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Chapter 10 - Now Taking Requests

Posted in By Aiden Cobb 1 comments

            Aiden wanders through his mind like a Scotland Yard detective through London fog. Something is missing. That crucial piece of the puzzle that always eludes. What the hell is he looking for?
           He lays on the couch and stares at the ceiling. It helps him unravel events but there isn't much to go on. Dammit.

            Reaching into his pocket he takes out his cellphone. Punching a few buttons he raises it to his ear.

            “Yeah, whadaya want?” the voice is raspy.

            “Hey Dennis.”

            “My man! How's it going? Is it true that happened last night?”


            He chuckles. “I laughed my ass off, man. I wish I coulda seen it.”

            “Do you know if Cory got the info for me?”

            “Hold on, wait a moment.” He then hears him calling for his nephew. “Gimme a sec. I'll go back to his computer.”

            Dennis whistles something that sounds like an off-key version of “White Room” by Cream. He has more bootleg Clapton stuff than a normal person should. Then again, Dennis is not known to be normal.

            Aiden listens intently as a pen drops to the floor and Dennis shuffles through papers; closing his eyes it isn't difficult to envision what Dennis is doing or where he is. A drawer opens and closes. “I'm looking.” Aiden imagines Dennis rummaging around Cory's computer, probably in the back room of the store.

            “Take your time.” Aiden rubs his face.

            “Let's see... some funky letters and numbers. That might be it. Says it's worth... I'm trying to make it out.”

            A pause.

            “Holy shit, Aiden. That's a lot for a fuckin' disc. I should get into the movies.”

            A cool million. All this over a one followed by six zeros.

            “It looks like... there's a buyer here. Now it makes sense.”

            “What?” Aiden replies.

            “He was askin' me this morning how to get over to ten-four-oh-one Westport Road. Why do I...?”

            Thad's address. Aiden had not imagined Cory making a deal with Thad. How did Cory plan on getting the disc?

            “I know where he's going.”

            “Oh.” Dennis isn't pressing the matter.

            “Thanks, Dennis. Stay safe.”

            “You too, man.”

            Aiden cuts the call. Peeling himself off the couch he ambles over to the bookcase. He searches in his pocket and pulls out Veronica's number, dialing it.

            “How did I know it was going to be you?”

            She has that smoky, erotic voice that makes every orifice in your body stand at attention. Aiden imagines the brick wall like that one old black and white movie Steven made him watch. The one about all the identical kids born in a town trying to take it over.

            “You knew how to find me. Maybe you're psychic, too.”

            His fingers feel against the spines of the books. “Dune,” by Frank Herbet. “On the Road,” by Jack Kerouac. “The Stand” by Stephen King.

            “Maybe. What can I do you for, Aiden?” The cat wants to play.

            “I've been doing some thinking...”

            “So have I. Are you gonna play dice?”

            “Yeah,” his attention stops at a book. The book. “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” “But there's a slight snag.”

            “Isn't there always?” She says it in that old-time pretentious movie starlet way; a diva whose life is surrounded by expected disappointment.

            “There's these two cops...” Touching the book feels like caressing a bottle of poison. He doesn't know why he has it, nor why he keeps it, but he can't just throw it away, either.

            “Bensinger and Elliot? You're a hired killer, what's the problem?”

            “Fucks up the ecosystem if I do anything. I just need a favor.” He needs to figure out why he still had it. A worn and faded cover hugs the pulp inside still trapped in the musty smell of the used bookseller.

            “And what do I get in return?” Her fingertips tapped against the phone.

            He pauses. “A blank check for services.”

            “Anything I want?” A purr could almost be heard inside her voice.

            “Anything in reason.” Reason suggests he throw the book out. Reason suggests that when you get a snakebite you don't go back to pet the snake again.

            “Hmmm...” her voice curls.

            “I'll let your imagination do the talking.” He's used that one a million times.

            “What services do you need?” The idea becomes more attractive to her. Maybe brighter-colored yarn.

            He pulls the book back, rocking it on its spine. “Send some of your low-level guys to watch out for me. B and E get to me, it could be a while before you get anything, especially from me.”

            He hears smoke blow against the receiver. “I'll see what I can do.”

            “So will I.” He pushes a button and the call ends. Taking the book with his hand he turns the spine against the wall and pushes it back in, wedging it between Hemingway's “The Sun Also Rises,” and Stephen King's, “The Gunslinger.” Reason dictates that he has to purge the book from the collection but for the moment it stands against the crowd.

Chapter 9 - Naked March

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            His eyes adjust to the dim room. She's not in bed with him. No sweat, he thinks, could be in the bathroom. Speaking of which he needs to go.

            Pulling the covers to the side he rolls off the bed and lumbers to the bathroom. He flips the switch.

            “Dammit,” he murmurs. It doesn't matter how toned-down the walls are to white light, it still fuckin' kills your eyes.

            He catches the quick whiff of something. Mary Jane. Glancing down the sink has black ashes surrounding a small part of the rim. This really pisses him off; not that she did it, but left ashes behind. He could almost kill her for doing it.

