"The thing of it is, I still love her and I don't care what she's done. Whatever you find out, I'm willing to take her back. God damn, I'm not shitting you. I love that woman and I want her back. I'll pay anything I can afford if you just find her and tell her I love her and I forgive her."

We sat in my office, with the morning sun slicing patterns through the venetian blinds, striping the floor and my desk with diagonal lines of sunny days and promises of better times. The man across from me was my first new client in ten days. Business had been slow and that's the only reason I'd agreed to see him. I don't do domestic cases and I don't tail cheating wives or girlfriends because when you finally do get the goods on them, chances are the husbands or boyfriends will take a poke at you for delivering the bad news. The odds just aren't there.

This was a strange duck. I'd have pegged him as a dentist or a pharmacist, but definitely a mamma's boy trying to be what he wasn't - strong. He sat in a too tight, dark, shiny suit, on one of the hottest days of the summer so far, Tie tied tight at his pink, bulging neck, sweating, emanating a throat scratching odor and constantly mopping his freckled brow with a graying handkerchief. He squirmed, too, making little farting noises on my vinyl guest chair. He droned on.

"We've had our troubles in the past. Everybody has. But we always worked something out and smoothed things over. She's not a bad girl, just a little wild. And she's pretty, you know? The kind of pretty that gets other men looking and thinking things I don't want them to think. Sometimes she'll tease me by flirting with other guys, but she's just teasing to get me hot, you know? Like some girls do? God I love her."

I found myself drifting, thinking get away thoughts. What should I have for lunch today? Where should I go, the Chink's or the Guido's? Maybe Thai. Too spicy. Maybe a burger. He continued through my semi reverie, striking a chord of interest with; "I only smacked her once and she forgave me when I bought her that pearl necklace. Cost me fifteen hundred dollars. I had to cash in one of my savings bonds, but it was worth it."

I looked at him with renewed, or maybe original, interest.

"Anyway, everything was going great and then she went out with a couple of her bitch friends for a girl's night out and ended up at a male strip joint. You know the ones, where the horny old fat steno sluts get together on a Friday night to stoke their egos by sticking bills down some stud's crotch and watching him smile down at their pudgy, ugly faces? Twats."

"How do you know she went there," I asked?

"Shit, I followed her!"

"I see. What did you do when she got home?"

"We had a fight. I yelled at her for hanging around with those fat twats and she yelled and I yelled and then she kicked me in the balls and that's the last I saw of her. She must have taken off while I was rolling around on the carpet squeezing my nuts."

"You know, I don't usually do this kind of thing, but for you I'll make an exception. Where do you and your girlfriend live?"

He gave me an address and then added, "I can see you're a man of principle. Any broad who treats you like she treated me, you'd take her in hand without a second thought. I like you, Mr. Randall, you're my kind of man."

"And you interest me, too Mr. Geiger. You have my full interest."

As he got up to leave I asked him when it was he saw her last. He dropped back into the vinyl chair with a squeak and a thud and said, "I haven't seen her for four days at least. I haven't even been back to the apartment in case some of her friends are waiting for me. Goddamn lesbian bitches."

"So it's been a few days since she left you?"

"Yes, four, well five if you count that night."

A bluebottle fly buzzed in from the open door to the reception area. Sharon must have her window open again. She turns off the air conditioning in her domain because of some imagined allergic reaction and cracks the window. Like street pollution is better for her lungs than manufactured air.

The fly landed on my keyboard and did a little reconnaissance before launching itself at Geiger's freckled forehead and pasting itself in his sweaty sheen. Geiger quickly swiped with his wet grey handkerchief and it buzzed off just before it became another freckle. Flying with an angry zzzz off through the office door back to the sanctuary of Sharon's fiefdom.

"Mr. Geiger," I asked, "where can I reach you if I find out anything?"

"I'm staying with my mother. (Bingo.) She's at," and he gave me another address.

