Jake Gibson, PI extraordinaire and a man of diverse talents, was two houses away, in the attic, in free space without a hit on his budget because it was the house of an old teacher of his, had the volume set at mid-range to the pipe he had set into the other house more than 17 months earlier. Perhaps all that dirty work on his part, the ultimate in sneaking, was going to pay off in spades. The words were coming in clear as a Sony mike. He’d sure use them for motivation.
For more than those 17 months, he had been snaking his way along in life with Chas and Jimbo. He owed them as others, he was sure, owed them. Either Chas Dykens or Jimbo Lavery, or both, had hit his secretary Bonnie Duval, the most hidden woman he had ever known, and the clear love of his life, or the one most missed for sure. They had dropped her off her balcony with two silenced rounds. The “Why” was never announced, never came off in ink, nobody uptown or downtown saying a word, which they had often done to jerk his chain, no masked call on his phone saying reparation had been accomplished. But he knew Chas and Jimbo had gone extra-curricular. Working outside the bounds. That kind of stuff usually didn’t pay, not in the end. They’d be payback he knew.
Her body, over the rail in free fall, hit the cement walk the way old ironworkers say the stop is sudden, conclusive and sudden. And bloody awful. The police had recovered a single expended casing, with no fingerprints, in a nearby apartment of a guy who had won a trip to Disneyworld. Gibson had been chasing “that fix” too, but so many loose ends made it like a live wire in a puddled street. Nothing had been nailed down in that direction. Not a whisper. Not a phony tip, the way tipsters try to keep all four lanes open.
Gibson, almost giddy at times, fed himself with images that leaped up from all his past observations of the pair, from close range as well as under a Palomar-strong telescope. He knew them like characters in the final act of a play as it came to an end, the curtain ready to drop, the resolution about to happen, hope or demise on the threshold. Or an old black and white movie where he could recite the dialogue like he was reading text. Dick Powell without a song. Humphrey at his best cowing other hard characters. Chester Morris as Boston Blackie clearly tailing a suspect in the darkness.
Chas Dykens, in the cellar of the house where they kept their guns, had complained generally about the new hit they were to get paid for. In most things he was dumb as mud, Jimbo Lavery was thinking, but he never missed what he shot at … turkeys, wild bores, deer, all up-country or, down here in the city, a contract hit silhouetted behind a shade, shadowy in a window, sitting on a lonely bench in the park feeding the stupid pigeons.
“Blow it out your ass, Chas,” Lavery said, “it ain’t counting here. Complain all you want, but a job’s a job. You knew that when you signed on. We don’t do it no other way, ‘cepting something different like The Man says.”
He patted the .38 Special sitting in the shoulder holster as if it was a toy. “But we got to get more inventive here. That’s what The Man keeps saying. He says too many fingerprints come off of guns, shell casings, et cet like they say down home. So, we gotta think about a new way of knocking this guy for the count. 1-2-3 you’re gonzo, baby. It’s just a job we’re doing, and nothing personal. If only all those dead suckers know, it’s just a job.”
Dykens, brothel-groping a Uzi, thumb working like it was on a lifted, stove-pipe nipple, getting nervous and excited all at the same time while sitting in a hard-back chair, said, “You talk like it’s Murder Inc. It’s just an everyday hit on a damned asshole what’s screwing things up for the whole city. No big deal in that, just like you figure it. We could pump him once or twice, lead or juice. Let him bleed or get hooked on the juice. Make his whole friggin’ crowd sweat out their ass.” Then, thinking it all out a little more, looking for something hard, real, said, “What’s his name? You ain’t told me yet.”
“Chas, you got to be the dumbest shit I ever knew. No names. Never say a name no matter what. No matter where you are. I don’t care if you’re thinking to yourself, if you could, don’t say no names. People are always listening to what’s being said. Don’t let one word, or one hit’s name, hang you or get the friggin’ chair for you. It ain’t worth it.” The pause he let hang out spelled it all: “I don’t get to even see The Man myself, not really face to face. I talk to him through a screen, a dark mesh screen, him on the other side.”
“It sounds like a damn confessional. You gotta say, ‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned?’”
“Don’t be no shithead on me, though it’s like that, almost. He don’t trust nobody, way I look at it. And he came after me. I didn’t go after him,” and the balance came out like a song, “and then there was you.”Dykens laughed and then said, “Can we say the place? Hell, we’re in the dark almost down here. Nobody knows nuts about this place.”
