Kaitlin sat in the den, leafing through a magazine, dressed in the red lace teddy she favored for first-timers. She wore matching red pumps, the low ones, so he wouldn’t feel intimidated by her height.

She glanced at the clock hanging above the gas fireplace. He was late.

She sighed, closed the magazine, and stood. She paced around the room, arranging picture frames and trinkets, went to the window and gazed down at the dark street. Large snowflakes were falling, covering the parked cars with a fresh, powdery film.

Knock knock.

* * *

“We had a good year, Ed. I mean, sure, there were bumps in the road, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”

Vito Di Melo, a 67-year old, second-generation Sicilian immigrant, leaned back in his chair and sipped from a generous glass of grappa.

Sitting across from him at a table covered with a white plastic tablecloth was Ed Greene, a 45-year-old patrolman who was built like a fire hydrant.

“Ed, did I ever tell you the story of my uncle Gio, from Palermo? The one who got the peg leg?”

From the kitchen of their restaurant, Alberta Di Melo called out, “Ah! Vito! If you haven’t told him a hundred times, you haven’t told him once.”

The woman, who was also in her sixties and just about as large as she was tall, came out of the kitchen and made her way to the two men. She wiped her hands on a stained apron, took down a chair from the top of a nearby table, and sat next to them.

She turned to Ed. “I’d tell you to forgive him, Ed, and blame it on the age. Since, you know, the mind starts going a little. But my Vito, he’s been repeating himself since he was in diapers.”

“So long as he remembers how to make veal scallopini, he’s got nothing to worry about, as far as I’m concerned,” Ed said. He raised his glass and held it there. “A toast, to a fine couple and their fine eatery. Merry Christmas!”

Their glasses touched and they drank.

They sat silently for a while before Ed made a show of glancing at his watch and sighing.

“I should go. It’ll be midnight before we know it.” He stood, pulled on his jacket. “You folks better get home, find out what Santa left you under the tree.”

Vito and his wife stood, laughing. Ed wrapped the pudgy woman in his arms. While they embraced, Vito went to the bar and returned with a gift bag.

Buon natale, Ed. All the best, from our family to yours.” Ed pulled away from Alberta and accepted the bag. “Just a little something to show our appreciation for what you do. And please, Ed, send our best to Mister Kingston and his family.”

Ed knew better than to look inside the bag. No need to insult the old man.

Grazie mille, Signore, Signora. Always a pleasure.”

He shook Vito’s hand, opened the door and slipped out into the cold night.

Moments later, he came across a vagrant he knew from his days walking the beat.

“Merry Christmas, Officer Greene. You been a good boy for San-tee Claus?”

The hobo, who went by the name of Pint– on account of the format of poison he favored– flashed Ed a toothless grin.

Ed pulled the wine bottle from the gift bag he’d just received. “I’m only a good boy when I’m being bad, Pint.” He dropped the bottle into the man’s trembling hands. “Merry Christmas.”

As the man praised him in sounds that might have been words in some unknown tongue, Ed walked away.

After sliding behind the wheel of his squad car, he pulled a wad of bills from the gift bag. He quickly counted the money, smiled, and pocketed the bills.

It was almost ten o’clock. He needed to hurry if he wanted to get to everyone before midnight.

* * *

Kaitlin nearly gasped when she opened the door.

The man stood in the hallway, hands clenched behind his back. He swung lightly from side to side like a slow-moving pendulum. He was handsome, with dark hair, and dark eyes peering into hers. He wore a tailored, a navy blue peacoat with a light blue shirt and yellow tie with matching scarf.

“Hello,” she said. “It’s Tim, right?”

He nodded, then looked nervously up and down the hallway.

Kaitlin took the hint. “Come on in, Tim.”

She smiled and stepped aside. As he moved past her, she caught a whiff of his cologne—a familiar scent she identified instantly. Aqua Di Gio. That brought back memories, both good and bad.

Kaitlin lead him into the den.

When she brushed by him and touched his arm, she felt him stiffen. He looked away.

Kaitlin wondered how he would react when she really put her hands on him.

“Do you mind if we just talk?” Tim asked right away.

