TWO PHONE CALLS - ROBERT CRISMAN
In some jobs, pink-slipped means dead.
The heist blew up in their faces. They got out of the place and they got what they came for, but they also left three people dead, one an old lady outside the place when the whole thing exploded, and now the town was on fire.
Eddie dropped Dennis off at his house. No warm goodbyes or see you tomorrows. Dennis was cold and remote as a rock on the moon.
Dennis went in the alley in back of his place and ditched the gun in some bushes. He went into the house, and straight to the phone by the livingroom couch. He was thinking about Eddie. Times before, when things had fucked up and Eddie’d looked ready to jump, Dennis had always been able to reel him back in. This time, though, he’d caught Eddie’s eyes. Not good.
He felt a chill, too. He’d lost it back at that house. He’d never lost it before. And now—what? He couldn’t get at it. Whatever it was, this feeling, some kind of displacement or something...
And now, he had to talk to Ramon.
Dennis, 6’5”, 250, all muscle, with cold hazel wolf’s eyes, sweating bullets.
Ramon, mid-30s like Dennis, still trim and pretty—with eyes like black ice seen at night on a trek through the Arctic.
Dennis let out a breath. Nothing to do now but get through.
He flicked on the light, punched out a number, and someone picked up on the other end of the line. “Lupe,” he said, “I need to talk to Ramon. Tell him to call me. Fifteen minutes.”
He headed back out the door, and down to the 7-11 a block-and-a-half from the house, to the pay phone outside. It would be ringing in 10 or so minutes.
He picked up on one ring and said, “Yo.” He kept his voice low.
Ramon: “How’d it go?”
“Not so good.”
“What do you mean, not so good? What happened? You got the stuff, right?”
“Yeah, we got it. Money, everything.”
“Shit hit the fan.”
“What do you mean, shit hit the fan?”
“He went nuts, man, him’n his ol’ lady both. He jumped me, an’ then—”
“Wait, wait, he—how did that happen, man? I told you—”
“Ramon, I had the gun in his face, an’ he went ahead an’ come at me anyway. I couldn’t believe—”
“I thought, we took care of the dog, it’d do it, but then, the guy—”
“What? What’d he do?”
“Hey, I dunno, man. He went nuts. An’, when I clocked him, his ol’ lady jumped on my back.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah, man. It happened, just, bam.”
“Shit.” Ramon was hot. “Where was Eddie in all this?”
“Well, he—lemme get to that. He was there, but, I think we got a problem.”
“Uh-huh, but—wait. Just lemme—anyway, we got it. The stuff’n the money an’ everything. I had to bitch-slap the broad, an’ she went an’ got it, an’ then we got outta there. An’ then, we’re headed to the car, an’ Mizell comes flyin’ out after us, an’ he had the shotgun...”
“Wait, wait—how did—what’d you do back there? I thought he—”
“I thought he was outta commission. I hit him pretty good, believe me. But, I dunno. Anyway, I had to take him out. Wasn’t nothin’ I could do.”
Silence on the other end of the line.
Dennis said, “There was this broad, too, man—”
“Broad? What broad?”
“This ol’ lady, man. She’s walkin’ in front of the place, an’—”
“What? Dennis—Jesus! What happened?”
“She got caught up in it, an’—”
“Oh, Christ, you—”
“Yeah, yeah, man, I know—”
“She’s dead.” Not a question.
“Yeah, I think so, I dunno. She was—look, Ramon. It happened fast, wasn’t nothin’ I could do. It’s just, Danny firin’ on us, man, an’ she’s, she got hit. It’s just, it fell out that way. Damn, man—an’, okay, so then I had to go back an’ take care of Mizell’s ol’ lady. Wasn’t nothin’ I could do. She saw us, an’ I couldn’t just leave her, you know?”
Ramon thought. “Anybody see you?”
“No. Nobody. I’m sure. No cars, nothin’.”
“What about the other houses?”
“Man—there’s only about five other houses on that block. Most of ‘em are way back from the street, an’ kinda hidden away by bushes an’ trees an’ stuff. I didn’t see no lights, except one house at the other end of the block.”