I knew it was a waste of time and I knew I was just postponing the inevitable, but I contacted Geiger's girlfriend's' work and talked to two of the three friends she'd been at the strip bar with. Contrary to the impression Geiger had forced on me, these were very intelligent and highly self sufficient women, holding substantial positions within their company. Hardly the fat, horny bitches he hoped I'd meet. They confirmed what I expected from the start. Geiger was an obsessive, jealous and controlling man who didn't let his girlfriend out of his sight. She hadn't been to work and her best friend, Janice, was also missing for the past four days. They might have gone off together to heal wounds or explore options. But they should have phoned in, at least, to say they were going to be off.

I spoke for another half hour, taking down various impressions of the man from the women's perspectives and decided there was nothing left to do but what had to be done. This is another reason I hate domestic cases. I hate domestic cases.

I drove across town to where Geiger and his girlfriend lived and buzzed the panel button to their apartment. Of course there was no answer, how could there be? I fingered the button for the Super and got him to let me in. After a long explanation and then a final, frustrating, hard jabbed knuckle into his pigeon chest, he saw the wisdom of opening the apartment door for this red faced, angry, brother-of-the-woman who lived with the fat asshole in number 408. He came up with me in the elevator but kept his eyes fixed on his ratty brown shoes.

When the elevator door opened, he pointed the way down the left wing to 408 and handed me the extra key, cursing softly in a middle European language. Then he faded back into the elevator before the crazy brother could poke him in the chest again with that terribly hard knuckle.

I smelled it as I drew close to the apartment door. There's only one stench that wraps the human mind in terror and grief and anger and fear and twists the stomach in knots and clogs the nostrils with thick, sweet, hated dread all in an instant. The smell of a human body in death.

I didn't need to go in. But Christ, I did.

The living room was just off the small foyer and the little kitchen just to the left of the living room. I took the five steps from the apartment entrance into the living room and turned to look into the kitchen. The stench was strong in there but much heavier down the narrow hall to what must have been the bedrooms. I lingered for a moment consuming the scene. Brown caked butcher's knife on the sink counter. Thick dark scum on the tiled floor. Refrigerator door ajar. Greenbottle, bloated flies exploring the insides of the fridge.

I stepped in. Why? I didn't need to, to know what was in there, but I did. Inside the fridge was the shriveling head of what was once a strikingly beautiful woman. I spun around and washed the image from my brain, rubbing my eyes as if that would help. I gagged and nearly spewed the bile from my burning gut. Instead I kicked the fridge door closed on hundreds of feasting flies and strode, big steps, from the kitchen.

A constant buzz filled the long hall to the bedrooms and I felt sickness at the thought of what I was going to do. I took off my linen suit jacket, bunched it into a ball and shoved it on my face, covering my nose and mouth. Then I turned on the hall light and walked down to the bedrooms. She wasn't in either one of them.

But there was a blood trail in the bathroom and a pair of hands resting on the edge of the window sill, severed just at the wrist. Then I saw the shower curtain hanging askew and that feeling overcame me. The one where you just don't do what you're thinking of doing. But of course, I did. I opened the shower curtain and saw a woman, crushed in a pulpy heap, limbs and all severed. Draining into the shower floor and trailing hungry flies with the viscose blood. She must have been the co-worker missing so long from the office. The hands were missing and so was the head.

I burst from the stench and into the warm street just as the sun was setting on the city and the air was cooling to soothe my trembling nerves and add another, saner dimension, to my perspective. I got into my car and drove for a good ten minutes until I thought of what I should be doing. I should be working the case. Strange how the mind can screw you out of a paycheck.

"Do what's required and thank everybody who helps you." That's what my seventh grade teacher always said. Where the hell did that come from? "C'mon, buck up." That's what my father always said.

I turned on Peter Street and followed Adelaide to my office. Ran up the stairs and through the door. Sharon had already gone, it was nine o'clock, but there were her customary piles of messages and suggestions on her desk, I burst into the inner office and picked up my father's Browning semi-automatic .45. Stuck my Beretta .22 in my ankle holster, and fitted the Browning's underarm rig from the hat rack. After strapping the heavy monster on, I sat for a full ten minutes before calling Delaney at 52 Division.

