Authors: Andrew Vachss
"What d'I do?" the fat man asked, rubbing his hands together.
"Nothing. You don't have to do anything. He's just nuts. It's not his fault."
"Yeah. Yeah, maybe I could use him for a warehouse job. Or something. But I can't pay much…I mean he's not trained or nothing.
"You got a mobile cage?"
"Back of the station wagon."
I walked the Doberman around the back of the joint to the cage. The fat man opened the door. I jerked the chain and the Doberman jumped inside, quiet as oil in water. The fat man slammed the cage shut. The Doberman looked at me. I reached my hand inside the cage, rubbed the side of his head. Turned my back on him.
The fat man handed me the money. "What's his name?" he asked, pencil poised.
"Devil," I told him.
he concrete processing plant stood alone in the middle of a prairie on a six-acre lot in Brooklyn. Surrounded by a six-foot chain-link fence topped with loops of razor wire. Nothing nearby but abandoned factories. No streetlights. The front gate was wide enough for the sand and gravel trucks to make their daily deliveries. The two sides of the gate were held together by a heavy padlocked chain. A white metal sign was posted on the front. Big red letters: PATROLLED BY ATTACK DOGS. It was 5:50 A.M. early in June. I watched the dogs through the binoculars. A pair of Shepherds, their coats thick and matted with the concrete dust. A barrel-bodied Rottweiler. And a sleek Doberman.
t's gotta be an accident. This guy, he's not reasonable. We got no problems with the other partners. They understand the way things are. The way they gotta be. This guy, he's a hardnose. He gets shot or something, maybe the other partners get the message, maybe they spook and run to the
You know how it works."
"You pull this one off, there's a place for you with us. I told you this before."
I kept my face neutral. The way they taught me. In the place where I was raised. The man in the white silk shirt watched me, waiting. I waited too. Another thing they taught me. He shrugged his shoulders. "Half now, half when it's done?" he asked.
"Yeah." I held my hand out for the cash.
• • •
wo days later, I pulled the rented car up to the gate. The sun was just making its move, dawn coming fast. I slipped the leather gloves on my hands. They were lined with a fine chain mesh. I knelt, pointed the Polaroid camera at the plant. Waited.
I heard his car coming. Didn't look up. A squeal of rubber as his white Caddy pulled across the front of my car, blocking any escape. He charged out, waving the tire iron.
"What the hell you think you're doings'
I tried to hide the camera under my jacket, sneak back toward my car. He cut me off. His face was twisted into frightened hate, white foam on his lips.
"You son of a bitch! You're not taking what's mine. I worked for this! You tell those bastards I'm
"Hey! I don't know what you're talking about. I just wanted to take a picture of the dogs."
He was past talking. Charged at me, whipping the tire iron at my head. I dropped the camera, caught the first shot with my left hand, spun to face him, my back to the gate. The dogs went mad. The switchblade popped open in my hand. I dropped into a crouch, working my way to him, one hand in front to take his next blow with the tire iron.
He was a big man, block-shouldered. He'd seen knives before. He backed away from me, parallel to the gate. Raised his right hand, bluffed a swing with the tire iron, and rammed his shoulder against the gate, forcing a narrow slot open. "Get him!" he screamed. And the Doberman flowed through the opening past him in one bound, heading for me.
"Devil!" I yelled. "Hit! Hit him, boy!"
The Doberman whirled and turned on the big man like a tornado swooping up a farmhouse. Buried his teeth deep into the man's upper thigh. The man's scream hit a past-human octave as he raised the tire iron to smash down on the dog's head. I hooked him hard in the belly and he went to his knees. The Doberman ripped at his throat. A chunk of red-and-white flew into the air.
It was over fast. "Devil! Out!" I shouted. The big dog backed away, his muzzle bathed in blood. I opened the back door of my car, gave the dog the signal and he jumped inside. I slammed my shoulder against the gate, shoving the man's body inside, face first. The other dogs tore at the body. I left it where it was.
