Smoke and Mirrors

 

 

 

 

 

Smoke and Mirrors

By Steve M

Yeah, I wrote this. Blame no one else.

2019 - Destination Unsure

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part One

Both Sides of the Line

“Hey Trunk, there’s someone here to see you.” Danny’s voice told me what kind of person it was. Slightly annoyed, slightly scared.
I pulled myself out from under the 79 MGB on stands. I’d put it on stands to get underneath it and drop the oil pan. I could have used the overhead but since the width adjustment started getting sticky it’s a fight to get them close together for small cars like the MG. So I put it on stands nice and fast. Ten minutes tops and it’s off, once all the oil is out, of course. Danny is a cheap bastard and a new adjustment mechanism is over $400. So he ain’t buying one.
Standing beside the car was Danny and a man. I knew the man, Art Piro. Big, bald, muscles, smart.

“I’m busy,” I said.
“It pays real good,” said Art.
“Not interested,” I replied.
“I’ll leave you two to your discussion. Remember you promised Mr. Tidwell that you’d have his car finished this week. Don’t disappoint him, Trunk. He’s a good customer.”
Never disappoint the customer. Danny was always saying that. And as long as I don’t disappoint the customer, well Danny has a way of ignoring my other activities.

“What’s wrong with my money?” asked Art angrily.
“See that tattoo on your arm?” I asked.
“Yeah they told me to wear a long sleeve shirt. I told them you’d be a little more understanding than you’re being. I heard about your wife. I’ve got no problem with that. Love whoever you want.”
“You sure? Your arm says something else.”
“Listen, I’ve had a little brown sugar. It’s a fine thing.”
With those words I wanted more than anything to punch Art Piro, just knock the hell out of him. But I didn’t. Art could easily kick my ass and I ain’t stupid.
“We all make mistakes,” he added and I wanted to punch him a lot more.

Yeah I used to be married. Me, married. Yeah, right.

Not really the right sort of person for that position. But for two years I faked it as best I could. No sticking around the shop to burn one with the boys after work. Nosiree, I went home as fast as I could. Dinner every night together. Netflix on the sofa. Sex every night. And Emmie’s a looker too.

But one thing you need to know about me. I’ve managed to screw up every relationship I’ve ever had with a woman. Just can’t help myself. It was that way with the best woman I’ve ever known and the only one I’ve ever loved. Took her two years to see through me. Till Domingo came calling.

Domingo Sanchez asked me to find out what happened to his brother. I make very discrete inquiries for people who don’t want others to know. I’m a convicted felon so my chance of ever getting an investigator’s license in Florida is zero. So it’s a part-time activity for me. Pays well sometimes. Sometimes it pays nothing. Once it paid more than it ever should have. I’ll tell you about that later. Domingo paid very well.
Emmie divorced me right after I finished the job for Domingo. She was scared and I don’t blame her. She had never seen that side of what I do. She had never seen me like I was at work back then. And she sincerely thought I had traded her life for a confession from Domingo’s sister-in-law. ‘Go ahead and kill her’, were the exact words I said that Emmie never forgave. Of course they were lies! But only I knew that. Crystal Sanchez was unarmed when I said those words and I was holding a gun under my jacket. Of course I lied. I got the damned confession. Emmie could never get to the logic of that. Also she could never forgive me for letting Crystal go either. She hated the fact that she knew a murderer that got away with it and couldn’t speak up. Emmie has a strong sense of justice.

“Who are they?” I asked.
“Who?”
“The people who told you to wear a long sleeve shirt.”
“You know, them.”
“Do they have a name?”
“Dennis, Dennis Discrete and his sister, Sarah, Sarah Secret.”
Just what I needed a biker that thinks he’s clever.

“I’ve met them before. Still got shit to do. Sorry you wasted your time,” I replied.
“Listen if you succeed, you make 50 large.”
“And if I don’t?”
“5 large for your time.”

The price told me all I needed to know. It was drug money. A cheating wife is worth 5 large tops. Bikers don’t value human life, including their own, at 50 large, so it wasn’t murder. But I sure could use the money. I needed a new engine for my floating home. Fifty would get me an engine and a long time sailing in the tropics.

“Listen Art, I’m sorry your drug money got stolen. I believe it was your money fair and square and they had no right to it. None whatsoever. You’re right to be pissed off about it and I would be too. But I’m not the man for the job. And it’s not that I have a problem with drugs. I’m for you doing whatever you want to yourself. Don’t hurt no one else? Then go for it. It’s just the risk.”
“What do you mean the risk?”
“Druggies do weird shit. Nonsensical shit. They might shoot me when logic would indicate that is the exact wrong thing to do. This makes them unpredictable and dangerous when they’re armed and high.”
“It ain’t like that.”
“Yes it is. You know how they get. Do you like being around someone paranoid and armed? I sure don’t. Good way to get killed.”
“It ain’t like that,” Art insisted.
“Unless you’re running a Harvard LSD experiment, that’s how it is.”
“Will you shut up and listen for a minute?” Art said with an annoyed tone.
“OK. Go ahead.”

Art looked at the engine of the MGB.
“Tiny little thing, ain’t it.”
“Less than 2 liters,” I replied looking up at him from the creeper.
“You heard about the burn outs?”
“Yeah, who hasn’t. There was another one a couple of nights ago. How many they’ve got so far?”
“Five,” said Art.

The light went on in my head. I got it at last.
“How many of them were yours?”
“Five out of five.”
“Shit Art. I had no idea you were that deep into it.”
“A lot deeper than you think.”

Over the last two months someone had started burning down houses used in the manufacture of crystal meth, aka crank, aka speed in North East Florida. It was big local news. A drug crusading vigilante was interrupting a very lucrative business. There were three fatalities, unlucky bastards that never made it out in time.

“What’s at risk?”
“At least another twenty five of them between here and Orlando.”
“Damn Artie.”

I’ve always had a gift for finding things and figuring things out. Just a natural knack for it, according to my mother. Even when I was kid. Figured out a lot of things. Momma lied to us about how the dent in the car happened. Daddy slept with momma’s best friend. Sometimes its a curse.

“We need to stop them,” said Art.
“A competitor?”
“Not likely. We have an agreement that covers all of Florida. We each have our zones. Anyone that cheats exchanges their zone for a burial plot.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time an encroachment happened,” I replied.
“This one is sealed in blood. Our club president married the sister of our closest competitor.”
“Get the hell out. Gone all Shakespeare and shit. Smart diplomacy.”
“Listen, I understand if you’re trying to stay quiet right now. This is a very discrete job. No visibility whatsoever. We heard Father McCreary disappeared.” Art said with a smile and a grin.
“Yeah, I heard it too. As soon as I went looking for him, he takes off. Smart son of a bitch, if you ask me. No need for me to lay low. He’s gone to ground.”

Father Eugene McCreary. Another story for another time. But it’s a story you already know, unless you’ve been under a rock for a long time or done a Rip Van Winkle. McCreary’s Pleasure Palace was closed a couple of weeks ago. It turned out bad for him.

“Just want you to know that anyway you stop them is fine with us,” said Art.
“Good to have customer backing,” I replied.
“There is one thing though, we want to know how they know the location of our houses.”
“Someone is talking and you need to plug the leak.”

Reasonable request, not unexpected considering the circumstances. But think about how that would come about. How would I extract the information? How much pain would be involved. Plenty is the correct answer. Unless it can be reasoned. I’d prefer that. Less mess. I hate having to change clothes after things get messy, like with McCreary.

Art reached into the pocket of his t-shirt and took out a memory stick.

“Police and Fire Department reports,” he said holding it up.
“Freedom of Information?” I asked.
“Pension funding,” he replied with a droll tone.
“I’m gonna need a day to look at this and think about it. Alright?”
“Fine with me. Whatever you need.”
“What do the cops think?” I asked. May as well start with knowing that.
“They think its a lone vigilante, or a competitor masquerading as a lone vigilante,” Art replied. “It’s all in the report.”
“So they don’t know.”
“No. That’s why we’re coming to you. Five houses, three dead men. Men with wives and kids. We don’t want any more. It’s restricting sales.”
“I’ll let you know tomorrow.”
“You’ll see me tomorrow then,” Art said.
“I look forward to reading the reports,” I replied. It was an honest answer. The excitement inside of me was building.
“Then I’ll mention the sweetner now.”
“Please,” I said trying to be as calm as possible.
“If you find the person who did this, find out who gave them the locations, and deliver them to us alive, your fee will be doubled and you get 100 large for your work. Our little way of saying ‘job well done, thank you’”. Art sounded like a corporate boss when he said ‘job well done, thank you’.
“That’s a lot to think about.”

Not really.

You know those guys you see on television or in movies, the ones that always do what’s right? I’m not one of them. Or the guy who comes around in the end to do what’s right? Not him either. Sorry if you’re disappointed. Sometimes, but not always, I am the smaller evil that must be permitted in order to keep larger evil at bay. I serve this function often. I do not believe it to be wrong. In fact I argue that it makes me much more vested in right than wrong, and more vested in it than those who are only willing to do good things to achieve good outcomes. I consider that to be ignoring valuable weapons and is a significant tactical mistake. So I work on both sides of the line. If anything I experience a mild sense of satisfaction if things turn out well. For me, it’s just figuring things out and correcting them however I can. It’s never an emotional thing with me. No remorse, no guilt.

I think that is what scared Emmie the most.

Artie Piro would come back tomorrow and I would tell him that I would take his job.

 

Part Two

Land of the Chillin

Jimmy opened the door to his house. He was smiling.
“Trunk, come on in. It must be a Tuesday.”
There could be some predictability in my routines.

You know those little houses on dirt roads out in the country. The kind you pass and wonder who lives in them. Jimmy Shoud does. Jimmy and his wife, Teal, have lived in that house since his mother passed away. Took a year and a lot of paint before the cigarette smell finally faded. His mother always had one burning. Damnedest thing. Made my eyes water.
Teal was sitting on the sofa. She smiled, her chubby cheeks red and her teeth as straight as a military cemetery. Teal’s step-father is a dentist.

“How you doing party boy?” she asked with a chuckle.

The previous weekend I had been handed a bong after my seventh beer. Instead of just falling on my face like any reasonable person would, my body instead decided to projectile vomit onto whoever was standing near me. Three of my friends got sprayed. I was sick two more times outside on the lawn. Then I told people I just wanted to lay on the grass and sleep for a little while and I’d be fine. So they let me. They’re kind that way. I woke up around two thirty when a thunderstorm rolled in and soaked me to the bone. Teal’s brother drove me and my truck home with help from a friend. The rest of the afternoon didn’t get any better. After another nap I woke up just as the sun was going down. Having a hangover at dinner seemed incorrectly timed to me.

I’ll be straight with you, I can’t handle the booze. It messes me up every time. I’m much safer with the weed. That’s why I went to see Jimmy. Some people shouldn’t drink and I may be one of them.

“Can I see it?” I asked.
“Sure,” said Jimmy. “Come on back.” He motioned with his hand.

We walked down a paneled hallway. Past a bedroom with bunk beds for the children they didn’t have. Past the only bathroom in the house. To the bedroom at the back of the house. The bedroom was about twelve feet wide by fifteen feet long. Inside of it was a four foot wide by four foot long by 7 foot tall grow tent. There was also another one that measured two foot by two foot and only three foot tall.

“I’ve got a beauty for you, Trunk. You’re gonna love it. No limits. You want to get even higher, then smoke more. No ceiling.”
“Sounds good,” I replied.

Jimmy has been a friend of mine since I helped him out of a jam years ago. He didn’t have any money to pay me so he pays me in weed. He grows enough for me and him and one other friend, Piedmont. And of course Teal. Can’t forget about her. She can smoke some serious quantity. I’ve seen her hit the bong three or four times with smoke that makes me stop at two. Big girl, big lungs.

Jimmy unzipped the grow tent and pulled it open.

“Say hello to Jack Herer, the Electric Phenome. This is the stuff that legends are made from. I can’t believe I got one.” He moved his arms like one of those women on the TV that stand next to the prizes. It was stupid and funny and that’s why he did it. Jimmy’s a funny guy, always quick with a joke and a compliment.
“Excellent,” I replied. “Are you taking cuttings.”
“Got the nursery full of cuts. Twenty so far.”
“Sweet”.

Jimmy had real good luck. We’re talking one in ten thousand kind of luck. Best of all he was smart enough to realize he was lucky and was able to preserve it with cuttings, each of which would grow into it’s own plant, which in turn would yield it’s own cuttings. He could keep his good luck going forever.

“Sent a guy out in Cali 7 grams of the bud. He’s offering me a grand for ten cuttings.”
“Holy shit, Jimmy, that’s great.”

Jimmy works for his father’s heating and air conditioning company. He hates it. His dad keeps trying to get him involved in running the business but Jimmy isn’t interested. He hates his old man and his damned long-winded lectures. Her hates his step-mom’s big fake tits. Jimmy’s dad is the kind of man that won’t rest until you agree with him. I’ve seen him in action before. One of those bastards that believes that if he didn’t come up with the idea then it’s probably not any good. What a jerk. I feel sorry for any woman married to him. Until Jimmy is willing to take a role in running the business, his old man won’t even pay him as much as much as the other air techs. Jimmy is the lowest paid employee at his father’s company. What an asshole.

“I’ll be growing this for a long time.”
“Great.”
“But don’t worry, I’ll add a few of your favorites.”

Free weed for life. That was our deal. Jimmy was desperate when I met him, expecting to die within hours for something he didn’t do. It was turning out to be one of the best deals of my life. Jimmy’s been growing for years and seemed to have finally hit the right combination. “It’s not art, it’s science,” he tells me.

“White Russian is making a comeback,” Jimmy said.

Last summer Jimmy grew four White Russian plants and we make ourselves stupid every night for a long time. I’ve still got a half ounce stashed in a long term jar on the boat. It was that good.

“Remember where you are when you smoke it the first time,” he added.
“Oh yeah,” I replied. The first time I smoked it I took a three hour nap on Jimmy’s sofa. Woke up feeling great.
“Hey, did you get that thing you were talking about?” I asked him.
“Oh hell yes. Do you want to take a look?”
“Definitely.”
“Behold,” he said. He reached into the tent and pulled one of the plants over to him. He lifted the pot containing the plant and filled with what looked like musket balls. Below it was a bubbling cauldron of nutrient enriched water sufficiently agitated enough to splash over the plant roots that hung down from the pot and over the porous pot full of pellets.
“Wow. Do you like it more than dirt?”
“I think so. It’s more precise. But very unforgiving.”
“What do you mean unforgiving?”
“If I don’t have a spare pump for one of the plants I will get to watch it die very quickly.”
“That makes sense.”
“But we’re going to be getting a lot more now. Between the Deep Water Culture growing and the Screen of Green, we’re going to be getting almost twice as much as now.”
“Screen of green, that’s making it a fat wide plant and weaving it through the screens, right?”
“That’s the one,” said Jimmy. “Remember the Kali?”
“Oh yeah,” I replied.

Jimmy let me trim a lot of the Kali harvest. It was great fun. Had some really good scissor hash at the end of the day. Very potent. I remember the PVC pipe frame in the tent that supported the netting. Very unusual looking thing. But the harvest was significantly more than usual.

“I’ve put together a little bit of all of them for you,” said Jimmy.
“Gorilla Glue #4,” he said picking up an ounce bag.
“Jack Herer, Electric,” he said picking up another ounce bag. “Let me know what you think. I love the stuff.”
“Granddaddy Purple.” Another bag.
“And finally, our very own Bubba Kush.”
“Damn Jimmy, this is some primo smoke.”
“Then let me show you the specials.”
“What did you do?”
“I made bubble hash from each of them. Each of these pouches has enough to get knock you on your ass many times.”
“Holy shit. That looks dangerous.” I was smiling.
“Let’s get you travel ready.”
“OK.”

You ever seen one of those food vacuum sealers that they sell of TV? They have other uses too. Jimmy put all four ounces into a large plastic bag and then sucked the air out of it. When that was done, he did it again. Double vacuum sealed. My smoke inventory was very sufficient for the foreseeable future.

“Jimmy, what do you know about Crystal Meth?”
“Nothing, Trunk. Two different worlds. They don’t mix, except at the edges… or in front of a judge.”
“That makes two of us,” I replied.
“Hey you wanna stay for dinner? We’re having pillows.”

Pillows are those already prepared ravioli that you put in boiling water for a few minutes then smother with a jar of Alfredo sauce.

“I’d love to but I’ve got to get started on a job.”
“Who ya workin for this time?”
“Art.”
“Piro? The biker?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Be careful round them, Trunk. Those mothers are crazy. Real psychopaths. Don’t trust them. And get your money up front if you can.”

Jimmy doesn’t like bikers. He has history with them. It pays to know who you are flirting with before her boyfriend shows up and kicks your ass. Jimmy was in the hospital for four days. Fifty large they charged him for four days. No surgery even. Just some stitches, some reset bones, painkillers and antibiotics and some tubes stuck in his arm. Fifty large. And you know what the insurance company did? Those bastards denied the claim. Jimmy hit the asshole that was beating the crap out of him and the insurance company said that was assault. They denied the claim based on the commission of a crime. Only an asshole would put a guy in the hospital then turn around and press assault charges against him. Jimmy hates bikers. But he hates insurance companies even more.

“I’ll be careful.”
“Keep a gun handy.”
“I will,” I replied.

Yeah I know, cons can’t have guns and I’ve got three of them. I’m not running for office on a law and order campaign, so deal with it. I’m just trying to stay alive as long as I can.

“You got time to burn one?”
“No pilgrim, got to get started. Gotta some reading to do.”
“Well I hope you catch the bastard. How many people he’s burned up now?”
“Three,” I replied.
“That’s just wrong. I don’t like meth either, but I’m not gonna kill someone over it.”
“I see your point.”

I respect Jimmy and mostly try to be honest with him when I can.

I did see his point. I heard it, understood it, and understood it as a thing of Jimmy, a reflection of his personality, a nice, kind person.
But that was it. I did not feel the same.

Would I kill someone over meth? It is entirely situational and I suspect there are many circumstance where I would. It all depends. But for Jimmy to have a blanket prohibition, well that was Jimmy and that’s how he is. This is why I chose my words to him carefully. And I’ve been choosing my word carefully since I figured out my condition years ago. I’m pretty good at it now. Can almost instantly reconstruct sentences to remain truthful yet still be misleading. It just takes practice and I’ve got over a decade of it under my belt. No need to lie to Jimmy, there was no benefit.

I spent that evening laying on the bed of the rear cabin of my boat.

No I not a sailor. Not even close to it. Two years ago I couldn’t tell you port from starboard or bow from stern. Just that sometimes I get paid in stuff instead of cash. Same as me and Jimmy.
Trey Kolstead wanted to give it to me as payment for a job right after Emmie and I split. He was preparing to go through a real nasty divorce and it was an asset he didn’t want to have on the list when he told his wife he was leaving her. He wasn’t much of a sailor either. He owns a couple of beach condos. His new love nest was already up and running. And I needed a long-term place to stay and cons don’t get mortgages, so I said ‘yes’. Now I live on a 1991 Catalina - Morgan 44 foot sailboat. I’ve been sailing exactly four times in the two years I’ve had it. Three single overnight trips and one trip to Jamaica that wound up in Cuba after a bad storm that scared the crap out of me. It’s comfortable in the marina and not too bad since I added air conditioning.

Just can’t burn one tied up here. So I use a vaporizer onboard with a fan and air filters…Jimmy set it up for me. All the air in the boat is cycled through charcoal filters every two minutes. But it sucks electricity. I prefer to just go for a walk most days if I can.

But you probably don’t give a shit about where I live. I began reading the reports. Here’s the highlights.

Gasoline was the accelerant used in the fires.
Cops found evidence that the door locks had been jammed, they wanted the people inside to burn up.
There was a copy of the Koran on the sidewalk outside of each house. Police speculate it to be misleading evidence. I wondered if they are all the same edition, the same printer, the sale age. Wonder if Zon sold a stack of Korans in the last few months or keeps sending one after another to the same address. It’s these sort of things that I find interesting.
All houses were set on fire between 2:12AM and 3:36AM.
40% of the gasoline was used at the entrances and exits, the rest of mostly equally distributed.
The fire department believed the gasoline was sprayed on, based on a piece of siding that fell off before it burned up. They speculated on a garden sprayer, the plastic reservoir kind you can get almost anywhere. Many of them hold the right amount to fit the accelerant profile of the fires.
The closest traffic camera was over eight miles from one of the houses.
Only one camera citation was issued during the time of a fire. It was issued to Peter Bremininsky, a high school student who is not a suspect. He was meeting his girlfriend, Cathy Duberman, for sex and she corroborated his alibi. She’s pregnant and police believe them.
All of the houses had wood frame and wood siding. I thought about this a little more.

I opened up Maps and started putting pins at the burn locations. All remote. No close neighbors.

Let me tell you about houses out in the middle of nowhere. They aren’t all wood siding. Granted a lot of them are, but there are also a hell of a lot of 1,200 to 1,500 square foot houses that are made of bricks. You’ve seen them, those cramped little rectangles or if they had a few extra bucks they’re L-shaped. Husband, wife, and three kids will just about make that small a space into a madhouse. Most of them only have one bathroom. Next time you’re out in the middle of nowhere, take a look. A lot more of them than you think. I’ve noticed it since I was a kid. Had cousins that lived in those houses. I grew up in one. I needed to know how many of Art’s houses are wood and how many are brick.

Thoughts are a strange thing sometimes. They pop into heads constantly. We work to have them about a topic and we succeed mostly. But its not just the thoughts that give us knowledge. Without organization they are just random facts, there is no knowledge to be extracted from them. I figured this out a long time ago and I sort of do it naturally. Group facts together. Notice patterns. Sometimes its like that color-blind test, you know the one with the bubbles and the number hidden in it. I can see the numbers after awhile, if I’m lucky. It helps if I write things out. It’s a natural organizer. I’ve watched enough TV to know how to set up one of those crime boards.

I found some mind mapping software while I was working on a job last year. Late night stoner research and I got frustrated and asked for alternative to the little notepad that comes with the computer. I’m computer literate, but not gonna win any awards for it. But I do know enough to realize that ExploreYourMind is the coolest software I’ve ever seen. But then a browser and Excel are about as far as I go when it comes to software.

The opening screen for Explore is the dumbest looking thing ever. Cartoon clouds that multiply then begin to take positions on a grid that magically appears in the background. Wow, a bunch of people approved this as the start up screen.
I selected Random Entry.

You know all that stuff I just told you about? The Koran, the times, the gasoline? I put each one onto a little card that popped up on the screen.

Around 1AM sleep descended.

Next day - Wednesday morning

I pulled into Cresthaven Cemetery and parked near the largest mausoleum.

That morning there were three.
First up was Delores Panchow, followed by Pijoy Huthulu, and ending with Ronald Swift.

I will visit each.
Will watch the tears, listen to the prayers.
And I will feel nothing.
The husbands, the wives, the children, their cheeks wet.
And I will not have the slightest sadness.
No a lump in my throat, my eyes will remain dry.
As dry as they were when my mother died.

I have never felt anything for anyone, ever.
Except Emmie.
And this scares me. Emmie should not exist.
But she does and it gives me hope.
Hope that I am not completely lost to it.

So I will face my condition.
I will call it by its name.
And I will watch the dead be buried.

After the friends and family of Ronald Swift finally leave, it will be just me. Nobody else.

This comforts me.

It doesn’t cure me but I feel more at ease. Being at ease is important. I will feel in control and reaffirm that it is all manageable.

It is all about triggers.

I have identified several triggers for bad outcomes, the sort of things that ensure bad things happens, someone gets hurt, things get broken. It took me a couple of years before I realized triggers existed. It required a lot of reading. I was in high school when I discovered them. But I also identified things that reduce the chance of bad outcomes, I call them negative triggers. Being at ease with myself is one of them. In fact, it’s the top one. That’s why I smoke so much weed. Keeping it all under control, well managed.

 

Can’t go killin in the land of the chillin.

I bet your insurance covers mental health.

Mine doesn’t.

I got a text message from Danny. Art was at the shop waiting for me.

 

Part Three

High Octane Guilt

I watched a bug on the dingy wall of the lunchroom. It climbed the corner headed up to the ceiling like a mountain climber. Then it fell. I watched it plummet down to the floor. It hit hard and was still. I thought it was dead. But then it moved. It began moving back towards the corner. I understood the bug. We aren’t that different.

I heard the torrential Florida rain coming down against the metal roof of the building, those big rain drops that cover more than one freckle.

I turned my attention back to Art.

“Only six of us know where all the houses are,” Art said. “Everyone else on the payroll knows where one of them is,” Art said.

Compartmentalized knowledge. Smart Art. Wonder if that’s why he’s so smart, cuz every time someoney said ‘smart’ he thought they were talking to him and he’d better not let them down.

This middle aged man with a pony-tail and tattoos holds two Master’s degrees. One in Computer Science and the other in Theology. No shit, theology. A man who did a full five years in Federal prison can tell you all about the history of the early church and discuss epistemology. He had to tell me what that meant. Examining what we know and how we justify what we believe. Kinda like a knowing the different between bullshit and good shit.

In the end Art turned out a Buddhist. Its always a good bet that Art is the smartest person in the room. This time it was only the two of us. That makes me the stupid one.

“Let’s stop there for a moment,” I said.
“Why?”
“We need to cover off a few things first.”
“Like what?” asked Art.
“All the shit you are going to tell me.”
“Motherfucker, you tell anyone, you die. Anyone, not even your momma. It doesn’t get more simple than that,” replied Art.
“That part is understood. You don’t just pay me for my work but for my discretion.”
“Damn straight about that. You did your time, you know.”

Art was right.

I got five years in state prison and served three of them.

Fifty pounds of weed and a gun in Tallahassee. I hate Tallahassee.

When they searched my house cops found $137,495 in a floor safe. That was all it took. All my ghost money, gone.

It wasn’t even my weed.

I was on a job.

Dylan said he didn’t want to go by himself. That’s an invitation to get ripped off. I agreed to go along for 5K. I’m not big and mean but I can look like someone you should never mess with. And best of all, it’s true.

Dylan left the hotel room to get us a couple of soft drinks. That’s when it all went down. They must have thought he was leaving. They busted the door down while I was laying on the bed watching a sports channel. It was all so loud that after jerking my entire body like what happens when I fall asleep sometimes, I tried very hard to remain completely still. Men in black were aiming automatic rifles at me and yelling. So many of them were yelling at the same time it was hard to understand any of them. But after about ten very dangerous seconds things calmed down.

They grabbed me and flipped me over. I was laying on my stomach on the bed with my hands in cuffs behind my back. The cop had his hand on the cuffs and was pulling me up to my feet. It hurt. That’s when I heard the gunshot. A single shot.

And Dylan died.

Cops say he was resisting arrest, so they had to shoot him in the back. They also say he was armed and I know that’s bullshit.

I pleaded 20 years down to 5 and did my 3.

“It’s the amount of information you are going to share with me,” I said.

I looked out of the glass window of the lunchroom out into the shop. Mrs. Hutchinson’s Jaguar was waiting on me. I could see the back of the heads of the two bikers standing outside of the door of the lunchroom. One ponytail, one bald. Bald with neck tattoos is a naturally scary appearance.
“You want to know where they are, I get it,” replied Art.
“When was the last time you got laid,” I asked him.
“None of your fucking business.”
“I don’t mean anything personal by this Art, but let’s pretend the answer was about 3 months ago, right before the first house caught fire. Wouldn’t you agree that this answer would make it an interesting bit of information to know?
“Motherfucker, are you accusing me of burning down my own cooks?” Art said angrily. He took a deep breath.
“No, I am pointing out the level of detail I’ll be asking. Could be a disgruntled wife, an angry girlfriend, some one that wants to become club president. Hell, it could be a rogue cop. It’s a long list of possibilities. Maybe Trisha is tired of getting it every morning from her old man? Maybe someone down south is making life hard on you.”
“Good point. The Lambos are offering to fill the void at wholesale prices. They are offering a better price than I would offer them.”
Lambos isn’t really the name of the club. But for the boys up north they are all Lamborghini sniffing little princes down in South Florida.

“Interesting. How much better?”
“Twenty percent.”
“You buying?”
“A test buy. Not too much, but enough to see if it works. If it works, and I’m not sure it will, a commercial relationship could be a good thing. No more Whataburgers.”

Lambos and Art’s club got into a brawl that wrecked a Whatburger hamburger joint in Orange Park a few years back. When the fighting spilled into the food prep area they busted up a lot of expensive equipment. Almost fifty thousand in damages. Eight guys ended up in the hospital. But nobody pulled a gun. That was the remarkable things about it.

I would have.

If you’re beating the crap out of me and I have a gun, you’re going to stop immediately. It’s simple self-defense.

But not a single person in over 120 bikers pulled a gun that day.

And nobody pressed assault charges.
Glad I wasn’t there, would have been a different outcome.

“I have to ask deeply personal questions.
“I get it,” said Art.
“We’re talking about a lot of questions that aren’t polite.”
“Night before last,” Art said.
“Good.”

There were two white boards in the lunch room. One of them had the list of cars to be repaired. The other board was blank. Almost. Someone had written ‘Danny loves BBC’ on it. Now some of the more sophisticated of you may think that this means Danny like the British Broadcasting Corporation, Dr. Who and all those English programs. But the rest of you know what it really stands for.

Danny tried to erase it but it was written with a permanent marker.

I walked over to the white board and wrote the words ‘Prevention’, ‘Prior History’, ‘Event Circumstances’, ‘Motives’, ‘Profiles’, ‘Assessments’. Then I erased them.
“These are the topics I would like to start with. There are others.” I said.
“I’ll need to get Red and Puny in to get the best view of it all. I can only tell you about 95%.”

