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My thorough examination of the gangster’s den right after I regained my hormonal balance didn’t reveal too many disturbing details or outrageous blood-curdling facts. Apart from a few packs of drugs and a handful of ammunition for .38, there wasn’t much else. We didn’t find chopped-up human bodies in the fridge or stashes of cash in a black suitcase under the bed. It was just a normal place where small-time criminals lived, which I had managed to turn upside down during my lonely raid through it. Now the shack was a total mess, and it looked like a bum’s den instead.

Despite everything, I was still nervous. The house was lit up like a Christmas tree, and we were merrily rummaging through its owners’ stuff as if the most terrible thing that could happen to us if they caught us here was smacking our asses and punishing us by making us stand silently in the corner for an hour or two. Personally, I felt like a stupid Snow White who had just sneaked uninvited into the house of the black Caribbean Santa and his seven voodoo dwarfs.

My assistant, quite unlike me, had no such concerns. She ran around agitatedly like a rabid dog, poking her muzzle into every hole and sniffing at everything as if she expected to find a dozen Easter bunnies hidden around the house. Her problem was that she never found any, and as I watched her—so enthusiastic and not wanting to let it go—I was so worried that I felt like I needed to take a shit. When I shared my terrible fears with her about us getting caught here, she only cried out, “Just a minute more!” and reached her hand into a cupboard box full of Christmas balls to take one out of it. When she did it, suspicious-looking powder spilled on the floor. Terrified, I closed my eyes and prayed to God that it was only sugar. When I looked back a few seconds later, Lara was already smacking her lips happily and grinning like a naughty child who had just found a hidden jar of jam in the cellar. She had white powder all over her face.

“Heroin!” she shouted confidently, and she did it so loudly that her voice rose up to heaven, split everyone’s ears up there, and then descended back to earth to see if there were any deaf people down here who were still uninformed.

I closed my eyes again. The feeling that I was Snow White in the house of Caribbean Santa momentarily disappeared from my head, and it was replaced by the nasty idea that the Caribbean Bogeyman—the evil master of all drugs—would appear instead, and he would threaten my poor white ass with a huge syringe dripping in his hairy arm!

When, after a while, I reopened my eyes, the situation had changed further. My so-called assistant was nowhere in sight, and instead of her ass sticking out of the wardrobe or the cabinet under the sink, I saw an open door, which I hadn’t noticed so far. It was cleverly disguised to look like a column shelf—in the corner beside the front window—but it was actually a secret closet. Right in the next moment, I heard a heavy thud, a lot of swearing, and the noise of things falling down in the hideout.

At first, I cautiously approached the place to look inside, but when the stink of awaiting trouble behind the door hit me right in the face, I turned around and decided to leave this part of the investigation to my partner. She had started dealing with it anyway, and besides, there probably wasn’t enough space for both of us in there. Instead, I walked to the fridge to get something to drink. I grabbed a beer bottle and walked back to an armchair to place my butt in it.

I had terribly bad feelings about all this. I literally lost my will to live and felt like a dead volcano that had gone extinct ten thousand years ago. I was actually so detached from reality that even when I heard Lara shouting in the closet, “I think I found something,” it didn’t reach my consciousness. I just took the remote control from the coffee table in front of me and turned on the cable TV. After that, I leaned back in the armchair and let the world around me fade away as I tiredly watched the screen. Soon I sank into total oblivion, and that’s how the next sharp turn of events struck me. Before I even knew it, a pair of belligerent drug dealers had already popped in, blocking my only way out of the shack.

I looked around myself, sleepy and dizzy. My hands were still clutching the beer bottle and the remote, and I was watching a dazzling blonde-haired sex bomb give a skillful blowjob to a huge mulatto guy on the screen. In fact, I was so consumed with the porn scene that I wasn’t even scared at first. In the next second, however, my mind registered the danger, and I shuddered, but unfortunately, it was already too late to do anything about it.

The moment my new mates laid eyes on me, they stopped near the door and reached for their guns, alarmed. After they recognized me—it was obvious they did—they suddenly grinned and relaxed, glancing at each other meaningfully. Then they came closer to me.

By the way, I was surprised to see them too because the scumbags looked exactly like the images in Lara’s photo—it was as if the picture was taken just yesterday! One of the guys was slightly shorter and more muscular, and he had a gruesome knife scar on his face. It started at his chin, went up across his left cheek and temple, and disappeared somewhere in the dark bush of his curly hair. Actually, under different circumstances, it would have been a very interesting mark to study, but here and now, it looked threatening.

Scarface’s partner, on the other hand, was leaner and a bit taller, and he didn’t have such a brutal appearance—probably because his hair had started to thin out, and the top of his crown was almost bald. He seemed a more promising party to negotiate with, at least at first. When he opened his mouth to smile at me, though, he managed to beat all my stupid illusions. His teeth were unusually small, disgustingly yellow, and terrifyingly sharp—like those of a hungry piranha. His evil eyes, at the same time, seemed somehow lifeless and cold—like those of a pit viper.

