Friday, January 15, 2010

Other Fiction

Check another style of my writing (and hopefully others') that will be going up at

My serious, Detroit writing will continue to post here. I'm in the middle of two ambitious stories giving different aspects of the Motor City.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"Death of a Detroit Drug Dealer"

A Story by Karl Wenclas


THE REALITY of Detective Rolls was opposite to how he appeared to the world.

Modest; lean; soft-spoken; Detective Rolls wore the facade of mild-mannered intellectual; even something of a nerd. His eyeglasses added to the part. In truth he was the most feared investigator in the Detroit Police Department. Rolls was methodically ruthless in building cases and putting a fair portion of the city's vast number of miscreants behind bars.

Prosecutors worshipped him. When defense attorneys saw Rolls take the stand against their clients, hope vanished. Juries were captured by the modest exterior bolstered by his methodical presentation of facts. Never did he raise his voice, or appear impressed with what he said. His demeanor expressed, "Here it is. That's it. These are the facts. Nothing more needs to be said."

In truth, when Detective Rolls closed his notebook-- knowing himself when questioning was over-- the case was over. The guilty verdict to follow was afterthought.

Someone once asked me which city is tougher, Detroit or Philadelphia. I answered that Detroit is 500 times tougher. It isn't, really, not by that much-- but I didn't know how else to express Detroit's unique character of people. Even its liberal artists carry scarred shells: invisible scabs from countless wounds; from the very fact of existence in such a world.

Detective Rolls knew this character well, and so, showed no mercy for anybody. To Caucasions he showed not a sliver of either resentment or deference. When one claimed Rolls hated white people, Rolls paused for a moment of reflection then said, "I hate everyone." To African-Americans who called him "bro," he'd reply, after jotting unknown, frightening words in his notebook, "I'm not your brother."

On his job, to him, all the refuse of humanity were assholes-- that being not an emotional thought but an objective assessment.

This was the uncompromising man suspects faced in the interrogation room. Detective Rolls spent a fair amount of time in this room-- often with individuals who weren't suspects so much as potential sources of information, picked up on Rolls' say-so for some one or other nebulous ongoing investigation. In a city where 80% of all homicides went unsolved, there were at all times plethoras of ongoing investigations to choose from. Detective Rolls knew what any police force was-- just another gang; albeit a gang just a little better organized and approved than other gangs, if not always better resourced. A gang which worked for a clientele of businesses, property owners, and residents; the advocates of "civilization" and "order"-- themselves nebulous concepts in Rolls' Detroit world. Rolls knew how to martial the underfunded resources of his gang; sending underutilized officers in scout cars on patrol-- who'd been hiding someplace from duty-- to pick up, with blaring sirens and flashing lights, one of Rolls' designated suspects.

The officers knew that Rolls' targets needed to be turned upside down once or twice in process of being delivered to him for scrutiny. They were left waiting in the interrogation room a couple hours before Detective Rolls himself, like a busy doctor, ever got to them.

One such person sat in front of him now; a scrawny black street rat. He'd given Rolls a piece of information which the detective did not jot into his notebook.

"I'm not lying," the shaking addict said. "The details are right. Check them out. Two million dollars, cash money. In the apartment."

They were talking about the city's most notorious drug dealer, Mr. Zongo, who lived in a pricey apartment complex downtown.

Rolls knew of Zongo, though the man's path hadn't crossed his-- yet. Zongo was one more of a succession of young thugs of short lifespan who continually cropped up to, seemingly, dominate, for a year or two, illegal trade in the town. By all description, Zongo, lean, six feet tall, was a younger, cooler, more handsome, if no less intelligent, version of himself. Just the sort of upstart who needed to be broken. Rolls was pre-eminently loyal to the city's official gang, as well as to himself.

What the man had told him intrigued him. Rolls stared into his notebook for ten minutes, though he was actually staring inside himself.

"Bullshit," he at last said in an even, fearsome voice. "Get the hell out of here."

In the next few weeks Detective Rolls did some patrolling on his own, accidentally but invariably taking him through the parking lot of Zongo's apartment complex, or on the street in front of it, or on the side of it. Rolls smoking a cigarette outside the entrance, like a visitor awaiting a resident; or a resident enjoying the outside world. The art deco building-- orange, with black highlights-- was like the city; once modern and elegant, now a melancholy reminder of past success.

