Subject: Excerpt from SHORTCUTS
My aching calves and ankles howled for mercy, and I feared my feet would be permanently contoured to fit the stilettos long after I pried them off. Just like Barbie.
Lucky, delusional Barbie. Living happily ever after in her dream house with Ken.
Innocence and imagination are two things I’d never wish away from a child, but that romantic fantasy is a real bitch when it doesn’t come true—or even worse, when it does and then fades away before your eyes. Of course if I’m drawing comparisons, my fingers and thumbs move independently, and my proportions are appropriate for my 5'9" build, so if I want to look on the bright side, there’s that. And why the hell am I thinking about Barbie anyway?
I strutted past a strip joint on Kentucky where “Girls, Girls, Girls” pulsed in lime-green neon over the door. It’s one of five clubs interspersed with massage parlors, a couple of hourly rate motels, and an adult toy store along a five-block stretch of Mission Street in the area known as Tombstone.
Many of Bedford’s 214,000 residents moved here in the seventies from Chicago and other metro areas to distance themselves from big-city violence, but like molten lava, crime creeps along and envelops everything in its path. The fifteen-square-blocks south of Mission—from Howe, east to the Roosevelt Expressway—are the most crime-ridden in Bedford and got the nickname when a reporter described the scene of a gang shootout as something straight from the OK Corral. The neighborhood always keeps the Vice cops busy, but for the past two weeks, Homicide’s been working overtime to catch the guy who is stabbing prostitutes.
As word of the attacks spread, most of the girls started to hang out in pairs, but the murders failed to make the news until last weekend. A provocatively dressed college student, on her way home after a night of clubbing, took the wrong exit from the Roosevelt Expressway and crossed paths with the killer. The story made the front page of Sunday’s Bedford Tribune, and nothing grabs the power brokers’ attention faster than bad press.
I thought I heard footsteps behind me, and I stopped and turned to scan the street. Empty. So were the parked cars. And I didn’t see anyone lurking in shadowy doorways either. I tugged at the hem of my gold lamé skirt to pull it south of the Masters and Johnson line of demarcation and kept walking.
I usually hated working the streets, but tonight I welcomed the peace and quiet. No one asking how I’m holding up. No one encouraging me to talk about what happened. Except for the fact I’d need half of a bottle of eye makeup remover to strip away the mascara, this was the best night I’d had in weeks.
I watched Sugar Martin cross Seventeenth Street with a blue-haired white girl I’d never seen before. They loitered on the corner, and as I approached, Sugar said, “Keep it movin’.”
“Just passing through, Sugar,” I said.
Her eyes narrowed with suspicion over how I knew her name but then they popped wide open when she recognized me. “Detective Benchik? Girl, you fit right in!”
If the wire taped to my sternum were two-way, I’d hear Shawn Donovan’s guffaw in my ear. “Yeah?” I said to Sugar. “The brass thinks so too.”
Sugar wagged her finger at the platinum-blond wig covering my chocolate-brown hair. “That color don’t work for you, baby.”
“Tell me about it.”
Tonight, she’d chosen an auburn wig and a short, black leather jacket over a skin-tight raspberry top and bright blue miniskirt. Drugs, booze, and life on the street had carved enough lines in her twenty-year-old face to make her look forty.
The girl hovered behind Sugar. She was fashion-model thin, and up close, I could also see she was barely legal. “Who’s your friend?”
“Name’s Mandy,” Sugar said. “Met her at the bus station.”
Mandy took a short drag on a cigarette and shifted her vacant gaze across the street.
I reminded them to be careful and moved on, and I thought about how good it was going to feel to slip into a long, hot bath when I got home.
My phone vibrated in my pocket and startled me so much I almost toppled off my stilettos. I knew it was Connie Warren before I read the screen because my BFF has checked in every day since Dave’s murder. Some days she calls in the morning before work, and other days in the evening after she tucks Emily into bed, but regardless of the time, my response seldom changes. I’m fine. Swamped at work. Yes, I’m eating. Good thing I forget to tell her it’s junk food I’m eating, and the reason I’m swamped at work is that it’s easier to stay in the squad room than to be home alone with my memories of Dave.
But lucky for me, I can’t chat right now. I powered off the phone and slipped it back into my pocket. It hit me that my husband died only five blocks away, and a deeper chill penetrated to my core. I made another futile attempt to cover my assets before rounding the corner and entering the alley. The rear doors of the businesses I’d just passed lined the west side, and the back fences of an auto wrecking yard and a trucking company on New York Street lined the east side.
Moonlight filtered by clouds, and lights at the ends of the alley provided the only illumination, but it was enough to see the empty fast food bags and liquor bottles scattered across the concrete. A gust of wind whipped up and drove the cold air against my legs like tiny spatters of hot grease. With a temperature in the midthirties, nylons would’ve helped, but the fishnets did so much more for the outfit.
Indecipherable music boomed through the back door of the strip club, and I nearly gagged from the stench of urine and vomit. I held my breath and moved as fast as humanly possible on five-inch spikes. Another gust blew through and sent a bottle rolling until it clanked against a Dumpster. A black cat screeched and bolted from behind it into my path.
“Shit!” I jumped back. “Halloween was a couple of weeks ago, kitty,” I muttered as the cat scooted behind a stack of cartons. I started moving, but once again, I thought I heard footsteps. I stopped and turned, only to find myself alone with the cat and probably several rats—which thankfully, I couldn’t see. I shook my head at my jitters. “I really need to lay off the coffee.”
Why the hell did I say that out loud? My partner, Greg Payton, sat in our cruiser nearby, and I could almost hear his dulcet voice saying, Yes, you do.
“It won’t happen, Payton,” I said into the darkness, and I zipped up my cropped leather jacket and continued walking.
I sensed a presence behind me, but before I could turn, a muscular forearm locked around my neck, and his breath felt warm on my right ear when he whispered, “Don’t try to fight me!”
Copyright © 2018 E.V. Stephens
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