An Act Of Resolve

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man desperate to save his son loses everything.

*I may revise this story later on based on either feedback, a need to do so, or both. Any and all feedback. Enjoy.

Submitted: August 08, 2016

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Submitted: August 08, 2016

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An Act Of Resolve

Thane Stoti Scrimshaw

 

 

 

The heavy door slammed shut behind the detective, a man named George Thurman, as he sat down at the table across from me in the interrogation room. He did not look happy, nor did he look angry. Saddened and disheartened would be the words I would describe. Maybe even a little disappointed in me. I would say that it didn’t matter to me, but that would be lying. He had taken me in when my world went to hell. He trusted me to let him and his fellow officers do their jobs. He had been my best friend for years, especially in my time of need. But I had used his generosity and pushed too hard. Now I am here, sitting in an interrogation room, covered in blood, dust, dirt, grit, soot, ash, and death, waiting for the questions to begin.

George looked down at the files he had brought in. One was in a new folder and it had my name on it. The others were for the now deceased and were worn out and thick. He opened the new one up and began arranging the papers inside to his liking for his convenience. He looked up at me when he was done and leaned forward to let his upper body rest on the table.

“Tom,” he started, “you know you can go away for a long time for this, don’t you?” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Yes,” I replied flatly. “It doesn’t matter.” I sat up a bit to keep from slouching too much. “They had it coming.”

“Before we continue, do you want a lawyer present?” Even after I had taken advantage of his generosity, he was still trying to help me.

But I didn’t want help. I didn’t need help anymore. What had been done was done. What point would it make if I had a lawyer or not? I had been caught in the act, even finishing the deed when the police showed up. My deed was on their dash cams. What would have been the point of having a lawyer even with all of the evidence pointing at me?

“Having a lawyer won’t matter,” I said to him.

“Ok,” he replied. He glanced down at one of the pieces of paper in my file before continuing. “You seemed to have caused quite a bit of chaos today. Maybe even for the last several months.”

“I have.” No point in lying. Not anymore. To be honest, it felt good to be able to get this off of my chest.

“According to the report, as the police were pulling up to the burning ruins of the mansion – the mansion of the now deceased Frank Maloane – you pulled the trigger, executing Maloane while he was unarmed and on his knees.” He looked at another page. “The report goes on to say that you were surrounded with corpses of his men, some of which were on fire.” He looked back up at me in disbelief. “It also says that you did all of that by yourself.”

I nodded. It was true. All of it. What was not in the report – at least to my knowledge – was that there were more corpses that the ones mentioned. I had been quite busy.

He sat back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. I think he was hoping that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. No. It wasn’t that complicated. I had gone to Maloane’s mansion with a purpose.

“That just leaves one question I need to ask,” he said. “Why?”

It was time to confess my story.

 

 

 

The alarm clock was buzzing by my head, signaling the start of another day. The sun was peaking through the curtains of the bedroom. The smell of coffee filled the air. The cat was sleeping at my feet. My wife, Belinda, was stirring beside me. Nature was calling me out of bed. The day was starting just fine.

By the time I had showered and got dressed, Belinda had gotten our son, Timothy, up for school and had cooked breakfast. Toast and scrambled eggs with coffee and juice. Simple. Simplicity is often the best. A short time later, Tim was off to school, Belinda had gotten ready for her work day, and we headed off.

I dropped her off at her job. She was the secretary for a realty company. She liked the job alright, but she was training to move to a sales representative. I drove on to the place where I worked. A warehouse on the docks. It was said to be owned by the mob, but I never saw anyone that looked either suspicious or out of place there. I had chalked it up to just wild rumors and stories the guys told around the vending machines in the break room to help pass the time. Some of the guys would swear it was true; others would just laugh it off. I was one of the guys that would laugh it off.

Today was like any other day on the docks. The cool salty air was blowing in off the sea. Seagulls everywhere making messes. And light cargo ships coming in every few hours to be off loaded. I was in the middle of transporting a crate of whatever was in it to the warehouse to be stored when I was called to the office.

Once in the office, I was told I had an emergency call and was handed the phone. “Hello?”

“Tom?” It was Belinda. She sounded panicked.

“Yes, dear?” I was starting to feel a little apprehensive myself.

“The school called.” I can hear her voice shaking. I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to be good at all. “They said that Tim collapsed and they rushed him to the hospital.”

I was right. This was not good at all. Fight or flight reflexes kicked in. “I’ll be right there to get you in five minutes,” I said and hung up the phone. I told the office assistant what had happened and clocked out.

It was normally a fifteen minute drive from Belinda’s job to mine. I had told her I would be there in five minutes. I was there in four, possibly setting a few new speed records along the way. She was waiting outside for me when I got there. She got in the car without me fully stopping and in another four minutes we were at the hospital.

 

 

 

We waited in the ER for several hours. Belinda was pacing back and fourth in Tim’s room. She couldn’t sit still. Every few minutes she would go over and hold Tim’s had for a short while, hoping he would wake up and willing him to not be ill. Looking over to him, he was pale. His eyes were sunken in with dark circles around them. He looked very frail. Occasionally a tear would fall down to him from Belinda’s eyes as she cried silently. I know she was trying to be strong for him, to will him back to consciousness. It was a trait I admired about her. She had a tenacity about her that wouldn’t let her give up. She would do something over and over again until she got it right. By ‘right,’ I mean ‘perfect.’ I, on the other hand, would make sure that that something was satisfactory, and by ‘satisfactory,’ I mean ‘good enough to pass scrutiny.’

The door to the room opened and the doctor entered. He closed the door before he began speaking. “Mr. and Mrs. Quinn,” he greeted. “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

Belinda almost lost her footing. I stood up, walked over to her, and guided her to a chair. I sat back down in the chair beside her and took her hand in mine. She was at a loss for words, sitting in near shock from the doctor’s declaration of having bad news. “Go on,” I said. “Give it to us straight, Doc.”

He steadied himself for the onslaught of emotions he knew was coming. “Your son has an aggressive onset of leukemia. It can be fatal if left untreated.”

Belinda lost it then. Her once quiet sobs turned into ear gouging shouts of painful rage. The dam burst forth and a flood of tears ensued. “What kinds of treatments are available?” I asked.

He sighed. Apparently he hated giving this next part of information out to anyone, but it was a necessary evil. “The expensive kind that is not covered by your insurance, I’m afraid.”

Belinda lost it again, harder this time. She was almost hysterical. I, myself, began having difficulty controlling my own composure, but I needed to be strong for both her and our son. “Is there anything you can do now?” I asked.

“I can stabilize him for now. I’d like to keep him overnight for observation.”

“Alright, Doc.” I looked over to Belinda. She had settled down for the moment.

“I’ll stay with him,” She said to me. “You go home and bring an overnight bag for me, please.”

I nodded, taking her hand in mine and raising it to my lips to gently kiss it. I got up and went over to my son, leaned down and kissed his forehead. Then I headed out to do as I was asked.

 

 

 

The next day at the docks on my lunch break, I did not eat. Instead, I was calling around, trying to get a loan to pay for Tim’s treatments that he would need. So far, most were busts. But a few seemed promising.

I left work early to visit those few promising loans. After reviewing my applications, I was turned down. No one seemed to want to give out a loan for a child’s medical expenses. This pattern followed for several days. By the end of the second week, I had been turned down by almost every bank and loan company in three cities. I couldn’t put up my house for collateral because I was still paying on it. Same with the car. Belinda quit her job so she could keep an eye on Tim. He was still too weak to return to school.

At the point of desperation, I started contemplating the notions of becoming a test subject for pharmaceutical companies to test new drugs in the development stages. Some of them pay well, but it may not be enough.

I began working much longer shifts at the docks. Now that Belinda was no longer working, I needed to pick up the slack. My day would start at five in the morning and go on until nine at night. This went on for another two weeks and I was wearing out. A candle that burns twice as bright shines half as long. By the end of the second week, I felt as if I lived at the docks and only went home for the work day. The start of the third week, however, brought me some potentially good news.

My supervisor called me into his office. He was sitting behind his desk and gestured for me to take the seat across from him.

He was a gruff man who had worked at the docks for the past three decades. For new employees, he would seem like a complete hard ass, always barking orders at them. A few would leave, but others toughed it out. For those who have worked here for a while, he was the most kind and compassionate man anyone had ever worked for. I got to see that compassion for myself on this day.

“I’ve noticed that you have really been putting in the hours,” he said and I nodded. “How’s Tim and the wife?”

“They’re good for now. Tim is still weak, but he is managing. Belinda is home schooling him so he won’t fall behind,” I replied.

“Glad to hear it,” he said. He gestured again and a man I hadn’t seen had moved to the chair beside me. Apparently, he had been in here and sitting behind the door when I entered. “This is Tony Cheeks,” my supervisor introduced. “He is the associate of Frank Maloane, the owner of this dock and warehouse. He would like to have a word with you, Tom.”

