Maximum Law - Christmas Party

Martin M. Clark

"Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
Charles Dickens

Marley was dead.

Found slumped against an overturned hot chestnut cart, shot four times in the back. Both vendor and Marley’s partner were a no-show, leaving just the man surrounded by a dark red stain on the slush.

No witnesses, no motive, no nothing for Maximum Law to chase down. We really don’t like it when one of our own buys the farm, probably two if you counted Bryce, currently MIA. Private security is as tight, tighter maybe than regular law enforcement, because if we’re not there for each other then no-one else is coming.

So there we were, Jim and I, filling dead man’s shoes on a bullshit stakeout. The parents of J. Edward Jaeger, Esq. were worried their son and heir was running with a bad crowd, and wanted an eye kept on him over the festive season. White trash girlfriends were OK, even a bit of colour, but anyone well shady was to be warned off. J. Edward had a political career beckoning and couldn’t afford to have criminal ‘known associates’ pop up down the line.

A low-viz stakeout as well, meaning no four-by in Max Law livery, no serious hardware, no colours. Instead it was a vintage Volvo sedan, concealed firearms and a cheap suit I’d last laundered before Independence Day. At least the Volvo was roomy and had a heater that could account for global warming all on its own. All we had to do was sit there and watch the odd snowflake drifting in the still air.

I squirmed in the passenger seat. “What I want is-“

Jim laughed. “A strawberry shake. Jeez, man, you’re addicted. There are McD support groups, you know.”

Actually, what I want is apple pie. One of those pastry tubes with the apple lava inside and seasonal cinnamon frosting. And a shake. Look, rich-boy hasn’t moved from his pad in the last thirty hours and the only callers have been fast-food deliveries. He’s either shacked up with some honey or has a serious on-line gaming addiction. Either way we’re just sitting here, getting slowly snowed in. I say we ask Central for a comfort break.”

My partner shrugged. “Rather you than me, but feel free, bud.”

I sat and moped. We were both on serious downers due to complaints concerning our past so-called ‘manic’ behaviour. Time just seemed to crawl by and there was no action outside to speak of. Parkhurst was an area of low-rent housing, high-end loft conversions and dilapidated light industrial units. We were parked between parallel rows of semi-derelict warehouses and might as well have been on the moon.

“Jesus, will you look at the ass on that!”

Jim’s voice made me jerk up as a woman passed us by, coming from behind. Tall, with heavy curves, but none the worse for that. She was wearing just a jacket and skirt despite the weather, a skirt so tight it could have been sprayed on. Just the thing to brighten up a dull day, to zero in on, but she left me cold.

The problem was I was taking Diligenz with a bromide bumper, as part of my social responsibility regime, and if anything, the sight of her just irritated me. I looked away, catching movement in the side mirror.

“Jim, some dude just walked up to the car, turned, and is walking away.”

“Huh? So what? Maybe he remembered leaving the gas on, or something. How about we change position? Just ease down the street a ways, at walking pace. We can-“

“I’m on it, cover me.” I bailed from the Volvo, the heat bloom probably showing up on satellite. I heard Jim cursing me, but he followed suit as I was his partner and that beats a great ass. Points decision though, not a knock-out. I eased away from the car rather than inspecting it straight away, trying to see if our mystery guest was heading any place in particular. He had definitely picked up the pace, trying to balance himself with an outstretched left arm while fumbling in his pocket with the other.

A shimmer on the rear wing caught my eye, something straight out of a barely remembered training vid. “Mimetic charge!”

Jim slid for cover as it went off; a self-adhesive explosive no thicker than a sheet of paper, a shaped charge that blew the petrol tank and turned the Volvo into an inferno in nothing flat. If the paintwork had been factory-fresh I’d never have spotted it, but our ride was so dinged up and resprayed that it defeated the chameleon biotech.

I yanked out my snub-nosed .38 and fired at the retreating figure. No challenge, no warning, as I figured blowing up our car was pretty much a statement of hostile intent. I hit him at least one out of three, which was primo shooting seeing as how I was basically skating. Chummy fell backwards and lay there, lolling on the pavement.