“Yeah, man, but you guys were—”
“Damn, Ramon! Jesus! I dunno, man! Maybe they did. But, damn—”
“Hey, alright, man, okay. It was dark. Man... We’ll just have to hope, huh?” Ramon was not happy.
“Anyway,” he said, “what about Eddie?”
“Well, that’s the deal. The guy’s flippin’ out.”
“What do you mean, flipping out?”
“Just that, man. He thinks—I dunno what the fuck he thinks. He wasn’t ready for it. In the car, after, he... Jesus, I dunno, man. I dunno what he’s gonna do.”
“He started cuttin’ up in the car, or before?”
“He just, he was freakin’ out, man.”
“Yeah. In the car or what, man, tell me. What’d you do?”
“It was in the car, man. He’s, I dunno what he’s gonna do. He’s freakin’ on me, like, I dunno. It was, he couldn’t hang with it, man, an’...”
“Okay, man, what’d you do?”
“I told him, he fucks up, I’m gonna kill him.”
“Okay. What then?”
“He got real quiet.”
“Yeah, man, but, I dunno... I think—”
“Where’s he at now?”
“Home. He dropped me off here—”
“You know he’s at home?”
“Well...no, I don’t know if he’s home, but—”
“Ah, Jesus. Dennis. We’ve got a problem.”
“He could be anywhere. This isn’t good. You shouldn’t’ve let him out of your sight.”
“What? Man, what was I supposed to do? Stick him in the trunk of the car? Jesus, Ramon—”
“What I’m saying, man, you shouldn’t’ve let him get away from you. When you saw what was coming, you should’ve—”
“Whattya mean? We were already in the car—”
“Man, goddamnit, you remember, I told you about him, man. If he messes up, if he’s gonna mess up, you’re ready for it, man, you—”
“He was drivin’ the car, man! We’re out in traffic! Whattya want, off him out at the storage? Jesus—”
“Yeah, man! That would’ve been the place, now that you bring it up! Or, anywhere, man. It’s dark, you pull him over, take him out, and—you see? Dennis. We’ve got a problem here, man! That guy—”
This wasn’t going anywhere. Ramon couldn’t believe it. This stupid bastard. He decided to leave it for now. There was too much to do, and right now. “Okay, man, to hell with it. We’ll deal with it later. We’ve got to take care of this thing we’ve got, man, you hear what I’m saying?”
“Man, I can’t hear you.”
“Yeah, Ramon, I know. We got to...”
“I mean, right now.”
“You agree with that, man?”
“Yeah, I do. We got to.”
“Good. Now. I’m thinking, we’re supposed to be meeting back there at the storage, right? That is the place to do it. Nobody around. No buildings close by. Take him there, stick him in the room, and leave him.”
“Yeah, man, but they’ll check—”
“So what? I had that space for a year, man, and the guy who actually got it, he’s not even in the country now. There’s no way they can put it on us.”
“Yeah. Now. We need to take care of this tonight.”
“Ah... You know what? I think that ain’t such a good idea. I think, right now, he’s spooked bigtime. An’ I bet you he’s thinkin’ I might make a move on him. See—”
“Dennis. We can’t wait on this.”
“Man, I don’t—I go over there tonight, he’s gonna know, I’m tellin’ you. He ain’t stupid. He knows it’s tomorrow night. Things could get real messed up—”
“They’re messed up right now, man.”
“Ramon, listen to me! Look... Right now, he’s really freaked out. This was a heavy deal, man. But, I think, tomorrow, I call him, you know, I’m supposed to call him tomorrow, an’ I think there’s a whole lot less chance of him thinkin’ there’s somethin’ funny about it. I just talk to him, man, we’re still a go, cool, calm, an’ I think I can bring him down outta the tree. Tomorrow—see, Eddie freaks, man—”
“No shit, Dennis.”
“Lemme finish. See—he freaks. This was heavy, an’ he wasn’t ready for it—”
“Your old road dog.”
“Yeah, Ramon... Look, you want me to—”
“Go ahead, man. I’m listening.”