When the two men came close enough, they looked at me again and suddenly burst into laughter—almost simultaneously. The gold chains hanging around their necks and the bracelets on their wrists rattled unnervingly. All gussied up like that, the guys looked like unconvincing characters from a cheap social drama about the immigrant community in Miami, but in this particular situation, I completely failed to see the humor and the fun of it all. Absolutely confident that I was going to die very soon, I suddenly realized that nothing in my life mattered any more: the porn I was watching, the beer I was drinking, Lara in the closet, this stupid case of mine, my damn career—it was all in the past now!

“Well, well, well! I can’t believe what my eyes see here!” The scar-faced man articulated his first words as he moved his disgusting face closer to mine. His voice sounded like broken glass scraping over ceramic tile. “This fucking bastard has a real knack for surviving, man! I warned you about it, didn’t I?”

After hearing what he said, I shivered again. Up until this moment, I had somehow kept my head buried in the sand, even though I knew my ass was probably sticking out exposed. Now I had no choice but to accept the truth. I clearly had a close relationship with these two, and maybe we had really killed five bottles of whiskey in my apartment for whatever reason! It was a sobering moment for me.

The bastard, who was talking to me suddenly reached out his hand to pull the beer bottle out of mine, angry. He was obviously pissed off that I had taken the liberty to rummage through their stuff.

“The jerk seems to fancy the same shit as we do, Larry!” he roared. “Can you imagine that? What are the odds, huh?” Then he passed the bottle to his friend. Larry took it from him and started examining it, pretending to be reading the label.

“I reckon the guy’s cool!” He announced his decision after a while. “Your beer taste doesn’t lie. He must be a solid dude!”

I let the two idiots finish their silly act and reclined in my chair, thinking feverishly. It seemed I didn’t have many options here except to wait and see how the situation evolved. At the same time, I knew I had to avoid showing them my fear because it would only aggravate them further. I had some problems with that, though. Right now, my position was so horribly disadvantageous that staying calm cost me enormous amounts of energy.

However, something else distracted me from focusing on my task too. The entire time, I couldn’t stop wondering why Lara was still hanging in the stupid closet instead of coming out to surprise the scumbags and save me. Couldn’t she hear what terrible things were brewing out here? As I thought about it, I was desperate not to look at the hideout too fixedly because the door was still ajar, and I was afraid the drug dealers would notice this small detail at last. After all, the longer they were unaware of it, the better my chances of survival were. Lara was my only hope at the moment.

Bob—the one with the scar, since the other was obviously Larry—grabbed the bottle from his associate’s hand and sharply hurled it against the wall behind my back. It shattered loudly, but his violent gesture actually meant nothing. It was just intended to scare me. Nevertheless, I was glad he did it because now, at least, my big-breasted, blonde-haired assistant was going to realize the seriousness of my situation out here for sure.

“Listen to me, you filthy little bastard!” The jerk leaned over to me, hissing maliciously into my face. “You’re nothing more than a damn stinking piece of horseshit! And nobody likes horseshit, you know! Do you realize how fundamentally fucked up you are?”

I didn’t bother answering at first because it seemed like a rhetorical question to me. Besides, I couldn’t do so even if I wanted to because Bob’s jewelry rattled loudly after his jerky movement.

“What did you expect me to do?” I asked him, still seemingly calm, after the jingling was over. “You two have been to my place, haven’t you? Why can’t I come to yours?” Then I slowly put the remote down on the coffee table and cautiously rose to my feet. The drug dealer was alarmed immediately.

“Wait a moment to hear my point first! I’ve got something really important to tell you,” I went on quickly when I saw the bastard wanted to hit me. And after saying it, without further explanation, I turned around and leisurely walked to the fridge in the small kitchenette in the corner. Since it was a dead end and I couldn’t escape from there, the two scumbags did nothing to stop me. Nevertheless, I was too nervous, and the entire time, I expected a bullet in the back of my head.

Luckily, nothing like that happened. I successfully reached the refrigerator, opened its door, and took another bottle of beer before the eyes of the drug dealers, who were still looking at me dumbfounded. Then I theatrically gazed at the label without having the slightest idea what I was actually doing. Generally, I was trying to buy some time until I came up with a plan, but the problem was that my cowardly brain refused to play along, and I was left hanging there with no backup at all.

I stood like this, stupidly staring at the bottle for a whole minute, and after I finally finished reading through the entire label, I just had to give it up and do something—no matter what. Since opening the bottle was the most natural continuation of this situation, I looked around for the fork I had used to open my first beer, and when I didn’t see it anywhere around, I got terribly worried that my little performance would eventually fail. I was actually so worried that in my nervousness, I accidentally dropped the beer, which fell on the metal ring that surrounded the refrigerator base. The bottle burst into pieces, which were scattered all around the floor.

Larry and Bob just looked at me, flabbergasted, and I could easily understand their amazement. I would have been amazed too if I were any of them because what I was doing here made no fucking sense. Anxious to keep my momentum, I quickly reached into the fridge to grab another bottle, and as I prayed that my act would be far more successful this time, I almost made the same mistake because my hands were shaking so badly. I managed to secure my hold on the bottle at the last moment, but only after clumsily juggling it for nearly ten seconds!

Finally, I raised my eyes and looked awkwardly at my captors. They had just started to recover from their surprise and they were eager to see what I would do next. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do next and was fully aware I was running out of time. Being desperate, I just hurled the beer at Bob before I had the chance to screw it up again. This time, everything worked as planned, but the bastard was quick, and he dodged the bottle, which broke into the wall behind his back.

