A burger and a bourbon will be fine by Malky McEwan
A burger and a bourbon will be fine by Malky McEwan
“No,” my default answer. When you need the money, you need the money. “What you got?”
“Simple job, man. Come meet me at Kingsburg. There’s a farm we need to go to. In and out. Ten minutes.”
It’s never ten minutes. There’s the job, then there’s the transport and then there’s the waiting. The cops here never seem to have the time to take a guy off your hands. They leave you sitting, except I didn’t sit. I pace up and down, let my irritation spread. It’s not as bad as the emergency room at the hospital, triage is an abbreviation of ‘try-waiting-ages’, but the cop shop is a close-run thing.
“What’s the name of the farm?”
I couldn’t make him out, “Roger, I didn’t catch that.”
“Come on, man. Just meet me at Kingsburg. The farms out the 201, we’ll go together.”
As I say, when you need the money, you need the money. “What time?”
“Now man. The window of opportunity is closing. Our boy will be outta there by five.”
I checked my watch. Two-thirty. Twenty-five minutes to Kingsburg and other fifteen out the 201. Plenty of time. I’d be back at Wendy’s for five. Cops like to finish sharp on a Friday.
“Who’s the target?” I guess I should have asked this first – self-preservation. I wouldn’t know the name, I never did. I’m not from around here and around here is a big place. I wanted to know what he was on bail for.
“Roger, I still can’t make you out.”
The phone delivered another mumble in my ear. I was beginning to think Roger was doing this deliberately. Hiding something. Not a good sign. Twenty years in the Garda taught me to listen to my intuition, and my intuition hadn’t failed me, yet. At my age, I should have a house, a car, a wife, a dog and some kind of pension. But I didn’t. I had nothing, I had to walk away from it all. I have a keen sense of self-preservation. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. But as I say, ‘when you need the money.’
Roger passed out the jobs. Wendy did them. On her own – most times. They came in often enough to pay her bills. The largest chunk of Wendy’s bills were for the gut rot she drank at Ollie’s bar. Bourbon. Gut rot to me. I didn’t mind it mixed with a sweet coke but I couldn’t drink it neat, not like a good Scottish malt, and that’s saying something – considering I’m Irish. Ollie’s bar, the place I first met Wendy.
I like a beer.
Drinking is part of my Irish culture. We like it black and foamy, when I can’t get it. When I can’t , I’ll drink most things – except vodka, to be sure. I don’t drink every day, not like Wendy. You need to give your body a break, or you’ll break your body. Wendy likes the hard stuff. That stuff is there for a quick fix, when you really need it. If it’s a daily crutch, it’ll rot your insides. To be sure.
We’re kindred spirits, Wendy and I.
The night we met, in Ollies, she was full of bourbon and bravado. I’d got into town late, dumped my bag at the motel before heading for a beer and food. I just happened to dump myself in a seat at the bar next to Wendy. Wow, that was some night, the unwritten challenge to see who could drink the other under the table. It had gotten silly, but not too silly. I never got around to the food. Ollie’s food wouldn’t have me scrawling on an airmail to home about, anyway – to be sure.
The bar shut before we drunk each other under the table.
Outside, hanging on to each other we had a quandary. Find a dive open all night, or go back to her place. We went back to her place. Had the best sex of our lives, well, for me at least. Wendy is a slim slip of a woman, in a sporty way, and energetic with it. All the Irish girls I’d been with were nuns in comparison. Even Angela, my wife (deceased), she was positively frigid compared to Wendy. I hadn’t even been aware how fecking frigid until I had sex with Wendy. Maybe it wasn’t the best sex of her life, but it was for me.
The next morning – afternoon actually, the games began again. I took her to dinner, if you can call burger and fries dinner, and we ate like we had sex, ravenous. Afterwards we had a drink at Ollies, just the one, and on the way back to Wendy’s I picked up my bag from the motel. All my possessions in the world. I’ve been at Wendy’s ever since.
Wendy took me on her next job.
Roger called, gave her the details, and she asked if I wanted to come. I think she liked the idea of showing me how tough she could be. A little slip of a woman like her could still rattle the cage of a guy twice her size.
I was impressed.
She might be a tiny and like her bourbon too much, but Wendy can handle herself. Not that she did it on her own. Before I came on the scene, she had two partners: Smith and Wesson. Messer’s Smith and Wesson still accompanied us on our jobs but it didn’t feel like they were intruding on our relationship. They were just nice to have as back-up. Here everyone has a gun. Except me, I don’t like guns.
We have guns in Ireland, they are all in the wrong hands. It was those trigger happy bastards who convinced me it was time to leave. Self-preservation.
Roger called, Wendy did the job. She got paid in cash paid, from Roger. Then she turned her cash over to Ollie.