"Randall you pussy, what's the scoop, Poop?"

"Ray," I said - and he knew the voice so he stopped the bullshit. "There's a guy I met today and I took a case for him. But he's bad. Shit this is real bad."

"Okay, Josh, what's the deal? What do you need? Give me everything." Delaney knows that when I call in there's no other reason but to take down a bad guy. I've helped him over the years to make his reputation and he's always been there when I needed more than I can swing alone.

"Ray, this guys a butcher and I need you to get to this address before I do. If you don't, You'll be yanking my Investigator's license. I'm gonna kill the sonavabitch." I gave him the address of Geiger's apartment and the number where his Mother lived.

"Better check out his apartment first. And take along the meat wagon and Forensics Services, I saw flies outside the door." I didn't want him thinking I'd contaminated the crime scene, but he knew, just the same.

Then I drew in a few deep, cleansing breaths, and walked steadily down to the street. Couching the Browning in my warming hand, I remembered my father teaching me every second Saturday—visiting days —how to shoot it for accuracy and speed.

Geiger's mother lived in a small, grey clapboard, Cape Cod situation off Boulton Street, under the subway overpass and just up from the bus terminal for the loop-around at the west end. Noisy. Busy. But brightly lit and obvious if you walked up the narrow street. Otherwise, an alley nobody would trek if they were going anywhere else.

I didn't see a light, but I knew there was activity inside. Geiger was the kind who wanted somebody to know what he did. If he won an award, everybody better acknowledge it or watch out. If he gained a pound or ten, nobody better mention it. Asshole that he is, I realized he'd kill you for the vaguest sleight if he could get away with it and never think of you again.

That's what I knew as I walked with the old .45 in my tightening fist up to Mrs. Geiger's door for a skim of the eye into the guts of the house. He was there. He was holding his girlfriend. Maybe killing her slowly a piece at a time. He'd do that. But was his mother in trouble? He'd reached the point of no return so he was capable of settling every old score he nurtured in his rat's nest of a mind.

Delaney would be here as soon as he'd had his guys check Geiger's apartment and found the co-worker. If I didn't get to Geiger first, the bastard might live to go to trial. Screw that.

I stole up to the back door around a little patch of nicely trimmed lawn and a strip of maybe Tiger Lilies or just tall red flowers. The back door was one of those with a pane of glass at the top and a pet door at the bottom. Choices, huh? I didn't like the idea of being crushed under a fat man's boot if I crawled under the door and I didn't like the other choice. But I was there for a reason so I pushed my elbow into the pane of glass until it bulged then pushed some more. It cracked, first then burst with a hellishly loud crash and I was catching the door knob and twisting the door open.

Still a light didn't come on. And I hadn't thought of a flashlight.

Eventually my eyes accepted the darkness and worked with it. The Browning still in my right hand, I strode across the kitchen and into the main hall. Listening for breathing and aware of the smells I was afraid I'd find, I continued into the heart of the small house.

Nothing. Nothing. What? Something!

A breath, gasped in and then shut off with force! Someone over there in the darkness of the dining room. A strained huff of someone lifting someone? Too dark to determine anything. Too dark to take a shot. Shit gimme a light! Let me end this.

Suddenly a boulder of massive weight crashed into my back, between my shoulders, and knocked all the air out of my lungs. I crumpled like a ribbon to the floor. Face down. Arms outstretched. Heaving hoped for breath through uninterested lungs. Nothing. Oh damn, I'm dying.

Lights flared all over me. I was washed, blessed with light. Faces smiled down on me while I bled out. Geiger's fat, greasy face - his mother's protective, satisfied face with the four inch paring knife, still in her hand, the knife that passed through my ribs and skimmed upward into my shoulder blade.

There was a buzzing in my ears as my eyes dimmed. I remembered the bluebottle fly that pasted itself on Geiger's fat, sweating, freckled forehead and for no reason other than remembrance, I took heart and roused myself out of final lethargy.

