A Guy Fawkes mask hanging on the wall caught Chef’s eye. He’d never seen it before.
Skip’s chair creaked as if it were in pain when he collapsed into it. “Is that it?” He swiveled around and grabbed a pipe from his desk drawer. He raised a lighter to the pipe and put his lips around it.
“Do you really have to do that?” Liam asked.
A thin trail of smoke tracked upward, and the ember glowed brighter the longer Skip sucked on the pipe. He held his breath, and the pipe out to Chef, who waved him off. As did Liam, when offered. Skip shrugged and smiled.
“It helps me think, bro,” he said around a cloud of smoke. “So, where’s the file?” Skip held his hand out expectantly, shaking it.
“Liam. My name is Liam.” He hesitated. “And I don’t have it.
The two stared at each other. Without breaking eye contact, Skip lit the pipe again, inhaling deeply before breathing out in Liam’s face. “You don’t have it. You’re the worst, bro.”
“Don’t start with him, Skip,” Chef said, and chuckled. It earned a sharp look from Liam, but he only shrugged.
“It’s out of the DA’s jurisdiction, I can’t get it.”
“You law types are all the same,” Skip said. “Oh, I can’t get it, it’s out of our jurisdiction. Waa. Give me a minute, I’ll see what I can do.” He picked up his pipe, turned away, and started typing at his computer.
“Wait,” Chef said. “Can you access the police files from here?”
“Yeah, dude. It’s an easy hack.” Skip’s eyes didn’t move from his screen.
“Then why the hell have I been spending thousands of dollars to get them for you?”
“I wanted you to feel important.”
It was Liam’s turn to laugh at Chef. “Cocky little shit, isn’t he? No refunds.”
Chef didn’t answer. Instead, he watched his nerd with some level of fascination. It had been years since he’d smoked pot, but he could remember not being much inclined to do anything, let alone detective work. But, despite all of his experience, the pock-marked young man seemed to be enjoying himself.
“Is this going to take long?” Liam asked. He was hushed by both Chef and Skip.
Chef gestured toward the far corner of the basement. “He doesn’t like to be disturbed while he’s doing research.”
“You’re talking like…”
Chef motioned for Liam to lower his voice.
“You’re talking like you’re used to this. And what did his mom mean, another case? How many people have you –” Liam cut off, looking away.
“Have I what?”
“How many people have you killed?”
“Thirty nine people!”
“Lower your voice, Liam,” Chef said. He looked at Skip, who shot them both an annoyed glance. Chef nodded. “Thirty nine.”
Liam stepped back, running his fingers through his hair. “Thirty nine fucking people. How long have you been doing this?”
“Since before Amberly and I were married.”
Liam sat on the arm of the couch behind him, ignoring, or maybe not noticing the soiled clothing beneath him. “Jesus.” He lowered his head into his hands. “Jesus, how could you not tell me?”
Chef didn’t answer.
“Fifteen years, you’ve been killing people.”
Their eyes locked. “We were living together when you started?”
“Only for my first.” Chef held Liam’s gaze, his face still. “After that, it was a few years before Liz and I got to someone before the police did.”
“Liz knows what you’re doing?”
“She was the first person I told, after that night in the alley. It took a while, and a good lot of booze, but, well, you know Liz.”
Liam nodded, a hint of a smile touched his mouth. “She is persistent.”
“That she is. She took the news just as well as you did.”
A lighter flicked from the far side of the basement. Skip took another long draw from his pipe. He leaned further back in his chair than it looked like it should. The chair protested, but he ignored it. With his keyboard set in his lap, Skip began typing, looking back and forth between four different monitors set up in a square. The phone on the desk next to him buzzed. He checked it, swiped his finger across the screen several times, and replaced it on the desk. He leaned forward, scanning the top left screen, swore quietly, took a quick drag from his pipe, and continued hurriedly typing at his computer.
“That kid smokes like you used to,” Liam said. “Then again, I doubt his mom is going to eat as well as I did back then.”
“Heh. Probably not.” Both men watched Skip, standing side by side with their arms folded. Chef looked at Liam without turning toward him. “Are you still with me?”
Liam grunted. “Fortunately, if we get caught, I can only be tried for one murder.”
“And accessory to sixteen.”
“Seriously, bro,” Skip said. “Shut the hell up. I’m trying to think!”
“The police files you’ve been getting for me. Twenty one files, sixteen of them ending in a successful hunt.”
Liam’s eyes bugged.
“Technically, you would be tried for one count of Murder, and sixteen counts of Accessory to a Murder.” Chef snorted, trying to keep a straight face.
“You son of a bitch,” Liam said. “I could have denied it before just now.”
“Too late now.”
The door at the top of the stairs creaked open. Light steps started down the stairs, a few of them creaking as the newcomer passed. Liz strode into the basement, seemingly unaware of the mess. She spared Chef a quick nod before turning her back to watch Skip work. Both muttered to each other, inaudible to any but them. Without taking his eyes away from the screen, or much slowing his typing, he handed the pipe and lighter to Liz. She lit the pipe and inhaled deeply.
“Ha!” Skip shouted. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I’m in.”
Liz leaned further over his shoulder and coughed violently. Her head disappeared in an expanding cloud of smoke as she continued to cough and hack.
“FBI,” she croaked. “Who is this guy?”