Friday, April 23, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 434 - Keith Rawson

BRIEFCASES AND WOMEN - KEITH RAWSON

A sequel to PICTURES OF YOU, by Keith Rawson and Chad Eagleton, found at Darkest Before The Dawn

Purcell wasn’t much for bars.

The booze was always watered down, the music too loud, too many bodies packed into too tight of a space. Of course, Purcell wasn’t much for public places, period.

Restaurants, shopping malls, libraries, movie theaters, etc; Purcell liked his room, the park and that was it. The only reason he tolerated his room was because his P.O. required he have a stable place of residence, otherwise he’d be living in a public park, or out somewhere in the middle of the desert; maybe in an abandoned copper mine or one of the dozens of hollowed out mid-century shacks that dotted the burnt out yellow landscape around the nuclear power plant town of Buckeye, Arizona. But for the next five years, his ass belonged to the state and the state told him he needed a roof over his head so his fat sow of a probation officer could come and do spot checks and have him piss into to a cup at her will. Not that the bitch ever had the time or energy to move her fat ass from behind her desk to go out and do these kind of checks, or have him piss in a cup or do much of anything other than come to him for his monthly visits to turn in his pay stubs.

But for some reason he liked this little bar a couple of blocks away from his room. He came in here a few weeks back after Aileen left his room stinking of butthole and Astroglide. He didn’t know the name of it—if it even had a name?—it was just a quiet little place, a wrinkled old black man behind the scuffed dark oak bar, absent mindedly wiping its surface while watching whatever soap opera or kangaroo court show was on during the middle of the day. The old man didn’t talk, hell, he barely acknowledged Purcell’s presence; he just poured Purcell a draft and went back to watching his stories.

Most of the bars patrons were exactly like the bartender, they watched TV, or stared into their half empty glasses not saying a word.

It was Purcell’s kind of place.

It was different today, though. When he walked in and plopped down into his usual spot, looking for refreshment after spending the last two hours turning his current fuck buddy, Aileen, inside out. A glass of piss yellow lager somehow found its way into his hand and he distractedly sipped at it as he scanned the bar. Something wasn’t right; his skin crawled, he felt eyes on him. Purcell slurped down the rest of his beer in two big gulps, pulled three bucks from his jeans, slapped it down on the dull wood with a nod and hit the street.

He moved with his usual purposeful stride, head down, hands loose at his side; typical prison gait, avoiding trouble, but ready for anything. He glanced sideways and watched a fat man slouch out of the bar. Purcell rounded the corner heading towards his flop and waited. He heard footsteps, hurried, slapping against the concrete. The fat man darted around the same corner and Purcell grabbed his spongy arm and sweaty neck and slammed him against the rust colored brick wall of the rundown apartment building next to the bar. The fat man’s breath erupted from his mouth along with gouts of blood and shards of teeth; Purcell steadied the man’s head and made sure he broke his nose with the second collision.

“Who the fuck are you?” Purcell asked in a harsh whisper as he began to lead the fat man down the sidewalk.

“No...no one...no one, man”

“Bullshit!” Purcell curled his right hand into a fist and drove it into the fat man’s armpit; ribs went snap, crackle, POP!

More blood and wheezy breathing.

“Who are you?”

“I’m...a P.I., I’m a P.I. hired by the girl’s husband.”

“What girl?” Purcell knew what girl he was talking about; he wouldn’t exactly describe Aileen as a girl—a thirty-five year-old bar hag who liked taking it up the shitter a little too much, sure, that was a fitting characterization—but not a girl. Of course, compared to her fifty-five year-old husband she was a toddler. Aileen loved the geezer though and the only reason she spread her ass for guys like Purcell was because

A) The old man had issues getting his little man worked up

B) His little man was the size of a cashew

So poor little trailer trash Aileen had to go looking elsewhere for a good time, but tried her best to keep the old man on a string. Telling him she loved him once a day so he would keep her allowance flowing and keeping his suspicions of her fucking around behind his back to a bare minimum. Because as a stipulation to their pre-nup, if he caught her getting strange cock thrown into her, she got zip, zero, zilch and she was back to asking hood rats if they wanted fries with their cheeseburger.