Red is Art’s right hand. He’s the contrast to Art. Where Art tries to be reflective, Red is active. Together they make a good team. You don’t get on the wrong side of Red. Ever.

“Who is Puny?”
“He’s our chief cook. Goes around teaching the others how to make those long crystals. Without him, we’re making the same crap as everyone else.”

“Let’s talk about prevention,” I said.
“A hot topic right now. We’ve got 26 sites and two men protecting each one, twelve hour shifts.”
“What about the cooks?”
“That’s not counting the cooks. They cook, someone else guards.”
“52 people, that a big round the clock commitment,” I said.
“You don’t have to tell me. I’ve got bitchy wives, bitchy girlfriends, and a bunch of members lined up to tell me how much it sucks. Take a number.”
“I bet,” I said.
“Even got a few of them that want to abandon the business. Just quit the business.”
“How much money are you making from this per year?” I asked.
“Three mill per house per year.”
“Holy shit,” I replied genuinely shocked.
“Puny ain’t no slouch, Trunk. He’s got degrees in chemistry out the ass. Daniel’s cousin, known us since he was a kid. Our houses are spotless, you can eat off the god damned floors. That’s how he runs them. With Red’s help.”
“I’ll need to see one.”
“That can be arranged,” Art replied. “But remember you ain’t no god-damned tourist,” he added gruffly.

I watched Duncan walk over to the lunch room. He spoke in a loud voice.

“I need to get the rest of my lunch outta there,” he complained.
“Fuck off, if you know what’s good for you,” replied the bald neck tattoo.
“You suck,” Duncan complained and walked back to his Alfa Romero with the hood up.
“One warning, pencil dick,” bald neck tattoo called out to a retreating Duncan.
“One warning,” Duncan repeated.

Duncan had a big messy roast beef sandwich for lunch. It was the dominant food odor in the lunch room and it was making me hungry. It wasn’t the sandwich so much the problem as it was Duncan.
“Excuse me,” I said with a smile.
I got up from the table and walked over to the refrigerator. It was an old one from Danny’s fishing camp. 1980s model. It would keep things chilled but never really make them cold. Broken thermostat. I opened the light brown box, took out the remainder of Duncan’s sandwich. I walked over to the soft drink machine and push the Diet Coke button.
“What are you doing?” Art asked.
“My good deed for the day.”
I brought the sandwich and drink to Duncan. He was smiling when he saw the sandwich.

Duncan is a good guy, a damned good mechanic too. He’s just a pain in the ass, might be a bit messed up in the head. He doesn’t process things properly or something. He’ll revert to an endless barrage of complaints to get his way. It is a very childlike behavior and annoying.
Most of us recognize it as some sort of mental thing with Duncan. But I didn’t get it at first. Some people don’t. Duncan gets beaten up regularly because of it. Gotta be annoying for the manager of a Burger King to punch you in the mouth, knowing it is gonna cost him his job. A customer service clerk at Costco slapped that crap out of him a couple of years ago and lost her job. Some people just don’t recognize his condition. I was one of them.

By the middle of the second day working around Duncan I was sick of his shit. He had badgered Tommy for hours about selling his car to him. Tommy wasn’t buying.
“I need the hole,” Duncan said, requesting the in-ground repair pit we use for fluid changes and repairs.
“As soon as I’m done with it,” I replied.
“How much longer do you have?” he asked.
“About an hour, hour and a half” I replied.
“An hour, a whole hour?”
“Yes.”
“Why? What are you doing for a whole hour?”
“Oil change, oil pan gasket, transmission fluid check and top up, rear axle gaskets and refill.”
“But you have a lot of other things to do on the car, don’t you?”
“Yes.”
“Then why don’t you do that now so I can use the hole.”
“Because I’ve already got it in place. I’m already draining the oil.”
“But once you’ve done the oil change you can move it and let me do my work.”
“Duncan it’s already there. No, just wait. Isn’t there other things you can do on your car?”
“Yes, but I don’t feel like doing them right now. They are all under the dash and I don’t like laying on my back for the next two hours in this heat.”
“Sorry, not going to happen,” I replied.
“But you must. I don’t want to fight with a dashboard for hours. It’s too hot.”

Danny has very large circulation fans in the shop. A big wonderful constant breeze blows. Even a hot breeze is better than no breeze. But inside of a car it’s a different matter, a Florida sauna.

I was standing in the pit under the car. I couldn’t see what Duncan was doing but a couple seconds later it became obvious when he walked to the front of the car and began to push it away from the tunnel.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m making it easy on you. So you don’t have to push it. I’ll do it for you.”

Duncan moved the car to the other side of the shop. I came out of the tunnel mad as hell. I grabbed Duncan by the shoulder and pulled his hands off of the hood of the car. He spun around. There was a look of sheer terror on his face.
“Please don’t hit me,” he begged. “Please don’t.”
He had that same look of terror as my little brother had when I was threatening to beat him up.

In an instant I changed my mind and I didn’t beat the crap out of Duncan. But I did hit him. I punched him in the arm. Hit him hard. It hurt, he yelled and it left a large bruise.

But it served its purpose.

Now I just threaten to punch him in the arm when he starts his shit and he changes his behavior and remembers to stay a safe distance. Sometimes he will tell me that he can still remember how much it hurt when I punched him. Sometimes he tells me that he almost cried from it. He’s trying to make me feel bad and I think that is funny. It makes me smile every time he tells me.

Why did I go get his sandwich? Because if I didn’t then Duncan was going to be Duncan and he would get one of his periodic beatings. But this time it would be from someone who was good at it. Bikers aren’t just hit them till they go down and that’s the end of it sort of people. No, it would be a trip to the hospital. So what? Why do I care?

I don’t and that’s the problem.

Duncan could start being a pain in the ass and wind up in intensive care for all I care. Makes no difference to me one bit. However, I do know that I am supposed to care and that I know this screws me totally.

I should give a shit but I don’t.

No matter how hard I try to care I can’t. And this makes me depressed. When I get depressed it always comes to me, the same stupid question. I can’t avoid it. What is the point of living if you have no feelings for others? It comes with a long list of memories of when I hurt people.

So I’m faking it.

This little act of kindness will avert me from a course that could cause me harm. No beating for him, no depression and suicidal thoughts for me. Sleight of mind. All hail the power of self-deception.

“Thanks Trunk,” Duncan said when I handed him the sandwich.
“Better stay over here and out of their way,” I said.
“Mean bastards. They’d better not be mean to you.”
“They’re being nice,” I replied.
“Good. I like their motorcycles. Especially the long one. I’d like one of those,” Duncan said with a smile. He unwrapped the sandwich and resumed eating it.

“Shit Trunk, you need a database,” said Art.
“I’ve got something I use at home.”
“OK, where were we? Puny is married. Wife is expecting their first soon. She teaches at Lutcher.
“Mortgage?”
“No”.
“How much do you pay him?”
“Him and Red make the same money. 500K”
“Holy shit,” I said. “That’s lucrative.”
“Let me break it down for you.”
“Please,” I replied.

“Big dog, one million.
Red and Puny, 500K.
Three Captains, 250K.
Cooks, 200K.
Soldiers, 100K.”

“Total payroll 16.5, now add in 4 to keep the locals quiet, another 2 for capital and equipment, another solid one for legal. Does that sum it up enough for you? Just under 25 a year costs. We’ve got a multiple of that on the top end so it turns out real well. A fair wage invites loyalty.”
“It sure as hell does,” I replied.
“A solid paycheck keeps a lot of grief asunder,” said Art.
“Who else knows the pay structure?” I asked.
“Everyone on the payroll.”
“Everyone? Are you shitting me?”
“No. Why keep it a secret? We’re grown ups, we can handle it. Besides, it stops a lot of rumors and shit talking.”
“$100K. I see where it may encourage responsible behavior.”
“Now you get it. When you’re well paid you don’t need to be a dick about money, you can relax, your bills are paid.”
“Nice.”
“Shit, I’ve got two guys studying chemistry at North Florida. Soldier paychecks for attending class. Investing in our people. That’s the best thing we can do.”

Damn they must be swimming in it. 75 sales, 25 costs, 50 net…yearly. Wait a minute, that will bring its own problem.

“What do you do with the profit?”
“Bahamas. We’ve got working arrangements with some banks. It’s right next door. Makes a nice couple of days away.”
“I bet.”

I hadn’t seen the right side of a vacation since my honeymoon and that was five years ago.

I was in the wrong business, that much was clear.

“How does Puny get along with his wife?” I asked.
“Real good. Normal. No violence. Wouldn’t even consider it. Puny married above his paygrade. Lucky egghead with a big dick.”
“Drugs?”
“He smokes weed. Beer on the weekends sometimes. But never really gets falling down drunk just happy.”
“Who likes him the least?”
“That would be Jono,” Art replied. “Jono was thinking he would be the right person to run things along with Red. He didn’t like it when we decided to go with a someone from the cook-side. He was loud in his opposition. He’s one of the captains.”
“How was it resolved?”
“With cash, discretely. Funded his retirement plan. I know, Jono knows. Now you. Don’t share it.”
“Is it resolved or is it festering?”
“Resolved. Completely.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Jono’s got a million reasons to let it slide, so he does.”
“Damn,” I replied.
“Look at the numbers. Harmony is worth it.”

Art’s phone dinged. He pulled it from his pocket and looked at the screen. Then he smiled.
“Good news?”
“Excellent. Some sumbitches deserve what they get.”
“Long as it ain’t me,” I replied.
“Bobby Turner.”
“Oh.”

Bobby Turner testified against the club four years ago.

He started getting high on the product. Kept it hidden. That’s what they all say, and it works for awhile. But a drug addiction can’t hide. Eventually everyone knows. He got busted in a bar asleep in a booth with a huge fun bag in his pocket.
He traded the only thing he had to offer, the location of a cook house. He turned it over along with the names of the cooks. Cops raided it at shift change so they could get both cooks.

It was big local news because it was the first pristine cook house the cops had ever seen, most of them look like a filthy squatter’s site with equipment. It was more a chemistry lab than a kitchen. The cooks got ten years each. Bobby Turner thought he would get away with it, nobody would find out it was him. He made it look like Chip did it. I know because I found the burner phone that put the noose around Chip’s neck.

Chip disappeared.

But a few months ago when the DEA shared a large bunch of information with local cops, Bobby’s deal came back to the club through well compensated channels. Bobby Turner was about to arrive in state prison on a robbery charge and I reckoned Art had a plan in place. There are those who have no problem killing what they think is a dirty rotten bastard. But when they kill one, then find out he ain’t one? Shit gonna hit the fan.

Guilt acts like high octane on a fire for some people.

It could cause rage. But Art meditates. 30 minutes every day. Says it helps him keep it all in order.

Sometimes I think he tries to be like one of those Indian holy men. I’ve seen them on TV a few times. A few turned out to be real dirty old bastards, didn’t they? Wonder why there aren’t ever any Indian holy women?. I’d be a hell of a lot more interested in that than some long haired bearded furry guy.

“Listen, we’re good to go, right?” Art said as he laid down an envelop on the table.
I picked it up. 5K up front money.
“We’re good. But tell your club that I will be asking a lot of personal questions and don’t want my ass stomped for them.”
“I have already talked to the captains. We’ll cover the rest as necessary.”
“I’m going to need at least eight hours of your time.”
“Not a problem. How about tomorrow?”
“Sounds good.”
“There’s a captain’s meeting tomorrow. You’ll get to meet them as well as Puny. You already know Red.”

Red and I met a few years ago when he asked me to check on his wife. She wasn’t having an affair, she was planning a surprise 40th birthday party for him. Red has a problem trusting people. I was glad it was one of those jobs where nobody got hurt. Only because I didn’t want to be associated with another dead body, the list is too long already. Often I tell people what I find, then hear about some tragedy days, weeks, or months later in the local news. Sometimes I get questioned by the cops because some snitch remembers I was asking questions. Fortunately the local cops don’t try real hard when a low life turns up dead or missing. ‘One less perp’ is how they cut that deck.
“I need to get moving. Darius is pitching this afternoon.”
Darius is Art’s son. He pitches for the University of Florida baseball team. He got a lot of local press in high school when he led his school to the state championship. Some of the major league teams have sent scouts down to take a look at him and another player on the team, a short stop with a one of the best batting averages in college baseball. There’s even talk that Florida could finally dethrone Louisiana State University, LSU, the powerhouse of college baseball.
“What time?” I asked.
“Noon. One guy has to ride in from Pensacola, another from Tallahassee.”
“Where? The Clubhouse?”
“No. The shop.”
Art runs one of the best automotive speed shops in North Florida, Custom Hyperdrive. If you want to turn your car from a stock factory engine into a screamer, Custom Hyperdrive is the store that will do it. They will not only sell you the parts, they will install them for you too. Serious gearhead stuff.

“I’ll be there,” I replied.
“Trunk, I’ll only tell you this one time. Don’t fuck this up. I like you. Don’t make me kill you.”
“I won’t”.

Art left the lunchroom. His two soldiers fell in beside him and about a minute later I heard the roar of their bikes. The rain had stopped.

About a half hour later my phone rang. I was Emmie.

“Hello honey,” I said.
“Trunk, you have to stop sending me flowers at work.”
“But you like flowers.”
“I know, but you need to stop. We’re not married anymore.”
“So what? You like flowers and I like you. We don’t have to be married for that.”
“So you need to stop.”
“But it makes you smile when you see them, don’t it?”
“Yes.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“It’s upsetting Andrew.”

Right, Andrew. More about him later. But for now just know that I’m working on a plan for him.

His life expectancy is measured in weeks.

 

Part Four

Groupthink

"Take a seat, Trunk," Art said pointing to the chair sitting next to him at the table. It was a nice table, solid wood, expensive. I sat down beside him in the cushy chairs.
"Most of you know who Trunk is, so I won't waste your time with introductions. Puny, this is Trunk."
"Heard you were coming, good to meet you," his voice sounded like what you would expect from an educated frat-boy.
Puny was the smartest of a large litter and got a free ride at college. He wasn’t like his name implied, he wasn’t small. People often pick up opposite nicknames. He was 6 foot four maybe 6 foot five, slightly overweight, and kept his hair cut short and ugly, kind of haircut your mom buys for you when you were five years old and she wanted you to look good for the pictures at Easter. You know the kind, tight cut on the side, big goofy part sticking up at the front. Now add black plastic framed glasses and you've got the complete picture. His handshake was big and strong, like him.
“Hey Trunk,” good to see you again. Jono nodded to me.
“Hey asshole,” said Chris with a smile.
Chris had never forgiven me for putting a knife to his throat a few years back when Art asked me to find out who in his club hijacked a truck full of HD parts. I could have killed him but I didn’t. Mostly because there was a bonus for delivering him alive. As soon as I recognized him I let him go. I just needed to know who. Still it’s a circumstance hr will always remember, when someone else had his life in their hands and there wasn’t shit he could do about it. I could have used a gun but I didn’t. I used a knife because it is more personal. It’s one thing to step out of the shadows with a gun, but to really scare someone, a knife to the throat wins every time. I felt his legs go weak, he almost cut himself on my knife when he swooned.
“Let’s get started,” said Art.
An instant later I heard a low electrical hum.
"Red, bring us up-to-date." Art looked at Red and nodded.
It’s coming and I don’t like it. I really don’t like this part.
Red reached into his pocket and took out a bullet. He leaned across the table and set the bullet directly in front of me. It was his way of reminding me of my non-disclosure agreement. He’d done this every time I did a job for the club. It was some sort of ritual to him but a waste of time and not at all intimidating to me. Put the bullet in a gun and it becomes intimidating. It’s just his tough guy ego gone stupid and I find it annoying. I’m not gonna forget the first rule is always discretion.
"NCS didn't break the deal," said Red. "I know we all thought they did, but it ain't so. It was a set up. Somebody called in a fake domestic disturbance."
"Why didn't they back away? That's what we pay them to do," asked Jono.
"Because we don't pay all of them and they sent a two year veteran to breakup of fistfight between a non-existing husband and wife. And he wasn't on our payroll. So when he figures out what's going on he calls for enough backup to invade Panama. God damned helicopters. Pissing away tax payers money on air superiority. At that point our subscribers can't get in the way. If they do, it's too god-damned obvious."
"Great. Another one for the bitch," said Chris.

'The Bitch' is Nassau County District Attorney, Wanda Ford. She's made a reputation for herself as one of the toughest DA's in Florida. WND they call her, Wanda No Deal. She sent about a quarter of Nassau County senior officials to state prison for bribes, scams and kickbacks. Many others quit or retired before she got around to them. One of them took his own life. Another tried to take hers.

She smart, she's black, and she's got a big mouth. But she's also damned honest, so honest that everybody trusts her.

How do we know she’s so honey?

Cuz she's one of the few DAs that will stop prosecutions dead in their tracks when it became clear that the defendant is innocent. This is America, it just doesn’t happen that way. Prosecutors are scored on their conviction rate and will do anything to add another win in their column. They get caught doing it sometimes too, but it’s rare. So when Wanda stops a case in progress it’s big news. She even sent two cops to jail in one of those cases. She has apologized to the accused and hasn't resisted wrongful arrest suits. There is talk she may run for State Attorney General. One of these days she might turn out to be Florida’s first black governor.

Every time she makes the news I pay attention. Last month her oldest kid got arrest for DUI. She left him in county for two days before she bailed him out. She got re-elected with 63 percent of the vote last time. She’s a freak and I hope we never cross paths.

“Screw that bitch. Somebody needs to take her deep sea fishing,” said Red.
“Come on now, we have a guest. Let’s not descend in front of him,” said Art.
It was his indirect way of reminding them that racist talk will cause a significant problem with me and personally I don’t like their odds for an undamaged outcome.
"I should have the 9-1-1 recording tomorrow," said Red. "But I've been told that the caller was a woman."
"A woman?" asked Jono.
"Yeah."
"What about Randy?" Asked Chris.
"Released on bail just after midnight," replied red. "Padding their numbers."

It's all about padding their numbers for the budget. That's why they wait till after midnight, so they can show a +1 higher prisoner population for the next day. It helps justify their budget. Surprised they didn't try to feed him breakfast before he left so they can show +1 meal too.

"How are the new kitchens coming?" Asked Art.
Red looked at Puny and nodded.
"One comes online this week, then two more next week," replied puny.
"That's good," replied art.
"What do you have for electronic surveillance?" I asked.
"Electronic surveillance? Of ourselves? What are you smoking?" asked Chris.
"I'm suggesting electronic surveillance be considered as part of a security upgrade,” I said.
“You lost your mind, boy,” said Chris with a laugh.
“Tell us about it,” said Art.

“Think of it as a house with three rings around it. The first ring is 100 feet from the building. Anything that comes within that ring requires immediate action. You need to see what is happening and you need to be armed. The second ring extends up to 500 feet from the building. You need to know about it, see it, and be ready to act if necessary. 500 to 1,000 feet you want to be able to see it. Six black SUVs kicking up a dust storm headed your way is bad news. A 30 second head start can make a big difference.”
“Not if we blow them up,” said Jono with a laugh.
“Don’t start that again,” said Pete.

At the last meeting Jono proposed packing some explosives into the houses.

I know this guy near Tallahassee that is making drone modifications. So far he has been able to add some C4 explosives to drones. He one of those basement evil geniuses. Detonates on impact. Enough to take out something as big as a bus. Government SUVs don’t stand a chance. He offered me a 25% commission on any of them I help him sell. A 2,000 dollar drone becomes worth 10,000 with the right options.

“So you’re going to have cameras everywhere,” said Chris like it were a stupid idea.
“You can watch it from anywhere. Your home, taking a shit, eating dinner at La No.”

“Well if you’ll just catch the son of a bitch we won’t need all this shit,” Chris replied.
“We might need all of this shit to catch them,” I replied.
“You know we don’t use the house next door to cook, don’t you? This ain’t no damned TV show. We specialize in our properties. End of the dirt road kinda places.”
“That makes sense,” I replied. “I’d like to outfit one house and then you tell me what you think.”
“What do you know about cooking and running kitchens?” asked Chris.
“Nothing,” I admitted.

I glanced at Art. He was smiling. I’d seen this before. Art liked letting both sides go at it. Told me once that it helped not only determine which decision was best but also revealed the level of cooperation he could expect. Then I got an unexpected ally.

“What do you know about cooking?” Puny asked Chris. “What are the primary ingredients? What parts of the process makes it necessary to use respirators?”
“I don’t know,” Chris replied. “Some Brazilian chemical shit.”
“Sometimes a fresh perspective is what is needed,” said Puny.
“You learn that in a college textbook?” asked Jono with an unfriendly tone.
“Actually I did. A history book,” Puny replied. “Kennedy screwed up the Bay of Pigs because he didn’t have enough viewpoints.”
“The bay of what?” Jono said with a laugh.
“Google Groupthink,” Puny said with a slight tone of satisfaction in his voice.
“I will as soon as he turns that damned thing off,” said Jono looking at Art.

Jono had just confirmed what I had suspected about the low electrical hum I heard. We were in some sort of enclosure that blocked cell phones.

“What do you think, Pete?” Art asked.
Pete took a moment before answering.
“I don’t see anything wrong with setting it up at one kitchen, as long as book boy here” he said looking at Puny, “and Delco makes sure nobody can hack us.”

Delco was a recent addition to the club. He came with a degree in computer science and a set of lungs that could handle multiple bong rips. He’d won the club’s most recent smoke out. Last man to lay his head down on the table wins. He not only won, he kept smoking.

“What about it, Red?” Art asked.
“You know I’ve been wanting to improve our security. Might be time to enter the 21st century.”
“Good point.”

Lemme tell you a secret.

Next year Art is going to give up his position as club president. He calls it retirement, but I’m not sure how that works in a motorcycle club. He became president because bladder cancer killed the previous president. Art says he’ll stop all day to day activities, limit himself to weekend club events and official meetings. Won’t even be a member of the management team. Just a regular member. No salary.
He told me it would be smart idea if they put a 5 year limit on being head of the club. That’s how long he’s had the job. He’s gonna suggest it when he steps down. But that’s the future, so it don’t count…yet.

“How long will it take you to do one house?” Art asked.
“One week,” I said. A few years back I helped a grower in Orlando setup security in some suburban grow houses. It took us four days.
“We need to coordinate. I want to do some fences and we should discuss how it will work with your equipment.” Red added.
“If I get the nod,” I said as a question to Art.
“Go ahead. But Chris I want you working with him, side by side. I want you to know what’s happening inside out. Got it?”
Chris looked at me and smiled.
“Got it,” he replied.
Great, just great, an asshole riding shotgun.

“I’ll need a clean address,” I said.
“Send it to the shop,” said Chris almost as a complaint.
I waited a moment before I replied.

“Let’s pretend that the DEA knows what you do but just can’t prove it yet. Let’s also pretend that they know every thing that is delivered to the shop via Amazon, UPS and the rest. Maybe they’re even watching this place. I’d rather send a lot of security equipment to an address that they aren’t keeping tabs on.”

“You can use my mother’s address,” said Art. “She’s done it before. I’ll give it to you later.”
“Thanks.”

Most of the equipment I would get from Bernie C. He runs a local store for home security in one of those tiny strip store centers, the kind that include a vape shop and a tattoo parlor. I met Bernie a few years ago when he did a big custom installation for one of those beach front mansions just south of the city. Poor bastard was monitoring it for the first week to make sure it was all working perfectly. He knew that. The rich old bastard who bought it knew too. But younger trophy wife and his twenty-something son did not. Bernie freaked as he watched them kill the old bastard. Bernie wanted to call the cops but couldn’t.
You see, Bernie isn’t really Bernie. Whoever he is, it’s not Bernie C. He’s probably somebody facing a solid stretch in prison. I don’t know for sure and it’s better for him if I don’t solve that mystery. Because of this I trust him about as much as I trust anyone else. Bernie will get me most of the items I need. But he won’t get some of them. Red flags he calls them. Hiding in plain sight for all these years has had an effect on Bernie. He’s the most paranoid person I know. Will only speak to me during store house and in person.

“Speaking of the DEA. We’re going to need your help on that. They have a new field operations lead. I’ll let Jono tell you about him,” Red said.

“Yeah. Ben Koppleman. “Was transferred in from Washington a month ago.”
“That’s unusual,” I said.
“We agree,” said Jono. “Most rats won’t leave DC after they settle into the cheese up there. But this guy, he goes from DC back onto the front lines.”
“Probably fucked his bosses wife…or husband. Let’s not besmirch the LGBT community,” said Chris with that smart ass smile he was known for. He got the smiles and chuckles he craved.
“According to our sources, he requested it,” said Jono. “But that could just be his ego lying about it.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time they pushed one out of DC,” I said.
“He’s white. Mid forties. Wife, three kids, attends that mega church downtown,” Jono added.
“Vices?” I asked.
“No. A man of god or so it seems. Real straight arrow.”

You show me a person without vices and most of the time you are showing me a liar, a pretty damned good one too. Gotta be to pull off one of the biggest lies of all, virtue.
But I will admit that sometimes there are those who are sincere about it. Luckily they are the minority. And they fall into two groups from my experience.

The first group are those who do it from some sort of internal compass, their own sense of right and wrong. They adhere to their principles and are quiet about it. These people are so rare that I think I’ve ever only met one of them.

More common is the second group. They are the ones all amped up from the outside, whether it’s a political ideology or some religious belief, they do it because of that. Now I’ve got no problem with that so far. Do what you want for whatever reason you want. It’s a free country, right? But they don’t stop there. They won’t stop until everyone else has to live the same kind of life. Real shove it down your throat kind of people. Some of them are liberals and say shit like ‘there ought to be a law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets”. Some of them are the religious who ban beer sales on Sunday. Hell in some countries you can’t even buy a beer, that’s how bad it’s gotten.
“So you want me to take a look at him?” I asked.
“Yep. Usual fee?” asked Red.
“That’s the one,” I replied with a nod.
10K for a full work up with another 10K if I give them a big, fat, career-ending nugget on Ben Koppleman. You’d be surprised how many in law enforcement have skeletons in their closet. Almost all of them is the correct answer.
“Sometimes I think it would be cheaper just to have you join the club,” said Art with a smile.

Red, Chris, and Pete laughed. They knew that I don’t ride motorcycles.

It’s not that I don’t know how.
I almost died. Swore I would never get on another motorcycle.

Wet narrow road, pick up truck in front of me slammed on its brakes, and I got a trip to the hospital. Old bastard driving the pickup was too old to have a license. 92, who the hell 92 years old is still qualified to operate a damned motor vehicle? Nobody! I attended the old bastard’s funeral a year later.
He died peacefully in his sleep. I had nothing to do with it, if you’re wondering.

One of the mechanics from the shop opened the door and brought in a box of sandwiches.

“I got you egg salad like last time,” Art said to me.

I’ve been to exactly one other club management meeting and that’s what I ate. Art is an observer of people. He studies them. He told me once its important to figure out what someone is good at, what they suck at, what they want, what they hate, and what scares them. After that he knows how to get the most out of them, or so he says.

Pete looked over the table at me while we ate.

“Gonna need your help. Debbie found out about Clara.”

Clara is one Clara Waters, a very nice looking young woman about half Pete’s age. Debbie is Pete’s wife. Clara was supposed to be a secret. But shit happens.

The low level electric hum ended and when it did phone notification dings started going off one after the other.

I even got one. It was a text message.

‘I got your number from Emmie’s phone. WE NEED TO TALK’

It was from Andrew, an idiot with a death wish!

 

Part Five

Astral Projection

Andrew Padern was sitting at one of the picnic tables that form the outside deck seating at the Sand Dollar bar. Behind him was the Atlantic ocean and the sound of the waves gently tickling the shore. He waved to me.

I didn’t want to meet this man. I wanted him dead. But he called and sent me a text message and that saved his life. If he disappeared now I’d be the number one suspect thanks to god-damned phone records. Andrew Padern, a US Navy Captain, was within three weeks of a deep sea dive he’d never finish. But now? Now I didn’t know when I would be able to take him diving. Damn phone records. He stood up as I approached. He was five foot eleven or there abouts, maybe a round up to six foot, like me. He had smooth coffee colored skin, coffee with creamer that is, that light brown tone. He extended his hand to me. I ignored it and sat down on the other side of the bench.

“What do you want?” I asked. I wasn’t hostile, I made sure I was under control.
“Quite a lot actually. But let’s start with this, you’ve been a major part of Emmie’s life since you were kids. You’re important to her. So I wanted to meet you and get to know you.”
“Good luck with that.”
“I know you still have feelings for Emmie. That’s obvious.”
“You don’t say.”
“No, actually I do.”

I took a long hard look at this man. Ensign Karl Soffe had provided me some background on this career naval officer. I helped Karl when his wife had a drug problem last year. I negotiated a payment settlement between Karl and his wife’s drug supplier. She would no longer be a customer, go into detox, and her drug dealer would live to deal another day with her debts paid in full plus 10% for damages. You ever cut off someone’s finger and wish you’d saved it?

Andrew Padern, was from a family farm in Alabama. Full academic scholarship to Alabama. Joined the US Navy one week after graduation. Considered a ‘by the book’ officer, although Karl told me that if I ever met a black officer that wasn’t ‘100% by the book’ to let him know, he’d never met one yet. It was necessary to overcome the racism he said. Andrew was also a good looking man.

