Wednesday, August 12, 2009

NOT DEAD YET

Blood and steel and gunpowder. Don’t think I’ll ever get the smell off my body. Won’t ever forget what I saw. What I did.

When I shot Rass, Sig’s brother, in the chest, I hardly had time to see his body stop moving before I was running. He spun backwards and twisted face down in the mud. And then I was gone, no time to stand back and soak up what happened. It’s still there, in my head, but it happened so fast and I wasn’t thinking, makes it seem less real. Almost like someone else did it.

It was someone else. I’m not the same guy I was when I pulled that trigger. Firing that bullet in Ballentine changed me. Everything that’s happened in Los Angeles has changed me. Things aren’t happening as fast. I see them coming, I shape them if I can. Not reacting anymore. Carving this world into what I want. But you never get what you want. I’m still trying. That means getting your hands dirty.

I got my hands dirty tonight.

There’s still blood under my fingernails. Leaving flakes of it all over this keyboard.

It was the meeting with Rodeo. The final payoff. I had the black bag and he was supposed to bring the money. I set it up so we would meet after midnight in the park over the bluffs.

It’s a long stretch of grass and trees. I stayed to one end so I could see people coming and going. I was hidden and spotted Rodeo’s Mercedes crawling up the street. He double parked up the block from where we were supposed to meet and a big dude got out of the passenger side. Looked like the bone breaker bartender I had seen before. Rodeo wasn’t taking any chances tonight.

I had my backup, too. Only he didn’t know it yet.

Rodeo parked his car and got out, strolled through the park in the area we had arranged. But I wasn’t coming yet. I paced in and out of a dim streetlight until I heard footsteps behind me. Then the slide of plastic coming out of a pocket.

When I turned, there was Sig, smiling and pointing the Glock at my chest. Just like he had aimed it at my dad.

“Don’t do it, Sig.”

“I’m going to do you, then I’ll take care of The Eagle and Big Wes and anyone else that wants some. I’m taking it all back.”

“Wait, Sig. I need your help and there’s enough money in it for both of us.”

He stopped smiling and the gun looked like it got heavier in his hand. “Ain’t going to help you.”

“I got a deal going. What you think I’ve been doing in this town, when I could’ve kept running? I got a deal. It goes down tonight. Here.” His tiny brain was shaking like Jell-O. “But I need help. A backup.”

“What’s the deal?”

“Selling something for two hundred fifty large.”

That got him. The smile came back then flickered. “What the fuck do you have that’s worth that much?”

“Something I stole.” I glanced around, feeling the clock ticking. “The dude’s here right now to make the trade. But he’s got another guy and I need you to handle him until the deal’s done.”

“Should just drop you right here and take the guy’s money.”

“He hears the shot and he’s gone. Let me make the deal. You cover the other guy. We’ll split the money. Fifty-fifty. I just want enough to get the fuck out of town.”

Sig showed me his teeth again and he nodded. “Where’s the other guy?”

“Up the block. Big dude in track pants. Probably packing. Scare him away or pin him down.”

“Fifty-fifty?”

“Hell, yeah.”

He waved the Glock before lowering it. “I’m the one with the gun.”

I’ll never fucking forget that, Sig. “This’ll be smooth. Quick payoff and then we split.”

“Fifty-fifty.” Then he ran off into the park to find the big dude.

I gave Sig a couple of minutes, then started walking toward where Rodeo still paced. When Rodeo saw me he stopped and put a heavy duffle down next to his foot. He was slick, didn’t check over his shoulder to where he had dropped off his man.

If he had looked, he would’ve seen his man stepping out of the shadows with his hands in the air. Sig kept a safe distance behind him, aiming the Glock at his back. The big dude pulled out his own piece slowly and set it on the ground. Once Sig got that gun, he aimed, two-fisted, at the dude. Couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I’m sure Sig’s breath was enough to make the guy run. And the guy did run. Before Sig could pull the trigger, the dude ducked around a tree and into the shadows and up the street. Rodeo probably sold the bartender with the idea of a quick few bucks as backup, no trouble. Even money isn’t so tasty when you’re on the wrong end of a gun. Don’t blame the guy for running. But I knew there wasn’t much time. The dude might not be willing to take a bullet for Rodeo, but he would make some calls and the shit would really come down.

“Let’s make it real this time,” I told Rodeo.

“It is real.” He stepped away from the duffle and let me come close to it.

Keeping my eyes on him, I squatted down to open the bag. The leather sheath of the dagger was thick inside my pant leg. Genuine money in the bag. I could feel it, stacks of bills.

“Give me the drive.” He put his hand out.

