Friday, January 23, 2009
The Colorado Option: hard-boiled, low down, dirty stories of broken men, last-ditch efforts and guttered-out dreams. This is one of those stories...
The Black-Eyed Demon by Hooper McFinney
My beeper chirps through my hangover, and I know the day is ruined. It's an emergency notification: the monkey got out of the cage. God dammit. Why can't they tell you anything straightforward?
I slap a razor across my face to look respectable for the staff. You can hide a stench with some cologne and your broken shell of a body with a tweed coat, but the eyes. My eyes. Twin drill bits of grey-blue loss, boring into your soul.
You can't cover the mire at the heart of you with a pair of Ray-Bans.
Cinching up my tie, I hear the phone ring, a jarring bray that repeats and repeats until I give in and grumble something short of a curse.
"4987 Palm Sway Drive. SOC's already there." It's the familiar voice, the same one I've been slugging back booze with since before the days when I needed drink to make it through. To breathe.
"Who's on point?"
A laugh, like a coughing dog. "Who else? Rasdower."
I hang up the phone and hurricane out to the car, holstering the gun I ache to fire one last time, a single shot to find vengeance. It's for another day, one long coming and longer off. It's hard to kill a dead man twice.
But someday...I'm gonna try.
Blasting through the reds, I make it to the building, ground zero of this cockeyed venture.
"Ted, c'mere." Slamming my car door, I wave that walking slur, old Ted "Buckshot" Spidero, from the front door. He's got his uniform on, as crisp as a used condom. I smell gin. "What's it look like?"
"****ing staff are near gone-" he stumbles over the curb and recovers with a drunkard's grace. "Rasdower's waiting." He lurches, maybe throwing up a little in his mouth. Bringing up what, last night's liquid dinner? His pride?
"Hell of a tie, McFinney," he sneers.
Spidero. He'll never get it.
We push through the slack-faced gapers and into the building. The walls - even here - are a mess, stains drying to that dull brown I know so well.
I'd seen a mess like this before. Zaire, back in '42. Ugly mother. Never thought I'd face the black-eyed demon again, not on my shores. Not on my watch. We built a cage, a four-by-four box of iron pride and bars of hubris. What wretched people we were. Not to suspect- but no. Regret is for those who have time.
And there's no time in Hell.
Hulking over some pointy-nosed pencil pusher is Rasdower. If a side of beef mounted a cement mixer, you might get Rasdower. Then again, you could end up with my second wife.
"You in charge?" I pull out a 100 and light it up. Pointy-nose scowls.
"Yes, I'm Mr. McGann and would you please extinguish that filth?" I chuckle as I stub the cigarette out in the muck underfoot. McGann grunts like a put-out tabby. "We don't know if he's still here, but we need to make this all go away before it gets out."
Creaking lower to the floor on knees that struggle with a handicap ramp, I examine the horror left behind by our target. The familiar whirls, the splatter's trajectory, the footprints...memories of Zaire come rushing back. I don't want to believe it. I saw him go down. Put him in that inhuman casket with my own two hands and we - all of us - brought it here. And for what? Our amusement. Nothing could come back from that.
"It's Johnny again, isn't it." Spidero's breathing heavier, checking his kit, making double-sure no surprise goes unanswered.
I push McGann behind me. Something - a scream? - echoes in the vents. "Get outside. Seal this place down." I hand him my jacket; where we're going, it can only get messy.
"Man, are you dumb? Go!" He turns and squeaks his way to the door, slipping just once. With him out, I light another cigarette. Pull hard on the tar and tobacco and chemical trash. Get a little of that fire in me. I cough and blink back tears.
'Buckshot' hikes up his drooping, soiled pants. "Can't believe it. No ****ing way he's still kickin'. ****. Double ****." Spidero reaches into a pocket and pulls out a gun, checking the cartridges. Rasdower and I do the same, and we move on to face down the thunder.
Damn you, Johnny Two-Hawks. This ends today.
Two hours later and we're hip-deep in funk. The futility gets to Rasdower first. He kicks an empty can of paint across the utility room floor.
"He's not here, McFinney!" Over the rhythmic whump whump whump of the machinery, I can barely hear Rasdower's voice. "This mess - this damn crusade of yours - none of it's worth it. This is my last time cleaning up with you two. I'm going upstairs and getting out of here. You lunatics can handle-" He stops, cocking his head.
Spidero's face goes ashen and he raises a finger so grimy, so fouled that it looks like a well-chomped on cigar. "Over...**** ****-**** in my ****ing ***...over there."
I look to where he's pointing, a far shadowed corner of the room. The furnace. Tons of outdated iron works and tubing L.A.-hot to the touch. And beneath a low return, its vent clawed open, is Johnny.
Two pistols whip up quicker than a schoolboy at a strip club and we shoot our loads right at those soulless, animal eyes. The steel-jacketed rounds go high, our quarry ducking and scampering behind the bulk of the fiery heater.
Peaking around, he spots us and I can see his hand come up. He fires. Crying out, Rasdower goes down.
"Ted, dammit, circle round - cut him off. I'll try to help..." But my voice trails off as I see Rasdower rolling on the ground, moaning and clutching his face. It's his last time with us after all. Broken and beaten. No way for this man to go down, even if he lost the Roosevelt contract.
Faintly, I hear Ted yelling out a chain of profanity that winds to the ceiling and beyond, a tirade fit for Bacchus at his lowest. It ends with a crash and a thump.
Gripping my gun tighter, I realize it won't be enough. Not against Johnny. It took ten of us to corral him in Zaire. Ten men, two gone now. One never recovered. Boors, his name was Boors, and he has a daughter. Cute little chip of his wife. Well girlie, daddy ain't hugging you no more, not after Two-Hawks. And thinking of that drop of sunshine turned to rain I can't contain my rage. Hefting Rasdower's gun, I make sure one's in the chamber and make my move.
Shouting like the beasts of the jungle, a language Johnny can understand, I charge for the furnace, dodging another onslaught, passing Spidero's prone form on the ground, a broken crate lying around his head and a weighted net in his hand
"Johnny! Johnnyyyyy!!!" I dive forward, rolling under that open return vent and there he is. Staring at me. He smiles wide and slaps me hard across the face, drawing blood.
"This is for Mary, you son of a bitch!" I let loose with both barrels, each shot finding its way into Johnny's chest.
For a minute, seeing him stumble around, I almost feel sad. He knocks the tranquilizer darts off his chest, but the damage is done. He slumps to a knee, those powerful, hairy arms keeping him upright. One last time he pierces me with those eyes.
"Oo Oo Oo," he croaks. And then he's down, unconscious.
As I drag him back to the stairs I toe Spidero in the gut.
"We got him, Ted." There are tears streaming down my face. "We got that damn dirty little ape."
Rasdower's sitting up as I pass him, wiping feces off his face. And seeing Johnny Two-Hawks...he claps. The son of a bitch claps.
I've never been prouder to be a janitor for the Scholastic Organization of Cleaners than I am now. It was tough enough bagging this zoo escapee in Zaire, Florida, a few years back. I thought I'd killed the joy in him, saw that spark of enthusiasm die in his eyes as I stabbed the tranq dart into his neck and stuffed him in his cage.
I can see it will never be over, though, not for the two of us. The dance will continue, maybe not at this elementary school where he lives as mascot. Maybe it'll be out there in the neighborhoods of West Palm Beach or Jupiter or Orlando.
I am order to his chaos. Our fates our intertwined. But that's all for another day.
Now, I've got some monkey shit to clean up.
But wait - there's more! McFinney, Spidero, Rasdower and the rest will return in...The Colorado Option: Fresno Promises!