I brought Parnell Urquhart in once; the time he ate the teacher.

New Orleans put the sun right on us that day. Even the tar sweat. The SWAT guys stacked outside Parnell’s shotgun house were floating behind their goggles.

Narco served the warrant. Me and my partner, Hakk. We knocked with five M4 carbine barrels aiming through our backs at the royal court of crack distribution in Desire.

An eight-year-old girl opened the door. The smell of 409 and vacuuming was taller than she was in the doorway.

“Is your father in?” I asked.

“One moment, ma’am,” she says, proper as a Garden District receptionist.

A minute later, out comes the king himself—Parnell, skinny and scarred, smiling under those thick glasses like a Buddy Holly album cover.

His hands knit on his flat-top. Mine went for handcuffs. The smile stretched into something animal.

“Not in front of my girl, huh?” He said.

I put on the cuffs and a smile of my own.

“Laugh it up while you can, bitch,” Parnell said. I heard the crazy starting to rise in his voice; that little hiss you hear before coffee boils over hot metal.

I decided I’d tell him at the station.

We tossed the shotgun house later. Clean rooms. Empty crawlspaces. Ashtrays with only Lysol scent in them. I could smell it on Parnell’s hands. He’d cleaned the whole place himself before we showed.

He still had blood under his nails.

Parnell bit his nails in the interrogation room. He squirmed like his tats. He sweat through the air-conditioning.

“You want a deal?” Parnell said, “I got a deal for you. Save the taxpayers six weeks’ room and board and let me strut right now.”

“Pass.” Detective Andel said.

“We got a witness this time.” I told him.

Parnell leered, leaned in. “How’re your witnesses holding up?”

Between us and him was a whole scrapbook of body dumps: Parnell’s greatest hits. Most aren’t even whole bodies anymore.

“Our girl’s untouchable this time.” Andel said.

I looked at the photos and wasn’t so sure: Luke Bender, blown into chunks with imported ordnance. Clementine, gnawed by dogs and human bites. Countless others shredded to pulled pork in baggy pants by Grub gang choppers.

Parnell looked at them too. It calmed him.

“I touched Ms. Marjeta just fine,” he said.

“You think this is about the teacher you ate?”

“Bit. I just ate a piece of her.”

“Think more local, fucko,” I told him. “We got Sky. Your daughter flipped on you.”

Finally, Parnell stopped smiling. Squirming became shaking. And I smiled, seeing that I’d broken something in him more precious and more fragile than any bone.

I hoped it never healed. Just like the people in those photos.

For two weeks, I had cause to hope.

The image of Parnell, fractured, made me able to look in the bathroom mirror. I bothered with toothpaste and conditioner. I even made sure the badge was on straight.

Then I come in one Tuesday morning and hear he’s getting out.

I banged the steering wheel the whole way to his shotgun house, cursing the universe for letting me believe good things can happen, just long enough that it hurt worse when the rug got pulled.

Parnell was hugging Sky on the porch when I pulled up.

Neither of them looked at me. They were shiny as a magazine cover—Better Homes & Crack Dens.

Sky looked stern. Parnell was all smiles, stroking her head and patting her stuffed bunny.

“Who got you this, baby?”

“Ms. Marjeta, when she made me promise to let you go.” Sky still sounded wary. Maybe she wondered how his Grubs convinced Marjeta, like I did.

“She’s a nice lady.”

“Yes.” Sky glanced at me and nodded. “And you only hurt bad people. That’s the rule, you said.”

“Word up,” Parnell said, looking right at me through those smudged lens. “That’s the rule.”

They went inside, hand in hand. I couldn’t tell who was leading who. Their fragile little peace was whole again.

But Parnell’s world was full of bad people.

I floored it to Fifth District to tell Andel his workload was going up.

~ fin ~

Matthew C. Funk

Matthew C. Funk writes for a living because range fees don’t pay themselves. He stores his online writing and other live rounds at his Web site.