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waxman.

Make Things Right

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waxman.

DYm3ig6.jpg

 

Prologue

 

The headlights of a black van illuminate the dusty road that lay ahead of it in the darkness of the night. Orange dust kicks up and swirls around, passing the van as it grinds to a halt into a desolate train yard. An ambience grows as the buzzing of the van dies out. Suddenly, the side door slides open and a man dressed in a grey Lettermen jacket and cameo track pants emerges, holding a tight grip to the handle of a black brief case with scratched markings on it. His eyes scan the surroundings as he calmly walks into the abyss of the train yard. He takes a few more steps and stops as he notices the lights of another van burn out on the opposite side of the yard. The silhouette of a person grows larger and larger as it approaches the man. Condensation whisks out of his mouth as his eyes narrow, watching this silhouette stand just a few metres away from him. The orange light of a cigarette from this figure grows bright and the crackling of tobacco breaks the silence. “How are going to do this?” asks the figure, who sounds very young.

 

There’s a pause, and the man thinks. “Where is this money?”

 

“In the van.”

 

“Let me see it.”

 

A fowl laugh cracks the air and stops, “I will. Once I see the product.”

 

“Easy. I have to know that you aren’t screwing me.”

 

There isn’t a word in response and an intensity builds.

 

“We can do this all night,” the figure says. He was content on seeing what the brief case held first. But the man knew that he was not going to show anything. He stayed firm on his stance and stood his ground. A breeze swept across the yard and blew his arm holding the case the slightest. He knew that this scum bag was oblivious to this undercover sting, and that his defeat was mere moments away.

 

“You’re screwing me, aren’t you?” he knew very well that he wasn’t. He knew he had that money stashed in that van with the other low lives. This had been a six month operation, hours of pure dedication and investigation and finally he was going to come out victorious. He’d finally make his father proud – following in the steps of his old man, and make things right for his new family. There was a baby on the way. He could finally retire in triumph.

 

Another undercover, Agent Cantwell, had opened the van door up behind him. He knew this transaction was taking too long, and getting dangerously close to a bad time. He waited to hear the response, as the footsteps behind him became louder. This punk was about to have his brains blown out. He waited some more, and the wind blew heavier. His stomach sank. His heart stopped. Hit from behind, he jolted forward and looked down as blood gushed from his stomach. Before he could turn around, another shot was fired into his right shoulder. And another. He fell to the dust and clenched his fist. With the energy he had left, he reached back for his 45. He saw a bright light, and the ringing of heaven pierced his ears. He no longer remembered who he was, or what he was. For he was no longer the same person. And Death pried on his soul.

 

Chapter 1 – The Armadillo

A chain fence creaked and followed into a front yard full of exotic plants and flowers, blowing about in the early twilight breeze. Barking from a neighbour’s dog and the heavy footsteps on the front patio alerted the dwellers inside. The front room light came on, and Vito pressed the doorbell. He had many questions but little answers. Vito hoped that here, he could make things clear. The door opened, and a man stood there probably the same age. His face was cleanly shaved with a slight shadow, and he wore a blue winter gown. A female’s voice came from inside the house, “Craig, who is that?”

 

“Its Vito,” he said, with a look of surprise. A smile quickly grew on his face, “Come in. It’s been years.”

 

Craig had done quite well for himself since their college days. Not the fact that his house was luxurious, filled with artwork from all corners of the globe, but his temper had eased and he had become poised. They’d come a long way together from shooting cans off Uncle Danny’s farm fence, to almost causing a college riot on New Year’s 1981, to both being inducted into the police academy and later that year being awarded the most advanced cadets in the state of Texas. Times had changed, and they had seen better days.

 

“You’re awfully quiet,” said Craig as he showed him down the main hallway filled with frames of people frozen in time, “The force really f*cked you up, didn’t it.” No, it didn’t. It was the death of his wife and unborn child that f*cked him up. Craig didn’t know, so he couldn’t be upset. He felt a bite of envy at the fact that his wife was alive. That his life had turned out quite the opposite of his own. It wasn’t always like that though. He just had been married and bought a house. Things were going well until..

 

“Vito. Man, what is it? You haven’t said a word to me since you walked in,” Craig stopped in the hallway before the kitchen.

 

Vito, with a glazed stare, turned and glared through his pal, “Amy is dead, Craig.” He hadn't felt this kind of numbness before. After baring witness to the uglier side of society, your soul becomes tainted. Your brain, static. Your mind, distant. And your feelings, numb. There are days on end where you cannot sleep. Like a reel playing over in your head of your ultimate demise. This mental spiral downwards began after witnessing a horrible highway accident. A semi trailer had leaked, and an explosion set the driver on fire. Vito, patrolling behind stopped to try and save the man from the flames. He begged for Vito to shoot him.

 

 

“Vito. I’m sorry. I didn’t realise. You didn’t seem like yourself.. I – “

“I’m not myself, anymore.”

 

“What – what happened?” Craig folded his arms and let out a sigh of disbelief.

 

“I think it’s better if we speak in private,” his voice lowered as he gestured his head towards the kitchen. Craig’s wife turned her head after hearing this as she mixed the mashed potatoes, a cigarette burning in her loose grip. Suzie, she was always a reserved lady with 1940’s etiquette and morals. Vito felt Craig had made her that way. He saw the bruises. He knew that her quiet nature was not at all her nature. She had been corrupted – damaged. You wouldn’t want to dare glance at her in public if you were a stranger. Craig once poured an entire bottle of red wine over a Mafioso looking gentlemen in a white suit for smiling at Suzie from across the room. Let’s just say that he wasn’t impressed, and he made that clear to Craig.

 

“This is the only private place we have here,” said Craig as he descended down a long, dark stairway into the pits of the house, flicking on a light switch half way down. There was a low rumbling of a dryer that spun in cycles with a few seconds pause before returning to its mechanical spin. Packing boxes towered around a small circle table where the dull light hung above. “Don’t mind the mess,” he slipped into a chair in front of the table and watched as Vito moved opposite to him, dropping into the chair with a sigh and leaning back as he ran his hands through his hair. “Vito, what happened?”

 

“Someone set me up. They tried killing me on a sting in Abilene. When I awoke in the hospital, at first I was confused. I couldn’t remember anything,” Vito sat with his arms hanging beside his body, weighing him down, an expression of expressionless on his face.

 

Craig let out a short breathe and looked around the room in shock and disbelief.

 

“... they told me they’d found me in the sticks. And that it was likely I was robbed. And I believed them at first.. then they told me that they found Amy.. that she’d overdosed on heroin. She was clean for almost ten years..” Vito held back tears and stared up at the ceiling, trying to contain his mournful state.

 

“I- I’m so sorry.. was everything okay at home?”

 

“Well that’s just it, Craig. We couldn’t have been in a better place.. the nurses asked me that as well..” he folded his arms and his eyes narrowed into a daze, “It can’t be a coincidence.. someone in my team wanted me gone, and everything else I held onto..”

 

“Look,” Craig moved closer to the table, “You’re mourning and you’re hurt. But do you really think that her relapse wasn’t possible? I mean, with everything going on. The wedding. The new house. Her baby on the way. Don’t you think that all this stress could have been what lead to her relapse?”

 

“No. It just isn’t possible. Someone wanted us dead, and I don’t know why. They tried to murder me. And in a way, they did because Amy and our unborn child are dead.”

 

“Vito... why are you here?” Craig said with a growing look of concern on his face.

 

“I want to find who did this. I need help. I need to bury them,” Vito’s voice grew low and raspy, and his daze looked almost delusional – psychotic. He clenched his fists tight and released them with a sigh of repressed anger and rage.

 

“Even if it was one of your men. I can’t be held responsible if you decide to go and murder another officer, Vito. Do you realise how insane you sound? Do you realise what you’re asking me to do? If anyone found out, ever, it would ruin us,” he barked, “You need to forget this,” and he stood up, walking over to a small bar area.

 

“Forget this?”

 

Craig returned without saying a word, holding two glasses of beer, and placed them down onto the table. Vito watched as the orange brew bubbled, and turned. Rose and fell. “I think you just need to forget it for now. C’mon, have a drink,” Craig slid the glass forward to him and took a nip of troth from the top of his glass.

 

“No.”

 

Craig paused and looked at Vito blankly, “Vito, have a drink.”

 

“No,” his voice became stern.

 

“Have a drink. It’s rude to refuse a drink.”

 

“Craig. I said no,” he watched his friend closely. Craig moved his hand underneath the table and leaned further forward.

 

“I swear to God, when I find who did it I’m going – “

 

The table rocked and beers fell as Craig lunged towards him with a long, sharp butcher knife wielded in his hand. Vito fell backwards off the chair as Craig jumped on top of him and pinned him down, pushing the knife towards his heart. Vito grabbed Craig’s wrist and gritted his teeth in an attempt to stop him. They both met their resistance and struggled to let the other win. Vito flipped Craig from the top and the positions were reversed.

“You piece of sh*t,” Vito gritted his teeth harder and his breathing became more broken. Craig held tight and struggled harder. The knife gashed into Craig’s chest and he let out a sigh of pain and release. He stopped struggling. He stopped moving, and his eyes gently yet slowly closed.

 

Vito turned his head and saw Suzie standing on the staircase in shock.

 

 “It’s Saturday, January 23rd, 1993. The weather here in Wichita Falls now is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and will reach tops of 95. Now, to Guns N Roses – November Rain on 108WF FM..” Vito pulled up into a Danny’s parking lot and killed the ignition. No one was around. The dawn sky was blood red and contrails zig zagged to all edges of the horizon. With dirt on his hands now, if the people wanting him dead didn’t know he survived, they would now. He had stared at the ceiling of his car all night with the images of the night prior burnt into his memory. His thought process was irrational, and yet he didn’t know it. He had forgotten to get rid of their bodies, and that had not even crossed his mind.

***

“Sir, may I take your order now?” asked a young girl in a Danny’s uniform, with blonde braids and a slight gap in her front teeth. Vito didn’t look up from the IBM ThinkPad laptop.

 

“No – no thank you.”

 

“I don't want to offend you, sir. But you have been here for almost two hours and haven’t ordered anything,” she taped her notepad impatiently with a fake smile.

 

“Ill get a coffee.”

She scribbled on her page whilst turning around and walking to the next booth. He had been idle in this booth on the far right side of the restaurant glued to this laptop. He tried to concentrate but Amy couldn’t leave his mind. She walked along the dry riverbed beside him in a yellow summer dress with her black hair flowing just past her shoulders. He always tried to make her smile. It made his soul flutter and heart feel at home. Her cheeks would hurt sometimes from smiling so often, revealing her tiny dimples. They would do anything for one another. When Vito was suffering from PTSD, Amy was there. When Amy relapsed on heroin, Vito made sure to give her the love and support she needed. Over the years, they continued to fall madly in love. They started a candle and soap business together, and when that ended, they opened a home for stray animals. Even with their bouts of disagreement and occasional arguing, they saw through the trivial noise and always promised to make things work. After delivering many baby animals, they talked about having a child themselves and tried hard for years but it just couldn’t happen. One day, Vito came home and Amy couldn’t hide her excitement, “I’m pregnant.” Vito, beaming with happiness, broke down upon hearing the news. A month past, and movement slowed. It happened quickly. Just like that, their little bundle of joys heart stopped beating on Amy’s 25th birthday. “I can’t go through this again,” she cried on the back steps of their small home – her head in her lap. They cried and mourned for a long time. But finally, they had tried again. Amy turned to Vito at the side of the dry creek bed, holding his hands and smiling softly, “I’ve got some news, Vito.”

 

“It’s funny you say that. I do too.. you go first.”

 

“I don’t want us to get our hopes up to much, but..” she looked down holding her stomach. Vito felt his lip quivering and eyes swelling, “That’s incredible,” he suddenly dropped to one knee. Amy laughed, tears already rolling.

“Vito!” she exclaimed in joy.

 

 Pulling out a small box, he opened it revealing a translucent ring, with sparkling diamonds and a light pink glaze, “Amy Bright. Will you marry me?”

 

“Sir.. sir?!”

Vito snapped out of his day dream and looked up at the waitress. Ringing in his ears. A sense of detachment to his surroundings.

