Friday, December 11, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 298 - Richard Godwin

THE BUTCHER’S DAUGHTER - RICHARD GODWIN

As the wheels touched down, the horizon looked bloodshot. Moses sifted in his seat. All that flesh, now if a bomb went off

The image of merged and mangled skin and organs was irrepressible.

The grass at the runway’s edge was burned to a distant yellow and the haze made the airport dance and sway in a welcoming samba. After clearing customs, he saw the brothers waiting for him.

‘We hope you had a good flight,’ they said in chorus. The effect was a little disarming.

‘Not bad. I could use a drink, though.’

‘Yes, we have water in the car. Come.’

‘I was thinking of something a little stronger.’

Either they hadn’t heard or didn’t understand, because they simply led him out through the teeming crowds to a jeep that sat unticketed in a no-parking zone in the sweltering heat. One sat in the back while the other ushered him into the passenger seat which felt on fire. Moses shifted, feeling the sweat break out on the backs of his legs and run down into his socks.

‘We go to villa now.’

‘Sure.’

The island itself was pretty enough. Unspoilt, apart from a small development just on the outskirts of the airport. They passed tiny villages with only a handful of houses and a single shop, fields, then more villages, more densely built up. Then, into countryside and a final peppering of houses.

The ride gave him time to take the brothers in.

The driver had thick glossy hair and hands that looked as though they had never done a day’s work. His brother looked just like him, with the hair swept back, and he had a scar high on his cheek just under his eye. A little young for this. One looked maybe thirty, the other nudging it. Their faces were innocent and implacable in their ready charm. He saw the younger one had nodded off.

‘Are you guys...?’

‘What?’

‘Twins?’

‘No.’ The driver laughed. ‘We look like twins?’

‘A little.’

‘Good genes.’

‘So - how about introductions?’

‘We’re nearly there.’ The driver looked in his rearview mirror. ‘He’s always sleeping. Big baby.’

They came to a side road, then a remote-controlled gate.

As it swung open, the jeep turned into an expanse of grass that looked too green to be credible. Around a corner lay some trees masking the villa. Moses could just make out the edge of a terrace.

‘I’ll take your bag,’ the driver said, nudging his brother awake.

Moses walked past the trees to the house.

*

It was a large old style colonial villa on a good slice of land. Olive groves provided seclusion, and an agricultural plot gave the impression of normal country life. To the side, a pool surrounded by a garden. Some fields and an old well, which looked deep. Moses dropped a stone into it and, after a while, heard a splash.

His room was one of six on the second floor. It was tastefully designed and well-equipped, with an ensuite and marble floors. The hallways were wide and deep, and throughout the villa, the trappings of wealth lay inside subdued luxury.

Alone, he threw himself on the bed, impatient to receive his instructions. He gazed at the ceiling, lulled by the fan. A few minutes later, he heard a knock at his door.

It was the older one. ‘You OK? Hungry?’

‘Thanks, maybe later.’

‘I believe you have some questions.’

‘Yes.’

‘We are downstairs.’

‘Sure.’

‘In your time.’

Make em wait.

Moses sat there, running over what he wouldn’t do for the price. It was high, but that unnerved him, given the lack of information.

They were waiting for him together with chilled beer. They conducted the briefing in the library, the doors firmly closed. The older brother stood, taking centre stage, while the younger one sat silently on the sofa opposite Moses, directly behind his sibling.

‘You are not what we imagined,’ he said.

‘Oh?’

‘No. We pictured someone with a long beard, probably because of your Biblical name. Instead, we meet a blond, clean-shaven man who could be an athlete.’

‘Problem?’

‘Not at all.’

‘OK, let’s talk.’

‘Yes. So, you see, we have a little killing to do. Is the beer cold enough?’

Moses nodded. ‘I still don’t know your names.’

‘You must excuse us - a hard day. Excuse, also, my rotten English.’ The man flashed him a smile. ‘I am Rodrigo and this, my younger sibling, is Fernandez. As I was saying...’

