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Phillip Thompson
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dscf3163.jpg
Art by John Lunar Richie 2015

MAKING A LIVING MAKING A KILLING

 

Phillip Thompson

 

I don't usually kill anyone before noon, but since Vance was drinking whiskey in the passenger seat at nine o'clock in the morning, it didn't feel like morning anyway.

Even in Iraq, for some reason, most of my kills came in the late afternoon. Maybe the light, or the habits of the targets. Who knows. In any event, the hotel parking lot Vance and I sat in sure as hell wasn't Iraq.

Vance—Richard "Dickie" Vance—had hired me to kill his wife. And he wanted to be there when it happened. For the satisfaction of the moment, he said.

"She did you wrong," I'd said to him across the picnic table at a park outside of town two weeks earlier. He wasn't drinking then, but damn if he didn't look like he needed a drink.

"Yeah." He shrugged in his lawyer's suit—gray, white shirt, pale blue tie, all business—and cut his eyes back and forth, surveying the dying fall grass on the adjacent ball park. "You know the story. She's having an affair."

I nodded. It was an old, tired story. "And you know my price," I said. I sipped my coffee from the convenience store paper cup. He nodded.

"So how do you know she's having an affair?" I asked.

He looked startled. "I just do."

"Any proof?"

"You mean other than her admitting to it? No, I don't have any fucking proof."

"You know the guy?

He was getting annoyed. He jammed his hands in his pockets, pulled them out. Blew out his breath. "She didn't tell me his fucking name, for Christ's sake. Look, man, why all the questions?

I glared at him hard, let him chill a second or two. His eyes were bloodshot, the red lines a crazy mess around washed-out blue. Too much booze, too little sleep and a shitload of worry will do that.

I took another hit of coffee. "I prefer to know as much about the target as possible," I said. "Habits. Routines. Associates. This guy she's fucking. For all I know, he's a cop, or a banger, somebody who might hold a grudge if I kill his girlfriend. Might come after me. Might come after you."

I let that sink in. Usually, this is the point where they run scared. But he didn't. He just nodded, processed the info, then realized he was acting like a douchebag. "Right," he said. "Sorry. I've never done this before."

I smiled. "I know. That's why you hired me."

That's when he brought up the requirement of being with me. I almost told him to fuck off right there. But money has its own language, and Vance spoke cash. I agreed to let him, but only if he did what I told him, and no questions.

Bugged me, though. Besides the fact that he came off as ghoulish, even for a guy like me, I don't like people around when I'm working. Especially when work means a potential date with a death row needle.

I looked at him now, sitting across from me in a rented Ford—I never use my own for this shit. He took another pull off the flask of Wild Turkey he'd brought along. He looked like hammered shit, trousers wrinkled all to hell and covered in lint, his one-time white shirt limp and sweat-stained with a couple of random food stains across the front. He hadn't shaved in a couple of days.

I'd cleaned up for this gig, or at least this part of it. As much as I could, anyway. I'm 6'4", 230. I tend to get noticed. Not a good thing in my line of work, so I try to mitigate the risk whenever I can. I'd shaved, ditched the earring. Black blazer, white dress shirt. Jeans. Black leather shoes, matching belt. With my hair parted and combed back, I might have been a real estate guy or a car salesman.

"So," I said to Vance. "What's your take on this?"

He turned toward me, confused. "Take?"

"Yeah, inheritance, life insurance policy, your own career-ending dirt? Your take."

He blew out his whiskey breath, and I tried not to wince. I looked through the windshield, across the parking lot at the Radisson Hotel that I tailed Mrs. Vance to. "No, nothing like that," he said. "Just satisfaction, like I said. Revenge, I guess. Why?"

"Just curious. That's a little more Shakespearean than I'm used to." I checked my watch, then the silenced .22 under my left armpit. "No, that's a lot more fucking Shakespearean than I'm used to. Why don't you just divorce her? You got money. You won't go long without another woman."

He snorted, out of disgust or dejection I didn't know. 

"I divorce her, she gets half. Don't you know that?"

I shook my head. "Never been married. Never had money, either."

Now he shook his own head. "Yeah, well, if you did have money and if you were married, you'd know."