“Not at all.” Kaitlin smiled and pointed to the couch. “Have a seat.”

This was not an uncommon request, oddly enough. Lots of the men—and most of the women—who hired her were simply looking for a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on.

“Can I get you a drink?”

Tim shook his head, looked around nervously. “The drink and I don’t get along much.”

“Mind if I have one?”

He shrugged. “Go ahead.”

Kaitlin smiled and went into the kitchen, where she pulled out a bottle of wine. While she poured herself a glass, she glanced into the den. Tim sat on the couch, still, hands folded in his lap. He stared ahead and barely batted an eye.

His demeanor rankled her. She was used to men being enthusiastic when they showed up, eager to get down to business the second they walked in. Most of them never bothered sitting down; they practically had their clothes off before she answered the door.

Kaitlin took a deep breath and picked up her glass.  He wanted to talk, so she’d talk.

Tim didn’t look up when she returned. She noticed an envelope on the coffee table.

“Thank you,” she said, picking it up and leaving the room again. The envelope was thick and heavy. There was probably a lot more money than there should have been, but she didn’t question him on it. She never did. Discussing money always made things awkward, so she avoided it as much as possible.

She slid the envelope into the safe in her bedroom and went back into the den.

He finally looked up when she sat across from him and crossed her bare legs.

“Tell me, Tim. What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a carpenter.”

She smiled at the obvious lie. What carpenter dresses up like that? He probably spent his whole paycheck on the suit and tie, thinking the Don Draper look would attract women.

“So you’re good with your hands.”

“Yeah.” There was no hint that he picked up on that reference.

Kaitlin took a sip of bourbon. “Do you live in town?”

Tim shook his head. “Across the river.”

They were quiet for a while. Kaitlin tapped a fingernail against her glass. She smiled whenever their eyes met, hoping she could somehow drag him over to her bed.

But he showed no interest in that.

“Why are you here tonight?” she asked. “It’s Christmas. Nobody should be alone at Christmas.”

“If I weren’t here, we’d both be alone.”

That was the cleverest thing he’d said so far.

Kaitlin glanced down at his hands. Long, thick, crooked fingers, calloused and dry. They had scars where he had been cut, by a saw or a nail, she guessed.

He turned back to her and caught her staring. He smiled and asked, “Do you have any secrets?”

* * *

Jon McNamara looked up from his cards, a large grin spread across his pock-marked face. “Call.” He dropped a couple of bills on the table.

Ed shook his head. “You’ll never get it, will you, Mac?” He threw his cards to the felt one by one, watching for McNamara’s reaction as the royal flush was revealed. “I try to spare you the humiliation every time, Mac. But, you keep coming back for more. Just like the last broad I had.”

Ed left what must have been 20 or 25 bucks in small bills on the table and stood. He downed a shot of Canadian Club. “Buy another one,” he explained, nodding towards the near-empty bottle. “Merry Christmas, Mac.”

“Hold on, Ed,” McNamara said. “Been meaning to talk to you about something.” He held up the bottle towards Ed, let it hover over his empty glass.

“Pour,” Ed said before sitting again.

The Irishman did as ordered. “You know the girl who works the bar on the weekend? Tall redhead, nice rack. Real, too. She goes by the name of Christina?”

Ed nodded, although, who notices a redhead nowadays?

“Christina’s a girl who likes to party. Sex, drugs and more drugs, and then some. That’s all good and fine, I ain’t got no problem with it, so long as you don’t shit where you work. I so much as get a whiff of that, and you’ll be tending bar at some kid’s lemonade stand faster than you can say blow job in the alley.”

“I’ll remember that when I apply here.”

“Anyways. It’s an expensive lifestyle. Or so I’m told. Christina makes good money here. Guys love the cleavage she’s always showing, so they tip her more than they tip the naked broad shaking her plastic tits on stage. Only it’s not enough to pay for all the shit she snorts.”

Classic tale, Ed thought. “She owe you?”

McNamara looked downright shocked at the suggestion.

“Ed, you know I don’t do that.”

“You banging her? A little late-night knob polishing in your office, Mac?”

