The Interview

Chapter 1

My broken-down Ford Galaxie swerved across Wilshire as I fought to keep it between the white lines. Probably shouldn’t have driven. It was late. After midnight. And I’d already had a few too many. Though, that’d never stopped me before. The car groaned as I jerked the wheel back to center. Missed the sidewalk but might’ve taken someone’s mirror with me. Impossible to know for sure. Didn’t feel too bad about it either way. People knew the risks parking in LA.

At least I’d made incredible time. Threw the beater into park just past Fairfax and stared at the neon sign for my favorite watering hole. Thing sputtered, missing a few letters, but clearly read, Lazy Giant. No one else on the street except a few homeless catching a wink in the cold. This bar defined dive. And not in a hip way that made it a draw. That’s why I liked it.

Out of the glove box, I grabbed my wallet, leaving behind my 9mm. Guess I felt lucky on a couple counts that night. Checked myself quick in the reflection of the window. Looked like I’d been living out of the car, which wasn’t far from the truth. Straightened my hair, ran my fingers over my mustache, pulled at my sport coat—it needed a press—and made my way across the street. Hopefully my date had low standards.

The Lazy Giant attracted a loyal crowd because of the cheap drinks and friendly pours. But that evening was sparse, even for a Tuesday. Jeff tended bar most nights though my knowledge of his personal life ended with the name. A big guy, overweight but strong, with a jaw that could crack walnuts—if one ever had the disposition or desire to do such a thing—he didn’t move much behind that bar, no space for it, but he always sweat like he’d just run a marathon. He cleaned a glass in the sink and, when he saw me, tossed a dirty look my way.

“We’re closing up, Raines.”

“But you aren’t closed yet.”

Jeff sighed, grabbed the bourbon bottle, and began mixing my drink.

“Perfect Manhattan on the rocks,” I said out of habit. “Little dry. Little Sweet.”

“I know. You order it every time.”

A couple of the low-life regulars slouched over their cocktails, dead to the world. Some twenty-something grad students played darts in the corner. Never seen them before. Probably thought it a joke to have date night in a shithole like this. I didn’t see a woman by herself. Let alone one that belonged to the voice I’d heard on the phone.

“Anyone ask for me tonight, Jeff?”

“Nope.” He set the Manhattan on the bar and smirked. “If someone had, I’d have locked the door.”


My would-be employer went by Madison Andrews and she’d roused me from the warm embrace of an alcoholic stupor with an unwanted phone call. I didn’t know her. Trust me, I would’ve remembered that voice. It had a rasp that caught in the back of the throat and sounded like broken glass grinding together in a bag of marbles. Just my type. I felt bad about Carla but she’d abandoned me that night, not the other way around. That’s always a tough pill to swallow. The rejection, I mean. We should’ve been keeping each other warm in bed. Instead I’d had a few more drinks and tried to lose consciousness on the cold linoleum of my rundown apartment in Koreatown. Probably that very whiskey giving me delusions of grandeur about this nightcap with Madison being a date. But couldn’t hurt either way because I doubted Carla and I were still together after the row we’d had.

Making myself at home in a booth, I got to work nursing my drink. It went down smooth and cool with the ice and settled in my stomach, fortifying with the other bourbons I’d already enjoyed. That easy feel of the buzz slid over me in waves, blurring life’s problems with the incessant throbbing in my head and the spinning sensation of the booze. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and enjoyed the fall.

“You didn’t order me one?” that unmistakable rasp of a voice asked.

My eyes snapped open to meet one dangerously attractive woman. She had dark hair, brown skin, and olive eyes that matched her form-fitting cocktail dress. She was gorgeous. But I could tell by looking at her that she wanted anything from me but sex. What a letdown. Depression took hold as I imagined returning home to my ramen and pet cockroaches. I banished that despair with another gulp of whiskey.

Madison flashed a fake smile and the entire night felt disingenuous. In an instant, self-pity gave way to a bitter fury I barely recognized as my own. All I wanted was for her to shut her damn mouth and leave me be. But she persisted, you had to give her that.

“Aren’t you going to ask me to join you?”

Vaguely, I motioned across the booth and Madison sat. In her eyes, I thought I caught a glimpse of disdain. Maybe fear. But it disappeared faster than it arrived. I chalked it up to the booze and let it go.

Jeff sauntered over and she ordered a gin and tonic neat. I got a refill. We stared at each other for those moments it took the bartender to make the drinks and bring them back. Awkward. We drank in silence until she broke it, “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, you got my name over the phone. You haven’t even introduced yourself.”

