Excerpt #2 from novel-in-progress
Chapter Two New York City, One Week Later Through the foggy aftermath of another gin-soaked night of binging, the clock radio’s incessant alarm needled its way into Quinn’s molten dream world of warped faces, empty eyes, and soundless screams. He came awake arms flailing and fighting the invisible intruders. Finally, one of his hands slammed down on the snooze bar and the white noise of a New York morning reclaimed the air. Quinn’s eyes closed again, but sleep had already deserted him. He took stock. Wet. Cold. Clammy. Whatever he’d drunk last night had spilled out of him - sweated out through pores Quinn figured must have been the size of silver dollars to soak the sheets so. He stank. Before he’d kicked the butts to the curb, Quinn’s morning aroma had resembled the stench of a two-week corpse left rotting in the humid sun of an equatorial afternoon. Now, he only had the booze to contend with. One of these days he’d make it a banner year and give up drinking all together. One of these days. He smirked. It wouldn’t be any time soon. Not unless he could figure out some other vice to keep the demons at bay. Drugs were out. Sex was too risky unless he could find a partner who had the same raging libido he did. So far, no luck. And masturbating didn’t thrill him the way it had back when he was a fourteen year-old kid jerking off watching the leotard-clad dancers on Solid Gold. His hand slapped down on the snooze bar again, cutting off the alarm before it had a chance of destroying the relative calm of the morning. He eased himself into an upright position slowly. No sense puking first thing in the morning and dehydrating himself even more than he already was. His legs emerged from the tangled sheets and slid over the edge of the bed, feet reaching for the cold wooden floor. Standing now, he felt like too much liquid still sloshed against his insides. Maybe his kidneys and liver needed an overhaul. Or maybe he should just stop drinking once and for all. Yeah. Sure. Quinn knew he was unlike a lot of other alcoholics. He had a drinking problem. A big one. He knew this. And he admitted it, if only to himself. No sense denying it, he mused. Not when it absorbed so much of who he was. He could focus himself if he needed to, especially if it was for work. He liked working. He craved work almost as much as he craved the booze. But work had been absent lately. Nothing much came by way of his email. Nothing popped up on the various bulletin boards he frequented. No new messages teased him from his voicemail. It was as if the world had moved on and forgotten there had once been such a person as Quinn Daniels. Once. He hadn’t been famous because fame was what he’d been taught to avoid. He hadn’t been wealthy because money never stayed with him long enough to grow. But Quinn once had power. Power over himself was what they’d taught him. Being able to see the challenges and meet them head-on. Conquer them or devise a way to bypass them in such a way that the ultimate goal was never compromised. Once he’d learned their lessons, there seemed nothing he couldn’t succeed at once he put his mind to it. He sat down on the toilet and let his bladder empty. No way did he trust himself to be able to stand during the five-minute piss. He was far enough along in his alcohol abuse to know what his limits were and where his weaknesses lay. Standing with one arm holding him up seemed absurd when he could just sit down and relax. He could feel the need to move his bowels. But not just yet. He’d get some breakfast and orange juice into his system before he had what he affectionately called his “PDD” – “post-drunk-dump.” Quinn flushed the toilet and padded out to his kitchen. The condo he owned sat on the Upper East Side, paid for several years back after he’d come back from a close-protection job in Egypt. He’d put a substantial down-payment on the place, but he still had a mortgage. Out of the refrigerator, he took the big jug of Tropicana orange juice, tilted it and his head back and drank it down deep. He took out the eggs and ham, set them cooking in the griddle and at the last moment, plopped two slices of American cheese onto the ham, waited a minute for it to start to melt and slid the whole concoction onto a plate. He mixed everything up until the runny yolk, melted cheese and ham were all combined. Then he sat down, flipped on the television and started eating. Vapid morning shows. He’d never understand why so many people felt a need to show up outside of a television studio and hold up a sign while the camera whizzed