The Browning was gone and Geiger was walking toward me, grinning, fat, waddling from sweaty leg to sweaty leg, his dark suit wrinkled and smelling even worse than in my office that morning. Why? What had I done to this lunatic that he wanted to kill me?

He stopped in front of me, I could see his scuffed black shoes under my nose, then he pulled back his foot and let it swing right into my cheekbone. The crack resonated through my body and my soul. I saw nothing but blackness. I stayed on the floor. A touch of information echoed in the back of my mind - Delaney was supposed to be here, but I'd delayed him so I could be the hero. What a stupid way to die.

A woman's voice was talking at me. Harsh. Angry. Disapproving and discordant - reproving.

". . . he's smarter than that. Nobody outdoes my baby. NOBODY. . . Assholes like you and his teachers tried to tell me for years, but I knew different. Damn you all I KNEW! Then you try to steal his girl. Bastard"

"You tell him, Mamma. You tell him I'm better than he is any day."

She was a huge, unbelievable, undulating mound of flesh seated in a custom built chair. The mound had a tiny, angry, red head buried within it, near the shoulders, with raging eyes that burned into me as I lay on the damp carpet of the floor. I turned my head to see if Geiger was still there and was rewarded with another hard-toed kick to my right cheek. Stars. Nausea. Projectile vomiting over the already lost rug. A laugh behind me in that familiar voice.

"Still wanna find my girlfriend, Randall? I might have a hint for you."

"Why me . . . " I began?

"'Cause you screwed her first, you bastard. She still loves you . . . "

And I was kicked soundly again, this time in the ribs and I felt the crack deep inside me. I lost the ability to swallow. I couldn't breathe through my nostrils. I nearly died. But I didn't faint.

I cracked my blood-caked lips and mumbled, "So Fat Mamma's in on your little party, is she, Geiger? She give you your bath, too? Wipe your ass for you? You have any idea how repulsive you are, you gob of fat?"

Geiger roared, blubbered and waddled quickly over to try for another kick, but I moved my head in time and he swung his elephant leg up and over-extended and landed on his flabby ass. "OOHHFF. Mamma!"

My arms were heavy as Genoa salamis, but I got them around Geiger's neck. He squealed like a little - no not like anything I've ever heard - just a high pitched, scared squeal. Then he called for mamma again.

"Mamma git him offa me! I'm chokin!"

She vomited a stream of hate for all the rotten bastards who'd taken advantage of her son and teased him and hurt his feelings since he was a baby and pointed my missing Browning right at my head. As she took careful aim, struggling forward in her creaking, protesting chair I struggled to roll behind her fat son to find cover.

She shot.

The sound deafened me long enough to make me believe I was dead again. But she'd missed me. She blew a huge gaping hole into her own son's head, taking away a slab of meat from his jaw and throat. He howled and bubbled something and she started screaming apologies and crying 'poor baby, Mamma didn't mean that, Mamma's sorry,' then steadied herself with a glare of primitive hate in her eyes and pulled back the little hammer on the big automatic and while she was occupied with that, I'd slipped the Berretta from my ankle holster and emptied it into her jiggling chest.

Nearly a half minute passed while both Geiger and his obese mother took their time dying. Time for me to finally catch my breath and let the spin subside in my throbbing head.

Then I saw the little bluebottle fly. Like a beacon. Buzzing down from the ceiling and into a hall off the living room. I pulled myself, aching and bleeding, to the bathroom.

The girlfriend was in the bath tub, naked and ready for bagging. She had been quartered, her arms and legs crossed over her cold, blue torso. Her staring eyes imploring me for help I couldn't give. Decomposition hadn't started. She may have been alive while I was meeting with Geiger that morning. I couldn't let myself think of that.

A few minutes later, Delaney and his crew showed up. Delaney yelled at me first, then asked if I was all right. He looked around the apartment and told me I'd have to make statements as soon as I could and I said fine. They drove me home after the emergency room.

Geiger was wrong. His girlfriend never loved me. I didn't even know her.

The End