Black Mask

Snitches Get Stitches

by Derek Haas


Baskers said he could protect me, but I told him he had two choices, lock me up or leave me be.

His partner, Gogan, smirked. “We already got a guy rolling like cinnamon. We don’t need you.”

“The second one, then.”

There are some general rules on this side of Chester Avenue. Make a mark think it’s his idea. Snitches get stitches. The muscle is for show; the hustle is for dough. And of course, don’t piss off a cop who is about to let you walk. My buddy John Walter was stepping away from a shakedown when he thought he’d throw a comment over his shoulder, a “you dumb donkeys must be pretty stupid” kind of thing while he was giving them the high hat. Next thing he knows, he’s in the back of a squad car, face mashed in the mesh between the front and the rear seat, a waffle iron growing on his cheeks. He spent two weeks in lockup before they dismissed his case. He didn’t say a word when they processed him out, I guarantee you that.

“Uh-uh. You’re holding out on us.” This from Baskers.

“You just said you got someone rolling. You don’t need me.”

“You being smart?”

“No, not me.”

“Being smart would require intelligence.”

“Yeah, see . . .” I pleaded, agreeing with Gogan.

Baskers folded his arms. “You seem afraid, Lionel.”

“’Cause I am.”

“Why?”

“You know.”

“Who are you afraid of?”

“You’re trying to trick me.”

“Why’re we wasting our time?” groaned Gogan.

“A feeling,” Baskers said.

Gogan rolled his eyes. “You and your feelings.”

“You need money?” Baskers took out a rubber-banded wad like he was brandishing a key ring, searching for one that would open me.

“I can always use money.”

“For Angelina and little . . . what’s your little guy’s name?”

“Anton.”

“For Angelina and little Anton.”

“He’s sick.”

“Well, there, you see . . .”

“He needs an operation. That’s what the specialist up at St. Clair said. We got to have an operation so he can breathe.”

“You give, you get.”

“Aw, man. You know I can’t do that.”

“What’d you see, Lionel?”

“You said you got someone . . .”

“What’d you—”

“. . . a witness, you don’t need me . . .”

“—see?”

“. . . if you got Dante, he’s all you need.”

They both stiffened. My eyes were on that dough, so it took me a moment to catch up.

Baskers leaned into me so our noses were close, the money disappearing back in his pocket. “How do you know about Dante?”

“I didn’t say Dante.”

“You said Dante.”

“I said could’ve been Dante, could’ve been Pete, could’ve been Rojan . . .”

“No, you specifically said Dante.”

“I don’t think so.”

“And the only way you’d know our witness is Dante is if you were there too.”

“No. No.”

“What’d you see, Lionel?”

“My boy. Little Anton.”

“What’d you see?”

“I can’t.”

“Look, this is just you and me talking here. No one else will know. Just talk to me. Don’t I take good care of you?”

I turned to Gogan. “It’s like you said, you don’t need me.”

I had stepped in it, though, because Gogan seemed like a fisherman with a cork bobbing in the lake.

“Don’t look at him, look at me,” Baskers ordered.

My eyes were watering. I was working up to something. Gogan let me have some line, his voice softening. “Unburden yourself,” he whispered.

“What do you think about a man . . .”

“Go on.”

“What do you think about a man who’d lay down his life for his son?”

Baskers didn’t answer.

“You’d have to respect that, huh?”

“No one’s gonna hurt you, Lionel. You help us, you help little Anton, and no one gets hurt.”

“You’d have to respect that,” I repeated.

“If you saw Krieger pull the trigger, then we pick up Krieger, you understand? That’s it. We put him away where he can’t reach you. But we gotta hear you say it.”

Gogan started to interject, but Baskers held up a hand. He was preaching now and he didn’t want his sermon interrupted. “That’s what we do, son. We will protect you, we will protect Angelina, we will protect little Anton. We may not be good at some things, but we are damn good at that. You want a bus ride out of here? Didn’t you tell me once you had family down in Tennessee?”

“Texas.”

“There you go. Family down in Texas. I get you a bus ticket, I put some money in your pocket, you start a new life.”

I looked up at him, desperate.

“Yeah. You can see it.” Gogan butted in, picking up Baskers’s rhythm.

My eyes went to Gogan.

“Easy as pie. Tell us what happened. Did you see Krieger fire his gun? That’s all we’re asking.”

My eyes swam back to Baskers. Now the detectives waited. They had me at the breaking point. They knew it. I knew it.

“Not here,” I groaned.

“Where?”

“Not here.”

They looked at each other, words passing silently between them.

“Okay,” Basker said.

It was a twenty-minute drive to the police station, and I kept my eyes out the window the whole way, Cleveland rolling past me in a conveyor belt of 7-Elevens and abandoned warehouses and vacant lots. I thought of Little Anton and all the tubes. Angelina’s hands, cracked and raw from rubbing. If Baskers and Gogan were talking to me, I couldn’t make out the words

 

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Copyright © 2022. Snitches Get Stitches by Derek Haas