Romeo Jones in Blood Ties Die, Chapter One, “Dewey Carter & The Swifty Mini-Mart Caper”

by Craig Hartranft on October 26, 2015

in Blood Ties Die, Blood Ties Die - Chapter One, Romeo Jones

r-j-header-02g{ When it comes to fiction, crime fiction, Romeo Jones is my one ongoing creation and stubborn passion. Even I’m not sure where the character or story is going. Actually, Rome, as he likes to be called, has had many names and incarnations in the last 10 or so years. Jack Cutter. Arec Cutter. You might see these characters surface as well. Romeo Jones. The name just rolls off the tongue, but his name is also given to inherent complications. Where will I go with Rome? Got to keep writing to find out. }

Employees and customers were running from the Swifty Mini-Mart when Romeo Jones pulled up in his black Crown Victoria. “Shit. I just wanted a cup of coffee,” he said exiting the vehicle.

Mags Brenner, the store manager, was waving people across the parking lot while trying to dial her cell phone. “Get away from the building. I’m calling the police.” Then she saw Jones.

“Rome, glad to see you.”

“What’s going on, Mags?”

Two teenage employees ran past him and ducked behind the cars. Cell phones out, they were probably texting the scene already. Rome wondered if they wouldn’t try to do selfies as well.

“There’s two guys in there stealing cigarettes, one with a gun.”

Rome pulled his black sport coat away and put his right hand to his pistol. “Did you call 911?”

“Trying to now.” Mags finally got her shaking fingers to dial 911.

“911. What’s your emergency.”

“We got two fellas trying to rob the Swifty in Trinity. North on Route 227. One’s got a gun.”

“We have a report of that. The police are on there way.”

Mags spoke to Jones, “ They say they know. Police are on the way.”

“Let me have your phone,” he said. She passed the small flip-phone to him. Rome could feel the perspiration on the the plastic casing.

“This is County Detective Romeo Jones.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Advise the responding officers: There’s an active duty detective on scene and in the building, to proceed with caution.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jones heard then, in the background. “All units, the 10-31 at Swifty Mini-Mart, Trinity. There’s a County detective on duty at the scene. Proceed with caution.”

He closed the phone ending the call and handed it to Mags.

Jones rose briefly, looked over the vehicle, and said to Mags, “That’s awkward, stealing in plain view, must have been six or seven people come outta there.”

“Don’t know what they were thinking. The one came in about ten minutes ago wanting some Marlboros, but didn’t have the money. Next thing you know the he’s waving a gun and the other is dumping cartons into a black plastic bag.” She paused for a breath.“Julie, the cashier, confronted them. The guy with the gun started yelling, “We just want the cigarettes.” Julie jumped over the counter when she saw the gun.”

Mags paused for another breath. “You know she used to run track, jump hurdles.”
“Didn’t know that,” said Rome. But he did know Julie. She always seemed to pull down her sweater a little more, around her breasts, when he came to pay for his purchase. He noticed, but only smiled politely.

“Think they did this on a whim, now they’re caught and scared,” Mags added.

“Those police sirens aren’t going to make them any more calm,” Rome said pointing to the air and spinning a finger. “Where you think they’re at?”

“Probably still behind the center checkout counter taking more cigarettes, probably lottery tickets, too.”

“That would be dumb,” Rome said. “Stolen lottery tickets are easily traced.”

“Yeah, it would. But robbing a mini-mart in the middle of morning rush hour ain’t too bright to begin with. Don’t ya think.”

“Think so.” He looked over his shoulder. Most everybody that could had left the scene. A few employees and interested spectators, smart phones in hand, and ready to film for YouTube, hung around. Rome looked to Mags, “Have everybody stay away and down.” She nodded and went to huddle with her employees behind a green Audi sedan.

Rome crouched down to maneuver behind the cars. He worked his way around until he had a sight line, next to a black Jeep Grand Cherokee. He saw two men, one with a gun, bobbing behind the counter. Jones moved one car over, out of the sight line, and began moving forward. When he reached the stone façade wall, he inched his way to the double glass doors. Using his boot, he angled the right-side door open, and spoke.

“Hey fellas,” he said raising his voice. “What’s going on?”

Startled, the man with the gun raised it over the counter. He was young, tall and skinny with long dirty blond hair and a scruffy beard. Tattoos covered his forearms, a flaming devil prominent on the left, a brunette in a skimpy red bikini with devil ears and pointed tail, on the right.