‘Who’s the mark?’ Moses said.

‘I see you wish to get straight there. Very well. Call him....a business rival. This,’, Rodrigo extended his arms, ‘was built up over many, many years by my grandfather and my father. They put in a lot of work. The Javez name is well-known in these parts. Am I speaking correct?’

‘Yes, sure.’

‘Now someone wants to take it away from us.’

Moses noticed Fernandez shake his head, then lean forward and knit his hands together. ‘Who?’

‘A man known locally as The Butcher. He has ruined many honest hardworking families, and we need to stop him.’

‘He likes meat?’

‘He likes cutting people up. There was a time when many business rivals of his were found dismembered, butchered, chunks sent in boxes like a piece of cake. He had some men, particularly brutal men, who did his bidding. They had what amounted to a small slaughterhouse, an abattoir specialising in the dismemberment and mutilation of his enemies, his rivals. Of course, men like that get others to do their dirty work.’

‘I need to know more about him than that.’

‘He is old.’

Fernandez suddenly stood up. ‘Don’t worry, he is now an easy target, past his prime,’ he said. ‘Many of his men are dead.’

‘So why do you need me?’

‘We hear you are,’ Rodrigo paused. ‘The best.’

‘I need pictures, maps...’

‘We have everything.’ Rodrigo removed a large manila envelope from the desk and slid it towards Moses across the coffee table.

Newspaper cuttings, a few in English, mentioned a man with business interests in farming and export. One article reported a contract killing and showed grainy pictures of two victims. A handwritten letter suggested an invitation, another, typed, a court case. A couple of black and white pictures, one of a lean young man with a knowing look, the other of an older version, the hair grey, but still thick.

Moses held up the second picture. ‘This current?’

Rodrigo nodded.

The Butcher had kept his looks and his physique remained athletic. He stood before the camera poised like a greyhound waiting for the hare. As Moses put the envelope down, he noticed Fernandez shake his head. He pointed at his watch and to the gardens, putting both hands up.

‘My terms are half now and half on completion.’

‘The full fee is already with your bank,’ Rodrigo said.

Back in his room, Moses flipped open his laptop and checked his account. It was all there.

These guys are players.

He left it ten minutes before taking a walk.

Fernandez was waiting for him at the back of the villa. ‘I hope you find everything to your satisfaction.’

Moses shrugged. ‘I’m here on a job.’

‘Yes, a job.’

‘What is it you want?’

‘Mr Moses...’ Fernandez looked over his shoulder and lowered his voice. ‘My brother did not hire you, it was me.’

‘I was contacted by both of you.’

Fernandez smiled. ‘Mr Moses, all our family business is run with both of our names. My father set it up that way so that we were given parity. Is that the correct term?’

‘Sure.’

‘Well, you see, everyone, from the baker to the President is contacted by both of us.’

‘Must be pretty hard if one of you is doing something the other disapproves of.’

‘Exactly. That is why you are here.’

Moses waited for him to explain.

‘My brother, for too long, has lorded it over me. He lives the lifestyle of a playboy, wasting the family money, and when called to account, sneers that I am a baby. I am not. And of the two of us, I have the business sense, not he.’

‘Look, my job isn’t sorting out sibling rivalries.’

‘But you are a killer.’

Moses looked at him and saw his eyes assume a baby’s innocence. ‘I kill.’

Fernandez leaned towards him and spoke in the clearest whisper.

‘I want you to kill my brother. That is the reason you were contacted in the first place. The Butcher is the pretext for you being here. I have organized this whole thing. You work for me.’

‘Doesn’t he suspect?’

‘His wild ways have deadened his perception of the truth. He has hated this man for many years because of a humiliation he suffered at his hands.’

‘What humiliation?’

‘Many years ago, my brother loved a very beautiful woman. If you had seen her, then you would understand. She could turn heads and twist hearts, breaking them like glass with her emerald eyes. She was why he changed, became the man he is now.’

