Bullets in January

There once was a man named Edward Hughes, and he’d never have guessed that his life would end up this way.

This wasn’t how it worked, wasn’t how life worked. At least, this wasn’t how it was supposed to work. He’d done things the way you’re supposed to. He was a good kid, nice to his parents, got good grades in school. He’d had a girlfriend in high school and kissed her in the back of the dollar movie theater, the taste of popcorn mixed with cherry lip gloss more enticing than the plot of Say Anything (he hadn’t told her he’d already seen it—she was way too excited). He went to the big state college on a baseball scholarship. He’d never been good enough to go pro, but he graduated with the business degree his dad had always dreamed him having. He moved to the city for an entry-level job and had climbed the ranks up to a managerial position. His entire existence moved without disturbance, like clockwork. But he had no wife—he hadn’t been able to get a date in years—no two-point-five kids, no house in the suburbs, just…a boring lack of existence.

January 23, 2006.

Edward—or Eddy, as he preferred—was walking down the street on a freezing January evening. It was times like this when he wondered to himself why he stayed in the city; New York was miserable at this time of year, and he could’ve gotten an equally satisfying job somewhere warmer, like Miami or something. Granted, he’d be farther away from his dad and his best friend Tony, pretty much the only people that gave a shit about him nowadays, but maybe warmer people were kinder than the frigid, bitter hearts that made up New York. He couldn’t stand the cold; his everyday walk was bad enough, but in winter the commute was particularly terrible. All he could focus on was pulling his jacket tighter around his body and making a beeline for his shoddy apartment. He knew his one-room hovel wasn’t anything glamorous, there was no denying it, but rarely would you find a nice place here, unless, of course, you had a few million dollars to throw around.

He scoffed. If only.

Edward reached a crosswalk, beginning an endless wait for the angry, honking cars to stop moving so he and his fellow pedestrians could pass. In the middle of New York City. In winter. Perfect. He shivered and buried his chin further into his cowl, trying to blow the hot air from his mouth back onto his face. Anything to assuage the growing pain peeking at the tip of his nose.

Eventually the light changed and Eddy moved on through the throngs of New Yorkers, desperately trying to speed towards his residence. He accidentally bumped into a few people, but didn’t bother to mutter a response. No one apologized in this city, anyway.

Suddenly he felt a harsh grip at his shoulder, pulling him to the side. He firstly assumed it was a typical downtown werido trying to con him out of fifteen dollars, but quickly realized that was not the case.

He was dragged into an alley and slammed against rough brick wall, face first. He felt his nose crack slightly; not enough to break it, but damn well enough to hurt. He cried out in pain, instinctively trying to reach for the afflicted area when he realized his hands were being held and bound with zip-ties.

“Alright,” a deep voice said in his ear. “We’re gonna make this nice and easy, got it? You cause a problem, we break a bone. So keep your mouth shut and this should go quickly.”

He felt blood rush to his face and a tear slide down his cheek as his eyes closed; as if this day couldn’t get worse, now he was being mugged. He couldn’t have just gone home quietly, sat in front of his space heater and marathoned Buffy until he passed out like he’d originally planned. Something just had to come and shit on this already shitty day.

He felt a jerking at his fingers; there went his class ring. They weren’t going to get much out of that; his dad had insisted on only the cheapest material and gems, and Eddy wasn’t one to argue with his father. He tried to calm himself into a state of coherence; he wasn’t going to be able to fight, so why freak out? There wasn’t anything he could do. It’d be best to try to be calm and put up as little resistance as possible.

Hands searched his pockets and removed his wallet, keys, and the small bit of spare change he always kept in his pocket. He found it useful for vending machines or cash transactions, but it wouldn’t be doing him much good now. His keys dropped by his feet and he cringed as he saw a small pool of blood from his nose on the concrete spread towards the slightly-rusted keychain.

“Dude, we’ve already tied the guy up,” a new, higher-pitched voice said, its strong Brooklyn accent grating against Eddy’s eardrum. “Are we gonna just let him go to snitch? If we cut him free he’ll grab someone before we can split.”