My own pocket cash dwindled to levels requiring my proactive intervention. I was in the mood for acquisition. Wendy was sleeping, her phone buzzed, the caller ID said it was Roger. She got a lot of these. If it rang out, Roger found someone else. I picked it up on the fifth ring.
“Hello,” I said.
“I’m Tommy. I’m your new recovery agent.
I did the job.
No partners. Quick easy. The Irish accent works a treat. People imagine things about me that, frankly, disappoint me. But it comes in useful, the greenbacks. Easy. I was back before Wendy woke.
I told her.
I’m an upfront kinda guy.
Wendy smiled, glad. Not uptight in the slightest. My work ethic allowed her to sleep later, drink longer and conserve her energy. It suited her, for me to pay half the bills. It suited me. I needed a place to stay, and I needed something more than pocket change, I needed a clay pot – like I had in Ireland. Wendy wouldn’t always be so vital and easy-going. Not the way she put away the gut rot.
It came as a surprise.
“I bought you an anniversary present,” she said.
Christ, a year. A year since I stuffed my bag with clothes, smashed the clay savings pot and counted out just over €2000 in notes – we’d been saving for the holiday of our lifetime, Hawaii. A pipe dream. I left my bank cards, my credit cards and my phone in Ireland. People can find you when you use those things, and I needed to stay unfound. I took the cash, and my passport. I’d considered ditching that, but I might need to get out of here one day. Self-preservation.
I smiled and thanked her and took her to bed.
Next day, I stuck the neat little Colt in a drawer in the spare room. People in Ireland don’t like guns. People in Ireland aren’t crazy about people with guns. I am people and I’m Irish.
Kingsburg has a mall.
I sat outside a foot massage joint waiting for Roger. Who the feck comes to a mall to get a foot massage? More to the point, who the feck wants to set up a business massaging feet?
Twenty-five minutes. No Roger.
I was out of my old rust-bucket of a motor, pacing. Back and forth. Enough time to figure out the massage place was a front. No-one visited. Not a single customer. On a busy Friday afternoon? A money-laundering operation – stuck out like a bunion.
‘Pride, comes before you trip up and smash your face in,’ my old dad told me. And he was right. I’d rather scrape my nose off the floor than phone Roger to find out where he was. I thought about a foot massage. Wondered what it would be like but I didn’t want to give those Mafiosi types my money. I climbed back into my rust bucket, ready to cut my losses. My phone played Children by Robert Miles, my ring tone – ever since you could put music ring tones on a phone.
“Where are you, man?”
I unscrunched my face, relaxed. Same tone as Roger, “Waiting for you, Roger, where are you.”
It grated being nice but I had to, Roger pays the bills. Twenty-two years in the Garda taught me something. Pride doesn’t pay the bills.
“Listen, I’m out the 201. Come out here and when you get to the T-junction turn right. There’s a lay-by on the right, about a mile up. Join me there.”
I checked my watch. Time niggled.
The rust bucket started up like a throttled turtle. I joined the freeway and turned off down the 201. Twelve-minutes later, I turned right. Drove a mile and pulled into the lay-by on the right. It was empty.
Roger was playing me. I pressed redial.
“I’m here,” I said, before Roger could ask.
He paused… thinking.
“Roger. Are you there?”
“Yeah man.” I detected nervousness in his voice. Roger was the most laid back… dude, I’d ever met. Considering what he did for a living – to be sure. Nervous wasn’t something I’d detected from him before.
“I couldn’t wait. Come down the road a little further take the second left, follow that for about a quarter mile. There’s a brown mailbox. Nothing on it. Turn there and come up to the house.”
I was deliberate this time, “Roger, is everything under control?”
“Yeah man, S’all good man,” an image of Saul Goodman popped into my head, “Nice and easy job now. I’ve done the business. You get a trip to the cop shop, that’s all. Then you get paid. Easy money.”
Roger was wrong.
The brown mailbox lid hung open, reminded me of a dog’s tongue in a heat wave. I pushed the door closed. It had a scrawl scratched into the rusted metal, ‘Hell.’
At the end of the dusty drive was a bungalow. Beaten roof, wooden slats in need of a paint job. One vehicle outside: Roger’s truck.
Mr ‘something unintelligible’ didn’t walk anywhere from here. Too far to the nearest transport hub. He couldn’t hitch either. If the guy looked anything like his property, no-one would stop for him. I added it to my growing list of doubts. Then I ignored the warning on the mailbox – and drove in to Hell.
Stopped twenty-yards from the porch, waited. Engine running. Ready.
I wasn’t going in. Roger could come to me… he took his time. Swung the front door open, it squealed as it rubbed on the wooden porch decking and wedged open.