His excursions netted him his second piece of important information: Zongo had a girlfriend. The importance wasn't in the fact itself, but that Rolls recognized the trashy blond white girl on Zongo's arm. But from where?

Rolls puzzled over his memory, and scanned his notebooks. Then he remembered. The blonde had once been girlfriend of a white car thief in southwest Detroit named Skarzski. Rolls had busted him a few years prior. A little checking revealed that Skarzski's was out on parole.

The solution to Rolls' puzzle began to present itself. He saw his way inside the fortress.

This was a case which needed to be worked outside official channels. His first step, before moving the Skarzski piece, was to enlist a pair of confederates.

In chess you first control the pawns, using them to control the board. Rolls chose his pawns carefully.

One was a 6'2 250 pound bouncer at a club who'd once killed a patron with his bare hands. He owed Rolls over the matter. The bouncer's name was Clevis.

The other pawn was a short, sociopathic young tough named Leonard who'd been put away for a couple years by Rolls; who feared his reputation, his power, and his inscrutable facade.

"I can move my little finger," Rolls had told him once, "and you'll do another five years hard time. For no reason at all. I'll find a reason. I have a file the size of a phone book of unsolved crimes in this town-- half of which were committed by creeps like you. You can stand in for them as well as anyone. Provoke me with another word and I'll do it."

Leonard knew that everything Rolls told him was true.

"You will do everything I tell you to do," he briefed his pawns, separately. "No hesitations, no fuck-ups, no questions asked. When we're finished you'll have fifty thousand cash in your pocket. Payment for a job."

When the other parts of his plan were lined up, Rolls had Skarzski picked up and placed into the interrogation room. Rolls fiddled at his ancient desk, read a magazine, called his wife-- hearing static of the building's creaky phone system-- stared out the gray-stained window, and dawdled at the coffee maker, giving Skarzski a proper amount of time to consider the ruthlessness of Detective Rolls; the possibility of going back behind bars.

When Rolls entered, Skarzski sat at the edge of the room's heavy wooden table trying to hide his concern and anger. A lightbulb behind a cage in the ceiling exposed him even as it failed to enliven the faded green color of the walls. Rolls sat across from him.

Skarzski had dirty blond hair and the cold blue eyes of a cunning animal whose first necessity was survival. An animal easily enough bluffed. The building around the two men was chief instrument toward that objective. Its columns and masonry facade made it resemble a Greek temple or a reserve bank. The Department's appearance of efficiency and power was largely facade. Yet, at times, the system worked. Rolls had made it work. Skarzski had felt its power.

Rolls dealt with tough people every day. He knew their toughness was cover for their own weakness. Rolls operated on the principle that in a city where everyone was dangerous and everyone fearful, HE was the man to be feared.

"Tell me about Kelly," Rolls said with his usual manner of preparation and threat. "Still hear from her?"

"Now and then," Skarzski said.

"Ever work for Zongo?"

"No way. We, uh, travel in different circles."

"Surprised that Kelly's with him?

"She has a way of landing on her feet, you know," the white man stated.

"Known her long?"

"Since she came to Detroit. Kelly was waitressing at a diner I hung out at, and was crashing with a co-worker in a sooty old building near the cemetary at Woodmere, near the railyard. They got locked out by the landlord one night. That's when Kelly started crashing with me."

"Where is she from?"

Skarzski gave the name of a small town sixty miles from Detroit.

"Parents still there?"

"Her mother is."

"Know the address?"


"Does her mother know you?"


"Does she like you?"


"Is Kelly sentimental or practical?"

"She's more practical."

"Is that why she left you? A better deal come along?"

"I guess. I suppose."

"Did she love you?"

Skarzski pondered.

Rolls said, "Come on, be real. Why was she with you? Why is she with Zongo now? You were supplying her with her smokes. Marijuana, I'm talking about."

"No, you're right. To be honest she never loved me. I always knew that."