past them. Were they thinking this was their fifteen minutes of fame? Was this what they’d dreamed of? Being pandered to by some half-assed moronic host while they spoke about their anniversary or how today was the first day they’d managed to walk and breathe at the same time? He flipped the channel to The Military Channel and caught a special on Pararescuemen – one of the United States Air Force special operations units that never got much in the way of publicity. He smirked. He knew the feeling. And more, he respected the Air Force for keeping its secret units out of the media as much as possible. Quinn’s doorbell buzzed. He frowned. He wasn’t expecting anyone this morning. Hell, no one ever usually showed up at his door. He didn’t have any family. No relatives. He picked up the intercom receiver. “Yeah?” “Mr. Quinn?” Jimmy the doorman from downstairs who never used Quinn’s last name. “Yeah, Jimmy?” “Got a woman here says she knows you.” “Yeah?” “Got a badge, too.” “Cop?” “Uh huh.” “She got a nasty manner about her?” “Definitely.” “My dreams have been answered. Send her up.” “Thank you, sir.” Quinn replaced the receiver and went to his front door and unlocked it. Then he went back to the kitchen, sat down, and ate some more of his breakfast. As he ate, he slowed his breathing until he could feel the minute shifts in the air of his apartment. He waited and then turned at just the right moment. “Hey.” Deb stood in the doorway of the kitchen, her Beretta aimed at Quinn’s head. She wore a smile and her eyes gleamed. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t just kill you now.” “My sparkling personality?” “You lost any trace of that years ago.” Quinn shrugged. “I’m pretty good in the sack.” Deb lowered her gun. “Only if you haven’t been drinking. Otherwise you can’t get off at all. Stiff as hell, yeah, but there’s no end.” “Some women, they wouldn’t complain about that.” “Only the ones who have 30-second blitzkrieg fucks. Anything beyond two minutes is sheer bliss for them.” “But not you.” Deb came over to the table and sat down. “You ever had a piece of wood jammed up your ass for three hours?” “Well, there was that Iraqi incident. But no wood was involved.” She eyed him. “You lying again or is that a real war story?” “My secret.” “Well, Mr. Secretive, trust me – you don’t want to be pumped for three hours and have no spectacular finish. Even the horniest of us will get dry by the end of the first hour.” “Great visual.” Quinn finished his orange juice. “So, my dear, what brings you around this morning.” “It’s almost noon, Quinn.” “Morning being the relative term, then.” Deb slid her gun back into her holster. “You working on anything right now?” “I was giving serious consideration to trying to bed you for three hours.” “Yeah, I wore the skirt just for you.” “How do you run in that thing?” “I don’t. I got a perp, I use my feminine wiles to get them to stop and then I shoot them if they run.” Quinn smiled. Deb’s short brown hair and bright blue eyes would make any man stop. He’d seen her in action enough times to know. There were very few men who wouldn’t pause if she gave them one of her come-hither looks. Quinn had been on the receiving end of enough of them. “I think the National Organization for Women might like a word with you over that rather antiquated sentiment.” “Fuck them.” “No thanks.” “You never answered my question.” “About work? I’ve got a meeting scheduled for later this week. Nothing on right now.” “You want something?” “Why not?” Deb leaned closer until her face was only about six inches from Quinn’s. “There is one thing, though.” Quinn leaned closer. “Oh?” Deb frowned and pulled back. “You got to lay off the sauce until it’s done.” “I have been.” “Don’t bullshit me. You drank last night. I can smell it on you.” “Well, I haven’t showered yet. And you know how beer is.” “Quinn, you don’t drink beer.” “Maybe I’ve started.” Deb stood. “You see? This is why we never worked as a couple. All the lies. It’s like you don’t think of anyone as being smart enough to know that you’ve got yourself a real problem.” Quinn sighed. People had the kind of emotional baggage I’ve got, it’d be wonder if they didn’t have a problem, themselves. “All right, I had something to drink.” “I need you sober on this.” “What’s the job?” She looked him over again and Quinn knew she was trying to decide if she should even bother. After a moment, she sighed. “Obviously it’s not something the department can handle…properly.” “So a gorgeous homicide detective for the New York City police department comes to a washed up old soldier with