“My name’s Duster Raines. Raines’ll do. I’m a private investigator. But based on the fact you called me and mentioned work, I assume you already knew both those things.”


“So you going to tell me what you want or we just going to sit here and pretend this is a social call until the bar closes?”

“You’re handsome, Mr. Raines. Bet you’d clean up nice.”

“I’m tall, too. Still doesn’t explain why I’m sitting in this dump.”

“You picked it.” Madison took a long sip of her cocktail. “Most men would be excited to have a drink with me.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. That voice of yours is killer. And anyone can see you’re beautiful. And that dress...” She shifted uncomfortably under my lingering gaze. I chased the crude moment away with more whiskey. “But I see the depression on that wedding finger and I don’t make a habit of messing with other men’s wives. Usually ends with someone in the hospital. And it’s never me.”

She rubbed the place where her wedding ring had been. I loved being right.

“You’re a mean drunk.”

“It’s past my bedtime.”

She laughed, “I like you.”

“Well now we have something in common,” I lied. “So how about you tell me what this is all about.”

“My husband.”

“Where’s the ring?”

“Somewhere safe. I took it off because…”

“You don’t have to explain to me.”

“That’s kind of you.” She downed her drink. Liquid courage. “He disappeared three days ago.”


“What can they do? They have no idea what’s coming. None of you do.”

She stared at me with an intensity I’d only seen matched a few times in my life. And one of those was a dirty little incident from the Gulf War I preferred to forget. Her gaze burned straight through me, as if she’d forgotten we were talking, seeing something beyond this place. A skill I could relate to. Should’ve gotten up right then and left. But I didn’t.

“What do you think happened?” I asked as kind as I could manage.

“That he’s been abducted,” she muttered, snapping back from wherever she’d been.

“Did they leave a note?”

She laughed wildly, which in my experience only happened in bad movies or right before someone shoved a knife in your neck. “No, don’t be silly.” Madison leaned across the table so her lips nearly brushed my ear and whispered, “Aliens don’t leave notes.”


Back out on the road, I let the car do its job. Flew down Fairfax to God knows where. But anywhere sounded better than where I’d just been. The car turned hard onto Sunset and headed into the heart of Hollywood, making its way through light traffic towards the sign—you know, the famous one—which burned bright in the night sky against the black backdrop of the mountains. Strangely, I didn’t recall the sign ever being lit at night. But there it shone, like a beacon leading me to safety.

Rain started to fall. Bizarre because it never rained in Los Angeles. Or was that the Valley? I couldn’t remember the last time it had rained so I left it at that.

Even at this hour and with surprise rain, the streets bustled with tourists, homeless, drunks, hookers and all other sorts of undesirables. The rest were aspiring actors and screenwriters. That was my town. Los Angeles. La-La Land. A fantasy of broken dreams and lost hope. Believe me, there’s plenty of both to go around in this city.

Started to feel bad about how I’d run out on Mrs. Andrews. I’d dropped some cash and gave her my business card to be polite. Call me in a day or two, I’d said. A line of bull. Hoped she got the message. She’d grabbed my arm, asked me to stay with a desperation I pitied. But I didn’t need another crazy person in my life—I was enough crazy for one lifetime already.

Why had I agreed to meet with her in the first place? I couldn’t remember.

Was it money? No, that’d been the excuse.

The reason had something to do with lust but that disappeared the moment I’d realized she didn’t want me. Now, I just felt uneasy I’d been a little too tight with a loon. Don’t get me wrong, I was used to the crazies. In my line of work you meet a lot of them. But something in Madison’s eyes told me she’d seen things, real or imaginary, and they’d damaged her beyond repair. No payday could’ve gotten me to stick around.

Stop worrying. No need to ruin the buzz.

So, I wasn’t worried about the money I’d just passed up. Or the back-rent I owed. Or Madison needing my help. I had a bad habit of falling for the hard luck cases and that needed to stop. Bound to be easier money just around the corner. Be patient. Don’t look back.

But for some reason I did look back—probably the wailing sirens got my attention— flashing in my rearview mirror were the red and blue lights of a police cruiser. They were hot on my tail. How long had they been there? No time to think. I threw on the blinker and pulled over.

My car lit up as the high beam spotlight from the cop’s car focused on me. I squinted through the light, barely able to see the silhouette of a man making his way towards my driver’s side window. He walked slow, methodical, almost gliding. Not a man at all but the reaper come to take me to the great beyond. Fear took me. I couldn’t move. This demon of darkness in control. The ringing in my ears intensified, a death knell of my impending doom.

