Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Short Fiction: The Lies We Tell, Part 1

Ceramic is not metal and this is a good thing.

It’s a good thing- because the knife in my pocket is made of ceramic, which is just as sharp as stainless steel, and it won’t set off a metal detector.

Though I still am under the scrutiny of security guards who want to frisk me. I give them that look that says ‘another man’s hands will not be on me, or else that man will lose an eye,” and they get the picture.

It’s a crowded club on a Saturday night; bodies pressed tightly together squirming to muffled techno-electronic beats pumping at over 300 BPM. There’s that certain electricity that surges in a place like this. It’s either the booze or the meth or the coke, but there’s a tingle, and it’s almost tangible.

Weaving through the place though is an entirely different beast though, as you can’t take a step without stepping on someone or being stepped on. So much for the nice shoes I wore tonight. It’s ok though, the money I’m making by being here will let me buy all the shoes I want.

Two days before all this, I was sitting in the living room to my little apartment just outside of Boston. I had the game on, laptop in my lap, Blackberry on the coffee table amongst the newspapers and magazines I subscribe to. I hear her in the other room, bopping around to some music on her iPod that’s docked in the Bose speakers I got her as a gift. She’s singing along under her breath, and she’s only wearing a pair of my old running shorts and a t shirt. She brought her own clothes but for whatever it’s worth she likes to wear my stuff.

Stuff I would soon use as gun polishing rags than wear it again, but whatever.

I can smell her baking something, brownies or a cake or something and I let myself grin a little bit. And besides, it’s a cool summer night, the Sox are up by four in the bottom of the 7th, over the hated Yankees from New York. There’s only one thing that can ruin it.

And as if on queue, the Blackberry whirls to life on the glass coffee table and then, after two pulses on vibrate, it chimes and glows and shakes and shimmies across the table top. I set my laptop aside on the couch and key the text messaging screen.

You have one hour to be at….

The text says. It gives me a location not very far from my apartment. I sigh with resignation and stuff the phone into my jeans and make my way sheepishly into the kitchen.

Her hair is crude spilled over a desert, it shimmers under the track lighting in the kitchen and the music is a dance song. Her (my) shorts are lose around her trim little waist and my t shirt hangs off her shoulders as it would a wire hanger in my closet. I look at her back as she dances, oblivious to me standing there with the rain cloud over my head and the heavy heart in my chest.
“Hey,” I start, my throat dry. It’s never easy to say what I have to say next because she knows how it’s going to be. I do this all the time to her, and she never argues or gets mad or asks me to leave it all behind. She just accepts it; she accepts the possibility that this little moment with her baking brownies toasting in my oven and her donned in my old work out clothes could be our last. She could be looking at me for the last time in my fashionably tattered jeans and tennis shoes, my shaggy black hair barely touching the collar of my white linen button down shirt. My hands stuffed way down deep into my pockets, as if down in there there’s an excuse for all of this.

“I gotta go, again, for a uh, thing.” She knows what it’s all about. Her face drops a little, but by now she’s adapted to the bad news and she controls her reactions. What was once involuntary is now voluntary. She leans against the counter top by the mixing bowl and egg carton and blows a wild strand of hair out of her face. Inappropriately, the dance song keeps thumping along.

“How long this time?” She asks. I close the distance between her and I and I pin her against the counter top. I smell chocolate and my stomach growls.

“Not long, maybe a day or two or three. I’ll be home by the weekend,” I say to her. She brightens that this and looks up at me. Her hazel eyes glint under the lights like her hair, and for a second she looks like something out of a comic book: the wet eyes, the upward hopeful glance, the tiny smile at the corners of her mouth.

“Good, cuz you promised me, we got that thing this weekend…” That’s right, her cousin, or… friend of a cousin, or cousin’s friend’s aunt’s wedding. It was like as if once a month (at least) someone in her family was getting married or having a fucking kid.

That’s what I get for messing around with an Italian chick.

I glance at the bowl again, over her shoulder and she catches my gaze.

“Did you think I wouldn’t save the bowl?”

“It just smells good, that’s all…”

“You want some?”

“I think you know what I want…” And she blushes and turns away a little. I kiss her cheek and neck and eyes and nose and lips and mouth and neck again, and soon we go into the bedroom.

