He hit me a glancing blow, I pulled away from. His follow up round house kick I deflect with my left wrist. All the time, I’m watchin’ my man. Tommy gives me the signal to go down. I take a hard right, slipping it a little, and drop to my knees. My opponent, big, dark, with a gold tooth, smiled down at me. He’s sweatin’ in the heat. I’m a little hot myself. We’re throwin’ hands and feet in the middle of around thirty well dressed men and women. Tommy’s makin’ bets for us. I’m a big guy too, six foot five in my bare feet. My weight runs around two fifty, so this guy I’m tusslin’ with has about thirty pounds on me, and maybe an inch.
How I got to doin’ what I do is a long story. I spent time in uniform, and six years in special ops. In younger years growin’ up, my old man and me had to travel a lot. He whupped me good and often. Only thing was… I got to likin’ it… not so much the beatin’ as the pain. When I hit fourteen, we lived in an old shack of a place near the
I took what money he had, some clothes, and his car. Heading South, I found a place down in
Now I’m out, and partyin’ with odd jobs. Tried gettin’ into the extreme cage stuff; but the referee was slow stoppin’ my first fight, and I killed a guy. Tommy saw the fight. He recruited me. Tommy Sands grew up in
I get up at a slant, sliding inside another kick. Stumbling around a little while my new buddy attacks, I keep Tommy in sight while I’m slippin’ punches and coverin’ up. Then I see her: Tess Connagher, my other sometime employer, and she ain’t happy. She’s standin’ with her arms folded across her chest in that ‘I’m irritated as hell’ look she does so well. Tess is about five foot seven, and a hundred thirty pounds of well educated
My left hook catches the big man coming forward, in the area called the diaphragm. His hands drop, and my right smashes him flush on the left temple. He crumples in a heap, rolling with sightless eyes to his back. The crowd is groaning, because I’m not the favorite. Tommy looks at the other fighter’s handler, and the man nods his head angrily. I stretch out my arms, watching the crowd closely. Every once in a while, one of our patrons gets upset at the outcome, and decides to change it. Tess is coming toward me, her body language announcing she’s upset with me. A thirty something, pasty faced guy in the front ring of people reaches into his suit. I have his wrist in my fist the next split second, having covered the distance while my eyes were still registering his movement. Tommy covers my play.
The man’s girlfriend, a nice dressed blonde starts screamin’; but Tess gives her hair a yank and she quiets down. Pasty face is on his knees, with his wrist in my vice when I relieve him of the Glock he was pullin’ on us. I hand it to Tommy, and let the man up. Tommy pops the clip and checks the Glock chamber before handing the piece back to the guy. He won’t be allowed in the circle again.
“You get our money, T?”
“Yea, John, hey, I thought I told you not to bring the girlfriend along when we’re entertainin’.”
“I heard that!” Tess calls over her shoulder as she gives blondie a helpful push toward her boyfriend, before walkin’ over to us. “You stink, Hard-head.”
“Sorry, Tess, I’ll use more Sports Stick next time.”
“Can we get out of here?” Tommy asks, pulling on my arm. “We’ll treat slinky to a coffee somewhere else, but I think we need to go now.”
“Slinky…” Tess starts in on Tommy, but we’re already heading away from the parking lot in the
We all know each other. Tommy’s my manager and my agent. I hate the business stuff, and I’m no gamer. He knows my skills, and how to market them. Tess’s firm uses us when they need something more potent than a lawyer, or run of the mill PI. Usually, it’s protection, or a skip trace. I back their play while they do the investigations. When one of their clients skip out, they find him and I go get ‘em. I’m good at tactical stuff; and much to Tess’s dismay, Tommy’s real good at bartering for our fee.
I’m a killer. I don’t take life too seriously, mine or anyone else’s. Tommy keeps me in line like they used to in the service. Tommy trusts Tess to yank on my reins if I start gettin’ that look, Tommy calls the Vulcan Death Stare. Tess and me been around the block a few times. She’s seen the look. I don’t kill randomly, but I’ve killed folks no one knows I’ve killed. They were dangerous, and I’m not gettin’ paid to die. I listen to what Tommy and Tess tell me. I weigh the pros and cons. Then I take care of business. One time Tess had a client, some slimy drug dealin’ pimp, who wanted more from Tess than lawyerin’. When the firm kicked free of the pimp, Tess got her tires slashed, and weirdo calls, and then her cat Pretzel was gutted. The pimp came around the next day at Tess’s office askin’ how her cat was.
