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Authors: Matthew Iden

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A Reason to Live (Marty Singer1)

BOOK: A Reason to Live (Marty Singer1)
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A Reason to Live

 

Matthew Iden

 

Copyright 2012 Matthew Iden

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are entirely the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

All rights reserved

 

Additional titles are available at
www.matthew-iden.com

 

For Renee, who continues to make the whole thing possible.

 

For my family.

 

For my friends.

. . .

By the Author

 

Crime Fiction

{short story collections}

Three Shorts | Three the Hard Way | Three on a Match | Three of a Kind

one bad twelve

 

{novels}

A Reason to Live

Blueblood (September 2012)

Signs (Winter 2012)

 

Fantasy

{short stories}

Sword of Kings | Assassin | Seven Into the Bleak

 

Horror

{novella}

Finding Emma

 

 

i.

 

I'll be leaving soon.

 

I've had time to think. So much time. I was lost for most of it. Scared that I didn't have purpose, not knowing what to do with the anger and the energy and the life that's left to me.

 

But I know now. I know how to put my life back together. What it will take. The sacrifices, the actions. I think you know, too.

 

It's what's kept me alive, you know. Not your interventions. Protecting the body is just half the equation. The spirit has to have a reason to go on, too. And now I have mine.

 

Please. Don't try to stop me. I need to do this.

Chapter One

"Detective Singer?"

"Not any more," I said without thinking--and regretted it. The words stuck in my mouth after the sound was gone, rolling around like stones. Hard. Unwelcome. Bitter. I couldn't spit them out and couldn't swallow them.

I was killing time at a coffee shop, slouched in an overstuffed chair that had been beaten into submission years earlier. The café--I don't know the name,
Middle Grounds
or
Mean Bean
or something precious--was a grungy, brown stain of a place flanked by a failing Cajun restaurant on one side and a check-cashing store on the other. A crowd of Hispanic guys hung around out front looking simultaneously aimless and expectant, hoping their next job was about to pull up to the curb.

I looked up from my cup and stared at the girl who'd called me by name. She was slim, with delicate brown hair worn past the shoulders and intense, dark eyes set in a face so pale Poe would've written stories about it. She wore black tights and a long tunic the color of beach sand, with only a ragged jean jacket to guard against the bite of early December. Her arms hugged two books to her chest and she toted a massive black backpack so heavy it had her hunched over like a miner.

My answer hung in the air and the silence stretched thin. The girl hesitated, floundering.

I let her. I was in a bad mood. A meaningless Thanksgiving was a week past and all morning I'd looked for something productive to do while my day dragged itself across the floor of my life. When the productivity failed to materialize and my thoughts started to crowd in, I'd come to the coffee shop to forget, not remember. And I'd almost done it, my mind gone gloriously blank until this girl had brought my thoughts tumbling around me like a mid-air collision. She opened her mouth to explain, maybe, or apologize. Her face was bright and full of enthusiasm. Energy and purpose radiated from her, wearying me. I waited to hear whatever it was she thought was important enough to reel me in from daydream land.

She never got to it. A shout from the street--a single, loud cry of frustration, rage, and raw emotion--shut her down and froze every person in the café. Cups stopped halfway to mouths, heads cocked like hunting dogs'. Anything the girl might've said--anything anyone was saying--took a backseat to that sound.

More shouts from the street swelled to envelop the first one and I found myself at the window with everyone else, the girl forgotten, peering through the glass, looking over shoulders, drawn to the potential of violence or drama. I wasn't alone. People reading Sartre and sipping no-foam lattes a second before now jostled each other, all asking "What's happening?"

What's happening was unclear. The shout had come from the crowd of guys in front of the check-cashing store. They were dressed in the ubiquitous outfit of local Salvadoran or Guatemalan day laborers: tattered baseball caps, paint-spattered jeans, ripped sweatshirts. Two of the six were shouting at each other, their hands stabbing the air as they spoke, their jaws thrust forward. The body language didn't look good and I was on my way outside--forgetting that this wasn't my job anymore--when I heard someone from inside the café yell, "Holy shit!"

I was late. By the time I'd pushed the door open, the shorter one--stained gray sweatshirt, shoulders like a running back--had pulled a knife and was swinging at the other guy, his arm whipping back and forth. On the third arc, he connected, cutting the other guy open like he'd been unzipped from hip to belly button. A scream, high and long , split the air and the ring of onlookers melted away. The man who'd been cut glanced down at his own body with a look of disbelief, then staggered down the street, bouncing off parked cars and telephone poles, his arms hugging his stomach.

I kept my attention on the short guy who'd done the slicing. A wicked-looking linoleum knife--needle-like point, a forward curve, teeth at the base--dangled from his hand. His eyes were wide, the whites very white, the irises a bottomless dark brown. He hissed something in Spanish and waved the knife around like a conductor's baton. Common sense told me to run back into the coffee shop. Instead, I sidled closer, talking low and slow in terrible Spanish. I don't even know what I was saying to him. I was trying to ask him to calm down and give me the knife, but he erupted into tears the third time I asked, then came at me with wild, full-arm sweeps. The point of the knife winked in the flat December sun. It took no imagination to see it hooking into my gut and cutting clean through, making my other problems seem like small beans.