Without wasting time, I turned around to grab a fresh pair of ammunition and promptly shot them at the bald Larry, who didn’t even bother to lift a finger. He just let them pass by his ears as if they weren’t glass bottles but beer nuts, and they were going to make him extremely happy if they hit him in the mouth.

Naturally, my fifth bullet flew to Bob again, and it nearly knocked him out because he made the mistake of going for it—just like an impatient catcher who was already pissed by my total incompetence at throwing. However, in the last moment, he came to his senses and dodged again, letting the bottle bounce off his hands safely.

By old tradition, I directed my sixth and seventh missiles to Larry, who, by the way, was already falling asleep with boredom, and as for the eighth bomb, well, I accidentally knocked its neck against the edge of the sink, and it went off prematurely, spilling its contents unspectacularly at my feet.

Then there was the ninth bottle! I counted on it to bring my performance to a bombastic culmination before I finished my act with the tenth, but in fact, it all ended disappointingly bad. Bob had already broken the ninth bottle into the wall behind my back, and there was no tenth in the fridge. The tenth beer the bastards had obviously drunk already.

I sighed desperately and looked around dejectedly because my little show seemed over now. On the refrigerator shelves, there were only two cucumbers, a banana, an old slice of pizza, and some yellow cheese, but they all smiled apologetically at me, assuring me that I wouldn’t win any battle even if I had them on my side. They weren’t even rated on the Mohs hardness scale, so I had to believe them and leave them alone.

Eventually, Larry and Bob overcame their initial confusion. They kept looking at me for a few seconds, waiting for me to come up with some other extravagant shit, but since I did nothing, they only shrugged. I had no other idea in my head, whether extravagant or not, and my only weapon against their guns now was the broken bottle in my hand. Luckily, the bastards were still reluctant to use their weapons, so I decided to take my chance. In the following minutes, I turned our hearty meeting into a slapstick comedy by playing tag with the jerks and leapfrogs afterward.

I frantically started running around the house, making sharp jumps between the furniture, but unfortunately, it didn’t work as I hoped. The problem was that either I hadn’t calculated my path very well, or simply the movies about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were not based on real-life experiences. After just two steps across the living room area, I unexpectedly bumped into Bob’s ugly scar almost face-to-face. I drove my forehead against his nose, and he roared painfully like a wounded grizzly bear. Thanks to the impact, I actually had a real good chance to get out of the place, leaving my poor assistant behind, if Larry hadn’t nailed me between the eyes right before I had the opportunity to sneak out. The jerk was quite agile and had a perfect stance, waiting for me near one of the armchairs.

I didn’t know if it was because of his excellent shape or my wild rush, but my head literally exploded after the blow. I dropped my weapon, losing my orientation for a moment and tossing my nose into the air. My feet followed suit soon after, and then I found myself on the floor, hitting it with my backbone. I had the feeling my entire brain splashed out of my eye sockets after the blow!

Larry used the moment as I was still lying down, almost unconscious, and he grabbed my shirt collar, dragging me to the kitchen table, which was pretty massive. There, he tied my hands to the legs. Meanwhile, Bob came to his senses too and got up, angry. His nose bled profoundly. Mine wasn’t very well either, but since it didn’t bleed, I felt like the winner in this weird competition. I smiled crookedly at the bastard.

He took a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his face and sat in the armchair, putting his gun on the table. He groaned painfully as he cleaned his nose but didn’t express any unpleasant intentions concerning my well-being—not for now, at least. The drug dealer just mumbled under his breath with the handkerchief still pressed to his face, “You’re such a terrible loser, Mellrow! I’ve never seen such an incompetent dick as you in my entire life. And I wonder in what state of mental derangement you’ve actually decided to become a detective in the first place.”

Naturally, I didn’t like his remark at all, and I was even offended by it, but given the pain, the guy was experiencing, I could understand his frustration to a point. That’s why I made the effort to rise above my hurt feelings and spare myself from arguing over my professional qualities.

“It was only a tactical move,” I explained instead. “I did it to make you underestimate me, just as you did!”

“Yeah?” He croaked hoarsely, shooting a malicious look at me. “You’re such a great manipulator, aren’t you? Let me see what terrible things you have in mind for us now that we’ve underestimated you so badly. I’m really curious!”

“I really have no problem with you,” I cautiously tried to blow my nose too. “It’s your middleman who I’m after.”

“Our middleman? And who would that be?” he asked suspiciously.

“You know full well who your goddamn middleman is! Don’t be ridiculous!”

The two scumbags suddenly glanced at each other, confused.

“Oh, stop that bullshit, you two! He’s just stalling!” Larry roared, annoyed, after a while. Then he turned to me. “You know what, Dick Tracy? I suggest you tell us right now, what exactly you’ve reported to the police. Last time, you got away with it, but now you won’t. Last time, you were supposed to carry that information to the grave, and that’s why we were negligent, but now we won’t make the same mistake.”

I looked at him and tried to shrug, which was virtually impossible with my hands tied to the table leg. He obviously wasn’t very skilled at math. What was my motivation to tell them anything if I was going to die anyway, I didn’t even know. After a few seconds, Larry obviously realized the flaw in his suggestion, and he tried to sweeten the deal for me.

