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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

87_ym_notetoself_hlyon.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2021

Note to Self

 

Peter W. J. Hayes

 

The blood just wouldn’t come out. Soaped, soaked and rubbed, it stayed a brown one-inch-wide streak down the front of my shirt.

Note to self: When you steal your boss’ cash by taking out the guy who launders it for him, wear dark colors. He’s the laundry expert, not you.

So here I am. Damp shirt, warm day. Everything wrinkling faster than I can drive from Salem to Boston. It’s noisy with the windows down. The cash is in the trunk, two hundred thousand in a metal-sided briefcase.

I’m disgusted with myself. Who was I kidding when I let Jessica talk me into this?

For a woman like her, two-hundred thousand isn’t nearly enough. I’m gabbling things out loud to tell her. It’s a grub stake. We’ll triple it in a year. A new start for us. The wind whips away my words and might be laughing at me.

The start of what, exactly? Running an ice cream store? The last time we snuck into Boston for dinner she dropped two thousand dollars on a bottle of wine. A Chateaux Margaux, I think the restaurant expert said. I’d never heard of it, but I was distracted by my forty-dollar appetizer of two bacon-wrapped chicken livers.

The waiter was talking on and on about uncaged pigs and free-range chickens. I was staring at my plate, pretty sure the uncaged pigs were the restaurant owners and I should stick to things more in the free-range.

It was after dinner Jessica suggested we take out Manny, our boss’ money laundering guru. Grab his daily deposit and run. Manny and I work for Colby, the worst-named gangster in America. Colby is five-foot eight of black-haired, glowering Portuguese. His name was dreamed up by his immigrant parents. They figured once he was older, he would fit right in with the Beacon Hill types. What can I say? His parents were immigrants. They actually thought fitting in was possible.

Note to self: Life’s not about living the dream, it’s about dreaming up ways to keep living.

Jessica told me she was tired of being Colby’s side action, despite the million-dollar condo and ten-thousand-dollar limit on the credit card he’d given her. She gave me Manny’s schedule and told me what to expect in the briefcase. At the time, we were in a room at the Parker House, sunk into a king-sized bed as soft as their almost-famous dinner rolls. Her hands were exactly where most guys would want them. Which is how she worked. The more serious the topic, the busier the hands.

I almost missed what she said. Again, I was distracted, but not for the obvious reason. A little earlier, as I slid off her silky panties, I’d been overwhelmed at how soft and smooth her legs felt. I was thinking what a world we live in, which could give us that, and the bubonic plague.

It took me a few moments to focus.

Two weeks later, I tromped the woods east of Waterville, Maine, my nights spent on a lumpy mattress in a local motel that smelled of mildew and sour coffee. On the other side of the wall from my headboard—all night long—a machine clunked and clattered out ice cubes. When I returned to Salem, I left behind a four-foot-deep empty grave overlooking Messalonskee Lake.

I figured if things went well, it would be a peaceful resting place for Manny. If things went sideways, I’d ask Colby to use the hole for me.

He would. He’d like the irony of it, and it meant less digging.

My shirt was almost dry when I parked outside Jessica’s condo. Her silver Mercedes, another gift from Colby, was in the usual space.

Note to self: We’re all hard-wired—given enough time—to see just about anything as a cage. Maybe that’s what fooled me about Jessica. But facts are facts. No way did my briefcase with two-hundred thousand match all the free-range Colby had given her.

When I reached her front door, she threw it open like she was waiting for me. Her red dress was wrapped skin tight and I didn’t see a travelling bag anywhere. She dragged me among the white sofas, black cube tables and chrome of her deadpan living room.

“Do you have it?”

“I’m doing great, thanks,” I said.

“You know what I mean.” She spread her arms theatrically, expecting a big hug. I responded with a polite hunch-the-shoulders-not-to-smoosh-anything squeeze and release.

“Shirt’s kinda wet,” I apologized.

She spotted the smear of daubed blood. Her hand flew to her mouth. “Manny?”

“Taken care of. His briefcase’s in the car.”

Her blue eyes widened. I launched into my rehearsed speech about new starts. She took a step back, hand still to her mouth.

Which is exactly when Colby stepped from the hall behind her. He crossed to us in a lumbering, stubble-cheeked gait, tapping an automatic of some kind against his thigh. I shut up like a dropped stone.

“What is this, exactly?” he rasped.

Under my arms, my shirt was soaked again. I remembered holding my gun to Manny’s chest a few hours earlier, and how I knew in that moment Jessica’s plan would never work. It was crazy. Useless. Finally, honestly, I’d asked myself how it was possible—in any way—for a dream like Jessica to be interested in me. She couldn’t be, of course.

Note to self: Wake the hell up—trust your instincts.

Pops sauntered out of the hall behind Colby, in all his six-foot-four, two-hundred and fifty pounds of muscle-bound glory. I’d always thought Pops was born two thousand years too late. He belonged among Celtic tribes, naked, painted blue, windmilling a war ax. When I was near him, I always imagined Roman centurions collapsing in sprays of blood and entrails.