‘What happened?’

‘The father rejected his proposal of marriage to her. The father was...’

‘The Butcher.’

‘Correct.’

‘And what happened to the woman?’

Fernandez shrugged.

‘So The Butcher is...?’

‘A decoy. An old man, that is all.’

That is not all, Moses thought. I know when I’m being edged out of the story. I tell Rodrigo and I could blow the job. And if I’m being set up? Something hidden here... its always there, the little giveaway sign, the clue that might save your life. What?

Moses looked at Fernandez again. All he could see in the hardness of the pupils was that he wanted his brother dead.

‘Tired of playing second fiddle?’ he asked.

Fernandez laughed, his shoulders rocking a little too heavily. ‘To him?’

‘Either way, it will cost more.’

Fernandez spat and wiped his mouth. ‘How much?’

‘Twice.’

Fernandez turned his back as he lit a cigarette. A puff of unfiltered nicotine caught the hot air as he faced Moses again, sizing him up, his hand raised theatrically as he placed the tip against his lips. As he inhaled, he narrowed his eyes, then threw his head back and laughed before lowering the burning end in an arc and tapping some ash from it.

‘I understand it is...more risky, that you are placed in a more precarious position, but twice as much?’

‘That’s the deal.’

He looked at the ground before extending a hand. ‘Deal.’

Over dinner that night, Moses observed them both. Just two brothers with a little suppressed animosity. There were no arguments. Years spent in casinos, lifetimes at the poker table had honed his ability to spot a bluff, but they weren’t showing anything Moses could put a hook into. Hates his brother, sets him up. It’s him he’s bluffing.

They ate dinner and then sat drinking cognac.

Moses took a walk outside. The countryside was both black and silent against the night. When he went back in, he found Fernandez sitting on his own.

‘I want all the money before I do it,’ Moses told him.

‘Tomorrow?’

‘Fine.’ No reaction, no hesitation. ‘Good night, Mr Moses.’

*

The next morning, returning from the pool, Moses checked his account again: the money had already doubled. He sat down in his room and started planning the hit.

It seemed straightforward: he would kill Rodrigo at the villa. It was secluded. No one else need be around. No one would hear. Things could be arranged so that it looked like an intruder. A quiet time was all that was needed.

Fernandez was taking coffee downstairs when Moses emerged from his room.

‘I need a few hours when no one is around.’

‘Except my brother.’ Fernandez lit a cigarette. ‘Tomorrow, between two and four, he will be here. On his own. I will be going out after lunch, there will be no staff until the evening. My brother will be taking his swim at around that time.’

‘How can you be sure?’

‘There is a business meeting during those hours. He was due to attend. I have told him I will deal with it. He is always complaining that I never do enough, that he hasn’t had the chance to use the pool for weeks, and greeted my offer with the comment that he will do what I do when he is working.’

‘Swim?’

‘His belief, not the truth. I work extremely hard. My brother overplays the hand of my laziness. He will be here.’

‘I want a flight out of here in the evening.’

‘I will take you myself.’

Moses spent the rest of the day familiarizing himself with every detail of the villa’s layout. He checked the angles from the terraces and which rooms looked out onto the pool. It was impossible to see the showers from the house. They provided the best cover.

And if he doesn’t take his swim? It will have to be inside.

The gate at the back of the villa could be broken to create the right illusion.

He found a crowbar among some tools in an outbuilding. A theft was needed, something Rodrigo would have on him. Moses had already noticed his ring over dinner.

A blood-red ruby.

He also carried a bulging wad of cash in his wallet. It was straightforward.

Except, later that night, after he had gone to bed, Moses heard them arguing. He didn’t understand a word they were saying, but there was hatred in their voices. The argument reached a fevered pitch, then suddenly fell quiet. Downstairs, a door slammed.

From the window, he could see Fernandez storm off into the night. He had blood over his right eye.

After a while, Moses went downstairs.