I shook Tony’s hand. His grip was like a cold steel beam. My guess he worked out a lot. “Come with me, Tom,” he said. We got up and left the office and headed up several flights of stairs to the third floor. I had never been to the third floor, let alone the second floor. The third floor felt out of place for warehouse. It was a stark contrast to the rugged feel of the floors below. Almost as it was from an uptown night club built in the 1940’s. Dark polished wood lined the walls from around waist height downward. The wall paper from the chair railing up was lighter and somewhat distasteful to me. But different folks, different tastes.

Tony led me to an office that was well used and well cared for. The office was a lot more spacious than that of my supervisor’s office and better furnished as well. Centered towards the back of the office was a huge, solid cherry stained oak desk. And sitting behind the desk was a man I had never met.

He stood up to greet me and shook my hand. If Tony’s grip had been like cold steel, this man’s grip was like putting your hands inside of a metal press that has around two tons of pressure. Like Tony, he was wearing a suit and tie – a rather expensive looking suit and tie. He introduced himself as Frank Maloane and we sat down.

“I understand that you are having a few financial issues, Mr. Quinn,” he stated as a matter of fact. I acknowledged his statement with a nod. I was a bit nervous and did not want to chance my voice cracking. “Medical expenses?” I nodded again. “So, tell me what’s wrong.”

Though I felt uncomfortable around him and this Tony fellow, I told Maloane what had transpired in the past month or so. When I finished, he sat back in thought, stroking his chin as if he use to have a beard or goatee there. “I can help you,” he said after several uncomfortably quiet moments. It took a moment for what he had said to sink in. For the first time in a little more than a month, I felt a ping of hope.

“Come again?” I asked to make sure I hear him correctly.

“I can help you,” he repeated.

I felt warning flags go up in my mind. This sounded too good to be true. “You’ll forgive me if I am skeptical; I have been turned down for help a lot.”

“I understand,” he said. “I’ll give you twenty-four hours to think it over. When you make up you mind, give me a call.” He handed me a card with his office number on it. I stood up and shook his hand again. I would have to discuss this with Belinda, but I think she would agree.

 

 

 

Later that night, I discovered I was wrong.

While she was thankful that someone was willing to loan us the money for Tim’s treatments, she was more skeptical about it than I was. Over the years, I had learned to trust her instincts when she told me that something felt wrong about something. The first time she told me she felt something wrong about something, I ignored her, telling her that it was just her imagination. I ended up in a leg cast for about six weeks. The second time, I had told her that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. The other leg was in a cast for six weeks. The third time, I heeded her warning.

This was another one of those times that I needed to heed her warning. If she felt that this was a bad idea to barrow money from the owner of the warehouse where I worked, then it was a bad idea. I did try to plead with her on the idea, but she stood firm. So, I let it go. And we went to bed.

Sometime in the middle of the night, we were awakened by a crash in the hallway bathroom. We rushed to see that Tim had collapsed again.

We got him to the hospital; they got him stabilized again. We saw the same doctor when the sun came up. And he told us that Tim’s condition was worsening. It was at that moment that I went against the instincts of Belinda again. I told the doctor to do what he had to do, that I would have the money.

An hour later, Maloane gave me the loan.

 

 

 

Over the next few weeks, Timothy showed improvement. The treatments were helping him improve and he was able to return to school. Belinda, while not happy about me taking the loan at first, eventually forgave me after she saw the results of the treatments. She also returned to work. I was able to cut back on my hours a bit. And Mr. Maloane had not requested repayment yet, even though I sat aside at least a hundred dollars a week for that very reason. Life seemed to be returning to normal, or, at least, was normal for me. On one evening before I had clocked out for the day, Tony Cheeks came to me and said that Maloane wanted to see me.

We had gone back up to his office to see him sitting behind the desk. He was leaning back in his chair with his fingers interlaced in front of him in thought. He gestured for me to take the chair across from him. Tony stood behind me, which made me a bit apprehensive. “How are things at home, Tom?” He asked.

Feeling warning flags rise in the back of my mind and my good mood start to evaporate, I responded, “Good, sir. Thank you for asking.” Before he could say anything else, I quickly asked, “When do you want me to start paying you back, sir?”

He chuckled lightly. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He leaned forward in his chair to rest against his desk. He was all business now. Warning sirens were going off in my head now. Still I tried to ignore them. “You see, the amount I loaned you would take you a very long time to pay off. That is why I decided to give you the fast track option.”

Puzzled, yet a feeling I knew where this was going was creeping up on me quickly. Belinda would never agree to that at all, nor would I even ask her to ever do that. I would pick up either more hours here at the warehouse or even a second job to be able to pay off this debt. But, I still asked anyways to confirm my suspicions. “What is this ‘fast track’ option?”

“An associate of mine,” he started, “well, former associate now, has been selling some of my trade secrets to a competitor for the past month and a half. It was an annoyance at first, but now it is starting to cut into my profits.”

The feeling that I had about him wanting Belinda to do something distasteful evaporated a little. That was a small relief. But, something else was bothering me. Before I could ask why this had anything to do with me, he continued. “I need someone to go and speak with him. Someone he doesn’t recognize. In short, I want you to go and persuade him to stop selling my trade secrets. Do this successfully, and I will knock ten grand off of what you owe me.”

“Ten grand off?” I stammered. “For persuading someone to stop selling information?” He nodded. I could do this, I thought. It sounded like it would be a breeze. Confidence returning and concern evaporating, I asked when he wanted this done.

“Tomorrow night. Be here at 6 PM sharp.” He gestured a dismissal wave at me and I got up to leave. As I made my way to the door, he spoke again. “Go visit my tailor tonight. You need a new suit. Tony will give you the address. Tell him to charge your new suit to me. A gift.” With that, I left.

Remember when I said that I didn’t believe the mob owned these docks or warehouse? A voice in the back of my head was telling me otherwise. This errand sounded simple enough, but I had a feeling that I may have gotten more than I bargained for.

 

 

 

The next evening was a chilly evening, especially on the docks. The wind coming in off the sea almost chilling me to the bone, even through my new suit. Belinda was not happy about me coming down here tonight, but I had told her that this errand would help go a long way to paying off the loan. My son was worth it to me. Even if it was Belinda that had gotten sick I would have still done this. However, I am not sure what she would have done if it were me that had gotten sick.

Tony was waiting for me, leaning on another car. He flicked his cigarette butt to the side as he told me to get in. We got in and he drove off. In the car, he handed me a photo of the man I was being sent to talk to. “His name is John Fletch,” Tony said as we drove deeper into the city. “A month and a half ago, we started noticing that our shipments of cargo were being misplaced. When we started to question people, Fletch disappeared. Cargo still disappeared, but not as frequently. Two weeks ago, our weekly income decreased significantly. We asked around, and discovered that Fletch had been selling our cargo to a rival at a discounted price, and our rival was selling it to customers at a lower rate than we are.”

Hairs stood up on the back of my neck. “I thought he was selling trade secrets?” I asked.

Tony scoffed. “We use that term loosely around here.” We made a turn into a run down part of town and he slowed the car. “Our cargo is our trade secrets.” We came to the stop before a dilapidated apartment building. “Our informant says Fletch is hiding out on the fourth floor in Apartment 4C. He’s not home currently, so you will have to go in and wait for him.”

“Is there a waiting area?” I asked, but I had a feeling that this was going to include a breaking and entering objective as well. Tony did not disappoint.

“Our informant is expecting you. He will get you in to the apartment. When you are finished, go two blocks west and three blocks up. There is a house there that stands out from the rest. I will be there for the next three hours. If you are late, go there and stay there until morning. The key will be in the flower pot on the left.”

I acknowledged him and got out of the car. The inner city was not as cold as the docks, but it felt frigid here. I had a feeling that this was not going to end well. Belinda had said as much. I really need to start listening to her on this more often, but an enormous debt will give you selective hearing when it comes to trying to repay.

I entered the old apartment building and was greeted by a man at a desk. “How may I help you?” he asked cheerfully.

Clearing my throat, I replied that I was looking for Fletch. The man sobered up quickly and handed me a key. He said Fletch was gone for the moment, but I should go wait for him in his apartment.

Going up four flights of stairs, I reached the fourth floor and entered his apartment and closed the door behind me; locked it. It was a sparsely furnished apartment. Fletch could pack up and go in a hurry if need be. Standing in the living area, I walked over to a pair of windows overlooking the street below. He had apparently chosen this apartment for this reason: to see who was coming in and going out. If I was looking over my shoulder, I probably would do the same. Then again, I wouldn’t stick around in the city. I would have booked it to the furthest place I could afford. I chose a chair in the corner of the room facing the door and waited in the dark, as instructed.

Two hours later, I was in almost total darkness. The streetlights were the only source of illumination coming in from small gaps in the curtains. I was beginning to wonder if Fletch was going to even show up. I had checked my phone. I had several texts from Belinda wondering when I was going to get home; that she was worrying about me. I had just finished sending her a reply when the door unlocked, opened, and a figure walked in, illuminated by the light from the hallway. He closed the door and turned the lights on, briefly blinding until my eyes adjusted.

He still hadn’t noticed me, so I stood up and began to speak. “Mr. John Fletch?” I asked.

Startled, he looked at me and demanded to know who I was, who I got in, and why I was here. When I said that I was sent by Frank Maloane, all hell broke loose.

