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Justice Rules

Undercovers by Thomas White


     Harley hurled.  It was actually the flu but vomit worked well toward legitimizing his police undercover role as a junkie/dealer. He was holding a three-ounce bag of cocaine trying to negotiate an extra two hundred dollars an ounce so that the scumbag he was talking with wouldn’t suspect foul play. It was in mid-deal that his stomach erupted. Not the first time he had asked him himself how the hell he had gotten there.

     He had been undercover for almost three months. His hair was spiky with uneven blonde and red tips.  He hadn’t shaved in four days and the splotchy stubble felt like a Brillo pad.  Three months of going to family functions looking like a low life, unshaven, often bruised and always anxious. Three months of trying to explain to his wife that he might not be home for a few days. Three months where he was mostly successful ducking the hookers and coke whores who would do anything for a toot.  Three months of lying, dealing, cheating, maneuvering, convincing, conniving, stealing - all while using public restrooms with foul smells and no toilet paper.

      His whole life had become one fluid, mercurial lie that he had no way of tracking and no chance of changing. He had lost the point, blurred the line, lost sight of where his undercover life stopped and his real life began; if he even had a real life, it was hard for him to tell.

       His cell phone vibrated in his inside pocket indicating an incoming call. It was his personal phone and he knew who it was. She had already left three unheard messages. His wife was "fed-up with this shit" and the vibration likely meant that message number four was being harangued at that very moment. And it wasn't like he was in any position to answer anyway.

      Today was the same ol’same ol’. A half hour earlier Enchirito Jones had run him down almost as soon as he had hit the streets.  Literally run him down.  Harley was blowing his nose and wondering if the churning in his stomach would settle down or blow up when he stepped off the curb at Market and Wellesley. The big bondo pasted 1989 Impala screeched around the corner.  To his credit, Enchirito breaked at the last minute and allowed him to dive onto the hood, the sudden stop had deposited him onto the sidewalk exactly where he had started his street crossing expedition.

     “Harley V-Rod! You just the white-assed motherfucker I been looking for. What’s the matter dawg?  You look like shit,” Enchirito’s yellow and gold teeth flashed as his smile widened.

     Harley pulled himself off the curb. His stomach rolled and he managed to swallow the bile before he chucked it. He examined his bloody knee through his torn jeans and said, “You just hit me with the fucking car, asshole.”

     “Shit, you call that gettin’ hit?  Hell, you ax Jerome what getting’ hit mean, he tell you a whole diff’nt story.  Course, he would he could still talk,” Behind Enchirito stood two soldiers, both muscle bound black men in their late teens. Apparently they remembered Jerome and thought his untimely end to be a source of intense humor.

     “Who’s Jerome?” Harley asked satisfied that his knee was just scraped and no more significant damage had occurred.

    “Make no difference, he gone.  So dawg, I hear that you doin’ retail now. That true?”

     He looked at Enchirito and hoped to see that mischievous glint in his eyes that said he was bullshitting.  What he saw were fish eyes, cold, dark and empty.

     “What asshole told you that? You know better, I only wholesale and at this point in time you are my only customer.  What reason would I have to retail?” Harley stood up and brushed off his jeans in an aggressive, put-out manner.

     Enchirito slid onto the front fender of his Imapla and spit onto the street.  “Now that what I say.  What reason you got to retail?  I got no fuckin’ idea so you tell me?”

     He looked at the two soldiers standing next to Enchirito and saw them slowly start to fan out right and left.

     “Look man, I got no nerve to retail, I got no time to retail and whoever the motherfucker is that told you I retail I want to see right away and I’ll be sure he meets Jerome.”

     Enchirito let out a howl. “Meet Jerome! That a good one V-Rod, that’s fuckin’ funny.”  He slid off the car bent over in laughter.

     The soldier on the right had a huge burn scar on his left bicep, the one on the left had a lip ring, both were taking non-verbal cues from Enchirito. They started to laugh as well and they all moved a bit closer to him as they did. 

     He saw it coming before Scar Guy had made a fist.  Using the laughter to motivate their move, the two positioned themselves in an attack position on both sides of him.  Judging from the aggressive movements of the one on the right, Scar Guy, Harley knew that this soldier would be the first to make a move.  He shifted his stance to a right hand attack.

