Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 141 - Jason Hunt


If there’s one thing the Marine Corps teaches you, it’s how to take pain. From your first night of hell on Parris Island through the final psychotic hours of Recon training, you learn to push your body and mind to the breaking point – and then beyond that. And it changes you. For better or worse, it changes you.

I was thinking about this to keep my mind off the huge, bloody fist that was making hamburger of my face. I was sitting on a rusty, old folding chair with my wrists handcuffed behind my back and my ankles tied to the two front legs with metal wire. Both the handcuffs and wire were cutting into flesh while a gorilla of a man was pounding me like a heavy bag. He stunk and with each crushing blow his rank sweat splattered me.

I swore I’d live long enough to kill the son of a bitch.

“Let up a minute, Red,” the other man said.

They were complete opposites. Red was big, hairy and disgusting. Six foot three or four, rolls of hairy, sweaty fat everywhere. On his arms, his neck, hanging over the belt of his sweaty blue work pants. Somewhere under all that fat, though, was a whole lot of muscle, because each punch felt like I’d stepped in front of a train.

The other guy was short, clean-cut and muscular. A little big man. He had on Italian shoes, pleated gray pants, a black polo shirt, and black sunglasses.

Red was wearing a wife-beater. It was drenched and splattered with blood.

“Now maybe you’ve got the picture,” the clean-cut one said. “You will tell me what I want to know. Or you’ll die tied to a folding chair.”

“I don’t know,” I said, spitting out a mouthful of blood and a couple of shards of teeth. “Doesn’t sound so bad. I’ve seen worse things.”

The little guy smiled. His teeth were white and perfect.

“So have I,” he said. “So let’s get this over with. I’m only asking you for two pieces of information. Who hired you to follow me and what is it they want you to find out?”

I closed one eye and then opened it and closed the other. The left eye was one big blur. Swamp Thing had fucked something up. Maybe a detached retina.

“I keep telling you,” I said. “I was just practicing my paparazzi impersonation.”

He frowned and nodded to Red, who threw a left hook that sent me and the chair crashing to the concrete floor. Before I could catch my breath, a huge steel-toed boot caught me in the ribs. I felt a couple crack.

“Your career as a stand-up comedian is in danger of being cut tragically short,” the little guy said, pacing from one side of the basement to the other.

“You were carrying a driver’s license, a private investigator’s license and thirty-two dollars in cash,” he said. “Says your name is Nick Xenagos. But you don’t look Greek.”

“I’m not,” I said, resting my throbbing face on cold, damp floor. “That’s just my stage name.”

Red kicked me in the shin and I muffled a scream. He laughed and did it again.

“You won’t be laughing when I cut your balls goddamn off,” I said through clenched teeth.

Little Big Man found that humorous.

“At this rate, Mr. Xenagos, the only thing you’re going to do is die.”

“Then I’ll come back from the dead,” I said, working my right leg to loosen the wire.
“Otherwise, I’ll be waiting for both of you at the gates of Hell.”

“I give up,” the little guy said. “Maybe the next guy they send won’t be so stubborn – or so stupid. I’m leaving. Red, finish him off. And take your time.”

Red watched him leave, like a big dumb dog watching his master go to work. I wiggled my right leg out, tearing off a long strip of skin in the process. I pulled and pulled my hands, but the cuffs wouldn’t give.

Red turned around just in time to see the ball of my loose foot hit him square in the right knee. I felt it pop out of the socket. I kicked it again and again, and he fell right in front of me. As he rolled onto his back, I swung my left leg up, hauling the chair with it, and brought my heel down on his windpipe. I came down again and again.

I used my right foot to pull the chair leg loose from the wire around my left leg. Red was grabbing his throat, gasping for air, gurgling. His eyes were bugged out. I stumbled to my feet, my hands still behind my back.

“Hey, fat shit, I’ve got something for you.”

Then I did what every good Marine does when his enemy is on the ground.

I stomped on his head.

Mission accomplished.

It took a long time to find the key to the cuffs, since I had to reach into each of his pockets with both hands joined behind my back. When I finally found it, I fumbled with it, dropping it over and over, until I finally got it in the key hole and popped open the cuffs.

Red was dead, but I kicked him a half dozen times in the face for good measure.

