A Nick Kepler Story

by James R. Winter

......I sat in the parking lot of Silky's, stunned. For a week now, I had tailed Harry Long, a suburban husband whose biggest crime seemed to be a boring life. His wife didn't believe that, but I followed him anyway: to work, to a neighborhood bar in Lakewood, to the Masonic Temple, and even to a church function he and his wife attended. The Masons looked the most suspicious, if only because they closed their doors to the public. I'd started the job on Monday. On Friday night, for the first time since I became his shadow, Harry Long cut loose.

......You didn't go to Silky's just for a lap dance or to stuff twenties in Chastity's garter belt while she humped a metal pole. Silky's was on Brook Park Road, which meant Cleveland's red light district. There, the clubs offered everything decency groups feared most. Talk to the right dancer, the right bartender, or the right bouncer, and pretty much any vice imaginable could be had for a price. Brook Park politicians had to be taking money to let it flourish like it did.

......Watching him move toward the building, I shook my head in wonder. "Harry, Harry, Harry," I said out loud, "you almost had me fooled."

* * * *

......I gave him five minutes to get settled before going in myself. A fat linebacker type manned the door, sitting on a stool and bulging out of his tuxedo vest. I asked for Gypsy.

......"She's busy," he said. "You want singles tonight, buddy?"

......I reached into my wallet and slipped out a twenty. "I want to talk to Gypsy, if she's working."

......"People in Hell want ice water, too."

......I pulled out a ten. "Yes, but Gypsy will talk to me if you tell her Nick's here."

......He shoved the two bills in his vest pocket. "Watch the door for me?"

......"Yeah. Sure. Why not?"

......He hopped off his stool and headed inside. While he was gone, I let five guys from the nearby Ford Engine Plant in without paying cover.

......Five minutes later, the bouncer returned. "Anyone come in while I was inside?"

......"Nope. I think everyone's catching the nude mud wrestling over at the Play Pen."

......"Dammit," he said as he squirmed to get comfortable on his stool. "I keep telling Silk we gotta start getting the big shows on the weekend." He jerked a thumb toward the showroom. "Gypsy's upstairs in someone's lap at the moment. You can wait at the bar."


* * * *

......Inside, Silky's looked like any other strip club. Girls in scanty costumes milling about, tempting male (and sometimes female) guests to join them in the back booths for a couch dance or on the balcony for a lap dance. At some of the tables, though, I spotted girls leaning in, whispering to men, taking money from them but not heading to the back or upstairs. The men would meet them in the parking lot later. Depending on how much cash was exchanged, the deals would be consummated in a car or at one of the motels along the strip. Silky took a cut of any deals the girls made there, but he didn't permit the whores on his staff to actually work inside the club.

......Auto workers, airline pilots, and workers from Hopkins Airport made up most of the crowd. They packed themselves tightly around the stage while a Hispanic girl performed acrobatics on the pole to a throbbing techno beat. I nursed a Scotch and water while I scanned the room. An Asian girl named Jade, wearing a green evening gown, began talking to me. Telling me how much I wanted to buy her a drink, how handsome I was -- she'd say anything to separate me from of my money. Meanwhile, I spotted Harry, somehow standing apart from the crowd while in the middle of it.

......He was a pale man, fortyish, with a bit of a paunch. He stood with his shoulders stooped, his hands in his pockets. I suppose I should have photographed him, but I'd once brought a camcorder into Silky's lot while following another subject. My car and I survived. I still hadn't replaced the camcorder. That was fine. I had my Nikon and a borrowed Polaroid. They would do nicely if Harry decided to hire one of the girls to escort him to a motel.

......Jade began telling me in a bad Vietnamese accent what she could do while sitting in my lap, I saw Gypsy come down from the balcony on the arm of her most recent client.

......She was tall and slender. Her red teddy stood out against her ebony skin. She spotted me and waved.

