A Thug Like Me
specialty is…well, let’s just say that I fell into it a couple years
back. It involved a lot of beer and a 9 millimeter. A gun instead
of a girl. You know, the usual greed. I try not to think about it
much. Why cry over spilt milk, as my mother used to say.
“So…Mac, whadda ya think?” the ugly thug named Murphy says to me behind a smoke screen from his Marlboro. My name isn’t
Mac, but it caught on about the same time I fell into this gig and
it kind of stuck.
“Kneecaps next.” I shrug. “And if not, try alcohol where the bullet holes are.” The massive lump of flesh on the concrete floor—lying in a puddle of his own miscellaneous bodily fluids—moans his protests, though with the duct tape, there ain’t much. He’s bleeding, but not bleeding out. Right now he’s very much aware of his own delicate mortality, and that’s
exactly where I want the old, fat bastard.
Murphy gives me a yellow, toothy grin of approval.
It’s a jackal’s grin, and there’s no play-acting on his part.
“And if that don’t work?” he says on cue.
“Light a match.” Now the millionaire-turned-money-launderer
does his best impression of a fish out of water as he tries his binds
for the hundredth time. His eyes become saucers as he looks up at
“Yeah, gonna cook him up good!” Murphy again shows way too much enthusiasm, and what troubles me is that I know it’s genuine. I’m play-acting. He’s just a punk. Not like me, but a genuine, idiotic punk that will wind up guest-starring on “Cops” someday. The guy can’t get it through that thick skull of his that ninety-percent of this game is psychological. Gus keeps sending me these whack-jobs to train and I’m
starting to take their general lack of intelligence as a personal
insult against my character.
Among other things, that’s Murphy’s main problem: No imagination. Murphy’s my latest protégé.
Regardless of the fact that he just said we were going
to cook him, Murphy pulls his knife instead—a ridiculous thing that proves he’s trying to compensate for something. I keep my poker face, but inside I’m screaming: You’re overdoing it! We’re not going to get anything! You’re
going to give him a heart attack!
“Oh yeah, old man!” Murphy’s bouncing around like a kid warming up for the multi-colored plastic balls in the playpen. “I’m gonna gut you…gonna
The old man’s shaking bad now. He’s probably just soiled himself for the second time. And here’s Murphy…pushing
“Yep,” I say, still trying to play along. “And after that…”
My pocket starts playing a tune from the Godfather.
The guys love it, and that’s the only reason I have it set. When I pull it from my pocket, I see my handler’s
number on the ID.
“Excuse me,” I say politely down to my guest. “I’ll
be right back.”
As I walk out the door, I whisper, “Don’t do anything until I get back,” into Murphy’s
“Oh yeah, baby! Gonna cut you up good! I’m gonna get me an ear like in Iraq!” He thinks I’m playing the good cop. Even if this were true, he’s overdoing it. He’s
seen every damn gangster movie out there and studies them like the
“Vietnam, you idiot. And I mean it,” I hiss through my teeth. My phone keeps ringing in my hand, but I hold my gaze with Murphy. It’s takes a bit—my phone eventually goes to voice mail—but finally Murphy sees the steel in my eyes. Then his face falls like a kid who just heard Disneyland fell ill to a match and a can of gasoline. “I’ll…leave you some fun…” Murphy starts his I’m-a-big-boy
speech, but I cut him off.
“Don’t. Do. Anything.” It’s taken me quite a bit of restraint not to just slap the kid. I try to keep my voice low and away from our guest so I don’t undo some of our hard work. “Just
keep him scared. Nothing else.”
I brush pass him and out the back door before Murphy can queue up another line from one of his b-rated movies.
Inside my jacket I have a pack of smokes. I slip
one between my lips while I dial. I think his name’s Phil, but I honestly can’t remember. Don’t care too much, either. Names are liabilities in my profession, which is why I haven’t
heard my own birth name since mom died.
The phone connects without a greeting as I’m still fishing for my lighter. “Go,” I say. I step into one of the alley’s
shadows, behind the old, condemned warehouse that should be put out
of its misery. Somewhere nearby I can smell urine and maybe something
more solid along with it. I try to ignore it.
“Gus says he needs you back, right quick.”
“I ain’t done here.”
“Yeah, well leave it to the kid.”
