(Excerpts of published and pending novels by writer, Robert Ullrich)
September 19, 2003
Sean O’Brien slowly regained consciousness – not sure what happened and no idea where he was. He remembered the valet handing him the keys to his BMW, getting in the car and pulling out of the parking lot turning left. Then it hit him – the face in the rearview mirror and the gun. O’Brien pulled over to the curb when he was told, expecting a car-jacking. That’s when everything went black.
His head was pounding as he opened his eyes. O’Brien found himself hanging by his feet, bound and gagged over a cracked and stained linoleum floor. Panic set in as he tried to get his hands free from behind his back. He screamed. All that came out was a muffled squeal, the ball gag in his mouth saw to that. O’Brien spun around on the chain as he struggled, stopping as quickly as he started. He wasn’t alone.
The man hanging next to him appeared to be unconscious; a trickle of dried blood on the right side of his neck. He was similarly trussed, hands behind his back with a ball gag in his mouth. O’Brien recognized him immediately: it was Tao. Mr. Tao, as he was known by all, was head of one of Chicago’s largest Tongs. Seeing him hanging there added to O’Brien’s confusion and panic.
Their abductor sat in the next room less than ten feet away, cloaked in darkness. He was leisurely smoking a Gurkha Beast while he waited. Now that O’Brien was awake Tao would be coming along shortly. He’d been busy while waiting for the effects of the sedative to wear off; cutting off most of his hair and shaving his beard while standing in the middle of a plastic drop cloth. When he was finished, he wrapped up the clothes he’d been wearing in it, stuffing everything into a trash bag. He slipped into a pair brown cargo shorts and an old Emerson Lake and Palmer tee shirt from the Taurkus tour. He’d picked it up in a re-sale shop in Cicero and cut the sleeves off.
There was a tattoo on his upper right arm. It was the word Juden in black, overlaid onto a yellow Star of David. The design was taken from the only picture of his grandfather he possessed. He could never find a picture of his grandmother, so he wore the Star in memory of them both. Beneath the tattoo were two sets of numbers. They were the identification numbers used for his grandparents when they were taken to Auschwitz.
He knew going in Tao would be a far more difficult target than the insurance executive. The elderly crime lord was rarely alone. It took five months to work his way close enough for Tao to even acknowledge him. It took another two months to set up a meeting under the pretense he wanted to purchase three girls. Tao was known in Chicago for running the majority of the Oriental massage parlors, as well as an excellent selection of high-end escorts. He was finally able to put together a meeting with Tao for Friday, September 19th to discuss the purchase.
Grabbing O’Brien would be easy. The insurance executive was a creature of habit. He ate at the Acadia on Wabash every Friday before driving to Plano in the western Chicago suburbs. O’Brien was an arrogant asshole, at least according to anyone who had dealings with him. He believed himself to be untouchable, primarily because of his long running relationship with Tao and the Tongs. O’Brien handled millions of dollars of property and health insurance for Tao’s more legitimate operations. All his abductor had to do was slip into the back seat of the BMW while O’Brien ate, waiting until he came out.
O’Brien was stopped at a light several blocks from the Acadia when he spotted him in the rear view mirror. The stranger put a gun to the back of his head, directing him to pull around the corner. Once the car was in park, O’Brien was injected with a dose of Etorphine, rendering him unconscious. The kidnapper stuffed the big Irishman in the trunk and then drove the black 735i to Chinatown for his meeting with Tao.
The kidnapper was known to Tao as James McDonald, a Scottish National and procurer of rare commodities for an elite clientele. McDonald arrived at the Golden Moon Restaurant at 8:45, parking near the rear entrance as he had the first two visits. His light brown hair was tinted red, as was his beard. Black horned rim glasses and blue contact lenses completed the disguise. McDonald always had a touch of plaid on him, as might be expected of a Scot, either in his tie or handkerchief. Tao believed McDonald to be vacationing in Chicago.
There were two guards loitering outside the entry, handguns flashing under their windbreakers. As before, they did an amateur-like and inefficient job of frisking him. (That would come back to haunt them.)
This was McDonald’s third visit to the restaurant. He’d noted their youth, coupled with the reputation of Mr. Tao, made them overconfident. Not once had either of them checked the boots he always wore. After the cursory pat-down, the one called “Snake” escorted him through the kitchen to an office in the back.
“Would you like me to stay?” Snake inquired of Mr. Tao.
“That won’t be necessary,” Tao replied. “Get back out front with Chang. Keep your eyes open.” Snake bowed, giving the red-headed man one last look before closing the door as he backed out of the room.
Tao stood, extending his hand. “Good evening, Mr. McDonald,” he said, looking at his watch. “I see you are fifteen minutes early, a good sign.” He motioned to the chair in front of his desk. It was an old leather lounge chair, tattered along the seams but surprisingly comfortable.
“Good evening, Mr. Tao,” McDonald responded with a very passable Scottish brogue. “I don’t like to keep people waiting. My father taught me it was inconsiderate.”
Mr. Tao nodded. “It is indeed. Your consideration is appreciated. You are always prompt and have never kept me waiting, a rare thing these days. May I offer you some tea?”
“Thank you, yes,” said McDonald, accepting the proffered cup with both hands. He took a sip and smiled. “Good tea, Mr. Tao, as always.”
The two men sipped their tea for about 5 minutes making small talk, mostly about Tao’s love for his Chicago Bears. He was quite the football fan, which somewhat surprised McDonald. He knew better than to attempt to steer a conversation with this man. Tao was notoriously slow-paced when talking, prone to wandering off topic on the most innocuous subjects. Tao used those times to evaluate the man in front of him. He would test their patience, knowledge of world events and personality traits. It gave him insight into the type of man he was dealing with.
Tao was a very patient man and expected it in return. Tonight however, there would be no stories or parables. It was time to do business. He was satisfied that McDonald wasn’t a vice-cop, or affiliated with any law-enforcement entity or rival gang. He’d received assurances from his contact in the Chicago Dark Lords that McDonald was legitimate, well-funded and as reliable as he was discreet.
“Mr. McDonald,” said Tao, “I understand you wish to make a purchase from me.”
“I do,” McDonald replied. “I am in the market for three entertainers for a client of mine in Edinburgh.”
“Edinburgh is in Scotland, is it not? Why then, do you wish to deal with me for this purchase?” asked Tao. “Surely there are numerous European suppliers much closer, the Russians for example.”
McDonald nodded. “That is true. However, I am here in Chicago, and my client desires delivery within the week. He is accustomed to prompt service and I don’t wish to tarnish my reputation by failing to fill his order in a timely manner. One week doesn’t allow me the time to procure the product through normal channels. That is why I have come to you, Mr. Tao.” McDonald continued, “I’ve been told by several trusted contacts here in Chicago, that your quality is far superior to that of the former Communists. My client has a penchant for oriental ladies and from what I hear, none can compare to the women of Tao.” McDonald watched the old man’s face light up from the flattery.
“I am curious though,” Tao commented as he leaned back in his chair. “Who do you normally use as suppliers?” asked Tao, feeling McDonald out.
“With all due respect, Mr. Tao, that would be my business, certainly none of yours.” McDonald leaned forward for emphasis, “If it were that easy to get me to divulge my clients and contacts, I would have been dead years ago.”
Tao smiled, “I agree, Mr. McDonald. In fact, I would have been most disappointed had you responded in any other fashion. Discretion is a character trait that is crucial to our business.” McDonald had just passed another of Tao’s tests.
McDonald replied politely, “I sincerely hope that I did not offend you, Mr. Tao, with the directness of my response. I assure you it was not my intent,” ending the statement with a nod of his head.
Tao returned the nod. “No apology required, Mr. McDonald. You were direct. That is a quality I respect. It is imperative no one question your discretion when it comes to your, shall we say, business partners.”
McDonald smiled and took off his glasses, slowly twisting off the right temple. It contained a needle with a small dose of Etorphine. The dosage would be sufficient to render Tao unconscious, but not enough to keep him that way more than 30 minutes. Now all he needed was the opportunity to make his move.
“Do you have photos of the product?” asked McDonald.
“Of course,” replied Tao. “Six very lovely oriental girls to choose from, all 18 years of age as you requested. Three are Japanese, one is Chinese and the other two are Thai. I find the Thai women particularly intriguing myself,” added Tao a bit whimsically. He opened a manila folder on the left side of his desk, spreading out pictures of six very beautiful, very naked Oriental girls.
“May I?” McDonald asked as he stood, craning his neck as if to get a better look.
“Certainly,” said Tao, turning the folder towards him. McDonald moved to the left side of the desk, his right hand at his side. As Tao turned his attention back to the photos McDonald struck with speed and accuracy, plunging the needle into Tao’s ceratoid. The reaction was swift as the elderly man slumped over the desk.
