The sharkskin suits breezed into the diner, heading for Royce in his rear booth. The disgraced detective watched Nicky and Frankie coming right at him.

Despite the sixty-day suspension and giving up his tin, Royce still packed. Holding every intention of blocking the strike, if the wise guys decided to party. High on vikes, Royce wouldn't feel a thing. Jacked up and edged-out paranoid, Royce readied to launch and light the place up. As the duo approached, neither one reached for their heat. A false alarm from the sweepers, yet still a business call.

A rogue cop who rolled with the mob and this thing of theirs. A go-to guy, Royce gave up protected witnesses, located targets for hit men, and raided the evidence room. Not exactly a director's actor.

The adrenalin drained as the firing squad in his mind died down. At this juncture of the investigation, all Royce needed was breaking bread with the wolf pack. Popped by Internal Affairs when he's supposed to be playing eagle scout.

In a flash, the two gangsters crowded Royce's booth.

"Anthony Marzano was shot last night," Nicky said.

"It's all over the news. About time somebody got sick of that roach," Royce told them.

"The family needs a city detective it could trust," Frankie said.

"The boss wants to give you fifty g's to find him," Nicky told Royce. "Here's ten large to get the ball rollin'," Nicky said, pulling out a stuffed envelope. He placed it beside Royce's coffee cup to close the sale.

"If and when you produce, you get the rest. Cabeech?" Frankie said.

"What makes you think Marzano's alive? Heck of a fireworks show he bumped into," Royce said, still not reaching for the bait.

"He's out there somewhere. He left in a cab," Nicky said.

Slammed full of lead and hops on his feet to flag a taxi? Hoo boy. Marzano might be a nutball but he's one tough mother, Royce thought.

"The boss thinks he's holed up and wants me to find him before the police?" asked Royce. More of a comment than a question.

"Somethin' like that," said Frankie.

"What the hell. I'll take the job, on one condition. You two jokers slip out through the alley. I don't need any more trouble from Internal Affairs," Royce told them.

"What are you worried about? You'll always have a job with us," claimed Frankie.

"Exactly what I'm afraid of," Royce told them.

Royce had already begun to think of his future. If he's kicked off the force, fifty big's a pretty nice parachute. Seed money to start a P.I. gig, a nest egg to come home to if he gets convicted and sent upstream.

Royce knew all about Anthony Marzano. Ejected from federal prison two months ago after paying time for a parole violation for punching a cop. Back in circulation, Marzano cranked up his ambition to become gangster of the year.

A Godzilla with a crew of gavones. The kinda guys who make crime bosses nervous and the city's finest ready to rock. Marzano's an earner, but a loose cannon. Fearless leader and the posse with a habit of drumming up the noise and turning places hot.

After hijacking a beer truck where the driver took nine grams in the gut, Marzano's bunch sacked a Russian bookie and stole his territory. A terrain the family had already negotiated while Marzano sat in the tank.

When the owner of a strip club bellied up on his vig, one of his topless dancers went missing. Rumor has it, the gal was snatched for kicks, collateral, and a message to all deadbeats that Badass Savings and Loan meant business. The young lady's believed to be stashed in a room somewhere up in Harlem where she hasn't been heard from since.

When it got out that Marzano planned to knock a boss out of the box, the honcho pushed a button and beat him to it.

Royce kicked off the jig with Booker, a city cab driver and reliable snitch. They exchanged texts and figured out a spot to meet.

"My buddy, Ernie, grabbed Marzano and took him to Sixteenth Street," Booker said. That's all Booker seemed to know about it. Royce fed Booker a hundred-dollar bill and headed downtown.

Royce guessed the bullet-ridden Marzano would go to Doc Crissini, a mob quack. Doc Crissini has one of those underground spreads where pirates check in to shit out slugs and get stitched up. The hospitals get dicey for goodfellas. Sure, they offer the best care, but also keep records and hotlines to the police.

"He was here, and I took care of him," Doc Crissini said.

"What kind of condition was he in?"

"The usual. Shock and blood loss. I performed a transfusion and left him under sedation. He recovered and left," Crissini told Royce, with no idea where Marzano might be.

Royce worked a hunch about Marzano's ties to Chinatown. Royce recalled an importing scheme he cracked on Canal Street. A side gig that Nicky and Frankie wouldn't know about. Royce figured someone in Chinatown furnished a room for Marzano to lay low and heal up.

He was headed for Chinatown when his cell rang. Jack Baker, his mentor and ex-partner. Still on the force, always on the up and up. Jack wanted to meet.