......"Excuse me," I said to Jade. "I have an appointment with someone."

......Jade's accent vanished as she started swearing at me in a pure Rust Belt drawl. I pushed my way through the crowd and met Gypsy at an empty table.

......"Well, hello, stranger," I said. "Busy tonight?"

......She gave me a hug. "It's Friday. I'm always busy. How about you?"

......Gypsy knew who and what I was. We met when I'd busted her during my waning days as a cop. I'd used her as an informant since getting my PI ticket.

......"I wanted to see you on the pole," I said, smiling. "And I'm tailing someone. I thought maybe you could help. Do you still do that other kind of dancing?"

......"You mean the tricky kind?"

......I nodded.

......"Not out of here anymore. I trick by referral now, appointment only, and for prices you can't afford." She reached down and grabbed my package. "But you know I'll give you a discount if you ever get lonely."

......"That a promise?" We both knew I'd never do it, nor would I take what she offered for free. "Actually, I'm following that guy and wondered if you knew anything about him."

......She looked where I was pointing and saw Harry. She wrinkled her nose. "Him? He gives me the creeps."

......"What do you know about him?"

......"He's been coming in for a couple of months now. I know his name is Harry. I know he has roving hands. I gave him a lap dance last week, and he spent the entire time squeezing my tits."

......"I thought you didn't let the customers touch you."

...... "If they pay a little extra, they get a little extra. But that only goes so far. Harry paid extra. You know how paranoid Silky is."

......"Not too paranoid to take his cut. So Harry's a regular?"

......"Every Friday and Saturday. Sometimes during the week." She gave him a sideways glance. "A couple of the girls are afraid of him, but they won't talk about it. And Silky isn't the most sensitive guy."

......I watched Harry. He seemed too timid to go near the stage. "Maybe he grabbed at them or something? I assume some of the dancers here are just... dancers."

......"More than you think," said Gypsy. "The skin trade is dying in this part of town. Silky knows it's only a matter of time before they shut him down and run us out of here."

......"And you plan to be out of the sex trade by then, right?"

......She took my hand and squeezed it. "I'll be done stripping. As for sex, when the time comes, it'll be a diversion instead of a living."


......"I promise. Now, what do you want to do? Photograph us going to a motel?"

......"Nothing so elaborate. What if I paid you to give him a lap dance? Maybe you can ask him some useful questions while dry humping him upstairs."

......"What kind of questions?"

......"Ask him how he likes the motel across the road. What kind of nookie does he like? If he has a naked woman squirming in his lap, he's likely to brag."

......She smiled at me again. "Your treat?"

......"Yeah. Sure." I'd have a tough time explaining that expense to Harry's wife. "How much?"

......"The going rate is thirty. For you, fifteen." She winked at me. "And that's for getting me off the smack habit."

......"My pleasure."

......Gypsy's smile became wicked. "That you have to pay a lot more for."

* * * *

......I sat back and watched Gypsy work her magic. She draped herself on Harry, whispering in his ear, patting him on the ass. He had the most beatific smile on his face as Gypsy led him to the bar. He was convinced he wanted to buy her a drink. I kept nursing my Scotch. When Jade returned to lure me upstairs, I told her I was gay.

......Gypsy took Harry by the hand and guided him up to the balcony, out of sight of the floor crowd. You could see the girls in back giving couch dances, but lap dances were a private matter. The only way to watch was to get one yourself.

......Gypsy and Harry came down ten minutes later. Gypsy had her clothes rolled up under her arm, clad only in a garter on her left thigh. The men cheered and a few swatted her on the rump, which she took in stride. She strolled right up to me, put one hand around my neck, and kissed me. "Meet me for coffee after my shift," she said. "Tell you what I learned."

......She walked back to her dressing room to the cheers and catcalls of an appreciative crowd. I glanced down the bar and saw Harry huddling with the bartender. Money changed hands, but Harry didn't get a drink. He shuffled on back into the crowd to watch Jade as she took the stage.