There was a small toilet, sink and mirror in what looked like a mop closet. I went in, pulled the string on the light bulb, and surveyed the damage. Both ankles and wrists were torn up and bleeding, my ribs hurt every time I inhaled, and my face – well, it wasn’t much to begin with, but now it looked like the left side had been injected with beet juice until it was swollen to twice its normal size. My left eye was completely red and it seemed like I was looking through the bottom of an old, glass Coke bottle.

I turned the cheap plastic knob and brown water puked out into the sink. I waited for it to go from brown to tan, and then I cupped my hands and splashed the water on my face. It stung like hell and turned the sink red, but I kept it up until my head cleared.

I rinsed my wrists and then lifted one leg at a time and rinsed both ankles. Another Marine Corps rule. Tend to your wounds as soon as you get a chance.

When everything was as clean as I could get it, I found my boots and pulled them on over my tender, oozing ankles. Then I moved slowly up the stairs that the little big man had taken. The stairs took me to a filthy, bug-infested kitchen. I felt cockroaches crunching under my feet as I went from cabinet to cabinet. Sure enough, I found a half-full fifth of Early Times whiskey. I poured a little into the top of each boot. My ankles burned like a hundred fire ants were gnawing at my bones, but I knew it would help prevent infection. I did the same with my wrists and then my face. That left a quarter of a bottle, which I gulped down, grateful.

I went out into the backyard. I looked around and could tell I was somewhere in Dorchester. Boston’s armpit. I couldn’t remember how I got there. Last thing I remembered I was in Chinatown.

There was still an hour or two till sundown, so I crawled up under some bushes to wait for night. Sleep came and went until it was finally dark. I slunk out onto the street and block by block made my way north across the city to my apartment building in Southie. I climbed the stairs, went inside, and collapsed into bed.

I didn’t wake up until the following evening, and I felt worse than I’d ever felt – and believe me, there’ve been a lot of times I’ve felt pretty fucking bad. I took a long hot shower until the water that ran off me was no longer pink. I got out, dried off, and spent a half hour cleaning up with peroxide and applying antibiotic ointment, gauze and tape. There wasn’t much I could do about the face, but I used a couple of butterfly bandages to close up the messier cuts.

Next priority was food, but first I got my .357 from my dresser drawer. I checked that it was loaded, filled my right pocket with extra rounds, and then went out and walked to the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet on the corner.

I had thrown my cell phone into the Charles when I knew I’d been spotted so that they couldn’t see who’d called me. That meant I was now stuck using pay phones. I got two dollars worth of quarters and called my client on her cell phone.

“Nick, thank God,” she said. “I was scared to death. Are you alright?”

I could picture her in the chair by the window. Long blonde hair falling over bare shoulders. A little white blouse with spaghetti straps. Probably nothing else but panties. She told me she never gets dressed until she absolutely has to.

“I’ve been better,” I said. “Now that I’ve had the shit kicked out of me and pissed off someone who’s not used to being pissed off, I think it’s time you quit the games and came clean. Who the fuck is this guy?”

I thought back to the day she first came into my office. She wore dark glasses, but when she took them off, it was like all the air was sucked out of the room. They say a cobra can paralyze a man with just its eyes. Well, she must be part cobra, because the minute I looked into those icy blues, I was gone, gone, gone.

She’d given me a picture of the little guy and told me where to find him, but she’d said she couldn’t tell me his name. She just wanted me to tail him and tell her where he went and when. I’d showed the picture to a couple of people in the area to see if they knew him. They all said no. At least one of them must have been lying because someone put the little guy onto me.

There was no sound on the other end of the line.

“Okay, Claire,” I said at last, “it’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”

“Wait,” she said. Her voice tickled something way down in the pit of my stomach.

“Who is he?” I asked.

“His name is Jack McDonough.”

I waited. And waited.


“And before I got my big break, he and I had relationship.”

“Your pimp?”

Again, silence.

“So why did you hire me to follow him? What were you hoping I’d have to report? He goes back and forth from his apartment on the Mission Hill to the office building in Chinatown. Has meetings, eats lunch, goes home.”

“He’s blackmailing me,” she said.

“With what?”

“Some movies I made for him.”

I didn’t have to ask what kind of movies.

“How much does he want?”

“It changes all the time.”

“How long has it been going on?”

I could hear her breathing and I could picture her breasts rising and falling against the thin white blouse.

“Years,” she said.

A recording asked for more quarters, so I shoved them in. I guess you can’t make a local call to a damned cell phone.

