Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Redemption or Bust - Red Right Hand
Rosario Buendia's big red house was a madhouse of police activity.
Lights burned bright in every room of the house and state troopers hauled portable lighting wherever the already blinding white light wasn't deemed bright enough.
The front porch felt like a tanning bed.
State cops were everywhere, taking pictures and measurements, inspecting floors and doors and walls.
A pair of husky Latino paramedics carted off both of Reubens' wounded boys. Neither hood seemed to have regained consciousness. Each of them lay like a side of beef on a stretcher as they were carried out of the house and down to the ambulance.
One of the paramedics came back to have a quick, hushed conversation with Detective Thompson before leaving the scene.
Detective Nate Thompson, State Police. gave me the once over twice.
I returned the favor.
The deep crags in his cheeks and the losing rearguard action his hairline was fighting made him look older than he was. His habit of staring at you over the rims of his glasses didn't help with that.
“Think we can lose the cuffs?” I asked, more to break his concentration than anything else.
He waited a second and then nodded like he'd just solved the great mystery of life.
“I think that can be arranged,Jake.”
He signaled for the young officer guarding the porch steps to unshackle me.
I made a point of not rubbing my wrists.
Detective Thompson smiled. It only lasted a second.
“Got any more paramedics, Detective?”
“Why, are you injured?”
“Sheriff Jones is still in there. Got a big knife sticking out of his leg. He'd probably appreciate a little attention.”
“Orion's a stubborn man. He let 'em get the knife out and get the wound dressed but refused transport to the hospital. Don't worry. We'll get him down the stairs soon enough. In the meantime, we can talk.”
He handed me back my wallet and took my gun out of his jacket pocket. He gave it a good look, turning it over in his hands. He sighted it over the porch railing.
“Browning,” he said. “And a nice one. I own one myself.” He handed the weapon to me. “I like to take it out to the range on Sunday mornings.”
I holstered the gun and put an end to the pleasantries.
“Sheriff Jones said Marko Reubens took his hostage, Marisa Reubens, out the back window and off of the low roof. Any plans to try and catch him?”
If he was insulted he didn't show it.
“I wouldn't worry about that,” he said. “I've got my best bloodhounds on it. He won't get far.”
I couldn't tell if he was talking about dogs or people.
“Not good enough,” I said.
He looked at me like I ate the last Twinkie and put the box back empty.
“You don't seem real interested in catching Marko Reubens.”
“I'm more interested in you, Jake. May I call you Jake?”
He nodded again.
“Shall we start at the beginning? I know who you are and what you are. I'd like to know why you're here.”
“You mean on this porch or here on the shore?”
“On the shore, for openers.”
“I'm on vacation.”
“Vacation? Vacation season's over.”
“I can't stand crowds.”
He patted me on the thigh.
“I know exactly what you mean. So this is what a big city private detective does on vacation? Goes out to the beach and gets involved in a crime spree? Doesn't sound like much of a break to me.”
“You have no idea.”
“Actually, Jake, I do. So let's cut the crap. What you and Marisa Reuebens did together at the Sunshade Motel is between you and her. It becomes my busines when the result of what you and Marisa Reubens did leaves a trail of bodies in your wake.”
“In my wake? Apparently you don't know as much as you think you do.”
“Well, that's why I'm here. As I'm sure you know, among those bodies is one of mine. So you're going to tell me everything I need to know about Vern Stroud's murder. Right now.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “You got Sheriff Jones' case files, right? I'm sure you read my statement.”
“I want to hear it from you, Jake. The more times one tells a story the more details come up.”
“All right. Here it is.”
I gave the man what he asked for, straight up.
Detective Thompson listened without interrupting me. He didn't take notes or ask for clarifications. He just listened.
I was impressed. The ability to listen is a lost art.
When I finished he took a minute to get it all straight in his head.
“Yes,” he said, “that's the way I pictured it happening. It's a shame you didn't see the shooter though. An eyewitness would have been a nice touch.”
“I'm sure Wayne will finger Riggs for you. You won't even have to ask nice.”
“The big guy-- the one I knocked out? That's his name.”
“I see. You know this... how?”
His expression didn't give much away but he and I both knew I'd just stepped in it.
I needed something to stall him with and I had nothing.
The sound of heavy footsteps and muttered profanity did the trick though.
“Just tell him, Jake,” said Sheriff Jones. “We're all in it now.”
He gimped through the front door, supported on either side by a red-faced, grimacing state trooper.
His pant leg was bloody but I didn't see any evidence of fresh flow. Those paramedics did a good job. Santo would be proud.
I got off the bench to make room for the sheriff.
The two troopers led him over and let him drop down to the bench.
“Thanks a lot, boys,” he said.
The troopers turned and went back into the house.
“Hello Nate,” said Sheriff Jones.
“Orion,” replied Detective Thompson. “How's the leg?”
“Oh it's all right, now that I'm sitting down. Getting up should be interesting though.”
The two men eyed each other. They may as well have been standing ten paces apart with tumbleweeds blowing by them in the street.
“Detective,” I broke in, “I'm sure your bloodhounds are real good at what they do but I'd sure feel better if I were out there searching with them.”
