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Thin Boiled Blood






Thin Boiled Blood

 

Jewel Atkins didn’t know how the Pearlmutters killed her Aunt, but she wanted me to figure it out. “Why me and not the cops?” I asked the sultry redhead sitting across from me on that humid September San Diego night.

“I’ve talked to the police. Chief Caldwell said bring him some evidence and gave me your name as a guy to get it. Sure, I can sue, but money isn’t justice.”

I should’ve known right then she was trouble. A fat payout is the best justice there is. But, she’d put two-hundred dollars on the desk for the consult and my rent was due. “The Mr. and Mrs. Doctors social darlings have a motive?”

 Redheads don’t always look great in black, but this one was wearing a black snood with a big white diamond brooch broadcasting money. She lit up a long Chesterfield.

 “My Aunt was a bitch, and she liked to talk. Especially about another patient who died of natural causes and recognized the Doctors from Berlin.”

“Berlin?” I was there at eighteen, and saw the ruin and the Russians. I wasn’t letting go of this case.

“The Pearlmutters worked as researchers at the Beelitz sanitarium complex. State of the art in the teens. Hitler recuperated from a war wound there.”

“And this other patient…”

“Sadie Reynolds. Fifth cousin of the tobacco Reynolds making the Grand Tour in 1909. They thought she had TB, but it was just bad bronchitis. She told my Aunt.”

 “If they know you know, too, you may be next in line.”

“That’s why I carry this.” She pulled a snub-nose .38 from her purse. “They’re not going to experiment on me.”

                                                            ***

My first stop was Ol’ Man Rivers⸺alias John Robinson, who tended bar at the Loaded Dice, an upscale cop club in the down and out Southeast Dago. He was a listening kinda guy who made money on the side by talking. I paid him a Jackson for a fifty-cent tap.

“The word is there’s been an outbreak of death at St. Elizabeth’s hospital,’ Rivers said.

“Old age can be lethal.”

“Yeah, so’s weak blood.”

That threw me. How does blood get weak? “Maybe it’s the water.”

“You need to talk to Pretty Willie.”

I left a message with the OD at Navy Hospital, and waited in Pepper Grove in Balboa Park, knowing Corpsman Willie would be there for some lunchtime action with Al Fresco. “Tell me about weak blood, Willie.”

He shrugged. I wasn’t leaving until he gave me the goods. “It’s called anemia. You don’t want clots in your arteries, so you either drink a lot of wine or take a blood thinner. But, too much and your blood turns to water and you die from lack of oxygen.” He looked at his watch.

“It takes while though, right? You don’t just keel over.”

“Sometimes. You can bleed out inside⸺spontaneous hemorrhage in the brain or the heart. Bingo! You’re dead.”

“Is it…painful?”

“Hell yeah! All that blood seeping out of the veins and the arteries, pouring into the narrow space between the muscles and the skin?” He checked his watch again. “I gotta go.”

“Where? It ain’t like you’re tellin’ me State secrets.”

Willie stood, reached in his pocket and pulled out a paper clip. “Take this to Parker Hunt down at Shooters. Tell him Willie sent you.” He walked towards the leather jacketed young man who’d just parked his motorcycle by the drinking fountain.

                                                            ***

Shooters was a vet’s hang-out at the foot of Broadway. Hunt was a legend who’d busted a bunch of Commies out in Vegas. But what did he know about a paper clip and the Pearlmutters? He gave me a wide smile and led me to the last booth.

“So, Willie sent you. Well, you’d stumble on this sooner or later. Yeah, the government brought over a lot of ex-Nazis to do scientific research. Some helped us with the bomb. Maybe the Pearlmutters have medications they haven’t helped us with.”

“The question is, would the government let the Pearlmutters kill to protect their identity until it gets the information they have?”

 “Your goddamnnned right it would.”

The afternoon pie and coffee crowd was straggling in. Hunt left to man the register, and I watched the battered bodies of ex-soldiers who never hesitated twelve years ago limp and drag themselves onto red vinyl stools and booth benches. 

                                                            ***

Jewel Atkins got a lot for her two-hundred dollars. I knew when I told her the truth about the justice she’d never get from the law, she’d fork over five grand and the .38 to buy it. What did I care if Ol’ Man Rivers, pretty Willie, and Parker Hunt all knew I had motive, means and opportunity. We’re all veterans. Just because a surrender was signed by a bunch of politicians didn’t mean we had to stop killing Nazis. 

Jewel came again at night. Sleek and lovely, she turned off my desk lamp, and let the moonlight caress her shadow as I served her a dink of gin and truth.

“You’d kill them for me?” Jewel asked after our lips met in the darkness of my office, my hands feeling the charms hidden by silk and chiffon.

“Your goddamned right I would.”

A man who doesn’t hesitate to answer a direct question tells you a lot. You know he’s a man who’d do anything to help a lady in distress. Especially a lady like Jewel, who made you weak and your blood boil.

“Then take the money,” she whispered, her tongue tickling my ear. “Take the gun. Take me.”

                                                            ***

Yeah, I knew she was trouble and murder is wrong. Maybe I even knew we’d be caught and that five grand would go to some scuzbag lawyer for a plea bargain that robbed me of my P.I. license. Maybe I knew Jewel would leave me⸺but, would I do it again for justice for two old ladies who didn’t deserve to die? Your goddamned right I would.    

 
 
Jenean McBrearty

 

Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over a hundred and eighty print and on-line journals. She won the Eastern Kentucky English Department Award for Graduate Creative Non-fiction in 2011, and a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir short story: Red’s Not Your Color. Her novels and collections can be found on Amazon and Lulu.com.

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