 

“Would you be interested in our Saturday morning 'Rancher Ranger’ meal? It comes with a small drink. And if you sign up to Danny’s you can – “

 

“No,” he snapped at the girl, “No, thank you.”

 

She politely nodded and headed to the next booth. All he ever wanted was to protect the people he loved, and make sure everything he did was right. Yet, time after time, he managed to disappoint person after person. And even after letting down the people closest in his life, he would still try and make things right no matter what. It was a never ending cycle that brewed in the pits of his psyche. Yet, he could never see it for himself. It was something that happened many years ago when he was a child with his father.

 

The laptop made a loud ding, alerting him that it was almost ready for a recharge. Vito had been spending this entire time trying to figure out the password to unlock the laptop. It was Craig’s. Time was running out, and it would not be an easy feat to find a charger for this police computer. He had tried everything, from his wife’s name, birthday, childhood pet's name, and even the name of their college sorority dorm, 'Love Shack’. 'That's it..' he thought as the epiphany gave rise to his fingers movements.

 

‘NYE1981.’

 

The screen went dark and the soft humming of the computer died, as if the system had rebooted. Small bold text appeared in the centre of the screen surrounded by a box, “Access granted”. A feeling of relief escaped his body in a gasp of released tension. File by file, the home screen came to life with archived folders containing dark, deep secrets. Vito didn’t have access to the sheer amount of information in comparison to Craig. It was an intricate ranking system, and at times, allowed access to lucky officers who were favoured over others by the high ups in Washington. Even though Vito’s father was the sheriff of their prescient, it stirred a lot of envy and hate fuelled towards Vito. The other men were spun the idea that he’d been brought up with the silver spoon in his mouth. A false rumour spread that he'd snitch on his bullies to his father during high school. This had given Vito a bad reputation, and over the years had worn him down mentally to the point of self medication through alcohol. He never told Amy. It was always “I’ve got to finish paperwork,” or “They need an extra hand for the night patrol”. By the end of those nights, he would finish the last drop of booze and stumble from the bar to his car only to wake up the next morning wondering how he even managed to drive home. He always wandered if Amy ever realised it. The guilt of knowing he could not sustain from abuse even though his wife was recovering from a heroin dependence drove him more to drink more. Vito wanted a fresh canvas. But the more he drank, the more the canvas became covered in scribbles. Some of them looping, some of them in no pattern at all, and some that felt like they were driving him to the border of insanity.

 

He left no stone unturned as he searched exhaustingly through individual files on the police data base. Yet, he found nothing. Vito did not realise his laptop had less than 5 percent charge on its battery remaining. A spur of curiosity arose and he decided to search his own name on the system. Vito opened his file to see nothing. It had been deleted. He ran a search through deleted files, and the information reappeared. It displayed his name, date of birth, home address, with additional files on his progress and overall record. Opening the most recent record from the day he was shot, Vito began to understand why it was removed. The report of Vito was addressed exclusively and in confidence to, 'The Armadillo' by an unknown source.

 

“Vito Asiago is infringing on the privacy of multiple, undercover units through affiliations and connections to sources he deems dangerous. It has come to my attention that for the safety of yourself and many others in the organisation, that he is executed. We predict that if Mr Asiago continues to speculate, your identity would be at risk and our operation would fail to operate in privacy. If you agree to go ahead with saving yourself and this operation, respond to me immediately and this file will be terminated from our systems.”

 

Everything became bright and he heard a ringing in his ears. He could feel the room almost become narrow and long as this revelation accelerated the increasing sense of detachment to his reality.

 

“Could I get you a refill, sir?”

 

The laptop made a click and died.

***

He peered through the gaps in the blinds of his motel window. The ceiling fan spun slowly as he turned to face a muted television broadcast of local news and slumped into the single arm chair in front of it. He couldn’t make sense of this all. They must have made a mistake. He couldn’t recall 'infringing' on anybody, and the fact Craig, his childhood friend, had involvement in this meant he could trust no one. Vito turned the glass of whiskey in his grasp and the ice cubes clicked lightly. The thought of calling his father crossed his mind, however that could have been potentially dangerous considering circumstances. All it would have taken would be a traced landline to the motel for whoever wanted him dead, to return and finish what they had started. Then a terribly horrible image flashed through his mental plane. His father, laying in his bed at home with a bullet wound in his skull. Vito couldn’t let anyone else harm his family. He couldn’t allow his father to die whilst he silently plotted the revenge of his anonymous hit man. He already had lost his mother at a young age, and felt responsible for not being able to rescue her from a mistake he had made.

 

He was only eight years old when over that Christmas break his father was working night patrols whilst his mother stayed home to care for Vito. He had plugged in one too many electronics into a power board inside the spare room beside his parents. Screaming woke him. The smell of smoke and burning plastic filled the air. He couldn’t reach his mother’s bedroom. A fire bellowed down the hallway. Trapping her from the outside. She had burned to death. The look on his father’s face when he arrived home to the fire brigade putting out the smouldering mess was of pure shock. When they told him the cause of the fire, it turned to a mix of rage and disgust. “Your boy told us that he plugged in too many electronics.” Ever since that day, he promised himself to make it up to his dad. All he wanted was to hear him reassure Vito that it wasn’t his fault. That it was a mistake, and that he loved him. He couldn’t loose his father because of another mistake he had made.

 

A phone rang out from the kitchen. It was Craig’s mobile he had stolen. He walked cautiously over to answer it and saw it was a private number. Vito hesitated to answer. He thought this may had been a ploy to lure him to answer it, giving away his location. It stopped ringing and he quickly picked it up as a message displayed on the screen.

 

'You have 1 new voice message.’

 

Vito dialled in the code to listen. A voice came through the speaker.

 

“Asiago is done. I’ll see you at Derrick’s wedding next weekend. It’s been a while since you’ve been in Austin. I look forward to it.”

 

His eyes suddenly widened in terror. He smashed the mobile onto the floor as its insides scattered all over the cheap lino. He grabbed a pen and a magazine and began noting down the name 'Derrick' and 'Wedding, Austin’. In a moment of panic, Vito dashed to the blinds as he peered out in fear. He asked himself whether they would realise he had survived. It didn’t take long to calm down as he carelessly unscrewed the lid to the whiskey and began pouring another drink. He glanced around the room. It was far from luxurious. It smelt of dampness and cigarette smoke and all the furniture was from the 60s. Vito dropped into the couch that had a faded orange floral design. Unmuting the vintage television, the daily news headlines began to appear on the screen.

 

“…And in other news. Former Sheriff of Abilene Prescient, Anthony Asiago, is reported missing. Authorities are unaware of the reason behind his disappearance and have begun an ongoing investigation. If you or anyone you know may have information, please contact 911. Now to Michael Peterson for Sports….”

 

He switched off the TV set as silence kicked in. A clock in the kitchen ticked away. Vito knew he had to find the location of this wedding. They had his father. With no access to the police data base and a destroyed mobile, Vito was running out of time.  The ThinkPad needed to be repaired as soon as possible and he needed to move fast. The room number was under his own name. It wouldn’t take long for these people to discover Craig and his wife missing, including the laptop and phone. Vito stood up and emptied the rest of his beverage down the drain before folding the magazine in half, stuffing it in his back jean pocket, picking up the ThinkPad and leaving the room.

 

He entered the small reception room on the side of the motel. It was filled with all sorts of Americana and Latin jazz played quietly from behind the reception desk where an older, Spanish gentleman stood reading the Dallas Journal. Vito placed the keys to his room onto the desk in front of the man.

 

The gentleman looked down at the keys and back up at Vito.

 

“You’re booked in for another two nights,” the older man declared.

 

“Something came up.”

 

Before he could ask Vito if he wanted a refund on the rest of his stay, the shop bell rang out and he was gone. He had enough fuel to get him to Waco. The red wagon revved to life and he dashingly made an exit with dust and rocks flicking up into setting evening light. With his mind set of Austin, Vito was sure he would find The Armadillo. And when he did, he would make sure to reclaim the death of Amy and begin the search for his father.

 

***

The road ahead on the 287 was lit with the red tail lights of traffic in the growing darkness of that night. A quiet storm to the west rolled across the plains in a silent lighting storm. It wasn’t long before hail stones began pelting down on the roof of his 89’ Volvo 740 that Vito decided to turn off into Bowie. There, lived a distant relative who wouldn’t impose a danger to Vito. Great Aunt Dorothy had lived in Bowie since her husband passed away from bowel cancer after his service in the air force. Her small two bedroom home was practically an aviary, filled with all sorts of birds. Vito hadn’t seen her in over a decade, and he was unsure if she was still alive until he noticed her car parked in the drive way. He decided to leave the laptop in the car for the rain had become heavier. The door buzzer zapped and he could hear the faint whistling of birds inside as he waited patiently.

 

“Who is it?” yelled a raspy, older female’s voice from behind the locked door.

 

“It’s Vito. Anthony Asiago’s son.”

 

“Who?” she called back abruptly.

 

“Anthony’s son.”

 

“I don’t know no Anthony. Go away,” she yelled.

 

“Aunt Dorothy, it’s me,” Vito made a final plea to make her remember.

 

There was a pause, and the door unlocked. She had short grey hair, a dried wrinkled face with a mole on her upper lip. A cane shook beside her as she leveraged her weight on it and squinted at Vito, trying to wonder how he knew her name, “How do you know my name?” she asked with genuine curiosity.

 

“Because you’re my father’s Aunt. Anthony Asiago. He’s missing.”

 

She still didn’t understand what he was saying, but regardless opened the door and let him inside. “Don’t mind the birds. They’re the only thing keeping me company,” she hobbled down the hallway into an open back living space with concrete floors and Aztec mats. As they passed rooms off to the side, Vito noticed they were filled with bird cages and they hadn’t been cleaned for a long time. Antique bowels, vases and other assorts were placed around the home in an odd fashion.

 

“Can I get you a drink? All I have is tea,” she offered.

 

“Please…” Vito sat down on a large sofa, covered in a thick silky blanket and glanced around the room. There was no TV. No radio. Only a few shelfs on the far side of the room filled with many books and another table, with piles of Readers Digest collecting dust. A grandfather clock ticked away on the left side of the room, and opposite, was a fire place that crackled soothingly. Vito believed that the reason she couldn’t remember her own nephew was because she had dementia. She returned with a pot of tea and placed it down on the lowered, wooden living room table in front of them and took a seat in a single arm chair beside him.

 

“You look tired, honey. Can I get you a blanket?” she asked, taking a sip of tea.

 

“No, thank you. I really just need a place to sleep.”

 

“Well, the rooms are filled with my birds. So you better get comfy on that sofa,” she laughed softly.

 

“I’m going to try and sleep now,” he scuffed his shoes off and lifted his legs onto the sofa – resting his head back on the arm rest and closing his eyes. He felt very comfortable being here. She couldn’t remember who he was, so it wasn’t an issue whether or not he could trust her. He could, for she didn’t know. In a way, her muddled memory stirred an envy inside Vito that made him wish just for a little while that he could forget all of this. His mind began to wander into dream land as he drifted off into a peaceful slumber listening to the faint drops of rain outside and quiet chatter of the birds.

 

The grandfather clock rang out at midnight and jolted Vito from a horrendous nightmare. Sweat laid on his forehead and a humid spell had turned over the cooler weather. He turned his head to the side and saw Aunt Dorothy sleeping upright in the arm chair with her mouth hanging open and a faint wheeze of air exhaling from her lungs, and she held tightly onto layers of blankets covering her lower body. She too was sweating and her face was flushed. Gaining his bearings, Vito slowly sat up and moved over to his Aunt as he pulled the covers slowly off her and folded them over the arm rest of the sofa. He fetched a cool, damp hand towel and squeezed out the water from it before returning to the living room and placing it lightly on her head. He hadn’t had much sleep but decided since the rain had stopped that it was best to continue onto Dallas. There was one last thing he wanted to do before he left, and that was to clean the bird cages and feed them. He neatly and carefully folded newspaper onto the bottom of the cage and poured in a fresh batch of bird seed. A small, little head poked out from a bird house. It was a salmon pink and bright green peach face and it wandered over to the seed container – cocking its head sideways with curiosity as it looked at Vito. In his fingertips he held a tiny bird seed and waved it in an alluring fashion to catch the peach faces attention. It cautiously wandered forward, debating whether or not to trust this face it hadn’t seen before. With a quick peck, it snatched the sunflower seed from his fingertips and cracked it with its beak. Vito pushed his index finger inside the cage and to his surprise the peach face let him scratch its stomach. He smiled and looked around the dark room. There was a soft innocence and ignorance that he saw in this bird that he often use to see in himself. No longer did he see that, and soon, he had started his wagon and pulled from the curb. He pondered, watching the yellow florescent lane lines slip out of view, of what the darkness of these small hours would bring him.