The other man was also young, but shorter with a large belly, barely covered by an Iron Maiden t-shirt. His round head, sitting on a thick neck, was made square by a crew cut, his pink face peppered with acne. Jones thought he looked like a wannabe professional wrestler on the local independent circuit. He held the black bag with the cigarettes.

“You a cop or something?” the tall man said.

“Or something. Detective Romeo Jones.” He pushed his coat to the side to show his badge, a gold star from the County. His pistol just to the right of it on his hip. Jones could tell that the tall man saw the weapon. “Just want to talk.

for now.”

“Romeo. What the hell kind of name is that?”

“The one my mother gave me,” he said. “She has a penchant for Shakespeare.”

“A penchant? What the hell is a penchant?”

“It means she has a strong liking for Shakespeare.”

“Why didn’t you just say that?”

“Because it sounded better they way I said it,” Rome said with eyes surfing the surroundings. The tall man only glared at Romeo. “But, my friends call me Rome. Asshole perpatrators who try to steal cigarettes in broad daylight during morning rush hour call me Detective or Sir.”

“Like hell. I hear sirens. Locals on the way?”

“That would be the Trinity PD.”

“So what you want to talk about?”

“That cup of coffee I stopped for, or a least your name, for starters.”

“What? You want a damn cup of coffee?”

“Yeah. Get one every morning at this very store. Mind if I come in, no gun drawn, of course.” Rome stretched out both hands before the glass doors. “I’ll get that coffee and we can chat.” He pushed the door open some more with his shoulder. The man stretched his gun arm forward. “Make sure this thing doesn’t go sideways when the Trinity police get here.”

“Alright, detective, you got some balls. You can have your coffee,” the tall man said. “But you gotta leave the gun outside.”

“Can’t do that.”

“You can’t do that? I got my gun on you already. You do what I say.”

“Police officer never surrenders his weapon. My boss is a real stickler about that. I could lose my job. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

The man drew a deep breath and cursed. Then the fat man spoke, “Are you gonna let him in with a gun.”

“Shut up,” the tall man said, “I’m thinking.”

Then he heard Rome say, “Tell you what. I’ll take off my coat, so you’ll see my gun. Keep my hands in plain view. Fair enough?” Before he could answer again, Jones removed his sport coat, folded it neatly, and dropped it to the cement behind him.

“Alright, come in, but I got a bead on you, and I’m a crack shot.”

“I can tell that from the shake in your hand.”

The tall man took his eyes from Rome, as he expected, and looked at his hand. It was shaking. He froze for a moment, but the shaking continued.

Rome pushed the door all the way open and stepped inside, his hands chest level, palms facing the men.

“Romeo Jones. Why do I know that name?” The tall fellow said, gaining composure.

Jones shrugged, “I’ve been in the papers once or twice.” He looked around the mini-mart. There were no others in the store. The second man fidgeted next to the first. Rome wondered if he had a gun too.

“You packin’ too, Pillsbury,” Rome asked.

“What did you call me?”

Rome ignored his objection and asked again, “Do you have a gun?”

“What if I am? Anyways, if he don’t get you, I will.”

“Seriously? Did you just say that? You’ve been watching too many movies.” He didn’t give the boy time for a response. Relaxing his hand to waist level and pointing to the rear of the store,Jones said, “Gonna get that coffee now.”

“Stay where I can see you,” said the taller one.

“Not a problem.” He walked to the coffee bar at the rear of the store.

He grabbed a cup and lid from the condiment bar before drawing his coffee. There were eight self-serve urns with a variety of blends: regular, decaf, Colombian, French Roast, Jamaican, and Kona among them. Rome surveyed them with a mixture of interest and suspicion. He would end up getting the same old, same old. It worked for him.

“What’s your name, guy?” Jones said, casting a look over shoulder, but keeping an eye on his pour.

“Denny.”

“Denny what?”

“Denny Carter.”

Jones smiled and shook his head. He knew this boy. Dennison Carter, son to Willem Carter and grandson to Malcom Carter, head of the Walsh Mountain crime family, in the eastern part of the county. The Walsh was a beautiful forested area populated mostly, on the north side, by the poor and indignant, and peppered with run down mobile home parks, decaying homes, and hunting shacks; on the southern side, towards the County seat, land developers were speculating and building gated communities.

White supremacists, outlaw bikers, and a few still operators were known to inhabit the northern side. Drugs, protection, robbery, and prostitution were the trades of choice for the Carter family and they had their hands in everything, at some time, or all the time, for three generations. Generally, they were petty criminals, not even a blip on the criminal enterprise radar of most law enforcement. But, in The Walsh, they were regular crime lords. Kings of the domain they made and surveyed.

