Read Devil With a Gun Online

Authors: M. C. Grant

Tags: #Suspense, #mystery, #Fiction, #medium-boiled, #M.C. Grant, #Grant, #San Francisco, #Dixie Flynn, #Bay Area

Devil With a Gun (4 page)

Five

I find a pay
phone on the corner and let Stoogan know that I'm following a few leads on a Father's Day piece that will make for a nice cover.

“Why am I suddenly worried,” he deadpans.

“Because I'm not breaking your balls about it?”

“Yeah, why aren't you?”

“Because I always do what—”

“You never do what I ask,” he interrupts.

“First time for everything.”

“Now I'm not just worried, I'm petrified.”

I laugh. “Trust me.”

“Yeah, I can see that engraved on my tombstone:
He trusted Dixie
.”

I laugh louder. “I like it. Catchy yet poignant.”

“Just don't put me in the ground too soon, Dix.”

“Wouldn't dream of it, boss.”

My next call is to Detective Sergeant Fury, an imposing homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department who took me under his wing after a feature I wrote about the murder of his wife at the hands of a thief, and the subsequent “death by misadventure” of her killer.

The thief's death proved controversial, as he was shot while climbing out the window of an apartment he had just robbed. The cop who shot him was Frank Fury.

“You have time for a chat?” I ask when Frank answers the phone.

“I was thinking of being totally unpredictable and dropping into the Dog House tonight,” he says.

I laugh. The Dog House is a dungeon of a pub two blocks from the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street that is a local drinking hole for the sad sacks of the night crew, who often prefer to drink alone: cops, journalists, musicians, and a few curious writers and misfits who've heard about the bar's resident ghost, Al Capone.

Frank and I are regulars.

“I was hoping to see you sooner than that,” I say. “Want to pick your brain about something.”

“You in trouble?” he asks.

“Not yet.”

I can almost hear his lips bending into a thin smile, but he's not going to give me the satisfaction of a chuckle.

“I have a proficiency test coming up and need to get in some practice.”

“Perfect,” I say. “Meet you there.”

I own a gun license but not a gun. However, I've been toying with the idea ever since a scary encounter in my apartment with someone who seemed intent on throwing me out of my second-story window.

An ugly scar that puckers the center of my left palm aches when the weather gets cold, but that's nothing compared to how the attack damaged my confidence. I never actually believed I was invincible, but I certainly lacked a proper respect for how unprepared I was for direct violence.

And although I don't like to admit weakness, neither do I ever want to be considered a victim. Since that event, Sam has introduced me to her Mixed Martial Arts class, and Frank's been teaching me how to shoot.

Off the books, I also called in a favor from a former mob enforcer named Pinch. Our paths crossed on a feature I was writing for
NOW,
when he took a chance on trusting me and I earned his respect by staying true to my word.

Pinch—who, at five-foot-four and more stout than wiry, looks nothing like my preconceptions of a trained killer—has been teaching me the proper way to use my switchblade and unladylike ways in which my feet, thighs, teeth, and nails can become lethal weapons.

Every bruise on my body since that day has been a medal, earned through sweat and determination. They are marks I wear proudly—like my silly, hidden tattoo.

The indoor shooting range that Frank uses is called Duck! It's a private members' club in an unremarkable corrugated steel Quonset hut located on the edge of an industrial park near the docks. Catering mostly to the law enforcement and private security crowd, its name comes from the front entrance: a black steel door that, for a reason nobody's yet been able to explain to me, is only five feet six inches tall. Unless you're Pinch, to gain entrance you need to, quite literally, duck.

The interior of the club looks nothing like its exterior. Soundproofing foam, still visible on the high, curved ceiling, is sprayed thickly over the ribbed steel skin. The front area is finished in oak, chrome, and glass for a boys' clubhouse feel: chairs designed for comfort, plasma TVs on the wall, and a small bar.

The much larger rear area—separated from the front by a steel-core wall and safety prep area that still allowed for a few bulletproof acrylic windows—is kept clean, sparse, and professional to accommodate twelve shooting lanes. Electric target retrievers allow the shooter to pick any distance he or she desires.

“Hey, Dix,” calls Benny as I make my way to the gun bar. “Frank's inside, lane 6. I booked you on 5.”

