Blood everywhere, Ernie thought, just as Jackie had. He stared at the carnage, dismayed, and then forced himself to move. Everything inside the reception desk had spilled out when Rupe Libby hit it. Lying amid the litter was a red plastic rectangle which he prayed the people downstairs might still be able to put to use.

He was bending down to get it (and telling himself not to throw up, telling himself it was still a lot better than the A Shau Valley in Nam) when someone behind him said, “Holy fucking God in the morning! Stand up, Calvert, slow. Hands over your head.”

But Freddy and Mel were still reaching for their weapons when Rommie came up the stairs to search for what Ernie had already found. Rommie had the speed-pump Black Shadow he’d put away in his safe, and he pointed it at the two cops without a moment’s hesitation.

“You fine fellas might as well come all the way in,” he said. “And stay together. Shoulder to shoulder. If I see light between you, I’ll shoot. Ain’t fuckin the dog on dis, me.”

“Put that down,” Freddy said. “We’re police.”

“Prime assholes is what you are. Stand over dere against that bulletin board. And keep rubbin shoulders while you do it. Ernie, what the damn hell you doin in here?”

“I heard shooting. I was worried.” He held up the red key card that opened the cells in the Coop. “You’ll need this, I think. Unless… unless they’re dead.”

“They ain’t dead, but it was fuckin close. Take it down to Jackie. I’ll watch these fellas.”

“You can’t release em, they’re prisoners,” Mel said. “Barbie’s a murderer. The other one tried to frame Mr. Rennie with some papers or… or somethin like that.”

Rommie didn’t bother replying. “Go on, Ernie. Hurry.”

“What happens to us?” Freddy asked. “You ain’t gonna kill us, are you?”

“Why would I kill you, Freddy? You still owe on that rototiller you bought from me las’ spring. Behind in payments, too, is my recollection. No, we’ll just lock you in the Coop. See how you like it down dere. Smells kinda pissy, but who knows, you might like it.”

“Did you have to kill Mickey?” Mel asked. “He wasn’t nothing but a softheaded boy.”

“We didn’t kill none of em,” Rommie said. “Your good pal Junior did dat.” Not that anybody will believe it come tomorrow night, he thought.

“Junior!” Freddy exclaimed. “Where is he?”

“Shoveling coal down in hell would be my guess,” Rommie said. “Dat’s where they put the new help.”


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