Shorts - Sinister Shorts

Shorts - Sinister Shorts by Perri O'Shaughnessy Read Free Book Online

Book: Shorts - Sinister Shorts by Perri O'Shaughnessy Read Free Book Online
Authors: Perri O'Shaughnessy
answered. As they talked, Taylor moved stock on shelves, dusted for invisible dust, rearranged a sagging sign that read “If you look under a hundred years old, we want to see your ID for liquor purchases,” and sprayed his counter with what smelled like poison gas, wiping it all down with an immaculate new sponge.
    “A hundred?” Paul asked. “That's about how old I feel some days. You wouldn't really ID me, would you?”
    “No,” said Taylor.
    “So why the sign?” Paul persisted.
    “I put that sign up so maybe some people would quit making such a stink. You'd think they would be flattered I want to check their ID, but they get really ticked off.”
    The man's sudden show of anger piqued Paul's interest. “Ticked off enough to shoot someone?”
    “No!” Taylor looked shocked. “That's ridiculous.”
    “So why make such a big deal about ID?”
    “The penalties for selling to minors are fierce. Plus I'm not about to get in trouble so some sixteen-year-old can get loaded on my beer and crack up his mom's car.”
    Taylor swore Roman Maldonado had never worked for him. He said there were some rowdies who'd threatened him about being in the wrong neighborhood, but he wasn't about to cop to bullies. He'd opened a “dialogue,” he said, and was working on making friends in the neighborhood. In general, he appeared to be a good-natured guy with nothing to hide. Only when he talked about Roman did he show his defensiveness.
    “Look, I've seen him around, okay? I can't keep the kids from hanging around in front of the store. It's public property once they are out there. I've tried chasing them off, but I don't like to alienate anybody, especially potential customers. I turn a blind eye. But some of them are out there selling drugs, I know it and you do, too.” He looked hard at Paul. “I bet you experimented when you were young. Most kids do.”
    “You're saying he was mixed up in a drug deal gone bad?”
    “I wouldn't suggest that. I'm just trying to help you out, help you understand. He didn't work for me. If he had an income, that's one way people get it around here.”
    “When the Maldonados came by, you said you didn't know Roman. You lied, Bert. Why'd you lie?”
    “They were upset. They remember wrong.”
    Paul wondered if they did.
    On the way out of Taylor 's, Paul ran into the stroller. Baby now sat quietly, calm as a cow chewing her cud, face covered with chocolate.
    “ Taylor sure keeps the store nice,” Paul said to the baby's mother.
    “Yeah, I hardly recognized it today. I'm here at least once a week. You notice when things change.” She riffled for something in a voluminous straw bag, found what she was looking for, and brought out a crumpled cigarette.
    “He really fixed it up, huh?”
    “When he bought it, he put in the fresh food and painted the inside. I noticed today, the place is real clean.”
    “Ever see a big kid named Roman working the counter in there?”
    “I don't want to get Bert into trouble.”
    “Kid got shot here a couple of days ago. Bert said it was a drive-by.”
    “Here?”
    “Right in front of the store.”
    “Shit.” She sighed, lighting up. “Might as well go out smoking.”
     
    Long shadows crept along the street shading the building opposite Paul's office, blurring as twilight hinted its approach. The shoppers were going home. If he wanted to make his evening walk on the beach, he would have to hurry. The thought, which ordinarily made him happy, irritated him for a moment. He didn't like routines. And he was tired of walking alone.
    He called Taylor 's insurance company, then pumped a workers' compensation lawyer he knew in Salinas for information. He had tried earlier in the day to talk with Roman again, but had another brief unenlightening conversation. The boy was in pain and too sick to talk on the phone.
    But Paul was satisfied he had a solution. This wasn't the standard whodunit. The facts in the case had been deliberately muddied but he thought he

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