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.