The Weirdos Come Out at Night
I realized the truth right about the point when I woke up in the trunk. Believe me when I tell you that is not a good time to think about the present, so your mind tends to wander. Which leads you to think about the oddest things considering your circumstances. At that moment the biggest thing on my mind should have been the large trunk of the car. It was something right out of a gangster movie, large black Cadillac and a helpless guy thrown in the trunk, on his way to be shot, beaten, or fitted for cement shoes. Although I don’t think they do the last one anymore. It’s the twenty-first century, why waste time with concrete and such when you can just shoot someone and then melt their body in a bathtub?
Again my mind was in the bad place, so I started getting more reflective. Which leads me back to my point about the truth. Usually, no matter how we’re raised, most of us think of ourselves as the star of our own little movie. We’re the hero doing all the interesting stuff and saving the day. Now most of us lead pretty boring lives, at least cinematically, but many of us just figure we’re biding time until our shining movie moment comes along. The day we stop the bank robbery, or save the kidnapped girl, maybe even save the world. My point is that no one wants to think they might be a sidekick, or even worse, an extra.
So what happens when you are in a tight spot and it looks like your hero days are coming to an end?
That was me. Now in all fairness to my pride I had to at least be a sidekick, because I was not a pencil pusher in some office, nor was I a mailman, not a car salesman, or even an airplane pilot. My career was one that could be more exciting than most, even if the media had made everything look different than it actually was, since I am a bounty hunter. My job entails behind hired by a bail bondsman to track down someone who skipped out and left them holding an expensive bag. So I come along, use my smarts to track the person down and bring them back. Usually, if they’re dangerous, I can just call the cops and have them take them away.
Sometimes there is no time for that I have to go in to get the mark all by myself. Usually that goes fine too. I wear a vest, carry a gun, and can take care of myself. Most people I go after would rather be arrested, or re-arrested, that end up in a gunfight. So although the movies make it look like car chases and gunfights, real life is a lot more abrupt and casual. Been shot at, but never hit; been hit, but never had the shit beat out of me. My luck has been pretty good.
At least until today…
Which brings us up to the present, me in a trunk being carted away by God knows who, and realizing I’m not the dashing hero of my story but the unfortunate fellow who is killed before the real hero comes along. Frankly speaking, that really sucks.
So where did things go wrong? Sure, I’m only about to die, I’ve got loads of time to think it all over again…
My bike rumbled to a stop in my parking space. It had only been about three days since my last job, so I was feeling pretty good. I had some money put away and figured there would be maybe another week before I heard about any work. If everything went according to plan for me I’d be enjoying some football games and far too much beer for my own good. After pulling the plastic bag with my six-pack from the saddlebag I turned face-to-chest with the largest man I’d ever seen in my life.
His skin was dark, nearly black, and he had to be seven feet tall, packed with muscle from top to bottom. Looming over me, he was the scariest thing I had ever seen. Sure I’d been in a few tight spots before, had some good fights, but fighting him would be like punching a skyscraper.
“Want a beer,” I said while hefting the bag.
The man reached out a hand to grab me and I acted on instinct, swinging the bag with all of my strength. Six cans of rocky mountain brewed goodness slammed into his head. My bag tore open, beer went flying in every direction, and my huge assailant did not move an inch. Hell he didn’t even close his eyes on impact. Of course I was far too intelligent to stand around and wait for a reaction. Instead I took off running, only to jump back as a large black Cadillac slid to a stop in front of me. A man leapt out of the driver’s seat and trained a gun on me.
“Right, all you had to do was ask,” my hands went into the air, “we going for a little ride?”
Large footsteps behind, a sudden impact, and then darkness.
I could feel the car pull to a stop. Since I woke up in the trunk I had no idea how long we had been driving. Which also meant I had no idea how far we had gone, and that in addition to being trapped in a trunk I was completely in the dark. As the car turned off I heard the doors opening ahead, and when the car lifted drastically I guessed that my large attacker was along for the ride. Shifting slightly, I could tell that I had not been tied up, handcuffed, nothing.
It ruffled my feathers to be treated so casually, but I guess with one guy armed and the other a giant I was not a terrible danger to them.
A click and then the trunk sprang open. It was still night outside, and I had a pretty strong feeling that not too much time had passed. Then a huge hand grabbed my entire shoulder and lifted me from the car with a frightening ease. I got a good look at the driver as I was settled on my feet. He was about my height, which meant the giant had a little more than a foot on him too, and had a rakish look with his red hair gelled into spikes. As soon as I opened my mouth to ask a question, he held a finger to his lips for silence.
“Silence is golden,” I volunteered, but he only grinned and the hand on my shoulder tightened uncomfortably.
