by Gary Clifton
Homicide detective Romeo J. Tubbs shoved through the squad room door.
“Yes?” Sally, the secretary/sentry looked up.
Stocky, fortyish, with a shaved, ebony-brown head and golden-brown eyes, Tubbs looked tough enough to eat the furniture. The deeply cut scar across the bridge of his nose created the ideal ghetto, ruddy macho image popular with Hollywood. Tubbs, however, had never managed to stay out of trouble long enough to get out of Houston.
“Heard Captain Zero is lookin’ for me.”
“His name is not Zero,” Sally mouthed silently with a hint of smile. Punching a desk intercom, she announced acidly, “Romeo J. Tubbs is here, Captain.” She was early thirties, slender, with inviting blue eyes and a wealth of cleavage.
Tubbs’ cold eyes held hers as he eased past. A native of the vast Sanderson Housing Project in the Fifth Ward, Tubbs was widely known among Houston cops for his history of violence and short fuse.
The Captain’s office was cluttered with files, disorder, and the odor of stale cigars. A slender little man with a pencil moustache over a contemptuous mouth, he tried, unsuccessfully, to stare a badass-cop hole in Tubbs’ chest. Tubbs ignored him and sat without being offered a seat.
“Heard you wanted to see me, Zero.”
“I’m surprised you got the balls to come in voluntarily... without a lawyer.” He gambled the battered desk was enough to keep Tubbs from coming over and donkey-stomping him on the spot.
Zero watched him, doing his damnedest to appear casual, but he was unable to swallow his fear of this big man. “That ‘zero’ smart-ass won’t help you. This is the fifth time we’ve had to squeegee up a body behind you. Couldn’t make it stick before, but this time, if there’s any justice at all, we’re lookin’ at a murder case, boy.”
“Boy? You’re a little behind the bigot code, Captain.” His toothy grin, a gold tooth prominent, terrified a coward like Zero. “Boy? Jesus.”
“No racist in me, Tubbs.” Zero lied, fighting for the moral high ground. “Maybe this time a grand jury will indict, and you’re going to the joint.”
“Self-defense, Captain. With a half-dozen witnesses.”
“Yeah, your whore friends and them pimps over in scum town. Buncha ass-wipes.” Zero shuffled papers on his desk. “Let’s hear your version of the fairy tale again.”
Tubbs eyed his previous statement in Zero’s hands. “Freddie Vargas’n me was pals back in the neighborhood. He’s always worked out north. Needed help fingering a dive operated out of a house down in the Third Ward. He and his partner was trying to make initial contact.”
“Partner? Margie Swift? Nice ass.”
“Maybe if your mama gave you a hundred-dollar bill and you drove out to the area, you’d find plenty of great asses, Captain. Big problem after dark. And you’d need a bodyguard.”
Zero spat, “Had Vargas in yesterday. Heard his version of this crap. Not righteous from the get-go.”
“You wanna listen or do you want me to fetch a bible so you can conjure up a sermon, massa?”
Zero stared across the desk, mindful that Tubbs was as tough as he looked. “By all means, spin your lie. Then we talk murder charges in your future.”
“Waited in the car with Freddie while Margie went to the door. That loony, Detroit Blue, busted out waving a butcher knife. She got out her piece, but he cut her and she dropped it.”
“Shouldn’ta sent a female in alone.” Zero sneered.
“Me’n Freddie ran over. Blue cut her down the back, and I busted some caps in his ass. She’ll live with some pretty awful scars. He, by God, won’t.”
“Caps in his ass? You shot him nine times. Witnesses report the victim screamed, ‘don’t shoot, I surrender,’ before you opened fire. Then, you plugged him several times after he was flat on his back. Brains all over the damned sidewalk.”
“Couldn’t a’ been brains. Shootin’ started when he stuck me.” Tubbs raised his bandaged left arm. “He was still kickin’, and I wasn’t exactly countin’ the rounds. Think permanent rehabilitation.” Tubbs’ slightly amused expression infuriated Zero.
“That’s crazy-assed extreme. Unnecessary force. Vargas was smart. Just stood by and watched you slaughter the man. He’s a witness, and you’re in the trick box, dude. We’ll see what the Grand Jury says about you.”
“You do what you think you need to do, Captain.” Tubbs angrily half-rose, then realizing Zero’s intention was to get a reaction, sat back down. “I don’t like a lotta cops in general and you in particular, Zero. Bunch of ’em are assholes, and your face is on the label. And I know for a fact the Grand Jury no-billed me this morning. No charges.”
“How...?” Zero looked up sharply. “I don’t like your kind, Tubbs.”
“My kind?” Tubbs stood. “Damn, Zero, you can’t keep your foot outta your mouth. You oughta add ‘you people’ to your list of catchy racist phrases.”
Zero sighed. “Someday, Tubbs, you’re gonna step on your dick and you’re doing life without parole.”
Tubbs thought of a joke: a feint around the desk might make Zero die of fright. But no, he stared at Zero without blinking.
Zero, defeated and intimidated, slumped in his chair.
Tubbs enjoyed the hatred of Zero’s eyes on his back as he walked out.
As he passed Sally’s desk, Zero’s voice spoke through the intercom.
“Sally, log in Homicide Detective Romeo J. Tubbs and Narcotic Unit Detective Freddie Vargas as cleared and returned to full duty by the Internal Affairs Division. Give Tubbs back his gun and badge. And send somebody to Methodist Hospital to inform Detective Margie Swift she’s fully cleared and will be reassigned from Narcotics.”
Sally slid the gun and badge across her desk. “I’m off at seven tonight.”
Tubbs grinned. “Well, I could find time for a cold beer.”
Sally smiled and snapped a glance at Zero’s closed door. “The fridge is full. You know the address.”
Copyright © 2020 by Gary Clifton