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Angelo Gentile
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redemption.jpg
Art by Henry G. Stanton 2019

Redemption for a Lowlife

Angelo Gentile

 

Carla was cheating on Frank. He had hired me to confirm the affair. Not that I’m proud of taking the gig, but domestic cases help pay the bills when you’re a private investigator, you know? Does that make me a lowlife?

Should I answer that honestly? The program talks about rigorous honesty and a Higher Power. Yeah, right. After two tours in Vietnam, two failed marriages, a bankruptcy, a love/hate relationship with booze, a jaded job history, well, I could go on. I’m at an age, man, I should be retired. Instead, I’m chasing after wayward spouses. Here’s my card, Ray Cannon, private eye.

Thing is, Carla wasn’t cheating with the guy Frank suspected, one of his business partners, a no-neck thug named Bruno. No, in fact it wasn’t a guy at all. It was Frank’s other business partner, his little sister, Theresa, aka Terri.

So, I was now on my way to Frank’s. The morning was overcast and gray. Rain was predicted later. Frank was not going to be happy with what I had to say. Of course, he’s never happy as far as I can tell. Maybe being a loan shark and the owner of several topless bars that were most likely fronts for all sorts of illegal activity makes you cranky. Or maybe he was just an asshole. I wheeled my battered BMW up the cobblestone drive to a wrought-iron gate that had been conveniently left open. I was going to give Frank my report, complete with photos and video evidence, although he didn’t know I had anything yet, let alone pics and vids.

I gotta say, it was pretty steamy stuff. The women were definitely hot for each other. Carla was a looker. Blonde. She had these long legs that…well, never mind. She had been a dancer at one of Frank’s bars, but quit stripping once they were an item. I guess she didn’t need to dance for dollar bills after she started sleeping with the boss.

I drove past the gate, up the tree-lined entrance and parked next to a bronze statue of Bacchus. Clearly vice paid off for Frank. The place was mammoth. Tudor, I think, but what do I know, I live at the Blue Skies Trailer Park.

The Blues Skies was managed by my neighbor, a gonzo former Marine named Dirk—although he says there’s no such thing as former. Once a Marine, always a Marine. He flew the stars and stripes above his double wide every day. We were roughly the same age—a couple of old soldiers—and we found some things in common and got together for beers on a regular basis. He never failed to give me shit about my job tracking unfaithful husbands and wives.

My tired Beemer looked out of place next to the two other cars parked out front, a sleek silver Porsche Carrera and a regal black Mercedes. I knew from my surveillance that Carla drove the Porsche. Why was she still here? She was usually gone somewhere by this time: tennis or swimming at the club, maybe some shopping downtown, a little dalliance with her girlfriend. I decided to leave the photos and video in the car for now.

I knocked on the door, and was greeted by Carla and the sweet smell of cigar smoke. Frank must have been nearby.

“I’m Ray Cannon, here to see Frank,” I said.

“Oh, I know who you are, Mr. Cannon. Follow me,” Carla said, motioning me in, shutting the door, and walking quickly down a darkly paneled hallway. There were those legs again, showcased in a tight, black mini-skirt. Her high heels clicked on the parquet floor.

We walked further down the hall and then turned in to the library, book-lined walls all around, Persian rugs accenting the hardwood. Frank and Carla didn’t exactly strike me as bookworm types. Maybe Frank’s first wife was the reader. Carla was the trophy wife, considerably younger than Frank, closer to Terri’s age, probably mid-30s.

Terri was sitting in a leather chair, clad in black boots, black pants, and black suit jacket that all matched her long black hair. A glass tumbler of something dark on ice, and a slow-burning Cohiba in an oversized ashtray, next to her. An affection for cigars apparently ran in the family.

“That’s Terri, but you’ve been spying on her, too, so you know who she is,” Carla said.

“Where’s Frank?” I asked.

“Hello to you, too,” Terri said. “Something came up. He’s off somewhere with Bruno.” She picked up her drink and raised it in my direction. “Won’t you join us?”

