Authors: Eoin Colfer
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Humorous, #Thrillers, #General, #FIC016000, #FIC050000, #FIC031000
Option B sounds less immediately terminal than the others. Seems too easy though: Deliver a package to a guy who can be a little touchy?
A little touchy. I bet that’s the understatement of the century.
This is bullshit.
Mike is probably setting me up as the biggest fall guy in history. I could end up looking dumber than those Trojan guys who towed a hollow wooden horse into their until recently besieged city, gave the sentries a night off and had themselves a drunken orgy. On the plus side I probably wouldn’t stay dumb for long as a swift death would surely be hot on the tail of the dawning dumbness.
“No, Mike. Screw that. I’ll take my chances right now. Why don’t we do a death match scenario kind of thing? I’ll take your boys two at a time.”
Mike reaches into his pocket and pulls out a baggie of cocaine, which he pours onto his palm and licks right off there, like a donkey chowing down on sugar.
“I gotta have something to take the edge off,” he says after a minute of zone-out. “Otherwise, laddie. I would just kill you and fuck it. You think I don’t know you’re crapping bullets? You can give me lip until Judgment Day, but the truth is you’re scared and that’s a smart way to feel right now.”
Shit. Cocaine seems to have smartened Mike up.
“Yeah, I’m scared, but I ain’t jumping outta this frying pan to put out your fire. I need more details. What’s in the package? How do I know this Shea guy won’t shoot me on the spot?”
“I could deliver the package, Mr. Madden,” says Calvin, eager to claw his way back up the popularity ladder after the opera-toonity giggle.
Mike rubs his eyes with stubby thumbs. “No, Calvin. You’re my guy and I need you here. Shea is a live wire, so I need a peacekeeper.” He looks at me. “You’re a peacekeeper, ain’t you, McEvoy?”
Mike pulls an envelope from the drawer, takes out its contents and fans the sheaf on the table.
“Bearer bonds, McEvoy. Two hundred thousand dollars’ worth. These are better than cash. I owe this guy Shea, and this is how he wants to be paid. These little bastards are fifty years old and have seen more blood than the Bay of Pigs, and yet they are squeaky clean and easier to transport than money. I want you to take these bonds and deliver them to Mr. Shea at this SoHo hotel in the middle of the day. Simple as that. You do this one thing without any more of your wiseass bullshit and I will consider you twenty-five percent outta the hole.”
“Twenty-five percent, bullshit,” I say. “Make it fifty.”
“Sure,” says Mike with a curling grin. “Fuck it, fifty.”
Damn, I got played by Mike Madden.
“And what if I turn down your offer?”
“You know what.”
“Tell me. Spell it out, we ain’t got no wires in here, do we?”
Mike licks the wrinkles in his palm and I see for the first time that the man is honestly grieving, in his own twisted way. When some guys are feeling blue they can’t feel better until everyone else feels worse.
“If you don’t do this for me I’m gonna do something to you, or that nutcase Sofia that you got under your wing, or maybe that partner of yours. I don’t know. Something. I can’t really think about it now, but it will be totally out of proportion, violence-wise, to what you are owed. Nothing is more certain except those bearer bonds.” Mike’s pupils focus to pinholes. “So you guard those bonds like your life depended on it.”
Which of course it does.
He doesn’t need to say it, I can infer.
Y DAY JUST GOT A WHOLE LOT MORE COMPLICATED AND
I can’t help feeling that a large percentage of that is down to the poison chalice of friendship with Dr. Zebulon Kronski. But my own mouth has gotta shoulder some responsibility too. Every time I have a face-to-face with Mike, I find myself back talking and slinging zingers. When I get too anxious it’s like my mouth runs independently of my mind, which is shriveling like a cut of meat on a hot rock. Simon Moriarty, my sometime shrink, commented on this tendency during one of our sessions when I’d made a stab at humor to gloss over my shell shock.
“You have two problems, Sergeant McEvoy.” He told me as I stood by the window looking out over the quad.
“Only two,” I remember saying. “We are getting somewhere.”
“You see that’s one of your problems right there. All the chatter. The verbal diarrhea.”
“Verbal diarrhea gives me the shits,” my mouth said.
Simon clapped his hands. “There it is again. The technical name for this tic is denial. You use it as a coping mechanism.”
“Denial. That word is too complicated for a lowly sergeant, Doctor.”
