.......Darkness on the Edge of Town
A Jackson Donne Mystery

by David White


EDITOR'S NOTE:

The following is not, strictly speaking, a private eye story. It does, however, feature David White's Jackson Donne, one of the most popular private eye characters ever to be featured in our fiction section, in a juicy little tale that happened before he became a P.I. We hope readers will indulge our whims this time, but most of all, we hope you'll enjoy Dave's latest offering.


......The bar was empty tonight and when Henry Lamont walked in, he didn't have to sit next to me. I was happy enough to be left alone with my beer. But he saw me and took the stool next to me.

........He didn't smile--most cops who knew my story didn't--but he shook my hand and bought me a drink.

......."Jackson Donne. How the hell is life as a private investigator treating you?"

......."Terrific." I didn't tell him that I hadn't wanted a case in weeks and every night I dreamt of blood on my hands.

......."I have a message for you."

.......The bartender, Artie, put a beer in front of me and a gin and tonic in front of Henry. Henry took a sip.

.......I said, "What kind of message?"

......."Bill Martin wants to know if you remember him."

.......My first partner. "Yeah," I said.

......."He's working homicide now. And heard about you shooting that guy on the porch. He told me to tell you that if you pull something like that again in New Brunswick and he gets the case, there's no way you get off with a warning."

......."Tell him I said congrats on the new job."

......."He wants to know if you remember the first time you saw a guy's head explode after being hit by a bullet."

.......I did. It all flooded back to me like a movie, like I was watching it on a screen.

****

January, 1998.

......."That tie makes you look like a cop."

......."I am a cop," Jackson Donne said, fiddling with the knot. "And I would think, if anything, the gun would be the giveaway."

.......Donne wore black shoes, socks and pants. A light green button down shirt coupled with a dark green tie. He shrugged on his shoulder holster.

......."I thought you were supposed to be undercover," Jeanne said, running her hand through her strawberry blonde hair.

......."Not undercover. Just plainclothes."

......."But you looked good in the uniform."

......."Thanks." He smiled.

.......P.J. Harvey on the CD player, Dry, Jeanne's choice. She sat on the bed in jeans and a sweater, high heeled shoes next to her feet.

......."You teaching tonight?" Donne asked.

......."I have a 7:40. Expos."

......."Got to teach the freshmen how to write."

......."Will do." Jeanne looked at her watch. "What time does you shift start?"

......."Six."

......."Hon, it's five of six. You're going to be late."

......."No. Bill signed me in. He's going to pick up a car and then come get me."

......."Okay. I'm going to my office. Get some work done."

.......She slipped her feet into the heels. Got up, kissed Donne on the lips.

......."Be careful tonight."

......."Always."

.......She kissed him again and a few minutes later he heard the front door close.

****

.......Martin arrived ten minutes later in a Chevy. He honked twice even though Donne was already halfway off the porch.

.......Martin always reminded Donne of a college professor, neatly cropped salt and pepper hair, tweed sports jacket, and argyle socks. In his mid-forties, he was the senior member of the New Brunswick Narcotics Division.

......."There he is," Martin said, cigarette hanging from the corner of his lip. "Ready to party tonight?"

.......Donne clicked in his seatbelt. "Where are we headed?"

......."To the movies." Martin gunned it down Somerset.

......."What are we going to see?" Donne asked.

.......Martin stopped for a red light on the corner of Easton. "Well I heard a rumor, but first I want to talk to Jesus and confirm it."

......."Jesus?" Donne pronounced it slowly. Hey Zeus.

......."Yeah. Jesus Sanchez."

......."The dealer I put away a few weeks ago?"

......."Yeah."

......."What's he doing out?"

.......Bill Martin waved his hand, made a circle in the air. "We flipped him. Let him go. Me and Leo."

......."Your old partner?"

......."Yeah. And your new boss. The guy who's heading up this Narc force, Leo Carver."

.......Martin turned left on to Easton, heading past the bars up toward the hospital.

......."How come no one told me?" Donne asked.

......."Because, Jack, two weeks ago you weren't my partner. You were just a beat cop."

.......Donne hated being called Jack, but he let it go. He hated feeling like a rookie too.

****

.......Martin dropped the car into park so hard Donne thought he heard the transmission go. He saw Jesus on the corner in front of a brick apartment building talking to two kids, high school age. Both kids ran when they saw the unmarked and Jesus' eyes widened, body tensed, looked like he was about to bolt too.

