Several dumb things are done for money here. Like traveling to Kansas City.
| I woke up the next morning, not exactly hung over, but still living in a body not remotely happy with my actions on the previous night. I never was much good with liquor. It always did this to me. And here I was, somehow going to make millions by getting some dude killed, whether or not he actually deserved it (I was going on precious faith at this point, and I did not want to consider that lies might be involved at all). And I wanted those millions. You get really tired of living in an apartment when you are not living with your mother. But I guess sometimes life just has to be a total jerk before it is remotely nice at all.|
This time I did wake up in a bed. This time, breakfast was being served to me. And, what would you know, it was being served by a highly attractive member of the opposite sex. What luck. Good Lord, a man could learn to forget the singer and just come to love Elvis the town. Funny how the prospect of money can cheer up a terminally unhappy and surly sort of fellow.
Maybe I would deserve the middle name of Buchanan before this was done.
Random thoughts came to me, probably as a shield against my conscience, common sense, and suspicion. The random thoughts were more fun, anyways.
I would be a really ugly rich man if I obtained my wealth through being tortured.
I would be a really young rich man.
I would be a really rich man.
And I was ridiculously hungry, as well, which was perfect, because these eggs looked like they might actually be from real chickens. Always reassuring. And the sandwiches seemed made with love and care rather than thrown together like in the cell.
Despite the fact that they looked exactly the same.
Maybe it was the pretty smile behind the food. I always have been a total sucker for brown hair and pretty smiles. I guess there are not all that many guys who would not claim the same. A pretty smile and a nice pair of legs. That pretty much is exactly how guys work.
I said a polite thank you, probably fighting down the blush and trying to look cool, but I pretended not to notice my socially inept self’s attempts at being socially apt. She laid down the tray and left. Probably a very wise move on her part. I doubted that I was exactly the kind of guy she would want, anyways.
And I wondered which one of these sheriffs might be her father.
That was a creepy thought. This whole place, this whole business, did very well when not thought about a lot. Some things just did not add up like they usually do in novels. It did not seem fishy, exactly, but it did not seem particularly well thought out. There were some idealistic clashes.
Like funneling legally paid government tax money on killing people who bent the law. There was a wicked paradox for you. I let that one slide, too. Again, I figured it would be better to do their thing and then walk away with some wicked green. That was all I wanted, really. As far as I knew. Money. Life starts when money rolls in, right? If that was not said by someone famous, then my dad coined it. And lived it. Or, tried to live it. He more or less failed, as I had before now.
I took a grand bite and remembered that my headache certainly was not from any alcohol. That was from the massive pounding it took yesterday at the hands of a couple sheriffs. That made sense, really. My nose still felt like it was sideways on my face, but this morning, it felt like I looked tough. Battle scarred or something. Like I had weathered some serious nasty and it did not phase me at all. Cool, I guess.
The food went down just fine, though. I looked around while I chewed and pretended to deliberate impressively. I was in a farm house, quite obviously. There were pants slung over the edge of the bed, but with a fantastic new surprise for this morning: a shirt. What a classy idea.
Hey, socks and shoes, too? Maybe there was civilization out here in Missouri. The clothes and all that were not exactly just hick clothes, either. The jeans were nice, new looking and probably just my size. The fact that people were measuring me in my sleep was a little weird, but sometimes these sorts of things happen. The shirt was a real city boy T shirt, complete with a sarcastic comment printed on the front. As for the shoes: Chucks. Freaking Chucks. Old school and fun. More or less responding to that silly yet almost universal retro craze rampaging everywhere not a coast and not avante garde in the slightest.
Yeah, I would blend right in up there in any Midwestern city. That is just how we dressed always. At least, how I always dressed, and how I always thought we were supposed to dress if we were the least bit concerned with public appearance and opinion.
Holy Awesome. There Was A Shower In Here. That is all that will be described about said activity, otherwise I would probably lose all my male readers at this point. And the violence had not even ensued yet.
Nevertheless, once cleaned and dressed, I felt much better. Looking in that wee mirror slung up on the wooden wall, I beheld a face that looked exactly like my previous one, only puffy and darkened at points. There were a few cuts, but my nose looked the same and all the manly grimness was still not as present as I was hoping it would be. Pretty disappointing. Maybe after my next upcoming torture session I would be more masculinely rough looking. Tough. Maybe a bit more, well, gruff. That would be cool. To be as gruff and grim as the sheriffs.