“Right, shutting up now.”
They led me to a limousine parked nearby. It was stretched and black, and a throwback to classy limos, not like those tacky hummer limos you saw going to prom all the time. All three of us got into the back of the car, with Giant on my left and Red on my right. It was a very big limo, but between those two I still felt cramped. Across from us was a man I had heard of but never seen. Don’t ask me how I knew it was him, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was Mr. Ahriman, the man behind the people in power. Anything that went down in the city was related to him through some means, it was like an evil version of ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’.
“Here we are then,” I said awkwardly cutting through the silence, “nice car.”
“Do you know why you are here?”
“Well honestly I don’t, but I figured it might have something to do with a job I worked on.”
Ahriman steepled his fingers, “Why do you say that?”
“Because it was either that or I must have cut you off in traffic, and even considering road rage this is a little extreme.”
Red snickered next to me, and I looked over to see him pop a cigarette in his mouth. It was a relief when he didn’t offer me one. He noticed me looking and winked before snapping his fingers right in front of the end. I’ll be damned if his eyes didn’t flash red and in the next instant his cigarette was burning. Sure I’d heard about some crazy things happening, but that was a good party trick.
“You are in a situation beyond your ken, Mr. Ward, I can assure you. I will only ask once, when you apprehended Mr. Aaron did you take anything from his person?”
Walter Aaron was my last job. He was a fence, usually dealt in antiques and other rarities. Unfortunately for him he had been arrested for handling the goods from a series of museum heists. Of course he was a professional so when they took him into custody all the missing pieces were not found. Despite the high-profile case, he had a good lawyer and managed to get bail, and since a lot of his assets were under suspicion he went to a bail bondsman. Strange thing was, he didn’t seem like he would be the type to jump his bail. Something had scared him before he ran, so when I found him before he left town he had been stupid and tried to fight me.
Then I took him in and collected a large fee. Everything seemed great on my end of things, only now it looked like I was getting kicked in the ass.
“A gun, he pulled a gun on me,” I answered, getting a sinking feeling, ” some money, his suit, and nothing else. He was traveling light.”
Which was all true. The police had found a huge wad of cash on him, I could see the surprise in their eyes when I turned him over and he still had the money on him. Many things might be said about me, but even though I dealt with criminals I was not one of them. Of course with men like Mr. Ahriman honesty was not enough, they liked to have a little insurance. So when the lean man across from me leaned back in his seat my spirits sank a little further.
“You are a strange man, Mr. Ward. Normally I can tell in an instant if someone is lying to me. Reading people is a very easy thing, however you are strangely silent.”
Me? Silent? That was a first!
“Well I never lie,” I shot back, “I’m a modern day George Washington. If you had a cherry tree I’d chop it down…and then tell you. No worries about that, cross my heart and hope…you can trust me.”
“I find myself lacking that sense of knowing you which would enable trust between us,” Ahriman answered, “so I am left in an unusual circumstance. If I let you go freely I lose something valuable to me, yet if I hold you responsible without knowing, my credibility as a businessman is weakened.”
“My credibility is very valuable to me, Mr. Ward.”
“I am sure, one lacking in credibility would never associate himself with such distinguished people as Mr. Giant and Red over here,” I shot back, my mouth working in a way that was deeply kamikaze, “so it seems we’re at an impasse.”
“There is but one way to work around this difficult circumstance. You must agree to do a job for me, one related to our present situation, and in doing so you will fulfill my needs and preserve your own.”
Normally I would have been quick to point out the inherent lack of fairness in that statement. While the deep breathing of Giant and the wry smirk of Red that slowed my response, it was Ahriman’s steady gaze that shut me down. Some people not only seem to lack a sense of humor, but they give off a sort of field that killed any attempts at humor within a mile radius. The Force was strong within Ahriman, one look from him and comedians would be dropping dead across the country.
“So I do this for you and all is well, no more surprise visits from large, scary men?”
“Find the last person Mr. Aaron spoke with, bring him to me if you can, or at least information about who and where he is, and we will be done.”
“What are you going to do with that person?”
The words were out of my mouth before I could consider the consequences. Sometimes I amaze myself with sheer stupidity, but frankly bullies pissed me off whether they were big and tough or creepy and influential it was all the same.
“I will set accounts straight. That is all,” Ahriman regarded me strangely for a moment, as if surprised by my temerity.
“You will do this?”
I managed to catch myself before I jumped headlong into stupidity and said that I would not be party to murder. Reminding myself of my situation, and of the fact that I was in neck-deep, I had to swallow a little pride. He had managed to phrase his last question as closely to a statement as possible. It was a fine line, but really I was surprised he refrained from ordering me. Somehow he actually cared whether I agreed to this or not.