“Got your back, Matt,” said Jim. I glanced over the blazing wreck and saw him half-crouching behind a big wheelie bin. He was fitting the barrel extension and telescopic stock to his pistol, turning it into a light carbine. I raised a hand by way of acknowledgement and closed in on our erstwhile bomber. He was clutching his right shoulder; wounded, but I didn’t think fatally. The .38 has piss-poor penetration over any distance and that looked like the only hit. His long coat had come open and under it, I kid you not, he was dressed as an elf - green tunic and calf-length trousers, red stockings and belt. He even had stick-on pointy ears, although one had come adrift.

I kicked him in the injured shoulder. “Yo! Santa’s little helper! I know I’m on the naughty list but this is a bit much, bro. What’s next? Letter-bomb from Lapland? Aerial attack by Rudolph?” I kicked him again, harder. “No time to be coy, man.”

He started swearing at me. At least, I think he was swearing – it sure sounded like a long stream of invective, but in a language I didn’t know. Not Russian, but definitely East European. I looked around but the few pedestrians present were making tracks and Miss Curves had also vanished.

Jim eased up to me, sweeping the carbine across the surrounding buildings, but no one else seemed interested in us. “I figure bozo here comes from the Lapland Lounge. Only place that would warrant a get-up like that.”

“The where?”

He gestured with his gun. “On the corner. They’ve converted the ground floor of that warehouse into a seasonal lap-dancing joint. A strictly ad hoc commercial opportunity for as long as it takes the regular cops to turn up and close it down. If your dick wasn’t in down-time you might have noticed the clients, or, more importantly, the girls, traipsing in and out.”

I sniffed. “Yeah, well, I suppose some guys get off on Mrs Claus and over-priced eggnog. Just as long as the extras don’t include bondage – I find tinsel ticklish.”

Jim laughed. “You pat this guy down yet?”

“Waiting for you to get your ass in gear.” I knelt down and retrieved a .45 semi-automatic from a coat pocket. “Naughty elf! Didn’t Santa teach you that playing with guns is a gender-stereotype?” I glanced at Jim. “I’d cuff him but applied pressure will cut down on blood loss, and we might need to bring in a live one this time round.”

My partner snorted. “Like I care after he lit us up….cuff his ankles then.”

I snapped on the Two-Bars, making sure they were nice and tight, and stood up. Bozo gave us more mouth, but to my ears it was all just it was all just vowels. Given the Volvo was toast our LoJack would go off-air, alerting Central. The smart move was to hole-up someplace with our prisoner, preferably someplace warm, and wait for back-up.

Yeah, right.

I scoped the Lapland Lounge and rubbed my nose. “I don’t fancy just busting in through the front door. If chummy here is anything to go by then I think we can expect a warm welcome.”

“No lie. I was looking at the loading bay, in the side alley. I can see the shutters are down but there should be some kind of foot access as well.”

I grinned. “Sounds like a plan. Our friend here doesn’t have a phone so I say we just leave him for whoever Central sends out to check.”

“Cool. I’ll lead this time. I’ve got a full-auto option.”

I took the elf’s pistol and switched the .38 to my left, more for ease of access than a true two-gun stance, which is a damn sight more difficult to co-ordinate than it appears on film. We slithered along to the alley, which had the benefit of being less well travelled and thus less of a compacted surface. No footprints led to or from the loading bay, so we hustled over.

Next to the main entrance was a blank wooden door, padlocked, with two planks nailed across. The frame was rotten, though, and a couple of kicks tore the hasp free. Stamping broke the lower plank, giving us enough room to crouch and push through to the inside.

The bay was in near darkness, the only illumination coming from snow and cobweb covered panel windows either side of the main entrance. There was no emergency lighting and, more importantly, no audible alarm to betray our presence. We moved up onto the walkway and through a set of double doors at the rear. They swung shut behind us, and it was dark.

I widened my eyes, like you’re supposed to, but all I could see was the suggestion of corridors leading straight on and off to the left. “Got a flashlight?”

“Nope. I can hear music though.”

Jim was right, there was a bass beat coming from someplace ahead, and to the left. “Split up or stay tight? Your call, kemosabe.”