But Pops was the best news I could hope for.

I hadn’t stumbled into Colby making an unannounced, afternoon-delight visit to Jessica. This smelled like a set-up. Which started to explain what Jessica had really seen in me.

“What is this, exactly?” Colby had a bad habit of repeating himself.

“You tell me,” I tossed back, my mind spinning. Plan B was shot. I needed a Plan C.

He gave me a toothy smile. “I asked Jessica to do me a favor. Take a few of you boys out. Tell everyone a different story about wanting to run away. See who bit. I know I got a rat in the gang. Figured it was a good way to flush him out.”

“And I found your rat.” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. See? Instincts.

“Did you, now?” Colby tapped his pants with the automatic.

“Yeah.” I grabbed for one of the whirling merry-go-rounds in my head. “Manny is your rat. That’s why I’m bringing you today’s deposit.”

I heard a whistling sound.

Pops got his nickname early, back when he punched anyone he thought needed it. He always went for the nose—he liked the ‘pop’ when it broke. Hence the nickname. One night, Pops hit an ex-heavyweight boxer with the ring name Machete Joe. Joe’s nose had been broken more times than your average speed limit, and being used to the feeling, he punched back. Pops’ nose snapped like a bread stick. Ever since, whenever Pops gets excited and breathes fast, his nose whistles.

Right now, he sounded like a train coming to a crossing.

Colby glowered at me. “Yeah? How’d you know I was here?”

“Stopped by your office. You weren’t there.” A flat lie, but I needed time.

“You didn’t shoot Manny?” He gestured at my shirt with the automatic.

“Hell no. I punched him. Broke his nose. He bled on me.”

A grin creased Pops broad face and the whistle subsided. Remembering the good times, I guessed. I wasn’t going to explain my Plan A was to shoot Manny, until I realized that running away with Jessica was an idiot’s dream. Which led me to the nose-pop solution.

“You said Manny was taken care of.” Jessica frowned at me.

An itch started at my lower back, running up my spine in a thin line around to my chest. I wanted to scratch it bad. I focused on Colby. “I can explain.”

“You can try.” Colby, always the sharp negotiator. The smile faded from Pops face. Talk bored him, generally.

“Easy. Colby, you own five massage parlors along Route One from Boston to Newburyport, right?”

“You know I do.”

“And you own twenty-some gas stations around town. You run numbers and loansharking out of every one. Sell Molly, coke, from behind the counter. Convenience stores of crime, you called them. Everything cash.”

“Yeah. Trying to figure out how to franchise them.” He snorted a laugh. “Good moneymakers for me. So?”

“I’ve worked security at all those places. I know their daily take. And Manny’s deposit every day? It’s five thousand dollars light.” Another flat lie, but I thought I might be in the clear by now.

“Maybe a slow day.” Colby, ever the reasonable man.

I grinned at him. “Five thousand light a day. Every day. Day after day. For how many years?”

Colby and Pops frowned as one. Pops, because my words sounded like math, which he hated. Colby, because math came easily to him.

Colby glanced at Pops. “Call Manny. Put him on speaker.” He looked at me. “Let’s see what he says.”

I started thinking of a polite way to mention Manny was tied up and I’d thrown away his phone, but he answered before the second ring.

“Pops, what’s up?” He sounded like he still had toilet paper up his nose.

Pops held out the phone so Colby could speak. “It’s Colby. Where are you?”

A pause, then, “On my way to you. That asshole Ronnie broke my nose and stole today’s deposit. Said he was going to find you.”

I felt lightheaded. How the hell did Manny answer the phone? What the freak was going on?

Colby leaned toward the phone. “Ronnie says your deposit is five light.”

Silence for several seconds. “Bullshit!” The word came out in a screech, an octave higher than normal.

“See you when you get here,” Colby said.

Pops disconnected.

Colby smiled. “Interesting. That scared him. And if he doesn’t show, you’re right. He’s been skimming.” He tapped his automatic against his leg. He gave Jessica a long and thoughtful look. I knew what he was thinking. Jessica must have told him I’d agreed to run away with her, but I showed up with a story about Manny.

The line up my back and around to my chest itched like fire.

Colby made a couple of calls and the rest of us tried not look at each other while he talked. Jessica glowered at a plant that looked like it was scared of the furniture. Or her. Five minutes later, when a polite knock arrived on the door, Colby nodded to her.

She swung the door wide, just like she did for me, and disappeared under a wave of blue-clad bodies. Colby just raised his hands and waited, and I did the same. The big guy went down under five of them, but I heard a couple of pops as they fell. After they got him out of there, the cops with mangled noses made a point of bleeding all over the white sofas and chrome.

Two other cops handcuffed me and marched me past Colby into the hallway. They bounced me off the doorframe along the way, which they thought was hilarious. I ended up locked in the back of a cruiser with my hands handcuffed in my lap.