......"Did you really tell her you were gay?"

......I turned to see the bartender behind me. I smiled, reached across the bar, and stroked his hand lightly with my finger. "Well, you know, this is a great place to pick up guys."

......The bartender recoiled, and I laughed. I threw a five down on the bar and left.

* * * *

...... I parked my car in the lot at the Lancelot Inn across from Silky's. The location afforded me a clear shot of the entrance to the strip club. With the right film, right shutter speed, and right lens, I'd be able to shoot Harry pretty well under the sodium lights of Silky's lot. I settled in and waited.

......Half an hour later, Harry emerged with a lady on his arm, a twentyish redhead. She leaned heavily on him, like she was drunk or high. I snapped a couple of photos. The camera shop I frequented could get them to come out well enough to satisfy Harry's wife.

......Then again, if my client could be satisfied, she probably wouldn't have hired me. I watched Harry guide the redhead to his car. He drove across the street to the Lancelot. I went for cover as he pulled into the parking lot, but managed to get a shot of him leading the girl into his room.

......I liked that about the Lancelot. As long as Silky employed hookers as dancers, the Lancelot would do a lot of business. And as long as married men like Harry hired those hookers, I'd do a lot of business at the Lancelot as well. I checked my watch. Gypsy had a couple more hours on her shift. I drove over to a little bar I knew by the airport. There I had dinner and watched the planes come in.

* * * *

......"You really told Jade you were gay?"

......The look on Gypsy's face was priceless. I think she half believed it. "She interrupted my surveillance. I didn't expect her to tell the bartender."

......"That's José. He's her boyfriend," she said. "He's nervous about you now."

......"He's not my type."

......We sat in an all-night diner in Parma, about a mile from Silky's and two miles from the airport. Gypsy had changed into jeans and a baggy sweatshirt that did nothing to hide her body. She ordered a full breakfast. I sipped coffee.

......"So what did you find out about Harry?"

......"He's a very lonely man. Silky's is his only outlet."

......"He has a wife."

......"Your client? I got an earful about her. And you want to know why he's lonely?"

......She had a point there. "I know. She's a control freak. Calls me three times a day demanding an update. She paid me to follow Harry. It just so happens he's cheating on her."

......She looked around and leaned in toward me. "Tell me what you saw," she whispered.

......"Harry took one of the girls the Lancelot. A redhead."


......"I snapped a photo of them from across the street."

......"This late?"

......I shrugged. "I do it all the time. Low speed film, slower shutter speed..."

......She put up her hand. "I get it. What happened when they left the club?"

......"He came right over to the Lancelot. Marlena looked kind of drunk. She did get her cash up front, didn't she?"

......"If she looked drunk, I doubt it." She reached into her purse. "And if she did, she won't remember it." She brought her hand out of her purse and dropped four little pills on the table.

......They looked like ibuprofen tablets. "What are those?"

......"Harry's magic love potion. If Marlena's tricking, she's doing it for free tonight."

......I picked up one of the pills and looked it over. It had the word "Roche" engraved on one side. "Where'd you get these?"

......"I picked his pocket."

......I dropped the pill back on the table with the others. "You do realize I can't give these to the police, especially, since both you and I have handled them."

......"No, but you can put a bug in their ear."

......I could already see how well that would go over. "I'm going to need something more than pilfered pills. Anyway, I'm only following a cheating spouse."

......Her eyes narrowed. "Well, I'd say you found something more than that."

......I looked down at the pills again. "I'll see what I can do."

......* * * *

......The bug went into the ear of Deputy Rick Reese, who worked in Narcotics. We met for beer a Flannigan's Pub downtown.

......"Where'd you get these?" He poked at the four little pills in the palm of his hand. "Having trouble sleeping?"

......"Dancer at Silky's in Brook Park," I said. "She found them during a lap dance."

