Jeff is a writer living in Baltimore with his wife and five kids. He is the author of four books, including Mencken and the Monsters. He regularly blogs at VagrantMisunderstandings.com.
The following story is an excerpt from the new novel Mencken and the Monsters. Pick up a copy by clicking here.
Menken was sure he was right. He’d studied his wall for hours last night, trying to predict the next move. All signs pointed here. “Well, not here, exactly,” he explained. “But definitely to her.”
Rosie sighed, pulled her hair back into a ponytail and secured it with a hair band. “I thought you were being ironic when you said you wanted me to join you on a stakeout. I thought we might get dinner or something. Maybe catch a movie. I should have known better.”
They sat in Rosie’s unmarked car and watched the front door of a warehouse from across the street. They didn’t look at each other, rather they watched intently, waiting for signs of Mencken’s prediction to come true.
“I mean, she’s the key to the neighborhood’s redevelopment,” Mencken continued. “If you get rid of her, the school closes. And if you close the school, the last hope in the neighborhood is dead. And if the last hope is dead, the door is open for a savior. It all makes sense. It has to be her.”
“And there’s a new episode of the Walking Dead on tonight. You’re making me miss the Walking Dead. Tomorrow everyone’s going to tell me who died. It’s not even worth watching the episode once you know who died.”
“And it’s got to be today. Today or tomorrow. In two days there’s a film crew coming down from Boston to interview her for a documentary about fighting urban blight. And you know, if I could find out about the documentary, then they found out about it. They absolutely know about it. So, if they don’t get her today or tomorrow, then, well, then it’s too late. Then she’s a martyr because her story is out there in posterity. Right now, she’ll just be a do-gooder swallowed by the city.”
“And you didn’t even bring coffee. Don’t you know that on a stakeout, especially at night, you always bring coffee? Always. Who sits in a car on a stakeout without coffee? Or snacks. You brought no snacks. You’re making me sit in this car with no coffee and no snacks.”
“I was going through her daily routine. This is the only time she is out of her own neighborhood. Every night she comes here for an hour. If it were me, this is where I’d do it. This has to be the spot.”
“Do you know how much time I spend in this car? I’m in this car most of the damn day. I don’t want to be in this car while I’m off duty. Damn it. I hate this damn car.”
“They can’t get her in her own neighborhood. The block wouldn’t stand for it. She means too much. It has to be here. This is the spot.”
“What’cha doing Rosie?” Rosie said, mocking Mencken’s deep voice. “I’m going to sit in a car for hours and stare at a building. Want to come?” She pretended to giggle and then said in her most girly voice, “Oh sure, Mencken. I’d love to. That sounds amazing. Oh, what? You don’t have a car? Sure. We can take mine.”
“It’ll be a mugging. At first, I thought maybe a drive-by. But this guy is all about the craft. He won’t stoop to a drive-by. He’ll use a knife. Or his hands. It’s becoming his signature. You know, the street gangs have started calling him ‘The Reaper.’ Like he’s some comic book character. ‘The Reaper.’ So stupid. He’s just a killer. And they said he’s recruiting a gang of kids. So far, I’ve only heard stories of one kid with him. But maybe’s there’s more? Maybe he brings different kids on different jobs. It feels like a whole, disgusting, child soldier thing, but I don’t think they’re drugged. I think it’s more like a gathering of outcasts, like in Oliver Twist, but instead of stealing they’re –”
“Who did you say this woman is again?” Rosie’s voice had gone cold. There was an icy focus on her face.
“Anita? Anita Dickson. She runs a charter school near the Perkins projects on the east side.”
“I know where Perkins is. Why do you think she’s in trouble?”
“Her school is just south of Old Town Mall. There’s a member of the Cabal making a move on Old Town Mall for redevelopment, but I think he’s going to try and wrap the surrounding area into it. He needs to get rid of more residents first through before he can buy up all the blocks he’ll need. Her school is the only thing keeping people there. It’s a neighborhood-based elementary school, focused on kids from a limited geographic area.” Mencken paused, realizing the atmosphere in the car had changed. “Wait. Why are you suddenly interested?”
“Because that car,” Rosie said, pointing at a beat up El Camino parked a block away, “has circled the block four times, and now they’ve parked. There’re two people in it. Just sitting there with their lights off.”
“Oh shit,” Mencken said with excitement. “I was right. I can’t believe I was right.”
“Calm down,” Rosie said as she leaned over Mencken and opened the glove box. She took a small lockbox from the inside. Quickly, she turned the dials. “We don’t know anything.”
“I mean, I was just putting puzzle pieces together. You know? I can’t believe I nailed it.”