He reached for a gun that he was wearing and I dived behind the sofa as he shot at me. I had not bargained for this! I was not trained for this at all. I tried to get him to calm down to no avail. He fired again when I tried to poke my head up. Damn, that was close, I thought as my ears started to ring. I heard him move around the sofa and I narrowly dodged another shot. This was not going good at all. I dived under the table in the kitchen and flipped it as he fired two more shots. This was getting out of hand. His gun clicked for a moment and he started to swear. That is when I stood up and tried again to reason with him. He threw his gun down and lunged at me. We crumbled to the floor in a heap as he took swings at my head. I blocked a couple, but others landed. I managed to get him off of me and got to my feet. He was on his feet as well with a knife drawn. This was insane. I was unarmed and in unfamiliar territory. He seemed to have a light arsenal at his disposal. He stood between me and the door. I tried to move around him, but he would not have it. I could hear sirens in the distance; the police were on their way. This was not going good at all. He lunged at me and I barely avoided being stabbed in the chest, instead being stabbed in my arm. Fire spread from my arm as blood soaked my new suit. The pain was like nothing I had felt before. We grappled for what seemed like an eternity, slamming each other into walls. He threw me to the floor and stood between me and the window. He flipped the knife in his hand to where he could make a downward thrust that would be fatal. I was spent. There would be no fighting back if he lunged at me again. And he was going to do just that.

Self preservation instincts kicked in and I threw up my feet as he lunged at me and kicked him hard. Hard enough he flew back onto the window, busted it and was about to loose his balance. I grabbed a near by chair and threw it at him. He then fell out of the window, screaming all the way down to his death.

Breathless, I got up and peered out. Yes, he was dead. He had fallen on his head. The police arrived only seconds later when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the informant. “Quickly,” he said and signaled me to follow him. We left the apartment and he led me to a fire escape. He told me to go to the roof and then jump to the next building to the right of this building, then go down the far side fire escape to get out of the area. I wasn’t going to question it. I got to the ground and ran.

I ran for what felt like hours. Threw the alleyways and across the streets. I made it to the house that Tony had mentioned, but he wasn’t there. I was late. I find the key and let myself in. Adrenalin spent, I was shaking hard. What had I just done? This was madness. I had just killed a man. Sure, it was him or me, but it didn’t make the fact I had just killed him any less important.

I went to the bathroom of this house to try to clean myself up when a gut wrenching feeling overwhelmed me. I was getting sick Very sick. I barely made it to the toilet when I started vomiting hard. It was like I had eaten two things that did not interact well with one another. Another hard spasm in my stomach and another round of vomit came forth, this one more stomach acid than contents. Another spasm and even more stomach acid came up. I did not think I would stop vomiting. I was that disgusted with myself.

I managed to stop vomiting and went back to cleaning myself up. Looking at myself in the mirror, I noticed a bruise was forming under my eye, my lips were busted, I had scrapes on my cheek, and a cut at the corner of my other eye. My left arm stung from the stab wound. It was still bleeding, but not as bad as it was only an hour or so ago. I searched the bathroom for first aid supplies and found them. I patched myself up as best as I could and tried to clean myself up.

Afterwards, I went to call Tony to tell him that Fletch was dead when I discovered that my cell phone was useless. It was busted. That’s just great, I thought. I found a land line and called. He told me to just sit tight and he would pick me up first thing in the morning. This was going to be a long night. I turned off all the lights and sat balled up in a corner. Shock was sitting in and I was way too wound up to go to sleep.

 

 

 

The next morning, Tony had picked me up and taken me back to the docks, telling me that I looked like hell. I felt worse than hell, honestly. Belinda was probably standing on her head worried about where I had been all night. That is going to be a discussion that to which I am not looking forward.

“Jeez, Tom,” Maloane said as we entered his office, “You look like you had been in a fight and lost.” He gestured me to sit down. I huffed at that remark as I sat down and slouched. I didn’t care about the message that would send; I was that tired and just wanted to go home. Maloane pressed a button on his desk and a flat screen television rose from a hidden compartment to the left of his desk. He then grabbed a remote and turned on the news.

“Late last night,” the reporter started, “a fight broke out at an apartment complex in the Inner City Projects, resulting in the death of a man, one John Fletch. Authorities are still looking for the suspect. It is believed to be a gang related murder, but there is not enough evidence to support that theory.”

Maloane turned off the television and looked at me. “Did you do that?” he asked very sternly. His look told me that he did not want to be dazzled with BS this early in the morning. I nodded my head, unable to find the words to express the shame I felt in myself. I noticed Tony and another man get a little closer to me as Maloane leaned forward in his desk and view me with scrutiny. I felt as if I was in deep, deep trouble. I had never killed a man in my life. He could turn me in and I would not be able to deny that I was there. The tension grew thick, almost smothering me as I felt the walls grow closer.

A loud bellow startled me as Maloane and the other two men in the room burst out into laughter. They were being jovial about a man’s death. How could they be? Hadn’t they personally known this man Fletch? A few minutes later and the laughter died down and Maloane started to speak. “Wow! Who would have thought that you had the balls to kill a man!”

Stunned, I sat up straight, completely chastised, and declared with an angry wave of my hand, “It was self defense! It was him or me! He drew a gun and I had to do something!”

“You were unarmed?” Tony asked. Puzzled amusement played on his face.

“Yes, I was unarmed!” I shouted. I stood up and began pacing his office. “I had no idea that I would need to be armed!”

That made them burst into laughter again. This was not going well for me at all. When the laughter subsided again, Maloane got all serious again. “Listen, Tom,” he started, “this isn’t a kid’s game. We do great things here. We also do terrible things. It is an ugly business, but someone needs to get their hands dirty.” I had stopped pacing and glared at him. He continued, “I got to where I am because there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family. I will push the very limits of decorum and civility to protect my family. The question you need to ask yourself is how far will you go to protect yours?” That gave me pause. How far would I go? So far, I have accepted a loan form a man I am now completely sure is a mob boss and I have killed a man just so that my son would live. Is that the trade off? One person dies so that another one lives? The scary part is that he was right. I would do anything to protect my family, but I would not kill for a mob boss just to return a favor.

I turned to leave. What was done was done. “I will work for you here at the dock, but I will not kill for you again,” I said calmly and headed for the door.

Maloane’s next words stopped me cold in my tracks. “I am not going to ask you to kill, but you have to be prepared to kill to protect yourself.” I turned around to retort, but he continued. “You still have a debt to pay off. If I didn’t like you much, I would make sure you paid me on time every week until the amount plus interest was paid in full. One missed payment and I would send someone to talk to you to encourage you to pay up.” I couldn’t speak at this point. It was a threat and I knew it. “Because I do like you, I gave you an opportunity to prove to me that I can count on you for anything. And you did well. That is why I am not only going to give you a raise here at the dock, but also I am going to knock off an additional twenty grand off of what you owe me.” Another round of shock and disbelief was threatening to settle in. He gestured to Tony and the other guy in the room. “Tony and Marco will make sure you get home safely. Get some rest. I will have other errands for you as needed.”

 

 

 

Tony and Marco dropped me off at my house. A bit unsettling that they knew where I lived, all things considered. A serious thought about moving occurred to me as they drove off. I really needed to get away from the mob, but where could I go where a simple search would not reveal my location? It wouldn’t be fair to Belinda and Tim, nor to our respected families, to go off the grid entirely. But I had to think of some way to pay this loan off or I had the feeling that my naïve services would be requested again.

Belinda opened the front door in a huff. Oh, was she angry. If her face could get any more red, I’d swear she would boil herself alive. She started demanding why I wasn’t answering my phone, and as I walked up to the door, I fished my busted phone out of my pocket and handed it to her. Looking at it, her anger chilled by about a degree or two, then she saw the shape I was in.

Her anger faded to concern. “Oh, my…,” she started, “What happened to you? How bad are you hurt? Do you need to go to the hospital? Please tell me what happened?” I could always count on her for compassion, but I did not feel as if I deserved it.

She closed the door behind her after I got in. Tim was sitting in the living room watching Saturday morning cartoons. He looked up, saw me, and ran up to me to give me a big hug, albeit a painful hug.

“Hi, Daddy,” he said gleefully. “How come you didn’t come home last night?”

A tear started rolling down my cheek. “I was working late, well into the morning,” I said. I tried to smile at him. The busted lip made it difficult. “I need to go get a shower and rest,” I told him and he let go reluctantly and went back to his cartoons. I made my way slowly into the bedroom and began to take off the now ruined suit. I sat down on the bed and noticed that Belinda had followed me into the bedroom.

She stood between me and the door with her hands on her hip. I knew that look. She wanted answers. The bandage wrap on my arm soaked in blood was only going to make her press further. “Well,” she started flatly, “are you going to tell me what has happened or do I have to play ‘Twenty Questions’?” We both knew that she had me cornered and that I was in no condition to get around her or her questions. I decided to tell her a partial truth; that I was sent on an errand that turned sour. It wasn’t a lie; I just omitted the really messy details. She seemed sated by what I had told her and helped me into the shower. After I got out, she helped me change my bandage on my arm.

