A Dog of War
Robb T. White
When he closed the deal on the house on South Bay, Jack Gilles
made the decision via satellite phone from his base camp near Kabul. He told
his fiancé he’d had his belly full of
sand and dark looks from the locals by then and wanted to come home, settle
down with her in their new house. At 27,
he wasn’t even close to a burn-out, didn’t believe he’d have any PTSD to deal
with from his tours in the Combat Engineers, the mine-sweepers and
house-demolishers of the Third Cavalry.
She told him the Islip PD was hiring again, according to the Networking Newspaper
for Women published
out of Westhampton. He had already
breezed through the academy before his last tour along with some
personality-deficient types and a few who struck him as likely to be more
comfortable working the other side of the law.
But weeks later, the woman he’d expected to share that house
with had other plans. She liked the Manhattan club scene and found a guy who
owned a condo in Florida and leased Infinitis for a big Long Island
dealership. He wasn’t broken up over
it. If it had to happen, it was the
perfect time for it before she wound up with half of it. But the house—yeah,
he realized he was stuck
with the mortgage on his own. Fate
stepped in a month later, while he was home enjoying the unfettered life of a
civilian and preparing for an interview with the Islip PD. Estelle was from
the Bronx and he fell for
her. He knew they were good together and
the fact she had a teenaged daughter didn’t change his feelings. He was
hired on and family was proving to be
good. Until Marissa, her pretty
daughter, turned 14 and had to change schools in the fall.
She transferred to the new high school in East Islip; it started
off well. She liked her classmates and her teachers. Ten days into the school
year, things fell
apart suddenly as they always do.
Marissa was confronted by some boys at her bus stop. When she came home,
she told her step-father about it in passing, not unduly concerned. Being a
brand-new cop, he tended to assume
the role easily, which occasionally put Estelle and Marissa on edge.
“How old, honey?”
She was already into her after-school facebooking and tuned him
“The boys, sweetie, who—hassled you,” Jack said.
that? That’s so sixties.”
“What did they look like, Marissa?”
“Oh my God! I can see you’re going to make a big deal of
She gave him a look—a carbon copy of her mother’s.
“No, Marissa, I promise I won’t,” he lied.
She told him they were all 15, 16. Not kids
from her school, she thought,
although she didn’t know everybody yet.
Hispanic-looking features, she said.
“How would you know that, hon?”
“Two of them had these big tattoos across their foreheads. Duh.”
His stomach dropped.
MS-13. The desk sergeant was dinning in their ears every morning at roll
call over Long Island’s nightmare invasion and handing out bulletins.
From that day on, he drove her or Estelle would drive Marissa to
and from school. They didn’t feel it was
safe to let her walk or ride the bus, even though she saw those boys just that
one time. Marissa, pressed by her mother
for more details, admitted the incident amounted to little besides some lewd
comments. Being stared at by horny males
is every girl’s life nowadays and something to be endured in silence. But
Marissa was like her mother and not one
to let anybody get away with crap. She
didn’t remember what she said back but one kid, tattooed with a shaven skull,
was the only one who hadn’t made any comments, just stared, but he pointed a
finger-gun at her and said, “Gonna get you for that, bitch.”
Marissa was upset her mom and step-dad were “escorting” her to
school, but Jack had seen enough of dangerous young men as a soldier and a cop
on the night shift to know they were capable of rape, torture, and murder. One
of the city council members was quoted in
the paper as saying it was like having a sizeable chunk of Juarez cut out and
transported through the air and lowered onto “peaceful, middle-class
Islip.” Jack had checked out the photos
the Zetas and other cartel killers posted online of mass executions, not just
the handcuffed bodies hanging from overpasses, but severed heads lined up on
street sidewalks. One of the young cops
at the station had an unhealthy interest in gore and showed a video on his cell
phone of one victim’s head attached to a sea turtle. The beast lumbered
along, its dragon head
bobbing with effort, claws pushing sand aside, while the victim’s detached head
rode along staring from half-slit eyes.
A couple nights ago, Jack’s veteran partner got a call to a
house where a party was getting too loud.
The parents of the teenager throwing the party for his homies had been
forced to adopt the boy under duress; a dangerous man, they said, let them know
this was only going to happen one way—they adopted that kid or else. It was
like a new disease’s progress from one infection to several and then dozens as
couples all over L.I. “decided” to adopt unsponsored teenaged boys from El
Salvador and Honduras.