“Okay. The thing is, it’s like, he’s in shock now, man, see? But that’s—tomorrow, I think it’ll, it won’t—I mean, this ain’t never gonna be one of his fond memories or nothin’, but the guy—we did stuff before, an’ it’s like he’s, I can talk to him, man. He’ll come around. I mean, tonight he’s freaked. It’s like a bad acid trip an’ he’s in it, you know? But tomorrow he won’t be so messed up. I’ll be able to talk to him. Plus, man, look. There’s still the money. He came for the money. Money’s still there, right? An’, you know, what’s his best option? Don’t nobody know it was us. An’ we got the stuff, man. So, what’s he gonna do, just walk away? All that for nothin’? Plus, where’s he gonna go? Dude’s broke, man.”
“He’ll go to the cops, Dennis.”
“Ramon, uh uh. He ain’t goin’ to no cops. What’s that gonna get him? Cops, man, those’re the last motherfuckers he wants to talk to. After this? No way.”
“Well, hey, man, that’s great. What’re we even worrying about, then? What you’re saying, we’ve got no problem. Why even bring it up? Listen—”
“Look, Ramon! All I’m sayin’, I know the guy. He—look. It ain’t right now I’m worried about. It’s down the road, he gets in a ditch or somethin’. Then, maybe we got a problem. He lets stuff chew on him. I mean, he’ll go along, an’ it’s okay, but then, somethin’ happens, an’ meanwhile, this shit’s been eatin’ away at his ass, an’ it’s, boom. Who knows what’ll happen? Other times, I been there to kinda straighten him out, an’, you know, he comes around. But this one, man, like I said, I dunno. I don’t think he can hang with this. An’ a month, year, somethin’ happens, well, who knows? So, that’s why I agree with you, we gotta do it. But I really think we oughtta just, go ahead an’ do it accordin’ to the original deal. Meet there like we said, an’ do it there.”
“Ramon, I’m tellin’ you, I go up there now, there’s no tellin’ what’s gonna happen. At least fifty-fifty, he’s expectin’ it anyway. He might not even be there at his place—”
“Ramon! Damn, man! What I’m sayin’ is, I dunno. He’s—ah, man, he’s there. What’s he gonna do, sleep in his fuckin’ car? By the side of the road or somethin’? Plus, where else is he gonna go? He ain’t even got enough gas to get outta town. Anyway, like I said, I go up there, he ain’t gonna let me in. An’ I swear to God, man, I don’t wanna go kickin’ his door in, you know what I’m sayin’? Lotta people up there, man, Capitol Hill, on the street an’ whatever, an’, plus, lotta cops up there, too. An’ also, man, I only been up there a coupla times. I don’t know the layout, who’s gonna see me an’ stuff, you know, somethin’ happens. An’, the dude, too, he got a back way outta there. I dunno, he sees me comin’, rabbits out the back, an’ I’m chasin’ him down the street... I don’t like that, man, swear to God. Too much stuff can go wrong, an’ then—”
“Hey, Dennis, you hinky on this, or what?”
“Huh? Well... Yeah, man, I kinda am. This has been, wow, man, an’—Look, Ramon, I got no problem doin’ this, okay? It’s just—an’ also, man, this, somethin’ happens, it could be the one thing that sends him to the cops. ‘Cause then, man, what’s he lookin’ at? No money, right? An’ somebody out there tryin’ to kill him. It’s best we do it the other way, man, I’m tellin’ you.”
“I’m tellin’ you, Ramon.”
Ramon had to think. He wanted Eddie off the map yesterday. But, what Dennis was saying, he had some points. Plus, push him too hard on this, he might just go up there and fuck the thing up. And what then?
Eddie might just have to keep one more night.
“Okay,” Ramon said.
“Yeah. But here’s the deal. You’ve got to take care of it.”
“Huh? You ain’t gonna be there?”
They’d originally planned that the three of them would be there the next night.
“No,” Ramon said, “I can’t make it. I was going to tell you. I got some family stuff here that I’ve got to deal with, and—I’ve got to deal with it. I can’t get away till it’s done.”
“Look, man, it’s Lupe and mama, and I really don’t want to get into it. Just, believe me, I’ve got to get this straightened out here. And, what I was going to say to you was, I need you to get the stuff and come here with it.”
“Dennis, you’ve got to take care of it, you hear what I’m saying?”