The rest of the day went as fine as it could go with my conscience at odds with me. Every siren I heard made me tense up a little and every knock at the door sent a fight or flight reflex through my very being. When I went to sleep that night, nightmares hit hard.

I woke up screaming loud enough to wake up Belinda. Startled by my screams, she was fully awake. It was terrible. A cold sweat had soaked the sheets under me. I put my head in my hands and began to rock back and forth.

“What is it?” she asked, fully aware something was bothering me.

“Just a really bad nightmare,” I said weakly.

“Bull,” she retorted. “Something is bothering you.”

“I’ll be fine,” I lied. “It could just be a one time occurrence of a dream this bad.” After all, most people have bad dreams every now and then.

Monday rolled around, uneventful as most Mondays begin. I had gotten up and ready for work. Belinda got up and got herself and Tim ready for work and school respectively. She drove the car today, as she has been for the last couple of months, and dropped me off at the docks. As she drove off, Tony came up to me and told me that Maloane wanted to see me. The uneventful just became the eventful.

In his office, Maloane greeted me and signaled for me to sit down. I did so uncomfortably. I had a feeling that he had another task for me. He did not disappoint. “I have another errand for you, Tom,” he said. Before I could respond, he continued. “I need you to deliver some….special cargo to the warehouse on the other side of town.”

Worried, I asked, “What kind of cargo?” I already knew this would be a bad idea.

“The ‘Need to Know’ kind and you don’t need to know,” he replied. “You will be taking it through a rough part of town so Tony will be ridding with you.”

“I really don’t want to do this,” I said. I stood up and headed for the door. His next words stopped me cold in my tracks.

“How’s the wife and kid?” he asked. Most people would see that as an innocent question inquiring about the well being of one’s family, but I heard the threat behind it. Very subtle was this threat, but loud and clear. I turned to face him with fire in my eyes, a fire I hadn’t felt in years, not since my then stepfather struck my mother in front of me. My silence allowed him to continue speaking. “I would hate for something to happen to such lovely people.” He knew he had me. I was his puppet and he delighted in the knowledge that he was my puppet master. “The truck is already loaded and waiting.”

 

 

 

The warehouse across town was in a rough area, just as I was told. Tony talked my ear off the whole way; I was not in the mood for conversation. I was trying to find a way out of this mess, but kept coming up short.

We got to the warehouse and offloaded the ‘special’ cargo. I really didn’t want to know what was in the crated, but I suspected that it wasn’t on the up and up. Tony told me that he had to go talk to the warehouse manager for a few minutes and that I should just make myself comfortable until he got done.

Under normal circumstances, that would have been fine, but these were not normal circumstances. The air around me still felt thick. The few warehouse employees were watching me out of the corner of their eyes. My instincts were telling me to get out now, but I could have been over thinking the situation.

I heard a gunshot in the near distance and everyone that I could see drew guns themselves and was beginning to train them on me. “Oh, crap,” I said aloud as a new familiar feeling of all hell about to break loose settled in.

I dove behind the crates we had offloaded as the first volley of gunfire filled the air. This is not happening, I tell myself over and over again. I needed to find a way out very quickly, preferably without causing harm to myself or others. A second volley struck the crates in front of me as I tried to raise my hands in surrender. Splinters showered me as I withdrew my hands in a very rapid motion.

“Hold your fire!” someone shouted. I cautiously poked my head out to see several large men aiming guns at me. Behind them, another man held Tony’s lifeless body by his collar and threw him down on the ground in front of him. “Stand up,” he ordered and I did, cautiously, with my hands raised. “Well, now,” he said with a smirk on his face. “This has been a good day. You brought new weapons to the Pini’s willingly. Ever consider leaving Maloane’s operation and working for a much pay?”

Shocked that he was offering me a job – not the good kind of job, mind you – I replied, “What operation? I just work in the warehouse.”

The smirk left the man’s face. “Don’t be so naïve. Everyone that works for him knows of his operations.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw what looked like a grenade through a hole in one of the crates. I felt the color leave my face as I realized how close to death I currently was in. Focusing my attention back to the man I assumed was the warehouse manager, I tried to convince him that I was just warehouse labor, but he didn’t believe me.

“Alright,” he sighed, “Have it your way.” He signaled for two of his men to grab me and take me to a back room. “Persuade him, boys. Maybe he can be coerced with the proper sale’s pitch.”

Oh, this was not going to end well; I can feel it. As I was drug off, the manager went back into his office while two other men drug Tony’s corpse off. I needed to get out of here. I was going to quit my job and take Belinda and Tim as far away from this place as possible. I had gotten more than I had bargained for and this was as far as I was going to deal with it. Problem was, I was being drug off to who knows where.

The three of us turned down a hallway and I collapsed to my knees. They each grabbed me under my arms to lift me up and that’s when I made my escape attempt.

I twisted to the side and head butted the guy on my right while using the other guy for a boost point by digging my feet in under his ribs hard. The guy on the left went down like a sack of potatoes being thrown off of a truck. My head rang in pain with the sheer force that I had hit with. The guy on the left was holding his side as he was trying to catch his breath. He had dropped his gun between us in the confusion and I picked it up before he could go for it. I held it unsteadily, shaking, in my hands as I aimed it at him. He tried to move to grab it from me and I pulled the trigger. A loud bang echoed through the hallway as the man looked shocked that I had just shot him. Hell, I was just as shocked that I had done so myself. He fell to the ground and the other guy started to get up. I turned my aim on him, but he tackled me before I could pull the trigger. We hit the floor hard and traded blows. I felt my ribs crack as his weight fell on me. We rolled around on the floor, me struggling to get away, him struggling to incapacitate me. A knee landed into his groin and he released me. I crawled at a quickened pace to where I had dropped the gun. I grabbed it, rolled over to see him stand up and grab his gun, and placed three rounds into him. The shots echoed down the hall as the big man collapsed.

Sure that someone would have heard the shots, I vacated the hallway as quickly as I could, gun still in hand. Back in the warehouse, I saw that the last few people were still working, loud music playing on a radio somewhere. Small favors, I mused to myself. The crates with the grenades had been moved to sit beside the truck I had arrived in. Two of the men were loading up the truck with what looked like TNT when a sudden thought hit me. They were going to use me to drive the truck back to the dock and kill a lot of innocent people. My co-workers did not deserve to be caught in this hell I was in. They were innocents. I had to think of something. That’s when it hit me. I will shoot out the tires of the truck. It wouldn’t stop them, but it would slow them down.

I snuck around to a better vantage point where I could possibly hit the tires. Hiding behind some crates, I placed the gun between two of them and took aim. I squeezed the trigger and a shot echoed through the warehouse, but missed the target. That alerted the people and they drew their guns again. They began searching around, looking for where the shot came from. I could hear the manager barking orders for them to find me, that the other two were not answering their calls. I fired again, missing the tire, but hitting the gas tank.

Yep, the gas tank. The truck exploded along with the dynamite and the grenades in the biggest blaze of glory this side of the Nevada testing grounds. I ducked as the conflagration engulfed the warehouse, torching the crates and bringing the building down around me. More explosions followed as other weapons crates were engulfed by the flames.

I stood up when the chaos died down some. The warehouse was a total wreck. The bay doors were no longer present, nor was most of that wall. The ceiling was gaped where the center of the explosion occurred. Support pylons were in various stages of collapse. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air. I knew I had to be in bad shape. I had difficulty breathing and walking. Dust and soot covered me from head to toe. Blood was running down my cheek to mix with the dust. My shirt was soaked with sweat and blood. This was going to be very difficult to explain to Belinda tonight. I could hear sirens in the distance growing louder as they approached. It was time to go.  

 

 

 

I stormed into Maloane’s office – a very difficult task as I had difficulty standing up, given my condition. He and Marco were discussing an important business matter when I stomped in. Maloane looked at me as was stunned at my appearance. “Jeez, what the hell happened to you?” he asked.

I lost all tact I had. “Your delivery, that’s what!” I shouted. I told him what had happened to Tony and how everything went south real quick. I told him that the warehouse was in ruins as well. “I believe they were planning on blasting this place to oblivion and back,” I finished.

Maloane leaned back in his chair, contemplating his next move. “Its time to move on the Pini’s, then,” he said. “Marco, get the capos together for a meeting tonight.” Marco acknowledged. Maloane addressed me again. “I am knocking another twenty grand off of your debt, Tom. I also want you to take Tony’s place.”

Disbelief would have filled my face if it wasn’t for my anger. This had gone on long enough for my liking. “No,” I said.

That apparently was not the answer he had been looking for. “Think about it, Tom. Your debt would be cleared and you would be part of my family. And I take care of my family.”

“I said ‘No’,” I replied. “I refuse to kill for anyone. If fact, I quit.”

Mildly shocked, Maloane sat up straighter in his chair. “I am not use to being told ‘No’, Tom.” I could hear the threat in his voice. He didn’t even try to hide it.

“Frankly, Mr. Maloane, I don’t give a rat’s ass if you are use to water being wet,” I bit at him. “I quit.” With that I turned around and half stalked, half limped to the door.