The sergeant in the muster room explained how the kid integrated
into Mara Salvatrucha a willing
soldier, or else he needed some persuasion to be “converted,” but either way,
the repercussions were bad and the outcomes assumed one of two directions: drug-dealing
or murder, often both. America’s long tradition of sentimentality
about immigrants was being abused and perverted for evil ends, and it took a
series of vicious murders of innocent teens to wake the community up to this
“nefarious practice,” the sergeant called it, one that created a
self-perpetuating birthing room for growing MS-13’s membership. The gang’s
level of indiscriminate violence
was breath-taking—unless, he said, you can justify young people hacked to
ribbons by machete-wielding MS-13 members because they might have “mean-mugged”
some crazy, tattooed sonofabitch while strolling around downtown Islip. Jack’s
sergeant, a tough veteran of
twenty-three years, could switch vocabularies from bureaucratic to convict
slang with ease.
Over there, Jack remembered, you got used to mindless
cruelty. Women and young girls were on a
par with goats and donkeys, war widows were held in contempt by the men of
their village, spat upon and forced to beg in those body-length netted burqas
that make them look like blue Halloween ghosts looming out of the early-morning
fog. He had seen one ignite herself with kerosene when she couldn’t tolerate
the abuse she received living with her dead husband’s family. He couldn’t
tell Marissa any of that, how
dangerous the world could be for women.
An American teenager with a room gussied up in pink with posters of
Justin Bieber on the walls and her own cell phone didn’t see the world his way.
Besides, it made Estelle anxious if he tried to play Marissa’s real father with
the heavy-handed Army discipline. Teenaged girls were complicated, she told
him, which he believed; he didn’t say he found nothing complicated about
teenaged males when it comes to girls and sex.
After a couple weeks of chauffeuring, Marissa’s complaints about
being “embarrassed” had an effect on Estelle, who started to badger Jack into
letting Marissa ride with a friend from school. He and Estelle were having to
scramble their schedules or switch shifts to ensure one or the other was
available to drive, and both their jobs were suffering. Working nights, forced
to get up in mid-afternoon to drive, Jack would be so tired from the
interrupted sleep he botched a couple field reports and got reamed by the
sergeant and then the lieutenant. His last one, a DUI stop that turned into a
seizure of meth and bags of Oxycontin, was composed half-asleep. The L.T. was
pissed: “You get called to the witness stand six
months from now, Gilles, by that prick’s country-club lawyer and he’ll take you
apart. Do it over.”
It was that kind of pressure he let override the instincts he’d
honed on those mountain trails and desert roads that kept all his limbs
attached unlike some guys he served with who wound up at Walter Reed trying on
“I’ll go with the friend,” he reluctantly told Estelle, “if we
can meet her first.”
“It’s a guy, I think,” she said.
That led to their first real husband-wife fight. He got the
silent treatment from the one and the constant sarcasm at the dinner table from
the other. Finally, he agreed to let the friend from school drive her, on the
condition he and Estelle could meet him first and approve.
They met him the next day after school. Marissa
said he was in a couple of her
classes. Rick Beausoleil was a
well-dressed, nice-looking boy with a mop of black hair he grew long on top and
shaved at the sides. He wore slacks with
a crease, his Madras shirt had ironed collars, and his high-tops were so shiny
and new they squeaked and, Jack suspected, probably cost more than he made that
week. He gave Estelle one of those Fidget hand spinners and made her smile. He
was polite to Jack and called him “sir.”
Jack had already reconned his house at the other end of South Bay, a
remodeled Tudor—noted the yellow Humvee and the Lexus in his driveby. Rick told
them it would be no trouble to pick Marissa up on his way to school in the
morning. His parents had bought him a new Saab when he got his license. He and
Marissa had the same seventh-period
Geography class so she wouldn’t have to wait around for him after the dismissal
bell. Estelle gave him her pouty look. Another kind of bell, however, the
warning one in his head was going off but it wasn’t shrill. He sighed
and gave his consent.
Jimmy Freele and Jack were having beers at Jimmy’s place while
he grilled hot dogs for the family. Freele had a manual for the sergeant’s exam
Jack wanted to borrow to get started on, and it seemed rude to grab it and go
so he stayed for a beer, which turned into a meal of “beans and dicks.” He was
enjoying Jimmy’s war stories, telling a few of his own, when his cell buzzed.
“Uh-oh,” he said to Jimmy, “Estelle calling. I said I’d be twenty minutes, tops. You can hear the
ass-chewing I’m in for
now.” He put the phone on speaker.
“Marissa’s been hurt! Oh God, where are you, Jack?”
He didn’t say goodbye to Freele and his drive to the hospital
was a blur of barreling through intersections and swerving around slow drivers,
his stomach churning with acid but his mind quiet and clear as if a gear had
been shifted without him having to think about it. Estelle didn’t say
what happened; he thought
car accident. He cursed himself for
letting her go with that kid in his shiny new car.
He found out from a patrolman and a detective at the hospital it
was something else.