A little early in the day but what the hell. “Why not?” I shrugged, and watched Carla pick up the cue and move to a bar on one side of the room, fill two more tumblers with ice, reach for a bottle of Maker’s Mark and make generous pours. She walked over, handed me one, and kept one for herself. The three of us settled into separate chairs. They faced me across a mahogany coffee table, Terri all in black, Carla all legs. A hint of perfume mixed with the cigar smoke and bourbon.

“Let’s cut to the chase, Mr. Ray Cannon private detective,” Carla said. “Beyond getting your jollies watching two women together, we know why you were hired and that you probably have photos, video, who knows what, of the two of us, and you were about to deliver the goods to my jealous husband.”

“That’s about right. What of it?” I asked.

“Well, we’re not really sure,” Terri said, picking up the conversation from Carla before drawing a long pull on the Cohiba. She slowly blew out the smoke. “We were just speculating whether Frank would kill his sister or his wife when he found out. Quite the ethical dilemma for the old boy…or maybe he’ll kill both of us.”

I sat up a little straighter. This was getting serious. “You don’t really think he’d…”

“Of course he would!” Carla said, raising her voice. “The man is ruthless! Are you dense?” She was trying to control what I could see now was fear. I grimaced. Her fear was contagious.

Terri took Carla’s hand. “You know I’m here for you.”

I didn’t say anything. I drank some of the bourbon. Smooth, but it didn’t help. Once you’ve been in the program, even if it doesn’t stick, it can spoil the enjoyment of drinking.

“Would you be interested in not giving my brother your report…for a price of course,” Terri said, her dark eyes locking with mine. It was a fierce, defiant look, but I may have detected fear in those eyes, too.

“Possibly. But what do I tell Frank?”

“Well, that you didn’t find anything. Carla’s not cheating,” Terri said.

“Like he’d believe me?”

Terri started to speak and then paused, gazing at her cigar. She was clearly deliberating. “Maybe a more extreme solution? You do that sort of thing?”

I took a big swig of bourbon to hide my nerves. “Did you have a number in mind?” The stakes just got raised, big time.

The two women looked at one another. Terri leaned over and kissed Carla’s hand. I had a sense this might be my ticket out of the trailer park. I finished my drink, agreed to talk to Terri on the phone in a few days, and headed out, given I wasn’t going to be meeting with Frank. I felt a little disoriented as I fired up the Beemer. I wasn’t sure if it was from the bourbon or from what I was—apparently—agreeing to do. The rain had started and the rhythm of the windshield wipers and the BMW’s big V-8 were the only sounds I heard as I made a distracted drive back to the Blue Skies. I rolled by Dirk’s place, thinking I might stop in and run this whole scheme by him, but his camp looked buttoned up and his truck was gone.

 

****

 

Days passed, then a week. I spoke briefly with Frank on the phone and lied that I didn’t really have anything on Carla. Not sure he believed me. I also got calls from Terri. I didn’t call her back. Was I seriously considering doing a hit? We hadn’t really talked specifics on a fee, but I was thinking it would be sizeable. I could use the cash. Divorce is the great destroyer of fortunes, which is why I was at the trailer park. But with the passing days I wasn’t so sure about this whole thing. Was I just getting cold feet? Did I have it in me to be a hit man? I saw plenty of combat in the jungle with the Viet Cong. I responded to my share of enemy fire. Still. The blood. The stink of burning flesh in the humid jungle. What can I tell you, it was pretty fucking awful shit. And yet I went back for a second hitch.

Another week went by. Terri stopped calling. I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe she was getting cold feet too. I remembered that hint of fear in her eyes. Meanwhile, I still hadn’t received a check from Frank for my services. I could feel a growing sense of dread, a creeping anxiety in my gut. An anxiety not unlike the stuff I brought back from the jungle. I did a pretty good job of drinking that feeling away over the years. I tried treatment a couple of times, but charm school didn’t really stick. A version of that dread was back now.

I found myself checking my rearview mirror more intently when I was out and about in the Beemer. I started carrying my old Beretta. And before hitting the sack each night I’d peek out my kitchen window with the lights off. The dark streets of the trailer park were quiet.