“You leave,” Maloane started loudly, “and it will be a mistake.”

Pausing in my stagger, I spun around to face him. I could feel my anger rising hard. “Listen to me carefully,” I said in a steely voice. “I do not want any part of this operation you have going. I have had to kill several people today. That is not something I am proud of to tell my son.” I spun back to the door and continued on, saying, “Out of the respect of the help you gave my family, I will not say anything to the police. I still quit. I will find a way to pay you the rest of what I owe you, but I won’t work for you any more.”

With that said, I left and headed for the stairs. At the top of the stairs, I felt a sudden pain to the back of my head and fell down the first flight of stairs.

And everything went dark.

 

 

 

I woke up some time later to a strange, yet familiar ceiling. As my focus started to clear, I could hear the beeps and hums of possibly sophisticated equipment. Taking in my surroundings, I discovered that I was in the hospital. Oh, wonderful, I thought. This was going to be a rather interesting explanation to Belinda. Judging from my earlier condition, saying that I had am incident at work might have been a bit of a stretch, even though it held some truth. Trying to figure out what – no – who had hit me in the back of the head almost seemed like a forgone conclusion.

I heard someone blowing their nose in the corner. Looking over, I saw Marco sitting there. He looked up at me then stood and walked over to the side of the bed. “I didn’t think you’d be out this long,” he said by way of greeting. That bothered me a bit.

“How long,” I asked trying to muster up what strength I had.

He looked at his watch. “About four hours.”

Shock evaporated my strength, but determination was starting to kick in. “Why are you here and not my wife?” I demanded.

“Mr. Maloane is out in the waiting room talking to her, trying to calm her down. She is one hell of a fire cracker, Tom. How do you live with her?”

I wasn’t sure if I should take it as a compliment or an insult. The first couple of years of marriage were a bit shaky, but we found a balance that worked. And that balance has been a bit shaky again lately. Still, I wanted some answers.

Before I could ask my questions, Marco left the room, saying that he was going to go tell them I am awake. A few moments later, Maloane walked in. This was not the person I wanted to see. I was done with him, but he apparently was not done with me.

“Jeeze, you look like hell,” Maloane said after he shut the door to my room.

“You would, too, if you had gone through hell,” I bit back at him. “You better leave my family alone,” I stated with as much intimidation as I could, which wasn’t much coming from a man lying in a bed tied to machines.

“Calm down, Tom,” he said, completely un-phased by my demand. “I am going to offer you one last chance to reconsider my offer.”

“My answer still is ‘No’.”

He moved to the side of the bed and wrapped his hands around the rails until his knuckles were turning white. “Careful,” he threatened, “I rarely give out second chances like this.”

“I don’t care if the Pope himself was giving me second, or even third, chances.” I nearly spat at him as I spoke. “I am done working for you. I do not want to ever be in the situation again where it is a matter of life and death.”

“But you made that decision already, haven’t you?”

Stunned by his words, I realized that I had indeed made that decision months ago when Tim, my son, was dying. I had been willing to sell my soul to the devil himself to save my son. It looks like I had and Maloane, the devil incarnate, knew it.

“You still have a sizable debt to repay,” he said calmly. “I expect to see you back once you recover and in a much better mood.”

He let go of the bed and headed for the door. I wasn’t ready to give up. “No,” I said firmly. “I will not be back. I am done with you and your organization. Why won’t you get it through your head? I told you I would pay it back, but in my own way. Why is it that hard to comprehend?”

He stopped in his tracks. I could see the metaphorical steam whistle out of his ears. I had apparently hit a nerve. Apparently, he did not like being told that he was essentially stubborn. He turned around slowly and I could see that he was indeed pissed. When he spoke, he spoke slowly and clearly so that I could not mistake is words for anything else than what they were. “Listen carefully, Tom,” he began crisply. “I rarely give second chances, even for those I like. Very rarely does anyone refuse. Those that do regret it in the long run.” He moved to my side and leaned in very close to me and in almost in a whisper said, “You have just become one of those very rare few.”

With that, he left the room. I had a very cold feeling emerged from deep within my core. That had been more than a threat; it had been a promise like no other. Panic was threatening to emerge as well. I had to get out of here and fast. I had to get Belinda and Tim out of here as well. This was really getting out of hand. I tried to sit up only to be brought back down in seething pain. My ribs were protesting to the movement. What exactly had happened when I was knocked out?

Belinda and Tim came into the room as the pain was sill in full swing. She saw me writhe and tried to help me, which ended up causing more discomfort and pain than I absolutely needed. She meant well. Any other time, I would have been irritated with her when she would cause such a blunder, but now all I had was concern for her and Tim’s well being.

“Oh, Tom, what happened?” she asked when the pain finally subsided and I could hear her again. “Really happened?”

“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” I said. It really wasn’t a lie, but I did not want Tim to hear any of what had transpired.

Not satisfied, she pressed again, and again I told her the same thing. She was starting to allow anger to overcome her concern for me and I had told her that I did not want young ears to hear and that I would tell here the whole story when I got out of here. That seemed to pacify her for the moment, but we both knew that she would not forget. There would be a discussion when I got home.

We had talked for the better part of an hour when the doctor came in and told me that he was keeping me here for a few days for observation and mending. He also told me that I should fight for Workman’s Comp due to my injuries that I had apparently sustained from work.

When the doctor left, Belinda and Tim got ready to leave for the night. I got very serious then. “Belinda,” I started, “please go to your sister’s house tonight, maybe even for the rest of the week.”

“Why,” she asked, clearly puzzled.

“Just a feeling I have,” I replied I hugged them both, no matter how much pain that caused me and told them that I love them both. With that they left for the night. Maybe I should have asked them to stay here with me. I just had a really bad feeling that I would not be seeing them again if they did not heed my feelings on the matter.

I had no idea how right I was.

 

 

 

The next morning I woke up to be greeted by my best friend, George Thurman. He was a detective and very good at his job. When we were growing up, he always had a knack for calling everyone out on their BS and was usually right. He would never take sides in any argument, preferring to weigh the evidence for himself before he chimed in with his opinions. His counsel was very important to me. Hell, if it wasn’t for his judgment, I would never have married Belinda.

He looked somber this morning, like he had gotten some really bad news. He walked over to the side of my bed and placed his hands on the rails. “Hi, Tom,” he said. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Sore. Like I have been hit by Ricky ‘The Bulldozer’ Irons.” A classmate of ours from way back in the day. Big kid. When he hit you, you felt it for a week.

A slight chuckle came from George. “He hadn’t hit anyone since that firecracker of yours put him in a strangle hold for some god-awful reason.”

The first honest good mood I’ve had in a while warmed me from my cold thoughts from last night. “He shouldn’t have been doing what ever it was he was doing,” I retorted with good humor.

That made George smile mirthfully for a moment, then his somber mood returned. “I’m afraid I do have some bad news for you, Tom,” he said. My good mood evaporated, replaced with worry and paranoia. “I don’t mean to add insult to injury,” he seemed to be searching for words, “but your house burnt to the ground in the wee hours of the morning.”

My heart sank at that declaration. My thoughts turned dark as a really bad feeling arose on the horizon. “How?” I managed to ask when I found the words to speak.

“At first glance, it looks like an electrical malfunction,” he said.

“At first glance?” I asked. I was feeling colder and colder by the second.

“We won’t know until the investigation is concluded.” He paused for a moment and I saw a tear run down his cheek. Something more had yet to be said. “Tom, I’m so sorry,” he said, voice quivering. “Belinda and Tim were thought to be in the house when it burnt. We won’t know for certain until the DNA tests come back, but it is a certainty it is them.”

Shock and horror set in. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breath. It had to be arson. And it had to be Maloane that did it. Had to be. That was the only thing that made sense. He had said I would regret my decision to not work for him and he had now taken everything from me. I felt broken.

“You can stay with me and Gloria if you need to, Tom,” George offered. When I didn’t respond, he told me to give him a call when I was released and gave me his condolences one more time and left.

When I was alone, I wept. Hard. Anger at myself for not heeding Belinda when she had told me that borrowing money form Maloane was bad idea and sadness at having lost everything I hold dear was all I could feel. I cried for what felt like hours until the nurses had to come in and sedate me. As I faded into a blissful oblivion, my last thoughts were about how I could make everything right again.

 

 

 

A week later I was discharged from the hospital and went to go stay at George’s house in his guest room. Upon my request, we had gone by the ruins of my life on the way to his house. The house was a hollowed out scorched shell. The smell of death filled the surrounding area, blackening the trees and grass. Yellow caution tape made a feeble attempt to block the outside from going in. I had gotten out of the car and limped over to the burnt carnage. The smell got stronger as I approached. George had gotten out behind me and gently restrained me from entering, telling me that he was still investigating the cause of the fire. I already knew the cause. My refusal to be a mob boss’s paid goon to pay off a debt had caused this. My need to save the life of my son had did this also. I wanted to tell George everything that had happened, but decided it was not the right time.