Tess loved Pretzel. She was real mad, and scared too. We’d worked together before, and Tess knew my background. She put me on the payroll through Tommy as a bodyguard. I do okay as a bodyguard; but I’m better at killin’. I gutted the pimp, quiet like, and heaved him over into a junk yard on
Tess and I slept together once. It was the second time working together. Her firm made bail for some gangbanger over in
“Lucky,” I says to the gangbanger I have cuffed, “you wait in the car till I get back. Don’t make a sound or I’ll cut your nuts off and stick them down your throat. We clear?”
Lucky nods his understanding, and I go in search of the erstwhile redhead. Granted, I came up on the young men slow and careful. It wasn’t ‘cause I wanted Tess hurt. I wanted to get us both out without a body count. I didn’t trust Tess not to turn me in. I have trust issues, except with Tommy. So I’m standin’ over the lovers before they realize I’m there. One, I drop kick in the side, and I hear his ribs crack. Second lover pops up with some Bruce Lee crap, and we mix it up a little. He probably started eating whole food again a few months later. I pick Tess up, and she’s lookin’ pretty good, all mussed up, and bitin’ her lip to keep from cryin’ out. I like a woman don’t complain much.
We drop Lucky off, and get his ticket. I buy Tess breakfast at an all night Denny’s, thinkin’ to calm her down. She’s pumped. Never seen anything like that. Thought she was goin’ to die. Yada… yada… you get the drift. I listen, drink my coffee, and nod at the appropriate times. Tommy says I can be real charming when I work a job. I take Tess home after the adrenaline rush passes. I walk her up to the two story she owns in
Tess starts callin’ Tommy, wantin’ me to meet her for dinner and such. See, I don’t talk on phones. I enjoyed my night with Tess, so I’m willin’. I agree to a meal over at her house couple nights later. Tess answers the door, already blushing. I like that. I kiss her, and we nearly don’t make it in to eat. The now deceased Pretzel came by to rub up against me and purr, recognizing me from the other night’s sleep over. Tess has the table all fixed nice with candles and everything, serves me and sits down. All of a sudden, it’s you need to answer your phone, and I’m not comfortable with this, and I never did anything like go to bed with a stranger, and I need to know more about what you do. Well, I ate my dinner, listened, nodded appropriately, sipped my coffee, and enjoyed her voice. Even when Tess complains her voice gives me chills, and there ain’t a whole hell of a lot in the world gives me chills of any kind.
“What do you think about what I said, John?” Tess asked finally, leaning forward as if anticipating some form of applause.
I keep it simple.
“I don’t answer phones. I’m sorry you’re not comfortable. No one will ever know what happened the night we picked up the gangbanger, not even Tommy. Your firm already has my stat sheet and qualifications. You have a beautiful voice.”
Tess blushes again. Sometimes I don’t blink or look away from people when I talk. It unnerves them, but I don’t mean anything by it. I find people interesting. She launches again, restating pretty much what she’d already said. Tess did add one thing I really liked. She told me no guy had ever made her feel like I did the other night. That was sweet.
“Thank you,” I replied, which caused Tess to get the little downturn at her mouth I think is cute.
“Don’t you have anything else to say?” Tess asked me with just the tiniest bit of irritation creeping into her voice.
“Sure, if it’s on a different subject.”
“I thought we… I mean… did you… think maybe we could continue this?”
“I like you, Tess. I enjoy seeing you,” I reply, hoping it’s enough. It isn’t.
“Some things would have to change if we continue seeing each other.”
“Think of it this way, Tess,” I try to reason with her. Yea, that’ll work for me. “We could try getting to know each other first before you try changing me. Maybe I’m not so hard to take like I am.”
“You won’t even talk to me on the phone!” Tess is getting excited, but not in a good way. “I… oh hell… I don’t know what got into me the other night. You’re dangerous, John. I’m not diving into a relationship with some leg breaker on a whim. I…”
“Why didn’t you say so,” I stand up, smiling to let her know my feelings aren’t hurt, or any other whiney metro-man crapolla I hear about all the time. “Calm down, Tess, I won’t stalk you or anything. Thanks for dinner. It was great. Maybe we can do business sometime in the future. No hard feelings, right?”
