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A Bitter Pill to Swallow

A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW All rights reserved. Copyright Š 2014 by Darin Keith Gaston & Teresa D. Patterson This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. ISBN#: 978-1499601985

A Bitter Pill to Swallow Keith Gaston & Teresa D. Patterson

Chapter Zero


e grunted and his body shook with raw pleasure as he came inside her. Ravyn Knight pretended to have an orgasm that coincided with his. She cried out his name before releasing a more than convincing moan of satisfaction. When he was completely spent, the man rolled over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, his face radiant with good cheer. She waited for the inevitable question. “Was it good for you, baby?” he asked. She nodded. “Mm-hmm. It was perfect,” she lied, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “Was I at least as good as your co-stars in those films you were in?” Why do men always want to compare themselves to others? They're like children sometimes. “They couldn't compare to you honey. This was real. All those others were fake.” His pride properly stroked, he grinned from ear to ear. He slipped his legs over the side of the bed and then carefully extracted the condom from his rapidly deflating manhood. Craning his neck, he stared over his shoulder at her. “I wish my wife made me feel the way you make me feel.” Knight regarded him with fondness. “She doesn't know how lucky she is to have a stud like you,” she purred. His eyes brimmed with delight. He got up, threw the used rubber into a trashcan positioned in a corner of the bedroom and began putting his clothes on. Knight remained in the bed leaving her nakedness exposed for his viewing pleasure. She

waited until he was fully dressed before rolling onto her stomach. “Do you have to go? My schedule is still open for the next hour.” He laughed. “I've already been here too long. The old ball and chain is expecting me to bring home dinner.” He shook his head. “She doesn't cook.” She gave him a puppy dog look. “You're too good for her.” He grinned as he left money on a dresser. “Same time next week?” Knight nodded. “You're already penciled in, lover.” She climbed out of bed, and led him to the front door. She squeezed his left butt cheek as he stepped out onto the porch causing him to blush and giggle like a school kid. “See you soon,” he gushed. Closing the door, she blew out a breath of relief, glad to finally be alone. She was off-schedule for taking her meds. Although Knight appeared to be healthy and strong, she was far from that. She went back into the bedroom and glanced over into the trashcan. As she stared at the haphazardly thrown condoms piled inside it, the blood drained from her face. Her film career had ended abruptly because one of her co-stars hadn't worn rubbers during an orgy party. He hadn’t gotten tested until after he’d infected her somewhere along the way while they’d been working together. Turning, she shrunk away in silence and entered the bathroom. As she opened the cabinet behind the mirror, her gaze was haunted by inner pain as she eyed the top shelf filled with various meds. Like she had done a hundred times before, she read each label: Combivir, Emtriva, Epivir, Hivid, Stribild, Videx, and Ziagen. Knight couldn't pronounce half of them. All she knew was that they cost an arm and a

leg to maintain, which was why she'd turned to prostitution as a way to supplement her income. Little did she know there was a fetish for men who wanted to sleep with porn stars, even at the risk of becoming infected themselves. She took what meds she needed and then turned on the shower. Knight paused thinking she’d heard a noise from somewhere inside the house. After waiting nearly thirty seconds, she figured it was her imagination and stepped beneath the cascading water. After her much needed shower, she felt better though the medicine had made her tired. Drying herself off, she shuffled sleepily into the bedroom. A muffled thudding sound coming from the living room stunned her to alertness. Knight dropped the towel. “Is anyone out there?” Silence. Completely naked, she edged into the next room. The living room was dark. Knight couldn't remember if she had turned off the lights or not. Her gaze darted around maniacally, picking objects out of the gloom. A minutes passed. Another minute. When three had come and gone, she relaxed. When a car drove by the house, its headlights lit the living room. Someone stood in the shadows watching her. A dark silhouette leaned against a far wall. She stared at the person with fascinated horror. “What are you doing in my house?” Knight asked. In answer, the intruder catapulted forward. Knight caught the glint of metal in the other person's hand. Before she could react in any way, the intruder stood directly in front of her. The former porn star felt the pressure of cold steel being shoved into her side. Pain erupted, forcing her to clamp her

eyes shut. She slid to the floor as the intruder continued to stab and slice the knife across her body. She felt a floating sensation, and then she felt nothing at all.

Chapter One


he motionless body on the floor would be marked as Detective John Friendly’s third homicide case. Remorse visibly pinched at his eyes, and he had to blink repeatedly to try to hide his reaction. Even after serving five years on the force, he still hadn’t gotten used to seeing death, unlike his senior partner, Wade Russell, who stared down at the corpse with indifference. “It’s a damned shame someone had to murder such a fine piece of ass.” He scowled at the half-nude torso of the former porn star, Ravyn Knight. “I guess her life went downhill when the headlines reported she was HIV positive. No one wants to bang a burning bitch, no matter how hot. There weren’t enough condoms a man could wear to risk tapping that ass.” Friendly’s eyes swept the room then settled back on Knight. “Looks like a few adventurous souls did. The crime scene guys found some used Magnums and Trojans.” “Apparently, she turned to hooking to make a living.” “If you call that making a living,” Friendly said. He knelt down to inspect the wounds on the body. “She must have really pissed someone off.”