“You can spare yourself a lot of pain if you do,” he encouraged me rather unconvincingly, demonstrating his complete luck in fantasy.

“If I’m dying both ways,” I made the effort to knock some sense into his stupid head, “what stops me from feeding you total bullshit and still having the painless death?”

The jerk stared at me, surprised. There was sudden silence in the shack after my remark because my logic was clearly strong enough to leave the two morons speechless. Maybe due to his mental impotence, Bob didn’t even try to answer. Instead, he stood up and angrily came to me to slap my face real hard. My left ear rang from the blow.

“Listen to me, you cheeky little bastard!” he hissed spitefully. “You won’t get away with it this time; beat this simple fact into your stupid head! Now, either you turn into a fucking Scheherazade, or I cut your ears right now! Then I’ll scoop your eyes out! How do you like that, huh?”

“You know well that the cops aren’t the issue here, don’t you?” I promptly started maneuvering because I obviously had to give the jerks some reason to keep me alive for a while longer. “My report doesn’t matter because they simply don’t care! You should really worry about the guy who stands between you and the end buyer, though. The trick Sonya and you are trying to pull won’t work!”

Bob sharply turned his head to look back at Larry, puzzled.

“What is this even supposed to mean?” Baldy asked me without coming closer.

I didn’t answer at first, and I took my time—pretending I was in pain—because I didn’t actually know what it was supposed to mean. Unfortunately, my performance didn’t help much. My time quickly passed, and I started flapping my arms and legs in the black waters of my desperation as I drowned in them, searching for a straw to clutch at. I lacked enough information to get their attention! In the meantime, the water quickly reached my mouth, and soon I had to decide whether to shorten my agony by letting it in or to keep pointlessly flapping while hoping for a miracle.

“Do you really believe that the little whore would play ball?” I mumbled with the last oxygen remaining in my lungs, attempting to fabricate a convincing story from almost nothing. “You’re stupid if you think she’s not working on both sides. Eventually, she’ll kick your asses just as the other little whore did?”

This time the drug dealers took my words far more seriously, and Bob silently returned to sitting in his armchair, lighting a cigarette. On the TV screen in front of him, a fat Mexican “lady” was trying to insert the neck of a wine bottle into her ass, and he grabbed the remote to switch to another channel.

“Where’s the stupid cunt? Did she come to you?” he asked after a while without looking back at me. I finally sighed with relief because it was obviously a hit. The Butterfly hadn’t sold me a complete lie as it seemed. She had really bailed out, and now that I knew Sonya was on the loose too, it was a good starting point for improvising.

“You’re not thinking straight,” I unleashed my imagination in the next moment. “Why would she come to me anyway? She wants money, doesn’t she? And I have none! Why don’t you ask your middleman where she is instead? I’m pretty sure he would have something to say to you!”

A heavy silence followed for a couple of seconds. For a while, only our breathing could be heard in the room until Larry’s voice echoed in it.

“Something’s not right here. I don’t buy it that our guy would take that risk,” he looked at his friend. “Not before we’ve sealed the deal, at least!”

“But he did ransack our place, didn’t he?” Bob shrugged, unconvinced, while still smoking. “So why not?”

“We can’t be one hundred percent sure it was him!” Baldy disagreed.

“You really don’t get it, you boys, do you?” I embarked on wild improvisation again. “It’s not about your deal anymore! The two bitches sold you out because they thought you were done. They want to call the shots now!”

My two captors frowned without saying anything. I promptly used the short pause to dig into my memory for something else I could use, but unfortunately, that seemed to be all. I hadn’t squeezed anything else out of the Butterfly and didn’t know who the scumbags were blackmailing or why. And besides, no matter how long I stalled here, it all had to end eventually.

After half a minute of thinking, Bob suddenly turned to his buddy.

“Do you believe him?” he asked grimly.

“Not much, actually,” Larry replied curtly. “I think he’s just trying us out.”

“Well, in this case, you are not too good at running scenarios!” I rushed myself to refute Baldy’s point. “Can’t you see there is a much larger fish involved now? Why do you even think your current deal matters to him?”

To be honest, even before saying it, I had already thought a few times that I should stop mentioning their middleman so often. By doing it, I had all the chances to screw up, but I had hoped that, in gangs like theirs, someone always tried to take advantage of the others, and I wanted to use that. Now I was sure I had gone too far. Larry suddenly came to me, visibly annoyed, and leaned over, fixing his mean eyes on mine.

“What exactly do you know about that middleman anyway?” he asked me directly.

I stirred uneasily at the table base.

“Relax! Nothing’s going to happen yet, but you should be careful!” I desperately tried to worm my way out of the situation. “He won’t risk it before the deal is over because he wouldn’t want the police to start nosing around, but when it’s all done… Well, you know his game isn’t your game, right?”

