by James Newman
A darkness hung over the city that evening like an oily black cloth draped over a margarita. The night sky was as dead as a dirty thought in a cathouse. A cloud of bats flapped around above the bar. The bar was named after a once drunken now departed American author who had picked up the Nobel before taking the night train, express.
Frequented usually by gangsters and the artistic types who thrived among them in every town, every city a bunch of writers hung around upstairs and discussed how to plan the novel. There was a water fountain and next to that a Peruvian band making the kind of sounds that Peruvian bands tend to make. A small sun-scorched man with skin the color of gritty coffee played a nose flute while a guitar and a fiddle player accompanied him perhaps for the last time. There was something final about that tune, it breathed mortality, an up tempo funereal march.
Johnny was sat at the bar drinking a tall glass of rum with a coca cola mixer. Johnny was a professional. Wore a black three piece suit, snap-brim fedora, black patent brogues. His eyes were focused on whatever in the room moved. This did not make for a furtive disposition more a continual yet casual scanning pattern that allowed him to do the work for which he had trained. He lived out of a high-rise condo in the city and spent the mornings cooling off in the pool before a low-carb lunch and a drink, never before six, in the evening, usually at the same bar. He had another house on the beach a hundred clicks south of the city. Johnny picked up money from a private investigation company and did a wide range of freelance corporate work. He had a finger in many pies each of a scandalous nature. An outsider who had spent a stretch inside and wasn’t interested in going back in there. That was his one and only slip to date.
He got jobs done and had the bank account to prove it. If you wanted a hit Johnny was the man to ask. The kind of guy who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. Dark, well-groomed hair gelled back, medium height, normal build for a man in his mid-forties. He listened to clients with all the collective coolness of a banker considering a mortician’s loan. Everything was non-descript about Johnny apart from those who knew about his flawless aim, scope and his track record.
Shamus on the other hand was the wrong side of sixty with grey hair, a large paunch and a worried, hunted look in his eye. He burst into the bar wearing a double breasted suit bought from the hanger in one of the city’s cheap malls. He combed a hand through his thinning hair and took a look at the band. There was something rodent-like about Shamus. His gestures were nervous, he had some kind of anxious head tick. He reminded Johnny of a cornered rat yet he couldn’t remember the last time he had cornered one.
Shamus saw Johnny sitting by the bar and walked up to him and laid it out right there and then. “I need a hit.”
“Well the bar is just in front of you,” Johnny told the stranger. “And if it’s the brown or an eight-ball you’re after then you’re right out of luck.” If there was one thing he didn’t like it was strangers coming onto him in bars and talking about a potential assignment. Cutting straight to the chase was not the protocol. There was a system in place. He was a business man and like any other business man required appointments, briefs, budgets. Not a man in a bar with murderous intent on his mind and a mouth that was likely to sing like a canary if the heat got too intense. The client was always most at risk, Johnny had ways of moving outside the radar. Unprofessional behavior iterated him.
“I mean a hit, a job, But now you mention it a shot would do to take the edge off.”
“What’s your poison?” Johnny asked calmly. He guessed it was better to play along with this lunatic rather than make a scene and blow his cover. An old man with a closed umbrella on a cane sat by the door, watching. Johnny had seen him somewhere before. The details were hazy.
“On the rocks?”
Johnny rattled off the order in the local tongue to a barman who had materialized behind the polished wooden bar.
“So tell me your story,” Johnny lit a smoke and blew a purple cloud across the bar towards a row of optics. He had heard many stories. Usually there was an insurance policy involved and these were the most difficult to perform. He had to learn about the financial angle to make the hit credible. He preferred the straight forward crimes of lust and hate. It helped if the target was flawed in some way. If they had a drug or alcohol problem, were into fast cars, swimming late at night. Poker.
“He’s a psycho killer,” Shamus said. The drink arrived in front of him and he drank it in one and motioned to the bar-keep to keep ‘em coming.
“This guy is into students. Makes you sick to the bone to think about it. Devil worship he’s into. Two of my son’s friends have been found strangled and then dumped in the back of an alley with satanic symbols drawn on their bodies. This guy doesn’t mess around. Forensic pathology reports confirm that blood has been drained from the body. Bet you dollar to a dime he’s drinking their blood.”
“That’s what you got for me. Hmmm.” Johnny paused and indicated with his eyes that the older man continue his routine.
Shamus played along: “I want you to follow him, breath the same air he breathes, get inside his skin, learn his story, and when the time is right deliver me that hit.”
“You think that your kid is next, right?”
“I know so.” The next drink arrived and Shamus took a smaller bite and savored the taste.
“So, let’s see if I have this ass to front or the other way around. He’s the psycho and you’re the psychic?”
“It’s not like that.”
“so you have proof? evidence?”
“I need you to find the angle. I’ll tell you all I know and you put it together. When I’m done telling you everything you’ll have enough to make that hit.”
Johnny watched the liquid shift as he swirled the rum in his glass. He would have to record his story and tear it apart. Find out what worked and what didn’t and put it all back together again like a dime-store jig-saw puzzle. The band had stopped playing. A woman laughed somewhere in the distance. A dog barked from the opposite block and then howled after being told to shut it by somebody, presumably its owner. The old man with the umbrella sat watching. The woman stopped laughing. At that moment Johnny decided he wanted the case. He had been between jobs for a while, and well you had to keep your hand in the game to stay on the ball.
“How much you got in the piggy bank?” Johnny asked.
“I can give you five. Large.”
“My fee to listen to a client is five. If you want me to deliver that hit will cost you an extra ten. I don’t negotiate on price.”
“It’s too expensive. Maybe I’ll make the hit myself.”
“There’s two ways to make a good clean hit, my son. One way is to do it yourself and make a mess of it. Do it yourself and you won’t have a hit. It takes hundreds of misses before you have yourself a hit. The other way is to hire a professional, somebody like me, and have them make the hit for you. You might get caught either way. But with my way you will have your hit, nice and clean, no mistakes, no sloppy paragraphs, no plot holes. Strong characters, clean grammar. I can even help with the cover. I know a good artist, not cheap, but good. You want a hit novel or not?”
“Consider yourself hired, Johnny.” Shamus said.
Shamus knew that ghostwriters were cheap in the city. Cheaper than having a person killed. Hiring the hit-man was easy. The difficult part was making sure you didn’t get caught. But that was for the birds. He could almost feel the up and coming interviews, newspaper articles, Television shows. He would be famous with a book to his name. And with fame, came money.
Johnny stood up and put a bank note on the bar to settle his bill. As he walked out he noticed the old man with the umbrella was sat busily writing something in a hardback notebook. He smiled like a weasel as Johnny passed.
Let him write, Johnny thought, Let him write. The only hit man in town is me.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright James Newman 2014