MacNamara was set to answer, but Ed put up a hand to stop him.

“Forget it, Mac. I don’t want to know.” He looked at his watch, took a sip of rye. “Your point?”

MacNamara sighed, poured himself a glass and looked up at Ed.

“The guy she owes, his momma christened him Melvin Tubbs. To everyone else, he’s Melt. As far as I know, Melt is not a friend of Mister Kingston’s.”

“I’ve heard of Melt,” Ed said. “And you’re correct about that last part.”

“Right. Well, this past Saturday, it’s 9:30, maybe 10, and Melt comes in with a couple of his henchmen. Christina’s at the sticks. Melt and the boys start making trouble, hassling her, letting everyone in the place know what kind of girl they’re dumping their paychecks on. Before my guys can even react, Melt pulls her by the hair, pushes her face down on the beer-soaked mahogany. Tells her, and this is she quoting him, “My money. Friday. Or we burn down your mommy’s house.”

Ed chuckled. “All I want for Christmas is my money back.”

“Asshole like Melt, only gift he deserves is a noose and the tallest tree known to man.”

“Let me guess,” Ed sighed. “Your little honey can’t come up with the money. And she needs a fix to make it through Christmas with the family. Right?”

MacNamara nodded. “She’ll get help after New Year’s. But money don’t grow on trees.”

Ed downed the last of his drink, then stood. “I’ll take care of it. But I’ll have to tell the boss about this.”

McNamara nodded and put out his hand. They shook, then McNamara pulled Ed in, threw his arms around him. “See Keith on your way out. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.”

Ed left the office. He walked by the floodlit stage without looking at the black girl with saggy breasts hugging the pole and stopped at the bar. He ordered a double rye on the rocks and turned to look at the room.

Not an empty seat in the joint. He laughed, shook his head. Even on Christmas Eve, this bunch of losers couldn’t resist the pull of topless women.

When the girl who was not Christina brought him his drink, Ed asked her to get Keith. A second later, a broad-shouldered mick with shamrock tattoos on his hands appeared and handed Ed an envelope. Ed nodded and showed himself out.

Inside his car, Ed emptied the envelope, mixing the crisp new greenbacks with the rest to make a thick wad. Might be a good idea to stash some of it away before heading home. If Lauren went through his pants and found so much cash again, she’d flip out. He’d have to make up another story about holding it for evidence and all that. He wasn’t so sure he had it in him to spend so much energy on Christmas morning.

He checked the radio. All quiet. He waited a few seconds while Central settled an argument between a couple of douche bags from another precinct, then checked in. The dispatcher had nothing new for him, so Ed simply put the car in gear and pulled into the light traffic.

Ed glanced at the clock: five to eleven. He was cutting it close. He’d have to keep his next stops short.

And he would have to ease up on the drinking if he wanted to be in top shape when the clock struck twelve and the party began.

* * *

“Doesn’t everybody have them?”

Kaitlin tried to hide her discomfort. She was growing a little nervous now. In the four years she’d been doing this, sitting alone in her apartment and taking strangers to bed, never once had she felt physically threatened in any way. She was one of the few lucky ones, she knew.

But tonight, this handsome carpenter with calloused hands who insisted on talking gave off a weird vibe.

He stared at her, his cold eyes boring into hers. She broke the stare and looked away.

“Is it a secret?” he asked. “What you do, I mean. Do your friends know about it? And your family?”

How much should she tell him? Kaitlin had grown accustomed to playing shrink, but it was very rare for the tables to be turned. She simply wouldn’t allow it. But it was happening now and there was nothing she could do about it.

“I’m not ashamed of what I do,” she explained. “My family’s opinion doesn’t matter to me. How are you going to live your life if you’re always worried about other people’s opinions?”

Tim looked up at her, grinned. “You never pick your family, right?”

Kaitlin nodded, looked away. They were silent for a while. One quick glance at the clock gave her hope. She cleared her throat, then told him that he had ten minutes left.

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

Kaitlin threw back the last of her drink and stood.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?”

* * *

It’s funny how people react sometimes.

