We’re deep into Bishop’s life here, just over the middle point I’d say. It’s also close to the end of Batista’s involvement in things too. Not totally, no, as the Detective still helps out from time to time, just not as he had. His retreat gives way to Jeramiah’s rise, who, for all intents and purposes, ensures Bishop gets to finish what he’d started and the bodies, they continue to stack like wood. Fun fact: I had no idea I’d created Jeramiah when I had, the man (then a boy) just a throwaway line from a story I wrote years earlier. As I’ve always said: it is SO weird where stories come from.
RUIN AND PAIN
A month after Keeko Reyes rearranges my insides I’m still pissing blood.
“Might be time to change the way we go about things, Rider. Last time I checked, neither of us is getting any younger.” Batista wasn’t wrong, not about this. It would take some doing, sure, but if we meant to continue, it had to be done.
“First tell me about Fontane. We get him in order, you, me, and options can go have a nice long talk at a restaurant of your choosing. We can even do your hair.” The detective smiles at that, a surly little thing. I’d seen it before. I’d see it again. What I didn’t plan on ever seeing again was a man named Fontane.
“Looks like the son believes he can continue from where the father left off,” Batista says. Drug running. Extortion. A list the length of both my arms. Him being here now, coming home, could only mean one thing: Time for someone else to bleed.
And bleed he did, on almost the exact spot I’d taken a five-iron to his father’s inner ear.
“Wait! Just…wait.” He’s on his knees, his hands above him like he’s holding up a piano. Built like his father, dressed like his father, his face displays the same blockish shape. “I know how you work. I heard. I give you somebody better, someone who might be into kids, you let me walk, right?” The kid was serious too, what he was saying akin to what he believed to be a full-fledged plan.
I drop the nine-iron, move forward and put holes in his legs until he realizes the information he’d been given was wrong. No one walks. Not when kids were involved.
Not even close.
What he ultimately gives me pans out, his info leading us to a bungalow off Canal. More stone than wood, with a wide front porch, it stands in one of the safer parts of Culver. Families just above the poverty lived here now, the ones who still believed. It was mid-October, chilly, the wind from behind kicking up like boots wrapped in gauze. I can’t say this had anything to do with what I find, but I can tell you it has everything to do with how I respond.
Over a three-day period I watch one woman and four different men come and go. Another man is involved—jean jacket and tatts—but him I see only as he lets the others in through the front door. What I also see is a delivery service, Buttenham’s Pizza, two out of the first three nights I keep watch. The kid who brings the pizza can’t be more than twenty, the Buttenham’s jacket he wears the same dried-blood color as his cap. I concentrate on him, a plan forming, as I couldn’t risk going in, not without knowing all of the parties involved. Isn’t until night four, when Buttenham’s returns, that it slides into place.
The kid was the key.
Also, as Batista suggested: it might be time to change the way we’d been doing things.
“Phenobarbital. Horse tranq. I’m playing kind of loose with the dosage, but sixty milligrams spread out should send these fuckers somewhere south of tomorrow afternoon.” Batista hands me the powder, pauses, and then wishes me well.
“Just be ready with the van,” I say, realizing more than ever that I’d gotten a very bad feeling somewhere along the way.
I dump the delivery vehicle in the river and walk the remaining three blocks. The jacket’s a tight fit, same with the hat, but it would have to do. Dissolving, the phenobarbital is evenly spread over the two pizzas I carry. Once inside, depending on when and how fast they eat, I’d have access within the hour.
It’s then we’d see what’s up. It’s then I’d decide how to proceed.
I give it another hour just to be sure.
Inside I hear nothing but a TV turned up loud. The place is immaculate, filled with high end furniture I’d expect elsewhere. Hardwood floors and wainscoting throughout. I find jean jacket and tatts at the kitchen table, face- down in a slice of pizza. Beside him is the woman and beside her, another man.
I continue on, deeper, toward the back of the house. Downstairs now, I walk into a fully finished rec room. Foosball. Ping-Pong. Big screens. On one couch is another drugged piece of scum. To his left, on the carpet, lay shitbird number five. Farther on, I hear what I hoped I would not, the cries hitting me like cinder blocks through to the back of my gut. I pause, one second, two, and the cries become louder, adamant. Another room. And then another. This one has sex swings hanging from the ceiling and cameras on tripods positioned toward all three. At the back of this room, in rows, are three cribs and the sixth man passed out in front.
I shake my head. There is no god.
Batista hands me the bag and I hand him the infant. Two more children are passed off and he grabs me by the fore-arm. “Make them suffer,” he says. This and nothing more.
It takes nine hours to complete, even with the bone saw. And it’s all on the cameras they already had in place. I cut. I fasten. I tie off and cauterize. I also lose jean jacket and tatts to the process, nicking his femoral artery early in the reduction. Before me lay piles of arms, piles of legs. In front of these rest eyes, now more like marbles with tails than anything. Twelve of each, thirty-six in total, and infinitely dryer than when I began. Save the one I lost, the owners are naked and leaking, leaning against one another on one of the bigger couches I’d brought in from the adjacent room. They weren’t awake yet, but I planned on letting the cameras roll.