“Why do you say that?” Russell asked in an instructor’s approach, since Friendly was still learning the ropes as a newly promoted detective. “Too many stab wounds were inflicted upon the body. Whoever murdered Knight, hated her guts. A crime of passion would be my first thought.” “Just make sure it’s only your first thought,” Russell advised. “There are plenty of other reasons for this type of murder.” Friendly nodded, agreeing with his partner’s assessment. It was a rookie mistake to assume anything early on in an investigation. He let his gaze travel the length of Knight’s body, stopping on her face. Russell had been right about her being hot. She was definitely a beautiful woman. He tried not to judge Knight by her profession, but found it hard not to. Then something about the unnatural overhang of the woman’s top lip caught his attention. Upon closer inspection, Friendly could make out something. “What’s that?” “What?” Russell asked over his shoulder. “There’s something in her mouth.” He pointed to her slightly parted lips. “I think you’re right. Crime scene boys must have missed it.” Russell removed the ballpoint pen from his blazer pocket and stuck it in the dead woman’s mouth. He gently dislodged the object. It slid down the side of her face and fell onto the floor. “What is that?” Both men inspected the item, but Friendly spoke up first. “It looks like a Tylenol capsule or something, just bigger.” He put on a pair of rubber gloves to avoid contaminating the new piece of evidence and reached for the oval-shaped item. It wasn’t a capsule as he’d first thought, but something folded into a tight wad. Opening it, he found a small white slip of

paper with the numbers 24, 10, 12 written on it. Friendly read it out to his partner then asked, “You think those numbers mean something?” “Maybe the whore had the winning pick three and hid it in her mouth to keep the killer from finding the numbers.” The junior detective glanced at his partner from the corner of his eye. Russell was disheveled as if he’d just rolled out of the bed and pulled on some clothes, bypassing an iron. At 52, he looked older than his years. Father Time had not been kind to him. Russell possessed a jutted out beer gut, graying hair and bad skin. He blamed it on eczema and stress. “Not funny,” Friendly remarked. Russell couldn’t place blame of his permanent bitter disposition on anyone but himself. He was miserable all the time. And as the saying goes, misery loves company. The older detective smelled, too, reeking of an odor of permanent garlic, Old Spice… and something Friendly couldn’t quite identify. Truth be told, he didn’t even want to figure out what that stench was. It soured his stomach every time he got a whiff of his partner. Russell let out an exhausted breath, readying to prepare another smart-ass comment, but instead said, “It could be a combination number to a safe. If so, the question is, where is it located?” He did a quick scan of the room with his eyes. Friendly heard him but wondered if his partner was being serious or not. The man had many mood swings. They had been partners for more than two months, but he still couldn’t figure the man out, except that bitterness seeped out of his pores like goo from jellied donuts. He feared Russell was a

ticking time bomb, and he didn’t want to be around when he eventually exploded. Russell hunched over and coughed without covering his mouth, sounding like he was about to bring up a lung through his throat. Friendly was assaulted with a torrent of spittle and the putrid aroma of garlic, causing a gag reflex, but he refrained from regurgitating. His face reddened at the difficult effort. Friendly checked Knight’s body to make sure none of his partner’s saliva had struck her. Once he was relatively sure she hadn’t been contaminated by Russell’s germs, he rose to his full height of six feet, three inches. His eyes moistened. “I need some fresh air,” he managed to say, cupping his nose and mouth with a hand. “I’m going to have to start calling you, Lightweight. You look a little green around the gills,” Russell said, in all probability assuming the violent death made his partner squeamish. Friendly didn’t bother correcting the assumption and immediately regretted the decision as Russell continued rubbing it in his face. “You should get some air, Lightweight. You look like a virgin at his first strip joint having a hairy vagina thrown in his face.” He paused to laugh. “You’ll get used to it, Lightweight. Trust me--you’re going to see much worse than this dead whore.” Friendly nodded. The more words his partner spoke, the more difficult it became to filter out his foul breath. He rushed to the front door almost bumping into some uniformed officers. Once he passed through the threshold, he sucked in the humid, Florida air like a blowfish, all the while thinking that Russell needed a serious colon cleanser.