“Breathe, Slugger. Nothing’s happened yet.” Rosie got the box open and withdrew a SIG Sauer P398. She checked the ammo.
“Oh shit,” Mencken exclaimed as she withdrew the weapon. “Is that a gun?”
“You know I’m a cop, right?” Rosie said, jamming the gun into the back of her jeans. “What’s this place again?”
“It’s a P90X workout center. Really, it’s just a big warehouse. They just opened it, like, three months ago. They don’t even have a sign yet.”
A small door leading into the side of the warehouse opened. Out stepped two women, both in workout gear with towels around their necks. They were laughing.
“That’s her,” Mencken said, pointing. “That’s Anita. She’s the one on the left.”
“Great,” Rosie said, but her attention was focused on the car up the street. She tensed when the passenger side door swung open. Out stepped a small man, or maybe it was a child? He wore all black, including black gloves and a black ski mask.
“It’s going down now,” Rosie said. There was a new tone of command in her voice. She opened her car door and stepped into the street. Crouching down to the level of the car window, but not taking her eyes off the road, she said, “Stay in the car.”
Mencken watched the boy in the ski mask as he moved, slowly toward the two women. The women sat and chatted by the door, clueless to the doom on their heels.
Rosie stood, motionless, in front of the car, waiting until the small figure in black was directly in front of her. Mencken saw the assailant pull a knife from his pants. It glimmered in the streetlight. Rosie must have seen it too because she held her out with both hands. “Police!” she yelled. “Stay where you are!”
The would-be mugger froze, staring at her. The women screamed at the sight of the assailant in black and the woman with the raised gun. Rosie yelled again, “Put the knife on the down! Lay down on the ground!”
Shots rang out. Three in succession. The pops filled the street. Mencken couldn’t tell who they were coming from or directed at. He leapt from the car, searching for Rosie. Had she fired? Had she been fired at? He wasn’t sure. Then he saw her, running toward the two women at the gym door. Fear mixed with relief in his gut. He looked to his right as saw the boy running back to the car. A man also dressed in black stood at the driver’s side door. He appeared to be disassembling some sort of rifle. When the boy arrived at the car, the man tossed the pieces of the rifle down a gutter grate next to the car. Both assailants got back in the car.
Mencken ran across the street to Rosie. All three women were on the ground. Anita was lying down. Rosie and the other woman knelt beside her. The kneeling woman was crying. Rosie’s hands were interlocked, pressing hard into Anita’s shoulder. Blood seeped between her fingers.
“You alright?” Mencken said to Rosie.
“I’m fine,” she barked. “Call 9-1-1.”
Mencken stood and reached for his phone. As he did, the old car passed them slowly. The assailant in the ski mask looked out at the scene. With a finger, he made a gun and pretended to shoot Mencken. Mencken snapped a picture of the car’s licenses plate number before dialing.
Hours later, they climbed the steps of their apartment building. After waiting for the ambulance to leave, and then answering questions about what they’d seen, Rosie and Mencken were finally home.
Mencken paused at her door to tell Rosie goodnight, but Rosie kept walking. “Oh no,” she said. “You owe me coffee. Take me on a stake out with no coffee or snacks. I was shot at. I at least get coffee.”
When they arrived at Mencken’s door, he reached for his keys, but before he could retrieve them, Rosie pulled a small lock pick kit from her pocket and went to work. She had the door open in seconds. Stepping aside, she motioned with her arm for him to step through.
“Well, thank you, ma’am,” Mencken said with false formality.
Rosie laughed. “You need to replace these shitty locks,” she said. “I keep waiting for you to take the hint.”
Mencken walked over to his sink, opened the cabinet to the right and removed two glasses.
“I’ll just have mine black,” Rosie called, sitting on his bed, admiring the map on the wall.
Mencken brought over the glasses and a bottle of whiskey. “After tonight, you get the good stuff.”
Rosie laughed. “We need to change your interpretation of ‘good stuff’,” she said as she took the drink. “Hey,” she said with surprise. “What’s that?”
Mencken turned to look at the tree of Cabal hierarchy painted on the wall behind him. On top of the question mark, over the word “hitman”, was a white, lined, piece of paper. It was held to the wall by a small knife jammed into the drywall. Mencken reached up and pulled the knife out. It was heavy. Its grip was warm. From the tip, he withdrew the note.
“Don’t touch it, dumbass,” Rosie snapped, leaping to her feet. “You’re contaminating evidence.”
Mencken opened the note and read it aloud. “Congratulations. You have our full attention.”
Rosie held out a plastic bag she obtained from the kitchen. “Drop it in here,” she said. “No sleep tonight. I’ve got prints and a license plate to run.”