McDonald had to move quickly. Tao was light, which would be an advantage when it came time to carry him out. He searched the desk, locating a .40 caliber Sig Sauer p320 in the upper right drawer, right where he expected to find a weapon. No silencer, but that wasn’t a concern. He tucked the Sig into the back of his pants, retrieved a compact Tanfoglio Witness P and silencer from his right boot, and a 16 round clip from the left. The Italian made Tanfoglio was loaded with hollow point 9mm’s. The rounds would provide maximum impact while minimizing the possibility of a through and through. One of the ballistic traits of a full metal jacketed 9mm was penetration, sometimes to the point of hitting unintended subjects behind the target.
McDonald opened the back door to the office, locating the exit at the end of a short hallway. The door had a panic bar labeled with a warning that an alarm would sound when opened. He wondered to himself if it was actually armed. If it was, he’d have plenty of lead on Snake and Chang. What McDonald didn’t know was there were two more guards posted out back.
He tossed Tao over his shoulder, heading for the door and the BMW sitting close to the exit. A loud pulsating sound hit him when he opened the door. “Fuck!” McDonald exclaimed as two very surprised guards turned towards him.
Dumping Tao unceremoniously on the ground, McDonald fired two rounds at the man on the left as he was bringing up his weapon. He put the first bullet in the guard’s chest and the second in his head. As the dead man hit the ground, McDonald dropped to one knee, using Tao as partial cover.
The second guard had his weapon up, another Uzi from the look of it, but he hesitated when he saw Tao in the line of fire. That was all the time needed for McDonald to put two in his torso. The guard fell to his knees looking down at his wounds. The third bullet hit him in the forehead, knocking him over backwards.
McDonald scooped up Tao in one arm and ran to the BMW, tossing him in the back seat. As he opened the front door shots rang out from behind him. Chang and Snake were coming around the corner.
The first shot hit the roof of the car just to the right of McDonald’s head. The second caught him on the outside of his left thigh before he could get his leg in the door. Swearing to himself, McDonald fired up the engine and floored it, smoke billowing from the rear wheels. He spun the car hard to the right while lowering the passenger side window.
McDonald spotted Chang first, who was turning to follow the car, firing in the direction of the BMW. The second shot from the Tanfoglio found its mark in the center of Chang’s chest, dropping him to the ground.
Snake dove behind a parked Camry for cover. McDonald fired continuously through the passenger window as the BMW sped through the parking lot. Seconds later, Snake lay dead behind the Toyota, one of the rounds having hit him just below his right ear. He never even got off a shot.
Coming out of the lot, McDonald took a right on Archer and then a hard left, arriving at Halstead and 21st Street less than two minutes later. He took the alley around back of the vacant three story red brick building on the corner, pulling to a stop and cutting the engine.
McDonald gave himself a cursory examination of the gunshot wound to his thigh. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. There was blood, but it wasn’t flowing freely. He took off his shirt, fashioning a temporary dressing for his leg. He picked up sirens in the distant, working their way towards the restaurant. He punched a number in his cell and hit send.
“It’s me,” said McDonald, when the call was answered. “I might need some stitches,” he added with a chuckle. “I caught a round in the left thigh.” He listened for a minute or so. “No, it’s not bad, a through and through. The bleeding’s already begun to slow. I’ve got a field dressing on it that should do for now.”
McDonald listened another minute. “Negative. No one comes to the kill zone, unless they have a serious death wish. I’ll shoot first and identify later.”
After a short pause he responded. “Yes, I have both targets.”
“The cops are heading this way. I’ll fill you in later.” Without further ado, McDonald ended the call.
The car was all but invisible behind the building with the black BMW tucked in the shadows under the fire escape.
McDonald glanced at the south east corner and saw a shadow moving in the shadows. A red laser dot appeared and disappeared quickly. His look-out was in place. Seconds later a Chicago patrol car shot by on Halstead, heading south. McDonald waited five minutes. One more cop car had blown by seconds after the first, but nothing since then. Satisfied that would be it for now, he went to work.
November 11, 2016
7:15 AM - CST
Derek Grimsrud never saw it coming. How could he, since it was a fellow CIA agent who set everything in motion? Regardless, he was caught completely unaware for the first time in his life. In CIA circles, he was referred to only as Mr. Black for security reasons. Only a handful of people outside his team knew even his first name. The reason; he commanded a black ops team of specialists, operating out of Fort Bliss Army Airfield. He was also one of less than a dozen that knew the international assassin – code name: The Chameleon, on a personal level. The Chameleon had saved Derek’s life several years ago, and from that grew a closeness that defied logic.
Derek sauntered out of Charros Mexican Restaurant rubbing his very satisfied, very full stomach, headed for his black Jeep Rubicon. He’d eaten too much, so he decided to blame it on his chopper pilot, Craig. They usually ate breakfast together, usually at Charros. Derek ‘forced’ himself to eat both little fresh apple pies Senora Alvarez prepared especially for the duo. They’d been coming there for years and it was her way of thanking them. Derek rationalized that he HAD to eat Craig’s portion or Senora Alvarez would be offended. Logical or not, that sweet cinnamon topped pie with crust so flaky it melted in your mouth, had to be eaten. There was no way around it.
Charros was a small family owned restaurant on the West side of Laredo, Texas, across the border from the Mexican city of Juarez. Juarez had been turned into a warzone by the Drug Cartels. Trafficking in everything from pot to humans was the norm in the northern Mexican City. It was also known for its many factories that supplied parts to American automobile manufacturers. Many of the plant employees lived in El Paso, commuting daily across the border.
Derek heard a young girl scream as he was clearing the restaurant door. His head snapped to the left, immediately picking the girl out of a crowd. Two men were dragging what appeared to be an 8 to 10-year-old in a bright yellow sundress towards a brown, late model Ford F250 van. Derek sprang into action out of reflex; running towards the two men. He was so focused on the girl he didn’t see another man in the alleyway next to Charros.
“Hey!” he shouted at the two men. “Let her go!” His Kimber .45 was already coming out of his holster as he skidded to a stop. That’s when he was hit from behind with a leather sap, dropping him to his knees. Two of the men scooped him up as he fell and tossed him into the waiting van. The girl ran up the street, her part in the deception completed.
The Ford laid rubber as it pulled away from the curb, catching the attention of Senora Alvarez. She jotted down the license plate as the van sped off. She called the El Paso Police department for the umpteenth time with information about a speeding vehicle in front of her restaurant. The desk sergeant explained to Senora Alvarez, for the umpteenth time, they couldn’t send a patrol car out every time she called about a someone she thought was speeding. Had she known Derek was in the back, it might have made a difference, but she didn’t. The officer took the information and promised to investigate, mollifying Senora Alvarez enough to get her off the phone. It didn’t matter to Isabella Alvarez. She put the license number in her little card box, organized by plate number for future reference. It was her way of trying to help keep the neighborhood a little safer.
The first thing Derek noticed when he came around was the smell of potatoes. He opened his eyes to slits, not sure what he would find, and realized he was under a pile of old burlap bags. That explained the potato smell. The vehicle he was in was moving at a steady speed with few bumps along the way. They were on a main highway; they had to be if they were in Mexico, and of that he had little doubt. The conversations he could hear were all in Spanish; Mexican Spanish and not the mix of English and Spanish found in South Texas. It made sense. If someone was kidnapping a CIA agent, in broad daylight no less, they needed to get out of the US. El Paso was almost perfect with Juarez just across the border. It wouldn’t have taken more than a hundred to bribe a Mexican border guard, but the US side would be more difficult, but not impossible. The Cartels used more than money for leverage and many of the guards on the US side had family in Juarez.
Derek knew it was about 8:20am when they jumped him. Although he didn’t know how long he’d been out, he estimated two hours. Whoever hit him did it right; enough force to knock him out, but not crack his skull, for which he was grateful in an ironic way. Training dictated 90 to 180 minutes for a similar blow, so Derek split the difference, calling it 10:30am. He would keep track of the time mentally with his internal clock. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do until sundown. Sundown was a fixed time, so it would give him a solid reference point.
Derek could see one man well through the burlap. He was sitting to the right, on a folding chair in the back of what had to be a full-sized van. It was too roomy for a mini, and not big enough for a cargo van. He spotted a tattoo of a shoe on the man’s left earlobe; Los Zapatos de la Muerte Cartel insignia.
