Authors: Matthew Storm
Copyright © 2016
Cranberry Lane Press
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This is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is
entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does
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Many thanks to
Michele, for reading yet another of my painfully bad drafts.
Also thanks to Banks,
, Albert Hammond, and Yoko Kanno.
time slows down during life’s high-intensity moments. It doesn’t. Not really.
It’s just chemicals flooding your brain that change your perception of time.
Your mind takes a little time-out to go over things. That was exactly what was
happening to me right now, between the moment I dove through the art gallery’s
second-story window and what would be the moment of my inevitable landing on
the sidewalk below me. My brain decided this would be a great time for me to
reflect on some of the life choices that had led me here.
wasn’t a particularly revelatory experience. If I was any good at reflection I
probably wouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place. It did occur
to me that taking the elevator to street level and
would almost certainly have been a better idea than what I was currently doing,
but it was a little late for that now.
stories really doesn’t seem all that high up, until you realize it actually is.
the sidewalk and tried my best to roll in order to minimize the impact, but I
hadn’t thought this thing through very well and more or less just crumpled. I
saw a man in cargo shorts and a
t-shirt staring at me with his
mouth gaping open. It occurred to me that time had probably just slowed down
for him, as well, although for less dramatic reasons. It would be a funny story
for him to tell people later. Well, maybe not
certainly. You could keep a party going with a story like that.
later I was on my feet, my Glock out of its shoulder holster and in my hand,
sprinting toward my quarry for all I was worth. There was something wrong with
my left ankle. It didn’t
, but it also didn’t feel like it was still
. I’d done something bad to it, but the fact that I could still run
at a pretty good clip was an encouraging sign. It probably wasn’t broken. When
the adrenaline wore off I was going to need some Advil, though. And quite
possibly a visit to the doctor. I was already not looking forward to that.
target was standing beside a car across the street about fifteen feet away.
He’d been staring curiously at me as I fell, his camera held out in front of
him as if he’d forgotten it was still there. As I approached he blinked in
surprise and I saw the realization hit him that
was the one I was
coming for. He looked like he wanted to ask a question, but in an instant his
look of surprise turned to one of terror. Maybe he’d just realized I wasn’t in
a rush to ask him for directions to the San Diego Zoo. He turned and ran.
in downtown La Jolla, an upscale section of San Diego that fancied itself a
competitor to Rodeo Drive in Hollywood. It was home to posh shops and
restaurants most people couldn’t afford to eat dinner at. There was very little
convenient street parking here, and wherever my target had parked, it wasn’t
nearby. Unless he’d taken the bus here, of course, but I doubted that. I wasn’t
sure a lot of buses came through La Jolla. That seemed like the kind of thing
they’d have regulations against. Buses filled with common folk might spoil the
neighborhood’s trendy image. It didn’t matter at this point where he was going,
though. He had nowhere to go that he could reach before I got to him. I was
much too fast for him. That was, unless my ankle gave out. I had to catch up to
him before that happened.
spotted blood on my right hand. Of course I’d managed to cut myself on the way
through the window. I wondered what I looked like right now. The more
terrifying the better. Machiavelli said it’s better to be feared than loved.
Fear was fine and good, but terror got things done.
feet behind him I already knew the guy I was chasing wasn’t the Laughing Man.
He was the right height, but this man was overweight and out of shape. The
Laughing Man was lean, almost wiry, and in our only fight nearly four years ago
he’d more than proven he was fit. He’d demolished me.
ahead of me was also wearing a Hawaiian shirt that looked like it had come from
a thrift shop. It was the kind of thing I couldn’t see the Laughing Man ever
letting touch his skin, even if he thought it would make a convincing disguise.
Some things were just going too far.
was crowded with pedestrians but the man ahead of me did a fairly good job of
barreling through them, and I kept myself in his wake. An older woman wearing
what looked like a green prom dress screamed at the sight of my face. Maybe I
terrifying, if that was even possible. I turned my head
enough to see my reflection in a store window. In the split second I gave
myself to look I could see a great deal of blood, but not much else. I was
definitely going to the hospital after this.
two blocks of running through shocked pedestrians the guy who definitely wasn’t
the Laughing Man reached a red Ford Taurus and stopped to fumble with his keys.
He cast one look back at me and screamed at what he saw. I screamed, too, but
it wasn’t the same kind of scream. He sounded like a guy who’s realized he’s
about to be eaten alive. I sounded like an eagle about to snatch up a rabbit.
him with a tackle at full speed, sending both of us to the ground. His body
felt squishy, like overly soft cheese. I had an almost overwhelming impulse to
sink my teeth into his neck, but I managed to keep enough control over myself
not to. Instead I punched him hard in the stomach and then crawled on top of
him as he gasped for breath.
blood on his face. It took me a moment to realize that it wasn’t his. I was
bleeding on him. That annoyed me, for some reason. I put my Glock against his
forehead. “Hi there,” I said.
didn’t bother to introduce himself, which I thought was a touch rude, but his
breathing was labored as if he hadn’t run that far in years and his lungs were
about to give up on him. I gave him a second to recover. “Who are you?” I
he managed to pant.
slapped him across the face with the barrel of my gun and he cried out.