“Come in, I’ve got him all trussed up and set to go. Oven ready.” It crossed my mind that it might be a turkey.
“Who is he?” I didn’t want his name, Roger knew that. I wanted his background. A quick assessment of the risk.
“A punk who didn’t pay his fine, man, get in here.”
I switched off the engine on my rust-bucket, it clacked a couple of extra beats before engulfing the yard in silence.
I climbed out, followed Roger inside the bungalow.
It was dark.
Roger strode across the floor to a back room. I followed and caught my foot on a rug, stumbled. Not enough to fall. Not until I got a helping hand from the big guy in the shadows behind me. A firm hand on my back and I clattered to the ground. Feckin’ knee caught the wooden floor, and I yelped. Time was, I would’ve been up off that floor like a spring-loaded gazelle. Not now. Now I waited for my ten-second count. Which gave me nine-seconds to assess the situation.
Who pushed me?
What the feck was going to happen next?
The same name repeated three times answered all three questions.
“Tammy, Tammy, Tammy.”
I’m Tammy, that’s my name or at least what people back home called me. Here I’m plain old Tommy.
It was the accent, Irish. Local to Cork. I honed in on it further. He spoke like he grew up in Old Spangle Hill, and I could picture the house.
“Hello, Finn. What brings you to this part of the world?”
“You, me boy… and some unfinished business,” and if I was in any doubt about his intention, he cocked the hammer on his gun. A good reason to stay where I was on the floor.
I was always a curious bastard. I was about to get my face blown off – no other reason for Finn to travel half-way around the world – I knew why, but one thing puzzled me.
“How I found you?” He grinned like a lemon shark.
“Yeah, I’d like to know so I don’t make the same mistake again,” my attempt at humour found its mark, Finn O’Hagan belched a laugh.
Roger took his cue from Finn’s laugh. “If you won’t be needing me anymore, I’ll just make myself scarce.”
Finn wiped the grin from his face, his stony glare stopped Roger from moving a muscle. The gun remained pointed at me. He was thinking.
“There won’t be anybody has a use for you – to be sure.”
“Sorry?” Roger wasn’t his cocksure self anymore.
Finn stopped pointing his gun at me, for a second. No more. Just enough time to aim at Roger and plug him with two rounds, centre mass. The gun swivelled back on me before Roger hit the floor. Smoke curled out of the black hole. Roger stopped gurgling after a while. A pool of black circled outwards until it touched my jeans. Finn watched. Willing me to fear him, eager to see me crumble.
“You were going to tell me how you found me.”
“Mad Man Wilson,” said Finn, he let me figure the rest out on my own.
Mad Man Wilson was big news. A killer. Got his kicks from torturing his victims. Hung them up, did gruesome stuff to their bodies. Detectives knew it was the same guy, something they kept from the public; he cut his initials into their skin. His signature. A mark of his madness. Cops don’t like that kind of thing. They pulled out all the stops. Caught him. He escaped, but not for long. Not until yours truly did some footwork. I found him at his sister’s place and brought him back trussed up like Harry Houdini. It was how I got paid.
Mad Man Wilson hit the news.
Despite my best efforts to steer clear of reporters, it looks like I hit the news too, international. Geez, Finn must have wet himself at seeing me again.
I nodded at Finn. Pursed my lips and wondered how long I could keep him talking, which equated to how long I had to live.
“Yes, Tammy. Ye can’t hide from your past.
I rubbed my knee and winced. The pain had eased, but Finn didn’t need to know. I had another reason for my hands being down at my knee. A few inches south, tucked into an ankle holster was my insurance policy, a Remington Outdoor – an anniversary present from Wendy. Self-preservation.
I don’t like guns, but sometimes they are the only option.
I stared down the barrel of his gun as he sidled to his left and sat on a rickety chair, resting his gun hand on the table. He would spin this out, chewing wine. Revenge is a dish best served at the butt end of cold metal, it seems. But that kind of poison can kill the cook just the same as the diner. I needed a distraction.
“I thought we were even, Finn?”
“Even, even… “ he threw his head back and snorted. I wasn’t quick enough. My hand edged to my ankle and his eyes were back on me. The barrel never moved.
“Even?” he said again. “We won’t be even until I’ve splattered your brains all over that wall,” his hand flicked his Colt to point behind me. I resisted the urge to see where my brain might end up.
“That seems a little excessive, don’t you think?”
“Excessive, excessive…” his repeating what I said was getting to be a habit.
“Yes, it’s too much, you know. A tad extreme. It’s unnecessary – to be sure.”
“Oh, it’s very necessary, Tammy. Blowin’ your feckin brains out is very necessary… you wouldn’t be wanting me to have a wasted trip, now would you?”