She was nearly in tears when she gave him her sad sack spiel and he said he’d keep an eye out for guys like the one he was pulling down the street by the scruff of his neck. He also promised to take care of any evidence a guy like this one may have gathered; photos, video, audio recordings, etc.

Note to self: don’t make promises to women when your dick is in their mouth.

“Where are the pictures?” Purcell asked as he steady the slob.

The guy was having a hard time catching his breath. Maybe the last hit was just a little too hard?

“In my car...In my car...” He finally spit out.

“Take me there.”

It wasn’t too long of a walk; the P.I.’s rusted out 1980 El Do was parked down an alley a couple of blocks away from Purcell’s flop. He threw the fat man hard against the grill of the ancient gas guzzler.

“Get all the shit you’ve got out and give it to me.”

The fat man was a shaky ball of nerves; it took him five or six tries to get the keys into the driver’s side door and another two or three minutes to gather his stuff off the passenger seat. When the slob was done, he handed over a digital and a miniscule video camera. Purcell powered up the video camera and took a good long look at the fuzzy digital image of him turning Aileen into a human pretzel on the LCD screen.

Second note to self: make sure to close the blinds when fucking, especially if the woman you’re fucking is married.

“Ya got some hot shit here...”

The fat man moved like a slug, Purcell saw him a mile away as his hand jerked out of the inside pocket of his Goodwill blazer and swinging something towards Purcell’s face. He caught the fat man’s arm by the wrist just as he was trying to send a 50,000 watt jolt of electricity through Purcell’s body. He jerked the arm out straight and planted a hard chop to the side of the P.I.’s blubbery neck. Purcell heard the fat man’s vertebra turn to powder and watched his eyes go vacant and glazed; his body crumpling into a lifeless pile.

Shit.

A body was the last thing he needed.

But done is done and at the very least he could make a couple of bucks off the inconvenience of having to get rid of the corpse. Purcell squatted over the body, breathing through his mouth to help avoid the stink wafting off the cadaver. Jesus, the guy had been dead all of 3 minutes and he already stank like he’d been rotting in the sun for a week.

Purcell rifled and lifted the usual crap: a wallet with forty bucks and a generic Visa card; a clutch of aged business cards; a flip phone that he could maybe pawn for a couple of bucks, and the keys to the ghetto sled, the trunk of which would end up being the P.I.’s final resting place. First order of business, he needed to get the corpse stashed before some cop or a concerned citizen stopped to see if he needed any help with his unconscious friend. He hoisted the body with a grunt and sucked in a big nose full of dead man; moldering Chinese food, stale tobacco and unwashed underpants. Naw, death had nothing to do with the way this dude smelled. The walk to the rear of the car felt like a marathon; the guy had to weigh over two-hundred fifty pounds.

By the time he’d tossed the dead man in the trunk, his lungs were trying to burn their way through his chest and his muscles were doing their best impression of an epileptic fit. He threw up a couple of times and felt something vibrating in his pocket. Purcell had never owned a cell phone, preferring to carry a pager in case his former employers needed to contact him. They bitched and complained up a storm that they had to wait so long for him to get back to their pages, but he’d seen too many guys go down because of intercepted cell transmissions and back in the day, he was bound and determined not to be one of them. Ultimately it was his bosses who bitched so much about him not owning a cell phone that threw him under the bus and set him up to take the fall for their bullshit.

Purcell was muscle, a hired bonebreaker.

He was by no means the brains. But the Phoenix DA didn’t give a shit. He knew Purcell was a dimwit, but the DA wanted to play let’s make a deal; he wanted to play I know the charges are all bullshit, but I’ll still put the heels to you until you give me what I want. Purcell didn’t budge. The way he’d been brought up was you didn’t turn, you didn’t rat, even if you were getting fucked in the ass with 24 inches of bladder-busting betrayal.

Purcell pulled the phone out of his pocket and it vibrated in his hand like a battery-operated dildo. It was also bleating an electronic version of MC Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This.’

Jesus, what a fag the dead P.I. must’ve been.

He answered: “Yeah?”

“Mr. Snow, it’s Mr. Karris again. I wanted to check in with you to make sure you had picked up the package?”

