Eat The Dead

  1. Mother One

 

Eat the dead.”

Mother Superior’s voice, no doubt but from an undistinguished source- inside her own head maybe, but there. Not the first time Asiya heard them; as her hungered grown over the days and weeks, so the message had grown.  Now it wouldn’t leave her alone.  Almost as if all of the stiff, semi-clothed bodies of the nuns spoke to her.  Recently, when she opened her eyes just to escape the voices she was certain she could see the Mother Superior’s mouth moving silently.  Asleep or awake, the message wouldn’t leave her alone.

Eat the dead.”  And more now.  “Do it for the child.  Give it what we are.  Nourish him with our bodies and our souls. Do it so he serve God.”

She did.  So hungry, so cold and weak from exposure; so hallucinatory.  Just a nibble on a finger, then biting a little harder as she warmed and softened the tissue with her mouth.  Tiny bits of skin at first, then more, and more.

It went on for weeks.  Each day the voices grew, different voices, seemingly vying to be selected, like an honour to be part of the unborn child’s menu.  Days passed, her eyes grew wilder as her child lived on those who were her caretakers, her mentors, and her protectors.  The more she consumed, the more the voices, the thoughts and the souls filled her, and the more her eyes grew wild with it.

Within Asiya, the child, nourished by this ethereal and most holy of feasts, lived, breathed the life of God into itself.  Grew through the nourishment of their physical spirit.  To think that they would devote themselves to god’s purpose for so many years to end up food for an unborn – God’s purpose in this instance confirms He truly worked in mysterious ways.

There is no telling what transpired through the bodies and spirits of these nuns as they transferred into the struggling life held inside the mother.  To be sure, it was not an ordinary gestation.

And the future, guaranteed strange, as strange and unexplained as the events that were to transpire through this yet unborn life.  But surely that time succouring on the holiness of those women created the soul for what made and built the legend that would become Bozji Dar’s life and times.

 

*

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Th3K1ng0fK1ng5 – Cover Page. See Complete Novel

January 29, 2015 2 comments

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Last Of The Good Guys – Chapter Twenty-Two

May 17, 2010 Leave a comment

San Diego International Airport
San Diego, California
Late Saturday Afternoon

Bobby watched Rachel exit the arrivals gate a few hundred feet ahead of him. Tanya walking alongside her hand in hand. It seemed to him that his daughter held on to her like Rachel was mom. It’d been a long time since he’d seen her hold on to someone beside himself.

He favored his bad leg, putting his weight on a cane they’d bought in an emergency clinic somewhere in the middle of Texas. It was a clean wound; the bullet had passed through without tearing up any bone, just a little muscle. In fact, he’d come out of it in better shape than Rachel – her arms and part of her neck slightly burned when she’d pulled Tanya out of the car the night before. Bobby supposed that kind of thing could get the two of them a little closer.

He didn’t have too much trouble spotting Jimmy, the biggest, meanest looking man at the arrivals gate. He watched the bodyguard wade through the crowd to Rachel and Tanya, and saw the smile break out on him as he got to them. It took Bobby a few seconds to catch up to them.

“No questions. Okay?”

Bobby was just close enough to catch the words.

“Okay, boss. No questions.”

“Jimmy, I’d like you to meet my brother.”

Jimmy turned and held out his hand as Bobby got to them.

“Nice to meet you Robert.”

Bobby took his hand and pressed it, smiling like he’d been called Robert since the day he was born.

“Nice to meet you too, Jimmy.”

“There’s someone else I’d like you to meet.” Rachel said as she pulled Tanya back to give everyone a view of her. “My niece, Tanya.”

Jimmy looked at Rachel and Bobby simultaneously. “Didn’t know you had a little one, Robert.”

Bobby watched Rachel and Jimmy exchange looks. “No Questions, boss.” Jimmy said it like he was repeating a mantra.

With that said the three of them followed Jimmy’s lead to the car.

“Your friend Sunny’s quite an impressive fellow.” I owe him a lot Jimmy. She said it while Jimmy was doing the door for her. “You don’t know.”

“Oh yes I do Ms Rachel. I talked to him.” He smiled that big smile as he closed her door. “Said he had a lot of fun.”

Bobby sat in the front passenger seat of the Mercedes. Little Tanya sat in the back, holding Rachel’s hand as they watched the Pacific ocean roll by on the coast highway.

“This is a big water, Rachel. Can I swim in it?”

“Sure Sweety. We’ll get you the prettiest bathing suit you ever saw.”

Bobby heard the small talk between the two of them as he watched the water move by him. So much had happened in the past week. One minute he was looking for a little work, then he’s fighting for his life, and a few minutes later he’s riding a Mercedes beside a different ocean some thousands of miles away. At least in retrospect it all seemed like minutes to him – like a pebble making ripples that take on a life of their own, he thought.

The sun was just getting ready to settle into the ocean when they pulled onto the driveway of the beach house. Tanya had fallen asleep on Rachel’s lap. Jimmy picked her up gently and headed for the house while Bobby struggled a little getting out of the car with his bad leg.

“I’ll tuck this one into bed and then Jimmy and I have to get back to the city. Everything you need is here. Make yourself comfortable. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Rachel looked at Bobby for a few seconds. Something in her eyes said she liked them, both of them – something said it was time they got a break and she intended to see to that. She put her hand behind Bobby’s neck, pulled him down and kissed him softly on the cheek. “Okay, brother of mine. It’s nice to have my family home.” She smiled their secret at him as she turned to follow Jimmy into the house.

Bobby didn’t even hear them leave. He’d taken himself out to the deck and gotten immersed in the quiet roll of the waves as the sun slid imperceptibly out of sight. He sat there for some time, watching and remembering everything as it played back on some giant dark screen in the sky. It was a lot to process. He remembered Gomez and the Lady more than anything else. He thought he could see the Mexican smiling at him from the stern of the Lady as she sailed off into a distant heaven.

There was another Mexican he owed a visa to and he would see to that, Rachel had told him she would take care of it.

He took the minute for one silent prayer to whoever was listening before he stood up and headed off to check his little girl, asleep in their new home.

He stood at the foot of her bed for a long moment. It was a nice fit, he thought – you never know what God intends.

Maybe good guys don’t always finish last.

*

Last Of The Good Guys – Chapter Twenty-One

May 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The Senator’s Home
Austin, Texas
Saturday Morning

The senator was bitching at the maid about his coffee as he rushed his way past the children, placing his usual indifferent kiss on his wife’s fat cheek.

