Taking shots

Brick shut out the chaos around him, ignoring the happy hour clatter as everyone else on this Friday night seemed to be celebrating something—even if it was simply the end of a shitty work week. Closing them out didn’t take much effort. He was in his head, reliving the hell of the day.

The bartender placed a shot of single malt scotch down in front of him.

“Rough day, detective?” Rusty scooped ice cubes into salt-rimmed highball glasses as he extended a smile.

Brick fingered the shot glass, spun it in a neat little circle and then downed the alcohol. Typically he chose to drink his scotch at home, neat and from a tulip-shaped whiskey glass to enhance the firm, sweet flavor, but not tonight. Tonight he planned to get shit-faced. The sooner the better.

“Yeah, you could say that.” He pushed the glass forward, and Rusty obliged.

“Hope this helps, man.” The bartender took the fancy drinks to the end of the bar where two women were trolling for free rounds using their cleavage as bait.

Brick eyed the amber liquid. The glass was smooth and cool against his fingertips. Clear, thick, and shiny, like the window shattered by a bullet that very morning, right before it exploded through the skull of a seven-year-old boy getting ready for school.

Darnell Singletary, game over. The kid’s mom was gunned down in front of her house as she watered a potted geranium. It was evident at the scene what went down. Darnell caught a stray bullet through the living room window as he watched cartoons and stuffed homework into a backpack.

Brick would bet money the killer was using high-velocity ammo, which in a simple handgun made it harder to handle. Stupid. He had seen it before, gangs buying their guns on the cheap and upping the ante with super speed rounds, the recoil and muzzle blast making it hard for inexperienced shooters to control subsequent firing. The result was stray shots.

Brick caught movement out of the corner of his eye as someone sat down on the barstool next to him. He downed the whiskey, welcoming the burn. He contemplated ordering a burger; a smart man would eat something soon.

He’d gotten called to the scene first thing this morning and worked straight through the day with no thought of food. Not that he was hungry now, but maintaining a stomach lining meant he could keep drinking. Lately, this was the only relief he could find to blur the violence. His job was killing him. It was the kind of grind that turned cops into alcoholics.

“Aren’t you Brickson?”

Brick turned to look at the man. He had buzzed hair, sharp dark eyes, the start of deeper wrinkles in places that made men look distinguished, and women get depressed. A face that looked vaguely familiar. “That’s me.”

“Stan Holland, Anti-Gang Unit.”

“Jon Bricksen, Homicide.”

Stan nodded. “Thought I saw you at the scene today. I meant to introduce myself but didn’t get a chance.” With the circular motion of his hand, he signaled Rusty to bring them another round.

Milwaukee’s Northside District five was a little over seven square miles and heavily populated with some sixty thousand residents. Crime in that condensed area was rampant with gang violence and drugs. Brick knew MPD had plans in the works to enlist the FBI and Chicago SWAT in taking down the street gang called 29 Militants, and it’s partnered groups, Money-Getters, and Hard-Hitters. It was an orchestrated effort akin to waging war.

Brick prayed it would be successful, and some measure of relief would be evident in the community. But, he wouldn’t hold his breath.

“You guys get the shooter?” Brick had been part of the team that processed the scene and would provide the documentation to secure a court case following an arrest. Stan’s team would look for a suspect.

“Yeah. It was a female member’s initiation.” Stan paused, seeming to wait for Brick to react.

It just wasn’t in Brick tonight to feign shock when he felt none.

“Can you believe it? It was an order for retribution on another gang for some shit they did three days ago. Problem was the bitch got the wrong house. That poor kid and his mom got shot because she was too stupid to verify a house number.”

Brick’s head was liquor soaked and full-sponge heavy. And packed with too many visions of death and innocence lost. He couldn’t even tally the number of homicides he’d run solo or assisted in this year where some kid lost his life; he stopped keeping track sometime last month. He tried to remember why he became a cop. There was a moment of panic when he couldn’t recall, as reasons floated around in his head, bumping into each other, unable to reconcile in some suitable form. It was a pivotal moment, one that even in his stupor he saw with razor-sharp clarity.

He was fucked if he didn’t make a change.







Randi on the job – continued.

