Crazy Jill Fights Her DuelCrazy Jill Fights Her Duel

Author's Note: The protagonist of this story, Jill Kelly—called Crazy Jill by her (mostly) admiring colleagues—is a police officer in New York City. The short story below describes the incident that gave rise to her nickname. Enjoy.

 

When my partner, Teddy Teague, explains the strategy, my chin bobs up and down like my only goal in life is to please and I say, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.”

The idea is simple enough. Having been spotted on the street by Jill Kelly (yours truly), Alexander Alexandreivitch Luchinski has sought refuge in an abandoned five-story tenement. It was his only choice short of giving it up or fighting it out.

Still, it was a terrible choice. The isolated tenement is surrounded on three sides by rubble. The fourth side, the front, where Teague and I stand, faces a street lined with the charred husks of stripped and abandoned vehicles. Luchinski is essentially trapped.

“I’ll take the rear and the west side, Jill,” Teddy instructs. “You cover the front and the east side. When our backup arrives, most likely we’ll be able to talk him out.”

Teddy’s a good partner and a good cop and I know he has it right. Alex Luchinski is Russian mafia, a killer, but in control. Given a choice, he’ll choose a long life in state prison over his own funeral.

I wait until my partner vanishes, then stroll up to the building, squeeze through an opening in the plywood sheet covering a basement window, finally drop into six inches of water on the floor below.

The water is cold and rises above my ankles, instantly filling my spit-shined, regulation brogans. From behind, a narrowing shaft of sunlight runs at a diagonal to a winding stairwell thirty feet away. Though the oily water is slicked with luminous blues and greens, the air, when I get up the nerve to take a breath, smells only of mildew and mold. I’d been expecting raw sewage.

I take my time crossing the room, sliding my feet, not for balance, but in search of objects lying on the bottom. I don’t fear a trap because I’ve already decided that Alex has no place to go but up. The windows of the building have been replaced with sheets of plywood. The surrounding lots are strewn with blocks of concrete, piles of brick, ravaged appliances, mounds of household trash. Alex might pause long enough to check the rear, to confirm the fact that he’s trapped himself, but he will eventually retreat.

I hear sirens off in the distance. I know Alex Luchinski hears them, too. I know he’s imagining an army of helmeted cops systematically poking M16’s and .12 gauge auto-loaders into each room, imagining every closed space become a trap. Another good reason to head for the roof where he can surrender without some jumpy cop misinterpreting his body language.

When I reach the stairwell and begin to climb out of the basement, I discover that my shoes are water-logged and emit a distinct squish with each step I take. I hadn’t anticipated this, but then I’m not thinking straight and don’t want to think straight. I’m off the detective squad, off the SWAT Team, and back to walking a beat in one of the city’s many armpits, a retarded witch who cast a spell on herself.

I have every right to blame the patriarch of the Kelly clan, Michael Joseph Xavier Kelly, Commissioner of Police, who arranged my descent after I defied him one too many times. Instead, I blame myself. I should have gotten out of town long ago. I should have begun my cop career in a city thousands of miles away. I should have, should have, should have…

One thing I’ve known from the beginning. You challenge a man like Uncle Mike, he’s gonna try to beat you down. Patriarchs have no choice, being as dominance is written into every patriarch’s job description.

I finally step out into a hallway that runs from a minuscule lobby to a stairwell at the rear of the building. A knife-blade of light streams from a gap in the panel covering the front door at the far side of the lobby, extending past me and into the hall. For a long moment, I stand motionless, the silence around me dense, the air choked with dust and humidity, until I finally admit that I, too, have nowhere to go but up. Then I begin to climb to the second floor.

Squish, squish, squish. It feels like I’m walking on sponges, but there’s not much I can do about it. The steps are littered with used needles and broken glass. Barefoot just won’t cut it.

When I reach the second floor landing, I hear footsteps in the stairwell above, just two or three steps followed by another silence. Time for plan B.