The car Ricky drove was rear-ended at an intersection a block
from the house. Rick got out to check
the damage and exchange insurance cards.
Three or four young males—witness versions differed as they do—got out
of the car and sucker-punched Rick. He lay cold-cocked on the sidewalk while
the three others pulled Marissa out of the Saab. One eyewitness, the neighbor
nearest to the
fake accident, looking out her front window, said Marissa was kicking and
screaming. They carried her into the
trunk and tossed her inside and drove off squealing rubber. Altogether, it took
less than a minute. People rushed out to
help Rick; he came to, bruised but unhurt.
The cop said, “We got a good description of the perps and the
car’s make and model. We’ll pick it up
in no time. Don’t worry.”
The BOLO’s description was out a half-hour by then and he was
right: the car was located at a Walmart
parking lot. The trunk was empty. It was
stolen on Grand Avenue in Queens. Marissa could have gotten out of a late-model
car, but that vehicle was an ‘01 Dodge and the trunk didn’t have the interior
trunk release. She’d have tried to brace
herself against the trunk and push it open because Jack had talked to her about
ways not to be a victim. Estelle would
get mad at him for doing it, claiming his “mini-lectures” to her daughter about
“situational awareness” or “noticing baseline normal” were going to make her
“She’ll wind up as paranoid as you, Jack,” Estelle would say,
“Then she’ll have a better-than-even chance at surviving a crisis,”
Privately, he could not console himself. He was the know-it-all
combat veteran, the cop his neighbors called when a dog barked too loud in the
morning. He had failed as a father. He’d
opted for a little more sleep over his child’s safety, and the stain of that
dyed his darkest thoughts in the evening when he was most tired. But all that
mattered in those first moments was to do everything possible for Marissa. He
had no doubt who had done it or why.
While he was jaw-boning with Freele, Marissa had staggered into
a Dunkin’ Donuts and asked for a glass of water. Her clothes were torn
and her left eye was
swollen shut; her lip was split and required three stitches to close. She had
been gang-raped and pushed out onto
the shoulder of a moving car on the L.I.E.
But she was alive—and Estelle’s little girl was safe in her mother’s
arms again. Their daughter back. She was
traumatized and had to endure the awful indignity of the rape test at the
hospital, but she was brave and had survived. They talked about killing her,
she said. She convinced them not
to. One brave, plucky girl.
The captain and the lieutenant did everything possible to find
them. This was a priority and guys were
called back from vacation to help a fellow officer. No one protested at the
extra duty and not one
of Jack’s friends at the precinct who helped out in those weeks afterward put
in for overtime. Even though Det. Sgt.
John Andolsek, the precinct bulldog for working cases, kept him informed of his
progress, there was no progress. Four
vicious scum appeared out of nowhere one day and disappeared back into it after
turning three lives upside-down.
Jack called Neal Ducent in Metaire, Louisiana, and Chae Dombroff
in Syracuse from the same pay phone in Canarsie. Guys from his unit, they’d
made a commitment
after one prolonged firefight in Ghazni Province while sweeping for roadside
bombs for the 101st Airborne.
One of us calls for help, Neal
said later, the others come running, no
Neal had done four deployments already by the time he joined him
in Second Squadron. Chae was so calm under enemy fire or defusing IEDs Jack
accused him of making a pact with the devil. The three ex-servicemen met two
days later at a coffee shop on Coney Island Avenue. The reunion produced a few
about the pounds they’d packed on since they weren’t lugging around seventy
pounds of dead weight every day. Jack
told them what happened to his step-daughter.
Chae, ever the practical one, suggested Ricky Lomax would be the
best place to start. Neal nodded. Jack
agreed. Andolsek had told him the boy
was forthcoming in his two interviews at the station, both parents accompanied
him for the second one. A third would
ensure a lawyer would be in attendance so there was reluctance to call him
“He’s a good kid, Jack,” Andolsek insisted; “clean-cut, nice
family, a victim, too, remember.”
Jack wasn’t buying it.
The animals who attacked Marissa had punched Rick just that one time and
that bruised face gave him a pass if not an alibi. Neal and Chae agreed. The
young Saab driver
had some further explaining to do.
“And there ain’t gonna be no fuckin’ lawyer present,” Neal said.
Jack noted his Cajun patois had thickened back home.
* * *
Ricky worked the confection counter at a West Islip Cineplex on
weekends. They staked out his Saab in the parking lot. Jack picked up a rental
van, replaced the
plates with some he’d taken from a Ford delivery van in the impound lot that
had been quietly sinking into the ground for the five months it sat there. Neal
bought some thick eye bolts and planking
from Lowe’s and nylon ties from a Walmart.