‘I am sorry if we disturbed you,’ Rodrigo said. He looked flushed, his shirt hanging out of his trousers. ‘Can I offer you a drink? A brandy, perhaps?’

‘Thanks.’

‘My brother and I...’ the voice trailed away.

On the table in front of him was a photograph. A stunningly beautiful woman in an evening gown stood next to Fernandez, her arm encircling his waist. He smiled proudly at the camera, his hand lightly touching her bare shoulder. Rodrigo handed him a glass.

‘I see you have met The Butcher’s daughter. The daughter of the man you are about to kill.’

‘How long ago was this?’

‘Last week.’

‘Your brother and she...?’

‘I had them followed. I knew. I have known all along, but I needed proof, do you understand?’

‘Business rivalry, family feuds.’

‘Oh, it’s much more than that.’

‘I need to know.’

Rodrigo took a deep gulp of brandy. ‘Many years ago, I loved this woman, too. She betrayed me.’

‘With who?’

‘My father.’

For a moment, Rodrigo stood there, staring through Moses, his eyes lost in some inner struggle.

Some family, Moses thought.

‘She has only ever wanted the money. It was shortly before my father passed away. I forgave him everything, of course, but I could not see what my grandfather had worked for go to waste, to let that whore steal it all. That is what The Butcher had planned all along. His estate is worth nothing, he has lost much money, and since he failed to snare me and my father, he has now set his sights on my idiot brother. He only has one asset, his daughter, and he uses her like a pimp uses his woman, to lure people into his web. He is like a spider, spinning away, trying to poison our lives. My brother’s head is turned. He neglects the family business, he lies to me, he does next to nothing, he takes on business appointments, then cancels them on a whim. She is The Butcher’s bait, nothing better than a common harlot. She hates us.’

‘Why don’t you just tell him?’

‘He is headstrong and naïve, and has never enjoyed any particular success with women. Of course, I warned him, but all it has achieved are these terrible fights. He says he loves her. He has gone to see her now.’

‘And you think by killing her father it will end it?’

‘I can work on her then.’

‘Win her back you mean?’

‘I don’t want her. She is nothing to me now. No, my sole reason is the family business, all of this.’
‘It seems improbable.’

‘What?’

‘That your brother feels nothing about killing the father of the woman he loves.’

‘He doesn’t care. He wants her all to himself. He is greedy for her, that is all. And a perverse sense of pleasure he gets in thwarting me drives him on. Is that the correct word?’

‘Your English is pretty good, but this is getting complicated.’

‘I would have told you before, but I needed to confront him with this first,’ Rodrigo said, pointing at the picture.

‘Which one of you commissioned my assignment?’

‘Me, of course. He is just a baby.’ Not a flicker.

‘I was under the impression that you had to act in concert.’

‘In principle, yes. In practice, little more than a matter of stationery and façade.’

‘What do you plan to do when he’s dead? Your brother will still be with his daughter.’

‘It will be easer then.’

‘How?’

‘She will drop him like a stone when she realises there is no money coming to her. I will make that very clear to her, trust me. And without her father to spur on, she will make it clear that she has no interest in him. She doesn’t love him. Her heart is like ice. I have lain with her and I knew that then. You can feel that with a woman, no matter how beautiful and alluring she may be.’

‘Well, I’ll take care of my end of the business.’

‘It has been going on for too long. Have you seen his watch?’

‘I noticed.’

‘Ridiculous. Encrusted with sapphires. No man wears a watch like that. One of her love tokens.’

Moses rose.

‘I will bid you goodnight’, Rodrigo said. ‘And apologies for disturbing you. I will see you tomorrow evening. I have business to attend to during the day, which takes me away from the villa.’

Upstairs in his room, Moses lay on his back, looking at the spinning fan.

This is too easy, Moses told himself. Nothings that neat and now the Butchers out of the question.

Eventually, Moses nodded off with the light on and was awoken by the sound of Fernandez returning. He sat up. There was stifled laughter from below. Two voices. The clack of heels on the marble stairs. He peered out into the empty hallway and caught the whiff of perfume, sweet and heavy in the air.