            Not that it matters; it's almost over anyway. Aiden knew the signs: kisses taste different. Her body reacts as if he's a stranger. Sex becomes a chore. The sheen there in the beginning is now gone. Body chemistry is a good indication of how someone really feels and he has been around enough times to know. 

            Where is she? Piss first, answer questions later. Aiming for the center he's certain that any moment she will roam by and disappear into the bedroom. The last drop hits the inner bowl. Not  happening.

            Reach under the sink. Pull out the gun with the silencer. Either he's going to scare the shit outta her or kill someone. Or both.

            Flicking the switch off he walks into the bedroom. No one there. He turns right and heads into the living room.

            Masking his steps he treads lightly across the carpet. It seems almost funny to him, like a scene in a movie where you're watching the guys doing a heist who don't notice the police are watching them do it. It's a lot like that if you subbed in a blond for the bumblers and a half-wake hitman for the cops.

            There in her panties and his white shirt she crouches against the safe, bent down trying to crack it holding a mini-flashlight with her teeth and pacing a stethoscope next to the combination lock. The whole thing is damn hilarious.
             He cocks the hammer behind her head and she nearly jumps. Actually the mini-flashlight drops out of her mouth and she turns as she stands up and seriously looks like she's about to shit a brick.
             “Oh my God! It's you!” She puts her hand over her heart to either fake a heart attack or calm her heart down. “What the fuck are you doing sneakin' up on me like that?”

            “I don't know, babe. What the fuck are you doing trying to crack a safe in the middle of the night?”

            The words are unimportant because every sentence has that backpedaling sound to it. Every truth nestles itself between two lies and becomes exponential to the point of migraine. An acceptable answer would've been “Re-enacting a scene from 'Starsky and Hutch.'”

            He keeps the gun pointed and stays a few steps away until she  finishes explaining whatever she's saying. Again, more gibberish and not even an acceptable answer. He knows the answer; sometimes, it's just wanting to hear someone say it.

            “How bad, babe?” He has that serious look.

            “I dunno. I mean... I don't know...” She runs her fingers through her hair.

            “Did you think the lucky lotto number was in there?”

            “Is it? Because that would be...”

            He raises the gun a little. “Let's talk about Thad.”

            “I only met the guy once...”

            “Enough to get you all stopped-up?”

            She bites her lip and fakes thought. “Well, if Steven had delivered on what he promised, I wouldn't be in this mess! He promised me he had one of the most priceless things ever, and it's...”

            Aiden shakes his head back and forth. “Not in there, baby.”

            A moment of silence.

            “Take my shirt off.”

            She reaches for his arms. He presses the silencer into her chest.

            “No. My shirt. The one you're wearing. Take it off.”

            She slowly takes off the shirt, letting it drop to the floor. Quickly she grabs her upper arms and holds tight.

            “Walk to the door.”

            Her eyes grow big. She doesn't want to believe what he's suggesting.

            “Now!” he snaps in clipped speech.

            Tears stream down her eyes; he doesn't care if she cries all night. She walks to the front door and stops.

            “Open the door and go outside.”

            Her hand shaking she turns the knob and opens the door. A snap of air hits and a shiver runs through her body. The silencer nudges her lower back.

            “Go down the staircase and across the the parking lot.”

            “What?!?” She faces him. “I'm fucking freezing!”

            “I'll give you one second before you imagine the words 'bullet' and 'brain.'”

            Shivering and pissed, she turns and walks down the staircase to the parking lot. The steps are cold and aren't getting any warmer. Her left foot touching pavement is enough incentive to run across the lot.

            It's a sight for anyone watching from the windows:  a guy in boxer shorts with a silencer gun targeting a naked woman in her panties. Aiden gets some amusement out of it.

Chapter 8 - Bigger Fish

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Nothing from his handler. Nothing.

No new job. No assignments. No return e-mails. Nothing.

He only uses his computer for keeping in contact with his handler and assignment info. That's all. Afterwards he deletes all applicable info.

Why is his handler out of contact? He came back into town to lie low for a bit but now needs an assignment. Something to happen. He needs to get out of town again but that doesn't look to be happening anytime soon.

Aiden heard the knock on the door and walks over to the peephole. Looking through it Tony stands on the other side, looking both directions to make sure no one else is watching him or paying any attention. In the city hundreds of people could watch something but still not see it. It all matters on the price of an opinion.

He watches as Tony leans into the door, grabbing the doorknob to jimmy the lock. The lock inside is coerced and he turns the knob.

“SMACK!” as Aiden pulls the door open with his right hand and smashes Tony with his left.

Tony flies backwards and hits the walkway ass-first. The downside to not having a sense of hearing? Not being able to listen through the metal door to know that Aiden is waiting on the other side.

“Whuhthefuck man?!?”

Aiden stands in the doorway and looks down at the parking lot where two guys, big fuckers, look back up at him. 

He could take them on but a guy like Tony never comes with brute force. He must've brought some company.

“Get the fuck up, Tony.”

Tony knows what's said without reading lips. He scrambles over and props himself against the railing. The two guys remain standing there, dark clothing, sunglasses and all, staring up at Aiden. The world suddenly grows cold like he just stepped into an old Western movie.

Aiden closes the door behind him. Pointing down at Tony he says, “Stay,” before rounding the staircase down to the lot.