As a rookie, Jack took Royce under his wing and watched the relationship fizzle-out and lose it's meaning. So did the partnership. Jack put in a request for a new partner, and Royce was transferred to another precinct.

This was the first time Jack had reached out in five years. The best connection Royce ever had. In life as well as the force. They hooked up at some twenty-four ham'n'egger by the bus station.

"I'm not telling you what to do, or who to work for. But this one doesn't look good," Jack said.

"What have you heard about my situation?" Royce asked.

"It's not good, but you have a shot," Jack said.

"What do I have to do?"

"Stop baking bread with gangsters. If you don't stop now, they'll own you."

"They already do."

"Not lock, stock, and barrel, they don't."

"How did you get my number?"

"I'm a detective."

"Who's on the Marzano case?" Royce asked.

"Forget Marzano. I'm only here to ask you one question. Do you want to be a cop or don't you?"

Jack then told Royce about Sandra, the gal Marzano snatched from the topless bar. The police also wanted Marzano for Sandra's rape, and the hijacking of a beer truck.

Two of Marzano's gavones were in custody for that one, and confessed to shooting the driver. He was in critical. They also copped a plea, and dropped a dime on the antics with Sandra.

They tied her to a bed, and split the scene so Marzano could do his thing. Left for dead, she was found, beelined to the hospital, and lay comatose.

The cops were waiting for her to wake up and finger Marzano. Royce knew there were a handful of posses looking for Marzano. If Royce wanted that fifty large, he'd have to find this shot-up psychopath on the double.

And like that, Jack Baker slipped back from Royce's life and the world of shit he swam in.

Royce had informants in Chinatown, but this was too sensitive to call in. A fake Rolex scam is one thing. A shot-up gangster with dragon connections is another.

Royce decided to lay low and work fast. Too much hanging around would blow his cover. Royce started with the runners. Teenagers who worked the hotels doing drug, cigarette, and food runs.

On the second afternoon, Royce tailed a young girl leaving a drug store where Crissini prescribes Vicodin. The runner then ventured into Little Italy for take-out.

Royce followed the runner to a hotel where he slipped through a side entrance and prowled the halls. Royce grabbed the runner on the way out, and faked her out with the immigration angle. She wised up mighty quick, and once Royce showed her pictures of Marzano, she pointed out the room.

Royce slipped into a hot'n' sour dive to figure this thing out. There was a bazooka in his head, ready to unload any moment. He drained another cup of tea, and thought about Sandra, the topless dancer.

Royce wondered if she had any family and if anybody cared about her. Only a cop would care about Sandra. Only a gangster would care about the money. Behind which curtain did Royce reside?

Royce cursed himself for letting some two-bit crime boss seize the upper hand. He's still a cop. He's supposed to care and protect people.

Fuck the whole mess, Royce thought. Part of him even wanted to go in there and confront Marzano, one-on-one. Bust down the door, and zip the prick for what he had done to Sandra. Put Marzano down like the wild dog he is.

Instead, Royce remained seated. He knew he had to stand up, get in the mob's face, and make a clean break. Royce reached for his cell phone and pressed the speed dial button.

"I found him," Royce told Nicky.

"Where is he?" Nicky asked.

"None of your fuckin' business," Royce said.

"That's great, Royce. Watch your ass, 'cause you're done."

"I doubt it."

"You mother-fuckin' punk. I'll cut your balls off."

"We'll see about that." Royce hung up on mister messenger boy and his wannabe sidekick. Royce made another call.

"What could I do for you?" Jack Baker asked.

"I want to be a cop."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I want another shot, anyway."

"I'm glad to hear that. But it's not going to be easy."

"I know. But I'm prepared. I want to take this journey. I want to get clean again."

"It's a good start. Are you still looking for Marzano?"

"I found him."

"The young lady he attacked passed away last night."

Royce passed Jack the details and cut the call. Royce sat back and watched a platoon of city squad cars swarm the hotel entrance.

In minutes, Anthony Marzano was cuffed, and in police custody facing rape, kidnapping, and murder charges.

Royce was a cop again.


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Bio: Phil Rossi is a fiction writer and short filmmaker from northern New Jersey, right outside New York City. His short stories and flash fiction has appeared in various webzines and is also the author of two coming-of-age novellas, 'Soldier Hill' and 'Jimmy Baseball'. Phil is also a graduate of St. John's University and The New York Film Academy. His website: