It was mid-afternoon before Rick got around to getting Allen out of jail. He’d spent some of the morning going thru Allen’s apartment, sifting thru lots of trash, crushed beer cans, and dried-out fast food, looking for evidence of criminal activity.
Of which where was loads. Half a dozen flat screen TVs and no cardboard boxes. Pawn tickets scattered on the coffee table. Scales, rolling papers, powdery mirrors slid under the couch. A pile of muddy construction tools in one corner, greasy mechanic’s tools in another. Awkwardly rolled-up copper wiring and car stereos. Plastic garbage bags full of other people’s mail. Other people’s prescription bottles in the medicine cabinet. And about a thousand dollars in cash. Just lying there on the back of the toilet for anyone to take.
Rick pocketed the money and let himself out of the apartment. This’ll just about pay for trashing the place. There’s still a month and half back rent to wring out of him.
He posted Allen’s bail (the bondsman said he was charged with fleeing from the scene of an accident, DUI, possession, obstruction, driving on a suspended license, and resisting arrest) with Allen’s own money, then went over to the jail himself to give the bastard a ride home and inform him that he was now Rick’s slave.
“You owe me $300,” he told Allen. “That’s your bond.” Allen mumbled his eternal gratitude and swore he’d have the money to him by the end of the month. Rick grunted.
Allen sat in the passenger’s seat texting people as his landlord wasted the RPMs of his Porsche doing the speed limit, wondering how much longer before he could get high.
Rick began talking about what he was expected to do in return for being sprung, but only in general terms, and Allen didn’t understand exactly what the job was all about. The man was using words pulled out of motivational handbooks, and Allen was starting to wonder if he was talking about taking over a rival company.
Catalyst. Team player. Closure. Leadership. Customer focus. Bottom line. Heavy lifting. Involuntary retirement. Sink or swim.
They got to the apartments. Rick parked and got out, following Allen up the stairs. This made Allen nervous – never let the landlord into your apartment – but the fucker stood over his shoulder and walked right in after him, looking around the place like he was ready to have his own building condemned.
“Uh.” Allen wasn’t willing to bring up the subject, but he was sure curious as to what song Rick wanted him to sing for his supper. He would more than likely find a way to squeeze out of it, but he needed to know just how persistent he’d have to be to make the problem go away. He hoped he wasn’t gonna hafta give him a blow job.
Rick explained what he wanted.
Allen backed away, raising his fists. “No way. I’m not doing it.” He felt his gorge rising and headed for the sink.
Rick heard sounds of retching and hacking and things falling over in the bathroom. Allen cursed for a few moments, and then the toilet flushed, and he came lurching back, using his sleeve to wipe blobs of yellow off his mustache. Rick drew himself up into his Maori warrior posture, his neck muscles bulging and his face turning red. He looked very intimidating. “You have to do this.”
Allen hoped he was having a stroke. “Why, because you bailed me fucking out? Three hundred bucks to kill someone? You’re insane. Get away from me, man.”
Rick thought fast. “Look, I’m offering you a once in a lifetime chance. Low risk-high yield. Low-hanging fruit. I’ve got this client. He’s big, huge, world class. A real prince in this Asian country you’ve never heard of. Near Vietnam.” Allen nodded. “He’s got this arch enemy, who ripped off his, uh, drugs, and raped his youngest wife – just a child, really – and killed his dog…” He saw Allen tearing up. His words were burning thru Allen’s head. Rick focused his powerful intellect on swaying Allen’s weak mind, and he could feel it working. “He’s asking me as a special favor, the last request of a noble man – for which he will pay handsomely, and you get half, on a performance basis – by simply helping the man get his revenge on this vile snake who ruined his life.” He eyed Allen to see how he was taking it. “I’d do it myself but I’m no good at that sort of thing. And you’re an expert, right?
Allen ignored the question. “So there’s like a bonus? And this guy I’m supposed to take care of is really scum?”
Rick winked. “Lower than you.”
“But do I really got to do it the way you said?” He clutched at his stomach. “I think I’m gonna be sick again.”
Rick shook his head. “Sorry, that’s one of the terms of the contract. The Prince insists. And you’ve got to film it so he can enjoy his vengeance cold.”
Allen thought about it. A lot of trouble to go to as a favor for a friend of some guy who only bailed you out of jail. “I don’t think so.”
“You don’t understand. You have to. There’s nobody else for the job.”
“You can’t make me. The smell alone would kill me. I’d rather die.”
