Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Dish Best Served Cold

A few weeks back I played around with an idea about a hit man--one with a strong sense of cold justice running deep in him. Came up with a character called Smitty. Now this has morphed into a taking this story and making a 50 or 60 page novella out of it, adding a second novella of similiar length with the same character, to create an ebook. What do you think? Will it work?
One

Rain.

Coming down in waving curtains of gray monotony. A cold rain falling from a colorless gray sky. A frigid slap in the face which seemed to suck the life out of everyone. A wind filled with ice pellets which threatened to pummel the soul into a mindless narcosis.

Walking briskly he weaved in and out of the pedestrians around him, the collar of his heavy gray over coat turned up to protect his neck, head down and trying to use the narrow brim of him hat to protect his face, with gloved hands in his pockets. He was not in a friendly mood. The people on the sidewalk seemed to be in the same disposition. Everyone moved with hands in their pockets, heads bent down, determined to get where they were going as fast as they could regardless as to what happened around them. Twice someone bumped into him as they hurriedly past him. Rudely slamming into his shoulder and making him stumble. Each time neither Cretan made any form of an apology. Mumbling underneath his breath he kept on walking.

Downtown pedestrian traffic was heavy on this Monday morning for some reason. As was the traffic. It was the last Monday of the month and it always was this way. People seemed desperate to get somewhere. Desperation seemed to be the operative word. The city. The people. The whole damn world. Desperate.

Turning a corner he hurriedly opened a door to a coffee shop and stepped in, shaking the rain from out of the brim of his hat in the process. The small place was packed with young down-and-out college students bracing themselves with a strong black coffee or some sweet mocha in preparation for the day’s coming classes. Or young men, dressed in expensive business suits, fresh out of school with the MBA’s and eager to begin making their fortunes by wallowing in the corporate rat race in some firm’s downtown office.

Taking his hat off he almost smirked as he looked at the corporate wunderkinds sitting shoulder to shoulder and lining the long bar sipping their brews. The poor bastards. Their young, earnest faces were just too damn eager. He had an urge to grab the nearest one by the shoulder, whirl him around on his barstool, and slap the eagerness off his face. Might as well do it, he thought to himself as he nodded to the slim little brunette for a waitress behind the bar who was stretching out an hand toward him with a big cup of steaming coffee in it. Slap some sense into you, boy. Tell you to wake up and see the world as it truly was. The only fortune you were going to make was for someone else. Someone who already had a fortune several times over who didn’t give a damn about you. Instead he took the coffee from the girl’s hand and slipped a five dollar bill into it before turning back toward the shop’s entrance.

And that’s when the phone started ringing in his right coat pocket. Ringing with an insistence. Even vibrating against his leg each time it rung. A strange sound. A strange sensation.

Hesitantly, confused, he glanced back at the smiling waitress curiously and then, with his free hand reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the strange phone and looked at it. It was a simple flip-phone—a pre-paid device anyone could purchase for a few books at a Wall Mart or convenience store. How the hell it got into his coat pocket totally mystified him. It wasn’t his phone. It wasn’t one of his kids’ phones. Staring at it as if it was some strange alien device he let it ring a couple of more times before flipping it open and lifting it to his ear.

“Now that you’ve got your coffee, turn and look out the window. See the White Cab with the meter up and running? Get into it and tell the driver you want to go library on James and Runyon streets. When you get there go to the information desk and give them your name. And oh. . . toss the phone into the trash receptacle beside the door on the way out. It’s no use to you anymore.”

The voice.

Deep. Calm. Unnaturally calm.

Deadly.

Somehow . . . someway . . . coming through the speaker of the cheap phone was the calm but chilling voice of Death itself. A sudden spasm of involuntary chills assaulted his nerve endings making him shake violently.

“Who is this? What the hell is going on here?”

“You’ll find out, Henry. Just get into the cab and tell him to take you to the library. And throw away the phone.”

Henry.