I was never very sure: did the ladies dig the weathered face of a prize fighter or the clean and smooth face of a model? Neither had ever really been remotely within my grasp. Maybe now, maybe now. That was something to ponder.
I walked down the stairs that rested outside my doorway. They were pretty creaky, but I cared very little at the moment. The ladies might dig me. I would be wealthy and popular. All a man could ever dream for, right? Descending with the softly whining footsteps, I tried my hardest to pluck my brain back into its rightful spot inside my skull.
Today was not a good day for daydreaming.
I had a job to do.
Or, I was going to have a job to do.
Close enough, either way.
At the bottom of the steps, I met an old friend, of sorts, and two new ones. Sitting at a small table were young Cletus and two middle aged sheriffs with gray hair and the usual lack of smiles. All looked at me, grim, but pleased. Apparently.
“You wear that beating pretty well, boy.” Man on the left.
“Don’t want your nice face scarred none, right?” Redundantly, the man on the right.
“Ah, he probably likes them.” Cletus. Thanks, buddy.
“Uh, good morning?” I. Boring and usual. Not impressive. Oh well. Sometimes these things just happen.
“Morning, sunshine. I” (LEFT MAN) “am Sheriff Norris. And don’t make those stupid city boy jokes about the actor. I could crush that karate pansy easily.” He smiled. That was unnerving. Because it meant he actually had a sense of humor—the first one here with such. I actually smiled with him, purely out of relief.
“Don’t mind the man. He never knows how to be serious. He’s mean when he needs to be, but he don’t got a good grip on serious.”
“I’ll remember that, Sheriff…” Give me a name, slacker. He was a bit slower on the uptake, that much was obvious.
“Oh, right. Baker. I’m Sheriff Baker.”
Norris chimed in, “You know, like Joe Don Baker. Get it?” He chuckled a bit, I groaned inwardly at the bad and completely predictable pun, and Baker did his best to ignore that comment as entirely as he could. The whole thing more or less made me lose a lot of faith in the only man who had inspired me such thus far. And he even asked for me not to make reference to actors. Some people are just hard to figure, I figured.
“And Cletus I know,” I finished. Cletus nodded, still likely a good bit upset with me after our tragic train wreck of a conversation the previous night. “So what exactly is on the agenda for today? What do I have to do before tonight? Training? Testing? Planning?”
“We got a little bit of something lined up for you, yeah,” said Baker. “Tell me, boy, how good are you with a gun?”
“A gun? I’ve hardly ever fired one. It’s just… not done in the city as much as it is here. Am I going to be shooting people?” That was a tragic thought. For some reason I preferred being the bait to being the skinning knife. There was something there in that reaction that spoke to the American ideal of being a complete martyr for attention and popularity, but I shut that down. Not that these boys were much of ones for philosophy, I reasoned. Guns. Okay, guns. I could do this. I just hoped that there would be a divine intervention before such a need arose.
“Well, that’s pretty much what I was expecting,” said Cletus. That fresh wound against his hunter’s pride still bore a lot of weight in his conversation. Likely, in his mind, I was just a weakling vegetarian not remotely familiar with the ways of the wild and of nature. I decided that I would show him. And then I realized that I had no real talent to “show him” anything. That happens to me often. Living in a fantasy world, some say. Yeah, that probably is right.
“Are you guys going to show me how, or are you just asking out of curiosity?”
All three were miffed.
I have no clue why I figured that miffing the really big and grouchy looking guys who killed for a living and for the fulfillment of their views on society would at all be a smart thing. Not that they were going to beat me up any more. I guess with that morning’s decision to throw out reason and grab the money, I had thrown out reason in all forms.
“We’re going to show you, boy, and you had better learn fast. You will be needing a gun tonight, and you will be firing that gun. At people. Heck, boy, you might even be killing people tonight. Doesn’t that sound like fun?” All this from Sheriff Baker. And I could tell it certainly sounded like fun to him, but to me it sounded more or less like something I would need to down quite a few beers before and quite a few more beers afterwards. Does being a vigilante and an extra- legal hit man always drive you to alcoholism? I could see why that might happen. I bet Bruce Wayne poured himself chock full of Samuel Adams every morning.