"Women are more practical, more hard-headed and hard-hearted than men. They know what it's about. The bottom line is what it's about. Give them a provider. When the man can no longer provide, he's through."

"You're right," Skarzski said.

"Did you love her?" Rolls asked.

"I was crazy about her."

Rolls allowed himself the trace of a smile.

"I'm going to bring Zongo down," he informed Skarzski. "You're going to help me do it. I'll tell you exactly what to do. At the end of the game you'll have fifty thousand cash in your pocket, no questions asked, nothing ever said. Do you understand me?"


"Do we have a deal?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Once you ran into me, my friend, you never had a choice. I play the cards. You make the best of it."

He gave Skarzski exact instructions about what he needed to do with Kelly, what he should tell her, what he needed to find out. Rolls had him repeat the instructions. Then he handed Skarzski a wad of spending money and a small .380 automatic pistol.

"Unregistered. It'll serve your purpose if you need an added threat with her. Get some rest tonight and think about how to make the approach. You have three-to-four days to meet with her, get the info, and get her on the bus."

He handed Skarzski a cellphone.

"Here's a ghetto phone. Not registered to anyone. The number is on the back. 100 minutes have been put into it. This is how we'll stay in touch. Once the job is done you destroy the phone with a hammer and discard it. I have a phone just like it."

He had Skarzski memorize a number to call, making him repeat it a dozen times.

"You'll keep me posted about everything you do; everything that happens."

"Sure," Skarzski said, showing in his eyes a hint of excitement about what was ahead. This was a good sign. Rolls didn't want his people too beaten-down. They had much to do. A certain amount of initiative was called for.

Would it work? Rolls knew that the young woman had once been a prostitute. Kelly had a prostitute's mindset. She knew how to be serviceable. She was used to having men do her thinking for her. Kelly was the crux of the plan, but a reliable crux. She was a chess piece that was perfectly predictable. As they all were.

"You were her boss once," Rolls told Skarzski. "Be her boss again."

At home that evening, Detective Rolls envisioned how Skarzski's scripted conversation with Kelly would go.

Skarzski to Kelly:
"You're in effect being kidnapped. Give me both keys to the apartment, and the pass card to the building. Now your cellphone. Good. The word has come down. Zongo is through. It's been decided by powerful forces-- forces that could crush you and me like bugs-- and will, if we don't do exactly as we're told. We'll be dead. There are forces in this town more powerful than we could ever know.

"You'll be put on a bus to your mother's. Wait there. In a few days you'll receive an overnight package that will contain thirty thousand dollars. Your retirement fund. You're retiring from Detroit. You're to never come below Eight Mile Road again."

Rolls gave himself high marks for thoroughness. A chess player doesn't move until studying all possibilities. Was everything covered?

Clevis and Leonard had copies of the floor plan of Zongo's apartment. Leonard would be watching Zongo's building beginning tonight, tracking his movements. The rest depended upon Skarzski.

To go against Zongo, Rolls had recruited three of the smarter, more dependable of their violent, criminal kind.

He sat pondering in his subtly-lit study. Rolls lived in a solid home in one of the city's few remaining respectable neighborhoods, on a quiet street of security and substance. He was married to an educated, well-spoken black woman ten years younger than himself. His two well-behaved young sons studied in another room. His well-groomed wife put her arms around him from behind.

"You're thoughtful," she remarked. "Tough day?"

"I deal with some bad motherfuckers on my job," Rolls told her.

Two night later Rolls received a text from Skarzski on his ghetto phone: "It's a go." Rolls texted the other two. Within the hour he'd picked up big Clevis. They drove downtown. They parked in a fast food parking lot across from the bus station. After a time, another text: "She's on the bus."

Rolls and Clevis stepped out and walked across the street. Skarzski waited outside the station. He pointed them to the car he'd stolen, a large Ford Crown Victoria.

"Plenty of backseat room," Rolls noted with approval as they got in. "How'd it go?"

"Good," Skarzski answered.

He handed a plastic card and two keys to Rolls, who passed them to Clevis in the back seat.

"The larger key's for the deadbolt," Skarzski told Clevis. To Rolls: "I ditched her cellphone, per your instructions."