I snort a laugh. Still can’t find the damn lighter. “He’s not ready to go solo. He’ll
kill the old man and get nothing.”
“Not your concern. Gus says he needs you now. As in
As in yesterday. Phil’s another one who lays this gangster crap on five layers too thick. The ones who stick around, the ones that last longer than a couple years like yours truly know that shit like that’s
for late-night cable.
But Phil’s my handler, and I’ve been working with him for six months now. I don’t know what happened to the last guy, and I don’t
want to know.
“Okay. Tell Gus I’ll be there in ten.”
I head back inside, pocketing the smoke I was about
to light. Since I’m now officially on the move, I doubt I’ll have time to enjoy it, and I don’t
want to stink up my BMW. Never enough time to enjoy things. Story
of my life.
As I step back into the buzzing pale-yellow fluoresces,
I find Murphy straddling the guy like a two-bit stripper trying to
demote herself to street whore. He’s still got that damn Australian knife out, and now he’s holding it behind the guy’s ear lobe like he’s ready to slice himself a hunk of apple. The man is wailing out a sad, pathetic plea underneath the duct-tape that would have pulled on a string in my heart ten…no,
fifteen years ago.
I see there’s no new blood. Just in time.
Murphy’s got such a hard-on for bleeding the guy that he didn’t hear me enter. Sloppy. So damn sloppy. I let the door slam hard behind me. His shoulders flinch when the door claps like a thundercloud, but when he turns around to face me he’s
all cool again.
“Quick call, eh?”
“Yeah,” I say, gesturing Murphy to get off, which he hesitantly does with a completely over-the-top look of disappointment. Leave this guy to Murphy. Yeah, right. We’ll
have Miami Forensics on us within the hour.
“What’d the boss say?”
I want to tell him to mind his own damn business, but
I have a vague idea how Murphy got into this gig and I doubt it was
for his intuition. He’s got the same chin as Giacosa, Gus’ worthless
“He said he needs me downtown on an urgent matter.
Wants you to take care of this piece of shit.”
Murphy’s eyes light up like a Christmas tree. But the old man’s
face has hit a new low. Maybe too far to be useful.
I storm forward, pushing Murphy aside. With one smooth
move, I yank the duct tape off of his mouth like I’m trying to start
my fifteen-year-old lawn mower.
“Me or him. Where’s the mon—”
“Locker!” he screams so loud that even I flinch. He’s spitting everywhere. “I-I got it in a locker at the YMCA! Southeast side, A-45! Key’s
at my apartment!”
I look back at Murphy with a thin smile. The man’s in tears at my feet, babbling on and on about being sorry. Now Murphy’s back to being the ten-year-old kid again who just found out Santa’s
prints were on the gas can.
“Take him back. Tell Phil,” I say, pocketing the duct tape. “And don’t
hurt him until Phil says so.”
Murphy knows he’s done for the night. He looks down at his ridiculous knife with utter bewilderment, like he doesn’t
know what to do with his life from this point on. No more for him
tonight. No more ever if I could have my way.
I’m at Gus’ for a grand total of two minutes. Gus is the type to offer you a drink no matter what time of day it is and no matter how long he wants you around. You can be his favorite cousin or a street urchin and he’ll still offer you a scotch. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s smooth. He’s considerate. He’s at the top, above the dirt and slime that comes with the job. He’s
not like me.
But Gus ain’t pouring me a drink this time. That’s alarm number one. Without any formalities at all, he tells me to head to the safe house by the pier—not one of my regulars. He has something I need to take care of. Something he only trusts ol’ Mac
with. Lucky me.
I eye a small, but noticeable shine on his bald head.
Sweat? Could that be sweat? The guy runs his air conditioner like
it supplies his office with actual oxygen. That’s alarm number two.
When I’m in the car, driving to a safe house I normally don’t frequent, I realize what alarm number three was. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, give me that very simple assignment through Phil. And he didn’t
once look me in the eye; not in that whole damn time. And Gus is
a good poker player.
It’s been a while since I’ve had a three-alarm buzz in my head. I know I’m getting old because I don’t enjoy the rush anymore—actually, I never did. I know most guys keep a bullet in the chamber, but I don’t. Before I get out of the car, I pull the action back, take off the safety, and put it back in my holster with a shaky hand. Unlike some macho guys, I don’t
consider carrying a loaded gun pointed at my Johnson a manly perk
of the job.
