The second vodka martini went down before it could dilute. Alcohol washed over Larry’s ulcers and the cramping subsided.
The bartender hovered near him. “Not many people order martinis on the rocks anymore. Another?”
“I’m old school. It’s tempting, but I have to hold onto at least half my mind.”
Larry, cover name Ambrose, laid a twenty on the bar, slid off his barstool and walked out into fading daylight.
The agency car, a Ford Escort false-plated for Maryland, was two and a half blocks down the street. Larry was sweating when he reached it. He remembered that he hadn’t checked to see if the gun was in the trunk compartment, then waved off the thought. The gun never wandered away.
Once in the car, he pulled out a crib sheet and set it on the seat next to him, so he could glance at it while he drove. The note violated tradecraft, but Larry’s memory had begun to rot, and he needed help. He started driving. The agency monitored GPS tracking, so Larry forced himself to go through the entire counter-surveillance driving routine.
The mark was waiting in an apartment, the clean-up crew was on standby. Just Whack-a-Mole, buddy, and get out.
He parked, put on flesh colored plastic gloves, fed a parking meter, and retrieved the .38, screwing on the silencer while hunched over the open trunk. The extended silencer on the revolver made concealment difficult, and Larry held it under his overcoat as he walked into the building. He was wheezing by the time he’d climbed to the third-floor landing. He recovered his breath and checked his watch. Five minutes late, almost okay. He walked slowly to the apartment door and knocked with his left hand. He started to pull the .38 out from under his coat, but the hammer caught on the lining. He quit knocking and grabbed the coat with his left hand, ripping the lining as he yanked the gun out and held it under the peephole, pulling back the hammer.
“Delivery from Apex Courier.”
“Maybe it’s my pajamas.”
“Just right for a cold night.” Goddamn bullshit Bona Fides.
“Wait a sec.”
The door swung open, and Larry fired as soon as he had a clear shot. The hollow point spalled as it went through the guy’s stomach, spraying viscera back into the room. The mark dropped with a moan.
Larry stepped around the man, reached down, grabbed him by the armpits and dragged him deeper into the room so he could shut the door. Larry bent down to get a closer look at the man. The face matched the picture. The guy was squalling.
“Empty apartments on all sides, squeal all you want.”
Larry speed dialed a burner. “Down but not gone. You still want me to ask him?… Okay…. Don’t worry, he’ll be ready for the clean-up crew.”
“Why?” the guy asked.
“I quit asking why a long time ago, buddy. Okay, we got easy, we got hard. I believe what you tell me I don’t stick the silencer in your hole and stir.”
Larry pushed the silencer barrel into the guy’s belly. He screamed in falsetto.
“Tell me about Yevgeni.”
The guy dug up some courage. “Screw you, you’re going to kill me anyway.”
Larry stared down at him. He hated torture. “Yeah, you’re right, I am. And I already know Yevgeni.” He pointed the gun and popped a hole in the guy’s forehead. He waited a few minutes, checked his crib sheet, and dialed another number. “This is Ambrose. Confirmation 1R7CVS9. Parcel is ready. Nah, interrogation got nothing. …What? I’m not due for an eval for another six months. What the hell! Okay, I’ll be in tomorrow morning.”
Larry sat down in an easy chair. The guy had voided. The room reeked of urine, feces and coppery smelling blood, with a tinge of fear sweat. Larry realized it was his sweat.
The polygraph lab had metal walls, chairs and desk, all painted beige in a vain effort to be reassuring. “Not good, Ambrose.”
“This is your third inconclusive on the polygraph. Means we have no way, other than drug interrogation, to find out if you’re telling us the truth. Means you failed.”
“Bullshit, Harley. I’m telling you the truth, always have. You guys just need better equipment.”
Harley pushed his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and stared at Ambrose. “I’m recommending that you undergo the interrogation.”
“I’m a twenty-year vet, okay, seventeen, you can’t make me take it.”
“Actually, Ambrose, I can, because the consequences of your refusal are a lot worse than flunking another test.”
“I’m a senior operative, decorated, twelve years ago. You can’t touch me.”
“Don’t do this, Ambrose.”
“It’s done. Get me out of this harness.”
I’m headed down the mud slide now. I should’ve retired. Think, you corrupt old drunk, think.
Cover name MaryLou sat across from him in the coffee shop. She was curved but solid and smelled of soap and lozenges. Bitch of the future, Larry thought. More and more women taking over our jobs. Not near as suspicious looking. Younger. Faster.
“How long you been doing this, Ambrose?”
“Too long.” And I’m not telling you anything that will let you take my slot.
“My first tandem hit. Would rather work solo. You?”
“Done a few. With guys. Listen, the important thing is to jump out of the line of fire as soon as he sees me. Don’t spectate, you’ll get shot. By him if not by me.”
MaryLou held onto her smile, but her voice hardened. “I’m not your trainee, I’m the senior operative. I’ll get him into the room, you just be ready. And try not to drink any more of that vodka I can smell.”