Once the queasiness in his stomach passed, he stared across the street. Even at the early hour, a crowd had gathered beyond the cordon to gawk at the house. He scanned their faces and wondered if the killer stood amongst them. Calling out to a passing uniform, he asked, “O’Dell, has anyone been taking pictures of the bystanders?” “Yes, sir,” Officer O’Dell answered. “We’ve been going house-to-house, knocking on the doors looking for eyewitnesses too, but most people aren’t answering.” He looked as if he could use a strong cup of coffee. “Okay, thanks,” Friendly said and then thought, Of course, folks won’t open their doors. It’s nearly four o’clock in the fucking morning. Who can blame them in this neighborhood? He stood on the porch and continued his vigilant inspection of the crowd, wondering if the killer was that close. A few minutes into his watch, Russell appeared dangerously close at his side. His body odor broke Friendly’s concentration. He prayed fervently his partner wouldn’t brush against him. Even a full bottle of Febreze would have a hard time getting Russell’s scent off his clothes. “I’m going to get this overlooked evidence to the crime lab, boys. Geez, how’d they missed something stuck inside her mouth? Probably too mesmerized by the whore’s boob job. Those freaking morons couldn’t find an ass on a donkey.” The senior detective scowled as he glanced down at the slip of paper, which he’d encased in a plastic evidence bag. “You can tag along with me if you want, Lightweight, or have one of the uniforms drop you off at home.” Friendly must have hesitated too long with an answer or looked as if he wasn’t ready to leave the

crime scene, because his partner continued talking. “It’s almost four in the a.m. We won’t be able to interview any witnesses until later on. We’ll get on that when the sun is up and they’ve had their coffee. Folks will be less hesitant to open their doors to us then.” “I could take the evidence down to the station,” Friendly offered. “You must want to get home to your wife. I’m sure she misses you.” Russell gave a deep-throated laugh. “That bitch wouldn’t miss me even if I’d been gone for twenty years.” Friendly’s eyes widened at the revelation, but he said nothing. “She’s probably burning black candles and chanting for me to die even as we speak.” “Er… really?” Ignoring the question, the senior detective slapped his meaty hand on his partner’s back, causing him to flinch. “Go home, Lightweight. Your legs don’t seem so wobbly now that you’ve had some air, but you’re still looking a bit pale.” Russell waddled down the steps and up the sidewalk. He bent underneath the yellow crime scene cordon tape, just under the words: DO NOT CROSS. I’m pale because I can’t stand your stench, asshole, Friendly thought. He shook his head and followed his partner. When he came alongside him, he said, “I’ll go with you.” “Do what you want, Lightweight.” Annoyed, he said, “Stop calling me that, okay?” Russell laughed again. “Sure, sure,” he answered before getting behind the steering wheel. Friendly hopped in on the passenger’s side. As soon as the engine turned over, he lowered his window to let air inside. His main reason for putting himself through continuous torture with his

partner’s ungodly breath and body odor were personal. He hoped to see Lydia. Just the thought of her brought a smile to his face. Lydia Payne worked for Forensics. Even though he’d only spoken to her on a few occasions, while passing from one department to the next, he wanted to get more acquainted with her. He knew he’d be playing with fire because he and Rhoda were still together—technically. They lived in the same apartment, but slept in different beds. He liked to convince himself that he stayed because of Marlon, their four year old son, but it was a lie. He stayed because he feared being alone. Alone most of his life, ever since his parents had been murdered when he was only eight, Friendly made a promise, if he fathered a child, he’d always be there for him. He never wanted his offspring to experience the emptiness and void of missing a parent that he felt every single day of his life. “Friendly,” Russell said. “Friendly, snap out of it.” He blinked a few times and turned to face his partner. “What?” “I said, we’re here.” Russell had parked the car halfheartedly in front of the precinct. “Go ahead and take the evidence inside. I need to take a piss. I’ve been holding it in my bladder for too long.” “You need to take a wha—” Friendly’s words trailed off as he watched his partner wrestle his way out of the car, then shield himself with the driver’s door. The familiar sound of his zipper being yanked down on his pants broke the awkward silence. “Dude, are you serious? That’s indecent exposure,” he exclaimed.

Russell drew his head back as he emptied his bladder. “If you’d gone on inside, like I told you, you wouldn’t be staring at my enormous dick right now.” “Dream on.” Friendly shook his head in utter disbelief, snatched up the evidence bag and got out the car trying to wipe away the memory of seeing his partner’s manhood. He slammed the door closed in frustration. He took brisk strides toward the building trying to place as much distance as he could between himself and Russell. He’d almost made it to the door and could still hear urine splashing against the sidewalk. His partner must have had gallons to drink. “Un-fucking-believable,” he muttered under his breath as he entered through the double doors of the precinct. “Who the hell do they have me working with, a cave man?”

