It was a cold windy November afternoon in Atlanta. The kind of day you'd want to curl up around a cup of good coffee or bad bourbon. Unfortunately, I didn't have the "dime" for either one. Therefore, in my never-ending quest for dead presidents I went out on a job.
I saw him sitting on a bench in the park with a red balloon on a string in his left hand. The client was a young man dressed in oversized torn jeans, a cheap team jacket and ultra expensive sneakers. He was one of a multitude of young people trying to make a living on the streets of the city too busy to hate.
"Are you Jack?" I asked just in case I had the wrong person with a red balloon. It happens.
Looking up with a well-practiced scowl, he gave me his hardest stare. "Who the hell wants to know?"
"Listen up tough guy; you're the one who called me." I said giving him as good as he gave.
"You're Tony Java...?" he started.
"It is pronounced Hava-leena, Tony Javelina. It is a kind of a wild pig that no one in their right mind screws with."
A smile spread over his face like oil on a driveway. I'd seen that look before. The client sees a 5`6“ dirty blonde that looks like a bad David Spade impersonator and gets the idea they can push me around. As soon as he reached into his pocket, I pulled out my .357, I cocked the hammer and pointed squarely between his eyes. "Like I said, it is not a good idea to screw with the Javelina."
He froze in place and stammered. "I didn't mean anything."
"You may be street smart, but I'm street wise." I said with wicked smile. "Just pull that hand out slowly else this meeting will end with a bang."
"Yeah, like you're going to shoot me here." He said when his courage got its second wind.
"Oh I'll get away with shooting you. I got a permit for my gun." I replied nudging the barrel against his forehead. "Do you?"
To this, he heaved a resigned sigh like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Slowly he pulled out a piece that looked more like cap gun. I quickly grabbed the thing, took a step back and looked it over.
"Kid this is a 22 short." I laughed. "I'm wearing enough body armor to bounce a 45."
"So now what," he asked," you going to rob me or beat me up?"
It was an option but I was here to make a dime not steal it. Shaking my head, I said. "Nope, you asked for a PI. You got one. Tell me your story."
"My girl friend is in big trouble," he began. "A guy called Hacker has her."
That was a name that caught me off guard. Hacker was an up and coming racketeer. A power player that no one really knew much about, in fact few people even knew what Hacker looked like or whether he was even black or white. All they knew was that Hacker had a hand in most of the prostitution and drugs in the south side of the city. It was also a fact that he dealt with his problems quickly and violently.
"What's Hacker's interest in you?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" he shot back a little too quickly for my taste.
"Why's Hacker mad at you," I asked again, "he's not the kind to do something at random."
"I don't know."
"Listen, if you won't trust me then I'll have to pass on the job." I said with a smile.
"Look, this is just a snatch and grab," he said getting up off the bench. "Word on the street is that you're fast and cheap. I need those skills."
I shook my head and turned to leave when he shouted. "I'll pay cash!"
"Okay, my rates are $500 a day pus expenses." I said quickly. "I need one day in advance as good faith money."
He fished a wad of Benjamins out of his pocket big enough to choke a horse and pulled off five of them like it was play money. Taking the cash, I regretted not robbing the kid.
"He's got her in room 18 in the Lazy Day Motel," he said quickly. "Bring her back here before midnight and I'll give you a $500 bonus."
I knew the motel quite well. A little hideaway in rural Georgia noted for looking the other way. In my time, I'd tracked a number of husbands and wives to this not-so-secret rendezvous.
Nodding at him, I said. "I know the place."
The drive to the motel took me out of Atlanta and into small town Georgia. Here things went a little slower and quite often a bit rougher. In this neck of the woods, old southern blood ran things with an iron fist. Now when someone says old southern blood most people think of "Gone with the Wind." The reality is it is more like “Deliverance. “These people often have two money sources, one they talked about, and the side business. Out here, it was either drugs or liquor.
Pulling up across the street from the Lazy Day Motel, I parked at a closed fruit stand. Taking out my binoculars, I gave the place a good scan. The motel was a white painted single story motor hotel from the fifties. The office sat in the center of the building with a red neon sign announcing "No Vacancies." The sign was to keep away the normal traveler and allow the regulars to use the place without prying eyes getting into their business.
While looking through my binoculars I noted a lot of BMW's, Mercedes and high-end sedans parked in front of $19.00 a night rooms. Therefore, when I spotted a beat up American made car I knew something was odd. Then I saw the owner step out to take a leak. It was an old acquaintance of mine with his signature rusty LTD, Tiny.