“Emmie told me a lot about you.”
“I’m sure she did,” I replied.
“She told me what happened with Crystal Sanchez.”
“She confessed.”
“That’s not the part Emmie emphasized.”
“I know, I was there.”
“You scared her, Trunk. She says she’d never been that scared before. Not even with that Bishop kid in high school.”
Judah Bishop tried to rape Emmie. It turned out to be a fatal mistake on his part.
“I was trying to get a confession. Cops lie to suspects every single day to get them to confess.”
“Then you let her go,” he said with a disapproving tone.
“It wasn’t for me to make that decision. I left it to the person who hired me. That’s the way it goes in that sort of work.”
“You let a murderer walk. She out there living her life without a care, thanks to you.”
“I don’t know about that. You ever meet her?”
“No,” he replied.
“She’s a pretty woman. Nice big tits. Got a square jaw too. She wasn’t born with it that way. No, she got that from her husband and the pin holding her jaw together after he broke it for the third time. Compound fracture from what she told me. But don’t worry about that. Beat your wife, put her in the hospital, nothing to worry about. Cops don’t care.”
“It was a police matter. You should have left it to them.”
“When was the last time you looked in the mirror?” I asked.
“I know, a black man shouldn’t recommend the cops for anything, right?”
“Pretty much.”
“I have a brother that is a cop,” he said.
“Back in Alabama?” I asked.
Andrew Padern looked at me differently for a moment when I mentioned Alabama. Yeah asshole, I’ve done my homework.
“No, Atlanta,” he replied.
“Well then, that cures the racist cop problem, doesn’t it?”
Andrew was silent for just a moment. I could tell that he was keeping his anger in check.
“No it doesn’t.”
“Then why did you bother to tell me about your brother?”
“Because I know there are good cops. I’m related to one.”
“Good for you,” I replied.

I needed to back off just a little bit. If there was a public scene with a lot of witnesses I would never be able to take this bastard deep sea diving. But it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Every time I thought about his dick inside of Emmie… well, we need a new word, something stronger than ‘rage’.

The waitress came over to take our orders. Cute girl, nice shorts, her butt cheeks were on display.

“It’s happy hour for another thirty minutes, gents. What can I get the two best looking guys in this place?”
“Just a water,” said Andrew with a smile.
“Diet Coke,” I replied.
“Pity, would love to see you two having a wild night.”
“It’s Thursday. Catch me on the weekend,” I replied with a smile and a wink.
“I look forward to it,” she said and left to get us the cheapest order she probably had all night.

“I just thought it was a good idea for us to meet. We both care deeply about Em and that makes us allies, whether you believe it or not. Under different circumstances we could probably be friends,” he said.

Thank god I wasn’t drinking something when he said that

“Under different circumstances I wouldn’t know who the fuck you are.”

After a few seconds he nodded in agreement.
There was a long silence before he spoke again. There was something on his mind. This sort of chit-chat was a waste of time.
He didn’t seem scared of me, which was a mistake. Maybe he was just good at hiding it.

“Listen, I don’t know what happened to that Bishop kid and I don’t want to know. I just want to know that the same thing won’t happen to me,” he said.

I found this very interesting. He showed none of the tell tale signs of fear. You know, the nervous hands, the leg movements, the messed up cadence of their sentences, and the eyes, the eyes alway give it away. He displayed none of this, yet his words indicated it was his concern. Conclusion? He was lying. Mr. ‘by the book’ was not being truthful. Something was wrong. Something was missing.

“I’ll share a little secret with you,” I said leaning in slightly, “I don’t know what happened to that Bishop kid either. What did the police say?”
I paused for a moment before continuing.
“Something about a bus ticket out to Los Angeles. I bet he’s sucking dicks on Hollywood Blvd to make his rent. Apartments are expensive out there, LA prices.”

There was in fact a bus ticket to Los Angeles. But it was for an empty seat. There was also a computer bag with Judah’s laptop, his password on a post-it note, and $1,500 dollars in a side pocket of the bag in the overhead rack. But the cops lost interest when the person who stole the laptop started using it online. A missing person case turned into a run away case. Dr. Bishop even hired private investigators to find his son. But LA is a large place and they came back empty-handed. They should have looked about a mile offshore from Jacksonville Beach, although by now there’s nothing left, he’s been fish food since the turn of the century.

“I understand,” said Andrew with a knowing tone of voice like he was some sort of Sherlock Holmes.

He couldn’t have been farther from it if he tried. I know because Sherlock Holmes has been my boy since the first time I read ‘The Hounds of the Baskervilles’ when I was a kid. I still read those stories. If I had to choose a desert island book, it would be Hounds. Andrew Padern couldn’t investigate his way out of a paper bag that is open at one end. Sherlock is like me, a freak. He keeps it under control with morphine and cocaine. I use weed to keep it in the basement.

“What’s the point of this conversation?” I asked. “You want for us to become friends on social media? Are you going to send me a friend request?”

And just for a moment, a tiny little sliver of time, I saw fear. Less than a second, almost a nothing, it showed in Andrew’s eyes. Then he took a deep breath.

“I’ve asked Em to marry me and she said ‘yes’,” he said in what was supposed to be a calm voice but came out like a blurted confession.

He sighed when he finished his sentence, probably disappointed in how he delivered the big news.
I didn’t say anything.
The only thing going through my mind was a big red banner that reminded me: you can’t kill him here.

Emmie was the only person I’ve ever loved and now she was going to give her love to someone else. Permanently. I wanted to cry. I wanted to kill. She was the only proof I had that my condition might not have complete control. She gave me hope that I could recover. Someday. Maybe. I got a sinking feeling, like someone tied an anchor to me and pushed me overboard, just like Judah Bishop.
There was a real long silence.
“Say something,” he said.
“What do you want? Congratulations? That ain’t gonna happen.”
“I know, I know.”
I stood up to leave. Safer for both of us if I left.
“Wait, I’m not done yet,” he said.
“Yes you are,” I replied.
“No, I’m not. I’m being transferred to San Diego in three months. Em and I are going to get married in Alabama next month.”

I looked down at the table then the man seated at it. The table had the cutlery wrapped in a white paper napkin. I considered my options. I could stab him with the knife. Plunge the fork through his skull like a horror movie. I could use the spoon to gouge out his eyes, like the Contras did to the peasants in Central America the year I was born.

But I’ve been to prison once. That was enough for me.

“Motherfucker, what do you want? My blessing?”
“No. Safety. You don’t know how scared Em is.”
“She is always safe around me.”
“She knows that and I’m pretty sure that’s true too. She’s scared what you will do to me.”

I had to clench my jaw to keep from smiling. Emmie knew me as well as anyone could. Andrew continued.

“Not today, not tomorrow. Maybe not even this year. But she thinks that you will at some point in the future murder me. And considering all she has told me about you, I share that concern.”

I didn’t say anything for a long, long time. Just watched him sweat.
Finally I spoke.

“Listen Captain, she chose you, right?”
“Yes,” he said looking confused because it wasn’t going as he planned.
“Then don’t you think that if I really love her, I mean really, truly love her, I’d want her to be happy, even if it wasn’t with me?”
Captain Andrew Padern heard the words he wanted to hear more than anything else.
“Are you serious? You’re not kidding?”
“It’s how I define love and think it’s how most reasonable people would define love.”
He smiled broadly like the man on death row who just got a last minute reprieve from the Governor.
“You’re a surprising man, Dennis Trunk. Surprising,” he said.
“I have my moments. But let me tell you this and I do mean it most seriously.” I put my hands flat on the table and leaned close to him.
“If you ever hurt her, I will kill you. Got it?”
“Understood,” he said. “Never, ever going to happen.”
“Now I’m not going to wish you all the best, because I don’t. But I wish it for her and since she chose you, you inherit it.”

Then I took my hands from the table, stood upright and extended my right hand. The look on his face was just precious, as my grandma used to say. Confused, surprised, and happy, all at the same time. The effect is that Captain Andrew Padern looked like he was in the special education class.

Never seen a man pop up from a table that quickly before.
He has a firm handshake.

“Emmie knows I love her, so just tell her that I wish her all the best. Will you do that for me?”
“Yes,” replied the smiling captain.

I turned and walked away. The waitress was coming back with our drinks. I stopped her and gave her a twenty.

“Apologies, darling. Something came up.”
“Well don’t be a stranger. Come back sometime soon, ya hear.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

When I got to my truck I thought about all the things I had with me that I could use to kill Andrew. Crowbar, lug wrench, hunting knife, the weight of the truck itself. I was sitting in my truck for a good two or three minutes when I noticed that I had tears running down my cheek. Started up the truck and left. It was about a five minute drive to the marina and home.

Yes, I lied. Of course, I was still going to kill him. As long as he’s alive Emmie and I can’t get back together again, now can we?. It’s just that now I have to plan the perfect murder. It’s a challenge, but I’m up to it.

When I got back to the boat, I turned on the television. Some stupid news about a local official caught taking bribes from a contractor. It wasn’t even that much money. Just 2,000 dollars. When did our official become so cheap they’d sell out for one or two mortgage payments?

I took my laptop and went back into the rear cabin. My boat has a cabin at the front that is real nice. But the one at the back is called a stateroom and is especially roomy and nice. A bench to sit on, a small desk and chair, and a queen sized bed. And air conditioning, it’s Florida after all.

I sat at the desk and looked at the computer screen. The background screen was a picture of me and Emmie on our honeymoon. All smiles and sparkly eyes. Hope does that, the sparkly eyes effect. So does stupidity.

There was a pretty painting I saw a long time ago. Bales of wheat in winter covered with snow. The entire picture was created mostly in black and white and the many shades between. It is the most soothing image I’ve ever seen. I keep it book marked and pulled it up. Then I set it to be the background screen of my laptop. So long Jamaican honeymoon, hello soothing image. Then the most peculiar thing happened.

The instant I changed the image I began to cry. And I don’t mean polite little tears on the cheek like before. No, I began to cry and wail. Loud full-throated moans escaped from somewhere deep inside of me. I tried to stop but I couldn’t. The most important person in my entire miserable existence was leaving, going far away. I’d never see her again. My little sliver of hope against the madness inside of me was dying. I cried for the loss of the woman I love, those special tears, saltier than the rest, alkalinity built from rejection. I cried for never making love with her on a Sunday morning again. We made love every Sunday morning, before the Crystal Sanchez mess. I cried for Wednesday movie nights we’d never have again.

I don’t remember when I fell asleep. It might have been after I started thinking that now there was nothing to stop the madness from having all of me. May as well go check myself into the padded room for the rest of my life. I’m done. I’m over with. Drool onto my gown until I get old and my heart stops. It might have been around that time.

But I do know when I woke up. 5:12 AM. My phone was ringing and it was right beside my head.

“Wake up, sleeping beauty. Time to go to work.” I recognized Art’s voice.
“Do you know…aw fuck it, I’m up. I’m up.” I pleaded.
“Good then get your dick out her and meet me at the shop.”
“When?” I asked.
“Now motherfucker. Now, I’m already here waiting on you. Get a move on.”
“OK, OK. Keep your shirt on. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
“Make it fifteen.”
“I can’t get there any faster than that.”
“Try astral projection.”
Shit, astral projection.

Buddhism gives people a funny sense of humor. Or it did Art. Astral projection meant only one thing.

There was a dead body.

Part Six

Hearts and Minds

Art was waiting for me in the meeting room at the shop. As soon as I walked in I heard the buzzing sound again.

Let me tell you about a service I offer to preferred customers. It’s not complicated, but it is thorough.

Imagine you have just killed someone. We won’t quibble about the why of it or the where of it right now. As you stand there with a weapon in your hand it occurs to you that there is a lot of evidence tying you to the crime scene and the crime. Everything from tire tracks to cigarette butts to cell phones to footprints, fingerprints, and sometimes even DNA, the ultimate identifier. If you’re smart you’ll be scared shitless. If you’re stupid, well you probably won’t know who I am. So let’s assume you’re smart.
In the movies and novels it’s called ‘a cleaning service’. They make it look like a simple process. It’s not. There are 432 things to consider. I know, I made a list of them and keep it on a SD card I plug into my burner phone.
Rule #1, never take your regular phone to a crime scene. If you do, well they will come knocking at your door and you’re screwed. And if at all possible, don’t kill some asshole in a room with carpet if there is going to be blood loss. I’ve had to replace entire rooms of carpet and in one instance an entire house because no matches to the original carpet were available. You don’t want to know my hourly rate for that. I ain’t close to cheap.

Now let me tell you the bad news. I can’t help you in all instances.

You shoot some asshole in an apartment complex with plenty of neighbors, kids, and pets, and you’re outside of my ability to help you. Don’t shoot some asshole in the street either. If you do, you’re on your own and my advice to you is to run. Get on the dark net, buy a new identity, and enjoy life somewhere far, far away. Learn a new language.
I need several things to help you. Time is the most important one. I need plenty of time to adjust the scene and get rid of the body. No, you can’t leave the body for others to find. It’s got to disappear forever. So I also need a secure path of moving the body from where it is to where it will be long-term. Those two requirements are non negotiable.

Oh, and one last thing. Make sure the asshole is dead. Check their pulse for fuck’s sake. I don’t ever want that to happen again.

“What have we got?” I asked Art.
“We got them. Tommy got both of them.”
“Where?”
“Lake City.”

Lake City is about an hour from Jacksonville. It’s not a city, it’s just a town of about fifteen to twenty thousand. The name must be some sort of positive affirmation, a fake it till you make it thing, I guess. I’ve been there a few times and am not a fan. I think it’s big claim to fame recently is that it showed up on some lists of ‘Best Places to Retire’ in some magazines. It resulted in a property boom for a couple of years before things settled back down to the sleepy little shit hole it was before. Now it just has a few hundred more people without a southern drawl living there. There was some turn over in elected official a year after the articles as the Yankees that moved there started to show up on election day. Elected themselves a black sheriff. A much better outcome for the darker residents of the county I hope.
My grandmother and I used to stop in Lake City for hamburgers when I was a kid. We’d stop on our way back from visiting my mother at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. Momma was bat-shit crazy her entire life. Grandma was a little crazy too, but she managed to keep it under control, mostly. She was just what you’d call an odd-ball. Harmless. But momma got the full crazy and then some.

“Who else knows?”
“The cook heard the shooting but doesn’t know. Tommy told him they were warning shots.”
“Good. What about neighbors?”
“None. The closest neighbor is almost a quarter of a mile.”
“Good.”
“Let’s go,” said Art.
“Ready”.
“There’s one more thing?”
“Tell me.”
“It’s a member. Not even an employee of the club. A weekend warrior. Shouldn’t even know how to get there.”
“Got a name?” I asked.
“Micaden Gaffney. Everybody calls him Dorian because he’s so pretty.”
“Day job?”
“Night job. Bartender at one of those crowded beach clubs. Little shit has turned down more trim than you and I will ever see in a lifetime.”
“Not anymore,” I replied.
Art laughed.

“What’s this?” I said when we got around back to a white Toyota Prius.
“Wife’s car. She can drive the beast.” The beast is a year old Chevrolet Tahoe. “I hate this car,” he added.
“You ever heard of global warming?”
“Fuck global warming. It’s a hoax.”
Ding-ding-ding. Pretty sure I know a lot more about Art now. A conservative Buddhist, didn’t know that was possible. But I don’t know shit about Buddhism or politics.
I know that Florida passed a law restoring my voting rights. Any felon can vote again now. Doesn’t mean nothing to me. I won’t vote. I may not know shit about politics, but I’ve figured out one thing for sure, voting doesn’t make a damned bit of difference. Elect a republican or a democrat, it doesn’t matter. They are just going to do whatever their campaign donors tell them. Emmie used to call me cynical, I call it realism. Fuck them all. From the white house to city hall they are all just power-hungry assholes.
No thanks Florida, you can keep my voting rights.

I handed Art two pairs of latex gloves before we got into the car.
“What are these?”
“Insurance.”
“I’ve got my prints all over this car. It’s my wife’s car, for fuck’s sake.”
“When I’m done with it there won’t be any prints. So humor me, put them on.”
“Alright. But it’s stupid.”
“Probably,” I replied. “Where’s your phone?”
“In my pocket. Where’s yours?”
“Back on the boat.”
“Oh. You may have a point.”
Art took his phone back into the building and left it in his desk.

The ride to Lake City was boring. I looked at the checklist on my phone while Art drove and cursed his wife’s car.
“Zero to sixty in twenty seven god damned minutes,” he muttered.
“Do you hear how much road noise there is?” he asked me.
“Yeah. It’s significant,” I replied.
“You’d think that they would put just a little more sound-proofing in this damned thing.”
“You’d think,” I replied.
“I’m going to get some and add it to this piece of shit.”
“This piece of shit will get 50 miles per gallon if you turn on the cruise control.”
“I don’t give a damned about the mileage or the damned cruise control,” Art replied.
“Cruise control is a good thing on the interstate. Keeps us from getting a stopped. Just set it at the speed limit and off you go.
“We don’t have a body in the car. Nothing illegal at all.”
“No, but we are two convicted felons traveling on Interstate 10 at sunrise. As soon as they see your tats they will ask for both of our IDs and they will be real curious when our details come back.”
“OK, OK, you’re the expert,” Art relented. It was probably the same tone of voice he used when he agreed to do something to stop his wife’s complaints. Women train us that way. We all end up with that same tone of voice.
Art may have been a Buddhist but I was beginning to see that he wasn’t a very good one, from my limited knowledge. He didn’t have enough of that peacefulness about him. Maybe he’s what Emmie called aspirational, you know, it’s what people who aren’t something but want to be something call their hope to become that something in a the future. Just a fancy word for a goal, but softer. Bet its used a lot in corporate meetings. Looks good in PowerPoint but doesn’t stand up well to scrutiny in Excel. Yeah, Art was an aspirational Buddhist.
Good luck with that.

I’ve gotta tell you that I don’t know how they ever found the place. It’s way up a dirt road and buried so deep that it may as well be in another country. Not just any old dirt road, but one that went on for another quarter mile then just ended. Just stopped in the middle of nowhere like everyone lost interest in the job and went home. I was surprised to see power lines leading to the house.

Tommy and Steve were waiting for us when we arrived. They stood on the front porch. Not at attention, but there wasn’t a bit of slouch in their stances.
“I showed him,” Tommy blurted out but with a confident tone. “He came outside looking around.”
“I’m sorry boss. It was the gun shots. Tommy’s great at his job. Keeps me as safe as a baby brother. But it was gunshots. I’ve got to know.”

Art took a deep breath. Then another one. Finally a third.

Tommy Borlaine is an Iraq War vet. Not the big mean looking biker but someone who sort of gives off a glow, a confidence that comes from spending many hours pinned down in a gun battle with only one way out alive. He’s in his forties and probably in better physical shape than 90% of men in their twenties.
Steve Poole is a bit of a nerd. He has a chemistry degree from UCLA. Not really the biker type but he makes an effort to fit in. Poole did two years for using the labs at UCLA to make LSD while he was working on his Master’s Degree. It was a $5,000 bet and at the time Poole was young, educated, and invincible. Until he wasn’t. He looked to be around thirty years old. Short hair with a real scraggly beard, the kind where someone should tell him, ‘just give up, nice try, here’s a participation trophy’. But I’ve been told that Steve Poole is deadly with a basketball in his hand. When he got out of jail in California he had nothing, except the ability to hit three point shots from any point on the line. So he hustled enough money on the LA courts to leave. Went to Tallahassee to visit his sister and never left Florida again.

I hate Tallahassee.

“Gentleman, this is a learning moment for each of us,” said Art. He smiled at them and turned and smiled at me, and winked.
“Steve, you know something that you shouldn’t know. This makes you a risk to the operation.”
I thought Steve was going to shit his pants. His eyes were wide open and tears were forming quickly.
“But boss, I had to know. It might have been life or death. Warning shots. What if they came back?”
“I understand,” said Art. “I’d probably do the same thing. And it would be a mistake. I would now have evidence that could be demanded in court. And if I tell, I die. If I had just stayed in the dark…well, you see it’s better for me, isn’t it?”
“Yes, boss.” Art held up his hand to silence him.
“Steve, please. You guys need to stop with the ‘boss’ crap. I know it’s the fashion these days to do everything like a boss. But you know what? Every boss I’ve ever had was an asshole one way or another.”
“You got it…” Steve said in a hesitating voice.
“And don’t worry, you’re both safe. If I wanted you dead, it would have been the first thing I did when I got here.”
“Thanks Bo…thanks,” Steve replied.

“Have we finished having our moment?” I asked with as much sarcasm as I could scrape together. “I’d like to see the bodies. Gonna be another hot one today.”
“OK, alright, keep you panties on,” said Art with that tone husbands have.

Tommy lead us away from the house and to the edge of the woods. Two bodies. One man, one woman.

“They were both wearing masks. I’ve got them inside,” Tommy said.
Both bodies were face down and the entry would was in their backs. They didn’t get very far.
“Where were you?” I asked.
Tommy turned around and pointed to the roof of the house. “Right next to the fireplace.”
“How far is it?” I asked.
“Less than 50 meters,” Tommy replied.
“Damn good shooting in the dark,” I replied.
“It wasn’t dark. Let me show you.”
Tommy walked over to a pine tree, moved some of the needles and then picked up a small little device. He did something to it than put it back under the pine needles. He got to his feet and walked back towards the edge of the woods. As soon as he crossed the line into the field next to the house, four lights went on.
“I set it here so they had the light behind them in the woods. This confused them as it’s the obvious cover but it’s all lit up and seems dangerous. They lost a second or two in their panic. Wasn’t really a fair fight after that.”
“Where’d you come up with this?” Art asked.
“Piss off a Colonel in Baghdad.”
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“Second highest kill rates in the division two months in a row will attract attention. The Hearts and Minds crowd don’t like it much. Spent a week setting them up around the remote bases when we got our first shipment of them. Remembered where we got them and called them up. Five thousand dollars all in. The technology isn’t that complicated.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone else about this?” Art asked.
“Day shift knows.”
Day shift is Morten Dupry. Nice guy, too nice to be a biker. Too nice to be a former MMA fighter too. But he is both and could probably kick my ass in under ten seconds.
“No one else?”
“No, sir. That would weaken security,” said Tommy with all the cadence of answering a commanding officer.
Art hesitated for a moment then said, “good man.”
“Can you show me the details of this system? I want to know all the components,” I said.
“Sure thing. I’ve still got the manuals and the packing list inside in my bag. Only been installed for about a week.”
“Thanks.”
“No problem.”

“I’ve got cookies in the oven I need to take care of,” said Steve.
“Go,” said Art and smiled at Steve.

Dorian was a real good looking corpse. Had that blond, blue eyed look going. Long hair and real smooth skin. Yeah, he had choices most nights. But that was over now.

“Whose the girl?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Never seen her.”
“What about Steve?”
“He doesn’t know her either,” Tommy replied.

The girl was April DeDecker. It wasn’t hard to find out. They both brought their cell phones with them. Good for me, stupid for them. One dead finger swipe and one dead face verification later and I was inside each of their lives. I reset their pins to 1,2,3,8 and put the phones into my pocket. Had other priorities at this point.

“Tommy, I need your help,” I said.
“You need help cutting them up?”
“No. I’ve got that covered. A different kind of help.”
“Give it to me,” he said like a soldier aching for battle.
“These two didn’t get her on foot. Somewhere, nearby is their transportation. We need to find it.”
“I’m on it.”
“Where’s your cell phone?”
“Which one?” Tommy asked.
“Good man,” I replied with a smile. Tommy wasn’t gonna make it easy to arrest him.
“Just the burner,” he said with a smile.

“When you two are done, I want to talk to both of you about the security update.”
“What security update?” asked Tommy.
“He’s planning on giving you a platinum upgrade.”
“About fucking time,” said Tommy.

Now I hope that you will forgive me for not explaining in gruesome detail how I disposed of the bodies. I’ll merely give you this high lever description. Arms, legs, and head were removed from each. That is there six pieces per body. I split them over three holes.
I saved the heads for Art to throw into the hole but he didn’t seem interested in doing it. So I kicked them down into the deep dirt and covered them with a big bag of lawn lime that Steve went and got for me.
Got twice what I needed and took the rest home with him. Cash sale, along with a flat of marigolds. His wife likes marigolds.
But it’s not just the bodies. There was also the blood soaked soil where they fell. It went into the holes too. Then by mid-afternoon while everyone else who had half a brain was inside, inside a house, inside a car, inside anywhere with air conditioning, I was outside in my underwear rebuilding the site where they died. If you want to know for your own twisted reasons, I had red splatters of blood from my forehead to my feet. I looked down at my left arm and saw a five inch smear that had flatted the hair.
There are times during a dismemberment when the work at hand is immediately in front of me, being so obvious that it permits my mind to wander or in my case performing a general assessment.
Got the rotten bastards. Well done Tommy.
But why did they do it? Did someone pay them to do it?

There was something else too.

I’d expect a really good looking guy to be partnered with a really good looking girl, right?

April DeDecker was a chubby little woman about 5 feet 3 inches tall. Real strong leg muscles though. I used to know a girl like that. She was in the marching band in high school. Fit, but still chubby.

How did they get here?

That question was answered about two hours later when Tommy drove to the house in a blue Subaru SUV.

“Three houses down past the fork in the road, sitting behind the big shed in back. They walked almost two miles to get here. I’m guessing neither one had a PhD,” Tommy said with a chuckle. “At least they remembered to dress in black,” he added. Tommy stood and watched me work as if it wasn’t anything at all. I admired that.
“Let’s go get your car,” said Art.
“Read all the papers in the glove box and tell me what you find,” I asked Art. “I would but…” I raised my saw and my red arms and hands.
“Good idea,” said Art like some sort of corporate manager acknowledging a subordinates’ good idea.
“Don’t leave them in there either.”
“Will do,” Art replied.

I went back to work. Carpentry saws are not made for cutting up human bodies.

But they will do.

 

Part Seven

Soulmates

I was in the shower back at Art’s shop. I hosed down real good before we left Lake City but it wasn’t good enough. It takes a long time to get blood off of my body. My skin was raw when I finished. Pink as a pig. I got dressed and went back to Art’s office. We went immediately into the meeting room.

“Pretty good night for both of us,” Art said with a smile.
“Yeah, I still got a few open questions,” I said.
“I know you do and I want to hear the answers.”
“Just doesn’t add up.”
“I know,” said Art. “Why would they do that? Unless the Lambos were paying them. I know the cops don’t pay for that kind of work.”
“Yeah, there’s one hell of a missing motive.”
“So Trunk, here’s what I want you to do.” Art looked at me and smiled. “Keep looking. I’ll pay you twenty to put it all together for me. Twenty on top of the twenty for your work today. We know who did it, now I just need to know why. Should be easy money, don’t you think?”
“No such thing from my experience.”
Art smiled. “All of life is suffering.”
I laughed at him. “Not tonight. I’ve got company coming over.”
“Good for you,” Art replied. “Just keep looking into this. Come tomorrow morning early and let’s get the security upgrade going. Tommy is coming into to help.”
“He’s a good man,” I said. “You should consider a bonus for his work last night.”
“Already done. Gonna be paid today after the daily drop. What do you think it’s worth?”
“Fifty,” I replied.
“Great minds think alike,” he said with a laugh.

When I got back to the marina I ran into Mr. McDermott. Archie McDermott is a retired IRS auditor. Yeah, he’s was the asshole that made you come up with the fake paperwork behind all those phony deductions you tried to take. He lives in a boat in the slip next to mine.  Archie’s a friendly sort of old fellow. Guess if you have one of the most hated jobs it’s important that people like you away from work.

Archie likes his scotch. Glenfiddich is his preferred brand. And when Archie drinks, sometimes he talks about work. When that happens he is the one of the best sources of information on how to launder money. He’ll get drunk and tell me about some dickhead he busted for only showing a quarter of his real income. After he tells me how he caught them I hear the words that I’ve been waiting for, ‘now if it was me’. What follows after that is a master class in money laundering, avoiding paying taxes, and sleeping with most of your fat stacks in tact. He’ll answer every question I ask, it’s his chance to show off his knowledge. It’s my chance to increase mine and avoid the cops taking it all again.

“Hey Dennis, how’s it going?” Archie called out to me from deck of his 50 foot Island Packet sailboat. It’s one hell of a boat. Worth half a million dollars easily. Got all kind of extra comforts. Everything from air conditioning anytime, to a 50 inch television, to the biggest shower stall I’ve seen on a boat yet.

“Good Archie. How are thing with you? How is Claire?” Claire is his wife of forty one years and a long term  cancer survivor.
“You look a bit rough, are you feeling alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s been a long day. What the latest?”
“Claire’s fine. She goes to the doctor next month. We’re hoping for another ‘all clear’.

I’ve trained myself since I self-diagnosed in high school. Always ask about any one sick. Just ask, that’s all that’s required to fake it. People tell me the most intimate things simply because I asked about someone’s health. It’s strange. I must either be really good at faking it or people are just so desperate to hear someone express concern for another that they can’t see my complete lack of sincerity.

But I like Claire. She’s a free spirit and everything Archie is not. If she were thirty years younger… Claire likes me too. Says she sees potential in me. Potential for what I ask? For goodness she always replies. She reminds me of the time when I was a kid.

“You finished routing yet?” I asked.

November is the end of hurricane season and that’s when the slip next to me becomes empty for six months. It started as a bucket list thing for Claire, to sail into Havana harbor. It turned out to be a lifestyle for them.

“Almost. Getting all the models built for departure. Bahamas or Key West first?”
“Bahamas if you want my two cents.”
“You and Claire too. She says she needs to go count all our money.”

I laughed. I like Claire. She told me a dirty joke when I met her. It was funny too. What the hell was that joke? It was good. Damn it. I hate when this happens.