 

 

Edited by arch stanton
completing the chapter

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waxman.

Chapter Two - Clay Piegons 

 

He merged off from the 287 onto the 1749 just past Fruitland into the backwoods of Northern Texas. Vito passed through small communities like Forestburg where there laid log cabins and shops that resembled barns, and dust roads, and a man on horseback that tipped his hat and vanished down a lonely lane with god-awful secrets. The road continued on through Rosston and Era, and by day break Vito had turned off from Sanger towards Lake Ray Roberts where he sat on the bonnet of his Volvo and breathed on the whirling steam bellowing from the coffee he had bought in town.  The back roads were his safest bet to reaching Dallas without being recognised. A flock of Great Blue Heron lifted from the still lake and cut through the orange hues of light like some kind of angelic beasts. He would come to this very lake as a child with his father and fish for catfish. Looking skyward, he knew his father was out there somewhere and his heart ached tremendously.

 

Guitar notes picked through the cold, morning air from ahead near the edge of the lake. Vito inquisitively ventured down through the stiff reeds and wallow and saw a young man with thick, black reading glasses and short black hair picking away at an acoustic guitar perched on a rock emerged from the water. You could have sworn it was the reincarnation of Buddy Holly. Vito wanted to talk to him but he didn’t want to spook him and stop him from playing. Then, he began to sing. And Vito immediately recognised the song.

 

“I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound station. Gonna get a ticket to ride…” he began to sing. It was a song that his father would sing to him whenever he was feeling down and washed out. This was before his mother died. After that, he never heard him sing it again. It would then remain forgotten until that very moment, when Vito needed to hear it the most. It sowed a deep feeling of hope and forthcoming within his soul and he took another sip of the warm coffee, watching a killdeer buzz around the edge of the creek and sing behind the deep, hurt voice of this man.  The man wore a raggedy, faded red shirt with holes in the bottom of it and denim jeans that had been worn for some time. In the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of Vito standing quietly with the cup of coffee and a soft smile on his face. He stopped playing and turned to face him.

 

“It’s a great song,” said Vito, his smile growing more as he turned to look back out at the lake.

 

The man laughed “You almost spooked me there,” and pushed the guitar over his shoulder, that was attached to the cameo strap. “It’s a lovely day on the lake here…”

 

Vito nodded and folded his arms, “I’d come here as a kid. Try and catch fish with my dad.”

 

The man cocked his head over towards the Volvo, “That your car?” he asked.

 

“Sure is.”

 

“Headed anywhere special?”

 

“Not exactly. Why do you ask?”

 

The man stood up and walked through the quagmire, heading back up to the drier land, “I’m in need of a ride to Corpus Christi but I’ll go as far as you head. Figured I’d ask.” Vito followed him back through the scrub and over towards his car.

 

“What’s in Corpus Christi?”

 

“Two kids and a deranged ex-wife,” he couldn’t help but let out a short chuckle as he reached back for the rollie tucked behind his right ear.

 

Vito nodded slowly, “I’m headed to Austin. That’s as far as I’m going though.”

 

“Oh, thank you, mister,” the man reached out his hand for a shake but Vito looked at him oddly.

 

“I haven’t said yes,” he reached inside the car and popped the hood. He opened the hood. The engine was still warm, and he lifted the rod, wiping it with his shirt, and dipped it back into the oil. Vito didn’t need any extra baggage. What he needed was a new computer battery and enough fuel for Austin.

 

“I can pay for the fuel. I just need to get to my kids before she takes custody. Please,” he pleaded, taking the guitar from his back and planting on the ground by his side. He’d been studying psychology in Oklahoma, and after failing his last exam, had made a desperate escape to get his children back. It was a mistake he had married that lady and he wished he’d listened to his parents. Instead he did the opposite, and they shut him out entirely. “Please sir. She’s on crack and the neighbours are saying my boys looked neglected.”

 

“Well we all got problems, kid,” Vito pulled out the rod and noticed the oil was quite low. He passed the man without looking at him and shut the car door loudly, “I’m sorry about your kids.” The man looked at him blankly and nodded in annoyance, trying to accept that this stranger didn’t want no part in his life. Vito turned the keys in the ignition and it rattled, and heaved, and even began to smoke. “sh*t…” he muttered underneath his breathe as the man waved the smoke away from him.

 

“Looks like your ignition coil might be damaged,” suggested the man, “I have a spot in town where I can fix it for ya. It won’t take long. Free of charge.”

 

Vito squinted and debated whether to trust this complete stranger he had just met. “Won’t I need it towed to the place?” he questioned whether this man was serious with his claims.

“Yeah, but I can pay for it. There’s a pay phone up near the road. I’ll go call a truck.”

 

“Alright… alright,” he nodded and let out a defeated sigh as he stared ahead at the crimson light shining upon the lake. He needed to get the car fixed and start moving. The sand was trickling in the hourglass and Vito could not see how much time he had remaining.

 

Vito sat on a milk crate in a ruined barn where splats on the roof had been torn and the metal had rusted. On the opposite side to the barn on the far wall a red honeysuckle vine rose from the ground and intertwined through a makeshift lattice of copper wire. The barn floor was sand and twigs, and in the centre was the burgundy Volvo where a tiresome man worked inside the front of the car. They’d been listening to the radio as an excuse to not make conversation.

 

“Come ere!” called out the man as he sat himself upright in the driver’s seat. Vito walked over to the driver’s door where it was opened and leaned on in through the window. The man looked at Vito with anticipation but certainty as he twisted the keys in the ignition. It rumbled and he put some gas on it and let it rev a few cycles before he smiled and faced Vito. He revved it a few more times but something had caught Vito’s attention. It was a news bulletin playing through the radio.

 

“Shut it off!” Vito yelled and stood up, walking around the open door and leaning inside to listen.

 

“What?” the man was confused but killed the ignition. A look of excitement soon turned to worry.

 

Vito reached over the man and turned up the radio. “… He was last seen in Abilene a week ago. Authorities are confirming that Anthony Asiago has been taken hostage. Photos have been released to the press this morning that indicate a serious risk to his life. No statement has been made from the unknown sources that continue to hold him hostage and authorises are beginning to believe this is a cryptic message or possible threat.”

 

“What’s going on?” yelled the man in complete confusion.

 

Vito lifted his hand to quiet him.

 

“The photos show Asiago, blinded and tied to a chair holding a sign with the word, ‘Galton’.

 

“Start the car and move over. We need to go.”

 

***

They passed the white stone, Romanesque Denton Courthouse and pulled into the parking lot outside a Wells Fargo. The man flicked his cigarette ash out the window and looked around, puzzled as to why they had stopped here. Vito hadn’t spoken a word to him, for his mind was running on rage and all he could see was images of his father strapped to a chair with zip ties, blind folded, beaten and bruised, holding a sign with the words, ‘Galton’. Galton. Craig’s surname. This was a warning aimed at Vito to withdraw his rescue plans and vengeance on The Armadillo. It did the opposite. They had added fuel to the fire burning in the pits of Vito that assured him, there was no turning back now.

 

“What are we doing here?” asked the man. “And by the why... since you haven’t asked, the name’s – “

 

“I want you to withdraw all the money from your account,” Vito interrupted sternly.

 

The man exhaled the smoke sharply with sudden wide eyes “Sir. Why would I do that?”   

 

“What if I told you that both of our lives are in danger right now? And that even the law is against us?”

 

The man stared at two police officers walking on the outskirts on the court house through the side mirrors, “I’d tell you that I’m already running from the law myself.”

 

“Great. Now go get the money,” Vito’s voice became menacing. The man huffed with regret but opened the car door and tossed the cigarette onto the ground, slamming the door shut and walking onto the pavement towards the Wells Fargo building on the corner block. He figured that since his record on the police data base was wiped, so would be his bank account, visa and everything else under his name. The man had nothing to lose at this point. He was running from the police himself, and all he wanted was to be with his boys; even if that meant going broke in the process. Plus, he had seen something in Vito that he saw in himself. He was fighting his demons and conquering his internal conflicts. Essentially, he felt that they wanted the same goal regardless if he knew of the details or not.

 

Vito watched the two police officers cross the pedestrian crossing and walk inside the bank on the corner. He didn’t think much of it though. Unless the entire police force in Texas had some kind of hidden agenda to kill him, which he guessed they didn’t, he would have all the reason to be avoiding them. It wasn’t them he was worried about. It was the hitmen, the goons, the henchmen that certain members of the force would outsource to end him.  A crack of gunfire split the air as members of the public ducked and began running from the bank. An officer backed out of the building and began opening a rain of bullets through the banks entrance.

 

“Jesus f*cking Christ!” yelled Vito, as he started the car fast and reversed. The officer was hit in the chest twice by returned fire and collapsed lifelessly backwards into the gutter. Vito pulled up at the crossing and just as he did, he saw the man emerge from the building with a white Wells Fargo money bag in one hand, and a Colt 25. wielded in the other. With gritted teeth and a beating heart, the man opened the back car door. His face was covered in specks of blood.

 

“f*cking drive!” he screamed.

 

The wheels spun and they fled the scene of the crime immediately. They dodged in and out of traffic erratically, and now Vito was even more confused than the man was. More than confused, he was mad. He didn’t understand why he’d jeopardise their plans.

 

“What the f*ck was that? Were you hit?” Vito glared over at the man, who sat slumped in the seat trying to catch his breath.

 

“Not my blood,” he huffed, and began to roll a cigarette with shaky hands.

 

“Jesus, you just killed a cop!”

 

“He was going to arrest me!”

 

“For what? Being an idiot?”

 

“They recognised my face. I didn’t rob them. Like I said, I’m already in trouble!” the man yelled back.

 

“f*ck your trouble! I should have never let you in my car. We’re f*cked now!”

 

Something clicked in the man’s head and suddenly he became relaxed and leaned back into the seat. He lit the cigarette, smiling smugly and watching the plume of smoke rise from his mouth. Vito turned with a double take and shoved him in anger.

 

“Why are you smiling?” Vito growled.

 

“Head to Garland, sir. We’ll be safe there.”

 

***

A fly buzzed for dear life, trapped inside a dark green glass bottle. Its wings, draped wet in a warm brew of hops and yeast. It looked desperately for a way out, hitting the edges and almost making it out. It finally decided to stop struggling as death closed in. It stopped fighting. It forgave itself for yearning the nutrition and desire that trapped it. It was completely at peace when it slipped away into another world of existence. You wouldn’t see it from the human perspective. Vito laid on the cold, cement floor of a garage with bottles of beer, whiskey and tequila surrounding his body like the chalk to a deceased. The buzzing and cracking of the mosquito lamp hanging in the corner of the room above a workshop desk kept him from blacking out. Yet it drove his journey into the jungle of his mind. He tossed and turned and his psyche screamed at him hateful slurs of the past. When he arrived at the safe house in Garland, the photos of his hostage father were scattered across every media outlet. The deafening screams of help from his mother rang throughout his entire identity whilst the images of his father flashed before him.

 

The only thing that helped Vito cope in times like this were excessive amounts of liquor. However, they did more damage than good. They gave his inner demons a louder voice. He riveted through emotions of hate, rage, guilt and sadness in what felt like seconds. ‘I’ve got to make this right. I can’t let him die. I let her die. I’ve got to save him. I’ve got to kill those f*cks who did this,’ his mind continued to loop the same thought process as the feelings grew and clawed and mauled his identity with each cycle. His stomach churned and curled and his mouth tasted like sick. Sweat trickled from his forehead as he tried to keep his eyes open. The second he’d close them, he’d descend into a downward spiral. He heaved once and tried to keep himself from spewing. He heaved again and felt the tension building in his upper stomach. Leaning upwards he heaved up black muck that splattered onto his chest and around his body. ‘I’m pathetic. Look at this mess. I need to stop this. I need to do something to make it right’.