“Well, Denny, they got Jamaican back here. I like to mix it with a little of the dark roast.” Rome was going with the usual. “No cream or sugar. Good stuff. You want some?”

“We gonna talk about coffee, or how you’re going get our asses out of here?”

Jones started back to the main counter and said, “Thought we might talk about your family. I’ve known your father Willem and his brother Garner for years. They still growing pot, robbing small banks, and being a general nuisance in The Walsh?” He stopped about 15 feet from the counter and took a sip of his coffee.

“What’s it matter?” Denny said, his eyes shifting to the forward windows. Two Trinity police cruisers rolled in.

“It doesn’t, unless, of course, you’re running with them.”

“I’m not. Doin’ my own thing.”

“Stealing cigarettes your thing?”

“Didn’t have the money,” Denny said.

Two officers approached the building. Rome took another sip before looking to the officers. He raised his hand, palm up, signaling them to stop.

“Good enough reason, I guess,” Rome said. “Who’s your friend, Denny?”

“Skinny Pete.”

“What’s your thing, Skinny? Stealing Twinkies?” He looked hard at the man’s bulging belly.

“Beer mostly,” he said.

“Seems to be working out for you,” Rome said pointing to his belly with his coffee. “Would that be from Willem Carter’s bar on 223?”

Skinny’s eyes shifted quickly to Denny, and back. He said, “How ya know that?”

“Just a guess.”

“Shut up,” Denny said to Skinny.

Looking again at Skinny, his t-shirt, pointing with cup and finger now, Rome asked, “So you like Iron Maiden?”

“What?” He was fidgeting again, rocking back and forth on both feet.

Speaking slowly and deliberately, Rome said, “ Do … you … like … Iron Maiden?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“I said, shut up, he’s messing with you.” Denny kept glancing at the officers outside.

“Not messin’ with him at all. I like Iron Maiden too. Just making conversation. Keeping things civilized.” Rome took a deeper draw of his coffee. “So what’s your favorite Maiden song? Me, I like the older to middle period stuff like Run to the Hills or The Trooper.”

Shifting once more on his feet, Skinny replied, “Breaking The Law, I guess.”

“Are you a complete moron? That’s Judas Priest. You don’t know squat about Iron Maiden, do you?””

Before Skinny could answer, Denny interrupted, “Hey! Enough of this shit!” He swaggered his gun at Romeo. “Where are we going with this? Because I’m itching to put a bullet in you Dee-tective with the dumbass first name.”

“I see you looking at those officers, Denny.” He pointed with his left hand, and then sipped coffee again. “Why don’t you put the gun away or maybe on the counter? Things will go better if you’re not in a threatening mood when those officers decide they’d rather not wait for me and come in.” He put his coffee down on the top shelf of the fruit stand, next to some deathly brown bananas.

“You want me to give up my gun?”

“Just want you to take this situation down a notch or two.” Rome squeezed the left thumb and forefinger of his left hand together for emphasis. He moved his right hand to his gun. Denny didn’t notice.

“Alright,” Denny said raising both hands. “I’m putting my gun away.” He pushed the weapon into the top of his jeans. “Just want to walk away from this. They can have their cigarettes back.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“You committed a crime. You have to answer for that.”

“I thought you were getting us out of this.”

“Never said that, Denny. Just didn’t want anyone to get hurt, shot, you know. You. Me. Anybody else. Understand?”

The two Trinity police officers, observing Denny’s actions, moved closer. Seeing this, Denny looked to his gun. Rome put his hand to his pistol, and said, “You go for that, I’m going to put you down, Denny Carter.” He looked directly at Skinny and said, “And your friend, too.”

“You think you’re that fast.”

“Don’t need to be fast. Just faster than you.”

“Bullshit!”

Denny reached for his pistol. Rome shot him shot him in his right shoulder, throwing him against the cigarette wall. He dropped to the floor in a groan. His gun dropped to the counter. Skinny Pete started for it.

“Don’t,” Rome said moving swiftly forward.

Skinny Pete backed away, dropped the bag of cigarettes, and raised his hands.

“Good boy.”

His gun still on Skinny, Rome looked over the counter. Denny lay bleeding on the floor. He grasped at his chest and coughed. “Jesus, you shot me.”

“Getting shot by a lawman just seems to run in your family, Denny Carter.”