Someone would come soon. Either to see why no new product had come their way, or just to see what was up. It didn’t matter. What did matter is what I say, there as I finish up. “Don’t come back.” From one monster to another the language would not get lost, not with people whose only currency is pain, their only goal, ruin.
It’s why I offer them my name, why I suggest they try and find me before I found them.
I force myself to breathe.
Two months later. Christmas Eve and I move from the back page to the front page as soon as the video is leaked.
“Look how it’s been cut though,” Jeramiah is right. Whoever released it doctored it down to how they wanted it to appear. I do not speak in this version, not as I had when it was being taped. Gone are the cribs as well, cropped from view. It looks exactly as it should, the impression they’re going for blending with the perspective they require. The thing about perspective, though, when you pair it with the right set of eyes, not everyone blinks. Especially when most of the people in this world choose to keep their heads in the sand. “I mean, what do they gain by putting it out there like this?” Good question.
The better one being: what don’t they?
I have a feeling it’s an inside job, even before Jeramiah confirms the link. “Idiot used his wife’s credit card to buy the cribs. Four at one time. People and their points. Christ.” Jeramiah is the flipside to his father, more light than dark, but I still have a hard telling him I appreciate what he does. We couldn’t have done half the shit we have without his intel and cash. Wasn’t always this way either, was worse, in fact, and for some reason I fought him hardest after he replaced my leg. Stupid. All of it. Batista finally persuades me with four little words: he’s not his father. Man had me there. Still does.
“Daughter lives across town. O’Bannon and his wife the only ones who occupy the house. I suggest dosing her before you begin your talk. Good?”
They say not everyone is crooked. I believe otherwise. Wired from birth, we all lean toward what we desire most. It’s how far people are willing to go to bend the rules that starts the slide. The strongest of us can recover from this, stopping well before we’ve reached the ledge. The ones who can’t stop is where the trouble lies. Their desires turning to justification when it comes to hurting—or the possibility of hurting—others along the way.
From a sitting position in his bed Detective Sergeant Sid O’Bannon speaks this almost verbatim. Almost bald, nose like a blade, he keeps stealing looks at the missus, even though I have assured her safety.
“You think I wanted this? These men do not take no for an answer.” I hated his voice. I hated his face. But what I hated more was envisioning the questions he would have had to entertain to even get where he was. Courtesy of the butt end of my Glock, I share this displeasure.
“Fucking Christ! I’m talkin’! I’m sitting here and talkin’!”
“Tell me why you leaked the video.”
“Scared. Pissed. Take your pick. You guys end up fighting amongst yourselves, maybe I slip through the cracks. You’re a hard man to kill, Rider. An even harder one to catch.” Figured it had to be someone with access on the inside. Was never going to be anything but, not with how it went down.
“I don’t—” I didn’t care for don’ts. Never have. A little bit more steel informs him of this.
“Christ—c’mon!” And then he quiets down, resigned-like, sleeve up and under his nose to stem the flow. “They’re watching me. Some are middle eastern. More of them are white. They send me pictures of my wife and daughter every seven days, right to my phone. I told you: they are the hardest fucks I have ever seen and I’ve seen nowhere near the top.”
Bingo. Second floor. Everybody out. The downside was that O’Bannon stayed topside longer than he deserved. Didn’t mean he couldn’t go unscathed; a hard push down a short flight of stairs being the best I could manage. It left him as I needed him: functional. For a little while, at least. After that, who knows. Maybe I bring back a blowtorch. Maybe we begin where I left off.
Time would tell.
I choose O’Bannon’s daughter. I feel she is the easier mark. Three days later I snap a hard-looking black man snapping pictures of Christine O’Bannon as she exits Dal’s Gym and Fitness. She’s short, in sweats, her ponytail whipping as she walks. He’s thick, down low, almost coiled in his seat.
When he’s done, I follow him. It makes for a long day. Here and there, pick-ups and drop-offs. When he stops at an IHOP off the 1-5 I park beside his side of the car and await his return. When we get to it, he’s difficult, like a snake sporting bones. But the element of surprise sees me through. It’s only later, after the business end of a claw hammer makes its way through most of his right knee that I come to understand just how hard this man really is.
All men break though.
I bring out the sledge.
He gives me a slip number and not much more. It’s enough.
The water is calm, cold, and darker than the night. The yacht is called the Rabbit Hole. Massive, it’s eighty feet at least, and I hear the festivities long before I make my way back. I’d been there earlier, setting up charges, ensuring what had to be done, placing them below the water line, FRONT TOWARD ENEMY, every ten feet the entire way round the hull of the ship.
The night would light. Blood would rain. Flesh would burn.
I get their attention, unload the AK. Women scream, men return fire. I think: you lay with the devil, you become the devil. But I end it before it begins and make good on my promise, which had been omitted from the tape.
I told them not to come back. What I failed to realize was this: perhaps they never left.
Either way, this would do one of two things. I’m prepared for both.
BEAU JOHNSON lives in Canada with his wife and three boys. He has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the Molotov Cocktail. Besides writing, Beau enjoys golfing, pushing off Boats and certain Giant Tigers.