Finger’s Breadth Book Excerpt
by M. Christian
Looking from the window of the coffee shop. Watching from the windshield of a parked car. Staring from the glass of a very rare unbroken bus kiosk. Glaring from the side of a passing bus.
A brief summer rain had painted the city that night in reflections. Fanning saw himself everywhere, and everywhere he saw himself his expression said the same thing—Why haven’t you caught him yet?
In his ear, a Bluetooth bud whispered the Officer Wertz inquiry’s soundtrack; in his pocket, the video was playing on his phone. He didn’t need to hear or see it. No one would, but if asked he could probably rattle off every verb, every noun, every linguistic bit from when Knorr started it to when he stopped it. Knorr was good at what he did, just like the lab mice who studied crime scenes and picked up tiny bits of DNA with their finely honed tweezers.
Welcome to the decentralized world of the new San Francisco Police Department, where your specialty was all you did and generality was extinct.
Fanning was a freelancer but was supposed to be good at what he did, too. Sneering at himself reflected in the coffee shop window, he gripped the phone in his pocket. If he’d been stronger, or the plastic less durable, it would have cracked.
Glowering for an instant at his reflection in the windshield of the parked car, he pulled the phone out and flipped through a few key digital pages. As with the inquiry, he didn’t need to look at it again, but he did anyway. Better than sharing the street with his scowling mirror images.
It hadn’t changed—Wertz’s home address and where he worked were still the same. The first was across town, in the Mission. The second was just down the street, at a Gap Store.
Ten a.m. to six p.m. His shift hadn’t changed, either. But it was 6:17, and there was no sign of Wertz.
Fanning paced the wet sidewalk, searching up and down the street but mostly the blue-and-white bright- ness of the Gap store. In his ears, Wertz’s voice clicked into silence; then, as it was set on “loop,” it began again.
Just like the others. Same MO, same kind of pick-up place, same amount of Eurodin in Wertz’s system, the lab mice doing their usual fine and precise work, and the same mutilation—right hand little finger amputated at the first joint.
Again, his phone threatened to break in his hand, but again, he wasn’t strong or determined enough to do it. The beat cops who’d found Wertz sound asleep on the J Church train; the lab mice who’d analyzed the drug in his system; Knorr, who’d asked his carefully prepared and expert questions…
But then there was Fanning, who was supposed to assemble piece after piece after piece after piece until they made a picture of someone’s face.
Looking up from where he’d been looking down, he saw a silhouette come between the blue-and-white of the Gap store. A dark shape that was about the right height, about the right build, about the right age, to be whom he was looking for. Fanning carefully released his tight grip on his phone and stepped back into a nearby alley, one carefully chosen for its heavy solitude.
Heavy solitude was just what Fanning wanted.
His age had ticked over to forty half a decade ago, bringing with it eye surgery, regular arthritis treatments and a pre-diabetic monitoring pump sewn into his belly. He didn’t run as fast as he used to, didn’t snap back like he used to, didn’t hit as hard as he used to, but he still could get the job done. The shape that had been about the right height, about the right build, about the right age, became less about and more exact as Wertz passed. The night was cold as well as wet, so Fanning felt more coat than skin when he grabbed Wertz and spun him off his feet into an echoing crash down deep in the inky canyon of the alley.
Wertz, again according to his file, had ticked over to twenty, also half a decade ago, so he had perfect eyes, good joints, and a strong heart. Maybe, if he went to the gym, even some muscles. Fanning got to the back of the alley as fast as he could without running. Wertz was pulling himself out of some deep-blue biodegradable trash bags, the logo of the city Green Commission warped by his body landing hard on them.
Wertz began to say something. When Fanning’s fist landed fast and meaty in the young man’s gut, the air he’d prepared for speaking rushed out in a gagging spasm.
“Talk when you’re fucking talked to,” Fanning said, down-deep, carefully prepared vocal thunder. Knorr was good, but Fanning knew how to talk, too. “You fucking lied, didn’t you?”
Wertz was in darkness, but there was just enough light spilling from the businesses and streetlights to give his young face ghostly definition. The shape of his eyes, nose, lips revealed to Fanning that the guy was twisted up with confusion and, best of all, fear.
“You lied,” Fanning said, even lower, even closer to Wertz, giving him no time to think.
Wertz said something, the exact words lost to sudden traffic sounds leaking from the street. Even though Fanning couldn’t tell what he said, he knew enough—a voice to that confusion and, still best of all, fear.
“Shut the fuck up,” Fanning said, punctuation added with another punch to the man’s gut. Again his breath left in a retching rush of air, now tinged with the sharp reek of pre-vomit.
“I said you were lying.” Now was the time to ask the question, to put that confusion and fear to good use. “Weren’t you, you fucking asshole?”
“W—what?” was all Wertz managed to get out.
“Your finger. Your finger! You know what the fuck I’m talking about.”
The young man who’d crashed in the garbage held his hand up—a reflex, ancient and common. But something about it was new, only in the last week or so—four and three-quarters fingers, not a solid five.
“Tell me the truth, asshole. Tell me the fucking truth.”
“I don’t know what…” Wertz’s eyes glistened in the sparse light. Young. Very young. Young enough so he didn’t need eye surgery, arthritis treatments, or a bit of medical hardware just to the right of his navel. Young enough to recover damned quickly. “I told … told them everything.”
“You’re. Lying.” Each word a vocal bullet, face-to- face, making youth face the harsh reality of determined age.
“Don’t give me that shit.” Another punch, another effort to drive the point home. “What the fuck happened?”
“I told them…what happened. I did.”
“You let someone just cut part of your fucking finger off? Don’t give me that shit.”
“Drugged. I said…”
“I know you were fucking drugged. I know all about that shit. Tell me what you didn’t tell the cops.”
“I told them…Fuck you, I told them everything.”
Fanning grabbed Wertz. Forty-five years reminded him they were there with a quake down his spine. Teeth tightly clenched, he tried to keep a hissing gasp from slipping out. It took work, but he got Wertz up and out of the garbage in one movement. The next movement was yet another blow to Wertz’s stomach.
Closer than before. Even more intimate in his threat: “You’re. Fucking. Lying.”
“No,” Wertz said. “I didn’t. I didn’t.” He repeated it, over and over, fast and sharp, like a whisper sped up into a near squeal.
“Yes, you fucking did. You’re fucking hiding some thing.”
Then Fanning realized Wertz really was hiding something.
M.Christian is — among many things — an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 400 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites.
He is the editor of 25 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, The Mammoth Book of Future Cops and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi) and Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant) as well as many others.
He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, Licks & Promises, Filthy, Love Without Gun Control, Rude Mechanicals, Coming Together Presents M.Christian, Pornotopia, and How To Write And Sell Erotica; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, and Painted Doll. His Web site is www.mchristian.com Purchase his book here: amazon.com/author/mchristian