On the last three outings Matthew Barstow had beat her into the pet grooming center and disappeared by the time she got there.

“Oh, Mr. Bartstow uses our back door as a short cut. Says it saves him a few steps.” Sheila, the owner of the shop, leaned over the counter and whispered to Randi. “If you ask me, he could use the exercise.” She winked.

“Where does he go?”

A puzzled look crossed Sheila’s face and she shrugged. “I don’t think he goes anywhere, just shaving time off his walk, I guess.” She reached into a small pet crate and pulled out a white ball of fur with fangs and carried it to the shampoo station. A bright pink tongue snaked out of the fluff and licked Sheila’s hand.

Randi cringed and busied herself pretending to shop the pet accessory section as she waited for Matthew to show up. As she perused the selection of dog collars she avoided eye contact with Sheila who was watching her with piqued curiosity.

“Do you even own a pet, Randi?” One eyebrow cocked as she waited.

“Um…yeah…Tater, my cat. I’m just checking out the cost of canine paraphernalia, see if I want to make the investment.”

“Hmmm.” Sheila squinted, unconvinced.

The tiny bell over the door jangled and Barstow walked in and tipped his head to Sheila as he bee-lined through the store and right out the back door. Randi ducked behind the shelving.

“See, he doesn’t even slow down.” Sheila called over her shoulder as a large puff of suds flew onto her chest when the ball suddenly vibrated.

With the shop owner preoccupied, Randi took off after her payday. This was the closest she’d gotten to him in all these weeks and she wasn’t about to lose him. But then, how fast could the chub walk?

She stepped out into the alley and stopped. Matthew Barstow was gone.


Randi took a minute to evaluate the rear entrances lining the alley. Across the way were a few offices; Dr. Ben Sind- dentist, Maribel’s Dress Shop, Pressed Flesh Massage, and Valley Bank on the corner. She knew the rear doors to the dentist and the bank were employee only entrances and the massage therapist was vacationing Aruba. That left Maribel’s Dress Shop, which made no sense.

Maribel was near seventy years old and she didn’t have anyone working for her, so unless Mr. B had taken to trying on women’s clothing…aw…nix that, she would have heard about that in this town. Like Duane down at the auto body shop, everybody knew he trannied on the weekends.

Randi stood in the middle of the alley with her hands on her hips as she scanned the other direction. A small handwritten sign over the door to the old video rental store caught her eye. She walked over to read it: Miss Lee’s Nails – no appointment needed.

Randi stood in the alley and stared at the door. She could hear a bit of traffic driving on the streets at each end of the alley as she pondered what Matt could be doing in the nail salon. A vision of unadvertised services being offered and practiced in the back room of the establishment had Randi’s face heating up. Lewd imaginings popped into her head and she began to panic. How was she supposed to explain that to the Betty? She slapped the palm of her hand against her temple.

No! Not in Mt. Ouisco!

She reigned in her rambling mind and entered the shop.

It was a big place with more floor space than Randi remembered. Spa inspired photos of beautiful feet and hands lined one wall. There were four manicure tables and four grand pedicure thrones—the kind with massaging jets in the foot tub. It was impressive. It was a big step up from the portable plastic basins used by the other salons in town.

“Hello.” A petite Asian woman approached her. “What you need, Honey?” She said in broken English. Randi didn’t know what to say because there was no sign of Barstow. Just as she was about to ask about the big man, Mr. B came out of the restroom in the corner and another employee greeted him.

“Hello Mr. Bahso.” Matthew looked at Randi and his face flushed red. He looked away and followed the little woman. “You want usual, Mr. Bahso?”

Matthew climbed up into a pedi-throne, took his shoes and socks off and plunged them into bubbling water.

“Miss? What you want?”

Randi’s attention returned to the woman standing before her. “I’ll take a pedicure.”

“Okay, honey. Pick color, pick color.” She shooed Randi with a wave of the hand to a wall of polish and left her to fill the foot tub next to Mr. Barstow.

Randi pretended to study a hot pink nail lacquer called Crazy Lips and Swinging Hips as she ascended her throne.

Barstow nodded to her as she stuck her feet in the water.


“How you feet today, Mister?” The manicurist asked him.

