A HAMMER AND A NAIL - C.D. DEMINSKI
Jake hadn’t seen Victor in the six months since he’d gotten out. The five years he had spent in prison had gone by quickly compared to the last few months he spent trying to make his way in the world as an ex-con. He knew going back to Victor to ask for work was a bad idea. He was scared at what might happen to him, like the thought of his headless body being buried in the remote desert outside Vegas.
He approached Magrib’s with a knot in his stomach. He pulled the door open and the stench of cheap cigar smoke hit him. The soccer game on the T.V. over the bar competed with the Russian pop music in the background.
“Dennis, Victor around?” he said to the bartender.
The bartender looked at him, surprised. “Sure, Jake, he’s in back. How have you been, man?”
“Good, thanks,” Jake said.
He made his way past two refrigerator-sized men in leather jackets drinking coffee at the far end of the bar. They turned to inspect him but he walked by without acknowledgment and made his way to Victor’s booth.
“Jake, what a pleasant surprise.”
“Victor, I want to come back.”
“Jake,” Victor said, shaking his head, “go get a day job and keep your face in one piece. It’s one of your better qualities.”
“I got laid off and I need the money. You know I’m a reliable guy.”
“Five years worth of reliability, eh, Jake?” Victor broke into a poisonous smile.
Shit, Jake thought, and felt a knot forming in his stomach. The wooden planks from the booth were rigid against his back.
“Why are you really here, Jake?”
“I need the work.”
Victor nodded. “Well, I do have a package that needs to be delivered.”
Jake knew that for Victor the word package only meant one thing: heroin.
“How big?” Jake said.
“You came here for the work, right?”
“This is what I’m giving you, and someone else on my team...”
“What did you have in mind?”
Victor ignored the question. “So I heard you tried to go straight.”
“I tried for a while. When I got laid off I thought about it. I could have looked for another straight job...but I came to see you instead.”
“I know something you don’t know about yourself, Jake. Nobody goes straight. You either come back to the life, you go back to prison, or you die. But what you don’t do is live happily ever after. I’m not that surprised to see you.”
Jake shrugged. “I guess I miss the action.”
“I think you found it, because you’ll be making this special delivery with a lady you know.” Victor smirked.
The hairs stood up on Jake’s neck. “Tatyana?”
Victor laughed. “She needs a lot of product for a gentleman at one of the high roller suites. Consider it an opportunity to kiss and make up.”
Jake didn’t know what would happen if he had to see Tatyana again. He had been thinking about her and wanting to call her since he had gotten out, but he didn’t know what to say. It had been nearly six years since he had seen her, and he didn’t like the idea of their first meeting to be a job – it didn’t feel right.
“Jake, I don’t have all day, what’s it going to be?”
Jake had come this far, he wasn’t going to back out now.
“Alright, Victor, I’ll do it.”
Victor was all smiles. He poured two shots of Stoli and handed one to Jake.
Jake clinked Victor’s shot glass with his own. The vodka burned a path down his throat.
“It’s been good to see you Jake. Give Dennis your number; I’ll be in touch.”
Her clutch bag was Gucci; she wore an elegant evening dress with her blonde hair pinned up and impeccable heels. She walked through the lobby of the casino and made her way to the bar near the exclusive high stakes poker lounge. She sat next to a good looking middle-aged man in a blue pinstripe suit drinking a martini.
“Pardon me, are you Sergio?” she said.
“I’m Tatyana, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Same here. I think we should talk in my room. Shall we?”
“Sure,” she said.
They made their way to his suite where they sat together overlooking the strip.
“Would you like a drink?” he said.
“No, thank you. I want to discuss our arrangements.”
“Of course, I’ll get the papers.”
Her Gucci clutch began to ring. She opened her bag and took out her cell. It continued to ring. When she saw who was calling, she pursed her lips.
“It’s Victor. Do you mind?” she said.
“Not at all...” he said.
She answered the phone and switched to Russian.
“Hello,” Victor said, “are you with our new friend?”
“Yes. We were just going to have a chat about arrangements.”
“Good. Finish with the guy, and you’ll do the delivery with someone I’ve selected for the job.”
She recognized the tone in Victor’s voice and it frightened her.
“Alright, Victor, I’ll take care of it.”
She hung up.
“Everything okay?” Sergio said. “You’re sure you want to do this?”
“Yes, let’s do it.”
“Okay, here are the papers. I’ll walk you through them.”
A few hours later, she finished with Sergio and made her way out to the casino driveway where she hailed a cab.
The night of the delivery was set. Jake drove his car to an abandoned warehouse. He picked up an inconspicuous white sedan that looked like every other white sedan on the road, with the exception of the 20 kilos of heroin in the trunk.
He pulled into the parking garage and went to the second level.
She stood leaning with her back to the concrete wall smoking a cigarette. She was as beautiful as he remembered, but her eyes were colder now, more feral. She looked up at the sedan rolling towards her and threw the cigarette to the ground and stubbed it out with the heel of her boot.
She came over and knocked on the tinted window. When he rolled down the window, he could see her surprise.
“Tat...I wanted to call you. I’ve been thinking about you. Victor asked me to do this delivery with you and...”
“Victor has a sick sense of humor, but this is no time for a reunion.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t called you...”
She waved off his comments. “Do you have something for me?”
“It’s in the trunk.”
She pursed her lips. “Fine, get out. Leave it running.”
He got out of the driver’s seat and went to get in the passenger side. Instead, she handed him a set of keys.
“It’s parked one level up, a red Mustang.”
“Tatyana, I’m supposed to go with you to the drop.”
“Maybe, but I have to make my own deals now, Jake.” She brushed past him and kissed him on the cheek.
“Please...I can’t let you leave without me.” Jake went to pull out his cell phone, but she pulled a snub-nosed gun out of her handbag.
He put the phone away. He gently took hold of her arm and leaned in to kiss her on the lips. He could feel the gun pressed to his side.
“Don’t do this, we’ll both regret it,” he said.
She pulled away and slid the gun back into her purse. “You’re probably right, but it has to be this way. I have to go.”
She got into the car and closed the door. He stared at his reflection in the tinted glass. The car didn’t move. She got out, threw her arms around him and kissed him.
“I’ll do my best to remember that,” she said.
He watched until the car disappeared from view.
When he got home, Jake paced the floor for hours. Eventually he fell asleep on his couch. When the phone rang, he bolted upright and grabbed the receiver. He gripped it so hard his knuckles hurt.
“Jake, it’s over.”
“Tatyana? What happened?”
“I want you to know...I wish it could have worked out for you and me.”
“Tat, whatever is happening right now, let me help you. Let’s make it work.”
“You’re sweet, Jake. I hope you remember me. Take care.”
The line went dead.
When the story broke that the biggest heroin dealer in Nevada had been busted by the FBI, Jake left town. He headed out to a ranching community in Montana where he took a straight job as a carpenter fixing broken down fences and barns across the countryside. To his surprise, the physicality of the work was satisfying. He gained the reputation of being reliable and he could make even the most derelict of structures usable again.
Despite Victor’s belief that no one could go straight, Jake was determined to try. He wanted be a better man for Tatyana’s sake, even if they would never have their happily ever after.
BIO: C.D. Deminski lives in Jersey City, NJ and has also had stories appear in the Aroostook Review and the Jersey Devil Press.