Bobby Leger owned Lone Star Pawn, which occupied the end unit in a strip mall in the old part of Mitchum Bay. It was the part of town where you stood an excellent chance of getting your car’s stereo boosted, but if that happened, just wait an hour and you could buy it back from Lone Star.
Leger entered the shop from the front, which I hadn’t expected. He unlocked the accordion-style burglar bars and slid them away from the glass front door.
Inside the shop, I stayed still. I’d found a surprisingly comfy recliner shoved in between a leaning bookcase stuffed with DVDs and a table covered in CDs and cassette tapes, and I had been on the verge of dozing off when I had heard him rattle the bars to check if they were still locked from the night before. No one is as paranoid about theft as a thief.
The recliner smelled, but everything in the shop smelled. Gas and oil from weed whackers and chain saws, rust from shovels and small hand tools, mouse droppings from everywhere. The place was cramped and dark, a shitty catch-all of beaten furniture, guitars with missing strings, paperbacks with the covers torn off, and VHS tapes in sun-faded cardboard cases.
Leger unlocked the front door, pushed it open. He twisted the deadbolt once he was inside–the shop didn’t open until 9, two hours away–and turned. I thought then that he would see me; I was three steps away from him, but it was either too dark, or he was half-asleep.
There was a cup of McDonald’s coffee in his left hand, and I smelled a gun on him, the smells of gun oil and cordite barely there under the aroma of Columbian roast. He clipped the keys to a belt loop on his jeans and walked past me, sipping his coffee. I could have stuck out a leg and tripped him.
I waited until he set down his coffee on the top of the glass gun case before I said, “Good morning Bobby.”
He jerked and cried out–“Uuhh!”–and then spun around, his hand going under his black T-shirt. He paused with the gun halfway out of the waistband of his jeans when he saw it was me. “Deputy Anderson?”
“I know that’s not a gun. You’re just happy to see me, right?”
It took a second, but then he grinned and pulled down his shirt, held out his empty hands. “Real happy to see you, Officer.”
“I thought so.” I stood, my own gun tucked in a holster at the small of my back. I stayed near the recliner and leaned against the table. I picked up a cassette at random. White Snake’s Greatest Hits. If I was dating a guy with a mullet and a ’82 Camaro, I would so buy it.
“How’d you get in here?” Again, a thief and his paranoia.
“The back door.” I tossed the cassette back on the table. “You need a new one, by the way. I sort of kicked in the old one.”
Leger nodded, picked up his coffee. He took a sip and then said, “So why’re you here?”
“How do you know Leland Paget?”
“Don’t do that. He was at the fight last night.”
“I don’t know everybody who comes to the fights.”
“Bullshit. You told me you vet everybody who comes there.”
“Well, I lied then. I don’t know who that is.”
I scratched the back of my head. Keep cool, I told myself. Keep cool and keep it together.
I was still a bit not entirely sober; my body processes alcohol faster now, but I had stopped drinking at around four that morning with the intention of getting some sleep and calling on Leger before he closed. Of course, I had tossed and turned before finally giving up and coming down here. I had taken a taxi rather than drive, but it was more to protect my car than anything else.
Being not entirely sober, I wasn’t too sure I could control my more bestial nature. The array of screwdrivers and pliers in a wooden bin on the other side of the music table looked mighty tempting.
“Who is he?” Leger asked. “What’d he do? Maybe I can, y’know, find him for you.”
I meandered past the tool bin. Putting his head through the glass case at the other end of the counter so he could get a close look at his assortment of stolen Rolexes and engagement rings was another idea.
“He killed a little girl.” I shifted closer to Leger.
“Fuck.” He widened his eyes and put down his cup. “Well, look, if he was there last night, I’ll call a couple guys. See if anybody knows that shitbag.”
I grabbed Leger’s throat with my right hand while my left yanked the gun out of his waistband. I tossed the revolver over my shoulder, lifted him, and slammed him down on the gun case, spilling his coffee. His legs dangled off the edge, kicking furiously while I stood off to the side.
I took a deep breath. I was revealing a lot here. The spooky speed, the strength. He might not be too rattled to notice my teeth, how white they were, how pointed the canines were. I wish my teeth were still human, that the animal ones erupted out of nowhere when I changed, like in the movies. But no, I lost my old chompers during my first change, and now I had these sharp buggers and a legitimate reason to avoid the dentist forever.
Leger grunted and writhed, his arms swiping over the case’s top, his hands opening and closing, searching for any weapon. Under him, separated by an inch-and-a-half of glass, were a dozen or so Glocks and Berettas, and I thought that was pretty damned funny.
“Listen,” I said, and I squeezed his throat until his hands stopped searching for weapons and switched to trying to pry my hand away. It wasn’t going to happen, but at least I had more of his attention. “Bobby, listen. Are you listening? Blink once for yes.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed against my palm. He blinked. Tears slid down his cheeks. He blinked again, harder this time. I loosened my grip.
“Okay. You know who Paget is, right?”
“Great. Do you know where I can find him?” I knew where he was supposed to be, but sometimes guys like him skip out.
A pause, then he blinked.
“Great again. Look, I’m going to let go, okay? You be cool.”
I let him go, backed away a piece while he coughed and sputtered and sat up. His face was red. He took a deep, whooping breath. His face went to a lighter red. I leaned a palm on the showcase and waited.
Eventually, he said, “Cousin. Lee is. My cousin.”
He nodded. “Second. But yeah. My cousin.”
“What was he doing out there last night?”
“He . . . he wanted to see the fights.” Leger swallowed, grimaced. “That’s all he told me.”
“He was talking to a guy in black.”
I still couldn’t figure out exactly what black garments he had worn. It seemed like every time I had blinked, he had worn something different. And this is the part where I’m supposed to add how crazy that is, but I’m a werewolf cop.
Leger shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Bobby.” A bit of warning tone there. I straightened up.
“I don’t know! A guy in black, and then fucking what? What did he look like?” He plucked at the front of his shirt. “Guy in black! I’m wearing fucking black!”
“He was thin.”
“A thin guy in black. Lady, you just described Slender Man.”
I put my fist through the top of the showcase. Leger jumped. I grimaced and drew out my hand. No glass stuck in my hand that I could see, but I was bleeding. For now, anyway. If I did happen to have glass stuck in me, the healing skin would force it out. I put the hand behind my back. “Sorry,” I said.
Leger hopped off the case. “Officer, seriously, that guy doesn’t sound familiar. Lee said he was coming alone. He met somebody there maybe, I don’t know. Lemme get you something for your hand.”
“Don’t bother. And stay there. Don’t move.”
“Okay, okay.” He held up his hands. “Shit. Trying to be helpful here.”
“Be helpful by telling me where Paget is.”
Leger sighed. “120 Acorn. Here in town. I thought you would know that. Don’t you cops know all that?”
“Just verifying.” I checked my hand. All better. I licked my thumb, rubbed still-wet blood off my knuckles.
“What’d he do? I didn’t know he killed a kid. He never said he killed a kid.”
“That’s something I need to talk to him about.” I looked up at him. “Don’t warn him, Bobby.”
“Warn shit. What do I care about that asshole? All I wanted last night was his ten bucks. Fucking second cousin bullshit.”
“Let me know if that other guy jogs your memory.” I turned for the front door.
“Sure, yeah.” He bent over, picked up his coffee cup, muttered “Fascist.”
I let that go. I deserved it.