“How far south are you going?” I asked.
“Cartagena, Colombia.”
“Wow, South America.”
“Yeah, Claire wants some destinations further away this time.”
“Sounds nice. It’s outside of the hurricane zone?”
“Sure is. We could stay down there an entire year if it weren’t for the damned doctors. But we’ll take what we can get. Six months is time enough for us to do plenty of damage.”

Archie will get drunk more than once in Colombia, I’m certain of that.

“Man, I wish I was going with you,” I said.
“It’s a standing offer my friend. Any time, at any port” said the old man and raised the small glass of brown liquid to his lips and took the smallest of sips.
“Thanks, I appreciate it.”
“Holly came by to see you earlier,” he said with a smile, the kind that told me he knew about Holly and me.

Holly Pepper comes over to the boat every few days. Her full name is Holly Allison Pepperino but Holly Pepper is how she’s known online.

Holly’s one of those girls that will masturbate in front of a webcam for money. There are thousands of them out there. Some are into BDS&M, others into group sex. Holly stuck with the classic female solo performance.

What sets Holly apart from most of the other performers is that she is multi-orgasmic and enthusiastically so. Not like the countless fakers out there. Her performances are only about fifteen minutes long. That’s all she can take at one time. Yeah, that level of enthusiasm.

Holly works from her apartment down at the beach. It’s a nicely furnished apartment. Nice lamps, comfortable sofa and all the rest. It’s comfortable and not fancy in most of the rooms but she has the bedroom/recording studio done up special. Holly puts in about fifty hours a week between the three main sites she works on. She even records a lot of her work and offers it for sale. Six to eight shows a day if you’re interested. Seems like a nice life, doesn’t it? Probably not. It comes with complications.

If you let thousands of people watch your most intimate moment, that’s enough of a population for one or two of them to be just a little bit different. And the longer you share those sort of intimate moments the bigger the chances are that you will eventually be rewarded with your very own personal creep.
Holly got hers in the form of one Mr. David Duman.

David is a new car salesman from Dallas, Texas. He won Salesman of the Year two years in a row at the Mercedes and Porsche dealership that employs him. He sits on the board of his Church and attends the early services every Sunday at nine o’clock with his wife, his son, and his infant daughter. I know this because I’ve been to his church. I attend services like a good Baptist and then I make sure to bump into him on my way out. I’ve been three times and he shits himself every time he sees me. That’s a good thing.

David Duman had one hell of a porn addiction.

Not sure how he found the time for it, but he did. Sometimes an addiction can have a conscious focal point. Holly was David’s focal point. She was everything he needed. Cute, vulnerable looking AND multi-orgasmic. Wow, what a deep thinker, right? Praise Jesus for a towering intellect.

Mr. Duman was one of Holly’s biggest customers too. He was good at selling cars and made good money doing it. That’s how he could quietly spend a grand a month watching Holly Pepper explode all over things that shared one commonality, they were all not his dick. And the thing about online is that if you read every comment, post, tweet, chat room response someone has, over time you can get to know a hell of a lot about them. Eventually you will even know the city or town where they live. I used it extensively for me work.

All it took was Holly telling everyone about a power outage earlier in the day. He already knew the city, he knew she lived walking distance to the beach. That outage gave him the neighborhood. She had already mentioned that she drove a blue Prius. What is it with women and the Toyota Prius? A couple of hours and then some mailbox checks later and David Duman was knocking on Holly’s door instead of being down in Orlando at the sales conference.

David was no slacker on making plans either. No, this genius came complete with a dozen red roses and an engagement ring, despite being married already. He was going to leave his family for Holly Allison Pepperino.

Holly got in touch with me because she thought David was going to kidnap her. She had asked for some time to think his proposal over. She was scared but wanted him to think that she was seriously considering it. So when he went back to his hotel to give her time to think it over, she called the only tough guy she knew, her uncle Sandos. He recommended me. Sandos and I go way back.

I was able to solve Holly’s problem. Nobody died. Holly didn’t get kidnapped. David Duman went home to his wife in one piece, with all his teeth, and fingers and toes. He did however get kidnapped for a couple of hours. Not a hard kidnapping like I was gonna kill him. No, just a ‘sit down and listen to me or I’ll shoot you in the leg and then tell your wife what you are doing’ sort of kidnapping.

David started crying from the moment I forced him into the van. He thought I was Holly’s family at first. Then he thought I was her boyfriend, she doesn’t have one. Then her pimp, she doesn’t have one. Then her parole officer, she doesn’t have one of those either. I tell you this bible thumping sex fiend was wrong about every damned thing that came out of his mouth. Eventually I told him to shut up or I would shoot him in his dick. I drove him to the Town Center Shopping Center and parked in the middle of a row of cars.

He got the full fortune teller treatment. I told him how his life was going to unfold over the next hour, then the rest of the day and rest of the week, then finally the rest of his life.

“You’re going to be buried next to your wife,” I told him at the end of it all.

When we got to Holly’s place he finally got it through his thick skull that I wasn’t going to kill him. He thought for a while that I was going to kill him in front of Holly, but had a hard time explaining the logic of it when I pressed him. He was just scared as hell and his mind was throwing every horrible outcome at him that it could conjure up.

I knocked on her door.
Holly answered.
She looked at me and smiled. Then she smiled at David too. She invited us inside. She was fully dressed and was acting very polite. She looked pretty in a librarian sort of way. I never knew she wore glasses.

“It’s good to see you again, David. And you too, Dennis.”

We sat on the sofa with her. I looked at David and nodded for him to get started.

“Miss Pepperino, I would like to sincerely apologize from the depth of my heart. I would never hurt you, I couldn’t. I’d rather hurt myself. But Dennis has reminded me that what I know about myself, you don’t. And that can be scary.”

Yeah, Trunk managed a happy ending. Go figure.

Holly comes over every four or five days for what she calls ‘safe companionship’. Her line of work tends to scare off most boyfriends in the long run. Men are just real insecure about some things. So we talk, we watch a movie, we listen to some music, we have a beer or two. She likes the vaporizer and I always make sure there is a nice strong Kush available for her. Then we have the things she says she misses most, ‘one to one intimacy’. Use your imagination cuz I’m not going to give you the details.

So when Archie told me that Holly came by I was sorry I missed her. I don’t really have many friends. They eventually get a close look at me and run like hell. But Holly has seen me at work and didn’t run away. She says she feels safe around me. I guess she’s right, up to a point.

There was a post-it note on the hatchway: ‘Be back in a couple of hours - H’ followed by ‘xoxoxo’.

I used the hours to start looking at the two cell phones.

Micaiden was very popular with the ladies.

Most of them sent him pictures they wouldn’t want their parents to see. Some sent him little movies they recorded on their phones. A lot of it was X-rated but most of it was just topless or bottomless or both. Interestingly I found pictures from April on his phone. She sent him more movies than pictures and all hers were x-rated. Chubby girls have needs too.

A couple of searches later and I knew that the late April DeDecker and Micaiden Gaffney attended high school together. She was in the band and he was on the swim team. Yeah, they both attended a fancy school. Got to be a good one to have a pool and a swim team.

Then I found a message from an unknown phone number. It was short and to the point so I’ll give you the entire message.

‘YOU GAVE ME HERPES YOU BASTARD!’

Guess Micaiden’s popularity with the ladies came at a cost.

The message was less than two weeks old.

I pulled out my external hard drive from the cupboard in the cabin. I keep work related information on the hard drive. It’s got a bunch of encryption on it thanks to a Poindexter I helped out when he got in trouble blackmailing the wrong man’s daughter. Kevin gave me a program that will dump the entire contents of a telephone onto a hard drive. It will encrypt the shit out of it it with a eight number pin and will delete everything if the pin is entered incorrectly more than three times. Was going to go sailing over the weekend. Best place to dump a couple of phones that could put me on death row? The ocean, obviously, after a close encounter with a power drill.

As I watched the progress bar slowly move as it backed up the phone, I picked up April’s phone and began to look at it.

She had lots of text message. Mostly girlfriends. Ashley seemed to be her best friend from what I could tell. I was reading an exchange where April promised to tell Ashley some very exciting news in a couple of days. That’s when the new text message came in. It startled me and I dropped the phone onto the bed after fumbling it like a wide receiver who has three chances to catch the ball and screws them all up.

“Mom said she will make her world famous mac and cheese if her favorite daughter comes over on Sunday. Love Dad. PS - bring Mica with you if you want.”
I like homemade mac and cheese. The stuff out of the box is too horrible to eat.

April’s dad had just started the most disappointing journey of his life and he didn’t even know it.

I kept reading her phone. April and Micaiden texted back and forth everyday, many times during the day sometimes. I started to piece it together.

Imagine if you find your soul mate. Now imagine she is a chubby little girl and you’re a really good looking guy. Or better yet, you’re a chubby little girl and your soul mate is a really good looking guy that you think can have any girl he wants.

This was the relationship between April DeDecker and Mica Gaffney. One of them was a book about art, the other was a self-help book. One of them had it, the other was aspirational.

They even signed off a lot of their messages ‘Love You’ and sometimes added ‘XOXOXO’ to the end.

Then I found the compromise.

“How was your date with Beth?” April texted him.
“BORING. She doesn’t even like science fiction. All evening I thought about how I’d rather be hanging with you.”
“So no second date?”
“Not a chance.”
“Good.”
“Can you come over tonight? I get off at midnight. Do you mind?”
“No, not at all. You might have to wake me up when you get home.”
She must have a key I thought.
“Thanks. I miss you.”
“I miss you too. BTW - I’m on my period.”
“Never stopped us before.”
“I like that about you.”
“Me too.”

Then it finally hit me.

Gaffney Motors was Mica’s father.

You know those obnoxious new car ads where the old man that owns the dealership lets the younger woman he’s sleeping with be the star of the ad, despite her having no acting skills or even a decent presentation voice and relies on her cleavage to keep the viewer interested? That was Gaffney Toyota at the Beach, the number one Toyota Dealership in North East Florida. They were not the sort of ad that old man Gaffney could use for his Lexus dealership, a little too low brow for his more discriminating Lexus customers. A minute later I was looking at a picture of Mica’s father. It was obvious that Mica looked like his mother. A few minutes later I learned that Jennifer Gaffney died in a car crash when Mica was four years old. Drunk driver. She was beautiful.

There was an interesting message on Mica’s phone.
“Are you ready?” is all the message said.
It was from an unknown phone number. I called it from my burner phone. No longer in service.
The text message came at the start of Mica and April’s last day alive.

 

Part Eight

Mothership

Draw a line from Savannah, Georgia to Shreveport, Louisiana. Now take it south to Orlando. You’ve got the club boundaries. They’ve got seventeen chapters. None of them the size of an LA or Houston chapter of anything, but over all they have close to 850 members. They even have a handful of cops that ride with them on the weekends.
The club has nothing in Texas. It was the biggest jewel in the crown when it fell to the Mexican cartels. Story goes that nearly 50 died the final week of gringo management. I read somewhere that we stole Texas from the Mexicans. They have been known to ask for it back.

Art is good at public relations. There are charity rides, rides for sick children, even motorcycle safety classes for new riders. Yes, the days of angry Angels are over around here. Art told me cooperation beats competition every time. The world record for a relay race is always faster than the world record for an single runner. More of Art’s wisdom. He has some weird shit that goes through his mind.
I entered the meeting room. Management had come together to discuss the end of a crisis.
Chris was sitting next to Art. Tommy was at the far end of the table. I sat down next to him. Chris nodded to me and smiled.
“I heard your momma stopped sucking dicks for money,” Chris said.
“Well you heard wrong,” I replied. “She took care of me first thing this morning.”
“But did she charge you?”
“Always,” I replied.
“I’m glad you two are friends,” said Art with a smile.
Red started laughing.
“Yeah, right.”
“I wouldn’t save you if you were holding on to your momma’s sweet labia for dear life,” said Chris with a smile.
“Good to know,” I replied. Never really thought about killing Chris before.

Let me set you straight on a thing or two.

Simply being a psychopath does not mean that I have murderous urges. Get that out of your head right now. You’ve been watching too much TV. Many of the top CEOs are psychopaths and they stay within the law, well as much as a greedy fucker like that can.
Besides, murder is a dangerous thing to do. And it’s messy. It is never my first choice. This doesn’t mean I’m a nice guy. Forget that shit too. Just think of me as practical and not willing to do the work required of a murder without a decent incentive. And I don’t consider money a big incentive. Probably because I’ve never been offered enough of it. So killing Chris wasn’t something I thought about.
But killing Andrew?
That was different.
I’d kill the entire world and everybody in it for Emmie.

“OK, let’s get down to business,” said Art. “I got you a Pastrami with mustard,” Art said looking at me. He pulled a Firehouse sub out of a large bag, put it in a smaller bag and tossed it to me.
“Thanks,” I said as I opened the paper wrapping. It smelled good.
I looked at the others. There were little bits of food in beards around the table.

“I say we smoke ‘em,” said Chris. Pete nodded in agreement.
“Smoke who?” asked Tommy. As the two outsiders to the management team we weren’t up to speed.
“We have a problem in Mobile,” Red replied.
Mobile, Alabama is a tiny little city with less than 200,000 people in it. But its been a cash cow for the drug trade ever since tug boats would bring Panama Red marijuana back in the 60’s and 70’s. Local consumption has always been high. Art says the per capita is second only to Shreveport, Louisiana.
“New competitor,” Chris said as almost a whisper to us, helping to catch us up.
“Gotcha,” said Tommy. I just nodded.
The sandwich tasted good. Plenty of onions and a few jalapenos. Art has this thing about making a mental note of what people like and giving it to them. Says he does it because sometimes he has to ask people to do questionable things. He wants that sense of obligation already in place. Mind games if you ask me.
“Who are they?” Tommy asked.
“Mexicans,” Art replied with a sigh.
Remember what I said about being a psychopath and not having murderous urges? The Mexican cartels offer the argument in favor of urges. I only know them by legend. It’s been my pleasure to have avoided them my entire life. And while I may not be scared of them, I do understand that going up against them is fatal most of the time. I’d prefer to avoid that.
“They’re operating out of a house on Beauregard and a building down the street.”
“Got it locked up tighter than my wife’s pussy,” said Pete. “Four at the front, two at the back and we count almost 20 inside.”
“A fortress,” said Art.
“Fernando Ruiz. That’s who we believe he is.”
“Call Mac,” said Puny.
“Can we cut off just the head?” asked Chris. “Will that work?”
“Good question,” said Art.
“Who is Mac?” Tommy asked.

Mac is the name of a biker that rides with a club in Little Rock. I’ve met him one time. Hope it was the last time. I crossed path with him when he came running out of a building that blew up less than a minute later. He is a contract killer by profession and a motorcycle mechanic by tax return. All he said to me when we met was ‘run, gas leak’. I ran.
Police eventually collected seventeen distinct DNA samples from the rubble.

Mac channels his powers for good.

“A friend of the club,” said Art.
“A friend with benefits,” said Chris smiling.
“Yeah, if you want someone dead,” added Puny.
“Well I figured that much out,” said Tommy.
“The less you know about Mac the better,” said Art.
Mac isn’t his real name from what I’ve heard. Somebody told me he’s from Canada.

Prism is a cop that got his nickname from a multicolored wig he wore on his shaved head during a charity ride with the club in Mobile.

“Prism says they are starting to make offers around the department,” Red said.
“Then we need to do something and not sit around with our thumbs up our asses,” said Chris.
“We’ve got three options,” said Art. “Us, local, or DEA.”
“DEA,” said Puny.
“Your tax dollars at work,” added Chris. Many chuckled.
But as a practical matter, it often makes sense to have the DEA do for them what they don’t want to do themselves. Indiscriminate killing is DEA territory. They can get away with it. If the club gets into a gun fight, there will be court dates and snitch offers made. Yeah, the DEA is a better option. So is Mac.
“I’ll talk to them and see if they are interested,” said Art.
Art has a contact in the DEA that he’s kept a secret for as long as I’ve know him.
Always told myself I’d figure out who and how one day.
It’s not hard, just follow the routine.
Make it your routine.
GPS them. Their car at a minimum.
Now watch them for a long time. Know what time they turn the lights out on Thursdays. Know whether they have just one empty wine bottle to put out on Sunday evenings.
I’ve got this theory that we fall into routines pretty easily as a species. Now I only got this idea because I have learned the lives of eleven people so far. It’s an exhilarating experience. Your privacy is peeled away like an onion till you’re naked and everything about you is well-known, to me. It takes weeks. Ten times I got paid to do this. Once I did it just for me.

“I’ve asked Trunk to get to the bottom of our crisis.”
“It’s obvious, pretty boy was working for the Lambos or the Mexicans,” said Chris.
“Well you’re right about one thing. He sure as hell wasn’t working for us,” said Art.
“What about the chick?”
“She’s his booty call. Been friends since grammar school. They been hooking up since they were way too young to hook up,” I said.
“I miss the days when I had a booty call I could make,” said Pete.
“Shouldn’t have married her,” said Red with a laugh.
“Damn straight,” Pete replied.
“Pretty boy told me on a ride last week that he had something important to talk to me about,” said Chris.
“He never told you?” I asked.
“No,” said Chris. “He said there were too many people around. Seemed scared. Said the Mexicans were listening to everything we said.”
“No shit?” I asked.
“None whatsoever,” Chris replied. “I just thought he was being a scared little bitch. You know how some of them get. Scared of their own shadows when it gets real.”
“In the loop or out of the loop?” I asked.
“Definitely out of the loop. I never trusted the pretty little son of a bitch,” said Pete.
“That’s cuz your wife was hitting on him,” replied Jono with a laugh.
Pete didn’t answer. He wasn’t happy and his scowl told a story all its own.

Pete asked me to talk to him later. Hope he doesn’t want me to take a look at his wife. These sort of jobs sometimes take a turn for the worse.
I met Pete’s wife once. Pretty, fit in a late 40’s gym instructor sort of way, nice real tits, just a little sag beginning at last, blond by a bottle, blue eyes by contacts.
But the thing I most noticed about her was that she was shy and very, very smart. She knows how to conjugate Latin verbs and knows that the moon is 384,400 kilometers from Earth. I learned all this about her in under ten minutes. She reminded me of my grandma, curious about everything and maybe a little overwhelmed by her own vast knowledge. I’ve never been around a genius before and she may be one. I felt comfortable around her. That was the other strange thing about her.
I’m not comfortable around people.
Everyone except Emmie.
And now Pete’s wife, Kassidi.
“Dorian’s dead and I say good riddance to the son of a bitch,” Puny said. “We won’t be needing that sort of protection soon.”
“What’s up?” Tommy asked.
“Puny thinks he can make the greatest meth lab that ever existed,” said Chris.
“Going to be the biggest bust in DEA history,” said Jono.
“Always negative, that’s what I like about you,” Puny said sarcastically, “it’s like you gather all the hope in the world and smother it.”
“Let’s save this for later,” said Art. “We voted to fund his project, so let’s give him some time and space to make it happen.”

Mothership is what Puny calls it. He’s a science fiction nerd.

“Mothership is ahead of schedule,” said Puny.
“How much?” Art asked.
“At least a week.”
“Tommy and Trunk need to be plugged in immediately. We need security sooner than we thought.”
“I’m going out there later today,” said Puny and turned to look at us. “You should come with me. I’ve got the drawings if you want to see them.”
“Count me in,” I replied.
“Me too,” Tommy added.
“No phones,” said Art.

Shit. This would take some time.

Another day I was going to miss the gym. I try to go three or four times a week. Half an hour of cardio, half an hour lifting weights. Keeps me in shape. But it only works if I go. Shit.
It gets even worse. Last time I was at the gym I started noticing that I couldn’t make out the numbers on the dial of my combination lock without squinting a lot. I’ve always had to squint a little to see them but it was never this bad before.
Getting old sucks. Thank god there are audiobooks. If it weren’t for them I’d be screwed. Always got one of them going. Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse have written a story about Sherlock’s older and smarter brother, Mycroft. Great story. I listen to audiobooks while I’m at the gym or doing tedious tasks or just suffering from general boredom.

It was north of Macclenny, Florida off highway 121, almost to the St. Mary’s River, the border between Florida and Georgia. It was down one of those country roads that turn from paved to dirt as soon as it rounds the first bend. Nothing way down that road and probably only sees a couple of cars a year, and they were wrong turns. Now it was going to be the home of the Mothership.
We turned into the yard. There was a small little two bedroom wooden house. Out in the yard was one of those huge satellite dishes that were the big thing in the 1980s. Down at the back of the yard was a collection of pickup trucks. Looked like a used truck lot back there.
Art had assigned Puny a team of 12 men to build Mothership. They excavated, poured concrete, laid pipe, ran electrical wires. When they finished they would have what looked like a small pump house for drawing water from a well. In fact it was the entrance to an underground lab.
Just past the line of trucks was the current state, a 2,000 square foot hole in the ground with a frame over it and a camo cover. It looked like some kind of subterranean house missing the roof, except for the very tall stainless steel vats and shiny equipment in crates sitting down on the concrete floors.
“Had to get some of the equipment in before the roof went on,” said Puny.
“Makes sense,” said Tommy, “some of that won’t fit through a doorway”.
A couple of the men looked up from the submerged rooms and waved to Puny.
There was an older guy, musta been in his fifties. He came up the ladder out of the hole.
“I need you to take a look at the solar array. Think we can fit a few more panels into the frame,” the man said to Puny. He looked at Tommy and me and nodded his hello.
“That will get us well over 20 kilowatt hours. Hell yeah,” replied an excited Puny with a smile.
“That sounds like a lot of power,” I said.
“We need a lot of power. We’re going to use more than 20 kilowatts per day.”
“So what do you do for the rest?” I asked.
“See that room down there in the corner, the one with the big concrete pipe running out of it?”
“Yeah,” Tommy replied.
“That’s our generator room. The home of Mr. Honda.”
“Mr. Honda?”
“Honda generators,” replied Puny.
“They don’t make generators in America?” asked Tommy. Tommy drives a Ford with an American flag decal on the window.
“None that I’m willing to stake my life on,” replied Puny. “You need to watch some videos shot in remote areas in foreign countries. Those villages have electricity and every time you’ll see a little red Honda generator. They are everywhere. All over south east Asia and Africa.”
“No shit,” I said.
“None at all,” replied Puny. “Those people don’t have money to spare.”
“Makes sense. My sister drives a Honda and says it’s the most reliable things she’s ever owned, after her husband,” replied Tommy.
Let me make the point right now. Some men are reliable. A lot of us aren’t though and those worthless pieces of shit make it hard for the rest of us. But millions of us keep our promises, live up to our words, treating them like a contract that we will uphold. So Tommy’s brother in law being reliable isn’t as much an exception as you think. But beware the promises of a reliable man.
I once promised a man that I would kill him.
“How many?” I asked.
“We need four generators, so we have eight. All identical. With our fuel storage tanks we can run for four weeks before we need a refill.”
“Impressive,” I replied.
We walked over to the other side of the house behind a row of newly planted bushes.
Four long rows of solar panels were on pedestals.
“I’ve got space for another four panels. What do you think?” asked the old guy.
“Put them in,” Puny replied.
I looked at the solar panels.
“What are the motors doing?” I asked pointing to the motor at the end of the row.
“Follow the sun tilting. 11 percent increase, pays for itself after 29 months.”
Puny was proud of the Mothership for good reason.
“We need to take a look around,” I said to Puny.
“Please, do what you need to do. Let me know if you need my help. I’m going to go help them set up the equipment,” said Puny.
“Sounds good,” said Tommy.

Tommy and I were out in the woods behind the house, north if my sense of direction was working as usual. Always seem to have a good idea of where I am on a compass. Usually with 10 to 20 degrees.
I wished I had my phone. I could really used an audiobook.
Tommy was looking up in the trees. I was pointing out good locations to put wireless cameras.
“We can see them coming,” I said.
“You know I’ve been thinking a self-destruct option would make sense,” said Tommy.
“Drive away and blow the whole thing up?” I asked.
“Along those lines. I did a job in Basra a few years back. Some rich old bastard with a shit ton of gold and dollars from the Iraqi black market. Oil, I think. Stuffed all of it into a panic room. I called it a vault, a big vault. Had me wire the place with enough explosives to take down an entire New York City block.”
“If he can’t have it?” I asked.
“Nobody else could. Exactly.”
“We need to plan escape routes,” I said.
“There is a lot of work to do.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Solid enough for dirt bikes,” said Tommy.
“Reading my mind.”
We walked along in silence for a little while, stopping occasionally to look at the wider view.
“How long you been doing this kind of work,” Tommy asked me.
“I don’t really remember. Most of my life or for as far back as I can remember. I’ve been finding lost things and people. But I didn’t get paid for it until I was seventeen.”
“That’s young. What was it? What did you have to do?”
“Just follow a drug dealer,” I replied.
“That was it?”
“Mostly. I also provided security for my customer during a face to face meeting.”
“How did that turn out?”
“Fatal.”
“Oh. For who?”
“The drug dealer.”
“Well that’s a good thing. One less drug dealer in the world.” Tommy smiled at me as if he was trying to reassure someone who no more needed reassurance than dead men need blow jobs.
“My customer was a drug dealer.”
“Oh.”
There was a pause.
“How much did you get paid?”
“Fifteen hundred.”
“Wow, that’s cheap for helping with a murder.”
“I was young and dumb. Didn’t know any better. Fifteen hundred was more money than I’d ever seen.”
“Seventeen, yeah I hear ya.”
“How long did you follow the drug dealer?”
“Four weeks. But I could have done it faster. Didn’t want to screw up my first paying job.”
“I understand. My first job was at a supermarket. Barely kept me in beer and weed. Deli department manager kept telling me I had a bad attitude. Bitch stayed on my case and made me work every damned weekend I didn’t have a game.”
“What did you play?”
“Baseball. Since I was six years old. A pretty good fielder.”
“Cool.”
“You play?”
“No. Never did team sports,” I replied.

I did in fact participate in sports in school. But they weren’t team sports, just individual achievement sports, like track and field. Except for the relay, I was on the relay team and I hated it.

Let me tell you about clues. They are everywhere, you just have to look for them or recognize them when you come face to face with them. This is how it was with me and team sports, especially if they involved a ball.
In high school I tried out for the football team and was selected. Three weeks later I was off the team for unsportsmanlike conduct. A broken arm, four cracked ribs, two knocked out teeth, and three concussions later if you want to know what happened. I would get caught up in the moment.
If a roundhouse kick to the helmet seemed like the most effective way to bring down the guy with the ball, then in the heat of the moment that’s what happened. The coaches were livid because we hadn’t even had our first game yet and all my casualties were our own players. But let me be honest, the quarterback was asking for it, little prima dona bitch.
It was one of the big events that brought me to the realization that I was maybe more different than I should be.

“Old bat was on my case from the moment I put on my hair net until I clocked out in the evenings. I hated when she was on my shift. Made my life miserable.”
“You never paid her back?” I asked.
“Oh, I paid her back. Not me personally, but my girlfriend did. Sent her to the ER.”
“Well done.”
“No, it was terrible. My girlfriend got arrested and sent off to recreation camp.”
“Recreation camp?”
“Oh yeah. It’s run by a bunch of bible thumping goody two shoes who believe that the secret to everything lays in our lord, Jesus Christ. They take in the bad kids and help them recreate themselves. Live a more Christ-like life.”
“You’re shitting me,” I replied.
“No, that’s how it is where I grew up. Special deal between the pastor and the local judge. Funneling that state money to the church.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“Natchez, Mississippi.”
“Damn, remind me to never go there.”
“Naw, it ain’t that bad. Sunday mornings are a real good time for stealing.”
I smiled. Tommy turned a minus into a plus. Smart guy.
“Good for you.”
“I provided a valuable service.”
“How?” I asked.
“They could give it to the preacher and write it off on their taxes. Or I could steal it, they write it off on their taxes or their homeowners insurance and they have the added benefit of now having some thing interesting to tell all their friends. I’ve given them a major social boost. Double their postings and replies. They get a large outpouring of sympathy and that’s worth more than gold in church groups.”
“So your theft is a positive force for good? I think I’m beginning to see your point,” I said with a smile.
“But I got caught. That’s how I wound up in Iraq. Made a deal with the judge. 18th birthday I’d enlist. The alternative was prison.”
“That sucks.”
“Yeah.” Tommy pointed to a spot under some trees. “Perfect for setting a trip light. Solid branch high up for the light.”
“Never served,” I said.
“Be glad of that.”
“Why? You saw a lot of bad shit?”
“No. I did a lot of bad shit.”

Two kills I know about first hand, his story about having the high kill rates, and now this? I was beginning to wonder about Tommy.

I’ve heard of those kind of people before, the soldiers that love killing. We’re related and in the same family as shown on the tree of modern psychological problems. From the same family, but they’re just from the stupid side of it. Not necessarily dumber in the IQ sense of it either. No, they are just stupid because of their inability to control their urges. They even know that this will eventually be their downfall but they can’t control their god-damned urges. Such weak people should never be pitied.

“Hey, you wanna smoke a joint?” asked Tommy.
“Whatcha got?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Something I smoke at night to go to sleep.”
“Oh, heavy indica. How about we try some of this instead?”
I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out a joint. It was a large pre-rolled RAW cone.
“Satori,” I said. “Best weed for being high and getting shit done. Well, the best I’ve ever found and I’ve been looking for a long time.”
“If it wasn’t for this stuff, I’d never get to sleep at night,” said Tommy putting the joint back into his pocket. I lit the cone, took a few big puffs from it them passed it to Tommy.
“Thanks.”
We stood beside a tree silently and passed it back and forth. I listened to the birds singing their chorus. Two squirrels chased each other around in the trees above.
“How do you keep from having animals set off your lights?” I asked.
“You don’t. It usually happens two or three times a night. I set them high enough to avoid everything the size of a cat. Usually it’s a dog.”
“Oh, OK.”
“It’s not that bad. I have the controller set up to send a signal to my ear piece. A loud tone goes off in my ear. I wake up instantly. I was asleep seconds before I shot Dorian and the girl.”
Wake up and kill. I wondered what that was like.

