I stuck my hand inside my jacket and pressed hard against my side just under the ribs. I was sore, but I wasn’t coughing up anything that was supposed to stay inside yet. Despite the metallic taste in my mouth, all the blood was leaking out of the hole Archie Kane had blown in me. Having hired me to find his wife’s killer, Archie had taken offense when I concluded Archie had murdered her himself, and he’d expressed his disapproval with a shot from the Beretta M9 I didn’t know he had. Archie had been a fool, hiring a detective as a ploy to boost his credibility, but I’d been just as stupid to call him on it out on the docks where there was no one to witness his reaction. Archie and I had both thought highly of ourselves. It didn’t work out well for either of us.

I tried to prop myself up on one of the posts protruding from the river but ended up sliding down it, landing with a hard thud on the pier next to Archie. Archie didn’t mind. Instead of finishing me off, he’d fired his second bullet into his own head. I guess he figured if a plodder like me could punch through his story, it was just a matter of time before the boys in Homicide moved in for a knockout. Or maybe he just couldn’t live with the knowledge he wasn’t as smart as he thought he was.

Archie was on his back, grinning up at the night sky, oblivious to the raindrops splattering on his bulging eyeballs. It was coming down harder now that I was too ruined to get out of it, reinforcing my belief that the universe was, deep down, a bully. The fabric of my pants grew cold and heavy on my legs as red tendrils snaked out between them to merge into a pool at my feet. I chuckled, remembering how I’d left my cell phone in the Nova because I’d heard it might rain. The hole in my side didn’t see the humor in it and gave me a pinch.

I stared off down the pier and at the steep embankment between me and my car. I’d never make it. I doubted I’d even be able to get back up on my feet. A thirst for revenge might have given me that extra boost, enabling me to overcome the odds, but Archie had deprived me of that. I had nobody left to hate other than myself.

As I sat watching the rain wash my life out of me, I suddenly became aware of something white scurrying down the embankment. I watched as a sprite in a tattered shroud pranced to the end of the pier to gape at me. It took it at least five minutes for it to decide to take a single cautious step forward onto the pier, and another five to take a second. After that, it picked up its pace, moving swiftly until it was standing just a few feet in front of me.

It was a girl, probably no older than ten and slender enough to have been able to walk between the rain drops. The long blonde hair matted to her slightly oversized head came with brambles, and the knees below the hem of the tattered pink nightgown were red with fresh scrapes.

“I’m hurt,” I said, finally coughing up that blood I was looking for earlier. “Go get help.”

She didn’t react at all. She just stared at me with her head cocked to one side and her mouth hanging open.

“Can you understand me?” I asked, getting back nothing. Where the hell had she come from? Somebody had to be looking for her. “My name’s Rob. What’s your name?”

While I was eager to continue the conversation, she lost interest in me and turned her attention to the dead man at my feet. She bent down and stared into his eyes and was moving in closer for a better look when her foot collided with the Beretta.

“No, kid,” I said with as much authority as I could muster as she picked it up and stared down the barrel. “That’s not a toy.”

“Bang! Bang!” she said, waving it around above her head.

“No bang,” I said, holding out my hand. “Be a good girl and hand it over.”

“Bang! Bang!” she repeated, pointing it at Archie, who grinned in approval. She then placed the barrel between her wide-set eyes and looked to see if Archie was still smiling. He was.

I tried to pull myself up on the post I was leaning against but slid back down, tearing a chunk out of my hand on a nail. The new addition to my pain collection inspired me to let out a yell that my friend didn’t seem to care for. She pointed the gun in my face and screamed.

“Bang! Bang! Bang!”

I decided to act while the gun was pointed in a direction other than towards her head. I swung my legs out, catching her on the ankles. The gun went off as she fell, the bullet cutting through my shoulder at the same time her head hit my chest.

I held her, trying as best I could to keep the rain off her while she clung to me, sobbing and muttering about the pain in her ears. As the rain slowed to a drizzle, I could hear the voices of the men who had been searching for her.  Attracted by the shot, they shouted her name, which turned out to be Sasha, while their flashlights made stars in the darkness between the pier and the road. Thanks to Archie’s Beretta, Sasha had saved us both. I looked over to see if he was still grinning, but the darkness in my head erased him along with everything else.