He was in his car and onto the freeway without a moment’s notice. His watch said ten forty-five. He’d get there with minutes to spare. If there was one thing he didn’t want to be absent for it was his eleven o’clock call to Estaphan. It was something important, he’d said, something that would ‘brighten up his day’. The senator fondled the words with a certain unknown excitement as he exited the freeway and pulled into the complex of office buildings.

He pulled into his reserved parking. It was Saturday and the lot was empty anyway. He headed for the elevator, speculating how nice it’d be to have no traffic all week.

Once in his office, the senator settled behind his desk as he glanced at his watch. Ten fifty-seven. He was going to wait the three minutes. He wanted to be right on time to show Estaphan how precisely he could listen to orders.

It was something big, he thought. Maybe Enrico’d cleared up that thing with Howie and Hertzel. He wondered how it went down. He really didn’t give a shit so long as he was clear. With those two out of the way, maybe the old man wanted to move ahead with the political issues. Estaphan had insisted on him calling this morning – from the office, alone with no one else to listen in. Must be something big, he thought.

For Lorraine the morning routine had been just like all the others, tedious and humiliating. The only difference this morning was Estaphan’s state of mind. He was unusually cheerful, much too pleasant for his nature, and that, in itself, unnerved her.

To heighten the mystery, he’d ordered her to bring a phone and a newspaper to his bedside, both requests very out of character. She knew well how much the ringing startled him, not to mention his irrational fear that it might disrupt his pacemaker. But she knew better than to question him, never did.

Antonio arrived abruptly, paper in hand and impending trauma all over his face.

“What is it?” Her beeper went off.

“Does he know about this?” Antonio said. “Brownsville. It’s all over the newspapers.” The beeper squealed again, several times, sounding angrier at each repetition. “Enrico. They’re calling it a massacre.”

She answered his anxious stare with a shrug. “What massacre?” She silenced the beeper as she turned quickly for the stairs. “I’ve got to go!” Her words drifted back over her shoulder. “The master calls.”

“What time is it?” Luis Estaphan asked the question the moment Lorraine entered the bedroom, his eyes glowing just a little brighter than usual, like a child about to open a new toy at Christmas.

“Almost eleven.”

“What time is it exactly?”

“She picked up the tone, and rechecked her watch. “One minute to eleven.” The words weren’t out of her mouth before the phone rang. He smiled, and waited for it to ring a second time.

“Hello Senator.” Estaphan’s voice sounded like an excited little boy. “Right on time, thank you for being prompt. I like that.”

Lorraine opened the drawer he pointed to, saw the solitary revolver and what looked like a television remote. She’d never seen the little black box before. Funny she thought, there was no television in the room – he hated them too.

“Well, I think I’ve pretty well taken care of all our problems.” His face showed a tiny smile as he pointed to the remote. “All but one, and that’s why I wanted to talk to you.”

The senator hung expectantly on the other end of the phone. “Whatever I can do for you. You name it, Mister Estaphan.”

“Are you listening, Senator?” Luis held the remote to the receiver and pressed it. “This is the most important message I ever gave you.”

There was a high-pitched beep, and then an explosion. Lorraine could hear it through the phone.

“Well, I bet that really blew our friend away.” He looked at Lorraine, his smile turning into a wide grin.

Lorraine stood there, the paper still tucked under her arm, thinking something she couldn’t believe possible, watching him enjoy it to the last chuckle.

“Well, I’ve got myself an appetite this morning. Give me the paper and bring me something light. I think I’ll lounge in bed for a while.”

Lorraine was no sooner downstairs transferring an order to the kitchen help than the beeper started up again. This time it was the emergency code, the unbroken, high-pitched one that got shriller the longer it ran unanswered. Cursing under her breath she double-timed through the house, grabbing the oxygen on her way.

From the top of the stairs she could see right in through the open double doors to the room. Estaphan was squirming like he was in the grip of a python, the newspaper distorted and shredding in his hands. She ran through the doors only to be grabbed by Antonio. He looked at her hard, his head shaking slowly as he took the oxygen pack out of her hands and closed the doors.

Estaphan’s eyes got wide. “Help me!” He squeezed the words out between gasps for air. His shrivelled face twisted as he attempted to get himself up far enough to reach the drawer. Antonio left Lorraine’s side and walked calmly to the bed. Oxygen pack in hand, he opened the drawer and picked the handgun out of reach.

“I’ll kill you.” Estaphan gurgled the words as his face turned blue. “You little son of a bitch.” The sentence died in his throat as he pulled the covers and the newspaper with him to the floor.

Lorraine moved across the room slowly, her eyes never leaving the still body, expecting it to twitch back to life like it did on more mornings than she wanted to remember. Antonio wiped the gun, replaced it in the drawer and checked for a pulse. Getting none, he picked the front page of the newspaper from the floor and handed it to Lorraine as he punched the pre-coded emergency line.

She read the headline and didn’t need the accompanying pictures to understand.

“This is the Estaphan residence. We need an ambulance immediately. My uncle has had a heart attack. Hurry.”

Antonio hung the phone up as calmly as though he’d ordered pizza. He looked at the crumpled body of Luis Estaphan for a second, tossed the oxygen pack on the bed and turned to Lorraine. “I guess it was bad news, baby.”

*

Last Of The Good Guys – Chapter Twenty

May 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Howie Morgan’s Trailer
South Padre Island, Texas
Late Friday Night

Bobby and Jesús had been gone for less than an hour. Bobby’s little Tanya had fallen asleep on the couch, her head on Rachel’s lap as Rachel gently stroked her soft hair.

Rachel hadn’t gotten the full story before they left, but did get enough from Bobby about the ship, the murder, his own involvement and the background to Tanya’s presence to realize there had been a lot more going on than just her brother’s death. Not that her brother’s death didn’t grieve her, it did, but she’d known in her heart for some time that he was dead – had been working on acceptance for a couple of days now.

Of all the mayhem, it was the little girl asleep on her lap that most affected her. Although her childhood hadn’t been identical to this one’s, there were certainly some parallels. Maybe the only real reason for all of it was to give her an opportunity to change something for this one – something she wished someone had done for her and her brother long ago. She still had the beach house and she knew for a certainty these two were running out of places to hide. Maybe just set them up there until they sort something out. She’d never had children, but this little thing, falling faster asleep with every moment, certainly felt like she belonged on her lap. Life was strange, she thought.

What if they didn’t come back, she wondered. She’d have to get out of there, on her own. She needed to get out of there before anyone found any bodies. That would mean tonight, in the dark, with Tanya. Her mind went to Sunny. She wondered where he was right now, didn’t think he’d let too much time pass before he started looking for her – she thought they had developed that kind of relationship. She decided she’d wait two hours, then start walking. If she could get the two of them to the hotel, Sunny would get them out of Brownsville, and out of Texas.
With that thought in mind, she gently lifted Tanya’s head and slid out from under her, covering her with a tattered comforter. Time to get herself looked at and cleaned up.