A trio of desperate twists got me out of range of one, two, three swipes, then I stepped forward, slipping inside his reach. He tried a quick backhanded slash, but I was too close for him to get any muscle behind it. With my chest to his back, I snaked my arm inside his elbow like I wanted to squaredance, then grabbed a handful of sweatshirt between his shoulder blades. With my other hand, I snatched at his free arm. Not a bad move, and the improvised armlock had neutralized the knife, but it wasn't going to last long. Teeth gnashed near my ear as he tried to bite me and when he started to flex those shoulders, my grip started to go, fast.

I didn't wait to see where that was going. I heaved one way, twisted my hips the other, and put him on the ground with an ankle sweep. Desperation made me follow through harder than I meant to and--without a hand to stop his fall--the guy's forehead hit the sidewalk with the sound of a watermelon dropped on a kitchen floor. His grip on the knife went slack, just like the rest of him.

Our scrap was over in seconds. Which was a good thing, since I wasn't in much better shape than the guy with the knife. My bit of pseudo-judo had taken me to the ground, too, and I laid there next to him, arms still tangled with his, my chest heaving. I was dizzy and would've fallen down if I hadn't already been lying on my back. My breath rasped like an old steam engine trying to take a hill and my elbow throbbed from where I'd banged it on the concrete. The bricks were cold beneath me. Clouds passed across the sky. Sirens threaded the air in the distance.

And the sound of footsteps scuffed close. I turned my head, hoping it wasn't one of the guy's compadres coming to get in a free lick while I was down. But the face that bent over me belonged to the girl from the coffee shop. I seemed to remember she'd wanted to talk to me about a million years ago. Her hair swung forward as she knelt down and she reflexively tucked it behind one ear, only to have it fall back again. Her eyes were dark with worry.

"Mr. Singer?" she asked. "Are you...are you okay?"

"I'm fine," I said from the ground. I closed my eyes. The sirens that had sounded distant a second before now closed in, wailing like a demented wolf pack on the run. "I just wish I was still getting paid to do this."

 

. . .

 

It took me an hour to clear things up with the Arlington PD. It would've taken longer, but a dozen people had watched the whole thing from the safety of the coffee shop and vouched that my little dance might've saved someone's life. Nice of them to say it, but I shrugged off the accolades when I found out that the guy with the knife was an illegal immigrant from southern Mexico who'd learned this morning he was being deported back to Juarez. He'd drunk everything in his pocket, then gone off the deep end at something his amigos had said to him. The guy he'd cut had a fifty-fifty chance of making it. No winners here.

I gave my statement to the cops, the ambulances left, and the crowd faded away. A busboy came out from the Cajun restaurant and threw a bucket of soapy water on the blood from the first knife-fight, creating a rust-colored puddle that pushed its way down the sidewalk. I watched it for a moment, then turned and headed back towards the coffee shop when I saw the jean-jacket girl standing to one side of the café door, looking uncomfortable. She'd waited through the entire escapade. Whatever it was she wanted to talk about must be important. She took a step forward, intercepting me as I reached the door.

"Mr. Singer, I'm really sorry to bother you," she said. "I know you're probably not in any shape to talk right now--"

"I can talk," I said, barely slowing down. "I might not want to."

She hesitated at my tone, then stuck her hand out. "Maybe we can start over. I'm Amanda Lane."

I stopped, shook, and waited for her to continue. When she didn't, I said, "Okay, Amanda Lane. What can I do for you?"

She looked stricken. "You don't--God, I'm sorry. I thought you'd remember right away. I'm Brenda Lane's daughter. You worked on my mom's case. Back in ‘96?"

"Oh.
Oh
," I said, straightening. My crabbiness dribbled away and I felt a flush creep up my neck. "What I can do for you, Ms. Lane? I'm not with the department anymore."

"It's just Amanda, Mr. Singer. My mom was Ms. Lane."

"All right, Amanda."

"I know you retired recently," she said. "I called the DC police and talked to someone in your squad. I mean, old squad. They told me you'd probably be here."

"You just called the MPDC and asked for me?" I said, surprised.

"No, I…I kept the card you gave me. That night. Your number didn't work, but it went over to someone else's extension."

"Jesus," I said. "You held on to that thing for twelve years?"

Her smile came back. "It's like a charm. The night you gave it to me, I put it in this little purse with a plastic shield and never took it out. Saved it from the wash more than once."

"I'm flattered," I said, then waited.

"Well," she said, faltering. "I know this is weird and I know you're not with the police anymore, but you seemed to be the only one I could call right now. The only one who might understand."

"Understand what?"

"I don't know if you're the right person, but I…" She trailed off.

My patience started to lift around the edges. "Look, Amanda, you came this far. You might as well tell me something."

Words tumbled out of her like kid's blocks from a box. "There hasn't been a crime, so I can't go to the police. In fact, nothing's actually happened, so there's nothing to even report, but my mom took too long and I'm afraid if I wait and see, then that's the dumbest thing I could possibly do. I don't want to end up as a story in the newspaper, I--"

"Hold on," I said. In just a few sentences, her voice had taken off, getting loud, rushed, and scared. "Start at the beginning. Keep it simple. Are you in danger?"

She swallowed. "Not right now."

"You said now. You think you will be, soon?"

"Yes."

"From someone you know or a stranger?"

"Both," Amanda said.

"What does that mean?"

"It's Michael. Michael Wheeler, the man who killed my mom. He's back. And I think he's back for me."

 

Chapter Two
BOOK: A Reason to Live (Marty Singer1)
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