AUTHOR: David Monroe
TITLE: “The Get Back Job” (partial)
GENRE: Modern crime noir
SYNOPSIS: Jocko Myles got outta-the-life of being a bounty hunter for the Mob. But when sex-slave traffickers’ start kidnapping girls – Jocko goes on the hunt again.
The Get-back Job
By David Monroe
– 1 –
My only street-legal cell phone rang.
The red numbers on my alarm clock read – 4:39. It was early morning, and still dark. Not good. Dark hour phone calls are nothing but bad-luck and trouble. No one has ever called me in the dark hours because they were so pumped up about all the good stuff going on their life. That just didn’t happen.
Maybe I’d be the guy to break the mold. Call people, at 4:39 in the morning, tell them how stoked I was about good things. After they made their coffee, I’d probably get shot.
I took the call like I always do. My phone is always charged, always set on the loudest ring tone, and always by my head on the nightstand. I’m in A.A. It’s what I do, what we do – we show up for each other.
“Hello?” I answered
I’d taken a lot of calls from Burner. But right off I heard it – none of them like this. It was in his voice – I’m-going-to-die terror.
“I’m in,” he said.
“I tried to do it.”
“I’m freaking out,” he said.
“Yeah. I can tell.”
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “I tried to do it.”
“Man, I actually tried.”
“Burner. Tell me – now. Or I’m hanging up. Get it?”
I hated being a jerk about it. But he could babble on forever.
“Sorry,” he said. “I got it. I tried to kill myself.”
I sat up.
“I wasn’t planning it or anything,” he said.
For all I knew – he was in a bathtub bleeding out. Now I had to be a big jerk, to cut through. “Where’re you now?”
He blew me off and went on.
“I checked into a hotel,” his voice cranked up. “To get stoned by myself. Couple shots, pop some pills. Fall asleep with some porno. I had a fifth of vodka. This high end stuff, made from real potatoes. And I had a vial-full of oxy. But then – it hit me. I’d had it. I didn’t want to get away for a night. I wanted to get away forever.”
“Burner – now. Where’re you at?”
He didn’t answer me. Damn it.
“So I took all the pills,” he jittered and chattered. “Then I killed the 5th of vodka. Then I freaked out – now what’d I do? Man I’m going to die! What about Holly? And Brook? They’re the only good things that ever happened to me. And, what? I dig my grave and throw myself in? I can’t do that do them.”
Holly and Brook were his wife and daughter.
“Burner!” I yelled. “Where are you? Now!”
“In the hospital, man.”
Okay, then. Good. I came down from the adrenaline spike, came down from the code black – death’s knocking on the door. He was safe, for now. I could hear it in Burner’s voice, too – he’d dropped off.
“Just tell me what hospital,” I said. “I’m coming in.”
“You coming to see me?”
“Of course,” I said. “Like always.”
Like so many always.
“I can’t believe you, man. You’re unbelievable.”
“Yeah,” I threw the compliment under the bus. “Just tell me. Which hospital?”
“I’ll be there in 20.”
“Thanks, man. Then I’ll tell you. The other things.”
“You kidding me?” I asked. “Trying to kill yourself isn’t the high point of the story?”
– 2 –
Great – other things.
I got dressed in the dark. Black t-shirt, old jeans, and my black SWAT boots. When I got dressed the biggest problem I had – which black t-shirt to wear? One with a logo, or a plain one? To keep it simple, I grab from the top.
I live in a beach house and my bedroom is the loft. I climbed down the ax-notched post, went into the bathroom, turned the water in the sink on, cupped my hands together, and splashed cold water on my face. I wet my hair with another splash of water and dragged my fingers through, not bothering with a comb. It’d take too much time to shave so I left the whisker growl alone.
I looked in the mirror, made a gun with my thumb and first finger, pointed, and then fired – nice mug, bub.
Then I almost stabbed myself with my tooth brush. That could be lethal. I’d jury-rigged the tooth brush myself and was proud of my handy work. It was a sporting jail-house shank. A death dealer. I had nasty little surprises like my tooth brush hidden everywhere.
