Monday, May 18, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 085 - Andy Henion

HENSON COMES HOME, Part 3: A MATTER OF TRUST - ANDY HENION

Henson is leaning against the wall of a radiator shop when the Mexicans pull up in a tricked-out Toyota. There are two of them, Joey Torres’ lieutenants, with their wife-beaters and porno mustaches and gold medallions. They ease out of the low-rider and sidle up to this goofy-ass white boy with the nerve to peddle smack on Joey’s turf.

"Was’sup, holmes?"

The Mexicans take spots along the wall, surrounding him. Henson pulls at the flaps of his hunting cap and rocks in place.

"Hear you got the good shit."

"Nuh," Henson grunts. The horn-rim glasses make his eyes appear twice their size.

"Shit, holmes, we’re not five-oh. We just want the good shit." A roll of cash is produced.

"Nuh."

"Yo, fuck this." The smaller of the two attempts to grab Henson only to have his arm knocked away. The little Mexican sneers and reaches for his waistband; his partner stops him with a signal. A lunchtime crowd is milling at the burger joint across the street.

"Ease back, ease back. Big man respecting his space is all."

This one, the apparent leader, steps in front of Henson and smiles. A toothpick protrudes from his wet lips. "So tell me, holmes, you ever hear the name Joey Torres?"

Henson stops rocking.

"Motherfucker sure has," says the smaller one.

"Si, si. Sure you have. And you’ll be happy to know that Señor Torres is impressed with your, ah, productivity."

Henson pushes the meat of his tongue through his lips, bites down, leaves it there. The leader raises his eyebrows and glances at his partner.

"Lo que sea, holmes. Lo que sea." He flicks the toothpick away and inches closer to Henson. "Listen to me now. We got this little problem to address."

Henson says, "Wha," and bends his knees as if to bolt. The leader holds up his hands, palms out. "Easy, holmes, it’s not like that. Joey wants to talk is all. A man with your, ah, talents, he’s thinking maybe there’s a spot on the team."

Henson is rocking again.

The leader opens the back door of the Toyota, sweeps his hand like a game show host. "Take a little ride with us, come meet the man. We’re gonna treat you right, guaranteed."

Henson looks at each of them in turn, tongue extended, then shuffles to the vehicle and climbs in. On the sidewalk the two lieutenants laugh and chatter in Spanish. The door is slammed behind him.

The smaller one drops into the backseat with Henson. They pull away in silence and drive past gas stations and pawn shops until they hit the highway. At this point the little Mexican extracts a switchblade and flips it open after some fancy handwork. He jabs the tip into Henson’s shoulder and draws blood.

"You fucked with the wrong Latino, half-wit."

"Rique," says the leader. "Not yet. When Joey’s done with his ass."

The little Mexican turns away as if deciding his next move. When he turns back, Henson shoots him in the face. A flap of cheek slaps the window like pulpy leather.

The Toyota swerves; the driver curses and shouts, full of emotion. Henson suspects the little one was his cousin, maybe his brother.

"Shut up and take me to Torres," he says, pushing the barrel of the Glock against the driver’s shuddering back. When he calms, finally, Henson says, "Now hand me your piece by the barrel." The Mexican looks slit-eyed into the rear-view and Henson belts him in the neck. The cursing returns but this time he does what he’s told, carefully passing the weapon back.

Henson leans back with the silver Beretta and goes about emptying the magazine and chamber, dropping the bullets on the expired Mexican. Then he puts the handgun on the seat between them and removes the horn-rims, rubbing his eyes.

"You won’t make it through the day," the driver says.

"Then consider these precious moments and shut the fuck up."

But the babbling continues, and Henson ignores it, staring out the window at the passing Texas countryside. At one point the Mexican slows for the wrong exit, forcing Henson to correct him with gun butt.

"I know the place," he says. "No more fuckups."

The Torres ranch sits on two hundred acres in the Texas Hill Country. Henson has scouted the hacienda for the past week, hiding among the limestone formations with a pair of night-vision binoculars he bought at an Army surplus store with his old friend’s money. As the chiggers gnawed his ankles, he watched the drug couriers come and go in the darkness, a steady stream of activity tapering to nothing by late morning.

It’s shortly after noon when they pull up. No vehicles are in the driveway. Henson puts the glasses back on and drops the Beretta over the seat. "Walk me to the door with this, side by side. Don’t wave, don’t run, don’t cock an eyebrow."

The Mexican obeys, opening the back door and ordering him out with a flick of the gun. Henson keeps his hands in his jacket pockets, fingers wrapped around the Glock. As they walk, the Mexican pulls the trigger over and over, the Beretta clicking with impotence.

"Smart ass," says Henson.