The second Marty The Party saw Ed climb out of his squad car, he dropped the brown paper bag he was holding and bolted around the corner into a dark alley.

Sure, Marty The Party had been fast, once. Back in grade school, he’d raced little Billy Simpson around the block; winner got to kiss Amanda, the first girl in their class to develop breasts. But that was before Marty became The Party, name given to Marty on account of his always being the one you called when your party lacked a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.

Ed grabbed Marty by the shoulder and slammed him against the brick wall. Marty huffed and puffed, his eyes glassy, breath stinking of a rum and meth cocktail that would have killed lesser men.

“Marty The Party,” Ed said into the man’s terrified eyes. “What part of ‘Get the fuck out of my neighborhood’ did you not understand, boy?”

Before Marty could answer, Ed put his weight behind a hard punch to the man’s gut. Marty gasped, doubled over. “You puke on my shoes, Marty, and the pigs are going to have you for Christmas brunch. Hear?”

Marty coughed and took in several sharp breaths. He straightened so he could look the cop in the eye.

“I… I… I was gone man, I swear. It’s true, I swear. I went upstate for a while, and… and… and I caught up with this girl I used to know. But she went and threw me out on my ass, I swear. Besides—”

Before Marty could finish that thought, Ed held him still with his left hand, then reared back and ripped into him. Face, kidneys, face again, two, three, four times, until the man’s legs buckled and he crumpled to the ground. Ed kicked him in the ribs, the cracking sound of steel meeting bone barely audible over the man’s wailing cries.

“You must have a never-ending barrel of excuses, Marty. I’ve had enough of your fucking shit.”

Ed bent over him, sifted through his pants pockets and came out with some bills and a bunch of dime bags packaged in a larger Ziploc bag. All of it found a new home in Ed’s pockets.

“That’s it?”

Marty nodded, winced.

“Don’t lie to me!” Ed kicked him again, and Marty’s air left his lungs, the sound like that of a balloon deflating. “Christmas Eve and Marty The Party only has fifty bucks to his name? I know the economy ain’t doing so good, but even a nitwit like you can make a killing in this business. Am I right, Marty? Where’s the rest of the loot?”

Marty coughed several times before turning his head to the side and vomiting on the asphalt. Ed laughed, kicked him again, ecstatic at the sheer joy of it.

“Where are you hiding the money, Marty? Shoes?”

Ed bent over again, pulled at Marty’s cheap, soiled sneakers that were stylish back in the nineties. The cop grimaced as the man’s stench reached his nose. He shook the shoe, but nothing came out. He tossed it aside, grabbed the other foot.

Jackpot.

“See, Marty, I knew you were better than that.” He shuffled the bills and counted them quickly. “Seven hundred and change. Quite the haul, Marty. Maybe that girl would take you back now, Moneybags.”

Ed pocketed the bills, then helped Marty to his feet. Ed pulled a dime bag from his own pocket, dropped it into Marty’s hand.

“Merry Christmas, Marty. You get a present, even if you’ve been naughty.” He slapped the man’s cheek for the fun of it. “If I come around here next week and I see you hanging around? Lord have mercy on your rotten soul.”

Ed smiled. All in all, this was quite a productive evening.

And the best was yet to come.

* * *

“So tell me, Tim,” Kaitlin said, crossing her legs. “What’s your secret?”

Tim grinned, rubbed his hands together.

Kaitlin waited for him to go on.

He sat up, on the edge of his seat, opened his mouth. Nothing. He shook his head, closed his mouth, and let himself fall back against the soft leather.

Kaitlin turned her palms up. “Well?”

There was silence for a long time as they both stared at each other, then looked away before staring again. Kaitlin wished she had put on some music.

“I have dark thoughts,” he finally said.

Kaitlin had to bite her lip not to laugh. The last thing she wanted to do was to humiliate him. The thing with men is, you never knew how they’d react if you humiliated them. Even when there was no one else in the room.

“What kind of dark thoughts?”

Tim inhaled deeply, rubbed his hands again. “Real dark, you know. About hurting someone. Causing pain. Death, even.”

“Give me an example,” she asked, hoping to show she was interested, keep him talking.

