"What exactly are we hiring this guy to do?" I asked Jacomo.
"The fuck you mean?"
Jacomo just had a weird name, but he had the same North Brunswick twist to his language as everybody around here. Like they're from Long Island. Only worse. The check out girl at the place we got our coffee looked like Cyndi Lauper's stunt double in a documentary about meth addicts.
Jacomo looked. Stared. And then looked off towards the house's front door.
"So?" He answered.
"This guy's a sex offender."
Jacomo shrugged and chuckled, “I guess he’s a dog lover too.... wonder if that’s literal, ya know?”
The air was so thick that it looked like it rippled when he moved. Cicadas bitched in waves from the trees. A sprinkler did its thing. The signs were beaded with water.
"This guy's got an amazing lawn," Jacomo remarked.
I shook my head.
"Yo green thumb, could we get this shit accomplished please?"
Jacomo gave me the finger. Then we heard the door open.
"Yo, either you're my ride, or you're Jehovah witnesses. If it's the first quit jerking off and come help me with my shit. If it's the second I'm gonna shoot you both and fuck your twitching corpses for Jesus."
"It's the first."
"Good, 'cause the guns are all unloaded and I'm outta condoms."
We climbed the porch. It didn't creak. Everything was freshly painted and clean. The man we were here to get was kinda stupid looking, slack mouthed, but with sharp eyes. I took a last look over my shoulder at the sign as our handshake was ending.
"Oh don't worry about the sign," he said, "you're not my type.”
This time we both looked at him.
“Now, maybe if you’re hair was in pigtails, we could talk.”
We kept staring. Jacomo looked like he wanted to shoot the guy. The guy laughed
“Just kidding. It was here when I moved in and I left it. It keeps the neighbors' kids off my lawn."
He stopped to shoo a nervous looking Boston terrier back into the house. The over-bred thing was shivering and when he turned and yelled for it to get back in the house it pissed a little and ran away. I guess the other sign was a leftover too.
Previous occupant. Pedophile, dog person.
Jacomo piped up, nervous I think.
"It's a nice lawn."
"Shut up, carry this." The guy handed a heavy duffel to him. When Jacomo took it, his hand dipped and something clinked inside.
We turned and walked to the car.
Jacomo motioned to me behind the guy’s back as he waved him forward. I slowed my pace, smiled when he looked at me, and inclined my head to Jacomo.
“I think he’s a…you know.” Jacomo mimed a gun with is finger.
“So, remember where we’re driving him?”
I thought about it. Usually our job isn’t the kind that requires much thought. If we worked for a neurosurgeon we’d be cleaning the bone saws and emptying bedpans out from under dead patients.
But we worked for a criminal. So......
“We’re ta,king him to the…” I trailed off as I stared at Jacomo, my eyes widening or something must have shown because Jacomo was doing that stupid “I’m pointing at my nose cause you’re right” thing.
We hurried up so that it wasn’t obvious. Like I said, I shut my brain off for this job. Asking questions is a good way to end up painfully dead. Likely at the hands of some Hitler-esque reject who was upset he didn’t get accepted to art school. So he’s taking your kneecaps off with a palette knife.
Jacomo tossed the guy's stuff in the back and got in the passenger seat. We both turned our heads to look at the guy when he piped up.
“Be gentle with that bag, it's delicate.” His eyes pinned hard to Jacomo.
It was a very convincing look. I’ve ferried around all manner of tough guy. It's usually the ones who don’t bother that are dangerous. Or rather, the most dangerous. I watched one guy take out 10 people in a basement gambling hut by setting fire to the whole building and then barricading the back entrance. All he had to do was wait by the main entrance and point and click.
After that he made me stop so he could go to a toy store. When he came out with a pile of beanie babies I tried to bond with him, before I remembered not to think.
“Hey, are those for your little girl?”
“Nah, these things are worth a fucking fortune, you ever check out Ebay?”
Professional killer and Ebay Power Seller.
When Jacomo had been well chastised by the guy in the back and everybody was belted in I drove off. Towards our boss’s house with Jacomo’s discovery chasing its tail in my brain.