Derek wasn’t surprised. Six months ago, he’d led an off the book’s operation for the hit-man known as The Chameleon. It was a rescue mission; an extraction of three innocent civilians from the small town of Los Trios, southeast of Juarez. It went off without a hitch; if you don’t count the two SUV’s that his pilot Young Bear took out with their Sikorsky CH53-E and four well placed rockets. Derek could have let them go, except as an ex-Navy Seal, who had lost eight of his operatives to the Cartels in the last 18 months, it was an opportunity to thin the herd. He took it. He wouldn’t regret it in retrospect.
Nothing the crew was discussing was of any intelligence value, so Derek decided to sleep, saving his strength for later. The bags were comfortable enough, and the floor was smooth. He also had the secure knowledge of the GPS locator embedded in his sinus cavity. He might not know where he was, but sooner or later someone would.
Camacho’s men were under strict orders to keep the CIA agent alive under any conditions. Otherwise, there wasn’t much they couldn’t do to the operative.
Andres Camacho was the new head of Los Zapatos; taking over after the Chameleon executed his uncle, Carlos Torano. Torano had gone to Argentina expecting to recover over 12 million dollars of Cartel money from his half-brother, Enrique Garza. Garza had embezzled the funds from the money he laundered through Gulf Coast Bank and Trust while president of the Corpus Christi location. Neither got what they were expecting. Enrique had paid the Chameleon to relocate him, and Torano had been sent to Argentina to get his money back at the behest of the same man.
The Chameleon wanted both men dead; eliminating any potential threat towards Angelique Shaloub, the woman who had captured his heart. They died when over twelve pounds of Semtex detonated; the two pounds in the laptop Torano was holding and the ten pounds L. J., the Chameleon’s associate, had packed into the stove and a brand-new BMW sitting in the garage.
The death of Torano created a vacuum that Andres quickly filled; eliminating any competition for the position. He was ruthless as his uncle, having proven his loyalty to the Cartel by killing his own father, Carlos Torano’s first cousin, Reynaldo Camacho.
Reynaldo had been selling cocaine through alternate distribution lanes, skimming product from the pipeline to feed his new suppliers. He managed to keep it going for over a year before Torano figured it out. Torano called Andres to the compound, not certain that the boy wasn’t involved, even having been told otherwise. It didn’t stop Torano from torturing the 19-year-old. In the end, he was satisfied that Andres wasn’t involved, ordering the boy to execute his own father to prove his loyalty.
He learned a lesson the hard way from the experience. Torano denigrated and humiliated him in front of his peers for killing his father while the man slept. “A woman can kill a man in his sleep,” Torano had shouted at him. “It takes a man to kill a man face to face, mano y mano.” As punishment, he made Andres a mule for the man who replaced his father, rather than giving Andres the position he had been promised. Resentment grew in Andres until he eventually reached out to Phillip Weaver, a well-known CIA agent operating out of the American Embassy in Mexico City, his cover being a cultural attaché. Andres cultivated a relationship with the agent, becoming an informant. He provided information undermining his enemies wherever possible, all the while plotting revenge on his uncle. In the end, the Chameleon took care of his vengeance for him when he killed Torano in Argentina. Andres quickly took over control of the Cartel.
Andres avoided mentioning what he had in mind for Derek Grimsrud. He knew there was no love lost between the two men, but CIA is CIA and he didn’t want Weaver interfering in his plans. Perhaps if he had been a little more devious, he would have learned of the GPS locator, but such was not the case. Weaver had no knowledge of the actual kidnapping of Agent Grimsrud. If Camacho had told him of his plans, Weaver wouldn’t have been all that unhappy to hear of Derek’s position. Weaver was a decent agent, but he carried grudges, and the one he carried against Derek would never be forgiven, let alone forgotten.
It wasn’t like Andres didn’t have Intel on Grimsrud. Weaver often spoke of the ex-Seal’s abilities and habits when drunk. The agent made little effort to disguise his feelings about Derek, but Camacho didn’t believe Weaver. He found it difficult to comprehend any man could be that good at warfare and not be hardened in his heart. Andres thought of Derek as he thought of himself; ruthless, cunning and willing to go to any length to complete the mission. He was wrong on several counts which one day would come back to haunt him.
Camacho’s men whiled away the hours as they traveled south. They understood Andres’ reasons for taking the gringo to the jungle but wondered about the wisdom – though never aloud. It was Carlos Torano who started the tradition with Los Zapatos; the tradition of the hunt.
The hunt was something that appealed to the men in the van. Each of them had lost one or more family members to the Sikorsky’s rockets outside of Los Trios. The fact they had been ordered not to kill the gringo left a sour taste in more than one mouth, not that anyone had voiced their objections directly to Camacho. One of the men, Marcos Martinez, wanted Derek dead despite orders from the Hefe. Marcos lost two brothers that fateful day outside Los Trios and he wanted blood for blood.
Camacho had placed his most trusted man, Ben de la Sedro, in charge of the operation. Ben would make certain orders were followed, no matter his personal feelings. Yes, Ben had lost a relative in the attack, his nephew Jorge, but that was business to him. He had spent 20 years in the Cartel knowing that death was as much a part of the business as anything. He didn’t want revenge on the gringo, but not for any reason related to the attack. His nephew was dead. Many of his friends were dead, too. It was life in Cartel – few if any, got out alive unless they went to prison.
Antonio Ybarra was Ben’s right hand, as it were. He had grown up with de la Sedro on the streets of Juarez and owed his life to the older man. If not for Ben, he would have been beaten to death by members of a rival street gang. There was nothing Antonio wouldn’t do for the man he saw as savior and brother.
The rest of the team included Jesus Veracruz, Rene Gutierrez and Carlos Martinez. Rene and Carlos both lost brothers, while Jesus lost two nephews, the brothers of Marcos Martinez. Rene and Carlos were good soldiers in the Cartel. They had no real ambition to move up and were satisfied with the money and the fear they wielded as Zapatos. Jesus was less inclined to toe the Cartel line. He was Marcos’ brother and shared the desire for revenge on the CIA operative, as well as the rest of Derek’s team.
Ben, Antonio and Jesus executed the kidnapping and were now headed to the Selva Lacandona, the Lacandon Jungle which spread from the southern tip of Mexico through Nicaragua. Their destination, a remote cabin east of the village of Ocosingo, in the Mexican State of Chiapas. The only time Derek was allowed out of the van was to take a leak and drink some water. It wasn’t much but Derek took what he could get. The added benefit was identifying the occasional landmark that let him know they were headed south, at least for now. Derek spent some of the time sleeping. When he was awake, he worked his muscle groups carefully to avoid attention and to keep the blood circulating. No matter where they were headed, or to what end, there was little chance Derek would die alone; at least not the way he looked at it. If it was his time, he would go out as a soldier; taking with him as many Cartel thugs as possible.
June 18, 2011
A beautiful young woman knelt in the shadow cast by the streetlamp at the end of the alley where she’d taken cover behind a dumpster. She was attired in a skin-tight black dress which left little to the imagination. Her brown hair was streaked with highlights and done up in a French braid which ended between her shoulder blades. Four-inch stilettos, matching ruby and diamond earrings and pendant, coupled with her alligator clutch purse completed the ensemble.
A million questions were running through her head. The loudest? ‘How the fuck did I get myself into this?’ Followed closely by, ‘How the fuck do I get out?’ She had no answer for either. Life had brought her to this god-forsaken piece of real estate on the south side of London. Life, and a series of bad choices that didn’t seem so bad at the time. They would have seemed logical to any nineteen-year-old girl out on the town in London – a million miles away from home and the life she’d grown up with.
She was the third daughter of an Iowan farmer with four brothers, and the youngest of the siblings. Also, the 2009 Pork Queen at the Wilson County Fair, head football cheerleader, perennial honor-roll student and of late, up and coming fashion model in London damn England. A dream come true which started like a fairy-tale and quickly morphed into a real-life John Sanford type of story. She was caught up in the whirlwind and didn’t know how to get out.
There was no longer any doubt she shouldn’t have done that much coke with someone she didn’t know. On top of that poor decision came one even worse. She shouldn’t have ditched the agency’s personal security guard assigned to her. To top off a night of one bad choice after another, she should have never in a million years left the club without telling anyone. All that led up to something she didn’t know was coming – she was about to witness a murder.
The man she left with, handsome and Italian, had seemed so charming an hour ago when they left the club with his driver in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. Then the phone call, in Italian of course and she caught little except the mention of a large amount of lira and what sounded like an address. She became a little nervous at first. When the surrounding buildings began to take on a forlorn and lost look, she got scared. When they stopped in the middle of what looked like two blocks of run-down warehouses, she hit terrified.
They had been there ten minutes when a brown Mercedes van pulled up, killing the lights as it coasted to a stop a few feet from the Rolls.