“Um, I think so...Uh...” Purcell hacked up a lung into the receiver. He leaned against the car.

What the fuck was he doing?

He should have folded up the phone and hung up on whoever was on the other end of the line. The cheap piece of Chinese plastic in his hand was nothing to him but a twenty dollar bill. Instead he held on the line and listened to the voice ask over and over again: “Mr. Snow, are you alright?”

He finally answered: “Yeah, I’m alright...I’m okay.”

“Are you sure? You sound different from the last time we talked.”

“Fightin’ a cold, it’s killing me.”

“Hhmm, well, I hope it doesn’t impede our current operation. Now, did you pick up the package?” The voice on the other end was cold and business like; the motherfucker had to be a lawyer.

Purcell hated lawyers.

But he played along and scanned the dead P.I.’s car for any sign of a package. A shitload of fast food containers, crumpled cigarette packs, Styrofoam cups, and a polished brown leather briefcase. It was the kind of item that didn’t belong in a piece of shit like the El Dorado; the case had to be what the lawyer meant.

“Yeah, I’ve got it,” he said as he opened the driver’s side door and slid in behind the wheel.

“Good. After we’re off the phone, open the package, full instructions are inside. Do not deviate from the instructions in any way. Remember that, Mr. Snow. Do not deviate from the instructions in any way. Say it with me.”

Do not deviate from instructions in any way. Say it.

“Do not deviate from instructions in any way.” Purcell felt like a slow child being lectured by an impatient teacher’s aide. Purcell would’ve like to have said that he felt insulted by it, but he wasn’t; he’d been treated like this his entire life and he’d learned to shrug it off. Now the dead P.I., that schlep probably would’ve been plenty pissed if someone was talking to him like a retard, but who knew? It wasn’t like he could go and ask him.

“Alright, Mr. Snow, remember to call me as soon as you’ve made the drop and then I’ll call you with further instructions when they let me know where we can pick up the girl.”

The lawyer or who ever the fuck he was rang off without a goodbye. Purcell tossed the cell on the passenger seat and picked the briefcase up off the soiled floorboard. Shit, what was he doing? Briefcases had been his downfall for most of his existence. He used to run them for his bosses from the time he was 17 until he was locked up and here he was again opening up another one. But this time all he planned on doing was ripping off whatever was inside. Sure, it might be a body part; the hand of some poor bastard being held ransom; it might be a few pounds of coke, or smack, or horse tranquilizers, whatever; dope was as good as cash.

He popped the clasps and spied two things:

A fat wedge of cash

AND

Three black and white digital shots of a girl; a square of duct tape over her mouth and tears cutting a rivers down her sweaty face.

Fuck.

The girl was very young, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old; she looked scared to death.

The last time he saw pictures like this was of his late wife; she looked scared shitless, too, all wrapped up in black electrical tape, tears streaming. And then he found out that her kidnapping was nothing but a scam; a slick scheme to get him to kill a crooked cop he was locked up with. He came pretty damn close to slicing the cop to ribbons until the cop opened his slick mouth and offered to pull some strings on the outside and save Purcell’s girl if he didn’t kill him. The cop was the one who found out Purcell was being fucked with and the cop’s boys were the ones who took care of his wife and the people who’d talked her into screwing over Purcell.

The cop was a good guy, he only wished that it had been him to take the cop out instead of the six black gorillas who screwed him up the ass six ways to Sunday and then set him on fire; Purcell would have been gentle, a couple quick jabs to the heart and that would have been that.

Purcell took his eyes off the pictures long enough to eye the cash. The wad had to be around two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars. It wasn’t Fat City, not enough to buy him a hacienda in the Caribbean, but it was enough to keep him off the grid a good long time; maybe score a little shack outside of Mexico City and start an import/export business to keep capital rolling in; Mexicans would keister just about anything for a hundred bucks American. He ran his hand over the crisp bills, he looked at the pictures and flipped a mental coin.

The money.

The girl...?

...Goddamn morals.

What kinda crook had morals?