It's all in the way you raise them.
watched her coming down the stairs to the basement pool–room. Watched her in the bank–security mirror the old man keeps just inside the door. All in black, she was–but dressed for mourning, not for style.
She threaded her way through the maze of tables, a dark, slender wraith, not even drawing a glance from the men playing their various games. I was where I said I'd be—back corner, away from the windows. She was wearing a black pillbox hat with a black half–veil. Her face was anemia–pale under the mesh.
"Sit down," I told her, pointing toward a small round table with the tip of my cue stick.
She took one of the two wooden chairs, took off her gloves, fumbled in her purse for a cigarette. I pocketed the last ball on the table, left my cue on the felt and sat down. Two men detached themselves from the wall and moved into my spot, racking the balls and starting a game. The woman and I were invisible behind their shield.
I took a seat, lit a smoke of my own. Waited.
It took her two more cigarettes to realize I wasn't going to say anything.
She had a chemotherapy voice, juiceless and resigned. "You have to make him stop," she said. "He's never going to stop."
I'd expected a battered wife, from what the old man had told me. But this woman's soul was carrying the scars, not her body.
"Just tell me," I said.
"I can pay. Whatever it costs, I can get it."
"This is part of what it costs."
"I don't know you."
"And you don't trust me."
She lit another cigarette with the glowing butt of her last one.
"I could lie to you," she said. Like she knew all about lying.
"No. No, you can't."
"You have a lie detector somewhere around here?"
"I am one," I said, holding her eyes so she'd understand, get down to it.
y…stepfather," she finally said, the last word a mucus–coated maggot. A dangerous, deadly maggot.
"He…had me. When I was a baby. When I was a girl. When I was a teenager. Now I'm away. But I'll never be free from him. I'll never have a boyfriend, never have a husband. I'll never have a baby–he burned me inside."
"There's people who can fix that. Therapists…"
Her eyes were corpses. "He burned me with a soldering iron. Right after I had my first period. He put it inside me and pushed the switch."
"What do you want?"
"I went to the police," she said, like she hadn't heard me. "They told me I came to them too late. Too much time had passed since the last time he had me. The statute of limitations, they said. He can't be prosecuted. So I went to a lawyer. He has money. I thought, if I could sue him, take his money, it would take his power. The lawyer told me I was too late too."
"The prosecutor, he was very kind. He told me I couldn't even get an Order of Protection. You can only get one if there's an ongoing criminal case. But he said if he…my stepfather…ever bothered me again, he'd lock him up. He said they know about him…from other things. He wouldn't tell me what."
"Would that be enough?"
"Nothing would ever be enough. For him to die, that wouldn't be enough. But if he could lose his power, if he could be in prison, that would…I don't know, give me a chance, maybe. To be free."
"What did you think I could do?"
"Hurt him," she whispered.
"Felonious assault, that's a big–time rap in this state. If you've got a record, you could pull twenty years inside."
"He has a record," she said.
"Rape. Before he married my mother. A long time ago. My mother didn't find out about it until much later. He told me first. When I was just a little girl. He raped a girl and he went to prison. He told me he'd never rape a girl again. He hated prison. That's why he married my mother. So he could do what he does and not go to prison again. He was like some kind of…gangster, maybe. He'd talk real hard on the phone sometimes. And other times, he'd grovel. Crawl on his knees to whoever was on the other end of the line. I heard him doing it once and he…hurt me very ugly that night."
I lit another smoke, watching her. "You want this bad?" "It's all I want," she said, holding my eyes.
Then I told her what it would cost.
e lived alone. In a nice house in the suburbs. Neighbors on both sides, but he had a high fence all around the property. Solid cedar. It wouldn't keep out an amateur.
A hard, slanting rain wasn't doing much to break the summer heat as I rang his bell just before midnight. No dog barked. We didn't expect any, not after a week of watching and waiting.