Like most men with this moniker, he was anything but tiny. Nearly seven feet tall and a tad less than 300 lbs Tiny was a mountain with legs. Add in that he had a face only a mother could love and then only after a few drinks. This gave you Tiny, one of the most dangerous enforcers in the southeast. In my encounters with him, I've personally seen him kill four men. Including the time, he took a client of mine by the feet and slammed him against a wall like sack of trash several times.
Uncertain why he was there I figured to keep an eye on him too. After all, I didn't need this monster getting involved in my business. The entire time he sat in his old car he took pulls from a bottle of booze. I shuddered at that, liquor only made Tiny meaner. Once when someone passed by the door in question he sat up and fumbled with what looked like a nickel-plated 45. It was then that I realized he was their outside man.
"Taking care of you will be a bonus." I said as I checked my "tools." The .357 revolver had six fresh rounds. Though I liked the revolver, it was little more than an over-powered noisemaker. For sheer killing power, I had a Remington pump action 12 gauge. At close range, I didn't know many who survived a shot in their general direction.
I was going to wait for the sun to set. A little darkness would give me a slight edge on a Tiny and anyone else in the motel room.
A car pulled up and some guy got out and nodded in Tiny's direction. It was at this point I knew something bad was about to happen. Swearing, I put on a ski mask, got out of my car with the shotgun in hand and jogged across the road. When I came up to the driver's side of Tiny's car, the smell of booze and urine almost made me retch. I guess the big guy had sat there for hours. Luckily, the window was down and Tiny was feeling good.
Smiling coyly, I held the shotgun waist high and said, "Hey, Tiny. How's it going?"
Drunk as he was he still had the pistol drawn and twisted around to take me out. However, when he saw the barrel of my shotgun, instead of shooting he said. "Who the Fu..."
I immediately pulled the trigger sending most of Tiny's head into the passenger side of the car. To this day, I'd like to think that the last thing going through Tiny's mind other than the buckshot was the "...ck?"
The roar of the Remington in the city would've woken up the entire neighborhood. Out here in the country, it was one of a dozen gunshots heard during hunting season. Only a few curtains in a couple of the nearby rooms parted giving the occupants a quick look. Ignoring them, I ran across the parking lot toward the room in question for me speed was everything. I cycled the shotgun and chambered another shell. Pointed at the doorknob and gave it the same as Tiny got. The doorknob and lock disintegrated and the door popped open. I then gave it a kick to open it further and stepped inside.
Here was a young girl stripped down to bra and panties sitting forlornly on the edge of the bed. Staring straight ahead, I figured they drugged her to keep her quiet and pliable. I figured this because the two guys were looking at me and she wasn't. At the end of the bed was a fat guy with a camera on his shoulder. On the other side was some seedy looking guy wearing a leather mask and not much else. It was quite apparent he was enjoying himself. They were in the process of making a film staring the pretty lady. In the past, Hacker had done this a few times. Kidnap a wife or daughter; have them raped, tortured, and murdered and then sent the video to the husband or father. It was the next best thing to being there.
Unfortunately, for them, I arrived before they got started. Pointing the shotgun at the porn star, I gave him a blast in his chest knocking him down in a red cloud of blood and lead. I then cycled and let the cameraman have one too, fatter than the "actor" he splashed the girl and me like a water balloon.
With my heart beating a mile a minute, I looked around. No one was coming and the guys were dead.
"Come on, I'm here to rescue you!" I said as I grabbed her by the hand.
The doe eyed look in her face said she that was still dopey and only passively aware of her surrounding. Either way she let me lead her out of the room and back to my car almost like a small child following a parent on a shopping spree.
Once back at my car we high tailed it cross-county. I figured anyone sent to pursue us would assume I was bee-lining back to the big city. An hour later, I was driving through some back roads toward my general destination of Atlanta when she spoke for the first time.
"Are you going to kill me?" She asked in an almost whisper.
To this, I smiled and simply said. "No, I told you I'm rescuing you."
She said nothing to this. Seeing that the equation was getting a little complex I decided to do a little solving for X.
Pulling the car over at an abandoned gas station, I figured to let her do all the talking. "You should get dressed little lady." I said with a grin. "Come on I got some clothes in the trunk."
She jumped when I opened the trunk. Then when she saw the duffle bag of clothes and stuff, she smiled.
"Are you living out of your car?"
"Sometimes," I said.
"So a homeless guy is rescuing me?"
"I'm not homeless, I'm a Private Investigator." I said defensively. "My name is Tony Javelina."