I stood and pulled the black bag from my jacket pocket. He licked his lips. I tossed it and he caught it, then made a wave to bring his guy forward. I waved, too and he frowned like he bit into a hand grenade instead of an apple. Quick glance over his shoulder confirmed the bad news for Rodeo.

Sig, grinning like a maniac, a gun in each hand.

Rodeo whipped out his .45 and I was wondering why I was the only asshole without a piece.

“Give me a gun.” I held a hand out to Sig.

He pointed one of his pistols at me. “Fuck you.” He glanced into the open bag of money and drooled.

“Then kill this guy,” I told Sig, “And you and I can finish it.”

Rodeo pointed the .45 at me and I heard the big bang. You don’t hear the one that gets you, so I must still be alive.

I did feel a blast of air move past me. Rodeo lay on the ground, writhing and trying to stop the bleeding in his side. He gasped for air and gurgled. When Sig shot him, Rodeo’s .45 went off. Could’ve been goodbye for Trey. Then you wouldn’t get to hear the end of the story.

Sig stepped over to Rodeo and taunted him, “I get to kill Trey.”

Stupid fucker Sig. He wasn’t watching me. The silver dagger came out of the sheath.

Sometimes it feels like my skin is thin, fragile. Like everything out there is sharp and can get through to my blood and guts. Skin is harder than that.

I pushed the tip of the dagger through Sig’s shirt and pressed into his skin until it popped open and the blade sunk into his body. The knife was real steel, not just for dragons and elves. Sig screamed in my ear and turned to point the guns at me. The blade slipped out of his body and I pushed it back in him again. And again. And again. Don’t know how many times. Sig dropped his guns and grabbed my body to stay standing.

I let him fall. The pain kept his body stiff. He shuddered and shook and breathed out of the holes in his chest. The dagger stuck out from between two of his ribs. I slowly slid it out and whispered to him, “My dad’s waiting for you.”

Sig couldn’t say anything. He looked at me with scared eyes as he drowned in his own blood. Whatever pain he felt, and whatever fires he’s burning in now, it’s not enough.

I slapped Rodeo’s face until he came to. “The money’s bad, isn’t it?”

“Of course.” He probably thought I was the angel of death and he was confessing. “For laundry.”

I wiped my prints off the dagger and it fit perfectly in Rodeo’s hand and he clutched it to his chest like it was a crucifix.

This was Santa Monica, not Ballentine. Gunshots bring people out here, and cops. You might’ve heard the shots, Tokyo. Don’t worry. I’m safe and still have your note. Can’t tell you what you did for me. Thanks for being the only human in this town. Don’t know when I’ll see you. Hope it’s not never.

I ran. Again.

But this time, I’m not leaving anything behind. Somewhere, my dad’s finally resting. Maybe he’s looking down on me, clear view from the stars up there to my rooftop.

Who’s reading this? Tokyo? Who else? If anyone can do something about it, I don’t think my dad should be buried. Don’t put him in the dirt, like he was back in the Nam tunnels. Cremate him. Let him go in the flames. Then he can go free.

If any cops are reading this, it’s all lies. Rodeo killed Sig, who shot Rodeo over a bad deal. The thumb drive that Rodeo has is empty, erased. The list of identities is on Gabriel Chacon’s laptop. It’s on this laptop, too. Cops’ll have this one by tomorrow. And I’ll be gone.
Can’t go home to Ballentine. Can’t imagine I’ll ever stop running. But there’s business on the road.

I have a score to settle with some Rail Riders.

Friday, August 7, 2009

MY SECRET

I couldn’t tell you. Anyone who’s reading this. Tokyo, or someone else. It was too important, too fragile a secret and I felt if I told anyone it would break in my hands. And then I’d be fucked. Don’t like keeping secrets from you, Tokyo.

It went down the day after you brought me the burgers. I still have the note you wrote. It’s in the pocket of my jacket. Weather’s hot, but there’s no way I’m taking off this jacket. Tough like a second skin. And it keeps the note close.

I climbed down from the rooftop just before sunrise and no one saw me. Back to Santa Monica. Most everyone’s driving in this town, but you can cover some distance on foot if you have the time. And summer has long days for walking. Bright sun makes it dangerous, though, when you’re tempting the wolves.

Early morning recon. Town was waking up and I was on the street, watching the delivery trucks and the lines at the coffee shops. I was hunting again and it felt good. There’s a real satisfaction in watching someone who doesn’t know you’re there. Kind of gives you a hard on.

Which I know is a little sick, considering I was watching Sig, but you gotta take your thrills where you can. He was in a park where other homeless dudes were waking up. He looked like hell, but he didn’t look bad enough for my liking. I figure he doubled back after our fight on the beach. He had all night to find his Glock in the bushes. So I kept a good distance. Which was all part of the plan. Recon. Hunting.

