ONE OF THE WICKED
A Mick Callahan Novel
Copyright © 2008 by Harry Shannon
All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.
First Printing: November 2008
For my best friend and AA sponsor Hal Cornelius, who died 28 years clean and sober back in 1991.
"Now am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than one of the wicked."
1, ii, 105
I have to thank Leya Booth, Ed Gorman, Joe Donnelly, Marty Greenberg, John Helfers, Pat Wallace, the staff at Five Star Publishing and of course my wife Wendy and my beloved daughter Paige.
I greatly appreciate the many folks who have taken the time to stop by my Web site atharryshannon.com
to say hello. Likewise all the booksellers, authors, fans and libraries that have helped spread the word about Mick Callahan and his exploits. As usual, nearly everything on these pages was either made up or deliberately distorted, all for my nefarious purposes. Rest assured that any errors are my own.
Midnight. The young man in the torn Armani suit ran through the desert sobbing like a schoolgirl. His name was Calvin, and he was barely twenty-four years old. He tripped and fell, rose again. The shadowy earth was an uneven mix of rocks and earth, dried sage and cactus. His Gucci shoes were tattered and full of sand.
Calvin risked a look back over his shoulder. He saw a small group of people watching from a flat rock, next to the giant red Hummer. The presence of one man in particular made his stomach roll. Calvin paused for a moment, bent forward sharply at the waist and spewed what was left of three shots of Skyy Vodka and a few cocktail sausages. Bright headlights pinned him there, alone on the pocked surface of a moon.
By the Hummer, someone said, "That is how a man drowns."
The voice was low and raspy, with only the faintest of accents, and it carried. The speaker was a huge man, nearly seven feet tall and very fit. His grey eyes were as clear and cold as those of a sled dog. He wore his hair in a buzz cut.
"What you mean, Nicky?" The blonde took a pull on her tepid bottle of Crystal. "I not understand."
Nikolaou Argetoianu spat at her feet. "Slut, you are in America. Learn to speak English."
The girl flinched. "I am sorry."
Nicky ignored her, cupped his hands and shouted, "Wait, Calvin, perhaps I have another deal for you. And then you do not have to die tonight. You are interested in this new deal?"
The terrified young man in the distance was still vomiting. Finally, he stood up a bit and waved one hand. He was interested all right.
"A man drowns because he panics," Nicky said to the girl, who hugged herself as if against a nonexistent cold. "He forgets the water will hold him up, and that most things work out when one stays calm. You see? Now, watch."
Nicky yanked the hunting rifle to his shoulder, aimed and fired. The silenced weapon emitted a muffled
sound, and a spray of earth appeared inches from the terrified runner's feet. The boy called Calvin jumped up, pinwheeled his arms, falling backwards into the sand like a snow angel.
"Listen to me," Nicky called. "I'll say this one last time. Are you listening, Calvin?"
Calvin sat alone in the sand, crying and praying. Finally he sat up, took a deep breath and forced himself to respond. "Please. Anything." Calvin hated the weakness in his voice almost as much as the urine staining the crotch of his expensive trousers.
"Oh, but of course you are frightened. This is because I killed your friend, yes? You must understand our position, Calvin. You two were scamming us. Mr. Big Paul Pesci cannot allow such a thing. He must remain a man of respect. So my superiors decided that something had to be done."
"Please don't kill me."
"Do not beg. Now stand up."
Calvin stood up.
"Walk this way." Nicky's voice became both gentle and firm. "And I promise we will not kill you."
The blonde took another step backwards, closer to the Hummer. "Nicky, I don't feel too good. Can I go lay down in the car, please?" She knew what that very sudden tone of kindness meant, and she suddenly wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else.
Nicky frowned, as if pondering something. He scratched his fashionable stubble. "I can never get this one thing straight, is it 'lie' or 'lay'?"
"No. Stay here, little bitch. And keep your mouth and legs shut until I ask you to open them again."
Nicky tossed the rifle to the third figure. "You, keep him covered." The muscular man named Lucky complied mutely. He glared down the scope and tracked Calvin. The rifle made a small red dot flicker on the kid's sweaty forehead.
"Calvin, I said come closer. Quickly."
The kid in the desert shivered like a man with the flu. His last shred of courage deserted him. He stumbled back toward the red Hummer.
Why did I let you talk me into this, Rudy? Why? We had enough money to go home; we didn't need more. Why did I let you get us caught?
Calvin kept his eyes on the ground but tripped anyway. He stared down at the shadowy dirt, forced himself back to his feet and kept walking.
Nicky cleared his throat. "As I was saying, your partner had to be executed. His disappearance will serve as a message to other grifters that it is most unwise to fuck with Big Paul Pesci. I take no pleasure in such things. Violence is one of the more unpleasant parts of my job, Calvin. It is an ugly necessity of life, nothing more."
Calvin was weaving like an extra in a zombie movie, but he was making progress. Nicky checked his watch. "Come on, hurry up."
The kid paused, perhaps twenty feet away. "What is it? What's the deal?"
Nicky sighed dramatically. He moved to the left a bit, so Lucky would have a clean shot, and stomped out into the dried sage. As Calvin watched the tall man approach, a stress flashback loosened his bowels. He saw his lover and partner screaming in terror.