The driver and the man she was with both got out, seeming to forget she was there. She could tell they were agitated; something wasn’t right. She had her suspicions confirmed when the driver retrieved a handgun from the back of his pants. Then another gun materialized as if out of nowhere in the Italian man’s hand – Benito, something or the other; she couldn’t remember his last name, other than she was pretty sure it started with a G.
She watched as the driver of the Mercedes, a lanky, prematurely balding man who didn’t look thirty came around to meet the two men. His hands empty, held palms up and out to his sides, as if to prove he wasn’t armed.
Looking to her right, the girl realized the back door was open. Looking back at the trio, she could see they were completely focused on whatever the situation with the driver might be. After taking off her five-hundred-dollar shoes, she slipped quietly out of the Rolls, heading straight down the alley between two crumbling brick buildings. She glanced back twice. No one saw her leave. She found herself a spot behind an old abandoned dumpster and buried herself in whatever she found lying about. Her black dress was a plus for hiding. Old newspapers and two wooden planks fallen from a boarded-up window provided some cover, though she felt like she was standing on a runway under the bright lights. The guns had tipped the scales from terrified to panicking. enough to send the nineteen-year-old Iowa farm girl scrambling down an alley to bury herself in trash. She fought back tears as the emotional impact of her present situation hit her between the eyes. In way too far; way over her head and no idea how or even if she would survive. Closing her eyes, she prayed for the first time in three years – prayers she expected no answer to.
She heard shouting and peeked around the dumpster. The driver of the Mercedes was waving his hands and yelling in what sounded nothing like Italian or English. He kept motioning with his hands towards the back of the SUV while Benito and his driver stood casually with their guns in front of them.
Benito nodded to his driver, who walked to the rear of the Mercedes and opened the door. It seemed like the world stopped turning and time stood still. The driver stepped back dragging what looked like a teen-aged-boy out by the collar. He spun around, tossing the boy like a sack of flour to the front of the Mercedes where Benito stood.
It happened so quickly she almost screamed. Benito flipped the young man over and shot him twice in the face as though it were nothing, He then turned the gun on the other driver and smiled. It seemed like it went on forever; a smile that wasn’t. a smile chilling her to the bone.
It was supposed to be a routine transfer. The packages anything but routine – girls. Girls from the age of 14 to 19. Girls who had been lured away from homes, picked up at parties or hooked online with promises of greatness to come. Six girls who now cowered in the back of the SUV as the man who drove them there spoke with Benito.
The older man, a Croatian by birth, had been supplying girls to Benito for 3 years. The young man who was summarily executed in the street had made the fatal choice of trying to help one of the girls escape. They barely made it out the door of the dank warehouse on the South of London before being cornered by a pair of rottweilers. The girl was taken back to the cage she’d been held in and was beaten for her trouble. The boy’s fate – to be determined by Benito. The young man, Charlie Thatcher, was dead the moment he ran.
She waited, holding her breath though she hadn’t realized it, for Benito to shoot the old man. She let out a long exhale when Benito nodded and smiled, telling him something which eased the tension in the old man who slipped out of her view as he walked to the SUV down the passenger side. She quickly stopped again as one girl after another appeared in the glare of the headlights between the two vehicles. They were bound together with a single chain, looped through manacles and leg irons. Benito looked them over, nodded and handed an envelope to the old man who, after a nod of the head, slipping behind the wheel of the Mercedes and turning around. As the Mercedes drove off a delivery van pulled up, nose to nose with the Rolls.
Then, all hell broke loose. She screamed, slapping a hand over her mouth as several blinding spotlights lit up the scene in front of her. Benito glanced back at the car and then down the alley, finally realizing she was gone. He fired two shots into the delivery van before taking aim at a spotlight. She heard the sounds of at least two helicopters circling overhead. Heavy machine gun fire followed, tearing up the street in a relentless approach to where Benito stood.
The driver, having seen Benito turn, looked down the alley, his weapon swinging from left to right, searching. Their eyes locked momentarily as her hiding spot was revealed by light reflecting off the windshield of the Mercedes.
He raised his gun, a lifeless smile announcing her fate when a fine red mist appeared in the spot-light’s glare. She watched in horror as the left side of his head exploded outward. It was all too much for her as she slipped into a catatonic state, her eyes open but seeing nothing as she waited for the end.
Two Weeks earlier
It was a warm June evening in Chicago. Three people, two men and a woman sat on a bench on the Navy Pier, sipping coffee and enjoying the cool northeasterly breeze coming across Lake Michigan. They formed a rather unlikely trio to the casual observer. One of the men, with skin as black as you’ve ever seen – 6’7” and every bit of nearly 300 pounds without an ounce of visible fat on him. His head was shaved smooth; eyes hidden behind a pair of mirrored Oakley’s. He wore baggy blue-jeans and a white muscle shirt. Tattoos covered his arms and what was visible of his shoulders, many were fine works of art – others obvious prison tats or gang related. Both were applicable.
The other male was a bit over 6 feet tall, possibly 6’2” and was trim, almost skinny comparted to his black counterpart. His hair, a light brown with blond streaks was fairly unkempt and fell to just below his collar in natural waves. His profile was marred by a broken nose which was never set properly, leaving a bump on the bridge. It was his eyes that caught attention, especially from women. They were hazel on his driver’s license, which didn’t do justice to the mix of green, gray and light brown, striated with lines of gold that seemed fluid – constantly changing. He was attired like the average white businessman in Chicago; dark pin-striped suit with a white shirt and yellow tie. Rayban shades were hanging backwards off his ears.
The third member of the party was fond of telling everyone she was a 5-foot beauty, but she fell about an inch short. Her hair, at least for now, was almost platinum with a single purple streak running from her left temple all the way back. Her smile was infectious to those who didn’t know her, and she used it well and to her advantage. She wore a simple black woman’s business suit with an open collar pink shirt.
The black male, known by most as simply ‘D’ for Darnell was staring at his coffee. “One damn sugar wouldn’t hurt. It ain’t like I spend all damn day chewin’ on sugar cane.”
“D, sweetie,” said the lady, “quit your bitching. You’re a borderline diabetic as it is, and I have no intentions of pushing your three-hundred-pound black ass around in a wheelchair because they had to cut your fucking feet off.” She smiled as she spoke, looking D in the eye.
“Damn, Dr. H.,” deadpanned the man across from them. “Don’t mince words – tell the man how you really feel.”
“Lazarus,” said D, “shut the fuck up and stay out of it.” His glare would have been enough to make almost anyone wilt. Lazarus grinned and sipped his coffee.
“Why, Darnell,” he said, “don’t tell me you let this skinny white boy get under your skin so easily?”
Dr. H., aka Helen Hudson, aka HH laughed with gusto. “You tell him Spike. Don’t let his bluster get to you. He knows if he gets loosey-goosey with the sugar I will beat his ass like a Cuban bongo.”
D looked at his wife, the glare wavering as it morphed into a sheepish grin. “Baby, you know I ain’t sneakin’ no sugar.” He batted his eyes like a teenager and Lazarus lost it – snort-laughing coffee out his nose.
“That’s right, Spike,” exclaimed D, “I got your ass and you know it. Keep yukkin’ it up asshole.”
It was easy to see the special relationship between the three, even as a casual observer. There was a rhythm to their conversations which reflected a deep level of trust and commitment.
As the laughter died out, Dr. Helen spoke. “How are things in Florida, Spike?”
Lazarus smiled. “Going quite well, actually. The renovations on the Duck Key property are all but completed. Kat is settled into her new digs and I’ve added someone to my security team; a young Cuban immigrant by the name of Leonard James.”
“How goes the old shape-shifting thing?” asked D.
“Shape-shifting?” chuckled Lazarus. “Gawd, D. Regardless of what you call it, I’ve been working hard on two more personas.
“The first is a North-Texas redneck I’m calling Cooper Johnson.”
“Cooper?” interrupted Helen.
“Yes, Cooper. You see, one of the few things I remember clearly about my father was how much he liked Gary Cooper and the movie ‘High Noon’. One of my earliest memories is sitting in his lap watching that movie back to back one rainy day on the farm.
“The other character is an eccentric recluse living in Key West. I bought a house and a boat shed, but I still don’t have a name for him. He’s a strange duck – rides a moped or walks around with two curved ‘canes’, which are actually Katanas.”
“I’ll come up with something for you,” said Helen. “I’ll make it interesting, and besides, it’s quite fascinating from a psychologist’s perspective. I’m referring to the nature of your disguises and the personalities you give them. I might write a paper on it – after you’re dead, of course.”
It was D’s turn to snort-laugh his coffee. Lazarus simply stared at the petite fireball with thinly veiled amusement. “I would appreciate it; waiting until I croak, that is,”
“No problem, Spike. It’s the least I can do for a friend.”
“I appreciate it, Helen, I really do,” said Lazarus with a roll of his eyes.
