While he would never have admitted it out loud, Captain Robert Decker was jumpier than a turkey on Thanksgiving.
For one thing, it was the hour. What kind of man only agreed to meet in the dead of night, when any decent fellow would be fast asleep?
Another was the location where these meetings took place: in bad parts of town that every week seemed to grow more run-down and shady. Decker glanced around at the rubbish-littered alley and tried to convince himself that the location was completely abandoned. Even so, he patted the reassuring bulk of the service revolver hidden inside his coat. It didn’t hurt to come prepared.
He was dressed in worn old clothes that he thought would make him quite inconspicuous in an area like this. It wasn’t just that he was paranoid. He certainly couldn’t come strolling down here alone in his blues and boots. He would probably get a knife in the back for his trouble.
More than that, it was whom he was meeting that bothered him. A man who Decker knew next to nothing about, but who seemed to know everything there was to know about him, including where he lived, where he worked, how he took his breakfast, the little bits of money he skimmed from time to time off the precinct’s funds…everything. Otherwise, he felt quite sure he would never allow himself to be pressured in this vulgar and common manner.
He thought he heard a sound behind him.
In the blink of an eye, Decker spun around, his revolver cocked and at the ready, but it was just a pile of old newspapers rustling in the breeze. The Captain snorted in disgust, beginning to lower his gun, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching him.
He really had to control himself. If he gave into these wild fancies, he would be worse than a woman. He was a trained policeman. He had nothing to fear as long as he kept his wits about him.
His conceited train of thought froze and his heart nearly stopped in his chest. The voice was coming from behind him.
“Lovely night for a stroll, don’t you think?”
Decker spun, bringing his gun up again. A tall, dark figure was standing before him, most of his features obscured by the cover of darkness and his deliberate choice to stand in the shadows. This was the man who had of late come to dominate Decker’s thoughts, and sometimes his nightmares.
“Is it you?” he whispered, his mouth dry.
The man chuckled; a harsh and disturbing sound that sent chills up and down his spine.
“Of course it’s me, you bloody fool,” the man said, his cold and sarcastic tone overlaid with a thick Cockney accent. “Who were you expecting, Saint Nicholas?”
Holstering his weapon, Decker swallowed his fear and did his best to appear indignant.
“It’s rude to sneak up on a man like that, you know. I almost shot you.”
“Oh, pull the other one,” the man drawled, unconcerned. “If I really thought you had a chance in hell of plugging me, you’d already be dead. That’s what happens when you make yourself a threat instead of making yourself useful. Keep that in mind.”
“Ummm…” Decker stammered, his vague illusions of control vanishing like puffs of smoke. “Right. Sure. So I set the news hound on McKenna’s trail, just like you told me to. That Irish bum is already an incompetent fool, and he’s making Calvin look worse than ever.”
“I’m impressed, mate. You’ve actually done something productive for what I’m sure is the first time in your sad little life. Once that hack Goodwin whips the sharks of this city into a feeding frenzy, they’ll tear that precinct apart.”
Decker grinned, taking great pleasure at the thought of McKenna being violently ripped limb from limb.
“The sooner the better. And good riddance. Finally, those bastards are going to get what’s coming to them.”
“Stow it!” the man barked, silencing him. “There are bigger things at stake than your little schemes. Just keep your mind on your job and your head down. It’ll all happen in good time.”
In the gloom, the man bared his teeth, halfway between a snarl and a smile.
“Everything’s turning out just like I planned. Then, once the dust settles, we’ll see who really rules this town.”
Although he was unsettled by these words, Decker’s innate sense of self-interest proved too strong to ignore.
“About my job…” he said cautiously. “The deal. Our deal. It still stands, right?”
“Yes, yes. To my eternal shame, I’ll be keeping my bargain with you, Decker. Just as long as you don’t cock up your end.”
Decker nodded eagerly, almost drooling at the thought.
“Good. Then I’ll get the respect I deserve around the precinct house.”
He hesitated, a question entering his head.
“So, when are you going to let me in on it?”
“What are you blathering about, guv’nor?” asked the man irritably, making Decker regret his inquiry.
“Well, I just meant…you know…about the plan. That is, your plan. What exactly are you going to do?”
“That’s for me to know, and you to keep your bloody gob shut about if you know what’s good for you.” The man reached inside his coat threateningly. “So sod off.”
“Right, that’s fine. I understand,” the Captain said, his cowardice getting the better of him. “Forget I asked.”
“That’s better. Now listen up, Decker, because I’ve got a news flash for you. Your precinct is going to get a little note from the Showstopper tomorrow.”
“What?” Decker exclaimed, unable to believe is ears. “A note from the Showstopper? How could you possibly know that? And another thing…”
“Don’t interrupt me again,” the man snapped. “Ain’t you got any manners? No more questions. All you need to know is you’ll be getting the note tomorrow. And when you do, you’d better take it serious-like.”
“Now you listen to me,” said Decker, annoyed. “Even if there was a message, the Showstopper’s not my case. It’s not up to me, and I’m in Calvin’s doghouse already. How do I convince them to trust it without making myself suspicious? Somebody might smell a rat.”
“I’ve got faith in you, mate. You’re a sneaky little scumbag. It shouldn’t be too hard for you. Now turn around.”
“Pardon? What do you mean, turn around? What is this?”
Before he knew what happened, there was a flash of metal and suddenly something cold was pressed to his forehead.
“Rule number one,” the man growled, cocking the revolver he had pulled from his cloak. “You do what I say. No questions asked. You reading me?”
“All right, all right!” said Decker, throwing up his hands in surrender. “You win. I’m turning around.”
“Much obliged. I knew you’d see it my way. And remember, I don’t care what you have to do. Just make sure the police take that note seriously.”
Decker turned slowly until he felt the pressure of the gun’s muzzle on the back of his skull, squeezing his eyes shut in anticipation of the fatal bullet.
“Just how long am I supposed to stay like this?” he hissed.
No answer: just the sound of refuse rustling in the wind. Come to think of it, he couldn’t feel the gun barrel’s presence behind him anymore, either.
With painful caution, Decker craned his neck and snuck a peak over his shoulder, trying very hard not to look at anything in particular. Aside from himself, the alleyway was once again deserted. The shadowy figure was nowhere to be seen.
Much like his Irish fellow officer, Decker wondered for what was not the first and certainly not the last time just what the hell he had gotten himself into.
You can find the full version of Kyle Robertson’s debut novel, “The Showstopper!”, available online at Amazon or on Kindle.