Chae didn’t want to use the nylon masks he’d brought along because he
said they’d looked like TV idiots, but Jack argued face paint would take too
much time to remove and leave evidence if they got stopped driving off.
“The kid has to be scared enough to talk,” he told Chae and
“He’ll fuckin’ talk,” Neal said.
“Fucking-A, he’ll talk,” Chae agreed.
Ricky talked. But he wet
Neal slipped up on him tapped him on the shoulder while he was
unlocking the Saab; when he turned to see who it was, Jack had him around the
neck in a chokehold that put him out before he could start waving his arms or
thrashing his legs. Jack peeled off his mask as soon as Neal and Chae had Rick
under the arms and hustled into the back of the van. Jack drove while they
secured Rick’s arms and legs to the eye bolts with strong tent cord.
Rick wasn’t out long.
“Hello there, space monkey, welcome back,” Neal said as soon as
Rick’s eyes started to focus.
After the initial spluttering and acting as if “this was all a
mistake,” and saying they “had the wrong guy” subsided, Chae began to question
him in his calm way.
At first, the boy tried excused himself from any
wrong-doing. Chae gripped him hard by
the jaw in his big hand and squeezed; his face close to Rick’s, he told him
what was going to happen to him if he told another bullshit lie like that. Neal
appeared on Rick’s blind side and traced a line down his Rick’s face with the
blunt side of a surgical scalpel just to let him feel the blade.
“I was afraid, man! They
said they’d fuck me up! They said they’d
kill me with a machete and chop off my fucking head—”
“Shhh, there, there,” Chae crooned in his ear, soothingly, as to
a frightened child. “Nothing bad is going to happen to you, son, unless you
don’t tell us everything that happened from the first moment they contacted you
about hurting Marissa. Then: the soft voice a lion growl: And I
mean by fucking God Almighty every-fucking-thing you know, you dirtbag piece of
It turned out Rick had a cousin.
This cousin, James, was a royal fuckup.
He had a long juvie record. He
wasn’t in a gang but he was known to some MS-13 members and liked to hang out
and do drugs with them. They got to him
and he told them about Rick. They gave
Rick the message he was to get Marissa in his car—and soon. That led to
the ruse about driving her to
school. When Jack thought of the boy’s schmoozing act, he wanted to smash the
cartilage in his nose until every breath he took thereafter would sound like a
wounded animal’s honk of distress.
Neal recorded as Rick talked. Jack held his silence but they all
had prepared the questions in advance. “It’s our only chance to get a lead,”
Jack told them; he thought of Marissa in her room, her teenaged confidence in
life demolished, her dreams haunted by night terrors, too afraid to leave her
room or her mother’s side for long. Her therapist was trying to prepare her for
the stares and hurtful gossip she’d face once she was well enough to go back to
Neal, at one point, grew impatient with Chae’s methodical
“Stop thinking about your answers, you lying cocksucker! Tell him what he asked or I’ll put this right
through your brain.”
He touched the point of the scalpel under Rick’s jaw and drew
blood; Rick scrunched backwards like a turtle trying to fold in his head, his
eyes wild with terror.
In twenty minutes of aimless driving around an area Jack knew
would be safe from cruising patrols, they had all the information Rick was
capable of giving.
Masked up again, they dropped him off at his car and drove
off. Chae had Rick’s cell phone and Neal
had his notes. They were ready for phase two of the battle plan.
“Think he’ll talk?” Neal asked Jack.
“Kid’s gotta know it’s you, man.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Chae said for him.
He’d said something like that when Neal had asked him about
Taliban snipers waiting for them in the Korengal Valley.
* * *
You catch one rat and he’ll lead you to the others. They had
Rick’s cousin by the balls—literally.
Chae and Jack had him pinned to the dirty cement floor of an
abandoned warehouse in South Ozone Park where they’d tricked him into coming
for sex. The girl who called him up for
them knew what a horny little weasel he was, and for two hundred, she made the
call that brought him to the factory.
“That tickle, you little fuck?”
Neal asked, as he traced the kid’s scrotum with his scalpel. “Better not
fucking move an inch or you’ll lose them.”
A ring of red around his sac trailed behind Neal’s moving blade
and bright drops of blood oozed from the boy’s sac. It looked worse than it
was, but cousin James was frozen to the floor, writhing beneath the powerful
hands of the men who pinned him. Eyes
bugged, he stared upward at the filthy, cracked ceiling as if an angel would
drop through to save him. Neal scooped some
of the blood with the blunt edge and smeared them across James’ lips.
“Taste good, fucker?”
Jack pushed Neal aside and straddled James’ chest.
“Your cousin was scared of your slimy homies. But you set up
Marissa for them, you pigfucking—”
Chae removed Jack from the boy’s chest as easily as he’d do a
deadlift in the gym.
