Fred Blosser and Bill Davis are best men, meaning that each was the best man at the other's wedding. Any other interpretations of "best" are a matter of opinion or perhaps conjecture. Blosser works in the public sector, and Davis is a self-employed
Knut Boomer turned sharply off Brockway Avenue and kicked his '67 Ford Galaxie to a jolting stop in front of a plain, cinder block building. An old Chevy van was parked nearby on the sparsely graveled, muddy lotthe heap that Denver was driving these days. A weathered sign on a pole identified the building as "Jake's Bargain Store."
Boomer was a sometimes private dick, sometimes mob enforcer who worked off and on with Mason Russell and Denver Fuller, two freelance hit men. They plied their trade mostly in the Pittsburgh-Weirton-Morgantown axis. A call from Denver's cell phone had summoned Boomer out here to Jake's on a quiet street in Morgantown.
Knut slipped his Mauser HSc out of its shoulder rig. Forty years on the frontline of violent crime had taught him to be careful. He pushed open the plain, metal door of the building. The inside was cold, damp, and cavernous, with merchandise stacked everywhere that ranged in quality from decrepit to barely salvageable: secondhand books, records, tapes, CDs, clothing, tools. His footsteps echoed off the worn linoleum floor and cinder block walls of the thrift shop.
Denver Fuller was standing by the counter, under a harsh fluorescent light. Denver still favored the polyester leisure suits of a bygone era. The two-day stubble around his mouth was yellow with the residue of chew-tobacco spit. Knut had worked with Denver and Mace since the 1970s. Theirs was a family trade. In the early 1900s, their granddads had toted guns on both sides of the law from the Five Points of New York City to Bloody Mingo County, West Virginia, to the Arizona border.
Now, Fuller was looking down at a portly, black-haired, mustached man of about 50. The man lay sprawled in blood, unmoving. Knut stepped over, nudged a toe under his shoulder, and turned him over on his back. There were two bullet holes in his chest.
Denver, holding a Ruger .41 Magnum, gestured to a smear of blood that led across the shabby floor from the back of the store to where the dead man lay. "Ol' Jake got plugged back there, and dragged hisself over here. Why?"
"Hmm." Knut stooped to examine some junk that lay beside the body. "Maybe he dragged himself over here to dump these things off the counter. Let's see what it is ..."
"Hell, Knut, it's just trash." Denver pointed in turn to three scratched old vinyl recordsShe Loves You, the Beatles, Reach Out, Four Tops, Crazy for You, Madonnaa beat-up old trifold for Days Inn, and a 1950 Western paperback of cavalry stories by some dude named Bellah, shoved open at a story titled "Command."
"When you called me to come over," Knut said, "you said that Jake had called you, saying he thought his life was in danger, and he wanted to hire us to protect him."
"Yessir, that's right."
"So maybe he was afraid we wouldn't get here in time, and he wanted to leave us a clue as to who killed him, and these pieces of junk here are the clue."
"Or just maybe, son, they's just pieces of junk. 'Case you hadn't noticed, the only stuff in this here store is junk. Some of this stuff has been here for forty years, ever since Jake's daddy, Jake Senior, owned the place."
"Well, at any rate, it's an academic issueyou know what 'academic' means, don't you?" Boomer said. "It means Jake was right, someone was out to tag his ass, they got here before we did, we're out the fee he was going to pay us, so let's hustle butt before the cops show up. It ain't any of our business.
"Denver, I liked Jake as much as the next guy. Hell, I have a soft spot in my heart for this old dump, too. This is where I found beat-up old copies of The Mourner, The Score, and The Handle back in 1970 as a college kid, before Richard Stark was even cool, but I repeat: none of our damn business."
"Well, that ain't exactly true," Denver said. "I called the bank before I came over. Jake had transferred five grand into my account. Bet if you check, they's five grand in your account too."
"Well, we could just have ourselves a vacation at Brenda Huxley's Bunny Ranchero on ol' Jake, and forget why he paid us."
"Yessir, we could do that, and pretty soon, somebody hears that we took a fee without earnin' it, and people stop trustin' us. Ain't good business practice for us, son."