The first man growled a bit. “Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. “I guess you’re right….” The two looked at one another and nodded, making their decision silently.

“I, um…” Eddy stammered. “I won’t tell, if that’s what you guys are afraid of.” He turned his head to finally get a look at them. There was a large man and a smaller person that was probably a woman, but underneath their pitch black clothing, it was hard to distinguish any sort of body shape. No hair was visible for either of them under the baseball caps they wore, and the darkness of the alley concealed most of their faces. They both looked at him, but he couldn’t discern any sort of expression from either. “If you guys could just, uh, leave my I.D. and stuff, you can take my cash. It’s fine, really.” He swallowed. “I just wanna go home. I don’t want to make trouble.”

The probably-woman sighed. “That’s nice, honey,” she said. “But I’m afraid that’s just not gonna work.” She reached into her waistband and pulled out a handgun, shoving the end of the barrel right against his temple. “It’s unfortunate, you seem like a nice fellow. But I just got out of jail,” she said to him. “It was nice meeting you.”

A gunshot.

“God damn!” the male criminal cried, immediately collapsing to the ground.

“Are you alright?” his female companion went to him, taking a look at his knee, now bleeding profusely. All three in the alley turned to look for the source of the gunshot. There before them stood a tall, slender woman, her black hair making a curly cloud around her and casting a shadow that shrouded half of her face.

“NYPD, break it up. Don’t make me use this again.” Her voice was flat but stern. “Move an inch and I put a hole in you. Trust me, I have no reservations about hurting you.”

“Shit!” the female burglar cursed under her breath before slowly standing. She looked down at her companion, a conflicted look on her face. Her eyes closed and her breath evened as she made a swift one-eighty, making a sprint for the other end of the alley.

The cop just rolled her eyes and raised her gun again to make direct hits to the other woman’s knees, nailing the back of both legs with only three bullets. The criminal collapsed to the ground not far from her companion and groaned in pain, rolling on her stomach to avoid pressure to the back of her legs.

“What did I tell you?” the cop said. “Now you’re bleeding, and you look like an idiot, face-first on the New York streets.” She clicked her tongue. “Good luck with that infection.” She walked over to Eddy and pulled out a pocket knife, quickly slashing the zip ties around his wrists. “Don’t move, sir.” She broke his restraints and then went to her walkie-talkie. “I need an ambulance on Thirty-Third Street, in an alley next to the convenience store. I’ve got a couple of bleeding thugs.” She slid it back into her belt and looked to the other two. “I’ve called some help for you; some other police will question you once you’re in a hospital bed.” She looked back to Eddy. “As for you, however, I’ve got a few questions.”

Eddy was still in a state of shock; he’d just been mugged. Then that cop just…shot them. He’d never had so much happen in such a short amount of time in his entire life. His throat closed and his breathing became labored. He felt his hands begin to shake and his head felt light.

She put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed slightly. “It’s okay, sir, just take a few breaths. Deep and slow. In your nose, out through your mouth. In for seven, out for eleven.” She patted his back lightly. A few minutes passed and Eddy was finally regaining his senses as the ambulance pulled up beside the curb. The criminals were quickly patched up and hauled into the car, expedited back to the hospital by a police escort. The cop briefed her coworkers on the situation and returned back to the victim. “Sir?” she asked. “Are you ready to talk now?”

Eddy looked up at her and nodded. “Yeah, m’sorry. That was just…a lot.” He chuckled shakily. “But I’m good. Just a bit shocked.”

She made a hum of understanding. “Makes sense. Now before I let you go, I’m just going to need you to give me a few details….”

Twenty minutes later Eddy was continuing on his way home, his mind occupied with thoughts of that cop. Her badge said “Robbins,” but she introduced herself as “Janae.”

He smiled to himself. Janae was a beautiful name.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Janae groaned. Again? Here he was. Again.

