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.