My gun is, as Angie would say, “not a fuck-around thing.” It’s a .44 magnum automatic an “automag,” they call it gleefully in Soldier of Fortune and like publications  and I didn’t purchase it out of penis envy or Eastwood envy or because I wanted to own the goddamned biggest gun on the block. I bought it for one simple reason: I’m a lousy shot. I need to know that if I ever have to use it, I hit what I’m aiming at and I hit it hard enough to knock it down and keep it there. Shoot some people in the arm with a .32 and they just get angry. Shoot them in the same place with the automag and they ask for a priest.

I’ve fired it twice. Once when a brain-dead sociopath who was only slightly bigger than Rhode Island wanted me to prove how tough I was. He’d jumped out of his car and was six feet away from me and coming on fast, when I fired a round that went straight through his engine block. He stared at his Cordoba like I’d just shot his dog and almost wept. But the steam pouring out of the torn metal on his hood convinced him that there were things out there that were tougher than the two of us.

The other time was Bobby Royce. He had his hands on Angie’s neck at the time, and I blew a chunk out of his leg. Tell you something about Bobby Royce: he got back up. He raised his gun toward me and still had it pointed that way even after Angie’s two rounds had picked him up and drilled him against a hydrant and the light had left his eyes. Bobby Royce, going into rigor with his gun pointed at me, flat dead eyes not much different than they’d been when he was breathing.

I was wearing a pearl gray, unstructured linen jacket when I stepped out of my car in front of Jenna’s last-known address. It was oversized and concealed the gun entirely. The group of teenagers sitting on the cars in front of Jenna’s house was definitely fooled. As I crossed the street toward them, one of them said, “Hey, Five-O, where’s your backup?”

The girl beside him giggled. “Under his coat, Jerome.”

There were nine of them. Half of them sat on the trunk of a faded blue Chevy Malibu with a bright yellow Denver boot strapped to the front tire because the owner hadn’t paid his parking tickets. The rest of them sat on the hood of the car behind the Malibu, a puke green Granada. Two kids slipped off the cars and walked quickly up the street, heads down, hands rubbing their foreheads.

I stopped by the cars. “Jenna around?”

Jerome laughed. He was lean and hard, but held himself loosely in his purple tank top, white shorts, and black Air Jordans. He said, “‘Jenna around?’ ” in a high-pitched falsetto. “Like he and Jenna old friends.” The rest of them laughed. “No, man, Jenna’s gone for the day.” He looked at me and rubbed his chin. “I’m, like, her service, though. Why don’t you leave your message with me?”

The other kids cracked up at “service.”

I liked it too, but I was supposed to act like I was in control. I said, “Like have my agent call her agent?”

Jerome looked at me, deadpan. “Yeah, man, like that. Whatever you say.”

More laughter. Lots more.

That’s me, Patrick Kenzie, got a real way with youth. I walked between the two cars, hard to do when no one moves to the side for you, but I managed. “Thanks for your help, Jerome.”

“Hey, man, don’t mention it. Just part of the wonderfulness of me.”

I started up the front steps of Jenna’s three-decker. “I’ll put in a good word for you with Jenna when I see her.”

“Damn white of you too,” Jerome said as I opened the door into the hallway.

Jenna lived on the third floor. I trudged up the steps, smelling the familiar smells of all inner-city three-deckers  chipped, sun-baked wood, old paint, kitty litter, wood and linoleum that had soaked up decades of melting snow and dirt from wet boots, spilled beers and sodas, the ashes of a thousand discarded cigarettes. I was careful not to touch the railing; it looked like it could easily crumble away from the banisters.

I turned into the top hallway and reached Jenna’s door, or what was left of it. Something had imploded the wood by the knob, and the knob itself lay in a pile of splinters on the floor. A quick glance at the corridor in front of me revealed a thin stretch of dark green linoleum littered with broken chair legs, a shattered drawer, some shredded clothing, pillow stuffing, pieces of a small transistor radio.

I pulled my gun, inched inside, checking each doorway with my eyes and gun in tandem. The house had that certain stillness that only comes when nothing living remains inside, but I’d been fooled by that stillness before, and I have a rewired jaw to prove it.

It took me ten minutes of laborious, stiff-necked searching to decide the place actually was empty. By this time, my skin was covered in sweat, my back ached, and the muscles in my hands and arms felt about as pliable as Sheetrock.

I let the gun hang loosely from my hand as I went more casually through the apartment, rechecking the rooms, looking at things in more detail. Nothing jumped from the bedroom and danced in front of me with a neon sign overhead that said CLUE!!! Not in the bathroom either. Kitchen and living room were equally uncooperative. All I knew was that someone had been looking for something and delicacy had not been a primary concern. Nothing that was breakable was unbroken, nothing slitable unslit.

I stepped into the corridor and heard a sound to my right. I spun and stared down the fat barrel at Jerome. He crouched, hands in front of his face. “Ho! Ho! Ho, ho, ho, ho! Don’t fucking shoot!”

“Jesus,” I said, a hard wave of exhausted relief curling over my razor-blade adrenaline.

“God damn!” Jerome straightened up, brushed at his tank top for some reason, smoothed the cuffs of his shorts. “The fuck you carrying that thing for? I ain’t seen no elephants ‘round here since I don’t know when.”

I shrugged. “What’re you doing up here?”

“Hey, I live in this neighborhood, white bread. Seems to me, you the one needs the excuse. And put that fucking thing away.”

I slid the gun back into my holster. “What happened here, Jerome?”

“You got me,” Jerome said, walking inside, looking at the mess like he’d seen it a hundred times before. “Old Jenna ain’t been around in over a week. This was done over the weekend.” He guessed my next question. “And no, man, no one saw anything.”

“I’m not surprised,” I said.

“Oh, like people in your neighborhood, they just up and volunteer information to the police all the time too, I bet.”