He knew his name. Knew his middle name to be precise. Only three people knew his middle name. His mother—his wife—and his partner. Make that only two people. His partner was dead. Dead two years now. Detective Gerald Urban was shot down in cold blood getting out of his car in the parking lot of the apartment complex he lived in. Dead from six bullets drilled into his chest and head.
But . . .

Henry. Said in a certain utterance, a certain tone, so familiar to him. Not the same voice as his old partner. The voice was different. But in the way it was said sounded so familiar. As if. . . as if . . .

Frowning, snapping the phone shut he turned and headed for the door. Opening the door he smacked the flap open to the trash can and dropped the phone into it as he put his hat on and stepped out into the rain. Walking quickly to the cab he slid into the back seat and told the cabbie the address.

Some sonofabitch was playing with him. Playing tricks on him. Making him think Gerald was alive. Bringing up old memories. Painful memories. Whoever this bastard was he was going to pay. Pay dearly for this prank.

The library on the corner of James and Runyon was a gray slab monstrosity complete with massive Grecian pillars littering the front part of the building. Half way up the eighty steps leading from the street the library was a wide, paved landing. In the middle of the landing was a fountain. In the middle of the fountain was a massive replica of Michelangelo’s David—albeit a copy more modestly clothed—towering above the mere mortals who ascended or descended the library steps.
Bounding up the step with an agility that belied his fifty-seven years he paid no attention the fountain nor its famous statue. Entering the massive silence of the biggest library building in the state he stopped for a moment in the outer entrance to shake the rain off him and remove hat and coat. Carrying hat and coat in one hand he moved through the set of glass doors which led into the main portion of the library itself and stopped to view the vast expanse of space and shelved books silently but intently.

A few dozen patrons were sitting at the long oak tables near the magazine and periodical racks. A few more milled slowly through the stacks upon stacks of books. Taking in everyone, one at a time, he studied each individual closely. But no one looked familiar. No Gerald Urban came forward. All seemed as it should. Frowning, he began walking across the polished dark marble floor toward the main check out and information desk.

“Yes, may I help you?”

“The name is Joseph Abrams. Detective Joseph Abrams. I believe I have a package here for me?”

“Ah, indeed you do, sir.” the young woman answered, smiling and bending down behind the counter to retrieve a large manila envelope. “You’ve been assigned reading room 12B. That’s up on the balcony above the magazine gallery over there.”

“Thank you,” he said, collecting the folder and turning to scan for the nearest elevator or stairs.

Sitting at the nearest table to the librarian’s counter was a young man in his twenties wearing soiled looking tennis shoes and dressed in clothes fresh from the racks of the Salvation Army. Shaggy, wet haired, with a three day old beard—no where near the age nor build of his dead partner. Frowning he walked past the boy and headed for a set of elevators.

In the nearest stack of books roamed an old man in his late sixties. Tall, thin, dressed conservative, the man had a head of white hair neatly groomed and steadied himself on a dark ebony can. No—much too old and too thin to be Gerald.
When the elevators opened on the balcony he stepped out and almost into the smiling face of very young woman. She was about five foot seven, voluptuous, with long brown hair and startling blue eyes. Half embarrassed he stepped back and apologized and watched the woman smile pleasantly and then disappear into the elevator.
No one else was on the balcony as he turned and walked down a narrow hall lined with small glassed in reading rooms. Reaching 12B he opened the door, stepped in, closing the door behind him. In his hand was the heavy manila envelope. Inside he could feel the hard outline of a plastic box along with a thick wad of papers. Pulling a chair back from the small table in the middle of the room he sat down and tore open the seal of the envelope. Inside was a cheap tape recorder with a sticky note attached to the top of it.

“Play the tape, Henry. And afterward take the tape with you and store it in a safe place.”

With a hesitant finger the big boned, balding homicide detective of twenty years reached up and pressed down on the Play button.

“Good morning, Henry.”

Again—that frightening voice. So different . . . so cold. So ungodly cold. Yet oddly . . . so familiar.

