Authors: K. W. Jeter
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
By the time Cole let me take a break, the shadows of the trees were reaching across the quarry, setting the base where we were into gloom.
“I don’t know if this is really productive.” I lowered the AR-SF down to my side. “Progress-wise, I mean.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.” The mud around Cole’s wheelchair was littered with cigarette butts. “You hit it a few times. If McIntyre’s guarded by sheets of plywood, you’ll be able to take out some of them.”
I shook my head, feeling discouraged. “I’m just not getting any better at this.”
“That’s because you’re shooting at a piece of wood. Now try shooting at McIntyre.”
“He isn’t here.”
“Lucky for him,” said Cole. “Because if he were, he’d be a dead man. Give it a try.”
“Give what a try?”
“You gotta see McIntyre over there.” Cole nodded toward the quarry wall. “I can show you everything you need to know. I can show you how to aim, I can show you how to control your breath, how to keep your hand from shaking, the whole bit. But it’s not going to do any good, as long as you don’t see what you want to hit.”
I didn’t say anything, but just listened to him.
“You didn’t come this far to blow away plywood. You want to get McIntyre. Okay, then let’s do it.”
I raised the assault rifle and braced myself, feet spread apart in the mud.
“Take your time,” Cole said quietly. “You won’t have time when it really comes down – but right now you got time.”
His voice had taken on a smooth, hypnotic quality. I brought my eye to the assault rifle’s sight.
“Okay, you gotta see him. Right there in front of you.”
I locked on the target. I couldn’t even hear the crows any longer.
“He’s right there in front of you. He’s looking back at you. And he’s smiling.”
All I heard was Cole’s voice.
“He’s right there, just the way he was the last time you ever saw him. When he said that you were shit . . . that you were nothing . . . that he was throwing you out in the alley like a sack of trash . . .”
My breath stopped. I could feel my face turning hard as stone.
“He’s right there. You can see him. And what are you going to do about it?”
I don’t know if I saw McIntyre or not. Maybe I just saw his smile. But my hand tightened on the assault rifle’s grip, squeezing the trigger . . .
A moment later, I could hear Cole’s voice again.
I lowered the rifle. In the distance, at the far wall of the quarry, there wasn’t a piece of plywood, pocked with a few bullet holes. Not anymore. Now there were just splinters scattered across the rocks and mud.
“That is . . . for a beginner.”
I looked over at him. “Screw you.”
While Cole and I were having so much fun out in the rock quarry, doing head trips and blowing away our imaginary ex-boss, other things were going on back in the city. Things that weren’t so much fun, that we heard about later. Much later.
After we had left the warehouse, Monica had gone to work. Over at that sleazy club where I had first seen her.
Places like that, the management expects the girls to not just dance, but to socialize with the customers as well. Which is one term for it.
Middle of the day shift, not a lot of customers in the place. There was one big fella sitting by himself in one of the booths, hunched over his drink, back turned toward the empty stage. In her working outfit, Monica had gone over to him and draped her arm across his wide shoulders.
“Feeling lonely, pal?” That was how conversations were started there. “Maybe you’d like to chat with me. Hm?”
When he swung his coarse-shaven face up toward her, she recognized him. It was Michael.
“Sure thing.” He caught her wrist and pulled her down into the booth beside him. “Yeah, let’s . . .
He took a sip of the beer in front of him, then turned and regarded her again. “So how’s things been, Monica?”
“Fine.” She rubbed her bruised wrist. “Couldn’t be better.”
“You know –” He looked past her and around the empty club. “It wasn’t Mr. McIntyre who got you this job. It was me.”
“Thanks so much. Every girl’s dream.”
“You must be doing pretty good here.”
“Oh, yeah. Lot of big tippers come in. Like you.”
“I bet.” Michael gave a slow nod. “Well, that’s good. I mean – good that you’re making some money. Or maybe a lot. Because I’ve been hearing things about your boyfriend Cole’s spending habits.”
“Like he’s been spending a lot of money lately. That’s what some people have told me. People that he’s bought some stuff from. Expensive stuff.”
“So?” Monica shrugged. “He’s got hobbies.”
“Of course, he does.” Michael showed his ugly smile. “Because he’s got so much time on his hands these days. Not working and all. Maybe he’s become a toy collector. Because that’s what I’ve heard he’s been buying. Really nasty toys.”
“I wouldn’t know. We don’t talk about that kind of stuff.”
“Yeah, probably not. But maybe that’s why you should be listening to me.”
“And maybe you shouldn’t be listening to those friends of yours.” Monica glared back at him. “They’re handing you a line of shit.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” Michael tilted the beer to his mouth again, then set it down. “Maybe when your boyfriend bought his new toys from them, he figured they’d still be so scared of him that they wouldn’t talk to anyone else about it. Like me. But you know . . . maybe they weren’t afraid to talk. Or at least one of them wasn’t. Because your boyfriend’s not quite as scary as he used to be. Is he?”
Monica didn’t say anything.
“So . . .” Michael prodded the beer with his stubby forefinger. “What’s Cole up to?”
“Nothing he can’t handle.”
“Maybe.” Michael nodded. “But maybe he’s in over his head already. Way over his head. Maybe he’s about to drown. And maybe when that happens, I’ll come around and see you again. And I won’t have to leave a tip.”