Strangeness abounds, even among kingpins.
“Well considering my choices, I can see how doing this might be in my best interests.”
“My associates will contact you soon,” Ahriman answered, “I expect results.”
Then I was hustled out of the car and watched as the limousine pulled away. Mr. Giant and Red both regarded me levelly. “Think I can ride in the car this time? Not that have anything against a nice trunk,” their reactions were less than promising, “or at least don’t knock me out this time.”
“For your sake, shut up,” Red tossed over his shoulder as he got into the driver’s seat. Mr. Giant squeezed into the passenger side so I took the opportunity to get into the back seat. Now that I was awake and not in a trunk, I was able to figure out where we had gone. At this time of night it was about a twenty-minute drive to my place. Great, an opportunity for some bonding with my new friends.
“So you guys been in town long? I haven’t seen either of you around,” I said from the backseat, “but I guess we frequent different places. If you’re new to town stop by my place sometime, since you know where I live, we can watch a game and have some beer…preferably not on your head.”
I almost reached up and patted Mr. Giant on the shoulder, but thought better of it. When neither of them seemed inclined to talk with me I settled back for the remainder of the ride. Everything was very to the point when we reached my place, neither of them said anything or even looked back. “Right, well it’s been a slice, I’ll be seeing you guys soon I’m sure,” I said as I stepped out of the car.
Now that I was back in my parking lot I walked over to my bike to make sure nothing had happened to it during the commotion. It had been with me for a while and was more like a trusty steed than a machine. Luckily ole Silver was just fine, so I turned around and, to my surprise, found that one of the beers from my busted six-pack had survived impact with Mr. Giant.
“Guess my luck is turning around,” I said as I popped it open and walked up to my apartment to get some sleep.
If you watch any of those movies with bounty hunters or private investigators you’ll notice that everything important seems to happen at night. Just watch and you’ll see that I am right. Sure they might go and get some clues during the day, or talk to a witness or source, but all the encounters and conflict really happens at night. Real life is usually the opposite, not surprisingly. At least three-fourths of my marks were apprehended during the day. That is because normal people do most of their business in the day. Night is for play or rest. Now the other quarter of my cases did go down at night and I can tell you, to the very last one, they are worse than the daytime jobs.
People who operate at night are just weird.
Remember college? Yes, I went to college, and even graduated…we can discuss how I ended up in my present job another time. College students are a lot like weird-lite. They’re not like normal people, but if they’re destructive it’s only to themselves. The really bad criminals operate at night too because for them it’s ‘play’ not ‘work’. Everything is either about greed or pleasure. You have your psychotics who do horrible things because they’re so messed up inside it takes horror to even make them feel, and you have the ‘professionals’ who are so addicted to power, whether through money or whatever, that they’ll do anything to get and keep it. In other words, pleasure and greed.
I’m a pretty good bounty hunter, and a private investigator as well although I do that less often. One thing that helps me out a lot, it’s a life saver really, is the little voice inside that helps me see through the veil of bullshit over the world. Now sometimes I don’t like to listen, because it blows away my own bullshit too, but I’d be dead or poor if it weren’t for the little voice. Right then my voice was telling me that finding Mr. Ahriman’s man would not be easy. So I decided to help myself out and call in a favor on this one.
The phone barely rang twice before he picked it up.
“Scuttleman’s Bond Service,” he said over the line in a practiced tone, “fast, fair, and friendly. This is Ed, how may I help you?”
“It’s me,” I answered, “and I’m hoping you’ll be extra friendly today.”
“Ryan! Why the hell did you let me get the whole thing out, told you a million times, say it’s you.”
“Right, sorry about that. So how are you doing today, Ed?”
I could almost hear the gears in his brain turning as he warily replied, “Not bad at all, and yourself?”
Before I called I had debated how much to tell Ed. He was the guy I worked for almost exclusively, we had known each other since I had moved back into town about a year ago. So he was someone I felt I could trust, however he also was a businessman and really cared about his business. At least in the sense of the bottom line. If he knew I got into trouble with Ahriman I had no doubt he’d dry up our connection. So I had to tread carefully.
“Pretty damn good, if I do say so, just doing a little P.I. work on the side for some extra cash.”
“Oh yeah,” he shot back, “you saying I don’t pay enough?”
“Hell no you don’t pay enough, but I’m saving up for a boat so I’m taking on extra work.”
“Well when I was tracking down Walter Aaron I found out that he had been posing as a legitimate antiques dealer. Naturally when he was caught the first time this dried up, for him, but certain buyers are worried that some of his associates might be crooked as well,” I was actually fairly proud of this fake case I was on, “so I’m trying to figure out the last people Aaron had dealings with before I caught up to him. If I had a list of his associates then I could really narrow down who I have to investigate. See what I mean?”