“I’ll take over,” he said.
In his usual calm way, he did just that. They
had the names, relatives’ names,
addresses and locales where they hung out or did their drug business, and the
names of everyone else who knew them or was victimized by them.
It took an hour to get it all, and by then, James was a
whimpering, sobbing wreck begging for his life. The tattooed wannabe gangster
with the foul mouth and colorful gang slang couldn’t have written his own name
in block letters with a piece of chalk on the floor by the time their session
with him ended. But they had it all.
Neal drove this time.
Jack was about to get into the passenger side when Chae got in his face.
“Check yourself, Jack, that shit you pulled back there,” he
“Sorry, man. I’m sorry. I
lost it for a moment,” he said. He’d been thinking of the horror Marissa was
put through because James wanted to impress his MS-13 friends. Marissa, curled
up in her blankets, afraid to
sleep without a night light.
“OK,” Chae said and stepped back. It
was over but Jack was warned. He had their freedom to think of, not just
his grief. If he couldn’t bury the father as he’d done the cop in him that said
good men don’t do what I’m doing,
Chae and Neal would continue without him.
Training goes so far in war.
If you get into enough shootouts, you’ll be killed. It’s
simple math. They were poking a stick in a hornet’s nest,
and it was inevitable those punks were going to get word soon and just as one
rat calls to another, they might have to deal with more rats than they could
handle if they didn’t get them all in a blitz. James had been warned not to
talk, like Rick, but that fear lasts only so long.
The plan now demanded they get them in order, fast, without
mistakes or alerting other MS-13 their members were going to be snatched off
Chae and Neal argued about where they’d start the plan’s third
“Nobody escapes,” Jack said.
“We don’t get them all, it’s a no-go.”
“Relax, brother,” Neal said. “We’ll do this right.”
* * *
The house was set up for the next night. They’d
learned from James that the youngest
of the four gang members had been adopted by a Puerto Rican couple in Wood
Haven. The man was selling his house,
taking his pension from the Transit Authority and he and his wife were moving
back to the island. One interview—Jack
in cop mode again—and they’d learned the couple like so many others had been
forced to take in the boy three years earlier under a similar threat.
When Jack paid a solo visit to their home, he saw no pictures of
the boy around; the wife, however, dug around in an album for a class photo,
the last one taken before he dropped out, and a month before they discovered
their new son was an out-and-out criminal. Jack took in the smooth young face
and the bright eyes and big smile with perfect teeth. The kid looked like every
dreamboat. He was older now but likely
the one Marissa told Jack had no tattoos and the only one who didn’t punch her
and call her vile names while he raped her.
The couple had tried their best to reform him but it was
hopeless. He ran with MS-13 as soon as
the older male who’d first contacted them came calling for him. No coercion
involved, the husband said. “It was like
he was chosen for an honor or something,” he told Jack. The boy, whose
name was Mauricio, nowadays
came home infrequently, never spoke about his doings, and used the place for
eating and sleeping purposes. Lately, the wife said, he was demanding money
from them. That was one more reason they
were eager to leave the borough. Jack
noted the SOLD sign out front.
What worked on James should work on Mauricio.
Chae, however, took some persuading; his plan was a frontal
assault on their hangout in Queens but Neal and Jack finally convinced him the
driving distance was too big a risk.
“Let’s bait the trap,” Neal said.
“Have her make the call.”
Jack told the couple he was assigned to a “new task force” along
with his two “intervention specialist” colleagues, all of them working for New
York’s Gang Unit out of Manhattan. They
were experts at deprogramming young men from gang influences, he said.
The husband was skeptical but Jack’s cop credentials impressed
him, and he despised Mauricio for all he’d learned about MS-13’s criminal
activities on Long Island. Neal gave
them two thousand dollars, the last of Jack’s cash supply for the operation,
and told them they’d need the house for two days, three at most.
She made the call. At
Jack’s instructions, she told Mauricio they were leaving for P.R. in the morning
and they wanted to give him a parting gift of cash—“for college,” she said.
When Mauricio demanded to know the amount, Jack held up his
thousand,” she said.
He wanted her to drop it off.
Jack shook his head.
“No, Mauricio, you must come by the house for it.
We are leaving tomorrow very early.”
Chae and Neal helped them pack.
Jack called them a cab.
“Why can’t we drive?” the husband asked Jack with a shoulder
shrug at the car sitting in his driveway.
“We need Mauricio to see your car out there,” he said. “We need to surprise him.” The last part was
“Think they’ll call the cops?” Neal asked him, watching them get
into a cab that just pulled to the curb.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“We’ll see. But we’d better set
up. He might be on his way now.”