Chapter Two


etective Russell released a loud satisfying moan as he finished emptying his bladder. He smiled to himself, knowing he’d gotten on his partner’s nerves with his pissing stunt. “Friendly, you’re an arrogant son of a bitch,” he whispered. Tucking his member back into his pants, he pulled up his zipper. “I gotta put you in your proper place every now and then.” In the midst of tucking his shirt back into the waistline of his trousers, he caught movement from the corner of his eye. Russell whirled around toward the alley across the street, his hand instinctively reaching for his sidearm. Narrowing his eyes, he scanned the dark alley, seeing nothing but blackness--if there had been something or someone there moments ago, it was gone now. Perhaps light from a passing car played tricks on him. “I must be getting old, getting all spooked and shit by nothing.” *** Eyes narrowed to thin slits as they took in the detective urinating in the street. “The pig. He’s an abomination to the world.” Sweat-soaked fingers curled around the handled of a carving knife. “Kill him. Kill him while he’s distracted,” the killer whispered, getting ready to strike. The detective’s attention suddenly became absorbed to the alley. Unsteady breaths got trapped

in the killer’s throat. Does he see me? Instinctively taking a step back into the security of the darkness, the killer’s worries subsided when the detective shook his head and turned away. Excited fingers eased their grip around the knife’s handle, eventually slipping away altogether as the opportunity to kill Wade Russell passed. “Soon,” the killer whispered. “Very soon you’ll die just like the whore.” *** Russell shut the car door, took another look into the darkened alley then laughed inwardly. “I’m seeing things now. I really need to get more sleep,” he muttered. He hurried up the walkway to the precinct and entered through the double doors. Once inside, he went in search of his partner. There weren’t many officers on duty because of the hours except for a skeleton crew. Only unlucky bastards have to work the third shift, he thought. A few officers acknowledged the detective’s presence with weary head nods as he walked by. Russell kept his gaze downcast, ignoring them all. He wasn’t in any mood to be sociable. He spotted Friendly talking to Lydia Payne, the Forensic Document Examiner, and shook his head in annoyance. What’s this asshole up to now? he thought. Certainly not work. He was supposed to be in and out. Working that bitch is what he’s doing. Well, I’ll put a stop to that. Russell came up behind his partner. “Hey,” he grunted, once he made eye contact with Payne. In response to his greeting, she lost the grin she had reserved for Friendly and rolled her eyes.

What the fuck have I done to deserve that, you bitch? he thought, but said to his partner instead, “Did you get the evidence down to the tech, boy? You know, Jayson Lau.” Friendly’s shoulders visibly slumped, and he made an exasperated sound. He turned slightly to look at Russell. “I’ve been working with you for more than two months, coming down here dropping shit off all the time. I think I know who to hand evidence over to.” Russell lifted his hands as if defending himself against an assault. “Whoa, partner. No need to take it personally. Just making sure, Lightweight. We wouldn’t want to make any mistakes that can botch this case.” “I understand,” Friendly said, looking embarrassed because of the exchange as his gaze flicked between Russell and Payne. Russell stared directly at Payne and growled, “Well, we’re going to head out. Good night, Linda.” He’d mispronounced her name on purpose. He’d gotten a certain satisfaction out of diffusing whatever had been going on between the two. “It’s Lydia,” the five feet three, petite, brown-eyed woman responded coldly. Her gaze drifted away from the older detective and back to Friendly. In a more sultry voice, she said, “Good night, detective.” It hadn’t escaped Russell’s notice that she’d left him out of her farewell. He folded his arms together and watched as the pair stared at each other, not wanting to be the first to look away. Pathetic, he thought. He impatiently tapped his shoe on the tiled floor to break their concentration.

Payne scratched just above her right eyebrow with an extended middle finger, her attention fully on Russell. All he could do was laugh as she spun around on her heels and stormed off down the hallway. When she was out of earshot, he said, “Friendly, you must enjoy sleeping with stiffs, ‘cause that one’s as cold as a slab in the morgue. I’d steer clear of her, if I were you.” Friendly shot him a contemptuous glare. The veins in his neck stood out in livid ridges, but he said nothing. Russell continued, ignoring his partner’s obvious irritation. “If you’d like my advice, I’d tell you to stick with the one you got at home. Now, Rhoda, she’s easy on the eyes. Yes, indeed, a true beauty--a tall, refreshing drink of water for a parched throat.” Friendly’s brow crinkled. Russell imagined his partner probably didn’t know whether to be offended or flattered. “I was only making conversation with Payne— nothing more,” Friendly explained, evidently feeling as if he needed to deflect Russell’s assessment between him and Payne. “Right. You can’t fool me. I know she makes your dick stand at attention. She’s a bite-sized, caramel morsel,” Russell said then in a lower voice. “She’s someone to have fun with, but be sure to take care of home first. That’s all I’m saying.” Friendly looked skeptical of the advice, nodded and said, “I’m not stupid, man. I would never get involved with anyone else until I ended things with Rhoda. I don’t need any added stress in my life.” Yeah, right, Russell thought. He had a gift for reading body language and facial expressions. What he’d figured Friendly really thought was, Why should