Monica gazed at him for a long moment before replying.
“You don’t have to worry about Cole,” she said quietly. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Good. Good for you. And him.”
Michael grabbed her arm and pushed her from the booth, so he could get out and stand up.
“See you around.”
She watched him push open the club door, the glare of the sunlight outside spilling around his bulky frame.
* * *
With our firing range practice over for the day, I drove the cargo van back into the city.
“Now you can help me,” said Cole when I pulled up to the warehouse. “With what I need to work on.”
I found out what that was soon enough. Once Cole was motoring again, he led me to another section of the warehouse, one that I hadn’t gone into before.
“The wheelchair wasn’t the only thing I got yesterday. Monica had this stuff delivered, too.”
“She set all this up?” I looked around at the weight-lifting equipment. There was an overhead pull-down bar, racks of shiny chromed free weights, other heavy goodies. “Must’ve been a lot of work for her.”
“Nah.” He shook his head. “She paid the delivery guy to do it. They’re always looking to make an extra buck.”
“Guess it’s a good thing they didn’t spot some of that other stuff you’ve got, over on the other side.”
“Not a problem,” said Cole. “You can pay people not to see things, too. So don’t worry about it – just come over here and spot me.”
I watched as he transferred himself from the wheelchair to a padded bench, just about as wide as his shoulders. Lying on his back, he reached up and behind himself, lifting a barbell from its stand.
“You don’t need me for this.” I stood behind his head, watching him bench press the weight straight up from his chest, back down, then up again.
“I will when I work up to some serious iron.” He kept on going through his reps. “I’m just going to be concentrating on getting stretched out for the next few days. After that, I’ll start adding the pounds.” He stopped talking, letting the bar rest on his chest for a moment, then pushed it up again. “I lost a lot of muscle strength – that’s what going into the hospital will do for you. Pisses me off. But I’ll get it back. I have to.”
I had a pretty good idea what he was talking about. He’d already told me a couple of his war stories, some of the jobs he’d pulled off for McIntyre. The shape he’d had to be in, to do some of those things, was pretty intense.
The barbell clanged on its stand as Cole set it back in place. He picked up the towel lying on the floor beside the bench and mopped his face with it.
“That sucks.” He stared grimly up at the warehouse’s ceiling. “That was nothing, and I’m already sweating.” A shake of his head. “It’s gonna be a while before I’m where I should be.”
“I’m okay with that.” I had already started to feel that things were going kind of fast. Considering that not too long ago, I had been Little Nerd Accountant Girl grinding away in her cubbyhole office, head deep into the ledgers, and now I already had one kill under my belt – things were clipping along, all right. “We can take our time.”
“No, we can’t.” Cole began wrestling himself back into his wheelchair. “The longer we take, the less chance we have of pulling it off. This is something you gotta learn. Speed is of the essence in this business.” Sitting in the chair, he pulled back on the joystick control to roll himself away from the bench. “Once you’ve decided to kill somebody, you need to do it as quick as possible. Every minute you screw around, that’s another minute something can go wrong.”
“I thought you were into that whole careful planning thing.”
“There’s planning, then there’s doing. The sooner you go from one to the other, the safer . . . you’ll be . . .”
He leaned back in the wheelchair, eyes closed, mouth slightly parted.
That worried me. He seemed old and tired, as though even that abbreviated workout had exhausted him.
A moment passed before his eyelids slowly raised. He looked over at me, then nodded.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He dug out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes from the carryall pouch hanging on the side of the wheelchair. “If you don’t push it, you don’t get anywhere.” He lit up and filled his lungs. “Tell you what. Why don’t we call it a day? You come around tomorrow, we’ll start talking strategy.”
“Strategy?” I stared at him. “What do you mean,
“For Christ’s sake, Kim. I thought you were so smart. And then you ask a question like that.”
smart. About some things, at least. Is it my fault they didn’t offer advanced assassination techniques where I went to school?”
“You should be able to figure this one out on your own. This kind of job, it’s not just about squeezing the trigger. You need to get to the right spot, so your target’s standing in front of you when you do it. And that takes strategy.”
“Okay,” I said. “I got it now.”
“I’m beginning to wonder. This is the real work, Kim. That other’s just the fun stuff.”
“Fine. We’ll work.”
“Great.” He swiveled the wheelchair away from me. “Get here early tomorrow.”
I regarded his back for a few seconds, then nodded. “All right,” I said. I turned around and headed for the door.
Somebody was waiting for me when I got home. Who I wasn’t expecting.
The apartment front door was unlocked. That was the first wrong thing I noticed. I pushed the door open all the way and peered inside. I didn’t see anything – or at least nothing that wasn’t supposed to be there.
Here’s how you can tell my head was in Cole’s world. The next thing I did was to pull my backpack from my shoulder, unzip it, and pull out the shiny .357 he’d given me. It was already loaded and ready to go.
I stepped into the front room and carefully closed the door behind me –
But not so carefully that there wasn’t somebody who heard it.
“Kimmie!” My younger brother’s voice called from the bedroom. “Your friend’s here!”
I didn’t like that. Another part of Cole’s world – surprises were generally not a good thing.