“Chas, you don’t listen none. No names. No nouns. No nothing, but we got a job. A new payday’s coming.”
“Good,” Dykens said, “I might need a new suit.”
“What the hell do you want a new suit for? I’ve never seen you in a suit.”
Dykens snickered loudly, like the mike was down his throat, nuzzling his diaphragm. “I was thinking,” he said with some joyous deliberation, “I’d maybe go to the hit’s funeral.”
Gibson could see Jimbo Lavery leap into the air. “Don’ be a shithead, Chas. I swear, you’ll be the death of me yet. Clues will kill us too. You got to keep remembering that. No clues. No clues ever. No free-for- the-taking profiles like on them TV movies.”
Gibson measured the ensuing silence, Dykens admonished, Lavery deep in thought. He could see the pair of them. “I ought to write plays,” he said to himself as the silence continued and he saw his characters in a mindful study, their moves in a kind of slow motion gait but center stage every minute. It was Dykens who broke the silence. “Know what I was just thinking about, Jimbo? This gas crunch. I saw a Jeep go by the other day and with two GI gas cans strapped on the rear end like we had in the army, the 5 gallon kind, but these were chained and locked, the guy ascared they’re going to be swiped or siphoned off. Had friggin’ chains right over the top of them, gas near $5.00 a gallon’ll do that.
There was more silence, then Dykens said, “What if we pour gas all over the outside of the place at night, soak down the doorways, set it off from a car or from down the street, like a flipped butt or a cigar, and just keep riding or walking. That place’d burn like a Roman friggin’ candle, chances it’s so old and dusty. Pop goes the weasel and it’d be gone up in smoke and neighbors a mile away would find their gutters jammed with leaves all on fire. It’d be friggin’ electric.”
His pause was also deliberate, like added punctuation. “Just like this place. A guy wants us, soaks it, we ain’t got a friggin’ chance. Poof goes Puff the Magic Dragon.”
Jimbo Lavery, suddenly awake at the other end of the pipe, said, “That’s inventive, I got to say, Chas. No guns with no prints and no old bullet casings. I’ll ask The Man what he thinks.”
“Can I go with you?”
“Nobody talks to The Man but me, the same way as always, like a one-way street almost.”
Gibson, more than four years work floating in his mind, knowing he had never successfully tailed Jimbo Lavery, who was as alert as any perp he had ever tailed, knew he had to stay put again, at the end of the pipe, in an old teacher’s house, the space for free for a few old-time favors if he could stomach it any more, her age really catching up with his appetite. He checked the fridge, the small stock of crackers, chips, Doritos, his tongue at remembering. Oh, the memories. For a bare instance he tasted Bonnie, remembered a favorite pose, saw her waiting in that pose, then watched her quickly disappear.
He’d stay to the end. He’d stay for Bonnie and justice, one way or the other. All the perps in the world couldn’t match up to her.
Lavery, he knew, would leave the other house and space himself out in two or more hours of sly movement until his scheduled meeting with The Man.
That irony swelled in him like a pan of yeast-ridden dough in an old pan.
He’d let Jimbo go his way and sit by while he waited for Chas Dykens to shoot off his mouth. Now and then, over the long haul, old Dykens would oblige him. “Dumb as mud,” Lavery had said, and he was right smack on the nail head.
Gibson saw both hitters in a variety of poses, like they were shining up to a photographer. Dykens was always ready with a shit-eating grin like he’d just beat his bookie out of a grand or two and all he owed on his tab. Lavery, on the other hand, played it like an old Hollywood bit player, a character actor, a support man like Paul Fix, Noah Beery Jr., doing just enough to get through the scene, do his professional bit, take his pay, and bow out until the next scene came along. Quick images rushed him, like Jim Brown coming off-tackle on the old slant play, and he saw Walter Brennan and Walter Huston and Roscoe Karns in black and white glory. Lavery and Dykens were different, and that was to his advantage. With Bonnie sitting in the wings waiting for payback.
His sixth sense set him up; he could feel it coming. Dykens had been in absolute silence for well over an hour after Lavery had left, except for a cough or two, one sneeze, and then, finally, a click. A solid give-away click; Dykens had picked up the phone, dialed a number, heard the reverse clicking away, paused, heard a female voice, sweet, delicious, dripping, like it was a house full of her sisters, say, “Is that you, sweetbread? Where you been? You on another stake-out? Don’t the ‘partment ever give you a break?”