Sig left that park and I followed from a distance. He made the rounds, checking for me at other parks, the open air mall and out in front of Jasmine’s condo building. He ate food out of garbage cans. I haven’t had to do that.

Part of hunting is baiting. At the next park, I let Sig see me. Two, three hundred yards away. I pretended I didn’t know he was there and kicked around in some plants like I was looking for something. Kept him in the corner of my eye, so when he started to come toward me, I bailed and got lost quick in the city streets. He couldn’t follow me after that. But I did what I needed to. Sig smelled fresh blood and would be ready when I wanted him.

Didn’t see you jogging today, Tokyo. Maybe it’s best you lay low until I finish this.

After I lost Sig’s bloodshot eyes, I dropped some coins into a payphone. Mrs. Nerd was awake. Golf day with the ladies.

“You get a new seven iron?”

“I’ll play without it.”

“I have the money. Tonight, at the park where it all started and the Nerd ended.”

“What time?”

“Just after dark.”

“One point six million. He came up with it that fast?”

“I think it’s just a drop in the bucket with this guy.”

“You couldn’t squeeze him for more?”

“We were lucky to get the money and not a bullet.”

She wanted to get this over with. “Tonight.”

“I need something else from you, to frame up the guy I want.”

“What?”

“Get on your hands and knees. Clean the ashes out of your fireplace, where you burned your clothes. Give them to me in a plastic bag. They’ll be perfect.”

“Fine.”

“See you after dark.”

I had the rest of the day to kill. But that didn’t mean I could go to Disneyland and Hollywood Boulevard. The cops still wanted me for the Nerd’s death. Mrs. Nerd wouldn’t help me on that until she had her money. So I had to stay out of sight from the SMPD, Sig and anyone else who wanted a slice of Trey.

I kept walking. Headed out of Santa Monica and found parts of this town I’d never seen. This place goes on forever. You can walk from one side of Ballentine to the other before lunch, even if you slept in. Two bridges over the river, and if you can’t find either one of those, it’s a short swim. Los Angeles is like a whole other planet. No, like a solar system, and each part of this town is a planet with different life forms and buildings. And I don’t belong on any of these planets.

Don’t know where I belong anymore. Don’t know where I’ll go when I get my payoff. Just want to rest and eat and not worry about who wants to kill me.

Sun started setting and I walked back into Santa Monica. Ate a good burrito during the day, drank an orange soda and stayed out of the sun in the bushes by a freeway overpass.

Dark came and I was a couple of blocks from the park where it all started. Could see some people there, silhouettes in the streetlights. An SUV circled the park a couple of times. I figured that was Mrs. Nerd. And I was right. She took her car to the curb and stalked cautiously into the park.

But not cautious enough. If you kill someone, throw the knife where no one will find it. Ever. There’s a whole ocean out there and Mrs. Nerd ditched the knife in the dirt. And if you get blood on your clothes, burn them, but then take the ashes and throw those in the ocean, too.

Because if you’re not careful, then the guy that you’re trying to pin the murder on might turn on you. It wasn’t hard, especially after she tried to smash my head in with the golf club. Hell, even the phone number was toll free.

That’s my secret. I called the cops. It was the only way I could see getting out from under the Nerd’s murder. I wasn’t going to take the fall. Who better to hang for it than the person who really did it.

Called the cops twice. The first time was to tell them about the knife somewhere in the bluffs and that they should take a hard look at the wife and her fireplace and to see if any knives are missing in the kitchen. Someone must want a promotion, because when I called the second time and talked to the same detective, he said that they had looked at Mrs. Nerd before and after I called and wanted more details to build a case. I gave him Mrs. Nerd, at the scene of the crime with a bag full of ashes that had been her bloody clothes.

I watched her silhouette standing there, then lights blazed all around. She stood frozen as a bunch of people in police jackets circled her. They got closer and closer until all their shadows swallowed Mrs. Nerd.

That’s what you get for fucking with Trey.

Maybe the Nerd is resting in peace now. Those are the only people who can rest. The dead ones.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

AVOCADOS

“You know, I liked you, you foreign fuck, until you tried to kill me.” I came on strong with Rodeo at the farmers’ market.

“You are a child. This is man’s business.”

We stood at a stall filled with avocados. Good looking crop. There were a few people shopping, but no one gave a shit about us.

“I’m man enough to deal straight. Not like you, asshole. This all started because you had to be a dick and fuck the whole thing up.”

Vein popped out on his forehead and he got so close I could smell his garlicky lunch. “You started it when you picked up the bag. Blame yourself.”

“When you look at it, this started in Ballentine.”

Rodeo looked at me like I was crazy. He hitched up his jeans and I saw the flash of his belt buckle. Felt a lot of satisfaction because he stood tenderly on the foot I smashed. “Once you have your money, you go back to Butterfly and I never want to see your fucking face again.”