D chimed in. “I got a question for ya, Spike. What’s the deal with the Cuban kid? Seems out of character for you to just up and hire some kid for security.”
“True,” said Lazarus, “but I didn’t hire him for security, it just sounds better.”
“Details, dude,” urged D.
Lazarus took a sip of coffee before responding. “Gut feeling, D. That’s why I hired him in the first place. I know, I know – details. They’re coming.
“I was driving down to Duck Key to check on things after flying into Miami. This was about three months ago. So, I’m zipping along in the Lexus and I see some guy walking along the highway about five miles south of Key Largo.”
“He was hitchhiking?” asked Helen.
“No, and that’s why I stopped. He had a backpack and walking stick and wasn’t looking back. He looked like someone on a mission – a mission he planned on completing on his own. So, I pulled over about a quarter of a mile past him and got out to sit on the trunk. I fired up a cigar and waited. He was making about 4 miles an hour; about top end for the average person in good shape.”
D interrupted. “How do you know this shit, dude? Like how fast people walk and shit like that. It’s fuckin’ weird. You like some kind of Rain Man?”
“Darnell, I went to college for a reason. I took a lot of classes to better understand human behavior and typical reactions to certain stimuli, etc.”
D stared at him. “Like I know what that fuckin’ means. Forget I asked.”
“Done,” said Lazarus. “Now, as I was saying, I was sitting on the trunk waiting. The closer he got the more determined his stride became. There was no fear in him, simply preparing for whatever I might have in mind.
“I pegged him for about nineteen or twenty; definitely mixed race – black and some Island nationality. Turned out it was Cuban.
“He stopped about 6 feet from me. A good distance for defending yourself if necessary and out of my reach.”
He asked, “Is there something you need, mister?”
“No,” I replied. “I was thinking more along the lines of you needing something, like a ride, perhaps.”
“I’m not hitchhiking,” he said flatly. “I got two good legs and I don’t count on others to get me where I want to go.”
“For some reason, what he said hit a chord deep in me. Maybe it was seeing a bit of myself in him. He had pride, no question. He also had nothing but the bag on his back. So, I offered him a ride.”
“He took it?” asked Helen, who was as curious as D.
“After ten minutes of back and forth. He didn’t want a free ride and wasn’t going to take one from me. So, I suggested he work the ride off at the new compound. I told him I was renovating and could use a good handyman to keep an eye on the work progress. That got him. He seemed ready to turn away before I offered him the job.”
“Why would you hire me?” he asked. “You don’t know anything about me.”
I smiled. “Yes, I do, not your name of course, but I see a young man who wants to make his own way in life. You don’t want charity, though I’d bet you’ve been living on the streets. He looked down when I mentioned the streets.
“There’s no shame in being homeless; not if you are there because of circumstances beyond your control.
“He nodded, which I read as agreement. So, I asked him, are you ready for an adventure or do you just want to keep walking your ass to the end of the line?”
D laughed. “I bet you said it with that look of yours. You know, the one where your eyes git a little blacker and you lean into whoever you’re wailin’ on at the moment. Poor kid never had a chance.”
“Not exactly D. He hit me with something I never expected. He told me he would work for me on one condition. I couldn’t name an amount or promise a wage.”
“That had to be a first,” said Helen.
“Yep,” said Lazarus. “So, I asked him how the hell was I supposed to know how much to pay him. His answer was pure genius. ‘Pay me what you think I’m worth after the work is done.’”
“Damn, Spike,” said Helen. “That’s pretty gutsy, too.”
“Long story short,” said Lazarus. “After a week I knew this kid was special. Like I said, I think it’s because I see some of myself in him. I learned his father was killed by Castro and he barely made it out alive. Swam his ass to Florida, sharks and all.
“I gave him a thousand dollars for the first week, which totally blew his mind. Then, I asked him to stay on permanently. He agreed after sleeping on it. Besides, Katsumi likes him. She said he doesn’t put off any negative vibes; he’s polite and calls her Miss Katsumi. He’s living in the boat house for now.”
“Damn, Spike,” said Helen, “I am impressed. You – making a gut call is one thing. You, making the call to put a stranger in your midst is altogether different.”
“I know,” said Lazarus. “I also know I will never regret it.”
“So,” said Helen with a sigh, “let’s get down to business.” She looked at Lazarus. “What do you need from us?”
“honestly, HH, just the tour-boat we discussed, and I’ll need it moving towards the target at 2100 hours.”
“You mean nine at night, Spike?” asked a grinning D.
“Yes, that would be correct for most of your city-folk.”
D continued, still grinning. “It’s all set. My cousin, Rodney Green, has a boat you can use for cover. By the way, Spike, Rodney isn’t in on this. He’s not in the life and I don’t want him dragged into it.”
“Understood, D. He’ll never even know I was there.”
“Is there anything else we need to know?” asked Helen.
Lazarus didn’t answer. Rather, he laced his fingers behind his head, leaning back to watch the wispy cirrus clouds drifting with the breeze.
“Spike?” said D.
“Earth to Mr. Solaris?” added Helen.
Lazarus smiled. “I heard you, and to answer your question – no. I’ve got all I need.”
“Still ain’t gonna spill on the op?” asked D.
“It will be in the news tomorrow. You can read about it then.”
“Damn, Spike, that’s harsh,” said D, as Helen laughed.
“No, Darnell,” Lazarus used his full name. “It’s about client confidentiality and you know goddamn well I never talk about my clients.” His voice seemed to pick up an edge as he spoke, though it never rose or changed inflections.
D put up his hands. “I got you. There just ain’t no need to get all-that going over it.”
Lazarus didn’t smile. “There is no, ‘all-that’ D. It’s the way I am, and you already know it.”
Helen watched with casual amusement. The dynamics between the two men had been evolving for years. She was seeing Lazarus put D in his place, as it were, for the first time. Her student was becoming the teacher, and a damn good one. She knew it when D nodded his head in reply.
“True-dat, Spike. My bad for pressing it.”
“History, D,” said Lazarus. “You will read about it though. This is a first for me in two ways. There are two targets and I’m taking them out in public. There will be hundreds of witnesses.”
“Damn, dude. You sure about this?”
Lazarus smiled. “Is the Pope still a Catholic?”\
“Point made,” was all he said.
Lazarus stood and the two followed. “I need to get ready and I need both of you somewhere away from downtown tonight with plenty of witnesses. I don’t mean the usual gang witnesses. You’re gonna need irrefutable proof you were not in the Chicago proper.”
“Looks like dinner in Milwaukee, D,” said Helen. “Would that be far enough?”
Lazarus grinned. “As long as it ain’t a Dunkin Donuts, yes.”
“Bite me. Asshole,” said D as he turned away – a barely contained grin on his face.
“Even better,” said Helen. “The Brewers have a home game. We’ll try to get on the Jumbotron.”
“I’d pay to see that,” said Lazarus.
“You will be,” said HH. “You’re paying for the tickets.”
“That figures,” said Lazarus. “Going to use my box. are you?”
“Heaven’s no” said HH, “I’m using your credit card.” With that, she flipped her hand over to display Lazarus’ American Express card. “I still got the touch,” laughed Helen.
Lazarus shook his head, turned on his heal and headed down the pier, flipping Helen off over his left shoulder.
It was approaching dusk when Lazarus slipped out to hitch a ride on Rodney’s boat, hooking a carabiner through an eye hook. A bank of lights shone out from the boat on all sides, giving Lazarus an excellent view while completely hiding him behind the glare of the 300-watt bulbs.
Charles (Chico) Lopez represented Chicago’s 25thWard as it’s Alderman. He was presently serving his 5th term. The 25thWard included the Chinatown district, and with it, the Chinese Tongs, or Triads as they were more commonly referred to – organized criminal enterprises that paid Alderman Lopez well.
Of late, one Tong was attempting to expand operations into the Southside territory of the Dark Lords. One of the longest running and best organized of the Chicago street gangs. Ironically, the Dark Lords had the lowest murder rates of any gang, a rarity for the homicide plagued Mid-Western city.
Alderman Lopez loved Chicago’s Riverwalk and could be found there every Friday after 7:00 p.m. enjoying cocktails with his financial backers. His club of choice was on the South side of the river, located between Dearborn and State Street.
He was meeting with Jimmy Chen on a warm June Friday to discuss the expansion of Chen’s organized criminal operations. Lopez had been singling out members of the Dark Lords for months for the police to roust and hassle.
“So, Mr. Chen, do you have the resources I need to pursue the acquisition of new operating territory for the 14K Triad?” asked Lopez.
The 14k was one of Hong Kong’s largest triads – quickly becoming the same in Chicago.