“Forgive me for these cheap theatrics. I know what you are thinking. You think someone is playing a trick on you. An elaborate trick and you’re mad as hell. I know. I can see that pulsating vein on your forehead beating now.”
Startled, he threw a hand up and touched his forehead. The vein was indeed pulsating. He could feel it. Angrily he hit the Stop button and looked out the glass windows of the reading room and peered into the other reading rooms across from his. But they were empty. Getting up he stepped out of his reading room moved down the hall and checked all the reading rooms. And then toured around the balcony. But there was no one to be found. He was along on the balcony. The only one to occupy any of the reading rooms.

Angry, yet puzzled, he made his way back to the small cubicle and closed the door behind him before sitting down. Punching the Play button again he sat back and folded hands together on the table in front of him. He would listen to the tape through its entirety before he made another move.

“Listen, we haven’t much time and much has to be done. Through a friend of ours I’ve come back to help you catch the murderers of your old partner. Yes, Henry. The man you knew as Gerald Urban is dead. Dead and buried. If you need a name to scribble onto the folder of a criminal investigation, just write one word. Smitty. I’ve come back to finish up what was started. I’ve come back to find the killers of Gerald and his wife. He and his wife weren’t gunned down in some random act of gangland violence. No. Your partner was gunned down because he had a contract out on his head. Someone paid big money to end Gerald Urban’s life. Big money. And what I propose to do is bring his murderer to justice.”

Sonofabitch!

He knew it. He knew his partner went down from a hit. He knew it. But there was nothing . . . nothing . . . for evidence to prove it. The police commissioner sent in a team of investigators with orders to investigate and write up a report as fast possible. To wrap it up and forget about it. He protested. He wanted more time to investigate. But it was like talking to a brick wall. No one was listening to Joseph Abrams these days.

“Henry, your partner was secretly working with the Feds. He was a mole within the department. The Feds were using him in their investigations on the commissioner. They thought he was dirty. Working for the mob and wanted to bring him and his mob boss down. Apparently they were right. Somehow the mob heard about the investigation and decided to take action. Gerald Urban was their prime investigator and he was getting close. So they decided to take him out.

“The folder in the envelope is the secret notes your partner kept in a safe place just in case something happened. The mob doesn’t know about this. Nor do the Feds. As far as I know the Feds investigation unit has closed shop and gone back to Washington. The commish and his mob boss both think they’re in the clear. But they’re wrong. I know what they did. All I have to do is provide evidence to prove what they did and give it to you. In the next week things are going to happen. You’ll be hearing some rumbling from the streets. That will be me. By the end of the week I should have something for you. I’ll talk to you Sunday night, Henry. Give my love to Helen and the boys and tell Helen I do miss her coconut cream pie.”

Aaaaugh!

Gerald loved coconut cream pie. But . . . but . . . but he was dead. Even the voice on the tape said he was dead! Yet. . . yet . . . the reference to coconut cream pie. Why? Who?

Color drained from his face and his right hand started to tremble. He felt suddenly like throwing up in a trash can violently. He was finding it difficult to breathe. Coming to his feet he felt his knees buckle. Catching himself with one hand slamming onto the table he steadied himself and stood up. Somehow he threw on the heavy trench coat. Vaguely he remembered slipping the thick sheaf of papers—his partner’s notes—inside his coat.

Jesus. Was Gerald dead? Could the dead come back to life? But . . . but . . . if Gerald was dead who was the person behind the deep, harsh whisper talking on the tape and sounding so much like his old friend? Did he—could he—believe in ghosts?


From his vantage point behind the steering wheel he watched Joseph Abrams run across the busy street to the precinct station. The old detective ran with his head bent down so hat could protect his face from the driving rain. Sitting, watching, both hands gently wrapped around the wheel delicately—like the delicate grip of a surgeon—the dark eyes of a lurking Cobra watched his old friend and partner make his way through the traffic. As he watched a thin slit of pleasure creased his narrow lips.
His old friend was still alive. Still a cop. Still honest.

One of the few left.

And one dangerously close to the flames. Something had to be done. Someone had to step in and save him and his family. Someone had to do the dirty work. To cut the monsters down at their knees and bring them down.