When we had gotten to his home, he had given me a set of police PT sweats until his wife, Gloria, could come back with some new clothes for me since all but what I had been wearing had gone up in flames. It was better than what I had left the hospital wearing: two hospital gowns – one of which I was wearing like a jacket to keep my rear covered - and a pair of the disposable slippers they give to patients to walk around in.

We sat in his den after I had gotten a shower and gotten dressed. He had a file on the coffee table that he was reviewing. It was about the fire and deaths of my family. He had told me that the reports came back saying that Belinda and Tim died in the fire in their sleep, but that he had a suspicion that something else had happened. The chief was telling him to accept the facts and move on.

That had been of great interest to me. George seemed irritated that his investigation was being hindered by a fellow officer, but there was not much he could do without going through Internal Affairs, which he says is slower than turtle running the Boston Marathon. I offered to help with his investigation, but he had told me that I was emotionally compromised to make a rational contribution. He may have been right, but it still was irritating to be put on the sidelines and be treated as an outsider to my own disaster in life.

There were also a couple of other cases he was investigating. One of them was labeled with a seemingly familiar address in the Middle City Projects, the other one involving a warehouse on the far side of town. George got up to go to the bathroom and I decided to take a look at those other case files. My pulse skipped as I recognized the address in the first file. It was the apartment building where I had essentially pushed a man, John Fletch, out of a fourth story window to his death. The other was the warehouse I had inadvertently decimated by a bad shot. Both instances I was put into a situation where survival became paramount.

A noise alerted me to George’s return from the bathroom. I closed the files and placed them back where I had found them. This stay may not be that pleasant if he discovers the truth. I wasn’t ready for him to discover the truth just yet.

George came back carrying two mugs of coffee smelling so strong that I might keep me up for a week. He sat back down and we continued to discuss the fire and if I thought it could have been due to an electrical problem as the initial report claims.

We had talked for a few hours, both about the case and about random topics. The random topics were his attempt to take my mind off to the events of the past week. Gloria had cooked dinner and we all sat around the table, talking about various topics, nothing I really paid too much attention to. That night, I lay in bed thinking about what I was going to do to make things right again.

 

 

A few days later, we had the Memorial services for Belinda and Tim. Both were burnt too bad for a proper funeral, so I had them cremated. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, but it was a practical one. After the services, I had gone into town on foot just to get some fresh air. I stopped by an ATM to discover that I still had some money in my account. Not enough to start over in an apartment, but enough to get some things I needed.

I bought a new laptop and a few other small items and toiletries along with a new phone. I also bought myself some lunch at a café that Belinda and I had frequented when our lunch schedules would line up. A pang of sorrow had struck me, but I pushed it down. I would not allow myself to break down in public.

After I finished my lunch, I began to set up my new computer when a looming shadow sat down in front of me. I looked up to see who it was and anger filled me to my core, but civility kept me rational. Or had it been rationality that kept me civil? Either way, I did not want to make a scene at a place where I had some of the best memories of my wife.

Maloane had taken the seat across from me with Marco and some other guy to either side of him. He looked positively relaxed, as if business had been going well. I, on the other hand, was wound up so tight that a gentle breeze could snap me in half. My ribs still being tender began to protest to my rigid posture.

“Relax, Tom,” Maloane said. “I’m here to offer you my condolences on your loss.” He was being sarcastic, but no one could really tell. I knew he was insincere in his condolences, but what point would it be to point it out to him?

Time to find out. “Your condolences, huh?” I asked snidely. “You threaten me and kill my family and you have the gumption to offer your condolences?” Civility might be a problem here.

Taken aback a bit, he responded with the same ire I had given him. “You can’t prove that I did,” he said, then amended, “Assuming I did do it.”

“What more proof do I need?” I asked.

“Proof that wouldn’t implicate you, Tommy Boy.”

Damn! I thought. I hadn’t thought about that directly, but I was working on a way around that issue.

He continued in a very low tone. “You have several murders under your belt along with massive property destruction and fleeing two crime scenes. You would go to jail for a really long time.” He was right. He continued, “The only reason the police haven’t been breathing down your neck is because I have deflected them from you by having evidence planted indicating rival families as the culprits.”

That confirmed a suspicion that I had had since that night in the projects and the following nights. It also confirmed my suspicion on why George was being hindered by a fellow officer in his investigation. I kept my face as unreadable as possible while Maloane continued. “As long as my guy keeps this hot-headed detective chasing shadows, you are in the clear, but if I wanted it, you’d be at the Grey Bar Inn for the rest of your life.” A waitress came over to take Maloane’s and his thugs’ order; they all declined to order and she left.

Calmer now, Maloane said, “All I have come to do is tell you that, given recent events, I am clearing your debt with me and that you are welcome to return to the docks to work just as a regular employee.”

The offer sounded genuine, but I had my doubts. “So you can keep an eye on me?” I asked scornfully.

“Yes.” He did not even try to hide his intentions on spying on me. “I’ll give you a week to think it over.” He and his goons got up to leave. “Don’t disappoint me again,” he said in parting and they left.

It was time for me to leave as well. I paid my tab and tipped my waitress. I called George and told him I would be staying in a hotel for the night and that I wanted some alone time to grieve in private. He understood. It wasn’t a complete lie. I did want some alone time, but it wasn’t to grieve. I wanted the time to plan my next move.

 

 

 

I chose a hotel close to the docks where I was formerly employed. I wasn’t going to work there any more, but I had some work to do there tonight. Maloane would be gone for the weekend and there would be just a light staff there for the next couple of days. That, hopefully, will work in my favor.

I spent most of the late afternoon skimming the net on public information on the Maloane Family. Nothing really out of the ordinary there; just a list of business interests that is on the straight and narrow. I found an old news article depicting a case he was involved with, but had gotten off clean. The photo in the article pictured Maloane, Marco, his lawyer, and a few others that I could only guess were character witnesses. I ran the names of some of the people discovering that some of them were either missing or had died under supposed natural causes. The investigating officers were always the same people, which added to my suspicions on how corrupt the police department was. I had also found articles of Maloane’s charitable donations to the city and city organizations, with photos of him with the police chief, the mayor, a Chief Court justice, and the district attorney.

Pausing for a moment, I let that sink in. I was screwed if I went to the police with evidence that he had had my family murdered. He would walk and I would fry. No wonder why George seemed frustrated when he would return home at night. He was being blocked not just by a fellow officer, but by several officers and the chief himself.

Continuing my skimming of the net, I also found hacking software that could be installed onto a flash drive or portable hard drive. Luckily for me I had bought a couple of them earlier along with a large capacity hard drive. I had planned on breaking into his office and getting as much information out of his computer as possible. If there was information to be had on his organization, I was hoping he would be foolish enough to have that information on hand in his office.

About four hours after the sun had set, I grabbed a satchel that I had bought earlier today and loaded it with what I would need to get in and get out without alarming anyone. I didn’t hold any hope that I would go unnoticed. That would have really been naïve of me. I was planning on an in and out operation, but one never knew when things would turn sour, as I have discovered repeatedly in recent weeks.

Dressed in dark clothing, I headed for Maloane’s docks.

The staff was indeed light this evening. Around ten people in total, including Marco, were doing various tasks, some loading trucks, others arranging crates in the warehouse. Marco was barking orders at some people as they dropped a crate. It busted open, revealing automatic weapons and ammo packs. The workers didn’t seem phased about such a revelation, but I was. How long had I been stocking and shipping weapons for this crime lord? Marco went and inspected another crate, opening it up to reveal bags of a white substance. Taking out my phone, I started taking several pictures of what is going on here that I had been oblivious to for a very long time. I wondered for the first time exactly how many of my former co-workers had known about what was coming into the docks.

After I was finished taking photos, I made my way quietly to the third floor and on to Maloane’s office. Unsurprisingly, it was locked, but it was a simple lock. I withdrew a plastic card from my wallet and slid it between the door and door facing. A loud click issued from the door latch as the door came open. Cringing, I entered the office and closed the door as quietly as I could and made my way over to Maloane’s desk.

I turned on Maloane’s computer and discovered, to my suspicions, that he did have it password protected. Time to test this out, I thought as I took my flash drive out and plugged it into a USB port. Seconds later, the program activated and I was able to mine his computer for the password. Once in, I searched everything I could find, but some volumes were password protected. I decided to copy them to my portable hard drive so I could go through them later on at my leisure. The download was going to take a while, so I decided to look through his desk.

In his desk, I found a .45 with two extra clips of ammo, a series of files that, at a brief glance, seemed to depict various off-records business ventures and a complete personnel file, various office stationary, and a date book. Looking through the date book I saw several meetings set up with some people I did not know, but could very possibly be important in some way. I also saw my name with a line drawn through it. That bothered me a bit, but not enough to distract me from my task at hand.

I decided to take pictures of everything I could when I heard the floor creak and two people talking, a man and a woman. The voice of the man I recognized as Marco. The woman, however, was completely strange to me. Looking at the computer, I saw that I still had about ten minutes. Hoping they would not enter the office, turned off the monitor and put all of the files and date book back into the desk then hid in the bathroom attached to the side of the office.

