Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - Here I Sit, Broken-Hearted by Sam Reaves
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A young man sits on a barstool and contemplates murder in this cool crime tale from celebrated author Sam Reaves.

Here I Sit, Broken-Hearted

Here I sit, broken-hearted.

How many times have I seen that on a bathroom wall? I bet it's on every restroom wall in these United States. I've seen it in a Red Lobster in Seattle and in the worst hellhole bar on Colfax Avenue in Denver. It's the first line of the only poem everyone in the country knows by heart.

It's a great first line. The rest of the poem isn't worth much.

I just read it on the wall in the toilet in this run-down tavern on Archer Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, and I can't get it out of my head. Maybe because here and now, it's just plain true for me. I'm sitting at the bar with a beer in front of me, elbows on the bar and back to the door. And I am feeling the heartbreak again because the search is over. I've found him.

It's taken me two years, pretty girl. I started looking as soon as I heard what happened to you. Your mom gave me the news, and I had to hold her up to keep her from falling on the floor. Her tears wet my shirt and I had to pry her fingers off my arm when I got her to the couch. You should have married her, she kept saying through her sobs.

I wanted to. I truly did.

But you weren't having any. You wanted more than a small-town boy could give you, I guess. You wanted the bright lights and the far horizons. You were a sucker for the first smooth-talking, good-looking rogue that blew through town. Girls always go for the bad boys. They like the danger, I guess. And Johnny Strunk was a bad boy. I told you so, or tried to. But you said he had a sensitive side he just didn't like to show people. You said he was misunderstood. Then you jumped on the back of his motorcycle and left.

Here I sit, broken-hearted. Amanda's dead and long departed.

As I sit here my eyes are on the mirror behind the bar, which gives me a clear view of the door. I don't have to turn my head. Every time the door opens I will know instantly who's coming through it. When Strunk walks in here, I'll see him before he sees me. And I'll recognize him. I got to know him well enough in the six months he was in town, watching him pull you away from me. He might have the beard again, he might not. He didn't have it in the mug shot a sheriff's deputy in Bozeman, Montana showed me. But I recognized him anyway. I'll know him from the way he walks, from the swagger. And then I'll turn on the barstool and he'll see me. But it will be too late, because I'll have the gun in my hand by then. And I'll make sure he recognizes me before I kill him.

I recognized you in your mug shot, too. It hurt to look at it. Your hair was all messed up and you looked thinner and about ten years older. You looked ashamed.

I followed your trail for two years, starting with the last address your mom had. I found people in Venice Beach who told me about the dealing, and about your first bust. They said you were obviously using, too. One of them said you seemed very young. In Portland, I found the people on Burnside Street who took you in when you ran away from Strunk after he beat you up. They told me how he came and got you, and you said it was all good and went away with him again. In Dallas, I talked to the lady cop who busted you for hooking. She said they took you to rehab but you ran away.

Here I sit, broken-hearted. You were whipped before you started.

Every time the door opens I get ready. At least one hundred times in the past two days that door has opened behind me and I've fixed on that face in the mirror, ready to go for the gun inside my jacket. I sat here all afternoon and evening yesterday, and I'm here again today. I'm a regular now. The bartender just watches the level in my glass and wanders over with the bottle when it gets low and I take my eyes off the mirror just long enough to look at him and nod. I'm not the biggest spender he's ever had in here, but I left him a good tip last night and he knows I'm in it for the long haul and I'm not going to make trouble.

Unless you want to call a nice clean shooting trouble.

I found you, Johnny Strunk. It took me two years, but I found you. You left too much of a trail, what with the arrests and the unpaid bills and all the people with grudges. A skip-chaser in Tulsa rescued me when I was close to giving up. He risked his job by giving me everything he had on you. He could tell I was on a mission, I guess. I had help from a lot of people over the past two years. I was able to put together the whole story of what you did to Amanda, start to finish. You hooked her like a fish. I'm sure you liked her at first, and you probably called it love. But you used her, too. And then when you got tired of her you put her on the street. And if the drugs hadn't gotten her, the johns would have, before too long. The cop in Memphis said an overdose wasn't a bad way for a whore to go, considering. His partner grabbed me before I could slug him, and they let me off easy.

Here I sit, broken-hearted. I loved the woman you discarded.

Got to keep my mind on my business. Took my eyes off the mirror for a minute, heard the door open, then had to scan for a second to find the guy who walked in. Got to concentrate. Getting to prime time for Strunk to walk in.

Your time's up, Strunk. I found you. I found your old partner in Cook County jail, and he told me this is where you deal now, out of the booth in the back. Just sit there long enough and he's sure to walk in, he said.

So here I sit, broken-hearted. You tried to run but you got outsmarted.

"God damnedest thing I ever seen." The bartender's face is the color of the sheets in a rent-by-the-hour motel. His hand shakes as he reaches for the whiskey he poured himself. The detective waits; he knows a witness on the edge of shock can't be rushed. The evidence techs are stepping carefully around the corpse among the toppled barstools, trying not to step in the pooled blood. The detective's partner is taking statements in the booth in the back. The bartender sets the glass down and shakes his head. "Strangest god damn thing. This guy comes in yesterday, never seen him before. Sits there at the bar and orders a Jack on the rocks, then goes on sitting there all day and all night, just nursing the drinks along, not saying anything to anybody, just sitting there staring in the mirror. Staring at himself in the god damn mirror, all night long. And then today the same thing. Comes in and just sits there, for hours, just staring at himself in the mirror. And then along about eight o'clock, all of a sudden, no warning, no commotion, no nothing, he jumps up, pulls a gun out of his jacket and fires three shots into the mirror, bang-bang-bang just like that."

"Into the mirror," says the dick, frowning at the shattered glass behind the bar.

"Yeah. And then he turns around with this like, look of horror on his face, and looks at this big guy that had just that second walked in the door, and without a word, the big guy pulls a gun out of his jacket and blows the poor fucker all over the bar. And books." The bartender shakes his head, looking dazed, and then reaches for the glass again. "I been tending bar for thirty years, and that's the strangest god damn thing I ever seen."

About the Author

Sam Reaves has written seven Chicago-based crime novels, most recently Mean Town Blues. Under the pen name Dominic Martell, he has penned a European-based suspense trilogy. Reaves has traveled widely in Europe and the Middle East but has lived in the Chicago area most of his life. He has worked as a teacher and a translator.