*

The instructions in the briefcase along with the pictures were simple enough:

52nd & Van Buren, 1 PM

Suburban Demilitarized Zone

Hookers and crack dealers selling ass and madness across the street from gated two million dollar homes. The cops only came down here if there was a body in the middle of the road, so the upwardly mobile had to hire jack booted security men to watch over their depreciated mini mansions and make sure the shit eating unwashed stayed across the street.

Purcell would have stuck out like a sore thumb if he didn’t happen to look like a schizo fresh from a three dollar shopping spree at the Salvation Army. The briefcase was giving him a bit of class, but it was also attracting the attention of a couple of grimy bums who’d been shuffling after him. They were skinny ghosts and neither was eyeing the case; most likely all they wanted was a buck or two to put towards a tall boy.

Purcell felt exposed; he didn’t know what or who to expect. He tried keeping his eyes moving, scanning every angle of the corner. He hated not knowing and he hated not being strapped. Purcell didn’t own a piece, hadn’t since he’d gotten out. He’d thought about it a few times; it never hurt to have a little protection around, especially in his neighborhood, But the way he figured it, the minute he scored a gun would be the exact minute his P.O. decided to revive her faltering career and stop by for an at-home visit and toss his place for contraband.

The dead P.I. was no help, either.

The thing he’d pulled out of his jacket when Purcell broke his neck was a fucking stun gun, a lot of good that would do him against a bullet.

Purcell continued to pace the corner and then he spied as a bland-looking young guy wearing aviator shades, with bleach blond hair jelled into a cute little wannabe Mohawk approach from his left. The boy kept his eyes on the ground, staring at people’s feet and hands; he was looking for something. Purcell shifted the case to his left hand and drew it up to his waistline. The boy’s eyes fixed on it and he made a beeline towards Purcell.

“Follow me,” the boy said in a girlish whisper.

He did as commanded and started following after the boy was six steps ahead of him.

From behind, the boy’s walk reminded him of the way the queers in stir moved when they were advertising; ass pushed slightly out, hips swaying from left to right. Purcell never went in for the queers, but somedays, when the one-dimensional stash of soiled hardcore porn pics he kept hidden under the mattress of his rack weren’t doing the trick, he’d picture the swaying of those almost feminine hips and superimpose his dead ex’s face staring back at him as he pounded away to a chorus of her grunts and pleasure groans. It sickened him a bit, but he was sprouting a big rubbery watching the boy.

After a couple of blocks, the boy made a left down an alleyway behind a liquor store; he wasn’t having that much luck with alleyways today, and Purcell figured he knew what was coming the minute he followed after and he resolved to keep his cool and not dead the boy like he did with the P.I.

Purcell turned the corner and, sure as shit, the pretty boy had his back to a filthy white Ecoline van and was pointing a brushed steel .25 caliber at Purcell’s head. A .25 cal was a chick gun, but it could still drill a nice, neat little hole through his skull.

“Are you Snow?” the boy asked, trying to make his voice sound more commanding and menacing than it actually was.

Purcell was drawing a blank; who the fuck was Snow?

The kid asked again: “Are you Art Snow?”

Oh yeah, the P.I. The lawyer called him that over the phone and it was the name on the greasy little business cards.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m Art Snow.”

“You got something for me, Snow?”

Purcell held the case up to his chest.

“Have you got the girl?”

“You get the girl after we get the money. Put the case on the ground and kick it over.”

“I call bullshit. Girl first and then the cash.”

“That’s not the deal, fuckwad. You hand over the cash and then we call with where you can pick her up. Now give me the case!”

The kid was all nerves and started goose-stepping towards Purcell, his index finger tightening around the trigger. He had maybe two seconds before the kid actually had the balls to take a shot.

He chucked the case at the boy.

The boy dropped his hands out of instinct and Purcell charged. He hit the kid with a right cross and grabbed the boy’s wrist with his left. The one thing Purcell truly prided himself on was the strength of his hands. When he turned twelve and the rest of his friends start to grow tall and their voices changed, the only part of his body that seemed to expand in size were his hands. By the time he was thirteen, they were the size of boxing gloves and they caused him endless amounts of embarrassment; for nearly a year he walked around with his mutant paws stuffed in his pockets, that is until he got into his first-ever fistfight. He was smaller than the boy he got into the fight with by a foot and a half and fifty pounds; the boy got one shot in before Purcell drove his oversized right hand into the boy’s nose and followed with a heavy left to the body.