When you plan on something good, Jack mused, it seemed life
threw obstacles in your path. Plan
something evil, however, and the forces of darkness often eased them out of
your way. He expected Mauricio, spurred by simple greed, to come alone. It
never occurred to him he’d bring his three compadres
with him. They’d outlined a scheme
involving varying degrees of pain to get Mauricio to lure his buddies to the
house. Now they didn’t need to. Four
swaggering young men piled out of a cranberry Malibu spotted and patched with
Bondo in the driveway of Mauricio’s adopted parents’ home, laughing and cursing
one another. The two bald ones with
tattooed foreheads and arm sleeves blued with glyphs and soldierly phrases
attesting to the wearer’s Valor and
penchant for Vengaza, revenge,
competed for the eye’s attention in that helter-skelter pattern of tattooed
psychotics and criminals everywhere. Of
the two without any tatts, the baby-faced Mauricio was the easier to distinguish
from his companion Hector, whose mug wore a surly twist to his face and was
taller and heavier by twenty pounds.
The porch door was left open and a TV blared from the living
room. Chae and Neal took up positions on
either side of the main door. They assumed any one or all would be strapped.
Mauricio’s parents had tried for the last year to get Mauricio to take his GED
and go on to college. “The boy is
smart,” the father said. Jack
nodded. He could have told them he
wished he’d had a dollar for every smart scumbag he’d thrown over a hood while
I frisked for weapons not to mention the black-eyed youth of Afghanistan,
including half the soldiers they were supposed to fighting alongside. You did
missions with Afghani soldiers, but you never forgot to designate one man in
the team to be the armed “guardian angel” if you were bivouacking in the brush.
Jack was in the kitchen, his Sig at the ready.
They came inside the porch, still talking, and banged hard on
the front door.
He couldn’t make out all the words, but it seemed they were
deciding what to do.
“Muévete, cabrón!” one
of them shouted.
Jack came around from the kitchen, gun out, just as Chae and
Neal had their Glocks sticking into the sides of the two Tattoo Heads.
The moment to act passed. They put them on the floor and cuffed
them up in seconds.
Neal thumped a Tattoo Head.
“You really think cursing at me will help, asshole?”
They dragged them by the feet through the kitchen down the
basement steps, heads knocking on risers and more cursing. The camera was set
up in the corner of the small unfinished basement.
Chae threatened them into silence with a boot on each neck to
get their attention.
“This is what will happen,” Jack began.
“Fuck you, maricón motherfucker!”
the closest Tattoo Head screamed.
Jack nodded to Chae, who expertly gagged each one with a
bandanna across the mouth except for Mauricio.
“Your guapo boyfriend
gets to watch,” Jack said.
Neal unbound Mauricio and hauled him over to Jack; he was limp
as a rag doll.
Jack handed him a plastic mug from the kitchen.
“Take this,” he commanded.
“Wh—what is it?”
“Coca-Cola,” he said.
“Thirsty work for you ahead.
Drink, drink, amigo.”
The soft drink was mixed with crushed Viagra tablets.
He’d need help, they reasoned, even if he was
As soon as he’d gulped the drink, Neal gripped him by the
triceps and slammed him against a basement support pole; then he cuffed
Mauricio’s hands behind the pole.
“Watch and don’t say a word,” Jack ordered Mauricio.
Chae and Neal fixed Hector into place. By
silent assent, they figured the tattooed
ones would need more convincing.
The same board used in the van leaned upright in a far corner.
Chae dragged Hector to it and kicked the planking board flat to the ground. Hector
struggled but Chae’s strength was too much to overcome by a lightweight kid.
Jack brought the nail gun out of hiding behind some boxes and used his free
hand to help Chae extend Hector’s arm to one side of the board.
Hector resisted with a wiry strength until the nail gun pumped a
bullet through his wrist into the board. The thwack silenced all sound in the
tiny room. The single basement
window had been blackened with their unused Army face-paint. Hector’s other arm
was limp and easily moved into position.
A second thwack followed and
rattled its way through the other wrist deep into the board beneath. Dust motes
mixed with the earthen smell. Soon, the
odor of feces would add a pungency that the men would have to ignore to finish
what they started.
With his arms pinned, the rest was easy. Chae
lifted him up on his haunches; despite
the gag, his scream pierced the thickening air and he bucked in agony until the
pain brought him back to his senses. One
leg tucked, then the other—a sheep to slaughter. Only the intent was never
to kill. Jack
insisted strongly on that. “I believe in
an eye for an eye,” he told them.
The Tattoo Heads, Enrique Tomàs Ramírez and Felipe
Acevedo-González, by name, were seventeen and eighteen. Chae wanted them,
whereas Neal was indifferent. “Hector’s mine then.”