“Iwan dtooaya tagow grabdisgai an-bringim backear.” I strained my ears to catch what my Boss’s brother was saying. You had to put the sentences together in your head like a jigsaw puzzle. “I want you to grab this guy and bring him back here.” Meaning our boss’s house.
The Boss’s brother had a problem with mumbling. Some of the guys liked to tout around this story. He’d been shot in the face while taking somebody out and had the rocks to finish the guy before going to the hospital to get his shit put back together.
I’d been around a little longer. Plus, I was taking too long with a shit in the bathroom and overheard two top guys laughing about what really happened. Apparently, he’d been trying to get his keys out from under his wife’s car. The car was sitting in the driveway and he was heading out to his car, which he had to park on the street -- fuckin goddam broads -- and he dropped his keys under it. He knelt down to pick them up but didn’t notice his wife get into her car. She took it outta gear and put it in neutral. Rolled down the hill. The Boss’s brother is fat and fifty. He’s not so agile. She’s got a Valium thing. She’s not so alert.
She backed over part of his face.
Crushing it, and everybody’s chances of understanding the guy, for the rest of his time. Now, mob doctors are really good at fishing out bullets, but this was delicate surgery. Dr. Hands-That-Shake might as well have tried to build a sand castle using monkey wrenches.
It was really stressful, because he wanted everybody to pretend he was fine. Not in so many words you know, but after the third guy gets shot in the head for saying “what?” people learned.
By the time all the mumbled syllables were in the proper order we had to pick up this guy from his home and deliver him to the boss’s house. That’s it.
But Jacomo had to go and think. And now I’m thinking. And we’re both thinking the same thing.
That we’re bringing a guy with a bag full of guns to our Boss’s house and its our Boss’s brother, second in command, that wants us to do this.
It’s a quiet car ride, what with all the thinking.
“Can one a you put on the radio?”
Jacomo looked at me when he answered.
“Sorry, sir, but the radio’s broken on this car.”
“You got a CD player?”
“Yeah.” Jacomo’s unease slowed the word down.
“Here.” A hand reached past me. The knuckles and fingers were covered with whitish scars, the back was a star-burst of smooth tissue. I looked at Jacomo and dropped my eyes to the hand, widening them. Jacomo looked and grimaced a little before gently taking the disc.
“Hey, idiot,” the guy said to Jacomo, while my rectum puckered shut. “Quit staring at my hand and put the CD in.”
The disc slid in after Jacomo banged the edges.
“Hit track 2.”
A woman’s voice filled the car. It was kind of British. Kind of something else. Sexy, though. Something about measurements of flower for a cake.
“Hey, is this Nigella?” Jacomo piped up.
“Yes. It helps calm me. Wait, how did you know that?” The guy leaned forward.
“Yeah,” I added, “How?”
“I um, well, I ya know my girlfriend…”
“You don’t have a girlfriend.”
The guy in the back seat snorted.
“Well, this girl I was…”
I shut him down again. The tension was starting to fade and I was glad.
“No you weren’t”
“How do you know?”
Over the speaker the woman suggested a proper method for pitting cherries that sounded basely pornographic.
“You’d have told me.”
“Okay…..I watch the Food Network.”
“Are you dabbling as a chef?” The guy in back sounded interested.
”I’ve thought about it, you know, sometimes.”
I wasn't gonna let him get away with this shit.
“She’s got great tits, doesn’t she.”
“Yeah.” He had enough grace to sound guilty. The guy in the back snorted again. The rest of the ride was silent, except for she of the great tits talking over the speakers.
Jacomo looked over at me in a way I could feel. Like he was using his eyelashes to knock on my head like a door.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Maybe. But that’s stupid.”
“Maybe not. Are you?”
“We don’t get paid to think.”
“But what about the...”
“Could be nothing.”
“Yeah but if it...”
I held up a hand.
“We’re being rude. Can’t have people telling the Boss we’re rude.” I thumbed over my shoulder at the back seat.