"Be that as it may, it's one thing if a client is still alive, but what do we do now that Jake is dead?"
A voice spoke from the door: "We do what Jake would have wanted us to do, and we nail the cocksucker who killed him."
Mace Russell, Denver Fuller's senior partner in murder, stepped over to the counter quietly. He had come into the store without any noise, while Knut's and Denver's attention was centered on the corpse. He put away the snub-nosed .38 that he had drawn as a precaution. "Denver is right, as amazing as that may seem for Denver. If someone pays you to do a job, you do it. Doesn't matter if the client is dead. He paid you, so you have to do the job anyway. He moved five grand into my account too."
"Hell, Jake never told us who he was afraid of, so we don't even know who to go after," Knut pointed out.
"Well, I think you're right about these things on the floor." Mace's expression was thoughtful. He had the same hard-planed features as his distant cousin, the late actor John Russell. "Jake had put them out on the counter, and he pulled himself all the way over here to make sure we found them with his body. Somehow, they point to the identity of his killer."
"It'll take time to figure out the clues, assuming we ever do," Knut grumbled.
"Start figuring then. In the meantime, Denver and I'll pay a call on Tony Decker. Jake used to move dope for Tony and his topkick, Mort Douglas, till Tony and Jake had a falling out. Tony may know something about Jake's recent history that will give us some suspects."
"Didn't Tony accuse Jake of swindling him out of some crystal meth? Jake caused a scene at Tony's dive out by the airport. You know Tony's reputation for having a temper," Knut mused. "Maybe he was mad enough to pay Jake back."
Denver spotted something on the floor, near the counter, bent over, and picked it up. It was a matchbook that said "Tony's Place" on the cover. "Forget them records and them other things," he said. "You want a clue? This looks like the real McCoy."
"Maybe," Russell answered noncommittally. "We'll go pay him a peaceful visit anyway. Knut, in the meantime, you check on those clues. Start with the records. I know who might be able to help you find a meaning to them ..."
"Way ahead of you, Mace. I do too. I'll need to get on the internet. You have your cell? I'll call you as soon as I have something."
Cold gray early afternoon was turning into cold gray late afternoon when Knut parked on upper High Street and walked over to the West Virginia University Library. He left his gun in the car to keep from setting off the metal detector. Going into the building, he passed two women he knew, divorced professors in their early 40s who were on the attractive side of matronly. One smiled and said, "Well, hello there, Knut. Sonya and I are bored and a little bit horny. Would you like to join us at my condo for a threesome?"
"Later, kid, after I finish some business," Boomer replied. Inside the library, he found a computer and logged on to the web.
He knew a chat room where his connection for old records could be found any time of the day or night. He typed in the address, then wrote, "NEED UR HELP. WHAT DO THESE RECORDS HV IN COMMON?" He typed in the names of the three records that they had found beside Jake's body.
The reply came after a minute. "EASY. THEY WERE ALL THE SECOND #1 HITS FOR THE ARTISTS, ON BILLBOARD."
"ANYTHING ELSE?" Knut typed.
"CAN'T THINK OF ANY OFFHAND. U IN THE MARKET FOR A NEW BUY? I HV SOME RARE EDDIE SEACRISTS."
"NEXT TIME, BRO," Knut wrote.
"OK, OVER AND OUT," came the reply, signed "Rockabi101."
Knut stole a pen and pad from a kid's book bag and started doodling as he walked outside"Records = Second Hits = Second ..."
Suddenly, he knew what the clues were and how they fit together.
Around the same time, Mace and Denver walked into Tony's Place on Route 857 near the airport. They passed through the empty bar and entered Tony's office in back. Decker wasn't there, but Mort Douglas was, a tall, hard-faced guy with a shaved head. He sat in a swivel chair next to his boss's desk. Two other guys flanked him, some hired muscle out of Clarksburg named Al "Pacino" Munn and Robert "De Niro" Kissler.
They weren't too smart, and people snickered behind their backs at their self-selected nicknames, but they had other qualifications that were more important for what they did. They were good with guns and they didn't mind killing people.