I learned a lot of things from my buddies who’d gone to the big house. No doubt I should’ve been in prison a lot – if not most of my life – on so many counts. But, hey – I’m 7’s and 11’s.
I’m a lucky guy.
Besides, I’ve been out of the life for a good stretch now. I’m making a rousing go of the straight life. It makes me feel like a klutz on steroids.
I walked out into the living room and my dog, Mo, lifted his head. Mo’s a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Ridgebacks are bred to hunt lions. That makes Mo a 110 pound lion hound – my kind of nice little pooch, for sure.
Mo was somewhat worried that I was up so early, but not so worried he’d bother getting up. He snorted and dropped his head, back off to sleep. Back to sleep, I might add, on the dog-o-pedic I’d bought him. Three hundred dollars for that bed. I kicked the bed, just to make sure Mo was comfy. He snorted again, so bothered – why was I such a pain in his ass?
The beach side of the house is all glass. Over top of the sliding glass doors, in an A-frame, are picture windows. I opened the curtains that draped over the sliding glass doors and looked out over Long Island Sound. Not much going on out there in the morning dark. Under the moon light, the water was a shifting silver and black. Looking out all I could think was – damn, Burner. Damn, in a touching way.
I’ve known Burner since I was 11, a little over 30 years now. Burner was one of my brother’s best friends. They were 10 years older than me.
My brother’s name was Trip. It was his real name, then for a while it was his perfect nickname, too. At one point he dealt LSD, four barrel sunshine. He moved a couple thousand hits a week.
Everybody wanted in with Trip, and for a long time I didn’t get why Trip was best friends with Burner. All of Trip’s friends were in the life, deep, and Burner was this hard working guy.
Burner had a great laugh. He could hire out as a laugh track just himself. Just hearing him laugh made you laugh and crack-up until it hurt. And Burner loved to party like Trip did. They’d hire out a limo for a week long jaunt in New York City. I didn’t just hear about these rips. I was with them. So, yeah – great laugh and a great partier. Still, I didn’t get the best friend thing.
Burner was the guy with the sad-sack story, stories like these –
Burner’s dad wasn’t around, so he taught his kid sister how to ride a bike. His sister lost her balance, toppled, fell off, and knocked her head on the black top. Like what? Like 1000’s, maybe millions of kids in America in the mid-seventies? Who knew what a helmet was back then? Helmets were for playing space man, or army guy. Anyway – his kid sister died of brain trauma, in Burner’s arms, while his mom was too drunk to dial the phone.
And where was Burner’s dad?
Well, his dad had tried to shoot himself. Even with the gun right in his mouth, his dad ended up being a suck-shot. His dad ended up brain dead, a vegetable, on life support. The breathing machine made it sound like he was a deep sea diver. Which is how his mother, a red-head – slang/seconal junkie – told it to Burner. Daddy’s gone on a fun deep-sea diving trip, even though you can’t see the ocean for miles little man.
Burner’s mom made Burner pull the plugs out of the wall on all of dad’s life support machines. When she got nabbed for trying to kill her husband, she blamed it on Burner, saying he was such a wild child, and she couldn’t – she couldn’t control him.
But, please – don’t take him from me. She needed him, he was all she had left, and she was blown out with the grief and sadness of it all. So sad she used to climb into bed with Burner, drunk, stoned, and nude, to seek comfort from him, from about the time he was eight.
And on and on, on and on.
Burner was the guy whose sad story broke the gossip-mill. Until people heard me and Trip’s stories.
Then one day Trip told me why he was best friends with Burner – Burner got the sad-sack thing. Trip said only a guy like Burner could get a story like me and Trip’s. No, mom never molested us. But she tried to kill us – for real – a lot of times. Other sad stuff, too – like mom and dad’s joint suicide-pact. They didn’t mess it up, like Burner’s dad. And on and on.
So me, Trip, and Burner – hard-luck, sad-sack, and trouble. People who were mauled as kids? They got it with each other. It was something, a bond, way beyond words, unspeakable, but so loud.
Trip’s been gone over 20 years now and I miss him every day and when I’m with Burner it feels like I’m with Trip a little, too.