     The fist came swinging from the ground, Scar Guy being bent over with fake laughter.  It up cut through the air like a Tiger Woods driver and was aimed perfectly to smash into his head but when the punch got to where it should have connected with his face, it found a forearm, a hand, a twist and a snap.  He swung Scar Guy around just in time to let him take the full force of the fist thrown by Lip Ring, also aimed where his head had been.  Scar Guy fell like a Communist dictator and he reached over the falling body to grab the upper lip of soldier number two, a smaller version of Scar Guy. A quick jab and throat poke and Lip Ring fell next to his friend.  Harley opened his hand and threw the torn out lip ring at the kids head.

     “Okay, stop it. Stop it right now!” He yelled at Enchirito before a gun could come out, his arms extended and his palms facing his assailant. “ I ain’t doing retail.  End of story.”

     Enchirito stepped over the writhing bodies of Scar Guy and Lip Ring who were both sucking air and walked toward him.  He looked in his eyes searching for the slightest twitch of deceit. He stared into his eyes for a full twenty seconds until he heard a cell phone vibrate loudly.  Out of habit Enchitiro’s hand went to his hip and patted his three cellphones. None were vibrating.  He looked at Harley, who was still breathing hard and nodded.  He felt his hip, felt the vibration of the phone and took a quick glance at the screen.  “Fucking bitch.  Leave me alone,” he said to the phone.  Looking at Enchirtito he said,  “Old lady, she can wait.  Been buggin me to go to work for her father.  Can you fuckin’ believe that?  Like I’m gonna work for that fat sonofabitch.  I’ll punch his fucking clock, clean it while I’m at it.”

     Enchirito laughed.  “You know V-Rod, I gotta hand it to you dawg, you the ballsiest sonofabitch I ever met.  And you know what?  I believes you.  I know you ain’t gone retail.  Okay, so dat’s done. Now what you got fer me?”

     It was over like that.  One minute Harley Vigotto , street name Harley V-Rod whose real name was Steve Talbot, was looking at getting beat to death at best, if not actually shot in the head, and the next minute he was lining up a buy that could get his ass off the street and back into a decent gig, maybe burglary or vice.  Now that he had passed Enchirito’s little pop quiz he could set this sucker up and nail his ass to the wall.

     “I got three ounces of pure Columbian. Uncut, unfucked with. You can cut this sucker down to about nine ounces and still have your customers kiss your big black dick,” Harley said with a shit-eating grin. Shattering this euphoria, his cell phone vibrated again against his hip.

     “Man, you got to control that bitch,” Enchirito laughed.  “She on yo ass.”

     Harley walked away a few steps and pulled the phone off his belt loop with enough force that he ripped off a belt loop in the process.  Flipping it open he yelled in a coarse whisper, “What!”

     A long pause was followed by a soft whimper.  She was crying.  “Oh come on, you gotta give me a break. What are you crying about?”

      Two sharp inhales followed by a sob, “You’ve been gone for three days.  The least you could do is to call me back.”  His wife, Tracie, the goddamn drama queen, was even more dramatic when she was talking on the phone than she was in person.  It was like the anonymity of the sound waves made her a Tennessee Williams character.

     “I’m working.  Sometimes shit happens and I can’t call.”  A quick glance over his shoulder and he saw Enchirito helping his wounded soldiers to their feet by kicking them each in the nuts.  Guess you don’t want to lose a battle against a skinny white boy.

     “You’re always working.  We were supposed to go to Jamie and Pat’s for dinner.  What am I supposed to tell them?”

     A dinner at Jaime and Pat’s meant drinking wine till they puked and eating a pizza at eleven o’clock.  “Tell them I’m working. We can reschedule. Beside I feel like shit.”

     “You feel like shit, you should be where I am.  Look, I don’t know how much more of this shit I can take. You’re never home and when you are you’re always thinking about work.  And the hair and the beard thing, I just hate it.”  The crying got louder as she got more and more into the scene.

     “For Chissake, look, I got a kick ass drug dealer about ten feet away who’s already tried to kill me twice today. Can we talk about this later?” As soon as he said “kill me” he knew it was the WRONG thing to say.

     A scream emitted from the cell phone loud enough for Enchirito and his compadres to hear.  They looked over to him with that knowing look that something was up and the fear that it might have something to do with them.  Quickly he said, in a loud clear voice, ‘Listen bitch, when I want to come home I’ll fucking come home. “  As he said it he spun around and hurled the phone into the brick wall of the second hand furniture store on the opposite side of the sidewalk.  The phone shattered, spraying plastic pieces of modern technology all over the sidewalk.  “Man, I hate that fucking bitch!” he screamed and moved in a threatening manner toward Scar Guy.  He got the flinch he wanted and backed off.