Both men wrapped their hands in duct-tape because the human
mouth is a putrid reservoir of bacteria. At a nod from Jack, they each dished
out a punch to the three on the floor. The two shaved heads were hit in rapid
succession. Chae worked a speedbag and
heavy bag as well as lifted serious weights.
Jack didn’t say it but he suspected his former comrade-in-arms of
cycling ‘roids. He had all the signs of a gym rat. The skin around Ramírez’s
Acevedo-González’s eyes swelled immediately as if a tire pump had injected air
over the left eye of each boy.
Mauricio, watching it, became weak-kneed and sagged against the
Jack nodded again. The
gags all removed, two more punches—short, hard strikes to split lips. Neal’s
blows were perfect but Chae’s carried
too much power and split skin; gobs of blood and chips of tooth were spat out
by the tattooed twins. The howls and
curses were stifled by the gags put back on.
The upstairs TV covered the noise.
The final part of the plan, the one all of them, not just Jack
as the aggrieved step-father, had to deal with psychologically first before
they could engage it was about to happen.
Jack omitted this part in his instructions to the four because it
wouldn’t have calmed them to know it beforehand. Going to war helped because
it allowed the
men to see and do things they didn’t expect.
It unleashed the dogs in their heads before most civilians knew how to
react, much less handle what they had accomplished; even Jack’s fellow cops,
the men and women of the precinct, who saw the worst in human beings, could
have handled the violence these men imagined and then carried out so precisely.
The unconditioned mind rebels.
They had all three lined up, side by side, on their knees, asses
up, hands and ankles bolted to the floor with 3-inch pneumatic framing nails.
Neal manned the hand-held camera and adjusted the lens and fretted over the
uneven lighting. They’d tested it beforehand and brought some bedsheets
downstairs to act as reflectors, which Neal put up to assist the angles he
Jack told Mauricio what he had to do in a basic Anglo-Saxon
Mauricio shook his head, nervous perspiration hitting Jack,
which he calmly wiped away.
He kept shaking his head, begging God and His saints, pleading,
whispering then shouting No! no! no!
until it came out a long keening wail. Jack grabbed him by the hair, slapped
his face hard to snap him out of it, and pulled him up straight against the
pole; he leaned into Mauricio’s face.
“You will do it, you little fuck. Just
like you did to Marissa.”
Jack left him slumped there, whining, pissing himself like the
other heroes of his pack, and fetched his “convincer,” the chain saw from his
garage. He walked it over to him, held
close like a baby in his arms, and pressed the flat shiny blade against the
skin of Mauricio’s face.
“You will do it or I’ll cut your head off right here.”
Jack started it with a pull; its whine throttled up to maximum
9,000 revolutions and drowned out every sound in the basement—the cries,
screams from the boys on the floor, the moans.
He brought the whirring, vibrating blade close enough to Mauricio’s
cheek to whip a burn scorch into the flesh of his neck. The boy screamed and
leaned back as the saw
followed the arc of his body lower.
One word above the saw’s roar:
Jack kept repeating the word until Mauricio answered with a
single, quick nod of his head; his eyes were glued to the fury of the chain.
Chae stood guard on the others, ready to slam his boot onto the
back of anyone who moved. Fear laced
adrenalin into their muscles; they didn’t want the three on the floor to make a
superhuman effort to disengage from their restraints. None could see Mauricio
clinging like a
limpet to his pole.
Jack glanced at Neal and without a word, he pulled out a curved
Kay Dee knife from an ankle holster and with a couple strokes removed
Mauricio’s pants from his body like the sloughed skin of a snake.
“Massage it,” Jack said. “Get ready.”
Jack assigned himself the distasteful chore of applying
lubrication from a can of Crisco also hidden in the abasement; he donned a
latex glove and worked a chunk around the anus of each male hunched on the
floor. The feel of the grease being
applied made them writhe and squirm, knowing now what was coming. Less cursing,
more prayers to God and La Virgen of Guadeloupe to save them. Only the fiercer
of the two tattoo heads
remained full of rage. The others wept.
“She won’t help you sorry motherfuckers,” Jack growled at
them. He twisted the lubricant in good
to help Mauricio.
When Mauricio was semi-erect, Jack grabbed him by his throat and
led him to Hector. Jack ordered him to
get started or he’d start cutting pieces off him beginning with that thing in
Jack placed the chainsaw on Mauricio’s shoulder as if he were
“Dios mío, I can’t— I
can’t!” he bawled.
Jack started the chainsaw.
Mauricio began masturbating in a frenzy until he had his
Neal filmed it all. Each
one violated anally. None expected Mauricio to climax but they needed the
penetration on camera regardless.
“Now their mouths,” Chae said.
