A John Glass Adventure,
Guest-Starring Mitchell Carmichael and Sharon Crowley
Something is amiss at Grady…
My phone rang. Jeeze, it’s 23:30! What the hell? Checking the CallerID, I saw a number downtown – the 404 area code is a dead giveaway. I picked it up to make the noise stop. “Hello?”
“Yeah, I’m looking for Mitch…” the voice began.
“Billy? BILLY MANSON? How the hell are you doing?” I asked. “Man, it’s been what, five years? I haven’t seen you since that last firefight south of Bagdad.”
“Damn, Mitch. You remember my voice from that? uh…Wow.”
“Dude, I never forget guys who have my back! What’re you doing this weekend? Let’s go grab a beer,” I offered. I hadn’t seen Billy in a seriously long time. It would be good to see someone else who made it through.
“Uh…actually, I’m calling you about work. You’re security now, right?” His voice was hesitant, uneasy. Something is up here I thought.
“Yeah. Contractor as well as freelance. You the client?” I grabbed a notepad and pen. I wasn’t so pressed in my schedule that I couldn’t help out a fellow brother-in-arms in need.
“Uh, not really. Look, there’s something going on. I don’t have a lot of time here, so let me explain. There’s this guy – John Glass. He was a Field Medic in the Sandbox, and I think he’s in trouble.”
I interrupted. I’m bad like that. “What kind of trouble? What’s up?”
Billy continued. I could hear the exasperation in his voice – he was serious about being on a timeline here. “Shut up and listen. He’s over at Grady now – you know where that is?” I rolled my eyes. Grady – infamous both for being the butt of every “bad hospital” joke in Atlanta, and for being the finest trauma center in the SouthEastern United States, due in no small part to its proximity to Atlanta’s infamous slums generated by the Federal Housing Projects of the 1920s – sits squarely downtown. There’s even a place in the Interstate as it snakes its way through town called “The Grady Curve” by locals as it winds around the general area of the hospital.
“Mitch?” he asked.
“You wanted me to listen. I’m listening, not answering stupid questions.”
“Jesus, aren’t you a whiny dick tonight. Shut up, man up, and engage!” Yeah, remind me of my drill instructor – that’s the way to get me to take a case. “Anyway, this guy has been asked by someone in the administration over at Grady to look into some problem they’re having with the ambulances. Something about a quarter-over-quarter increase in trauma mortality during ambulance rides of more than 28%.”
I whistled. In a facility as busy as Grady is with its gunshot and knife wounds, that is a serious number of people dropping… or laying on a stretcher, I thought – dead who didn’t used to be.
“I promise, you have my attention. So, what’s up with this,” I checked my notes. “John Glass guy?”
“Word on the street, from several normally-reliable sources, is he’s a dead man walking. Word is two guys from out-of-town have been hired to help him relocate to Oakland Park.” Oakland Park – a reasonably well-known cemetery – is somewhere in West Atlanta, I thought vaguely. At least I think it is.
“Uh-huh. So, what are the police doing, how big is the threat, how large is his detail, and why are you calling me?” I thought I had summed it up quickly and businesslike.
“Nothing, huge, zero, and…uh…what was that last one? Oh, ’cause we go back, sorta.” He sounded a little bit like a kid caught out in some inconsequential lie by his mother.
“What do you mean nothing?” I asked.
“Well, here at the station – I’m a cop now – man, it’s WEIRD. It ain’t that they won’t talk about it…it’s like they can’t even think about it. The info may as well not exist. I asked about it, and now I get weird looks from some of the guys. It’s CREEPY. I can’t do anything on the clock, and off the clock I’m freaking beat – I’m on graveyards now.” That explains the time on this call “He’s in serious trouble. Deep shit is coming for him, and he ain’t gonna make it alone. If I didn’t know better, I would think the department was involved. It squeaks that way.”
I thought about it, considered all the angles, evaluated my position based on all the information, the time of month, phase of moon, and the fact that there is no air conditioning on the streets. It took about a quarter of a second.
“I’m in. No-one fucks around with one of my brothers and gets away with it.”
“Be careful. This one smells bad. Crap, someone’s coming. Sorry – Lieutenant! My apologies. Yes sir…” his voice trailed off and the connection cut.