We spent the next two hours exploring the area near the house.
On our hike we discovered a power line right of way. Such a sweet sight. For a competent rider this was like an interstate escape.
It was a good afternoon. Until it wasn’t.

When we got back to the shop, Pete wanted to talk to me.

“I don’t know what she’s doing, but she ain’t doing it with me.”
Pete paced in the meeting room, from one end of the conference table to the other then he turned around and went back.
“Why do you thinks she is seeing someone else?”
“Because she is avoiding all intimacy with me.”
“Some women see a drop in their desire at her age.”
“Not like this. We used to take showers together, every day. Now she works hard to avoid taking a shower with me. She’ll wake up early to take one or stay up late. And if I come into the shower while she’s already in there? She’ll finish up as quick as she can and leave. It’s like she wants nothing to do with me.”
“Do you beat your wife, Pete?” I asked.
“You asshole. Of course not.”
“Good. Makes all the difference. If you beat your wife she would be within her rights to stab you in your sleep, if you want to know what I think about domestic abuse. I wouldn’t stand for it, would you?”
“Hell no.”
“That’s good, Pete. I’m glad we agree on this. It would be terrible if you beat your wife and then didn’t understand why she avoided you. I’d have to questions your sanity or your intelligence. So I’m real glad we agree on this. When did it start?” I asked.
“After we came back from the Caribbean. We chartered a catamaran with another couple for two weeks. Sailed around in the Bahamas. Kassidi, me and another couple, Rod and Angel.”
“Anything happen then?”
“We got drunk a lot. Clothing became optional a few times.”
“Sounds like fun,” I replied.
“Ever since we came back it’s been nothing but cold.”
“Did your wife see you fuck another woman?”
“Yes. But it was after she fucked another man.”
“So now you think she’s seeing Rod?”
“Yes, I guess. It makes sense, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t know yet. It seems logical. But that’s just the first look at it. The end is sometimes very different from the initial assessment.”
“Who is he?”
“Rodney Luntz. Got a home repair service he runs out of a shop out near the airport. Also is a part owner of the archery shop out near the ICW.”
“Never understood why people are into archery,” I said.
“Lethal force with no registration required. No background check.”
“Gotcha. Makes sense,” I said.
“Still gonna lose in a gunfight. But it beats being naked, don’t it?”
“By a mile,” I responded.
“What about Angel?”
“Nice woman. Cums like a freight train.”
“No, what does she do?”
“Works with Rod in the home improvement business.”
“They doing well?”
“Yeah. A lot of the middle market became the lower middle market after the financial crisis.”
“I don’t understand,” I replied.
“It’s simple. A lot of people plan on living in their house for about five years, then they turn a profit and trade up to a nicer house. This has been going on since the 1980s. Five years and flip. Then the financial crises came. Suddenly a lot of people found themselves in houses worth less than they paid for it. So they are stuck waiting for prices to recover. But that’s a slow thing because of all the people who couldn’t hang on and lost their homes when they lost their jobs. As long as that glut of foreclosures are hanging over the market prices will be slow to recover.”
Listening to Pete made me glad I live on a boat.
“So the ones stuck in their houses can’t sell them at a loss. And they have to keep them in good repair for when the market recovers. It’s recovering, but it’s slow as hell and it fluctuates like crazy. Some of the home builders are making it worse.”
“How?”
“They dumped a lot of new houses at rock bottom prices. They are still doing it way out in the boondocks. A few of those long distance 300K subdivisions aren’t in good financial shape. Close in though it’s a different story.”
“So this helps Rod’s business?”
“Yeah, keeps the lid on prices and thousands of people stuck in their homes.”
“Good for him.”
“Very much so,” Pete replied.
“Do you have a lawyer?”
“For what? Criminal, the club provides one. You know him, Dental.”
“No, a divorce lawyer.”
“Hell no,” Pete replied emphatically. “I love my wife. I want it back the way things used to be.”
“What happens if I find out she’s fucking Rod or someone else?”
“I don’t know. I’ll probably get drunk to start.”
“I’d advise against it,” I said.
“Why?”
“Dead bodies. It’s risky to kill someone sober, doing it drunk is asking to get caught.”
“I’m not that kind of person. I just want my wife back.”
“Good.”

 

Part Nine

Dinner for Two

I can be considered obsessive about a lot of things. Holly is obsessive about time. When I invited her over for 7:30, I knew I could set my watch to her arrival. At exactly 7:30 she showed up at my slip in the marina and stepped onboard the boat. I was sitting in the cockpit of the boat waiting for her.“Hi,” I said, “you look nice.”
“Thank you, Dennis.” She smiled at me.
“You’re prettier without makeup,” I said.
“You need your eyes checked,” she replied.
“You need your head examined.”
“Did I get on the wrong boat? I’m here for the gynecological exam. I have an appointment.”
“You’ve come to the right place. Could I interest you in a glass of wine?”
“What kind?”
“It’s a Cab but a really nice one.”
“Sound delicious.”I poured her a glass of wine into a long stemmed glass. Yeah, Trunk ain’t a complete Neanderthal.
She sat down beside me. Then she leaned over and kissed me.Holly is a kisser, a damned good kisser. She puts her whole heart and tongue into her kisses. Before I could recite my name she had her tongue in my mouth, touching my tongue with hers and rubbing the underside of my tongue with the tip of hers. It was a long kiss and when it was over I took a deep breath and smiled.“I’ve missed you,” she whispered in my ear.
“I missed you, too,” I replied like a catholic kid reciting catechism to a priest.

She reached out and touched the large wheel.

“Why are they always so big?”
“So the captain can see where we’re going when the boat is leaning over. Need to look out the high side of the lean.”
“Makes sense.”
“I hope so. A neighbor told me that few months ago.”
“You’re not much of a sailor, are you?”
“No, not at all. But I’m learning. I’m going out in about a week. Sail to the Bahamas and back. Just to get used to popping over there. You want to come?”
“What days?”
“I’m not sure. Depends on the wind.”
“How long?”
“Three days.”
“Can’t leave my customers for that long.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“They aren’t as loyal as you think. Leave them for a couple of days and their lifetime spend drops significantly.”
“Wow, you have it all figured out.”
“I have a degree in finance.”
“No shit.”
“None whatsoever.”
“You should be working for a brokerage or on Wall Street.”
“No ways they were ever going to let me work on Wall Street. My dick is too short for that.”

I laughed.

“Besides,” Holly added, “I am almost finished paying off my student loan.”

Holly is twenty five. Yeah I know there is an age difference between us, more than a decade.

“You gonna quit when you have it paid off?”
“I don’t know. Not time to make that decision yet. So I’ll just keep my options open until then.”
“Smart girl,” I said. “Shit, I’ll be right back.”

I got up quickly and moved down the companionway to the interior of the boat.

“Anything I can do to help?” she called down to me.
“No. Just bring your appetite. If you come down I’ll kick on the air conditioner. No need to be sweating.”
“Not without having a little fun,” she replied.

Holly brought the wine and glasses down inside of the boat.

“I like the wood in here,” she said running her hand over the teak trim on the counter.

Remember Trey Kolstead, the guy I got the sailboat from? During happier times in his marriage his wife made him do a lot of upgrades to what eventually turned out to be his hook-up pad. Granite counter tops. Top of the line water filtration system. Electric fresh water toilets. Big TV. Excellent sound system. Sometimes I’m luckier than I should be. The AC system works like a champ.

“Slide her shut and I’ll kick it on.”

Holly pulled the top over the companionway. I walked to the electrical control panel and turned on the AC.

“Smells good. Do I smell bread?”
“Yes, I have a small loaf in the oven.”
“Wow, you are a man of many talents Dennis.”
“It is a very limited list.”
“But growing,” she said with a knowing smile.
“Do you want to have sex or eat first?”
“Depends on what you have to eat?”
“Risotto with artichoke hearts and asparagus tips. Brushetta. Spinach salad.”
“Wow, vegetarian, I’m impressed,” she said.
“That’s accidental, mostly. I’ll eat the hell out of some BBQ ribs.”
“Only with my eyes closed. It’s a disgusting thing to watch. It’s so primitive.”

That is one of the things I like about Holly. She is so unlike me.

It would no more occur to me to be grossed out by the mess of seeing BBQ Ribs being eaten than it would occur to a politician to give back a campaign contribution without a reporter snooping around. Holly is in many ways a negative of me and I like that. I find it interesting, although I wonder how she has avoided calamity so far. She seems so fragile at times, as if even an unkind word would cause her to shatter like glass. But I did see her mad once. She punched a hole in a sheet rock wall. Girl got a punch. Got a temper too.

The shit that came out of her mouth was nonsensical.

“I’m gonna be his asteroid, that fucking dinosaur.”

The dinosaur in question was Dimitri Schwartz.

Mr. Schwartz is a supporter of the arts, the arts of bondage and discipline. I may as well tell you this now, you’ll find out soon enough if you watch porn online.

Dimitri Schwartz was called ‘Master Dimitri’ by Holly for a total of seven months, eleven days. In total it was a nine month submissive existence. But she wore the collar for 7 months, 11 days. Schwartz does his work online in front of paying audiences. Some of their sessions have been reposted on Pornhub. Master Dimitri was Holly’s introduction to online work.

Eventually she ended the relationship. She decided that she didn’t like having so little control. She had been curious and now she knew. And Dimitri wasn’t splitting the money fairly…or at all. She walked away. Good girl.

Dimitri was heart broken.

But don’t worry, he’s recovered. There is a new object of his lust and control. His earnings did take a drop for a couple of months but that’s all over now and he’s more popular than ever. But he’ll never send another email like that again. I made sure of that.

As long as it’s consensual, go for it. Right?

Emmie used to tell me that consensual ain’t always a choice. Women are coerced into consent. She may be right about that. I miss her viewpoint. It was always like a view into a world I didn’t even know existed. A view into another dimension or something like that. Almost sci-fi sometimes.

“I hope that you don’t mind helping me with the Bruschetta.”
“Not at all,” she said.

I reached for my phone, connected it to the audio system in the boat and played some Run the Jewels. The sound came with rich deep bass tones from the subwoofers in the settee.

I gave her a bowl of topping for the bruschetta.

“You make this yourself?” she asked me.
“No. I bought it at Publix.”
“From a can?”
“From a can,” I admitted.
“That’s OK, I’ll let you slide this time, just this once.”
“Thank you.”
“But if you do it again, it’ll be the punishment chair for you.”

The punishment chair is a real thing. Master Dimitri used to make her sit on it when she was being bad or if he was bored.

“I don’t want that for sure.”
“Then you will give me nothing but your best from now on. Do you understand?” She tried to look fierce.
“Yes,” I replied.
“And you will give it to me often,” she said with her lips pulled tight and a frown on her face.

She started laughing. She could no more be fierce than I could be kind without having a motive. I saw the freckles on her shoulder and made a mental note to kiss them later.

The worst thing about Holly is not anything she does. It’s just that sometimes she makes me really miss Emmie. That deep down tear a piece out of my heart kind of missing Emmie. It’s not Holly’s fault. She’s done nothing wrong. Just being herself. It’s me that can’t handle her doing that. Maybe this is what it feels like to care about her. I hoped not, it’s a lousy feeling.

Alphabetical seating. You’ve probably been wondering. Sorry I left it out.

Emmie Truman and Dennis Trunk. Add an authoritarian jerk as a principal, such a micro manager that she insisted on all classes be seated alphabetically, and I spent four years sitting next to Emmie five days a week.

She attracted boys like a pack of steaks on the ground in the parking lot of WalMart attracts flies in June. I watched as they all tried a smooth move. A real education. So self-assured, so calculated, so unsuccessful. More about that later.

Holly interacts with me at a level that only Emmie saw. You know that old whatchamacallit, about a castle and a moat?

Emmie had the key to the drawbridge and I was open to her always. It’s not the same with Holly. She doesn’t have the key. But I lower the drawbridge for her voluntarily. Hey that something ain’t it? A connection.

Or am I just manipulating her like I do everyone else?

“You still got that volcano thing?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “It’s in the locker in the front cabin.”
“We should try it after dinner.”
“OK,” I replied.

A Volcano is the Mercedes Benz of cannabis vaporizers. Google it. A great device.

Holly can really burn some weed. Girl got a set of lungs on her and can roll through an ounce of primo in a week to ten days all by herself.
Jimmy gives me way more weed than I can ever smoke. I’m a solid one ounce a month sort of guy. One big fat cone per day and some bubble hash every now and then and I’m good. As for Holly, that’s just her breakfast.

I walked over to the electrical control panel and turned on the high speed fans. All the air in the boat was being cleaned every three minutes and run through charcoal filters. No weed smell, an absolute necessity in a marina. Some old geezer with his medical marijuana card got tossed out of the marina last month for stinking up the place. Some jerk called the cops on him. Had a slip paid in full for the year and they still tossed him out without a refund. Thieving bastards better never try to pull that sort of shit with me.

Holly liked dinner. She ate enthusiastically. She sat next to me at the table that folds out from the mast where it goes through the cabin on it’s way down to the keel.

“Very good, Dennis. I didn’t know you had such potential as a mate. Hunter and gatherer and cook. You’re like the ideal contestant on a dating show.”
“Those are the ones that never get picked. They are just there to tease the audience,” I replied.
“Hey, I picked you.”
“Yes, you did,” I replied.

She leaned her forehead over until it touched the side of my head. It’s a peculiar thing she likes to do, touching heads like one of us is a phone and the other a charger. She kissed me on the cheek before returning to her meal.

“I got another one.”
“Another what?” I asked.
“Proposal.”
“Damn girl.”
“I know, I know.”
“Got a name?” I asked.
“Got a name, got a resume, got a credit score. This guy has opened the information flood gates.”
“No shit?”
“None. Harry Krustanilov is serious.”
“Is he Russian?”
“Heritage only. Welcome to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Home of frozen everything four months out of the year.”
“There is global warming,” I countered.
“Not fast enough for me.”
“So Harry Krustanilov, who is he?”
“He’s a very polite man. Owner of Harry and Sons Plumbing.”
“A business owner. That sounds respectable.”
“His company does new homes in the warm months and home repair year round”.
“Sounds like a keeper,” I said with a smile.
“He even has been known to flip the occasional house for cash and prizes. And he has a credit score is 850. How in the hell does someone get a credit score of 850? That’s a perfect score. Anything above 750 is supposed to be great. But Harry is perfect.”
“Wife kids?”
“Kids, all grown. Wife died about ten years ago.”
“Wait a minute, how old is this guy?”
Holly finished chewing her food.
“62.”

I started laughing. The humiliation possible with this old bastard was enormous and the thought of it seemed delicious to me. Nothing more pathetic than an old geezer chasing a young skirt.

“It’s not funny. He wants to turn the business over to his kids. He bought a nice little place in the Bahamas and wants to live the island life.”
“Good for him. He just can’t take you with him.”
“That’s what he’s proposing.”
“Sorry. It doesn’t always work out like planned.”
“I don’t think he’s a bad guy. Definitely not going to do what that guy did to Amorella.”

Amorella Swift was a casualty of the online business and uncontrollable urges.

They found her body in a dumpster in Salt Lake City. She froze to death. Last seen telling her online friends goodbye. Gone off with her prince charming. Her prince now sits on death row in Utah, waiting for his turn on the injection table. Freezing to death doesn’t seem like murder does it? Not until they found her hair and skin in the deep freeze where he put her to die.

Amorella and Holly were friends that never met in real life. That seems to happen a lot with online workers in that business. They Skyped a lot.

“It doesn’t matter whether you think he’s a nice guy or not. It only matters if he is one.”
“He seems nice. You can tell a lot about a person by how they behave when they are naked. Never an unkind word from Harry.”
“Let me put together some info on him.”
“I’ll send you what he sent me. He did a full financial disclosure. All accounts, all balances.”
“He sounds like he’s serious.”
“I’ve looked at his portfolio. He’s pretty clever. Got 100K per year coming in just in dividends and interest. That’s what he going to live on. Never touch the principal.”
“You need to help me set up something like that.”
“I can do that,” she replied.
“How much will you charge me?”
“Sunday nights,” she said.
“Oh,” I said. Use your imagination. Sunday nights with Holly are special. “That can be arranged,” I added.

After dinner Holly and I washed the dishes and put them back into the cabinet.

We had a couple of large vaporizer bags of cannabis.

Then we had sex.

Holly fell asleep and made cute little snoring noises. Dainty, as if even in sleep she didn’t want to disturb anyone.

I got my laptop and started reading Mica’s and April’s phones again.

Mica called the same phone number eight times unsuccessfully. The ninth time he connected. Less than two minutes after the call he opened Google maps and brought up a map of the cook house where he died. I checked the number he called. No longer in service. A few minutes after that he sent a text to April. Here’s the conversation:

Micaden: Hey A, here’s the address. Fucking bastards. And here’s an incentive to look at it.
(file attached)
April: Cool. Oh my, you look happy.
Micaden: I am
April: Cool. Let’s go out there tomorrow night and take a nice long look. A little reconnaissance. What do you think?
Micaden: Sounds good.
April: Give me a minute
Micaden: OK

April: Good. Now take a look at this.
(file attached)
Micaden: Oh baby, you know I love it when you do that
April: I know you do, that’s why I do it. Enjoy.
Micaden: Moist definitely
April: You’re a punny man
Micaden: Wanna go get a beer?
April: Sure
Micaden: See you in 15
April: I’ll pop in the shower real quick.
Micaden: Cool

Ding-ding-ding. I now know why Micaden and April didn’t have any gasoline or kerosene or anything flammable with them, they were just on a recon mission.

Well done, Tommy.

Those weren’t the only text message I read that night. Just after 11PM I got a text from Emmie.

Emmie: You got to talk to Jimmy. He won’t unless you give him permission. FFS, he’s loyal.

Emmie knew that I fished Jimmy’s ass out of the frying pan way back when. He is the only person she knows that she can get weed from and he won’t talk to her about it. She’s willing to pay and all.

Me: OK, I’ll stop by and see him tomorrow. OK?
Emmie: Thank you
Me: You’re welcome. Prince Charming still giving you shit about it?
Emmie: Yes. But you know how I can be.
(Emmie sometimes ignores complaints and does what she wants anyway. I like to think she got that from me but she probably didn’t.)
Me: Yes, I’ve seen you in action
Emmie: Anyway, thanks for this.
Me: Always. Until the end of time.

The next morning I woke up at 6AM when Holly got up. Her phone cranked out some weird shit she has been trying to get me to listen to. Wax Tailor, what kind of name is that for a musician? Sounded like someone with ADHD made a record.

While I won’t tell you the graphic details of us having sex, I will tell you something about Holly’s work life.

She gets up early to take care of some of her Asian and Australian clients. When it’s 7:00 AM here it’s 9:00PM in Sydney, 8:00PM in Tokyo. I don’t need to remind you of what she does but will just mention that vaginal intercourse with Holly first thing in the morning is not going to happen for us. She will be having it soon enough online and she saves herself every morning for them. Sorry if it wasn’t hardcore enough for you. Those books are a couple of aisles further down.

“I’m having a sale this month,” she said with a smile.

Yes, Holly will sell you her wet panties. Merch is an important part of her earnings.

“Save a pair for me.”
“You can have as many of them as you can create,” she said with a smile. She leaned into me and kissed my neck.

She got out of bed energetically. She was naked and looked wonderful with her hair all messed up and wild.

“Coffee, must have coffee,” she said.
“Coming right up.”

I sprung out of bed naked. I walked into the galley and filled up the coffee pot with water and put it onto the stove.

I felt her come up behind me and press herself against me. Holly is a very tactile person. She always has her hands on me one way or another. She likes when I’m touching her too. She reminds me of a cat.

“What plans have you, my lover?” she asked me.
“Gym this morning.”
“Good for you. I’ll go after work today,” she replied.
“Let me know if Harry Krustanilov does anything new.”
“Of course. Safety first,” she said with a smile.
“You know you can always turn the forward cabin into your studio if you want.”
“Aw, that’s sweet of you.”
“You’d be safer.”
“And I’d have you on tap,” she replied.

I smiled. There was that too.

“Your boyfriend’s back.”

Let me tell you about online discouragement. Yes, discouragement.

The most effective kind of discouragement for overzealous fans is when there is an active significant other for the online performer. By active I mean someone that goes in front of the camera with them in a performance designed to discourage those overzealous fans.

It works about 80% of the time.

If that doesn’t work, then there is a very disturbing video that is sent to them anonymously along with their name and address and telephone number. A google map of their house with a decapitation video can discourage even the most ardent nut case.

I get to wear a mask in front of the camera. A dark blue mask. And I thought Holly was incredible in bed. But once there were hundreds or thousands of people watching her, oh my god, she is incredible. Best sex ever.

“I’d like that, those are nice days,” she said and patted my naked ass.
“My favorites too,” I replied.

I turned around and kissed her. I wanted her to know she was welcome around me. It was a soft kiss, just lips, the kind calculated to indicate deep caring. It was a very successful kiss.

“Oh my god I’m going to miss you today,” she said softly in my ear.
“Then come back tonight. And tomorrow night too.”
“But what about the night after that?”
“I don’t know. By that time you might have forgotten where you live, so you’d better stay here again. Can’t let you get lost, now can I?”
“Dennis, are you asking me to move in?”
“Well if you want to put it that way, then yeah. I was trying to make the point that I like being around you every day. You’re the kind of woman a guy could get used to coming home to. Not that I have any expectations. I don’t. I really don’t. But seeing you first thing in the mornings is something I sure could use a lot more of.”
“Oh Dennis. I think I’m falling in love with you.” This was the first time she ever said that to me.
“Oh darling, I’ve been in love with you since the first time we made love.”

Holly Pepper grabbed me tightly. She kissed me hard on the lips.

And the Academy Award goes to…Dennis Trunk!

I went to work.

The gym is on Atlantic Blvd on the way to the beach. I tagged Kassidi’s Prius in the parking lot when I knelt down to tie my shoe.

I found her in one of the morning classes. They are populated with stay at home mothers, trophy wives and the occasional single male retiree.  It was a Zumba class, the dance exercise class where it takes a few session before you get used to the instructor’s moves. I settled into one of the treadmills with a good view of the class and the front door.

Watching Kassidi dance was very enjoyable. She is a great dancer, the kind that puts everything into it. She finished all red faced as she took off the elastic band that held the tracking device against her chest.

After class she walked directly up to me on the treadmill.

“Hi Dennis,” she said with a smile. “Nice to know I’m not the only early bird.”
“No, you’re not,” I replied. “Just grabbing the time while I can.”
“Understand. You been a member long?”
“A couple of years. I just go to the one on Beach.”
“By the marina, right?”
“That’s the one.”
“How’s the boat?”
“Better now I’ve got the air conditioning fixed.”
“I bet.”
“Kassidi, I don’t mean to be a pest. But I’m supposed to meet Pete sometime today, but I’m not sure if it’s 10:30 or 11:30. Can you please call him and let me talk to him for just a second? I left my phone in my truck.”
“Sure thing. Can’t let you get in trouble with the boss.”
“Exactly.”

She dialed and then handed me the phone. In the palm of my hand was a small little device that cost me a shit load of money. Ten large. I talked to Pete for several minutes until I heard that feint little beep. All done.

I gave her back her phone. A copy of it was now in the palm of my hand. Also it had installed snoopware that would let me read her text and turn on and off her camera and her microphone. The newest version of the little device will even let me send text messages as her. I need to get the latest version soon. Can do some serious damage when I can send texts as someone. Talk about fucking their shit up. It’s worth the fifteen hundred he’s asking.

“OK…I’ll see you then,” I said to Pete and then handed her back the phone.
“Thank you so much,” she said.
“No worries. I hope I get to see you more often.”
“You will,” I replied.
“Great. You take care now.”
“You too.”

Then Kassidi did the darnest thing. She went to Home Depot on Atlantic Blvd and parked her car.

I looked in the store for her and she was nowhere to be found. But her car was in the parking lot. There’s only one good thing about leaving your car in the parking lot. You’re going to have to come back and get it. Five hours later that happened. A man dropped her off. I took pictures with my phone, with one of those external zoom fittings. It’s got to be one of the best things ever made if you ask me. Puts all the equipment I used to carry in my pocket. Just slip on the attachment, focus and off I go. Always smile for the camera so everyone thinks I’m taking a selfie with my phone. I’d advise you get one soon…if you want to snoop. Or if you just want to know how easy it is to snoop. You might decide you like snooping. It could probably be an addiction for some people. Not me. Except on one occasion. But I married her, that ought to count for something, right? Anyway, the telephoto is really sharp on some models.

You know what sucked? That man that dropped her back at her car was not Rodney Luntz.

I found a picture of Rod Luntz. A picture of him and his wife. He’s a big tall guy that is fat and most of his hair is gone. His wife is dumpy too and equally large. Somehow I just didn’t see them having group sex with Pete and Kassidi. I mean don’t get me wrong, sex is great and all, but the Luntz husband and wife wouldn’t have been my pick in a million years. But then what do I know. I’m superficial, manipulative and put great importance in unimportant things like appearance.

Kassidi was the sort of women that didn’t need a good looking man. She was the kind of woman that would fuck a poet.

After she headed home I went by the shop to check on Danny and tell him I was going to be out of commission for a couple of weeks at least.

“What about Mr. Wentworth’s car? It’s been waiting on you for two days. You can’t stand me up like this.”
I walked over to the door and opened it.
I yelled, “Hey Duncan, come here for a minute.”
Duncan put down his oil filter wrench, wiped his hands on one of those red shop rags and came to Danny’s office.
“Hey buddy, I want to pay you to fix my cars for me.”
Duncan smiled.
“But I’ve got cars of my own to fix. When will I have time to fix yours?”
“After work hours.”
“Cool so you’re going to pay me extra to work long hours?”
“I’m going to do something better than that, I’m going to pay you cash. You don’t pay any taxes.”
“But I should make overtime if I’m working overtime. That only seems fair, don’t it?”
“Think of it as moonlighting for me, but you don’t have to go anywhere else to do the work.”
“I don’t know Trunk. Time and a half sure seems like a fair deal to me.”
“How about this? I pay you regular time and a quarter. All in cash. No taxes.”
“I’m sorry Trunk, I can’t do it for anything less than time and a half. You know how the guys are. They will tease me and tell you that you took advantage of me. They will call me stupid again. You know I can’t stand that. It hurts my feelings.”

What was it about Duncan, this idiot savant that drove me into doing good deeds. I don’t understand how he is able to get me to do things but I actually said the following words.

“Oh, all right. Time and a half. Danny will keep track of your hours, agreed?”
“Agreed,” Duncan replied.

He walked over to me like some spastic teenager and shook my hand. If he wasn’t so goofy sometimes I could almost imagine it all being an elaborate acting job he does. But I’ve discovered one thing over the years. Long term you can’t hide what you are. You can only rotate acquaintances, train yourself to respond to certain cues like Pavlov’s dog, and try to keep up an acting job that is impossible to keep up. So no, there was no way that Duncan would come in tomorrow and tell everyone it had been an elaborate ruse and he’s really just a normal well adjusted twenty four year old.

Still Duncan played a player.

Part Ten

Positive Routines

Holly started her morning smiling. I went to work after eight ‘I love you’s. Emmie used to tell me the same thing for the same reason.
Nothing in the morning causes ‘I love you’ s like cunnilingus.

Don’t go getting all sentimental. I haven’t changed. I’m still me. Think of it as an investment. Tomorrow morning it will be my turn to go to work smiling.

In many areas of life and especially first thing in the morning it is good to establish positive routines.

“Do you want me to fix you a lunch?” I asked. “I can make a ham sandwich.”
“I don’t dig pig, my darling,” Holly replied. She smiled and patted me on the butt. “I have food at home. Indian meals in a pouch. Just add rice and I’ve got a tasty, low-sugar lunch.”

I walked over to the companionway and took a key from the side of one of the wooden steps leading down into the interior of the boat. I handed it to Holly.

“Here you go. Now you can come and go as you please. No need to get caught out in the rain.”
“Aw honey, you’re so sweet.” She pressed herself against me and kissed me.

Did I mention that Holly is a really good kisser? Passionate and aggressive, which contrasts her fragile appearance and persona. That’s a mystery I intend to unravel nice and slow.

“Let me show you something,” I said. I motioned for her to come take a look at the electrical panel. “This button, see, it says ‘fans’. Turn it on before you vape and a few minutes after you finish. It cleans the air. Scrubs all the air in the boat every couple of minutes.”
“My clever man,”.
“I used to have to go for a walk to burn one.”
“That won’t do.”
“Deal breaker,” I replied. “I figured out a compromise. Just vape in the boat. Needed to upgrade the inverter anyway. It’s old and life on the water ages everything faster than on land. You should have seen the BBQ grill that was on here when I got it. Only three years old and it looked like it was fifty years old.”
“Turn it on before I vape, let it run a couple of minutes after I finish, and then turn it off,” Holly said looking at me with a warmness, a fondness I’m not used to seeing in people.
“Got it. The hot water tank is only ten gallons so don’t go real slow when you take a shower. The average shower is 17.2 gallons.”
“Seriously?”
“Yeah, I looked it up. I run out of water after six or seven minutes.”
“Good to know,” she replied.
“Cold as fuck when that happens. Start the shampoo and conditioner first thing.”
“You use conditioner?”
“Yes,” I replied. “But if you tell me what kind you use, I’ll make sure to have some in the shower.”
“Aw, thanks. I get it off Amazon. I’ll send you the link.”
“Cool.”
“I like your electric toothbrush,” she said.
“Yeah, so do I. You can use it if you want. I’ll get you one too.”
“These are heady times,” she said with a giggle.
“Hey, let me know what happens with Harry Krustanilov, ok?”
“I will. So when do you want to go on camera? The man behind the mask.”
“What time does he come on?”
“Usually between 10 AM and noon.”
“Tomorrow, how about that? I need to arrange a couple of things.”
“Perfect,” she replied.