......."Don't fucking run," Martin yelled popping out the driver side door.

.......Donne got out too, wondering if he should pull his gun. Martin hadn't.

.......Martin was saying, "Remember what I did for you, Jesus. You could be behind bars right now

.......Jesus, tall, wiry, bounced on the balls of his feet. Donne thought he looked like a track star on speed. Too much energy ready to explode at any moment. Beady eyes, dark hair and a thin line he probably called a beard decorated his tan face.

....... "Yo. Yo. What's he doin' here man?" Jesus said. He pointed at Donne, his arm straight and stiff. "This the man. He tried to put me away."

......."He's with me now, Jesus, and we just need to ask a few questions."

.......Martin had his arms crossed. Donne, hands in his pockets, leaned on the hood of the car. Both making a point of looking relaxed, at ease.

.......Jesus still pointed. "He just a kid. He ain't supposed to be with you."

.......Martin leaned forward, as if to tell Jesus a secret. "You doped up?"

......."Nah, yo."

.......Martin shook his head. "Jesus, what did I tell you? You're no use to me stoned. How are you gonna remember anything you need to tell me?"

......."Man, I tell you I ain't stoned. I don't do what I'm sellin'. That's no profit for me."

.......Martin laughed. "Look at you. Red eyes, bouncing like you're about to run a sprint. Don't fuck with me."

......."Yeah, well, what's he doin' here?"

....... Martin gave Donne a wink. "I told you. We're partners."

.......Jesus screwed up his face. "Partner? He's like twelve. He picked me up last week, whatever, I thought he was some kid playin' a joke. If not for the cop car."

.......Donne smiled and Jesus saw it.

......."You think I'm funny. You ain't gonna think I'm funny when I --"

.......Martin pushed him against the wall of the apartment building and jammed his elbow into his stomach. The dealer exhaled, then tried his best to suck in air.

......."Don't ever fuck with my partner, got it? It's just like fucking with me. You don't want to fuck with me, do you?"

.......Jesus shook his head. Donne thought he might be turning purple.

......."What was that?" Martin said through his teeth. "I didn't hear you. Do you want to fuck with me?"

......."No," Jesus said.

......."'No' what?" Martin said the words slowly, each syllable getting its own chance to echo off the apartment wall.

.......Jesus was gasping for air. "No, sir, I don't want to fuck with you."

......."Much better. Now," Martin said, "let's chat."

.......Martin released Jesus. Jesus fought for air for a few seconds, his breath returning to normal.

....... "What you want to talk about?" Jesus asked.

......."Movies," Martin said. "As in movies playing tonight? Remember? You were talking about it last week."

......."Aw shit. Was hopin' you'd forget about that."

......."Cops are like elephants."

......."What?"

.......Jesus didn't get it, Donne thought.

......."Nevermind. What's going down tonight?"

......."ABC Cinemas. Behind it, over the river?" Jesus said, "Couple of guys picking up a shipment."

......."Isn't there usually a bunch of cops outside that theater? To keep the peace?" Donne asked just to play some part in this.

......."Not on a Wednesday. Nobody goes to the movies on a Wednesday." Jesus shook his head.

......."Well, what's going on over there?" Martin this time.

......."Couple niggas bringin' in a shipment. Changin' hands."

......."What kind of shipment."

.......Jesus sighed. "Drugs, yo."

......."What kind?"

......."Weed. A shitload. Move it from a van to this hatchback."

....... "I want names. Who's bringing the shit to who?"

.......Jesus looked at the dark sky. Donne noticed it was starting to cloud over a bit, red like impending snow.

......."Tyshawn bringing the shit to Ramon."

......."Last names?"

......."Don't know."

......."Don't fuck with-"

......."I don't know!"

.......Martin stepped back. "They going to be armed, Jesus?"

.......Jesus crossed his eyebrows, like he was thinking. Trying to sound cool. "Nah, I don't think."

......."You don't think? You gotta be sure."

.......He rubbed his chin. "Nah. No guns."

......."What time?"

......."Eight thirty."

.......Martin turned back to Donne, signaled they were finished. Turned back and gave Jesus a two fingered military salute.

.......They got into the car and Martin pulled into traffic. Stopping at a red light, Martin said, "Well, that was fun."