Benny, a pug-nosed veteran who likes to wear crisp military green T-shirts even though the color doesn't suit his complexion, is the owner. If he listened to me he'd switch to navy blue to highlight his eyes, but he doesn't, so green it stays.

Reaching the glass display case, I'm surprised he hasn't already pulled out the Glock 19 and smaller Glock 26 that I've been renting.

Benny reads my face. “I know you're enjoying the Glocks,” he says. “But I'm thinking there's something missing.”

I smile. “And what's that?”

“They're too plain. Lacking that bit of pizazz to get your teeth watering, am I right?”

I shrug. “It's a gun, Benny. Not a fashion accessory.”

“You kiddin' me?” His cheeks balloon in mirth. “You think these guys don't brag on their hardware? I don't know about fashion, but the kinda gun you shoot is definitely a statement.”

“OK, what you got?”

“You've tried the automatics,” he begins. “And you made a nice, safe choice with the Glocks, but I'm still a fan of a good six-shot revolver. Easy to clean and maintain, always reliable, and there's more of a connection between you and the gun. In my humble opinion, it just feels better in the hand. And for personal defense, who needs seventeen bullets? Keep a level head and one does the trick.”

My lips twitch in amusement. “You're kinda sexy when you go all gun geek, Benny.”

He flushes. “Don't fool with an old man,” he warns. “Our hearts can't take it.”

“So what do you recommend?” I ask.

From under the counter, he produces a matte-black revolver that's about eight and a half inches from tip to tail and lays it on the glass.

“I'm liking this Smith & Wesson Governor that you can load with .45 ACP or Long Colt, plus .410 shotgun shells. This gives you great stopping power with the buckshot loads for close-quarter confrontations, and the .45s for a longer, cleaner shot. It's a few ounces heavier than what you're used to with the Glock, but I got a feeling you'll actually like the added heft.”

I pick up the revolver and move into a two-handed stance. It is slightly heavier, but Benny's right, it feels good.

I smile again. “I'm liking it.”

Benny nods. “Thought you might.”

“Can I take it for a spin?”

He slides the blue plastic gun case over, plus a box of .45 ACP ammo and a handful of two-and-a-half-inch .410 shells.

“Lane 5 is waiting.”

You don't get much talking done on the actual range unless you're looking for monosyllabic grunts and head shakes. So while I gain an intimate knowledge of the Governor, Frank is showing what a few decades of practice can do to a paper silhouette that done did him wrong.

Frank doesn't shoot fancy or try any tricks. He's strictly a heart and lungs kind of guy, with every shot finding its mark. As he lectured when I first asked for his help: “Remember, TV is bullshit. You never shoot to injure, always to kill. Aim for a leg or an arm and you'll put a ricochet through some unlucky civilian before the perp puts you down. Always aim for the chest, center mass. If the first bullet doesn't stop him, it'll at least slow him down. Keep hitting that mark and he'll eventually stop moving and lay down to die.”

I load two shotgun shells and fill the remaining four chambers with .45s. Shooting is like yoga, except noisier. I control my breath, balance my stance, aim, and fire.

The silhouette doesn't stand a chance as the first shell unleashes fifteen projectiles: three .10-caliber discs alongside twelve pellets of plated BB. The spread hits center mass to punch a hole in the target as wide as my hand.

If that doesn't knock an intruder on his ass and have his lowlife friends calling an undertaker rather than an ambulance, I don't know what will.

With a devilish grin, I fire the second shotgun round and follow up in rapid succession with the four .45s.

As I reload, Frank moves around behind me and taps my shoulder. I lower my protective ear guards and turn to face him.

“What in hell are you shooting?” he asks.

I show him the gun and point to the black-jacketed shotgun shells.

“Not exactly a purse gun,” he says.

“No,” I agree, “but I kinda like it. Wanna try?”

I don't need to ask twice. Frank grasps the loaded gun and a fresh silhouette has its chest turned to confetti before joining its siblings in the range's recycle bin.

When he hands the gun back, Frank says, “Should have called it the Don't Fuck With Me instead of Governor.”

I laugh. “So which gun is your favorite?”

“Whichever one I have with me when I need to use it,” he quips.

Frank turns to reload the magazine of his department issue Sig Sauer with .40-caliber brass, while I put in some more one-on-one time with the Governor.

Once our skills are sharpened, I offer to buy Frank a coffee and we grab a couple of comfortable chairs in a quiet corner of the clubhouse.