Mace glanced at a bookshelf behind the desk, lined with classics about the careers of well-known American criminal figuresDonnie Brasco, Valachi Papers, The Godfather, Six Crises ... "Mace, I'm honored that you came to visit, but I'm afraid that Tony is out making some rounds right now," Mort said.
"That's ok," Russell said, tossing the book of matches on the desk. "You might not have heard yet: Jake of Bargain Store fame was killed earlier today. We found that in his store."
"Well, Tony and Jake did business, you know. Maybe Tony left it during one of his visits."
"Tony was never known to frequent Jake's store," Mace said. "They did business by phone."
Mort frowned. "What do you think, then? Tony was at the store today, secretly? Maybe Tony pulled the trigger?"
Mace shrugged. "Jake paid us to protect him. We didn't get there in time. I'm sure Plan B was for us to earn the money by whacking his killer."
"It would be difficult for me and the boys to stand by if you go after our boss, Mace," Mort said. "On the other hand, Tony ain't getting any younger. He might be getting careless in his old age. If so, might be time for younger talent to take over ..."
"Younger like you?" Mace asked.
Douglas shrugged. "I'm just sayin'."
Mace's cell rang. He thumbed it on. A text message from Knut scrolled over the screen:
RECORDS = SECOND
DAYS INN TRIFOLD = IN
PAPERBACK STORY = COMMAND
He thumbed it off and looked at Mort. "Another possibility occurs to me, Mort ..."
Denver cackled, "Hee, hee. It's what my man Former President 43 might call one of your hypodermical situations, Mort ..."
"Maybe someone wants to take over from Tony, like his right-hand guy, but he's afraid to go up against the boss, so he sets up a scenario where some hit men believe that they were hired to kill Tony, and they do the job for him."
Douglas' eyes flickered to his goons.
"Incidentally, Mort, I said Jake was killed," Mace continued, "I didn't say he was shot. How'd you know it was lead poisoning?"
Pistols suddenly appeared in Pacino's and DeNiro's mitts, but Mace and Denver were faster. Mace's .38 drilled Al through the eye, and Denver's Ruger stitched holes across Bobby's chest.
Mort fumbled out a small automatic, but before he could line it up, a slug from Mace spun him one way in the swivel chair, and a bullet from Denver spun him back in the other direction. He slumped, dropping the gun, and died.
Mace and Denver switched around some guns, wiping prints off their own pistols and putting the sidearms in Mort's hands and taking his automatic. Going out to the empty bar, Denver brought back bottles and glasses, filled the glasses and splashed Jim Beam around. "They got drunk and argued, the guns came out, and Mort plugged Pacino and De Niro ..."
"And then he turned both guns on himself," Mace said drily.
"Hey, Mace, I'm like my Fair and Balanced news guys on Fox," Denver whined. "I just report 'em, I don't try to explain 'em."
That evening, they drove down I-79 to Sug's Place outside Dunbar. Denver put a quarter in the juke box that hadn't been reloaded since 1972, and played Silver Moon by Mike Nesmith.
"Them high-falutin' critics might make fun of the Monkees, but man, that group had some talent," Denver said. "Michael Nesmith ... the late Davy Jones ... Mickey Dolenz ... Peter Tork ... well, Mike Nesmith, anyways."
"Somebody suggested taking some R&R at Brenda Huxley's," Mace said. "Not a bad idea. Are you still up for it, no pun intended?"
"Sure. Then maybe we can make some extra green by cleaning all the old records out of Jake's store, picking out the ones that predate the second Nixon Administration, bringing them down here, and selling them to Sug to replenish her juke," Knut offered.
"Heck yeah," Denver said in delight. "Sug has some good platters, but she don't have Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast, 1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero, and 1, 2, 3 Red Light. That needs to be remedied."
"To a good time at Brenda's and good sounds when we get back," Knut proposed. Their longneck bottles of Miller High Life clinked together musically.
Copyright © 2014 Fred Blosser and Bill Davis.
businessman who makes a cameo appearance in "Morgantown Massacre." Both men know Morgantown well.