......A tall black man in his late thirties, Reese had a rubbery face prone to smiling. That face got him by quite nicely during narcotics stings. He didn't look like a cop, at least not until the smile turned into a scowl. That served him well in drug busts.

......He was scowling now. "Found? Don't you mean 'stole'?"

......I shrugged and took a sip of beer.

......"What do you want me to do with this?"

......"The guy's a predator," I said. "Gypsy and I think..."

......"Gypsy? That the hooker you've been using as an snitch off and on for the last three years?"

......"Actually, the appropriate term these days is 'call girl.'"

......"Congratulations. She can afford a better lawyer now."

......"I'm not saying arrest the guy based on some pilfered pills. Just put him under surveillance. Watch him. See where he's getting this stuff."

......Reese looked at the pills again, dropping them from one hand to the other and back. "Rohypnol's not really a priority with the Sheriff's Department."

......"Rick, this guy's a serial rapist."


......"Maybe, but I saw him take a girl into the Lancelot. She could barely walk a straight line."

......He handed me the pills back. "Give me what you got. I'll talk to the lieutenant on Monday."

......"Thanks, Rick." I explained the case I took for Harry Long's wife, about how Harry was everything he'd told his wife he was until Friday night. "It's supposed to be a simple domestic case. Now I've got narcotics and rape."

......"Alleged rape." He handed me back the pills. "You yourself thought that girl was drunk. Stolen roofies are useless. I can talk to the lieutenant, though." He finished his beer. "Be nice if that girl you saw can tell us if she woke up with the mother of all hangovers. That's usually the end result of a roofie high. Assuming she doesn't think she drank too much."

......I put the pills back in my pocket. "Thanks, Rick. I appreciate this."

......"Thank me if we get anywhere with this." He tossed a five on the bar. "We're just the Sheriff's Department, Nick. In this town, that doesn't count for much these days."

......Maybe he was right, but with Brook Park letting the flesh trade flourish out in the open, I'd be damned if I trusted them with this.

* * * *

......Monday morning, Reese proved just how redundant the Sheriff's Department had become. Officially, the Sheriff did not want to get into a pissing contest with the Brook Park Police. Unofficially, the Sheriff had an election to think about and wanted that Fraternal Order of Police endorsement badly.

......Reese called me at my office to break the bad news. After apologizing more than he needed, he let me know he wasn't dropping the matter.

......"Get me his source," he said. "Find me the guy supplying Long with roofies, and I promise you I'll take them both down myself."

......I looked over at the stack of folders on my desk. TTG Insurance, my landlord and primary client, wanted me to earn my free rent, not to mention a few extra bucks. "That might take a while. Someone else wants my time and attention, too. I can't really say no."

......"You're dropping it?"

......"Not really. I need to regroup before I tackle this again."

......"And pay the rent."

......"That, too." I hung up and started thumbing through the claims files. An arson case would pay my rent, and the two worker comp cases from another division would pad my wallet nicely. Unfortunately, I had to talk to Mrs. Long first. I checked my desk drawer for aspirin.

* * * *

......I also had to meet with Gypsy. I ordered Chinese food delivered and commandeered one of TTG's conference rooms. I'd need the privacy and didn't want the phone ringing every five minutes.

......Gypsy arrived at noon sharp. She looked good in her tailored pantsuit, her hair coiffed to perfection. She was neither a dancer nor a call girl now. She was a businesswoman. "They said what? No probable cause?"

......"Settle down, Gyps," I said. "Reese can't do anything on the basis of stolen pills."

......"Nick, Harry Long drugged and raped Marlena."

......"Did she say that?"

......"She told me. She quit Silky's yesterday, cleaned out her apartment, and blew town. She wasn't tricking with Harry."

......"Why didn't you say that the other night? I could have told Reese."

......"I thought she was tricking. I didn't know she wasn't until yesterday. And only when I drove her to the bus station."