When they pass the reach of the security camera and make it to the porch, Henson withdraws the Glock and drops the Mexican. He throws open the door, whips off the glasses and heads for the glass-walled kitchen, where Torres should be lounging in his silk bathrobe, mimosa in hand.

He’s there, but holding a gun instead of a drink.

They fire. Torres goes over backward, gun clattering to the tile. Henson’s heart seizes in his chest. Doubled over and gasping, he pounds a fist against the bullet-proof vest once, twice, a third time: a savage form of CPR. But the slug has simply stolen his wind and, within fifteen seconds, he’s standing above Torres, watching him bleed.

"Some retard," says Torres. Reddish-black fluid dribbles from a hole near his right armpit.

"Anyone else in the house?"

"Two others. My muscle."

Henson bends down and hits him in the mouth.

"Okay then. Let’s go with no."

Henson pockets both guns, then helps Torres up and puts him in a chair. He hands him a roll of paper towel before taking a seat. The drug lord presses the entire roll against the wound.

"Keeping me alive," Torres says. "So tell me a story." He’s as Caucasian as they come, with pasty skin and thinning blond hair.

Henson pulls off the hunting cap, revealing his mangled face. Torres laughs and shakes his head.

"Well, holy shit," he says.

"An old man named Burl Crenshaw," Henson says. "He died coming for you. Your shit killed his son."

"Is that what the old shyster told you? How about this version: Burl Crenshaw ran the northern operation for us. If anything killed his kid, it was his own product."

"Bullshit. He was coming—"

"Coming to kill me? Wrong, Sergeant. He was coming to turn you in. You see, there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar bounty on your ass, but only if you’re breathing. Seems that bouncer you snuffed was connected to some very bad people."

It doesn’t make sense. The old man a drug dealer?

"A hundred grand," Henson says, trying to get his brain around it. "And, what, you planned to split the take with the old man?"

"Something like that. But then Burl drops off the map."

"Fuck that," Henson says. "Too many coincidences. The old man just happens to run into me in bum-fucking-Michigan and sets the whole thing in motion?"

"Life is full of coincidences. How about this one: the retard moving in on my territory just happens to be the wanted war vet. And I don’t put it together."

"That’s not a coincidence," Henson says. "That’s stupidity."

Torres’ laugh comes out as a weak cough. "Hey now. The old man never told me about the retard shtick." He closes his eyes for several beats. The paper towel roll is soaked nearly through with blood.

"Listen," he says. "I need a doctor. What’ll that cost me?"

"Sounds like my price has been set."

Torres nods and stands gingerly. "I can do better," he says, and leads Henson into a den. Henson stands behind him as he opens a safe in the wall. When the door swings open, Henson pushes him aside and withdraws the stacks of cash.

"There’s a hundred seventy-five there, maybe a little less," Torres says, falling into the seat at his desk. He slumps over, fighting to remain conscious.

"Now’s when you slip out the back," he mumbles, reaching weakly for a phone on the desk. "Make your escape while I call for help."

"Something like that," Henson says, and pulls out the man’s pistol.

*

The massive garage is stocked with gleaming sports cars and sport utilities. Henson picks a rust-plagued grounds truck and heads back to town. On the way, he dials his old company commander, Lars.

"I got it," he says. "And a bonus for you."

"Out-fucking-standing, Sergeant. No surprises on this end: The man’s on board."

As an officer in the United States Army, Lars has access to a national network of disgruntled soldiers: the kind of people who have no problem helping Henson get along. The man in question is a recently discharged surgeon who runs a reconstructive practice in Macon, Georgia. He’s agreed to manipulate Henson’s face for six figures and put him up in one of his investment properties.

"I’ll be there in two days," Henson says. "I’ll let you know what I’ll be driving."

"Roger that," says Lars.

*

The plastic surgeon, Lawrence Shaumburger III, runs his baby-soft fingers over Henson’s face, kneading and pinching the damaged flesh to the point that Henson wants to jump off the exam table and throttle his ass. The chubby little surgeon wears rubies in both ears, keeps his skull shaved clean and smells like a fucking prom date. Henson has met plenty of military docs in his time, but never one like this.

Shaumburger clucks his tongue and wheels back from the table.

"You’re looking at three surgeries. Spread over nine months, a year. My price just doubled, Mr. Henson."

That would be a quarter million. Henson sits up and settles his gaze on the man. Shaumburger is his only chance, and they both know it.

"I’m a hundred short," Henson says.

Shaumburger rises, walks to the sink and begins soaping his hands. It’s late and the building is empty save for the two of them and a seven-foot Filipino sitting corpse-still in the corner. Shaumburger washes each finger vigorously as if scrubbing away disease, then takes a hand towel and turns to Henson.