“Once upon a time you were vaguely amusing, but now you’re wasting your own time.”
I relented. “Okay, Simon. Tell me.”
“Denial is a classic defense mechanism. It protects the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. So the patient will basically refuse to believe that he is experiencing stress, and I imagine you crack wise in any stressful situation without even realizing it. The more dangerous the situation, the more smart-assed you get.”
I mulled this over. It was undeniably true that I often shot off my mouth and hit myself in the foot. I had thought this was bravado, something for other people to grudgingly admire.
Something occurred to me. “Hey, Doc. You said I had a second problem?”
“You planning on telling me?”
Simon scooted to the window on his office chair and lit a cheroot, blowing the smoke outside.
“Your second problem is that you’re not very funny, and the only way people are going to tolerate a smart-ass is if he’s amusing.”
This wounded me. I had always quietly thought myself reasonably witty.
Zeb is in the corridor begging Manny to hit him in the stomach.
“Come on, man, punch me,” he urges, yanking up his shirttails to reveal a stomach with about as much definition as a bag of milk. “Just do it. I’ve been working out with the Zoom Overmaster Trainer to the Stars DVDs. You couldn’t hurt me if you tried. These abs are like rocks.”
I can see Manny Booker’s brain going into meltdown. People do not usually ask to be assaulted, and yet hurting people is what he is employed to do. I put them both out of their misery by jabbing Zeb in the solar plexus on my way past. He collapses in a breathless ball and I can’t say that I don’t grin a little.
“You should ask for a refund on those DVDs, Zeb,” I say, still walking, which must look pretty cool if anyone’s filming.
I’m tempted to stop and watch Zeb writhe on the carpet, but it’s enough that I can hear him retch.
I am two blocks away before he draws level with me in his Prius. Someone told Zeb that Leonardo drives a Prius and that was it.
“What the fuck, Irish? You are testing our friendship.”
I keep walking. You can’t enter into a debate with Zeb Kronski or it will drive you demented. All the same, I can’t help thinking what I would reply.
I’m testing our friendship? Me? Because of you I’m delivering a mystery envelope to a touchy guy in SoHo. Because of you I am involved, yet again, in a life-or-death situation. The life being mine and also probably the death.
“I thought we were a team, Dan. Semper fi, bro.”
Semper fi, my Irish arse. He was a medic with the Israeli army, I was a peacekeeper for the UN. Not a Marine between us.
I stride down the block and he cruises alongside like a john.
“Is this about Mike’s old lady? Okay, I was getting in good there, man, but at a later date I was gonna bring you in to lay some emerald pipe. I was doing it for both of us.”
I grit my teeth. Really? Both of us? So how come I’ve got this envelope in my pocket and you’re off to inject Jersey housewives’ faces with cheap Chinese filler? Doesn’t seem fair.
Zeb lights a fat cigar and fills the Toyota’s interior with blue smoke. “I was thinking long term. I shoot Mike’s bitches up for a couple of years and then we’re golden. How was I to know Mrs. Madden would get herself electro-fuckin’-cuted?”
A couple more blocks, then I’m at the casino and Zeb will find himself barred from Slotz.
“I can’t believe you hit me,” says Zeb, who never could stay penitent for long. “I thought you were my bobeshi.”
I am starting to believe that Zeb comes out with these incredibly dense statements just to trick me into engaging. If it is a ploy, it works every time.
I take two rapid steps to the Prius’s window. “You can’t believe I hit you?” I shout, drawing looks from the clusters of midmorning cigarette-break employees on the sidewalk. “You were begging to be hit. You lifted up your shirt, for Christ’s sake.”
“I wasn’t begging to be hit by you,” argues Zeb. “That other guy was a jelly roll. My abs coulda taken a shot from him.”
I change tack. “And bobeshi?” I say, slapping the Toyota with my palm. “Really?”
“Hey,” says Zeb. “Take it easy on the car. Have you got something against the environment?”
“I’m a feckin’ Irish Catholic and even I know bobeshi means grandmother. I’m your grandmother now?”
Zeb is unrepentant. “Patients like the Yiddish, so I throw it in every now and then. Makes me seem wise or some shit. I was just going for the family vibe, like we’re brothers. I’m more of a Hebrew guy to be honest, Dan. Is that what this whole sulk is about? I don’t know Yiddish?”