I grinned as it dawned on me. "She gets tossed, she gets a load of cash. I'm guessing more than what you're paying me."

"A lot more."

I stared through the windshield. "The love of money," I said.

"What?"

I glanced over at Vance. "It's the root of all evil. Didn't you learn that in Sunday School?"

He snorted again. "So, he's in there?" He glared at the hotel like he wanted to kick its ass.

"Who?"

"The guy she's fucking."

"Oh. Yeah, he's in there."

Vance sat upright, flask still in his right hand. "Yeah, what does he look like?"

I shifted my weight toward him and pulled the .22. "A lot like me," I said.

I shot him twice, in the heart. A lot less to clean up than a head shot. He slumped forward, face frozen with a permanent "What the fuck?" look on his face. I shoved him back against the door, closed his eyelids and laid a newspaper from the floorboard across his chest. Just some drunk sleeping one off in his car.

I cased the parking lot, eased out and locked the door, then walked back inside the hotel, straight to the elevator. Room 1038.

Carol Vance opened the door on the second knock.

I gazed at her, remembering her smiling at me like that about two hours ago, in the bed behind her, her green eyes full of sex and murder then, too. The auburn hair was wet from the shower, and she wore one of my dress shirts. Nice tan lines. Great rack, nipples the same color as the hair. And no carpet to match the drapes. She stepped over to the bureau and grabbed an envelope, held it out.

"You sure I can't get this one on the house?" she said.

I took the envelope, thumbed it open and glanced at the thick stack of Dickie Vance's money. "Man's got to make a living," I said.




Phantom Pain

 

Phillip Thompson

 

Taking a man’s fingers off one at a time takes planning. The right room and location. You’d be surprised at how much noise is involved when it comes to dismemberment. Especially when a man has to give up seven fingers before he decides to comply with Frank’s wishes. You can’t do that kind of job in a hotel room or a corporate office—you need isolation and atmosphere. And it takes time to create that atmosphere—the plastic sheeting, sturdy furniture, restraints. And then there’s the matter of disposal. You shouldn’t rush a job like that.

But this Jackson job was a rush job, from the sound of it. A job Frank wanted done right goddam now. Which was why he asked me to do it. Frank knows that when I walk away from a job, the other guy never does.

Me and Bird were just coming off a job in Louisiana, a two-day deal in Lafayette, and we had twenty grand between us. I say between us because Bird had the bigger sum, since he was the one who pulled the trigger this time.  The payoff set us up for a comfortable couple of days off in a casino in Biloxi. Or so we thought.

We were sitting in the parking lot of the Beau Rivage casino after the three-hour drive when Bird’s phone rang. I climbed out of the car into the stifling Mississippi heat to stretch my legs while he took the call. As soon as he said, “Yeah, he’s here,” I knew it was Frank on the line.

“Goddammit, Bird,” I said through the passenger window of the Buick. “Tell him we’re off the clock.”

Bird waved a “shut up” hand at me and nodded as he listened to Frank. I lit a cigarette and stared at the blinding-white arched entrance of the casino, dreaming of blackjack, free drinks, and maybe some companionship, depending on my luck.

“Hey,” Bird called from behind the wheel. I flicked my smoke to the asphalt and stuck my head in the car.

“That was Frank,” he said, unnecessarily. “He wants us to do a job.” Also unnecessarily. Why else would Mr. Big Frank Himself call?

I slid into the passenger seat. Fucking Frank and his jobs. The man had the worst timing in the world, which is probably what happens when all you do is sit in a room in Atlanta all goddam day, getting other people to do the kind of work you can’t do for yourself.

“What now?” I said.

“Jackson,” Bird said. “And he wants us there tonight.”

I looked at my watch. Figuring another three hours on the road, we’d be in Jackson around rush hour. “You gotta be shitting me.”

“Nope,” Bird said.

“What’s the job?”

“Same as Lafayette,” Bird said. “Dude is behind, and Frank wants us—you—to take care of it. Tonight.”

“Me?” I said.

“He specifically said you,” Bird lit a cigarette of his own and looked through the windshield. He was done talking and ready to start driving.

“How much?” I said.

“How much he behind or how much we getting paid?” Bird said.

“Both.”

“Well, the guy is behind twenty-five grand. We get ten percent, on account it’s a short-fuse kind of thing.”