Leonard waited for them near Zongo's building, which looked tall and ominous at night. The Crown Victoria pulled up to him. Leonard put on a look of fake unconcern. The detective rolled down the window.

"It's only me," Rolls said. "Get in."

From the roomy backseat, next to Clevis, Leonard gave his report in a fast-talking voice.

"Zongo came back from the casino little after twelve. Been there five hours. Looked very relaxed. Very. From his apartment window, looked like he watched TV for awhile. Then it went off-- thirty minutes ago."

Leonard pointed toward the structure's seventh floor. The orange-brick building before them resembled a castle.

Skarzski added: "According to his girl, when she's there they sleep in the back bedroom, but when she's not he watches TV and falls asleep on the large sofa, five yards inside the door to the left. The money should be in the back closet, as said, inside a black duffel bag."

They considered the layout inside their heads.

"Must be a big motherfucking television, based on the light it puts out," Leonard said.

"Security?" Rolls asked him.

"Like you said, during the week the night man at the sign-in desk goes into the back room about two. He's there now."

"What do you think he's doing?" Rolls asked. "Watching the monitors? Or sleeping?"

They laughed. Rolls handed the two men in the back seat snub-nosed revolvers with rough tape on the handles. They all wore gloves.

"Unregistered and untraceable," Rolls said. "Doublecheck, but they're loaded and ready to go. But remember, I want him brought to the car."

They were parked with a good vantage point of the entrance. Leonard said, "Okay." Clevis grunted, putting the revolver and a roll of strong packing tape he'd brought into his jacket pocket. The two stepped from the car, then walked across the driveway and casually within the building as if they lived there. Meanwhile Skarzski opened the car's trunk with a screwdriver through a hole where the lock should've been. He left the lid slightly ajar.

Rolls sensed Skarzski on edge. Rolls remained calm. It was little more than a chess problem. He expounded on this as they waited inside the Ford.

"I realized the trick was to get Zongo out of his place. Nobody cares about a man like him. Those who know him will be afraid to report him as missing. Who they gonna call? The police? Anyway Zongo doesn't announce his moves. He might be in the islands, on vacation for all anyone knows. Without a police report, no one's going to check the building's video tapes. If there was a scene, a body inside the apartment, all that changes."

He studied his watch.

"I told them to get out immediately as soon as they secure Zongo and the bag. The key is to have a plan and everyone has to follow the plan."

As if in confirmation, several minutes later Clevis and Leonard were exiting the building, a third person being escorted between them-- half-walking and half-dragged-- Zongo! Clevis did most of the escorting, one hand on the back of Zongo's neck. Leonard's free hand carried the duffel bag.

Rolls tossed the bag in the trunk as Zongo was put in the back seat. In the car's dome light Rolls saw tape over Zongo's mouth, his hands taped together in front of him.

"In front?"

"I thought it'd look less suspicious that way, on the lobby's camera or if anyone saw us," Clevis explained.

A flashy blue sportjacket was draped over Zongo's shoulders. Rolls pulled this off and walked to a nearby dumpster, where he deposited it. As he slid back in the front seat he noticed a sick bruise splayed across Zongo's right eye and much of his renowned face. Clevis had been forced to get rough. Rolls didn't look directly in the drug dealer's eyes. He didn't care one speck what was in them. To Rolls the man was already dead. Rolls looked at Skarzski.

"Drive!" he ordered.

The car took a left off Fort, down a side street past warehouses to the river, then a right through a gravelly yard, past a large abandoned truck terminal, over railroad tracks to the edge of the river itself. They drove parallel to the tracks and the river for a distance, near a closed shack. In the distance: a dark rail tower and a vast, no longer used railyard. No man's land.

"This used to be a slipdock," Skarzski explained. "Barges with railcars came across from Canada. I worked as a barman here, opening railcars with a crowbar, before it closed."

The lights of the Renaissance Center and the rest of downtown were to the left of them-- to the east-- as they stepped out. They gulped the necessary air after the hideous stuffiness of the car. The span of the Ambassador Bridge loomed to the right. Clevis finished taping Zongo's ankles together, and put small iron weights in his trouser pockets. Leonard helped him drag the man out of the car.

