I got to the job site a couple of hours early. The kind of work I do, you show up too late, sometimes you don’t get to go home when it’s over.
Gigi was already planted in his spot, his enormous body mass taking up most of a wooden bench, a half-empty pitcher of beer on a little table to his right. The behemoth had a perfect sight-line on the front door, but his tiny eyes were too deeply flesh-pouched for me to tell where he was looking. Wrapped in a faded gray jersey pulled over drawstring pants of the same material, he looked like a moored battleship.
I found a stool at the far end of the bar. The guy behind the stick had a little slice of forehead and less chin. His eyes showed signs of life—I guessed somewhere around geranium level.
I ordered a shot—nobody does brand names in a joint like this. The inbred blinked a couple of times, then brought me some brown liquid. I asked him for a glass of water. He stared at me for a minute. You could see his mind working—it wasn’t a pretty sight. Finally, enough tumblers fell into place. He reached under the bar and came up with a glass the EPA wouldn’t allow you to dump without a permit.
The TV set was suspended from the ceiling by cables at the opposite end of the bar from where I was sitting. Some baseball game was on. I was too far away to hear the sound, or even make out who was playing, but I watched the moving images. Reminded me of being Inside. They rig the TV in the dayroom the same way, probably for the same reason. Most guys want to be outdoors every chance they get, but there’s cons who know their soaps better than any housewife.
Usually, I drink the water, slip the whiskey into the water glass, let the ice melt into it, and then ask for another. If I think anyone might be watching close, I transfer by mouth. I was raised in places where you learn to do that with meds you don’t want, watched by “staff” who hoped you’d refuse—restraints and hypos were more fun for them.
Eventually, the bartender takes away both glasses, brings me a “same again,” and everybody’s happy. Any regular interested in the stranger sees a man drinking solo, dedicated to his work. In a place like this, you sit by yourself not drinking, it’s like a red neon arrow pointing at you. Down
But I watched how other guys at the bar had to practically scream to get the inbred’s attention. He mostly just stood there, in the Zen state of just being
the mouth-breathing genetic misfire that he was. So I nursed my drink the way a crack-addict mother nurses her kid—if it could figure out how to drink itself, fine.
Forty minutes later, a man in a bone-colored leather sports coat shoulder-rolled in and sat down in an empty booth. Late thirties, with a tanning-bed complexion. He sported a hundred-dollar short haircut—gelled, not spiked. His wristwatch was crusted with diamonds; a three-strand loop of eighteen-karat draped against a black silk collarless pullover.
The battleship slowly broke loose from its mooring and started across the room. From behind me, two torpedoes cut across his wake. As the first passed by where I was sitting, I slid the length of rebar out of my sleeve, gripped the taped end, and took out his knee from behind. The other whirled at his partner’s scream, but I was already swinging. His collarbone snapped under the ridged steel whip.
The guy in the bone-colored jacket never made it out of his booth.
I was one of the men who flowed around Gigi like river water around a big rock, all of us heading for the door. The sidewalk was empty, except for a squat-bodied man in a wheelchair. He had a begging cap on the ground next to him, one hand under the army blanket spread across his lap. Nobody gave him a second glance.
The battleship was docked at a pier overlooking the Brooklyn Navy Yard, behind the wheel of an ancient black Caddy. He covered more than half of the front seat; the steering wheel was hidden somewhere under his upper body. A thick skullcap of wiry black hair covered his bowling ball of a head. I was standing next to him, talking through the opened window. I’d done time with Gigi—keeping something solid between you and him is always a good play.
“Didn’t expect you,” Gigi said. “Never saw you before.”
I shrugged, wasting fewer words than he had.
“I did time with your boss. Thought he’d be sending Herk to watch my back.”
I shrugged again. “Herk” was short for “Hercules,” named for his hyper-muscled physique. Everyone but Gigi called him “Big Herk,” but Herk’s 275 pounds of prison-sculptured, Dianabol-boosted frame made him a middleweight in Gigi’s league.
The man Gigi thought was my boss was me, the Burke he knew years ago. My face had changed—bullet wounds and trainee surgeons will do that for you—but the payphone that rang in the back of Mama’s restaurant still took my calls. And my voice was still the same . . . when I wanted it to be.
“He still in your crew, Herk?”
I gave him the look.
“What?” he said, insulted. “You think I’m a fucking cop? They wanted to wire me up, they’d have to use a motherfucking bale of the stuff.”
I shook my head.
“You’re a dummy? You can’t talk, that it? Look, pal, I can see you’re not Herk, but I sure as fuck know
you ain’t Max, either.”
Gigi meant Max the Silent, a Tibetan combat dragon. Max can’t speak, but that’s not how he got his name.
“I’m not a dummy,” I said, softly. “But I know when to dummy up
“Not everyone does,” he said, a tinge of nostalgia in his guttural voice. “Things ain’t the same. These days, you got to pay a man to watch your back even when you get hired just to do a simple job like pounding on that mook. But with these punk kids taking over now, fucking bosses they are, you never know when they’re gonna watch too much TV, start thinking all plots
“Those two guys, you don’t think they were his?”