So much for Tic-Tacs.
They finished their coffees. He left while she was paying and retrieved the car. Good looking woman. Smart, like I was. Was. He took a long look at the crib sheet, put it back into a coat pocket, and drove over to pick MaryLou up.
They spent the first several minutes in silence. What does already done say to still-to-come.
“How much time you got in, Larry?”
“Pushing twenty years.”
“Impressive. I hear most of us burn out and leave after five. You must like your work.”
“I’m good at it.” Was, once. “And I figure if they’re on my to-do list they deserved it.” But their blurred faces line the inside of my mind. “How long you been with us?”
“Three years, twenty dry ops, four wets. How many wets you got?”
Larry realized he’d lost count, and lied. “Forty-three. One was a two-fer.”
MaryLou’s expression hinted that she’d been given access to his jacket and knew his count was wrong, but she said nothing until, “We do the killing, the killing does us. We’re here.”
They got out of the car and Larry retrieved the gun. With Marylou as a witness, he went through the motions of cracking opening the cylinder and checking that there were rounds, then screwed on the silencer. MaryLou stared at him. “I heard you still used a wheel gun. Nobody does anymore.”
“Automatics can jam.”
“Umpteen thousand rounds, it’s never happened to me, but if it makes you feel more secure…”
Larry shrugged. It was an argument he’d heard for years. But there was comfort in a revolver, in knowing that if he pulled the hammer back it would fire, every time, like a western marshal’s six-shooter.
She was on him again. “You read the file?”
“Of course. You want to quiz me?” Hopefully not, because I don’t remember shit.
Marylou stared at him silently for a couple seconds. “Okay. All you have to do is shoot. I meet the guy in the restaurant, exchange passwords, and walk him to the safe house. You’re already inside, in the kitchen. No interrogation, just pop him. Here’s a key.”
“Thank you, professor.”
She ignored the sarcasm and started walking toward the restaurant. Larry turned in the opposite direction. Five minutes later he was at the house. He entered and turned on the lights. If he hid in darkness, when they entered and hit the lights he’d be briefly blinded.
The waiting was boring anxiety—not sure if or how things could go wrong. He had to piss, and risked the noise and odor, running into the bathroom, then again took up position in the kitchen. And waited, gun out.
Maybe ten minutes later his stomach muscles tensed when he heard a key in the door. Sounds of shuffling feet and door closing, no conversation. Larry swung around into the doorway and pulled the trigger. It clicked, no shot off, and he clicked again, and again.
MaryLou and the guy stood in the front room, with guns pointing at him.
She spoke softly. “It’s a bitch when your trusty revolver fails you, Ambrose. Stay still and we won’t shoot you yet.”
Larry’s ulcers had started screaming. He let the .38 drop to the floor and worked up a smile. “What is this, some kind of exercise? Well played, dummy rounds?”
The guy smirked. “He really is burnt out. You know the drill, pudgy. We’re going to ask you some questions.”
Larry’s smile had withered. “Yeah, I’m familiar. Look, is it alright if I sit? I’m shaking bad.” He raised his hands above his shoulders.
MaryLou replied. “Too soon for the DTs, Ambrose, you’re still drunk. But, sure, sit. You know what happens. We don’t like your answers you get shot, leg or arm. We still don’t like it you get shot again, and from there it gets ugly.”
She and the guy stepped closer to Larry and gun-waved him toward an easy chair. Larry took cautious, short steps over to the chair, turned and flopped into it, his hands sliding down inside the arm rests.
His right hand kept moving, slipping into his jacket side-pocket. The pocket started making quick, soft pops, eight of them.
Marylou frowned, looking down at two small holes in her belly, then swung her gun up toward Larry. But he’d dived behind the chair. She fired twice, the guy once, the bullets ripping through the chair, flinging fabric and basting against the wall. Then silence. Larry shoved a new clip of .22 shorts into the Beretta Minx and crawled out from behind the chair.
MaryLou and the guy had fallen into each other, looking like clumsy lovers. The .22s had no penetrating power, and Larry lumbered over to them and put one more round each into their heads.
His shooting hand hurt and he stared down at it. The little automatic was too small for his grasp, and the slide had ripped up the skin next to his thumb. He was slow-dripping blood. Couldn’t be helped. Damned automatics.
He rolled the pair onto their back and looked for entry wounds. Eight rounds from five yards away and he’d missed three times. I do need to retire.
Larry studied them as he went through their pockets for cash and fake IDs. MaryLou had the beatific, open-eyed expression of a novitiate. Bad habits and no memory, sweetie, but I still have instincts. No hard feelings.
He left the house, locking the door behind him, and walked down to the agency car. He drove the car for ten minutes to the beater he’d purchased for cash two weeks before. Always know when it’s time to ride out of Dodge.
His go bag and a small suitcase filled with cash were on the floor of the back seat. It would hold him until he could access the offshore accounts. Didn’t want it to end this way. No choice. Pity. Still, it was a hell of a retirement party.
Ⓒ Ed Ahern