I take advice from a man who just told me his wife chants for his death? “Dealing with a scorned, bitter bitch is the worse stress imaginable. It’s the last thing you need,” he finally said. They both went silent and still hadn’t said anything even after they’d left the precinct. The older detective drove his partner all the way home. His partner’s situation made him think of his own crumbling relationship. Who was Russell to give anyone advice when he couldn’t bring himself to talk civilly to his own wife? He couldn’t even bring himself to place a picture of his family on top of his desk. He hid a shared framed photo of himself, his wife and son in a drawer buried under papers. “Good night,” Friendly mumbled as he got out. As he walked away from the car, Russell leaned toward the passenger window and yelled out, “You got a good woman inside there. It’d be a shame if you lost her for a piece of ass with an expiration date stamped on it.” *** Friendly watched the car pull away from the curb. “What the fuck do you know?” he said under his breath. A few minutes later, he let himself into the apartment he shared with his son’s mother. He considered heading into the kitchen and getting a beer to help him fall asleep, but he quickly dismissed it. Alcoholism in the force had become commonplace these days. It started off innocently at first, needing a drink every now and again, which eventually turned into sucking down alcohol all the time. “Don’t head down that road. Don’t be like Russell,” he whispered, jumping at the sound of his own voice.

The stillness of the apartment engulfed him as he maneuvered around in the dark. Nearly five in the morning, Rhoda and Marlon would be sound asleep. He passed by her room without pause and pushed opened the door to the second bedroom. His son slept with a night light on. He could see Marlon’s small form curled up in his blue pajamas with his favorite Power Ranger nestled to his chest. It never fails. Somehow my son always manages to wiggle from under the covers, he thought, grinning. Friendly paced slowly toward the bed, then pulled the SpongeBob comforter over his child’s uncovered body. He bent down to give him a kiss on the forehead. “I love you, son,” he said. He crept back to the door as silently as he’d come in, exiting the bedroom. “I love you, too, Daddy,” he heard, before he pulled the door fully shut. *** Rhoda stood over Friendly when his eyelids fluttered opened hours later. Her dark eyes flashed as she glared down at him. “You hard of hearing or what? Your alarm went off… several times,” she scolded. “Shouldn’t you be at the precinct by now?” His gaze snapped over to the clock. “Oh shit,” he said, leaping out of the bed in nothing but his briefs. He caught Rhoda briefly checking out his package then her eyes flashed to her watch. “You better hurry.” “Why the hell did you let me oversleep?” he asked, trying to shake off the last bit of his drowsiness. She tapped her foot impatiently against the floor. “I didn’t. I woke you up twice. You rolled your ass over and went back to snoring. Don’t blame me if you don’t make it to work on time.”

Ignoring her, he rushed to the closet and pulled out a fresh pair of slacks and a long sleeved shirt. Knowing he could never rely on Rhoda to make sure he had clothes ready, Friendly was thankful he had taken several items to the cleaners earlier in the week. “You’re just going to toss on a pair of pants without washing your ass or changing into a fresh pair of underwear?” she asked. “That’s just nasty.” “I don’t have time for this right now, Rhoda.” He went into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face, and quickly brushed his teeth. He saw her reflection standing at the door’s entrance. “You could at least put on some deodorant under those stank ass armpits of yours. You got time for that?” What are you, my fucking mother? he thought, but he knew she was right. Wordlessly, he picked up the deodorant stick and applied it without removing his shirt. When finished, he headed to the door. “I’ll grab breakfast at the precinct.” She moved aside to give him room to pass. “Good, because I didn’t cook any.” He grabbed his pistol from the dresser, holstered it then looked at her. “Why are you hanging around in my room anyway?” She scowled, turned on her heels and headed for the door. He cursed under his breath as his conscience scolded him. “Wait a sec, Rhoda. Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. You were only looking out for me. Thanks.” Without turning around, she nodded and sauntered out of the bedroom. He stared at her shapely butt as she walked away and reflected on what his partner said only hours ago about her being

a tall drink of water. He shook it off. Whatever he and Rhoda had between them disappeared long ago. On his way out, Friendly spotted Marlon, sitting and fully dressed in street clothes rather than his pajamas, in front of the big floor modeled plasma television. Dora the Explorer and her pet friend, Boots, stared into the camera, waiting for a response of some kind. Marlon shouted, “Go left! Go left!” He must have caught movement in his eyes, because he spun around to see his father. “Daddy!” “I’ll see you later, Little Man,” Friendly said grinning. Cartoon forgotten, Marlon jumped up from the floor and raced across the room to throw himself at his dad. “Daddy,” he squealed again. No matter how bad his day always started, being greeted with so much warmth in the morning by his son always lifted Friendly’s spirits. “Good morning, Cookie Monster.” He lifted his son up to eye level. “I have to go to work now, but I’ll see you later.” Just then, Rhoda strolled in, waiting for the two of them to finish their father, son, moment. Bright innocent eyes stared into his. “Will you be home in time to read to me?” asked Marlon. In Friendly’s peripheral, he didn’t miss the eyeroll Rhoda threw his way. “I can’t promise that. Hopefully, I’ll be home before you go to sleep. I’ll try my best to read to you tonight,” he explained, lowering his son to the floor. He ruffled his curly head. “I love you.” “I love you too, Daddy.” Marlon looked at his mother and then his father. “See you later. I have to get ready to go to Pre K now.” “Pre K?” Friendly’s brow rose. He stared at Rhoda. “When did this happen?”