"Drag him right to the edge," Rolls said. Then, to Leonard, "Shoot him."

Leonard held a revolver but looked at Rolls with anxious eyes and shook his head, making a sound in the negative. Clevis and Skarzski looked away, not wanting the assignment either. Clevis still had one large hand on Zongo, propping him up near the water.

"That's Murder One," Leonard put into words.

Rolls had a distaste for firearms, though he qualified with them at the range for his job. Sometimes they were a necessary evil.

"Give me it," he ordered.

Part of being a leader was exhibiting your fearlessness. Rolls put two shots into Zongo's body at close range. The others jumped. It was the first time he'd shot someone. The noise and smell irritated him.

"Dump him."

Zongo vanished into the river. Rolls threw the revolver after him a minute later. Clevis tossed his as well. The four men watched the rushing water, the hard dark waves, imagining how cold it was. They stood and stared at the hectic river for several minutes as if something could come out of it.

Rolls had Skarzski open the trunk. Rolls opened the duffel bag. Inside: bundles of cash. For some minutes he assessed the amount, counting a few bundles bill by bill. The other three men looked at one another, wondering how much was there, but said not a word. They knew Rolls thought on another level from themselves.

"Twenties, fifties, and hundreds," Rolls said. "The man was well-organized."

He handed each man his share. They jumped in the vehicle and with spinning tires Skarzski turned around the car. Now they wanted to get the hell out of there.

Clevis and Leonard were let out at separate bus stops. Morning buses began running in a couple hours. Skarzski dropped Rolls at his car parked across from the bus terminal.

"Ditch the Crown Victoria at least two miles from here," Rolls said as he departed with the duffel bag.

Later that morning, sunrise not yet appeared, Detective Rolls stood in the front room of his house staring out the large picture window at the world beyond. There hadn't been two million dollars in the bag--more like a third that, but it was enough. In a few hours he'd stow the cash in a bank safety deposit box.

As Rolls watched, the bushes and spruce tree in his front yard moved. Shadows closed. He imagined a person out there; an animal skulking about. Predator in a land of predators-- likely a cat or dog. He closed the heavy drapes, shutting out that nightime world.


"You're shitting me," Skarzski said.

He was on a cell phone call with Leonard five weeks after the robbery. They'd surreptitiously exchanged real cell phone numbers when Rolls wasn't looking-- had done it without a word. Now Leonard had called to tell him Clevis had died in an auto accident.

"Ninety miles an hour into a telephone pole," Leonard said. "His alcohol content three times legal allowable limit. From what I'm told, the car smelling of whiskey. What doesn't add up about this?"

Skarzski was silent.

"Clevis worked in a fucking club! Bouncer and bartender. Those cats don't drink. They don't drive into telephone poles!"

"Maybe--" Skarzski said.

"It warn't an accident. It's Rolls, I tell you. That motherfucker's evil through and through. He's got to eliminate us to cover himself. I saw it coming. It's the only way he's safe. This is how the motherfucker operates. He leaves no loose ends. Detective Rolls! We're fucked. Rolls has the power of the entire system backing him."

"No, he forfeit that power," Skarzski said, "by becoming one of us."

"They found Clevis with his hands inside the steering wheel," Leonard went on in staccato fashion. "Figure that out. His head smashed the steering wheel and through the windshield. Completely dead. No seatbelt. Airbag never went off."

An air of finalty punctuated Leonard's statement, as if he'd presented a case.

"Thanks for the heads up," Skarzski said.

They agreed to lay low and stay in touch.

"Watch yourself!" Leonard said.

Skarzski turned off his phone, as if its very existence would give him up-- or send more unsettling news. He sat in a well-lit kitchen with a tiny window near the ceiling with an old bullet hole through it; part of a tiny studio on the third floor of a rickety old wooden house in southwest Detroit. Sounds: creeping outside. Steps on the narrow stairs.

That night while asleep, Skarzski saw a corpse with two smoking holes in it. This morphed into a dream about Kelly. She stood, beautiful, in a short skirt, on a sunny day. A man waited on the edge of the dream, in shadow, near a tree. Skarzski didn't know if the man was Rolls or Zongo. Kelly stood with strong legs and back turned, a breeze rustling her skirt. She knew Skarzski was there, but walked away from him. He wanted her. "Kelly!" he said.