Tess runs around the table as I’m trying to make good my escape.
“Wait a second. I’m trying to be reasonable here. If you’d…”
“Tess,” I hold up my hands in surrendering fashion, which doesn’t help, “let’s part company as friends. Goodnight.”
After the set to at her house, I didn’t get a call from their firm for a couple months. Tommy and me managed a few extra pickup fights and handled the usual stuff from other bail firms and PI’s in the area who like me along for the ride sometimes. See, I don’t talk to no one, and I’m all business. Whatever they want done, they give Tommy the details and he briefs me, just like in the service. Then Tommy noticed Tess in the audience of our fight gigs, trying to keep a low profile. I thought it was kind a flatterin’. She came up real apologetic after a fight and asked if she could buy Tommy and me a beer.
When we were seated with a beer down at the ‘First and Last Chance Saloon’ in
“It’s the standard fee, Tommy,” Tess tells him.
“That’s fine for standard work, but John here don’t do standard work.”
“Over half the time he doesn’t do anything at all,” Tess argues. “Your fee for a few hours work is too high.”
“Well then, thanks for the beer,” Tommy replies, and we all lapse into an uneasy silence.
“John?” Tess looks at me expectantly after a few moments.
“Tommy’s my agent, Tess. You know that. Sorry our way of doing business doesn’t suit your firm’s needs.”
Tess turns red in the face. She’s not blushing, but it’s cute just the same.
“Fine! What would it take to get an exclusive on John’s work?”
“We don’t do exclusive,” Tommy answers. “One job from your competitors would be worth more than any retainer you could offer. We work case by case. I’ll look over what you want done, price the job, and you decide yes or no, same as the last couple times we worked together.”
Tess grabbed the contract and stuffed it back in her briefcase. She took out a folder and handed it to Tommy. It was a skip trace on some guy named Ishmael Ali. They knew where he was, but they had no clue how to get him. Tommy laughed again.
“Your firm issued a bond on this guy?” Tommy asks incredulously. “Who the hell provided the collateral?”
“I can’t discuss that. I take it you are familiar with Mr. Ali.”
“Yea, he’s a stone killer and a psycho to boot. Anything he got caught doing is like a tiny portion of what he’s done.” Tommy took out his notepad and wrote down an estimate with his signature. He handed it to Tess, and she nearly had a stroke.
“That’s more than we make on the case!”
“Your firm made a mistake. We clean it up, and you pay the piper. You don’t like the tune, you’re free to shop it elsewhere.”
Tess stood up, gathered her things and walked out.
“That went well,” Tommy took a sip of his beer.
“We know where Ali hangs out,” I smiled. “It’s a good gamble, T. If they don’t find another taker, we’ll make a nice piece of change.”
“You can’t kill him, John,” Tommy said, leaning toward me. “We’ll never collect this playing ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive’.”
“I’d do Ali free,” which was true. I didn’t like him. We’d had words after a match he lost a lot of money on betting against me. Ali threatened me. Tommy intervened because he knows I handle threats on the spot, and he’d seen some of Ali’s crew coming up on us. I didn’t want Tommy to get hurt in some stupid crossfire so I let it go. Tommy was right as usual. Now I might get to play around with Ali and collect a paycheck for it.
“No you won’t, John. We don’t do anything for free. You’ll figure a way…”
“We’ll pay it,” Tess said. I had spotted her reentering the bar.
“I’ll come by and pick up our retainer tomorrow,” Tommy nodded, pissed Tess had caught him off guard.
Tess sat down again, looking at me. “Why the hell do you risk getting killed in those stupid street fights?”
“I can’t draw, write, or paint, and everyone needs a hobby,” I joke with her. At least Tommy laughs. “There’s no why. We make a lot of money, and I’m good at it.”
Anyway, since then, the three of us have an understanding. I went into the bar we knew Ali liked to frequent. I Tasered him, and knocked a couple of his crew down while Tommy showed the rest of them our equalizer: the riot gun. No muss, no fuss. Ali eventually came to saying he was going to kill my whole family, and we delivered him without incident. I gave Ali my Dad’s last known address in case he decided to make good on his threat.