“Um… you’re late… as usual. He’s been going for a month now,” she answered. “A month? And you’re now just telling me?” he said throwing up his hands in frustration. “I thought we discussed this. You’re supposed to home school him until he’s old enough to attend kindergarten.” She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and went into the kitchen. “Well, I changed my mind. I just don’t have the patience to home school him anymore. Besides, I’m an actress, not a teacher.” She turned to put her empty coffee mug into the sink. “Marlon, baby, go grab your backpack so we can head out.” The rambunctious four-year old skipped to his bedroom to do as told. Friendly waited until his son was out of earshot. His angry gaze went down to his wristwatch and then up at Rhoda. “We’ll discuss this later,” he said. “There’s really nothing to discuss. I made a parental decision on my own since you’re never around to be involved.” Friendly expelled the breath he’d been holding. “Let’s not start this again.” He sighed in frustration. “I guess what’s done is done. There’s no point in arguing about it now. I just wish you would have told me.” He looked like he had more to say, but remained quiet, as he turned away from her and marched toward the door without saying goodbye to his son. As he was closing the door, from the hallway, he caught sight of the disappointment in Marlon’s expression as he came back into the front room and found him gone.

When Friendly entered the Homicide Department, he circled around the desk that sat opposite of his partner. The senior detective was downing the last of cold coffee from a white plastic cup. Friendly was absolutely sure it had been sitting on Russell’s desk the previous day. Russell put down the empty cup and frowned. “You look like dog shit.” “Good morning to you, too, Sunshine,” Friendly said as he pulled back his chair. “Don’t bother to sit, Lightweight. Grab a cup of Joe and let’s head out. We need to interview the list of witnesses and get their statements.” He shuffled some papers around on the over cluttered desk, found what he was searching for, and picked up the file. “Hopefully, we can wrap up this case on Ravyn Knight ASAP. I’m ready to move on to bigger and better things.” Friendly shoved his chair back under the desk. He wanted to share his partner’s enthusiasm. Closing the homicide case quickly meant getting home in time to read to his son. If the porn star’s violent death was a case of a jealous housewife, they might have a shot. But if it was something more, the investigation could go on longer and well into the night. A nagging suspicion in the back of his mind told him to expect the latter.

Chapter Three


niformed officers combed the neighborhood hoping to find eyewitnesses to the murder. Those who bothered to open their doors had the same thing to say, “I haven’t seen anything.” It was like that all morning. The detectives had ordered the uniforms to stay away from the homes next door to the victim’s house. Russell and Friendly had reserved that pleasure for themselves. The home on the left-hand side of the Knight’s appeared to be empty, so they went to the one on the right. Russell rapped his knuckles hard on the wooden door then immediately pressed the doorbell. The chime was loud enough to be heard on the porch. Between the knocks and ringing, Nina Sorenson answered the door. A tall, slim blonde haired woman with a botched boob job, she wore a bored expression on her overly made-up face. A lit cigarette dangled from between her blood-red, manicured fingertips. Sorenson eyed both men with her tired gaze, then brought the cigarette to her lips, took a deep pull, and blew out smoke before she spoke.

“What can I do for you, boys?” She added an Eartha Kitt purr to her words, trying to sound sexy. “First,” Russell snapped, “You can stop blowing that poisonous vapor in our damn faces. If you haven’t guessed from our soured dispositions, we’re the police. I’m Detective Russell and this is my partner, Friendly, but don’t let his name fool you, because he’s not.” Her gaze shifted past Russell, landing on the younger detective with obvious interest. “I bet you could be quite friendly if a lady is lucky enough to get you alone.” She took another drag on the cancer stick. When she slipped it from her lips, she blew her smoke toward Russell, but her eyes remained on Friendly. “How can I help you, officer?” “We’re investigating the death of Ravyn Knight,” Russell interjected, waving smoke from his face. “We want a statement from you.” That got her attention. She studied him before she asked, “Why?” “You were with her last, before her death.” Russell made it sound like a statement, not a question. Friendly glanced at his partner, puzzlement flashed in his expression. The woman’s face immediately clouded over. Her gaze became dark. “I don’t know anything. Even if I did, I know my constitutional rights. I plead the Fifth.” “The Fifth? This isn’t a trial, lady. We’re here to…” Friendly interrupted his partner’s tirade. “Mrs. Sorenson, we could use your help. It