"I’m sure something can be worked out."

Fuck this, Henson thinks, imagining what the flake has in mind. But in the end he knows he’s powerless to the freedom of Shaumburger’s scalpel, and so he simply nods.

"Yes, then. Marvelous. We’re going to run a week’s worth of antibiotics before the first procedure. In the meantime, Saymo, my assistant, will get you settled and tend to your needs."

*

Henson spends his time digesting bad television and seafood dishes simmered in coconut milk. By day the Filipino cooks, cleans and watches old game shows. At night he disappears, apparently to do Shaumburger’s bidding, then perhaps home to a wife and kids. He doesn’t say and Henson doesn’t ask.

On the fifth night, after the last of the quiz shows, Saymo says, "Get your hat, we’re going out."

He drives to an upscale bar and parks in an unlit corner of the lot, under a low-hanging live oak. It’s Thursday and there are ten or twelve vehicles scattered about. Industrial buildings surround the property.

"A white man will pull up in a black Lexus. This man is the leader of the City Council. This man is denying Dr. Shaum his permit to expand the practice."

He shuts off the Cadillac and they sit in the near dark. Because of his height, the Filipino keeps his seat tilted all the way back, yet his head nearly scrapes the ceiling. He does not look at Henson as he speaks.

"You will send this man a message. A very strong message."

A car pulls in then, a black Lexus. Henson watches the City Council president park and says, "The doctor wanted this?"

"Yes," says Saymo.

"Bullshit. I’m too easy to identify. He’ll collect after the facelift."

"You will send this man a message."

"Fuck you. This is your deal."

Like most big men, the Filipino is cocksure of himself. Instead of pulling a weapon, he comes for Henson barehanded. Henson knocks the long arm away with his left and comes across with a right hook, bracing his foot against the door for purchase. Something cracks in the Filipino’s jaw, but he’s no amateur—pain is part of the game—and he keeps scrapping. Henson is in close now, however, and he gets a hand around his neck and uses the other for more face work, bouncing the Filipino’s head off the window with each punch.

When the fight has left the big man, Henson is basically in his lap. Panting, he says, "You will get out of the car and find your way home. You won’t say a word of this to the doctor. You understand?"

Saymo manages a slight nod, eyes vacant and glassy: concussed. Henson scoots back to the passenger seat and watches as he stumbles out of the Cadillac and goes to a knee, emptying his stomach on the asphalt. Eventually he rises, wobbly, grabbing onto the car for support, and when he shuts the door Henson is left staring at a thousand pieces of the Filipino through a bloody spider web of glass.

*

He lies on the operating table with an IV in his arm and a head filled with doubt. Shaumburger will perform the surgery with a single nurse, a stocky, close-cropped woman who fiddles with a bag of medication and tries not to stare at the infamous hit man. What’s to say she won’t whisper the story to her lesbian lover this very night and put them all at risk?

And Saymo. The Filipino hasn’t come around the apartment since the beat-down two nights ago, which means he’s out there stewing in his own bitter juices, just waiting for the right time to strike. When Henson is recovering and vulnerable, no doubt.

Then there’s Shaumburger, the funky Dr. Frankenstein who’s about to transfer the first patch of skin from Henson’s neck to his face. Say the Filipino spins a tale for the good doctor, convincing him Henson is more trouble than he’s worth? Or perhaps Shaumburger botches the operation altogether? There’s a reason he’s practicing in backwater Georgia, after all.

It all boils down to a matter of trust, and Henson trusts none of them.

"Put me under," he says.

"In time, Mr. Henson. In time."

"Do it now, before I lose my nerve."

Shaumburger looks down at the patient, whose teeth are clenched and whose hands clutch at the sheet, and nods at the nurse. She reaches up and starts the flow of propofol. Within seconds Henson feels the heaviness spreading through his limbs and panics, pawing at the air and attempting to sit up. He wants out of here—needs out—but the drug has taken control, and the last thing he remembers is the surgeon’s fat little hands pressing down on his shoulders with surprising strength.

BIO: Andy's short fiction appears in Plots With Guns, Thieves Jargon, Pindeldyboz, Hobart and other publications. He lives in Michigan.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Henson is as hard as ever. Keep it coming!

Paul Brazill said...

a cracking 3 parter. look forward to the film!

Corey Wilde said...

Does Henson have a relative named Parker?

Andy Henion said...

In that they're both laconic criminals in need of facial reconstruction, sure. Beyond that, it's night and day; Parker, a professional thief, being in total control and leading an almost charmed life, while Henson, an amateur hitman, is stumbling/killing his way through an existence that seems to take more than it gives. Call 'em distant cousins. And my hat off to Westlake, the master.