 

The garage door leading inside the house opened and a bright light shun inside.

 

“You need a bucket?” the man said, his eyes avoiding looking at Vito. The smell was horrendous and he dry heaved a little himself.

 

Vito shook his head and was finally able to close his eyes and sleep. The door closed.

 

Inside the living room of this house sat the man and his friend on a couch. Apocalypse Now played on the TV in front of them silently in the darkened room. His friend had the ThinkPad open on the coffee table and he moved it around, inspecting it intently with a close eye. The man took a quick swig of his Carona and looked over at his friend.

 

“Abe, this isn’t like any other laptop I’ve seen,” said the friend.

 

The man, Abe, placed down his drink and looked back, “What do you mean?”

 

“The charging unit has engravings on it… Dude, it’s a f*cking police computer.”

 

“What?”

 

“A. f*cking. Police. Computer.”

 

There was a short pause.

 

Abe felt paranoia sweep over him, “He’s a cop?”

 

“You’re telling the story. I don’t know this guy.”

 

“So what do we do?”

 

“Well, I don’t suspect he’s a cop. It’s probably stolen. Either way, there’s a tracking device installed into the charging unit which we need to remove pronto,” he began to unscrew the unit without much thought and he lifted out a large component with a flashing red light on it, “We need to destroy this.”

 

“Destroy it? What if this guy’s actually 5-0?”

 

“It doesn’t matter. It needs to go. He won’t notice the difference. Now’s the time to do it.”

 

“How do we do it?” Abe took another swig of his beer. He worried that if Vito found out, he’d have them arrested if he actually was a cop. If he wasn’t, he’d probably be thanking them.

“Go to my wardrobe. There’s a bat in there.”

 

His mind became conflicted whether to go ahead with destroying the tracker or not. He didn’t need any more heat on him from the force. That would have threatened his chances of getting back to his boys and taking them away from his junkie ex-wife. Abe opened his friend’s bedroom wardrobe and looked down at the stainless steel bat. And with that, he grabbed the steel bat and returned into the living room with complete confidence.

 

He glimpsed one last time at the pulsating light that dully lit the room with every passing beat. Carelessly, he dropped it onto the floor and with a solid, hard swing he smashed the unit into oblivion. No one was going to get in the way of him and his kids, even Vito. He smashed it again, and another time, and another time with a grunt. The red light slowly died out. His friend looked at him in slight fear as Abe slumped back down onto the couch and dropped the bat.

 

The tracking device let out a distress signal to the prescient in Wichita Fall. That signal then redirected to a hitman in Dallas, on the hunt for Vito. A pager buzzed in the passenger seat of a jet black El Camino. The hitman looked over at it with one hand on the wheel as he grabbed the pager and glared at the number. About two blocks away, he pulled over. He stood in a payphone nearby and pressed those pager digits into the phone. A robotic recording of a female’s voice played back.

 

“28 Totem Parkway, Garland, Dallas, Texas, North America.”

 

He forcefully hung up the phone and headed for his El Camino. Making an illegal U-Turn he was east-bound for Garland.

 

***

“What ever happened to your parents?” his friend closed the laptop and turned to Abe.

 

“Ryan, I don’t like talking about it.”

 

“They say you killed your da-“

 

“Ryan,” his voice grew louder, but he quickly poised himself, “You don’t actually believe that. Do you?”

 

The hard truth was that Abe did murder his dad. And it was because of Debby, the ex. His father warned him that she was dangerous. That she didn’t have his best interests at heart. That if they continued to smoke crack and sell drugs that they’d have their kids taken away by Child Services. He didn’t want to hear it. Debby was completely his world and he felt as if every other person on the planet was out to ruin them. His father threatened him that if he didn’t change fast, he would call Child Services. He told Abe that he’d be better off sending Nick and Charlie to himself and his mother. “I’d raise them in a way that you couldn’t. But then again, maybe I’m not cut out for this either. Look at you,” his father told him over the phone one summer night. That crushed Abe and sent him into a psychotic breakdown.

 He grabbed his sawn off and headed to his parents place a few miles away. The doorbell stirred his father from a sleep. When he went downstairs and opened the door, the last thing he saw was his own son with a look of manic spread across his face. He stared down the barrel of a shotgun. They never found his body, and they never found his mother’s either.

 

“No,” said Ryan with a smile, as he turned up the TV volume. He didn’t believe Abe, but neither did he want to open a can of warms. A closet of skeletons that he himself did not want to be a part of. Bubbles from the brightly lit fish tank beside the TV boiled to the surface as a couple of bright blue Neon Tetra darted from the reeds and a Sailfin Pleco scattered across the opal looking pebbles. The black curtains behind the TV were drawn and to the left of the room above his study area was a large canvas poster of Mile’s Davis 1970 album cover Bitches Brew. The poster was divided into two, with the themes of darkness and the light. One, the sacredness of the night with the stars above a tribal women – two intertwined hands interlocking in a conveying of love sprouting from its border. The other, the birth of a new day as a couple stood holding each other on the shoreline as their hair smeared into the dark clouds on the horizon above. Perhaps representing a yearning of connection to their inner, spiritual essence.

 

The home phone on the study desk rang abruptly and jolted the two.

 

Ryan lifted himself from the sofa with a sigh, “Probably someone trying to sell me something…”

 

Ryan picked up the phone and put it against his ear, “Hello?”

 

Abe continued watching the HEUYS buzzing around on the TV screen.

 

“Oh, really? Sweet. Well, I’ll leave now. I won’t be long,” he put the phone on the hook, ending the call.

 

“Who was that?” asked Abe as his curiosity grew steadily.

 

“My dealer. He said he can get an ounce of good stuff for me.”

 

“You’re going now?”

 

Ryan walked over to the coffee table and grabbed his car keys, “Yeah, come and tag along. It won’t be long. He’s a cool dude.”

 

His mind flicked back and forth. He’d been sober for almost a year now, and felt healthier than ever in himself. Yet, something from his past drew him back into that same mind state he was in over a year ago. He looked down the long hallway leading to the garage. ‘What if he wakes?’ Abe thought, ‘No, it’ll be fine. He’s not going to wake.’

 

“Alright.”

 

The duo headed to the olive 91’ Chevrolet sports van parked in the driveway. The box rocked to life and they headed to the Post Vintage Apartments in Uptown, Dallas.

 

“How do you know this guy?” Abe asked, glaring at the lights from high-rises.

 

“He’s good friends with Damon Curry. The dude that helped me renovate my place.”

 

They arrived out the front of the desert orange apartments. Ryan fumbled through his glove box and found his wallet before pulling out a few Benjamin’s. Stuffing them into his pocket, they climbed out of the van and walked through the black gates that lead into the pool yard. Cacti grew wildly in random patches surrounded by pebbles of brown, yellow, and orange and they entered the third wing of apartments, taking the staircase to level two. Room 16B. Ryan knocked rhythmically on the door with his knuckle and they waited for an answer. The lock shuffled and the door opened a little.

 

“Hey man, come in. I’m just cooking some dinner now.”

 

Ryan pushed the door open and Abe followed behind into a hallway that lead to a dining and kitchen area. Don’t Lose My Number by Phil Collins played loudly on the radio kitchen counter as the dealer, dressed in a red silk gown cooked rice over a boiling pot. The beige blinds were pulled shut, and the TV was off. On the dining room table sat a triple beam scale with mounds of pot – orange flakes and crystals almost sparkled underneath the bright light above it. A checkers board laid opened out on the coffee table and a glass bong with pale smoke ghosting from the opening sat beside it.

“Make yourself at home, fellas. If you’re hungry, I’ve got enough.”

 

Ryan smiled and sat on a kitchen stool across from him, “You’re too generous, Regan,” he laughed, “We probably won’t be here for long. My buddy’s had a pretty rough day.”

 

“That’s alright, man. I’ve got some broads comin’ round soon anyway.”

 

Abe glanced around the apartment. It was quite generic, he thought, as he sat down on the couch and turned his head to watch the two. He wondered how long this was going to take. He was very familiar with how drug dealers operated. He was one himself once. They rarely rushed transactions, and never minded a meandering conversation with no foreseeable end.

 

Ryan laughed, “You’re always talking about these women, but I haven’t seen any yet. You aren’t f*cking with me, Regan, are you?”

 

Regan opened a lower, corner cupboard away from view and gripped onto a revolver. This was a cop. And he’d been in the loop with Abe’s dark past. With an abrupt turn, Regan spun around and aimed at Abe from across the room and open fired. He missed. Ryan ducked and dove to the ground with a drowning scream of terror, “What the f*ck, what the f*ck?” he repeated as ringing pierced his ears.

 Abe stood and turned before he pulled his Colt from his front belt tucked underneath his shirt and hit the trigger twice. He missed. Ryan had scrambled to his feet and ran for the door.  Abe fired again twice, hitting Regan once in the chest. The stray bullet hit Ryan in the head, and brain matter splattered all across the fridge as his body dropped hard to the ground with a muted thud.  Abe froze in fear at the sight of his dead friend. The music drained out. Regan had dropped his weapon and was clutching his stomach in agony.

 

Blood oozed from the dealers mouth as he leaned his wobbling body against the kitchen counter, “You motherf*cking cop killer. You f*cking hit me.”

 

 He saw the chance to escape, and grabbed the keys that had fallen from Ryan’s pocket with a mad dash. Ducking, he missed the bullets that Regan had returned again with remaining energy. Heavy footsteps hit the ground as his breathe expelled broken from his mouth and he sprinted down the hallway, down the staircase, past the pool yard and out the front gates. Abe fumbled to get the keys into the ignition, and he looked back over at the apartments in complete fear. Ryan was dead, and he knew now that the police were onto him. Turning the keys, the van revved and he shifted the gear to drive as he sped from the curb. He thought Vito could have set him up and the more his perspective shifted in that direction, the angrier he became. He had to leave Dallas tonight, but before he left he needed to retrieve his money back at Garland.

 

The El Camino stalked the streets of eastern Dallas like a shark on the hunt for prey. Weaving in and out of side streets, the hitman glared at street signs and peered over at his street directory opened on the dashboard in front of him. ‘Totem Parkway’ lit up from the headlights that illuminated brightly, and he made a right turn towards their safe house. The black car of stealth rolled to a halt at the curb. Across the road, number 28, were Vito laid off-guard on the garage floor inside. The hitman opened his wallet and stared in a trance at a picture of a little girl. It was his daughter. Hiding it away in his glovebox, he reached for his silenced pistol and held it tightly as he looked back at number 28. The lights were on. People must have been home. But he wasn’t too concerned. It’d be a quick job. In and out.

 

Without regard, Abe sped through traffic in fear of his life. Garland was now five minutes away, and police backup would be out for his blood. He wished he would have just ended him then and there. He slammed his fist onto the steering wheel, “The f*cking tracking device!” he yelled, turning down Cardington Avenue with a sharp skid.

 

The hitman thumped the door shut and looked both directions down the quiet street. He was bald and pale. Fingerless gloves covered his hands as he pulled a cigarette out of his leather jackets front pocket. Placing it in the ridge of his lips, he leaned down and sparked his lighter. He always needed something to calm the nerves before killing someone. This wasn’t just anyone this time. This was something much more personal. His daughters face flashed through his mind. He couldn’t get rid of the image. They locked him away from his family for years to rot in a cell. He missed his mother’s funeral because of it. He lost contact with his wife and child, and now, all he wanted was to end the person responsible. He’d been doing hit jobs for a year since he left prison, and miraculously the man who caused all of this to happen was Vito Asiago. He fell right into his lap. God had answered his prayer. He tossed the butt onto the ground and stomped on it with his black, formal shoes as he looked both ways before closing in for the kill.