Get over it. I’ll be wearing a mask. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t if you could. And ladies, don’t tell me you wouldn’t enjoy watching. For those with other orientations, apologies, I’ve got nothing for you. Got nothing against you either, let me make that clear.
Yeah, I’ll do what’s necessary to keep her safe.
I’m Trunk, it’s what I do…hahaha.
Don’t expect me to tell you about it. You can watch online just like everybody else.

I had breakfast with Jimmy at Beach Diner.

“What do you have on for today?” I asked him.
“An office building that is melting without AC.”
Jimmy shoveled another piece of the omelet into his mouth.
“Sucks to work there,” I said.
“It’s not that bad. A lot of them are working from home. Lucky bastards.”
“How’s the old man?”
“Still a bastard,” said Jimmy.
“At least he’s consistent. That makes him predictable and that helps you avoid shit.”
“I just want to go through one day, one fucking day of my life without that man trying to beat me down. One day of my life without me wanting to punch his fucking lights out. Just one.” Jimmy stopped eating and looked at me directly to emphasize his point.
“Listen, I know how you feel. But you can’t do it. So what are you gonna do?” I asked.
“Dependable Air has offered me a job. Almost double of what I am making now.”
“Double? Are you kidding me?”
“73% more than I make right now.”
“That’s great.”
“I’m thinking about it.”
“Your father will be devastated.”
“Yeah, well fuck him.”

I took a sip of my coffee.

"That would be embarrassing for him, won't it?
"Humiliating," replied Jimmy.

I noticed he wasn't smiling and there was no evidence that he found it pleasing.

"You know there are alternatives," I said with a smile.
"No, no, no. No fucking way."
"No I don't mean that." I looked at him and shook my head from side to side as if I couldn't believe he would naturally assume I was talking about murder.
"Oh. Then what?"
"Spend the rest of his days in assisted living. Let those fat ugly orderlies with massive man tits clean him up when he shits his pants."

Jimmy leaned forward and spoke softly across the table.

"Really? You can do something like that?"
"Not me personally," I lied, "but I know a guy that specializes."
"How much would something like that cost?"
"Between 10 and 20 large, depends on the net worth of the victim usually."
"Wow."
"Think about it," I said.
"Wow."

Jimmy is probably the nicest person I know.
He's kind and caring and gives a damn about other people, including me. I know it's unfair that he gets beaten down by his father every day. That's just how life is.
Can't nobody walk all over you unless you’re laying down. Jimmy needs to get up off the ground.

But there's a tiny little bit of me buried deep that says I should just take care of it for him. Don't wait for him, don't help a good man make a bad decision, the decision he could spend the rest of his life regretting. That's the thing about Jimmy, he's one of them, the kind of people that will torture themselves because of their misdeeds.
I should just do it.

“Hey, you need to help Emmie out, OK"? I asked him.
“Yeah, sure.”

It was damned good coffee.

Later that morning I went to see my Poindexter.

“Kevin, I’ve got a research project for you. Five grand.”
“Up front?”
“No motherfucker, when has it ever been up front?” I replied with an annoyed tone.
“Never.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Everything always starts with a first time.”
“Not this,” I replied.
“Who is it this time?”
“Ben Koppleman, DEA Field Operations Lead.”
“Anything specific I’m looking for?”
“No,” I replied. “Bonus for a career ender”.
“Ah, incentives, I love incentives.”
“When can you get started?”
“An hour from now.”

Kevin was sitting at one of those wrap around desks, the kind that covers three quarters of a circle. There was an array of computer monitors on the desk. Financial markets, some music concert videos, BBC, news tickers, gay porn videos, all were streaming across the screens.

Kevin makes his money online.

Ethical hacking is what it’s called when you hire someone to try and break into your computer systems. He works for some company out of New York. Phone security mostly. People are starting to pay for stuff from their phones and he’s all into the security behind that.

“It will take me a couple of days. How deep?”
“To the bottom. He’s new in his job. Came in from Washington, DC. Asked to be transferred out of HQ back into the field. A career mistake, right?” I said.
“Sounds like it.”

A computer bell dinged.

“Yes!” said Kevin with his fist pointed to the ceiling.
“What?”
“Oh, just got paid for some fake product reviews.”
“Really?”
“It’s a big business. I should know, I’m in the thick of it.”
“Had no idea.”
“Hey, gimme your phone,” he demanded with a smile and put his hand out.
Every time. He does this every time. I handed him my phone. He plugged it into a cable and it immediately restarted.
“How is Chandler?” I asked.
“You know, he has his good days and his bad days.”

Chandler is Kevin’s bi-polar partner. I’ve only met him twice but from what Kevin tells me the mood swings are very extreme. Chandler refuses the medicines. Says it makes him a zombie.

“My mom used to have a long string of bad days in a row. It was always around the holidays. Don’t know why,” I said.
“That’s right your mom did time in the puzzle factory.”
“Yeah.”
“Sometimes I wish Chandler could go off somewhere and get himself fixed once and for all.”
“Didn’t turn out that way with my mom.”
“I’m just tired of the starting overs after every crisis. Piecing our lives back together until the next time he smashes it to pieces again. It’s exhausting.”
“Is he still in therapy?”
“Yes, but it does him no good at all. Not if he won’t take his meds.”

Meds. Chemistry in the pursuit of normalcy. I’ve tried most of the meds at one time or another. Chandler is right, many of them turned me into a zombie. Others made me depressed.
There was a period of about three months right after I diagnosed when I was very unstable. I believe now that most psychotics don’t know they are that way. They may be better off. Finding out sent me into a deep depression. Took me weeks to come to accept that it was possible to live with my condition. Yes, I considered suicide. Got real close, if you consider a gun barrel in the mouth to be close.
No, I never pulled the hammer back. I was probably just trying to scare myself. Internally I can be a real fucking drama queen. I play so many head games with myself sometimes I can’t remember what is real and what is my own made-up bullshit.

I got to Art’s shop just after nine in the morning. Art motioned for me to come into his office.

“Morning, Trunk.”
“Morning.”
“It’s a great morning,” said Art.

He picked up his coffee cup and took a sip.
Tommy was sitting on the sofa along with Pete.

“Why?” I asked.
“We got a new line of performance headers for the shop. I’ve been trying to get them to distribute through us for months.”

Pete started laughing. Then Tommy joined in.

“That’s good,” I replied. “Congratulations.”
“That’s not all. The DEA moved against the cartel early this morning in Mobile.”
“Now that is really good news,” I replied.
“Yes it is.”
“How did it go?” I asked.

“Can’t get the front line news yet,” said Art. “That will take a couple of days. But I know there was a firefight.”
“Excellent,” I replied.
“Yes it is. A win-win for us,” said Tommy.
“Local news got it yet?”
“Just starting,” replied Art. “Just a couple of lines about a pre-dawn raid against a Mexican cartel operation in Mobile.”
“They called it out as a ‘mexican cartel’? Seriously?” I asked.
“Yeah.”
“Got to keep the locals scared,” I said.
“Got that right, Trunk,” Pete replied.

I’m gonna say something you aren’t going to like.

There is a joint effort by both police and the local news media to keep us all scared. They need us fearful to justify their existence and their budgets and their advertising rates. Follow the money and you always find the truth. It’s just that way. Probably shit they teach at some fancy ivy league schools. How to Control Us 101.

There was a box of donuts on Art’s desk. Pete got up from the sofa and got another one. There was evidence of the previous one on his shirt, a tiny bit of glazed sugar below the second button of his shirt.

"Red's taken a couple of men over to Mobile. We’re adding another 10 kg to local supply."
I looked at Art curiously.
"Won't that drive the price down? I asked.
"Yes. Crank riders panic hard if there is a supply disruption. They go apeshit crazy and start fucking each other over. Stealing from each other. Stabbing each other. You name it they do it. They flood the ER rooms and the jail. Some of them migrate over to opiates and never survive the first taste. All bad for business. So we flood them with plenty of cheap product so they calm the fuck down." Art reached for the box of donuts and took out one that was covered in chocolate and took a big bite.
"Makes sense from a public safety standpoint," I said but not sarcastically enough apparently.
"My boy be tripping," said Tommy with a chuckle as he looked at me.
"Don't worry, couple weeks and prices will be back to normal." Art took another bite of his donut.
"You want one," he said pointing at the box.
"No man, that shit will kill you." I smiled when I said it.
Tommy started laughing.
"He said the same goddamn thing," said Pete pointing at Tommy.
"Great minds stink alike," Tommy said.
"Ditto," I confirmed.

I’ve reached the age where I can’t go eating sweet stuff whenever I want. Gotta save it for the real good stuff. Donuts aren’t that. They are the junk food equivalent of shitty weed. It will get you high, make you fail every drug test known to man, but in the end, it’s just not satisfying. Smoke more of it and you don’t get higher, you just get a headache. Eat more donuts and you get a nasty sick feeling in your stomach.
I’ll pass.

Emmie tried to teach me about nutrition. Fruits and vegetables, yes. Everything else? Probably no.

I had my phone on silent.  A few minutes later it vibrated in my pocket. That it was Emmie was coincidence, that’s all.

Emmie:     don’t forget to talk to him for me
Me:    already done
Emmie:     thanks
Me:     no problem
Emmie:  I’ll go by tonight
Me:     He’s expecting you
Emmie:    Best news all week…so far
Me:     I got good news too
Emmie:     What? Tell me!
Me:    I’m pregnant
Emmie:    LOL
Me:     No, but some jerks got what they deserved today and that is good news.
Emmie:  You being the bad in service to good again?
Me:     No, not this time.

Emmie was with me the night we got really high and developed the theory on my role in life. No, this isn’t fate or destiny or any of that other mumbo jumbo bullshit. This is a role I choose, whether consciously or subconsciously, I chose it and walk it. Both sides of the line. One foot in good, one foot in bad.
But you probably already figured out the flaw in my role. And even if you would asked me if I knew the difference between right and wrong, of course, I tell you that I did. But that would just be my ego answering. If you put it to the test you’d discover that I really don't. I can figure it out in my head, there is the golden rule and a few other techniques I’ve learned. But instinctively, something known deep down inside of me? Nope, nothing at all.

That was one of the joys of being married to Emmie. She made my life easier. She helped me fine tune my responses. I can't punch the pensioner for cutting in line in front of me at the post office. But she can punch the redneck in the bar that asked me what I liked best about 'black genitalia' (although he wasn't nearly as polite as that in his terminology). She hit him. I kicked him. He went down hard. We left quickly.

Art looked at me.
“How is the work up coming on Koppleman?”
“Be ready in a couple of days,” I replied.
“Get a move on. We need to understand this asshole ASAP.”
“Gotcha.” I picked up my phone.

Me:    Kevin, ASAP bro. I’ll add another K.
Kevin:     OK…will send what I have so far. Mundane shit so far. Gimme an hour, gotta get inside the social circle of his group.
Me:     Thanks
Kevin:    Stand by

One hour later I presented what we knew so far.

“Benjamin Pertwee Koppleman. White male. 39 years old. Here’s a picture of him. 6 foot one inches tall, 225 lbs or so. Keeps himself in shape.”
“Looks like a grown up frat boy,” said Pete.
“That’s a pretty good observation. He was in the Alpha Delta fraternity in college.”
“What have we got that we can use?” Tommy asked.
“Not much so far. Minor shit mostly.”
“Such as…?” asked Art.

“His wife is fifteen years younger than him and works at their church as a youth minister. Real pretty girl. Pumped out two kids so far in their brief time together.”
“So he likes them young, so what?” asked Tommy.
“Benjamin Pertwee Koppleman is on his second wife. His first wife was years ago, right after he graduated college. It lasted less than six months. She claimed mental cruelty as grounds for divorce. The filing gave a long list of events and actions. Ben’s a bit of a man’s man, gotta be in control of his woman at all times.”
“Fucking dinosaur,” said Art with a smile.
“They don’t believe in dinosaurs at his church,” said Tommy in his smart-ass tone.
I nodded my agreement.
Control is best done so subtly that it leaves no trace.
“This doesn’t buy us anything so far. Does it?”
“No. But there is one thing that’s come up that I need to follow up on.”
“What’s that?” Pete asked.
“Ben Koppleman’s father is the neighborhood drunk.”

Art’s phone started playing a Whitney Houston song.
“Shit,” Art said and held up his hand for me to stop.
He picked up his phone.

“Tell me.”
There was a silence and I watched his face begin to cringe.
“You’re fucking kidding. Hold on.”
Art put his phone down on his desk and pressed the speaker button.

“Say it again,” he said.
And the sound that came across the phone was known to me. It was Puny’s voice, but now in a manner I had never heard from him before but knew it well from others. It was the sound of primal fear. There was also the loud roar of an engine, an engine that was being pushed harder than it should.

“They’re killing everyone.”

Part Eleven

1968 Ford Mustang

"They're killing everyone," Puny screamed over his phone and over the high pitched whining of the engine in his truck.
"Who's killing who?" Art asked.
"I don't fucking know who they are," screamed Puny.
"How many of them are there?" I asked.
"About 30” Puny yelled.
We heard the sound of breaking glass.
"Fuck, they saw me, shit.""Where are you?" I asked.
"Leaving the dirt part of the road."
I looked around the room.
"What kind of weapons do they have?" Tommy asked.
"Shotguns mostly and rifles. Fucking rifles."
"What weapons do you have?" I asked.
"None."
"You gotta be shitting me," Tommy replied.
"My wife doesn't like them," Puny replied in a high pitched scared voice.
"That's fucking ridiculous."
I got out my phone and pulled up a map of the area were Puny was driving.
"Puny, you gotta get to the interstate. There is a large food distribution warehouse four miles East on the interstate. You'll be safe there," I said hoping I was telling the truth.Pete grabbed his phone and called Red.
"They're killing everyone at mothership."
There was a pause.
"Yeah, fuck them. I'll get them together," Pete said."Shit," yelled Puny, "they’re fucking coming after me."

"I can have 50 men there in one hour," said Pete. There was a pause, then he added, "don't worry, I've got it covered."
Pete stood up to leave.
I stood up.

"Stop!" I yelled.
"Stop what?" Puny yelled angrily.
"Not you, Puny. Pete don't leave yet," I said. "Puny, you need to drunk drive back and forth jump from one side to the other but don't do it in any rhythm. How much of head start you have?"
"Bout a quarter-mile," puny said. "Shit they hit the tailgate."
"Keep weaving, no rhythm." I turned and looked at Pete.

"You were about to take 50 armed men to a crime scene. The shooters will be long gone. You get nothing out of this except higher risk."
"Then what the fuck are we supposed to do?" Pete asked angrily.
"Their leader in Mobile is Fernando Ruiz, an American citizen. Now I bet the rest of them are Mexican nationals and will be handed over to immigration and be tossed back across the border. But Ruiz will make bail. I think he is a better target. Grab him."
"I agree," said Art.

"Oh fuck, they're gaining on me," Puny complained.

"How much further to the interstate?" I asked.
"About half a mile." There was a loud smashing sound.
"What was that?" Tommy asked.
"My side view mirror."
"What are they driving?" I asked.
"Fucking red Camaro."
I thought for a moment. I needed an idea. Then it hit me.
"Puny, here's what I need you to do," I said. "The food warehouse is on the north side of the interstate but to get to it you have to drive down the south side of the interstate. So what I want you to do instead of getting onto the south side, get onto the north side westbound interstate and drive away from your destination."
"Are you fucking crazy? Are you trying to get me killed?"
"No. Once you get on the interstate drive across the grassy part in the center. You can do that in your truck but I don't think a Camaro can. Do you understand?" I asked.
"Got it. Almost there."

I lifted my hand to my face to scratch my upper lip and smelled soft fragrance of Holly's moisturizer on my fingers. It made me smile when I shouldn't have.
"What the fuck are you smiling about?" Asked Art.
"Just smelled my girlfriend."
"Not now, motherfucker. Come back in here."

Pete called Red back.
"Different plan. Get Ruiz. We want to talk to him."
There was a pause.
"No I'm not fucking kidding. Trunk's idea and Art agrees. Makes sense to me too."

"Puny, what kind of tires you have on that truck?" Tommy asked.
"Regular street tires," he replied. “I’m on the on-ramp now. Need to pick my spot to cut across.”
There was a sound of breaking glass again.
"Man, that was an inch from my head, fuck. I don't want to die. Fuck, I can't even surrender. I don't want to die." The sound of desperation is never easy to hear.
“Keep weaving brother,” Tommy said.
"You gotta be fucking shitting me. Motherfucker has an RPG. I'm fucking dead. I'm fucking dead."
"Just keep weaving brother," Tommy reminded him.

But Puny was right. Just a moment later there was a brief roar then the call ended.

"Fuck," Art said with the same tone of voice heard in hospital waiting rooms around the world.

"I want Fernando Ruiz. Alive. Do you understand?" Art spoke in a slow deliberate voice, the kind used to cover rage.
"Understood," said Pete. "I'll make sure Red knows."

A pick-up truck blown up by an RPG on Interstate 10 is going to make a mess, a big mess. It shut down the roadway for almost five hours. The explosion caused a chain reaction pile up of seven cars and one 18 wheeler that destroyed the car it hit.
Puny didn’t die alone at the scene.

Art was driving to the mothership and I was sitting beside him. Pete and Tommy were in Tommy’s truck not far behind. We had to take a long detour away from Interstate 10. I noticed Art’s face tightened up into a grimace when we hit the final dirt part of the road near mothership.

The first two bodies were just inside of the fence. Face down, both of them. No weapons. They were armed so I concluded that the shooters took them. I noticed on both bodies that they each had the cartel’s signature insurance bullet to the head. A body missing a significant part of the skull can be disturbing to some people. When Art saw it his grip on the steering wheel tightened.

"That's Smitty. I'm his daughter's godfather." Art's face had changed from anger to pain.

When we got near the line of pickup trucks parked behind the house there was one truck that had been shot up full of holes. The windows were painted red from the inside.

"Johnson," said Art. "He's got the sweetest old lady, the kind that really makes you want to come home every night”.

I started to get out of the truck.

"Hold up," said Art. He pointed to the glove box. I opened it. Walther 9 mm. I handed him the gun.
"No, that's for you."

Art reached under his seat and pulled out a black polymer pistol.

"Let's go," he said.

We moved cautiously at first, I kept myself behind cover for as long as I could. Then I saw the kid. He was only 19 or 20 years old, that prime age when women and having a good time are the only two items on the list. I recognized him because he was always wearing some hard-core band’s T-shirt. So I knew the body at the bottom of the stairs with most of the head missing was him because of the Cannibal Corpse T-shirt.

Pete pulled up driving Tommy's truck. He got out and walked over to us.

"Where is he?"
"He wanted to walk in, says it gives him a better feel for what happened."

Made sense to me. Tommy had experiences far beyond mine.

"The bastards shot up all of the equipment too," said Pete pointing down a large mixing station with the stainless steel vats and the control panel shot full of bullet holes.

They got points for being thorough in my book.

"Looks like a total write off," I said.
"Without Puny, it's not going to happen," replied Art.
"Or someone like Puny," I said.

Art turned and looked at me and nodded slightly.

"Or someone like Puny," he repeated.

Fifteen families had to be told. Fifteen times Art was going to have to see the shock on their faces. Fifteen times he would have to repeat the same lie, he went for a beer after work and was never seen again. They were scattered across the clubs so nobody would know about the others.

Art wasn’t sold on the lie at first but he came around to it in the end. It gave him deniability and he could claim he simply didn’t know. He thanked me later.

Tommy made it to the mothership.

"God damn, they didn't miss anything. They even shot up the solar panels," he said.
"Tommy, I need your help," I yelled to them.
"Call it, Capt."
"We've got 14 vehicles, we need 14 sets of keys."
"On it."
"Thanks," I replied.
"Give me some options," said Art.
"Let's start with what is not an option," I said.
"Okay, smart ass. What is not an option?"
"We can't just leave it for someone else to find."
"Yeah, okay. Agree."
"We cannot continue at this location."
"Yeah, okay. Agree."
"By the way, who owns this property"?
"My wife's great aunt Tessie. 94 years old and crazy as a loon. Can't tell her own kids apart some days. The next day she will beat the crap out of you at Scrabble."
"Mothership cannot continue until Puny has been replaced."
"Yeah, okay. Agree. Give me something we can do."
"Primary decisions begins with where."
"Where what?" Art asked in a less than friendly tone.
"Where do we get rid of the bodies? If we have to move them the risk increases significantly. Moving 110 ice chests containing body parts is a significant risk. It's one I would rather not take."
"So what you suggesting we do, dig holes and bury them here?"
"I'm suggesting the hole has already been dug."
"So you want to bury the whole thing again. Lock stock and barrel, right?"
"I'll need a bulldozer," I replied.

You ever seen those pictures of that Chinese Army that was buried? I'm not sure if they are real or statues. Either way, my idea wasn’t original. But give me some lime, a bulldozer and some pallets of Saint Augustine grass and I’ll make it look like nothing ever happened here.

“Where do we get a bulldozer?” asked Pete.
“Same place we’re going to get rid of fourteen pickup trucks,” I replied.

Emile Sandoz has known me for over a decade. We met over a stolen 1968 Ford Mustang. He contacted me after he called Chip, a mutual friend of ours. The 68 Mustang was beautiful. Completely restored and painted red. New chrome everywhere. The kind of car that makes old men’s dicks get hard again. But there was a problem. The owner of the car was dead and his body was in the trunk.

Sandoz was so mad at the little worm that botched the steal that he made him personally pay double my fee. One time for me and one for Emile for having to put up with such an idiot. When the kid complained Emile offered to pay me twice my fee and he’d kill the kid so that there would be nobody left to complain about a damned thing. The kid shut up after that.

Emile arrived three hours later. I met him out at the dirt road.

“Fourteen pickups. One with a lot of holes in it, but it runs. You’ll need a flatbed and a cover for it.”
“How much blood?”
“I’ll make it clean enough for the crusher before it leaves.”
“Thanks. What about the others?”
“Chop-chop,” I replied.
“Can do,” he replied.
“And I need a bulldozer.”
“A bulldozer?”
“Yeah, got some landscaping to do,” I said with a smile.

Emile laughed.

“You need it here?”
“Yeah.”
“Gimme a day. Gotta talk to my brother. How long you need it?”
“Two days.”
“Need a driver?”
“Not one that wants to live after they finish.”
“I’ll call that a solid no,” Emile replied.

Emile Sandoz has a brother, Henry. Between them they are the best connected criminals I know. And neither of them have a criminal record. Not even a speeding ticket. Nothing. But if you’ve got a stolen Porsche, Mercedes or BMW, Emile is your man and has cash just waiting for you.

Art wasn’t happy about letting the trucks go without compensation.

“That’s 200,000 dollars worth of pickups. Maybe the families could use the money.”
“Retail, Art, retail,” I replied. “You’ll only get 1,000 to 2,000 for a steal. It’s not that much. Plus they are criminal evidence from an undiscovered crime. It’s better if they are disassembled and scattered. It’s not worth the risk to try and sell them.”
“Yeah you’re right, prison is full of cheap bastards like me that tried to cut corners,” Art replied.

We left Tommy at the site. He was going to do some more looking around. Said he was in no hurry to get home. He ain’t getting along with his wife. A bad patch, he called it. Emile and his people would take the trucks tomorrow morning at 11AM.

You know what was weird to me? I was feeling horrible. Really horrible.
It wasn’t the sight of the dead men. Had nothing to do with that, at all.

I was feeling horrible because I was going to have to tell Holly that I couldn’t be with her online in morning. It was the worst fucking feeling in the world and it made me the happiest man in the world.

Somebody finally mattered!

I almost started crying when it occurred to me. But crying in front of bikers is probably not the thing to do. It was wonderful.

“You OK?” Art asked me.
“Fine,” I said. I refused to wipe my teary eyes.
“Cool,” said Art. “I’m still processing it too. It’s a lot. Shit we’re not supposed to see, we’ve seen today.”
“Yeah”. Let him think what he wants. Mine were tears of joy.

I parked my truck in the marina parking lot near the gate. I could have parked closer, but I needed to think about what I was going to tell Holly. I was thinking about the right kind of lie that would keep me out of trouble and in her good graces and within her warm embrace. But I was having trouble. Me, I couldn’t come up with anything. Nothing. This was definitely not normal. And it made me more than a little angry with myself.

As I stepped onto the boat I got the scent from down below. Something was cooking in the galley. It smelled like cookies or cake or something. I poked my head down the companionway.

“Wow, smells lovely,” I said.

Holly was in the galley and spun around to the sound of my voice. She was wearing the apron and nothing else. Her naked ass looked wonderful and I decided that if push came to shove I’d chose that over cookies any day of the week. I’d just have the cookies after the sex.

“Archie and Claire came over to visit,” she said. “They send their love and are sorry they missed you. Archie said something about a ‘thru-pull’ something or other."
“Thru-hull?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Says he has the exact one you need.”
“Thanks.”

I climbed down the companion way into the belly of the boat.

“Did you know he used to work for the IRS?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“He know so much about laundering money. Told me all about the Bahamas and how it works.”
“Did he?”
“Yes. And Claire said the only reason they live in Florida is so they can sail to the Bahamas and count their money whenever they want.”
“I’ve heard that before,” I replied.
“You have the nicest neighbors. They loved my cookies.”
“I’m sure I will too.”
“But you have an incentive to love them because you love me,” she replied.
“That is a true statement,” I replied.
Was what I said a lie? Yes? No? Let’s put it into the Maybe category for now. See how is fits later.

Then the weirdest thing happened, I started feeling bad again. For the same reason. Fucking annoying if you ask me.

I pulled Holly by her arm until she was close to me. I felt her body pressed against mine.

“I’m so sorry my darling. Something has happened at work and I won’t be able to be online with you tomorrow. I won’t be able to do it until the weekend.”

And while I was still feeling like shit for disappointing her, telling her made it about 25% better. Granted 25% ain’t a lot and it’s nowhere near 100% but it is noticeable and I noticed.

“But I’ve told everyone that you will be there, my love.”
“I’m sorry.”
“There is no way that you can do it? Not even for me?”
“I’m sorry, darling.”
“But you promised,” she said with the saddest of sad looks on her face.
“I know, darling. I’m so very sorry.”

Holly began to cry.
Then shit got weird.
I began to cry.

A few minutes later I told her that people had died at work and I needed to take care of it.

Holly understood.

Part Twelve

Father of the Year

I couldn’t find Craig Johnson's ear.

I'd gotten the rest of his body out of the truck. That's the thing about shooting in a confined space it really cuts up a body. Guess what happened when I tried to pull Craig out by his arms. Yep, you guessed it. Now it was just laying on top of the rest of him a few feet from his truck. But I couldn't find his ear.

It was obvious that the first attempt at a head shot was slightly off target. I knew this because the second attempt wasn't. It was perfect.

I backed out of the truck. It felt good to stand up again. I was wearing one of those paper coveralls with the hood and latex gloves. I preferred the white paper coveralls but when the box a blue one showed up from the online store, well what you gonna do? Too much hassle to return them. The only reason I prefer the white ones is because of the blood. Sometimes when I take them off at the end of the job the white ones look like modern art, smears and splashes, droplet sprinkle patterns.

The blue ones just look like they belong to a butcher.

I leaned in and opened the center arm rest.
I found it!
There was his ear.

How when the hell did it get inside of a closed armrest. Then I found the cell phone, the cell phone that was not supposed to be anywhere near this site. Craig Johnson opened the center armrest to get his phone and make a desperate call. He never got the chance. I picked up the ear and the cell phone. I dropped the ear into the pocket of my coveralls and tossed the phone onto the floor of the truck. Let it get crushed seemed like the best alternative. I then remembered to pull out the sim card. I needed to look at the checklist again. I look at it several times during a job and one last time when I think I’m done…then another one just in case.

I finished the job I'd been working on for over an hour, cleaning up that damn truck.

I was thankful for the head shot. If they had left him to just bleed out there would've been a lot more blood. When I was done I went to the back of the truck, lowered the tailgate, sat down and fired up a big fat joint. I was smoking Kali Mist, one of those ‘I want to get high but I've got shit to do’ strains of weed. I took five big draws from the joint than stubbed it out on the truck and put it in my pocket, a different pocket from the ear.

I'd been working since about 7 o'clock in the morning. I woke Holly in the usual manner and apologize again three times before I left. She kissed me goodbye and her last words to me were, I love you.

I grabbed a bottle of blue Gatorade from the cooler in my truck and tossed back about 1/3 of it. It was gonna be a hot one again today. I've had kidney stones once because I became dehydrated. That will never happen again.

With break time over I got back to work. Sometimes it's interesting to see the position people are in when they die. Most of them were face down which means they were shot in the back as they were trying to get away. The entrance and exit holes confirmed it. But there were two that were different. One man died slumped over a pretty shiny new stainless steel table, you know the type, a food grade quality table with wheels. The other was in the fetal position and missing most of the back of his head. There is a sort of curiosity of the macabre that fascinates me sometimes when I am doing this kind of work.