“You know I can’t give out a client’s information if it’s not related to bail jumping. If anyone found out I could be sued.”
I had predicted his objections.
“That’s true, Ed, but no one will know you gave me this information now. No one can prove I didn’t have it from before when I was on the case. Believe me, wild horses couldn’t pull this secret out of me.”
He paused, which was a good sign. It was when Ed was unworried that I knew he wouldn’t be helpful.
Can you believe that? My boss and ‘supposed’ friend was holding out for some sort of payoff! What happened to integrity?
“Of course you know that I would remember this next time you need a favor.”
“Thirty percent off of your next finder’s fee.”
I nearly tore his head off through the phone.
“You’re insane! Ten percent, and I am being really generous since I could find out what you know if I wanted to invest the time,” I shot back, while noting to take Ed off of my Christmas card list, “and I’m really not in a mood to haggle here, Ed, so don’t bother.”
Funny how sometimes you can actually ‘hear’ disappointment over the phone.
“Ten percent off the next fee, and you can have a copy of the file I have Aaron,” he said, “come by a little later and I’ll have it copied for you.”
“Deal, I’ll pick it up later. Bye.”
I disconnected the phone and stood up to stretch my muscles. Being crammed in the trunk had given me a crick, not to mention being knocked out first. With his information I should be able to find something out much quicker. My sore head reminded me that I did not want to end up on the wrong side of Mr. Giant’s huge fists again.
After a little reading and some critical thinking I managed to narrow down the people Aaron had dealings with in the last couple of weeks. Luckily out of the finalists, only two really seemed to fit the possible profile of item snatcher. So I took the name and addresses before heading out to check them out, in no particular order. The first person I checked out was a sometimes buyer of rare antiques. It took me a while to hunt him down, and get through all the layers of flunkies that rich people put between them and potential ‘bothers’. After all that I found out he was out-of-town and had been for at least a week. Considering the way my little bail jumper had run away, it seemed unlikely that someone would have lifted the item before then. Which ruled out suspect number one.
My second visit was to a Mr. Ernest Reyes, he had many dealings among the finer antique dealers as a finder or rare items. My little voice told me that if I were a thief it would be a good cover, especially if you knew the ‘right’ people…people like Mr. Aaron. Honor among thieves aside, it was easy to believe Reyes could have taken some things when he thought he business associate was going away for a while.
Reyes lived in a very nice apartment building. The kind that are all inside a building, rather than each place having an individual exit. Hell there was even a doorman who tipped his hat to me as I entered. How is that for service? Of course the downside was that before you could hit the elevators they had to call up and get approval before you could be buzzed through. Looking at the man behind the counter, I smiled and said, “I just need to speak to Mr. Reyes for a minute. It’s important, I promise.”
He looked me up and down, took in my worn tennis shoes, blue jeans, and Superman t-shirt, all of this under a thick brown leather jacket, screamed ‘trust me’. Okay maybe I didn’t cut the ‘right’ image for a place like that. Still he could have been a little more courteous!
“If you leave a business card, I can make sure that Mr. Reyes gets it…sir.”
“But my business is very urgent,” I countered.
“Mr. Reyes is not in right now,” he answered, “if you leave a card I can pass it along to him when he returns.”
After banging your head against a wall, eventually you start to get tired. I shook my head and turned to leave, on my way out to the street, the doorman motioned me to the side. Once we were out of view he said, “You trying to find Mr. Reyes?”
“Yes, yes, I am. It’s very urgent that I see him…”
“I know where he is. He always goes to the same place this time of night.”
If I swung that way I would have kissed him, “That’s great! Really, great!”
“Five hundred dollars.”
“What! Are you kidding me? I could just wait out here for him to come back and talk to him then!”
“Maybe,” the young man answered slyly, “but I pay a lot of attention to who comes and goes. You’re not really his friend, you’re probably a process server or something like that.”
What were they teaching these kids in school now? First Ed weasels a discount out of me, and now Pimply McGee was trying to clean me out!
“Listen I don’t have anything like that on me, and what makes you think I can get a hold of that much cash now?”
“Use an ATM, there is one right over there.”
“Well I have a fifty dollar limit on my card, I can’t pull more than that out in a single night.”
My teenage extortionist laughed, “Come on, do I look like I was born yesterday. Everyone can pull out at least three hundred bucks. So I’ll cut you a deal give me three hundred and I’ll tell you.”