In the tiny washroom at the back of the trailer she cringed when she saw herself in the mirror. The bruise on the side of her face had turned a dark purple. She splashed some water on her face and straightened her torn clothing as best she could, even tried to fix her hair a little. She laughed silently at herself, here she was with bodies piled somewhere outside, a little girl in trouble in the next room a couple of strangers taking care of them and a maniac, or more, out there somewhere – and she’s fixing her hair.

She was at the end of that thought when her hand slid down to the gun in her pocket. It wasn’t as if she’d actually heard anything. It was more of a feeling, between her and the little thing asleep nearby whom she’d gotten so close to so quickly.

She turned quietly, gun drawn, extinguishing the light as she stepped out of washroom and into the subdued light of the trailer.

“Drop it or I’ll kill the little bitch.” Howie had Tanya wrapped under his arm, his hand across her mouth. He was gripping her so tight her feet weren’t in contact with the ground, his knife so close to her throat she could die accidentally.

“Not a chance, you piece of garbage. If you hurt one hair on her head, you’re a dead man.” Her voice portrayed a calm she did not feel. Her mind raced past the thoughts of how much he already looked like a dead man – face ashen, breathing heavily, blood covering his clothes as though he’d gone swimming in it. “You let her go and I let you go, no other deal.”

She was trying to figure why he even returned to the trailer; whatever he needed it wasn’t there. Maybe he’d thought he could hide out, no one would connect him. Maybe he figured she would help him, patch him up, drive him and his money out of there – maybe he wanted to believe she liked a real man. Maybe nothing more than a wounded animal’s instinct, returning to its lair to heal or die. Rachel didn’t really know why, and she cared less.

“I’m goin’. And I’m takin’ the kid.” He edged towards the door. “Insurance. Once I’m in Mexico I’ll let her go.” He pulled Tanya up tight against him. Fear screaming from her eyes. “You tell ’em that. Tell ’em they don’t come after me and don’t tell nobody. I let her go in Mexico.” Howie was out the door as he said it. “Otherwise I’ll kill the little slut before I die.”

Rachel followed him out the door step for step as he backed his way to the cruiser, her gun held steady, two-handed. She told herself she couldn’t let it happen, and wanted to take the chance with a shot, but couldn’t. Howie continued to shield himself with the girl while he slid behind the wheel. He started it up and slipped her to the seat beside him, arm and knife menacingly wrapped around her, her eyes full of tears, as Rachel looked right into them. The headlights blinded her, sand spewing as Howie wrenched the vehicle around for his getaway to nowhere.

Tears running down her face, she screamed for him to stop as she stumbled after them through the sand. She didn’t slow until she saw the headlights coming towards her from the darkness. The two cars passed two hundred yards from her, as she stood transfixed in the glare of the approaching lights. It passed her, sand flying indiscriminately as the vehicle spun one hundred and eighty degrees before heading back towards her.

“Need a ride, ma’am?” Sunny swung the passenger door open.

“Sunny!” Rachel jumped in. “Follow him!”

Sand flew from the wheels, the rear end swinging erratically as they accelerated. “Don’t worry Ms Rachel, I got him in my sights.” He stepped hard on the gas. “You relax now, Sunny’s on the job.”

“The guy ahead of us is crazy, and he’s got a little girl with him. Thank God you showed up.” And that’s when it dawned on her, his showing up in the middle of nowhere. “How’d you find me?”

“I told you I wouldn’t be far away. He noticed her battered face as he continued. “I found real anonymous people lots of times. This Morgan, he’s one famous guy. No problem. Besides, you didn’t check in like you said you would.” He smiled through the darkness. “And I ain’t gonna face Jimmy as a failure, not yet anyway.” More headlights flash on the other side of the fleeing police cruiser. “Looks like we got more company.”

Rachel peered ahead, praying it was Bobby. She hoped he knew, somehow, that it was Howie coming towards him.

Bobby didn’t get the chance to figure it out as Howie suddenly veered off the beach and up onto a dune. The cruiser flew across the top out of control, slamming sideways into a second dune as it rolled onto its’ side.

Jesús jammed his foot on the brake. Bobby was out the door before the truck stopped sliding.

“Take the other side!” He pointed in a direction a little further down the beach as he shouted the words back at Jesús.

Bobby paid little attention to the flames starting their slow circle around the cruiser, concentrating on ignoring his pain as he circled to the back of the dune where Howie had disappeared. He knew Howie wouldn’t get far, and hoped his own strength held up better than he felt at the moment. He was barely able to make the top of the dune before he heard the groans and curses from the other side. He rose silently over the top and put his gun into the back of Howie’s neck. “Hi, Howie.” The nonchalant calm in his voice belied his breathless lack of strength.

“Bobby?”

With the mention of his name Bobby slapped his gun across Howie’s face, both the knife and the briefcase staying tight in his grasp as he rolled a few feet down the dune.

“Amigo.” Howie sounded offended as he brought a smile to his pain. “I got our money. I need a little help to get out of here.” He pulled himself a little upright, coughing blood as he spoke. “You and me Bobby, what do you say? Get me into one of them vehicles. Get me a Doctor. Fifty-fifty.” He held up the briefcase. “You and me. What do you say?”

“You’re not going to make it to a Doctor, Howie.” There was cold calm in Bobby’s voice. “I think I’m just going to kill you Howie, save time, and do everybody a big favour.” He added the afterthought. “Including you.” He walked to within a foot of him. “What do you say?”

Howie didn’t get to answer. The explosion and flames that shot up over the back of the dune had them both cowering in the sand. And when the noise subsided there was just Howie’s sick laugh in its’ place.

“What’s funny, Howie?”

“That your kid back at the trailer?” Howie spoke between his laughter and gurgling blood. “Well I took her in the car with me, and I think I might have left the pretty little thing back there.” A cruel look crossed his face. As Bobby instinctively turned towards the flaming wreck Howie jammed the knife into bobby’s bad leg and used the briefcase to knock the gun and Bobby to the sand. “And I’ll bet she ain’t so pretty any – ”

The bullet in Howie’s stomach stopped him in mid-sentence. His eyes bugged out but his legs still held him while the sick smile faded from his face. He turned towards Rachel just as she fired the second bullet. This one took Howie to his knees.