“Can’t go back home. But you’ll never see me again.”

“And forget about any new identity. You get cash and nothing else.”

“Fine. I’m not greedy. Three hundred thousand dollars.”

He squeezed back. “Two hundred thousand.”

“Two fifty.”

“Done.”

We set up the time and place. Night after tomorrow.

Then it came time for him to limp out and me walk out, eyeing each other and neither wanting to turn our backs. I’m sure he packed the .45 and itched


What the fuck? Someone’s out by my roof, saying my name.


You’ll never believe what just happened. Guess who was down in the alley behind the coffee shop with a bag full of food?

Tokyo.

She read my blog and figured out where I was. What kind of woman does something like that? Only the best. It’s late, after eleven and no place for someone like her to wandering around alone. I hope she’s home and safe by now.

Are you home? Sitting at your computer, waiting for me to post this? If it wasn’t for you, I’d think this whole world was fucked. Everyone else out here tried to kill me. Hadn’t thought about it before, but everyone I’ve met in this town except for you has tried to end me with a dagger, a bullet or a golf club.

So first off, I have to thank you for not trying to back over me with a steamroller or crash a helicopter into me or hit me with a flamethrower. Scared me when I heard my name coming from the alley. Thought you were someone else who wanted to kill me.

But when I saw you down there, looking hot like a fucking ninja all in black, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You found me. You listened to what I was saying and found me. No one’s ever done something like that for me before. In Los Angeles or Ballentine.

Hands were shaking. That’s why I almost broke my ass climbing down to you. And thanks for laughing at me. That was nice.

Actually, it was. You got a great laugh, girl. Like you’ve seen it all. You must have seen and done a lot. Took some kind of balls to find me, call my name. Or whatever girls have when they have huge cast-iron balls. Some day, I want to sit down with you and a bottle of bourbon or rum or your drink of choice and hear all your stories. You been reading my story, I want to know what you know. Some day.

Until we crack open that bottle, I’m holding on to what you did tonight.

We didn’t need to talk. Glad you ate one of the burgers with me. Like a date. Next time, I’ll shower and I might shave. Didn’t know what to say to you. Maybe I’ve been using all my words to talk trash and stay alive these days. Sorry if I was a mute. Usually can’t shut me up.

Now I’m blabbing. Now that you’re home and behind a locked door. Keep your eyes open. I don’t know who else is reading this. If you found me, they might be able to find you. Sorry if I brought any danger to you. Not what I wanted. Ever. You got to know that.

But you didn’t back down. Even if it was dangerous. Look at you coming down to the alley. Hardcore, Tokyo. You one hot ninja.

Didn’t want to climb back to my roof. Felt like that vampire again, like I can never be with normal humans. Did you see me up there? I watched you walk to your car and drive away. If anyone had tried something, I’d have been on them in a second. But no one tried anything because they know you’re too much of a badass.

Thanks for the food. Thanks for coming to see me and treating me like a human. I have your card right here, cool little envelope. Wiped my hands clean on my jeans so I can open it. Reading it by the light of the laptop.


I will, Tokyo. I’ll stay safe.

Friday, July 31, 2009

THIS GUY SITTING NEXT TO ME HAS NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING

Look at me, sitting in a coffee shop instead of on top of it. I’m writing this, drinking a cup of coffee like a regular human being. No one would think that I’m about to meet with a guy who tried to kill me.


And none of these people are stupid enough to get in touch with a woman who is setting them up for murder and assault. I’m using her computer to write this. Her phone number is in the address book. Why does someone put their own information in the address book? In case they get hit on the head and have amnesia? Some fucking soap opera? I hit Mrs. Nerd on the head with my phone call.


She didn’t expect it and stammered for a bit while I talked slow, repeating, “I’m not calling to kill you. I’m not calling to kill you.”


“What, what, what? Why did you call?”


It was a hell of a lot easier talking to her on the phone, when she wasn’t swinging a seven iron at my face. “I understand why you did what you did to me. You’re too stupid to see that I’m the only guy who can get you out of this.”


“Don’t call me stupid, you piece of shit. This is all your fault. You were too stupid to handle it.”


“The Nerd was never going to get his payoff. If I’d stayed out of it, he’d be as dead as he is now and you’d still be broke.” She was quiet and listening. I hit her with, “Only difference is, you wouldn’t have any blood on your hands. But I had nothing to do with that. That was your decision.”


Mrs. Nerd stayed silent for a minute. I didn’t care, I had change. Jasmine set me up with a little cash before we split, more guilt. She’s paying for this cup of coffee.


I let Mrs. Nerd pace or stand still or stare at herself in the mirror or whatever she was doing on the other end of the phone. Then I heard her take a breath and she said, “Why did you call?”