“It would be desirable for our organization, Chico, and very profitable for both of us.” Chico smiled as he saw the look of greed work its way across the Alderman’s face. “However, we do not wish an all-out war. They are very bad for business, especially tourism.”
“I agree, Jimmy,” replied the Alderman. “I can’t have a street war in my district.”
Jimmy Chen smiled as he reached inside his well-tailored gray suit, producing an envelope, fat with cash.
He slid it over to Lopez. “This should make it more desirable to achieve our goal.”
The Alderman didn’t open it; merely slipping the cash into his pocket.
The two men raised their glasses in a toast.
Lazarus smiled as Lopez and Chen came into view. Chen would be taken out first, giving the appearance of a gang related hit. The Alderman would be collateral damage if the papers spun it right, and Lazarus had already paid to see the story he wanted. The sound of the engines and music blaring from various clubs wouldn’t drown out the sounds of the rifle shots. They would echo off the water and buildings so quickly it would be impossible to determine the direction. The flash suppressor, coupled with the flood lights, would conceal any muzzle-flash from the rifle.
The right side of Jimmy Chen’s face suddenly erupted in a mixture of blood and brain matter as the 30-06 hollow point bullet exited his skull. A woman seated at the next table screamed in horror and vomited when the red mushroom cloud that had been Chen’s head engulfed her. As expected by Lazarus, the sound of the rifle shot resounded ten-fold off the surrounding skyscrapers. The ensuing panic was pure unadulterated mayhem as patrons ran helter-skelter in all directions seeking cover. Chen’s bodyguards spun in circles; weapons drawn in a futile attempt to locate the shooter.
Alderman Lopez was staring in shock at the gore before him when the left side of his head replayed the devastation done seconds before to the right side of the now dead, Jimmy Chen’s head.
There was an abundance of Chicago police officers already on site; standard procedure because of the Alderman’s public exposure. They were running in all directions, weapons at the ready searching for the origin of the shots.
Rodney Green was close to panic. He’d been fairly close to the river walk with his tour boat when the shooting began. As both men went down, Green realized the shot had to have come from his general direction. He scanned the north side of the river looking for any sign of a shooter. A police officer waved until he got Green’s attention.
“Get those people out of here now!” he shouted. Rodney throttled up the boat, wanting to get his passengers out of the line of fire, heading east under the State Street bridges.
Lazarus slipped quietly back under the tour boat. Checking, he saw he was good for another forty-five minutes on the air tanks. He field-stripped the Remington bolt-action 30-06 and scattered the pieces along the murky bottom as the tour boat sliced through the calm waters.
The hit had gone as close to perfect as possible. The only variable he couldn’t control would be if the Alderman left early. That hadn’t happened. Lazarus had been in the river since before sunrise waiting for the tour boat to come by. He was warm enough in his wet-suit, and plenty of power bars to get him through the day.
Two kills in less than five seconds. It was a very satisfied Chameleon who slipped out of the river four hours later and two miles away. He walked the shadows to the waiting 2016 Toyota Celica he’d left the day before for his get-away. His wetsuit was in the river with everything else. He had donned blue jeans, a grey tee-shirt, boat shoes and a navy-blue windbreaker he’d retrieved from under a bridge. He sent a short text message before breaking the burner phone in pieces, pulling the sim-card before tossing the pieces down a storm sewer.
“Done,” was all he had typed.
Lazarus took side streets, winding his way through Chicago heading south and east. He planned on leaving the Celica near the Gary, Indiana airport with the keys in it. He figured a day at the most before it found a new owner. The title was on the dash if the finder felt like registering it. Arthur Higginbottom was listed as the previous owner, and he had signed the title.
The sun was coming up as he passed through Robertsdale on Indianapolis Blvd., aka US Highway 20, when he spotted a Dunkin Donuts. He pulled into the parking lot and went in for a large coffee and a couple of glazed dunkers. He hit the restroom and was back out on the street in less than 20 minutes, refreshed and ready for the rest of the drive to Gary.
Lazarus stopped and dropped his trash in a container in the back. As he was walking back to the Celica, he heard a dog yipping and howling in pain. It sounded young to his trained ear and seemed to be emanating from a house just across Lake Avenue to the East of the parking lot. He scanned the area for onlookers, but it was early; there was no traffic.
He slipped along the north side of the house where the sound seemed to be coming from. The closer he got he was proven right. Lazarus lay in the shadows at the northeast corner of the residence before crawling out for a better view. What he saw hit him like a brick of emotion – something he hadn’t expected. Tied to a stake was a golden retriever puppy, no more than 4-6 months old by his estimate. The man, a white male who appeared to be in his fifties, easily no less than three-hundred pounds, was administering the beating had a belt folded over in his right fist. The leather whistling in the calm morning air as he rained blow after blow on the trembling puppy.
Lazarus would never be able to explain why he intervened; he moved without thinking of consequences as he raced across the yard. He grabbed the belt in his left hand when the guy brought it back for another swing, driving the side of his right hand into his throat – crushing the larynx. Lazarus then wrapped the belt around the man’s neck, spinning to his right. He leveraged the assailant with his left hip and sent the three-hundred pounds sailing over his head. Just before the big man hit the ground, Lazarus yanked the belt like a starter on a mower – snapping the neck. Death was instantaneous.
The only sound to be heard was the barely audible whimpering of the small retriever, bloody and missing half his fur, barely conscious if at all. The rage which had taken Lazarus by storm quickly dissipated. He didn’t look at the house or check to see if anyone had seen him. Crouching down, he cut the rope restraining the dog to a piece of rebar driven into the dirt. Gently, Lazarus wrapped the puppy in a small blanket he had been laying on; handling him with a tenderness in stark contrast to the violent and swift death he had brought moments before. He lifted the puppy carefully, then cautiously headed back to the waiting Celica. Scanning the area one last time, still seeing no movement on the street.
He took a left from the Dunkin Donuts parking lot, north at first. Five blocks up he took a left and cut west for 6 blocks before heading south on Calumet to 117th Street, which took him back to Indianapolis and back on track for Gary.
Hi, my name is Bob, and I’m the Grim Reaper. Now, before you get too worked up, this ain’t no damn AA meeting; so all you friends of Bill? – Just don’t.
Yes, my name is Bob, (well, it was when I put pen to paper on this journey anyway), and you got it – I AM the Reaper, the guy who collects souls for the gods. Yeah, I did use a plural and didn’t use a capital G. I cap the name of only one God. If that bothers you, you’re really gonna be in a bad way after a couple of chapters. This book ain’t for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. (I love it when writers say that shit. Stephen King and Michaelbrent Collings write shit that will keep you up nights – not me.) If you’re the sort that gets easily offended, that’s good to know. That’s sorta my goal, at least one of them, offend “religious” people that is. Basically, this is a biography of sorts with a little history of the world prior to my entrance.
So lean back, grab an adult beverage or fire up a fatty, whatever trips your trigger, floats your boat, winds your clock – you get the picture. I would, however, strongly encourage you, “Refrain from partaking of any of the more mind-bending and or
perception altering hallucinogenic compounds, legal or otherwise.
One more thing – and it’s important. I swear by any and all the gods if one of you damn “Here, hold my beer” rednecks licks a toad to get off – I am personally gonna haul your ass over to Baal. Yeah, that Baal. The Canaanite Baal – baby eater extraordinaire. Now he has the reputation of being one nasty god. He’s the one Jupiter refers to as “Baal the Bitch; Cosmic Buzz-Kill”. Now, whether or not that is accurate is a story for a later day.
Got it? Good, because I hate repeating myself.
Now let’s get to it.
The Reaper of Souls
Robert Angus Dunbar the Seventh.
(Since 1475 A.D. anyway)
I’ve been tailing this guy for three weeks, not that he knows. I’m one damn good stalker – a nice little trait I picked up from a Mimbreño Apache fella by the name of Mangus-Coloradas (La-choy Ko-kun-noste, AKA "Red Sleeve"). Most people don’t remember him. Now that, my friends, is a damn shame. Mangus-Coloradas was father-in-law to the great Cochise of the Chiricahua and grandfather to Geronimo; not to mention Mimbreño Apache Chief Victorio and the Mescalero Apache Chief Kutu-hala. Google that shit if you don’t believe me. La-choy Ko-kun-noste was the greatest warrior and strategist of his time; and few if any through all time could hold a candle to him. Now, If he had been that fucking idiot, Custer, or maybe a Civil War general like Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, or some other white ass fucking general, you’d know who he was. History is written by the winners. No, this ain’t gonna be no history lesson with moral judgments and what-not. Well, maybe a little, I am quite the opinionated sumbitch on many issues.
I digress. I have a tendency do that a lot. It’s one of the byproducts of living so long. So quit yer whining and suck it the hell up.