She stepped between Bobby’s prone figure and the kneeling Howie. “You look like you’re praying, Howie.” She put the gun an inch from his face and fired until the chamber clicked empty several times. “Don’t frighten little girls.”

She slipped the gun back into her pocket and bent over Bobby. “Get up!” She pulled him by the arm. “We’ve got to get out of here. Now!”

“Tanya?”

“She’s okay.”

“Wait.” Bobby was on one knee, his arm around her shoulder as he reached across and took the briefcase out of Howie’s hand. “Is he dead?”

“Oh, I think so.” She replied casually as the two of them stumbled across the top of the dune.

He almost lost consciousness as he fell face first into Sunny and Jesús’ arms, the sound of gunfire having brought them back from their search.

“We leave pronto, amigo.” Jesús got his weight under Bobby’s arm. “Muy pronto.” Sunny got on the other side as the two of them half carried and half dragged him to the limo.

Jesús slid him onto the back seat while Sunny got behind the wheel. The cab roared to life, Jesús’ words partially lost in the noise. “We made it, amigo.” He tore his shirt and wrapped it around the knife wound as he spoke. “It was a very good Friday night, my gringo amigo.” Jesús smiled and slapped Bobby on the covered wound. “Good as new,”

The limo fishtailed away as Jesús, laughing his Friday night laugh, made the same kind of haste towards his flatbed.

While the car accelerated, a tiny figure pulled herself free of Rachel and her blanket wrap, squirming up and reaching over the front seat of the cab. “Daddy?”

Bobby opened his eyes enough to see her silhouette.

“Can we please go home now?”

Bobby smiled, and knew there was a God.

*

Last Of The Good Guys – Chapter Nineteen

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Hertzel Markovitz’s House
Brownsville, Texas
Late Friday Night

It was late and Howie enjoyed wheeling the cruiser through Brownsville like he was the chief. He was cruising his jurisdiction, thinking about what a good job his men were doing out here on the quiet, safe streets of Brownsville. He flashed back on his own desires to be a cop when he was very young – up until he got his first felony conviction. After that he didn’t think cops were that great. Still, he knew he would’ve been a great one.

His mind wandered to the bitch he left at the trailer. He thought he shouldn’t have been so hard on her. He knew she’d fallen for him, he could tell by the way she came on to him. His whole, perverted, macho self knew it. It was obvious. But he wanted it his way, appreciated his skills at forced sex, and knew women secretly liked a man’s violence and the dominance that went with it. He was doing her a favor; he knew she’d thank him for it. Eventually she’d love him more for it. It was what they all really liked, and this broad was no different. Maybe she’d be better than most, once he’d taught her how to like it his way. She could be the right woman at last, and good-looking to boot. He turned her on, he knew that for sure. That was how it was – if it wasn’t he’d kill her. Maybe he would anyway.

Howie was in and out of himself like never before – the taste of blood in an animal’s mouth.

Through it all he worked his way to the far side of Brownsville and out into the sparse suburbs. He said little aloud, beyond laughing or scowling whenever his paranoia warranted it. He reacted only to things happening inside him.

He knew Hertzel well. He knew about his wall safe; knew the money belonged to him. If it belonged to Hertzel, it belonged to him. He was going to let the weasel bastard die slow. He knew how much Hertzel disliked pain. He couldn’t get on the right side of it like Howie – the validity of pain, the enjoyment, and the need for it.

He focused as he killed the lights and pulled the cruiser part way up the drive. “Welcome to Hertzel’s.” He said it out loud, like a tour bus operator on Hollywood Boulevard. “Gotta collect some money, pay some debts.”

He strode calmly up the middle of the driveway, impressed with the isolation of the surroundings. He pulled the phone lines at the side of the house before ringing the bell, standing there as if he was important and expected.

The door opened. Howie slapped the sleepy-eyed giant, Charley, full in the face with one of the pearl handled George Patton forty-fives he’d decided to bring along. It was one of his favourite guns – used only for invasions and outright warfare. Blood, teeth, and a bit of jaw spurted dramatically as Howie drove him backwards, pistol whipping him about the head with each lunging pursuit. The pummelling continued even after Charley had slumped to the floor. Howie never did like the fat man. He gave him a few extra belts for old times’ sake.

“What’s going on out there?” Hertzel got a full view of Charley’s bloodied face as he opened the study door. “Howie!”

Howie smiled back at the horrified look on Hertzel’s face, bent down and put two bullets through Charley’s groin. He straightened up, laughed, and spit on him. He bent over again and jammed the gun into his mouth, about to finish him right then, but didn’t – the pain and terror racing across Charley’s face gave him too much pleasure. Besides, he needed to make it to Hertzel before the panicking prize got away.

By the time Howie walked through the study doors, Hertzel had retrieved a pistol from his desk and stood there petrified, the gun shaking in his hand.

“Hertzel, Hertzel, Hertzel.” Howie smiled. “I ain’t gonna hurt you. Just came for the money.” Smiling, he shook his head as he moved slowly forward. “You ain’t gonna shoot me, are you?” He said the words simultaneously with the gunshot that ripped into Hertzel’s arm. “See. You ain’t gonna shoot me.”

Hertzel couldn’t stop moaning, holding his arm and looking faint as he lunged towards the panelled glass doors to the garden. He was still fumbling with the lock when Howie grabbed him by the back of the neck, squeezing him immobile. “I know I said I wasn’t gonna hurt you Hertzel.” He smashed his head through one of the panes, jerked him back and hissed the words into his face. “But I lied.” He smashed his head through another pane, spun him around and jammed him against the doors, laughing maniacally while he talked. “You like it? Like to play with Howie?” He licked blood from Hertzel’s forehead, his lips and teeth turning red while he beamed a smile. “Bet you’re surprised to see me, eh?”

Hertzel just kept whimpering for his life.

Howie dragged him back to his desk, leaned him over backwards and fired a bullet through his kneecap. Howie let go of him and Markovitz slumped to the floor clutching his knee, dragging himself towards a door, whining and pleading.

Howie walked after him slowly, and put his weight on the shattered kneecap. “Wrong way.”

Hertzel’s eyes started to roll back into his head. Howie eased up, didn’t want the man to pass out – not yet. He knelt beside him, his voice full of concern and consideration. “Relax. We’re just gonna open the safe.” He helped him caringly to his feet. “But it’s over here, remember?”

Howie pushed Hertzel across the room, behind the desk. He propped him against the wall and hurled the picture from the front of the safe. “Just one chance here, Hertzel. I don’t have a lot of time.” Howie sympathetically straightened the twisted glasses. “You open it up for me and I won’t hurt you no more. Promise.” He caringly wiped the blood away from his eyes before turning him to face the safe. Hertzel turned the numbers without hesitation. “I didn’t mean to hurt you in the first place, guess I just lost my temper.” Hertzel nodded agreement as Howie watched each spin of the dial.

