Got home that night, popped open a beer, put on some music and sat on the couch. The TV was right in front of me but I'd seen too many things, just stared at the blank screen.
Better than the welshers I'd looked at all afternoon, forcing money out of them however I could. I don't mind hurting a man but I hate hearing him cry. If you borrow, if you bet, it's all the same as the rent: it's gonna get paid and there's late fees. At least there hadn't been any women. I hate hurting women, however stupid they might be.
Halfway through my beer I heard a noise from down the hall. Walked to the bedroom and saw a light under the door. I hadn't left it on. I turned the knob slow, opened the door a crack and saw a shadow on the floor. No one but me had a key to my place. I pushed the door another inch, couldn't see a shadow now.
I dropped to a catcher's stance, pushed the door hard, and took a squatted step forward. The stranger turned but didn't see me until I stood and took another step, my face in his, my Ka-Bar blade at his neck. A fucking black kid.
"You picked the wrong man to rob, boy."
He tried to step back but I pulled him close.
"Fuck your damn excuse. You interrupted my beer. How'd you get in?"
No answer. I threw a right hook to his belly and he bent forward. I gave him a nudge and he leaned against my dresser, ready to be frisked. I obliged, found a folded hunting knife. Paint chips flecked off it. I pocketed the knife, took his wallet, patted him down to the ankles with my left hand, Ka-Bar still in my right. Something the shape of a pistol stuck out just above his right ankle. No pea shooter either. Mine now.
"Well, well. S and W .38." I pushed him toward the open door, my new gun in hand. "Follow the music, sit on the couch. Guess I'll stand a while."
He sat where I pointed the pistol, the couch where I'd sat a minute before. Hell, I did a whole day of collections without a gun—not worth the parole violation—and now I held one at home. I saw a partially open window. That explained the paint flecks.
"This just a random break-in? Cuz what I own is random stuff. Don't keep money here. You wanna rob me, jump me on the sidewalk and good luck."
"Could use some money is all. Nothin' personal. Let me walk, I ain't comin' back."
"A black boy in this neighborhood? You're suspicious as hell just being here. Lucky for you I don't like cops." I put the Ka-bar away, grabbed my beer and drank, .38 aimed at his chest. "Why let you go?"
"You can have what's in my wallet."
"Got it already, no reason to keep you alive. What can you do for me?"
"What do you want?"
"Let me think on that." I drank. Beer done, I set the empty next to the TV, where he couldn't reach. A bottle is a weapon.
I opened his wallet, read the driver's license. "John Wayne Booth? Your name's a killer. You sure ain't. A little dark for that name too."
"I oughta just shoot you and drop the gun. You broke in, we struggled."
"What do you want?"
I shook my head. "You said that before. You done anything besides rob houses?"
"Armed robbery, that sorta thing. Ways to make real money."
"Lots. Took down some high stakes card games for one."
"Name a game," I said.
"And if it's someone you know?"
"Then I'm surprised and impressed. You got nothin' to lose, boy. You're dead you pause again. Talk."
He looked pissed but he talked. "Felipe Dominguez runs a game out East 35th. I hit it a month ago."
"Yeah, I know Felipe. You hit it alone?"
"And walk out alive? It was four of us."
"And the take?"
"My share was five large."
I wanted another drink and not just a beer. I signaled him up with the pistol. "To the kitchen."
He got to the table.
He did and I opened a cabinet, set the Jameson bottle on the counter. Opened another cabinet, poured a double into a glass and threw it back.
"So," I said, "who was in charge?"
"I could die for tellin'."
"You will die if you don't." I raised the .38.
"Moody Perkins ran the job."
"Moody? Man, I really know him. Not personally but … You're lucky I don't talk. For one, I know he pulled that job. For two? He would most definitely kill you. Even on suspicion. I would never work for that motherfucker."
"Workin' my way up," the kid mumbled. I hadn't noticed how young he was, maybe nineteen. "Man with a name wants me on his crew, I'm on it."
