• Mine is not a line of work in which getting famous is a good thing. A solid reputation can do you no harm, of course. Word of mouth's the best advertising in the game. But you start getting your name in the papers too often and it'll end up spelling trouble.

    Particularly if all of those front-page mentions have to do with somebody or other getting killed.

    Sure, in the movies everybody's a dead shot, a dozen notches cut into the grips of his pistols, and he drags a stiff to the cops' door and gets a hearty handshake and the sheriff's heartfelt thanks. A lot of dumb things happen in the movies, though. Like happy endings.

    I never set out to get famous. A few months ago I was just a small-time d**k, living on divorce work and whiskey. Hell, I still live on whiskey, but it's no longer the kind that comes with a cork and my case load's kind of changed. Sometimes I wonder if I didn't fall right into an issue of Black Mask.

    But all of that's another tale - a few tales, maybe. This one's about why you don't want to get famous. Well, that's easy. It's because stuff like this happens:

    I was sitting in my office, which is what I do a lot of the time, unless I'm out at a bar or home with my dog. There was nothing doing so I was folding paper airplanes and trying to fly them into the trash can from across the room. The radio was on and squawking about a ball game that somebody was losing pretty badly. It was early December and cold outside but still pretty hot in the building, so I had the window open a crack to let air in and the breeze was my excuse for missing the trash can so much. I was wearing brand-new boots I'd given myself for an early holiday present. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon.

    There's a bell on the door to my waiting room that's supposed to give me time to wake up or put away the whiskey or quit folding paper airplanes or whatever else it is I need to do to make myself look like maybe I can pretend to be professional. On this particular occasion my visitor was in such a hurry he had the inner door open while the bell on the outer one was still ringing and before I could even drop my latest experiment in recreational aviation I was getting a pretty good look at the business end of a gun.

    It was a pretty nice gun. I am a guy who can appreciate a nice gun. In fact if it had been pointed anywhere except my nose I would've liked it. It was a Colt 1908. I had its younger brother, a 1911 in .45, in a press-clip under my desk. I thought about how to get up a family reunion between the two of them while I looked past the gun at its owner.

    He looked like he was probably less nice than the gun. I would not have approved of having any brother of his under my desk. Any sister, either, if those looks ran in the family. Another thing the movies like to do is make all the bad guys ugly so you know they're bad, and while that's not always true - I've seen some pretty handsome gangsters, real Valentino types, and most criminals are fairly average-looking everyday guys - in this case it was pretty accurate. His face probably had been OK when he was born but at some point in the intervening years he'd had it rearranged by somebody whose sense of aesthetics was less than ideal.

    In plain English, the inventory would be as follows:
    - One .380 automatic pistol
    - One suit jacket, grey pinstripe, sleeves about an inch too short
    - One tie, extremely bright orange, unfashionably wide
    - One chin, square, not very well shaven
    - One mouth, standard issue, containing
    - Two too few teeth
    - One cigar, badly chewed, only half lit
    - One nose, extremely crooked and kind of flat
    - A little less than the usual amount of oily brown hair
    - Two eyes, currently narrowed at me angrily

    I wanted to look at that tie again. It was distracting. It was also a little easier on the eyes than the guy or the gun. But it's rude to stare and I am a guy who is polite to his visitors particularly when they seem to be willing to take a shot at him if he is not. So I looked at the eyes again and tried a smile. My voice was pretty steady as I like to think I am a guy who can keep his head in a crisis and I said to him: "Nice afternoon, ain't it? Why don't you have a seat and we'll chat?"

    He didn't have a seat. He didn't shoot me yet either, which I have to say was pretty nice of him. I kept my eyes on his, watching for that giveaway movement that would warn me he was tired of waiting to kill me. At this range even I couldn't duck fast enough but at least I'd go out trying.

    He finally proved he could speak but he didn't prove it very well. "You," he said.

    "Me?" I repeated stupidly.

    "You b*****d. You killed my brother."

    "I'm sorry, I didn't know he was a relative." If there was much of a family resemblance I'd probably seen him in an alley and thought he had rabies. I kept this little quip to myself. "Refresh my memory. Which one was he again?"

    "I saw it in the papers," he said.

    That's a pretty odd name for a child. I kept that line to myself, too. My friends might say I run my mouth too much but I am a guy who knows when to keep quiet and now was that time.