"I'm Phyllis, but everyone calls me Phil." She said smiling for the first time. "I thought PI's made piles of money."
I shook my head. "$500 a day plus expenses is all I make."
Once she was dressed in some oversized jeans and a plaid shirt she relaxed for a moment. In the soft light of my trunk, I saw that she was cute with a boyish figure and mousy brown eyes. She was more of the girl next-door than someone who worked the streets.
Smiling she said. "Thanks Mr. Javelina."
"Call me Tony." I said smiling. "So what's Hacker's beef with you and your boy friend Jack?"
"Jack scammed him for $200,000, Tony." She said with a coy grin. "Jack told him he had a line on a group shipping Ice into town."
That made sense to me Ice or Meth, as some called it was the latest craze in the drug world. Cheap to make and highly addictive it was also know as redneck crack. Having access to a large supply meant having a cash cow on your hands.
"What went wrong?"
"There never were any drugs." She said sullenly. "Jack's plan was to score the cash and go someplace far away. Somehow Hacker found out and now, well Hacker doesn't handle betrayal well."
"Why doesn't Jack just skip town or pay Hacker off? I know you're pretty but still."
"Jack doesn't love me. His one and only love is money. I'm just the girl he hangs with this month. When he tires of me, I'll go back to being just another girl on the street." She said with a flatness of someone who knew the score.
That made sense too. A lot of these street players kept a bit of fluff around. These girls were more of a fashion accessory than a commitment.
"How'd you end up on the street?" I asked deciding to change the subject.
"I became too much for my parents to handle and one day discovered I was no longer welcomed in their house." She said matter of factly. "I've been on the streets since I was sixteen."
This was a situation I understood well. America was an instant society. Fast food, fast cars and easy solutions so when something becomes complex like a teenager they decide to toss it out or drug it up. In this case, they tossed her.
"Life is hard." I remarked.
"It was at first but if you keep fairly clean and watch your back you do fine." She said like a true veteran of life in the hard city.
Nodding, I now knew I wasn't dealing with a kid with a head full of nonsense. She was just as tough as I was, so I asked the tough question. "So why does Jack want you back so badly? He can always get another girl."
"The reason he just wants me back is quite simple." She said with a tilted head. "I know where the money is stashed and he's afraid I'll tell Hacker to save my own life."
"Why didn't you?"
"I never got the chance; they doped me up when they first grabbed me."
"Well your friend Jack paid me $500 to save you." I said now understanding the situation. "Plus a $500 bonus if I get you back before midnight."
She smiled knowingly. "I bet he has a ticket that leaves shortly after that."
"Probably just one and he'll want his $500 dollars back too." I added.
"So what do we do?" Phil asked. "Skip him and let Hacker deal with him?"
"Nah, I got a deal to bring you back to him." I said smiling. "I just don't think he'll enjoy the reunion."
Loading us into the car, we headed out. Making my way to the interstate, I turned on the AM radio for news. After an hour, I heard nothing of the shootout at the motel. Now the final parts were falling into place and unlike that algebra test, I flunked years ago, I had this one all but signed and turned in.
Getting to the park just before midnight, I looked Phyllis in the eyes. "You keep close to me." I said with as serious a tone as I could muster. "Things are going to get hairy."
Then as an afterthought, I handed her Jack's 22. "Take this just in case."
The park during the day was a semi-green spot of calm in the city. At night, it became a stark contrast in black and white. The glow of the lighted spheres atop the path lights made the whole scene seem surreal. The dark shadows and trees made me itch.
The client was sitting at the same bench sans balloon. His posture was stiffer than a store dummy. I knew something was wrong so I stopped and turned to Phil. Before I could say anything, she marched up to him and shouted, "Hello Jack!"
Once she got within a few yards of her friend a pair of shots shattered the night. I hit the cold ground and drew my revolver. Looking around I saw the semi-headless corpse of Jack still sitting on the bench. Near him lay Phil moaning in pain. At least she was still alive.
"That was some nasty business you did back at the motel." A voice drawled from the darkness.
"Am I to assume that this is the famous Hacker everyone has heard so much about?"
The chuckle was all the answer I needed. I could tell he was some where to my left. Crawling over to a tree, I got up on my knee and pointed my gun in that general direction. I was uncertain as to exactly where the voice came from so I shouted another quick retort. "I didn't do anything. It was the cockroaches."
"The roaches didn't blow poor Tiny's head off." The voice replied.
"Tiny's dead?" I asked.