****

.......They were sitting in the parking lot along the side of the theater. Cars buzzed south on Route 1. Movie patrons waited on line. The unmarked had a perfect vantage of the alley behind the theater, as they sat in one of the last remaining spots toward the rear.

.......Donne, in the passenger seat, watched the sky, red clouds heavy with snow. If he rolled the window down, he was sure he could smell impending storm in the air. A few flakes landed on the windshield.

.......Biggie's "More Money, More Problems" played on the radio. Martin bobbed his head up and down, out of rhythm.

......."You like rap?" Bill Martin asked. He stopped his head to light a cigarette.

......."Some." Donne liked this song.

......."Ah. Mostly, I like older stuff. The Stones. Zeppelin. The Who. The Hollies."

......."The Hollies? 'Carrie Ann?'"

......."Yeah."

......."Okay."

......."I've been listening to rap lately. Got a theory about it. How it's changing."

......."Oh yeah? How'd you find that?"

......."Just flipping the radio stations. And talking to some of the guys we put in jail actually. You want to get information out of them, you got to butter them up. Talk about something they like."

......."And they like rap."

......."Yeah. You ever listen to writers talk?"

......."My girlfriend teaches writing at Rutgers."

......."Then you've heard the expression 'write what you know?'"

.......Donne nodded.

......."I think that's changing rap."

......."What do you mean?"

.......Martin inhaled the cigarette smoke. Blew it out the window. Waved his hand in a circle again. "Look at the gangsta stuff from a few years ago. 'Cop Killer,' stuff like that. That was the life the rappers knew. Gangs, violence, that shit. The rap maybe exaggerated, but yeah, that was it."

.......Donne thought, This guy doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. But said, "'Cop Killer's' hard rock."

......."Well, Ice T sang it. And he's a rapper." Martin tossed the butt out the window. "Anyway, his stuff got popular. The gangstas started getting rich."

......."Uh huh." Donne didn't care too much about this, but it was better than sitting in silence. Maybe Martin was nervous, his leg bouncing up and down. The guy needed to talk.

......."So these guys are getting rich, and their lives are changing. They can't write 'Cop Killer' anymore. They start writing this stuff about money, how rich they are. Problems that come of that, and the parties."

......."What's your point?"

......."I don't know. Just talking." Martin lit another cigarette. "I guess it's just that people criticize the music, but people have always criticized music. It's the same as it's always been. About what you know. 'Street Fighting Man' was about what The Stones knew at that time. Dylan wrote about what he knew or thought."

.......Donne said, "I guess. Never really thought about it." Plus, he'd heard this type of talk before from just about every music critic out there. Martin probably just lifted it from last latest issue of Rolling Stone or something. Donne just tried to tune it out.

......."Or maybe I'm just an old fart who spends too much time listening to the radio?"

......."Sounds like it," Donne said. Smiled.

.......They sat for a while talking about sports, college bowl games that had just passed, whether or not Rutgers would ever make one, another winless season down the tubes.

.......Martin, rubbing his hands together, said after this they'd get a cup of coffee. To celebrate the bust.

.......A few minutes after eight a white GMC minivan with slush on the plates and rock salt staining the wheels pulled past them, parked behind the theater.

.......Martin straightened in his seat. "Oh, here we go."

.......But nothing happened. They idled. The van idled. Donne snapped his fingers. Martin told him to shut the hell up.

......."We're going out there without back-up?"

......."Kid, how long have you done this?"

.......Donne didn't answer.

......."Exactly. I do this my way. You're going to learn my way. There are two of them, we can take them."

.......Donne didn't like the sound of that, didn't like going against procedure, but kept his mouth shut.

......."Now remember, when the other guy gets here we wait until they start moving the stuff. Then we run out yelling 'Police,' guns out, badges in the air."

......."I know," Donne said. Thinking: Shut the fuck up.

.......A green Subaru hatchback, New York plates, pulled past them this time. It was eight twenty-five. The brake lights flashed red and the car stopped next to the white GMC.

.......Out of the corner of his eye, Donne noticed Martin checking his gun. Donne decided to do the same. Safety off, loaded, pointed at the ground.

.......Donne's free hand moved to the door handle.

......."Not yet," Martin said.

.......The guy got out of the GMC. Tall guy, road Celtics jersey under an open black winter coat, baggy jeans, and brown workbooks, laces undone. He shrugged the coat over his shoulders and walked to the station wagon. Tapped on the window.