I thought about it. Frank didn’t often pay me and Bird what we thought we were worth, so he must really be pissed at this guy. “Hit it,” I said. Bird cranked up and wheeled the car onto the highway, following the signs to Highway 49 for the ride to Jackson.

“Betcha money this one won’t be as easy as Lafayette,” Bird said.

I wasn’t going to be bet against him. Lafayette was about easy as it could have been.

The way me and Bird worked was Frank gave us an address and a description, then we found the mark and followed him. Usually, it took a couple of days of clocking the mark until we knew when we could grab the guy and get him to an isolated spot. But Ed Landry had made it easy for us. He had a girlfriend he was trying to keep secret from his wife, and met her at a motel out of town, on the road to Breaux Bridge. Hell, he practically walked into a bullet. Which made feeding him to an alligator in the bayou really easy.

I catnapped on the drive, leaving Bird to hum along to whatever country music station he could find as he wound his way through the piney woods part of Mississippi.

We pulled into Jackson near dusk, and Bird announced he was hungry and was going to hit a drive-through.

As we scarfed down burgers and fries in yet another parking lot, Bird gave me the rundown. We were looking for a white guy in an upscale neighborhood, which meant we weren’t really doing a job in Jackson proper. Guy name of Peter Firestone, who had a house in a suburb called Heatherton. I looked it up on my phone and saw the house was, fortuitously, near a reservoir. When I told Bird this, he just shrugged. Bird never cared much for details. All he needed to know was the who and the where of the situation. I was the detail guy. Maps, routes, the timing of the situation. Because I enjoy my work. Take pride in it. Bird’s a get ‘er done guy; I’m a professional tradesman. An artisan, if you like. Frank likes me to do the complicated jobs—getting money or information out of a guy. Or sometimes just making the fucker really suffer for pissing Frank off or disrespecting him.

We pulled into the neighborhood just after dark and waited for this Firestone character to appear. The house was big. Fancy. Brick all the way around. Two-car garage, door down. Bird parallel-parked across the way from the house, under a magnolia tree, and leaned his seat back for a nap. I always took first watch, since Bird did the driving.

We didn’t wait long. Forty minutes later, a sedan came up from behind us and the garage at Firestone’s house slid up. The car swooped into the driveway then into the garage. We assumed the driver was Firestone, but you can’t assume in our job. So we waited some more.

I was just about ready to shake Bird awake to start his shift when the sedan backed out of the garage, then shot off in the direction it had come from two hours earlier. Bird heard it, raised up and had our car behind the sedan in about ten seconds. We followed it through a couple of suburban turns to the semi-dark parking lot of a package store. Bird pulled to the curb just as the driver emerged.

“That’s him,” Bird said. “About six foot, blond hair.”

I was already out of the car closing the distance to Peter Firestone. Bird followed, about ten feet behind me.

Firestone mashed the button on his key fob and the car security system chirped and the headlights flashed once. He turned toward the door of the liquor store.

“Hey,” I yelled. “Peter Firestone.” I grasped the nine-mil at the small of my back.

Firestone spun around, his face a mix of surprise and fear. He yanked a revolver—a big one—from the front of his khakis.

“Gun!” Bird screamed even as I drew down on Firestone. But in that tiny space of time, Firestone raised his weapon and fired at me. I felt a hammer blow to my right leg that felt like lightning and fire had just stabbed me. I fired a shot that went wild, then collapsed on my wounded leg. I heard Firestone’s pistol roar again, then again. The night air around me seemed to fill up with noise and needles pressing into every pore of my body as I curled up on the asphalt, clawing at a huge wet hole in my leg. I heard another gun go off from what seemed like a long way off. Had to be Bird taking a shot at Firestone with the shotgun. Then the night stopped. The noise, the lights, everything just turned off.

I woke up in a hospital room that smelled like fresh linen and bleach. IV in my arm. My tongue felt four sizes too big for my mouth. Then I remembered. I’d been shot.

I slid my hand down my right leg until I felt the bandage, a huge pile of cool gauze. Relief. Good. I was going to be okay.

But something wasn’t quite right. My left leg was killing me. I couldn’t remember getting shot there, but the pain was just as bad. I reached over and felt … nothing.