So. I was off to the hospital. Again, to see Burner.
– 3 –
My car is a green color that sort of makes you sick. It’s my un-stud mobile. It was modified by a friend of mine, Eddy the Mad Puerto Rican. It was his prototype – he wanted to sell bomb proof cars to police departments, for their undercover operations. Everybody like the idea but nobody would buy it because it was too ugly. Being so ugly, it drew too much attention to itself.
To date, it hasn’t helped me get any and it sort of screams out – Man With Erectile Dysfunction.
I got in my car, started it up, and pulled out from my swatch of private parking. Couple of quick turns later I was at a stop sign. I took a right onto the road that runs alongside of the salt marsh.
As I turned, something out of the corner of my eye made me stop the car. I looked in my rearview mirror. The brake lights lit the road back of me. In the red flare I saw a guy in a cherry picker. No hard hat on.
The cherry picker was cocked and bent and the guy worked on the side of the pole that faced the beach. That didn’t make sense – the guts of the electrical are on the side of the pole that faces the street, just so guys don’t have to get cockeyed in the cherry picker. Like this guy was.
It was 5:13 in the morning and throughout the neighborhood there were porch lights that had been left on all night. There were also some bedroom and kitchen lights on, the early risers getting to it. I didn’t see any power outage.
It’s my way. I notice things. Because I’m paranoid someone’s out to get me. Then again, where I come, the work I used to do, it wasn’t paranoia. It was reality. These days I have to remind myself – it’s different now. I’m a regular guy now, a hard working guy. Well, I’m not so sure about the ‘hard’ part. But I’m working.
I took my foot off the brake, the cherry picker went back to dark, and I drove on. A few minutes later I was on I-95. In this part of the state I-95 runs along the shoreline of south eastern Connecticut. I headed towards New York, crossed over the Housatonic River Bridge, and went on in to Bridgeport. The city lights smeared the sky orange, like a washed out prison jump-suit.
For the whole ride my thoughts bumped and grinded over the guy in cherry picker. I tried to quit it, to drop it – it had to be nothing. Or so I told myself, over and over.
– 4 –
St. Talbot’s Hospital is on the north side of Bridgeport. It’s 15 stories high and a scrawl of antennas reached a story higher. I drove past the indoor lot and parked in the outdoor lot.
I got out of my car and stood for a minute. Burner always had a zinger – other things. I shook my head and prayed – please, may it have nothing to do with his wife, Holly. And please, please – may it having nothing to do with his daughter, Brook.
I went in through a double set of sliding glass doors and up to the ER reception desk. A nurse, her hair up in a messy bun, was on the phone. She held her first finger up to me, and put me on hold.
To my right two security guards argued.
The younger guard looked like was in full dress uniform for an inauguration ceremony. Maybe he was dressed to go to the Grand Opening of a dollar store. He was pissed off and in the older guard’s face.
The older guard didn’t cut a stud image. He was overweight and his belly untucked his shirt. He had a button missing so his hairy belly button stuck out. It looked like his tie doubled as a napkin. I think marinara sauce was in his past. I think cream filled doughnuts were in his near future.
They argued about the video surveillance cameras. All of the hospital cameras, inside and out, had gone down. There was nothing but snow on the monitoring screens.
The young guard accused the old guard of screwing up and shutting the system down like an idiot. But the old guard stood his ground – it wasn’t his fault. Besides, he’d called the company that maintained the video system. Someone was coming out 911 to fix the video surveillance system. So get off his case all ready.
I got the feeling the old guard was lying. It had nothing to do with me, and no one was going to ask what I thought. It was habit – I watch to see who’s playing who. Then I like to guess why. It kept me sharp for the times I might get played. And it was fun for me. I noted the name on the old guard’s badge – Karl Rodriguez.
The nurse was off the phone.
“I’m here to see Mario Bettino.” I liked his nickname better.
She looked on her chart, then reached under the counter and pressed a button. The doors in the back corner of the room swung open.
Not much of a talker, she said, “Psychiatric.