My luck didn’t hold. Marco unlocked the door and he and the woman entered the office. The door slammed shut and I heard the lock click and Marco and the woman start to make out. This was an unfortunate turn of events. I waited in the bathroom for a few minutes before the woman decided to use the bathroom to put in her diaphragm.

“Don’t take too long, beautiful,” I heard him say followed by a click of a stereo. Soft Jazz filled the air.

“Don’t worry,” she replied as she got closer. “You’re paid up for the next hour.”

I hid behind the door. She opened it and walked in, turning on the lights as she closed the door. She hadn’t seen me until I came up behind her, wrapped my arms around her neck in a choke hold to incapacitate her. I felt guilty that I had to do that to an innocent, but it was necessary. I peeked out to see Marco lighting some candles that he had to have brought with him. He was placing them around the leather couch and around the office. He stopped by the desk and paused. He looked at the portable hard drive and mumbled something about why was it there.

I walked as silently as I could up behind him. I was almost to him when the floor creaked behind him and he turned around. The look of shock and surprise clear on his face. “What are you doing here?” he demanded. I saw him go for his gun and I lunged at him, tackling him before he had a chance to draw bead on me. The thud was mingled with the silence as we fought on the floor. He punched at my head and I blocked the best I could. We rolled apart and got to our feet. We locked up again, trying to get a good hold on each other. He kneed me in the ribs and I let go, struggling to breath as my ribs were still sore. He started for the door and I lunged at him again, catching one of his legs as he hit the floor hard, banging his mouth on the door knob on the way down. He spat out a mouthful of blood and a couple of teeth as he rolled over and kicked me on the side of my head with a free leg.

“You son of a bitch!” he spat at me and stood up when I let go of him. “Why won’t you get the hint?” He moved over to my side and kicked my ribs again. Pain exploded in my head as my vision was starting to fade. He kicked again and again. I rolled over as his next kick found my back. It was becoming more and more difficult to breath. He stopped kicking me to search for his gun. Through blurry vision, I saw that it was in arms reach of me and I moved to grab it before he saw it. Giving up, he went to the desk to withdraw Maloane’s gun. He made his way back over to me and demanded that I roll over to face him. Through the pain, I did as he demanded, but with his gun in my hand. I put two rounds into him as he registered that I had his gun. He hit the floor with a resounding thud. I struggled to my feet to see him still moving, trying to level his gun at me. No longer having the reservations about killing someone who was trying to kill me, I put another two rounds in his head. He stopped moving. I could not take the time to relax. Someone would have had to hear the shots.

Checking on the data transfer, I saw that it was complete. Time to go. I grabbed everything I had brought and the all of the files and the date book. Looking back to the bathroom, I regretted the next decision I felt I had to make. The woman was an innocent, but I did not need her identifying me later on. I picked up one of the candles and placed it under the curtain, setting the office on fire. I did so again at the other window as well. As the fire started going good, I left the office and headed back down the stairs.

Back in the warehouse, the men were finishing up with their respective tasks. A couple of them were joking about Marco and the prostitute being done in five minutes instead of the hour he paid for. Another guy joked that he was going to pay her for her time when her and Marco got finished. An argument broke out in a corner near the propane tank used to refuel the forklifts. It looked like no one was aware of neither the gunshot nor my presence.

I continued along the outer wall slowly and unsteadily, each breath causing me pain and the contents of my satchel being heavier than it was going in. I saw a familiar face emerge from the warehouse office: my now ex-supervisor. He did not look too happy either. He shouted at the others about them getting an extra shipment in about an hour and they needed to get the current one finished ASAP.

As he turned around to go back into his office, he locked eyes with me and I could see the shock on his face. “YOU!” he shouted. So much for a quiet exit. He started to stalk over to me in a quickened pace that got the others’ attention. “What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded. As he got nearer, I saw him reach around his back in what I had to assume was an attempt to draw and ready a weapon. Adrenalin took over and I beat him to it by drawing my borrowed weapon and putting a round into his chest. A waste, but I could not worry about that. The others saw me and had drawn their own guns and started firing in my general direction.

I dove behind a stack of crates to avoid being hit. I heard directions to flank me being given and to avoid firing on the crates marked ‘explosive’. I heard someone on the other side of the crates moving with deliberate slowness. I pushed the top crates over on top of him, hearing him swear as they crushed him, putting him out of the action. Now I had no cover as they opened fire again. I headed for another stack of crates, a bullet scraping my arm in the process. Contents of the spilled crate made its way over to me – a couple of grenades. Time to have a blast now, I thought as I reached for one, barely missing the special bullet that would have been a kill shot. I pulled the pin on the grenade and threw the grenade when there was a break in the shooting for reloading.

Not seeing where it landed, but hearing several panicked swears indicating where it might have landed, it exploded into a massive concussion of compressed air, fire, and make-shift shrapnel followed by several more smaller explosions. My ears rang with pain caused by the blast. The shock wave had caused a few crates to topple over on me, pinning me to the ground, knocking my borrowed gun just out of reach.

Alarms started going off as the fire suppression system struggled to kick on to douse the flames. Struggling to get out, a man walked over to me – limped was a better word – and glared down at me. He was furious that I had almost killed him. I heard cries for help in the near distance as the injured goon made his way over to me, picking up a splintered stake on the way. “The boss says you’re fair game in a week,” the mad all but spat, “but I’m sure he will make an exception given the circumstances.” Panic started taking over adrenaline as the angered thug drew near. I struggled to get free, not succeeding quick enough. Another explosion occurred, distracting my approaching doom, and a piece of shrapnel pierced is chest. A small piece, but dangerous non the less. The man collapsed and I finished struggling to get free.

Examining my handiwork, I saw that Maloane was going to be royally pissed. The warehouse was in ruins. The sprinklers were non-operational in some places, one of which was by the propane tank. There was a fork lift near by the tank. I had a really fun thought. I made my way to the fork lift and opened the tank. I also opened the propane tank. I found a hose near by and cut it on a piece of shrapnel, brought it back over to the tank and began siphoning out the fuel. After getting a mouthful, I spit it out and dropped the hose, went to the larger tank to do the same, got on the fork lift and drove it around the propane tank and out of the warehouse. When I felt that I got far enough, I got of the lift and headed a far out as I could get and still have a good shot to the tank on the back of the fork lift. I finished emptying the clip, watching the fork lift go up in a magnificent blaze of glory. My fuel trail had caught fire as well and headed to the propane tank. The concussion from that blast had flung me back several dozen feet, breaking a rib or two in the process, and leveled the warehouse. It was a fiery ruin. And as an added bonus, the cargo ship at the dock also caught fire and explosions started going off there as well. It was time to vacate the area before the police showed up.

 

 

 

I had checked out of the hotel I was in and made my way to another hotel three blocks away. When I was in my new room, I cleaned myself up and got into a change of clothes, then headed for yet another hotel another three blocks away. Listening to the news, I heard reports of the destruction on the docks, the estimated body count, and the estimated cost that Maloane was going to have to pay for damages. Oh, was he going to be pissed. I knew I was a dead man walking now. I was living on borrowed time. So far, reports were saying that it was a rival of Maloane’s that had caused the carnage, but an investigation was ongoing. Maloane, of course, gave no comments to the disaster.

I spent the next few hours going through the contents of the hard drive and all of the files and discovered just how far the corruption went from Maloane’s organization into the nest of the political atmosphere here in the city. His reach even extended into the state capitol and parts of the US Senate. With this information, I could bust open a huge ring of corruption. No, the best idea for this was to make sure George got this.

I wrote him a letter, packed everything up, and headed to the post office. I placed everything I had gathered into a medium-sized box and put the hard drive and flash drives into padded envelopes, which also went into the box. I sealed the box and placed it into a slightly larger box, sealed it, then paid for it to be shipped first class priority to George. With luck, he will receive it tomorrow.

I left the post office and headed to the café I use to frequent with Belinda. I took a seat in the corner with my back to the wall so that I could see everyone coming and going. I ordered a cup of coffee and a small sandwich. I wasn’t planning on staying too long. I was planning on taking the rest of the money I had and leaving the city. I was done here. I was probably going to leave the country and change my identity to throw people off of my trail. I wanted nothing more to do with the mob or killing.

I finished quickly, paid and left. Once outside, I began to make my way to the bank when three men came up to me. Awareness flared up as they each in turn reached into their suit jackets and held their hands on only what I could assume was bad news.

Exercising what civility I had left, I asked, “Can I help you gentlemen?”

“Yeah,” the guy in the middle said. “Mr. Maloane wants to have a word with you.”

“I’m kind of busy at the moment,” I said, trying to think of a way out, but no solution presented itself. Surely they would not make a scene with potential witnesses around, but I have been wrong before. I have been wrong a lot lately. “Have his secretary set up an appointment and call me with the details.”

The guy to the right of the man in the middle shook his head, but the guy on the left spoke. “Sorry, Mr. Quinn,” he said sincerely, “but Mr. Maloane’s insists upon your presence as soon as possible, whether you can walk or not.”