“Time’s up.” He stood Hertzel aside, held him by the throat with one hand as he turned the handle, and pulled. He stared a long moment at the sizable pile of bills. “Thanks, Hertzel.” He smiled again, as if it was genuine appreciation. “You can sit down now.” He put a bullet through the other kneecap. He laughed as if everybody should get their kicks this way. “Your papers?” There was a business-like tone in his voice as he dumped the contents of Hertzel’s briefcase over him, and emptied the safe in seconds.

“You stupid gringo shit.”

Howie spun and watched the smoke of Enrico’s gun as the bullet hit him. He felt the warm, sticky blood oozing from his side. Screaming with rage and firing without direction, he saw a hole appear in the forehead of Markovitz’s wife as she cowered on the lower part of the stairs. Still screaming and firing, he flailed his way towards Enrico’s second shot – the one that put him down.

Howie’s eyes were still open, his body twitching to the sound of Hertzel’s moans. He watched Enrico’s legs moving towards him, all business, two-handing his revolver like a television cop. He foot-slid the forty-five and the briefcase from Howie’s reach. Enrico stood over him now, laughing for a second before the vicious kick to the face blacked whatever remained of Howie’s senses.

Howie didn’t appear to feel the second kick, kind of an afterthought on Enrico’s part. “Fucking scumbag!” Enrico walked the short distance to the slumped Hertzel.

“Help me.” Hertzel pleaded through his pain. “Get me a doctor, Enrico.”

“Okay, amigo. Just a minute. You aren’t hurt so fucking bad. I seen worse.”

Hertzel kept whining, grabbed Enrico’s leg, blood rubbing onto the expensive fabric.

“My pants gringo, my fucking pants!” He kicked him roughly, looking like he was ready to kill him for soiling the suit. “Don’t touch me.” Enrico kept talking, but in Spanish, mumbling under his breathe as he turned to the desk and picked up the phone.

“Nine one one!” Hertzel yelled. “Just dial nine one one!”

“Oh, that’s very good, amigo.” Enrico’s sarcasm wasn’t hidden by his accent; he kept dialing while he talked. “We could have lots of help then. Ambulances. Doctors. Cops. Lots of help.” He looked down at Hertzel with disgust. “Maybe you should ask how your wife is. Eh, puta?”

Hertzel glanced across at his wife’s body sprawled awkwardly on the stairs.

“It’s Enrico. I must speak to Luis, now.”

“You’re phoning Houston!” Hertzel was irate. “I’m bleeding to death and you’re phoning Houston, you fucking Chicano bastard!”

“Just a moment.” Enrico turned and kicked Hertzel hard in the side of the head.

Hertzel yelped and crumpled as Enrico leaned over slightly, his voice soft. “Please be quiet, gringo. Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” He turned back to the receiver. “Sorry, someone needed attention. I know it’s late.” His voice took on a tone. “Wake him, now.”

As Enrico waited by the phone, some fifteen minutes away in Howie’s isolated trailer, bodies had been sorted, wounds tended and players identified.

“I didn’t kill your brother. Is that why you shot me?” Bobby queried as Jesús bandaged the leg with strips of semi-clean sheeting.

Rachel felt foolish. “No. I thought you were Howie Morgan. I think he’s coming back here.” He looked directly at Bobby. “But if you had murdered my brother then yes, I would have killed you. With pleasure.”

“Howie murdered your brother. I was there, but not when it happened. You’ve come a long way to get bad news.” Bobby silently noted her bruises as he motioned for Jesús to get her something to put on. “And it looks like you’ve suffered a little, too.”

“I want that pig dead. I want him to get what he deserves.”

“Me too.” Bobby said it matter-of-fact, but there was a lot more in it than words.

Rachel pointed to Bobby’s leg as she dressed. “Sorry about that.”

Bobby just smiled dryly. “I’ve had worse. I guess you owe me a drink.”

Rachel seemed to move with some pain as she slid a little closer to Tanya. “You just take care of our business here.” Her eyes told him that more words were unnecessary. “Get me to an airport and I’ll get us all out of here – and the drinks are on me. She managed a smile at the tearful little girl who sat sobbing quietly beside her bleeding father. “Come here honey. I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was your daddy. I’m sorry.”

Tanya looked over at her father. He nodded for her to go to Rachel. She slid herself across the floor and into Rachel’s arms.

“Do you know where he went?” Bobby tested the leg as he spoke. It hurt, but not so much he would lose his agenda.

“He muttered something about getting his money from the junk dealer. Making him pay up. Markovitz, Hertzel Markovitz. I met him this morning. A fast-talking shyster scumbag.”

“How long has he been gone?”

“Can’t be more than a half hour. You missed him by minutes.”

Bobby looked at Jesús. “I guess I’ve got to go over there to collect as well.”

Jesús nodded. “I tell you long time ago I don’t like these gringos, amigo. We go together now, I think.”

Bobby looked back at Rachel, noticing for the first time the beauty under her bruises. “You okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“Will my girl be okay here with you for a little while. I think we better catch up to him before he gets back here.”

Rachel squeezed Tanya like a mother, smiling down into her face. “We’ll be okay, won’t we honey.”

“You come back soon, daddy.” She was worried, but a lot of her fear seemed to be absorbed by the warmth of Rachel’s grasp.

“Daddy will be back real soon. Then we’ll all leave, and never come back here, honey. Never.”

Tanya nodded despite her battle against more tears.

They were at the door when Rachel spoke. “I’ve got a friend out there from New Orleans. I’m not sure where he is, but knowing him, I’ve got a feeling he’s close by and looking for me.” She looked hard at Bobby. “He’s driving a limo. Don’t mistake him for someone else.”

It took only ten minutes with Jesús behind the wheel, including the stop at the phone booth for Markovitz’s address, before his flatbed sat quietly behind the cruiser. By this time the house sat in complete silence, giving no indication of trouble, past or present – except of course for Howie’s borrowed cruiser.

“It’s appointment time, amigo.” Said Jesús.

Bobby watched Jesús’ still outline sitting across from him. “Give me ten minutes.” Opening the cab door, he winced with the dull throb of his leg wound, hurting enough to make him wonder about his ambitious intentions. He pushed the thought away, finding relief in the fact the bleeding had stopped. Thank God for small caliber handguns, he thought.

“Amigo, what if you no back in ten minutes?” Jesús’ face carried a smile that belied the seriousness of his question. “You want I should come looking?” The smile broadened. “Cost you more for search service.”