I looked into the rearview at our passenger and he was looking at both of us, annoyed.
“What was that all about?”
“Plans for later, man, no worries.”
“Yeah, well don’t tell me no fucking worries. Big night tonight. I wouldn’t want to be the reason it got all fucked up, would you?”
“No. I wouldn’t.” I looked over at Jacomo but he was staring out the window like the Boss told him he had to guard the scenery.
I took the next exit. The Boss’s house was coming soon. Jacomo and I only had a little time to figure out what to do.
“Zhooguys-erlatewhudafuck?” The Boss’s brother met us when we came in the door, agitated, his hands moving like couldn’t decide if he wanted to talk or play charades.
“Ah, yeah, we hit some....”
“Shudafukup. Ooo,” he said, looking at us and then pointing at the guy we picked up. “Oo, gwinakishen. Sebub. Geberryfing rebby.” The guy looked at him blankly. He must’ve been hired by somebody who could actually talk. I can see the Boss’s brother’s face go flat.
“Let me show you were you can set up,” I said, nodding to Jacomo to get the bag. I steer the guy towards the kitchen. I barely have him in the door when he says, “What the hell? Can you understand that guy? What happened to his face?”
“Quiet. His wife ran over his face, not his ears. They work fine.”
The guy shook his head and grabbed his bag from Jacomo, hoisting it with some heavy breathing, onto the granite counter in the center of the kitchen.
“I’ll be fine from here. Just keep Quasimodo out, unless one of you is here to translate. Now. Fuck off. I must get ready,” he said shaking out his shoulders and wiggling his fingers before staring at the ceiling and sucking a loud breath in through his nostrils.
Jacomo and I walked out.
“Weird fucking guy,” Jacomo said.
“Looks really familiar for some reason.”
“You know him?”
“Gimme a sec. I can’t place him right now. Maybe I’ve driven him somewhere before.”
“The Boss ain’t here yet. Means we got some time to stop this.”
“Listen to you. What the fuck do you mean 'Why?'”
“It's not our place. We just made the delivery,” I said, trying to keep from thinking.
“You dumbass. What do you think they’re gonna do with us?"
“What do you mean?”
“We picked the guy up!” Jacomo said, an exaggerated shrug on the words “picked” and “up.”
We were interrupted by the Boss’s brother.
“Thank you, sir,” I said. Jacomo, who still can’t figure out the mumblings, just followed my lead and smiled. We should be proud my ass. I was going over what Jacomo had said. And it all added up to us getting fucked.
He started talking again.
“Youguyser, gummageb rishley reewarbeb fowr bis. Babossis gumma be blenty sherbrised. Shmarbowys, yutoo, gumma go far.”
“Thank you, sir.” My head raced. Jacomo was right.
“Mow, fuggoff, I gobba gebrebby,” He said leaving the room.
Jacomo followed me out to the hallway.
“You’re right,” I said to him.
“We’re fucked, huh?”
“Yup. And that reminds me.”
“Remember the sign in that guy’s yard?”
“Oh shit. You think?”
“I think that can’t be a coincidence.”
“What do we do?”
“Let's go out to the car.”
We stood, peering into the dim of the trunk.
“What do you think?” I asked.
Inside lay several chunks of metal, some more complicated than others. A pump-action shotgun, a couple of revolvers, large caliber of course. A sword that Jacomo had bought back in his wannabe ninja days, a couple of knives and the pair of .40 cals that we usually used.
“I wanna bring the sword,” he said.
“You can’t bring the sword.”
“Where are you gonna hide it until it's time? Your pocket?”
He growled angrily.
“You can’t bring the sword. If you want to stab somebody, bring a knife."
Jacomo nodded, mollified, and slid one of the folding knives into his hip pocket.
Then we both lifted out the automatics. Grabbed two extra clips each.
“You ready?” He asked.
In answer, I slammed the trunk.
Inside, we could still hear the guy puttering around in the kitchen. I started for the door, the pistol held low. Jacomo grabbed my arm and I whirled, nearly pulling the trigger on him.
“The fuck?!” I hissed.