If he kept talking, she thought, he couldn’t do anything else.

“When I was a kid, and my parents would go out for dinner or to see a show, I’d sit up in bed with the lights off, listening to the sounds of the night. And I’d make up stories in my head, how the cops would come knocking, tell me my parents had been murdered. Like Batman. Or that they’d died in a fiery car crash. Or poisoned in a restaurant by some sick fuck dressed up as a cook.”

Kaitlin sat, frozen, rendered speechless by his words. “And you weren’t sad? To think that your parents could die like that?”

Tim smiled, shook his head. “I was sad when they came home. Wished the bastards would die and leave me alone.”

Just when you think it’s going to be a routine date, Kaitlin thought.

“How old were you?” she asked.

“Ten or twelve,” he answered, not a trace of shame in his expression. “As best as I can remember, that’s when the erections started. I would get so hard thinking of the bullets ripping through their skin, or the meat cleaver slicing them open like I’d seen in a movie. I’d lie in bed for hours, not knowing what to do to make the pain go away.”

“Do you still have them? These thoughts?”

“Yes. Very often. Only now, I think of people from work. Or kids I knew back in school. The bullies who would beat me up after school for not having the right shoes or for wearing glasses.”

“Do you have nice thoughts sometimes? Happy thoughts?”

Tim shrugged. “Once in a while. But they’re few and far between.”

“What about now? Are you having dark thoughts now? About me?”

* * *

At eleven thirty, Ed called it quits. It was quiet on the streets now. It wouldn’t get much jumpier until three or four the next morning when folks would start leaving their parties, and some drunk would cause a head-on crash that would kill a family of four coming home from Grandma’s with a trunk full of new toys which the kids would never get to play with.

Ed guided his cruiser to the precinct and parked in the far back lot. He popped the trunk open and moved his equipment aside to get to his duffel bag. He unzipped the bag, checked on the contents. The money was still there. He closed the bag and slammed the trunk door.

He jogged to the back door of the station, barged in, and stood there for a minute, letting the heat make its way to his chilled bones. He looked into the squad room and saw no one. Everybody had gone home.

Ed heard laughter coming from the coffee room down at the far end of the hallway. A couple of homicide dicks were playing cards while they knocked back shots of gin. Ed made a right and ducked into the locker room.

There was no time to waste. Seven minutes later, he had showered, toweled off, then slipped his uniform back on, making sure to put on a fresh shirt.

Had to have the uniform. She loved it when he showed up in uniform. Never seen a girl go crazy like she did when he wore his blues.

Standing in front of the mirror, he took a good look at himself and turned away satisfied. From his locker, he collected the tiny box he had had wrapped earlier in the week, slipped it into his coat, and left the room.

“Merry Christmas, fellas,” he yelled from across the room to the card-playing dicks.

They returned his greeting, and Ed hopped down the stairs and into the bitter cold.

Which he no longer minded.

Because in a few minutes, he’d be in the hot, damp place he loved.

* * *

Kaitlin poured herself another drink while she tried to calm down.

She was curious now. She wanted Tim to keep talking. Wanted to know everything about him, what made him tick, what kept him going.

She wasn’t sure why, exactly. Maybe because, deep down, they were so alike.

“I hope you’re not offended that I only wanted us to talk,” Tim said when she returned.

“Not at all, Tim. Trust me, I get that a lot. Don’t worry”

“I’m just not very good, you know, with women.”

That’s a surprise, she thought. Had to bite her lip again, so she wouldn’t say it out loud. “Why do you say that?”

Tim shrugged, chuckled. “I never know what to say. I have no idea how to approach a woman.”

“Are you afraid of women? Afraid that they’ll say no?”

He gave a curt nod. “They always say no. And when they say yes, finally, all they do is laugh at me.”

Kaitlin frowned. “Why do they laugh?”

Another chuckle. “It usually happens when I take off my pants. They see my penis, you know, and they can’t help themselves.”

“What’s so bad about it?”

He just shook his head, looked away. Burned a hole into the wall, he stared so hard at it.

“Is that when the bad thoughts start?” Kaitlin asked.

