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.”
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.