Bobby paused. He hadn’t wanted to think of the possibility. “If I’m not back in ten minutes, leave.” He paused again. “Take Tanya back to the Sister Maria like we agreed, and get the woman to an airport.”

“You a strange hombre amigo.” Jesús shook his head. “You think I leave you here. I owe you too much for too many times you take care of me in the old days.” He shook his head. “Honor amigo. I cannot live without my honor.”

Bobby smiled at the his companero “Honor man. Honor among thieves.” Both of them chuckled as he limped off into the darkness.

Bobby got around behind the house to the double doors leading into the study. The carnage was obvious. Bobby’d never seen the man on the phone. Howie was lying very still on the floor and Hertzel was whining for help – Bobby knew them too well. He decided it wasn’t a good idea to enter through the study doors and headed further along the back of the house. The warm wetness on his leg told him he’d started leaking some blood again. Howie’s painkillers didn’t let him notice too much else.

Once inside he followed the dull sound of voices, passing the body of a dead woman on the stairs as he stepped over Charley’s unconscious form. He knew the whine belonged to Hertzel and the Mexican-American accent to the stranger on the phone, but he wasn’t close enough to see them yet.

“I understand Mister Estaphan.”

Bobby was very close to the study door now, getting himself an unobstructed view.

“Everything will be taken care of.”

Bobby wondered who was on the other end of the phone.

“I will be in Houston tomorrow morning.”

The man put the phone down and turned to Hertzel. “Don’t worry my friend.” He sounded callous. “Mister Estaphan knows our situation.” He smiled coldly. “He’s concerned about all the questions the police will ask.” The smile disappeared and his face took on no discernible expression.

“You don’t have to worry about me, Enrico. I’ll tell them anything you want me to, just get me some help.”

“Don’t worry Hertzel.” The snake-like smile returned. “Mister Estaphan knows you. Told me I should make you my biggest concern.” He bent over, his head nodding as he extended his hand to help Hertzel to his feet. “He told me to take very good care of you, my friend, do something about your pain.” Enrico grabbed the top of Hertzel’s head with his extended hand, jammed the gun through the terrified man’s teeth and fired two shots that exited the back of the his skull. Hertzel didn’t even twitch.

“Si, amigo, I’m sure that takes care of your pain.” Enrico stepped back, grinning with his words. “No loose ends.” He broke into a sick laugh as he leaned over and wiped the barrel of his gun on Hertzel’s tie.

Bobby was debating his move when a hard slash across his wrist knocked the gun from his hand. Another vicious hit and Bobby careened across the floor, almost to Enrico’s feet. “This prick was spyin’ on ya.” Charley staggered into the room, bleeding from the groin and in obvious pain. “What the fuck happened here?” He saw Hertzel slumped against the wall. “Hertzel?” He looked at Enrico. “Is he dead?”

“That fuck Howie killed him.” Enrico motioned to the study doors. “It’s okay I took care of him.” He reached down and pulled Bobby up by the throat. “And you, who the fuck are you? You come looking for money, too? The only thing anybody finds here today is bullets.” He raised the gun to Bobby’s mouth just as Bobby caught a shadow by the window. “And I will give you all you can eat, mi amigo.”

Bobby winced suddenly, thinking the gunshot was coming into his face. Instead, Charley was the recipient, jerking awkwardly backward before spinning around and firing blindly behind him. Jesús fired three more shots into the giant’s chest as he kicked his way into the room. Charley stopped suddenly, swaying with an aimless motion before falling heavy and awkward to the floor.

Enrico pulled Bobby up close to him like it was a slow dance. “Put the gun down, or I’ll kill this fuck!” In the moment of hesitation Bobby grabbed his gun hand, clutched a letter opener from the desk and jammed it deep into Enrico’s ribs, driving it up towards the heart with all his strength. The two of them danced a macabre promenade as Enrico fought for breath and the strength to turn his gun back on Bobby. Bobby’s leg gave out and the two of them crashed to the floor, Enrico on top, eyes bugging.

Enrico’s dead weight pinned Bobby motionless, their faces pressed close together. Bobby didn’t have the strength to roll him off, the man’s weight on his bulleted leg hurting through the painkillers. A long second passed before Jesús’ roughly pulled the hood’s head up by the hair and twisted the body away.

“You okay, amigo?”

Bobby nodded weakly.

“I think maybe this hombre love you very much.” Jesús’ smile broadened as he helped Bobby to a sitting position. “The way he try to kiss you like that.” He shook his head. “Amigo, people will talk.”

Bobby smiled back without much enthusiasm. “It’ll be our secret, okay?” The respite lasted seconds before the sound of an engine roaring to life threw Bobby’s eyes to the spot Howie had quietly vacated. Bobby wiped Enrico’s blood from his face.

Like Lazarus from the dead, Howie had risen and gone – him and the briefcase.

*

Last Of The Good Guys – Chapter Eighteen

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Howie Morgan’s Trailer
South Padre Island, Texas
Friday night

Rachel sat motionless, hiding her terror inside the silence. The side of her face showed a dark, swollen bruise where Howie’d struck her a couple of hours earlier.

She stared at the corpses in front of her. Alvarez, the nice young cop, whom she’d watched die for an hour and one other she didn’t know.

“Want an introduction?” Howie pulled his head back from the pile of cocaine. “Juan, meet the bitch who was gonna bring me to justice.” He paused while he sniffed hard up both nostrils. “Bitch, meet the wetback who was supposed to kill me.” He swallowed, shivering. “I hate the taste of this shit.” He guzzled tequila from the bottle. “They think I’m stupid. Hell I’ve taken people up to the farm and they never came back, why should I?”

Howie was insane, if not before then – now for a certainty. Rachel knew without wondering; it wasn’t too difficult to figure out. What she didn’t know was why she was still alive, suspected it wasn’t necessarily good news, but was glad to be breathing for the moment. She tried not to look at him sitting a few feet away, naked from the waist up, mumbling curses and talking to himself about having the last laugh -fucking everybody up.

His acrid sweat permeated the heat of the trailer. His eyes were glazed and distant. When he caught her looking, a bizarre smile crept across his face. The intense yet distant stare scared her outright. She knew there was more to come, knew he enjoyed it all too much.

“Why don’t you kill me?” It had taken nerve, but she said it. She knew she had to start somewhere.

“Don’t kill ladies, baby.” He leered across the room at her, chuckling while he spoke. “And when I do, it’s after I’ve tried to fuck ‘em to death.”

“What are you planning to do with me?”