 

The van almost balanced on two wheels as Abe turned down Totem Parkway. He drove up the curb and onto the front lawn of Ryan’s house that left dirt spitting out behind the wheels. His heart in his throat, he stuffed his gun into his waist and climbed out of the van in panic. Vito was a dead man. Abe burst through the front door screaming, “I’m gunna f*cking kill you. You set me up, you f*cking pig!” Kicking open the garage door from inside the house and aiming down were Vito laid. He had vanished. Abe felt his heart sink and he turned around slowly to stare down the narrow hallway. He could hear running water coming from the bathroom at the back of the house. No sound was made as Abe moved gradually down the back hallway with his back lightly grazing the wall, and the pistol drawn ahead of him. Droplets of blood were splashed in a short trail towards the closed bathroom door. He cocked the pistol. Abe turned his head back down the hall and noticed the blood trail ran from the garage.

 

“You in there?” yelled Abe, the pistol drawn.

 

There was no response.

 

Abe became worried “If you don’t open the door right now. I’m going to shoot right through it!”

 

The hitman took a few steps towards the house before a shot rang out from inside. He turned and swiftly climbed back inside the black shark. Maybe he was too late? He looked in all directions and impatience set in. A scream of pain came from inside. He felt his chance of vengeance slip away and the reality of the situation had washed over him. The light of a car and the revving of an engine came from behind him. A van crashed up the curb and spat out dirt on the front lawn of 28. The hitman watched as a man rushed inside the house with a pistol stuffed in his pants. He chuffed and shook his head, “Too many agents.”

 

The sound of water continued running. Abe opened the bathroom door cautiously and peered inside. Vito sat slumped on the toilet seat, holding his waist as blood seeped between his clutched fingers. His head was down, but he was still awake. Just.

 

“f*ck. They got you too?” yelled Abe.

 

Vito lifted his head, feeling delirium rush through his body, “What? I shot myself in my sleep.”

 

“We gotta leave now. They killed Ryan. And – and, we smashed the tracking device inside your laptop.”

 

Vito lifted his head again but this time a look of confusion crossed his face, “Tracking device?” he heaved in pain as he grabbed a towel and wrapped it tightly around his body, covering the wound.

“You didn’t know about it? That’s a registered police computer. Are you a cop?”

 

 Vito heaved again, “No, no. I was an undercover in Abilene, but they set me up.”

 

“Who? Who set you up?”

 

“The Armadillo.”

 

“What? So you’re not going to arrest me?”

 

Vito looked with a smile of frustration and pain, “No, I’m not going to arrest you. Now will you help me get up already? We need to leave now. We’re in some serious sh*t.”

 

Abe pushed his arm underneath his and held Vito’s shoulder, “Where are we going to go?” the duo hobbled down the hallway towards the front door.

 

“Towards Austin.”

 

“Fine. But we’ll take the van. Too much heat with your car.” They stumbled out the front door.

 

Abe opened the van door with one hand and lifted him inside the passenger seat.

 

“Don’t forget my laptop,” said Vito. That reminded him, his money was inside.

 

“I won’t be a second,” he dashed back inside the house.

 

Vito rested his head back and gritted his teeth in pain, glaring back through the side mirrors. A jet black El Camino pulled away from the curb and drove off into the night. Abe returned holding a laptop underneath one armpit, and a brief case in his other hand. Tossing them into the back of the van, he turned the ignition and reversed back with a thud from the curb.

 

They had no idea. But the hitman had placed a tracking device underneath the front guard of the van.

 

“You gunna be alright?” Abe tried catching his breath, looking over at his new comrade.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Just drive.”

 

And they drove for miles south. Through the darkened streets of Italy with the silhouette of its water tower, through the streets of Frost filled with little café’s, passing the historical brick high school of Hubbard, where they finally went further off road just past the dried, arid plains of Thelma. An old wooden house that had partially collapsed over the years allowed for a Cedar Elm to spiral out of its roof and into the sky. There was no sign of occupancy. It had been abandoned many moons ago. Vito had successfully stopped the bleeding of his wound during their travels and fell asleep. He awoke as soon as the vans engine cut.

 

“Where are we?” Vito opened his eyes slowly, rubbing the crust away. He lifted himself upright but groaned in pain, remembering the wound.

 

“Just out of Thelma. I just scoped out this place. It’s abandoned.”

 

Abe had found a flashlight in the back of the van and held it as he wandered around to the passenger side and helped Vito out.

 

“I’m good. I’m good,” said Vito, as he stood on his own and stared out into the pitch blackness of the fields that lay bare ahead. Meanwhile, Abe grabbed the brief case and decided to leave the laptop inside the van. They walked across the desert floor until they reached the rickety veranda of the dingy house. It creaked and croaked and they tried opening the front door but it was locked. Wind whistled with a howl across the side of the house were small scrub occupied the overgrown garden. Rusted wind chimes made of obsolete car parts rattled in the cooling breeze. A storm was approaching from the east as lightening scattered across the meridian in a soundless display of electricity and the dark clouds were seen in this momentarily glowing beast that moved westward.

 

Vito gripped the sliding window on the left side of the house and pushed it up, “Climb it.” His comrade slipped through and stumbled into the uninhibited mess inside. He shun the torch around the room and discovered it was mostly bare. There once was a room at the back of the house that the rouge Cedar now possessed. There was no furniture, spare a wooden chair and small circular table in the centre. Abe wandered to the front door, and attempted to unbolt the lock. It was rusted shut.

 

“The lock’s seized. You’ll have to climb through.”

 

Abe had returned back to the van and found a few dusty sleeping bags inside, a packet of Vickies Salt and Vinegar, two dozen bottles of water, an old radio, a set of AA batteries and a few pouches of tobacco and rolling papers. The pair had settled in just beside the Cedar Elm in their sleeping bags, as they looked upon through the large gap inside the roof that opened to the stars and heavens above. Twinkling lights of emerald green, sapphire blue and ruby red sparkled harmonically and dazzlingly before them and they both felt a sense of rest in themselves growing stronger. They listened to talk back radio to feel less alone in the world they felt was closing in on them and Abe smoked cigarettes to calm his meandering thoughts.

 

“Who killed your friend?” Vito continued to stare above.

 

“An undercover.”

 

“They wanted him dead?”

 

“No. They were after me. He got caught in the crossfire.”

 

“Since we’re on the run together, now. I need to know what you’re in for,” Vito turned and looked over at the orange hue burn from the tip of the cigarette. There was a pause, and Abe exhaled with a drawn sigh that foreshadowed the regret he was about explain.

 

“I killed my parents a year and a bit ago. I was living in Amarillo at the time with my wife, Debby. We used to sling crack together to make ends meet. Well, not long after she gave birth to my twin boys; Charlie and Nicholas. As they grew older, they noticed how we were acting. We started to smoke our own product and from there on in our relationship with the boys spiralled. They’d tell my father; they’d call him Pa… that they didn’t want to live with us anymore. That they were tired of strangers coming and going at all hours of the night and day. Dad and Mom never liked Debby and swore that she’d be the reason they’d visit my grave. One night, my dad called and was completely drunken and hysterical. He said that Charlie told him that Debby had made him do sick things with strangers. I denied it. Then, he said something that completely set me off. He told me that maybe being a father wasn’t suited for him, because of how I turned out. He was threatening to call Child Services, and I couldn’t live with my boys being taken away from me. So, I went over to their place and killed them. My father, with a shotgun. My mother, a pillow. Since that day, I’ve been on the run. The police moved Debby and my boys to Corpus Christi and I haven’t seen them since.”

 

“I understand the pain of having your child taken from you. I wasn’t long married either, and she was pregnant. I should probably give some back story to all of this… I worked as an undercover in Adeline for about three years. Before that, I was a cop. My father was the sheriff of the town, and honestly my idol. At some point, a few weeks ago I was on a sting with my squad on the outskirts of town. We’d been watching this gang for a long time move narcotics from there, to Wichita Falls, and out into Oklahoma. That night, we were meant to arrest them. We had all the evidence to. But, my men turned on me. And for whatever reason, I don’t know. I woke in hospital with the news that my wife had overdosed that night. And I know damn well she wouldn’t go back to heroin. They did it…” he expelled a sigh, “I snuck from the hospital and went to visit the only person that I thought could help me make sense of all this. Turns out, he was in on it as well. That’s his laptop I have. And so, the other day you would have heard the news of Sherriff Asiago taken hostage. I’m Vito Asiago. And that’s my father.”

 

“So, who’s The Armadillo?”

 

“I don’t know. But what I found on that laptop gave me a lead. My friend turned cocksucker was reporting information to this Armadillo. And I got a call on his phone, from a Derrick in Austin who left a message that confirmed my death. Apparently there’s some wedding this Saturday in Austin. Once I find that man, I’m going to squeeze everything I can out of him to find the Armadillo.”

“It’s a crazy f*cking world we’re living in man. But once you kill this guy, then what?”

 

“Peace in knowing I avenged the death of my wife and child. Let me ask you this: once you get to Corpus Christi and take your kids back, then what?”

 

“I suppose peace in knowing my kids are safe from Debby. I think that’s what everyone is searching for. We’re all trying to reclaim our past defeats and conquer what’s hiding inside,” Abe passed the cigarette over to Vito in an offering gesture.

 

Vito inhaled and watched the stars above stare back down upon them from where the heavens saw time as only circular, one dimensional, “I think you’re right.”

 

“My father left me and my mother for another women in another state when I was four. Years later, my mom and dad got back together but nothing was ever the same. I hated him for leaving us. And I hated her for coming back to him after what he did. I felt betrayed on both sides, and I promised to myself that I’d never leave my kids…” Abe began to roll another cigarette, “I didn’t mean to leave them. I had no choice.”

 

“… I listened to my mother burn to death in a house fire. It was my fault. I plugged in too many electronics into a power board, and I tried to save her. But there was too much smoke, and, the hallway had collapsed. My father since then has despised me because of it. And I can’t let him die because of another mistake I’ve made. On the report to the Armadillo, it said before my attempted hit, that I was conspiring too much about information that wasn’t meant to be shared. I put him in jeopardy. I’ve done this, and now I need to fix it.”

 

“In essence, we’re both searching for the same thing,” said Abe, “To make up for the awful mistakes we have inflicted on the ones we loved the most.”

 

A crack of thunder broke the silence and it rumbled across the plains, hovering over them like some intergalactic space vessel.

 

“Yeah…” Vito watched the stars move across the meridian before his very eyes, and shooting stars shot across in a minute display of fleeting power, and the Milky Way crystallised into the void of space, and the storm of the beast crossed over them just past midnight. Rain belted down heavily, awaking them both from their deep slumber before they took shelter over towards the chair and table. Neither of them said a word, yet they couldn’t sleep and they listened and watched the rain fall through the roof into the ground surrounding the Cedar, and felt their subconscious identity gnawing at them for what they had done. And they saw this as a sign of action to be taken. They waited patiently for the redness in the east to burst from the corners of the horizon, and by dawn they both sat outside on the veranda smoking cigarettes and listening to country music play statically through the worn radio.    

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Chapter 3 - Oye Como Va

 

The duo entered Austin just before midday and sought refuge in the Ella Hotel on Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in the central of the city. They’d stopped at a Goodwill’s and bought clothes and suitcases. Vito and Abe walked through the great, white concrete pillars of the hotel. Vito, dressed in a maroon, formal buttoned shirt and denim jeans, and Abe, in a loose, beige top with brown shorts. Tired yet slightly refreshed, they requested a room for only two nights.

 

“Here’s two hundred. If anyone asks to see us, call our room first and let us know,” Vito slipped the gentleman behind the admin desk two bills extra. This hotel was notorious for weddings catered to the characters of the underworld, and with a slim hope of luck they wouldn’t have to look far for Derrick. As they walked through the large atrium filled with antique pieces and artwork from the ages, florists worked bustlingly around them with roses of red, white and blue, and purple dazzling catnips, and finely bloomed daisies, and fluffy orange marigold accompanied by pretty pink Crane’s Bills. Passing the auditorium doors to the right of the lobby, tables covered in delicate white silk were placed, banners and ribbons of floral colours hung above and mosaic artworks were being carefully placed on the walls.