“Wait, if you do this before the Boss shows up it's no good for us.”
“You kill him now, the Boss’s brother is still around plotting, or worse, tries to blame this on us.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“Wait for the Boss to get here. Then we kill this guy, and tell him about the job.”
“We could still get killed.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t get involved after all.”
“The Boss will get killed.”
“Probably fucked in the ass first. You remember the sign?”
“Shit. Nobody deserves that.”
“Actually, now that you mention it, I can think of a guy who does.”
“Not the point right now.”
“This could be our big break. You know the Boss is gonna reward us for saving his ass.”
“Yeah. He might at that. You know Giovanni? He got a house and control of one of the strip joints.”
“Yeah. That would be perfect.”
“So, just hang loose a second.”
Both of us slipped our guns into our belts.
We were playing cards when the Boss got there.
"I fucking told you guys," he yelled at somebody.
Jacomo tensed and dropped his cards.
"The Boss is here."
"What are we gonna do?"
"Time to save his ass and get that strip-club like we talked about."
"Okay. I get to audition the dancers."
Jacomo made that gesture that looks like you've just pulled your fist out of something and then elbowed yourself in the stomach. I stood up and looked at him.
"Time to go work." I pulled the pistol out from behind my belt and racked the slide. A live round came flying out. I forgot I was already carrying cocked and locked. As I scrambled after the bullet I could hear Jacomo laughing.
"Nice going, John Wayne."
"Fuck you," I wheezed from where I was reaching under the easy chair to get the bullet.
"Just like the movies?"
"Shut the fuck up."
"Leave it and lets go."
We walked to the door and stepped out into the hallway, ready to get things done.
And boy did things did get done.
When I next had time to think both of us were pinned down behind the center counter in the kitchen. There were pock marks in the stainless steel fridge from the bullets that missed. Next to us was our hitman. Dead as Princess Di's car insurance. Open next to him was his duffel bag, his tools scattered. The blood stains on his shirt bloomed quick and full, like morning glories.
I raised my gun and bucked a shot overhead towards the bullets flying in the door.
"You think we made a mistake, Jacomo?" I pointed my eyes at my partner, laying next to me, trying to load his gun with one hand. His other was a shredded mess due to a shotgun blast.
"Yeah. I think we fucked up," he said loading the clip with his teeth and slamming it down on his thigh to lock it home. I sent another blind slug overhead. The return volley was a lot longer. They were taking us pretty serious. Then I heard the inarticulate yelling from The Boss's brother.
"Youfackinguys're…" Deep inhale, "…gummageba profferfugginkilwing mutha gocksugging. Fug!"
Even I didn't really catch that but there was no mistaking his tone.
"He sounds pissed," Jacomo said.
After Jacomo and I had decided to make our move, we laid down the cards and stepped through the door smooth. Blues Brothers smooth. Like two gunslingers, ready for action. It was a beautiful thing. Like it was choreographed, we stepped into the living room where The Boss was sitting and while I shoved him to the ground, Jacomo shot his brother in the shoulder.
From here it gets blurry. I wished Jacomo hadn't felt the need to actually shoot The Boss's brother.
"Sir, they're trying to have you whacked," I said.
"Oo fuggingsho'me," The Boss's brother screamed from the ground where he lay, clutching his arm and drooling.
"You were trying to whack The Boss, you fuck!" Jacomo stepped up and kicked him in the stomach.
"Jacomo, chill the fuck out!"
"What the fuck are you two idiots doing!" The Boss said.
"Boss, he was trying to kill you!"
"This rat fuck…"
Jacomo kicked the Boss's brother in the gut.
A stomp for variety
"You!" Jacomo finished triumphantly.
That's when the kitchen door banged open and our errand from the morning stomped out in a rage.
"I cannot work under these conditions!"
I spun and shot him the chest and his white hat went flying off and red stained the front of his apron.
That’s weird. The hitman showed up dressed like a chef.
Actually, it's brilliant.
“Yo, nice shot man.” Jacomo said from where he had a foot pinning down the Boss’s brother.