“Because I’m not stupid. Because I got to who the Nerd was dealing with, broke him down. He’s going to pay now.”


“Good for you.” Said through gritted teeth.


“Doesn’t do me much good when the cops want me for murder. We need to deal.”


“I want ninety percent.”


She was quick. I can see how she motivated the Nerd into a fine job and a ton of debt. Bet he wasn’t imagining watching her stick him with a knife over and over until he was dead when he said, “I do.”


“I’m going to give you fifty percent.”


“Not enough.”


“You don’t even know what the payoff is.”


“Doesn’t matter. Ninety percent.”


“Fifty. And I’ll tell you—”


Bitch cut me off. “You’re wanted for murder, Trey. You have no leverage.”


“I’m doing all the heavy lifting. I’m putting my ass on the line and if I wasn’t, you wouldn’t get anything.”


“Eighty percent. And this negotiation is over.”


Then I went silent, like I was thinking about it. “Fine. For eighty percent you drop all the charges and come up with another story of who did it.”


“Fine. When do you get the money?”


“Soon.”


“And how much is it?”


“Two million.”


“That’s all you could get?” Glad she isn’t my mother.


“One point six for you. You can’t live on that, you ain’t living right.”


“Let me know as soon as you have it.”


“Where’s the knife?”


She knew which knife I was talking about. “They’ll never find it.”


“We need to find it. We need to pin this on someone else. I know just the guy. Friend of mine from back home who’s in town. So where’s the knife?”


“I cleaned it off. Threw it over the bluffs. It’s in the trees and bushes. I don’t know how you’ll find it.”


“Let me worry about that. Kitchen knife?”


She must have been remembering how it felt in her hand when she killed her husband.
“Yeah.” Her voice shook like all the bricks of her body were about to rattle loose.


“What about your clothes? You get rid of them?”


“Fireplace.”


“This is all too bad,” I told her, slow and serious. “We could’ve made some noise you and me.”


“We did.”


“Maybe on the other side of all this, when you land and I land. Might be in the same spot.”
Don’t get the wrong idea, Tokyo. If you’re reading this. It was business. It’s always better to keep your business buttered.


“Maybe.” She sounded sad and hopeful, but not for me. She just wanted a way out of the trouble and the crazy in her head.


I wanted to hang up on her. I want to hang up on her for good. “I’ll get in touch when I have the money. Should be soon, maybe today or tomorrow.”


“Good.”


“Then this’ll all be over. We can start over.” I sounded like a fucking girl.


She was stone cold. “Call me when it’s ready. I have to go.”


Mrs. Nerd hung up without waiting for my goodbye or my kisses through the phone. Wasn’t going to give them anyway. I just need her on the hook until I’m in the clear.


And I’ll be clear soon. Quarter to one. Short walk to the meet with Rodeo. Caffeine’s pumping. My cup of coffee is empty and I’m ready to finally get what I want.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

GUILT

One block where she was vulnerable. That’s all it takes. I’ve said it before, girls got to be careful out there. Walking back from lunch, Jasmine was on her cell phone and wasn’t looking over her shoulder.

I had found the Santa Monica address for her production company on the internet and followed her out the front door and watched her eat lunch from across the street. On her way back, I stepped up to her side and kept pace with her, talking low. “Keep walking.”

She jumped out of her skin and dropped her big cup of diet soda. The ice went everywhere and she didn’t even wipe the liquid off her hand. “The cops are looking for you,” she said. “They talked to me about you.”

“Everyone’s got the wrong idea. Helen Dunne told the cops I killed her husband.”

“You didn’t?” She wouldn’t look at me, kept her eyes straight ahead and I could feel how she wanted to start running.

“Why the fuck would I do that? You know who killed him.”

“No, I don’t.” But she was just telling herself that so she wouldn’t feel guilty.

I fed her the line, kept her on the hook. “Rodeo killed him. He stuck him with a knife until he died. They found his body in the same park where the drop went down. Did you set up the Nerd? You tell him to meet Rodeo there that night?”

“No.” She stopped walking and looked me in the face. “I got them in touch one time. The first time when I thought it would be a simple deal. After that, they talked directly to each other.”

“It’s never a simple deal, is it?”

“The cops want you. Rodeo wants you.” Sig, too, I added in my head. She asked like I was crazy, “What are you still doing here?”

“I have this.” I held up the thumb drive. She pulled back from like it had the curse of the mummy. “I want to get rid of it. I want a little money from Rodeo. Less than I wanted before, but a real deal this time. No tricks.”

“You’ve been fucking with him too much. He won’t go for it.”

“Then you take it.” I pushed the drive toward her and she backed up. “Take it and sell it to him for me.”