The walk up to the small house is only about ten steps,
but I’ve already thought of a dozen escape plans that include Mexico, Canada, the west coast, or Europe. I also think about my retirement stash taped to the bottom of my sink. But by the time I hit the doorstep and my hand touches that cold brass knob, that buzz in the back of my head has been neatly filed away. My brow is now dry as an autumn leaf. It’s
my specialty, after all.
“Big Mac!” a goon whose name escapes me says with open arms. “We’ve
been waiting and waiting!”
“Well, your waiting’s over,” I reply with my best million-dollar smile. “What do you got for me?” I have my thumb hooked in my waistband like I had too much to eat—another beer-loaded night for me, my posture says. But it’s
also exactly two inches from my pistol beneath my sports jacket.
“Got a real doll in here for ya,” the goon who suddenly reminds me of Murphy says. He’s got a wickedly yellow smile, and it makes my stomach churn. “We’ve
been sitting on her like we were told. Kept our hands to ourselves
like good boys.”
“Good self control,” I bark a fake laugh. I don’t like
this one bit, and I feel that three-alarm buzz I filed away coming
“If you want any help with this one, Mac,” a second goon says, stepping out from behind the bathroom door. He’s redoing his fly. I hadn’t noticed him before, and that alone gets my nerves dancing. “We’d
be happy to lend a hand.”
“Oh yeah!” the first goon says. “Real happy!”
Giving them the laugh that goes with my million-dollar
smile, I pat goon number two on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry, boys. I’ll let you know.” I head down to the cellar, careful to close the door behind me. I can still hear their pre-teen chuckles as the old staircase creaks under my weight. I file away potential alarm number four. Whatever happens tonight, I gotta keep my cool if I’m
going to get through it. After all, it still might be nothing.
It’s dark down here. Pitch black, in fact. For now I wait on the lights. I hear muffled breathing, a sound that you learn to identify only after years of ugly experience. It’s ragged, panicked breathing that’s from the nostrils. That’s
because the mouth has something more important to deal with instead
of air. Like a gag. Or a gun.
After I feel my loafers hit the concrete, I pause long enough to extract a pair of latex gloves from my pocket. In darkness, the sound of latex snapping into place echoes like a gunshot on a Sunday morning. I hear the muffled and staggered breathing shorten.
“I don’t know who you are or what you’ve done,” I say, starting my little spiel. Done it a thousand times, and I imagine I might do it a thousand more before something retires me. I try not to think about the alarms in my head, especially when retirement comes to mind. “But
you need to know a few ground rules before we begin.”
I reach out for the light switch.
“One,” I say. “I’m not going to lie to you. Ever.”
I hit the switch.
“Two,” I continue. “I’m going to hurt you bad in the next few days…” And
I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. You probably won’t. That’s how ground rule number two usually finishes. Occasionally I vary it depending on my mood and if the guy looks tough to crack. But my sales pitch tonight falls a bit short. Tonight’s flavor of choice is something along the lines of hot wax stuck to the roof of my mouth. And after I hit the lights and my brain finally registers what my stupid eyes see, my tongue has just stabbed itself into that hot wax. It burns like hell, and I’m
She’s about eighteen. And she’s beautiful. But not
the kind of beautiful that makes a guy run pick-up lines in his head
before she can even bat an eyelash. Not to me, at least. Not now.
Strapped to a chair with a silver strip of duct tape
across her mouth, she looks at me with the biggest eyes I have ever
seen. She’s still wearing her school clothes—something trendy, expensive, and border-line Britney Spears—but she looks like she took a spill in the gutter before she wound up on my plate. She’s
shaking all over, like any poor kid would whose just been kidnapped
and taped to a chair. Otherwise she looks unharmed.
“Oh fuck,” I whisper. She’s eighteen, alright. Yes, I’ve done some work on kids and women before. And yes, I hated every minute of it. I’m not a monster. It’s just my job to play a monster. It’s
a part of the slime that comes with my life. But this is different.
I’m not guessing that she’s eighteen. I know she’s eighteen. I know because she’s the striking image of her mother, and I haven’t
seen her in eighteen years, give or take nine months.
Five alarms, baby. My head is on fire.
(continued on page 2)