“Well, no… It doesn’t. Not at all. There’s no way around it?”
The Man Who Was Not Chuck Norris But Rather Somebody Else With That Last Name And Did Not Appreciate Such Jokes took the helm this time. It was weird just how often the three switched around who was speaking.
Kind of like a tag team. A bit unnerving, all told.
“Not if you want to get paid. Sometimes you got to really rough up the scumbags in their places to get them to leave. For sure you’ll be firing some serious lead tonight. Whether or not you have to stay alive by firing that lead into people is always up in the air. But it never hurts to know, right? Ha. Let’s get going out to the range. We’re gonna learn you a Magnum, boy.”
I began to mumble, because narrating in my head was for whatever reason no longer as fun as trying to piss of the sheriffs. “Okay, okay. I can do this. Millions of dollars, learn to fire a gun. Millions of dollars, learn to fire a gun. Got it. Murder people. People murder other people for money all the time. It’s not that weird. Nope. Pretty normal.”
“Boy, you can’t convince criminals that you’re a threat at all if you look crazy.”
“Thanks, Cletus. You’re a pal.” That one was actually quite audible. I am just terrific at mending broken relationships.
We stepped out of the dining room sort of area and out onto a field. Big surprise. Large open spaces full of short little grassy plants almost as far as the eye could see. Sounded just like Hidden Village of Killers, Missouri should be. Yep. A shooting range.
There was a fourth sheriff standing at the edge of what I realized to be the range. He was holding a pistol the size of my head in his hand, butt towards me. Good Lord, but movies can belie the size of a three fifty seven Magnum. Those pistols are huge. And they look nasty, too. Like a little steel tiger in the fist of redneck vengeance. Two large boxes full of wicked looking shells sat at his feet. I was going to be here a long time. And, big surprise, they did not give me any ear or eye protection. This was Missouri, after all. As far as we from Chicago are concerned, everyone from the Show Me State is just like this. All hillbillies and farmers.
He thrust the gun in my hand.
“I’m Sheriff Beecham,” he half screamed at me. Irreparable ear damage. Not good for wooing the ladies, that was for sure. I would have to avoid that.
“Morning, Sheriff. How’re things going to go down around here, then?”
He looked at me funny. “Grab the damn gun like this,” (GUN PUT IN HAND), “make sure the damn safety ain’t on,” (IT ALREADY WAS OFF), “put your finger in this hole with the damn trigger,” (A LITTLE AWKWARD WITH HIS FINGER STILL IN THERE, TOO), “and point and squeeze.” (I TOOK MY TIME FOR THIS LAST ONE. DID NOT WANT TO RUSH INTO BLOWING A SHERIFF’S HEAD OFF IN A TOWN FULL OF CRAZY LAW LOVERS) And then I shot. The bullet went flinging down the vast blankness of the field.
It was then that I noticed there were actually targets on down there. That would have been good to look for before I fired off that pointless shot.
Beecham said, “There actually are targets down there, boy. That would have been good to look for before you fired off that pointless shot.”
Good Lord, I thought like a redneck, only faster. Things were not shaping up for me to be a suave urban playboy, despite all the money coming down the piping.
“Try again, boy, but this time hit the damn red circle that we painted there just for you.”
What a fun morning this was going to be.
I took a break at lunch time.
Guns are really bright when they go off.
Really bright. And really loud.
My lunch break I spent stumbling around for my sandwich, running into everyone standing near me. Disorientation is one of those words that really means nothing to you at all until you are suddenly plagued by a horrifying case of it. You are sitting there, thinking, “Oh, he’s turned around or confused or a little deaf at the moment.”
Heck, no, honey. I was blind and deaf and dumb, though not in the traditional sense of the word. More like blind and deaf and really stupid. There were precious few sheriffs anywhere in the nearest five miles whose toes I avoided. Of course, what with all of them wearing steel toed boots, my Chucks made very little difference to them. They just pushed me around instead.