......"Where'd she go? If we find her, she can give Reese the ammo he needs to pursue Long."

......"She wouldn't tell me, and I didn't press her. So when do you follow him again?" she asked.

......"I don't," I said. "His wife's case is finished. I gave her the pictures this morning."

......"So you're just going to let him go?"

......"No, but I do need to take care of business first."

......"Business? Nick, he's preying on us. Do you think he pays any of us for a trick when he can drug us? I talked to one of the working girls at the club. She said he hired her over drinks two weeks ago. Next thing she knew, she woke up in a motel room a splitting headache and no money. Marlena probably had no idea what Harry wanted."

......"I understand, Gypsy, but I also have clients to take care of."

......"Any of those clients ever take a bullet for you?"

......She might as well have slapped me. "That's not fair, Gyps. It's not like I'm abandoning you."

......"Yes, you are. Admit it. I'm the only whore you ever thought of as human."

......"Gypsy, I never..."

......"Bullshit. Since I'm not the victim here, you're going back to your nice, safe insurance company with the perky secretary and the free rent to forget about this. No one sticks up for us. No one cares. We sell our bodies, so no one gives a damn what happens to us. If I hadn't stepped in front of that shooter, you'd be dead now. That's the only reason you ever gave a damn about me."

......I was glad I'd shut the conference room door, though I'd heard shouting through it more than once. "Will you keep it down? And don't forget who got you off your heroin habit. I stuck by you because I know what you really are and what you ought to be. Don't forget that. It's the only reason I helped you out when you were still tricking in parking lots for twenty bucks and a hit of smack. How many times did I save you from an overdose?"

......She folded her arms and looked away. "Point taken."

......I watched her for a moment, waiting for her to cool off.

......"Guys like Long, we're only meat to them," she said.

......"And how much longer are you going to feed them, Gypsy?" I said. "Look at yourself. You've got enough money socked away to go straight, start a new life. Why do you still do this?"

......She closed her eyes. "I knew you'd come back to that. You always do."

......"Well, you did take a bullet for me."

......When she opened her eyes again, she smiled. "When the time is right, Nick, I'll get out." She reached across the table and patted my hand. "Not much longer. I promise."

...... I squeezed her hand. "Look, it's Monday. Harry usually prowls on the weekends. That gives us time to think of something before he strikes again. We'll find a way to nail him, Gyps."


......"Promise. Let me take care of some clients first. Okay?"

......She didn't say anything. She had a far away look in her eye that I didn't like. "I have an idea."

......"What is it?"

......"I'll tell you Friday."

......I started to dread Friday.

* * * *......

......The rest of the week, I worked insurance claims, tailed another cheating spouse, tracked down a bail jumper for a Pennsylvania bounty hunter, and met with equipment vendors. Friday evening, I tried to explain to another bounty hunter why I didn't want to go to Sault Ste. Marie. He had trouble grasping the concept of March weather in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

......As I started explaining for the tenth time why I didn't want to go anywhere north of Detroit this time of year, my secretary walked in, scribbled something on a pad, and told me she'd see me Monday. I read the pad as my bounty hunter friend droned on about the pay involved. I stopped listening as soon as I read the note:......

Gypsy says get out to Silky's now, before the beast starts to feed.......

......"Listen, Jake, gotta go. Emergency." I hung up in the middle of Jake's story and dialed Reese's cell.

......"This had better be good," he said. "I've got courtside Cavs tickets."

......"Gypsy's going after Harry Long," I said. "I need backup."

......After a long pause, he said, "Oh, hell. Cavs are going to finish last again this year anyway. Where?"

......"Silky's on Brook Park Road. Thirty minutes?"

......"Better make it forty-five. There's an accident on I-90 just before the airport."

......Christ, if it wasn't one thing, it was another. "I'll try the side streets. Just buzz me when you're on Brook Park Road."