One of the guys, the one on the left, takes out his cellphone and punches a few buttons while keeping his other hand on the gun. These guys are pro, alright. Aiden walks toward him as a limousine pulls up.

Before the door opens, before the limo even stops, Aiden knows the occupant. Veronica. That's all anybody really knows about her. How she and Tony got acquainted Aiden doesn't understand but he has a hunch.

The door opens and her legs uncross as her body turns. Aiden soaks it in from her fuck-me heels, up her strong legs, to her French-tipped fingernails, to her smooth arms, and up and down the work of art she is, all wrapped in million-dollar jewelry. A major league player in the drug racket she runs a legit shipping company and messenger service downtown. Whatever she doesn't own she will soon enough as if she bought it yesterday.

“Would you like to join me, Mister Cobb?” The voice alluring and all-business. And, when you're only other choice is two bodyguards with a few hundred lead-filled buddies and a low-level gopher bleeding on the walkway in front of your apartment, there are worse things; it's just difficult to recall them at a moment's notice.

“If I must...” He walks around, the two guards watching his every move. He opens the door and steps in, closing it behind. She closes hers as well.

“Mister Cobb, can I call you Aiden?”

Trying to butter him up. Sure, why not? He nods.

“I'm a big fan of your work,” she continues, making it sound like he has an exhibit at the museum. “I feel like I know all about you. Would you care for something to drink?”

“No thanks. I had a big lunch.”

She smiles. “I see.” He looks up and down her body again and she doesn't mind; he wants to see what she really wants.

“I would ask about the shipping and messenger services, but it looks like business is good.”

“So it is, so it is. Mind if I get to the point?”

“By all means...”

“I think you have access to something I want.” A lulling sound in her voice.

“I'm sure that anything you want you can buy online.” He replies nonchalamtly.

She gives a wry smile. “That's so under my taste, but I understand what you mean. Let me put it to you this way: I have something you want.”

The idea of her body crosses his mind, but there would be Hell to pay. He's sure of it. Like an old “Twilight Zone” episode where the guy finds out too late he sold his soul to the Devil.

“Veronica, what do you think it is that I want?” He uses all his well-learned politesse.

“I have your handler.”

That explains it. He keeps his emotions back.

“Is that so?”

“And all you have to do is give me what I want.”

He turns his focus to the guards outside the window.

“You have to give me the movie.”

He turns back to her. “What would a cineaste like you want with a DVD?”

“Call me sentimental. It was one of my favorite movies.”

“What's your favorite scene?”

She leans over and squeezes his leg, slowly working toward his thigh. “The scene where the big bad hitman meets the hot woman in the limo...'”

It's nothing less than tempting. He wants to fuck her; to taste the fire and feel the world burn around him. Hellfire and brimstone and maniacal laughing would soon come after. He stops her hand from going any further. “That's no good if I'm dead.”

“I put a hold on your contract.” She leans forward. “That's why no one has collected on it, yet. You get me the disc and I'll let your handler go.”

“And you broker a deal with Thad that cancels the contract?”

Looking into her eyes he knows there is no truth in that. His hand reaches over and touches her leg, his fingers slowly traveling up it.

“How do I know?”
She moves forward and tugs his ear with her teeth and whispers, “We don't.” She leans back and rests against the door.

He clears his throat. “I'm gonna have to think about it.”

“Limited time offer. I'm the only one to redeem it.”

“If I don't?”

Her face goes sour. “Then B and E get info on the mysterious hit on Mister Steven Lucas Hitchcock by a very dead and mysterious hitman.”

Aiden smiles. “Nice doing business with you, Miss Veronica. I'll see myself out.”

He opens the limo door and steps into the bright light. Both guards are watching him.

She rolls down her window as he walks back to his apartment. “Consider my offer.”

He walks up the staircase to his place. Tony winces as Aiden stops at the doorway and unlocks the door. 

Stepping inside he slams the door behind.

Veronica lights a cigarette and blows the smoke out the window. The limo pulls out of the parking lot.

Chapter 7 - Discount Dennis

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 Discount Dennis' Army Surplus is a one-story shop in a two-story building Possibility City's downtown sandwiched between other buildings that in the turn-of-the-century housed tobacco or were clothing factories. They now stand in days of forgotten history in danger of becoming a parking lot. Dennis moved there in the Seventies when the population peaked. No one goes downtown anymore and it's everything he can do to pay the bills.

Aiden got to know Dennis from the get-go of his career. Back then crackpots and wingnuts were few and far between. He would drop by and they would shoot the shit, have a few beers sitting around the back patio, then he would gather some equipment and be off on a new assignment. Since he got back into town he’d been meaning to drop by.

An overhead cowbell announces Aiden's entrance. Must and dust assault his senses. The place hasn't changed. A few new “shiny, flashy” electronic toys maybe. The right wall showcases surveillance equipment going back to the reel-to-reel. He could swear a CB caked in dust sat at the end of a shelf. Jackets, pants, hats, and any other military clothing jumbles and crowds the clothing racks in the center walkway. To the left a glass case is filled with “Rambo knives”, samurai swords, switchblades, and daggers.