It didn’t compute in my brain. Where the fuck was my leg? I swept my hand under the sheet and across where I knew my left leg was. I could feel the pain in it. But where was it? My hand swept back and forth like a windshield wiper in a thunderstorm over flat, cool sheets. Just sheets. No leg. Panicking, I threw the sheet back and stared down at a bandaged stump where my left leg used to be—even though the pain was escalating, sending glass shards of agony into my brain. I started hyperventilating and sweating. What the hell was going on?

I clawed at my pillow for the nurse’s call button and punched it a dozen times. I wanted to run, and I wanted to puke, but of course all I could do was lie there. The door to my room swung open, but a nurse didn’t step through. It was a man, wearing a white doctor’s jacket and a surgical mask. Even so, and without having to look at the name tag hanging at an angle off the left breast pocket, I knew the man. Even so, my brain couldn’t connect the man’s presence with my leg’s absence.

His brown eyes stared at me over the blue surgical mask. I couldn’t tell if he was smiling, frowning, anything.

“Dr. Peter Firestone,” he said.

I squinted. Doctor. Then it made sense. Doctor as in surgeon.

He must have seen the light bulb over my head. He pulled the mask down below his chin. Smirked. Smug bastard. He stepped over to the bed and patted the football-sized bandage on my wounded leg. “Quite a nasty wound,” he said. “You lost a lot of blood, but fortunately you got here in time for me to save the leg.”

I thrashed around in my IV and EKG lines, trying to get at him, but he stepped back from the bed, crossed his arms, and smiled again. “At least one leg,” he said.

My mouth felt like it was full of cotton and marbles.

Firestone leaned over, making sure he stayed out of reach of my flailing arms. “Your boss is a very stupid man,” he said. “I don’t like being pressured, and I surely don’t like being surprised by thugs in a parking lot.”

I swiped snot from my upper lip. “Where’s my fucking leg?”

Another smile. “On its way to Frank,” he said. “I thought about sending a note telling him to fuck off, but then I thought, no, the leg would suffice as a statement. Don’t you agree? Yes, I thought you would,” He peered at me from behind his surgeon’s mask. “And that pain? That’s called phantom pain. Very common occurrence in amputations. You’ll probably feel it for years. Maybe the rest of your life.”

I grabbed the bed rail with one hand and arched my back, ready to propel myself at this savage, but he replaced his mask, shrugged, left the room and I collapsed back into the bed. I stared at the ceiling and felt around for the button I knew had to be there, and I when I found it, I punched it about half a dozen times, hoping to shoot myself up with enough morphine or dilaudid or whatever they were pushing into me to blot out this whole experience.

The drug hit full force and I zoned out like a junkie.

Some time later—days? Hours?—Bird appeared over my bed, his triangular face staring down at me, rat eyes boring in on mine. I thought he was a hallucination until he spoke, and even then I wasn’t quite sure he was real. I nodded, still smacked out of my mind, as he told me how he’d gone around the car to pull the shotgun out of the trunk and by the time he’d caught up to me, Firestone had started shooting. How he’d taken a shot at Firestone, who fired back at him. Then Firestone had gotten on his phone, and Bird had to haul ass when he heard the sirens. He was sorry, real sorry, it had gone down like this.

Bird was pale and scared. Never had seen him that way. He kept running a hand through his dark, thin hair and couldn’t keep his eyes off the door. He glanced at me. “Anything I can get you, man? I mean, I know it’s bad. But anything you need, let me know.”

I nodded. Reached out and grabbed Bird by his shirt. Pulled his face close to mine. “You listening to me, Bird?”

He nodded.

“That surgeon?” I said.

Bird looked a little confused. “Firestone? Yeah, man, what about him?”

“Ain’t but one thing I want,” I said.

“What’s that?” Bird said.

I locked eyes with Bird, to make sure he heard me. “His hands.”


In addition to having his story, “Making a Living Making a Killing,” published by Yellow Mama in October 2015, Phillip Thompson is the author of the Colt Harper crime fiction series, which includes Deep Blood, the Amazon best seller Outside the Law, and Old Anger. His short fiction has been published at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Out of the Gutter Online, and Close to the Bone. He lives in Virginia. 


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