* * * *

...... It took me forty-five minutes anyway. By the time traffic cleared, I'd reached the airport and was heading east on Brook Park Road. Reese wasn't in Silky's lot. I didn't wait.

......I paid regular cover this time, not wanting to deal with the bouncer's needy fingers. Inside, I scanned the room for either Gypsy or Long then climbed to the balcony unescorted. Three women writhed naked in the laps of their slobbering male customers. One of them gave me a dirty look for watching. I headed back downstairs and spotted Jade, the Asian girl I'd blown off last week.

......"Is Gypsy here?" I said, grabbing her arm.

......"Hey!" She pulled away from me and brought her hand back to slap me. "Don't ever touch the... Oh, it's you. Very funny with the gay shit last week. What do you want?"

......"Gypsy," I said, trying to sound calm. "Is she still here?"

......"I don't know. She wasn't supposed to be in tonight, but she came anyway. I guess she's trying to score a trick or two. As soon as she came out to work the crowd, she made a bee-line for this dumpy looking guy who comes in every weekend. She got him to buy her a drink then left with him."


......"Maybe half an hour ago?"

......Shit. I was too late. Or was I? I ran over to the bar and flagged José. "Did you talk to Gypsy tonight?"

......José had the bar again tonight. "I thought Gypsy wasn't your type."

......"Cute. You should do standup. Your girlfriend said Gypsy had a drink with a customer and left with him. Do you remember?"

......He hesitated for a moment then said, "What's your name?"




......"Ah!" He turned around to the cash register and pulled something out from underneath. "She was expecting you." He held up an envelope. "She told me to give this to you."

......I took the envelope and opened it. A motel key for the Lancelot across the street fell into my hand. I pulled out a note.


......Don't ask questions. As soon as you get this, get over here. Don't knock. Just come in. I'm counting on you.


......I shoved the note and the key in my pocket. "Thanks." I headed out the door.

.* * * *

......I grabbed my Browning 9mm from the car, checking the chamber and the clip. As I ran across Brook Park Road, dodging traffic, I called Reese on my cell. "Where the hell are you?"

......"The I-90 split," he said. "A tractor-trailer tipped over trying to avoid the accident. Now it's a real mess out here."

......"Don't you have a flasher you can stick on your roof to get through?"

......"Gridlock is gridlock. You should see how long it took the firefighters to get here."

......"How soon?"

......"Five minutes maybe? Ten? I'm almost through this mess. The State Troopers have things under control."

......I gave him the room number at the Lancelot and told him to meet me there.

......I ran around the back of the motel and up to the balcony. Gypsy must have picked a second floor room to make escape difficult. I found Room 223 and put my ear to the door.

......I heard a woman moan. It didn't sound sexual, but then I didn't know what Gypsy sounded like during sex. I also heard a smacking sound, like flesh hitting flesh.

......"Quiet, bitch." This came from a man.

......I thumbed the Browning's safety, put the key in the lock, and pushed open the door. Someone had slipped the chain across it. I backed up and put my shoulder into it, ripping the chain from the doorframe.

......Harry Long, clad only in his boxers, stood staring at me slack-jawed. "What the...?" On the bed lay Gypsy, stripped naked, her head rolling from side-to-side. She looked like she had the flu. She moaned again.

......I had the gun up and stood in three-point stance. "Freeze!"

......Instinctively, his hands went up.

......"Hands on your head," I said. "Now!"

......Long did as he was told.

......"Turn around."

......"I can explain." He was whining. It grated my nerves.

......"Shut up. Turn around."

......"She made me do it! She said she likes to be..."

...... I put the barrel of the gun in his face. "I've got one already in the chamber. I'll tell you one more time. Turn around."

......He started shaking but did as he was told. "Look, whatever you want, man, I'll pay it."

......"On your knees."

......"Please! I've got a wife at home..."

......"We've met. You take nice pictures. Now on your goddamned knees." I pushed the gun against his skull to emphasize the point.