I don’t hesitate. I squish my way down the hall and into the living room of an apartment fronting the street. A pair of elderly Hispanic men, their weathered faces without expression, huddle over a bottle of cheap wine like jewelers examining a rare gem. They don’t react to my intrusion in any way, don’t look up, or speak, don’t move a muscle when I step over the bottle and cross the room. As far as I can tell, they don’t even breathe.

The plywood panel covering the front window, the one that leads to the fire escape, slips off the nails holding it against the window frame as though greased. Some enterprising squatter has enlarged the nail holes and the panel has effectively become a door that can be closed, at least from the inside.

I step out onto the fire escape, pause for a moment to let my eyes adjust to the glare. As I begin to climb, a midnight-blue cruiser, its siren screaming, turns into the block. It’s a break for me, because the siren covers the echoing clang of my footsteps on the metal risers. By this time, I’ve reached the third floor and I’m still climbing. I don’t stop until my head is just beneath the lip of the parapet edging the roof. Then I look back to see a pair of uniformed cops staring up at me. They appear mildly curious, as if directing traffic around a jumper in a hi-rise.

Though I’m tempted to wave, I’m afraid they’ll interpret the gesture to be a request for their aid which I definitely don’t want. So I turn back to the roof and take a series of slow, deep breaths before popping my head up long enough to look around. Alex Luchinski is nowhere in sight.

I climb over the parapet and onto the roof, take a step, then another, then another. Squish, squish, squish. I look down at my shoes, at the pebbles embedded in the tarred roof, at shards of glass made incandescent by an unrelenting summer sun. As I train the sights of my Glock on the door leading to the stairwell, I feel like I’m made of fire.

A moment later, the door to the roof opens and Luchinski backs out, ass first, which is fortunate. If the revolver he’s holding in his right hand had been pointed in my direction, he’d already be dead.

I pull down on the trigger of my weapon, until the automatic is within an eyeblink of firing, then settle down. A few seconds later, Luchinski’s head swivels from left to right. I don’t know if he’s looking for enemies or for a helicopter, but when he notices me, he freezes. I don’t say a word. I just wait.

“Why are you fuck with me?” he finally asks.

Luchinski’s a tall, barrel-chested man with an enormous, bony skull and blond hair cropped short in a style I associate with skinheads. His eyes are soot-black and buried so deep in his head they look as if they’d been stuck there in order to rectify a mistake. Oops, I forgot the eyes.

“You are still fuck with me,” Luchinski says, but he drops his revolver. It falls to the roof with a solid, satisfying clunk. “But Luchinski is no playing your game.”

“Turn around, Alex, and face me.”

Luchinski is wanted for the murder of Terry Ann Gaynor, one of a dozen hookers in a stable he ran as an escort service from an apartment in the suburbs. Gaynor had raided Luchinki’s dope stash, not for the first time, and Luchinski, driven by a characteristic rage, had bludgeoned her to death with a Sony camcorder. Then he’d piled her body into the back seat of his car and driven to a swamp near the airport before cutting off her hands and head to prevent later identification.

I watch Luchinski turn slowly, his contempt apparent in the hunch of his shoulders, the tilt of his chin. He stands with his hands on his hips.

“What for you arrest Luchinski?”

“Who says I’m here to arrest you?”

He stares at me for a moment, his small eyes narrowing into slits, then starts to speak. “I…”

The voice of Captain Peter McMullen, amplified a thousand times by an Emergency Services Unit loudspeaker, cuts Luchinski off in mid-sentence.

Alex Luchinski! Alex Luchinski! This is Swat Team Commander McMullen! You are surrounded! You are surrounded! Come to the front door and toss out any weapons in your possession! I repeat! You…

Luchinski’s chin drops and he bites at his lower lip. Maybe the truth is setting in. The best he can hope for at age thirty-five is to spend the rest of his life, every single day, in a shithole masquerading as a state prison.

He looks down at the revolver lying by his right foot, then up at me, his eyes dropping from my face to the unwavering barrel of the Glock. I’m in a shooter’s stance, feet spread apart, my left hand cradling my right wrist, leaning forward to absorb recoil. In a pinch, I could put the entire clip between his shoulder blades, and he seems to know it.

