What Derek Strange was worried about, looking at Jimmy Simmons sitting there, spilling over a chair on the other side of his desk, was that Simmons was going to pick some of Strange's personal shit up off the desktop in front of him and start winging it across the room. Either that or get to bawling like a damn baby. Strange didn't know which thing he wanted to happen less. He had some items on that desk that meant a lot to him: gifts women had given him over the years, tokens of gratitude from clients, and a couple of Redskins souvenirs from back in the 1960s. But watching a man cry, that was one thing he could not take.
"Tell me again, Derek." Simmons's lip was trembling, and pools of tears were threatening to break from the corners of his bloodshot eyes. "Tell me again what that motherfucker looked like, man."
"It's all in the report," said Strange.
"I'm gonna kill him, see? And right after that, I'm gonna kill his ass again."
"You're talkin' no sense, Jimmy."
"Fifteen years of marriage and my woman's just now decided to go and start taking some other man's dick? You're gonna tell me now about sense? God-damn!"
Jimmy Simmons struck his fist to the desktop, next to a plaster football player with a spring-mounted head. The player, a white dude originally whose face Janine's son, Lionel, had turned dark brown with paint, wore the old gold trousers and burgundy jersey from back in the day, and he carried a football cradled in one arm. The head jiggled, and the Redskins toy tilted on its base. Strange reached over, grabbed the player, and righted it before it could tip over.
"Take it easy. You break that, I can't even charge you for it, 'cause it's priceless, hear?"
"I'm sorry, Derek." A tear sprang loose from Simmons's right eye and ran down one of his plump cheeks. "Shit."
"Here you go, man." Strange ripped a Kleenex from the box atop his desk and handed it to Simmons, who dabbed tenderly at his cheek. It was a delicate gesture for a man whose last day under three hundred pounds was a faded memory.
"I need to know what the man looked like," said Simmons. "I need to know his name."
"It's all in the report," Strange repeated, pushing a manila envelope across the desk. "But you don't want to be doing nothin' about it, hear?"
Simmons opened the envelope and inched out its contents slowly and warily, the way a child approaches an open casket for the first time. Strange watched Simmons's eyes as they moved across the photographs and the written report.
It hadn't taken Strange all that long to get the goods on Denice Simmons. It was a tail-and-surveillance job, straight up, the simplest, dullest, and most common type of work he did. He had followed Denice to her boyfriend's place over in Springfield, Virginia, on two occasions and waited on the street until she came out and drove back into D.C. The third time Strange had tailed her, on a Sunday night when Jimmy Simmons was up in Atlantic City at an electronics show, he had waited the same way, but Denice did not emerge from the man's apartment. The lights went out in the third-story window where the man lived, and this was all Strange needed. He filled out the paperwork in the morning, picked up the photographs he had taken to a one-hour shop, and called Jimmy Simmons to his office the same day.
"How long?" said Simmons, not looking up from the documents.
"Three months, I'd say."
"How you know that?"
"Denice got no other kind of business being over in Virginia, does she?"
"She works in the District. She's got no friends over in Virginia"
"Your own credit card bills, the ones you supplied? Denice has been charging gas at a station over there by the Franconia exit for three, three and a half months. The station's just a mile down the road from our boy's apartment."
Copyright © 2001 by George P. Pelecanos. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Littl, Brown & Co.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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