Richards tried to get off the floor, but his arms had no strength. He rose a few inches then fell against scuffed linoleum. He rolled over, chest heaving, and stared at the harsh yellow ceiling light. His vision swam.
“It could get worse, Richards.” The man by the door was tall and thin, with an air of authority.
From a corner, the third man laughed softly. “He doesn’t like playing rough.” He was thick through the shoulders, and through the middle, too, but the extra weight only added to his power. Still chuckling, he cracked his knuckles.
The thin man lifted the gun in his hand and looked at it like he wasn’t quite sure what it was for. “He still doesn’t think we’re serious.” The severe lighting caught the planes of his face, making it sinister. He shifted again. The effect disappeared.
“You bastards,” Richards gasped. “I told you, I don’t know about any investigation. Why can’t you believe me?”
“We know you were in the district attorney’s office this morning.”
“And rats live by squealing,” the beefy one said, stepping forward. Richards flinched. The big man grinned.
“They called me in. I didn’t have a choice – but I didn’t tell them anything.” Richards’s face was puffy, swollen. He knew his voice sounded strange.
“Maybe, maybe not,” the gunman countered, gesturing.
The strongman bent and lifted, holding Richards upright against the wall. The smaller man moaned, “Oh, Jesus… Jesus, don’t start on me again.” He raised his hands, but they were as swollen as his face, and almost useless. He tried to fight earlier. They knocked him down and stomped on his hands. Now, even if he had strength for a punch, he couldn’t make a fist.
The heavyset man growled, “Quit whining. I don’t mind giving you another lesson.”
“Jesus,” Richards whispered. “Please. I can’t take any more. I’m gonna die. Just let me lay down and die.”
The big man turned. “You hear ‘im? He says let him die.”
“We could. We could even help him along.” The thin man crossed to the other two and pressed his gun against Richards’s head. “We’d have to explain, though, and it’d be messy.” He smashed the gun-barrel against Richards’s temple, making him cry out. The thickset man released him and Richards staggered sideways, then crashed to the floor, gasping for breath, one ruined hand pressed to his bleeding head.
“Let’s hear you admit it now,” the gunman demanded. “How you were going to turn on us to save your own selfish ass.”
Richards’s head wobbled back and forth. “I wouldn’t…”
“Not now.” He pointed the gun directly at the cowering man. “We wouldn’t let you.”
“Jesus, help! Someone!” Richards cried suddenly, even knowing it was useless. The room was nearly soundproof.
“Go ahead. Scream if it makes you feel better.”
Richards scrabbled backwards, bumping against the far wall. “I didn’t say a god-damned thing!”
The heavy man appeared at his side like magic, planting a sharp-toed shoe in Richards’s ribs. The smaller man shrieked, then slumped and lay still.
“Too much,” the thin man said.
“Give it a sec.” The other slapped both of Richards’s cheeks. After a moment, he began to come around.
“Just say it and it’s over, Richards,” the big man whispered.
Richards looked from one man to the other. The pain made it hard to think. He just wanted it to stop. There was only one way.
“Fine… I was going to tell the DA’s office everything. I wanted out and thought I could swing a deal.”
“Weren’t we good to you?” the gunman asked.
“Not what? Not right? Not legal? We do a thankless job for peanuts. So what if we treat ourselves to some cream now and then?” The gunman sighed and shoved the automatic into its holster. To the heavyset man he said, “Get him out of here, sergeant. Show him what we do to cops who come down with honesty.”
“Sure thing, captain.”
Detective-Sergeant Bell again lifted Richards to his feet, almost gentle now. The smaller man squeezed his eyes shut, knowing what came next, and wishing to god he never took the detective's exam, never even took up the badge.
About the author:
Brandon Barrows is the author of several novels, most recently 3rd LAW: MIXED MAGICAL ARTS, a YA urban fantasy, and over one-hundred published stories, mostly crime, mystery, and westerns. He is a two-time Mustang Award finalist and a 2022 Derringer Award nominee.
Find more at http://www.brandonbarrowscomics.com and on Twitter @Brandon Barrows
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.