I didn't hear footsteps before he threw the door open. A big man, paunchy, hair combed to one side exaggerating the baldness he was trying to conceal. Wearing a white T–shirt over baggy black pants, barefoot.
I asked his name, holding my wallet open so he could see the police shield. He looked at it closely, eyes narrowing.
"You don't mind waiting outside, Sergeants So I can just call the precinct, make sure you're who you say you are?"
"No sir," I said, watching his expression change as he felt the pistol in his back.
I stepped inside, pushing him back gently with the palm of my hand. I tilted my hat back on my head, quickly pulling the brim down again as I saw his eyes flash to the dragon tattoo across my forehead. I gestured for him to turn around. Buddha showed him the .307 magnum, close enough so he could see the rounds in the cylinder. Buddha's face was covered with a dark stocking mask.
"Let's go into your study," I told the man.
We walked him down the carpeted hallway in a sandwich, took him over to his glass–topped desk, told him to sit down, make himself comfortable.
"You from Falconer?" he asked me.
I put my fingers to my lips, made a
"Look, you want money? I got…"
Buddha ground the tip of the pistol barrel deep into the man's ear. The man let out a yelp, then he was quiet.
I opened my satchel, taking the stuff out one piece at a time, letting him see what was going to happen. A pair of hand–cuffs, a hypodermic, a small bottle full of clear fluid with a Rat rubber top, surgical bandages, a Velcro tourniquet, some pressure tape, a mini–blowtorch. And a stainless steel butcher knife.
"Wh…what is this?"
"Just a job, pal," I told him. "Just earning my living. Don't worry, it won't hurt a bit…once I give you a shot of this stuff."
He watched as I stuck the hypo into the rubber–topped bottle, filled the syringe, pushed the plunger to check it was flowing smoothly. His face was a jelly of terror.
"Look, pal, you think I get any kick out of this' I'm not a sadist. Hey, I don't mind telling you the score. Woman comes to see me, says you did her real bad. Paid good money to take a piece out of you, even the score. Only thing, she's not a professional…wants me to bring her the proof."
"Proof?" The word slid out of his throat.
"Sure, pal. Proof. Couple a broken legs wouldn't satisfy this lady. She wants your hand. Your right hand."
"Look, pal, it don't make no difference to me. She paid full price for a body, you understand? She's paying the same for your hand she'd pay for your head. You just relax, do it the easy way. My man Fong's gonna cuff your hand fiat to the table, I'm gonna wrap this tourniquet around your arm, find a vein, shoot you up with this happy juice. You go W sleep. You wake up, you got one less hand. All nice and bandaged, better than they'd do it in a hospital." I hit the switch on the blowtorch. The hissing butane was the loudest sound in the room. I cracked a wooden match into life, fired the torch.
"What's that?" He was trembling so hard, it sounded like his mouth was full of pebbles.
"To cauterize the wound, pal. So you don't bleed to death."
"Hey, pal, what do you think I should use…a soldering iron?"
y the time he came to, we had him all strapped down and ready to go. Buddha had the tourniquet around his biceps, I was tapping his veins to make them stand out.
"Could I talk to you?" His voice was a practiced weasel–whine, begging, promising.
"Talk quick, pal," I told him.
"Look, you're professionals. Like you said, right? I mean…you got paid to do this, I could pay you more not to, okay' I mean, pay you right now. Whatever you want."
"You got thirty large in the house, pal?" I asked, sarcasm lacing my voice.
"I got it…I mean, it's not mine, exactly. That's why I thought you were from Falcone. But…I'll give it to you, make it right with him tomorrow. I mean, I got equity in the house, my cars…I can cover it, easy."
"Thirty larger? In cash?"
"Yeah, yeah. For real. I swear. Just let me…"
"Man, I don't know. We already took the broad's money."
"Come on. Please! You're a man. I didn't do anything to the bitch she didn't deserve. I mean…cutting off a man's hand, for god's sake…Take the money! My money's as good as hers."