He broke the boy’s nose and fractured three of his ribs.

It got him suspended from school for a week and a beating from his old man; but after his dad whipped the living shit out of him for twenty minutes, he did a rare thing by slinging one of his beefy arms over his only son’s shoulder and told him he was proud of the damage he’d done to the boy.

Within a couple of years, the rest of his body caught up with his hands and he turned into a lumbering six foot three fifteen year old, although his hands were still slightly too large for his body. But he worked them and kept them strong. When he first started working for his old bosses, he’d cracked walnuts; in the slam he’d cracked rocks, waiting for when he needed their strength again. As Purcell gripped the boy’s gun hand, he stared into his eyes as he turned his wrist to powder and his weapon clattered to the asphalt. He watched as the boy’s shades slid off his nose and a gout of tears sprang into his eyes. The boy’s mouth wanted to scream, but the pain was too much and all that came out was a barely audible squeak.

“Now,” Purcell said, “give me the fucking girl before I go to work on the rest of your bones.”

*

Kidnappings and sleazy, burnt-out motels seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Purcell had been hoping the girl was in the van. A nice and simple solution; Purcell liked nice and simple. Too bad most bad men liked to muddy up the waters by over complicating everything they touched. He was a bit like this himself, so he really had no right to complain. Purcell had to admit that he had more than a little admiration for the boy’s tight lips. Purcell tuned him up for nearly twenty minutes trying to find out where the girl was stashed. A long twenty minutes that swelled Purcell’s knuckles to the size of golf balls after he busted out most of the boy’s veneer capped teeth. It was only after he started going to work on his body and the boy was hacking blood that he finally gave up the motel’s location on the outskirts of Glendale.

They pulled up behind the dilapidated L shaped building that was once the Shining Stars Motor Lodge. Purcell shut the engine down and stepped into the back where the former pretty boy was laid out and gently snoring. Purcell toed the boy’s swollen head; he came awake with a gurgled squeal.

“There’s only two of them in there with the girl, right?”

The boy nodded. Purcell gave him a sharper kick.

“Answer me!”

“Yeah...There’s only two...only two,” he said through a mouth of broken teeth and swollen lips.

Purcell opened the sliding side door of the van and stepped down onto the sun-cracked gray asphalt of the parking lot.

Two guys in a tiny locked room, both of them probably squirrelly as hell from being cooped up for the past couple of days. If the pretty boy was any indicator, neither one of the two were very well armed. But then again, the pretty boy might’ve been the fuck up of the group and his two partners didn’t trust him with handling a real weapon, so they sent him along with the .25 just in case the bagman decided to get a little mouthy.

There was always the chance that the two waiting in the room were armed to the teeth and out for a little blood.

At least Purcell had the .25. Seven bullets in the clip so he was going to have to be tight with his shots and not waste a round.

“Alrighty, kiddo,” Purcell said as he dragged the boy out of the van. “Time to go say hi to your buddies.”

Well, at least he had a shield in case the boys got antsy.

*

Room 7 was exactly like all the rest of the burnt out shells of old rooms, its main distinction being that the windows were boarded up with sheets of what looked like fresh plywood. They’d built themselves a little fort amid all these comfy crackhead grottos. He imagined what it must feel like inside there: a steamy cesspool stinking of farts, half eaten take out and stale beer.

And sweat.

It was close to 90 degrees outside. Without air conditioning, the room must have become Hell’s asshole.

“D’ya got a key, fuckwad?” That was the other difference between number 7 and others—brand spanking new locks. Too bad they didn’t buy a new door while they were at it; the piece of timber was so worn it was practically falling off the hinges.

“No...just knock...knock and they’ll let ya in no problem.”

No problem.

No problem was a flaming bag of dog shit left on your door step at midnight on Halloween, except instead of ruining your slippers you got dead.

“Great,” Purcell said, “Why don’t you do the honors?”