On sheer impulse one night I stopped at Slick Nick’s, a dim tavern down the block from the Blue Skies. The place smelled of bleach and skunky beer. It was a hangout for a motley assortment of pierced, tattooed hipsters in skinny jeans, and old biker types. The bar was crowded and early Black Sabbath was blasting. I elbowed in between two bikers, leaned on the bar, and waved my arm to signal for a beer. After ordering it, I checked myself for a minute, a reminder of the damn program clicking in again. Ordering a beer was a hard habit to break.

Just then someone jostled my shoulder. I quickly pivoted into a boxing stance, ready to jab and cross.

“Whoa, stand down soldier!” shouted a voice I recognized. Dirk. He held up his big paws in defense. “Man, you are jumpy. And packin’ heat, too.” He patted by jacket. Not sure how he could tell but he knew.

“Asshole,” I said, secretly relieved.

“Man, somethin’s got you spooked, dude,” Dirk said. “What’s the problem? Somebody gunnin’ for you? Or is your brain back in the rice paddies with the VC?” Dirk knew I had some ghosts from back there, even though it was long ago. He also knew something about combat. His Marine career included several tours of duty in hot spots all over the world, spanning decades. And, unlike most of us who came back from Southeast Asia and other places and stayed silent, he liked to tell stories. From a long-ago ambush he survived at a market in Quang Tri City, to a more recent bloody tale of taking back Fallujah from Iraqi insurgents, one man’s horror is another man’s delight. He was finally too old to serve, but he could. The guy was a beast. Marine buzz cut. Fit and battle ready.

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” I said and we both laughed. We moved to a corner of the bar. Soon he was spinning tales of former missions.

I eventually held up my hand, stopping his chatter. “What about stateside?” I asked.

“Whaddya talking about?” Dirk eyed me.

“You ever do anybody here at home, you know, maybe for a fee?”

“You mean like a hit?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“Are you nuts? Dude, what kinda shit are you into?”

“Well, you seemed to have committed plenty of carnage in your Marine days,” I said.

“I was defending our nation,” Dirk said. “That’s war, my brother. This is different. You’re talkin’ about cold-blooded murder. Even I have scruples.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I guess.”

“No, dude, it isn’t funny. You don’t want to go down that road. It never ends. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself on the other end.”

Dirk’s response surprised me. And right then I had my answer. I knew what I had to do. Call Terri. I wasn’t an assassin. Not by a long stretch. I drained my beer. It tasted sour. In fact, beer hadn’t tasted good for a long time. Maybe I had my answer for that, too. I got up to leave.

“Be careful, dude. Don’t be stupid. Stop over and talk to me before you do anything. I’ve got a box of fresh Perdomos. We’ll fire up a couple and I’ll tell you more about Fallujah.”

“Smell you later, buddy,” I said.

“Go out and get laid or somethin’ for chrissakes.”

I left the bar, maybe a little less jumpy, but still mindful of who might be out there in the darkness. I had figured that, if Dirk were in my position, he probably wouldn’t bat an eye over Terri’s proposal. As a trained warrior, he’d work out the money, plan the hit, and he’d move on. Well, as it turns out, even Dirk had some ethics, though a little twisted.

The next day was a cool and crisp Sunday. It was a little more than two weeks after that meeting at Frank’s with Carla and Terri. I woke up early and put the coffee on, resolved with what I had to do. I stepped outside to get the paper. I saw the headline right away: Local Business Owner Charged With Racketeering. The story reported that Terri had blown the whistle on Frank, had gone to the cops with plenty of evidence to take down her brother, even though some of it was likely to implicate her, too, given that she was also Frank’s business partner. There was more stuff in the article about her being granted immunity. I guess I wouldn’t have to call her after all. I thought about that Higher Power thing.


I folded up the paper, went back inside, and filled my coffee mug. I was still at the Blue Skies, still mostly a lowlife, but I felt a little lighter. Maybe I’d walk over to Dirk’s trailer for one of his Perdomos. Or maybe catch a meeting.



Angelo Gentile is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist who also works in corporate communications. He also has been a newspaper and magazine editor. His work has appeared in the Minneapolis Star TribuneMinnesota Business, and PBS's Next Avenue website. More recently, Gentile has been writing fiction.



Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other publications. 

His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry.  His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.

A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com.  A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.

Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Reviewwww.therawartreview.com.

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