* * *

The streets were so quiet, it felt like a midnight curfew had been implemented.

Ed came upon the tenement. He looked up to the third-floor window, saw the light on and smiled.

He let himself in and climbed the stairs. He stopped on a landing, turned to look at his reflection in the window. All good. Better than good, in fact. Spectacular.

He bounced up the final set of steps to her front door.

* * *

“Therapy might help.”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Kaitlin smiled, shifted her legs from under her, and drank from her freshly filled glass. She was starting to get a buzz from the alcohol, so she decided this would be the last one. Until Tim left, that is.

There was a knock at the door. She jumped, startled.

Tim looked at her as she turned towards the door. “Are you expecting someone?”

“No.” She stood. “Probably someone looking for a party. Wrong apartment. Be right back.”

Tim’s eyes followed her all the way as she walked to the door.

* * *

“Ed, what are you doing here?”

He brought the flowers out from behind his back, smiling widely.

“Those are lovely. But you’ve got to go,” she said, trying to shut the door on him.

Ed’s grin melted, a frown taking over. “And a merry fuckin’ Christmas, to you, too, Kaitlin.”

He pushed the door open. Kaitlin got out of the way a mere second before being crushed between the heavy oak and the wall. Ed closed the door behind him. He removed his coat and started on his boots.

Kaitlin laid a hand on his shoulder to stop him. He looked up at her.

“Now is not the best time,” she said, pointing to the den with her eyes.

Ed laughed. “Who is it?” He tried to look into the den, but Kaitlin pushed him back, mouthed Leave now.

“I want to see him.”

“Ed! Get out!”

The cop pouted playfully, pulled her in close to him. Brought his lips to hers.

“I thought we could have ourselves a little party,” he said after the kiss. “It is Christmas, after all.”

* * *

Sitting on the leather couch, Tim was growing increasingly impatient. He could hear voices, hers and some man’s, whispering. This was obviously not someone knocking on the wrong door.

He stood, shuffled to the edge of the room, peered around the wall.

The man was a cop, in full uniform. He pawed Kaitlin’s body as they kissed.

Tim felt the heat rise to his face. He took a few deep breaths, pulled the Luger from under his belt, held it against his thigh, and came around the wall.

“Kaitlin. Is everything okay?”

* * *

Kaitlin saw the gun out of the corner of her eye. She pushed away from Ed, who—idiot— kept his hands on her ass.

“Y-yes, Tim, all fine,” she said, her eyes stuck on the gun. “I’ll be right with you.”

“Who’s your friend?” Tim asked, not even bothering to hide the gun behind his leg.

Ed finally took his hands off Kaitlin. He looked at Tim for the first time, took him in from head to toe and snickered. Typical loser, Ed thought.

“H-he was just leaving,” Kaitlin explained as she lunged for the door. “Right, sir?”

Ed’s eyes widened as he looked closely at the man approaching him. He seemed familiar. Ed’s brain went on fast forward, and he came up with it in a flash.

Ed pointed a finger at Tim as his right hand reached for his own gun. “Hey, aren’t you—?”

Tim didn’t answer. The only sound was the boom of the first explosion.

The sound deafened Kaitlin, whose only reflex was to fall to her knees and cover her head with her hands.

Ed crumbled to the floor, inches from her, his blood splattered all over the wall and the door, brain matter landing on her red teddy.

Tim strutted over, stopped at the bloody corpse and checked for a pulse. With frightening calm, he went through the cop’s pockets and whistled at what he found. He pocketed the money, tossed the dope on a nearby coffee table.

“Merry Christmas to me,” he sang, like a cheery caroler on this festive night, instead of the cold-blooded murderer he was.

Kaitlin shriveled under his touch when he laid a hand on her shoulder.

“You did good,” he said, trying to turn her head so she’d look at him. “I’m a friend of Mr. Kingston’s. I’ll make sure he knows how good you did tonight.”

Tim stepped over the cop’s lifeless body and opened the door.

He turned to her one last time.

“A couple of guys’ll be here soon. They’ll clean up the mess. Merry Christmas.”

THE END