As I was saying, or bragging if you will, I am a stalker’s stalker. This guy was nothing, to tail. Here’s a tip from Bob’s your Uncle; it’s not the target that usually busts your ass. It’s some clerk at the seven come eleven who spots you two or three days in a row and blows your cover. Hey, it happens. It just makes it more interesting.
I haven’t been given the reason why this guy needs to cancel all his long-term plans. I have no idea. Hermes dropped off the name and location about a month ago; no details, just a name and a location; Dr. Jay Willingbrook of Springfield. The gods are funny that way; they didn’t even give me a state. It’s not like there’s only one Springfield in the damn country, ya know. It took a couple of weeks but I found him. I love Google. Now, as I mentioned I have been tailing the Doc for about two and a half weeks. From what I’ve seen, so far anyway, he seems to be a decent enough person. Being decent enough doesn’t mean shit to the gods.
Dr. Willingbrook is the chief of surgery at the Springfield Medical Center. He always seems to have something nice to say to everyone. He even gets the door for ladies, you know, shit like that. To top that off he’s got about the hottest redhead since Rita Hayworth for a wife. Still, none of that means shit to me. He’s on the gods’ radar and that ain’t where your ass wants to be – not when they’ve called me in. I’m pretty much the King of last chances, and yours aren’t good by the time I get involved. Only once in the history of the Reaper has one person survived my visit.
I am somewhat startled from my revelry when I hear someone talking from behind me.
“Excuse me, sir?” The voice is shaky; switched an octave half way through.
Don’t ask me why I did this, maybe it’s because I was bored, or ornery, or both.
I slowly turned around, and by turned around I mean just my head; damn near a full one hundred and eighty degrees. It’s pretty dam creepy and is usually enough for most folks to start making the sign of the cross while thinking about that “Exorcist” movie, (Catholic or not, mind you).
I looked him up and down, slow and real dramatic like. He looked around seventeen to nineteen. Mother Nature must have been pissed at his parents – his face looked like somebody stomped out a fire with golf shoes. Acne scars, cuts, chunks missing; it ain’t pretty, but I’ve seen way worse so I smile, “What can I do for you, young man?”
The kid was staring down at his ratty looking Chucks, shifting his weight from side to side. Finally, he sorta peeked up at me through his long and somewhat greasy black hair, “I was wondering if you had any spare change?”
“Why?” I asked still smiling. “You need a fix or something? Are you some kind of junkie? Are you just looking for a little taste or are we are talking ‘I don’t remember my own fucking name’ quantity?”
Shit. His face turned deep red and he actually flashed a little attitude/anger at me from those surprisingly blue eyes. “I am NOT a junkie, SIR,” he stated tersely. “I have never used illegal drugs in my life. I’m just hungry. I live under a bridge out by the interstate and haven’t eaten for about three days now.”
“Sorry to have bothered you, SIR,” he spits out the sir even more sarcastically then before. I like that kind of shit. The kid’s got some real cojones hanging there.
“Hold on a second,” I said as a stood and rotated my body back under my head. It’s a trip to watch and he doesn’t even blink.
The kid wasn’t moving either. He lifted his head up and looked me in the eye. I could see he was ready to fight, or at least try and defend himself. He was REALLY pissed. I did NOT see that one coming, but hey, I’m the Reaper, not a fucking psychic. “What’s your name?” I inquired.
“Jonathan. Jonathan Winchester, sir.” No sarcasm this time, but the subservient tone had gone bye-bye. I was really starting to like this kid.
“You can drop the sir shit, Jonathan. It doesn’t impress me,” I replied with a scowl.
“I’m not interested in impressing you,” he responded, still looking me in the eye. “I was taught to address my elders with respect – sir.”
He just stood there. I could see the tension draining out of him as his eyes started to waver. Even if you don’t know you’re staring into the eyes of the Reaper, it can still give you the willies after a bit, or so Thor tells me. Yeah, that Thor; Why? Do you think there’s a shit-ton of Thor’s running around in the heavens?
I got an idea. “I tell you what, Jonathan. If you’ll do something for me, I’ll pay you, and pay you quite well, provided you complete the task.” I watched his face closely to see if my gut was right.
I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. It sort of hurt to watch. Finally, he turned those big baby-blues of his back up towards me. “Is it legal?” he asked.
“If I tell you it pays two hundred bucks, does it matter?” I replied.
He shrugged and said, “Probably not; unless I get caught.”
“Now we’re cookin with gas, Jonathan,” I said with a grin as I pulled a nice crisp Benjamin from my shirt pocket. His eyes lit up like the fucking Fourth of July.
I tucked it into his ratty ass looking trench coat and patted the pocket. “Consider that an advance in good faith,” I told him.
All he said was, “What do you want me to do?”
Bingo - game, set and match.
I turned around, sat back down on the bench, and motioned him to take a seat. I pointed at the Burger King across the street. “See the guy sitting by the second window from the right?”
“Yeah, the white guy in the blue shirt, right?” said Jonathan, his head nodding.
“That’s the one I’m talking about, yes,” I said. “I want you to go get a large soda, any flavor will do.” I fished a five-spot out of my shirt pocket and handed it to Jonathan. “I’m even gonna pay for it.”
“I can do that, sure,” says Jonathan, “then what?”
He’s a quick study. “Then,” I said with my best poker face, “I want you to dump it on the guy in the blue shirt; the whole damn cup. Do you think you can handle that, Jonathan?”
The kid mulled it over for a few seconds and then asks, “Is this like a prank or something?”
“Jonathan, my man, the two hundred dollars is to retain your services. You don’t get an explanation. I’m paying you to dump a soda on that guy. Why you’re dumping it doesn’t concern you.” It was officially fish or cut bait time for the kid.
“Gotcha,” he said and headed across the street. Did I mention I was starting to like this kid? Yes, I did. Pay attention. Take fucking notes if you have to. Oh, I got it; you make cute little bookmarks in your Kindle.
Five minutes later Jonathan came into view. Just as he came up to the table where the target was sitting, he looked back over his shoulder – and tripped. Well played. Anyway, sure as shit in a pigsty, the kid nailed the good doctor with the whole she-bang, cup, and all.
At first, the Doc didn’t react. He just sat there, looking down at his now red-stained blue shirt, Mountain Dew, Code Red from the looks of it. He grabbed a few paper napkins and wiped his face off. Then I got surprised, which doesn’t happen very often in my line of work. The Doc stood up and hit the kid with a well-placed right hook. Jonathan went down like a poled Herford.
Honest to the gods, I started laughing. Yeah, I know – that’s a pretty dick move since I set it all in motion; so sue me. Now, the reason I was laughing was because I just caught a glimpse of the real man behind the face. It still doesn’t explain why I’m supposed to kill him, but it’s a good start. Seriously, who punches some scrawny pockmarked teenaged kid in a restaurant over a damn soda? I’ll tell you who does; fucking assholes, that’s who.
I took a couple of steps towards Willingbrook before I caught myself. That sorta took me by surprise – again – there I was, about to rain hell down on that asshole and totally screw the Cosmic Pooch. That is something that would not play well at my annual job review, I can tell you that much.
Just then the Doc comes shooting out the front door and hangs a Ralph, heading west on Elm Street and away from the sound of a siren coming from the south. Somebody must have dropped a dime on the dick, you know, called the cops. Seriously, if you don’t know what “drop a dime” means, you’ve missed out on a LOT of life.
For the record, I’m not a total dickhead. After the Doc split I jogged on over to the Burger King to check on Jonathan. I caught a glimpse of him through the window as I rounded the corner for the front door. He was bleeding pretty badly. I’d have bet a grand that his nose was broken, from the looks of it. He made eye contact with me as I came in and gave me a whisper of a headshake to wave me off. I was impressed. He just got clocked and he’s got enough on the ball to keep me out of it. I hit the head. By the time I came out, Jonathan was being looked at by an EMT and there’s a LEO taking notes. Not the Zodiac sign, Nimrod. It stands for “Law Enforcement Officer;” apparently, you aren’t much of a Criminal Minds fan. Broaden your horizons, people; besides, a lot of the characters portrayed on CM would qualify for Reaper status in the real world.
I walked back over to the bench across the street and waited for Jonathan to come out. About 30 minutes later, he hit the curb I got up and started walking north up Second Avenue. I glanced back and Jonathan was following me, keeping pace, but not trying to catch up. Remember, I still owed him another hundred for the job. Yet there he was, not trying to run me down; not hollering at me to wait or any such bullshit. See, now you are starting to see what I saw in the kid; and why I am starting to like him.