“What you want with Luchinski?”

“I want you to kneel.”

“Why Luchinski listen to you?”

The blades of a police helicopter sound in the distance. I have maybe two minutes before it arrives. I don’t expect anyone to come charging up the stairs. Captain McMullen is a cautious man. He’ll take the lower floors, room by room, then wait for a helicopter sweep before he deals with the roof. He’s that kind of guy.

“Because if Luchinski doesn’t, I’m gonna shoot the dumb prick right where he’s standing.”

Luchinski snarls, the left side of his mouth curling up far enough to reveal the gold fillings in his back teeth. “You are cunt,” he declares. Then he repeats it, as if surprised that I haven’t fainted away, “You are cunt.”

I let the barrel of my Glock drift up, until it’s pointing at the center of Luchinski’s forehead. “Alex,” I explain. “It’s either down on your knees or time to sing your death song.”

Though he’s Russian and probably never heard of an Indian death song, Luchinski drops his right knee, then his left, to the tarred roof. “You are happy now?” He lets his butt fall back against his heels, bringing his right hand, still on his hip, to within a foot of his weapon.

The whomp of the advancing helicopter’s rotor grows loud enough to compete with the bull horn and I know it’s coming fast because I know the pilot, Jimmy Dermott, who’s married to a Kelly. I can see the copter now. A baby-blue dot, it rises on the horizon behind Luchinski’s head as though marking a solstice.

I holster my Glock, let my hand drop to my side, say, “Did you have a hard time, Alex? Chopping off her hands?” When he doesn’t respond, I up the ante by smiling, then suddenly jerking my hand toward my holster.

Luchinski flinches, as I’d hoped he would, and his face tightens down again. I don’t blame him for being pissed. The situation is new to him, just as it’s new to me. The difference is that for the last fifteen years I’ve been practicing obsessively at a firing range on the west side. The way I figure it, he’s got one chance in a thousand.

But a chance is still a chance, and if Alex Luchinski doesn’t take this one, he’ll carry the memory of his humiliation into a steel and concrete prison cell. It’ll tear at his guts for the rest of his life.

“How about her head, Alex, was cutting Terry Gaynor’s head off a real bummer? How long did you hack away before you broke through her spine?”

“What is this to you?”

I jerk my hand, slap at my Glock. Again, Luchinski flinches. Again, his face reddens. He looks down at the revolver next to his foot, at my holstered automatic. His mouth opens, then shuts as he finally comes to understand there’s nothing to say, that there’s only do it or don’t. Still, he can’t make up his mind. He glances over his shoulder at the onrushing helicopter, then comes back to me.

I take a step toward him, then a second and a third. Squish, squish, squish. When I stop, we’re less than ten feet apart.

“You want die?” he demands. “That is it? You want die?”

But I don’t want to die and never have. What I want is for this moment to last forever. The sun pouring down heat and light.The breeze curling over my face, ruffling my hair.Luchinski’s questions and his doubts and his fears. Captain McMullen’s scruffy voice amplified a thousand times: You are surrounded. You are surrounded.

The spires of the city’s skyline are visible over the blocky profiles of the nearest buildings. They shimmer in the distance, wriggle with pleasure and approval. I watch Jimmy Dermott’s blue copter rise above the tallest skyscrapers, instantly merging with the blue sky, knowing he can see me now, that he will bear witness.

“I kill you, bitch.”

Luchinski’s hand drops to the roof, but his eyes remain fixed on my hand. This is a major mistake, because the half-second delay before his fingers curl around the handle of his revolver allows me all the time I need to draw my Glock and place three rounds in the center of his chest. The shots are loud in my ears, the steady chop of the helicopter even louder as it rushes over my head. Still, I distinctly hear the rounds enter Luchinski’s body. As they mushroom, tearing flesh and fiber, the bullets go squish, squish, squish.

Contact Stephen Solomita at stephensolomita@yahoo.com
Severn House Publishers at www.severnhouse.com

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