    "Little Danny Liddell," he said. That was a lot more helpful. I'd killed such a lot of gangsters over the past month or so, you know. But I remembered that one now. A gorilla of a guy, he was. Took a full magazine to slow him down. This guy was not so big. Maybe half a mag would do him. The chance would need some taking.

    "The cops helped," I told Liddell - the brother who was standing in front of me not dead, that is. "I can't take all the credit for it. I am a guy who believes in giving people proper recognition."

    "I saw it in the papers," he repeated

    Goddamn journalists. The headlines HAD had my name in them. Not that the fact that it was me who'd killed Little Danny Liddell would've been a secret anyway, but there's a difference between hearing it on the street and reading it in two-inch sans serif.

    "Write down your address," I suggested, flicking the corner of the paper that had been going to be Airplane #23. "I'll send you a condolence card."

    The corners of his mouth twitched down around the half-lit cigar and for a second I thought that was it, the tell I'd been watching for, and since I couldn't get my hand under the desk quick enough I just braced myself to have my head blown off - but he didn't do it, so I pretended I hadn't even thought of it. It's not that I'm yellow, you know. It's just that I'm fond of my face. It's maybe not the best face in the world, but I've had it a long time, and I'd hate to have it ruined by some punk putting a big black hole in the middle of it.

    Once I realized my brains weren't going to be let out on parole yet, I set them to working up something else to say to distract Liddell. "You know, waving that heater around, your arm must get awfully tired," is what I decided on. "I said it already and I'll say it again, pull up a chair and let's have us a nice civilized talk."

    "You killed my brother."

    "Yeah, you told me that. You saw it in the papers. That's no reason to wear your elbow out shoving a gat up my nose for half an hour. Let's be reasonable, chum. Have a drink. Pour out your sorrows." I was getting tired of the whole mess. One more repetition of "you killed my brother" and I'd be ASKING the dumb cluck to shoot me. It was the most boring standoff ever. Even the prospect of Imminent Death was starting to get pretty mundane - at least until I looked into that barrel again.

    "Who put you up to it?" he demanded.

    "Put me up to it?" I repeated him again, not stupidly this time so much as actually surprised. The cops'll tell you that nobody needs to put me up to killing a guy these days. I come up with that all on my lonesome. I'm kind of a prodigy.

    "Small-timers like you don't mess with the likes of Little Danny. We got bigger boys in our pocket. Who put you up to kill my brother?" He looked as if this was a question he took pretty seriously. I'd better give him an answer he'd like, if I knew what was good for me.

    But hell, I'm a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, bar-brawling son of a gun and a disappointment to my mother. I wouldn't know what was good for me if it came up and utterly failed to bite me in the a**. I gave the guy the truth. "I did it myself, as a favor to me. He was getting in my way more than I liked, and he wouldn't budge, so I put a hole in him to see through."

    Now I might be all of those things I just mentioned but I am also a guy who hedges his bets. I'd been gesturing with my hands real theatrically while I made the above little speech so as to get him used to seeing them move, and when I finished up I dropped one in my lap. It found the press-catch and wrapped itself around the grip of my pistol real naturally. It felt good.

    It felt better to bring it back up over the top of the desk, which I did in the same smooth motion, kicking my rolling chair out and away to the side. Liddell fired that .380 of his with a half-growled, half-shouted unprintable epithet (even by my standards, and you can see I'll print just about anything) - but he fired at where I was, not where I was going. The guy obviously didn't do much duck hunting.

    He wasn't going anywhere, so my job was easy. I shot him twice in the chest, knocking him down, and then stood up and went over and gave him another in the head. When I kill a guy I kill him good. Anyway I'd been wanting a new rug and the mess on this one would make a good excuse.

    I stood looking down at what was left of him and lamenting the folly of newspapers. As nice as it is to see your name in print celebrity sure does bring the nutjobs out of the woodwork. "Put me up to it" indeed.

    Then I realized three things at once:
    1. I was going to have to call the cops.
    2. This was going to mean getting my name in the papers again.
    3. I was getting Liddell's blood on my brand-new boots.

    I said something unprintable myself, then sat down with the phone. I rang up my friend at the station and told him:

    "Send in the cleanup crew. I've got another stiff for you."