“I don’t want it.”

“The only person who does want it wasn’t willing to pay straight. He tried to fucking kill me. Call him. Get him on the phone right now. Let me talk to him.”

“I have to get to work.” She checked her watch and glanced around for a way out. “I have a meeting.”

“A meeting? A fucking meeting?” I showed her the thumb drive again. “One person’s already dead because of this. Call Rodeo. Let’s get this done and maybe we’ll live to spend the money.”

You notice I never said I’d split the money with her. Made it seem that way and she was motivated. Mostly, though, I think she was doing it out of guilt. With one small contact, she managed to get the Nerd killed. Let her think Rodeo did it, instead of Mrs. Nerd. For Jasmine, it doesn’t really matter who killed him. It all comes back to her.

She took her phone out of her purse and looked at it, at me. Deep breath and she dialed. “Hey. You’ll never guess who I have with me.”

Jasmine handed the phone to me and whispered, “Finish it.”

He was beyond pissed. “You fucking motherfucker cocksucker….”

I cut him off. “That’s what you get, asshole. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to pay me in the first place? This is what you get for double-crossing me.” Must have been yelling because a couple of people on the street looked at me funny. I started walking and found a quiet doorway in front of a building for lease. Jasmine followed, arms folded across her chest, chewing on her lower lip.

Rodeo still steamed. “You never should’ve picked up that bag.”

“And I know why. Because you don’t want to deal with a real player like me. It was easier when you could manipulate the Nerd. Well, now you killed him, so you have to do business with me.”

“I didn’t kill that worm.” Rodeo’s the kind of guy that only lies to his mother and the cops. Give her a kiss on the head and tell her that he owns restaurants and she believes it. And with the cops, he’s a business man with lowlife friends but no trouble of his own. He didn’t need to lie to me. But it sounded like he was disappointed he didn’t get to put the Nerd in the ground.

I wasn’t going to tell Jasmine that, though. Gotta keep the girl motivated.

I had to keep things on track. Might be a light at the end of the tunnel. “You ready to do business? Or should I keep fucking you all over town?”

“You keep doing it, I catch you eventually. Then you die.”

“I’ll be dead and your legit business will be screwed and good luck finding crooks for your side projects like the black bag. You think anyone’ll deal with a guy dancing on the stove like you? Cheaper if you deal now.”

Silence. Jasmine stared at me, waiting for the answer. I waited, too. Finally he said, “I don’t discuss prices over the phone. We meet.”

I remembered a big sign on the outside of the body odor Los Angeles library. “Farmers’ market by the library, one o’clock.” I gave him the address.

“See you then.” If the tone of his voice was a knife, I’d be bleeding to death.

Jasmine didn’t know what to say, but looked tired and worried. I can’t afford to be tired. The clock is always ticking. I gathered my swagger. “Told you it would make a great movie.” I gave Jasmine her phone back. Might be giving Jasmine her life back.

The meet is on for tomorrow. I'm Batman again on the rooftop with Mrs. Nerd's laptop. Gotta sleep. Clock's ticking. I'm fucking tired of this. Gotta sleep. Gotta get my money. Then I gotta get out of this town.

Friday, July 24, 2009

SEVEN IRON

No one’s going to believe me now. Cops’ll shoot first and save the questions for my corpse. Tokyo, if you’re reading this, you got to know that everything I say is true. No reason to lie.

I’m writing this from the roof of the coffee shop, poaching their wifi. Stole another laptop. You’ll never believe whose this is. Mrs. Nerd.

Every fucking time I try to make things better, they get worse. How the fuck am I going to get my payoff and disappear with all this shit coming down?

I went to Mrs. Nerd, her name is Helen, to tell her I didn’t off her husband. A quick visit. I hopped the back fence, in case the cops were watching the front.

“I know you didn’t.” Her face was calm. There was no sugar coating on the woman anymore, but she wasn’t worn down. She seemed more real than ever. Watched as I finally washed all the sand and blood off my face.

“So you didn’t tell the cops about me?”

“No.” She was making me a sandwich. I ate an apple, handfuls of chips, couple of cookies. Still have an another apple in my backpack, some energy bars.

“They have any idea who did it?”

“No.”

I told her I was still on the hook for my payoff, but when I got it, I’d shine the light on Rodeo so the cops could get him for the Nerd’s killing.

She smiled at this, said that at least someone would get a payoff. Talked about selling the house, maybe going back to Florida. Something about bankruptcy and life insurance not covering the debts. Tried listening, but she was talking mostly for herself.

I ate the sandwich and she sat and watched me, then asked when I was getting the payoff from Rodeo. Didn’t know. Still don’t. Especially now.