Joe couldn’t do it. He was only a couple of years away from retiring. And he wasn’t in Homicide any longer. Those who pulled the strings wanted Joe safely tucked away. Tucked away and incapable of snooping deeper into his partner’s death. So now he rode a desk down in Records. As far away from the action as a cop could get.

Yet there still were those who wanted to plant his old partner under a bed of roses. He and his family. Eyelids half closed as he watched the front of the precinct house through the rain. The mask of a killer slid across his face as he thought about those who wanted to harm Joe and his family. No one was going to harm this man. Nor his family,

No one.


Two


Heavy rain hammered the cement with a dull, relentless assault on the senses. Sheets of rain waved and oscillated back and forth on the street in front of him like a dancer macabre waiting for its ghostly partner to arrive. Occasionally brilliant lighting would flash, ripping the night away with the strobe effect of blinding white light—soon followed by the thundering, bone jarring concussion seconds later. But in the darkness of the cab he resided. In the deep shadows of the condemned he moved not a muscle. Like carved stone. Watching and waiting.

Waiting like some primeval saber toothed tiger waiting for its prey.

Waiting with Lucifer’s patience for sinners to congregate.

Waiting like the hand of destiny invisibly hovering over the unsuspecting, ready to pluck the hapless soul from this miserable plane of existence with the snap of a wrist.

And one by one they came. By ones and by twos the dark specters appeared from out of the night. Running madly through the rain in some desperate attempt to get into the warmth and safety of the brightly light neighborhood drug store. One. And then two. Four. And finally . . . the sixth. All six at last together again in the small drugstore with its bright lights glaring out through the giant plate glass window like some unblinking monolithic eye.

But it wasn’t a drugstore. Not just a drugstore. More, far more, was it to him. The front part of the building was indeed a drugstore which catered to the needs of the residents which surrounded it in the middle of this blue color neighborhood. But the back of the store was the central distribution center for a mob owned drug ring ran by the six youths who had gathered together on this lifeless, listless, luckless night. Tonight was Sunday. Tonight was when all the street dealers brought in their profits. Tonight the money would be counted and then transported by van to a safer place. Tonight a quarter of a million dollars sat in the back of the drugstore waiting to be taken.

Taken. By him.

The door to the cab opened and he slid out with the smooth feline grace of a powerful hunting cat. Moving to the rear door of the cab he opened the door and pulled out two heavy looking sports bags and laid them on top the trunk of the car. The rain, falling perhaps even heavier, cold and hard as it was, bounced off him with a rude disinterested shrug. Dressed in a heavy cotton hoody, blue jeans and sneakers, he gripped the bags firmly in his hands and started walking toward the drugstore.

In the warmth and light of the drugstore Hobbie Martin stood in front of the main counter of the store with a cigarette in his hand. Frowning, he gazed at the five men—the main members of the gang—and wondered who the hell called for this meeting. This was stupid. Putting the top five leaders of the gang in the same room was an open invitation for the cops to raid the place. Ever since joining up with the mob, and the expansion of their drug trafficking transactions, the cops were becoming more than just casually interested. Bribes could go only so far. Pay offs could only take care of a few well placed officials. And killing that cop two years ago had added more heat
.
“Who the hell called for this?” he growled, glaring at his comrades.

“I thought you did,” a big black kid with bulging eyes and a massive forehead answered, turning with a surprised look on his face. “I got the message on my phone about an hour ago. It was your voice.”

“Yeah, me too,” the others agreed, nodding as the turned and faced their leader.

The small bell above the entrance door rattled with a startling clarity. Everyone turned to stare at the person entering. A short kid wearing a dark hoody and carrying two sport bags in his hands. Dripping wet with long, stringy black hair pouring water on the linoleum floor.

“Beat it, kid. The store’s closed,” Hobbie growled loudly, gesturing with his head to leave and to leave immediately.

The kid—maybe sixteen—closed the door behind him and walked straight toward Martin oblivious to the sudden tension and hostility which filled the store.