Skarzski awoke in a cold room, shaking with anxiety and longing.

Over coffee at a diner he reviewed how his encounter with Kelly five weeks before had gone. He had not followed Rolls' instructions to the letter. Some of them were ridiculous. The gun he'd given Skarzski looked like a cap pistol. He'd tossed it. It would scare no one. Kelly would've laughed at it.

The payoff for her was silly as well. What was thirty grand to Zongo's girlfriend? Skarzski hadn't mentioned it. The delivery to her mother's house probably alarmed her. Blood money-- if she suspected Zongo was dead. Did Rolls think Kelly had no scruples at all?

Skarzski didn't tell her Zongo would be killed. He told her flat out the police were involved. He presented it was solely about the money. He let Kelly believe that Zongo would be temporarily arrested. The cash would vanish, never to be seen again. The price of business. Best if she not be there.

"In the back closet?" Skarzski asked her.

"Yeah, on the floor. In a black duffel bag."

They'd sat in the stolen Crown Victoria smoking some good weed Skarzski provided. He handed her a strong antidepressant capsule and had her swallow it. Carefully he took her cell phone away. Then her pass card and keys.

"You're such an asshole," she told him. "I never trusted you."

"I'm looking out for you," Skarzski said. "You'd go into the slammer sooner than Zongo would."

"I guess you're right. Zongo won't do time. He's smarter than your cop friends."

"You don't know these cops," Skarzski said.

"I know them. I've had enough encounters with them to know all about them. Not a one doesn't believe his badge turns him into God."

Skarzski moved toward her, as if to kiss her. Kelly's sneer and cold eyes turned him back.

Skarzski put Leonard's call out of his head until a few days later when the radio mentioned a victim of a drive-by shooting. The name sounded like Leonard's. Thirty minutes later he listened closer. It was Leonard, gunned down walking home from a store. Twelve bullets in him. Later reports speculated it wasn't a drive-by, but made to look like a drive-by. The killing shot happened at close range, through the head. Leonard had been on his knees on the sidewalk, landing then on his wrists, which had been in front of him as if he'd been praying or begging.

Skarzski packed a bag, took the portion of cash hid under his sink, and left his apartment, not looking back. Later that day he rented a room a mile away, paying cash. He looked at the remainder of his survival money. The bulk of his fifty grand was still in a secret place near the riverfront. He needed to get it and leave town.

First he wanted to know what was happening.

Was it Rolls?

He didn't think so. Too messy. His style was to have others do his dirty work.


She had a temper-- he wasn't sure she had that much of one.

Zongo himself?

Skarzski had seen the gunsmoke; had watched Clevis toss Zongo into the black water as if he were a rag doll.

Skarzski took a bus to another part of town. At a working payphone next to a closed gas station, he phoned Kelly's mother. The woman told him Kelly had split a week after arriving. She hadn't been heard from since.

Next, Skarzski phoned Rolls at his office.

"Heard the news, Detective?"

"I heard it. Someone else here is on the case. Where are you at? Give me your phone number. I'll call you back in thirty minutes."

"Bullshit! We'll talk now, and quick. I don't want you tracing where I'm at."

"Oh yeah, maybe I can look at the caller ID this antiquated phone system doesn't have," Rolls said. "Maybe I'll send helicopters to find you. Settle yourself down. I just wanted to be out of the office when we discussed this. But we can talk here. No one's on this floor right now, as a matter of fact. Saturday afternoon."

"Why are you there?"

There was a pause. "I'm spending more time at the office, until I get this matter solved."

"Will you solve it?"

No response to this. "Where's Kelly?" Rolls asked.

"No longer at her mother's. Think she's behind this?"

"Who knows? This might be all, you know, coincidence. Or she might be working with someone. I've looked into Zongo's background. He has two brothers."

"What if it's Zongo?"

"That's impossible."

"But what if it is?"

"It's not Zongo."

"You should've shot him in the head."

"I know. I've thought about that. But it's not him. If it is, we'll figure him out. I know his kind."