And here, I shut my huge mouth at last because I had finally blown it. I was just expecting to be brutally cross-examined until it was clear that I actually knew nothing about the man I claimed I knew everything about when I noticed Bob jumping out of his armchair, enraged. At first, I thought he was coming to me to smash my head over something I had said earlier, but soon I realized that wasn’t the case. He ran in the opposite direction, and three seconds later, he leaped into the closet like a black panther jumping on its prey. It was only now that he noticed the door was ajar! In the meantime, Larry surprisingly hit me in the face so hard that all the Pleiades came down from the sky and started dancing around my head. It hurt terribly, and my nose really bled this time.

After about a minute or two of struggling to overcome the terrible pain I was experiencing, I finally managed to raise my eyes and I tried to focus on something that wasn’t moving. Because of my huddled position under the table, my blood dripped right into my mouth, and I had to swallow some of it. Like every time it happened, I was amazed at how salty it tasted. I never really got used to it my entire life.

A couple of seconds later, my vision gradually cleared up, and my eyes stopped at Larry’s face. He was still looking back at me, happily grinning, as if I had just given him the nicest compliment in the world, and he was about to thank me. Behind his back, everything seemed okay. Total peace and harmony reigned over the closet, and I couldn’t hear the “oohs” and “aahs”, or any other exclamations, which were so characteristic of the moment Tom met Jerry. I couldn’t see the ubiquitous dust cloud coming out of the place either. It meant that Lara was still alive, but it also meant that she wasn’t going to come out with a cartridge belt across her naked breasts and a machine gun in her hands to save me!

Since Larry clearly didn’t have any intention to torture me further, and after his initial outburst, he looked somehow benevolent—as if he were terribly sorry for losing his temper—I asked him, nodding toward the closet, “What’s the matter with him?” Then I swallowed some more blood because I was going to choke on it.

“He’ll be fine; don’t worry about him!” Baldy tried to soothe my hurt feelings. “He’s just too sensitive, and sometimes he takes offense at nothing at all!”

“Well, I suppose he didn’t think I’d come all the way here just to watch porn and have a couple of beers, did he?”

“I told you! He’s a bit touchy and maybe naïve too. I wouldn’t blame him, though. Since you look like a complete idiot, you can easily deceive everybody!”

I gave the guy a nod of “gratitude” for his “kind” words, but I restrained myself from commenting on them because I still wondered why it was so damn quiet inside the closet.

“Besides, the hideout was his soft spot, you know,” the drug dealer continued. “He designed it to withstand even a meticulous police search. And here you are! The first amateur snooper who chases cheating wives around town pops in and cracks it open. You should put yourself in his shoes and not judge him too harshly!”

Of course, I did not intend to put myself in anybody’s shoes, nor did I want to explain that I steered clear of cheating cases in my practice, but I was definitely offended that he considered me an amateur. Although, if you think about it, I did miss that hideout after all—Lara found it! In any case, I didn’t have the chance to defend myself properly because, right then, Bob surprisingly returned to us pretty much in the same way he had disappeared. His jumping out of the closet was worthy of creating a brand-new Kung Fu style!

“The fucking bastard has turned everything upside down!” he roared, frustrated, from which I concluded he hadn’t met Lara inside. She had probably managed to sneak out while we chased each other around the shack, and even though I had wanted to do the same thing to her at some point earlier, I still felt kind of betrayed that she had left me behind.

“Don’t worry, nothing’s missing. Our shit is fine!” Bob continued his rapport, from which I drew a second conclusion—Lara was a fairly incompetent detective after all. In fact, I was quite lucky that she sucked so much because otherwise, they might easily bust my poor ass while searching for something I simply didn’t have.

“He probably didn’t know what to look for,” Larry suggested, “because he’s pretty dumb, you know.”

Unlike his previous statement, when he called me an amateur, I didn’t take offense now. It suited me well that they considered me stupid because it increased my chances of surviving. They were going to underestimate me again! And to increase my chances even further, I promptly started plotting my escape as I sat so nicely packed with the table that I was completely unable to move. Soon I got so carried away in my dream that I started coughing with excitement and forgot to stop for a while. Larry even patted me on the back a few times, worried about my health.

Feeling moderately hopeful after his kind gesture of concern, I took the liberty to ask him, “What are you gonna do to me?”

“We’re gonna kill you,” he tried to encourage me with a soft smile. “Don’t be afraid, we won’t waste time torturing you. After our last attempt, we know it’s not exactly a result-driven tactic!”

“But couldn’t you torture me a little bit, at least, before killing me?” I tried to negotiate my fate toward a more time-consuming end. “Or maybe torture me a little bit more instead of killing me whatsoever?”

He pretended to be considering it.

“No!” Baldy rejected my offer after a while. “But here’s a deal for you! We could kill you and make sure it feels like torture. Is that okay? Do you wanna have one last cigarette?”

I looked at him dejectedly and thought feverishly. One cigarette’s time wasn’t long enough. Clearly, the entire Sonya thing was just a damp squib, and it didn’t work. Now I had to come up with another “brilliant” idea, but unfortunately, I had none in my head. I had hit a dead end here, and this was probably how I would die.

“You know what? I’d rather have a beer,” I announced my final decision after I was done thinking. And I really wanted one! I had always wondered why characters in books chose cigarettes in such situations, given the fact that a beer would buy them much more time because they would have more control over how long they drank it. Nevertheless, I doubted my captors would be kind enough to agree to it. Bob was particularly quick to express his disapproval of it.