Still, I think I almost had the hang of the thing. I had never dropped the three fifty seven, to my credit. I was not that green. My elbow stung a good bit, though. Kind of like I had just played tennis for about three years straight. To be honest, though, at this point, I was missing having the chunk of steel death in my hand. It kind of made its own little groove among my fingers. That fast. Of course, these grooves were deeply indented and no blood flowed in there, but I nevertheless found it comforting.
I actually had gotten some aim going, too.
By the end of the four hours of bullet hurling, I was actually finding myself being able to put the bullets at least acceptably near the damn red circle, as Beecham had so fondly and cordially labeled it every two minutes for the entirety of my “training.” I put a few near the right place.
Now the important thing was to hope that anyone I had to shoot would make like the damn red circle and hold still for a few tries till I plugged him in the chest. Not too likely. I almost wondered at this point what would happen if I myself took down the big boss hiding in his bunker instead of routing him out like I was supposed to. He probably would be too careful for that. Yeah, that must be the reason. He probably would escape out a back way, hitch a ride with a young fellow in dire need of cash, and ruin someone else’s weekend by bleeding all over the inside of their car. I think I would have a thing or two to tell that young bloke in the driver’s seat.
Such as: it might be wise to avoid letting a man named Curtis die in your car.
And, thankfully, the awful sense of foreboding that people usually feel the afternoon before a justice rampage with very little knowledge of what was going on and only a promise of money eventually that was only passably legal was nowhere to be found in my commonly pessimistic mind. It seemed like life had given me grace in one of three ways. Either:
One – I really was going to come out of this with a butt load of money and a new future.
Two – I was blissfully ignorant and devoid of the painfully obnoxious common sense that takes the fun out of these sorts of ordeals.
Or three – Tonight was really going to suck, so somebody up there was being particularly lenient on me for the moment.
No matter which way it went, my sandwich tasted fantastic, and my hands were not shaking at all, my ears were adjusting, everything was just peachy. It made Chicago seem like a dreary trap for lifeless lives and meandering souls. Maybe that was how the sheriffs saw it. Or maybe I was really tripping on something this afternoon. You never know what happens when you eat Missouri food. If it grows loonies like those around me, I had best be careful. Too late for that now, I figured. Might as well go down with a bit of fun.
And with the last bite of my lunch still breaking down slightly under the saliva and tooth grindings in my mouth, I found myself beset by Mr. Smiles. None other than the man who dragged me around the back of that pickup on my way here. I had thought that maybe being off the job would make him possibly more cheerful, but it certainly was looking like none of these chaps considered themselves for even one moment as off the job. Mr. Smiles continued to fail to smile.
“I’m Callahan. A sheriff, like the rest. You remember me, boy?”
“Yeah, kid,” I replied. I had about had it with diminutives. He noticed my insolence not at all, or at least it failed to register on his stonily set face.
“Good. You and I—we’ve got to go over what you’re doing tonight. In detail.”
It might as well be this grouch over all the others. Though I really would prefer to handle logistics and higher brain functioning with Agent Matthews. Little I could do about it. There was no way to ask a sheriff like this if you could talk to his superior instead. They each were their own superior, with a dude who handled a slightly larger region taking care of the money and the information.
“I can deal with that, Sheriff. We might as well have a seat, right?”
He agreed pretty strongly. That seat turned out to be a couple of stools in the mostly empty bar. Clyde still was behind the counter, looking like he was supposed to be cheerful but was instead maybe a bit too focused on a job that was not even his. That is, I was assuming he was not a sheriff too. You just never knew with these guys. A couple of mugs slid our way, and we both were eternally grateful. I guessed that beer and guns might be the only language these rednecks actually knew.
Callahan began, “This target is thankfully a bit closer by than the last one. We won’t have to leave here till six o’clock tonight. We should have you in place by about nine thirty.”
“And where is this exactly? St. Louis? Kansas City?”
“Yeah. Kansas City. In the down town.”
“I didn’t know Kansas City was connected to organized crime at all.”
“As far as I know, boy, there is some, but this is a much bigger fish than normal. He’s one of three or so dirt bags who have slipped away from our grasp. We took down most of his bodyguards, but the man had a mean Porsche, and there wasn’t enough traffic for us to use against him, so he bolted pretty well. But Matthews says his sources confirm it: the man is in Kansas City. Hiding. Ready to be hunted and killed, I say.”
