Authors: K. W. Jeter
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
Which indicates what a ruthless sonuvabitch our old boss McIntyre was, that he’d have his head security thug Michael set Cole up to be eliminated, when the company had no further use for him. I mean, it was one thing for McIntyre to toss his accountant out to the curb like a sack of trash – that would be me – when he decided to take his business operations to a new level. What was Little Nerd Accountant Girl going to do to get back at him? But to blow away somebody like Cole . . .
Even if the set-up had ended with a shotgun blast to Cole’s back, severing his spinal column. Sure, that had left him crippled, but if McIntyre had been smart, he would’ve had Cole finished off, the way Michael had told him they should do. Instead of getting whatever sick enjoyment there was to be had in thinking about Cole wasting away on a piss-smelling mattress.
Which was all too bad for McIntyre, I figured. I leaned over the motorcycle’s tank, tucking myself behind the windshield, and rolled on the throttle. He’d had his chance.
Now Cole and I were going to have ours.
“I had some interesting visitors.”
Cole put his fancy, high-powered wheelchair into reverse. Leaning forward, he dragged a heavy duffel bag into the center of the warehouse floor.
“With some interesting things to sell,” he went on. If he hadn’t had a restraining belt snugged around his waist, he might’ve fallen out of the wheelchair as he tugged at the duffel bag’s zipper. “Real interesting things.”
This was the day after he’d gotten his new ride. Now that he was all pumped up with adrenaline again, back into whacked-out hit man mode, he wasn’t letting any time go to waste.
As I watched him, I warily kept a safe distance between us. The last time I’d seen the duffel bag, it’d been lying empty and harmless over in a corner. I knew it had been his work bag – he’d already told me a bunch of stories it had played a part in. All kinds of scary equipment had come out of that bag, at one time or another. But after he’d gotten set up by McIntyre and his pet security thug Michael, and had come out of the hospital a cripple, a lot of his equipment had gotten sold off, just to pay the bills. There was only so much that his girlfriend Monica could bring in from working in the clubs.
Now, Cole’s equipment bag was filled with some ominously heavy and clanking stuff again. Given the sources he’d cultivated over the years for acquiring lethal gear, he could’ve pulled a nuclear warhead out of it, and I wouldn’t have been surprised. Not much, at least. That was why I figured it was better to hang back, just in case there was something in there with a hair trigger.
“Here –” He tossed something darkly mechanical to me. “Try this one for size.”
I caught the object in both hands and looked down at it. A couple of seconds passed before I recognized it as some kind of rifle.
“What is it?” There was a mean and functional appearance to the weapon. “I mean, what exactly?”
“It’s an Arsenal 5.56 mm AR-SF.” He pointed to it lying in my hands. “You can pretty easily take out a single target, or a whole bunch of ’em, at about 250 meters with that puppy. Somebody who knows what they’re doing – like me – could take the operational range up to 350 meters, in single-shot mode. Or maybe a little more – the rounds are lethal over a thousand meters. Problem is, you sacrifice some long-distance accuracy with that short barrel. So if we were setting up for a sniper-type operation, it might not be our best choice. But for close-in work, it’s a sweet piece.”
I had only a hazy understanding of half of what he was talking about. Hanging out with Cole was a whole education in the lethal arts. And I was maybe a C+ student. Which pissed me off – not at him, but at myself. First time in my life I wasn’t scoring an A or at least a B on every test, even though I was doing the scoring myself, inside my head. Just my luck that with this subject, I’d be dead meat if I didn’t get my grades up.
“Bring it over here,” said Cole. “I’ll show you how it works.”
“Is it loaded?” I gingerly handed it over to him.
“Not yet. We’ll get to that.”
He ran me through some of the AR-SF’s details, like how to unfold the butt and adjust the front sights, with their little luminous dot. I pretty much got that stuff. The deep technical bits – something about how the propellant gasses got diverted through a vent in the weapon’s barrel – seemed to jazz him up considerably, but went right over my head.
“This is your magazine.” Cole held up a smaller, slightly curved object that he’d just pulled out of the duffel bag. “With this gun, they’re set up for coupling.”
“How nice for them.” It sounded as if our equipment was going to get more action along those lines than I ever would.
“Just means you can join two of ’em together. End to end. Increases the capacity and cuts down your reload time.”
“Is that a good thing?”
Cole heaved a sigh. “For us, yeah. For the people we might be pointing this thing at, not so much.”
“People?” I gazed at him blankly. “I thought we were just going after McIntyre.”
“Kim . . . sweetheart . . .” He spoke with elaborate patience. “There are going to be people standing between us and him. They’ll have to be taken care of.” He held up the AR-SF. “That’s what this is for.”
“Like Michael, for one.”
“That’s cool,” I said. “Him, I don’t mind including in the job. That guy’s a dick. I still have a bruise on my hip, from when he tossed me out in the alley.”
“There’ll be more besides that one.”
That took some thinking about. Thinking I should’ve been doing before, but hadn’t. Inside my head, on a little screen, there was a movie about what killing McIntyre would be like. Sometimes it got pretty graphic, depending upon my mood and how much I’d been sulking about the sonuvabitch and what he’d done, but it had pretty much involved him and me and a gun. Like the .357 that Cole had given me previously, which I’d already used on one occasion to lethal effect. The way he was talking now, it was like we were about to go up against some army or something.
Killing that many people – I was concerned it might have an effect on me. What would my dating prospects be like then?
“Here.” Cole was way beyond any such considerations as he slammed the magazine into place. Leaning forward in his wheelchair, he held the loaded weapon out to me. “Take it.”