"Yeah. But before, you knew where he was. Now he knows where you are. He knows about me. Kelly will sic him on me. We were tracking him, but now he's tracking us."

"Don't panic. If he's alive, I'll find him. But it's not him. Someone wants us to think it's him. You find Kelly. I'll take care of Zongo."

Rolls voice faded in and out. The police phone system was truly bad. His final words to Skarzski sounded like from a far distance. "Zongo. . . ."

If the killer was Rolls himself, Skarzski was safe until Kelly was found. Rolls needed Skarzski to get to Kelly. Unless he'd already got to her-- and eliminated her.

Skarzski lay on a thin mattress in the rented room, smoking weed. As the weather outside darkened, he planned his exit. Rolls and Zongo both had networks and could find him. For now he was like an animal trapped in a hole, waiting to escape.

Monday Skarzski learned the killer wasn't Rolls, when the radio reported the detective's death. A passing mail carrier had seen through a front window of the Rolls house the shadow of a hanged man against a wall inside, and reported it. Given that Rolls' hands had been bound in front of him, the death was not considered suicide.

"We have a lot of suspects," a police spokesperson said. "He had a lot of enemies."

The killer worked fast-- like the devil himself. Skarzski acted.

Clouds of fog, mist, rain, and blowing snow made the world around the hesitant car a land of chaos. The windshield wipers swept unevenly. "Thunk, thunk." What a shitty poorly maintained vehicle. It deserved to be stolen-- but he who'd stolen it paid the penalty for its condition. As long as it made it to the town. He'd find Kelly. The crazy mystery would be solved.

Fog; snow. "Thunk; thunk." Weak headlights protruding into an unknown void. Instinctively he thought about what a clusterfuck life was; yet like a distorted crazy machine, every part and every act within the madhouse were connected. A tiny point-- Zongo's hands taped in front of him-- might've led to a series of steps which now took Skarzski on this nightmare road. Might've. Had it? No-- it was madness. Zongo drowned. What was indisputable was that some part of the Detective's perfect plan had gone wrong.

Up an exit, down dirt roads, around sharp curves, pulling in front of a misshapen white shack house on the outskirts of town. Kelly's slutty alky mother lived in the house.

Skarzski took with him a two-foot long screwdriver used in his work. He'd made it himself, some years ago in an industrial shop. The screwdriver had a hardened amber plastic handle around a steel bar with a flat, sharp bevelled edge at the end of it. It was serviceable as an advanced crowbar, great for breaking into things, but also, if necessary, for fucking people up.

From outside, through ugly yellow curtains, he saw Kelly's hard-faced mother watching television, Kelly nowhere around. With the handle of the screwdriver, he tapped on the door.

"Have a seat," the mother said as she let him in. The room smelled of gin. Her eyes noted the object in his hand. She didn't comment on it.

"I'll stand," Skarzski said while she turned down the screaming volume of the television. "I won't be long."

Once, this unfortunate vision of what Kelly would look like in twenty years had hit on him herself. She knew what he could do with the screwdriver-- had no illusions regarding men-- but with hardened cynicism, liked him regardless. She leered at him with a cockeyed grin.

"I told you, she flew the coop," the woman tried.

Skarzski laughed out loud. He weighed the balance of the heavy screwdriver in his grip.

"I see some of her stuff. Kelly leaves nothing behind when she moves. Where is she? Out catting around? Some bar? At Parkies??"

Parkies was a dump Skarzski and Kelly often stopped at when visiting her mother, before the visit and after.

"No," her mother said, but he knew by her pleading expression that she lied to him.

The crooked door wobbled after him.

Parkies had a large neon sign on a pole in its parking lot. The saloon resembled an extended trailer. It was as cheap as you could get. The interior was done in fake-wood paneling that gave out a weak green glow in the artificial bar light. The mismatched tables, chairs, and barstools were from someone's kitchen.

A warped pool table sat unevenly near the back. Two bearded young men in green baseball caps with the logo of an agricultural implement company on them shot amateurish pool. Kelly sat at a table in the center of the room with a dark-haired girlfriend of hers. Many long-necked brown beer bottles covered the small table. Skarzski noted from inside the door that the bartender was a woman. No men in sight but the two at the back. No black man.