“Gotcha,” and I almost was not completely lying. “So who is this little puke? I need to know, right? I think also need to know about his security and all that.”
“Certainly, boy. That’s all coming. The man is named Vikilniy Reugers. As far as I know. It’s a really weird name to me. Can’t place a nationality with it.”
“I can’t either. What a strange name.” I looked down at the picture proffered me by Callahan. The man was European looking, or maybe Slavic. Maybe from Russia. At least, he was not from Africa or Japan or India, that much I could figure. “Looks like he’s pretty good at blending in. Looks pretty normal.”
“They all do, boy. I think you learned that one with—what was it he called himself? Curtis. Yeah, Curtis. You learned that already with Curtis. He seemed normal and nice, right? Heart as rotten as any cattle thief the plains ever saw.” An Oklahoma man. Not Missourian at all. Interesting. I had figured the recruiting came from other places, but so far, Callahan was the only one to whom I could fix a differing origin.
“Right. And his men?”
“As of now, he’s only got his two survivor friends with him. He’s supposed to have between six and eight other goons running around with him. These are the ones you’ll want to be around once Reugers flees the zone. As for the two surviving men from our last raid, they are the fellows you will have to avoid carefully. That, or kill them. They might smell the plot. Reugers for certain will, but we will have to leave him no option. But the henchmen will think that if they kill you and remove the threat from inside, then their boss can stay holed up.
“One of these two survivors is just a lackey who we ignored last time. It wouldn’t be a problem to ignore him again, really, except last time when we let him scamper off, he fetched the Porsche from the garage and made it possible to get his boss away. You might as shoot at him first. He’ll hide for a few minutes, or if we’re all lucky, he’ll bite it hard and lie down in a pool of his own blood. I think that would make all of us happy. Little sneak.
“The other is a brutish sort. I almost want to box him, if weren’t such a filthy character. But last time, he took a bullet for Reugers. We think it got him high in the chest. He’ll either have limited movement in one arm or will have difficulty keeping up his breath. That’s something important to figure out. Because if one of us were to go up against him, we could tan his hide. But you, while you got spirit, Joe, you don’t have much in the way of arms.”
“Just saying. You might want to work on that for the future, just maybe.”
“I’ll remember that. Not that I haven’t been trying since I was fourteen or anything…”
“Now you got a much better reason than just to show off for the girlies, right? Now it’s money. Now it’s survival. Sounds to me like motivation.”
“Right. That does make sense. Too bad not everyone around here makes as much sense as that.”
“Hey, look here, Joe.” I did. He somehow had gotten more serious, but this time I figured that it was more than merely another telling off. This was something different.
He continued, “You don’t think like they do. You can’t. It’s not where you’re from or who you are. But I see you. I can see how you think. That’s why you’re alive, boy. You were going to be burned for cover, despite your impressive efforts. But I saw something there. I saw a guy waiting for his chance to do something. A guy who, as he faced death, was not thinking about hiding or anything like that. I saw your eyes, Joe. I saw you thinking. I saw you figuring. I saw you planning ways to take us down. You didn’t know it, probably. You couldn’t have done it, for sure. But you definitely have the mind to do this sort of thing. You can calculate under pressure.”
He was sounding a very, very good bit less redneck than before. He had layers. Who would have known. I thought all these people were all dancing around in public with every emotion and feeling—considering every emotion and feeling I had assumed they felt was anger and justice. Maybe it really just was the atmosphere that made them seem like men bent only on killing and idealistic defense of the law in the most absurd manner possible.
“See, Joe, right now. You are calculating. You are looking at me, figuring why I don’t sound as uneducated as I did ten minutes ago. Right?”
I nodded. That was a skill I was sure of, and I was sure how to use.
“See? I for some reason can just see how you think. Even now. And that’s why I brought you here. It hurt, yes. It ruined your weekend, you said, right? But here you can have a future. A future that challenges you. You can get kicked around, you can get shot at, but you will enjoy it. I can see that only because, Joe, that’s the way I am. Most of these guys don’t enjoy it. Most of these guys would, if they really had to pick a priority, settle back into their little towns and sheriff away there where there is so little crime and so little violence.