“Of course, why not?” He growled and came to me, cracking his fingers in front of my face. His eyes were cold and malicious. “Let me just hop into the car, and I’ll fetch you a six-pack so you can drink one can and juggle the rest, alright?”

I looked at him sourly but otherwise ignored his biting remark, and I turned to the far more civilized Larry. I had to pull another card out of my sleeves, even if it was the weakest one because it was a matter of life and death now.

“Listen to me.” Being in a hurry to save myself, I pleaded. “I’ve known all your deals for a very long time, all right? So if I wanted to mess with you, I would’ve done it so far! But that’s not what I care about, you know. You can still go on with your smuggling business, bribing the officials, money laundering, transfers to offshore bank accounts, and everything else! Why put it all at risk by killing me for no reason?”

Here, I wisely stopped myself for a brief moment before telling them I knew all about the submarines full of drugs crossing the Caribbean Sea, the blackmailing of high-ranking politicians, and the buying up of federal judges. I had recently watched a movie about Pablo Escobar, and my imagination was obviously running wild!

“So why don’t we cut ourselves a deal instead?” I continued hesitantly. “If you let me go,” at this moment, I stirred uneasily under the table because my position there was too unconvincing, and it hurt my image of a man powerful enough to stop the entire drug smuggling between the Americas all by himself, “I won’t give you any more troubles. I’ll let you finish your deal undisturbed, and as a token of goodwill, I’ll serve Sonya’s head to you on a silver platter!”

Then I stopped talking at last. Geez, I really wish I had stopped talking before that! I felt like a second-class actor on fire who had gotten way too far and said all the lines of all the characters in the play instead of only his own.

My two friends looked at me puzzled and confused when I finished my plea. At least, I gathered they were confused because they didn’t react at first. Larry was particularly touched because he coughed delicately while Bob only smacked his lips twice.

“So you say you’ll give us Sonya on a silver platter?” After thinking about my offer for a while, Baldy broke the heavy silence. “Is that right?”

I gave him a nod, and what the devil made me do afterward, I couldn’t even begin to understand! Instead of keeping my mouth shut, I opened it again, and with pathos strong enough for the opening scene in a movie about the Trojan War, I said, “I swear to all the gods, the bitch will regret her vile betrayal till the end of her earthly days!”

No one reacted to my solemn and totally inadequate oath. Whether the bitch was going to regret anything or not, and until when, I didn’t have the slightest idea, but I would have surely laughed my ass off if I were them and I had heard myself declaring such a hollow and ridiculous phrase. However, the guys remained calm, their faces lacking any emotion.

“And you won’t tell anybody about the money laundering or bribed officials?” Larry wanted to be sure.

“Not a single word!”

“And we’re keeping our numerous offshore bank accounts?”

“All of them!”

“You swear?”

“I swear to the gods!”

At this point, I already knew it was the end of my little show here. I felt like a worldwide champion in a triathlon of idiotism, cretinism, and imbecility. The two drug dealers obviously thought so too, and it was only natural because I was clearly too good at it!

“I think he’s got no idea what he’s talking about.” After a short pause, Bob announced my death sentence. “He’s a complete jerk!”

“Yeah, I think so too!” Larry agreed, and then he turned to me.

“You know, we’re so thankful for your willingness to spare our lives!” he assured me in an affected theatrical manner. “We really appreciate your courtesy, and to express our endless gratitude, we’ll let you pick the way you die. Basically, there are two options: Bob could crack your scull open with his knucks, or we could hang you upside down on that hook over there. Which one do you prefer?”

He showed me the hook they used to suspend their boxing bag. Both choices he offered me seemed equally barbaric and unacceptable. It was also quite rude of him to make me choose such a thing. It almost felt like having a patient’s measurements taken for a funeral suit before sending him for surgery in the hospital!

I turned my eyes away from the hook without saying anything and desperately started assessing my chances of survival. Soon I realized that there was nothing to assess at all. My head was totally empty except for the trivial bluff that the police were waiting outside, ready for an assault, which they definitely wouldn’t buy. It seemed that the only thing I could do before dying here was at least know how I had died the previous time. So I braced myself and asked them.

“Wow! You’re really a sick son of a bitch, Mellrow! Do you realize that? You need to go to a psychiatrist!” Larry shook his bald head instead of giving me the answer. Bob, on his part, took my innocent question as an attempt to ridicule them, and he promptly came to me, wagging his knuckles in front of my eyes.

“Do you know how quickly you’ll remember everything if I whack your face a couple of times with this thing?” he hissed.

I looked at him. He was a terrible and very stupid bloke, for sure! Threatening me with his brass thingy without using it, as if I had no idea what it was used for, seemed quite immature. Besides, he spat in my face while doing so. I tried to turn my head and wipe my cheek on my shoulder, and my unexpected gesture embarrassed him. He suddenly put his knucks into his pocket and strolled to the distant wall, where he stood, facing it.

“So we’re back to the hanging now!” Larry suddenly announced in a businesslike manner. He raised his head to look at the hook again. “Are you sure? I’ve heard these victims shit themselves after hanging on the rope for half an hour. Is that how you want people to remember you?”