He smiled warmly at her. “Great. Better every week, Sue.”

“That good, that real good.”

Matthew Barstow looked over at Randi. “I’ve been coming here for a couple of months now. I’ve got bad feet.”


He nodded. “Painful bunions, fallen arches, calluses.” He leaned toward her. “And you can probably tell…I can’t reach down to cut my nails anymore.” He sighed. “But I’m not about to ask my wife to do it. I mean, I know our vows said through sickness and health but there’s no way I would expect my sweet Betty to work on these bad dogs.” He winked. “I’m not that guy.”

Randi bit her lip to keep from laughing.

She didn’t know how the frugal Mrs. Barstow would feel about paying her investigation fee, minus the pedicure of course. But, it would be better than the guilt of suspecting her husband was cheating when he only wanted to spare her the trouble of clipping his toenails.

Randi on the job -part 1

Randi Lassiter took great care to unwrap the granola bar before having a bite. She hated eating in her car. The last thing she wanted was bits of oat and birdseed stuck in the fibers of her carpet. She’d skipped eating breakfast because of her hectic morning and a last minute phone call had her racing out of the office without lunch. So she’d grabbed the snack bar on her way out the door.

Now it seemed she had all the time in the world to eat as she sat in the lot across from Barstow Appliance Center and waited for Matthew Barstow to leave so she could tail him.

Betty and Matthew Barstow had worked side-by-side for the thirteen years they owned the store. A small town success, the business had afforded them and their three children a comfortable life. And with the girls off to college, Betty said they should be enjoying their empty nest time together. But recently Matthew was taking long lunches alone and running mysterious errands in the middle of the day. Betty suspected he had a mistress.

As a local, Randi knew just about everybody in Mt. Ouisco. It was hard for her to picture Matthew Barstow getting naked with anyone; his wife included. Just this side of fifty, the man had a slouch that started at his shoulders, melted down the front of his torso and stopped at the spare tire resting on his thighs. Not the most robust specimen of the male form.

Randi’s cell phone rang as she finished her snack. It was her secretary. Randi hit the speaker button as she picked up.

“How’s tubby today?” CJ Daniels asked.


“Tell me, you really think he’s grabbing ass?”

“It’s more likely he’s sneaking out to see a dietician or heart doctor than a sex partner.”

“Been a while since I’ve seen Matt, he still sporting that mullet?” CJ asked.

“Yeah, but it’s getting thin on top. Pretty soon it’ll be a comb over.”

For weeks now Randi had watched Mr. B. waddle to his car and squeeze behind the wheel. She was tempted to advise Betty—Honey, if he’s got something on the side let him go before he rolls over in his sleep some night and crushes you to death—but she didn’t. Barstow was just a nice man who didn’t take care of himself.

“What has it been, two months?”

“Yes, but the guy is unpredictable, only takes off once a week and never the same day or time.”

Betty had come into Lassiter Inc. and hired her to investigate her husband’s potential infidelity. Randi had no problem spending whatever time it took to catch the guy but Betty was on a budget, and although Lassiter Investigations prices were the cheapest around, Randi tailored the schedule to meet the woman’s needs. It’s what you did in a small town.

The plan was for Randi to leave her schedule open, as much as was possible considering she was running her own small business, and Betty would call her when Matthew took off. That gave her a five-minute window to get to the store. Plenty of time when you considered Matthew Barstow’s walking pace and the time it would take him to get to his car.

“So you going to catch him today and be done with this shit?”

“I’m telling you…the guy is paranoid. The minute he leaves the business he goes into stealth mode, making turns and circles through the neighborhood like he suspects someone is following him.” It was behavior that left Randi scratching her head and pushing out unbidden visions of bouncing naked flab.

“I’ve got to go, CJ. He’s leaving.”

As Barstow was wedging himself into his car, she left the parking lot and headed to what she knew was his destination, she was excited to finally get an answer to the mystery. It had taken a bit of effort to discover the pattern to the man’s midday missions, but she finally figured out that no matter which route Matthew took he always ended up at the same place—Doggie Style Pet Grooming.

Today she wouldn’t follow him; she would beat him there.

…to be continued.