 

“Looks like a wedding,” guessed Abe, as they began to climb the staircase to the second floor, his hand skimming the rails with a light grip. Vito stayed quiet walking beside him with hold of the suitcase handle in his grasp. They were lucky to have gotten a room as vacancy was filling up fast, and they managed to score the corner room in the east side of the hotel thanks to the help of Benjamin Frank. Their room was finely decorated and newly renovated with polished wooden floor boards, state of the art furniture and enough room to fit a small militia.

 

“Think this was really necessary?” Abe placed down his brief case on the long, narrow dining table fit for twelve. Vito walked past him and sat at the far end of the table, zipping open the laptop case and placing it open onto the smooth, oak bench top. The place echoed.

 

“Yeah, it’s luxurious. But that’s not why we’re here,” he watched the screen load and laptop wake to life with the humming sounds of the fans inside it, “You just need to trust me.” Vito tapped loudly on the keys and began to delve into the archived files to seek more information.

 

“I wouldn’t be here right now if I didn’t trust you,” he clicked open the brief case and flipped the edges of the hundred dollar bills with a sense of pride.

 

 He searched the name ‘Derrick’ and location ‘Austin’ through the database, and the result was a massive amount of people. It had to be more specific. Vito added to his search for ‘Derrick’s living in Austin with a criminal record’. The list shortened significantly, but it still wasn’t enough. Trying to close in the search tighter, he remembered the message on Craig’s phone. The man had a Puerto Rican accent. Vito quickly added that ethnicity to the search, and it lowered the list to two. One, an 85 year old male with a traffic offence in August, 1933. The other, a Derrick B Nazario. A 39 year old male with a record that’d make the majority of crooks look like playground bullies. Robberies, hijacks, grand theft, small drug charges and an attempted hit. He spent ten years serving in the Ferguson Unit Prison for conspiring to assassinate federal agents under an alleged rising mob empire. It noted that he allegedly had close ties with members of the Bikie Gang ‘The Bandidos’ throughout Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

 

“I thought this place might’ve had a bar. I could go for a drink,” Abe wandered aimlessly around the rooms of the apartment like a kid at a candy store. Tall windows in the living space across from the dining area allowed for light to burst inside the room, shining upon the white leather couches and glass coffee table. Piton pink and mandarin orange widow’s thrills flowered in pots around the apartment, whilst Swiss cheese plants were spread about. Magazines were scattered across the coffee table, Vouge on the top with Nadja Auermann holding a Cherokee patterned umbrella in a light blue flared overall. “Would you look at this?” he huffed in surprise at a shelf full of records. He picked up a single of The Seeker by The Who and slipped it from the plastic sheet before placing it on a turntable and dropping the needle at the edge. 

 

Vito wasn’t listening. He ran a search through the private email system on Craig’s account for Nazario. Multitudes of messages between the two were there in plain sight. Every single one. A message stuck out from the rest like dog sh*t. Its’ subject: ‘Wedding Invitation’. He opened the file.

 

 

‘Dear Craig and Suzie Galton,

You’re invited to celebrate the wedding of Derrick and Leonie on February the 28th at Hotel Ella in Austin, Texas. The ceremony will be held on the front lawns and reception held inside the auditorium of Hotel Ella. We are looking forward to seeing every one of you and sharing this special moment in both of our lives.

~ Derrick and Leonie’

 

Bingo. Vito had hit the jackpot. His instincts told him right, and with a sigh of relief a smile grew slowly on his generally cold face. Now, it was just a matter of figuring out how to gate crash the wedding without attracting attention, and isolating Derrick for a chance to squeeze every ounce of information out of him about The Armadillo.

 An idea sprouted in his mind, “There’s a bar downstairs.”

 

***

Vito sipped on a Manhattan and Abe a 5th Ave. Away from the bar and any wandering ears, they sat in silence and watched the world pass by outside. They barley spoke, fearful of being picked out of the crowd by any onlookers. Abe glared at Vito with a look of curiosity but Vito dully stared back and lifted the glass to his mouth again. The ice cubes rattled and he took a long sip. The whiskey burnt the back of this throat the more the glass emptied. Whilst Abe was trying to figure out what was going on in his comrade’s mind, Vito continued scanning the environment casually, searching for an answer.  

 

“You’ve got a lot going on in there,” Abe smirked and swirled his glass.

 

“Better than nothing,” he rebutted calmly and continued staring outside the window at cars and people passing by.

 

“Waiting for someone?”

 

“No.”

 

An entourage of caterers suddenly appeared from around the block outside, dressed neatly in tuxes with single blue roses in their front pocket rolling along trollies of what Vito guessed was food, and covered by thick white sheets. They all followed one man, dressed the same as the rest of them expect for a name tag, ‘Daryl’. He sported a large, black beard and was practically bald. Vito assumed he was the man in charge of the catering for the wedding. His eyes locked on to them tighter than a death grip, and they entered the main lobby all in mid conversation.

 

“Yeah, I’m hungry myself,” said Abe, noticing Vito watching them as he picked on peanuts and watched them pass on through into the auditorium. “You know what I’m fixin’ for? A steak. A medium rare, juicy, steak with… with some mash potatoes and gravy on the side…” he took a sip, “It’d go down nice with this cocktail. I’m telling you.”

 

The blueprints of Vito’s plans had begun manifesting in his mind, “Alright…” he looked about and back at Abe, “Let’s get you that steak. I’ve got to make a stop somewhere anyway.”

 

They took the van and Abe drove.

 

“I’m fixin’ for some Cracker Barrel. I haven’t had a decent meal since I met you,” Abe stopped at a set of traffic lights and sighed, before sparking up a cigarette and looking over at a silent Vito, “What, am I getting the silent treatment or something?”

 

“Just drop me off where I told you, and you go get that steak. Meet me back there in an hour,” he glared out the window into traffic and watched as cars flooded across in front of them. The van was no better than Vito’s car. If anything, it was worse. Connected to a murder of an innocent man. Vito wasn’t very concerned at this point, and if anyone tried to intervene there’d be bloodshed.

 

“Are you sure you don’t wanna come?”

 

“I’ll eat when I’m done.”

 

“Alright, but I can get a takeaway ba-“

 

“I said. I’ll eat. When I’m done.”

 

Abe looked at Vito with confusion and concern and decided to stop talking.

 

The Van jolted to a stop in front of a Macy’s and Vito hoped out, “An hour max, don’t be late,” he tapped on the window seal and turned away, pushing the glass door entrance open. Abe glanced at Vito and turned his attention back to the road ahead of him, pulling away from the curb.

 

The black shark eased into a parking space and its rumbling quietened. The hitman glared over a few car slots and stared at the parked olive van before turning his attention ahead to the Cracker Barrel. Looking down in his lap, he loaded his pistol and shoved it inside his worn leather, belt holster. He knew that they wouldn’t escape this time. But like a lion in the arid plains of Africa, he waited for the right time to snatch his prey. Waylon Jennings played quietly in the desolate gift shop of Americana and he passed through to the serving desk of the restaurant where a young teenage boy doodled away on a napkin.

 

The boy looked up at the hitman and produced a nervous smile, “Table for one?” he asked.

 

“I’m actually meeting a friend.”

 

“Oh,” he looked around behind him, “Sure… come on in,” the boy handed him a menu, but the hitman looked beyond the boy and walked determinedly through the restaurant. A family sat in the middle in loud conversation; a couple, near the door to the kitchen, and Abe sat on his lonesome in a booth to the front – napkin tucked into his shirt, cutting away at a juicy, rib eye steak with a side of curly fries looking like a damn fool. A presence was felt behind Abe, and he turned just as the hitman approached his table. He smiled and looked at the seat across the booth from Abe, “You mind if I take a seat? I know there’s others, but…” a softer, sombre tone was spoken, “My wife and I would come and sit here often before she passed…” Abe, taken off guard looked startled, and with a mouthful of steak he nodded in agreement and downed a mouthful of Arnold Palmer.

 

He swallowed the drink “I can move,” Abe said, and he wiped a smidge of gravy from the corner of his mouth before he began to stand in a hurry, “It’s not a problem. We all got our special place.”

 

“No,” the hitman put his hand out in a motion insisting Abe to sit. Abe slowly sat back down. He slid into the seat adjacent and glared past him momentarily, “I know you’re just a stranger. But… I wouldn’t mind some company,” his eyes lowered to the steak, “They cook a storm here, don’t they?” he laughed, and Abe cracked a chuckle as well.

 

“They sure do.”

 

***

‘Where the f*ck is he?’ thought Vito, as he stood outside the Macy’s store holding a black, garment bag. It’d been a little over an hour, and he hadn’t heard or seen from Abe. He thought maybe he’d left him stranded because he assumed Abe distrusted him. Then, as the time ticked over he thought maybe he was arrested. The sun shun down brightly upon Vito and he felt the heats full force. He went to turn his back when the olive van rolled up to the curb. Vito shook his head in frustration. The window winded down, and Abe held up a takeaway bag with a smirk on his face, “I know you didn’t want anything, but I didn’t eat the fries.”

 

“Thanks,” Vito said sarcastically and he opened the passenger door and closed it hard letting out a weary sigh as he draped the garment bag over his lap, “What took you?” he asked abruptly, visibly irritated and he clipped in his seatbelt with an annoyed grunt.

 

“I got stuck talking to this widow for the whole time,” Abe cuffed his hand as he sparked a cigarette, blowing it out fast, “Felt bad for the f*cker, so I let him talk to me about his life,” he looked over at the bag in Vito’s lap and gestured his head towards it, “That a suit?”

 

“No. Don’t worry about it. I’ll explain when we get back to the hotel.”

 

Abe paused for a moment and then nodded as he pulled from the curb. Shortly after, they arrived back at the Hotel Ella and once again passed through the atrium that had been further, elaborately decorated with flowers and plants. A Spanish orchestra with horns, and flutes, and trumpets, guitars, and drums and synths rehearsed in the auditorium and the duo headed for their room.

 

Abe unlocked the door and walked ahead inside. With a solid close, Vito paused and looked at his comrade’s back, “I need a favour… And it’s the last thing I’m going to ask of you.”

 

Abe turned and raised a brow within a mixture of concern and mild curiosity, “What’s that?” he tossed the van keys onto the dining table and folded his arms.

Vito hung the garment on the back of a wooden chair at the oak table and sat down at the end, “Take a seat. I’ll explain what’s happening.” Abe looked at him with a feeling of worry and a deep rooted sense of distrust, hesitantly standing there – one foot in, one foot out, “Come on. Please. Sit.”   

 

Abe pulled the chair back with his eyes locked on Vito and dropped into the pillow of air beneath him without saying a word. Since the two had met, a tension had been boiling and suspicions of one another they had held were rising to the surface. They tried to keep them under control, yet they both sensed the imitate danger to come.

“We’re leaving tomorrow night. And I need you to be ready out the back at 11,” Vito leaned forward. He quietened his tone, “There’s something that I need to find out. Something I need to do… and once it’s done… we’ve got to move - fast. And when I say fast… I mean fast,” his eyes were locked onto Abe’s, “You’ve got to trust me on this. Once this is done. You drop me off… we part ways.”

 

Abe contemplated for a brief second and zoned out at a fly flustering on the black door behind Vito. He slowly begun nodding with commitment, “Sure,” he said becoming more certain “Okay, sure.”

 

“You gotta promise me that you trust me. Because if you don’t, we’re both f*cked…” he leaned back into his chair, folding his arms, “And that’s not a threat. It’s a fact.”

 

Abe nodded and leaned back slowly, crossing his arms and breathing deeply.

 

“I promise… I trust you.”

 

“Good.”

 

That night, Vito tossed and turned. Tormented by dreams of his past, both good and bad. It made him contemplate his future actions and the possible consequences of going ahead with finding the anonymous Armadillo. He smelt the freshly cut grass, the sizzling of steak on the grill and he felt the summer sunlight raining down on him through the gaps in the foliage above. It was Christmas 1965, and he ran around outside through the sprinkler with his cousins and they played hide and seek, went fishing at the lake and built a fort in the bushland beside his grandparent’s property in Alabama. Marvin Gaye played on the speakers as an abundance of food was spread out and shared across the long, wooden outdoor table. They cooked the fish him and his cousins caught. Smiling faces, laughing, and love. After lunch, he went down the lake with his younger cousin Denis. Denis was only three. Walking along the wharf, they dazed out at the burning flame in the sky and its shimmering colours on the still lake. This was the pinnacle of childhood, unknowingly about to change forever. There was a splash. Vito turned. Denis was gone. More splashing. He looked down underneath the wharf and saw Denis sinking and struggling to stay afloat. Vito screamed for help but no one came.