“So what good is following him? It won’t do any good to buy the movies because I guarantee he’s made copies.”

Silence. Then it all came to together and I understood.

“Okay,” I said. “You thought if I followed him long enough, he’d figure out I was tailing him. He’d come after me, and then I’d have to kill him.”

Quiet, then, “I’m so sorry, Nick.”

“It wasn’t a bad plan, but why didn’t you just say you wanted him killed?”

“Would you have done it?”

“No, probably not. Not then, anyway.”

“And now...are you...would you...”

“Will I do it now? You bet your luscious, little ass I will.”

“Oh, Nick. I never meant for you to get hurt. I hope you know that.”

“I know.”

I didn’t know, really. I didn’t care either. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, much less been with. That kind of pleasure was worth a hell of a lot of pain.

“How are you going to do it?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you,” I said.

When I was out of quarters I took the T out to her place. It was a huge condo in the ritzy part of Beacon Hill. As soon as I knocked on the door, she threw it open and pulled me in. She kissed me and I tore off her two little pieces of lingerie, and we made love on the soft, milk-colored couch. Every muscle of my body hurt and hollered in ecstasy at the same time. Hours later we passed out and slept until the next morning.

We made love again when we woke up. After a long hot shower together, we got dressed and went out to breakfast. Then I told her my plan.

She said she liked it.

That night, I drove back to the little guy’s neighborhood. He lived good for a small-time hustler. Pimped some girls, sold some drugs, ran any scam he thought he could pull off. He thought he could pull off blackmailing Claire, and he had for years, but that was about to come crashing down.

That night, I went back to the blackmailer’s neighborhood. It was a lot nicer than mine. I walked down the sidewalk, making sure to linger under each streetlight so his informants would know I was coming. I had my .357 tucked into my pants at the small of my back. I also had one butterfly knife in my back pocket and another in my sock.

I stopped outside the condo and stood in the bright lights at the front of the building.

Mosquitoes stung the hell out me while I waited. This was the weakest part of the plan, because I wasn’t sure if he’d come out or just try to put a bullet in me from one of the windows. I’d killed his big buddy, but something told me he hadn’t lost any sleep over it. And I was sure he had filled the position quickly.

Normally, I would have seen it coming, but the new assistant was smaller and more graceful than the last. More importantly, he came up from my left side, and thanks to the fat dead guy I had lost most of my peripheral vision in that eye. When this was over, I’d have to remember to make an appointment with an eye doctor.

I heard him rake the slide, and I slowly raised my hands.

“Move and I fucking blow you away,” he said in a thick Hispanic accent.

He patted me down with his free hand and found the .357 and the knife in my pocket.

“I’ve got a deal for your boss,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, “and he has a deal for you.”

He led me at gunpoint into the building and to McDonough’s condo. He had a key and opened the door. Inside was impeccably decorated, as I would have expected. A little gaudy, but not bad. We walked down a long, plush hallway and stopped at the last door. He knocked.

“Come in.”

I walked in. Jack was in his bed, sitting up under the covers.

Beside him was Claire.

“I couldn’t go through with it, Nick,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I bet you are.”

Jack rolled back the covers and got out of bed. Two things kind of disturbed me. First, he was naked. Second, he had a nine millimeter.

“Claire told me about your plan, Nick,” McDonough said.

“It wasn’t going to work,” Claire said. “He would have killed me, too.”

“So,” I said to McDonough, “What happens now?”

“Unfortunately for you, you die.”

“Who pulls the trigger? You or Pedro? ”

“Neither,” McDonough said. “She does.”

“What?” Claire looked shocked.

“If you’re coming back to me,” he said, “I’d like you to prove I can count on you.”

She hesitated, then slipped out from under the covers, and I remembered why I had fallen for her. She was as close to perfect as you can get this side of death. Her long legs, firm abs, full bosom. And those piercing eyes.

McDonough nodded to the spic, who aimed his gun at Claire.

“But I thought...” she stammered.

“Just insurance,” McDonough said. “Not that I don’t trust you. But if I give you this gun, I want to make sure you shoot the right guy.”

“Don’t worry,” Claire said, taking a deep, determined breath. “I’m with you now.”

McDonough handed her the gun and stepped to the side. I dropped to my knees. McDonough laughed.

“It’s a little late for prayers,” he said.

It was now or never. I grabbed the knife from my boot, slung it open, buried it right in Miguelito’s belly, and yanked as far to the left as I could. He screamed and swung the gun toward me. A shot rang out.