It’s a goddamn maze arguing with this guy. Like trying to hold onto an eel, if you’ll excuse me mangling my metaphors.
I rest on the car for a moment, feeling it thrumming gently through my forehead, then I straighten.
“Okay. Go home, Zeb.”
“Are we good?”
“Yeah. Golden. Whatever. Just forget it.”
Zeb flicks ash onto the asphalt. “What about my accent?”
I’m beaten now, he knows it. “Your accent?”
“You said my Irish accent was bad. I worked on that, man. I watched Far and Away twice.” He screws up his face for a Tom Cruise impersonation. “You’re a corker, Shannon,” he lilts. “What a corker you are.”
I feel like heaving on the sidewalk. I could be dead by nightfall and this dick is nursing a bruised ego.
“That’s good,” I say for peace sake. “Uncanny.”
Zeb’s eyes find the middle distance. “I coulda played the shit out of that role.”
“Maybe they’ll do a reboot,” I say.
I know this term because Zeb and I spend a lot of our free time, as two single middle-aged bucks, watching TV. How cool and edgy is that? Most of our references are pop culture and our favorites at the moment are old episodes of the egregiously canceled shows Terriers and Deadwood.
Whores get fuckin’.
Why the hell would anyone cancel Deadwood? If that guy ever comes into my club he better have the viewing figures in his pocket.
Zeb perks up. “Reboot. Fuckin’ A.”
“Fuckin’ A,” I agree wearily.
Seeing it all ahead of him, Zeb guns the Prius and shoots off down the street at the speed of a four-year-old on roller skates, and I wonder not for the first time whether my life would be less pathetic without him in it.
At the raggedy end of Cloisters’ nightclub alley sits Slotz. My kingdom.
About two steps up from a bordello. Most nights.
I won the lease for this place in a poker game a few months back, so I reckoned I might as well occupy the apartment that sits on top of it seeing as I’m already paying for it. The previous leaseholder lived elsewhere but kept the apartment up as what he tenderly referred to as a fuck pad. You can bet your last nickel that I brought in a team of industrial cleaners to steam the shit out of that place before I moved in, but I held on to the waterbed and a Jacuzzi, which is coin operated if you can believe that. I bet if Mike knew about the Jacuzzi coin box he’d want a slice of that too. I realize protection is a necessary evil, but these guys don’t seem to realize that there is a recession on.
Zeb is not sold on the whole Jacuzzi idea.
Fucking jizz pools, he informed me one night when he actually scored a classy lady in the club and I gallantly offered the two of them a handful of change for a whirl in my deluxe power bath. What do you think goes on under those bubbles? And how often do you clean the pipes? That pearly gunk has probably made its way into the water system by now. We’re all down here chugging down some guy’s tadpoles, smacking our lips and saying yum yum.
I guess you don’t have to be smart to be a doctor.
I try to stay positive about Slotz but it’s hard because of the specter of shitholery hanging over the joint. This place has been a dump for a decade and a craphole for twenty years before that, but we’re trying to change things. Me and my business partner Jason Dyal.
Jason is doing most of the work, to give the guy credit. Jason has been a revelation and a godsend. And if that reads a little over the top, it’s because Jason is gay and I tend to overdo the praise thing just to show how cool I am with that. I get embarrassed when he starts bandying around words like queer and homo, but he says he’s been holding it in for so long that he feels entitled to queer it up a little now.
I’m a queen in a safe environment, Danny, he told me a couple of months back. So you’re getting an eyeful of the real me.
Fag away, I said, trying to get into the swing, which stopped him dead in his tracks.
I’ve stayed out of the swing since then.
So anyways, Jason has been my partner for several years since we started bouncing this place. I always knew he was a tough-as-nails kind of guy, but I did not know that he also had natural business acumen and could handle a toolkit, which is not a euphemism. I stood in a porch with the guy for the best part of a decade through the rain and snow holding doors for addicts and perverts and knew damn all about him. Then again, he knew the square root of damn all about me. But now that we’re business partners we got a stake in each other’s future, so mutual trust has entered the equation. This feels good on a day-to-day basis, but it the long term it’s bad, because now Mike has someone else to punish for my sins.
So that’s Sofia, my kinda girlfriend on her good days.
Dr. Zeb, my peacetime buddy from the Lebanon war zone.
And Jason, my tool-swinging business partner.