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Flip-Flop

The devil is in the details. You gotta trust your gut. I love the police procedural, and its good cop/bad cop routine.

Especially when one man plays both parts.

Flip-Flop by Michael Estrin




The guy’s story is crap.

He claims he came home, found his wife’s body burnt black as my boots. Says he saw a stranger running, says he chased him down the back alley. Lost him near the park.

“That’s some Richard Kimble bullshit,” I say.

His face is blank. Could be he’s exhausted from going on four hours of the third degree. Could be he’s a stone-cold killer. But those are rare. Could be he’s too young to know the reference.

“You never saw that one, huh?”

“No.”

“That’s the first honest thing you’ve said all night.”

I see protest on his face, resignation in his eyes.

Adrenaline.

I lean forward, making sure to get in close, so he can smell my aftershave.

He’s going to talk first. That’s the play here. You break a man in close with your eyes, not with words.

Except he doesn’t talk.

He cries.

The smell of his fear swamps my nostrils.

If I talk, I let him off the hook. And I don’t want to let him off the hook. I want him to hang on the hook, until it rips him open and the truth spills out.

But I’m not hearing the truth. I’m hearing the same bullshit story. Only now he’s telling me how much he loves his wife.

Loves. Present tense.

Heart pounds. Temples throb. Hands steady.

“Catch him,” the guy whimpers.

There’s snot coming out his nose, mixing thick and salty with his tears. He wants me to ask who? Wants me to change the subject to the mystery man—his patsy.

I let the air out of my lungs, slow and even. Let my taco breath penetrate his space. Let him know there’s no such thing as his space because it’s all my space.

He spins his bullshit one last time. It’s not even language, just the nouns of the story.

“Stranger.”

“Fire.”

“Chase.”

The guy’s head sinks into his chest like he’s trying to read the words on his T-shirt.

Time to move. I jerk back in my chair—hard metal on government linoleum.

The noise catches his attention.

I’m up and pacing. His eyes follow me like I hold his life in my hand.

A couple more laps and he’ll crack. Some guys just can’t take the nervous energy, the anticipation. Something has to give, and when they realize it’s not going to be me, they spill.

Except he doesn’t spill. And you can’t pace long without looking like an asshole, so I stop.

Only move now is to let him stew. And the trick to that is to leave him with a question.

“OK, Terry. I see how you want to play this.”

I head for the door.

“Fine by me. I get paid by the hour, and I don’t mind the overtime.”

I crack the door, so he can see what freedom looks like.

“I’m hungry, Terry. So I’m going for a burger. Now, before I come back I want you to think about something. OK?”

He peers up at me, and I can only hope the look in his eyes is that hopelessness all scumbags get when they realize they’re caught.

“It’s real simple: do you want to live, or do you want to die?”

Eyes say he wants to live, mouth says nothing at all.

“Tell me that crap story again and I’ll make sure you get the needle,” I say. “Or start talking and save your life. Your call.”

Niagara Falls. From his bladder, not his eyes.

I see a puddle of piss on the floor, and I see something else.

Shit . . . what if?

Adrenaline drains from my body. Pit in my stomach.

I close the door behind me.

“Have patrol check the park,” I tell my partner.

“What are they looking for?”

“One flip-flop.”

Michael Estrin is the author of the slacker noir Murder and Other Distractions. He is currently working on his second novel about murder and mayhem in the San Pornando Valley. You can follow him on Twitter, but please don't follow him in real life, because that's stalking, which is illegal and creepy and uncool.