All in the Holster
A Ralston Groaner
by Barry Ergang


......Assistant District Attorney Dina Parriott was pretty as a prom queen and persistent as a pit bull. We'd tangled a few times professionally and, one memorable night, personally. But she'd been as sour as an alum cocktail to me ever since, perhaps angry at herself for her indiscretion.

......I glanced around her sunlit office. “Nicer than your old one. You must've made a good impression on the boss, honey.”

......“I'm not your honey and this isn't a social call, Ralston. You're here so I can tie up the Lanny Vorr shooting.” She consulted the police report on her desk. “Lucky the patrolman and some neighbors witnessed the whole thing or you'd be facing charges and the revocation of your license.”

......“I'll be lucky if Vorr's boys don't come after me.”

......“You made yourself a target the day you took out a P.I. license.”

......“Are you naturally frosty, or did you put ice in your cornflakes today?”

......She leaned back in her chair, arms folded. “Tell me what led to your blazing away in a residential area.”

...... “Over drinks?”

......“Only if yours is hemlock. Skip the banter and get on with it.”

......“A woman named Marianne Draper hired me to find her husband Kurt who's gone missing. I dug around and learned Draper liked to play the horses and the women, so I spent a couple of days hanging around racetracks and OTB parlors.”

......“Win anything?”

......“A pair of tired feet. They could stand a good massage.”

......She answered that suggestion with a guttural noise.

......“Draper never showed,” I continued. “I asked around, but people claimed they didn't know him or hadn't seen him in a week. I decided to follow up the women angle and started hitting bars and clubs around town.”

......“No doubt abhorrent to a saint like you,” Dina Parriott said.

......“Kept a Bible in my pocket the whole time.”

......"Your Bible being the Kama Sutra, I'm sure you consulted it regularly.”

......I refrained from asking if the remark represented a change in her position and went on with my story. “I was coming up empty until I met a bartender named Conway who knew my guy. Conway said Draper was into Lanny Vorr for some heavy coin and couldn't pay him back, and there were rumors Draper had been making time with Bree Rome, Vorr's girlfriend. Since Vorr's got his finger in every pie in town, Conway figured maybe Vorr and his bonebreakers had punched Draper's ticket and planted him in Quinicutt Marsh.”

......“You don't seem convinced.”

......“There was something about Conway that didn't ring true. He got a wary look when I first mentioned Draper.”

......“Sure it wasn't because he was talking to a detective? Though in your case the term is debatable.”

......I let the gibe pass. “That's the point. He acted cautious at first but then went out of his way to implicate Vorr. When I asked about Bree Rome, his tone changed to… I guess you'd call it wistful. Mixed with guilt. Like his telling me about her was a betrayal. He couldn't help himself, though, so I decided it was time to visit her. She's nicely set up.”

......Dina Parriott rolled her eyes. “I'll bet she is.”

......“I mean her place. It's one of those swanky row homes over on Fifteenth. And, yeah, she's pretty swanky herself. After a couple minutes, though, I realized she's more than just a good-looking piece of fluff. She denied knowing Draper, but her body language indicated otherwise. I couldn't strong-arm the truth out of her, so I went back to have another talk with Conway.”

......She addressed the ceiling: “He interprets expressions, then talks about body language.” She looked at me again. “What're you, the Dr. Phil of the sleuthing set?”

......“I figure Conway had a thing for Bree,” I said, ignoring her “-- especially because of what happened later.”

......“Meaning?”

......“The gunplay. I told Conway I'd have to lean on Bree, then pretended I had to use the men's room. When he thought I was out of sight, he made a call on his cell phone -- I figure to either Vorr or Bree. If he called Bree, she called Vorr. It's possible Conway killed Draper out of jealousy, then aimed to pin it on Vorr when I showed up asking questions. And when he found out I was heading back to Bree's, he called someone to ambush me. You might want to check his phone records.”

......“Right. Now could you get to the actual gunplay before I'm in my dotage?”

......“I left the bar and went back to Bree Rome's house. She had to've been expecting me. When she opened the door, she started cursing loud enough to embarrass the devil and tried to chip my head into a manhole with a nine iron --”

......“A pitching wedge should've been enough club.”

......That brought me up short. “I didn't know you played. How about we hit the links sometime?”

......Her lips compressed and her eyes closed for a moment. “Know what your handicap is?”

......“Uh…I digress?”

......“Exactly. Finish your story already!”

......“Where was I? Oh, yeah, Bree was flailing away at me when a patrolman came running. By this time a crowd had gathered on the sidewalk. I'd gotten the club away from her and was fending off punches and slaps when a limo screeched to the curb. The chauffeur jumped out with a gun pointed my way. The patrolman yelled a warning. The driver turned, and the patrolman drilled him. By this time the passenger climbed out -- it was Lanny Vorr -- and he had a gun aimed at me. I took him down.”

......“Quick-Draw Ralston, the terror of Larsen Heights. You shot a man whose gun was up before yours was even in your hand while you avoided body blows?”

......“It's all in the holster, baby.”

......“Is that some sort of reference to your masculinity?”

......I pulled back my coat to display my shoulder rig, empty because my gun had been appropriated as evidence. “The holster.”

......“What about it?”

......I smiled. “Spring load, sweet Parriott, gunnin' Vorr to parry Bree Rome.”
......

Copyright (c) 2007 by Barry Ergang

A 2007 Derringer winner in the Flash Fiction category, Barry Ergang is Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and First Senior Editor for Mysterical-E. His fiction, poetry, and non-fiction have appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. He's threatened that Ralston will return.

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