doesn’t even have to be anything major. A small detail about that day could lead to something. Anything will do.” She relaxed somewhat, sucking on the cigarette like it was life support. After several long seconds, she said, “Sorry handsome. I’m not saying one word. What if the person who killed her comes back looking for me?” Her hungry gaze traveled over him from head to toe like he was a piece of meat. She pointed the cancer stick at him like it was a finger. “You can come back later though. You know, when you’re off duty. We could do some… pillow talking.” Sorenson burst into a throaty laugh and gave him a wink. Russell looked disgusted. “No one wants to sink their manhood into your wrinkled vagina, lady.” He snatched the cigarette from her fingers, dropped it and stomped it with a shoe. “What the hell?” she protested. “We’re investigating a murder, not trying to shag washed-up ex-strippers.” The older detective stared directly at her bad boob job. “And get those bad boys fixed, why don’t you? Maybe you should try the doctor who hooked up your dead friend. Them knockers were fucking phenomenal.” Unconsciously, she folded her arms over her breasts. Her eyes narrowed. “Fuck you,” she said with venom in her tone. Spinning around on her heels, she slammed the door in their faces. They both stared at the shut door. “Was it something I said?” Russell asked.

“Well, that went just great,” Friendly remarked, as they turned and made their way down the porch steps. Russell shrugged. “It goes with the job,” he explained, as he consulted a notepad. “We’ll try to speak to Donald Bernard Bowens, a forty-four year old, unemployed drunk. He lives with his mama, probably in the fucking basement. Man, what a loser. If he’s not there, we’ll go get a bite to eat.” Friendly cocked an eyebrow. “You got all that written down?” “Yeah, I like to be thorough,” he replied grinning. Russell circled around to the driver side of the car. “The loser is likely home, probably giving himself a serious hand-job.” “I guess we’ll find out.” “Just remind me not to shake his hand when we get there, okay?” Russell laughed as he climbed behind the steering wheel. The fifteen minutes it took to get to the south side of St. Petersburg was spent in relative silence except for the squawk of police radio chatter. Both men seemed to have stuff on their minds. Friendly’s was occupied with his troubled relationship with Rhoda. It bothered him how she’d checked out his package earlier. He thought she didn’t want anything to do with him, especially having sex. Just when he thought he’d figured her out, she turned around and surprised him. Russell killed the engine in front of the house where Bowens resided. As soon as they stepped out the car, they heard music playing from inside the two-story brick home.

“Sounds like he’s home, unless Bowers’ seventy year-old mama is into Public Enemy melodies. I can’t believe someone is still listening to that old shit,” Russell complained. They treaded down the sidewalk and up the stairs to the porch. As soon as the pair made it to the door, the music abruptly stopped. “Aw, I was just getting into it.” Russell pressed the doorbell. No reaction. He tried it again. Nothing. “Fucking doorbell doesn’t work.” The older detective began to bang on the door. Friendly tapped him on the arm to get his attention. He nodded toward the window. The curtains weren’t thick enough to hide the silhouette of a man standing on the opposite side of the glass. “Looks like Bowens don’t know we can see him.” “Appears so,” Russell replied absently. “We know you’re in there, ass prick!” he shouted. The silhouetted figure quickly disappeared. “Ass prick?” Friendly asked, grinning. Russell shrugged. They waited a beat for Bowens to answer but no reply came. “That miserable low-life isn’t going to answer. We might as well go grab some lunch. It’s almost noon. All we’ve done is waste time so far.” “You must be hungry, because you’re giving up pretty easily on Bowens.” Russell’s stomach growled as if in answer. “Fine,” Friendly said holding up his hands in mock surrender. “Let’s go eat.”

They sauntered back to the car. Once inside the younger detective shook his head, looking toward the window. The silhouette had reappeared. “I don’t get it. Why doesn’t he want to talk to us?” He glanced down at the notepad to scan the notes about Bowens, stunned by the revelation he’d just read. “He was Ravyn Knight’s ex-husband?” “Yeah, didn’t I tell you that?” Russell said, starting the car. Friendly looked at the house again. “He should be anxious to talk to us then to get his name cleared. He has to know, he’ll automatically go up to the top of the list of possible suspects.” “Um huh,” Russell replied, pulling away from the curb. He stared at the older detective, puzzled why he hadn’t shared the fact Bowens was married to the victim. “You think he’s guilty. That’s why you disregarded my suggestion about a woman wanting revenge.” “Bingo,” he said. “An ex-husband is a more believable suspect to a crime of passion. Maybe he still had feelings for her and she scorned his love or something like that. Then he went ape-shit on her.” “Being an ex doesn’t make him guilty,” Friendly said as he secured his seatbelt. “You got any more tidbits regarding the victim you want to share?” “Ravyn Knight was her alias. Her real name is Lauren Henderson. She became Lauren Bowens when she hooked up with the loser hiding in the house a few years ago,” Russell replied like he was quoting from a