“Well, damn, man—”
“Look. I was saying, you should do this tonight. You say you want to do it tomorrow, for all those reasons, and I see your point. But you’ve got to do it. I can’t get there. You’d’ve had to do it yourself tonight anyway, you know what I’m saying? And I, we need to get that stuff out of there. I can’t wait on that. So, you’ve got to get here with it. Might be best you get yourself out of town, too, for a minute or two anyway.”
Dennis chewed it over.
“You there?” Ramon said.
“Yeah, I was just... Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll tell Eddie, an’ he’ll come over, an’ we’ll go there, an’ I’ll do it there. An’ then I’ll be comin’ over.”
“Okay, then, I guess that’s it.”
Dennis hung up, thoughts gnawing away. He wanted something to spike them. A shot or three of whiskey sounded just about right.
He called Eddie next morning, nine on the dot.
Eddie’d been tossing and turning all night. He rose, features puffy and blurred. He reached out his hand toward the phone and struggled to sitting position.
His thin frame looked frail and pale. He chewed his thin lips and rubbed his sharp nose, his eyes blinking sleep from deep in a tunnel. His hair, a blond mop, stuck in different directions.
Dennis sounded a little thick on his end of the line. Groggy or not, though, his job was to talk Eddie down out of the branches.
“Hey, man,” he said, “how’re you doin’?”
Eddie sucked up some breath. “I dunno... Not so good.”
“Yeah? So... What’s goin’ on?”
“Just... It’s messed up, man.”
“Yeah. Sounds like it. You gonna be okay, or what?”
“Man... I dunno... I haven’t had much sleep.”
Eddie sounded like he was slated for hanging. Dennis figured that was okay, though. Last night, he wouldn’t’ve answered the phone.
“I know what you mean,” Dennis said. “I didn’t get much sleep myself. It was rough last night. Be better today, you know what I’m sayin’?
“Look,” he said. “I talked to Ramon. An’ he’s, you know, it’s a bad deal, but what can we do? Except, you know, be cool an’ don’t get fucked up behind this. Main thing, an’ I agree with this, is to keep things goin’ the way we had it set up. You know what I’m sayin’? We can still do this, you know, so...he’s gonna be there at the place around nine tonight. An’, I’m thinkin’, why don’t you get here at my place around eight, quarter after, pick me up, an’ we’ll meet him there, get it done. Divvy up, an’, you know... Whattya think? Sound like a plan?”
“So, whattya think?”
No response. Eddie’s visual: Ramon with fangs...
“Hey, Eddie, man, look. Last night, man, it was fucked up. I got a little hot, man. I didn’t know where you were comin’ from. You know, I overreacted. I was wound up, man, you know what I’m sayin’? That was some heavy-duty shit, you know? An’, I know how you’re feelin’, man. I feel kinda the same way. But, this, we gotta let that go. It was messed up. I didn’t know what you were gonna do. But now... It’s today, man, it’s different. My head’s a little clearer, an’... It’s okay, you know?”
A beat, and then Eddie said, “I dunno, man, I just... You hear anything? About, you know, the thing.”
Dennis had heard stuff, alright. Radio, TV, the front page of the morning P-I. Bloody triple murder, ‘possibly drug-related’. Just the kind of stuff to send Eddie toward Mars. Oh well. Dennis had to deal with it.
“It’s in the paper.” He said it calmly, like, nothing here we can’t deal with.
“Where?” Eddie said. “I mean...”
“P-I, man. Front page.”
“Yeah. But, man, I read the story, an’ all it really is, is the cops got three people dead, two in the house, one outside, an’ that’s all they know. Nobody saw nothin’, nobody heard nothin’, an’ they ain’t got squat. They figure it’s drugs. Well, hell yeah. It’s a known fuckin’ dopehouse. ‘Suspected drug traffic’ an’ all that good shit. They got no clue, man. Coulda been 10,000 guys.”
“Yeah, but they don’t always tell you, you know, in the newspapers, man.”
“Well, yeah, I know, but look at it. I believe it, you know. I mean, there wasn’t nobody around there, except that ol’ lady. I was checkin’, man, one house down the block with the lights on. Shades pulled. Nobody saw nothin’, an’—”
“An’, Eddie. The rest of it—who knew we were comin’, right? Mizell an’ his old lady—an’ she didn’t even know, fucked up as she was—an’ Ramon, you know? That’s all. An’ then, that was the first time I ever even been in that part of town, an’ you too, so it ain’t like we’re a coupla familiar faces or nothin’ like that, am I right? Plus, man, what else? What other possible evidence is there that we were there? Fingerprints? In that place? I don’t fuckin’ think so.”