Of course I maintained my dignity and did not say anything to give away how upset I was. My face was very composed as I turned away and cursed across the entire street and on the way back too. There went a significant chunk of my ‘Mr. Aaron’ money. Goodbye straight week of television and beer, hello jumping at the next job I can get. Still, since this was the last possible guy on the list, odds were I’d get some useful information. Keeping my delicate bits out of Mr. Ahriman’s hands was worth at least three hundred.
He counted the stack of twenties, twice, and then he finally said, “Check out a club called The Haven. He’s always going there just about every night.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said, miffed.
“Here, some free advice, be careful down there. It’s a weird place.”
“What do you mean weird?”
He shrugged, “Only heard stories…just weird. Trust me.”
It wasn’t until I reached my bike that I wondered how someone who had to still be in high school knew so much about the comings and goings of a black market dealer.
From the outside The Haven looked relatively unweird.
Considering that it was actually called ‘The Haven’, I was expecting people with lots of piercings and multi-colored hair. As it turns out, the place happened to be a rather high-class, exclusive club that catered to the rich and powerful. They had valet parking and all the cars that pulled up cost more than my yearly income. While not everyone wore a tux or evening gown, as they went there to ‘play’, all the fashion in evidence was of the pricey sort.
In other words, I didn’t expect to get inside.
So I ran through my extensive mental list of ideas for sneaking inside. Basically all that came to mind was ‘Chinese Connection’. Remember? The one where Bruce Lee dressed up as a telephone repairman and sneaks inside the enemy dojo. It’s classic! The only problem was that I didn’t seem to have a handy disguise. Not to mention that they probably employed bouncers, and I didn’t want to find out if they could literally ‘bounce’ me.
“Hell, you only live once,” I said to myself and walked up to the door.
The doorman was dressed in a very nice suit and looked at me impassively, which was a lot better than I had gotten at Reyes’ apartment. I nodded at him, acting like I owned the place, and proceeded to walk past him. To my utter surprise no hand reached out in front of me, no yell summoned large men to throw me out, I didn’t even get a disappointed sniff. Frankly, I was slightly disappointed. All that build up for nothing!
was strangely comforting. At the very moment I walked through the door it felt as if I was more relaxed, at peace. For someone who makes a living at noticing and apprehending fugitives being relaxed was not a normal thing. So of course I made myself tense up and study my surroundings. First off I noticed that there were layers to the club. When someone entered the first layer was apparent, a large dance floor down a set of stairs. There was a bar and live music, it wasn’t that bad either. Looking to my right I saw another staircase, going up, and to the left the same thing.
Finding someone on the dance floor was a dismal prospect. I walked up the stairs and exited into a much more relaxed establishment than that below. There was a large wooden bar, very old school, and a series of private booths encircling the room. I walked over to the bar, scanning the room as I passed. Within the file I had gotten from Ed there had been pictures as well, so I would be able to spot Reyes if he was there.
“What do you want?”
I turned to look at the bartender, and it took a moment to realize he wanted my drink order, “Oh, right, I’ll have a Shiner.”
He turned away to get my beer and I turned in my seat to face the bar. I almost jumped when I noticed a woman sitting next to me. She had most certainly not been there when I sat down!
“Hello,” she said with a dazzling smile.
Her head tilted to the side in a way that was, well, stunning. She was hard to describe, but at the time she seemed to embody everything I’ve ever possibly wanted in a woman. No I’m not that shallow, for some reason I got the feeling she had the whole package. The perfect mind to go with the perfect look. A lifetime of desire flashed through my mind in an instant and it almost shorted out my brain.
It took a minute for my mouth to start working enough for me to reply wittily, “Hello.”
“You’re new,” she said coyly, “I haven’t seen you before.”
“That would be because I’ve never been here before.”
What? My brain was still recouping from the initial impact.
“How do you like it?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s starting to grow on me.”
She laughed, “Glad to hear it. It gets so boring seeing the same people every night. I like it when new people stop by.”
“I’ll be sure to come back sometime,” I said, forcing myself to look around the room again. It was difficult.
“He’s not here, Ryan.”
It was like she had a string attached to my eyes, they jerked back onto her, “How do you know my name?”
“Now that he knows you’re coming, he ran away. Are you working for him?”
Somehow I knew him wasn’t Reyes, she meant Ahriman.
“No,” my answer surprised me, “but I’m involved in something that needs to be sorted out.”
The woman touched my cheek gently, “I’m glad you’re not working for him. The man you seek is still looking for the item. Be careful, he knows you’re coming.”
She stood up and walked away. Just seeing her leave made me want to cry, and the spot where she touched my cheek burned. My mind didn’t start to work normally for another few minutes, until I looked down and realized I had finished off two beers. Dropping a five on the table I stood up until the bartender shook his head. Wincing I dropped another five and two crumpled ones. Hunting down this guy was getting expensive.
