The Fifth Fedora: Weird Noir and Stranger Tales in Honor of Stephen T. Vessels is now published by Borda Books and Wilder Utopia, and is available on Amazon or in our bookstore. "It's Up to You" is a wonderful part this collection of tales told in Stephen's honor. The following, for your enjoyment, is an excerpt of John R. Reed's story.
All the instruments agreed, one bitch of a storm was blasting Manhattan. Snow piled up all morning, stalling traffic on the East Side. The streets were deserted.
As the day went on, my depression deepened like the snow. No country for an old private eye named Kasey P. Dick. That’s why I was riding out the storm in the sanctuary of my Twelfth Street apartment.
Wagner’s Symphony in E Major played at top volume on my ancient stereo. I danced around the living room, sipping single malt Scotch, conducting Wagner with my free hand. Getting silly. It was that kind of a night.
It wasn’t until the knocking on my door became a pounding that I realized what was going on and went to open it. My girlfriend, an NYPD sergeant named H. P. Love, stood at my door, her uniform dusted with snow. Her full name was Harlow Phoenix Love. It took her buddies down at the precinct thirty seconds to nickname her “Harley.”
She did not look happy. “You gonna invite me in?”
I motioned her in. Snow melted off her collar, puddled on my rug. “You weren’t supposed to be on duty,” I said.
“Does the name ‘Doloroso’ mean anything to you?”
A flicker of recognition went through my mind and flew away. “If it’s a musical notation, it means, ‘Sorrowful.’” I pointed to my stereo. “Like this music here.”
“What if it’s a name badge on a dead man’s shirt?”
“Probably the dead guy’s name,” I said.
“Doloroso’s body is lying in the street. Wearing a Con Edison shirt.”
“Where in the street?”
“Right out in front of your building.”
She stared at me. “Where have you been for the last two hours?”
“You don’t think I wasted some random guy?”
“His name was Doloroso.”
“Right. What does this have to do—?”
“Come with me,” she said.
I put on my wool coat and my new fedora and went with her down the stairs.
The freak blizzard that started the night before was still dumping the white stuff, leaving the East Village strangely quiet. It was close to freezing now, hardening the melted mess into sharp peaks. But a six-foot patch of sidewalk outside my building was bare and dry.
A body lay there, arms spread wide, eyes staring sightless at the sky. An urban snow angel. A uniformed cop stood over it, shoulders hunched against the wind, head bowed, contemplating the corpse. His figure, blurred by the falling snow, looked ghost-like.
I knelt beside Doloroso’s corpse. A splotch of blood decorated his chest. There were three bullet holes in his blue Con Edison shirt, right over his heart. A bullet had chipped a corner off his name tag.
A chill settled on my spine, like the snow falling on my shoulders. I had witnessed a scene like this ten years ago on a back street in Boston. The exact pattern my Glock had stitched on the chest of a Boston detective named Fergus Harrison.
Harley motioned to the cop. “Over here, officer.” It took her eight years to fight her way up to sergeant. You could hear the authority in her voice. The cop hustled over.
“Everything under control—” She glanced at his name tag—“Ferridin?”
Ferridin said something but his voice was drowned out by the noise rising around us. It sounded something like a low-flying jet roaring down Twelfth Street.
Harley shouted, “Look out!”
A mini-tornado rumbled down the street, ripping apart traffic lights and street signs, a barrel-shaped mass of snow the size of a trash can. As if it had a mind of its own, it swerved across the street toward me, picking up detritus from the gutters.
Harley drew her gun. “Get down.”
Too late. The wind tore my hat off, sent it sailing over my apartment building. My favorite fedora gone with the wind...
John R. Reed has written four espionage novels: Thirteen Mountain, Dark Forest, Shadow White as Stone, and The Kingfisher’s Call. John conducts the Pirate Workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and his poetry has appeared in more than fifty literary publications. The Mountain of Ashes and The Mole Train are his novels from Shadow Spinners Press. johnreedbooks.com