It took me a good 20 minutes to drag the bodies of the two guards over to the mothership or what was now just a huge hole in the ground with bodies and equipment. I didn't bother to drag them down the stairs, I just push them over the side and let them drop. It's not like they were going to complain. I took the pieces of Craig Johnson's body from beside his truck and threw it into the now mother hole. Then I went down the stairs to spread out the bodies. There were three on top of each other and I reasoned it would be better if they were spread out. I was pulling a guy by his legs over into the center of one of the rooms near the floor drain when I heard Tommy's voice.

"You need some help with that?"
"No, but can you throw down that arm?"
"Sure thing."

He walked away and I finished pulling the body to the center of the room.

"You had breakfast yet?" He asked me.
"Yeah, couple hours ago. Keep burping that damn sausage biscuit."
“Well I’ve got extra if you are hungry.”
“Thanks,” I replied.
“Hey, you got any toilet paper?”
“No,” I replied. “But I did see some tissues in the dark green truck.”
“Thanks. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“No problem.”

Tommy left to go take care of business.

I thought about the conversation I had with Art early this morning about fifty feet from where I was standing.

“This is a lot of work and coordination,” I said.
“I know the usual price is 10K per but this is definitely needing a volume discount, right?” asked Art. “Listen I’m not trying to be a cheapskate. You’ve done real well Trunk. Good man in a crisis.”
“Listen, how about we call it 80K. 60 in Bitcoin and 20 in cash? That sound fair to you?” I asked.
“More than, my friend. More than. But let me counter slightly anyway.”
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“60 in Bitcoin, 40 in cash, but you’ve got to kick 20 over to Tommy.”

I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, he’s proven himself for sure.”
“Want to keep him happy. He’s moving up next time there’s an opening,” said Art.

Yeah, Tommy was gonna get another bonus.

He came back from the toilet about ten minutes later.

I had finished positioning the bodies by that time and came up the stairs to ground level. Time to drink more Gatorade. It was getting really hot. Even naked inside of the paper coveralls it was sweltering.

“We should line the trucks up in the road, keys in them, ready to go. Save the swiss cheese for last. Does it run?” Tommy asked.
“It does,” I replied.
“You pulled all the ID yet?”
“Yeah,” I replied and pointed to the front porch of the small house to the pile of wallets.
“Anything you need me to help you with?” Tommy asked.
“Not right now. It’s lime time.”
“Then I’ll line them up in the road. He’ll be here at 11, right?”
“Yeah.

I put on the respirator and grabbed a bag of lime at the bottom of the stairs. Work to do. The respirator was hot and sticky but preferable to having lime eat up my lungs.

Sandoz is a man of meticulous timing. 11AM on the money. I watched as two large auto carriers backed down the road to the edge of the asphalt and stopped.

“How about 2PM today for the dozer?” Sandoz said as he walked over to me.
We shook hands.
“This is Tommy,” I said.
They shook.
“2 sounds great to me.”
“Sure you won’t need a driver?”
“I’m sure,” I replied.

I’ve got to tell you that I’ve never operated one before. Last night Sandoz called me to point out that I probably needed a combination backhoe and loader, instead of a full dozer, unless I was mining for something or doing road work and he was certain I wasn’t. He gave me the model number of his suggestion and I confirmed it looked like a good fit for the job. I spent time looking at online how-to videos learning how it works. There were s surprising number of them.

“I’ll go get the first one,” said Tommy and walked back toward the line of pickup trucks.

We had all of the trucks loaded in just over an hour. As we were loading the last two, a car hauling flatbed tow truck arrived. You know the kind, the carrying bed angles down and they use a winch to pull the car onto it, then strap it down at the wheels.

“Hey Uncle Emile,” said the young man getting out of the flatbed tow truck.

Emile shook his head from side to side.

“Forgive him please, he’s an idiot,” said Emile.
“What have I told you about letting people know we’re related when we’re on this kind of job, huh? Can you ever recall having this sort of conversation with me before? Huh? Well brainiac?” Emile spit out his words like a parent.
“It’s ok around me,” I said, trying to buy a little slack for the kid and credibility with him.
“He’s got to learn. You’ve got to learn don’t you? But you can’t because you’re fucking stupid.”
“I’m sorry Uncle…shit…Emile. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again. I promise.” The kid looked genuinely scared.
Emile turned towards me, “got room for one more?” he asked.
“Sure thing,” I said with a smile.

For a moment I thought the kid was going to run away but he didn’t.

“Hear that, Einstein?”
“I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again.”
“Usual price?” asked Emile with a wink.
“You bet,” I replied.
“Einstein, I was going to ask our customer here for some money at the end of our work. But you know what? I’m not going to ask him for shit. You know why?”

There was a hesitation than a very soft, ‘no’ from the boy.

“Because I’m gonna buy a pre-paid burial plan. A pre-paid burial plan for you. That’s right. The very next time you refer to me as your uncle when you shouldn’t I’m going to kill you. And my friend here will dispose of your body. Do you understand me?”

The boy did not answer. He kept looking towards the woods and his face was beginning to contort like when you expect to be hit by something.

“Do you understand me, you worthless piece of shit? Do you?!” Emile yelled at the boy.
“Yes, yes, I understand you…Uncle Emile.”
“Oh fuck me, you’re a fucking dead man,” said Emile and he turned and started walking quickly back to his truck.

That was all it took. The kid sprinted down the road as fast as a fat little bastard can, which ain’t real fast after the first 100 yards.

Emile Sandoz started laughing.

“If Forest Gump were a fat fucker, that would be him,” said Emile between chuckles.
I wasn’t laughing.

“Someday, that boy’s gonna kill you,” I said.
“That would be the first courageous act in his entire life, so you know what? I wouldn’t be that mad at him.”

Emile Sandoz doesn’t always make sense to me. I’ve noticed it before.

He made me glad that my father split right after I was born. If he was anything like Emile, I would have killed him. Emile Sandoz ain’t ever gonna be Father of the Year.

Eventually the fat kid came back and finished the job.
Emile continued giving him shit the whole time.

A few hours later I was back in the mother hole. Tommy was helping to turn over the equipment, laying the tall pieces on their sides. There was a pretty yellow combination back hoe and loader parked up on the road.

“It’s not that she’s got a history of being faithful. She dated me and another guy for over a year. Slept with both of us. Finally the other guy gave up and moved away. And while I was deployed? I’m pretty sure she strayed. But you know what? I love her and I forgive her.” Tommy was going on about the problems in his marriage.
I didn’t really give a shit about his marriage. I’d seen his wife. She’s a looker. He ain’t that bad looking himself. Guess it’s true, good looking people attract others of their kind.

I stopped what I was doing. I stood with my hands on the reservoir but didn’t push it over. I was surprised.

I had gone for hours now, most of the day and hadn’t thought about killing Andrew once. Not once! I’m not kidding. The train that ran continuously in my mind, the Kill Andrew express had not run one time today. Usually I haven’t even left the boat before I am thinking about some aspect of how I will kill him and dispose of his body. I didn’t understand it at all.

I felt like I had lost something of value.

Eventually Tommy ran out of words and there was quiet except for the crashing of falling equipment. I was missing audio books something fierce. There was a science book I had been listening to. Sort of a dummies guide to physics. Breaks it down to almost a child’s level, which is just perfect for me. I was enjoying the part about how the wings of an airplane work. I’ll tell you this, if there had been audiobooks when I was in school, I would have gone to college and got a PhD. Much better than reading.

When we had it all ready to bury I told Tommy about the 20K he was going to get and suggested that he go home and get some rest. Come back tomorrow morning at 7AM.

Glad no one was around for the first few minutes when I tried to operate the back hoe and loader. Would have made the blooper’s reel when I turned the backhoe and ran into one of the trucks. It was exactly opposite of where I wanted to go. But after about an hour I seemed to have figured it out enough.

Filling a hole with dirt is interesting for exactly five minutes. After that it’s a chore and the childhood thrill of operating large equipment leaves faster than my daddy did.

I sat inside of the equipment cabin and that’s when it hit again. There is a smell to dead bodies. It’s something more than the shit and piss and bile. It’s an acrid smell that you can feel in the back of your throat, like a nasty medicine you can’t quite swallow. Eventually it got so bad that I changed into a new set of coveralls. That helped and reduced the smell by about 80 percent. But some of the smell was still on me.

Craig Johnson’s truck, that’s what the smell reminded me of.

I pushed dirt into the mother hole until it got dark.

Part Thirteen

Intercaribbean Bank and Trust

It took me three days to cover the mother hole and lay the new St. Augustine grass over it. Covering the hole was the easiest part. I’ve never laid sod before and I hope I never have to again.

Emile had a flatbed truck bring me fifty pallets of grass. Talk about back breaking work. Carrying them from the road to the back of the yard and putting them in place was some of the hardest work I’ve done in years. Even with a couple of wheel barrows it was hard as hell. Didn’t help one bit that it was during one of the hottest months of the year. I don’t know about how you would handle it but I was having a real hard time, taking a break every 30 minutes to rehydrate.

Global warming was kicking my ass. Yes, it’s real. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out either. Think of it like this, if Albert Einstein tells you that relativity is real, you believe him, right? If Isaac Newton tells you that gravity is real, you believe him right? If 99% of scientists say that global warming is real, just look at the thermometer and believe them. I don’t have to understand everything. Sometimes I just need to know the opinion of the smartest kids in the class. It ain’t political, it’s science.

The oil companies have spent millions to make us think it ain’t real.
Bastards.
The heat was kicking my ass. That’s all I’ve got to say about it.

All we needed was a good rain, and despite Florida’s reputation for afternoon rain, just after 10:30 we got a damned good soaking. Tommy and I kept working in it. Just what we needed to cool us down.

My arms were tired when I threw the last square of grass onto the ground.

“Fuck yeah,” I said glad to be finished.
“That was a solid bit of work, wasn’t it?” Tommy commented.
“Damn straight. Gonna be sore tomorrow morning.”
“Me too,” said Tommy. “Gonna have to get Brenda to give me a long rub down.”

Tommy’s wife is a licensed massage therapist. That’s how they met. To hear Tommy tell it, he was the only customer that got an erection every time Brenda put her hands on him. It don’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that sooner or later he would ask her out on a date. He did and the rest is their own sordid little history.

“You two back in the saddle again?” I asked.
“Yeah. It’s been good the last two days.”
“I’m glad for you,” I lied. I really didn’t give a shit.

We sat on the tailgate of my truck. Tommy had a beer from his cooler that he had been saving for when we finished. Then he had the one he had saved for me that I declined. Both of us were just a bit too tired for conversation so we drank in silence. Tommy took a prescription bottle out his pocket. He opened it and popped one in his mouth.

“If those are dick pills, sorry, I don’t think of you that way,” I said.
“Don’t worry. Cholesterol. Too many pizzas in the service.”

You work side by side with someone for a few days you get to know a lot about them by watching them work.
Art was right about Tommy. He was a keeper.

The A/C was on high most of the way back to the boat until it got too damned cold for me.
After a shower and a change of clothes I got back in my truck and continued my work day.

It was one of those dingy little dive bars. They all smell the same to me. They used to smell like cigarettes and stale beer. Now they just smell like stale beer. Everywhere except the bathroom. That smelled so much like rotten piss that no other odor was possible within the dark walls of the dimly lit hell hole. My eyes watered when I had to go take a piss. I should have held my breath but I didn’t.

It was mid afternoon and there were three customers in the bar, including me. Sidney Koppleman was seated at a stool at the corner of the bar, his back to the door.

Koppleman looked just like his DEA son, just older. They both had the same huge forehead, the kind that make you wonder if they are a genius or if all that space is just wasted. It was hard to tell with Sidney. He wasn’t friendly at first.

“Hey buddy,” I said, “what’s good to drink in this joint?”
“Stick with the booze from the bottle. They water down the sodas,” he replied in a sarcastic tone.
“What you drinking?” I asked.
“None of you damned business, unless you’re buying the next one,” he replied.
“Yeah, OK. I’m buying.”
“Then it’s Chivas Regal, double.”
I nodded to the old man behind the bar.
“Two,” I said.

Chivas Regal is expensive for something that tastes horrible. Whiskey always has been a nasty taste to me. Everybody tells me its an acquired taste. Well that means it takes practice and I’m just not up for it. So I slow sipped that nasty brown liquid taking as tiny a sip as possible each time. More wetting my lips than pouring it in my mouth.

“My name is Dennis,” I said to a man I knew a lot about.
“I’m Sidney. Thanks for the drink.”
Sidney took a decent sip and smiled.
“You from around here?” I asked. Already knew the answer though.
“Two blocks from here. Walking distance.”
“Convenient. Isn’t there a Publix Supermarket round here?”
“Yeah,” he said, “Two blocks from where I live.”
“You’re all about convenience.”
“Damn straight. Lost my drivers license a few years back.”
“That sucks,” I said.
“Best thing that ever happened to me. Now I’m all setup. Don’t have to drive for nothing. Even my doctor is within walking distance. Eight blocks, that’s all.”
“Lucky man.”
“Luck didn’t have shit to do with it,” he said. “I planned it out like this. Wasn’t luck at all, it was me.”
“Well done.”
“Took me months to find that tiny little house I bought.”
“Why so long?”
“The owner didn’t want to sell it. She wanted to leave it to her kids. Old bitch kept going on and on about her grandkids and her youngest son needing a place to stay.”
“What changed her mind?” I asked.
“Nothing. She had a stroke and died.”
“Oh. Poor dear.”
“Poor dear, my ass. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I got the place for under 80 thousand dollars.”
“No shit?”
“None at all. The kids were bickering about it and finally the eldest daughter told them to get rid of it no matter the price.”
“No matter the price, that sounds sweet.”
“It was. I can sell it right now for 120 and make a fifty percent profit in under three years.”
“Good for you. Congratulations.”
“Thanks. But I’m not going to sell. Why should I? I’ve got everything nearby. My doctors, my supermarket and my bar, all within walking distance. Better than one of those damned planned retirement communities down south.”
“Sound like a great setup.”
“It is,” he replied.
“You’re retired? You don’t look old enough.”
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter, boy” the old man said. “Thirty years at the CSX railroad. Thirty years of switching cars, building trains, cleaning god damned coal hoppers. That’s some nasty shit. Went home as black as the NAACP some days.”
“I bet.”
“Now I just go about my business. Have a few drinks everyday, pick up some food at Publix and watch a little TV until I fell asleep at night. You want to know the secret to a great retirement?”
“What?”
“A good recliner. One that you can fall asleep in and not wake up the next morning feeling sore as shit.”
“Really?”
“Absolutely,” he replied.
“How does your wife like it?”
“I fired that bitch the day I retired. Told her to pack her shit and get the fuck out of my life. Just a damned nuisance if you ask me, all of them, a damned nuisance.”
“I hear you,” I replied.
“All I ever got out her was a hard time and a kid that can’t stand to be around his own father.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Hell if I know. Son of a bitch quit coming round when he got religion. Guess Jesus told him he don’t approve of his old man.”
“Fuck those idiots,” I said.
“Yeah, fuck them. Little bastard should be glad he found Jesus. It’s about the only thing that was going to save him.”
“Save him from what?” I asked.
“You know what.”
“No I don’t,” I replied.
“From being a queer,” said Sidney.
“I’m sorry, I’m confused.”
“That little replica was the most god damned effeminate boy this world has ever seen. As a kid all he did was play with dolls and dress up. I used to yell at his mother that I was sick and tired of seeing my boy wearing makeup. But would that ignorant bitch listen? No, of course not. She let him do whatever he wanted. I tell you I spent almost fifteen years waiting for the day my boy admitted to being a queer.”
“But it didn’t happen. That’s good.”
“Only by the skin of his teeth if you ask me. I tell you that while he was away at college I was pretty sure he and his roommate were pounding each other in the ass. His roommate was a first class homo, one of those flaming ones with no modesty at all.”
“Wow,” I said. “I’ve got a friend that’s a homo. But he’s quiet about it.”
“They should all be quiet about it, if they want to stay alive.”
No mistaking that sentiment. Its one I grew up around. Took me years before I realized it was wrong. These days I just wonder what took me so long.
“I hear you.”
“Little bastard got lucky.”
“How?” I asked.
“He found a good woman, one those you bring home to meet your parents.”

The other customer went over to the jukebox. About a minute later I heard the opening notes of ‘Jump’ by Van Halen. I’m not a fan of their music. But I will admit that they have a few good songs, and one I consider to be a pop-music gem, ‘Finish What You Started’. But most of it? Don’t like it. ‘Jump’ is in my ‘don’t like’ category. At least it wasn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd. Can’t stand red-neck rock.
“Yeah, I had a good woman once,” I said. “But I screwed it up.”
“So did he. So did he. Married her. Big church wedding and all.”
“So what went wrong?” I asked.
“He did. He went wrong. He wanted to be king of his castle. Now I got no problem with that. A man has a god-given right to be the head of his family. But she didn’t see it that way. She didn’t want a boss. That’s what happens when you marry a woman that’s smarter than you. It can’t last.”
“So it didn’t last?”
“Shit, she left him after two months. Divorced him four months later.”
“Didn’t waste her time, did she?”
“Hell no. Damn shame, she was a looker too. Just too damned smart for her own good. You know what she told me once before they got married?”
“No,” I replied.
“She once told me that the only true form of communism that she had ever seen was in some enlightened marriages. Said all the others forms were just fake communism, something she called state capitalism. I tell you, that girl had more brains than sense, that’s for damned sure. Marriage as communism, ridiculous.”

I nodded in agreement. I don’t know shit about communism except it’s bad.

“At least they didn’t waste years finding out it wasn’t going to work,” I said.
“Not like me and my old lady. Mind you, I knew for years it wasn’t working. But hey, she cooked for me and fucked me, so what was I going to do? I don’t like cooking and my dick ain’t gonna suck itself.”
“I hear ya,” I replied.

It occurred to me that if I had not met Emmie or self-diagnosed or started listening to audiobooks, the opinions of the man sitting next to me at the bar could have turned out to be my own. But I learned better.

“When she left him, he fell apart,” Sidney said.
“It’s a traumatic thing, rejection always hurts.”
“He started drinking. But he caught a break and got a low level job at the DEA. They put him in charge of the weapons room for a couple of years.”
“That sounds like a good job.”
“Yeah, if you like handing out roller skates then watching all the other kids have fun with them.”
“Never thought about it like that,” I said.
Another damned Van Halen song came on the jukebox. ‘Panama’. At least I liked this one.
“Sounds like he recovered.”
“Yeah, for a time it worked. They even made him a field agent. Gun, badge, DEA windbreaker, the whole nine yards.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Same thing that happens to a lot of men that don’t have a woman in their life, he started drinking again.”
“That’s a problem?”
“It is when you do it while you’re on the job. If I had been drunk while I worked for CSX it would have been the last day I worked for them, that’s for sure. Lucky for him, the DEA is different. But then he really fucked up. He killed a man. Two weeks later he killed another one.”
“But that happens with the job don’t it?”
“Yeah. But I think my boy was drunk when it happened. They opened up a board of inquiry or whatever they call it. They even questioned me.”
“How did that turn out?”
“There were significant discrepancies between his account of what happened and the physical evidence from the scene. They suspended him and put him on paid leave while they investigated him. In the end it was inconclusive and they had to let him back in the game.”
“That’s good.”
“Yeah, by that time he realized that he was in a downward career spiral. That’s when he found Jesus.”
“I’ve got an uncle that used to drink a lot until he found Jesus,” I lied.
“Did he turn out to be a pain in the ass, always preaching to you?”
“Pretty much,” I lied.
“My boy did the same thing. It’s like when my Jeanine quit smoking. She turned into a real pain in the ass to be around. Couldn’t even light up a cigar in my own house. Imagine that. In my own house. That’s when I was sure it wasn’t going to work out between us.”
“Makes sense. You should be able to do whatever you want in your own house, right?”
“Damn straight,” he replied.
“Well it’s good that your boy finally got his shit together.”
“If you call it that.”
“What do you call it?”
“A pain in the ass. You know that my boy found Jesus over a decade ago. Since then we’ve had less than ten conversations and each time we talk he wants to start off with a prayer. I’m not shitting you, a prayer.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“Every damned thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus. But talking to your old man when he half way to a fine state of drunkenness and trying to make him pray isn’t going to win you any award, know what I mean?”
“I understand. Church is for Sunday. But Saturday is for having fun.”
“You got it. You got it.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“He just quit talking to me. Haven’t heard a word in almost two years now.”
“That’s a shame. You try contacting him?”
“Yeah. He won’t answer my calls. Won’t answer my text messages. I learned how to send god damned text messages so I could try and have a relationship with my son and he won’t even respond to them.”
“That sucks.”
“He’s got a pretty new wife I’ve never met and I’ve got two grandkids I’ve never met.”
“That ought to be a crime. You shouldn’t be able to prevent your kids from knowing their grandparents.”
“You’re damned right.”

I took another sip of Chivas Regal and tried not to let the dissatisfaction show on my face.

My conversation with Sidney Koppleman was a bust.

I spent another hour talking to him and by the time I finished he was feeling pretty damned fine. Me? I never finished the one drink I had.

Unless I was willing to go after Koppleman for being a closet queer there was nothing I could use. I couldn’t do that. It didn’t pass the Emmie test. Yea, I have an Emmie test I use sometimes. WWED I call it. What Would Emmie Do? That’s all it is. Mind you, I don’t ask that questions that often. But when I do it helps me sort things out. Emmie would definitely not go after someone for being gay.

Morality sucks in my book.

I drove back towards the boat. Pressed the gas to make a light on to the four lane highway. The car a few lengths behind me did the same thing. I heard their engine. I looked in the rear view mirror. Bright yellow Camaro.

Aw shit.

James Scheizel, aka Jimmy Chisel had a beef with me. He thinks that I killed his brother.

I didn’t. The official cause of death is suicide by hanging.

Mind you, I did put the rope around his neck. But I didn’t kill him.

And yes, I did make him stand on that rickety stool with the uneven legs.

But I didn’t knock the stool over or anything like that. No, that would be murder.

I just sat and waited. Joey Chisel would still be alive right now if he could just maintain his balance. But he couldn’t.

I’ll admit that the stool was pretty unsteady. But I stood on it before Joey got on it, just to make sure he had at least a fighting chance.

Oh the begging that boy did it was so raw and emotional. I should have recorded it.

Jimmy and Joe were running a little sex scam at one of the high end hotels in town. A pretty woman, a rich man, a drugged drink, and the rest is SD Card video history. Blackmail pays real good if you can avoid the risks. Then they chose the CEO of one of the largest privately held companies in the world.

Most of their scams yielded ten to twenty grand, occasionally they’d get one worth fifty. They were hitting executive level business types, but not senior executive level, and nobody even close to the level of Dean Frusci. His net worth exceeded 80 billion dollars.

Jimmy and Joe asked for 100 million dollars. ‘Cheaper than a divorce’ they said in the blackmail message.
They were easy to track down. Took me less than a day. Hell I knew Jimmy from school.

Long story short, Joe died and Jimmy went to jail for two years for a related weapons charge.

I thought I had set an alarm on my phone for when Jimmy got out of prison. But the latest upgrade to the OS messed up a lot of things.

The Camaro jumped over to the left lane then accelerated in an aggressive manner until it was beside me. Jimmy was hanging out of the passenger window like some teenage kid, arms hanging down, and some young girl maybe twenty was driving the car.

“Yo, Trunk, motherfucker. Long time, no see,” he yelled at me as his curly red hair shuddered in the wind.

I looked at him. He gave me the finger with his left hand. Then he brought his right hand up and let it flop down the side of the car. In his hand was a shiny silver gun. He let it hang outside of the car. Jimmy Chisel has watched too many movies. He was going for the clever kill line, the stupid son of a bitch.

My truck jumped over and rammed the yellow Camaro so damned fast Jimmy didn’t have a chance to get his arm out of the way. It was over in less than two seconds, a terrible thud, a howling scream, then I looked over at the bloody pulp that used to be Jimmy’s arm. Multiple fractures. Jimmy was screaming his lungs out and yelling. The girl driving had a scared look on her face.

Then the weirdest thing happened. I was planning on ramming them again when I heard the loud roar of a motorcycle. I mean this cat was one hell of a rider, made that bike jump up between us in no time flat. As the motorcycle accelerated past us, the driver pulled out a pistol and shot Jimmy Chisel twice and the driver once. It was all over so fast that I didn’t have time to do much other than see it happen. Then it was over. The motorcycle was gone as fast as it appeared.

I watched the yellow Camaro drifted over into the median then across it into on coming traffic. It was stopped abruptly by a UPS truck.

There was a post it note on the hatchway of my boat. ‘Over at Claire’s XOXOXO’.

I went below to have a vape bag from the Volcano before going over to Archie’s and Claire’s boat.

“Permission to come aboard,” I called out from the top of the companionway.
“Permission granted,” Claire’s voice replied from down below.

Gotta tell you that Archie and Claire’s boat is a beauty. Nice red stained Teak wood everywhere. Nice big galley, the kind where two people can stand without getting in each other’s way. My boat is a one-at-a-time galley. But hey, it was free, so I can’t complain.

Archie and Holly were seated at the table in the main cabin and Claire was in the galley a few feet away fixing dinner.

“You bring your appetite”? Claire asked me.
“Definitely.”
“Good.”

I stood next to her and looked into the pot.

“What is it?” I asked.
“Gluten-free pasta and no-sugar spaghetti sauce with vegetarian meatballs,” Claire replied.

Seemed to me that she stressed what wasn’t in it more than what was in it. In my limited experience that usually means it ain’t gonna taste that good.

I was wrong. It was good.

Didn’t even mind the vegetarian meatballs. But I’ve had them before. Emmie used to put them in spaghetti, as well as no-meat sausage. Part of her Trunk-improvement plan as she called it. God I miss those days.

We were eating dinner and Holly was asking Archie about his job at the IRS.

“Were you ever in danger?” Holly asked him.
“Oh no, dear, it was mostly a desk job. I did have to testify in court sometimes, but only when it was a drug dealer or the mafia was there any sort of danger. I was just a faceless bureaucrat to them.Take me out of the equation and another faceless bureaucrat will testify in my place. ”
“What was the strangest case you ever worked?” Holly asked him.
“There were a lot of strange ones over the years. People do weird shit to avoid paying taxes. But there was one in particular that baffled me. It’s still unsolved.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Money.”
“Tell me more,” Holly said.

Archie leaned forward like he was telling us a secret.
“Dominic Sanchez was a high level cocaine cowboy down in Miami in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Back then Miami was a sleepy little city down at the end of Florida. Mostly it was known for its nice beaches, Little Havana, and being the destination for retired Jews from up north.”
“Really, it’s always been a big city to me,” Holly said.
“That’s because you’re young,” Claire added. “It used to be nothing special.”
“Back then cocaine ruled the city and cash was king. The local Mercedes dealership couldn’t keep them in stock. And they didn’t ask where the money came from or why it was always cash. Strictly don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“Wow, sound exciting,” Holly said.
“For Dominic Sanchez it was. His family came over when Fidel came to power in Cuba. His father ran a barber shop in Little Havana. Good man, solid citizen, always paid his taxes. I know cuz I checked. He had nothing to do with his son’s business.”
“A lot of immigrants try to be more American than Americans,” I added.
“Often the case,” Archie replied.
“So why was it such a strange case?” Holly asked.
“First off, I had just been transferred from corporate investigations to a special crime task force that was trying to stem the flow of drugs into the country. But this time we were aiming at the money too, not just getting the powder.”
“It wasn’t like that already?”
“Oh no, dearie, back in the late seventies, early eighties we were just finding our way out of the dark ages. Al Capone was the biggest tax arrest we ever made before the cocaine cowboys showed up.”
“I had no idea,” Holly said.
“The coast guard tipped us off about a high speed boat that made night runs from Miami to Nassau in the Bahamas. They intercepted the boat on the way back to Miami but it was always empty. Just a bunch of grinning, trash talking Cuban tough guys that got a kick out of giving the Coast Guard a hard time. No cocaine, no money, nothing. Every time we drew a blank.”
“Wow,” said Holly.
“Problem was we were idiots. We kept looking for them to bring something into Miami. It wasn’t until me and another guy from the IRA joined the task forced did everyone realize that the runs were about getting cash out of Miami and into a safe place. It was just a case of having more money than they could spend.”
“Must be nice,” I said.
“Dominic missed his window of opportunity. There were years when he could have funneled the money into the local real estate market. If he had simply spent a few thousand on some good tax advice he would have found the game that one or two of his competitors found. A lot of those skyscrapers in Miami were built with drug money.”
“I had no idea,” Holly replied.
“Dominic wasn’t the smartest guy in history to run a criminal operation. He slipped up when he used some second cousin of his on one of the trips to Nassau. When the Coast Guard intercepted them the cousin’s name matched that of another guy wanted for murder. Coast Guard holds him, task force gets him, sweats him real good but we’re getting nowhere. Nothing. Guys a fucking mime. Not a word. I was in the other room watching him being interrogated and suggesting questions.”
“Cool,” I lied.
“He gets his one phone call and who does he call? His mother, that’s who. Not his crew, not the ones that can get him out. He calls his mother to apologize.”

I can’t say I felt sorry for guy getting sweated by the cops but I knew I should have.
That should count for something but it don’t.