 

The plea for help echoed throughout the bush, and quickly emerged from the woodlands his father and Uncle Eric. They dove into the water and submerged, pulling up a lifeless Denis. Crying, screaming and confusion. Vito ran back to the house with fear and guilt. He locked himself in his room with his heart in his throat. Scrambling under his blankets, and tried to close his eyes and convince himself this was all a dream. The door knocked a while after. His mother came in and sat on the edge of the bed, Vito hidden underneath the blankets sobbing quietly.

 

“Denis is okay. It wasn’t your fault. We should have been there. Please… just come back downstairs,” she said as she rubbed his leg through the sheets.

Vito opened his eyes with a gasp, gripping the sheets and staring at the ceiling fan spinning. He couldn’t close his eyes without drifting back into a hellish childhood nightmare. It was real. He felt like he was there. The apartment laid silent and the light from the moon brightened the room. He watched the shadow of a palm tree outside blow in the breeze and dogs barked in the distance. There wasn’t much hope in trying to sleep now, and so he headed for the kitchen and made himself a coffee. 4:45AM read the digital clock on the counter. He figured he might as well start prepping now… ironing his tux, polishing his shoes, and going over notes he had written the night before on the back of a magazine. The orange shade of a night lamp hued onto the walls of the dining room and the screams and cries of his father and uncle washed over him. He could hear them like they were there. Vito tapped his pen on the table to distract himself with little success. The cork on a champagne bottle popped and he found himself pouring the bubbling liquor into a tall glass watching it fizzle and foam.

 

With one hand levering on the inside of the window sill in the living room, the other holding the glass, he looked outside and into darkened front lawns and deserted streets. He downed the drink and poured another glass. A drunken stagger to the dining table and he grabbed the magazine in a scrunched fist, staring down at it. A clean tear, and the notes were crumpled in his grasp. They toppled into the kitchen bin, and he slumped down into the mauve arm chair glaring out the window, drinking from the bottle and watching the stars cross the clear night sky.

 

He felt a light push on his shoulder and opened his eyes slowly. His head ached and he felt the heat of alcohol airing from his mouth. Abe looked over him with a grip on his shoulder, “You’ve gotta get up.”

 

“What time is it?” Vito wiped the crust from his eyes and let out an exhausted yawn.

 

“12. I’m surprised the band outside didn’t wake you,” he held a black mug in one hand and sipped on his boiling cup of coffee, turning away and walking into the kitchen, “You must have enjoyed yourself last night.”

 

“Band?” Vito said, then realising what the date was, “Oh, f*ck,” he muttered and scampered to his feet, leaving the virtually empty bottle of champagne on the small glass stand beside him.

 

“Yeah, think that wedding is today. Did you want any of this?” Abe flipped an egg in the sizzling frying pan with tomatoes and mushrooms.

 

An orchestra played outside on the front lawns on a small stage to a growing audience of people that took their seats onto white, fold out chairs. Adjacent to the stage was a podium covered by a white tent roof that looked upon an aisle that split the sea of people.  “Yeah…” he muttered, anticipation growing in his gut mixed with a feeling of excitement and closure. Yet uncertainty.

 

“I’ll have to refuel the van some point today. You know where you want me to drop you off?” he turned and wiped his hand on a cloth and picked up the boiling mug again with delicacy.

 

Vito walked through the kitchen without looking at Abe, “I’m not sure, yet.” He showered, and dressed into the tux whilst glaring at his reflection in the mirror of the bathroom. An electric razor buzzed as he ran it over his beard, watching the hair drop into the sink. Patting it with alcohol and wiping his hands, he looked like a different person. He needed to look presentable, and so he swabbed a bit of jell on his fingers and ran them through his hair – going over it finely with a comb.  Amy walked up from behind and held his waist, tilting her head and smiling at him, “I’m going to head to my sisters and get ready now. I’ll see you at the chapel,” Vito turned his head and they had a quick peck before she disappeared behind him. Wherever he went, she reminded him of her. Picking up a small, blue rose from inside a drawer he’d stored the day before, he placed it onto his front pocket and took once last glance in the mirror then flicked off the light switch.

 

“What’s this?” Abe laughed, plating the food as he looked at Vito walk back into the kitchen, “Don’t tell me. You’re going to object to the marriage?” the sausages rolled, covered in oil onto the white plates.

 

“After you refuel. Stay here, until we have to leave,” Vito grabbed some silver cutlery and leaned on the bench, cutting the cooked tomatoes and onions. Abe nodded and placed the pan into the sink, running a burst of cool water onto it as steam bellowed the air around it.

 

“Whatever you say.”

 

Outside on the lawn, the ceremony was underway and Vito watched as the groom made his way down the aisle to the podium. Derrick Nazario. The key to The Armadillo. His hair, black and slicked back. He had a small goatee and moustache and he stood patiently waiting for his wife to be. Nazario wore a black and white suit and a red rose. Vito was ready to run down and beat the truth from him. He couldn’t. He needed to wait for the right time, when he was away from crowds, off guard and vulnerable. It wasn’t going to be a simple task. The perimeters were scattered with body guards; tall, wide men armed, mean and ready to kill. Nazario must have had a death wish trying to f*ck with Vito. He was going out with blood, bullets and sirens. Suddenly, an escorted Bentley pulled to the curb and the crowd turned to look back. A gentleman opened the door and appeared Leonie with a dazzling, white head piece and a flowing white wedding dress that was held by a lady behind her. Her blonde hair, tied up in an intricate way underneath her hidden head piece and she pursed her red lips with a smile. She seemed a lot younger than Derrick. Enough for him to be her father. Vito frowned and watched her walk down the aisle, a flower girl behind her tossing daises about. He saw Amy again. His fists clenched and he turned away, holding back mournful tears.

 

In his bedroom, he sat on the edge of his queen sized bed with its cream and lime sheets loading and arming himself with his pistol. He pushed it into his holster underneath the tux and stared at the wall ahead of him with a blank mind. He was ready.

 

The elevator bell dinged and he walked casually out into the atrium, filled with a line of people in their best suits and dresses shuffling slowly into the auditorium. Two bodyguards stood at the doors to the reception, and others were watching the guests from the corners of the lobby. The air was filled with loud conversation and laughter, and smells of cologne and perfume drifted about. Hands behind his back, Vito quickly scanned the room and with a hurried stride and he approached the open doors to the auditorium where the big band Spanish orchestra played loudly inside.

 

“I need identification,” one of the body guards, a Croatian with a head a mother could only love, stopped Vito with his hand out.

 

“I’m working with the catering team. I’m running late,” he pushed forward but the body guard moved into his path, stopping him again.

 

“I.D” The man was now angry, and glanced over at his partner with a mean look. Vito had to think quickly.

 

“Look, my brothers Daryl,” Vito became mad, “He runs the catering business. He called and said they needed an extra hand. So, you either let me in or sabotage the food for this wedding.”

 

The bodyguard contemplated, looked over at his partner who nodded and huffed a little as he stepped to his side without making further eye contact. Vito passed into the reception. Suddenly, the big band broke into the chorus of Tito Puente’s ‘Oye Como Va’. He waltzed down the middle aisle with charismatic confidence. The horns of the song blared out, and he glanced around the room. It was large, and filled with guests sitting at tables covered in the same white silk. Valses occupied the tables with flowers of all sorts beaming from the top. Colourful banners hung from above, and mosaic pictures filled the walls of the auditorium. Waiters rushed around to tables, taking orders and refilling beverages. Champagne corks popped and loud laughter and conversation erupted. More bodyguards occupied the reception to the back of the stage. To the right of the stage, the band was set up and completely absorbed in their performance. To the left, was a table were Derrick and Leonie sat. A waiter was leaned down and listening to Derrick speak into his ear, whilst Leonie looked around the room in amazement as she sipped champagne.

 

A caterer approached Vito from down the aisle with a puzzled look on his face and stopped in front of him, “Who are you?..” he asked with confusion and surprise, a layer of sweat on his forehead.

 

“Where’s Daryl?” Vito walked around the man acting frustrated, “I told him we needed to speak about the entrée.” The man turned and followed beside him.

 

“He isn’t here… Who are you?”

 

Vito continued striding down the aisle, “His brother. Now, take me to the kitchen. I need to sort a few things out pronto,” he continued walking.

 

“Richard? Isn’t he an electrician?”

 

Vito laughed, “Oh, so he hasn’t told you about me. Damn fool. Sounds about right. Typical Daryl.”

 

“Oh, alright…” the man was convinced, “Well, it’s just behind the stage area. This way,” the man took the lead and Vito followed him closely behind, walking right past the front of the stage and momentarily glancing at Derrick. The entertained guests were oblivious. Derrick was oblivious. His bodyguards were oblivious. It was show time. They stepped over electrical leads and the floor covered in a foam, circuiting through a backstage maze of waiters, tables, and large kegs of alcohol before finally reaching the back room door that was propped open and cooks buzzed busily around, dodging one another, frying food, blending seasonings, cursing and working away at their master pieces for the hungry guests.

 

“What did you need?” asked the caterer, turning around and standing in the middle of this chaos.

 

Vito dodged an impatient cook, “I’ll call him from here. Thank you,” he said, and the man nodded with a busy mind before darting out the door back into the auditorium. He stared around the loud kitchen. His eyes scanned the surroundings. A teenage cook sweated away behind a stove with boiling pots, looking quite anxious and frantic at the scene he was in. He looked vulnerable. Vito walked up to him and patted him on his shoulder, leaning towards his ear, “The bride and groom are out of alcohol. Where are the bottles of champagne stored?” he asked, and the kid looked at him with confusion.

 

“Sir, I’m not sure what you mean. I’m only a junior cook. I just know that there’s a cool room over there,” he pointed towards a large, steel sliding door. The kid guessed he was being tested, but was too up tight to realise he was being manipulated.

 

“Right answer, buddy. Keep at it,” Vito patted the startled and confused kid on the back hard and headed through the kitchen, passing the chefs with tall white hats and fancy white outfits. No one seemed to notice him. He didn’t look out of place. A firm slide on the cooler room door and cold air hit him in his face. Inside, caskets of wine and champagne were stockpiled to intoxicate the wedding three times over. Vito closed the door behind him and an automatic yellow light flicked on with the quite humming of an air conditioner. He had to pick something fast. Grabbing a bottle of Moet and a bottle of champagne, he turned and rushed back through the kitchen and into the backstage were waiters were beginning to serve entrees. He looked around with anxiety, and popped the cork before tilting the liquor into two glasses. A quick scuffle in his pockets and he pulled out a small vile with a clear liquid inside it. He popped the opening and poured this into one of the glasses. Everyone was too busy to notice the sabotage taking place and the bodyguards were too engorged in their free meal to even care to keep a watchful eye.

 

***

Ted Oldman and Bobby Sagot, both senior bodyguards to Nazario stood outside the towering white pillars in silence guarding the entrance to the lobby. Both had worked for their boss for over ten years and had complete faith in their abilities. Both men, African American and wore suits – underneath, heavy bullet proof vests. Ted, the older of the two, had partially served in Vietnam and was blinded in his right eye. His arms were scarred from burns when him and his squadron set fire to a village and almost became trapped themselves. Luckily, an Australian chopper nearby saw the flames and had rescued the doomed group of troops. Bobby Sagot, a 32 year old ex-prison guard was much shorter than his partner and spoke with a lisp. His eyes were piercing, and his personality, charismatic to say the least.

 

“Time to head inside,” said Ted, breaking the silence. Bobby nodded and they turned for the lobby. At the entrance to the auditorium, the tall Croatian bodyguard who had stopped Vito glanced down at his watch, wondering when he would take the outside shift. He needed a drag. Something was on his mind. Two African American bodyguards walked in through the front doors to the atrium. The one on the left jolted his head upwards.