With all that, I’m still on time to meet my handler. He’s a new guy to me, so I trust him as much as I would trust anyone else that hires people to kill other people at the behest of other people who wish not to get directly involved in the dealings of killers. In other words, this agent, this procurer of death and destruction is about as trustworthy as the business end of a ninety-dollar pistol.

We meet at a park bench not very far from my apartment, roughly six blocks and change. He’s wearing a black raincoat due to the mist that’s hovering over the New England night this evening, and carrying an umbrella. If I were to guess he would be forty something, maybe a retired pro, or just happens to know someone in the business. He’s balding and wears thick-rimmed eyeglasses, acts like he gives a damn about me.

I’ve only met him one other time, and that’s when I had found out my other handler was no longer working my cases anymore. They like to shift around a lot. I went through a seven month stretch with four different handlers, and this new guy , Something-Casing is his name, this new guy is my eleventh over all since I started working for this particular agency two years ago.

“How’s it going Jimmy?” He asks and extends his hand. I keep my hands tucked into my letterman’s jacket and say nothing. He lets his hand stay extended for another beat and drops it. “I guess we’ll get right down to business then, will you have a seat?” And I glance down at the park bench and hesitate before sitting. He- Casing- is already seated and pulling a manilla envelope out from under his coat, as a secret agent would. He even goes so far as to glance around before handing it to me.

I exhale and a little steam comes from my mouth, snatching the package away and tearing open the top. I cross my tennis shoes at the ankles as I read through the file and memorize the picture that came with it.

“So this is it? They’re giving me six days for this guy?” I lift the photo for Casing’s benefit and he glances around wildly again, pushing my hand down so people can’t see what I’m holding.

What I’m holding is an 8x10 photo of some skinny eastern European piece of jet trash, complete with the Adidas old-school-style warm up jacket. In the picture he’s sitting in a night club with a bunch of doped up white slaves.

“That’s just the thing though,” Casing starts in, “he’s already had multiple attempts at his life already and he’s beefed up his security considerably.” I flip through the file reading more about my target, trying to get a feel for him and trying to figure out why he’s A) such a hard target, and B) what makes him so special in the first place.

The file reads like something from a doctor’s office: Name: Igor Raqsven, born in Iceland in 1982, he moved to the outskirts of Moscow in the summer of 1994 after his mother died of Leukemia that same year. Father was a known human trafficker and an Interpol target of interest until his untimely death in a car bombing outside of Prague in 1997.

From there, Igor fell under the wing of his uncle, a Voy by the name of Yankovavic, who apparently skilled him in the arts of drug and human trade.

In 2001 Igor was sentenced to three years in a Siberian prison camp where he was nearly killed twice by the Voys over some sort of discrepancy. He killed two men in the showers there, but it was determined that it was in self defense and he was released ahead of schedule.

The file was phone book-thick and I kept flipping and skimming, as a light mist seemed to fall in around us. A few more pages deep and I was given the break down on the last few attempts on Raqsven’s life: In the fall of 2006, someone tried to do Raqsven in like they did his old man, only they got Raqsven’s kid brother in the blast and not the target in chief, due to the fact that he was inside and sent his brother out to start the car. The following summer, a man broke into Raqsven’s Moscow penthouse and attacked him in the middle of the night. Raqsven fought him off and managed to toss his attacker/assassin out of an eighth story window. After that, he hired personal body guards to look after his well being.

“Was that the same guy who planted the bomb in the car?” I say as I tap the file.

“We don’t know, it’s all stuff that gets passed on, and some information gets lost in the shuffle Jim, if it makes you sleep at night, yes, it was the same guy,” Casing says, clearly agitated that I’m taking so long reading through the file out in the open.

“Well if it was, he was a fucking amateur, that’s for sure. What’s the score on this?”

“Eighty,” he says, his throat tight. I glance up at him from over my sunglasses, and then glance back down.

“Ok, so tell me why this guy’s gotta go so bad, save me all the reading” and I set the file down in my lap. Casing looks at me and then the file and then out across the park. Just then my Blackberry buzzes and chirps in my pocket. I reach in and click the button that makes it go directly to voice mail.

“You gotta take that?” Casing asks, assuming that I’m going to answer it when I reach into my pocket.

“No, go on.”