I called my good contacts – which took no time at all, since I don’t actually have any – then checked the phone book (Yes, they still have those) then realized that this was all stupid. Grady is crazy easy to find. I went there and waited.
I loitered conspicuously near the emergency entrance for ambulances for a few minutes, then slipped into the shadows by the biggest damned gardenia hedge I’ve ever seen and kept my eyes open. Yep, there was John Glass – according to the photo I had gotten off the internet – and he was definitely looking like a third wheel in the bus. It was about two hours later that two guys, dressed like some bad stereotype of a ’50s gangster, came into view and also loitered near a brick-covered column for the overhang.
I closed my eyes and listened. They weren’t six feet away, and even talking quietly, were easy to make out. “Look, all I’m sayin’ is that if it’s gonna be a two-fer, we should get paid twice. Not countin’ airfare cause-of it being one trip isn’t right.” The thick, mind-twisting sound of a Philadelphia accent cut the air like a silent, desperate scream. No throat should ever be mangled into making that horrible sound. “Shaddup,” his friend said. “We break some glass and get the hell out. It’s hot as hell here. This place sucks.” He list a cigarette and leaned on the post.
“Break some glass”, eh? I thought. I crept closer. Idiot number two – the one with the ciggy – had a photo of John. It was the same one I had. These were my boys alright.
“I gotta take a whiz,” whined the first guy. He turned and went into the gardenia hedge. If I hadn’t moved closer to them and around the corner of that bush, he’d have been pissing on my good shoes. His back was to me, and from the angle I could see the tell-tale bulge in his jacket – it was obvious he was packing. His friend probably was, too. Options raced through my head, but nothing legal looked promising. I crept behind him, snaked a muscled arm across his throat, and squeezed for all I was worth. In seconds he was a boneless deadweight, and I dropped him heavily instead of lowering him to the ground like I should have. Fuck! I spun in place, and was eye-to-muzzle with a Glock (I’m gonna be offed with a local gun by an out-of-towner? I thought irrelevantly.)
“What’dja do to Petey?” asked Ciggy Man. It was a mistake, gave me time to act. My right hand started up faster than my left, drawing his gaze and being generally obvious. When the gun tracked slightly in that direction, I knew I had him. My left hand, coming up more slowly, reached deftly into the belt sheath I have, brought out my combat knife (courtesy of Uncle Sam!) and in a smooth, rapid motion flung it straight into his throat. He made one choked sound, and went down.
There wasn’t even a bloody mess until I pulled my knife back out. “Fuck fuck fuck,” I muttered under my breath. “Killing. Damn, this ain’t good.” I checked. Ciggy was out for good. I checked his friend – no pulse there either. You are fucking KIDDING me! I rolled him over. A stick, perhaps a quarter inch across, protruded through one eye. One gardenia flower, just opened from blossom, adorned the end like some sick funeral display. Jesus Christ. I do NOT need this. I backed up and surveyed the scene. It could be days here before they were seen – the privacy screen provided by the gardenia bushes worked both ways, at nearly 8’ tall the bushes in full bloom filled the air with a veritable reek of sweet perfume, and I didn’t see anything that pointed back to me. I retreated; slowly, carefully, one patient foot after another, trying like Hell to leave no more shoeprints than I already had.
I made it home and had a whiskey, straight up.
It was such a good idea I had another.
I flipped on the late news, wondering whether my colossal screw-up had made the press yet.
“In tonight’s lead story, officer William Manson of the Atlanta Police Department was found just one block from the precinct house, shot in the back of the head in an apparent mugging gone wrong…” the news anchor was working to convey the proper look of concern, graveness, and general seriousness. “Eyewitnesses are asked to please come forward, as police have no leads at this time.”
Shot in the back of the head in a mugging? A COP? I had a sudden, pounding headache. I glanced at the phone on my desk – my cell, actually the kind called a “burner” – you have to know someone who knows someone to get the number, and I change it routinely. It was potentially traceable. It would have to go, and quick. With a heavy sigh, I reached over and pulled the battery off, disposing of it in a fashion that would bring the wrath of the recycling police down on my head, and stomped on the guts of the phone itself repeatedly, until it was electronic mash. Fuck, I needed a drink. I reached over to the bottle, and giving up on the glass entirely, settled in for a hard night.