After I left I mentally ran through what I knew. Reyes was still looking for this thing that had everyone so confused. Which meant Aaron must have hidden it somewhere. Where could he have hidden it? I had caught up to him very quickly, he’d barely been off the radar before I took him back. So he had no time to go anywhere else…but where I found him!
Whatever he had hidden had to be there. No one but me knew where I had picked him up.
Now to just find this thing he had hidden…of course that wouldn’t be easy considering I didn’t even know what it was.
Remember what I said about people who operate at night? Walter Aaron was someone I found at night. He had been missing for three days before I got the job. By that point no one had suspected he would go back to his house, of course I had a hunch that he would. People are very attached to their homes and it’s hard to leave and never go back. So I waited around and picked up his trail there. I didn’t go in after him, the laws are touchy about people and their homes, trust me. Instead I followed him after he left, once he was in the open it was much easier to pick him up…less chance of any legal entanglements.
So where did he go?
A bus station. Station eight to be exact. Now here is the interesting part, I found him near a stand of lockers. The kind where you put in fifty cents and take the key. Yes, just like in all the movies. Now here is the weird part, when I took him in there was no key. He didn’t have a key on him anywhere, and since I got to him right after he went inside there was no time to stash it anywhere. He could have dropped the key, thrown it away, whatever. Luckily for me I remembered the group of lockers where I found him, and figured that I could pick the lock pretty readily.
There were only four lockers that had the key missing, so it had to be one of those. As covertly as I could, I started picking the lock on the first one. It didn’t take me very long, after all they didn’t bother putting terribly expensive locks on them. I found a lady’s purse. It was doubtful that’s what he hid, but I took it anyway just in case. Then I made my way through the other three lockers in short order and found: a backpack, a wallet, and a gun wrapped in a large rag. As soon as I saw the gun, I stuffed everything into the backpack and made my way to a maintenance stairwell. Considering the time of night I doubted anyone would be on the roof and I could look over everything before returning the wrong items on my way out. Made perfect sense to me.
Okay, in retrospect I realize going onto a dark roof at night, when I was mixed up in all that crazy stuff was a little foolish. Kinda like in the horror movie when someone goes into the basement. The only thing is, the people in the movie don’t know that they’re in the movie so to them it’s just day-to-day living. Take a long hard look at your life and tell me you never go into your basement at night to get something, or take a shower and turn your back to the shower curtain. It’s just a part of living. So I went up to the roof and laid everything out on top of an air conditioning unit.
The purse and wallet were out, they belonged to a couple of bus drivers who likely wanted to leave anything valuable in a safe place. Guess that worked out really well for them. Hey, cut me some slack, I was going to put it back! The gun I handled very carefully, never touching the handle or trigger, and making sure to wipe any part I did touch. From closer inspection I found out that it was a Ruger .44 magnum revolver, appeared to be in working condition, and was loaded. So I looked in the backpack and pulled out what looked to be square piece of marble. It was perfectly smooth, square, and felt solid…so it couldn’t be a box. Not to mention that it didn’t have any openings. I looked it over thoroughly just in case it was some rare antique that I was too uncultured to recognize. If that was the case then it was far beyond me, since there were no markings of any sort. It was, as it appeared, a plain hunk of marble.
I didn’t know a lot about marble, my art classes had been few and far between, but it was enthralling to look at. Flawless was the word. The patters in the grain caught my eye and drew me into the natural design, far more delicate than any human hand could make. My hands started to sweat as I held the stone, or was it becoming hotter? I couldn’t really tell. Instead my eyes kept following the pattern, falling deeper and deeper into the maze below. Somehow I knew there was an end and I could find it!
There was a small click sound and I felt the stone move in my hands. The world started to fall away below me as I rose, or did I fall, it was hard to tell. Everything was so confusing. It felt as if I was adrift in space, or looking into my own mind somehow, searching…opening…unlocking. Like the box within my hands. A flash of light shot into every corner of my brain, touching all the edges of the universe in a single instant…comforting me, making me feel that even though things were tough I could still continue.
“Give me the box,” a voice from behind ripped me from my thoughts.
I looked down and the marble was still a square. Not hot, not open, nothing more than a piece of stone.
“I said give me the box,” it was a man’s voice. Still somewhat stunned I turned slowly to look behind me. There was a man standing there, he looked to be about my age, a few years shy of thirty, and was darkly handsome. Less attractive was the gun he had pointed at me. It took me a few seconds, but I recognized him from the picture, it was Reyes. He must have been talking about the marble, normally I would have handed it over. I found myself more than reluctant to part from the item.