“So, what's up?” Frank asks.

I tell him about my idea for the Father's Day piece before asking, “How well do you know a Krasnyi Lebed?”

“The Red Swan?” Frank exhales through his nose. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. He's connected to the story.”

“He's connected to a lot of things, Dix. The man traffics in drugs, women, organs, you name it. He's bad news.”

“You ever nailed him?”

“Once, but we lost in court.”

“Was this about ten years back?”

“Twelve. Why?”

I tell him about the newspaper clipping that Bailey had shown me:
Crime Boss Cleared of All Charges.

Frank nods. “That's the case. He might be called a swan, but Krasnyi's also slippery as a damn eel.”

“How did he get the nickname?” I picture a swan swimming through a lake of blood, its snowy feathers changing color as the death toll mounts.

“It's the literal translation of his name from Russian,” says Frank. “Maybe his parents hoped he'd be a redhead like you.”

“Have you ever met him?” I ask.

“Sure.”

“What's he like?”

“Charming and slick,” says Frank. “Reminded me of the first time I read Bram Stoker's
Dracula
. If the novel had been set in Russia, it could have been called
Red Swan
.”

I raise my eyebrows. “I doubt he drinks blood.”

“No, but he spills enough of it and is very good at hiding the evidence.”

“Would he meet with me?”

Frank sips his coffee before answering. “I wouldn't advise it.”

“I get that, but would he?”

“You're not his type.”

“So I've heard.” I notice Frank's avoiding my gaze. “But what, Frank? You're hiding something.”

Frank sighs. “He's a news junkie.”

“So he'll have heard of me?”

“Without a doubt.”

“And that'll get me in to see him?”

“Possibly, but if you get in trouble, there are some places even I can't go. You get that, right? You cross his threshold and as far as he's concerned, you're in Russia. And in Russia, nobody says no to him about anything.”

“I just want to ask a few questions.”

“And can you do that without pissing him off?”

I click my tongue in disbelief. “Of course I can. What do you take me for?”

“I don't take you for anything other than what you are: a pushy, stubborn, controlling pain in the ass.”

“Now you sound like my editor.”

Frank's mouth twitches. “Must be a smart and handsome man.”

“No comment,” I say and finish my coffee.

“You buying the gun?” Benny asks as I pay for the rental, ammo, and coffee. He has the Governor cleaned, oiled, and sitting pretty in its blue carrying case. “Take it now and I'll deduct the cost of the rental straight off the top. Even throw in a trigger lock, two boxes of ammo, and a bore snake.”

“I'm tempted,” I say.

“Paperwork is already done. You've got your license, so you can take it home right now.”

“How much?”

“Six fifty all in. I eat the taxes. Best deal you'll find.”

“That's a week's wages,” I say.

“Because it's you, I can take installments.”

I chew my lower lip and study the Governor. I like how it feels in my hand, but do I really want a gun in my house?

“Sorry, Benny, I'm just not there yet.”

Benny shrugs and takes my cash for the rental.

“You've got the bug, Dix,” he says. “I'll get you soon.”

“We'll see.” I head outside to catch a lift back downtown with Frank.

Six

Frank drops me on
the corner a block from the
NOW
offices. The morning mist has turned to drizzle, but I don't mind. I'm one of those people who find walking in the rain to be one of the best ways to cleanse the jumble of my thoughts, sort out the mismatched ideas and see if there are any pairings to be made.

Which reminds me—I'm way behind on laundry.

As I near the restaurant, I pinch my nose, stare straight ahead, and make a dash for the stairs. Even with such precautions, I can smell the aroma of roasting lamb shanks with garlic and rosemary. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that Dmitri installed a fan in the kitchen to blow directly into the stairwell.

By the time I reach the third floor, I'm thinking someone should make a gum, like they do for smokers, for people who need their food cravings taken away. The heroin addicts I pass on the street are always skinny, so maybe we need a line of flavored gums with just enough poppy powder to take away the cravings without making us nodding zombies. The downside to that, of course, is that fewer things lower a woman's perceived intelligence like chewing gum. Men, on the other hand, can pretend they're baseball stars.

After letting Stoogan see my face so he can report what a loyal and agreeable employee I am, I head into the morgue and ask Lulu to pull any files she has on Krasnyi Lebed or clippings that mention Red Swan.