Detective Thompson looked at me over the rims of his glasses again.
“That woman's sure made her mark on you, Jake.”
I shrugged it off.
“She was counting on me. For what I'm still not sure but I'm willing to bet that not getting kidnapped was probably on the list.”
“I'd imagine it was,” said Detective Thompson. “Didn't go so well, did it, Jake?”
“Yeah. Your man Vern saw to that. What exactly was he doing in Caravan Bay, Detective? I told you mine. I want to hear yours.”
He started to speak.
“After we find Marisa,” I said.
The detective and the sheriff stared at me in dumb silence.
I stepped down off the porch.
“I can take Deputy Riggs' car if you don't want to go. Don't think he's using it just now.”
Detective Thompson stood up and climbed down. He was the picture of serenity but I could see the mushroom cloud forming over his head.
“We'll take my car. You coming, Orion?”
“You boys go ahead,” said the sheriff. “I think I'm just gonna sit here and bleed a little more.”
“Starting to regret refusing that ride in the ambulance?”
“Hell, Nate. I started regretting that five seconds after I did it.”
Detective Thompson nodded and waved.
“I'll see to it,” he said.
On our way to his car he collared the first unoccupied trooper he saw and instructed her to drive Sheriff Jones to the hospital.
“You know, Jake,” began Detective Thompson as he let us into his late model sedan, “I'm glad Orion decided against coming with us.”
“Why is that, Detective?”
“Please, call me Nate.”
He started the car and began to back down the driveway.
The man knew how to drive. He backed out at high speed, dodging cars and troopers, then threw it into drive and took off up the hill.
He turned on his radio and set it to the frequency his bloodhounds were using. A fast-moving river of incoherence rushed by. It didn't sound like anyone had a line on Marko's black SUV yet.
“I'm glad we're alone, Jake, because it gives me the opportunity to ask you, without having to employ a ruse or endure Sheriff Jones' grumbling about being left out of the loop, one simple but all-important question.”
“Yeah? What's that?”
“Jake, I need you to tell me what Marisa Reubens gave you.”
We took a turn onto a dark, wooded road I didn't see coming.
I kept my eyes riveted out in front of the car.
He took his time formulating a reply.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, who's asking? You or Marko Reubens?”
He slammed on the brakes and cut the lights.
My hand found its way up to the shoulder rig.
“Take your hand away from there, Jake,” said Detective Thompson. There was a hard edge at the bottom of his voice but showed no other signs of agitation. “Do you really think I'd have let you into this car with your gun on if I was planning to hurt you?”
He talked right over the response I didn't voice.
“Don't answer that. It's a rhetorical question. Jake, we don't have a lot of time here so I'm going to go with my gut, which says I can trust you. I can see how it looks to you, given what you know and what you've been through so I'm not going to allow myself to be offended by what you just implied.”
“I didn't imply anything. I said it straight out.”
“I like a man who speaks his mind. Shows real character. So I'm going to speak mine. I think Marisa Reubens gave something to you, entrusted something to you, before Vern picked her up at the Sunshade Motel.”
“You do, eh?”
“I do. I think so because Vern thought so. He assured me he was going to get it out of you.”
“Someone took something out of him before he could get around to it.”
“Indeed. You knew enough to go to Bog Island, even knew which cabin, so she must have told you something. What was it?”
I turned in the seat and faced him but didn't say a word.
“Look, Jake. You're not protecting anyone with your silence. You heard Orion back at the house. We're all working the same angle on this. Tell me what I need to know so we can go catch this guy and get Marisa back.”
Detective Thompson turned his headlights back on and continued down the road.
I sat back in the passenger seat and checked my temper. I counted to ten and released my breath.
“All right,” I said, “tell me something first. Vern was working on this, wasn't he? Offically.”
“He was, Jake. Unofficially official. He was working for me. We'd been hearing things about Marko Reubens showing up in places his brother used to hold sway. We knew it'd just be a matter of time before he showed up here on the shore. Vern knew that operation inside and out. He volunteered to go back in and I took him up on it.”
“You told Sheriff Jones that Vern was on vacation, that whatever he was doing out here was on his own hook.”
“Yes I did. I'd have brought Orion in when the time was right. I wanted to know what we were dealing with first. So I sent Vern in and awaited the results from his investigation.”
“But that's not all, is it?”
“You've got good instincts, Jake. No, that's not all. You're not going to like this next part.”
“He had a thing for Marisa,” I said.
“And her twin sister too.”
“You're right, Nate. I don't like it. But I don't have to. What's Rosario's part in this?”
“That's an interesting question. What do you know?”
The woods around us thinned out. I could see the lights from down the road. We were doubling back to Rosario's house.
“She's ex-Bureau, ostensibly because her sister married a known criminal.”
“She was also working with Marko Reubens. I suspect in an ill-advised attempt to take him down.”
“And get rich at the same time.”
“Yeah. Wayne, Marko's goon? He said it was all about dough.”
“Jedediah Reubens' dough, Jake. And a sizable amount of it.”
“I witnessed her murder, Nate. Marko knew she was playing him.”