......."As soon as we see the shit," Martin said.

.......Donne gripped the gun, had the door open a crack. A group of kids passed the windshield talking about the horror movie they just saw.

.......When they cleared, Donne saw the hatchback pop, and the driver side door open on the wagon. A Hispanic guy got out, dressed almost the same, although this guy sported a Chiefs football jersey instead. He carried a suitcase.

.......They both went back to the GMC, opened the trunk there.

......."Okay, my guess is Celtics Jersey is Tyshawn," Donne said.

......."Not a bad guess."

.......Both Tyshawn and Ramon had boxes in their hands and were halfway between the cars when Martin yelled "Now!"

.......Donne was out of the car yelling "Police!" in a flat out sprint.

.......Martin was right behind him yelling the same thing. People in the parking lot scattered. Some screamed. Donne felt the snow on his face.

.......Both Ramon and Tyshawn dropped the boxes. Tyshawn spun on his heels and ran heading for the hill, toward the river. Ramon's hands went directly in the air.

......."I'll get the track star," Martin said and wheeled off after him.

.......Donne stopped in front of the Ramon who was on his knees, hands over he head, crying.

......."Just want to feed my baby," he was saying. "Just want to feed my family."

.......Donne hand cuffed him, started to read the Miranda rights off the little card. Part of him hoped Martin wouldn't see him reading. Nervous on his first case, couldn't remember the rights.

.......Ramon kept crying, tears streaking down his face, snowflakes sticking to them. Donne took his arm and dragged him to the unmarked, tossed him in the rear, Ramon crying the whole way. Donne shut the door on him, went back to the GMC.

.......He didn't see or hear Martin. Knew he should go look for him, but Donne couldn't resist looking in the GMC just to see.

.......In the trunk were another eight stacked Black and Decker toaster oven boxes. Donne opened the top of one and peeked in. It was filled with Ziploc baggies full of what appeared to be marijuana.

.......Jesus Christ. Donne wondered how much it all was worth.

.......Behind him, Donne heard the hard click of a weapon being cocked. He slowly turned to see Tyshawn, black jacket soaked, aiming a revolver directly between his eyes.

......."Yeah. Now what motherfucker?" Tyshawn said.

.......Donne heard the boom and felt the warm liquid splatter his face. So this is what it's like to be shot, he thought.

.......Tyshawn dropped the gun, fell to his knees and was face down on the snow covered asphalt. Blood spilled from his skull, turning the white to red.

......."Oh fuck," Donne said, Tyshawn's blood on his face. His hands shook.

......."Okay, Jack," Martin said, "Okay." He was holstering his gun.

.......Next Martin was checking Tyshawn's pulse. Then he was shaking his own head. Then he was on the radio to headquarters. Donne watched, detached.

.......Split second, and I'd be dead.

......."Come on. You gotta move around a bit," Donne heard. He was on his feet.

......."Do me a favor," he heard. "Go to the van. Get one of those boxes, put it in the trunk."

.......Donne didn't think, didn't ask, just did. Christ, he could still feel the blood on him. He carried the box-it was heavier than it looked-and put it in the unmarked's trunk. Looked back and saw Martin pulling cash from the suitcase. Not all of it, though. When he closed the case, Donne could see it was still mostly full.

.......Slowly the surreal situation started to come back into focus. His hands were shaking, his mind racing, but at least he wasn't in a daze.

.......When back-up arrived, Martin did most of the talking. The ME and the ambulance took care of Tyshawn's body. They also told Donne he'd need an HIV test soon, just in case. They found a towel for him to wipe his face. Two uniforms took Ramon away. They were going to impound the van and station wagon. Martin told the uniforms he was going to take Donne home. They'd give a statement in the morning. When Martin shook hands Donne thought it looked awkward.

.......Martin checked the trunk, got into the car, and they pulled out on to Route 1. Two miles down, once they were on the border of New Brunswick and North Brunswick, Martin pulled into the shoulder, stopped.

......."How are you feeling?" Martin asked.

......."I'm okay," Donne said.

.......Martin put a hand on his shoulder. "Try some of this. It'll calm you down."

.......Martin held out a small pipe. Donne took it from him. The pipe was packed with weed. He hadn't smoked since that year at Villanova.