“Mario’s? The guy in the pretty white coat? Yeah, they were his, all right. Even a fucking stugotz
like him knows when he’s been put on the spot, marked down for some serious pain. But he’s still got to do business, got to make his rounds, show some face. It was just a matter of time. Wasn’t me, it would have been someone else.
“Besides, if those guys you took out were from the . . . people who hired me, they would have been shooters. Those guys, they were just dumbass muscle.”
I nodded agreement. If they’d been experienced bodyguards, one look at Gigi would have had them heading for the back exit. Probably a pair of strip-club bouncers, used to flexing their gym muscles at drunks.
“Mario could’ve got himself some shooters, but he’d have to go to the yoms, get someone to do that for the kind of chump-change money he’s holding now. Can you imagine a nigger walking into that place? It’d be like one of them wandering onto our range, Inside.”
I shook my head.
“You know what, pal? This is seriously fucked. I get paid to do some work on a guy, I got to pay a piece of that just to make sure my back don’t get cold. Turns out, I wasted the money.”
“You could have handled both of those guys, too?” I said, pretending mild surprise. I’d seen Gigi waddle up to whole groups of men Inside, then go through them like an enraged kid busting up balsa-wood model airplanes. He had all the speed of a fire hydrant, and about the same pain tolerance. Gigi wasn’t any good at chasing you down, but that’s the thing about prison . . . nowhere to run.
“Ask your boss,” the battleship said.
I didn’t say anything.
“Hey, fuck you, you don’t want to talk. Here’s the other half of your money. Tell Burke I still owe him a glass of vino
Going back home to New York is like going back to an old girlfriend just because you remembered how great the sex had been. The minute you come, you remember all the reasons you’d decided to go the last time.
It wasn’t that bad, not really. Being away from my family had hurt more than I’d ever imagined, but I had them back again. All the ones left, anyway.
I didn’t have my old place, but the new one was better, once you got past the first couple of floors. I didn’t have my dog, but I could go for days without thinking about her now.
What I didn’t have was my old ways.
I couldn’t go back to scamming-and-stinging. I had always specialized in fleecing the kind of humans who couldn’t run to the Law, but the Internet boys had the freak market sewn up now. Promising kiddie porn I was never going to deliver was one of my bill-payers back in the day, but that’s all done—Cyberville’s full of places where freaks can sample the product for free before they buy.
Selling info on how to become a mercenary is another dry well. Worked fine back when “mercenary” meant government-funded, no-risk slaughter—machine guns against machetes, that kind of thing. Every master-race moron with heavy experience killing paper targets wanted to get in on the fun. That’s a different game today, too. The real merc work is in overthrowing governments, and that takes specialists with track records, not fantasy-fueled freaks whose fetal alcoholism convinced them that they were the last hope of the White Race.
I used to middleman arms deals, selling ordnance to . . . whoever. But that’s a no-touch ever since 9/11. The buyers could be Saudi-financed robots, or one of those neo-Nazi crews whose idea of “screening” is skin tone. And some of those are the kind of scum-sucking swine whose idea of a part-time job is being an informant for the federales
One surefire sting had been offering kids for sale, then strong-arming the exchange—the old badger game, cranked up to big-number payoffs. Who were the ripped-off buyers going to complain to, the Better Business Bureau? But, today, the human-traffickers have so much genuine product in their pipelines that the price keeps dropping. What you could sell twenty years ago for a hundred grand wouldn’t get you five today. Not worth the time and trouble to set up the mark, never mind the mess you sometimes make when they get all aggressive the second they find out what they really
I heard there was good money selling electromagnetic shields to poor souls who were sure they were being targeted by psychotronic weapons, but I couldn’t make myself go there. Same reason I could never pluck the ripe alien-abductee fruit, even when it dangled so close to the ground.
Can’t even rip off the dope men, anymore. They used to just truck the weight around, open for any hijacker with accurate info and the right skills. I’d done one of my stretches for a move like that. Had everything figured out: steal it, sell it back to the owners. Only thing is, they did
call the cops. Their
Anyway, that’s all changed, too. Just read this whole frantic piece in the News
about a new drug hitting the streets. Heroin cut with fentanyl. Supposed to have killed a few people already.
Reading stuff like that always makes me sad. Not because of a few dead dope fiends, but I can’t figure out why anyone thinks that’s news, or why it matters. This “new” stuff isn’t new at all—it’s been killing addicts in Chicago and Detroit for a long time now. What kind of chump thinks hard-core addicts read the papers for street news, like yuppies checking their mutual funds? For the dealers, a few deaths are good for business. Proves they’ve got the real thing, not some stepped-on lemonade that won’t even buy you a mild buzz.
A junkie worries about only three things: finding the money to fix, finding a seller with righteous stuff, and finding a vein to slam it home. Death? You try that
ride every time. Part of the deal. That’s why the top dogs brand their stuff.
Maybe they’ll make a movie about it.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Terminal by Andrew Vachss. Copyright © 2007 by Andrew Vachss. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.