“So the guy running the task force, Derek Scully was his name, Old D comes up with an idea. Fuck it, Let’s prosecute the son of a bitch for murder. We’ll just pretend that we don’t know he’s not the murderer and let’s slam this bastard deep into the judicial process. We can ‘discover’ who he really is any time we want. In the mean time let an overworked public defender do what little they can. We even shipped him from Miami all the way out to Seattle so he’d wouldn’t be around someone that could get a message back home.”
“How did it turn out? Did they convict him of murder?” I asked.
“Oh no, we’d never go that far. That's just wrong. But you know what? Those bi-weekly boat trips to Nassau stopped.”
"Wow," Holly said.
"They had one of the best banks for laundering ill-gotten gains and they are too scared to ship to it."
“Some banks are better than others?” I asked.
“By a mile. If you’re looking to launder money or just keep it in a safe place, Intercaribbean is your bank. Never left a stack out in the cold. Friendly as all hell too. I’ve been in there at least a dozen times in my career.” Archie laughed. “In an official capacity always”. He added a chuckle.
“Good to know,” I said.
“Your one of the good guys,” Holly said with a smile.
“So why did the boat runs stop?” I asked.
“Because they had no idea where Hector was and they thought he might have told us whatever he could. Come to find out it was his first time doing work for his uncle and if he told us anything it would only be about the money runs. That’s why they freaked out.”
“Makes sense,” said Holly.
“Yeah but remember Dominic isn’t the smartest bulb in the pack. But you know what? He didn’t need to be as long as Intercaribbean was on his side. He didn’t need to finance a sky scraper. No, he just needed to get his cash 200 miles to the east. So when he freaked out and stopped shipping the cash what’s going to happen? The cash just begins to pile up. Mind you, little son of a bitch tried to spend a lot of it. But he just couldn’t do it.”

Archie took a long sip of his scotch.

“Weeks go by, then months. Before you know it, it’s almost the end of the year and Dominic is having a cash crisis, he’s doesn’t know where to put it all. We found out later he was paying four men to babysit it 24 x 7. Ex-marines.”
“Finally the week before Christmas, Dominic sends a new, even faster boat this time. It’s bigger too. We’ve got pictures of it being loaded, we’ve got the Coast Guard standing down, we’ve got a team in Nassau waiting. Here’s what we're after. Take the money over, deposit it, come back. No Coast Guard, nothing. Looks like we’ve given up, right? But we haven’t. We’re actually want them to start up again because this time we’re going after the officers of Intercaribbean too. There was a Caribbean banking conference the following month in Miami and Intercaribbean would be front and center with most of their highest officers in attendance. We didn’t even need to ask them to come to America so we could arrest them, they were going to do it for us.”
“Clever. Get the drug dealers and their bankers, a clean sweep,” said Holly.
“That’s how it was supposed to turn out,” said Archie.
“But it didn’t?”
“Not even close. That fancy fast boat never arrived in Nassau. Coast Guard found it drifting north in the Gulf Stream a day later. No trace of the four men onboard, money gone. Boat had some bullet holes.”
“Wow,” said Holly. “How much?” she asked.
“The official estimate was fifty million dollars. But I think it could have been as high as seventy million.”
“Wow. And it’s just gone?”
“Four men and the money. Disappeared.”
“What do you think happened?”
“I’m not sure. I wish I knew. Been a splinter in my brain ever since. I don’t know.”
“Damn,” I said.
“A couple of weeks later Dominic Sanchez is gunned down in his Mercedes at a red light in North Miami.”
“Somebody wasn’t happy,” I said.
“Truer words…but there is another mystery here. We had Dominic at the top of the food chain. But someone had whacked el supremo and it wasn’t a competitive hit because there was no signature two shots to the back of the head. This was a machine gun Kelly kind of hit, almost eighty bullets in his car and at least ten in Dominic.”
“So did you ever find out who did it?”
“No, never did. There was someone higher and to this day we still don’t know who it was.”

I liked Archie’s stories and this one in particular. Fifty million dollars just missing, gone like a puff of smoke.

Holly and I went back to the boat.

It was when I was coming down the companion way that I thought of it again.

I had gone the entire day without thinking about killing Andrew. My usual fascination with the details of the event were missing. It made me happy and sad. Happy that maybe Holly was bringing me back into balance. I was sad because I was still planning to kill Andrew and now that I wasn’t thinking about it constantly the chances of getting caught were increasing. It’s about the details, always. The details. If you ignore them you get caught, it’s as simple as that.

When we got back into the boat, Holly closed us up, kicked on the air conditioning and the fan and filter. A couple of minutes later she was vaping some Kosher Kush I’ve had for ages. It’s one of those deep stoned strains, the kind that glue your ass to the couch. Too stoned to get up. It’s all body tingles. This makes it great for sex. But it also makes you sleepy. It’s great for insomniacs and people who don’t have anything to do and don’t mind a nap. Me? I’ve got shit to do and places to be. So me and Kosher Kush aren’t the best of friends. Holly was smoking some that I’d had for at least six months in an air tight jar.

I sat down on the settee in the main cabin. Holly handed me the vaporizer bag and I took a long pull from it.

“Honey,” she said with a little girl voice, “can I still set up the forward cabin as a studio?”
“Yes, of course,” I replied.

Smart move for a smart girl. She would be safer here. Only me, Archie and Claire know she’s here, none of the creeps would be able to find her. And she’s never more than 30 feet from a weapon. That’s three pistols. Two spearfishing guns hung down from the ceiling in the front cabin. Always wondered what it would be like to shoot someone with a spearfishing gun. Just wondering, doesn’t mean I’ll do it, ok?

“Thanks,” she said and then leaned over and kissed me. The leaning over became the sitting on top of which became…I think you know the rest.

After I asked Holly a question I had been wanting to ask her since I met her.

“Do you wear colored contact lenses?”
“No,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Because I’ve never seen that shade of blue in anyone's eyes before.”
“No contact, just me, that’s all you get.”
“That’s more than enough for me. I love you just the way you are,” I said.
“It’s nice to be loved, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Wonder if our children will have blue eyes?” she asked.

I’ll tell you that this question caused at least a fraction of panic inside of me.

“Not a good plan, having children.”
“Why not?” she asked. “I think you would make a fine father.”

We had reached the border. Step over the border and we’re in the land of truths that should remain untold.

“Do you know where my mother died?” I asked.
“No.”
“Arkansas State Mental Hospital.”
“What caused her death?”
“She killed herself.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I had no idea.”
“It’s alright. It wasn’t a surprise. She’d been saying she was going to do it since I was a little kid.”
“I bet you miss her.”

Oh dear, we’re at another border, a big one.

“Actually I don’t. I spent much of my childhood in a car traveling to see my momma at whatever institution they had her in. And when she was allowed to come home, it was constant chaos. Thank god she only lasted a couple of month before they sent her back.”
“Do mental illness run in your family?”
“Yes, it does. My grandma raised me and my sister and she wasn’t exactly normal. She used to talk to her dead husband every day and would even pour him coffee in the mornings.”
“I didn’t know you had a sister.”
“I don’t anymore.”
“Oh Trunk, I’m so sorry, my darling.”
“It’s no big deal. She wasn’t right for this world anyway.”
“Well you’re normal, thank god for that.”
“Yeah, thank god for that.”

Just couldn’t get across that last border with Holly.
I was disappointed in myself and wondered if I really did love Holly. Can you love someone if you don’t tell them that you are a dangerous psychopath that has killed and will probably kill again?

It had been a real long day and I was thinking about how nice it would be to get to sleep.

But just as I laid down in the rear cabin beside a naked and very exhausted young woman, my phone rang.

It was Red.

“We got him. I need you in Mobile tomorrow.”

Part Fourteen
The Emmie Test

121 DAYS SINCE THE LAST ACCIDENT
HELP MAKE 1987 OUR SAFEST YEAR EVER

That was the sign on the wall of the empty building. It was a sheet metal walled building of about 15,000 ft.² the exact location of which was somewhere near Satsuma, Alabama. That's just a bit north of Mobile, Alabama. There's nothing in Satsuma, Alabama from what I can tell. Anything that could leave that place, did. That included the large machinery that used to operate here. There were pieces of all thread rod sticking up from the concrete floor at intervals. They held the machines in place. But that was decades ago. Over against the left wall was a set of steel stairs that led to four offices that peered out over the rest of the building like a castle up on a hill overlooking a village.

You're probably sick of me telling you that it was a hot muggy day, so I won't, but you know that it was. The building had that old smell to it, that smell that says the war against mold has been lost and it reigns supreme throughout the building.

There was another smell too. Fenando Ruiz had relieved himself about an hour ago.

Not far from the back of the building, close to where we parked was a set of those all threaded rods stick out of the floor. Four of them were being used as anchor points for chains that held Fernando Ruiz in place, his arms and legs wide apart. He was laying on the floor like somebody in one of those human sacrifice scenes in a horror movie.

Fernando was a good-looking man. Black hair, black eyes, nice tan tone. He dressed nice too. Khaki dockers and a blue golf shirt that had an alligator embroidered right over his heart. But the shirt was torn and as for his trousers, once somebody has shit and pissed in them the best thing to do is just throw them in the trash.
Fernando appeared to be semi conscious. His left eye was swollen shut and his upper lip was split wide open.

"Glad you could make it," said Art sarcastically.
"Hey asshole," said Chris, "you sleep late this morning."
"I left Jacksonville at 5 AM this morning and drove all the way across the Panhandle of the state. I think I made pretty good time."
"Well if you been smart like me," Chris replied, "you woulda headed over here last night. Plenty of rooms at the Marriott."
"No thanks. I don't want to establish an evidentiary record that I was in Mobile, Alabama on this date or last night. You're welcome to do that, I just hope you got a good damn alibi if you ever have to explain it to a judge."

Fuck Chris. Son of a bitch has got a chip on his shoulder towards me and he just needs to learn to get over it. I turned to Art and Red.

"How is the wife's Prius running?" I asked.

It was parked right outside.

"Don't start being a smartass Trunk. It's not a good day to be a Buddhist."
"Why?"
"Because we can't get a word out of this motherfucker. He'll talk to us, but it's all cursing and insults and warnings. The son of a bitch has got some warnings. Just you wait. But he won't tell us anything helpful."
"Really? I figure you'd be breaking him like the little bitch that he is. Tell him you’re father Donnelly from St. Aloysius where he made his first communion. Tell him you want to hold him close and give them some of God's inspiration."
"Fuck you Trunk," came the reply from the man chained to the floor.
"Good, I'm glad you're awake. Nap time is over," I said.

I got a special deal with my Poindexter. $300 and he gives me a down and dirty report on anybody. It's all automated and it's all public record, almost. It’s damned good and quick for the price. I read about Fernando Ruiz as I drove across the state. Graduated with honors from the University of Miami with a degree in economics. What in the hell do you do with a degree in economics? Always wondered that. Had a counselor in high school tell me that it's one of those subjects where you have to have a PhD or you wasted your time. At least now I knew the answer to the question. You work for a Mexican cartel.

"Were hoping you can convince Senor Ruiz to provide information a little more valuable than he has thus far," said Art.
"But don't worry Trunk, if he don't talk, you won't have to kill him. I'll do that," Red said and then smiled.

Red had gotten to know Puny real well over the months and wanted revenge.

"Let's see what I can do."

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out one of those multi-tools. You know what I'm talking about, the pliers, the knife, the saw, the hammer, all in one, the perfect tool if you're stranded on a desert island. I found it had other uses too. But this one would have a short lifespan. I'd use it today and then when I was in my truck driving across that bridge over Mobile Bay on my way home, I'd lower the window and throw it out into the water. Gone, just like that.

I walked over to Fernando and waved my hand under my nose. I turned and looked at the men with me. There was Red, Art, Tommy, Chris, Pete and Jono, and two guys I'd never met before.

"Guys, come on. You wouldn't even let our guests have my bathroom break? What kind of hosts are you?"

I turned back to Fernando.

"I'm sorry, they obviously don't trust you as much as I trust you. And I do trust you, seriously I do. I do because I know that Isabel attends Woodlands Infants and Toddlers Day Care."
"You're a dead man, Trunk."
"You're right about that, Fernando. I read a lot and that's the one thing I noticed that’s true, we are all dead in the end. So you’re just threatening me with something that's going to happen anyway. It's never the best threat. I prefer to threaten someone that you care about, someone you'd die for, someone you'd kill for. Now that represents a decent threat, wouldn't you agree?"
"Fuck you, Trunk”.
“Sorry I don’t think of you that way”.

I kneeled down beside Fernando. I opened my multitool and extended the knife blade.

“Aw shit, I forgot something in my truck. Would you mind hanging onto this for me?”

I plunged the knife into Fernando’s leg, picking a spot far from an artery in his upper thigh. I left the knife in his leg.

Fernando let out a scream like some heavy metal singer hitting the high notes. This quickly turned into a pant-blow exercise like they teach in a LeMaze class for pregnant women. I can tell you from experience, having been stabbed, pant-blow breathing doesn’t make it any better.
I got up from my knees and began to walk back to my truck.
Chris started laughing.
Fernando was grunting now. Sounded like a pig. Now I can endorse grunting when stabbed. Don’t know how it works but it does. Not a lot, but just enough to notice.

“I’ll be right back,” I said.
“Take your time,” said Tommy.
“What? You going to have a cigarette or something?” Jono complained.
“He doesn’t smoke,” said Art.
“No. You’ll see,” I said.

When I got out to my truck I removed the paper coveralls with the hood from the plastic bag. Then I took off all my clothes down to my underwear. I folded them and put them on the seat of the trunk. I removed two pair of latex gloves from the pouch beside the seat. I put on the coveralls.

I’m not going to describe in detail what happened next. If you want to hear the detail of how I made the cuts, then I gotta wonder which of us is the one with the mental problems. I know I’m a psychopath, but how about you?
It was probably as bad as you think.
I will tell you only a few facts about it. It started with a removal. You know that place on your upper arm where people always put those flag tattoos?
Fernando doesn’t have that option anymore.

Art turned his back on it all when it happened. He started to walk away.

“Where you going?” I asked.
“Outside.”
“Why?”
“Because I don’t want to watch this,” Art replied.
“But didn’t you tell me that all life is suffering? Looks like this son of a bitch is suffering a little don’t it?” I replied.

Art looked at Fernando.

“But question time is about to start,” I said. “We’re moments away.”

That is when Art got sick. He vomited. And a couple of seconds later Jono started doing that sympathy vomiting shit I’ve seen drunks do sometimes.

“You know this is going to cost you extra,” I said.

Chris started laughing, Tommy too.

At least they got the joke.

I knelt down beside Fernando and then swiftly pulled the knife from his leg.

“Let’s start with the basics,” I said as I stood over Fernando. “Who told you the locations?”

“You did, motherfucker. Trunk told us.” Fernando said with as much vengeance as he could gather through the pain.

I held the multi-tool in my left hand and then plunged it into Fernando’s left leg again, this time just a few inches further up his thigh than before.

He grunted and groaned like an animal.

“Who told you the locations?”

“You did, you piece of shit. You sold your own side out for thirty pieces of silver.”

Fernando was struggling to speak through his pain. It came out as mostly exhaled speech.

“Seriously? You sticking with that? Final answer?”

“Final answer, motherfucker.”

“I’m sorry, but the bell has just sounded and we’re now going into round two. We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors.”

I patted the top of the multi-tool, “stay right there, my incredible little friend.” Then I slapped it hard and made it turn. Fernando groaned and growled at me like a dog.

Funny thing about somethings. Watch a fight and see the people crowd around, barely enough space to land a punch they are so eager to get close to see it. But torture someone and watch them keep a very polite distance. Twice as far as they need to stay away, if you’re going strictly by splatter.

I walked over to Art who was still feeling none to well.

“This has a logical outcome,” I said.
“Agree,” said Red. “Put this dog down like they did Puny.”
“But we need to find out who told them,” I said. “As soon as we’ve got that, let him die quickly. It’s a good trade.”
“What if he don’t tell us?” asked Pete.
“Then he’s gonna die slowly,” said Chris. “My boy here will make sure of that.” He nodded at me.

We could hear Fernando a few feet away whimpering with the pain now.

“You, Trunk. Listen to me Trunk. I got something to tell you.”

I turned around from our little huddle and looked at him. I walked a little closer.

“You’re wasting your time, Trunk. You can’t get anything from me. Cuz I don’t know. I don’t know. Do you hear me? Do you understand?” He groaned again from the pain.
“But I don’t believe you,” I said.
“That doesn’t matter. Hours from now when you’re standing over my dead body, you’ll say, ‘I guess he was right, he didn’t know after all’.” He grunted and said ‘fuck’ and tried to pull against the chain with his one good leg.
“I still don’t believe you.”
“And it still doesn’t matter. Listen, I don’t know what you are going to do to me.” He stopped for a moment like a woman in labor would to let the contraction finish before continuing.
“But I know what the cartel will do to me.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard they are sadistic.”

Fernando tried pant-blow breathing again and again after about a minute he gave up and returned to grunting.

I pulled the knife from his leg.

“Thank you,” he said.
“Don’t make me put it back.”
“I won’t. There was a man I knew, Galeno. He was like I am now, being tortured for information.”
“No kidding.”
“We wanted to know who was his informant.”
“Wait, you’re telling me the cartel kidnapped a cop?”
“Yes.”
“A Mexican cop, right?” I asked.
“No. Hector Galeno, El Paso DEA office. Google it.”
“I will, trust me on that,” I replied.

Fernando almost fainted. I pushed him with my foot a little.

“I had just joined. They made me help with the torture.”
“No kidding.”
Fernando nodded slightly. “You know if you cut a man’s lips off he looks just like a donkey?”
“That makes sense,” I replied.
“Eleven days,” said Fernando and then I saw his face fall over to one side. He had passed out.

I kicked him. He groaned.

“What’s eleven days?” I asked.
“How long, how long it took Galeno to die. We didn’t rush it on purpose. There were four of us, watching him 24 x 7.”

Fernando began moaning again. Those low soulful moans of hopelessness.

“That’s bullshit. Eleven days is impossible. Somebody would have made a mistake and killed him before then,” I said.
“If he died before ten days they would kill us,” said Fernando.
“Now that’s an incentive,” said Tommy. “And impressive.”
“Senor Esperanza would come by every day to collect the pieces.”
“What pieces?” I asked.
“The pieces cut off of Hector Galeno.”
“That’s bullshit,” said Pete. “He’s fucking lying. Little bitch is scared of what you’re gonna do to him.”
“They made me hold his severed penis is my hand for hours,” said Fernando.

Then his head rolled over to the side, he had passed out again.

Fernando Ruiz was a bust. He didn’t tell us. The only name he gave us was mine.

I’m only gonna tell you this so you don’t get the wrong impression and keep[ the facts straight.
I did not kill Fernando Ruiz.

After a couple of hours, two fingers and one toe later, it was obvious to at least me that Fernando wasn’t going to tell us. Maybe because he didn’t know, maybe not. That didn’t matter.

We had another huddle.

“I say we keep going,” said Chris.
“Because you think he’ll talk or because you’re a sick fucker?” Pete asked.
“Probably both,” Chris said with a smile.
“We need to start cutting off his dick. If that don’t make him talk nothing will.” Jono was pleased with his idea.

You know what? It was a good idea. It was on my agenda but down quite a bit on the list. We could have tried it.

But Red didn’t give us a chance.

“I don’t think he knows,” I said. “Even if he does, he’s dying with it.”

At that point Red pulled out his pistol and walked over to Fernando.

“This is for a man better than you, you piece of shit.”

Red pulled the trigger four times, then leaned in close and put one through the forehead of an already dead man.

This moved Red to the top of my list of suspects. Killing a man who could name you as the traitor seemed like a logical step.

Thirty minutes later they were all gone.

Everybody but me.

And the late Fernando Ruiz of course.

Took me almost six hours to clean the scene. Damned bullets broke off some concrete and the fresh white coloring came shining through. Took me a couple of hours to fix that. Had to dirty it back up perfectly. Make it look like it was chipped off in 1987, during that glorious accident free streak.

Fernando Ruiz is resting peacefully in a few spots which don’t have too many tree roots.

Now let me tell you the total shit of it.

When I was about to fill in the first hole I finally decided to look at the jacket that Red gave me. Fernando was wearing it when they grabbed him.

Inside pocket. Cell phone, on silent.

Oh shit! It was possible that the cartel knew where we were.

But they didn’t attack. Interesting.

I left Satsuma, Alabama operating on the assumption that someone was following me.

That’s the good thing about living on my boat. A few of people may know that I live on a boat, but only about four or five know where that is.

If you want to know if someone is following you, drive around a four block square eight times and memorize the cars you see behind you. Then rush around a corner and wait.

It was a late model Toyota Camry. Dark blue with Alabama plates. Two men, one older middle aged man, one younger man in his late twenties. They both wore cheap wrap-around sunglasses.

I didn’t drive directly back to Jacksonville. Instead I drove north-east to Montgomery, Alabama. I was pretty certain that I lost them between Mobile and Montgomery, where I did a very last second exit from Interstate 65. But I wasn’t sure so I continued up to Atlanta. I stopped at a rest stop and watched the cars go by for an hour before reaching the conclusion that I had lost them.

It was mid-morning the next day when I finally got home. I came down the companionway stairs to the air conditioned interior of the boat. I heard some very loud sounds coming from the front cabin. For a moment I forgot that it was now Holly’s studio and I rushed forward. But right when I got my hand to the doorknob I heard ‘Oh honey, I like to see you do that. You’re so manly’.

Ooops, I backed away from the door and went to the back cabin. I pulled off all my clothes and walked naked into the head and shower.

The hot water felt good on my skin. The moisturizing soap felt good after the abrasive cleaners.

I finished my shower and laid down on the bed in the aft cabin. The memory foam mattress felt good to my tired bones. Within a few minutes I was asleep. I was wondering about something while I fell asleep. Holly has some wicked blue eyes, a shade that I’ve never seen in a pair of eyes before. Deep blue, with a hint of gray. I wondered if we had children if any of them would have eyes like their mother.

I didn’t get to sleep for very long. I woke up to the feeling of Holly holding part of me that was not asleep at all.

“I was worried about you,” she said and kissed me hard on the lips as she squeezed me with her hand.
“Had to take the long way home. Sorry. I’ve been up since 4:30AM yesterday. Just need a little rest.”
“You poor dear. Well you get some sleep and I’ll wake you at dinner time, if you don’t get up before that. OK?”
“Sounds good. Thank you.”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” I heard myself reply.
And it didn’t feel weird.

Woke up just after five o’clock in the afternoon. I needed coffee and something other than fast food. Taco Bell burritos are pretty damned convenient drive-thru food if you gotta drive and eat. But most days I’d prefer something better than that. I wandered out into the main salon in my underwear.
Holly was sitting on the settee watching television. She was wearing her elf princess costume. Got to tell you that she looked hot as hell in it. She was watching a science program on the Hubble telescope. Holly like documentaries and anything science. So do I but I have nowhere near her level of enthusiasm for them.

“Good morning,” she said.
“Good afternoon,” I said with a yawn. “Want some coffee?”
“Sure,” she said. I’ve been wanting some all day but didn’t want to use the bean grinder while you were asleep.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“I could use a good strong cup of coffee. It’s been a long day.”
“Got many more shows to do?”
“Just two more. American and Canadian customers mostly.”

I poured coffee beans into the grinder and then pressed down on the top to start that annoying roar. After a few seconds I was done.

“Hey do you want to go on camera with me later today? Sort of a practice run for Mr. Krustanilov?”
“Sure, why not,” I said.

Holly smiled and came over and kissed me on the lips tenderly.

No, I’m not going to tell you about it. You can watch online like everybody else.

My sleep schedule was all messed up so I had to vape some Purple Kush to get to sleep that night.

I woke up the next morning feeling almost normal again. It was my turn and Holly made sure I was very happy when I got out of bed.

My phone had been sitting on the charger in the aft cabin for a couple of days now. Holy shit, there were a lot of messages.  A lot of them were from my Poindexter. I called Kevin to see what was so damned important.

“Big news boss, the police were called out to the Koppleman’s home the other night on a domestic disturbance.”
“Did they arrest him?”
“Hell no”.
“Figures,” I replied.
“According to police, Ben Koppleman got in an argument with his wife about whether they should have more children. She was not in favor of it, he was all for it.”
“Hell of a reason to slug your wife, if you ask me.”

Emmie had taught me that there is no reason to ever slug your wife. Well maybe if she comes at you with a knife was the only concession I was ever able to get her to make to this hard and fast rule.

“Words led to action and before you know it, Ben Koppleman is spanking his much younger wife. I mean spanking, old timey, across the knee spanking.”
“No shit,” I said.
“Not a spec in the bowl, boss. Ms pretty tits Koppleman manages to get away from her husband and seeks refuge in the house of a neighbor, let’s see that’s the Fred and Gloria Stanton residence. There she calls the police to report her husband for spanking her.”
“Wow, that’s kinda stupid if you ask me,” I said. “Why is having more kids so damned important?”
“I don’t know but oh baby, it’s gonna get weird now,” said Kevin. “When she talks to the police woman she tells her that her husband rapes her repeatedly. Sex is almost never consensual between them.”
“Wow. Now that is something.”
“But that’s the sad part, boss, it really ain’t nothing at all. Police in the great state of Florida, in the city of Jacksonville just can’t bring themselves to prosecute a husband for spousal rape. Especially one that works for the DEA.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“One of the older cops had a talk with Ben Koppleman. According to the report, Koppleman agreed to seek counseling from his pastor.”
“Did they leave him at home?” I asked.
“Well, of course they did. What do you expect? They’re all part of the cop fraternity,” replied Kevin.
“I don’t know. Not real familiar with domestic violence among the fraternal order of police.”
“Well dig this. The assistant minister in their mega-church, the guy who does the counseling to the flock is a man that has been known to stray a time or two.”
“What do you mean?”
“His last post was at one of those evangelical churches up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Time before that it was Witchita, Kansas.”
“Who cares? So he moves around.”
“He left Witchita under a cloud.”
“What kind of cloud,” I asked.
“The kind of cloud where there was a complaint that Reverend Childress was making pokey-pokey with one of the male men in the congregation.”
“So what? He ain’t the first preacher to be in the closet.”
“Oh, I know, I know. But this guy is one of those ‘hate the queers’ sort of preachers. There’s a Youtube sermon of his where he calls for the death penalty for homosexuality. I’m not shitting you. I reported the video as soon as I saw it. The scary part is that it has over 80 thousands thumbs up. That means there are…”
“I know what it means, Kevin,” I interrupted.

I got it. Kevin is gay and he takes it personally when someone starts preaching ‘kill the gays’. I would too if I were that way. But I ain’t.

“Now dig this, Reverend Childress and Ben Koppleman went on a fishing trip up to Minnesota last month for a week. An entire week they were alone on a lake in the wilderness. Just two men of god having a good time.”
“Where are you going with this Kevin?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Childress and Kopplemen are fucking each other.”
“I guessed that part already Kevin.”
“So if Koppleman has his church at the center of his life, what will he have when that blows up in his face?”
I sighed before I reponded. “Kevin, we can’t use that against them.”
“The hell we can’t. That no good son of a bitch is calling for my death and the death of the man I love and those that I care about. All the time he’s one of us? No, ain’t no diva gonna get away with that bullshit. I don’t care if we are in the era of bullshitters and liars in charge. We can’t let that stand.”
“Kevin can you really destroy a man for being gay? Really?”
“If he calls for my death, hell yeah.”
“Well I’m sorry but I can’t,” I replied.
“Seriously? You’re stepping back from this?”
“I’m afraid so. I just can’t ruin a gay man for being gay,” I lied.

In truth it failed the Emmie test. No way in hell she would go after Reverend Childress for Tab A in Hole C.

“Well Trunk, I’ve got to say that I am deeply disappointed in you. Deeply, my friend.”
“I’m sorry, Kevin. I just can’t. It’s a rule I have. It’s supposed to be a gay-positive rule and it’s been working well for years now. You just happened to find one of those circumstances where it’s not working well.”
“Then change the rule. You’re not destroying him for being gay, we’re destroying him for being a hypocrite and calling for my murder. I consider it a case of self-defense.”
“I understand, really I do. I just can’t.”
“Well I can and will. Those two queens have booked a fishing vacation for November, right after the end of hurricane season. Down in the Caribbean. And I’m going to be there. Camera’s rolling. If they are fucking each other, it is going to cost them dearly.”
“And if they aren’t?”
“Then I was wrong and I’ll need a plan B.”
“Start working out Plan B now please.”
“Don’t worry, I’m already on it.”
“Good,” I replied.
“By the way, how easy is it for you to get your hands on a bit of cash, say 10 to 20 thousand?”
“It can be done,” I replied.
“Well you know the only thing required to fuck up a cop is bundles of hundred that appear out of nowhere and a tip off.”
“Now you’re talking my kind of language. Let me help you work up that scenario. That’s something I can get behind.”
“I’m still going to see what they’re up to in November. Ain’t had a holiday in a couple of years. About time to get some sun on this white ass of mine.”
“Sounds good.”

I’d make sure we acted on Plan B before November.

Sorry Ben Koppleman, you’re not going to the Caribbean. You’re going to be too busy trying to stay out of prison.

Messages and calls, I got a lot of calls from Jenny Piro, Art’s wife. No idea how she got my number but she left a bunch of voice mails and sent texts.

I called her back, it was faster than reading those text messages. Besides I have to squint a lot to read them now. Shit, I’m not even close to forty. Too damn young for reading glasses. Damn it!

A smile came to my face when I remember what Art told me about his reading glasses
“I leave them on when I go to take a piss. Brightens my day, that’s for sure. Hung like a horse.”

“Jenny, this is Trunk,” I said.
“Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.”
“I was on a job without my phone.”
Now Jenny is usually a pretty strong woman and she’s proud of being that way.
But her voice wasn’t it’s usual confident self.

“Art and Red are missing.”