“I’m not so sure about the shitting,” I mumbled without looking up. “I’ve heard it differently. I’ve heard these victims rarely have the chance to die because of unexpected events.”

“Yeah? What unexpected events?” He looked at me, intrigued.

“The cops who would storm in, for example! Because they often wait outside, ready.”

He smiled condescendingly at me.

“You know, let’s get back to the shitting, okay? Leave the cops alone for now,” Baldy decided to continue the virtual forensic examination of my dead body. “I’m terribly curious whether you’d shit yourself in the mouth if we hung you upside down. What do you think?”

“I really doubt it!” I tried to discourage him. “It’s a long way from the large intestine back to the throat, and besides, I haven’t had any meals since yesterday!”

“I beg to differ about the meals!” Larry challenged my humble opinion. “Your bowels always have something aside. I’m actually very sorry that you won’t be alive long enough to acknowledge my point when I prove it.”

At this moment, Bob suddenly finished his self-imposed punishment in front of the wall and angrily turned to us.

“Oh, cut this fucking bullshit already, both of you! You’re starting to piss me off!” He roared angrily, and this time—to my horror—his partner agreed without any objections.

The jerks quickly untied my hands from the table leg and tied them back in front of me, after which they dragged me out of the shack. The cool night air caressed my face, and the gentle breeze ruffled my hair. The moon was in the sky now, and the latter was full of big, flickering stars. Their bright reflections sparkled on the water’s surface like fireflies and made the bay shine in a romantic bluish twilight. It all looked like a fairy tale.

“It’s an evening too beautiful to die!” I thought dejectedly. “It’s such a shame I won’t see the sunrise!”

The two scumbags didn’t let me enjoy the poetry of night, though, and they roughly pushed me toward the empty parking space beside their shack. It was full of scrap metal and various garbage, and among everything, I saw two cars. One of them was a nineteen-seventy-five Plymouth Fury, and the other was a very old and beaten Ford. It looked exactly like the car Lara and I had rented.

“Still want that beer?” Bob pushed me again as he breathed in my ear and listened tensely around. The damn cat that spooked me so much on our coming here—quite unfortunate as it seemed—was howling again. It felt like it was celebrating my imminent death.

“Why?” I asked him, still not believing I was going to die. I still hoped Lara would come and save my poor ass somehow. “Are you buying?”

“I’m not buying, but if you’re thirsty, you’re in luck!” The bastard grinned. “You’ll have a chance to have a big one. I really doubt you’d be able to drink it all!”

In the meantime, while we kept exchanging civilities with Bob, Larry kept rummaging into the trunk of the Chrysler in search of something. He didn’t pay any attention to us.

“What do you mean, ‘if I’m thirsty’? You’re not drowning me, are you?” I suddenly squeaked, having a sobering insight about their true intentions.

“Come on, don’t spoil it. It’s a surprise! You just need to take a very deep breath and avoid strong emotions to save your oxygen. A car fills with water for about a minute and a half, and then you’ll be on your own for at least seventy-two hours until they find you!”

At this point, I got really scared at last. The situation seemed hopeless. I looked around, desperate, but I didn’t see anyone hurrying to save me. The area was empty of people, and even if someone was watching in the darkness, I doubted they would give a shit about me. In such a sketchy neighborhood, it was equivalent to suicide.

“And you’re willing to destroy an entire Chrysler for me?” I tried my last chance to open a fairly useless discussion about the weapon of crime. “It’d be ridiculous!”

“Well, it’s not exactly a Cadillac! Besides, it won’t be the Chrysler but the Ford. And it’s not like it’s the latest model, you know.”

“But aren’t you afraid that when the police search the area and find the vehicle so close to your shack, you’ll be the first to go on their list of suspects? Especially if you have a record with them, which I believe is your case!”

“You think too much!” The jerk scolded me. “When the police find this car—probably at some point next week or maybe even next month—our shack will be already empty, and we’ll be someplace else, on the seaside of another ocean.”

At this moment, Larry finally finished his work in the trunk of the Chrysler and closed it loudly. He had some things in his hands that looked like rope and a brick.

I turned my eyes to him, worried. I felt the noose around my neck sharply tightening, and even though I didn’t want to panic prematurely, I had to admit that it would have been so much nicer if I had already been saved!

The drug dealers made me turn around and they pushed me onto the back seat of the Ford, tying my hands to the grab handle and shutting the door. Since the terrain ahead had no slope, Larry started the engine while stepping on the clutch, and he stuck the gas pedal down using the brick. After that, he adjusted the rearview mirror for me.

“So you could see us waving goodbye!” he explained.

“Thank you very much,” I said in a trembling voice. “I hope we meet again soon!”

“Sure thing! If not here, wait for us in the next world, okay?”

The bastard put the car into first gear and removed his foot from the clutch, after which he slammed the door and did a military salute to me with a grin. Bob only looked at me grimly.

The Ford solemnly moved forward as if leading the Independence Day Parade and headed straight for the pier. No more than thirty yards separated me from the waterfront, and it was high time for Lara to appear at last. She was still missing, though, which was quite discouraging, to say the least. I frantically pulled my hands in an attempt to rip the damn handle off, but it didn’t move. I also tried to use my right leg to release the gas pedal, but in my restrained position in the back seat, I couldn’t stretch that far. The bustards had done their homework really well!