She’d had the unfortunate duty of rescuing Edward Hughes seven times over the past three weeks, and she’d never wanted to quit her job more than during this time. For some reason this man had continued to get himself in trouble, and she’d have to slip in each time. Mugging, pickpocketing, one time walking off a curb in front of a taxi. She was getting increasingly annoyed with his antics; it was obvious Eddy had something for her. She hesitated to call it a crush…that seemed too juvenile. But it was definitely more than a simple admiration…Janae would’ve used obsessed to better describe him. She thought about reporting it to her higher-ups, but considering he didn’t really pose any threat to her and anyway, she’d just gotten her promotion and didn’t want to start complaining already, she kept it to herself. The other officers seemed to notice it as well and thought it some cute little infatuation, so they found amusement in forcing her to deal with him when in reality any officer could. But no, it just had to be Janae.

She sighed, massaging the bridge of her nose. ‘He’s got to give up at some point,’ she thought. Eddy—he insisted she call him that—had always been excited to see her, despite his near-death experiences. He reminded her of a hyperactive puppy, and she was never much of an animal person. She hoped he’d snap out of this soon.

“Mr. Hughes,” she groaned, looking up at the sheepish man. “How many times are we going to do this?”

“Eddy,” he replied, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking to the ground. “I told you, Eddy is my—”

“Mr. Hughes, I am a very busy woman,” Janae cut him off. “I have a lot of cases to handle, and you wandering into the middle of Times Square is not something I want to continue having to face.” She crossed her arms. “I’m afraid if you do this again I’ll have to arrest you for obstructing an officer.”

He frowned. “But I’m a citizen,” he argued. “If I’m in danger, it’s the police’s job to help me. You can’t arrest me for being a victim.” He looked at her with concern, as if she wasn’t understanding something clearly obvious.

She sighed and prayed to whatever god who’d listen to stop her from strangling this man. “Mr. Hughes, go home. I’ll have another officer escort you to ensure you don’t have any more…accidents,” she told him, reaching for her walkie-talkie to call for another officer.

“Why can’t you do it?”

She looked at him and crooked an eyebrow. “Because,” she said, “I have no interest in being anywhere near you. I see enough of you, sir, and with all due respect, I’m doing overtime right now and I’d like to go home and enjoy my weekend.” She slid her scanner back into its holster on her belt and leaned against her squad car. She’d have to wait with him until backup arrived.

“So, um, what are you doing this weekend?” Eddy asked, trying to fill the awkward silence that’d set in since she’d placed her call. He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels absentmindedly.

She shrugged. “Not much, just sleeping, I suppose. I might go out with some girlfriends.” She looked at him. “Yourself?”

He nodded. “Yeah, mostly just…sleeping.” He looked into her eyes with a stare that was disconcerting, to say the least. “Where do you and your girlfriends go? Clubs, bars?”

She rest her hands on her belt. “We like this little Spanish club on the outside of the Upper East,” she nodded. “It’s nice enough to not be shady but it’s still a bump-and-grind type of place.” She smiled. “Perfect for law enforcement who want to let off some steam.”

Eddy’s eyes lit up. “That sounds like a lot of fun. I-I hope you enjoy yourself, Officer Robbins.”

Janae’s requested backup came and she slipped into her car, nodding to Eddy. “Thank you, Mr. Hughes. You have a…safe weekend.” She sped off back towards the station to send in her final report before she would finally be set free.

Eddy nodded to the man who would be escorting him. “…Sir.”

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

“Come on, Janae!” Alexis cried, pouting. “You’ve bailed on us the past month. You can’t skip Nocturno again. I won’t allow it. We’re your friends, you’re supposed to hang out with us. You can’t just work all the time.”

“But I do work all the time,” Janae argued. “So I want to spend my weekend sleeping and eating away my problems like any normal single woman in her thirties.”

Alexis sighed. “You wouldn’t have to worry about being single if you’d just come out to the club with us!” Janae could feel her friend’s eyebrows waggling suggestively. “You can find yourself a nice papi.”