The next morning, he rose early. The water was cool and refreshing and no one was around. The house slept through the still morning. The only movement he saw was a gecko scuttling dryly across his path as he returned to his room.

From his terrace, he heard movement. He stayed there, shuffling his plans and the hand fell into place. Downstairs, the brothers sat drinking coffee. No sign of the woman.

‘I believe you have already enjoyed the pool this morning,’ Fernandez said.

‘I need to go out. Is it okay if I use one of the cars?’

‘Of course, but can I not deliver you there myself?’

‘Easier for me to go on my own.’

Rodrigo stood up. ‘I will give you the keys.’

‘Urgent business?’ Fernandez said.

‘You could say that.’

Rodrigo showed him the car, a blue Merc. Moses went back upstairs and waited.

Down below, another argument broke out.

Fernandez was remonstrating with something Rodrigo was saying in an imperious tone. Then the door slammed and Moses saw him drive off.

At one o’clock, he went downstairs. Both their cars were missing.

The maid greeted Moses with a smile and pointed towards one of the terraces. A table was set with trays of salad and cold food, some chilled wine and fruit. He sat down and ate on his own, watching a raptor swoop and kill a rat on one of the grass verges.

It stabbed at the flicker of movement with its beak before clutching and tearing the flesh, red strips of meat dangling briefly from its talons, the face comical, mischievous.

After lunch, he made his way over to the gate. He found the crowbar where he had left it under a bush. The lock snapped easily. He wiped it down and slung it a few metres. A snake darted out of the undergrowth where it fell. He could feel the heat move up a few degrees as he walked back to the villa.

The silence made it feel hotter and was broken only by the noise of the crickets. The sound of their legs rubbing together sounded frenzied, delirious, like some sort of indecipherable warning.
Back in his room, Moses packed up his things. From his window, he saw the maid leave. He found the number of a taxi company by the phone in the hall. Then he got his gun and made his way to the car.

He drove a few miles, passing the cluster of white houses that formed the immediate neighbourhood. He passed no one, only the rotting carcass of a dog by the roadside. Then he drove back, parking the Merc deep in some bushes a few hundred metres from the house.

Moses made his way to the back of the villa, finding it easily at the end of a narrow path that smelt of decay and animal piss. He opened the gate and pushed his way through the haze to the olive groves behind the showers. He checked for signs of movement, leaning against the harsh wall of heat. Then he pressed his back against a tree, thirsty for shade. His watch said two o’clock.

The unmoving trees blurred in the haze and the stillness became even more intense.

He waited, trying to find a rhythm in the rapid shrill clattering of the crickets’ legs. It was impossible; they drowned out time like a marching army of psychotic metronomes.

The sun was moving across the sky and the heat was taking over. When he looked at his watch again, a few hours had passed. After a while he heard voices, one of them a woman’s.

He shuffled his plans again, the deck falling from his sweating palms and scattering harshly on the dry ground. The heat was now invasive and overwhelming.

I wont be paid any more for a double killing. Only one way out of here.

Moses shifted his weight a little, noticing a thick web with a vicious-looking spider at its heart. It was watching him. Was it there when I first stood here? The web looked as thick as rope.

A sudden splash of water drew his attention to the pool. The playful noises of bathers drifted across the vicious, scalding heat.

The chime of female laughter and the soothing lapping sound of water breaking and rippling against the pool’s edge rose through the air, dying at the furnace that hemmed Moses in against the trunk of the tree which offered him a few metres of shelter. The bathers splashed around, laughing and chattering like holidaymakers.

Finally, there was the splosh of wet feet on hot concrete, then a shower being switched on.

Moses stepped from the tree into the wall of heat and moved slowly towards the cubicles. The gun felt as if it had become part of his arm, and it was now the only thing he could feel.

One of the cubicle doors was half open. Through the crack Moses could see two backs, a man’s, then a woman’s, the man’s brown arms were encircling her waist while she giggled.