A telling breach of procedure, that.

I sat for twenty minutes, until Detective Flanagan slid into the back seat beside me.  “Ronnie, Ronnie Ronnie,” he said. “Nice job, boyo.” He produced a key and undid my handcuffs.

I ripped open my shirt and tore the wire from my chest and back. Threw it on the floor. Scratched like I had poison ivy. I hated the damn thing. I also hated being called boyo. When I was somewhere close to normal, I said, “Colby admitted owning the places, even making money from them. That’s what you needed, right?”

“Oh yeah. We’ve made enough buys in the stores and massage parlors to close him down. Just needed him bragging he owned them. We can make it stick. Nice touch, buttering him up with the convenience stores of crime thing.”

“That’s what he actually says.” The itch dried up. I could breathe again.

“Kinda catchy.” Flanagan grinned at me. “Quick thinking on your part, though. Who knew Colby would be there? Walk in planning to get enough dirt on Jessica to flip her, and you turn it on Colby. Saved us three months of work. And how’d you like my bit with Manny? I was listening to your wire and told him what to say. Grabbed his balls when he was going to deny skimming. Got his voice to the right octave.”

I had to admit that part was well done. “And our deal?”

“Since we got Colby, Reggie’s parole moves up six months.”

“I also gave you Manny on a platter. He’ll roll, he’s that type. That’s worth a few months.”

“Noted. I’ll talk to the DA. Now, want to get Reggie out even sooner? We’re after McKinnon’s Southie mob. Think you can get in with them? You’re a free agent, now.”

I shrugged. “Depends what you offer. But McKinnon’ll figure Colby had a rat. Someone might talk.”  

“Depends where they serve time, right? Guy like Pops, I see a lot of solitary in his future. We can arrange something with the Feds to move Manny and Colby out of state. That’ll buy you a year. We’ll put you in general population today, let everyone get a good look at you. They’ll know you were arrested with Colby.”

“Lucky me.”

Flanagan slapped my arm. “All good. We’ll arrange bail after your hearing on Monday. You’ll be eating steak at Abe and Louie’s for dinner.” He slid out of the back seat.

I settled back. Six months less for Reggie. I was good with that. Reggie is my older brother. Three years ago, a guy got mouthy and wouldn’t repay one of Colby’s loans, so a length of lead pipe and I put him on permanent bed rest. Then it got weird. Instead of me, Flanagan and his boys arrested Reggie. An understandable mistake, because Reggie and I are identical twins. I told Reggie I would explain it to Flanagan, but he wouldn’t let me.

Note to self: Even if the age difference is only two and a half minutes, no way an older brother lets the younger one bail him out.

Halfway through Reggie’s trial, Flanagan and the DA realized their error. They wouldn’t admit it, of course. Instead, they threw the book at him. A month later, Flanagan showed up on my doorstep and offered a deal. A little information and Reggie’s parole would move up three months. Another phone call from me and another three months sooner for Reggie. And today—just in time—when I figured out that running away with Jessica was a fool’s dream, one more call to Flanagan. Agreed. Six months fewer for Reggie if I delivered Jessica. Reggie’s parole now two years away.

C’mon brother, you can make twenty-four months.

I looked through the cruiser’s window. Jessica was being bundled into the back of an unmarked beside me. If there’s a look that cuts glass, she was wearing it. I blew her a kiss and remembered sliding her silky underwear down those long, smooth legs.

Note to self: Everyone should have one night. Everyone. Male, female, gay, straight, everything in between and all around it. At least one night with the person of your dreams. That one memory to keep you warm when your age turns eighty and the season to winter.  

Now that’s a dream to keep you living.

 

 

The End

Peter W. J. Hayes is a recovered marketing executive turned crime writer. He is the author of the Silver Falchion-nominated Pittsburgh Trilogy, a police procedural series, and is a Derringer-nominated author of short stories. His short work has appeared in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Pulp Modern, Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, and various anthologies, including two Malice Domestic collections and The Best New England Crime Stories. He can be found at www.peterwjhayes.com



Hillary Lyon is an illustrator for horror/sci-fi and pulp fiction websites and magazines. She is also founder and senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. An SFPA Rhysling Award nominated poet, her poems have appeared in journals such as Eternal Haunted Summer, Jellyfish Whispers, Scfifaikuest, Illya’s Honey, and Red River Review, as well as numerous anthologies. Her short stories have appeared recently in Night to Dawn, Yellow Mama, Black Petals, Sirens Call, and Tales from the Moonlit Path, among others, as well as in numerous horror anthologies such as Night in New Orleans: Bizarre Beats from the Big EasyThuggish Itch: Viva Las Vegas, and White Noise & Ouija Boards. She appeared, briefly, as the uncredited "all-American Mom with baby" in Purple Cactus Media’s 2007 Arizona indie-film, "Vote for Zombie." Having lived in France, Brazil, Canada, and several states in the US, she now resides in southern Arizona.  https://hillarylyon.wordpress.com/

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2021