     It was just at that moment he had hurled.  Some tough guy he was. Once he had wiped his mouth he turned back to Enchirito. He wasn't worried about being jumped at that point, scumbag drug dealers are just like anyone else when it comes to these things, no one wants to get hurled on.

      "Look, dude, let's get somewhere a bit more private and I can show you the shit. Your gonna love it."

       Enchirto looked around and said, "Hop in, got a place right over der."

       Harley moved to the front passenger side of the Impala, front seat. He threw a look to the two goons who got into the back seat without questioning the move.

       "Don't you puke in this car, you hear me? I'll fuckin' kill you for dat," Enchirito said and Harley had no doubt that it was true.

     A few minutes later they were in a deserted railroad car behind an old warehouse near the Freya St. Bridge and Harley was giving Enchirito a taste.  “I got three ounces of this shit.  It is primo.”  He forced a giggle into his voice that in turn brought up a plaster of puke.

     Enchirito jumped back and screamed, “For chisskae motherfucker. Watch that nasty shit. Man, I’m trying to do biddness here. Shit. You all jacked up that fo sure. You need some of dis?”

     Harley stumbled away and threw up a second time. He wiped his mouth and caught his breath, “No, I’m okay. Just the shit you know. How’s that shit I’m selling?”

     Enchirito moved to the other side of the car, away from the vomit pools. A quick sniff and half of the taste was gone up Enchirito’s left nostril.  A practiced flick and the other nostril got its share.  “Not bad, dawg.  Same deal as usual, right?”

     Harley pulled the rest away and folded up its little paper parcel, “Actually, I got to redo the deal.  You see the overhead here is a little higher than usual so I gotta go two hundred more … per ounce.”

     Enchirito licked his fingers and ran them around each nostril attempting to capture any stray grains that might have escaped his Hooveresque inhale, “What’s that, dawg?”

     “I gotta go higher this time around.  I gotta get two c’s more. “  He knew how dangerous it was to fuck with Enchirito’s money.  A guy going for a bust wouldn’t push it like this.

      “Fuck you, same deal.”

      “Can’t do it. Gotta go two Benjamins.”

     Enchirito stepped closer to him but Harley didn’t move.  His big lower lip was jutted out and Enchirito squinted his eyes burning a hole in Harley’s forehead and still Harley didn’t move.  Enchirito stepped closer, cocking his big, bald head and letting Harley get a good whiff of his underarms and Harley didn’t move.

     They stood staring at each other for thirty seconds before Enchirito finally blinked. “Yo breath stink like shit. I can go one fifty tops. Dats da deal.”

     Harley wanted to push back, he wanted to say one seventy-five, just to fuck with him, but he had him and he wanted to go lie down.  “You fucking crook.  Fine, One Fifty per. Fuck you.”  They both laughed.

     Harley drove home about an hour later.  He took the usual long way around to be certain that he wasn’t tailed.  It would be tough for him to explain how a low life like Harley V was living in a four-bedroom rancher on the north side of town with a hot wife and two teenagers.  It would be tough to explain the boat in the driveway, the green Saturn Vue and the blue VW bug.  Enchirito would have an issue with his lifestyle if he ever saw him for real.  He took the time as he drove to try to remember what his  ‘real life’ was.

     His name was Steve Talbot.  He was a thirty-seven year old guy with an English/Irish background, he was a softball coach, a flag football player and he loved to fish.  He had a wife, Tricia, two kids, Ronnie and Gail, and a dog, Seau. It was a world away from Enchirito, Scar Guy and Lip Ring.

     Harley started his law enforcement career when he was twenty-two.  Fresh from the Marines, a big swinging dick, it made the most sense.  He applied, shot through the academy and was the youngest street detective in state history six years later. He thought it was just so damn easy.  Gifted as an investigator he soon grew weary of the grind; crime scene, something stolen, broken or destroyed; people hurt, wounded, lost; kids-wives mistreated, disfigured, abused; lives in ruins. 

     It was fucking futile.  As hard as he worked it never stopped.  Assholes were like weeds, you pull one out by the roots, another pops up a few days later. There was always some asshole burning cigarette holes in his kid, rearranging his wife’s face with a hot iron, poisoning his neighbor’s dog, cat, kid. 

     The opportunity to go undercover gave him a better chance to make a difference, it challenged him, and for the first time, he could see the look on the assholes face when they took him down.  He loved it. But he discovered that the weeds grew even thicker in this world and he was lost.

