Would you rather suffer pain from a superficial injury or be the guest in the home of a couple having an impromptu argument? Maybe something started out as a joke, worse if it was your joke, and it escalated from there. Maybe it was deep-seeded, and it just took a while to break the surface to find light and grow. Would it be worth blood not to be there? How about a broken bone, or would you settle for a bad sprain with bruising? Spend enough time with any couple anywhere and you might be able to answer the question.
A night in the hospital is just what the doctor ordered, especially in a guarded room. I’m glad it wasn’t private. I would have hated to be so disassociated from human suffering as to not enjoy the company of my roommate. She made for a rather contradictory metaphor. In Oz, the witch was just out there for everyone to see, there were no preconceived notions about who she was. She gets all the credit in the world for that. The wizard, he hid behind a curtain. Everything he did was accidental, lucky lies that took on lives of their own. And of course, he was quite familiarly busted by a little dog. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” Poor Muffin. This woman was definitely a witch, but she stayed behind the curtain.
After her particularly harsh brand of personal intoxication wore off, the remorse of what she may have done, had she remembered set in. My job was to be her captive emotional tampon. For some reason I was supposed to tell her everything was going to be alright. She wanted me to assure her that there’s no way her husband was going to find out she was knee-deep in the dealer’s sheets when the drug house was busted. Her husband, after he finds a babysitter, was not going to mind one bit that all she had to wear was jail scrubs and he’d better dig something out of her drawer before he comes down to bail her out. He won’t mind the track marks on her arm, the wreak of straight booze emanating from her pours. He’ll never know a thing unless he hires me. I wondered if the old man knew Buffy was a stripper.
“Lady? I just shot some guys okay? Shit in your own bedpan,” I said.
“Knock, knock, you decent?” Detective Tom asked.
“Whatever happened to resting?” I asked.
“Haven’t you ever heard the phrase no rest for the wicked?” Tom asked.
“Explains more than you know,” I said.
“Well, anyways, I thought you might want to know, so far ballistics came back with a bullet fired from an as of yet unidentified high caliber rifle,” he said.
“So, nothing. You couldn’t have told me that on the phone?” I asked.
“There’s more. The guy, the guy you wounded really didn’t give us much, and fact is, he might never,” he said.
“Bad?” I asked.
“Worse, he could be gone by the time I get back up there,” Tom said.
“What, a, shame,” I said slowly.
“At the moment, I’m holding her on suspicion to commit, but that ain’t gonna hold for long. Once the judge gets ahold of it she’s going to be on the street before you can whistle dixie unless I can get more. What else you got for me Philippine. And don’t hold out on me, it’s your ass we’re talkin about here,” Tom said.
“I gotta tell ya Tom, Mary Owens might be a first-class bitch, but I don’t think it’s her. The second guy? He was going to kill her, sure as shit. Even if I was the target, they had no problem with collateral damage, even her. Those guys weren’t a couple of half-wits from the bar, they did that sort of shit for a living. Contracts like that generally pay in full upon completion. No way they kill her, not if they wanted to get paid,” I explained.
“You sure about that? Maybe some guys on down the line just don’t know any better,” Tom said.
“Yeah but even right away when it all started. They just opened fire, started blasting. If the dog didn’t tip us off…”
“She never gave you a clue? What about the cat, the shot in your office? Think about it Philippine,” Tom said.
“Yeah, I got it. You need something, I might have something. You know why I’m in here Tom?” I asked.
“Yeah, of course, you were in an explosion,” Tom answered.
“Yeah Tom, I’m here for observation, overnight, under guard. I got a damn tube in my arm and they gave me some shit that’s supposed to relax me but it ain’t workin’. You know why it ain’t workin’ Tom?” I asked.
“Read you loud and clear Maximine. I’ll see you in the mornin’. Hey, what’s her problem anyways?” Tom asked.
He needed to pass by the witch’s side of the curtain in order to leave the room. Asking personally invasive questions is a cop’s version of comforting small talk.
“She is, same as everyone,” I said.
“Yeah? Well, whatever,” he said as he left.
I checked myself out early the next morning. I wanted to make sure I could beat feet before I had to meet with Detective Tom again. The tan sedan was still at the scene, so I called the one guy I knew for sure wasn’t getting any sleep.
“Thanks, we need to talk,” I said.
His car was what you would expect it to be. The leather seats in Mason’s late model European sedan squeaked as I slid my ass into place.
“Where to?” Mason asked.
“Let’s get a cup of coffee. Try here,” I said.
I had a drink coaster in my back pocket. I planned on using it when I changed seats at the bar, but I never got around to it. I showed it to Mason and tossed it onto the floor.
“Are you kidding? Hey!” he said.
“Nope, and whatever, they have good coffee,” I said.
The uncomfortable silence was made worse by the damn car you could barely hear run.
“What about the car Mason? Black Jag convertibles don’t exactly grow on trees,” I asked.
“Coincidence. Has to be,” he said.
“Really? That’s bullshit and you know it. You got no chance at that coincidence BS with me. I ain’t buyin’ it, and you can bet the cops aren’t either. And what the hell is this situation you got yourself into? What are you trying to get out of?” I asked.
Mason stopped his car in front of the club.
“Here? Really? You sure?” he asked.
