of something.”
Connor was feeling irritated. “What do you want me to think of? Do you got a magic bullet for killing bug-guys sitting up your ass? If so, then I’m saved!”
“What would you do if this was just a normal job for you?”
The car was still stuck in the middle of the lane with cars beginning to honk noisily behind it. “L, seriously, can we just go?”
“No. What would you do?”
He grumbled grumpily but tried to think. “I don’t know. This isn’t a normal job.”
“Just humor me. What would you do first thing? Like before you even began grifting, before anything else what’s the very first step?” The people a few cars back were yelling out the windows now, so she flipped on the light briefly.
“I guess, if I had a target lined up, I’d figure out how to get information on it.”
“So you’d research the problem, that’s good.” She was at least satisfied enough with the answer to get the cruiser moving again.
“No, that’s not good. This isn’t a break-in or a con. What do you want me to research?”
“Bug guys, obviously.”
“Oh good, well I’m glad we narrowed that down to the impossible.”
“Maybe not …”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s this chick I go see when shit starts getting really weird in cases. She’s a history teacher, but she’s got this advanced degree in occult studies or something. Maybe she can help you.”
“Occult studies? What does that even mean?”
“It means she studies weird shit for a living, so maybe she’s come across a bug guy.”
“What kind of weird cases have you brought to her before?”
“Cultists. Ritualized serial killer. One time there was this guy who thought he was a wizard or something. I used her expertise to figure out the pattern of his crimes. He was trying to collect high ticket items for a ‘summoning circle’ or some such bullshit.”
“But her knowledge is legit. At any rate, she’s likely to know more about bug guys than any stupid, two-bit hood you’d drum up for information, right?”
“Still seems pretty damned unlikely, Lizzie.”
“Hey! You wanna’ pout and cry, put your thumb in your mouth and go hide in the kiddies’ room. You wanna’ be an adult, go talk to this lady. If it doesn’t work out, you go find someone else to talk to. You’re not the only guy who ever saw something weird, Connor, so put on your big boy pants and start digging.”
He realized that she was probably right. He wasn’t licked yet. Even if he was, better to at least try to take a shot than sit around mewling about it. “Yeah, okay, you talked me into it. What’s this dame’s name?”
“You can give me her address?”
“Yeah,” She rattled off the particulars. Connor jotted it down in a little pad he kept in his jacket. “So now that you’re not bitchy, defeatist Connor, what are you gonna’ do about Joey?”
“Joey’s easy, all he wants is money.”
“Money you don’t have, I take it?”
“That might be fixable. Though now that I think about it, there is a favor you could do for me.”
The car started going faster now. “About time, you stupid son of a bitch. What is it?”
“I need to find Leyla.”
“That little blonde hussy you run with? How did you lose her?”
“It’s a long story. Suffice to say, she terminated our acquaintance with extreme prejudice.”
“Fuck. I told you that tramp was no good, Connor.”
“Save the ‘I told you sos;’ I need to find her. She’s got the same trouble coming for her that’s coming for me.”
“I never noticed before, but you really are sprung on that girl aren’t you?”
“Connor Donnelly’s in love! I didn’t think you let anyone past that wise-cracking exterior of yours.”
“This is just business, promise. I really need to find her.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever I can do.”
“Her name, as far as I know, is Leyla DuBois, but that’s probably an alias. I can give you the apartment address she used to live at also.”
She had her cop face on now. No cussing, no joking, nothing but the facts. “That should be enough of a start for me to at least track down where she’s from. Do you think she’d go back to family if she thought she was in trouble?”
“Dunno, I kind of feel like her family life wasn’t too great, but maybe she’s got some friends she’d rely on.”
“Give me the info; I’ll look into it.”
As he pulled out the little scrap of paper from his notebook that he’d put Leyla’s info on, his look turned serious. “Don’t make it look like a cop thing. If she thinks I ratted her out, she’ll disappear completely and I’ll never find her.”
“Who the fuck do you think you’re dealing with here? This ain’t Howdy Doody time with the boys in blue, Connor. I’m a professional.”
“Yeah, I know. I appreciate it, Lizzie.”
“You’re damn fucking right you appreciate it. You’re buying me a steak and all the liquor I can drink for this, Connor.”
“They don’t have enough liquor in the whole state for that, L.”
“Everyone’s a comedian. Just because you drink like a thimble of schnapps and you’re three sheets to the wind doesn’t mean that I’m some kind of lush.”
“I’d never accuse you of that, Detective.”
The car finally rolled to a stop about a block away from Connor’s place. Obviously it wouldn’t do to have the cops drop him off right in front, but Connor still wished that he didn’t have to walk the extra distance. His sides were still hurting and his legs throbbed from the running he had done earlier. “Here you go. Hey, gimme’ a number to reach you on, so I can tell you what I dig up on Leyla.”
She handed him back the scrap of paper he had given her, and he put a cell number on it. “That should be good for at least a week or two.”
“You and those fucking burners. I hate having to play musical phones just to pin you down.”
“Hmmm, that’s funny. For me, it’s exactly the opposite. Thanks for the ride, Lizzie.”
“No problem, Connor. Hey, good luck with the whole ‘not dying’ thing. For what it’s worth, I think you’re a lot tougher than you give yourself credit for.”
“I’d put money on that wager, but, seeing as I’d only collect if I were dead, let’s just say I hope you’re right.”
As the unmarked cruiser sped off into the darkness, Connor began the slow, weary march up to his place. This was one of the few times he would consider taking the elevator rather than the stairs, but, as always, it was out of order. He slumped up every step, using the rail to steady himself, and finally shuffled into his apartment. He flopped over on the bed, not even caring to undress. He was completely worn and exhausted.
Charise Blackwood, he thought to himself, what are the odds she even has half a clue about a guy made of bugs and rats? It didn’t matter, he finally decided. It was something to do. An activity that, at worst, would mark out some time on his slow, inexorable march towards certain doom. And maybe his luck would make an appearance for a change. It certainly had been completely absent thus far.
Snores emanated from the bed as a cockroach climbed across the wall of Connor Donnelly’s apartment.