......."Go ahead. It'll relax you."

......."This is from the bust."

.......Martin nodded.

......."What about drug tests?" Donne asked.

.......Martin did his trademark circle wave, cigarette in between his fingers. "Taken care of."

.......His hands were still shaking. It would calm him down.

......."Take it outside. You don't want the car to smell when we return it."

.......Donne opened the door to step out.

......."Just remember," Martin said, "you owe me."

.......Martin showed up just in time, Donne thought, replaying Tyshawn's last moments in his head.

.......He stood in the shoulder, snow falling harder now. The roads had to be slippery. A few cars were pulled into the shoulder up ahead. Down the road, Donne could hardly see the lights of a gas station. The rest of the road was black.

.......He felt the lighter and pipe in his hand, still shaking. He couldn't stop the shaking.

.......Lifted the piped to his lips. Shielded the lighter from the wind.

.......It felt darker out here, just on the outskirts of New Brunswick. Like the night was watching him, and enveloping his body.

.......Donne smoked.

****.....

.......Martin dropped him off around eleven, leaned over and shook Donne's hand, just like he had done with the cops at the crime scene. Donne felt cash exchange hands.

......."You did good tonight, kid. Don't worry about all the paperwork, the reports and shit. I'll take care of it. You go hug your girlfriend."

.......Donne didn't think, didn't speak, just took the money and got out of the car.

.......He entered his apartment, hoping his clothes didn't smell. Jeanne was in bed reading some text she'd assigned to her class.

.......Donne had his tie undone, his holster he'd left on the kitchen table. Everything moved slower, the lights streaked a bit as he walked into the bedroom. He hadn't smoked in a while. Felt good.

......."Oh my God. What happened to you?" Jeanne dropped the book, sat up.

......."What? I'm fine." He smiled. He felt hungry.

......."There's blood on your face. Are you okay?" She was out of bed, had her arms around him, held him tight.

.......He kissed her. "I'm okay." Kissed her again. "Let me shower."

.......He went to the bathroom, scrubbing hard. Feeling everything wash off him. Watched the drops, the small drops, of water connect to one larger puddle in his feet. The longer he stood in the shower, the higher the puddle got. He wondered what it would take to drown. He tried to shake the thought. Shake the feeling.

.......But he liked it.

.......Out of the shower, back in the bedroom, Jeanne was waiting for him.

......."Tell me what happened," she said.

.......He did, in short clipped sentences. Left out details. Jeanne covered her mouth, started to cry. Donne stepped in close. Kissed her. Still he thought about drowning. Drowning in her arms.

****

.......Henry left money on the table, payment for the drinks and a tip. Looked at me, as he stepped off his stool.

......."Martin's still not that happy, he can't believe you turned in the whole Narc Division."

.......I smiled. "I still can't believe he got off without being arrested."

......."He thinks you kept his name out of if because he saved your life."

......."Maybe, but he also once told me that a kid getting beat up by his mother wasn't our problem."

......."I don't know anything about that." Henry finished off the gin and tonic while standing.

......."Well, tell Martin he doesn't have to worry about me. Tell him-" I stopped, took a swig of beer. "Tell him I'm not his problem."

.......Henry flat out laughed. "I'll tell him. But he's going to be looking for you to screw up. Watch your ass."

......."Thanks for the warning."

.......Henry left the bar.

.......Artie came up and took his glass away. "What was that all about?"

.......I finished off my beer so he could take the bottle.

......."An old friend."

.......The rest of the night was quiet. I kept thinking about Martin. If he really was waiting for me to screw up, he'd catch me eventually. The guy was a bulldog, he always got what he wanted. I later heard that after he dropped me off that night, he went and found Jesus and beat the hell out of him because he told us the dealers wouldn't be armed.

.......If Martin really was after me he'd get me. Eventually, I turned in the whole division for skimming drugs and money off the busts. I put away a lot of his friends. I kept his name out of it, but he was demoted, and apparently was just now starting to work his way up.

.......Fuck it, I thought. I wasn't going to worry about it. Not tonight.

.......I ordered another beer.

Copyright (c) 2004 by Dave White........
.......

David White is the Derringer Award-winning author of the Jackson Donne series. His stories and reviews have appeared in both Thrilling Detective and Hand Held Crime. He resides in New Jersey. He'd love to hear from you at dpwhite237@yahoo.com or via his website.

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