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Easy Money
About the Author: Jacqueline Freimor's is published in Rock and a Hard Place Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Murderous Intent, and the e-zine Blue Murder, among others, as well as at Most recently, her stories can be found in the anthologies When a Stranger Comes to Town (edited by Michael Koryta) and The Best Mystery Stories of the Year: 2021 (edited by Lee Child).

Easy money, that’s what it was. All Gus had to do, the fat cop said, was stand in a lineup with five other guys. Shouldn’t take more than ten, fifteen minutes, the fat cop said. Ten, fifteen minutes, and Gus would walk out of the stationhouse with twenty bucks in his pocket.

Twenty bucks was a lot of money—much more than Gus could make standing here on the corner of Sixth and Twenty-third, shaking his coffee cup full of change. Twenty bucks would buy him some Thunderbird. And a burger maybe. Still—

“What’s the problem, pal?” The fat cop laughed. “You worried about the witness saying it was you who did it? Because the sketch looks like you?”

Gus nodded. He didn’t like jail. Sometimes they put you in there even when what happened wasn’t your fault. He’d been in jail before, the last time for taking bananas from a bodega on Fourteenth Street. Or maybe the bodega was on Tenth Street, he didn’t know. Sometimes he didn’t remember stuff. But he remembered the store owner, all right, an angry, angry Korean man. Shaking his fist and yelling. Maybe Gus shouldn’t have taken the bananas without paying, but he’d only done it because he was so hungry. The Korean man didn’t have to yell at him like that. Or get him sent to jail, either, where you were locked up and couldn’t get your Thunderbird. Jail was terrible, even if it was only for a couple of days. No more jail.

“Don’t worry, pal,” the fat cop said. “We already got the guy. We’re just looking for some bodies for the lineup. So whaddya say?”

“What did he do—the guy?” Gus said. “He didn’t take some bananas, did he?”

The fat cop gave him a quizzical look and walked him over to the curb where the police cruiser was parked. “It was a purse-snatching. Matter of fact, it went down a couple of blocks from here. An old lady—”

Gus stopped short. The cop stopped walking too.

“When?” Gus said.

“Last week.” The fat cop cocked his big head. “Why?”

Gus brought his chapped hands together in a muffled clap. “I saw it! She was an old lady, right, with a big black bag, right? And he knocked her down, bang on the sidewalk. Bang on the sidewalk.”

The fat cop’s face changed like a traffic light. “What else do you remember? What did the guy look like?”

Gus screwed his eyes up tight. He remembered a short little lady wearing a wool coat and clear plastic rain boots with buttons on the side, and he remembered the big black handbag hanging off her shoulder. Then a man ran by her and pulled at the bag, and she screamed and fell. That’s all he remembered about the man. The running.

Gus opened his eyes. “I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t remember stuff.”

“You sure? Take a minute. Think.”

Gus thought, then shook his head.

The fat cop sighed. “You know what that means, don’t ya?”

Gus didn’t, but he was getting a bad feeling. “What?”

“It means you’re a witness, too, and I gotta take you down to the station to identify the guy. It means you don’t get to stand in the lineup, and you don’t get your twenty bucks. I’m sorry, pal. It’s a tough break.”

Gus wasn’t really surprised. Easy money? Not for him. Never for him.

Down at the stationhouse, the fat cop put Gus in a room with a big window and told him to take his time looking at the suspects standing on the other side of the glass. Gus took his time. But he didn’t see anyone who looked familiar.

“That’s okay,” the fat cop said, steering Gus out of the room and into a bigger room full of cops and ringing phones and people yelling. It was making Gus nervous, all that noise in one room. He wanted to leave. He wanted to go back to his street corner.

The fat cop shoved a beefy hand into his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “Look. I’m sorry how things turned out. Why don’t ya take this anyway? Buy yourself something to eat.”

Gus reached for the bill, but another cop pulled the fat cop aside to say something to him, and the fat cop closed his fist around the money. “Hang on a minute,” he said to Gus.

The two cops walked away. They talked, then turned to stare at Gus. Gus was getting the bad feeling again.

The fat cop came back and clamped his hand around Gus’s arm.

“Hey!” Gus said, trying to yank away. “What are you doing?”

The cop held on tight. “Remember I said we had a witness?”

Gus nodded.

This story appears in our APR 2022 Issue
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Reader Discussion

A great story with an enjoyable twist. Congratulations to the author
By Frances Dunn

Hmmm Nice twist! Great story! I truly enjoyed the read, so very ‘cut to the chase’.
By Tina

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