He pulled the boy in front of him by the neck and ran him straight into where the door met the brand new locks. Just like he figured it would, the door splintered, the door buckled, and two hundred rounds of automatic gun fire came screaming at them. Purcell ducked his head below the kid’s shoulders and listened to the heavy rounds tear the pretty boy to shreds. The body wasn’t going to last long at this rate.

They’d started shooting the minute he hit the door and with the pattern of fire, he figured they were toting AK-47s or something equally as loud and stupid. All he needed to do was bide his time, wait for the firing pins to dry click, and take ’em as soon as they started bumble fucking around with slapping home new clips—of course he’d be screwed six or seven different ways if they were carrying small arms along with the ghetto-chic rifles.

The boys started concentrating their fire on the body’s upper torso. The kid’s head turned into hot pink globs; shards of teeth and bone cut into his scalp; a slug pulverized its way through the kid’s chest and tore a hunk out of Purcell’s shoulder, making him almost drop the .25 cal.

But finally the click.

He let the boy collapse around his feet and he aimed.

Purcell was right about the AKs and the kids he was killing. They were just that, kids; even younger than the pretty boy and covered head-to-toe in zits. The first boy he shot was still in braces, for Christ sakes; the second one pissed his jeans as he tried jamming a banana clip sideways into his rifle. Purcell’d done his fair share of murder, but most of the creeps he’d taken down had in some way deserved it. But kids playing gangster, he couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a Nazi.

Fuck it, you get what you pay for, right?

Time to play detective. The girl was in one of two places, the closet or the toilet, and from where he was standing, the closet looked like in could hold two farts and a t-shirt, so the bathroom it was. He tried the knob, locked. He put his shoulder to it, and there was the girl, handcuffed, mouth taped and another scared shitless pizza face drawing down on Purcell with a .45 nearly bigger than he was. Lucky for Purcell when the kid went to pull the trigger, his finger pulled tight and held.

Purcell had no pity on this one. Rule #1 of when you’re going to shoot someone: make sure the safety isn’t on.

Purcell pulled the tape from the girl’s mouth like a band aid; the sticky side came away with flecks of skin.

“Goddamn!” she yelled. “Who the hell are you? Where’s Arty? Daddy always sends Arty for this kind of thing.”

“Arty was sick, kid. He sent me to get you out of this shit,” he said as he rifled the pockets of the new dead boy.

Her face turned red.

“Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Arty didn’t send you, you stupid asshole! Arty was supposed to bring my money! Where’s my money?”

Fuck, figures.

Purcell stood up and clipped the girl across her chin.

Women and briefcases, fucking bane of his existence.

And here he was, trying to play the nice guy—free the girl, keep the money, blame the dead P.I. and walk away—but all being a nice got him was a motel room full of dead kids and earful of shit from a spoiled rich girl.

He stepped over the prone, still conscious girl, reached into his pocket, pulled out the P.I.’s flip phone and tossed it on top of the girl.

“Alright, kiddo. Let’s give dad a call and find how much he really loves you.”

What the hell? The way Purcell figured it, if Dad was willing to give up two-fifty, he might just go up to five, especially if he sent a piece of his little girl home to show how serious he was.

Yeah, working with a knife always made him feel better.

BIO: Keith Rawson is a little known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert wastelands of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic three-year-old daughter. His stories have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher, CrimeWav.com, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Needle Magazine and many others. Keith is a frequent contributor to BSCreview, a staff writer with Spinetingler Magazine and, along with Cameron Ashley and Liam Jose, he edits and publishes Crimefactory Magazine. You can also find him stroking his overinflated ego at his blog, Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips.

4 comments:

Michael Solender said...

as hard-bolied as the eggs on the counter at the bar you described. seedy, sleazy ans dark to the hilt, this one is a bloody fun romp through a hell most of us will only know through words like yours. ta.

Chad said...

You had talked about this a while ago. I don't know if you had just been working on for that amount of time or if it took a bit to gestate. Either way, it's really a superb piece, Keith.

I think every successive story is better than the last.

Al Tucher said...

Purcell has his own code. It's not everybody's code, but he lives it. That's real noir.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Welcome to Rawson's world. A few shorts of the hard stuff. Brilliantly put together.