“Hon, you wear the badge, you take the breaks. It’s in the blood.”
“I know what’s in your blood, sweetbread, and where it likes to spend its time. When do I see you? I’m getting there in an awful hurry every night now, all on my own.”
“We have a big one now, watching a big bookie what ain’t a big bookie, if you get my drift. But he’s got the numbers right, way I see it.”
“Sweetbread, you’re always full up with mystery, but you ain’t answered me yet… when do I see you?”
“I can tell from my partner that we’re closing in on the big one. Might take me a week, maybe less, but the payday is big and I’m promising a week at Disney or wherever wings can take us. You free to travel, I’d bet?”
“What you up to, sweetbread, so full of mystery and staying away from me. That’s not fair. How long you gonna be away?”
Turkey Fulture, at The Man’s orders, sat on a rickety chair on a nearby rooftop, an old Ought 3 GI issue sniper rifle, with silencer, in his hands. He looked the assassin type. Thin composite of anger and pure hatred. His childhood on full display. His eyes shining like embers in the thinning daylight. Waiting like he was in a hunter’s blind. (Huh! Fucking dumb deer deserved it every time out; stupid is as stupid does.) Commission money was at hand. A piece-of-cake job. A couple of rounds point blank (like he could miss anything!!), drop the clean weapon, scatter his way out of there, no trace on the lip of anything. Done and gone. He had done it close to 50 times. The real count would come to him, the exact count, when he was paid off, when he arrived at the cabin in Maine, got his boots, hit the stream, let life carry him away for a solid week of nothing but chasing brookies and bigger stuff.
He fired at the gas can one of the guys was carrying and it blew up, the three new assassination candidates gone in a searing flash and some unhealthy screams. The fire ran around the whole building like it was an arrow out of a hot quiver, a hot spot if there ever was one. The flames shot up the sides of the building. A woman screamed down the street. A child answered. Someone yelled, “Fire! Fire! Fire!”
“That clears the ticket for The Man,” Turkey said, his voice soft and clear as he moved back to the door to the stairs. He’d be out of there in the matter of a minute, down three flights of darkness, into an alley of darkness, into the subway system, swing around the horn a few times, disappear for a few weeks in Maine going after those tiny brook trout smothered in cornmeal and butter. And a beer for breakfast! He could taste the beer for breakfast. He’d make that happen every day he was deep in the woods.
The shot from the rooftop doorway hit Turkey directly in the forehead and splattered his brains like pigeon shit. The Ought 3 fell away from Turkey’s gloved hands. The Man said Lavery or Dykens had last handled it, only the day before. “Let the cops screw with that one,” Turkey had muttered to no one in particular at that time.
The final shooter, who had shot Turkey from about eight feet away, taking him out of the loop, was only three steps down the stairs when the bomb under his feet went off.
Across the street, in another apartment, The Man marked events, heard gunfire, saw the explosion, counted all the witnesses having gone down the drain.
He went back to the pipe, disconnected the wires, packed it all away in a trash bag, dumped it, in the dark, in a dumpster way up-town, then lit it up, “A bonfire for Bonnie,” he muttered, walking away and looking back once, liking fire since he was a kid, using it.
BIO: Tom Sheehan’s books are Epic Cures, 2004, and Brief Cases, Short Spans, November 2008, from Press 53 of NC; A Collection of Friends, 2004, and From the Quickening, March 2009, from Pocol Press of VA; a proposal for a collection of cowboy stories, Where the Cowboys Ride Forever, is in the hands of a western publisher. Epic Cures received an IPPY Award and A Collection of Friends was nominated for the Aldren Award. His work is currently in or coming in Ocean Magazine, Perigee, Rope and Wire Magazine, Qarrtsiluni, Green Silk Journal, Halfway down the Stairs, Ad Hoc Monadnock, Hawk & Whippoorwill, Eden Waters Press, Milspeak Memo, Ensorcelled, Canopic Jar, SFWP, Eskimo Pie, Lyrical Ballads, Lock Raven Review, Indite Circle, Northville Review, Pine Tree Mysteries, etc., and in books coming from Press 53, Home of the Brave, Stories in Uniform, and Milspeak Anthology. He has 10 Pushcart nominations, a Noted Story of 2007 nomination, the Georges Simenon Award for fiction, and will be included in the Dzanc Best of the Web Anthology for 2009.