......Slowly, Long got down on his knees. "That girl's a freak. Says she likes to be drugged. Told me to put it in her drink."

......"Who's your supplier?" I said. "Come on, Harry. I've got a deputy sheriff on his way. Who's your supplier?"

......"She gave them to me herself."

......I poked him hard with the muzzle again. "Last chance before the rescue squad finds your brains all over the wall. Who is your supplier?"

......"She wanted to be drugged!" He started sobbing. "Oh, please don't let my wife find out! Please! Please!"

......This was getting me nowhere. I thumbed the safety back on, flipped the gun around in my hand, and swung the butt at the back of Harry's skull. He went down face first into the carpet.

......I climbed onto the bed, threw my jacket around Gypsy and rocked her. "It's okay, Gyps. I'm here. It's okay. You're safe now."

......I doubted she was even aware of me in her state. "I'm cold," she said, and fell asleep.

......When Reese arrived five minutes later, he saw Harry. I gave him a weak grin and said, "Damn shame he tripped like that."

......"Yeah, damn shame. I'll make sure he remembers that's what happened when we get him downtown."

* * * *

......They took Gypsy to the ER. There, the doctor ran a test for rohypnol in her blood stream. If it flagged positive, Harry Long would go be charged attempted rape and possession of a controlled substance. He'd be looking at probably three years in Mansfield Reformatory.

......Gypsy lay in one of the examining rooms. She drifted in and out of consciousness, sometimes able to talk, sometimes mumbling incoherently. Because of the roofies, she most likely wouldn't remember any of what happened to her that night.

......About an hour after we had arrived, her eyes fluttered open. She saw me and smiled. "You came."

......I squeezed her hand.

......"Did you get him? Did you get Harry?"

......"I got him," I said. "Cleaned his clock in the process."

......I don't know why I told her any of this. She'd only forget it as soon as she fell asleep again.

......Her eyelids fluttered again, then drooped. "I'm so tired... so tired..." Her eyes closed. "Thank you," she whispered and drifted off to sleep.

......I checked my watch. It was after nine. I decided to leave Gypsy in the capable hands of the hospital staff. I'd pick her up in the morning and take her home.

......Reese waited for me in the waiting room. He'd finished up with Harry Long less than half an hour ago.

......"Harry gets to cool his heels at the Justice Center for the weekend," he said. "Pretty stupid stunt your friend pulled. What if you'd shown up ten minutes later?"

......"I know it was stupid," I said. "And I promise when she recovers tomorrow morning, I'll read her the riot act."

......"Prosecutor might not want the case, given Gypsy's prostitution record."

......"They took her blood. If that comes back positive for rohypnol, Harry's screwed."

......"Be a slam dunk if you get Harry's supplier for us."

......"Did Harry talk?"

......Reese shook his head. "Nope. Any ideas?"

......I thought about that for a minute. "As a matter of fact, I do. Want to get into a pissing contest with Brook Park?"

......"We already are, thanks to Harry. Lead the way."

* * * *

......We stopped at an ATM, where I cleaned out my checking account, then headed to Brook Park. We made it to Silky's by ten. Reese flashed his badge and told the bouncer to keep it quiet, or he'd bust him on obstruction of justice.

......Inside, I scanned the bar and saw that two bartenders were on duty now. José stood near the register counting out money. I strolled up to the bar with Reese in tow. Reese started admiring a couple of nearby dancers while I flagged José over.

......"Now what do you want?" he asked. "Did you find Gypsy?"

......"Oh, yeah. Best piece of ass in Northeast Ohio." I motioned him in closer. "Harry says you're the man to see about roofies."

......"Your buddy?"

......I jerked a thumb at Reese, who managed to tear himself away from a blonde in a black nightie. "Him. We want to find a couple of girls to party with, and Harry said you could hook us up with the pills."

......He looked Reese up and down then looked at me. "You a cop?"

