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Authors: Andrew Vachss

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BOOK: Born Bad
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Your theories are lies. I am the living, life–taking proof.

Absent fortuitous circumstance, you will never catch me. I am invisible. People like you make it certain that we don't see evil. I am a shark in a suburban swimming pool. Safe and deadly forever, feeding as I will.

Take my warning, Doctor. So long as you promulgate your explanations for evil, it will flourish. Face the truth. And fear it forever.

The blond man waited patiently until the entire Task Force had finished reading. Then he flicked on the lights and looked across the room at Doc.

"You know, Doc, you and me, we've been having this go–round for years. I always said your theories were nonsense, didn't I? I been a cop too long. I got to hand it to this freak—he told it like it is. I mean, there's your evidence, right? Two brothers, raised in the same household. Look how different they turned out. One's treated like a prince, he turns out to be a monster. The other's tortured all kinds of ways, he turns out to be a decent guy. I think we all learned something today. The freak's right: all the stuff about child abuse causing crime is just so much liberal clap–trap. You got anything to says?"

Doc took off his glasses, cleaned them patiently. with a handkerchief. The red–haired woman lit a cigarette. Others leaned forward, watching from the sidelines.

"Come on, Doc. You've been studying the Surgeon for years, going over the ground inch by inch," the black man said. "You got any comeback for what Marty said?"

The husky man said, "Yes," very quietly, and got to his feet. He looked into the face of each person in the room, one by one, eyes shining with sadness and with truth.

"He doesn't have a brother," he said.



Look at my Buster…look what they did to him."

The old man pointed a shaking finger at the dog, a big German shepherd. The animal was cowering in a corner of the kitchen of the railroad fiat–his fine head was lopsided, a piece of his skull missing under the ragged fur. A deep pocket of scar tissue glowed white where one eye had been, the other was cataract-milky, fire-dotted with fear. The dog's tail hung behind him at a demented angle, one front paw hung useless in a plaster cast.

"Who did it?"

The old man wasn't listening, not finished yet. Squeezing the wound to get the pus out. "Buster guards out back, where the chicken wire is. They tormented him, threw stuff at him, made him crazy. Then they cut the lock. Two of them. One had a baseball bat, the other had a piece of pipe. My Buster…he wouldn't hurt anyone. They beat on him, over and over, laughing. I ran downstairs to stop them…they just slapped me, like I was a fly. They did my Buster so bad, it even hurts him when I try and rub


The old man sat crying at his kitchen table.

The dog watched me, a thin whine coming from his open mouth. Half his teeth were missing.

"You know who did it," I said. It wasn't a question. He didn't know, he wouldn't have called me–I'm no private eye.

"I called…I called the cops. 911. They never came. I went down to the precinct. The man at the desk, he said to call the ASPCA."

"You know who they are?"

"I don't know their names. Two men, young men. One has big muscles, the other's skinny."

"They're from around here?"

"I don't know. They're always together–I've seen them before. Everybody knows them. They have their heads shaved too."

"Everybody knows them?"

"Everybody. They beat other dogs too. They make the dogs bark at them, then they…" He was crying again.

I waited, watching the dog.

"They come back. I see them walking down the alley. Almost every day. I can't leave Buster outside anymore–can't even take him for a walk. I have to clean up after him now."

"What do you want?"

"What do I want?"

"You called me. You got my name from somewhere. You know what I do."

The old man got up, knelt next to his dog. Put his hand gently on the dog's head. "Buster used to be the toughest dog in the world–wasn't afraid of nothing. I had him ever since he was a pup. He won't even look out the back window with me now."

"What do you want?" I asked him again.

They both looked at me. "You know," the old man said.


freestanding brick building in Red Hook, not far from the waterfront, surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire. I rang the bell. A dog snarled a warning. I looked into the mirrored glass, knowing they could see me. The steel door opened. A man in a white T-shirt over floppy black trousers opened the door. He was barefoot, dark hair cropped close, body so smooth it might have been extruded from rubber. He bowed slightly. I returned his bow, followed him inside.