Cory plods to the front. Aiden watches as this punk in the t with cut-off sleeves and baggy blue jean shorts and brand name tennis shoes walks up to him. The kid couldn’t be more than sixteen and already he has blue flame tattoos on both sides of his neck. Does he think he's some kinda bad-ass or something?

“Discount Dennis's Army Surplus. Can I help you?” delivered with a Chicago ‘tude.

“Who are you?” Aiden's words cut through the kid with knife accuracy.

Cory stiffens up. “I... I work for Discount Dennis,” he clears his throat. “How can I help you?”

“Do you have a name, 'Help'?” the words are clear. Precise. Crisp.

“Eduardo Rodriguez.” He nods his head. He's trying to hold his ground.

“Well... Felipe Benedito Ramirez, or Jose Carlos Hernandez, or whatever your name is, I want to see Dennis.”

“Someone givin' ya trouble up there?” a raspy retort comes from the back. Aiden knows that it's Dennis.

Cory turns around. “This guy...”

Aiden cuts him off. “Wants to speak with the proprietor of this establishment.”

“Proprietor?” The footsteps come closer. “There's only one motherfucker I know who uses fifty-cent words.”
Dennis approachs from the same hiding place the kid came from. A few inches shorter than Aiden, in his early fifties, with glasses and receding hair his years-of-smoking gravel voice is unmistakable. Aiden holds out his hand and Dennis grabs it, shaking it.

“How the hell ya doin', boy?” A huge smile on his face showing his yellowed teeth.

“I'm good.” Aiden smiles back.

Dennis looks at Cory who steps back to watch the camaraderie. “Don't you have something you should be doing? Get fuckin' gone.”

He throws up his hands, turns and heads back the direction he came. Dennis returns his attention to Aiden.

“My sister's kid. Cory. He wanted a job for the summer. I ain't getting’ younger, so I decided to take him on. Now I have to decide between him and the light bill.”

“Can we talk?”

“Sure, sure. In the back. Hey Cory!”

“What?!?” he yells back.

“Watch the front door, willya? We're goin' out back.”


“Yeah, whatever,” Dennis mumbles. “Follow me.”

Dennis cuts through the coat racks with ease while Aiden tries not to touch anything. He's particular about not catching fleas or disease. Stopping at a wooden door Dennis unbolts it. He pushes the door open and instantly they are blinded by the outside light.

The patio's badly painted white table and thin aluminum folding chairs sit in back against the ten-foot wooden fence. Aiden surveys the area before calmly taking a chair and sitting down. Dennis grabs his, sits and lights a cigarette. A long moment of pause as Aiden breathes in heavily.

“What have you heard?”

“Nothin' good.” Dennis blows smoke out of his mouth.

“Like what?”

“The contract.”

“Right,” Aiden draws out.

“No one knows if it’s real or not and it must not be serious 'cause yer still walkin'.” Dennis takes a drag from his cigarette. “Don't they get other professionals to take out professionals?”

“That's what I don't understand.”

“Idle threat?”

“You know Thad never makes an idle threat. He's trying to get my attention.”

Dennis nods.

“He has to raise his hand and wait his turn in class.” Aiden replies. Coldly.

“Shit.” Dennis crushes the cigarette out in an ashtray, “What's this about some movie?”


“That came up. No one knows the name of it. Thad wants it back.”

Aiden is silent.

“I take it you got it?”

Aiden nods.

“I heard your buddy is missing a face.”

Aiden looks away. Now is not the time to deal with it.

“That's all I know.”

Aiden turns right, gazing off into the background. Nothing happening on the river today.
Aiden takes a deep breath.


“He found out.”

“Would anyone have believed him?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Dennis pulls another cigarette from the pack. He's down to five. He lights it and looks at Aiden.

“Helluva thing to do, Aiden.”

“I didn’t make the decision lightly.” He is precise on these words.

“I'm sure.”

Dennis sits and smokes. Aiden sits in his own thoughts. The cigarette burns down to the filter.

“Bridgette. She’s stopped-up.”

This is news. “How?”

“Fuck Aiden, I ain't her accountant and even if I was I wouldn't a done what she did?”

“What did she do?” The sentence very cool.

“A while back she got in over her head on something. Some say student loan bullshit, but you one of them…” 
He began waving his hand in a circle.

“Deferrals,” Aiden calmly replies.

“Yeah. You can get one of them deferrals. So anyways I don't know what she got into but it was pretty bad. Maybe the loan shark she went to liked her because of her tits and ass; I don't know. Anyway, she shacked up with your boy Steven maybe 'cause he kept talkin' 'bout that stupid movie as if it was some pot of gold or somethin'. Anyway I'm thinkin' maybe he let info on you slip to her. There's a contract out on you and yeah, somebody'd have to be stupid to claim it and while she may be smart in some areas, she just might be that stupid.”

The wheels turn in his head. Was it happenstance that they met at the airport? It isn't looking that way.

“Now if she gets the movie she can turn you and it in and be square with the loan shark who, of course, works for...”

“Thad,” Aiden says flatly. Reaching into his pocket he pulls out a slip of paper. “Nephew any good with computers?” He scrawls on it and folds it over.

“Shit, Aiden. If they had Internet in the womb...”