“You could go to jail,” Rick said, indicating the loot. “I know what you’re doing here. I’ve been watching you. I’ve taken pictures. I’ll turn you in.”
“Pictures?” he looked around in disbelief. “You been in my place?” His face got ugly. “You stole my money.”
Rick laughed scornfully. “No I didn’t. What money? Some lowlife accomplice of yours must have broken in while you were in jail.” He marched over to the door and rattled the handle. “Look how flimsy this lock is. You only have to pull up on the doorknob and push to get in.” He laughed. “Besides, I’d be the last one to steal your money. I’m waiting for you to pay me that back rent, so I want you to make as much money as you can. Believe me, I’d like to kill the bastard that robbed you,” he said stoutly, reeling him in. “That’s why this job is the right one. Plenty of money for everybody. I win, you win, the Prince wins.”
“Well, maybe,” Allen grumbled. “But do I have to leave him in the septic tank?”
“Wear a gas mask.”
* * *
Rick was just getting into his car when Judy drove up and parked next to him. She seemed surprised to see him, but happy. It had been a year or two since they’d seen each other and he’s always been her favorite oldest younger brother.
“Why Rick,” she said, getting out of the car, “I thought that was your Porsche. I always say when I see a red Porsche, there’s the car Dad bought Mom for Christmas when she bought him a mink coat.” She waggled her head. “Well, not the same car, but you know…” It was a joke they’d found funny for years, but Rick wasn’t laughing. Rick never laughed anymore, except at her.
Rick eyed his sister distastefully. He wouldn’t let his wife out of the house looking like that. Filthy dress, baggy sweater, uncombed raggedy hair, a tattered Greek sailor cap with yellow stickies in the brim. Stickies everywhere, falling out of every pocket, streaming out of the open door of her car. Calling her a bag lady would be an exaltation.
She danced around nervously in front of him, like her feet itched. “Oh, he’s off to help Mom hang curtains, and I’m just off to the post office, and then…”
He could see she wanted to talk. Next she was going to ask him to go for a coffee. Or an herbal tea. Whatever; he was too busy to sit and make chitchat with his addled hippie sister. Especially because she’d want to talk about Mom, and that was the farthest thing from his mind.
Closest to his mind was just how stupid Allen was, and just how easily he was going to get way with it. Near his mind was sincere admiration for just how nimble and astute a player he really was. To come up with such a spellbinding story on the spur of the moment: he was that smart. Way smarter than Allen. Drug-addled, pickled Allen. He hated drunks, and Allen was a real alcoholic. Disgusting. How anyone could let themselves go like that?
He got in the car and turned on the ignition, rolling his window down and shutting the door. “She’s great. She’s PTA Mother of the Year and Little League registrar and she’s just been promoted to head of capital development at our church.”
“You sound proud of her.”
“She’s come a long way because of my influence.” He spun out, leaving black marks in the parking lot. Judy heaved a sigh of relief and headed for the apartment building’s front door. Allen buzzed her in.
“Hey, got your text.” She gave him a big hug. He looked like he needed it. “Thanks for calling me, I’ve been out of weed for ages.”
“Yeah, well I just got out of jail and I need the money. A quarter, right?”
“Well, I maybe could get half an ounce just to help you out. I’ll have to compromise on quality at the liquor store, but there’s that saying about an ounce in the hand is like two in the freezer.”
Allen liked that. They had a laugh. He wished he’d had a beer to drink with her, but there was nothing in that apartment. He could go get some beer and Chinese once she’d paid for the pot, tho. He rolled them a joint to be sociable, and was almost driven to tears when she pulled out a pint of vodka from her bag.
“Jail, huh? That’s rough. What happened?”
“The Man followed me from my previous engagement, and got me for a taillight in the fucking parking lot.” He shrugged. “Then they beat me up and took me in and made up a bunch of shit to charge me with. I’ll get probation.” He passed her the joint, a nice fattie.
She nodded and took a deep hit. “That’s good,” she croaked, smoke leaking out of her mouth. He unscrewed the cap and took another swig, then went to pit the cap back on, but she waved it off and reached for the bottle. She would ordinarily stop and buy dope, go to the liquor store, and scurry back to her warren, but this was one of the few places where she was comfortable. She liked Allen; she liked to talk to him. He was a poor dumb kid from a troubled family and she felt sorry for him. It’s not like she could hang out for long, anyway. The pint wouldn’t last more than twenty minutes, and then she’d have to go.
* * *