“You’re the woman, ain’t ya? The one lookin’ for her brother, eh?”

“You know about my brother?” Rachel forced herself to be calm, pretending the situation was perfectly normal. She was sitting in her living room, maybe. She was used to having dead bodies strewn about her feet and having a conversation with a psychopath. It was perfectly normal.

“I know who killed your fuckin’ brother, lady. This whole bullshit is cause of them, both of them assholes. But the bastard drowned. If he hadn’t, I would have killed him.” He stood up like he was going to attack her, but laughed as he spoke, “I would have killed him just for you.” Rachel sensed a small opening as Howie kept talking. “Look at all the dead people cause of their bullshit!”

The actual statement of Robert’s death hit deep. It hurt – the loss, the confirmation of it. She tried to keep the anger and pain to herself, telling herself she already knew. But it showed up anyway, in her eyes.

He stood directly over her, his nostrils flaring with each breath, his eyes glaring with every word. He reached down and tore open her blouse. His voice was soft and merciless. “You bitch! Quit feelin’ bad ’bout it. You owe me for tellin’ ya the truth.”

He turned away while he kept talking to himself. “Always good to have company.” He laughed and waved the gun. “A woman and a gun. Unbeatable combination.”

“What do you plan to do with me?” She was repeating herself, but it was an important question.

“Well, I gotta visit a friend of mine. A piece of shit junk dealer. And I’m gonna take his money and kill him.” He turned back to face her, his face distorted into a sick smile. “Kill him real fuckin’ slow.”

Rachel steeled herself and repeated her question. “What are you going to do with me?”

Howie fell back into his chair, took another long pull on the bottle of tequila, let it spill out of the sides of his mouth. “I’m gonna fuck you lady.” He had a way with words. Like I said, probably fuck ya to death.” He couldn’t hold back the laugh. “And if I don’t fuck ya to death, I might keep ya, or kill ya.” He grinned. “Depends how good a fuck ya are.”

Her terror battled her wits. A long moment passed. Something she couldn’t identify made her stand up slowly in front of him. Conclusions and decisions came about automatically as she slid the tattered blouse from her shoulders. “Actually, I wouldn’t mind fucking you, Howie.” The words came out just right. She had no struggle with them; her mind had gone back to the many nights on the street long ago. The nights she just lay back, closed her eyes, and let them have it so she wouldn’t get hurt.

Howie’s face showed suspicion. “Aren’t you scared? You should be. You should be terrified. That’s what I really like.”

She heard him. “Yes Howie, you scare me.” She shrugged her shoulders. “But that’s the way I like it, too.” She kept moving into the greatest performance she’d ever given. “I like real men, Howie.”

She slid her pants off and felt the little pistol resting in the pocket as she folded them neatly onto the back of the couch. She steeled her way into total commitment. For a certainty, it was the great performance in the midst of her terror. “Real men.”

Howie sat there, watching her naked but for her bra and panties. He watched as she stepped across the bodies lying between them. She slid to the floor in front of him, her hands moving to his crotch, unzipping his pants as she kissed his stinking belly.

“What shit is this?” He jerked her head up by the hair, she squealed with pain, and faked the pleasure.

“You want a woman. I can be your woman.” She looked into the glaze in his eyes. “If it’s going to be my last moment, I’m planning on enjoying it with a real man’s cock, Howie.”

He grabbed her violently and flung her across the trailer. She whimpered in pain as she fell across the bodies already there. “You lyin’ slut!” Howie was much too paranoid to buy anything she was selling. He flipped her on her stomach and tied her hands behind her. “You wait right here bitch. I got some business and when I get back we’ll se just how bad you want to fuck me.”

She heard him thrash his way out of the trailer as she lay there looking at her pants and the little gun that they contained.

Bobby sat in the passenger seat of the flatbed, his daughter nestled under his arm as Jesús pushed the truck northward. Tanya and Bobby spent two hours of that late Friday talking and kidding – both of them safe in each other’s company. Both of them thinking everything would be all right now that they were together. Bobby didn’t mention the agenda ahead, just kept telling her they’d never be apart again – they were going home together and would stay together forever. It was all she wanted to hear. The little angel with the blond hair didn’t care where it was, just so they were together.

She fell asleep before he did, still nestled under his arm, soft and warm – he’d brush her hair and accommodate her as she’d wriggle into a new position. Bobby got tears in his eyes several times on that silent drive north.

Jesús mentioned she was a fine young daughter, someone worth fighting for – like his own little girl. Like his son too and his wife. Family was all you had. It was sacred to both of them and they respected each other for it. When it comes to children, fathers aren’t separated by nationality.

“Amigo.”

Bobby heard the voice through the depth of his aches and dreams.

“I have a present for you.”

His eyes opened straight into the barrel of a gun, so close to his face he could smell the powder in the bullets. He didn’t get too excited. It wasn’t the first time he had his nose close enough to smell powder. Besides, this could be part of some other reality. It was something he almost hoped for. No matter how scary dreams were, he never got hurt, at least not until he woke up.

His lack of reaction made Jesús look disappointed. It was hard to see in the dark of the deserted street, but it was there. The Mexican laughed despite the failure. “Maybe this make you more happy, amigo.” He handed Bobby some papers, Mexican ID for Tanya in his own daughter’s name.

Bobby pulled himself upright, fighting his way through the ache as he gently slipped his arm from around the soft, fragile body of his sleeping daughter. He took the gun and checked it quickly – the mechanism, the bullets, the line of sight. Setting it aside, he scanned the paperwork on Jesús’ own little girl.

“One gun for one hundred dollars.” Jesús’s broad smile filled the dim cab as he pulled a second handgun into view. “Two for one hundred fifty dollars. Expensive, but it is very late and I did get papers too, eh?”

Bobby nodded while he got his bearings. “You did good amigo, thanks.” He wasted little time getting to questions about location and getting him across the border.

“Matamoros.” Jesús pulled a beer from a bag he’d brought along. “The amigo, he gave me a bonus with the guns, instead of change.” He held one out to Bobby.

Bobby turned him down. “We’ve got to get across the border.”

“Si.” Jesús smiled. “You have a Gringo problem because you have no paper. Big Gringo deal.” Jesús laughed. “Mexicans cross these borders many times with no paper, like we walk into a room of our house.” His head nodded his own acknowledgment. “Come here. I show you something.”

Bobby stuck the gun in his beltless pants and stiffly followed his travelling companion to the passenger side of the flatbed. Jesús bent over and pulled the cab running board forward as if it were built for the job. He stepped back and proclaimed with pride. “Jesús’ immigration, at your service.”

