Stens started to run when he heard the shot. He was panting almost too much to talk when he came up
to me. I was standing over the body; I hadn't put my gun away, it was still in my hand.
"Wendell….what the hell'd you just do?" Stens began to swear in between breaths, a long string of
words that didn't mean anything. He turned the body over, and then looked up at me. There was
something in his expression I'd never seen there before when he looked at me. "He's got cuffs on,"
"Yeah." I dropped my gun and sat down on the ground. My legs were shaky all of a sudden.
Stens was quiet for a minute. Then he straightened up, stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out
his cuff key. "Hey, partner, wake up. Don't drift off on me here." He threw the cuffs at me. I
caught them from reflex. "Put them away, and give me your extra gun."
"I don't have one."
"You don't carry an extra one?" He shook his head. "Good thing for you I'm here, buddy." He pulled
a small revolver from under his coat, checked that it was loaded. "And since there's two of us,
we can make this look real good. You trust me, buddy?" I nodded; I had no idea what he was doing,
and didn't much care. I figured I'd end up in Quentin, and I knew I wouldn't last long there.
Still fiercely glad I'd done it. I'd do it again if I had the chance.
"Hold still," he said. He backed up a little, pointed the revolver at me, and pulled the trigger.
I felt the push of the bullet as it passed through my bicep and twisted me partly around.
It also shook me out of the trance I was in. "What the hell was that?"
"That, bud, was damn good shooting. There won't be any question now that you killed him in
"Except for the fact that I was only standing about two feet from him. And part of his head is
He shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Come on, bud, all we have to do is make it look good. So what
if they think you killed him? Are they going to make a stink when you just got wounded off duty
while assisting an on-duty officer?" He grinned and adjusted the gun in the dead man's hand. "I
don't think so."
I stood up holding my arm. "You've done this before."
His grin faded. "Yeah. And I'll probably do it again."
A few people wandered out the front door of the bar to see what the noise was, but when we turned
and looked at them, they backed up and slammed the door.
"You ruined my jacket."
Stensland snorted. "Gee, too bad. You might have to get another one. You know, most people have
more than one."
My arm started to hurt on the way back to the car. I cursed. "You coulda killed me."
"Nah, no chance of that. You're the best partner I've ever had, got to keep you around."
"Yeah? How's that?"
"You don't bitch at me. Means a lot. You owe me another pistol, though. And you gotta get another
one for yourself. You never know when you're gonna need it. " He grabbed me around the back of the
neck and shook me a little. I'm not little, but Stens could still fling me across the room if he
"Ow. Watch it."
"You still got a lot to learn. But I guess I can't call you kid anymore, can I?" He considered
for a minute. "Can't call you Wendell, either…just can't. I'll think of something." Then he
picked up the mike and called it in.
Patching up my arm didn't take too long. Stens asked me if I wanted to go see Rhonda while I was
at the hospital. I almost said no, then thought I oughta ease her mind about good old "Roy".
It was late, but the nurse said she was still awake.
I knocked on her door, then pushed it open just enough to lean in. I was surprised how much it
hurt to see her.
"Wendell." She was looking better than the last time I was here. "I was hoping to see---"
I interrupted her. "I just came to let you know you don't have to worry about Roy any more. I took
care of it." I started to back out.
"Wait-what do you mean? What did you do?"
It took me a moment to answer. I needed to leave, but there was something I decided I wanted to say.
"You know, if you'd told me about him, maybe I coulda taken care of it before either of us got
hurt. I may be stupid, but there's a few things I can do."
"Wait, Wendell, what happened to your a---"
I let the door close. Somebody else would fill her in.
Stens was right when he told me not to worry. Nobody questioned his story, except maybe the coroner.
He looked at us over his glasses and shook his head. I think he knew, and he probably wrote what
he actually thought in his report, but I guess nobody read it. Or else they didn't care. Stens
really played it up for all it was worth. I think he enjoyed telling everybody how I saved his life,
what a hero I was; then he'd look over at me and wink.
It was in the papers, too, for a day or so. Rhonda called me at home a few days later.
"I read in the paper what happened, Wendell. I…I wanted to thank you…."
"They said in the paper you're a hero, that you saved Stens' life."
"The paper's wrong. Look, I gotta go."
"It says you got shot. I didn't know Roy ever carried a gun-he coulda shot both of us, we could both
be dead right now-"
"He didn't have a gun."
Silence. I probably shouldn't have told her that, but, hey, what can you expect from a stupid
"Explain that to me," she said finally.
"He didn't have a gun. I put the cuffs on him and then I shot him in the head. That's pretty easy
"You murdered him?" Her voice sounded really small and far away.
Silence. I was about to hang up when she said, "I want to see you again, Wendell. They're letting
me go home tomorrow. Can you come and get me?"
I considered it. Pathetic, isn't it? I actually considered it for a minute. I imagined taking her
back to her place, and helping her up the stairs, and she'd put her arms around my neck and tell me
how grateful she was and how she'd missed me this week. We'd end up in bed and she'd tell me
there'd never be anybody else….
Yeah, I thought about it. And that might be what actually would have happened. But the reason….if
that's what happened, the reason would be that she had something else she wanted me to do. Now that
she knew how far I'd go.
"What's the matter, you got an itch you can't scratch by yourself? Why don't you call one of your
"Wendell….I didn't mean all those things I said…."
"Oh, yeah? Look, I gotta go. If you need a man tomorrow, why don't you call Stens? I bet he can
help you with whatever you need help with."
And I hung up.
Stens was my partner for three more years. He never offered to set me up with anybody again. He
griped when I wanted to go back and clean out the shacks around the dump where I killed Roy, but he
went with me. And he used to shake his head when I started going after the wife-beaters, but he
never argued with me. He got me out of another jam or two, and I lied for him a time or two when
he needed it.
He started calling me Bud; anybody at the station that called me Wendell got a smack on the back of
the head, so pretty soon everybody called me Bud. After a while I got used to it, too, and started
using it myself. I guess it is better than Wendell.
Now he's dead. And I can't leave it alone, it bothers me-there's something wrong with the whole
set-up, no matter what Exley says.
Fuck Exley. Stensland might have been a lot of things, but he was good to me and he deserves justice.
And I'm just a big stupid doughnut-eating cop; not smart enough to figure out what it is that's
bothering me about the Night Owl, not smart enough to figure out who really killed him.
And you know the rest of the story…..