Mrs. Nerd told me to wait in the living room and she’d bring some clothes down that might fit me. She drifted upstairs, silent as a ghost. Food wasn’t sitting well in my stomach. Felt sick. Something was wrong.

Like being in the Nam tunnels with my dad, using every sense I had. Just the smallest sound upstairs. The clean crack of glass. No footsteps though. She was that quiet.

I was reaching for my backpack when I saw the display on the downstairs phone. LINE IN USE. Another fucking doublecross.

I got my backpack on, ready to bail, when Mrs. Nerd comes down the stairs. She’s got a cordless phone in one hand, screaming, “He’s here! The man who killed my husband!” In her other hand was a seven iron. She was swinging the club like a fucking Viking. Vases exploded. Glass shelves disappeared into galaxies. I’m ducking and running like a crab to stay under the iron. She’s still screaming into the phone, “He broke in the upstairs window. I think he’s going to kill me.”

Bullshit, that bitch was trying to kill me. I saw the hole in the wall that was meant for my head. She dropped the phone and put both hands on the club so she could really swing it. No way I could get close enough to take it from her. And if I fought her straight up, gave her a right hook with a closed hand, it would just make me look more guilty.

All I wanted was an exit. She knew that and broke that house down all around me, blocking any clear run out of the place. I felt the clock ticking. Like a quarterback, don’t they say that? He knows when he’ll get sacked even if he doesn’t see the rush. Except when he gets sacked, they lose yards, maybe the game. I get sacked by the cops, I lose my life.

I picked up a chair and blocked some of the club, angled myself toward the front door. She came on strong then, even kicked at me under the chair. I wasn’t going to let her kill me. I wasn’t going to let her stall me until the cops showed up.

Before you judge me, understand that she wanted me dead. For no good reason. She knew I didn’t kill her husband. Should I just have laid down and let her put the iron in my skull?

No. Caught her on the backswing. Pushed the chair against her, ran her body back until she hit a wall. She groaned and her head snapped back into the sheetrock. She didn’t drop the club, but her grip was looser. This was my chance to get out.

I dropped the chair, grabbed her laptop from a small desk and ran out the front door.

Rich neighborhoods get the cops fast. I was barely a block away when I heard the sirens. Kept running until I remembered this spot. Took an hour for my heart to stop pounding.

Fucking bitch. If the cops weren’t looking for me before, I’m public enemy #1 now. And what the hell does she get for it? She knows I didn’t kill the Nerd. Why the hell would I do something like that?

Oh, shit. I get it. You probably saw it coming, didn’t you? Could’ve said something earlier. She wants to pin the murder on me.

Because she did it.

Say she cancelled his credit cards like I told her to. He comes home with his tail between his legs and no money. But it isn’t enough to have her husband back. Mrs. Nerd wanted her world back and there’s no way of that ever happening now. It’s all over for her, like waking up from a nice dream and finding yourself surrounded by tarantulas. Last time I had seen her, she was cracking, selling off the good life and losing her identity. I know all about leaving things behind. When you got nothing, you learn who you really are. I’m a stone-cold badass. At her core, she’s a killer. But the Nerd doesn’t know that. He walked into that house without a clue. Mrs. Nerd has him show her where the dead drop went down. But he doesn’t know she brought a kitchen knife along with her. They’re in the dark and she gets that calm look on her face. I know that look now. It means, “You’re dead.”


I’m dead.
Been dead since Ballentine. Might as well go down fighting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SORRY I SCARED YOU

Sons of bitches rolled me out of the condo. That’s what got me back to your side of town.

After leaving the college library, I pulled some bills off my shrinking wad for food and ate as I walked back to the condo. I knew something was up when I saw a flashlight bouncing off the walls in the condo next to mine. Stepping closer to investigate means getting caught. I bailed, backpack strapped on. I lost a pair of socks and underpants, a t-shirt and a good place to sleep.

That’s not the worst of it.

I went back to Santa Monica. It was like reaching into a hollow, rotting log and searching for a gold ring, knowing the scorpions were in there waiting to sting you to death. Thought I’d drop in on Jasmine and have her set up a little face time with me and Rodeo. Didn’t even make it to her street. Scorpion stung.

Sig.

I was glad.

He was dirty and fucked up looking, had been sleeping outside like I had been. He’s not such a badass when he doesn’t have his gang. Or his car. Because he wasn’t mobile, he must have been staying in the parks, waiting for me to show up again. But I couldn’t just walk up and step on him like a bug. I knew he still had his 9mm stinger.

We spotted each other from across a street. It was quiet, real late at night. I didn’t have a chance against the gun. I stashed my backpack in some plants by a parking lot so I could streamline. Keeping Sig in sight and keeping my distance, I backtracked through the neighborhood. He tried to close the distance, but I would quicken my pace to stay out of his spraying range. Sig thought I was running away from him. I took us to the only safe spot that time of night.