That was clearly a threat to me. Evaluating my chances of getting out of this with no innocent casualties at very slim, I replied, “I seem to have no choice than to accept his generous invitation. Lead the way, gentlemen.” With that, one guy signaled a driver across the street. I got in the back seat between two of the guys and we drove off.

The drive was very unpleasant and long. Despite my attempts to spark up a conversation, the ride also remained uncomfortably quiet. We drove for at least an hour and a half out of the city and into a secluded area that was extremely private. My bet was that Maloane chose a place like this for a reason; that reason being to entertain special guests, like myself, who had caused him trouble. The surrounding forests were just as unpleasant as the car ride. I had a feeling that by the end of the night, I was going to end up buried out there, never to be seen again.

We approached a compound that had several houses built on it with the one in the middle much larger than the others. My guess was that I was going to that one. It didn’t take long for me to discover that I was right.

Once out of the car, I was ushered into the house – mansion was more like it – and taken to the basement. Oh, this was not good, not good at all. I was searched for a weapon. Once they were satisfied that I was unarmed, I was tied to a chair. Across from me was a table, and behind the table was Maloane. And he was beyond pissed.

“Do you know what you cost me last night?” he said by way of greeting.

“No, Frankie, I don’t,” I replied. A little smirk came to my face when I saw him take offense to that name. “Are you sure it wasn’t a rival?”

At a nod, I felt someone’s bare knuckles strike my cheek hard. Pain flared for a few moments and I spat out a little blood. “Don’t play stupid with me, Tom,” he said hotly. “The street cam footage shows you entering the docks before your little fireworks display.” Another nod and another searing jolt of pain in my jaw, this time dislodging a tooth. “Now,” he said a little calmer, “Lets try this again. Do you know how much your little fireworks display cost me?”

“More than you’re worth, I bet,” I said. Another nod and another strike, this time on my already damaged ribs. I nearly blacked out from the excruciating pain. I might have a damaged organ or two by now.

When the pain faded, he continued. “Wrong. It’s more than what you’re worth.” He stood up and walked over to me and grabbed a handful of my hair with one hand and punched me himself in the ribs again and again. Stars exploded in front of my eyes as near unbearable pain raced through my body. “Your whore and your brat wasn’t even worth the trouble you caused me.”

Tears started streaming down my face as the pain reverberated through me and turned into anger. I spat out more blood, hitting him in the face. That pissed him off and he fired back with a barrage of body blows as he held my hair. The last blow hit so hard that it knocked me over. I wanted to curl up into a fetal position and just fade away, but the pain wouldn’t let me. He turned to someone and instructed them to let him know when I regained my composure so that he could beat it out of me again. “Get the names of everyone – I mean everyone – he holds dear and kill them! Kill them all!” he demanded and stormed off. I could hear him saying to record every death so that I can watch before I die.

One guy remained. He picked me up and placed me on an examination chair that was bolted near the far side of the basement. Next to the chair was a tray of instruments usually used in ERs for healing, but I think these were for a more sinister reason. He didn’t even bother to strap me in; I was in no shape to fight back anyways. I was in way too much pain. “I would prefer you to give us the answers we want instead of me having to coerce them out,” he said as he came up beside me. “It would make it easier than having to track down your birth certificate and go from there.” With my last ounce of strength, I spat blood in his face, my last act of defiance. Un-phased, he removed a handkerchief and wiped the blood away. “Have it your way,” he said and went to his instruments. Pain gripped me again as he began the procedure of whatever it was he was doing. It wasn’t long before I passed out from the agony.

 

 

 

I woke up some time later still in the same chair to an audience of people. Maloane himself was also present. He was in a relative good mood, almost smiling at me. “Good to see you are finally awake,” he said. “It’s been two days.”

That brought me fully awake. I tried to sit up straighter but the pain in my ribs wouldn’t let me. “You seem cheerful,” wheezed.

“Of course I am,” he replied with a chipper ness that seemed out of place on him. “I have a special gift for you.” He signaled and I heard a screaming woman brought down the stairs. My heart sank as I realized that it was my sister-in-law, Jessica.

She stood just a few inches taller than Belinda did and looked a lot like her. I could see bruises and cuts on her and anger started to take hold. I still couldn’t move. For extra measure, a goon had a gun pointed at my knee so that if I tried to move, he would blow out my knee cap. In my current state, he would be a lot faster than me.

Maloane slung Jessica to the ground in front of me. She was terrified; asking me what was going on. Maloane pulled his gun and pointed it the back of Jessica’s head and pulled the trigger. Her lifeless body crumpled to the floor. Anger swelled up inside of me as he laughed at my helplessness. I swore all sorts of oaths and epithets at him and he laughed all the more.

“One by one,” he started when the laughter died down, “you are going to watch everyone you care about die for what you cost me.” He gestured to Jessica’s lifeless body with his gun. “She’s just the first. Each day will bring a new person. And when they are all dead, you will join them.”

I screamed at him. He laughed again and encouraged everyone present to urinate on Jessica’s body. Rage filled me with a vengeance. Autopilot kicked in and adrenaline fueled my rage. I kicked the guy holding the gun to my knee, sending his gun flying away. I grabbed a sharp object on the tray beside me and slung it into someone’s face. He fell to the ground, writhing in pain. I lunged at Maloane, knocking him down and grabbing his gun, then firing into the others in the room. By the time I swung back around to Maloane, he had already ran up the stairs.

It was time to end this.

Moving at a fast limp and holding my ribs, I made my way upstairs and narrowly dodged being shot. I fired a few rounds it that direction, hitting someone. I made my way to the kitchen and noticed Maloane had a gas stove. And a microwave. I turned on the gas stove without lighting the pilot light then placed a lot of silverware in the microwave and set it on high for several minutes. I left the kitchen and began making my way to the front of the house, firing at Maloane’s men as they fired upon me. I took a shot to the shoulder, but managed to keep going. I made it to the living room and got pinned down by two shooters. I fired back from behind cover, hitting one of them, but running out of ammo before I could hit the other one. Seeing a clock across from me, I decided to throw myself out of the window. Seconds later, the house exploded, followed by a chain reaction to the others, as it seemed the gas lines were all connected. A larger explosion occurred as the main tank ruptured.

Bodies and body parts fell from the sky all around me. Some bodies had shrapnel and shards of glass in them. I tried to stand up as someone kicked my side hard. Stars exploded onto my vision again as I saw Maloane strike at me again. “I’m going to tear you limb from limb,” he swore as he hit me again.

On the third hit, I grabbed his foot and twisted it hard. I heard a snap of his ankle and he went down screaming. He tried to stand up, but was unsuccessful. I stood up and found a discarded gun a few feet away. I picked it up and went back over to Maloane. He was standing, but propped up on a car. I shot one of his knees out and he collapsed to the ground. I heard sirens in the background. The police were on their way. I pulled Maloane up to his knees and held the gun to his head.

“You took everything from me,” I said.

“All you had to do was what you were told,” he responded. I could hear the agony in his voice. The sirens grew closer and he smiled faintly. “You’re going to fry for this, Tommy Boy,” he said defiantly. “The police are almost here.”

I didn’t care. I was tired of all of this. It was almost done. I saw the first few squad cars pull in. “This is for Belinda, Tim, and Jessica,” I snarled and pulled the trigger. The bullet left the chamber ad pierced Maloane’s head between the eyes. He crumpled to the ground, finally ending this hellish nightmare. Belinda and Tim – and Jessica – could all rest in peace.

“FREEZE!” I heard some one say. “DROP YOUR WEAPON AND GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES!” the same voice ordered. I threw the gun far off to the side and got down on my knees and placed my hands behind my head. There was no point in running any more. As the cops placed handcuffs on me and escorted me to a car, I could hear one of them say, “Good God! Have you ever seen this much death and destruction?” More sirens could be heard in the distance as the fire department arrived.

 

 

 

George looked at me in disbelief. The story I had just told him sounded too fantastic to be true, yet it was. He rubbed the bridge of his nose to help ease a migraine he apparently felt coming on.

“This just seems too fantastic to be true,” he said. “Most of it, anyways.”

“It’s all true,” I replied. “I lost everything trying to save my son and ended up losing him anyway.

George stood up and paced the room to collect his thoughts. After a moment, he said, “The DA has a huge case built against you on the mansion alone. After hearing this, you may not have a trial.”

“I have my doubts that I would even make it to one even if I was innocent,” I said.

George gathered his things and was getting ready to leave. “You do know that you have completely destabilized the criminal underground, don’t you?” he asked and I shrugged. A moment of silence later, then, “I wish things had turned out differently,” he said sadly.

“For what it is worth, I am sorry, my old friend,” I replied. As he headed for the door, I asked, “Did you get your gift I sent to you?”

He turned around to face me. “Yes, but I haven’t had a chance to open it yet. What is in it?”

A slight smile crept up on my face. “A thank you for all you have done for me. The password is our favorite cartoon growing up. Use it well.”

Seeing no more coming from me, he left the interrogation room and the door shut with a huge resounding thud.

I was left alone to my thoughts. For the first time in months, I felt truly at peace with myself. It was time to settle in and watch the chaos of George’s gift unfold as he used it as he saw fit.

 

 

 

 


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