Probably a fifty thousand dollar game, and Moody woulda claimed at least twenty, more likely thirty-five.
"You carry this piece," I nodded at the .38, "on that job?"
"And Moody thought you could shoot a man if it came to it."
"Easy as any target."
"What if Moody was the target?"
"Need a bigger gun. Moody's a fat motherfucker."
"Moody's no joke. Who the fuck are you, mister? You crazy?"
"Name's Whit Riley. You think I'm crazy?"
Saw the name sink into the boy's brain.
"You got past my alarms so you're good at B and E. Question is, you got the balls to kill Moody?"
"Yeah, sure, why not?" Talked like he had balls anyway. "How big's the crew?"
"Us. You took out my alarm system, his is no better, guaranfuckingteed. Take me a little time to set this up, but when I do, we take him for everything."
"You tellin' me fuckin' up this robbery is the best thing I ever did?"
"So far, boy. After this?" I shrugged. "Gimme your phone."
Took a couple minutes but I found his number, wrote it down. I hate phones. "Starting three days from now, pick up calls from numbers you don't know. One of 'em will be me. We gonna take this motherfucker for everything he got."
It was Friday night, which I usually looked forward to. Hell, I'd been having a good week until yesterday, when I came home to a cold note from Lorena instead of her warm body. The note said I talked a good game but damned if I ever played it. Said I didn't really care, I only talked like I did. But she could tell by the way I didn't talk to her, by the plans we made that never happened.
She could have told me this shit and we could've worked it out, only somewhere in the note she said this wasn't the first time she told me this and I never did anything about it, I never changed. She said I never listened, but I swear she never told me any of that before.
Lorena wasn't gorgeous, which made sense, neither was I. I was good at what I did, I had a name, but I didn't have enough money to be the dashing ugly gangster with hot chicks on either arm. For a woman to recognize my name she had to be close enough to the game to know I'm in it but not a major player. Rules out all the beauties.
I'm good with that, I don't expect pretty women. I expected Lorena, I thought we had something. Maybe not love, but something I could count on, someone to come home to.
So I got drunk Thursday night, busted my ass hungover all day today, and came home to this punk thinking he could rip me off. My whole life I been getting ripped off. Stopped taking that a few years back.
The boy's lucky I didn't kill him, lucky I'm on parole. Even a legit self-defense and they'd look at me too close, lock me up for shit maybe I did, maybe I didn't. In their rigged game, I'm best off not playing.
Anyway, I had to make some calls, find out what I could about one John Wayne Booth. If the calls panned out, I had to figure how to take out Moody Perkins and take his money. Whole thing only worked if the man liked having his cash on him. From what I'd heard, Moody did, but I sure wasn't leaving that to chance. Was gonna be hard enough just killing the motherfucker.
Started checking on Moody's security before anyone got back to me. If Moody was someone I could get and Booth came back as a man I couldn't trust, I'd take out Booth and find another partner.
Teddy Blue said Booth was good and he was clean, could be trusted. Got the same report from Antoine Doe, dude who got his last name from how many of his victims were never identified. Teddy's word was good, Antoine's was like a referral from Satan. In this business, that's as good as it gets.
So, one less man to kill.
I followed Moody a couple of days. If the man used security, they were invisible; he went everywhere alone. Everywhere included Moody's favorite bar, an East Oakland joint in a Vietnamese neighborhood, restaurants and markets and doctor's offices and everything else. But Moody's joint was called Wong's, a Chinese name.
I followed Moody there, waited across the street in my car. Couldn't go in, he'd know me if he saw me. Maybe not by name but he'd know what I was—a gangster who didn't work for him, a man to find out about. Not a man he'd let follow him again.
It was dinnertime and numerous Vietnamese walked past without a glance, they had their own food to eat. I like Chinese food, but maybe Vietnam and China don't get along. I didn't have a clue, didn't care. Waited a half hour until Moody drove away, then I crossed the street and walked in.