Janae groaned. “You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re horrible.”

“Yet convincing,” Alexis giggled.

The cop closed her eyes in frustration and let out a big puff of air. “Fine. I’ll go. Meet me at my place in an hour.”

“Yes!” Alexis cheered. “I’ll see you then!”

Janae hung up and rolled her eyes. Friends since second grade and she was still so easily persuaded by Alexis. It was ridiculous and so out of character for Janae, but she supposed she had a soft spot for the other woman. She was the only thing close to family she had left after Janae’s dad died. She owed Alexis everything.

The woman looked around her living room and sighed. No Netflix marathon tonight, she supposed. She went to her bedroom and opened her wardrobe, searching for a dress to wear. Forty-five minutes later and she was fully dressed, packed, and prepped for a night out with her friends. She went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water, sipping it as she waited for Alexis to arrive. Nothing worse than dehydration during a night out drinking.

“Girl, it is time to go!” Alexis yelled as she opened the door with her spare key. “Get a move on! The others are gonna be waiting for us outside the club, and it’s damn near freezing!”

For the first time in a while Janae chuckled and stood, setting her class to the side. “Okay, bossy, Jesus Christ.” She grabbed her purse and slung it over her shoulder, meeting her friend by the door. “Let’s go.”

Club Nocturna was only about a ten-minute walk from Janae’s apartment, but with the frigidity crackling through their bones, it wasn’t the peaceful stroll it could normally be. The two chided each other and themselves for forgetting coats in their excitement to meet up. They reached their destination and shuffled in with the rest of their party. They found a table in the back corner of the crowded room and settled around it, ordering drinks and already catching up on the latest drama and gossip.

Janae laughed loudly as her friend told her about how she nearly beat a woman for flirting with her husband in the grocery store the other day. It was evenings like this that really boosted her morale, made her feel like maybe all that hard work in college, the police academy, and eventually the station was actually worth it if, at least every once in a while, she got to enjoy nights like this.

Drinks came flowing; one margarita, two margarita, three margarita, four. Wasn’t the rhyme “floor?” Janae giggled to herself as she thought about it. Who cared? She felt like she was floating, and a stupid rhyme wasn’t about to kill her vibe.

“Jay,” one of her friends called her, using a nickname she’d rarely heard anymore. “That guy’s totally checking you out!”

The cop looked over to the dance floor and yes, in fact, there was a man blatantly staring at her from about fifteen feet away. He was tall from what she could tell, and his build appeared to be quite nice. Janae raised an eyebrow in interest.

“Go talk to him!” Her friend grabbed her wrist and coaxed her out of the booth. She lightly pushed her towards the other man and gave a holler. “Good luck!”

Janae rolled her eyes but walked over to the male. Why waste a good opportunity to talk to a cute guy? She had nothing to lose; the worst he could do was reject her, and then she’d be going back to her favorite partner, Mr. Margarita.

“Care for a dance?” He asked, his voice deep and rumbling, comforting in an almost-familiar way.

She smiled and nodded, taking his hand and pulling him to the center of the dance floor. She turned away from him and began dancing, her hips gyrating back and forth and her hands flying into the air. She felt his hands settle on her hips and she grinned, reaching behind to clasp her hands at the back of his neck.

They stayed like that for a while, just pressing together and enjoying one another’s company. Eventually, however, the night began to wind down and people were beginning to disperse from the dance floor.

Janae turned around, almost tripping over her feet with intoxication, and leaned against the chest of her partner. “This is fun,” she giggled.

“I agree,” he said, lips moving to bury themselves in her hair. “But you want to get out of here? I’m starting to feel a bit stuffy.”

Janae looked up at him and smiled, standing up on her toes to kiss him lightly. “Take me away, gorgeous.” She locked her fingers between his and allowed him to lead her out of the club and into a cab. She made sure to wave goodbye to her friends before she left, however. They deserved to know she hadn’t just disappeared. The two rode for about twenty minutes in almost complete silence, save a few giggles here and there from sneaky touches across the dark back seat of the car.