I found a bus stop at the corner of Second Ave. and Wallcock Lane. Yep, I said Wallcock. Anyway, I slid onto the bench and Jonathan plopped down about twenty seconds later. I actually didn’t laugh at his new “Raccoon” face, ya gotta give me something for that; or not.
“You did very well, Jonathan,” I told the kid as I handed him my silk handkerchief, “very, very well.” I pulled out three more hundreds and slipped them in his pocket like before. It was quite gratifying to see the look on his face. “The extra two hundred is for the nose. I really didn’t expect the guy to hit you. Maybe I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t…my bad.”
“What a fucking jerk,” Jonathan muttered as he dabbed at the blood that was still trickling around the bandage on his nose. He jerked his head up; a look of total embarrassment in his eyes, and said, “I meant him, not you.”
I put my hand on his shoulder and gave him a little shake. “I know,” I responded. “That man is what I call a “DWE” – Dick with Ears.”
That got a little chuckle out of the kid. It was fucking official. I liked Jonathan. I’m not even sure why. Hell, I don’t like anyone as a rule. I can’t. I got to be real good friends with Nero back in old Rome, and that didn’t end well as we all know. Sure, he was s couple bricks shy of a full load, but when he got to drinking, he was one hilarious motherfucker. Samuel L. Jackson would get it. Nero turned swearing into an art form. After Nero went sideways and burnt the city, I had to reap his soul. Not a lot of fun when it’s someone you know, let alone like. Eh, shit happens.
“Are you gonna have that nose looked at?” I asked.
“No, sir; it’s just broken, and not for the first time. It will heal and they can’t do anything for me except give me pain pills and I can handle it with aspirin.”
“Alright, if you’re sure,” I said, “besides, it might give you some character.” I was grinning by then. No way a broken nose was going to improve that look; just sayin.
Jonathan actually smiled. An honest to Zeus smile, too. It changed everything about him. He sat up straighter and started looking me in the eyes again. It was pretty fucking cool.
“Where are you from, Jonathan?” I asked.
He smiled and shrugged, “You won’t believe me, but I honestly don’t know.”
I laughed. “How the fuck does someone not know where they were born?” It would seem we shared a common thread, which I will get too later.
Still smiling he answered, “I started out in an orphanage, or at least that’s what they told me. It was the Cook County foster care system for me after I turned seven.” His eyes sort of clouded over for a minute. “Yep,” he said with a chuckle, “good times,” and then started laughing.
“I have no idea where I was born, who my parents are, what my heritage is or even if I have family somewhere that wonders where I am.”
“They named me John Smith at the orphanage, mainly because one of the nuns said John Doe was a little rough for a kid to grow up with.” He laughed at the memory. “I chose the name Jonathan Winchester when I turned eighteen. I like the 30-30 Winchester best.”
That got my attention and I interrupted, “Are you any good at shooting?”
He grinned like the proverbial cat chewing on a canary. “I’m okay,” which, with the grin told me the kid was probably way past okay. I filed that away.
I looked up and noticed it was quickly becoming evening. “I know you don’t have a place to stay, you told me that,” I said, “so I have a proposition for you.”
“What’s that?” Jonathan asked, a hint of wariness creeping into his voice and posture.
“How about you stay with me at the Holiday Inn,” I suggested.
It was like I threw a fucking switch. The kid slid about three feet back and put his hands up.
“No offense,” he said,” but I don’t like guys, ya know?”
He thought I wanted to bone him. Yep, I lost it, completely, right down to the hillbilly knee slap. “Jesus F. Christ, Jonathan,” I managed to get out; his face now a ball of confusion, “I have no intentions, plans, fuck that – it never crossed my mind to try and get me a little of that.” I went back to laughing and Jonathan started to relax.
“Thanks, kid,” I said, “I needed that.” I was wiping tears from eyes and snot from my nose. “I haven’t laughed that hard in a long damn time,” I added. “Okay, now that I got my ass pretty much back under control,” I spoke as I wiped at the tears, “let me clarify my intentions. I am offering you a room of your own, kid. I don’t swing that way, never have, and never will. Your ass will be as safe from me as if you were staying in a convent.”
He was grinning by then, not to mention a little red in the cheeks. “Sorry, I just thought, well you know,” his voice trailed off as he tried not to laugh.
“No sweat kid. It’s all good in the hood,” I said. “So, now that your rectal virginity is secure for the night, what do you think?”
“I think,” he paused, “I think I could really use a shower and a bed to sleep in. It gets real damn old bathing in the river and washing my clothes by hand. Maybe they even have a Laundromat.”
“That they do, my man, that they do,” I answered. “It’s settled. For the record, this is on me and you don’t owe me shit. You earned it.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, still with a tinge of wariness. Fuck, I really like this kid.
“Positive. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m going to anyway; I am one very rich sumbitch.”
Jonathan just smiled. “Thank you, sir. I really appreciate this.”
With that, I flagged down a cab. The driver took one look at Jonathan and said sheepishly, “I don’t want them homeless panhandlers in my cab; they tend to stink it up.”
That pissed me off. So I took a deep breath, a really, really deep one. I inhaled for about three minutes – straight and steady. It’s a little trick I picked up from the dolphins one summer down on Padre Island. I’m actually inhaling and exhaling at the same time – it just sounds cooler than shit and can be rather unnerving. I finally let it out and leaned in towards the driver. I let him get a whiff of death; just a tad though. A human gets a good lung full of it and they are deader than a door-nail in about sixty seconds. Then I whispered in his ear so Jonathan couldn’t hear me. “You, asshole, are going to apologize to the young man, whose name is Jonathan. Next, you will get your sorry four-tooth ass out of this piece of shit and get the door for him.” He’s fixated on my voice. It’s very effective on the living. “To top it off, you are going to give him a twenty when we get to the Holiday Inn and thank him for blessing you with his presence. Are we clear?”
The cabby nodded his head as his hand went for the handle. I stepped back and glanced at Jonathan who had no clue what was going on; he hadn’t heard any of it. The cabby walked around to the passenger side, opened the door, and did one of them British looking bows with a wave of his hand for the kid to climb in. Ten minutes later the process was repeated in reverse. The look on Jonathan’s face when the cabby handed him the twenty and thanked him was fucking A priceless.
Most days, it’s good to be the Reaper.
I got Jonathan a room, some extra towels, two more pillows, three bars of soap, and two bottles of shampoo. Just for shits and giggles, I paid for a full night of porn. Hey, he’s a teenager and has probably never been laid by anything better than his left hand, so don’t judge me. (Like I care….I am laughing, yes, I am.)
“That’s it?” queries Jonathan.
“What do you mean?” I ask; a little puzzled to say the least, having covered that shit back at the bus stop.
“I get my own room, just like that, and I don’t have to pay you back somehow”? The word ‘somehow’ sort of slithered out like a cottonmouth on its way to the riverbank. I got what he meant, and, for a moment I thought about fucking with him. The moment passed.
“No, Jonathan, you don’t have to do anything more for me,” I smiled and winked. “Besides, I snore like an Arkansas Razorback with sleep apnea, and you don’t want any of that. Therefore, now that we’ve cleared that up I will see ya in the morning, kid. I’m in room 326. Don’t bother coming to wake me up, just head on over to the Perkins and I’ll meet you there. No hurry; sleep in, watch some porn and make a night of it.”
Jonathan just grinned and looked down. He’s honest to Zeus blushing like a schoolgirl; gotta be about the porn. “Thank you, sir,” he said, all choked up and shit.
I decided no bullshit right now; this is a “moment”. I put out my hand, which he slowly took. “You’re welcome, Jonathan,” I said with a smile. “Now, order some room service, eat, shower, and sleep. I will see you in the morning.” For a minute I thought he was gonna hug me. That would have ended poorly.
(No, you don’t NEED to know what would happened if Jonathan had hugged me. You WANT to know. See, that’s one thing about humans that cranks me tighter than seventy vestal virgins. You people are ALWAYS getting your wants and needs confused. You want a shit-ton of ‘stuff’ when what your really need is just a little ‘patience’ and maybe, just maybe; you should WORK for your wants and be grateful when your needs are met. You know; roof, food, clothing, a job and maybe even a little family around the holidays. A lot of people don’t have their needs met, let alone wants. So fuck a bunch of you wanting to know what would have happened. All you NEED to know is “Nun-Ya”. As in, “It’s non-ya fucking business!” I swear to Odin I love that one; just wish I could remember who came up with it – I’d give their props right here in my little Souvenir de la Grande Faucheuse.
Admit it, go on, it’s okay – you were hoping I’d translate ‘Souvenir de la Grande Faucheuse’ for you weren’t you? Uh-huh; thought so; not gonna happen Bubba.
For Additional Information or Questions; Call (715)972-4321
Powered by GoDaddy Website Builder