      Walking through the garage door he hung his keys on the hooks on the end cabinet wall, he took a cursory look at the mail sitting on the brown tile counter.  When did it become brown tile? Last time he looked had been green Formica, he had installed it himself when they moved in. Tricia had long ago taken over paying the bills so there was nothing of interest in the stack of envelopes and advertisements.  He called out to see who was home.  “Hey guys, you here? Ronnie, Gail?  Dad’s home.”  Silence.

     He opened the fridge popped open a beer.  Six hours later, seven empties beside him along with a half empty bottle of NyQuil, he woke on the couch and crawled to bed.  Again, alone.

     The sun hit him directly in the face at nine-thirty the next morning.  He rolled over and confronted the empty spot next to him.  Guess she didn’t understand the code for “There is a drug crazed killer next to me, I can’t talk now.”

     "What the hell is going on?" He said out loud.  It seemed that everyone on the street was trying to kill him and everyone at home wanted him dead.  Maybe he should just kill himself and make everyone happy.  He heard about it all the time.  He must have sat through five different seminars in the last two years all detailing the cop suicide rate and the cop divorce rate and the connection between the two.  He had always considered divorce to be the preferred option and laughed at the thought of wanting to eat his pistol. But at this moment, for the first time, it had some appeal.

     He assumed that Tracie had taken the kids to her friend Kaelan’s house.  She always ran there whenever there was a problem between them.  He never even worried about them anymore knowing they were safe at Kaelan’s.  But the drama of running off when she was mad had worn thin.  She wants drama? Well, how dramatic would it be to finally drag her ass home and find his brains all over her new brown tile counters? Ya think blood would stain the tan grout?  That would piss her off.  How fucking dramatic would it be to leave a note that just said, “You happy now?”

     He could never please her, not in a million years.  Not unless he was a desk jockey, maybe run the evidence locker or the front desk. Fuck that.  He was a cop and he had skills, no way he wastes them behind a desk covered in old Styrofoam coffee cups and stacks of triplicate forms. He’d eat the damn gun before he ever considered that? 

     Steve rolled over onto his stomach and hugged his pillow close to his chest.  He faced the empty spot in the bed where Tracie was supposed to be.  She was the reason he was supposed to consider the desk job. Ronnie and Gail were the reasons he was supposed to consider the evidence locker.  But did he ever consider a desk job? Not a chance. Hell, he’d been on the street for over fifteen years and he was fine.  Never been shot, still able to handle himself, he was not anyone to fuck with. But at the end of the day how important was that?  How many guys went through life without ever having to worry if they were someone to fuck with or not?  How many guys made it home every night without their wife and kids giving a sigh of relief?  No one he knew but his was a different world.

     He heard the garage door open.  She was home, time for showdown at the Harley V. Corral.  He got up and went to the bathroom, closing the door behind him.  If he took a shower he could keep her at bay for a few more minutes.  This act was so old it had brown spots but he knew it was time for the showdown and he just didn’t have it in him.

     Pulling a t-shirt over his wet hair he walked down to the kitchen. Tracie was unpacking groceries. She had a tight waist, long legs and her shoulders were curved and tone. Her auburn hair reached the center of her back and flew from side to side as she moved. She hadn't turned around or acknowledged his presence. After a few moments of silence, interrupted only by the opening and slamming of cupboard doors, he said, "Hi."

     The word had no affect on her at all. She continued to put away groceries and ignore him.  He tried again, "So I take it you're mad," he said.

     A bag of noodles flew toward his head. He caught them by instinct and stared at her. He supposed he should have been grateful that it wasn't a can of soup but that really wasn't the point.

     "Hey, I told you I was working. I didn't mean anything by it. I had to make it look good."

     "To who? Who do you have to impress so much that you call your wife a fucking bitch?" She screamed at him and threw a box of Top Ramin.

     He dodged the box and thought that she might have a point. Who was he trying to impress so much that he had called his wife a fucking bitch?

     "I am done with this, Steve. I am done with the lying and the bullshit. You have a choice to make, me and the kids, or the job," She stared at him without an ounce of humor in her soul. "You let us know what you decide. Until then, find another place to live."

     There it was; so simple, so direct, so honest. No options, no confusion, no convoluted possibilities, just a straight forward "yes" or "no" would solve this dilemma.  It made it hard for him to negotiate.

     "Look, I have to work and this is what I..." She cut him off like a price tag on a new shirt.

     "Us or the job. Is that clear enough?" He was pushed out of the way so that she could get to the pantry and shelve the pasta.