“Didn’t you hear me, kid? Are you deaf? Beat it! The store is closed!”
The small creature with the startling white hands gripping the bags kept walking toward Martin. Surprised—angered—and growing concerned, Martin turned and faced this odd creature full on, tossing the cigarette in his hand onto the floor and squashing it with a shoe. Behind him he felt his comrades coalesce and gather in closer to back him up. There was something odd about this kid. Something in the way he moved—something in the paleness of his skin, like that of a corpse, which bothered him.

“You want me to rip your head off and give it back to you, punk? Get the hell outta here or I’ll cut your pecker off!”

The kid stopped just in front of Martin and sat the sports bags down on the floor just in front of the gang leader. Standing up the kid’s eyes came up and looked directly into Martin’s. Unblinking eyes. Dark eyes like the unblinking stare of the undead about to strike.

“I want it all. Fill the bags up with money.”

The voice was a harsh, rough whisper—a voice much too powerful even in whispering mode for a kid this size to have. Startled, Martin half turned to glance at his men and then turned his attention back to the kid.

“That just caught you your life, buddy. Nobody comes in here and shakes us down. Nobody.”

With a snap of his fingers all six leapt at the kid at once. All six landed attempted to reach the kid at the same time. But it was for naught. That night chaos reigned. The kid—hardly half the size of Martin—somehow transfigured himself into a killing machine. Those horribly white hands came up with a sudden flash of speed, catching someone by the arm and giving it a violent twist. Bones snapped. Someone screamed. And then the carnage began.

In the thousands of years man has fought hand to hand combat many different fighting forms have come and gone. This night, in this store, the kid became a fighting machine using two brutal forms blended effortlessly together. Krav Maga and Muay Thai. Not the Krav Maga of polite society. Not the Muay Thai of sporting fame. No. Each was the darker, meaner kind—the forbidden, outlawed form designed to kill and maim. This was a fighting not for sport but for survival. This was savagery designed to take down an enemy with the fewest possible moves and never to let them get up again. Every part of the kid’s arms, hands, elbows, knees and feet became a weapon. Blows to the throat, to the groin; knees broken in half with a kick, ribs crushed with a hammering blow—all done in seconds in the midst of a group of street thugs who had no idea . . . and no chance . . . in surviving.

In seconds the fight was over. Silence filled the brightly lit drug store. Bodies littered the floor and counter top. Only the small framed kid with the long stringy black hair remained standing. Neither looking right nor left the kid bent down and retrieved the two bags sitting unmolested on the floor. Standing up he stepped over bodies and began walking toward the back of the store. Back toward the money.


“Jesus, would you look at this,” Detective Noel Sergeant whistled, bending forward in the chair he had pulled up in front of the TV monitor.

Joseph Abrams looked up from the coffee pot and toward the group of detectives huddled around the TV monitor. The squad room was filled with detectives. Those who’s shift were just about completed. And those who were about to come on duty. Abrams was one about to come on duty. A strong cup of Joe was what he needed. He hadn’t slept last night. His mind kept going over and over the series of incidents which brought him to the library the day before. Every time he closed his eyes he heard that harsh, eerie whisper for a voice coming out of the tape recorder. The voice alone enough to give him nightmares.

“What’s that,” he asked, as he moved across the squad room, coffee in hand, and came to a halt behind his current partner, Noel Sergeant.

“Got a call about 0400 hrs. Anonymous. Said there was a disturbance over on Granger and Reed streets in a drugstore,” Vic Edwards, third watch detective grunted, his eyes glued to the screen in front of him. “You know the place, Joe. It’s the hang out for the Reed Hellions.”

Joe gagged and hot coffee splashed onto his freshly pressed white shirt. The Reed Hellions. The gang rumored to have gunned down his old partner. Lowering his cup, hands shaking slightly, he bent forward and gazed at the monitor.

“Got over there about 0415 and found this, buddy. Found bodies. Lots of bodies. And drugs. And this tape. Here, let me rewind this so Joe can see it all.”

Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus!

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