Looking through the shadows, I wished harder than a five year old blowing out birthday candles, that I had a night vision device. It didn't come; instead, I got a break in the form of a fidgety opponent. Something moved, an arm or a leg I wasn't sure.
"Just as dead as the guys in the motel." He replied.
Peering hard I made out what looked like a man leaning against a tree with a rifle pushed against his shoulder.
"Nobody will miss them." I shouted.
"They were high paid professionals." The voice replied.
I smiled; I had a bead on him now. Getting up on both my knees I carefully aimed my revolver at the figure. Squeezed the trigger and sent three rounds down range. I then jumped up and ran at him putting three more in his vicinity. When I got to the tree, I saw the man in question lying on the ground quite dead with two holes in his chest and one in his throat. Next to him was a .308 rifle without a scope, armatures. Figuring the fight was over I went over to see how bad off Phil was.
When I got to her, I saw that the bullet had grazed the back of her head. It was a bloody mess but nothing lethal. I didn't need to check on Jack. I saw the handcuffs that held him to the bench and knew from what remained of his head that at least he went painlessly.
"Get up Phil we need to get out of here before the cops arrive." I said helping her sit up.
"Jack is dead, and so is Hacker." I said nervously.
"I wish you would stop killing my employees." A man said from behind me.
Spinning around I saw a man dressed in an Armani suit with a small pistol in his hand. His tanned skin and well-groomed hair told me this was a man who never worked a day in his life.
"Hacker," Phil said with a gasp.
"I suppose now you're going to kill us." I said with a loud sigh.
"It is only fair." He said with a smile. "After all you killed my people."
"Yeah, but you killed Jack." I countered.
"That was business." He said with a crisp northern accent. "Now the two of you get up. I prefer to kill people when they’re standing. The sound of them falling makes me feel good."
Helping Phil to her feet, I stood up to the infamous Hacker. It was then that I found I was taller than he was. Smiling I said. "You gotta love it."
The scowl that erupted across his face was precious. Almost like a small child throwing a tantrum over not getting his way. Raising his gun, he fired at my chest several times. The impact knocked me to the ground. Lying on the there catching my wind, I had no time to reload my revolver. Then the sound of a high-pitched crack drew my attention toward Phil. The little 22 I gave her was now drawn and she was emptying it into the now prone Hacker's body.
She then ran over to me with tears in her eyes. "Don't die! Without you I'll be all alone in the world."
My chest hurt but I knew there was no blood. Smiling I said, "I'm not dying darling."
"I got a second chance." I said gasping for air.
The confused look on her face was precious. "I'm wearing a bullet proof vest. Hacker only succeeded in bruising my ribs."
Standing up with a fire in her eyes, she shouted. "I'll kill you!"
Getting up I said. "Kill me later, the cops will be here soon and I'd hate explaining all this to them."
"But you're a licensed Private Eye." She said slightly confused. "In their eyes you're almost a cop."
"Let's just say that I'm not APD's favorite person." I said tugging her toward my car.
It was too late a pair of uniforms rushed onto the scene. Why couldn't they be this fast last year when they robbed my place?
A week later, I was sitting in my favorite tavern giving what money I had to support the local brewery when Phil walked in. Now fully recovered from her harrowing experience she looked a bit better dressed in decent shirt and pants that fit her like a coat of paint. She looked hotter than hell. Her smile broadened when she saw me.
"Tony there you are!" She shouted and waved as she dashed across the bar. "What are you doing here?"
I looked at the half-empty mug of beer and shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know, drinking beer?"
She made a face at the reply, and then smiled again. "You said Jack promised you a bonus for getting me back before midnight."
"Yeah, but dead men don't pay their bills."
She handed me an envelope. "I do."
I looked inside the envelope. "How much is in there?"
"$5000, consider it a bonus for doing a good job." She said with a smile.
"Where'd you get all that dough?"
"It's what is left of Jack's fortune." She said slyly. "Consider it a bonus for getting me off."
"The judge ruled the whole thing self defense." I said taking the envelope. "The fight in the park is being ruled a street fight between known criminals and that you and me were just innocent bystanders."
"Still they never said anything about the motel." She said with a sly smile. "What's with that?"
"That was ruled a mob hit and unrelated to the events in the park. My pal Tiny had some interesting connections up north along with the other two guys in the motel room." I said with a grin. "Besides, there were too many important people "staying" in the motel for the authorities to dig too deeply into it. Nobody wants to ruin any political careers."
"I guess we're free and clear then." Phil said leaning against the bar. She nodded at the bartender to draw a cold beer.
"Here's to staying out of jail." I said raising my glass to hers.