Aiden handed the slip of paper to Dennis. “I need you to run this code and find out whatever you can and get back to me.”

Dennis takes the paper and gazes at it. “Sure thing, Aiden.”

“Thanks for the talk.” Aiden gets up and leaves.

“Anytime, man. Next time we'll grill out.”

Aiden opens the door and disappears into the surplus store.

Chapter 6 - B and E

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 Aiden stands up to leave his apartment. There's shit that needs to be done. Looking down on the lot he spots two assholes sitting in a mid-sized car.

B and E, he mutters.

Bensinger and Elliot, or B&E as the neighborhood collective call them. White, in their forties, and forget Pilates they didn't know shit about being physically fit but they do know all the dealers, bangers, pushers, and all-purpose shitkickers in the hood and how to control them. Elliot is the ever-faithful sidekick; the Tonto to Bensinger's Lone Ranger. If not for Bensinger, Elliot would've been kicked off the force eons ago but the two were pals; buddies. They cook out, share family holidays, the works. What are partners for?

Bensinger. In the Who's Who of Crooked Cops he's somewhere close to the first page. The guy could show up in a courtroom, point at the criminal and demand the death penalty. The jury would automatically believe him. Somewhere someone is constructing a case against him that would level and call into question each and every case he ever touched. For the moment he is clean.

Aiden winds down the staircase and to his nondescript maroon Eighties Chevy Cavalier. Everyone owns one and there are a lot of them driving around.

B&E open their car doors and the two hulking mastodons pound the pavement toward him. What they want Aiden doesn't know. Coolly he reaches into his pocket for his keys and stops.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?”

Bensinger, the one on the right and two inches taller than his partner, eases over.

“Just a moment of your time, Mister Cobb.”

“I'm really busy, gentlemen.” Aiden tries turning away. It's difficult for him to look away from Bensinger's ugly, fat, white tie with green stripes

“Do you know Steven Lucas Hitchcock?” Elliot approaches Aiden from the other side.

“I may have heard the name.” He stares at his reflection in the window.

“Your buddy was found dead, missin' half his face,” Bensinger rubs in.

“He wasn't my buddy. I said I may have heard the name. That's all.”

He begins to pull the keys out of his pocket. For every action there is a B&E reaction. Which means having his face smacked against the windshield and keeping his cool.

“Is that a concealed weapon, Aiden?” Bensinger's lips an inch shy of Aiden's ears.

Prying his lips from the windshield: “Are we on a first name basis, Jack?”

Bensinger grabs Aiden's hair and smacks his head against the windshield again. He tightens his mouth. “Call me Jack again. Just one more time.”

“What do you want?” Aiden spits out through gritted teeth.

“Word on the street is that your boy got killed over a fuckin' movie.”

“A fuckin' movie?” It surprises the hell out of Elliot, who thought he had heard everything.

Bensinger turns to Elliot. “Do me a favor and shut the fuck up, willya Robert?”

“Sorry.” He takes a step back.

“Thad is lookin' for the movie and I'm thinkin'... what would Aiden do?”

“Nice to know you put me before Jesus,” Aiden says through gritted teeth.

“Jesus wasn't no killer for hire.” Bensinger leans into him.

“You didn' say he was no hitman.” Elliot now glares in shock.

Bensinger turns to Elliot. “Robert. Please. Shut the fuck up!” He returns his attention to Aiden, still gripping his hair. “Now Aiden, do you know about this movie Thad is lookin' for?”

“Nope. I don't even Redbox.”

Bensinger takes Aiden by the shirt, swings him around and throws him forward. Aiden hits the concrete in front of his car. It sounds worse than it looks. Bensinger readjusts his jacket.

“If you find out anything, you know where to find me.”

B&E walk to their car and get in. Immediately, they take off.

Aiden peels himself off the pavement. He pats his arms and clothes, dusting himself off.

“Fuckin' crooked cops.”

Chapter 5 - Tony

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Flinching and being surprised are two traits Aiden had drilled out of himself. Things happen or things don't happen. Be ready for death but live life. Easy enough.

The apartment door is cracked open and he doesn't care. In his line of work if you're going to be killed, they fuckin' kill ya. There's no Hollywood prelude where the next two hours are spent trying to reverse that decision.

Tony “Tone Def” Stern's ass pokes out from behind the fridge door. He's rooting for something to eat in the land of condiments. Aiden half-heartedly wishes him luck with that.

Tony has a hawkish-look; thin build, hook nose, dark eyes, sullen face, and dirty skin. His clothing is mismatched: tennis shoes, tan polyester pants, green and white-striped alligator shirt and thin, blue corduroy jacket.

Tony got his nickname from the fact that he really is deaf. He wasn't always that way. Back in his early twenties Tony had been a smooth operator in the drug trade. Problems came when he crossed Thadeous Brown, a black gangster with enough attitude to serve a cellblock with room for dessert.

Two of Thad's thugs rounded Tony up and handcuffed him to a telephone pole in the middle of East Moses Nowhere. Next the goons took opposite sides and unloaded he didn't know how many clips of ammo but they shot 'em into the air, holding the gun barrels by his ears.