“What is it,” I asked, hungry for knowledge about the peculiar stone.
“A fortune, and worth killing for, so don’t tempt me.”
The pieces started coming together in my mind. A chain of events that had me playing the part of a pawn.
“You set me up! All along you were looking for this, and so you made Ahriman think I was involved, left a trail for me to follow…everything. It was all a scam!”
“Very clever, just give me the box and we’re done here,” he said, there was a look in his eyes. The sort of crazy that you don’t want to see in someone holding a gun on you.
“Just tell me what it is.”
He studied me for a moment and then shook his head, “I don’t think so. Last chance, hand it over.”
For some reason that was utterly beyond me, I realized with complete clarity that I was willing to die to keep the box out of his hands. Despite that sudden realization, I still didn’t want to die, so I tried to think fast. I held the box out in front of me and nodded slowly, “Take it, I’m just trying to save my ass here.”
I could tell that Reyes was hungry for the box, obsessed. While it made him very dangerous, it also meant he might make a mistake that normally he would not. Besides, I had been pushed around for the last two days and frankly it was pissing me off. It might seem like a strange time to get fed up, while staring down the barrel of a gun, but what can I say? I’m a strange person.
He walked over in front of me and reached out his empty hand to take the box. While it was not terribly large, being maybe six inches long and half as tall, it was made of solid marble and had some heft. So when his hand took hold, the weight tilted his body forward briefly, which also threw his aim off for a second. My left hand flashed out to knock his gun arm out of line and jerked forward, while my other side twisted into a right cross that rocked him onto his heels. Following through on the blow, I turned and brought my elbow straight out into his face. Something crunched and there was a spurt of blood from the spot where his nose used to be. His gun went flying off into the darkness.
It flashed through my brain like a lightning bolt, so I snatched the marble from his falling body. Normally someone who was hit like I had hit him would have been knocked out, or at least disoriented long enough for me to run, unfortunately Reyes’ insanity worked in his favor. Grinning through the blood streaming down his face he said something and reached out his hand towards me. At least that’s what it looked like. I couldn’t make out what he said, but there was a flash of light as something arced from him into my chest. My muscles seized up and hurled me backwards at least ten feet where I slammed down on top of a large metal air conditioning unit.
Groaning, I tried to make myself get up but my body wasn’t working properly between the flash and the impact. Parts of the air conditioner and the things I had spread out were stabbing into me. A dry voice reminded me that feeling pain was a good thing, I probably wasn’t paralyzed…permanently.
“Stupid ass,” Reyes spat out a tooth and a spatter of blood, “now I’ll kill you and take the box.”
It was only then I realized I had the marble clenched in my left hand. Somehow I had held onto the object during my flight.
“Over my dead body,” I choked, rolling onto my right side and willing myself to get up. I felt something digging into my side, and reached down to move it.
Reyes was walking closer, but thought better of it as I managed to slide off the top of the air conditioner. Instead he stopped and took a wide stance before holding his hands out in front of him. If he had thrown me that hard with one hand, no matter how he did it, I didn’t want to see what two would do. I had something in mind, but I need to stall long enough for my arm to work again.
“Stop,” I wheezed, “or I’ll throw it over the edge.”
Crazed eyes widened, but then narrowed as he growled, “You think anything can hurt that? It’s the box!”
“I think neither of us really know, do you want to find out?”
The edge wasn’t that far away, normally tossing it over wouldn’t have been that hard, as I was right then it looked to be a challenge. Still, that’s what bluffing was all about!
“How about we both walk away,” I said, genuinely, “I don’t want to hurt you, Reyes.”
“You’ve seen what I can do! Go ahead and throw the box, I’ll kill you and call it to me before it can hit the ground.”
It wasn’t an idle threat, he was a stone cold killer. I threw myself forward the instant he finished talking, and just in time too as a lightning bolt flew overhead into the battered air conditioner! The metal box crackled with electricity. Reyes’ eyes shot down to me and he moved, but it was too late. I had the gun out in front of me, and he wasn’t more than ten feet away. Once, twice, three times I fired. It had a hell of a kick, and I was no Clint Eastwood, but large slugs tore through his body. Little flowers of blood popped up on his chest, and three sickening explosions came from his back.
He didn’t even have time to gasp before he fell to the ground.
I stared down at him for a minute. He was the first person I had ever shot, first person I had ever killed. Adrenaline was still pumping through my system, so all I felt was a sense of anxiety. Stiffly I gathered up everything I had touched and threw it in the backpack and left as quickly as I could. The bus station was thankfully deserted and I got to my bike without any trouble. As I drove away, I eventually found myself riding over Town Lake. It bisected downtown Austin, and everything I had picked up sank quickly below the surface.