Like the thief he was, Skarzski walked like a cat. In a moment he stood over Kelly and the other woman. He'd been there half-a-minute before they noticed.

"Take a leak," he told Kelly's friend, then sat in her already-warmed chair.

He waited until the drunken friend vanished into the bathroom, the thin door clattering shut. Kelly's fucked-up eyes stared at him. She dragged on a cigarette. Kelly wore thick purple eyeshadow and bright orange lipstick. Skarzski had enough emotion about the situation to stare back.

Kelly's eyes burned through him.

"I hear your detective friend is no longer with us," she said.

"He wasn't my friend."

"I feel sorry for his wife and kids, I really do. What a pathetic asshole. He really thought he could go up against Zongo. The detective was insane. He was deluded by his comfortable world. Zongo is way smarter and tougher. He's had to be. A doberman against an arrogant poodle. Even you might stand a better chance."

"A poodle which almost killed the doberman," Skarzski told her. "Have you seen Zongo?"

Kelly dragged on her cigarette.


"Oh shit. He's alive?"

"Your detective friend never stood a chance. Now, hardly do you."

"Will you give me up to him, Kelly? Really? You've told him who I am, haven't you? How much you hate me still. How much hate. . . . Where is he?"

"He's coming for you."

"Shit. Where is he?"

"I'm not telling you."

Skarzski stood, knocked over her beer so that it spilled over the table and onto her, as she calmly smoked and glared at him. He cuffed her on the side of the head, hard enough so that she winced, then he was outside and quickly in the car; quickly driving out of the lot.

Quickly; quickly. What headlights behind him were Zongo's? What car waited ahead on the side of the road, with Zongo inside?

On the expressway driving back down to Detroit he felt more comforatble. He coaxed 80 miles an hour out of the car's speedometer, then more. He'd give Zongo a run. Was he worth Zongo's time?

The rattling car surged ahead. Lights floated in and out of the rearview mirror. Skarzski paid them no attention. He decided he no longer cared. Part of him followed the animal instinct for survival, but he no longer cared. His real life-- any dreams he'd held-- had ended years prior when he went into prison. All that followed was mere existence. Mere breath.

The lights of downtown. Into the lawless city. An exit. The riverfront he knew well. Skarzski parked at the abandoned truck terminal and stepped out, bringing forth the large screwdriver. Normally he'd hear crickets, and the river, but all was muffled by the falling mist. He stood for a minute, keying into the scene, senses alert.

Inside the dark terminal, whose gray ceiling was high, whose lofty windows were broken, with night air rushing through, was a white painted wall made of concrete blocks. The wall had cracks through it. One of the dusty blocks could be removed. Skarzski used the large screwdriver to do this. Inside, wrapped in plastic, was his blood money. He gripped the plastic encased envelope and turned around.

"Hold it!"

Skarzski bristled as he felt the cold muzzle of a steel pistol against his head. Perversely, he hoped the voice came from Detective Rolls. Glancing sideways he saw: Zongo!

"Wait," Skarzski said, realizing he'd dropped the large screwdriver.

"The will to live is strong, isn't it?" Zongo laughed. "My girl knows you well. You went right to it. Don't look at me!"

Zongo's eye remained sickly bruised. To Skarzski he was still a corpse. Whatever Zongo was, the voice dropped in tone and moved closer.

"I told the late Mr. Rolls he should've known who he was fucking with before he fucked around with someone. Why didn't you throw that motherfucker into the river after me, and taken the cash for yourselves? I asked the big guy, Clevis, that also, when I forced him to chug a bottle of Crown Royal. Were you afraid of law and order? An outdated concept, my man; inoperable. There's no law and order in this city. Rolls was proof of that. He was a bad cop! A turncoat; a two-face. Worse than us. He's met his proper fate in this hellish down-beaten place where it's every man for himself, where every man is prey-- it's time my sad stupid friend for you to meet yours. Look at the river and say a prayer."

Skarzski dropped the packet and moved his hands together. Dreams; mist against his face. . . .

The spray of blood from the bullet exiting Skarzski's head made a bright red pattern against the concrete wall.