Not much to the place, a few tables but no table service. None necessary, no one sat there. Just a couple of old Chinese at the bar. An LED ran overhead, showed point spreads and over/unders, betting lines. I took a stool, ordered a Tsing Tao and a whiskey, watched the numbers and wondered where anyone was betting them. They weren't gonna make their rent on me and the two guys at the bar.
Across the room was a door that looked like it led to a kitchen, only they weren't serving food. They had to take bets back there, probably card games too, but that meant everyone else went in through another entrance. Why would Moody come through the front door?
I smiled at the LED screen. Moody was an owner. Customers came in through the back so they wouldn't attract attention. Cops aren't watching joints for a lack of customers, they look at busy places. They're not onto Moody and they're not onto this joint. But does he leave here alone with his share of the money?
I'd give that investigation to Booth.
"Hey man, it ain't as bad as the Koreans, but the Chinese don't love us neither."
"Face it, Booth. Blacks, whites, the Chinks don't love no one."
"Only you the same race as Moody. They kiss up to the white man. The ones got money anyway."
"So go in and spend some money, Booth. It's all I'm askin'."
"I work this job for you, Riley, but I get paid, I don't pay. Ain't your slave, motherfucker. That shit you said before. You can't call me that, motherfucker."
"Call you what?"
I shook my head. "Whaddaya want, kid? You broke into my house. Boy."
"You ain't nothin' but a fuckin' racist, Riley. Part a you's dead, hate instead a brains."
"You work for me and we both gonna make money. Don't matter what I think, you get paid."
Booth shook his head. "You're right. It don't matter."
I swore he mumbled "asshole" at the end of that, but I wasn't sure I heard it, maybe it was just in his eyes.
I peeled off two hundred in twenties. "That's expenses, I don't get it back. Wander from the bar, get lost going to the bathroom, I don't give a fuck. Find out what Moody's doing and if he's picking up money."
Booth nodded, stood, pocketed the twenties and walked away.
For a second there he had me worried, but what was he gonna do?
My phone rang. Booth's number. It had been two weeks. "Yeah."
"He starts in the game room, makes clean plays at a couple tables and walks to a door in back. Two guards outside, got guns no doubt. He goes through that door and I don't know what he does. Stays a half hour, about."
"Anyone else go back there?"
"Nah, but today I got a peek inside. A desk, someone sittin' behind it, stands soon as Moody walks in, door shuts again. He comes out, guards walk with him 'til he leaves the gaming room."
"He goes unguarded into the bar?"
"Like he done nothin'."
I had a beer going, took a drink. "So he walks out the front door alone."
"Drives home the same."
They guarded the office before he went in, guarded Moody after. He was picking up cash.
"Marquez fight is Saturday," I said, "gonna be a lotta money on it. Stay on him all day, I want updates soon as he gets there."
I parked a block from Wong's, waited on Booth's call. It was early, prelim bouts just starting, but I had to be close when Moody got out. Marquez was a big name locally but only a slight favorite. Money poured in both ways. Hell, a lot of dollars would change hands on the prelims, but however much it was would be pennies next to the Marquez money. And smart money always came in late.
Uszek, the contender, was a Croatian or something, a nose that someone broke but maybe not in the ring. Eastern Europeans, like Central Americans, weren't scared of shit. The fight figured to be brutal, and that's what people wanted.
I didn't care what happened, sat in my car sipping coffee, just wanted Moody to walk out the door soon. I'd have him from the front and Booth would come up from the back. In the back is always the better shot. I wouldn't do a damn thing if I didn't have to. Nothing but take the money from the dead man.
Of course, with that kind of money the guards would stick with him until he made it to his car, but if there were only two of them we'd be fine. If they added more guards I'd call it off. I had the fight on the radio, would double park out front of Wong's as soon as it was over. Pull this job and I'd have money, and no matter how secret it was someone big would find out who pulled it and I'd be in good.