“They only come out to do justice. They have family in the cities that have been hurt. They just feel it’s the only right thing to do to fight like this. They all have different reasons, but for the most part, it’s the same story. Not so with me. My town bored me, Joe. Little old Brown’s Creek, Oklahoma. Nothing happened there. I sought out Matthews. I sought out a bit of danger. A bit of a chance to do something big, to make a real difference. I haven’t looked back since.”
This was quite a bit to ponder for me. It seemed almost like we were supposed to be bonding now. Like in a cheesy cowboy movie, where the rookie gets melded into the group at the insistence of one of the kinder, older men. Only this was a bit more skewy, still a very odd experience. I kind of wanted to get off this train of thought.
“Alright, Sheriff, that makes sense. But I’ve got a job to do in a few short hours, and I need to make sure I’ve got what I need to know.”
He smiled, not with humor or good cheer, but more like because he felt he should. Like he was trying to act all cinematic or something.
“Good man, Joe. This whole thing is going to be going down in a hotel.”
“Yeah, a hotel. They usually hide in hotels. That’s why you have to be careful. That’s why we need you. There are a lot of innocents in the hotel. You’ll have to play this just right. If you get caught by the police, we have serious issues. So you have to get yourself caught by the henchmen. We’re trying something different this time, just so you know. Usually, we use a bit more bluff. But bluffing won’t work with him, as he’s seen it before. We’re going to have to rig you.”
“Oh Lord, please don’t tell me you mean explosives.”
“Yeah, we mean explosives. And they will be real, and they will be armable. Any fakery with this, and all is lost. We have to convince him that you are willing to suicide bomb the hotel to bring him down with you.”
“So I might just end up being a freaking suicide bomber? That is ridiculous! I don’t think—”
“Hold it, boy. You aren’t going to blow. We’ll make sure of that. If we wanted suicide bombers for real, we’d recruit some futureless cowards and coerce them into doing it. No, we definitely want you alive. And we definitely do not want to murder any innocent bystanders, either.”
“I can live with that much better, but that still seems a bit too much for me.”
“What, you think that Reugers is going to fall for the old trick of the hotdog with the string in it? Unless it’s unquestionably real, he likely will not move at all. You need him scared, and you need him running. We’ll drop you off at the hotel, you’ll walk to the fifth floor and head to room 5012. Don’t knock. They’ll be ready for you if you do. Walk up to it, make sure no bellboys or room service people are around, and pull out your gun. Fire six shots straight through the door. Keep them off balance, you know. As you’re reloading, which you learned how to do, right?” (NOD) “kick the door in the handle. With all you’ve got, boy. Because if you don’t get that door open, then all this is pointless.
“When the door swings open, they will light you up. Here’s what you do. When you kick, duck low. The first few shots will go quite high, as they’ll be aiming for your torso. As they begin to correct—and you’ll just have to notice when they do, probably a shot or two after they each first start—dive forward and roll for some cover. We don’t know what’s inside that room, except that there should be two bodyguards, one of the survivors, and Reugers himself. The rest will be next door. You need to get to the back of that room, boy, and open your vest. Get your hand around the instant release trigger. Bluff him out of there. Make sure the door is an easy exit for him.
“The bodyguards should run to the doorway. If you aren’t still firing at people this whole time, you should have been. Hopefully, they’re busy getting cover. When you’re out of bullets or Reugers is sufficiently far enough away from the room, scream something misleading, like, ‘You bastards killed my brother!’ or whatever. Make them think you’re just a regular punk wanting revenge. They love to pick on people who ruin their evening for revenge. Otherwise, they’d probably just shoot you. And when they take you down, make sure they’re able to turn off the explosives. Don’t fight them, or you really might blow.”
“Gotcha. This whole thing sounded so sketchy and improvised before. That’s a lot more detail than I expected.”
“Our end is the highly improvised part. We don’t know what exit he will take. But you have got to have a sure fire way to get the target out of there and avoid being shot. They’ll take you somewhere, and several of our guys will follow and fight you free. You think you have enough of that to work with?”
“Yeah, I suppose so. The only thing I’m missing, I guess, is dinner and a couple of pistols.”
Oh, was that smile on Callahan’s face a terrifyingly morbid one. Glad I was on his good side.