A rectangular room, roughened wood floor. A canvas-wrapped heavy bag swung from the ceiling in one corner. In another, a car tire was suspended from a thick rope. A pair of long wood staves hung on hooks.

"I'll get him," the man said.

I waited, standing in one spot.

He returned, leading a dog by a chain. A broad-chested pit bull, all white except for a black patch over one eye. The dog watched me, cobra-calm.

"Here he is," the man said.

"You sure he'll do it?"


"What's his name?"


I squatted down, said the dog's name, scratched him behind his erect ears when he came to me.

"You want to practice with him?"

"Yeah, I'd better. I know the commands you gave me, but…"

"Wait here."

I played with Cain, putting him through standard-obedience paces. He was a machine, perfect.

The trainer came back into the room. Two other men with him, dressed in full agitator's suits, leather-lined and padded. Masks on their faces, like hockey goalies wear.

"Let's do it," he said.


walked down the alley behind the old man's building, Cain on a thin leather leash, held lightly in my left hand. The dog knew the route by now–it was our fifth straight day.

They turned the corner fifty feet from me. The smaller one had a baseball bat over his shoulder, the muscleman slapped a piece of lead pipe into one palm.

They closed in. I stepped aside to let them pass, pulling Cain close to my leg.

They didn't walk past. The smaller one planted his feet, looking into my eyes.

"Hey, man. That's a pit bull, right? Pretty tough dogs, I heard."

"No, he's not tough," I said, a catch in my voice. "He's just a pet."

"He looks like a bad dog to me," the big guy said, poking the lead pipe into the dog's face, stabbing. Cain stepped out of the way.

"Please don't hurt my dog," I begged them, pulling up on the leash.

Cain leaped into my arms, his face against my chest. I could feel the bunched muscles in his legs, all four paws flat against me.

"Aw, is your dog
man?" the big one sneered, stepping close to me, slapping the dog's back with the pipe.

"Leave us alone," I said, stepping back as they closed in.

"Put the dog down, faggot!"

I put my mouth close to Cain's ear, whispered "Go." as I threw open my arms. The pit bull launched himself off my chest without a sound, his alligator teeth locking on the big guy's face. A scream bubbled out. The big man fell to the ground, clawing at Cain's back. Pieces of his face flew off, red and white. He spasmed like he was in the electric chair, but the dog held on, wouldn't drop the bite. The smaller guy stood there, rooted, mouth open, no sound coming out, his pants turning dark at the crotch.

"Out!" I snapped at the dog. Gain stepped away, his mouth foamy with bloody gristle.

"Your turn," I said to the smaller guy. He took off, running for his life. Cain caught him, running right up his spine, locking onto the back of his neck.

I called him off when I heard a snap.

As we turned to walk back down the alley, I glanced up.

The old man was at the window. Buster next to him, the plaster cast on his paw draped over the sill.





his business, I know how it goes, the old man thought to himself. He'd been at it a long time. Dead reliable, that's what they always said about him. He kept his thoughts to himself. Nothing showed on his face. The way it was supposed to be. The younger ones come in, take over. In business, you have to make room for new blood. The young ones, they think I don't know that. I know how they think. Cowboys.

He mused to himself, alone in his room. They wouldn't call me in, ask me to retire. I would have done it, they asked me. When you're done, you're done. But they don't know how to ask. No class. It's as if they
to do it. Only amateurs like to do it.

I was never one of them. Not a Family man–just a soldier, doing my work. They let

The old man was just back from Miami. The last of the bosses called him down there. The old man thought it was just another job.

"You always done right by us," the boss said.

The old man didn't say anything. He wasn't a talker. That used to be a good thing, he thought to himself, waiting.

"Vito, he don't know you like I do. He's a young stallion. Wants his own crew, you know?"

The old man waited. For the boss to tell him about the retirement plan.