Most guys probably would've given up and given in after that. Not Tony though Aiden couldn't put together why. He changed his career title to “gopher,” doing whatever for whoever for the money. On occasion Aiden would imagine himself in that scenario: what he would do, how he would do it. Never for very long.

“Aiden! Business slow?”

“Nah. None of my assignments happen at a grocery store.” Aiden walks through the entrance and paces toward his black leather couch.

“Funny.” His voice always sounds off. “Funny guy. Speaking of, did you hear about..”

“Steven. Yeah.”

Tony kicks the fridge door shut with half a pack of crackers and half a log of summer sausage in his hands. “Someone just told me.”

“News travels.”

“Did you do it? I mean, I don't care. He's your friend and all.”

Aiden pulls his gun out and lays it on the end table next to the leather couch. It was the one apartment luxury he afforded himself.

“Outside of food what do you want?”

“He had something of interest.” Tony walks toward the couch.

“What type of interest?”

“Let's say... I could get Thad off your back.” He's smiling, like he's holding the biggest secret in the world and plans to dangle that fact over Aiden. Aiden is smarter than that.

Tony sits on the opposite sides of the couch, lowering himself into it. The sound from the cushions is loud.

“He had something Thad wants. Thad wants you dead. If you have what he wants...”

“Isn't it early to be brokering a deal?” he says wryly.

“Not in my line of work.”

True. Very true.

“What is it that Mister Brown is looking for?” Aiden smoothly asks, acting nonchalant.

“A movie.”

Bingo. The out-of-print blood-smeared DVD, now conveniently hiding in his glove compartment.

“Thad likes movies?”

“Thad likes money.”

“What does Thad want with the DVD? What's so important that's on it?”

Tony shrugs. He stuffs crackers into his mouth and chews loudly.

“Ah...” Aiden sat back. “Tell him that I don't know what the fuck he's talking about.”

“Is that your final answer?” It's muffled but Aiden gets the gist.

“With sugar on top.”

“Thad's not going to like it.”

Aiden bobs his head side-to-side in a way that said, well, whooped-dee-doo. “The feeling's mutual.”

Tony jumps up. “I'll tell him I didn't see you. Consider us 'even.'”

“Awfully big favor for some crackers and summer sausage.”

“I also ate up all your yogurt.”

Dammit. “I knew it was someone. Feel free to let yourself out.”

He turns and walks out of the apartment.

“Don't let the door hit ya on the way out.”

“I heard that!” he shouts, his footsteps and voice echoing off the staircase.

Chapter 4 - What He Told Her

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Dolphins. That's her theme. Some women decorate the walls with unicorns or horses. Some women plaster their places with pictures of cats and kitties. Not Bridgette; she loves dolphins. Amusing to see and funny if you realize she has at least twenty cans of tuna in the cabinet.

Aiden sits at the table and looks around. He's on round four of counting all the dolphin pictures and figurines in plain sight. Yep, twenty-five.

A popping sound comes from the kitchen. She's now wearing his white long-sleeve shirt but has also put on a pair of gray sweats and is now making breakfast. When she asks him what type of eggs he wants for breakfast he always answers, “Scrambled.” That's all she knows how to cook. He once asked for over-easy and since then came to the realization that scrambled eggs were good enough.

“So what were you doing at three a.m.?”

He hates that; the fact that women always ask the questions that they already knew the answer to. “Do I look fat in these pants?” “How do I look compared to her?” “Do you love me?” In some alternate universe, “Shit, I'm with you, aren't I?” is an acceptable answer. Not in this one.

She wants to know if he had killed Steven. And then she doesn't. If he didn't she would want to know why not and if he did, she would want to know why. Details either way are less warranted.

“I just missed you, babe.”

Simple. Easy. True enough.

She scrapes the eggs out of the pan onto his plate, walking over and placing it in front of him. Aiden picks up his fork and she kisses him on the forehead.

“I really missed you, too.”

He starts eating and she goes into the kitchen, coming back with two glasses of orange juice and sets one in front of him. Walking over to the opposite side she sits and watches.

He stops and looks up at her. “Are you eating?”

“I'll warm up a bagel in a few minutes.” Clasping her hands together she smiles.

“Hmmm.” He returns to eating. In some situations, in heightened paranoia, he would stop eating altogether because whatever he ingested would have poison in it. He's dead certain she isn't that crafty; he has to be.

Reaching across the table she strokes his hand. “Wanna talk about it.”

He stops again. He wants to say, “It was fucking senseless,” but it that turned to, “There's nothing to talk about.” Grabbing the glass of juice he tilts his head back and washes down the eggs.

“Are you sure?” Her hand retracts.

Grabbing a tablecloth he wipes his mouth “I went in. He was freaking out.”

“About us?”

“No.” He stares down at the plate in front of him.

She sits back for a moment, then leans forward.

“About what?” She's now looks curious. Intrigued.

“He picked up this Criterion, whatever, out-of-print master copy of some obscure movie. He didn't realize it was hot.”


“Someone took it from Thad.”

“Who's Thad?”

“Or what is Thad. Big, black, mean as fuck gangster. I'm numbero uno on his hit list right now.”

“What did you do?” She sits back again, the chair making a sound.