He snorted. “Never leave your wingman? These corridors are like shooting galleries, so if someone gets the jump on us we’re both dogfood. Nah, I say we split up, come at them from two directions. Which is to say I catch the bad guys while you blunder about in the back rooms.”

“In your dreams. Just head for the gunfire when you hear me start shooting, OK? I’ll go straight on. Stay frosty.”

“Just call me the Snowman.”

I moved on, through another set of double doors, and the music became appreciably louder. A short passage ending in a closed door took me closer to the source, so I pocketed the .38 and tried the handle. It turned. I still couldn’t tell if there was light on the other side but at the risk of storming a broom closet I shouldered my way in.

Desk, desk lamp, man standing there. He had a ziplock bag in each hand, matching bags in the two open attaché cases on the desk in front of him.

I laughed. “Who the hell are you, the ghost of Don Johnson?” If you’d seen him you’d understand; white linen suit, white loafers, black t-shirt. He had the jacket sleeves rolled back and sunglasses in his breast pocket.

The dude sounded more affronted than surprised. “I’ll have you know this is still considered a cool look, in some quarters.”

“And disco is making a comeback, I know. You do realise the Miami Vice retrospective at the Roxy was last month, man? Now, hands up.” There was something wrong, though, an itch in my nose and my eyes were stinging. I realised he was wearing nose filters and his bloodshot eyes were actually ocular shields to prevent membrane penetration.

I sneezed, violently.

The dude slapped the two bags he was holding together, arms outstretched, like soft symbols. I sneezed again, unable to avoid breathing in some of the grey-white cloud that burst over me.

Laughter. Gunfire. Pokers jammed in my eyes. Ice creeping over my skin, followed by the fires of Hell. The room as bright as a searchlight, bleaching out all colour. More gunfire. I sank to my knees, wheezing, my world shrinking to a small image of reality at the end of a long grey tunnel. I blinked, my eyelids scraping back and forth. My head spun with 360° vision. Technicolor burst from my eyeballs, repainting the room as I watched.

I blinked.

The door opposite lay open and I was alone. My skull itched on the inside. My dick was like an iron bar. The .45 was empty, the slide fully back. I dropped it and fumbled the .38 from my pocket, finding it as easy to use in my left hand as my right. Standing up proved not as difficult as I feared but walking was a whole new experience. I shuffled forwards, hands by my side.

Through the open door was a larger area used as a dressing room by the girls working the Lounge; clothes racks, cosmetics, personal items, garden furniture tables and chairs. A frightened looking bottle-blonde stood across from me, clutching her robe together like a safety blanket. I wanted to speak, to reassure her, but my mouth was sown together with barbed wire. Gurgling in Morse Code came to mind, but she didn’t look that nautical, despite the dolphin tattoo on her forearm.

Double doors to my right burst open and a man entered, holding a pump-action shotgun with pistol grip. It was Bryce, Marley’s missing partner. He just looked at me and laughed. “You greased, man? Jesus, Matt, you are wired. Marley objected to me taking a line or two but you, you’ve got enough primo gear on you to qualify as intent to distribute.”

I formed the words, my lips moved, but somewhere along the way silence stole my vocal cords. Bryce lowered his gun, sniggering. “You’re a heart attack waiting to happen, bro. Just sit down and enjoy the rush while you can. I’d recommend Carla here, but from the look of you she’d need a week off afterwards to recover.”

A spasm shook me, spittle and drool from my mouth.

Bryce pulled up a chair and straddled it. “You know, Matt, we’re a lot alike. We both appreciate a high, we both know when to bend, to go with the flow. I mean, it’s not like that rich kid actually needs us, right? Us sitting outside in the street, day in, day out, it was bad for business. So why not ditch the car out of sight and enjoy what the Lapland Lounge has to offer? Hell, they were even willing to throw in something over and above the freebies. Marley, though, he was too rigid, too married, too old.”

I swallowed, managed not to choke. “You, me. Big difference.”

He grinned. “Oh yeah, what’s that?”

I turned and shot him in the face. “You’re dead.”