“Raqsven is expanding into drugs. The Moscow outfit does not want to see him in the drug trade. They’re happy with him pushing flesh, and he’s become very profitable in that respect. But they feel if he starts to feed the meth-starved Moscow market, their going to have too big of a titan on their hands, so he needs to go.” I nodded at this simple explanation and packed up the stuff in my lap.

“Ok, I’m on board.”

“I’ll send you his location tonight,” and we parted ways.

Like I said, the club was packed, which is good and bad. It’s hard for me to move around and there’s a lot of witnesses and people who can get in my way, all of which are bad things. What’s good for me is that all these people provide cover; I can virtually be right on top of this guy and he wouldn’t even know it.

I’m inside with my ceramic knife for less than half an hour when I see him, wearing a tight black screen print t shirt, tight tattered jeans and a gawdy belt buckle that rodeo riders win instead of trophies. He’s dancing on the bar with some big-titted prostitute and I wind my way through the crowd, sliding my short thin porcelain stiletto out from my waist. I clutch it down by my side, blade up in my fist so that I can ram it through his thorax no problem and walk away. I’m closing in, less than ten feet, my eyes not looking at him directly, but mostly focused on his midsection, where I plan on sticking him. In my head I see it painted with an old school red and white target. His solar-plexus is my bulls eye. I take one long deep breath, inhaling all the sweat and steam in the room, the bodies pressing tighter against me, my legs pumping along with the music.

He climbs down from the bar, and I’m almost within arms reach, he’s looking at me, or through me, I can’t tell because of the whirring lights and shadows. Another step and Raqsven is done with and I’m 80 grand richer, and on my way home to her. I adjust my grip one last time and reach out towards Raqsven with my non-killing hand. We lock eyes for a moment and his mouth twists as if he’s got something to say.

And just then, as my upper right arm flexes and my grip around the grooved twist in the handle of my blade tightens, a large black paw swats down on Raqsven’s shoulder, literally lifts him up off the floor and sucks him back away from me to the other side of the club. Our eyes are still locked and I’m stopped dead in my tracks as I watch him float backwards towards a rear exit.

One of Raqsven’s body guards intercepted him and his literally dragging him out of the club through a service exit behind the bar. I do my best to try to keep up, because losing the target here would cost me another day of trying to track him down in the very least.

It takes me a full two agonizing minutes to get through to the service door and when I inch it open I’m watching Raqsven argue with the big black monolith in his hire in a narrow back alley. I can’t understand what’s being said, but from the looks of things, the Russian/Icelandian/whatever is pissed about something and his body guard is just standing there taking it. They’re standing next to a blacked out Land Rover with local plates. There’s two more big black body-builder types hovering near the car, each strapped with a TMP assault pistol hanging loosely on sling around their necks and shoulders.

With my Blackberry out and crouched behind a dumpster I enter the license plate to the SUV into the local DMV website and get the owner’s information. The vehicle is listed under some generic company name, so it’s probably a rental of some sort. This only leaves me with the option of tailing the car, only I left my ride parked over a block away, with all my guns in it.

Finally, after much yelling (to the point his voice got horse) Raqsven climbs into his ride and slams the rear driver’s side door. Two of the three linebackers with machine guns climb in with him, neither takes the driver’s seat. The last of the hired protection walks towards me, undoing his fly, mumbling about the chastising he’d just received.

“Fucking punk-ass skinny, mutha-fuckin junkie-ass…” he says under his breath, producing his dick in his hand. I wait until his committed to pissing before I leap out and slice his throat.

The air becomes scented with urine and blood as I search the guard’s body for anything useful. I find the keys to the truck which I toss into the dumpster. I pocket his cell phone and a roll of cash that looks to be about four hundred dollars in different bills.

“He must’ve left his gun in the car,” I say to myself as I crouch back down and slink towards the truck. Any minute now the other guards are going to wonder what’s taking this guy so long to take his piss. As I approach the vehicle I can hear the voices inside the truck. I can’t hear Raqsven but I can hear the two blacks talk to each other. It’s a lot of “naws” and “yos.” Then I hear something to the effect of “yo, I’m-a call this nigga and see what’s up,” and shortly after that, my pocket buzzes.

I pull out the stolen phone and the display reads DONDRELL, and I keep letting it ring, staying low and in the blindspot of the big SUV. My knife blade is slick as the blood has worked its way down to the grip, and I shift my weight from leg to leg in order to keep one from falling asleep.