You knew he’d be back. Blood demands blood. Fate always gets paid.

“Leave me alone,” I grunted. Shook my head, gave it a solid slap, broke up my crazy doomsday thoughts into a million tiny pieces. Hallucinations be damned.

Truth be told, I’d drank too much. And this probably wasn’t good. But I knew I could get this car home safe. Just needed to explain that to the cop. It’d be all right. I sat up straight, put on a smile and rolled down the window. Cold air hit me in the face like a wet blanket. “What seems to be the problem, Officer?”

“I’ve been following you for the last four miles,” the rain drenched policeman snapped. “You been drinking?” Young kid, probably twenty. Smug. Knew he’d scored a bust. Gloating. Rookie cop. Plain as day. I’d been like him once. If I played my cards right this would end with me asleep in my bed. No worse for wear.

“I had a drink or two. But I’m good to drive.” I flashed my P.I. badge, a polished silver crest with the Justice Department emblem. The metal glistened in the high beam light. Sharp. Impressive. And a complete fake. I’d had the thing made about five years back to get past doormen and bouncers. It was illegal to impersonate an officer in Los Angeles but hopefully this kid didn’t know that law yet. Besides, I still felt lucky.

The rookie eyed the badge incredulously. Unable to tell if it made an impression, I pulled out my retired police officer ID card and passed it over. This one was real. “I used to be a cop.”

“License and registration.” The kid tossed my retired cop card at me like trash.

Who the hell did this guy think he was? For a moment, I considered getting out of the car and teaching him a lesson. But I thought better of it and handed him my license instead. Time for cooler heads to prevail. The glove box popped and out came the registration. As I went for the insurance, I knocked my concealed 9mm onto the passenger seat.

In a blur, I hit the wet pavement. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the cop aiming his pistol at the back of my head. He had a look in his eye somewhere between rage and terror. I can tell you from experience there’s not much difference between the two when you’re on the receiving end of a loaded firearm.

“Whoa. What’s the big idea?” Tough to talk. Might have been slurring. Or I’d hit the concrete too hard.

“Stay on the fucking ground. Keep your hands where I can see them.”

“I was just getting you my registration.”

“Shut up.” He grabbed my right arm and cocked it behind my back. “You’re under arrest for driving while intoxicated, impersonating a police officer and carrying a concealed weapon.”

“I’m permitted. Christ. Just told you, I used to be a cop.”

His knee went into the small of my back. Despite my better instincts, I cried out in pain.

As he shifted off me, he put most of his weight into his other leg. He’d lowered his gun and the weapon pointed straight into the ground. Rookie mistakes. Off balance and the gun no longer a threat, it would only take a little thrust forward and I’d have the kid on the ground. Snap his wrist, another grab, and the gun would be out of his hand and in mine.

Time slowed as the fight played in my mind.

Out of my body, I watched from above as every move I’d imagined occurred in perfect synchronization. The kid flipped over me and hit the asphalt. As I rolled up onto my feet, I broke his wrist and yanked the gun free. Took aim. Stared down on him. In control. Goddamn I was good. Part of me wished I’d actually done it.

Then, my watching spirit slammed back into my body. Reality gripped my mind and shook it back to the now. And a terror sank in at the realization that everything I’d just witnessed had happened.

Oh, shit.

The child cop’s hands—both the good one and the broken one, which flopped about because it no longer attached at his forearm—were out in front of his face to block bullets he had no chance of stopping. Tears already streamed down his cheeks. “Please don’t kill me, man. I got a wife. Kids.”

Dazed, I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

“I won’t tell a fucking soul. I swear.”

Cop was a liar. Bad one too. Had to shut him up.

Stop. No more blood. There’s always a price.

Fine. Have it your way.

The gun clip hit the ground and I unchambered the loaded bullet. Then I pistol whipped the kid hard across the face a few times until I knew he wouldn’t get up for at least an hour. Poor, rookie. He’d landed in deep shit. Lost his gun and everything. Probably going to lose his job next. But at least he hadn’t lost his life.

You’re welcome.

Wiped my prints off his gun and dropped it by his side. Grabbed my paraphernalia and got back in the car. Dripping wet, I shivered. My breaths came out panicked. What the hell just happened? Couldn’t think about it now. I gave the car gas and left the unconscious cop in my rearview.

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