“Yeah, man, but... I dunno. This is a lot of heat, man.”
“Well, yeah, it is.”
“That old lady, man...” That’s what was chewing at Eddie. And Mona, Mizell’s old lady. And, just the fact that Dennis had lost it. He was supposed to been the man who stayed cool.
Dennis just had to deal with it now. “Yeah, man, I know, but—look. It was fucked up. The whole thing was fucked up. You know, it was like we were sayin’ before. Sometimes, you know, stuff blows up. Mizell went nuts, an’ then take it from there. Who knows, man? He just... I dunno. An’ me, too, man, I didn’t expect it. Him and the broad. An’ then, he comes outta there with that shotgun, an’—I thought we were gonna die. You know?”
“Yeah, man, but—”
“Yeah, man, I know. The ol’ lady. I didn’t even see her. That fucked me up, man. An’ then, the broad—I was freaked, man. I thought we were gonna die. I didn’t know what to do. Jesus. There was Mizell, that ol’ lady, an’ Mona inside there, an’ everything was goin’ so damn fast. I just, I dunno what to tell you, man. It happened. Next thing I knew, it was done. I just, I dunno.”
Somewhere down deep, Eddie knew what a pile of garbage this really was. The old lady in front of the house was an accident, sure. But, Mona was cold-blooded mop-up. That said, though, he was part of it, right? And where did that leave him?
He couldn’t even talk. Just the thought of his complicity in this... Lead filled his chest, the hot kind that makes you want to go jump off a bridge.
Dennis rapped on. “But, okay, now—what do we do? There’s a lotta heat, like you said. Gotta figure there’s gonna be. But, you know, lookin’ at it? It’s, like, okay, you remember that thing a coupla months back, where that girl got shot at that high school? Some drive-by, right? Same deal. The whole town was on fire for those guys. Every time you turned on the news, man, it was just, they wanted to get the motherfucker that did it. Buncha Asian dudes. An’ the whole thing went on for about a week. An’ then, all of a sudden, boom, you don’t hear nothin’. It was like it never even happened. Read the paper, nothin’. Back to the same-ol’ same-ol’. Afghanistan, Iraq, Bill Gates bought Europe, that three-feet strap-on Hillary’s got on, Bill says it works, so elect her or somethin’. You see what I’m sayin’?
“It’s like—an’, oh yeah, every so often there’d be some little somethin’, you know, like, they ain’t caught ’em yet, but they’re tryin’ an’ so forth, you know? An’ that’s it. An’ by this time, it’s hard to remember just what the fuck happened.
“An’ then, when they caught the guy, finally, it was sheer fuckin’ luck. Guy’s down in Portland, deep in the weeds. But he’s braggin’ to all his little gangbanger buddies an’ shit, an’ somebody went an’ ratted him out. An’ that’s how they got him.
“See? An’ that’s what we gotta realize, man. All that dude had to do was keep his mouth shut. The cops’d still be runnin’ around with their thumb up their ass. An’, this here, with us? Same fuckin’ deal. Except, with those guys, there was 10,000 people who saw it! Nobody saw us!
“An’, I know, this, it’s messed up. An’ I wish it was different. I wish it hadn’t fell out the way it fell out. But now, what we gotta do is, stay cool. Just, ride it out an’ take care of business. Nobody knows nothin’. Long as we’re cool, we’re okay. You see what I’m sayin’?
“Now, man, it’s, we go get the money an’ split it, an go on our way. Just like we worked it all out. An’, it’ll be cool. We didn’t come this fuckin’ far to fuck it all up.”
Wow. All that blather. “Just be cool, it’ll all go away.” That old lady. Mona. Would they go away?
Eddie’s mind spun round and round. What were his options? The old lady, Mona, and Mizell were all dead. What could he do? Go to the cops? No way would that bring them back.
It would cook his ass.
What then? Take off? And go where? Without money?
Money. A shot at outrunning his demons...
He said, “I’ll see you at eight.”
Telling the man holding the pink slip he’d be there.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall.