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Peter W. J. Hayes
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gloria.jpg
Art by John Lunar Richey 2015

Gloria

By

Peter W. J. Hayes

 

 

 

I couldn’t see them through the slats of the closet door, but I could sure hear them.  Her moaning sounded like a cat being prodded with a sharp stick.  He was gagging and huffing like a congested snuffleupagus.  But I wasn’t really bothered by the lack of Hollywood-style ecstasy.  What had me slowly stroking my cheek with my silencer was the meeting I’d had two hours earlier with Dom.

Dom had hired me two years before to work security and watch his back.  He owned a string of restaurants and strip clubs across Pittsburgh that bankrolled what you might call high return activities, which explained why Dom ran half the coke and heroin in the city.  The strip clubs also explained his fourth wife.  He’d pumped three kids through his high school sweetheart, dumped her for one of his strippers, then replaced her after five years.  That five year period became the average expiration date for wives.  Gloria, the wife getting poked on the bed a few feet away from me, was near the end of her five year run.

But I couldn’t get that damn meeting out of my mind.  Dom in his office at the back of his strip club, just a beat metal desk, one chair, no window and 70’s rock thumping on the other side of the wall.  The smell of talcum powder and sweat.  I’d watched him snort two lines of coke and finish it with a shot of Johnny Walker Blue.  Dom was a classy guy.  He looked at me with jumpy, bloodshot brown eyes and said:

“I know she’s cheating.  I need you to clean this up.  She’s using our safe house on the Souside.”

“You want me to clean her up?”

“Yeah.”  He rubbed his nose and some snot attached to his finger.  He didn’t notice and drove the same hand through his thinning slicked-back hair.  “I ain’t paying no cheating bitch alimony.  And the guy.  I need you to take out the guy.”

“Whoever it is?”

Dom’s mouth went slack because he was surprised I knew.  The guy bumping uglies with his twenty-seven year old wife was Dom Jr., his son.  Twenty-one years old this year.  Dom’s mouth opened and closed before he got it back in gear.

“Nobody bangs my wife.  No one.  Not even fucking blood.”

“And you want me to take him out.  Dom Jr.  You’re 100% on that?”

“God damn right I’m 100%.”

Which got me into the closet in the safe house 45 minutes before Dom Jr. and Gloria showed up.  As the moaning shifted to a series of quick whinnies, I started to think that I didn’t like anything from that meeting with Dom.  For a bunch of reasons.  Stupid as it sounds, I hadn’t shot a woman since Iraq.  I’d promised myself to be better than that, and, truth be told, I liked Gloria.  She paid attention to me, touched my arm a lot when we talked and never minded when I looked down her shirt.  Not a week ago she’d even given me a gift of some special cologne and shown me how to put it on, her fingers tracing all around my neck and ears.  I still got warm thinking of that.  More to the point, I knew damn well that when the Johnnie Walker ran out, Dom would realize his only son was dead and would hate the guy who’d shot him.  Guaranteed.  It was the crappiest scenario I’d come across in my two year and not-so-ideal career.

Strangling and gurgling sounds.  Dom Jr. had got there at last.  I waited for him to start breathing normally again, which took awhile, because apparently Dom Jr. was about as athletic as Big Bird.  Then came mumbling and bed creaks.  So, I needed a Plan B.  I decided to scare the crap out of Dom Jr. and let Gloria run.  Not what Dom wanted, but maybe with Gloria gone Dom would forgive his only son.  And appreciate me more for not shooting him. 

I stepped out of the closet to find Gloria already dressed and standing by the doorway.  She didn’t react at all, just watched me in a concentrated kind of way, almost thoughtfully.  How she got dressed that fast was beyond me.  Dom Jr., on the other hand, yelped, rolled over the side of the bed and reared up with some kind of weapon in his hand.  OK, back to Plan A.  I squeezed off two and watched him sit back against the wall in a jumble, a frown on his face.  Blood spilled out of the two holes in his chest.  I swung my piece toward Gloria but she was gone.  I heard a thump at the bottom of the steps and the slam of the front door. 

So.  Complications.

I stuffed some of the bed sheet into the holes in Dom Jr.’s chest and dragged him into the bathroom.  Levered him into the bathtub.  Then I sat down on the bed and looked around.  Gloria’s bra and panties were tangled on the floor.  That was how she’d got dressed so fast.  But it was almost as if she knew I was there, and that worried me.

I played it out in my head.  Gloria now knew that Dom was onto her, so she would run.  She had to.  I’d tell Dom I planned to chase her, and after some time I’d tell him I got her. 

Good enough.  Actually, it sounded better the more I thought about it. 

From the closet I took a huge roll of discount store plastic wrap and duct tape and went to work on Dom Junior.  It took me half an hour to mummy him up.  I’d get him out of the house later.  Then I called Dom. 

“Done,” I said when he answered, “but I have to chase Gloria.”

“How’d the bitch get away?”

“Lucky.  But I’ll get her.”

“You’re slippin’.” 

The bang through the phone made me jump.  Silence.  I knew the sound, it was a .38.  I knew because my backup was an old .38 revolver that had belonged to my father.  Carefully, I closed up my phone and went downstairs to the front door.  Checked the street both ways and then walked a couple of blocks down to my car.

I had a bad feeling, but my job was watching Dom’s back, so back to him I went.

Dom lives in a ritzy area of Pittsburgh called Shadyside, which, given his businesses, was an aptly named neighborhood for him.  The house lights were off, except for Dom’s ground floor office.

Inside I didn’t call out or turn on the lights.  I heard voices and followed them to Dom’s office, not even bothering to be quiet.  The house was more than 100 years old and the wood floors squeaked like you were walking on gerbils.  I pushed open the door to the office.

Gloria was sitting in Dom’s chair.  Dom didn’t seem to mind, he was lying on the floor staring at the ceiling with a third nostril in the middle of his forehead.  Vinnie Stone, Dom’s lawyer, was sitting in the chair across the desk from Gloria.  When I walked in he twisted around in his $100 suit and sized me up through his thick horn rims.

“Well, look who turned up.”  Gloria smiled at me.  I have to admit, she has a nice smile.  She was wearing the same clothes from the safe house and my eyes wandered to the place she wasn’t wearing underwear.  Her chest just looked softer, not slacker.  Impressive.  Before I could say anything Gloria started talking again.

“Nice job on Dom Jr.  He got what he deserved.”

That set me off.  “I thought you guys liked each other.”  When I saw the mock horror in her eyes I added:  “Or something.”

“I just needed to send a message to Dom Sr.  Get him to make a move.  His move was you, which I figured, because he made you do all the dirty work.  But I needed Dom Jr. out of the way, so I inherit.”

“How does that work?  You just shot Dom.”

Gloria leaned back in the chair.  “Did I?”  A smile creased her lips and for some reason, this time, I didn’t like it.  I glanced at Dom to make sure it was actually a bullet hole in his forehead.  Check.

“Gloria,” said the lawyer, giving his comb over a little pat, “is now a grieving widow.  The tragic victim of a vicious hit on her husband and stepson by a power hungry underling.”

I was still sorting that out when something poked into the small of my back. 

“Hi there.” 

It was Lewis, a guy I’d hired a couple of months ago to help me with security.  I started to turn around but the item in my back rammed forward so I actually stumbled a bit.

“What the hell, Lewis?” 

“What the hell indeed,” said Gloria.  She lifted a gallon zip lock bag from a desk drawer and held it up.  “Recognize this?”

“That’s my .38.  My backup.”

“The one your father gave you,” said Lewis from behind me.  “Registered to you.”

“Exactly,” I answered.

“And exactly the pistol that shot Dom Sr.,” finished Gloria.  Silence.  I stared at her.

“It’s a good thing Lewis came along,” she added.  “He saw the whole thing and managed to get the drop on you so we can hold you for the cops.”  My holster went light and hollow as Lewis removed my automatic, which pretty much matched how I suddenly felt all over my body.

“I decided to let you get away,” I stuttered at Gloria, my words sounding like they came from someone else.  “I was raising my standards.”

“Exactly why you’re not the right guy for my new organization,” said Gloria.  “I need guys who follow orders.”  A siren from somewhere was getting louder.  

“And one other thing,” said Gloria.  She smiled the nice smile again.  I felt like it was all just for me.  “Thanks for wearing the cologne I gave you.  I figured you would.  That’s how I knew you were in the closet.”

 

 

#        #        #







goodbrother.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2016

The Good Brother

by

Peter W. J. Hayes

 

“I’ll walk you halfway,” said David. He scanned his younger brother’s lean face. “You get over the last hill and you’ll be at Lake Erie. Boat’s gassed. You can make Ontario from there.”

“You think I’ve forgotten how to get there?” Rusty studied his older brother right back. David the good brother. Their mother’s favorite. Their father’s favorite, for that matter. He’d seen it years ago when they vacationed at this very cabin: the way his parents’ eyes lit up as they watched David play. That was back before the cancer took their mother and the heart attack laid out their father. And who had inherited the cabin? Perfect David, of course. Straight ‘A’s through college and law school. The perfect blond wife and two kids. But there was a new hollowness to David’s smile that Rusty recognized. It came too quickly to his lips and lingered too long. Rusty had learned to spot that smile when he was in the joint. It was a cover for nervousness, and you had to pay attention to people who were nervous about something.

He nodded toward the path. “So let’s go.”

“Follow me.” David stepped off the porch, leading the way, as if ordering Rusty around was his birthright. His new Bean boots squelched on the wet ground.

When they crossed into the tree line Rusty spoke to David’s back. “Thanks for letting me stay up here. Those boys, they’re crazy. They think I stole their money. It’s bullshit.”

“You said.” David tossed the words back over his shoulder with a twist of his head. “But Jesus, stealing from Bandini? That guy is Pittsburgh’s worst nightmare. He sells all the drugs and owns half the cops.”

You think I don’t know that? thought Rusty.

It’s time to end this, David told himself. I can’t keep helping him like this. Leaves crunched underfoot and the woods smelled of damp rot. Rusty’s first run-in had been kind of funny, hi-jinx almost, but a few months later when Rusty needed to hide from the angry owner of a chop shop, the pattern was clear. That was before the two years in jail on a manslaughter conviction. There was no coming back from that. David tightened his jaw.

Find the opportunity. The words rang in David’s ears. It was all he remembered from the promotion ceremony when he made partner at his law firm. As he passed down the line shaking hands each partner repeated it to him like a fraternity oath. He understood the meaning: All partners were expected to bring in new business.

But I can do a hell of a lot better than that, thought David.

Half a mile into the woods the wet smell of Lake Erie came to them from the other side of a hill. David stopped and stuck out his hand.

“This is as far as I go.”

 “Don’t want to come to Toronto with me?”

“I’ve got a wife and kids. The law firm.” David looked Rusty up and down. “Sell the boat in Canada. That’ll hold you for a bit.”

Rusty nodded and saw the same hollow smile on David’s face. For years he had just wanted his parents to like him, for David to like him, but David wasn’t having any of it. He never had and never would. Rusty saw that smile and knew it through and through. He took his brother’s hand and shook it.

“See you on the other side.” Rusty couldn’t keep a smile from his own lips. “I mean the border. Next time you’re in Canada.”

David nodded. Rusty pivoted and strode up the hill. At the crest he glanced back and saw David staring after him, his head tilted so far back he managed to look down his nose at him. Asshole, thought Rusty as he headed down the other side of the rise.