The weight of the bullets didn’t account for all of the difference I perceived, as I held the gun in both hands.
“How’s that?” A bit of his off-kilter smile showed. “How’s it feel?”
“I . . . don’t know.” I gave a slow shake of my head. “I’m not sure . . .”
“Are you still freaked out?” Cole peered more closely at me. “By some of the stuff you’ve had to do? Like, uh, killing Pomeroy?”
That was the name of the old man, a business associate of McIntyre’s, who I’d had to blow away. He had been trying to kill me at the time, or as close to as didn’t make any difference – but it’d still been a new thing for me. The positive upshot was that it had allowed Cole and me to hang on to the money that I had snuck out of one of McIntyre’s accounts, using the passwords that I’d tricked Pomeroy into giving me.
Right now, though, there was a weird, fluttery sensation going on in my gut. Just from holding the assault rifle and knowing what could be done with it.
“Maybe . . .” The words inched from me. “Maybe I’m not . . . cut out for this. Despite what you think.”
“Not cut out for it, huh?” I could see Cole’s expression souring. “You idiot.”
He’d always had lightning-fast mood swings. Being crippled had made them worse.
His hand shoved forward the joystick. The wheelchair shot forward, into my legs, knocking me over. I landed on my butt, the loaded assault rifle clattering scarily on the concrete floor beside me.
“Little late to figure that!” Cole’s rage mounted. “You’re in too far now to back out!”
“I wasn’t –”
“Just where do you think you are?” He gunned the wheelchair closer toward me. I had to pull my legs back to keep from being run over. “You’ve already stolen from somebody who can have you pulled apart like a turkey carcass, and you’ve killed somebody to cover it up! What’re you gonna do now, turn yourself in to the police? Then what? Where the hell do you think you are?”
“I know, I know.” I tried to calm him down. “I know all that.”
There was more I knew as well. Stuff that his girlfriend Monica had pieced together for me. That he had been the one to set me up with the old man Pomeroy, so that I’d have no choice except to kill him. Once you’ve done something like that – killed somebody – your options narrow. Mine had. I knew that now I had no choice except to go ahead with our plans to kill McIntyre. That was the only hope I had of staying alive.
“Sure you do.” Cole backed me up harder against the wall, my knees drawn up under my chin. “So now you probably think I screwed you, huh? Ran a number on you. Trapped you in a corner, huh? Well, if I did, it’s because I had good reasons to. Because I knew that if I didn’t, once things started to get a little hairy, you’d wet your panties and run away.” He glared at me. “And now you can’t.”
“I wasn’t going to –”
“Doesn’t matter what you were going to do.” He turned his personal thermostat down a couple of notches. “You don’t even
what you were going to do. Because you were dreaming! Everyone dreams about killing somebody else – only you went walking around in that dream. Like it was the real world. You told yourself, I’ll just go talk to this hard guy I know, and we’ll go kill our old boss who screwed us both over. Only you would never have done it. You would’ve chickened out. Because you were just dreaming. Well, now it’s time to wake up!”
Frozen in place by his sudden tirade, all I could do was watch as he leaned over the arm of his wheelchair, picked up the assault rifle, and tossed it at me. My finger accidentally snagged the trigger as I caught it. A searing burst ripped from its short muzzle. Cole didn’t even flinch as the bullets stitched the wall behind him.
“Not bad.” He was one of those types who actually found the noise of gunfire to be soothing. Could’ve fallen asleep to it. He looked over his shoulder at the close pattern of bullet holes in the wall, then back to me. “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“No . . .” I shook my head, then carefully set the AR-SF down on the floor. It looked like a black snake coiled up there, if snakes had right angles. “It was okay.”
“So there’s nothing to worry about, is there?” He smiled down at me from his wheelchair. Weirdly, almost kindly. “You’ll do fine.”
“Maybe . . .”
“No maybe about it. You’re cut out for this sort of thing. As much as anybody is.”
I had my doubts. It’s not really something you can take an aptitude test for.
In the distance, I heard the outside door of the warehouse, the small one on the side, slam shut. A moment later, Monica appeared at the edge of the space where Cole and I were.
“For Christ’s sake.” She looked around in disgust. “Do you have to blaze away at every wall around here? Keep it up, and this whole place is going to fall down around our ears.”
Cole managed to look abashed. “We were just practicing –”
“Practicing being jerks.” She set her purse on the wobbly little table. “You know, if a slug ever goes through a wall and nicks me when I’m pulling up outside, I’m going to be super ticked.”
“That won’t happen,” said Cole. “I promise.”
“Yeah, right.” She already had a lit cigarette in her hand. “Whatever that’s good for.”
* * *
Donnie and I kept the TV on while we were eating dinner. Usually we didn’t do that, but I had come home so tired from my latest session with Cole that I could barely talk.
While my younger brother picked at the spaghetti I’d fixed – he seemed in a quiet mood as well – I numbly watched the evening news. The woman on the TV screen was a reporter named Karen Ibanez; she was talking about some scandal going on down at City Hall, that an audit of the financial controller’s office had uncovered. That was the sort of thing she specialized in. I’d actually talked to her once, face to face, right after I’d gotten fired by McIntyre, and I’d been trying to find some way of getting back at him. Before I’d come up with the bright notion of killing him, that is.
“Kimmie . . .”
I could hear Donnie say my name, but it took me a while to turn around and look at him. When I did, I saw him gazing at me with deep, almost mournful somberness.
“When were you going to tell me?”
His question took a moment to penetrate the fog inside my head. “Tell you what?”
He pushed aside his barely touched plate, then reached down and picked up something from next to his wheelchair. He set my backpack down on the table between us.