Up on Wilshire is a 7/11, the lights are always on and before all this trouble started I would go there to spend what money I had on cookies or jerky or anything to get me by. In that parking lot, lit up and in full view of the dude behind the counter, I stopped and waited for Sig to close the distance.

The idiot was smiling when he stepped up and came within a foot of my face. I wanted to crush him with my hands until he was just meat. Then I’d feed him to the Rail Riders who turned on me. Sig pulled his plaid shirt aside to show the but of the Glock in his waistband.

I cocked my head toward the guy in the 7/11. “What’re you going to do, Sig? Shoot me in front of him and the security cameras? Then what, run all the way to Ballentine?”

Sig’s smile shook. “I’m going to fucking kill you.” That was all he could come up with. “Just like I killed your dad.”

Time slows down when you move fast. I pushed Sig in the chest with one hand. With the other, I grabbed the handle of the Glock. Damn, that gun feels good in the hand. I remember the texture of the plastic, the weight. And my brain was turning so fast that I realized that I had cornered myself. He couldn’t shoot me and I couldn’t drill him. I wanted to pull that trigger, the gun was ready. But I was sure the cops already wanted me for the Nerd’s stabbing. Shooting Sig in public would really heat up the manhunt.

Sig was still stumbling backwards when I decided I couldn’t shoot him right then. I threw the gun with all the strength I had. It flew across the parking lot and into some giant window of a building next door. Sounded like a big drum. Then the gun landed in some bushes.

Next thing I saw was the yellow lights around the parking lot. I was on my back. Fucking Sig punched me in the face. I rolled out of the way when he tried to kick me in the head. I put the tread of my boot on his knee and it gave me enough space to stand up. A little dizzy and saw some stars, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

Sig turned and started running for the bushes where the gun fell. I chased and he veered away when he saw how many bushes there were. He knew that if I got to him before he got the gun, it would be a hell of a beatdown. So he kept running.

Across wide Wilshire Boulevard. I was hot after him. Just him and me and a score to settle. We scattered pigeons out of the park over the bluffs. Woke up some bums.

Caught wheezing Sig by a tree and dove at his legs. We went down into the grass and wrestled, making pain where we could. He was hissing in my ear, “No one’s going to miss you. No one misses your dad. Even the Rail Riders gave your ass up because of him.”

I don’t know why he thought that would make me give up. Just made me fight harder. Almost tore his ear off. He kicked me in the stomach and ran again while I was trying to breathe.

Thought I had him cornered. Sig was up against the fence at the edge of the bluffs. I collected enough of myself to keep at him. Had a fantasy of throwing him over the bluffs and watching him fall. It’s got to be a hundred feet down. And at the bottom is a highway. A truck could drive over him.

Then I thought he took care of that for me. Sig disappeared. Could’ve sworn he tossed himself over for the big fall. When I got closer to the spot where he was, I saw that there were stairs leading down. And Sig was booking it on them and heading for a bridge over the highway.

Fucker was all the way on the other side when I hit the bridge. We both got spit out on the other end in an empty parking lot by the beach. Sig kept running.

Then we were both going in slow motion. Sand is impossible to move in. He stumbled, I stumbled. We crawled and I ate sand and felt it in my eyes. Waves were crashing about a hundred yards away.

Getting punched in the face hurts. Getting punched in the face by a fist wrapped in sand paper hurts worse. It was ugly, down there on the beach. I won’t lie. I tried to kill Sig with my hands.

But you got to know, Tokyo, why this all came down. He killed my dad. I’m fighting to stay alive. I’m fighting back.

It was dark and neither of us were any good at brawling in the sand. We lost each other. I couldn’t figure out if I was standing up or lying down. Black sand and water and sky. No fucking idea where I was. And I thought every shadow was Sig. Don’t know how long I wandered around at the edge of the beach and the highway. There are some buildings down there and I hid out, tried to get my bearings.

The sun came up. Beach was pale, like someone had cut its throat.

I used a spigot to wash the sand and blood off my face and knuckles. But I wasn’t clean. That’s how you saw me, Tokyo. Sorry I scared you. You were just out for your morning run, right?

I took the bridge and stairs back to the bluffs. The town was coming alive, walking its dogs and riding its bicycles. And there you were, Tokyo. You didn’t even see me at first, just another bum. Then you saw my face, recognized me. Then you saw how beat up I was. Sorry I scared you. All I could think was to tell you the name of this blog, so you’d understand.

You ran away. Don’t know if you’re reading this now. Hope you are. I’m not that far from you, at a library and I can’t come back here after this because people are looking at my face. Hope you understand me, Tokyo. I’m just fighting to stay alive.