Upon reaching their destination the man pulled Janae out of the cab and through a door that opened to a foyer. “My apartment is on the third floor,” he explained, tugging her towards the stairs. The two climbed up and eventually made it into the flat, where they immediately went back to their previous activity of adhering themselves to the other as much as possible.

Janae felt the hands on her hips guiding her across the room and into what she could only assume was the bedroom. By this point in the night she felt herself begin to sober up, but she wasn’t about to stop herself from having a good time. It had been so long since she’d just let go and said “to hell with it.” She needed this. She allowed herself to be gently pushed onto the bed.

A lamp flickered on in the bedroom and Janae opened her eyes, blinking as she adjusted to the new light. She looked over to the wall right of her and immediately froze. Covering that wall and everywhere around her were…photos. Of herself. Newspaper clippings, graduation announcements, photos of her father…pretty much anything one could get about her from the local newspaper or the internet.

Her head snapped back to the man on top of her and her blood went cold. There he was, above her. How could she not have noticed? Was she that drunk? Was the club that dark?

Edward Hughes.

She tried to scramble back but found she was being pinned with his body weight.

“What’s the issue, Janae?” Eddy said slowly. “We’re having fun, aren’t we?” He reached

down to the first strap on her dress, sliding it off her shoulder. “Come on, just pull your arm up. You’ve gotta cooperate with me here, sweetie.”

She shook her head quickly and looked up at him with horror. “Wha…what in hell is going on?!” She looked back at the walls. “What is all this, Mr. Hughes?”

He frowned and put a hand on her throat, squeezing lightly. “Eddy, I told you. My name…is Eddy. Not Mr. Hughes. I’m not that fucking old, goddammit.” His eyes were angry but his mouth curled into a toothy smile. “You’re just so beautiful, Janae.” He reached over and stroked her hair, making her flinch. “After you rescued me from those muggers, I just couldn’t get you off my mind! So I kept getting in trouble, over and over, just so I could see you again. Isn’t that sweet? I’m known to be a romantic.” His hand slid from the side of her face to form a loose latch around her neck.

His smile quickly flipped. “But then you got mad. You scolded me like a child; you didn’t want to talk to me.” His grip tightened around her neck. “So I started doing research…that’s all the stuff around you.” He looked around at it. “I wanted to know as much about you as possible, I wanted to surround myself with you…so I did.” He looked back to her. “Isn’t it beautiful? You certainly are. Look, I even got a gun similar to yours!” He gestured to the side table where a small black pistol sat plainly in the open. “I thought it’d be fun; we could shoot stuff together.”

Janae began to seriously panic, a cold sweat beginning to form on the back of her neck. She felt his hand move from her head to her leg, fiddling with the ends of her dress. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. She forced her pulse to slow and quickly made a plan for escape. She’d been trained for situations like this, life-or-death, split-of-the-moment. She was a cop, for god’s sake.

She grabbed the wrist connected to the hand around her neck, squeezing into the pressure points on either side and forcing his grip off her. She surged up and knocked him in the head with her own before grabbing his shoulders and pushing him off. She rolled off the other side of the bed and stood, grabbing the gun on the nightstand and holding it up. “Stop, Mr. Hughes! Now!” She cried, hands beginning to shake with stress. Shit, her nerve was starting to slip. “Don’t take another goddamn step towards me!”

Eddy frowned. “I won’t warn you about my name again,” he threatened. “And I don’t get why you’re so mad. I just wanted to see you all the time, and we had such a nice time at the club, I thought you’d want me when we got back. You did,” he said. “And you will.” He reached for her.

A gunshot.

Blood splattered on the cop’s face and her weapon clattered to the floor, her fingers shaking, eyes darting to the man lying dead before her. He lie face-up, eyes opened halfway and dark red liquid making a sticky pool around his skull, now pierced with Officer Robbins’ bullet.

There once was a woman named Janae Robbins, and she’d never have guessed that her life would end up this way.

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