I listened. The fighters were whaling on each other but they were both taking it. Uszek tried to take out Marquez early but no one went down. Then it sounded like Uszek tired and Marquez came back, but Uszek had a big round seven and all I knew was I wished I could be watching. Scheduled twelve round title bout but no one thought it would go that far, only it sounded like both these guys could take a punch.
Boxing was a horrible radio sport. Some guy who maybe knew the fights, maybe didn't, made the call, and the crowd responded the way crowds respond, like the fans at a baseball game who cheer a routine flyball like it was going out of the park. Most of the big punches that draw cheers are blocked, only the people at the fight can't see that. It's why so many people, "experts" included, thought Ali was losing to Foreman in Africa until he knocked him out. Real experts know, most people don't.
There were a lot of Marquez fans out this way, no big Croatian contingent just a lot of Mexican neighborhoods. The bookies tried to balance the odds so they made the same money no matter who won. My guess—the local books were pulling for Uszek and felt good when he started the 11th landing body blows, forced Marquez to clinch and hold. Marquez pushed out of the clinch and threw a desperation head shot that knocked Uszek back. The bookies had to feel worse. Marquez threw a left hook for the kill. Uszek blocked it, staggered Marquez with an uppercut then a cross that according to the announcer flattened Marquez's face. Marquez went down.
The crowd was going wild. Marquez had been down before but at the six count the radio guy said it didn't look like he'd make it. His gloves pushed canvas at eight but he made it to his knees and stopped. The fight was over. I waited for Moody.
It took him an hour to get there but as much money as he was picking up I figured he'd be in and out fast. Booth drove around the corner behind me and I pulled out, gave him my space a block from Wong's. I moved up and double parked at the front of the Wong's block.
Moody was inside fifteen minutes, came out with two bodyguards. I rounded the corner, left my car in the street where they couldn't see, and got out. Stepped toward Wong's, saw Booth pull up and double park behind them. He got on the sidewalk and walked in their direction. They turned and saw him, now I was the guy at their backs. I ran forward and fired, they shot at Booth and he fired back. A bodyguard and Booth went down.
Moody ran for his car. Fucking moving targets are hard. I shot at the remaining bodyguard and clipped him in the shoulder. He went down, could get up but I took a chance that his self-preservation outweighed his loyalty. He'd already been shot, should be good enough to say he'd done his job.
The car was on the street, right out front of the club. Moody ran around the hood to get to the driver's side. I fired a wild shot, no chance of hitting him, and he stopped. What I wanted.
"Drop the money and you live, Moody!" Like I was a fucking cop.
He didn't buy it; shielded by the car there was no way I could shoot him. He opened the car door.
I shot a front tire. "No need to get in."
There were sirens now. I had to get the money and get the fuck out, but there's no way Moody is walking around with tons of money and no weapon.
"Don't know your name but I seen your face, motherfucker. You gonna get famous gettin' killed by Moody? Strange choice."
I walked toward the front of the car, stopped when he raised his .45. Hit the sidewalk and Moody fired over my head. I rolled to my right and came up in a squat, looked at him as he looked at me only I shot first, hit him in the chest. He fell on his face but I was shot too, just not as bad as him, just a leg on fire. He lay still. I staggered forward, was almost to Moody when I saw what had to be the money bag. I bent down and reached for it but I fell. My arm didn't get there.
"What's the matter, boy?" I knew that voice. "Can't reach your money?"
A shadow hung over me. I raised my eyes. Booth. Didn't look like he was bleeding.
"I set up the job, Booth."
"Yeah, you a big shot now, Riley. Blood on the street, money in the bag. Big smart white man." He grabbed the bag, aimed his .45 at my head, and squeezed the trigger.
Copyright © 2021 Rob Pierce.
Rob Pierce wrote the novels Blood By Choice, Tommy Shakes, Uncle Dust, and With The Right Enemies, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet. All books are available at allduerespect.com, as well as via the usual slumlords. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.