At this moment, I began seriously doubting the prospect of my so-called saving. There was simply not enough time left until my literal deadline—two or three minutes, tops—and besides, when I looked outside the car window, I couldn’t see any sign to give me at least a little hope. The only thing I saw was an ominous pair of eyes, staring at me from a garbage pile. It was the horrible cat whose meowing had been bending my ears all night long, and on top of that, it was too dark to distinguish if the damn animal was black or not. Who knows why, but I thought it was important to know it before I die.

Only twenty yards left. Realizing that I was doomed, I sharply pulled myself together and tried to get out of panic mode to make the important decisions at the end of my life. I stretched my lungs as much as I could and took a very deep breath. It was so deep that my ears popped, and the world around me darkened from too much strain. At the same time, my mind grappled with the task of finding an innovative way to extract oxygen from water. I was trying to figure out how the fish did it!

At some point, my eyes fell on the approaching ocean, and I looked at it, desperate. Its front was getting closer and closer, and its surface glimmered so beautifully in the night, with flecks of moonlight emerging here and there—just like little mermaids coming up to take a breath. They hypnotized me. As I watched them, I suddenly thought Lara must have hidden beneath the pier. There was just no other explanation for why she was still missing! She was probably waiting for me right there, ready to pull me out at the last moment—after the scumbags couldn’t see me anymore but before the Ford plopped into the bay. She had indeed thought it through very well. It was the perfect plan!

Only ten yards left, and maddening paranoia quickly gripped my brain. No Lara was waiting under no pier! Why would I still believe this bullshit? The bitch had definitely ditched me, and it was already too late for anything. The car quickly shortened its distance to the platform and stepped on it, then crossed along, and when the Ford reached the end, it shook strongly and froze for a moment, hesitating whether to dip down or hang there, balancing. My heart skipped a beat, hoping the old wreck would stay like this forever. Alas, in the next second, the vehicle leaned further, and after two more seconds, it noisily collapsed into the ocean, raising a fountain of splashes.

It’s actually quite interesting how quickly a car fills with water. One could think that this entire blister of air, which is inside, will have a really hard time getting out—at least that’s how they depict the situation in the movies—but in reality, the blister just makes a short “blup” and it’s gone. The job is done! Bob had said it would take a minute and a half, but it seemed like a second and a half to me.

Soon the last pockets of air turned into tiny little bubbles; they slipped through the door rubber seal, and my eyes sadly followed their playful path toward the surface. Now I had to give up every hope of Lara waiting for me at the bottom. To survive there for so long, she must have turned into a fucking siren!

Eventually, I just couldn’t hold my breath any longer. My lungs hurt terribly, and I had to open my mouth, wheezing and coughing wildly. In my desperation, I gaped like a hippo; I couldn’t even believe I was capable of such a thing. And then, I immediately jumped up, surprised beyond belief. The drug dealers still waved goodbye in the rearview mirror!

I blinked my eyes a couple of times, uncertain of what was going on. I needed a good twenty seconds before my blurry mind grasped the fact that I was still in the back seat of the Ford with my hands tied to the grab handle and that I was still drifting toward the ocean. Apparently, after straining my lungs so much, I had lost consciousness for a few moments—probably because my blood pressure dropped sharply—and now I had to experience every horrible moment so far again! I had to watch, again, the scumbags grinning in the rearview mirror, the ocean approaching threateningly in the front windshield, the terrible cat staring at me from the top of the garbage pile, and my stupid assistant almost tripping on an old tire as she came out from behind a heap of trash without hurrying too much. I also had to watch Larry and Bob reaching their hands to draw out their guns, surprised; grabbing nothing and trying again; and at last—I had to see the disappointment on their faces when they realized they had no weapons because they hadn’t expected such a thing to happen and had left them back in the shack.

Almost an eternity passed until my lazy savior dragged her ass to the Ford, opened the front door, placed her butt on the seat, and shut the door behind her. We were moving at less than ten miles per hour, but we were a mere couple of feet from stepping on the platform, so the situation was critical.

“Move away, goddamn you!” Lara roared angrily and pushed my right leg, which I still had stuck between the front seats after my vain attempt to save myself. She almost broke my knee while doing it.

Then she grabbed the steering wheel and sharply turned it to the left. Before the drug dealers’ flabbergasted eyes, the car swerved along the alley, avoiding the pier in the last possible second, and then we sank into the darkness behind the docks. The entire time, the scumbags didn’t move at all. They were so shocked that it didn’t even occur to them to hop into the Chrysler and catch up with us. With the speed we moved, they would have done it in a matter of minutes.

Soon they disappeared behind our backs.

Still feeling dizzy and barely understanding what was happening around me, I only managed to raise my head slightly and ask, “Was it really black?”

“Was what black?” Lara grunted in the rearview mirror, surprised and confused.

“The cat.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” She snapped and almost broke my knee again while trying to change gears.

Since it was her first time, I should say she coped with it very well, actually. It wasn’t bad at all! She drove me like this—tied to the grab handle—all the way to our miserable hotel without saying anything more.

©2022 S.T. Fargo


Damn you, Detective!—Chapter 13 | a Crime Story by S.T. Fargo

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