– 5 –
The psychiatric room was directly across from the nurse’s and doctor’s station. It was the only room with a door. All of the other rooms were set off with curtains. There was a skinny wire-mesh window so staff could look in. The door locked from the outside.
There was one bed and one chair for visitors. In the chair’s seat was a get-well plant. A small teddy bear, on a plastic stick, poked out from the plant’s pot. It looked like the plastic stick was stuck up the bear’s ass. If I had a piece of plastic sticking in me like that, I sure wouldn’t be so cheery looking.
Burner lay in the bed. His wrists and ankles were strapped to the bed’s poles. He was bearded with charcoal milkshake drool. Charcoal milkshakes are what you have to drink after you’ve swallowed too much killing juke. His tongue and the insides of his mouth were black, like he’d eaten a two pound bag of old time licorice. Charcoal milkshake black mouth – seemed to have promise as a fad for Goth kids.
I clasped his hand and leaned over and bumped my shoulder with his.
“Hey,” I said.
I felt sunk. There’s a black cloud to suicide for me. I don’t get it, even more than I don’t get death. And, hell – Burner was going to cry
“Come on,” I said. “It’s okay.”
“I can’t believe you came.”
“Of course I did.”
Burner was Sicilian. He had that always-tan thing going on. Even in February it looked he’d just gotten back from Miami Beach. He was a big guy, and carried a lot of weight, and was strong from a life time of working in construction. He tried to pull himself together.
“Man,” he said. “These rabbits suck.”
There must have been a big-oops in the laundry department. Burner was dressed in hospital garb from the pediatric wing. His Johnny-coat had little blue rabbits hopping and bounding all over it. Blue must have meant it was for boys. It was three sizes too small for him. I used the top of his Johnny-coat to wipe his tears.
“Look at them,” he said. “They’re blue. Who ever heard of blue rabbits?”
“Maybe they’re suffocating,” I said.
That got a little laugh out of Burner.
“They’re looking for a bed,” he said. “Soon as they find one, I’m off for
another 28 day stint.”
“Good,” I said.
“That’ll make number four for me,” Burner said. “Four tours of rehab.”
“Still got you beat by two,” I said.
“That’s because you’re a rehab stud-dog.”
“Least you got something good from your dad,” I said.
“You suck at suicide.”
“Fuck you,” he said. But he laughed.
“When you’re in rehab,” I said. “Make sure you add that to the things-you-like-about-yourself list.”
I took the pillow case off the pillow on the other bed and wiped all the black stuff off of Burner’s lips and the sides of his mouth. When I finished, I tossed the pillow case at the foot of the other bed.
“So,” I said. “Lay it on me. What’re the other things?”
He clinched his fists, and shut his eyes.
“Come on, it’s okay,” I said. “What?”
“Holly left me,” he said.
Well, there was one unanswered prayer.
“Not left me,” he said. “But she threw me out.”
“Burner, I’m sorry man.”
“Yeah. That was. Couple weeks ago, I guess.”
“You should’ve called.”
“I feel like such and idiot.”
He turned his head and looked at the wall. I didn’t want to push it, but he’d said other things, with an s, making it plural. I hoped he was going to go from the worst news to the not-so-bad news.
“And Brook,” he choked on a sob. “She’s gone.”
Not good. He was going from bad news to worse. Another unanswered prayer. Good job, God. Glad you’re on it.
“What do you mean – gone?” I asked.
He shook his head back and forth – no, no, no.
“It’s why I flipped out,” he said. “I lost it. I don’t think I can take it. They took her.”
“They kidnapped her,” he said.
– 6 –
It felt like my insides were going to drain. Then terror and helplessness washed over me. Then rage double pumped. I couldn’t let myself get blown out with emotion. Not now anyway.
I grabbed onto the side of the bed – just to feel something here and now. Then I turned to my breathing. I drew in breath deep and slow, then let the air out long and steady.
“I got this phone call,” Burner said. “And they said – we got your daughter. It was like a bad TV movie. We got your daughter, they said. And if you ever want to see alive, don’t talk to the cops. Or the FBI. Don’t talk to anyone. Man. Man – I couldn’t believe it’s happening.”
“The said – don’t talk to anybody?”