he was bleeding. “Who are you?” I repeated. I tapped his camera, which hung
from his neck by a strap. Its lens had shattered during his fall. “I’ve seen
you twice today, you prick. You’ve been taking pictures of me.”
managed to get out. I was close enough to him to smell his breath. He’d been eating
something with too much garlic in it.
me,” I said. “Who hired you?” I could taste blood in my mouth now. Where had
come from? How badly was I hurt? “Who do you work for? Is it the Laughing Man?”
looked confused and my heart sank. I already knew the answer was going to be a
Now I was disappointed, and I smacked him with the gun again, although not
as hard this time. “Start talking.”
right,” he said between gasps. “Most of my stuff goes to the
me a minute to understand what he was talking about, but then I got it. The
was San Diego’s finest true crime weekly. Except by
. Very little of what they printed was true, and
most of their content was lurid photos of crime scenes. The bloodier the
better. I’d never read a copy, but you saw their name on television now and
again. Usually it was because they were fighting a lawsuit from a victim’s
you…” I began. “Are you telling me you’re the paparazzi?”
breathing slightly easier now. Maybe he’d decided I wasn’t going to kill him.
That seemed premature of him, but he was probably right. “It’s
he said. “
is the plural.”
I had no
idea how to process this information. “You want to debate linguistics with me?”
He shook his head. “Why the hell are you following me?”
kidding?” Now he seemed confused again. Great. We were going to be here all
Nevada James,” he said. “You’re the most famous detective in San Diego history.
The one who went up against the Laughing Man. A picture of you is worth a
my head. “A picture of me is worth nothing,” I said. Blood leaked out of my
mouth and splattered onto his face as I spoke. He flinched. It would have been
an interesting bet which one of us was more disgusted right now. “Who the hell
would pay to see a picture of me just hanging around?”
he said. “Not
.” Then his eyes shifted away from my face and he
managed to look slightly guilty. He’d given himself away. Of course it wasn’t
worth anything. Not yet.
would be worth a lot when I’m dead,” I said. “If the Laughing Man kills me.”
wouldn’t look me in the eyes. I prodded his cheek with the gun. “Answer me,” I
nodded. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just trying to make a living here.”
and put my gun back in its holster. My ankle was starting to throb and it
seemed like there was a great deal more blood on me than there should have
been. My leather jacket had taken a good slice on the arm and I wasn’t sure if
the glass that had done that had made it to the skin underneath. There wasn’t
much chance I was going to get away with going home and putting some Neosporin
on myself. I tried to remember when my last tetanus shot had been. Long enough ago
that I was probably going to need another one.
go?” the paparazzi, or paparazzo, or whatever the hell he was asked.
down at him. “In a minute,” I said. I looked around. We’d drawn quite a crowd.
Fantastic. Just what I’d wanted today. I looked back at him. “Look,” I said.
“I’m not really one to make moral judgements on people. I mean, I’ve done a lot
of terrible shit. I’ve let a lot of other terrible shit happen, and I didn’t do
anything about it. I want to be a good person, you know, but at the end of the
day, I know I’m damned. If we’re being honest here, I’m a goddamn monster.” I
put my hand on his cheek and turned his head so he had to look at me. “So
understand me that when I say this, I’m not throwing stones at you from on
high. Okay? I’m not saying I’m better than you, because there’s no doubt that
looked at me for a moment, eyes wide, and then nodded.
really need to think about your life,” I said. “I mean, really, go home, draw
the curtains, maybe have a drink if that’s what you do, and think about your
life. Because this person you are right now…you don’t want to be this guy. You
he’d been expecting me to say, that hadn’t been it. He stared at me as if I’d
just burst into song. Maybe what I’d said would sink in. Maybe it wouldn’t.
With my luck, I’d still wind up on the cover of the
Then again, given the public nature of my attack on a helpless photographer and
the fact that everyone and their brother had a phone with a camera these days,
I was probably going to be on tonight’s evening news. I hoped I didn’t look too
me?” I asked.
nodded. “Okay.” Whether he was lying or not didn’t really matter. I’d said what
I’d needed to say.
around. Two police officers were jogging toward me. They started to slow when
they saw my face and I could tell that they recognized me. Normally I didn’t
like it when that happened, but today it would be useful. I probably wouldn’t
get hauled downtown in handcuffs. I’d have to expect some questions about this,
though. And I had a pretty good idea who was going to be asking them. This day
was far from over.
get up?” the paparazzo asked.
nearly forgotten I was still sitting on him. “One more thing,” I said. I leaned
down and put my bloody lips next to his ear so only he could hear me.
“Understand this,” I whispered. “If I ever see you again, anywhere, anytime, I
will shoot you in the head. I won’t ask you any questions first. I won’t care
if it’s just a weird coincidence that I ran into you. I’ll drop you right there.
I’ll tell the cops you’d been stalking me and I was afraid for my life. And
they’ll believe me.” I pulled back from him. “Look at me and tell me you
understand what I just said.”
said he believed me. His mouth did, too. “You’ll never see me again,” he said.
I patted him on the cheek like he was a good puppy, and then looked up at the
police officers as they finally reached us. “Hey guys,” I said to them. I wiped
my nose and looked at the blood it left behind on my hand. “Do you mind giving
me a lift to the hospital?”