Mauricio had the glazed eyes of a dead bird by this time.
A dull acceptance had settled into his brain.
That and the Viagra were all that maintained his erection.
Jack told the three on the floor he would remove the gags one at
a time. He told them what was going to
happen and what the consequences were if they refused.
He forced Mauricio to lower himself, starting at Hector.
Hector’s gag was sliced from his face by the Kay Dee. A thin streak of
blood appeared where the
blade had cut.
“Deeper!” he ordered Mauricio.
“Get it all the way in.”
Hector’s cheeks bulged with the invading meat and his eyes
widened to quarter-size.
When Chae pulled Mauricio off Hector, Jack shoved him to the
next one. Hector, violated both ways,
sobbed; no need for the gag to be replaced.
Tattoo Number One clenched his lips, refused to take the
offering. Jack replaced his sopping gag and brought the nail gun back into
play. Two quick shots into each
hamstring. Then he set the gun at the
back of his head. The boy, weeping,
crying for his mother, changed his mind and Jack removed the gag again.
The second Tattoo Head, the toughest of them, the one Jack was
sure had said those words to Marissa about “getting her,” cursed, strained
against the nails, and cried out in a rage he would find and kill them
all. It took Chae and Neal a long time
to pry his jaw open before Mauricio could enter him that way too. Tattoo Head
clamped down on Mauricio’s penis.
His scream could not be stifled. Jack exchanged looks with the
others: Think it’ll bring the
They didn’t know but it didn’t matter because they had all they needed. Neal and Chae packed up everything they
brought except the board the boys were nailed to. Neal used a claw hammer to
remove the nail
from Hector’s right hand. He was
conscious but in a such a delirium of pain he wasn’t aware of anything happening
to him. Neal did the same to the other two; the blood had pooled beneath their
arms; in a few hours in the stifling heat of the basement, it would turn a
rusty brown. Neal dropped the hammer
beside the first Tattoo Head’s right hand.
The second was staring ahead, bloody teeth grit around the member, a pit
bull with Mauricio attached.
“I’d let him go and get out of here if I were you,” Chae said in
the biter’s ear. His eyes were feverish
and blood leaked between his teeth in a Halloween rictus of crazed animal rage.
“We have the film,” Jack said.
“You, any of you, try to do anything, say anything, and we’ll make sure
a DVD gets to every MS-13 member in Long Island. We’ll mail copies to
cousins back in L.A. and El Salvador. Remember what I said.”
When Jack looked back from the cellar steps at the hideous
tableau on the basement floor, Mauricio had fainted and fallen across the
tattooed boy who still held him in his teeth. An image like so many others from
over there he would never get out of his neocortex.
Three days passed. Then a
week. Nothing in the papers. The couple
had returned, finished selling their house, hauled their furniture off to a
storage facility and gone back to Puerto Rico.
Jack did welfare checks every night until they were gone. The house
remained dark, empty, with a tilted For Sale sign out front. The magma glow of
televisions sets in the nearby houses attested to normalcy on the street.
Chae and Neal met Jack at the same bar on Coney Island for
drinks and a farewell. They drank beer
in silence while they waited for the Uber to take them to JFK. No one spoke
about the basement. No one said anything that a person who
overheard them would have suspected was anything but guy talk in a bar, although
this trio differed in a couple ways, one being the lack of laughter or snide
comments to one another about girls, personal short-comings, or sports.
Jack wanted to ask them if they felt any different now but that
would have been wrong, like saying My
pussy hurts, so he kept his mouth shut and drank alongside his two
friends. No one seemed inclined to talk.
Soldiers who’ve been close to death in wartime know what these
three friends knew because it was obvious to them and they had the scars to prove
it. Jack, the most intelligent of the
three, never considered himself a philosopher and didn’t read the dull,
highbrow books Estelle kept on their night stand. But war was all around; it
was in their neighborhoods and found them in their homes, too. It didn’t
follow them; it was always there.
Just a boot scuff in the dirt and you’d see the worms crawling. Some men
who’d seen too much combat got PTSD,
and none of the three would have judged them.
Neal, Chae and Jack went into war and came out the same way. Life is
war. Justice did not exist. Bad people
hurt good people and need to be hurt right back. That’s all these three
T. White was born, raised, and still lives in Northeastern Ohio—although he did
get to China for two weeks once. He writes, noir, crime, and hardboiled stories
featuring series character Thomas Haftmann. A pair of noir/crime novels are When You
Run with Wolves and Waiting on a Bridge
of Maggots (2015). An ebook crime novel, Special Collections, won the New
Electronic Book Competition in 2014. His latest Haftmann works are Nocturne for Madness
(2016) and a short
story collection, Thomas Haftmann,
Private Eye (2017).