"Where is it?"
"Where is the item that was with the cash?"
"What item? Please!"
"Disc? I don't know what you mean!"
"I think you do."
This seemingly amiable giant had clutched a screaming Rudy's hair in one hand, yanked that handsome face back, and used a saw-toothed hunting blade on the exposed throat. One clean swipe had nearly severed Rudy's shrieking head. A second cut had done so.
And then the man called Nicky had left Rudy to rot in the bloody sand and drove further out into the desert. He'd been toying with Calvin for at least thirty minutes now, ordering him to run around in circles, sniping at his feet with the hunting rifle, laughing good-naturedly.
Nicky closed the distance rapidly, boots snapping twigs and silencing insects. The night took on an even bigger chill.
Calvin raised a flat, thoroughly useless palm. "Stop right there."
The giant called Nicky grinned. He had long, white front teeth.
The better to eat you with, my dear
. "Relax, Calvin. As I said, I am here to offer you a deal."
Calvin pictured Rudy again. The pain, the blood. "I'll take it."
"No, no," the huge man said and chuckled. "You must hear me out first, and then decide."
Calvin cringed. "One option is you shoot me down?"
"Oh, no. Much worse."
"That's just great," Calvin sobbed. "Okay, then what's my other choice?"
Nicky reached into his pocket. He produced a small pair of garden clippers with wicked, shiny blades. Smiled. "You carry a message for us."
"We do not like wasting our time on something as mundane as locating stolen property. We have better things to do, you see. But we will not rest until this item has been returned to us, yes?"
"We didn't know. We thought it was just money. Just money."
"Oh, it was much more than just money, my friend."
"This fucking disc you keep asking about? I never saw it. We don't know anything about that . . ."
"Okay, here is the deal. I want a message to reach whoever holds our property. The disc. Perhaps then he will send it back and save us all a great deal of pain, time, and trouble."
The boy wailed in terror and misery. "What do you want from me?"
"Nothing much, my little thief." Nicky clicked the garden clippers. He showed large, white teeth. "Just hold out your fingers."
"I know who I am," the new client said. His voice cracked. He lowered his head and rubbed the left knee of his new slacks like a fortune teller struggling to get an image from a crystal ball. "This can't be happening."
Clearly it was happening, so I couldn't offer much in the way of reassurance. He was battling himself, close to tears, so I just sat back in my chair and opted to wait him out. Sometimes silence works better than words. In fact, it can be a counselor's best friend. Ticking seconds rapidly gain weight and a minute creates a black hole in the universe.
It takes a lot of effort to repress and divert those pesky emotions we'd all rather not have to examine. They want to express themselves. Don't believe me? Just turn off that television and take away alcohol and drugs and sex and spending and gambling and eating and exercising and all those expensive hobbies and fetishes and obsessions and your deeper feelings have a way of rising to the top. Handle them. Piece of cake, right?
Quentin was a slight man with short grey hair. He'd turned fifty years old and lost both of his parents in an automobile accident within the same year. Quentin had been married twenty-four years. He and his wife Suzanne had three children; a daughter in middle school; a boy who played high school football; and the oldest son, who was now in college studying law. Quentin had followed a beloved uncle into the film business, and was currently producing and distributing documentary films and DVDs. He was miserable, despite being rich, active in his church, and dedicated to his family, or at least he claimed to be. He was also three weeks into a hot and heavy extramarital affair.
Despite my second career hosting talk shows, I still get most of my clients through personal referrals. It's not difficult to keep the two occupations separate. To me, they are two very different worlds. Show business is a job, counseling my vocation. Doing radio and television just lets me make enough money to offer a sliding scale that goes from a hundred and fifty dollars an hour down to free. I do the pro bono stuff, mostly chemical dependency, on my own time.
My poor client Quentin was tied up in emotional knots and grappling with the decision of a lifetime. Finally, I gave him a nudge.
"This must be a very painful choice."
Quentin's tired eyes overflowed. He touched the tear on his right cheek with two fingers and sobbed. I weighed the possibility of leaning forward to touch his hand, but it didn't seem necessary. He was probably integrating the situation and beginning to accept responsibility. That would be step one in the long process of properly dealing with a rather large mistake.
Let it be.
I glanced out the window, where a light breeze moved a row of patterned green leaves across a pavement damp from sprinklers. Spring was inching into a long, hot summer. I'd been in Los Angeles for almost a year. I was back on the radio, although my job wasn't secure. This was what I'd fought hard to achieve, but now that I had something of an entertainment career and a practice again I found myself longing to be back in Nevada. Doing what? I had no idea. I've always been restless and maybe more than a little crazy.
As if reading my mind, Quentin raised his head. His mouth turned down at the corners like in a clown painting. "Do we ever really know ourselves?"
I weighed my response. "I can offer you a personal, highly subjective opinion. Like most great truths, the answer is probably yes and no. We don't really know ourselves but can figure a lot out by cool and steady observation."
"Mr. Callahan, I never thought this could happen to me."
"Mick. A friend of mine says your conscious mind may be on a diet, but your unconscious will keep stopping for a cheeseburger and fries."