“Long story. Steven found out the he was numbero dos and there was a hit out on him.”

“Why would they want to kill Steven?”

“We all gotta die, baby. It's just a matter of when and how. He screamed and pitched a fit when I told him. After that things got worse.”

Silence. She only sits there.

“I scored a deal with Thad. If I got him the DVD and killed Steven, all debts are clear.”

She slumps in her chair. He doesn't know if this is what she wanted. Or maybe she had thought she wanted it and the realization is just beginning to sink in and buddy, the Titanic went down with more grace.

Looking into her eyes the dam of tears is about to crack. No doubt the water would come rushing. He could play this two ways...

Jolting up he pushes the chair back and walks over to her. She looks up as he takes his right hand and caresses the left side of her face. Her eyes close and tears run down her face. There's a shudder in her breath as his fingers touch her face and slowly move to her neck. Aiden hears her small gasp for air and can feel her heart quicken. Raising her head he kisses her on the lips.

“Baby, baby, baby. It's okay. Alright?”

“Yeah,” she whimpers so low Aiden can barely hear her.

“It's okay, baby. Alright?” Moving his thumb across her tears he wipes them away.

“Yes,” she sniffles.

He moves down to kiss her again and she closes her eyes. This kiss lasts longer as her teeth pull at his bottom lip.

Letting the moment fade he pulls back, walking to the front door.

She watches for a moment. Hearing the lock turn she jumps up she runs over to him.

“Do you have to go?”

“Yeah,” he says in that way that says he has stuff to do that he doesn't want to. “I need to see a man about a DVD.”

She looks up into his, him down into hers. Burying her head into his chest, she tightly hugs him.

“I'm sorry,” she says through sniffling. “I'm just confused.”

“Yeah, baby. I have to go.”

She looks up at him again. “Promise me you'll be back.”

“Before you know it.” He smiles.

He bends forward and kisses her lips. They were two of the best but the electricity felt flat.

Opening the door he walks out, leaving her standing in the doorway. She slowly closes it.

Racing over to her purse she pulls out her cellphone. She texts someone.

Chapter 3 - Price of Refuge, Part One

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Steven knew. Aiden knew that. Now all that's left is a lifeless body and a life sans a decent guy and a gaping black hole for what happened.

It’s not that Aiden didn’t cheat or hadn’t been cheated on; it's just that it never became personal. He didn’t know until it too late who was being cheated on, which broke some unwritten guy rule. Guys who did that had to look up to see the gutter. Aiden wasn’t comfortable with that feeling. Either Bridgette was oblivious to the rules or didn’t give a fuck about them. Probably both.

Life goes cinema when you can look back and say, “That should be in a movie,” or hell, you repeat the script word-for-word. On a Saturday night at Steven’s place the pick was some old black and white film. His conversation excited, his hands flew everywhere while he talked; Aiden could correctly apply the term “gesticulation” to Steven. The intro could be summed-up this way: Kubrick, black and white, heist, racetrack, and Sterling Hayden.

In a moment he saw those eyes; the eyes that know something is going on. Ones that try burning a hole through you as if to say, I know. I know it’s you, you piece of dogshit. I will fuckin’ murder you. Not that they ever do but if looks could kill Aiden would’ve been done in sometime during high school.

Steven stood in front of the widescreen TV talking about various aspects of how the movie was made and what Kubrick was thinking ad nauseum. Aiden sat in the chair to the right of where Steven would be sitting taking it in calmly; he had to play it cool. Bridgette, while far from being an Oscar-winning actress, made herself pretend as much as she needed to show. In the crosshair of glances and stares Aiden just sat and let the show play out until the final frame fwapped on this story’s projector reel.

Chapter 2 - Bridgette

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Aiden opens his eyes and doesn't remember what the hell happened the day or night before, but knows there should be receipts for it. Rubbing his face and trying to wake up he realizes the sheets he's lying on are nice. Really nice. Which means that this isn't his place.

Bridgette. Before he could turn over the comforter is pulled off of him while she gives one of those satisfied sounds. She smiles and bunches the satin pillow under her blond head.

An invisible icepick continues to stab the back of his mind and he doesn't know why. Something inside says that he shouldn't be there. But the sex is great and last night that chick went for broke.

Bridgette. Aiden couldn't recall how much longer Steven knew her than him but he knew them separately. Not until after their third time together did he find out that she was cheating on him. By that time the voice of reason got sealed in a locker and dropped to the bottom of the Marinara Trench.

She is stacked for a librarian. Kids librarian. Not the prudish, pent-up with a pencil holding the weave of her brunette hair librarian but the kind of chick you'd find on an episode of Babewatch. The kind of chick that clothes wear to make themselves look good. The kind of chick that God himself takes envy on sitting in a bar somewhere knocking a few back and bragging, “I fuckin' made that!”

Maybe Steven had mentioned her. The first time Bridgette mentioned him she cuddled beside Aiden and talked about Steven's awkwardness; the fact that his eyes weren't so much talking to hers as they had sunk into the crevice of her cleavage. Aiden laughed. “Yeah, that's Steven.”