Everything except for the box.
There was a knock at my apartment door and I opened it to be greeted by an expanse of chest.
“I don’t have to ride in the trunk again, do I,” I asked Mr. Giant. As always he was his normally talkative self. He stepped out of the way and made no other move. I shut the door behind me and walked out of my apartment. Red was waiting with their car.
“Hello again,” I said with a cheerful smile, “I was wondering when you two would show up.”
“Let’s go,” Red got into the driver’s seat and started the car.
I didn’t need a more obvious invitation than that. I hopped in the back seat and watched as we left. It took a little while, but we eventually went back to the same place they had taken me the first time. While the back seat was more comfortable, I might have been in the trunk considering the company I was keeping. Red was silent in a smugly arrogant sort of way, the attitude of someone who is just waiting for an opportunity to kill you. Mr. Giant was even worse, he could have been a robot for all the humanity that was coming off of him.
Mr. Ahriman’s Rolls Royce limousine pulled up not long after we arrived. It was black and expensive and scary as hell. Giant and Red were intimidating, but they didn’t really scare me the way he did. His car was more scary than anything I could readily think of, the man himself…well let’s just say I didn’t look forward to our little meeting. He was waiting for us as we got into the back seat. Like the girl at the bar, he was another person that is hard to describe. His appearance did not lend itself to physical descriptions, but instead I had to work on concepts like malicious, intelligent, corrupting…basically just being near him was like confronting the worst part of yourself, magnified.
“We need to make a habit of this, just give me a little warning next time, I’ll bring some beer and pretzels,” I said by way of greeting.
Is it terribly wussy that I barely got that out, and my teeth kept wanting to chatter?
“You have located that which I sought, and the man who wanted it as well.”
Yes, again with the statements that were barely questions. I think Ahriman never asked questions, he just demanded clarification of what he already knew.
“Ernest Reyes, he worked with Mr. Aaron and I believe he is the man responsible for whatever that got you involved in the first place.”
“And the item he sought?”
“I got rid of it,” I answered in all honesty, “it was a piece of marble and seemed to be of no value.”
“But you know where it is at.”
Damn him. Of course I knew where it was! The thing was fascinating. I was compelled to keep it.
“What would you say if I asked you to give it to me?”
I almost fainted, that was actually a question!
“I would say,” I paused a moment to look at Giant and Red, but pressed on, “not a chance.”
“Not many people would dare to deny me anything,” he pursed his lips and, I’ll be damned, actually smiled, “but the box is useless to me now anyway. It’s yours. Take good care of it, or don’t, the decision is up to you.”
Remember being a child, and when the adults would talk to you about things you didn’t understand, but somehow you knew it was important? That’s pretty much what I was reliving at that moment. I knew, more than I’d known anything, how important the box was, but I still had no idea what the damn thing was! Or even why he seemed content to let me have it.
“Right, so we’re done?”
“This is done, but I can assure you that we will talk again, Mr. Ward.”
“Can’t wait,” I said, though my mouth was very dry.
We started to get out of the car, but Mr. Ahriman motioned for us to stop a moment, “When you realize everything, remember that you were here, and in my power, but I did nothing to you. That should count for something in the end.”
Then the three of us got out of the car. I watched as the limousine pulled away sedately and then turned towards Red and Mr. Giant just in time to see them leaving. Pricks, I didn’t want a ride anyway. Ended up walking a mile before I found a pay phone and called a cab.
Later that night, I was in the basement of my apartment building. Down amongst the foundation and decay. I walked over to a corner near the bottom of a brick wall and pulled a few of them free. Inside was a square wrapped in cloth. Unwrapping it I looked at the piece of marble that was, apparently, so damn important and tried to imagine just what the hell it could be. This time there was no ‘pull’ as I looked over the stone. Whatever it was supposed to do had been done, that was why Ahriman hadn’t made an issue out of getting it from me.
What worried me the most was the way he looked at me, and what he said at the end. He wasn’t afraid…but there was something.
I wrapped it up and put the stone away. As I stood up I stretched and pushed all the stupid worries out of my head. No one connected me to what happened with Reyes, it was at a crappy bus station, everyone assumed it was a mugging. Reyes drew his gun, the mugger drew his, killed the rich guy and ran off in fear. Case closed, hopefully. Time would tell on that one. Thankfully I didn’t leave a business card at his apartment, only the door boy had gotten a good look at me. I’d have to be careful, but I knew how things worked and odds were it’d never come back to me.
As for the rest? I was done with strange cases and places, it was time to go back to normal work. I’d leave all the weird stuff at night to the weirdos who liked that sort of thing.