The mist was drifting across Topanga Canyon Drive like the steam from the Wilshire Club’s locker room as I left the office and headed to the post office. My snubnosed Glock 9 millimeter was resting on the seat next to me, covered by four brown parcels, each containing a letter and a copy of She’s Not There by that he-she dame from Maine, Jennifer Boylan. I swerved into the parking lot, avoiding a hobo panhandler carrying a sign that said The End of the World is Near in hand-drawn purple magic marker. You said it, brother.

I sat idling in the parking lot while I checked the addresses on the parcels and made sure the letters inside were the right ones. Not as delicate as the many sting operations I had played when I was on the force, but still a job that required care. My hands were shaking like I’d been on a three-day drunk as I sealed each parcel and placed it back on the cushion beside me. The weathered and cynical face in the rearview mirror stared me like my old man used to, incredulous and judgmental even now from the grave like some judge and jury from hell. I stared right back, as steely eyed as a beat-up boxer facing the 15th round of a match he’s not sure he’ll survive, while his cut man is whispering in his one good ear to let him throw in the towel because this kind of brutality just ain’t worth it. With a deep breath, I scooped up the parcels, got out of my old jalopy, and stepped into the weathered local post office.

The clerk, a blonde bombshell with a New York accent, was just opening her cage when she saw my face, the first customer of the morning.

“Sweetheart, can you weigh some parcels for me?” I asked, Bogarting my S’s.

“Sure thing, Mr, er… Ms Spade.”

“Call me Joyce, sweetheart.”

“Whatever you say, doll.”

She weighed each parcel, studied the zip code, and asked if I would need confirmation that they were received. Received? I’ll damn sure know if my associates get ’em — won’t need a piece of paper to know that.

Cutting ties with the firm — just the thought of that made me feel like I had taken a belt of scotch for breakfast and the warm flush was swirling around my stomach like a convention of moths crazily flying around a Coleman stove in the middle of a midnight rendezvous in the High Sierras. We had owned a software joint in the old days, writing computer code, hitting the road for sales trips, reinventing the world like a group of crazed musicians who didn’t know any better and thought it would only be a matter of time before we were opening for Sinatra at the Copa. We’d been through a lot, my associates and I, and dropping off these parcels felt like I was sitting at a funeral, only I wasn’t sure if the funeral was mine or someone else’s. We’ll just have to see who’s still talking when they close the casket, I thought. Might be pretty rough on me, something like this — some men take it personal, and while my associates weren’t a rough bunch, they all had my number like big brothers who could almost see your cards as you held them in your hand. Let them down? Hell, I could become invisible to them faster than falling off the Golden Gate Bridge at night in a dense fog into shark-infested waters.

One by one, the clerk put the postage on each parcel and lobbed it into the sack behind her like a cook carelessly tossing the rotten vegetables into the rubbish bin, a repetitive, routine act to her. But to me, the thud of each parcel into that basket felt anything but routine, reminding me of the sound of a .44 cartridge being loaded into a pistol for an evening of Russian Roulette, and by the time I heard the fourth and final thud, I already knew that I was fighting the odds like a washed up gambler who, banished from Vegas, drives into those little Nevada highway towns like Ely and Eureka and Austin to play blackjack all night in the truckstop/casino, hoping against hope that he might catch a break between dusk and dawn, but knowing all along that he’s running out of time and luck.

I paid the clerk, tipped my hat to her, and walked back to my car, legs shaking like I’d just been hit in the knees by a fourth-quarter crack-back block in the Rose Bowl. “Well,” I said to my grizzled reflection, wiping my eyes on account of something that had gotten in them on the way back to the car, “I guess that’s that, it’s a crap-shoot at this point and we’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

So now it’s a waiting game that lasts hours, maybe days, a lonely stakeout in a cul-de-sac, only one way out and you know it could turn out good or bad, but you’ve drawn this beat and now that you’ve jumped into it with both feet, you’ll stick to it like the hot tar in the La Brea pits clings to the sabre-toothed tiger and wooly mammoth.

Let’s just hope I don’t get sucked in and petrified, ’cause there ain’t no amount of thrashing that’ll get me out of that kind of pickle.