They first met at the Possibility City International Airport which is about as international as a continental breakfast is continental. Which is to say not at all, unless the breakfast in Pango Pango has bagels, dried malt cereal, mini-muffuns, coffee, and Orange Passion Guava to drink. Sitting at the gate he thumbed through his default novel, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” because all the new stuff was crap. The gate area looked as desolate as the loneliest plain in Nebraska so when she walked by in her black high heels, low-cut white blouse and tight black skirt he'd have to be dead not to notice her. When she sat across from him and crossed her legs with scissor-precision...

“Enjoying the book?” she said in that sweet, low voice. He could make love to that voice.

“Yeah, until I realized there were no pictures.”

He smiled. She laughed. It all starts simple enough.

Now she lies beside him and seems happy. Content.

“What's the matter?” Her voice almost a whisper, but happy.

“I... was thinking breakfast.”

“Hmmm...” she rolls over and faces him, touching his arm. “In bed?”

“I figured we would fly to Aruba, book a nice hotel and look down at the beach.”

“I would need to get dressed first.” She smiles.

That momentary pause when anything could happen. She bolts up. He looks into her eyes. “Stay here for a moment.”

He watches her naked body slide off the bed and disappear into the bathroom, the door closing behind. Her heart-shaped ass a commodity; one of the best.

Lying in the bed nothing pops in his head. Searching for something; some clue as to what went down. All circuits are busy.

She swings the door open and his concentration breaks. She's naked except his black tie that's touching her perky, globe-shaped tits.

“Morning sex first?” she smiles and climbs into bed, straddling him and dangling the tie over his mouth. He bites the tie, tugging on it.

“Why not? I'm always up for an appetizer.”

Chapter 1 - The Big Adios

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Senseless. Fucking senseless. He stares at the crashing waves.

The memory of standing on the Seal Beach pier is the only thing he can concentrate on. It moves around the frontal lobe like the guy who didn't get the memo that the party has been canceled. He could see the green water below and remembers casting the crap in his head into it, letting the sound soothe and wash it all away.

Tonight’s story is different. Tonight the sea is dark and the moon looms unusually large and full like someone had cut it from a full-page magazine and plastered it against the black background of sporadic, pinhole stars. Tonight the path back to the house is even longer.

There’s a dead weight hanging inside his chest. He didn't want to kill Steven and hadn't planned on it.

Usually on these nights he would drop by, watch a movie on that beautiful wall-sized plasma TV, have a few beers, shoot the shit for a bit, and then go home to sleep it off. Tonight strayed far from schedule and now there's a cave of bloody mush where his Steven's face had been. He didn't plan on spending the evening this way.

From the daze he remembers looking at the TV, muttering “Goddamit,” and walking down to the edge of the beach. There's nothing else that he could fucking do.

Steven was a friend. Not his best friend, because he didn't have any of those, but a good friend. Being with her fucked everything up and more than changed the group dynamic. Those days were dead and gone.

Gripping the nine millimeter in his left hand he's pissed to the highest point of pissitivity. His forefinger repeatedly touches the trigger and he wants to kill something. Or somebody. The whole thing is rotten. And senseless.

With his black hair, dark complexion, and dark clothing his silhouette is a fixed shadow on the beach. Standing there he continues watching the waves.

Fuckin' reflex, he tells himself. He's not a believer in blind rage or blacking out or whatever some shit sitting on the witness stand with enough money to get out of killing somebody can come up with. No clinical shrinks to second-guess what he had been trained to do; what he taught himself to do.

His mind races back to touching the door. Did he cover his tracks? He used his coat to open the sliding glass door that led to the beach but that's all he could remember.

Water encroaching, his black loafers sinking into the sand: time to get back to the house. Not that he wants to and there's no telling if or when the cops will show. He trudges up the beach in anger and determination. His friend’s ticket just got punched and damned if someone isn't heading for the Big Adios.

Returning to the living room he glowers at the crime scene. He hates to look left but does so anyway.

Black cherry syrup dripping down a sundae: that's what it looks like. The rivers of blood snaking down Steven's body run over his “Creature from the Black Lagoon” tee and onto the beige couch.

Turning to the TV he stares at the splatter pattern surrounding the spider web cracks with bullethole centerpiece. Then his reflection to the right. Not pretty.

Sitting on the end table under Steven's hand the object of at least half the trouble stares back at him: a DVD. Its plastic cover is suffused with blood, bone, and brain droppings in no particular pattern of clumps. Briskly walking into the kitchen he rips a paper towel from its holder and cleans the DVD's plastic cover.

They were supposed to watch it, some long-lost and thought to be held by only the greatest and wealthiest of collectors. Out-of-print and with a hefty price tag on eBay, Steven painstakingly had coughed up the cash for it. What Steven didn't know, and his “friend” reluctantly told him, is that a mean as fuck gangster named Thad is looking for it. At that point Mr. Movie lost what little composure he had and went “emotionally kerblooey.” One less movie nerd in the world...

Back inside his car he slides the key into the ignition and the lights pop on. Grabbing the gearshift he yanks it into reverse, slowly backing out of the driveway and turning toward the main road. Reaching into his pocket he pops out his cellphone and blindly dials a number. Her voice, in dreamy confusion, answers.

“Yeah, whatcha doin'?” he softly says.

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