Carla sucked in a big lungful of air ahead of a scream but it never came. My legs took me over to Bryce and I picked up the shotgun where he’d dropped it, placing my revolver in his pocket. I fished out his wallet and threw it to fall at Carla’s feet. “Get dressed, get out.”

Movement was Zen; I seemed to become one with where I wanted to go without any appreciable effort on my part. The double doors, the corridor beyond – this one with overhead strip lighting – more doors, another, narrower, corridor. Two anxious female faces peered from different doorways, one wearing a shorty Mrs Santa dress, the other only a clutched towel. They both vanished when they saw the shotgun leading me forward.

I was one with the gun and the gun knew where to go.

Music welled up as an unseen door opened ahead of me. An armed elf appeared, his .45 cocked. Amateur. I shot him in the chest before his face managed to register surprise. Someone screamed but I don’t think it was me.

I entered the Lounge proper.

Main lighting off. A girl paused in the act of pole-dancing, looking in my direction. A makeshift bar on cloth-covered trestle tables to my left. Heavy drapes hiding the bare walls. Scattered garden furniture with battery camping lamps on each table. A smattering of pale faces in the gloom, turned towards me like luminescent sunflowers.

I fired into the ceiling by way of introduction, my voice a roar to match that of my weapon. “MAXIMUM LAW! YOU ARE ALL SO BUSTED!”. I heard the rak-rak of a new round being chambered as the shotgun reloaded itself.

Someone shot me.

The shotgun returned fire, then swung away to let the floor come up and smack me in the mouth.

I blinked.

I was wet.

I was on my back, on the floor, a man crouched down beside me although I couldn’t make out his face. He was holding a water-charged fire extinguisher, which explained why I was wet.

“Lie still, officer, you’ve been shot. Left side, through-and-through, but I think no serious damage. I decided to wash off whatever recreational pharmaceuticals you were covered in, either that or watch the paramedics get high trying to treat you.”

A rich baritone, not a voice I recognised. I coughed. “My partner?”

“Sprained ankle, although the injury to his pride is quite severe. He’s at the entrance, still waiting for backup. Everyone you didn’t manage to shoot has made themselves scarce.”

“Who the hell are you, then?”

I could hear the smile in his voice. “Just a civilian enjoying the facilities, until you barged in. But I used to work for Max, so I’ll skate on this one. In fact I used to be a lot like you, right down to the bull-headed belief in my own immortality. These days I’m a parole officer and you’d be amazed at just how many of those I deal with were formerly in law enforcement, particularly the private sector. The badge, the vest, the gun, I’m well aware of the allure. Just remember that being part of the law doesn’t mean you’re above it. It catches up with most of us, eventually.”

“Sorry? What does?”

“Justice. Now, I really must be going but your partner is within earshot if need be. Keep the faith.”

He stood, a towering figure against the overhead lights, and vanished from my field of view. My side felt like I’d been kicked by a steel-toed boot, but it was tolerable. The rest of me burned from the inside out, and I was surprised my drenched clothes weren’t steaming. Just lying there, waiting for the medics to pitch up and carry me off, isn’t my style. Pointless machismo I know, but I’d have done it even without the drugs coursing through my system.

Sitting up hurt, standing even more so.

The shotgun got left behind as I needed both hands to lever myself off the floor. Once upright, no way was I bending down to retrieve it, and it could probably take care of itself. I was semi-mobile, clutching my side, by the time Jim limped up.

I just looked at him. “Sprained ankle?”

He at least had the good grace to look embarrassed. “Dude, what can I say? It wasn’t even a bad sprain, but enough to keep me out of things. I’m sorry.”

“Forget it, man. The way I was acting I’d probably have shot you as well.”

“True, true, the paperwork on this one is gonna’ be a bitch. The cavalry are here, so we’d better step outside.”

As we hobbled towards the sound of approaching sirens a door blew open somewhere, letting in a chill blast that made me shiver. Suddenly I felt, I felt old, like it wasn’t all just a glorious game anymore.

I heard a voice on the wind.

“Merry Christmas, baby, Merry Christmas.”

© Martin M. Clark 2018 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 11:09 Wed 14 Feb 2018
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