 

“How’s it been out there?” asked the Croatian.

 

“Quiet. Any issues in here?”

 

“No. But I just wanted you to confirm with the person managing careering that his brother is here.”

 

Ted nodded his head, looking around the lobby, “Hold tight.” He headed back towards the reception desk and asked to use their phone. Bobby glared up at the towering, bald man, “You f*cked up didn’t you?” he was much smaller than the Croatian, but had balls twice his size, “If you’ve f*cked up, mark my words. Nazario will have you ass f*cked.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Dialling Daryl’s number behind the reception desk, Ted paused as the line rang for a minute. There was a click and the call had connected. There was a short scuffle on the other end, before…

 

“Yes. This is Daryl.”

 

“Hello. This is Ted Oldman, head of security for Derrick Nazori.”

 

“Okay. What’s going on?”

 

“We wanted to confirm some information with you. Is your brother here at all?”

 

“Brother? You mean Richie. No, he’s in Oklahoma.”

 

“Thank you, sir.”

 

“Why? What’s going – “Ted hung up and glared over at the Croatian with a look of concern and anger, shaking his head slowly. Bobby stared back up at the man and scowled, “Remember what I said…” he pointed his finger at him before Ted abruptly pushed past him and a few late guests with a mad dash through the entrance of the auditorium. He pulled out a walkie talkie as he paced down the aisle and spoke into it, “Fellas, this is Oldman. We’ve got an intruder.”

 

***

The caterer he talked to before was double checking the entrée for Derrick and Leonie, “This better be right. The groom might kill me otherwise”. Vito placed the Moet onto a serving tray and headed towards him in a rush.

 

“You’ll need this,” he forced the tray over to the man who took it without question.

 

“What? Why?” he rebutted.

 

“The bride said her brother in law insisted the groom try this expensive, European beverage as a gift…” he pointed at the other glass, “She will only drink champagne,” he had made that up on the spot, and was quite impressed with himself. “They’re serving now, c’mon,” he clapped his hands hurriedly towards the caterer, and with that eminence front he had completely fooled him. The caterer rushed behind stage, composed himself and took the staircase up and out to Derrick and Leonie. In that instance, Vito had turned and headed for the private bathrooms to the mid right of the backstage. The band’s loud music drained out. He was surprised to see the bathrooms were unguarded, and pleased at this as he pushed on through into the gentleman’s room and locked himself into a stall near the end. The toilet lid dropped down and he sat on it, pulling the hem of his tux up from his belt and grabbing his pistol to give it a quick inspection. Loaded and cocked. Now, it was a matter of time before the laxative kicked in.

 

***

The newlyweds smiled and clapped in rhythm as the band played a Spanish Waltz. The singer danced around on stage and invited a group of salsa dancers with thrilled dresses and wild, colourful headpieces to join the stage. Photographer cameras flashed all across the room, and a sea of cater staff flooded the hall with large dishes of lobster, shrimp and salad. The couple’s private caterer had walked on stage with a nervous smile, holding their entrée on a platter with the two glasses of beverages shimmering in the bright lights.

 

“This isn’t champagne,” Derrick looked at the glass with a puzzled look and glanced back up at the man.

 

“That’s right, sir. I was told this was a gift from your brother in law. Very expensive, European Moet.”

 

Derrick paused and stared at Leonie, who was too amused by the dancers parading around on stage and inviting relatives to join them to notice the conversation between the two. Gerald, her brother, never mentioned any gift but he did reside in Germany and had flown out for this wedding. He nodded and shooed the caterer.

Leonie turned her head and gazed at Derrick, “Everyone is so happy. I can’t believe this,” she smiled and raised the champagne to her lips.

 

He smiled back, grabbing her hand and kissing her knuckles, “I love you.”

 

The band ended their first set and the lead singer spoke into the microphone as it momentarily screeched, “I hope everyone’s enjoying this beautiful celebration of love tonight…” loud cheers and clapping came from the audience. “And before we get to the second set, on behalf on everyone here tonight, may we make a toast,” he lifted a beer from on top of a small amp. The guests all raised their glasses, “To Derrick and Leonie Nazario, may you forever be reminded of the love you share with one another...” whistles and cheers came from the crowd. Everyone including the two on stage raised their glasses. Derrick downed his glass of Moet and called to the caterer, “Get me another.”

 

The short, blonde haired lead guitarist holding a red Gibson guitar peered back at the long haired and scruffy drummer and they counted in together. The next song burst out louder than before from the overdriven amplifiers. At this point, some people had made their way over to the raised dance floor towards the front of the stage and began dancing with their partners. A hot rush came over Derrick and he felt his stomach gurgle. His vison was off, and the lights seemed brighter than before. Letting out a burp, he held his stomach as a sharp pain shot through his small intestine. Leonie didn’t seem to notice. He stood up and walked back stage, down the staircase and into the back area where he unleashed on the caterers, “Who in the hell gave me this?” he smashed the glass onto the ground and stared around at the crowd that broke quiet. Ted had darted around from the front of the stage and felt a slight relief when he saw his boss. Derrick hadn’t seen him yet, and he continued his frustrated, almost stagger to the private rest rooms.

 

“Sir, we have an intruder.”

 

Derrick didn’t turn around, “Well get rid of them.”

 

“We don’t know where they are, sir.”

 

“Find them. Do I have to do your job for you?”

 

Ted held back anger and let out a burst of frustration, feeling like grabbing his boss on the shoulder and shaking sense into him, “They could be anywhere. Even in that rest room. You need to stop, now.”

 

Derrick stopped and held his palm on the door to the gentleman’s, “I can handle it, Ted. Really.” He was about to push the door open.

 

“At least let us guard your stall.”

 

He paused, and thought and smiled with a feeling of amused frustration, “Can’t a man take a sh*t in privacy? Watch the door,” and with that he pushed the door open and it swung shut. Ted turned to a small group of other bodyguards at the far back of the hall, feeling submitted to defeat and called over his partner, “Set position at the back entrance,” and he stood outside the doorway and scanned the surroundings with a stern and watchful eye. Ted spoke into his walkie talkie as the static sizzled, “The boss is in the restroom. Seal off the perimeters. This intruder is not leaving. I need someone to get all caterers off the floor for questioning.”

 

Vito’s heart began to beat hard in his chest, and adrenaline flooded his system. He jumped slightly as the door opened and footsteps came trotting in hard on the white tiled floors. His hands shook as he raised the pistol to chest height and slowly leaned forward, glaring through the gap. A figure passed the stall, and in the mirrors reflection he saw the face of Derrick Nazario. His breathing, broken, and his mind racing with erratic impulses, Vito heard the stall door to the left of him creak open and slam shut. He listened, and heard the unbuckling of a belt and the slump of his ass onto the toilet seat. Derrick let out a sigh of relief as his pain eased, and the smell was horrendous. Vito slowly unlocked his stall door and crouched at the opening. The toilet flushed and he heard Nazrio’s footsteps move over towards the sink across from the stalls. The water began to run as he lathered his hands in soap and scrubbed them hard. He readied himself to kick open the door and grab him from behind.

“Boss. You all good in there?” the rest room door had opened and Ted had called out.

 

“Yes, Ted. I’m fine. Would you give me a minute to myself? Jesus,” he shook his head and glanced down at his golden, wedding ring. It pulled him from his irritated mindset and he couldn’t help but smile and feel his heart feel whole from the love of his wife and three kids. They were flying out the next day to Hawaii for their honey moon, and he’d made a few surprises for Leonie. He knew she didn’t like surprises much, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d finally found the right woman, and knew he would spend the rest of his life with her.

 

The door behind him swung open and Vito lunged forward, grabbing Derrick in a choke hold with the barrel of his silenced pistol to his temple. He pulled him back inside the stall, “Say a word,” Vito muttered, “And I’ll blow out whatever’s left inside of that head of yours.” Derrick nodded with wide eyes and prayed his men would come in.

“I’m going to ask you some questions. You answer them, and that’s it. Call for help, and this door will be the last thing you see.” Derrick nodded again and Vito kept him in that hold with the gun pressed even harder against his skull, “Who is the Armadillo?”

 

Ted called out, “Sir, are you okay?”

 

Vito froze and held Derrick’s neck tighter.

 

“Yeah. I think it’s something I ate. I’m sh*tting my guts in here,” he yelled back loudly and felt his knees getting weaker as he crouched on the stall in front of Vito – his back facing him.

 

“Okay,” the door closed again.

 

Derrick didn’t say a word.

 

“The Armadillo, damn it. Who is he?”

 

He let out a whispered plea and closed his eyes in dread, “I don’t know… I don’t know.”

 

Ted had overheard the two. He pushed the door open slowly and took a few steps down past the stalls on the right bit by bit. His gun was drawn.

 

“What do you mean you don’t know? I know you’ve been in contact with Craig Galton, right. I’ve read the messages, Derrick. Now tell me.”

 

“I - I don’t know. I wish I could.”

 

“If you don’t tell me, I’m gunna kill you.”

 

“I’m telling you the truth,” he began struggling to breathe with the tight grip around his throat and anxiety building, “I’m a middle man. People come to me when they want a job done. I go to the Bandidos, and they speak with the Armadillo. Not me. You’re asking the wrong guy.”

 

Ted stopped a few feet outside their stall and pivoted his body gradually with his pistol raised. There was no way he would let his boss die.

 

“Who in the Bandidos do you speak to?”

 

Derrick let out a quiet sob and closed his eyes hard again, staring down at his wedding ring and thinking of Leonie and his children. He shook his head in Vito’s grip and felt tears roll silently down his cheeks. His mouth was open but no words came out. He couldn’t rat. He was against snitches.

 

“I killed Craig, and I’ll kill you too if you don’t tell me, ya hear me?” he pushed the barrel harder against his temple and tightened his grip firmer.

 

Another sob was let out, “Clancy Hill.”

 

Ted saw the stall was engaged. He had two options.

 

“Clancy Hill?”

 

“Yes. Clancy Hill.”

 

“You’re not bullsh*tting me are you?”

 

He let out a hard breathe and held back his tears, “You think I’m f*cking bullsh*tting you, you cocksucker? I just want to be with my wife.”

 

The stall door suddenly was kicked off its hinges. Ted dodged it, and levelled his weapon before opening fire. Vito aimed and fired back, shattering the glass behind him and merely missing the henchman. Ted shot back with a few rounds, hitting Derrick in the chest as Vito used him as a human shield. Bullets whizzed past his head. With one final desperate attempt, Vito steadied his hand from around Derrick’s body and pulled the trigger. He hit Ted in the neck and watched as he slipped backwards, his pistol flying from his grip and his skull smashing against the sink. He sat slumped against the vanity as blood gushed from the open wound on his neck and he gargled and gagged on his blood. The two locked eyes. Derrick’s body became heavy and limp on Vito. He had stopped sobbing. And breathing. It became silent. “f*ck…” Vito pushed Derrick’s dead body onto the floor in front of him as the smell of pistol smoke rose. Nazario was riddled with wounds and the thick, rich blood oozed from every hole that pierced his body.

 

Walking over to a dying Ted, he aimed his gun at his head, “You got a walkie talkie?”

 

Ted heaved and coughed up blood that splattered on his suit, gasping in rage, “f*ck you.”

 

“Tell your men that I everything’s okay. I’ll let you live. Otherwise, I’ll end you right now,” Vito cocked the pistol. Ted didn’t have much to live for at this point. His boss was dead. He failed him and his men too. And with that, he shakenly grabbed his walkie talkie from his belt and raised it to his mouth.

 

He clicked the side, “This is Oldman. Intruder was a false threat. Maintain your positions,” the static cut out and he stared up at Vito with pure hatred. They both locked gazes and Vito continued levelling his pistol at Ted’s skull, “Done. f*ck. I did what you wanted. That good enou-“ Vito fired and blew his head open. He slowly lowered his arm and continued his gaze into where Ted’s head once was, staring off into the bloody tiles on the floor.

 

‘Clancy Hill,’ he thought to himself, gradually looking about the scene of the dead and glancing at the restroom door – his only way out. He prayed to God that Abe was on time today, for his life depended on it.

Edited by waxman.

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