Bobby couldn’t fight off the smile as he crouched for a look; saw nothing but three thick straps running under the width of the cab.

“Your paper is in order now, amigo.” Jesús laughed and pulled on his beer, extending his arm like a maitre d’. “Now you ready to visit tus delincuentes en Los Estados Unidos?” He smiled as if he was offering Bobby a first class seat on the Concorde while he pulled a dirty rag from his pocket, soaked it in beer, and handed it to Bobby. “For dirt, and smell. It makes a more pleasant ride. Mucho, amigo.”

Bobby left the rag dripping in Jesús’s hand. “What about Tanya?”

“Nada problemo.” Jesús looked at Bobby like he knew nothing. “She ride with me, a pequenito Mexican girl sleeping beside her papa. Border guards don’t worry that. I have her papers amigo.” He shook his head, “You a sleepy guy tonight Bobby.” He winked. “They too busy worrying for bad guys like you.”

Bobby hesitated, nodded and walked around to the driver’s side. “Sweety. Wake up.”

Her drowsy eyes barely opened. “Are we home, daddy?”

“Soon, my little lady. Soon.” He stroked her hair as he talked gently to her about playing a little game, fooling everybody, doing exactly what his friend said, pretending she was asleep the whole time.

“I am asleep, daddy.”

Bobby smiled and kissed her softly. “That’s my girl. Soon we’ll be home.” He pulled the Indian blanket over her and silently asked God to keep her safe.

Bobby returned to Jesús with the wrappers of cash and handed him the remaining fifteen hundred dollars. “For your trouble, amigo. You get us across and we’re even. Something happens and you bring my girl back to the sister.”

“Gracias Bobby.” Jesús took the money while he talked. “Si Bobby, I take her home for you no worry. Gracias. But I think maybe I stick around a little, si? The two of them stood in that deserted street eyes on each other, saying nothing; and saying everything.

“The gun, amigo.” Jesús eyeballed Bobby all over again. “Maybe we hit a bump and you blow your balls off. Maybe it drop out at the customs.”

Bobby looked under the cab a second time and silently acknowledged the possibility. He pulled the revolver out of the top of his pants and handed it to the Mexican.

“You a smart hombre, Mister America. I like you mucho. You always have the balls, amigo.” He pointed the gun at Bobby as he joked. “And now you keep them maybe, eh?”

The two of them laughed softly as Bobby’s face disappeared behind the cloth he fitted over his mouth and nose. He tied it tight, pushing bits of crumpled napkins into his ears as he crouched. He looked back at Jesús, nodded his head, and proceeded to slide wedge-like under the cab. Once under, his back hung no more than three feet from the road. He already imagined the tandem axle doing three or four thousand rpm’s a few inches from the middle of his spine.

“No move, hombre.” Jesús swung the cab step back into place. “You are here one hour.”

The noise of the manifold pounded through the crumpled ear wadding and into his head as Jesús cranked the engine to life. The exhaust raced into his lungs despite the bandanna. It was going to be a hard hour. He lay rigid, squeezing the two welded handgrips as if he was doing a horizontal extension forever. He closed his eyes to fight the sting from the exhaust. He focused on his agenda. He’d been through too much to end up being an axle snack.

Twenty minutes of twisting and turning with the truck’s motion found them at the border. He could tell from the slow crawl of the truck and the spotlights flashing off the asphalt. ‘Bambino’ comments filtered through the English-Spanish conversation during the walk around inspection. A tedious string of amigo jokes came from Jesús, none of which Bobby could hear clearly through the residual buzz in his ears. There was a bright side to everything. The whole time he fought back the gagging cough that struggled to erupt from his lungs. When the truck finally pulled forward Bobby figured it was the jokes that made them want to get rid of him – just another idiot Mexican. The noise and exhaust fumes built again. Bobby closed his eyes, coughed a lot, and breathed as little as possible.

Another twenty minutes and the truck whined to a stop. The step-up slid away and Jesús gleefully pulled Bobby, feet first, from his entombment. Bobby moved Tanya gently as he climbed into the cab, thinking she’d slept through the whole ordeal.

They were in Brownsville and Bobby ran off directions to South Padre Island like he’d been born there. He knew where Howie lived. It seemed like a long time ago.

It wasn’t long before Bobby was directing Jesús to kill the lights and pull up short of the trailer. The washed-out roads hadn’t hindered their progress much – the beach route was the only one Bobby had ever travelled with Howie. With his gun cupped in his hand he had the door open before he spoke. “Remember, if anything happens to me, you get this one back to Ciudad Victoria.” He stared hard into Jesús’s eyes as the Mexican nodded his head almost imperceptibly.

“No worry Bobby. Everything good here. No worry.”

He was steps away when he heard her voice.

“Daddy?” Little people have a way of sleeping with their ears on. “Where are you going?” She reached her am out for him, “Daddy?”

Bobby put his fingers to his lips. “Ssh, honey. Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.” He kissed her on the cheek and tucked her under Jesús’ arm. “You stay with Jesús, and do exactly as he tells you.”

“Daddy?” He heard her little voice filtering after him as he disappeared into the moonlit shadows.

Bobby’d taken his time with the approach, not knowing what awaited him at the trailer. He saw no lights and thought he might end up waiting for Howie to arrive. Either way it didn’t matter to him. He moved quietly around the corner of the trailer.

Inside, the approaching truck noise had roused Rachel. She hadn’t expected Howie back so soon. Maybe he’d forgotten something. Maybe he’d decided to kill her. Whatever the agenda, she struggled desperately to loosen the cord around her wrists as she wriggled across the floor to her pants. Unable to free herself, she did manage to get the gun and pull herself into a partial sitting position. Awkwardly, she turned herself sideways and pulled her arms as far around her as possible. The pain from the cord blended unnoticed into her other hurts. She was happy to have the pain because it made the gun face the door now.

Bobby was right inside the trailer when she fired off two shots in quick succession.

Apart from Bobby’s moans everything went silent in the darkness. Rachel knew he wasn’t dead, she could hear him struggling. She estimated where he lay and pulled herself around to finish him.

“Daddy!” The voice kept repeated itself and grew louder as it neared, Daddy!”

Rachel froze as Tanya’s silhouette crashed through the open trailer door and threw herself, hysterical, onto the man who sprawled across the floor.

It was only the child’s voice that had kept Rachel from shooting her too. She might have mistakenly done it anyway had she not been focusing on finishing Bobby.

“Drop the gun, Senorita.” The Mexican spoke the words almost simultaneously with the gun barrel shattering the glass in the small window at the end of the trailer. “Drop the gun or I will kill you, dead.”

*

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