Moses started to whistle ‘La Dolce Vita’. Its nuance interfered with the crickets’ march and their frenzied rubbing became more intense.

As he pulled the door gently to allow the angle, the rusting hinges squeaked. The woman turned and gasped.

She was indeed beautiful, her half-open mouth revealing perfectly white teeth set beneath emerald eyes, their whiteness the last thing Moses saw as he fired once into the back of the man’s head.

The impact showered her with that living part of her lover, splattering her lips with tiny fragments of him, like little pellets. Like she’s been eating pomegranates.

The lips twisted obscenely now like some gorgon talking to him in a strange tongue he couldn’t understand. She gasped, the scream stifled in her throat as her lover slumped to the wet floor, smearing a final brushstroke of blood against the tiles.

Then he fired again, almost caressing her with the gun, the bullet spraying her against the four walls like pink paint, the shower head still spraying down on them both. Moses switched off the water. Rolling the woman onto her back, he removed her earrings. It was her, The Butcher’s only daughter, and he closed her eyes.

Moses lifted the brother’s hands, looking for the ring, but it wasn’t there. He went over to the pool. He fumbled in the brother’s trousers, finding only his watch and wallet. He removed cash from it and from her purse, throwing them into the water where he left them floating. He removed the muffler and wiped down his gun before hurling it into an overgrown field. He dropped the muffler down the well.

Then he went back to the showers and dipped the cash in their blood, holding it with a rag. They lay there on the cold tiles, the brother’s arm encircling her waist, as if in some death tryst.

He shook the blood from the notes, decking the ground with it, and then walked back to the villa, where he placed them in the library. He went back outside and put the watch and jewelry in the glove compartment of the car.

Then he returned to his room and showered before calling the taxi.

At the airport, Moses made one call before boarding the plane, then watched the island get smaller beneath him and disappear. His whisky was deep and golden and he noticed with satisfaction that the seat next to him was empty. No bodies to step over.

It was some weeks later that he noticed the name of the island in a newspaper.

Rodrigo Javez had been arrested for the double murder of his brother and his lover.

BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel.

14 comments:

Al Tucher said...

You said it--what a family! Lean and gripping.

John said...

Great story, grips from the word go, draws you in. I thought the detail of the hit and the killing were clasic noir.

Minister said...

This really blew me away, I've met Moses, or someone like him. Great detail, gritty, realistic, and the build up to the climax was brilliant.

Minister said...

I loved the location descriptions, and the nerve ending created by the butcher's daughter herself, a character we don't see but who sparks the whole thing off. It's true, sex and murder make that old cocktail.

Gerald said...

Nothing on the TV like this. This one bites, a fantastic site and with writing like this it only gets better, felt like a real hit by a real hit man,gimme more.

Oliver said...

One of the best stories I've read in a long time. Great stuff.

Oliver said...

From the landing to the take off, I couldn't put it down. Hooks you in and keeps you hooked until you know the outcome.

Laurence said...

I could taste it. Blood in the hills, blood at the villa, this is real noir territory and a really good story.

Jackson said...

What really got me here was the unpredictability. Extremely well plotted and credible at the same time.

Shawfulmost said...

The old situations are the best, two brothers, a lady, throw in a killer,this hits you between the eyes

Justinian said...

I thought the use of nature really effective. Punchy writing, great dialogue, I loved this story, left me wanting more.

Chris said...

This reminds me of Raymond Chandler. You could feel the Butcher's daughter there, manipulating, egging them on, a really screwed up family, made Moses look functional, and with the best crime writing, they're all villains, which is more realistic

quin browne said...

wicked

Anonymous said...

Does the name moses have a double meaning like a biblical one- didnt he kill his son or go on top of a mountain or something? The descrption of the "double killing" was great the descption of the blood in the shower. I loved the line "turn heads and twist hearts" reminds me of the dialog in all the classsic 1940's noir movies i love so much
Callan