“What the fuck is going on?” The Boss said.
“Boss this fuck was trying to...” Jacomo started again when the front door banged open and a half-dozen odd guys from the business and a couple of hard cases like ourselves, who I guess are all deaf, rushed in and began to yell.
Jacomo got off first.
One of the fatter guys dropped hands at his chest like he was slapping a mosquito.
A chorus of “goddammits” and “what the fucks” and everybody dove for cover, including us. Both of us shooting, we made for the kitchen. We would need heavier shit to survive this and both of our minds were on the bag of goodies belonging to the dead hitter in the kitchen.
Bullets escorted us through the door like an honor guard.
We dove over the center piece counter and snugged our backs up against its far side, wincing as chips of it flew around the room. I watched 4,000 dollar per square foot marble get chewed up like invisible termites had invaded.
I lunged for the black duffel and unzipped it, peering inside.
“Jacomo!” I screamed.
“Yeah?” he answered pulling the trigger blind over the top of the counter.
“We’ve got a problem,” I said pulling the bag around.
“Fuck,” he said when he looked down and then screamed when a shotgun blast tore through the counter and smashed into his shoulder and hand.
Jacomo finally had his gun loaded. I’m nursing the last slugs in my clip. He had the foresight to bring extra for himself. I remind myself mentally that the gun holds sixteen. I’ve fired ten. Leaving six.
Jacomo threw something from the bag against the wall. I heard the clatter and looked up to see a spatula.
“Can you believe this fuck was a chef?”
“I have a choice?”
“I’ve seen the guy on TV. Boning a fish.”
“You mean?” I motioned with my hands.
“No. Not like that.”
Bullets segued through the conversation.
“Why the hell would we bring a fucking chef anywhere?” Jacomo screamed.
I fired two more times overhead before something occurred to me.
“What’s the date?” An ugly truth clawed its way to the surface of my brain.
“The 21st. Why?”
“How many you got left?”
“I’ve got another clip,” I lied. I had four bullets left.
“Okay, we’re gonna make a break for it. We gotta get outta here.” Jacomo was thinking again. But I was too. And I thought I saw a better way.
“I’ll follow you,” I said, and when he turned, with pain and effort to one knee and began to peer around the corner of the counter, I shot him in the back of the head.
Down to three bullets as his body slumped over. Then I called out.
“Jacomo’s dead. I’m coming out.”
“Don’t fucking matter,” I heard a strange voice call. Then some slurred mumbling from the Boss’s brother.
“It was Jacomo’s fault. I want to come out. Don’t shoot.” It was a shitty plan, but I couldn’t think of another option. I looked around the kitchen at the splattered feast. Like we’d tried to season with lead instead of rosemary. I saw a big cake, untouched. Across it the beginnings of some writing. The Boss’s name in blue icing. I shook my head and sighed, thinking that this, this right here, comes from thinking.
I slid into the living room. A pistol shot rang and I dropped, turning towards the sound and squeezing my gun’s trigger twice. I hear a fall and I point my gun at The Boss. My last hope at getting out of here.
“Happy Birthday, Boss,” I said.
“You fuckin prick. You point a gun at me?” Hard to be tough trying to hide behind an ottoman when you’re that overweight.
“I got a full clip and I’d love to empty it into you. I just want to get out of here. So we’re gonna walk out.”
“The fuck we are,” he said.
“Let's go,” I said, motioning with the gun for him to stand. He did It. Got up and got ready to leave.
“Fuggyou, yafugginprig, gunnagapdabash!” The Boss’s brother raised up and pointed a huge revolver at me. I swiveled and pulled the trigger.
Click. No joy.
I squeezed again.
I remembered my little Hollywood moment in the other room. The bullet rolling under the couch.
I braced myself for the shots and closed my eyes.
I opened my eyes and saw The Boss smiling.
“That’s interesting,” the Boss said, turning to his brother. “What do you want to do here?”
Wow. That was the clearest I'd heard him speak. I thought if I hadn’t shot Jacomo in the back of the head, he would have understood that perfectly