Thank God, thought David. His eyes lingered on the empty crestline and the unforgiving granite grey sky. A gentle wind lifted the hillside leaves. He breathed deeply.

“Well done.”

David started. About thirty feet to his right two men in full camouflage suits separated themselves from a stand of saplings. David fought to keep his face set. He’d seen newspaper photographs of Bandini, but as he approached David saw a certainty and forcefulness in his stride and posture that the photographs had missed. The second man was tall with hollow cheeks and a languidness to his movements that was somehow a warning. Bandini stopped in front of him, his black eyes glittering. “You did well. Clever sending me the GPS coordinate. Your call surprised me, but I get your angle. So it looks like we have a deal.” He held out his hand.

As they shook a gunshot echoed over the hill. Bandini gripped his hand harder then let it drop. David kept his eyes on Bandini and didn’t blink. Instinct told him to look unfazed but words bubbled up: he couldn’t help himself.

“How much did Rusty take from you?” He hated how frail his voice sounded.

Bandini studied him. “$150,000. Not that much, really. But even if I don’t get it back I need to send a message about people who steal from me.” A ding sounded and the tall man pulled a smart phone from his pocket. He swiped the screen and stared at it, then showed it to Bandini, who took it and held it up for David to see. In the photograph Rusty lay flat on his back on the trail, arms askew, the top of his head a mass of congealed red blood.

“So,” said Bandini. He tossed the phone back to the tall man. “I know I’m a guy who needs a lot of legal help. Cost of doing business. I’m guessing you decided it was time to hang out your own shingle?”

David nodded. “Exactly what I was thinking.”

“Good. Because with this thing you and I are locked in. Good way to start a partnership.”

He clapped his arm around David’s shoulders and guided him toward the cabin. David genuinely had to smile. Find the opportunity. And now his soon-to-be ex-partners were going to find out how well he understood those words.

 

#

 

Sitting in the boat Rusty wiped the last of the stage blood from his hair. Meeks overhanded the empty blood pac into the lake then bent to untie the bow rope.

“$150,000?” asked Meeks, straightening up.

“Waiting for you in Toronto.” Rusty slid behind the wheel and pushed the start button. The boat shuddered as the twin inboards revved to life.

Meeks lumbered over the middle seat and settled his 250 pound frame beside him. Rusty knew Meeks would stay just that close until the money was in his pocket. He didn’t mind. He reached over and squeezed the back of Meeks thick, tattooed neck. Raised his voice over the motor. “You’ve gained weight since the joint.”

“Out here they got real food.”

“Yeah they do. I bet Toronto is good, too. We’re gonna have fun.” He angled the boat north, opened up the throttle and leaned closer to Meeks so his words didn’t get lost. “When I saw you working muscle for Bandini, I knew we could put something together. And get this: Bandini’s $150 grand was just table stakes, my friend.” The boat bounced on a swell and Rusty adjusted the speed. “I knew if my brother let me stay in the cabin I could get on his computer. The dumbass still uses the name of our family dog for his password. Yesterday I got into his investment accounts and cashed him out. Transferred it all to Canada this morning. And then guess what? Jackpot. Turns out he keeps a copy of the password to his law firms’ accounts in his desk. So that money is in Canada too.”

Meeks shook his shaved head, a small smile on his lips. “Tough thing to do to your brother.”

Rusty studied him, the wind tugging at his hair. “You mean the brother who sold me out so he could land Bandini as a client? All lawyers are crooks, Meeks, and that’s a fact. They just aren’t very good ones. But you and I? We are good. We kick ass.”

 

#          #          #






Peter W.J. Hayes lives in Pittsburgh and began writing crime fiction following a thirty year marketing career. His stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter and The Literary Hatchet and he won the 2015 Pennwriters Short Story Contest. In 2014 he was shortlisted and highly commended for the Crime Writers Association (CWA) Debut Dagger award and won the Pennwriters Novel Beginnings contest. He is currently working on a novel. 

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