The sun was winking at me through my partly closed shades. I forced myself up and made a big breakfast. After putting on a freshly pressed suit, I was ready.

Things were going to light up today.

Frank Graham was somebody I’d always tried to leave alone. As D.A., he held a high position and he had powerful friends and the press in his pocket—a certified big deal. But this time I just couldn’t steer clear of him.

My insides were a hard tight knot as I walked into City Hall and up the long flight of marble steps. I skipped the regular procedure involving the okay signal with the secretary and walked right into the D.A.’s inner office.

For a big shot, Graham was a stocky little guy, five bucks worth of man in a hundred-dollar suit, sitting behind a big mahogany desk the good citizens paid for. For all the stacks of papers and file folders in front of him, he didn’t appear to be doing anything but puffing on a cigar that should smell better, considering its likely one-dollar price tag.

When he saw my face, he made a nervous gesture with one hand, and gave me a broad smile that showed off teeth so white they had to be caps or choppers.

"Captain Dexter, just the man I hoped to see today! How’s the Rogers case coming? Any developments?"

I took a chair opposite him. "Getting hotter all the time. Finding things out every day."

His smile curdled and he squirmed in his chair, but he managed, "I appreciate you keeping me up to date. I hope I’ll be prosecuting Mayes’ murderer one day soon."

"You and Rogers were good friends, I take it?"

"Oh yes."

"You even got together socially, I understand. Went to parties together and such."His smile recovered, but his forehead frowned. "Time to time, sure. What are you driving at, Rod?"

I settled back in my chair and stared at him for a good long ten seconds, then said, "I’m driving at you being one of those rotten apples we hear so much about, Graham. You know—in the barrel?"

His fat face reddened and his neck muscles bulged. "What the hell—"

"Spare me the indignation, Graham. You might be a big man to some, but to me you’re nothing but a fat slob with your hand in the till. You know, I’m torn between throwing you in the can or just messing you up, real pretty."

The color drained from his face. He sat there huffing, as though he couldn’t get his breath. "You must be out of your mind to think you can talk to me that way. Retract what you’re saying, and apologize, and I’ll write this off to overwork."

"No apology, Graham." I stood and threw him a lopsided grin and leaned across his desk as he sunk lower in his chair. "You have all the inside information. You can point me to the right people, because you are not the top of the ladder, but you know who’s on the rungs above and below you. You can help me clean up this town into something worth living in. You play ball with me and you can come out a hero."

It was a hell of a gamble, but I’d convinced myself it was a good bet.

But Graham was still red and huffing. "You have no right to burst into my office and make wild accusations this way!"

I stood straight. "Fine. Then I’ll just continue my investigation of the Rogers murder and go anywhere and everywhere it leads me. And before I’m through with you, you’ll be doing plenty of talking."

That was all. I walked to the door and slammed it behind me.

I’d really shown him, hadn’t I?

Two days later, I was in my apartment, stretched out on my bed, drunk. You think of nice things when you’re drunk. Things seem kind of funny, sometimes. Even when you’re depressed.

The D.A. was a powerful man. You’d think I’d know that, right? But he was even more influential than I thought. The lousy goddamn bastard.

I took a long swig from a pint whiskey bottle, and when it hit bottom, I tossed it on the floor and cursed. I tried to get up, but something kept me glued to the bed. So I cursed again.

The drink had taken effect. Visions danced in front of me and I swore at all of them. I couldn’t make them out and that made me even madder. A sick feeling was eating away at my stomach, and I tried to vomit. But the only thing that came out was more cursing.

I was dead, a thing of the past. Three days ago I was a cop. Now the cop was gone. What was left? Nothing but a thirst for booze, quenched by a bender, and vengeance, which I’d quench a whole other way. And when you’re playing a game like this, there’s only one way to play it, and that’s a hell of a lot rougher than they do.

They were going to die. Every last one of them would feel pain and I would receive satisfaction by watching their expressions as I pulled a trigger.

The morning crept up on the night and overcame it. The taste of last night’s whiskey still in my mouth, I showered, dressed slowly, and skipped breakfast.

There’s only so much a stomach can take.

Now I had no set rules to follow. I could do what I wanted without fear of losing my job or my badge because they were both gone. My gun had been taken away and the right to use it, too. So what! There were other guns in the world.