“Yo, go check on his ass,” one says to another inside the truck. I stay poised planning out what to do in my head should what door open. I flex all my muscles ready to pounce when the passenger side door opens and a big barrel chested ex-football player steps out. He’s wearing an ear piece for his cell phone and sunglasses. He has on a black fitted UnderArmor polo shirt on and tan pants. He looks like a private security contractor. He’s clutching the TMP in his right hand and looking down the back alley at the lump that was his associate,

“Oh shi-“ and I take his life too, springing up from the rear quarter panel and slicing hard across the behemoth’s tree-trunk like neck, spraying blood all over the car. He stumbles back and tries to level his gun at me. I strike again, jamming the blade into his eyeball, which produces a short yelp from his gurgling throat.

At the same time, the remaining body guard and Raqsven are alerted to my presence. The guard in the car leans across the seat and starts to fire his TMP, the sounds of machine gun fire clatter off the narrow high buildings. I dodge out of the way, putting the truck’s engine block between me and the left over gunner. I wait for the fire to cease and reach down and drag the other TMP over towards me.

I struggle with getting the sling off the dead guard since he weighs about 300 lbs and he’s dead, laying on the back of the sling. The remainder sees (or senses) my struggle and exits the car with the gun up pointed across the hood. I duck down just in time to avoid getting my head blown off.

I succeed in getting the weapon loose by simply cutting the strap with the bloodied knife. Just as the giant is coming around the corner of the car to do me in, I hammer down on the trigger and feel the gun buzz in my hands. With the range I’m at I don’t even have to aim in order to kill my adversary.

I’m up on my feet and moving towards the rear of the Land Rover when the windows from the inside blows out. I feel the rush of air whiff by my head as a bullet came this close to killing me. Fucking window tints.

I fire back into the car, pumping 9mm rounds into the door and window where I saw Raqsven enter a few moments before. He must’ve gotten the spare TMP out from the driver’s seat, I think to myself as I stay crouched down by the engine block, hovering over the dead body of the third body guard. I raise my weapon again and empty the rest of the magazine into the door and rear driver’s side area and the make a big production of tossing away the weapon in order to help lure out my prey, as I pick up the gun of the recently departed and check the mag and chamber.

I wait a few more seconds knowing that someone must’ve reported the gun shots by now and time is of the essence. I fire a few more short bursts into the car and then get up with the gun in front of me, leading me along the sides. Through the blown out window I can see Raqsven covered in blood, gasping and looking up at me.

I duck back down because I can’t clearly see the gun he had, but when I pop back up I can see that it’s on the floor by his hand, but not in his grasp. He’s bleeding out, his shirt has a slick black sheen to it and his face is covered in blood that’s running free from his mouth. He’s been hit numerous times and likely won’t last much longer. I pause before spraying him with what’s left in my stolen gun.

It isn’t until I get to a 24-hour Quizno’s that I realize I’m soaking in blood.

I was about to enter the sandwich shop, which was seemingly occupied by no one, not even a counter person, when I caught my own reflection in the door and stopped dead in my tracks. My face, shirt, neck, hands, arms, everything from the waist up was blood-soaked. It was going to be an eventful ride home unless I could find some clothes to change into.

My car was less than a block away but between here and there were well lit corners, upscale bistros that may or may not still be open, plus a bar or two, probably crowded with people. And then there’s the off hand chance that I come across a cop who’s just out on patrol.

I end up taking a few different back alleys, I jump over a high fence that separates a pay-on-your-own parking lot and a store of some sort. In less than ten minutes I find my car and start to strip outside of it in a shadow cast by an awkwardly placed street light.

I get naked, completely naked, and use my trousers to wipe the blood off my face and arms, because the shirt I was wearing is completely soaked through. I toss the bloodied clothing, which for some reason smells like stale bologna, into a dumpster and reach in and cover it with some trash. I then, completely naked, get into my car and drive home.

I’m back at my place and I’m in the shower washing up. Beneath my feet the water is pink, as I wash blood out of my hair. My chest is streaked with the stuff and I do my best not to fuck up the bar of soap as I wash myself.

“Babe?” I hear her call into the bathroom with a tired voice. I freeze for a second, tensing, my body becoming like a coiled spring.

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