......"Oh, come on! I'm with Gypsy on a regular basis and doing business with Harry Long..."

......He shook his head. "I'm not sure I can help you."

......I opened my wallet, took out five twenties, and counted them. "Andy Jackson thinks you can."

......José looked at the cash in my hand with a hunger I'd seen in meth addicts and crack heads. He had a habit to feed; I could help him feed it. "What about you?" he said to Reese.

......Reese shrugged and gave him that rubbery grin. "He's the dope guy. I go score the ass."

......"And you're friends of Harry's?"

......"Yeah, we both belong to his lodge."

......"Oh. Shriners?" asked José.

......"Something like that," I said.

......"Cool. Harry's a good customer. Put a word in for me? Lodge conventions bring me a lot of business."

......"I'm sure Harry's already done that," I said.

...... We followed him back through the kitchen and into a locker room for workers. The dancers had a dressing room back near the entrance. José looked around then closed the door to the locker room, cutting off most of the noise from rest of the building.

......He started working the combination lock on his locker. "Could I interest you guys in some weed? Fine stuff. They grow it down in Ashland County inside the state park. Rangers don't have a clue."

......Reese's hand went into his jacket pocket. "I've been looking for some good weed. This isn't that hydroponic crap, is it?"

......"Nope," said José. "Finest kind."

......"Let's see the roofies first," I said. "Come on. I've got my eye on a couple of girls."

......"Alright, alright." José reached into his locker and came out with a shoebox. Inside sat several brown pill bottles, each filled with white pills. He pulled out a bottle and handed it to me. "Take a look."

......I opened the bottle and shook out a couple of pills. I poked at one with my finger and turned it over. It said "Roche" on the side. I handed it to Reese. "What do you think, partner?"

......Reese turned the little pill in his hand then handed it back to me. "They're roofies."

......I put them back in the bottle. "How much?"

......"Forty, since you're pals with Harry and all."

......"Thirty. And a dime bag of the good stuff."

......"Forty-five for the bottle and the bag."

......"Forty for both." I took out my wallet again and produced two twenties. "Take it or leave it."

......José had that hunger in his eyes again. "Deal."

......I held out two twenties, which he took. Reese moved quickly to slap the cuffs on him.

......"Hey!" he shouted. "That's entrapment! I'm going to... Ouch!"
Reese had his arm up between his shoulder blades. "Are you going to behave?"

...... "Yes! Yes!"

......"Good boy."

......I watched as Reese finished the Miranda and sat him down.

......"That sonofabitch squeal?" said José.

......"Didn't have to," I said. "Last Friday, you huddled with Harry for about five minutes. Money changed hands, but you didn't give him a drink."

......Reese called the Justice Center to request a cruiser and a night detective come down with a search warrant. When one of the staffers came in and saw José in cuffs, she started to protest. Reese flashed his badge and said the deputies would search more than José's locker if she made any trouble.

......I told Reese I needed a drink, and since I wasn't a cop, I'd have one for him. I went out to the bar and ordered a scotch on the rocks. As I waited for the uniforms and detective to show, Jade came up to me. She said nothing but slapped me. Word traveled fast inside a strip joint, especially when it peddled more than dancing.

......Silky would fire Gypsy and ban me from the place. I didn't care. Harry was out of commission, and so was his supplier. Even if José got off, the Sheriff's Department would make his life miserable from here on out. I smiled and raised my drink to Jade.

......"Your boyfriend's a leech," I said. "I just stomped on him.".

Copyright (c) 2004 by James R. Winter.

J Winter allegedly published his first novel in 2005.  He is a writer, comedian, web designer, insurance company drone, and formerly a skinny little boy from Cleveland, Ohio.  An occasional contributor to January, his short stories and articles have appeared in Crimespree, Plots With Guns, Thug Lit and Pulp Pusher.  He lives in Cincinnati where he enjoys Bass Ale, Reds' baseball, and weird chili.

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