“Yeah. Like I said, they got good coffee. Plus, I know someone who works here, I can get us a deal,” I said.
“I’ll buy if money is the issue,” Mason said.
“Nope, plus maybe we’ll get lucky and run into an old friend,” I said.
“Yeah? Like who?” Mason asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Point is, nobody here gives a shit about us, so we know nobody is listening,” I said.
The smell of fresh coffee and urine punch you in the face first step through the front doors. Once you’re used to it, it’s almost like that sweet smell when you’re still a half a mile from a flat skunk, until you get close.
We chose a booth where I could see the door. My old friend Randy spotted us and immediately disappeared into the back room.
“Friend of yours?” Mason asked.
“Not exactly, but she is,” I said.
Sindy must have pulled the early shift that day. She came through the front doors looking like she got up late for church.
“Hey Sin,” I said.
“Ms. Maximine! Hey, he’s much better than the last one huh?” Sindy said.
“Just business Sindy. I’m glad I ran into you though. I was hoping you could keep an eye out for me. Ya know in case anyone we might know shows up unexpectedly. Oh, and could you tell her a couple of large coffees? Thanks,” I said.
I handed her a twenty spot folded the long ways. She gave the bartender our order, gave me a wink and headed backstage.
“Alright, spill it,” I said.
“She didn’t do it. No way. I’d know. This whole thing has gotten out of hand,” Mason said.
“I’m aware. Now why don’t we start with what it is you got yourself into,” I said.
“Money. Lots and lots of money. The AAPT, the old man. He got on this animal kick a few years back. He wants to go international with this thing. Hell, he already has. They needed properties, and I knew how to get ‘em. Thing is, the son, Wesley, he was in charge of all property acquisition. Now believe it or not, he’s still punching the damn clock. The old man might have all the money in the world, but unless you either got tits or puppies, he ain’t all about sharing it,” Mason said.
“So lemme’ guess, you and Wesley set out to get some of it for yourselves,” I said.
“Yeah, you could say that. The old man has no idea how much property costs. As long as it was for the animals, he doesn’t care what he pays for a building. Wesley and I split the overage right down the middle, fifty, fifty,” he said.
“How does Mary fit in?” I asked.
“She knows about it, about everything. She was lovin’ it, fancy house, car, maid. It was all good until he found out,” Mason said.
“Who? The old man?” I asked.
“Vince, Vince Rantelinini. The fuckin’ chauffeur. This guy overhears a conversation Wesley and I were having in the back of the damn car, comes to my office and says he’s going to tell the old man’s arm candy wife all about us. Says he used to date her heavy and she’ll tell the old man unless we cut him in on the deal.,” he explains.
“How much did he want?” I asked.
“Half! Fuckin half! I’m supposed to tell Wesley that him and I are going to get twenty-five each while this asshole gets half? I don’t think so. He had to have sent Mrs. McArm Candy, aka Buffy over there to make the hire,” he said.
“Why me then? I’ve never met the woman,” I said.
“Um hello? Like, she probably doesn’t want her like traditional old guy husband to know she like, you know, worked here,” Sindy said.
“What the, how long have you been standing there?” I asked.
“Um, I brought your coffee, and he’s here,” Sindy said.
“Who’s here?” Mason asked.
“Him,” she said pointing.
Vince walked in and sat at the bar, never having even glanced in our direction.
“Nice Sin, nice,” I said.
“Great, so you know this asshole,” Mason asked.
“He’s the old friend I was talking about, although admittedly we’ve never been formerly introduced,” I said.
“How does that even make sense?” Mason asked.
I sipped my coffee.
“Anyways, maybe she’s right? I mean, it had to cost a shitload of money to hire those guys. Who else could do it?” Mason asked.
“No way, uh uh. Doesn’t add up. Why send so much firepower, do so much damage just for me? Seems like a bit of overkill doesn’t it?” I asked.
“Maybe they tried it the other way and missed. You know, one guy, a shot through an office window?” Mason asked.
I’ll admit, Mason and Sindy had my wheels turning double time. It just seemed a little bit too easy.
“What about the cat? Where’ did ole Vince get a mountain lion?” I asked.
“Oh. Well, um, that might have been us,” Mason said.
I removed my gun from its holster and placed it on the table in front of us.
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, well, we needed you to keep an eye on Wesley without really telling you to keep an eye on Wesley. He was the threat who at first, we never anticipated. How long before he realized he didn’t need me anymore? We needed you to think we were getting divorced so that Wesley would trust Mary. We knew if you tailed her, she’d lead you to him. The lion was a setup. Who else can get a lion besides the boss of a rare animal rescue? It was a breadcrumb. And once Mary got tight with Wesley, we’d know about any plan he had to you know, end the deal, end me. Meanwhile I knew damn well Buffy wasn’t getting what she needed from the old man, so you know, a passing glance, a little flirting here, an accidental touch there. Next thing you know we’re on both sides of the coin. Being with her was the only way I knew for sure I could get ahead of this whole Vince thing. And really, the lion thing worked, sort of,” Mason said nervously.
I picked the gun up off the table, chambered a round, stood up in the booth and pointed it at Mason’s head, aiming carefully between his eyes. After a moment of conjectural fear instillation, I adjusted my aim, stepped out of the booth and approached the bar.
“Hi Vince, let’s say you and me take a ride.”