“Marisa is the key to all of this, Jake. Vern was after her, Marko needs what she knows, and even her own sister was using her. Now, I've told you a whole lot. It's your turn, so I'll ask you again. What did Marisa Reubens give you?”
“She left me a note,” I said. “It read, CABIN D, BOG ISLAND. M.”
“Isn't it enough?”
“You still have this note?”
“I don't have to ask if you and the sheriff have been out there. Find anything?”
I hesitated for just a second. Nate didn't call me on it.
“Yes. Yes we did.”
I told him about the address book and the locker in the warehouse. And the ledger.
“All right, Jake. What's done is done, so I'm going to ask you and I'm only going to ask you once, where is that ledger now?”
Detective Thompson's radio crackled back to life before I could answer the question. He shot me an enigmatic look and picked up the mike.
“Thompson,” he said. “Talk to me.”
I saw the lights before anything else.
At first that was all I saw. Bright lights moving somewhere out ahead of us. It took me a second to realize they were coming right at us.
Detective Thompson saw them too. He dropped the radio mike and attempted to swerve clear of the big black SUV.
He was too late.
Marko Reubens' SUV slammed into the driver's side of the car.
All of the windows on Detective Thompson's side of the car shattered. Sparks lit up the darkness as metal ground against metal.
My head banged into the window seconds before the airbags deployed.
Detective Thompson's car spun around twice and slid across the pavement, finally coming to rest at the edge of the shallow ditch on the side of the road.
Marko Reubens' SUV landed a little further up.
Broken moonlight and the yellow half glow of a faraway street light made the big vehicle look silver and shimmery.
The airbags started to deflate.
I tried to reach over and check on Detective Thompson but I couldn't get my upper body to do what I wanted it to do.
He was breathing. Every third breath was accompanied by a groan.
My head wanted to fall back against the window so I let it. Everything inside the car spun around me. I looked out the window and watched the road and the trees and the sky spin around me. I shook my head to clear my ears but the ringing I heard was the horn of Reubens' SUV bouncing off the foliage.
It was a lot easier to move once I figured out the seat belt was holding me in place. I unclicked and leaned over to see to Detective Thompson.
His breathing and groaning continued at a steady pace but that was all he was good for. It could be worse.
The faint banshee cry of sirens began to make itself heard beneath the steady blare of the horn.
Movement near Reubens' SUV caught my eye. The doors flew open and I could see legs working their way out of the vehicle.
I opened my door and fell right out into the ditch.
I struggled up to my knees and leaned against the car for support.
Then I started hearing voices.
Someone was calling Detective Thompson on the radio and her calls sounded increasingly desperate.
I tried to stand but my legs weren't having it. I tried again, and again. On the fourth try I hauled myself up out of the ditch with the help of the car and looked for the SUV.
One of its headlights was still functional and in its field of light I saw two people-- a man and a woman-- struggling in silhouette.
I drew the Browning and aimed it in their general direction. I tried to holler Marko's name but I didn't have the wind. My arm shook so bad I couldn't keep the gun straight. The two-handed grip was no better.
Even in silhouette I recognized Marisa. She was right there in front of me, blocking any shot I had.
Marko was fighting to keep a hold of her but she kicked free of him and took off into the woods.
Marko just stood there for a second and watched her go.
I sucked in as much air as I could and let I out as he stood up and started towards the tree line.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Marko!”
He spun in the direction of my voice and drew his gun.
That was all I needed.
I let him have it. Three shots. One of them hit. He doubled over but didn't fall and didn't drop his weapon.
I fired again and missed.
“Give it up, man,” I shouted.
He did not answer.
I kept the Browning on him and stepped around Detective Thompson's car out into the road.
Marko straightened up and fired three quick shots at me. The third one ricocheted off the road and grazed my shin.
It wasn't much of a wound but it was enough to drop me back down to the pavement.
Another bullet hit the blacktop just in front of my crotch as I backtracked on ass and elbows to the dubious shelter of Detective Thompson's car.
I stood up, rested my wobbly arm across the trunk of the car, and returned fire. Two shots. Should have been center mass. I was lucky to clip him on the hand.
He growled and inspected his bloody hand for damage as he edged towards the woods Marisa disappeared into.
I used the distraction to get out from behind the car and close the distance.
He fired once more-- and missed-- and staggered into the woods.
I moved to the edge of the road and got behind the thickest tree I could find. My ears were now ringing of their own accord, independent of the SUV's horn, and everything in my line of sight seemed just out of focus. The headache I hadn't quite gotten rid of for two days parked itself behind my right eye and sat there, throbbing in time to my elevated heartbeat.
For just a second everything went bright around me. I was in the woods and it was light out. Marisa was also there. I watched her walking between the trees, ringed in by flowers and autumn-colored leaves.
Noisy footsteps in the underbrush brought me back.
Marko Reubens wasn't worried about stealth. I could hear him stumbling around in the woods in pursuit of Marisa.
The police sirens were getting closer but they weren't close enough.
I couldn't wait.
Story of my life.
I took a couple of deep breaths to get myself centered and then went into the woods after Marko.
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.