     He stood there for a few more moments and then turned and walked out of the kitchen into the family room. There was the TV and the framed pictures of their lives together. There was the ratty old chair that was usually his place when they watched television. There was the stain on the carpet where he had gotten drunk and cut his hand. He always meant to replace this carpet, just never got around to it. There were the memories of the Christmas tree against the far wall, the presents stacked high and the squeals of little kids ripping them open. All of these things were speaking loud and simple, all of these things represent his life and the person he really was. His eyes started to water and he knew what he had to do.

     He walked into the kitchen and looked at Tracie. She stopped her unpacking and looked back, her face scrunched with unyielding determination.

     "Fuck it," he said. He turned and went upstairs. He packed a bag, grabbed his laptop and a few personal items and took the back stairs to the garage. Twenty minutes later he was at the station house discussing tactics on how they were going to bust Enchirito Jones feeling as though he had, at least, at long last, been honest with himself.

     He met up with Enchirito later that afternoon. They were in the same abandoned train terminal only this time Harley carried a backpack with three ounces of pure cocaine. He waited while Enchirito's boys went through the product to be certain it was the real deal. Every once in a while the Lip Ring guy, now sporting a row of neatly placed stitches on his lower lip, would look over with hate in his eyes. Harley would stare back wishing that Lip Ring would make a move.

     "You one crazy, white-ass motherfucker, that's for sure," Enchirito said, "But I gotta tell ya, I likes ya."

     Harley looked at the large black man and said, "Well, I can fucking die happy now, can't I?"

     Enchirito laughed out loud. As his laughter died down he hit Harley hard on the shoulder, nearly knocking him off the crate he was sitting on. Harley adjusted his position and was about to respond when the amplified voice of Lt. John Jansen echo through the room.

     "This is the State Police. Put your hands in the air and don't move."

     From all four corners of the room police officers ran into the terminal. Each was in full riot gear, carrying automatic rifles, wearing kevlar vests and helmets. The guns were pointed at the four of them.

     Harley immediately thrust his hands into the air. Lip Ring guy, and Scar guy, who happened to be hunched over a bag of the product, both threw a quick glance at Enchirito. Enchirito's hands went for the gun in the small of his back and his two flunkies followed suit. They all came up firing.

     Harley dove to his right and rolled, trying to distance himself from the three drug dealers. The station had been abandoned for many years and there was literally nothing in the room to hide behind. After rolling a dozen yards from the others he covered his head and curled up into a ball.

     It didn't last but ten seconds and the space went from audacious decibels to total silence. Harley could smell the burnt gun powder of the hundreds of rounds that had been fired and white smoke hung in the air above the scene. The sunlight shot through the windows, high above, and formed a divine accent for the death tableau it illuminated.  Enchirito, Lip Ring guy and Scar guy were all laying flat, blood seeping out of the many bullet holes that peppered their bodies.

     Harley waited for the all clear, still curled up with his head tucked deep under his arms. He felt like a turtle, pulling his head into his shell for protection.

     "All clear!" Yelled out one of the officers. Harley stirred and slowly began to rise. As he did he pushed his jacket back and placed a hand on his hip.

     "Well, it took you guys..."

     A rookie officer, a guy that Harley had never met, a guy that had been on the force for a week, saw the gesture as Harley placed his hand on his hip. He screamed out, "Gun!" as he turned and fired on Harley stopping him in mid sentence.

     The bullets hit Harley square in the chest lifting him off the broken tile floor and sending him flying backwards, his body twisting and twitching with each impact. The burst of the rifle left little doubt about the outcome. As raw as this rookie was to the force, he had amazing accuracy with his weapon. Harley was dead before he hit the floor.

     At the funeral, Tracie, Ronnie and Gail sat together at the graveside. Tracie sat with a stoic, confused look on her face as though she had been cheated out of a final opportunity to tell him exactly what she thought of him. Both children cried, realizing that their father would not be coming home ever again. The flag that had draped the casket was placed in Tracie's lap. The twenty-one gun salute rang out and the mourners filed by the grave, one by one, to pay their respects.

     Back at Steve's house, the guests milled around a table full of food, talked about what a great guy Steve had been and offered condolences to Tracie and the kids with regularity. One by one they offered their final "I'm so sorry's" and left for home or the station or wherever cops went after a cop funeral. A few of the women stayed behind and helped clean up while Tracie sat in front of a black television screen, staring into her future.

     As the sun set on that first night, over Harley's grave, the headstone read, "Steven Talbot, a police officer, a father, a man - nothing more."