“C’mon, Finn. I only shagged her the once, and we was drunk.”
I could see the flicker of confusion crossing his face. I’ve never read it, but I’m sure confusion must be a tactic in The Art of War. It creates uncertainty. I was off topic. But it worked, he changed his focus.
“What the feck are ye talking about?”
I hung my head, shifted the weight on my leg. Stretched my hand nearer my ankle. Pretending to ease the non-existent pain in my knee. I hung my head.
“What the feck are ye talking about?” He repeated
“You mean you don’t know?”
“Know what, exactly?”
“Know what?” His voice lowered, he was serious.
“… best I don’t go there.”
“You’ll be going nowhere in short order, me boy. You know why I’m here. You know why I’m going to blow your brains out.”
I put on my best confused face – the one I used in maths class.
“Wait!” I said, “You mean you aren’t here because I shagged Mary?”
“You never touched Mary in your life. Mary wouldn’t let a Garda scumbag like you anywhere near her. This has nothing to do with Mary.”
“Then, mother of god, tell me. Whit the feck are you wantin’ to kill me for?”
He sat back, screwed his eyes together. Wound up. This could go either way. I was walking the proverbial tightrope. Finn’s jaw jangled.
“Barry,” he said.
I’d no option but to keep going. Muddy the waters. He wasn’t there when I killed his brother. He guessed correctly, to be sure. But I needed the distraction.
“Barry? What about Barry?”
“Don’t feckin’ deny it. You killed Barry. Everyone knows you killed Barry. That’s the only reason you would up and feck off to this shitehole,” Finn waved his gun in a circle and then it was back on me. Again, too quick for me to react.
“I didn’t kill Barry. I don’t know what happened to Barry. I didn’t even know he was dead. I heard you were looking for me. I thought it was because of me and Mary. You know me.”
“I know you, Tammy. You’re a cocking liar. You never shagged Mary. Mary wouldn’t go anywhere near you.” He sounded more rattled about me shagging Mary than killing his brother. The tightrope wobbled.
“Who said I killed Barry?”
“Talk of the town, Tammy. Ye got lucky. Otherwise I wouldn’t be needin’ to finish the job Barry started.”
“You mean Barry was going to kill me? You can hardly blame me if shot the bastard first, could you?”
“You didn’t shoot him. Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes. Ye pushed him aff the high flats,” Finn had an afterthought, “…ye were seen.”
Now, that first bit was true. I did push Barry off the high flats. But nobody saw me. And Barry deserved it. It was him or me. Finn was fishing.
“Barry deserves to be dead. He was a brutal bastard. But I didn’t push him off nothing. But I know a man who might have done it.”
I could’ve went with self defence – the truth – but that wouldn’t make any difference to Barry’s mad bastard brother in front of me. Didn’t matter to him that Barry was trying to kill me and I only pushed him off the high flats because I had to. Self-preservation. I needed a special defence; incrimination. It might be plausible. I just had to think who to incriminate.
“Barry owed money to Aidan McCarty.” Aidan McCarty was another well-known sick bastard in Cork. If Barry owed him money, Aiden McCarty wouldn’t think twice about pushing him off the high flats. The only problem bringing Aidan into the equation was Aidan McCarty would want it known. He had a reputation to keep up and Aidan took every opportunity to do just that.
Finn raised an eyebrow. Then he threw his head back and laughed.
I went for my ankle holster. Fumbled.
Finn stopped laughing, “Stop right there,” he said. And I did. I was too slow, I’m not used to guns. I could throw a sucker punch quicker than you can blink, but I can’t draw a gun. Not that fast – to be sure.
He got up, kicked me in the stomach. Enough for me to curl up, wincing, incapacitated enough that he could get to my Colt and remove it from my ankle holster. Slick. He sat back down. Both guns pointed at me now.
“Time to say yer prayers, Tammy.”
The explosion rattled around in my ears. I stayed on the floor, eyes tight shut, defenceless. Seconds ticked by. The pain in my stomach eased. I blinked my eyes open, uncurled myself from the floor and stood up. Brushed myself down. All the time looking for movement from Finn – he was spread over the table, chest static, not a breath. Blood dripped to the floor, the only thing that moved. I checked my watch, noted the time. I pronounced Finn O’Hagan life extinct – old habits.
“Well you took your time,” I said to Wendy, her little gamine shape framed in the door.
“Is that all the thanks I get?”
“No me darling. We’ll see what cash is on these two first – then we’ll blow the lot. I’m taking you out for oysters and I’ll then we’ll get carnal over champagne.”
“A burger and a bourbon will be fine.”
“Whatever you please, but first we need to tidy this up.”
Copyright Malky McEwan 2020