It was followed by another. And another.

Miguelito crumpled onto the floor. I looked over at McDonough, and his face was a horrifying mask – half disbelief, half agonizing pain. He was bleeding from a red hole right below his Adam’s apple and another just to the inside of his right eye. He tried to say something, but blood ran out and splashed down his chin and torso. He rocked slowly, then fell backward, crashing through the glass window. His upper body hung outside, but his legs still hung in the room. I walked over and grabbed him by the foot, then lifted till he tumbled out and down to the ground.

“Nice shooting,” I said.

“I had a Marine for a teacher.”

“You know what to do next?”

She came over, the gun still in her hand, and wrapped her arms around me. Her mouth was hot and wet when she kissed me.

“No,” I said, breaking away. “Not now. Later. Call the police and tell them McDonough took you back here for a drink. The other guy was already here, and he held a gun on you while McDonough raped you.”

She hesitated.

“They’ll find his DNA,” she said, looking for my reaction. I kept it to myself.

“Even better,” I said. “Tell them it went down like this: When the first guy finished and the second one was getting ready to take his turn, you grabbed the gun from the bedside stand and killed them both.”

She was so goddam beautiful, it hurt my eyes to look at her. I wanted to carry her to the bed right then and there. I knew I couldn’t. Not yet.

“You did good,” I said, giving her a short, goodbye kiss.

“I’ll do even better when you and I can be together again,” she said, running the tip of her tongue slowly across her upper lip.

I looked around and found a laptop, which I slammed closed and tucked under my arm.

“I’ll grab whatever computers he has at his office,” I said, “but realize your movie could be anywhere – on a thumb drive, on another computer...he might already have uploaded it to some Web server anywhere in the world. This is no guarantee the movie won’t get out...or that somebody else won’t find it and come looking for money.”

“What should I do?”

“Wait. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe it will. Either way, you’ve got a good private investigator just a phone call away.”

I looked for a smile. When it came, it was little and uncertain, but it was enough. “I’ll wait till I hear from you,” I said.

She nodded, and I noticed she was still smiling. I left her to wait for the cops.

That was all either of us would be able to do for a while—wait. There was going to be a lot of waiting. Claire would have to wait for the police. The police would have to wait for the medical examiner. The medical examiner would have to wait for the autopsy and test results.

And I’d have to wait for Claire and that gorgeous body of hers. That would be the hardest part. Waiting. I closed my eyes and remembered the taste of her kiss, the feel of her skin, the scent of her body. I wanted her so bad it hurt.

But that I could handle.

If there’s one thing the Marine Corps teaches you, it’s how to handle pain.

BIO: Jason writes noir and hardboiled fiction. He's recently published stories in Hardboiled, Pulp Pusher, Plots with Guns, and Beat to a Pulp and his story "Redhead and Dead" appeared in the anthology, Lunacy. He's written two novels -- "Cold, Cold Heart" and "So Lonesome I Could Die" -- and is finishing his third, "Didn't Hear Nobody Die." When he isn't writing dark, demented tales, he teaches writing, coaches writers, and begrudgingly writes all sorts of other non-creative crap to put food on the table.


Anonymous said...

Good story, but the plan for Claire to tell the police she shot and killed both guys doesn't fit too well with Pedro being gutted and little Jack getting shot.

Christopher Grant said...

Here's the thing.

As the editor, the buck stops with me. Thus, if there's a problem with one of the stories that makes it to the site, then I'm the one that should take the blame, not the writer.

However, I don't think there's a problem with Jason's story. Not even the cover story that Nick hatches.


Because life is messy and crime is messy. It's the origin of the phrase, "Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice To Deceive".

Nick isn't thinking clearly for a couple of reasons.

He's just found the woman he loves in bed with the guy that she's supposed to hate. Even if this is the plan to trap McDonough, you gotta think that Nick's not handling it all that well.

They're both rushing to figure a way out of this situation and so neither are analyzing this thing too closely.

Think about the entire cover story anyway. Claire is supposed to tell the police that, while McDonough raped her, Pedro held the gun on her and that somehow she pulled another gun and shot them both.

Do you think that story's going to wash? Probably not.

The cover story is flawed, yes. Most cover stories are. That's why they're termed cover stories.

This flaw makes Jason's story even stronger, in my opinion, and that's why I left it in.