Her fingers dance across the keyboard.

“Not much here,” she says when she looks back up. “Nothing under ‘Red Swan' and only a couple of hits on Lebed. Man keeps a low profile.”

“Pull me what you have.”

“Sure, doll. Only take a minute. This to do with that Classified ad I mentioned?”

“It is.” I smile. “Thanks for that.”

Lulu beams. “I'm not just a pretty face.”

“Preaching to the choir, sister.”

Lulu bursts out laughing as she disappears into the archives to search for printed copies of the material. When she returns, she is holding a slim folder with Krasnyi Lebed's name on the cover.

Newspapers keep archives of prominent people so that when they die, obituaries are easier to write. The same is true of criminals who are likely to get in trouble with the law again. Nothing beefs up a breaking story on deadline than being able to quickly pull up a background full of previous run-ins and convictions.

I take the folder back to my desk and open it. There are only four clippings inside. Three are related to the case twelve years ago that Frank was involved in. Krasnyi had been charged with importing a shipment container from Novorossiysk, Russia, that contained a limited edition Rolls-Royce Phantom and enough pure heroin to get everyone on the western seaboard high.

Krasnyi was cleared of all charges when initial witnesses, including two undercover cops, recanted their statements about seeing him at the scene. This was despite him being pulled over and arrested six blocks from the docks while sitting in the back seat of the exact same silver Rolls-Royce that was on the shipping manifest.

No wonder Frank is pissed about it.

The fourth clipping is a photo and cutline that shows a younger Krasnyi as a pallbearer at a funeral. The cutline reads:

Following the death of alleged crime boss Alim­zhan Izmaylovsky, police sources expect Krasnyi Lebed, right, to quickly take control of organized crime in San Francisco.

A low whistle escapes my lips. The clipping is unusual in that neither the name of the photographer nor the date it ran is printed anywhere on the sheet. I flip the clipping over to see if there's a date stamp on the back, but it's blank, too.

Whenever it ran, it was obviously in the days when
NOW
had a true independent heart and much ballsier staff. There is no way our paper's lawyer would ever let us run such a potentially libelous cutline today. I admire the cockiness of it.

Returning the folder to the morgue, I stop at the copy machine and make an enlargement of the photo. The faces of the other pallbearers are either out of frame or out of focus, and I wonder if that was the photographer's decision or the newspaper's.

I fold the copy and slip it into my back pocket.

“Find what you were looking for?” Lulu asks as I hand her the folder.

I shrug. “Just crumbs, but we keep archives of all our photos, right?”

“Sure.”

“What about the negatives?”

Lulu's face wrinkles. “We're meant to, but there are definitely huge gaps. We lost a bunch when the roof leaked that one time, and photographers aren't always the best at returning negs after they've raided the archives for their portfolios, especially before I started here.”

“Could you look up the photo in that last clipping? See if we have any hard copies or, better yet, the negatives? I'd like to find out who the photographer was and if more shots from that funeral are kicking around.”

“What are you hoping to find?”

I shrug again. “You know me. I just pick at the scab until it bleeds.”

Lulu winces. “Cute metaphor.”

“That's why I'll never be a famous author; no time for pretty words.”

Lulu laughs. “I'll see what I can do, but it might take some time. The photo archives aren't in the computer.”

“Thanks. I'll check back.”

For my next phone call, I head outside. The closest pay phone is four blocks to the south, but there are some calls I don't like to make within earshot of nosey reporters. Especially if they're anything like me.

I turn up my collar against the rain and walk.

His phone is answered on the sixth ring. There's no greeting, only silence.

“Pinch?” I ask. “You hungry?”

“What do you have in mind?” answers a voice that is so much deeper than you ever expect once you meet him in person.

“I'm thinking a cheeseburger at Pink Bicycle, but I'm also being tempted by a chocolate-chip mint sundae with rainbow sprinkles at Polka Dots.”

“And these two disparate choices hold equal weight in your thoughts?”

“Yeah, I'm craving both, but I can't eat both, cause I already had a bagel and penis for breakfast. And if carbs went to your boobs, I'd be okay, but they don't. So … ”

“I don't want to ask about the penis.”

“Probably for the best. So which do you fancy?”

“Hamburger. Twenty minutes?”

“See you there.”

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