“So what’re you doing?”
“Burner. You’re talking to somebody. You’re talking to me.”
And all of a sudden – that get-well plant, with the happy-face bear, screamed at me.
“Burner. How’d that plant get in here?”
“I – I don’t know. Some guy.”
“Some guy? Who else knows you’re here?”
“I only called you.”
“So how did someone know to send you a get-well plant?”
“What’re you saying?”
“Damn it – think. Ever think someone bugged the room?”
“No way. You think that?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“Are you trying to make this worse or something?”
“No. Just keeping Brook alive.”
I needed to calm myself down. I needed to remember – not everyone is as good at being paranoid as me. Also – it may not being going down like this at all. Maybe someone hadn’t bugged his room. But to make sure, I grabbed the plant with dumb-ass bear and stepped out into the hall.
– 7 –
The psychiatric room must have been sound proofed, something I didn’t pick up on before. When I stepped out into the hall I was flooded with sounds – people talked, cried, and moaned in pain. Electronic monitor systems bleeped. Phones rang. Doctors were paged.
I stopped the first nurse that came by.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Can you – throw this plant away? He’s allergic.”
She took the plant from me. “Sure.”
“Bust it. Break it. Shatter it. He’s so allergic. I can’t even tell you.”
“Okay,” she said a little wary.
“And see this cute little bear?”
She nodded, yes.
“Right.” She gave me the eye – maybe I should be in the room with Burner. Not as a visitor.
My mind raced – dump the bear.
And what’s next?
Behind the nurse’s and doctor’s station, high on the wall, were TV screens that were hooked into the video surveillance system. The screens were all snow.
Then it came back to me – the two security guards. I’d bet the older security guard had been paid off to make sure the cameras went down. Then someone could get in and out, unseen, and bug Burner’s room.
Next was simple – I needed to know what the delivery guy looked like.
“You see the guy who delivered this?” I asked the nurse.
She cocked her hip. “In case you didn’t notice. This is an ER room.”
She left to destroy bear.
In case you didn’t notice – thanks for the attitude, Ms. Capitol B. I looked around. Think – who was out of the life-and-death drama of the ER room?
Of course – the laundry lady. She was down the hall, stuffing sheets into a cloth sack the size of a fifty five gallon trash bag. I walked up to her.
She looked up at me. She was Mexican. She blew some hair out of her face, and got ready to get more grief about the big-oops in the laundry department.
“Sorry pajamas,” she said.
“The bunny rabbits? Oh, no. My friend likes them.”
“He do?” She relaxed and was glad I wasn’t going to chew her out.
“Loves them. But I wanted to ask – you see the flower delivery guy?”
“My buddy. In psychiatric.”
“Usually same guys deliver flowers at night,” she said. “But he new guy.”
“What’d he looked like?”
“He tall. Taller than you.”
That’s not saying much. I’m five foot eight. I’m a little taller than Sugar Ray Leonard, the same size as Bruce Lee.
“Anything else?” I asked.
“I watch him. He cute. Not cute as you.” She gave me bedroom eyes.
Yeah, yeah – she must be out of her tree, trying to pick guys up in an ER room.
“Black hair. Dark eyes. Baby face. And how you say in English? A smirk?” She made a face to show me. She was a good mime, actually.
“Right. You got it,” I said. “A smirk.”
“Like he better than everybody else. But mad nobody knows it.”
Okay, so really – it could be any of a hundred jerks. But her peg on his attitude could help a lot. If she’d nailed it, it was a sharp read. And it could mean more than what he looked like. Way more.
“You know him?” She asked.
“No. But thanks.”
I’d know him when I met him, though. And I got the bleak feeling I’d meet him soon enough.
– 8 –
Burner chewed on the top of his bunny rabbit Johnny-coat.
“You sure you didn’t see the guy?” I asked.
“I told you. In and out. I don’t know. Like some kind of shadow guy. You’re freaking me out,” Burner said.
“Sorry. It’s – it’s nothing. But, you told Holly?”
“Oh, man,” he cried. “Now what? You telling me I shouldn’t have told her too?”
“Forget it. Just back up. So what they’d say?”