script. “Anyway, what are you in the mood for?” “What?” Friendly asked at the abrupt change of topics. “If you want something greasy and unhealthy, I’m down.” Friendly frowned, after giving his partner the once-over with his eyes. “You’re really begging for a heart attack, aren’t you? I’d like some real food for a change. How about, Taste of the Islands?” “That Jamaican restaurant off 22nd Avenue and 34th Street South?” What does he have, Google Map implanted in his brain? Friendly thought. “Yes. They have the best curried goat.” “Goat? I don’t eat that shit.” Russell thought a moment then said, “How about a compromise? There’s a Church’s Chicken located right across the street from your goat place. They serve it up cheap and greasy— right up my alley. So, we can kill two birds with one stone.” “Sounds like a plan,” Friendly agreed. *** Russell came into the Jamaican restaurant where Friendly sat finishing up the rest of his lunch. He belched loud enough to attract the attention of all the patrons and workers. He staggered a bit, almost tripping over his own feet. It became obvious he’d been hitting the bottle. We only parted company for lunch an hour ago, Friendly considered, as he watched his partner lumber toward him.

Plopping down into the seat opposite of the younger man, Russell belched again. “So, Lightweight, did you enjoy your goat’s ass?” “Actually, I ordered the oxtails this time around. They were delicious,” he said, dabbing at the edges of his lips with a napkin. Russell snarled contemptuously and glanced around the place not focusing on any one thing. “I don’t see how you eat in this dump.” Friendly frowned and wanted to reach across the table to smack his partner, however, he held his peace. The restaurant was small with mixed-matched furniture, but clean and tidy. He’d been going there for years. The people were friendly, and they served appetizing meals. The atmosphere, for the most part, had always been relaxing until Russell’s arrival. “Are you ready to get back to work?” Friendly asked. He didn’t want to deal with his partner’s surly mood for long. He got up to leave. Russell struggled to lift himself up and almost fell back in the chair, but managed to stay upright with aid from the table. They headed toward the exit. The owner behind the counter watched them both with a disapproving frown. Her frown deepened after Russell winked at her. Friendly placed a hand on his partner’s back to help hurry him out of the restaurant before he did or said something to garner more attention. It was a good thing he’d have time to pour some coffee down Russell’s throat before they went to talk to their possible

witness at Pretty Kitty, a strip club. The person whose statement they sought was Chamsil Weaver, Knight’s former boss. Russell tried to get into the driver’s seat, but Friendly nudged him toward the passenger’s side. He resisted. “I’m the senior detective, junior. I drive until I say otherwise.” Friendly didn’t want to argue. He slid into the passenger’s seat. “What’s the background on Weaver?” he asked, trying to distract himself as the car swerved away on the road. He didn’t feel safe not knowing how much alcohol his partner had consumed. He hoped the drunken bastard could hold his liquor better than he did his body odor. “He’s a low-life weasel after a quick buck. He makes his money off someone else’s misfortune. An ex-pimp, and ex-small time drug dealer, he’d do anything that wouldn’t land him in jail for a long period of time.” “Pimp and drug dealer? Those sound like some serious offenses to me.” “Not these days with overfilled prisons,” Russell explained. “Slap on the wrist, out in a few months.” “Seriously?” Russell nodded and continued, “The lucky bastard won one hundred thousand playing lottery. He used his winnings to open a strip joint off Central and 34th Street North called Chocolate Shakers. The business flopped, but he actually convinced some of the low-self esteeming having broads that work for him to become webcam models. Soon their customers didn’t just want to see the action on the

internet--they wanted to see it in person. Weaver’s business expanded to being lesbian soft core to straight hardcore porn when men were hired to work with the women.” “Wow,” Friendly said. “Weaver opened his own studio soon afterwards and began raking in the big bucks. Once word got around about their headliner, Knight, being infected, the studio went to shit. Rumor was, he kept her doing more movies even after he found out she was sick. Nearly got him killed when that news came out. None of the other porn stars in the industry wanted to do business with him. Since his porn business got splashed across the headlines and broadcasted on all the news stations, everyone heard about Knight having HIV. Pandemonium broke out and all his business associates pulled out. It didn’t take long for his film business to tank. After that, Weaver reverted back to running strip clubs.” “Well, he’d definitely have a motive to kill Knight. He probably blamed her for destroying his porn empire,” Friendly said. “I doubt this sleaze ball has the gonads to step on an ant, let alone murder someone. Wait until you see him. I’m still placing my bet on the ex-husband, but procedure dictates we take a statement from Weaver.” Just thinking about what he’d see once they entered the Pretty Kitty caused Friendly’s face to flush. He didn’t care for strip clubs at all. He’d never gotten into watching women undress, shake their asses and wiggle their tits for cash. The men who frequented these

types of establishments usually left with an empty wallet and a hard-on with no place to stick it but their hand. It didn’t make much sense to him.

A Bitter Pill to swallow (Chapter 1 thru 3)  
A Bitter Pill to swallow (Chapter 1 thru 3)  

A crime and suspense novel co-authored with Keith Gaston.