"They think you're past it. Spooking at shadows, hearing things–you understand what I'm telling you?" The boss puffed on his cigar. He wouldn't look the old man in the face. The old man got it then.

The old man didn't know anything about running. He had always lived in the same place, done the same things. Kept it nice and quiet. By himself.

When Vito called, they said they had a job for him in Cleveland. He knew it was time to show them he could still do it.

His flight was supposed to leave from La Guardia at nine that night. I've been doing this forever–I know how it's done, he thought. They'll have a man on the plane with me. Take care of business in Cleveland. Sure.

He got to the airport at three in the afternoon. Stashed his carry-on bags in the coin lockers. Checked the schedules. Figured it would take about five trips through the scanners. Bought tickets for Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh. Different airlines. All departing from gates in the same corridor.

He went through the scanner, one of the pieces of the gun buried inside his carry-on. The X-ray machine would show an aerosol can of shaving cream. He left the bag inside, walked back out, patient, taking his time. The old way. The right way. By seven o'clock, he had all the pieces through the scanner. The last time through, he had a garment bag over his shoulder. In the men's room, he put the pieces together and stuffed the soft carry-on bags into the larger case. Then he sat down to wait.

The old man felt the other guy behind him. He didn't look. Smell of some aftershave he didn't recognize–one of those new ones. Like perfume. The old man heard him cough. A dry, hard cough with a liquid center. Like his lungs were getting ready to go. It was better than a photograph.

You have to be sure in this business, it's not a game, you only get one move, the old man repeated to himself. The catechism he learned as a youth. He switched to the no-smoking section on the other side of the departure lounge. The old man didn't catch a glimpse of him, but he heard the cough a few seats down. The young ones, they wouldn't pick up something like that. The old man was a pro.

Eight-fifteen. The old man got up, heading for the men's room. He knew the shooter wouldn't let him out of his sight. They couldn't be sure he'd get on the plane like some tame old sheep.

Some punk was combing his hair at the sink when the old man went inside. He took the last stall, shut it behind him. Waited.

He heard the cough. In the stall right next to him. He stepped out, bent down quickly, checked under the door. The guy's pants were around his ankles. The place was empty. The old man walked out, letting the guy hear him, slipping gloves on his hands. Checked the door to the men's room. Kicked a little wood wedge underneath to give him a couple of seconds. All the time he'd need.

He stepped back into the last stall and stood on the toilet bowl. The guy was reading a newspaper. The old man put two slugs into the top of his head. Pop, pop. The silencer worked perfectly. He left the gun in the stall.

The old man was back in the departure lounge before they had the first call for boarding.

They'd hear about it. They'd know he wasn't past it. Not some old man who couldn't do the job. He lit a cigarette–the way you do when a job is over.

Then he heard the cough.

Crime Partner



hen I got out of jail one time, I had no place to go. A bunch of guys I came up with…from the old neighborhood…they had a big apartment out in Queens, invited me to move in with them. My closest pal there was a guy we called Easy Eddie. He was a stand-up dope fiend–not the kind who'd steal from a friend, even when his Jones was down on him hard. But he was stone crazy–never thought past the next couple of minutes. One time he ran out of dope. He calls the pizzeria, tells them to bring over a large pie with everything. Tells them to bring change for a twenty, that's all he's got. And he mugs the deliveryman in the lobby. And once he stuck up an ice cream truck right on the corner. Put a gun in the guy's face and walks away with about eighty bucks worth of change in his pockets."

Diamond giggled. "He sounds like a lunatic."

"He was, but a good lunatic. You understands"

"Yes," she said, leaning forward, being serious.

"Okay. Now Easy Eddie, he's buying dope. But another guy who lived with us, guy we called Bird, he's selling it. Soft stuff: marijuana, LSD, pills. Doing good for himself, too. He's got this nice apartment, color TV, stereo, new furniture. And he's got this nice old Alfa. A little red roadster.

BOOK: Born Bad
5.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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