her unorthodox problem.” “You old now?” “Feels like it.” “Then some action might just be the Fountain of Youth for you.” Quinn licked his lips. “What’s the scoop?” “You’re eating-“ Deb studied his plate. “...something.” “It’s that bad?” She slid an envelope on the table. “Knowing you, you’ve seen worse. I would have waited if I’d known you were eating and all.” “My fault for getting up late.” He opened the envelope and two photographs slid out onto the table. Black and white and grainy. It took Quinn a moment to figure out what he was looking at. “Am I seeing that right?” Deb’s painted fingers pointed at the top picture. “We found him earlier this week. He was the first.” “And this guy?” “Last night near as we can place time of death. A little old lady found him this morning while she was out walking her Pekinese.” “Shame.” “Yeah. I would have figured her for a pug.” “You know who they are?” Deb nodded. “First guy is Antonio Delineo. Worked for the Campanella family out of Brooklyn up until six months ago when he got bored killing people for them. He went out on his own with the family’s blessings.” Quinn looked at the picture. “Maybe they were happy to be rid of him.” “Probably. His specialty was using a rock hammer on skulls.” “Charming.” “And not exactly keeping with the Mafia’s attempts at a new and legitimate persona.” She pointed at the picture. “Someone did him, though.” “An old victim?” Deb looked at him. “All his old victims are in the ground somewhere.” “Friend or relative of a deceased?” “Doubtful. Look at the size of him. Pretty damned intimidating even for the most outraged soul.” “So, what was he working on when he got tipped?” “Protection work for Frankie the Seal.” Quinn whistled. “Ah.” Frankie the Seal, so named because of his incredible ability to skirt the law and never end of in jail. Frankie peddled young girls to anyone who wanted them, usually charging an incredible amount of money for looking the other way. His whores usually ended up dead, scarred, or deranged forever. It made Quinn wonder why anyone would ever choose to work for him. “Guess he kinda failed, huh?” “Looks that way.” Quinn stared at the picture again. Antonio’s face and skin were withered beyond his years and completely white. His lips were drawn back in abject terror, eyes popped out of their sockets, dangling by their optic nerves like a bad cartoon. Deb flipped the photos. “And this is Frankie.” Quinn’s eyebrows waggled some. He looked at the second picture. “Can’t even recognize him.” “Yeah. The damage on him seems worse than on Antonio.” “If that’s possible.” Frankie’s face was even more withered and pale than his protector. By the look of it, Frankie’s eyeballs had exploded. A mess of dark goo coated his cheeks and ran down into his neck and shirt. His hands had formed claws, frozen in rigor mortis like an extra from a George Romero flick. “Any idea what did this?” Deb took the pictures back. “You’ve used some special weaponry before. Those black bag jobs you used to do.” “Me?” “Don’t be coy. This isn’t the time.” Quinn shook his head. “Never seen anything like this. I don’t even know what could make an eyeball explode that way, short of being shot.” “No bullet wounds anywhere. The ME is mighty annoyed these stiffs defy conventional wisdom.” “And you want me to figure out what did this?” “Who.” He looked at her. “Why care at all? Someone’s obviously taking out some of the city’s most deserving scumbags. Seems to me like a good idea.” “Yeah, well, the vigilante side of me agrees. But the ‘sworn to protect’ side of me – and it’s a bigger side – knows we’ve got to stop this person. But first we need to find out why.” “So you come to me.” “Yeah.” Quinn drank some more juice. “It’s a bad world out there.” “I can pay you.” He glanced at her. “Oh, I’m not worried about that. I know you’ve got my bank account numbers from the last time.” “I need you on this, Quinn. Before someone else gets killed. It’s obvious we’re dealing with something…unusual here.” “You know, I don’t exactly relish the thought of my eyeballs exploding.” “Why would you? What with being so busy trying to make your liver explode instead.” “You’re not playing nice this morning.” Deb kissed him lightly on the lips. “You’re concerned about your eyeballs? So watch your back.” She stood and walked to the door. “Call me when you have something.” He watched her go and stared back down at the table where the photos had been. He could still see the images staring back up at him. His stomach rumbled. His tongue felt thick. He needed a drink. © 2008 Jon F. Merz All rights reserved.