“They said $250,000. Or else she’ll whore until she dies. And they said she’d die quick. They got her strung out on heroin.”
“They?” I asked. “More than one guy – they on a speaker phone or something?”
“No, sorry,” he said. “One guy. It was one guy.”
“Okay. Tell me about his voice.”
“He sounded like a drunken robot.”
“Okay. So he used a voice scrambler. But he told you – $250,000. And you can buy her out of the sex-slave life.”
“Oh, man,” he moaned. “I didn’t think of it like that.”
I wanted to hammer him – you’d better think of it like that, because that’s what’s going down. But that wouldn’t help. Burner was breaking apart. I kept my mouth shut.
Burner said, “Heroin. Whoring. Stripping. She’s my baby, man.”
“Stay with me,” I said.
“You going to look for her?”
“Back up,” I said.
“He said he’d kill her, man. Please. He said if I went to the cops. Or the FBI. He’d kill her. I can’t believe this happening.”
“Burner,” I said. “Long as things are in play. It’s all good.”
“I think it’s the guy’s from the Ostrich Feather.”
The Ostrich Feather was a 5-star strip joint. New place.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“They sent me a text.”
“Yeah. She was on the main stage. I’d know that stage anywhere.”
“You got the text?”
“I’m such a screw up,” he said.
“You got it – I need to see it.”
“It’s on my phone.”
He nodded towards the brown shopping bag, with brown twine handles, on the floor. I picked it up and dug through his personal belongings and pulled out his phone.
There was only one video text. I clicked on it. It loaded slowly. As I waited for it to load a memory washed over me. It was Brook’s sixth birthday party. Summer. Brook and her friends in bathing suits. A traveling petting zoo for kid’s parties.
Brook was in the make-shift pin with the animals, giggling and having a great time. And out of nowhere a goose bit her belly button. She wailed. Party ruined.
Burner and Holly were inside getting food, so it was on me. I climbed in with the kids and the animals. The goose couldn’t fly so I kicked it out of the way. Not hard enough – the goose lived.
I bent down and wrapped my arms around Brook and picked her up. I climbed back out of the make shift-pin with her in my arms. I held her while she cried. Then I set her down and told her to watch me.
There was a slip-and-slide. It was about 20 feet long. Water sprayed out from a hose and kept the slip-and-slide wet and slick. The spray was backlit by the sun. There were tiny rainbows.
I was dressed in my clothes and I didn’t have a bathing suit on. But that didn’t stop me. I ran full speed and hurled myself down the slip-and-slide. At the end I rolled and summer salted and stood up – TA-DA!
I yelled – Mr. Hambone is alive! My clothes were soaking wet. Brook cracked up laughing and ran over to me and threw her arms wide and jumped into my arms. She told me – I love you so much Uncle J-Man.
My video text loaded and burned my memory.
And there was Brook – naked, save for her indigo G-string and glass-like high heels. She danced on the center stage at the Ostrich Feather. Her eyes had that faraway look heroin whores get. Rave music pinched through the phone’s small speaker.
Whoever shot the video was in the front row.
Brook leaned down and kissed the lens of the video camera. She left a smear of lipstick on the lens. Then she rimmed the edge of the lens with her tongue. She fogged the lens with her hot, moist breath. Then she took the lens in her mouth.
I snapped the phone shut.
To make Brook feel all better again – it’d take way more than Uncle J-Man throwing down some hambone.
– 9 –
I wiped his tears with the tail of my t-shirt.
“They said they’d call in 3 days,” he said. “Tell me what’s next.”
“Okay,” I said.
“You gonna help?”
I couldn’t believe it. Me of all people was going to say this.
“Burner,” I said. “You got to go to the FBI.”
The FBI. I called them the fibees. Much as I didn’t like them, at all, they were the best at this kind of thing.
“They said they’d kill her. If I went to the FBI. Or cops.”
“I get it,” I said. “But the FBI. They’re the best at this.”
“Can’t you hear me? They said they’d kill her, man.”
“They always say that,” I said. “They hardly ever mean it.”
“And suppose this time – suppose they mean it?”