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Number One on the Hit Parade

crime caper by Lee Hammerschmidt

Of all the tiki bars in all the world, she walked into mine.

I was just finishing the early Happy Hour shift at the Tonga Tiki and Tattoo Lounge, playing tropical favorites for the let’s-get-drunk-and-screw crowd of mystic travelers who were there to pound down the tiny bubbles of cheap tropical drinks. I was one chorus of Two Pina Coladas away from being home free.

“You know Hello, Stranger,” she said, dropping a five in my ukulele case.

“How about A Little Less Conversation,” I said trying not to make eye contact. I instinctively reached into the case for the Beretta .25 automatic I had picked up at the flea market. It wasn’t that after all this time I wasn’t glad to see her. It was just that wherever Allison Vega went, Lester Quarles was sure to follow.

“Relax, Sparks,” she said. “I’m here alone.”

I packed my Mele tenor in the case. Maybe if I didn’t acknowledge her, she’d vanish, like dust in the wind.

“I’ve missed you, Sparks,” she said, putting her hand on mine. “Seems like a very long time.”

“Two years and change,” I said. “So, you and Lester taking separate vacations now?”

“Sort of. You don’t leave a guy like Lester. Not alive anyway.”

“No shit. Tell that to Roscoe Bailes.”

Roscoe had been one of Lester’s lawyers. I was Roscoe’s investigator. We were checking out some internal corporate espionage stuff, employees selling off company info. But when some of those employees turned up missing, we started looking deeper. Lester was into some heavy shit. Seems he was quite the little racketeer, not to mention sociopath. Roscoe’s mistake was confronting Lester instead of walking away.

I had just returned from a lunchtime, uh, rendezvous with Allison, Lester’s receptionist and yes, paramour. She’d been dating Lester for six months, and slipping around with me for three. Meeting in smoky places, hiding in shadowy corners, etc. Hey, I worked for lawyers. You’re bound to develop some character flaws.

I snuck in the stairwell just in time to see Lester and his chief goon, the appropriately named Dave Pound, toss Roscoe down from six flights up. He thudded like a melon in front of me.

“Get that bastard!” Lester screamed, pointing at me. Pound started lumbering down the stairs.

A six-flight head start was plenty. I was out the door and blowing in the wind. Never went home. One final ATM withdrawal and I was gone. I moved around, grew a beard and worked at my true passion – troubadour!

How’d you find me Allison?” I said. “And what do you want?”

“The FBI,” she said. “They’ve been trying to get something on Lester for years. The only thing they can pin on him is Roscoe’s murder. But they need you to testify. They thought that maybe if I talked to you first you’d –”

“No way. I know first hand what happens to guys who cross Lester. And Lester has a long reach. He could get life and I wouldn’t be safe.”

“The Feds will protect you, set you up with a new identity.”

“Yeah, working in a fertilizer factory in Des Moines. No thanks.”

I grabbed my case and bolted for the back door. I was going to need a very remote change of venue. Aruba, Bahama. Key Largo, Montego.

I was three steps out the door when a massive forearm clocked me on the noggin and sent me sprawling in the alley. The meaty hands of Dave Pound pulled me up like a bag of Cheetos and threw me across the hood of a Lincoln Town Car. I tried sitting up and Pound slammed a left hook into my solar plexus. I slid down the fender, landing on my butt on the pavement, multi-tasking — gasping for breath and trying not to puke.

“Long time no see, Sparks,” the oily voice of Lester Quarles echoed in my ringing ears.

“Hey, Lester,” I slurred. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“It’s about you and Allison. And that little incident in the stairwell.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking –”

“Clamp it, asshole!” Quarles barked. “I’ve wasted a colossal amount of time and resources trying to find you. This one’s gonna’ be slow. Dave.”

Pound popped the Lincoln’s trunk and pulled out a cordless Makita drill, equipped with a 2-inch diameter “spade with spurs” bit. He moved towards me.

“The first one — south of the border,” Lester said. “Then feel free to use your artistic creativity.”

Pound moved in, the whirring drill coming closer to my crotch.

“Freeze! Drop that drill now and put your hands behind your head!”

Everyone looked back at the rear entrance of the Tonga where Allison stood in a combat stance, a Glock 19 in her hands.

“Okay, you were warned,” she said. She fired three shots into Pound’s chest. He collapsed across the top of me.

Allison quickly trained her gun on Lester, who had his gun halfway drawn.

“Hey, Baby,” he said. “Take it easy. We were just trying to scare him. I’d never –”

Allison put a shot into his forehead. He toppled backwards on top of Pound, and, well, me, adding to my mid-sectional distress.

“Jesus, Allison,” I wheezed.

She pulled out her ID holder. Yikes! FBI!

“So, you didn’t want to testify, Sparks?” Allison said. “Looks like now you don’t have to. Except at my shooting inquest.”

“You were — undercover?

“Yep. Deep cover. Though with Lester it wasn’t that deep, so to speak. You on the other hand –” She rotated her open hand in a so-so gesture.

“Why didn’t you tell me? If I knew you were involved, this whole scenario could have been avoided.”

“Who says I wanted it avoided?”

“You wanted to take out Lester yourself? Why?”

“Roscoe Bailes. He wasn’t really your boss, Sparks. As senior agent, I was. Roscoe was my partner.”

Wow, breaking up is hard to do.

Copyright July 2011 by Lee Hammerschmidt

Lee Hammerschmidt is a graphic designer/writer/songwriter/troubadour who lives near Portland, Oregon. In addition to a previous appearance in 10Flash, his work has appeared in Gumshoe Review, Page Forty-Seven, Short-Story.Me, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, several Chicken Soup For the Soul titles, and more. Check out his hit parade at MrLeehamer on YouTube!

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