Up the steep gravel drive to the big white house, I found the door unlocked. I went in, not rousing the tall butler, and found Ginger Bass watching TV in a room down the hall. I knocked on the jamb, for good manners’ sake.

She looked up, surprised but not startled. She was in a pink short-sleeved sweater, blue capri pants and her bare feet.

"Captain Dexter...Rod! Come in." She seemed to like seeing me there—she even smiled, though I must have looked a mess despite my best efforts. There was a trace of sympathy in her expression as I tried to smile back.

I said, "I had to see somebody. You came to mind."

Her voice was almost a whisper. "I read what happened in the paper. I don’t really understand."

"Oh, they left the really good parts out."

She got up, turned off the TV, returned to the couch and patted next to her for me to sit. "Tell me."

Something inside made me want to laugh, but all that came out was a grunt. "The honorable Frank Graham put me out of commission. I went to his office, laid things on the line, and he blew his stack. His version got in the papers. Nobody was interested in mine. Anyway, I’m out of a job."

"It’s awful, Mr. Dexter," she said, shaking her head. "Such a miscarriage of justice. And it’s my fault! It was what I told you that—"

"Miss Bass. Ginger. The fault is mine. I handled it with all the finesse of a guy with ten thumbs, a tiny brain and one big temper. You wouldn’t have a cup of coffee handy, would you?"

We went into the kitchen and had coffee. I drained two cups before she finished one, and when I reached for a cigarette, she placed her hand over mine, her fingers pressing deep into my flesh.

"The other night when I said I thought I could trust you," she said, "I meant it. I’m sorry you lost your job, but I’m glad you’re not involved in this thing anymore. It’s something big and dangerous, really something evil."

"It’s not over, Ginger. I’m not a cop anymore, true. At least not legally. But I’m going to find the killer and expose everyone messed up in the racket."

Her forehead tightened and she breathed heavily. "Why? Is it really worth it?"

"Yeah, it is. I didn’t go into police work so guys like Frank Graham could get rich doing business with the Syndicate, while others like Mayes Rogers get killed for not playing along."

"But aren’t you risking the same thing happening to you?"

"Not the same. Mayes wasn’t shooting back."

She removed her hand. "You make me wish I hadn’t said anything."

"Stop that. I would have found out on my own. How’s Doris this morning?"

"I checked on her an hour ago. She was still in bed, and not usual."

"I know this is tough on her. She needs time. But she has plenty of it and I don’t. My big problem is getting someone to believe me, and taking action. No one in a public service job will stand up against Graham."

She was gazing at me in that strange little way women have when they’re so damn seductive without trying and I stood, lifting her up and pulling her close to me. She responded and I knew all the things she had told me were true, not just about Graham but her own loneliness and pent-up desire for something real, something lasting.

I kissed her, barely letting our lips meet, and when I tasted the moist sweetness of her lips, I pulled her tighter against me.

Her breathing was heavy but she got it out, like a bittersweet nothing in my ear: "Don’t keep after this thing, Rod—it’s not worth it. Go start over somewhere. Maybe I could... Rod, I’m scared for you."

I held her out to where I could look in her lovely face. "It’s got to be this way. If I run away, I’m not a man anymore. They can take my badge, but not who I am."

"But where will it end? When you’ve gunned them all down? Then will you go out for more? Those gangsters, maybe? And be alive at the end of it?"

What she said hurt me. She meant that I wasn’t a cop anymore and there was no use pretending I was anything but a hate-filled thing. I shook it off and kissed her again.

Then I said, "I need to talk with Doris."

She shook her head. "You can’t, Rod. Not now. Please trust me."

"So I’ll talk with her later. When she’s up to it. Where’s that butler character?"

"Marsh?" She smiled. "His day off. If he were here, he’d never leave me in here alone with you, with the door closed. He’s very protective of both Doris and me."

"Good that someone is," I said. "But everybody needs a day off."

I took her by the hand and led her back to the couch. Soon the thoughts of killing became lost as I let my mind turn to better things, like the whisper of fabric and whisk of zippers and the soft warmth of flesh.

Copyright © 2018 by Mickey Spillane Publishing LLC.

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