The ice in Dean's champagne jingled softly from the turbulence of the luxurious private plane he was in. For the first time in his life, he was happy, and he was staring at the dawn of a new beginning. He had already done two things he thought he could never bring himself to do: get along with his girlfriend's poodle, Scarlett, and forget, even learn to appreciate, the dead, unblinking eyes of Marcus Dempsey. For the first time in a long time, 4,900 feet above Greenland, Dean smiled.
36 hours before, on a steamy July Tuesday in Portland, Dean was fixing his white picket fence in his back yard that ran beyond his garage near the alley. He hated his life for the most part, and things just weren't getting better. He was planning to sell this house, as soon as he could, in fact, because both his promotion and his parents finally hinted at the possibility of the money needed to buy his dream $120,000 Victorian home in San Francisco.
Not that fixing the fence was going to matter much; Dean knew that his present house, a typical Oregon bungalow built at the turn of the century, starting to crumble, right in the middle of what was fast becoming one of Portland's worst neighborhoods, would sell for $75,000 at the very most. He felt obliged to fix it, though, especially since he had had it built and was responsible in one way or another for every cracked or missing board. His tall Garfield glass of Pepsi jingled whenever he shifted on the blanket he was kneeling on. His dog, Toby, lounged in the grass in the middle of the yard, his tongue hanging out half a foot and his eyes reduced to lazy slits against the pounding sunlight. Whatta stupid life.
A bright glint caught Dean's eye. Across the fence, in the yard of the house next door, sat a huge metal cooling tank, or at least that's what it looked like from wherever Dean could get a look. He had never once seen his neighbors, and he had no idea who they were or what the metal thing was for. The sun glistening off of its side finally got too bright to stand, so Dean stopped wondering and turned back to his work.
After landing the final blows to a nail in the white wood, Dean glanced at his watch. 8:46. His girlfriend, Julia, promised the night before that she was going to call at 8:30 "at the very latest" to give him her final answer on whether or not her kennel was full and if he would need to take her dumb-ass poodle, Scarlett, (after Scarlett O'Hara, of course) for the two weeks she was going to be in Germany. Dean hated Scarlett with a passion, and wondered why a person like Julia, who was perfect in every other way (almost), would... he didn't even want to think about it. Toby hated Scarlett even more. A regular person would think that the two dogs might get along very well, but, by some twisted freak event of nature, Scarlett was a boy poodle. Dean never even dared to ask Julia why she gave him a name like that, because he knew that would be the end of their relationship.
He picked up his glass of Pepsi and chugged it. Damn, it was hot. He set down the empty glass and turned to look into the kitchen window, where he knew the phone was. C'mon, Julia, don't do this again. Dean sighed and got up. He was going to have to call her. It made him very angry, but it didn't surprise him.
Toby followed him in the screen door. He waddled through right behind him, almost tripping him, waddling the way basset hounds do. Dean set his glass in the sink and picked up the telephone. He dialed the number he knew better than he wanted to, and as he listened to the liquid drone of each ring, he wiped his forehead and wondered if the reason she never called him, even when it was important, was because she didn't do it often enough to remember his number and had therefore forgotten or lost it. Probably both.
"Hello?" came an answer in that interrupted the ninth ring.
"Janine? Hi, this is Dean. Is Ju--"
"You're probably looking for Julia, right? Well, she isn't here."
"She's not? Well--"
"Heh. You're probably wondering where she is."
"Yes, I am, actually."
"Well, the truth is, I don't know. She was gone when I woke up at about seven."
"She was? Well, where the flip is she, then."
"Hahahahaha. Where the flip...hahahahahaha. That's good." Dean rolled his eyes. Julia's roommates were the stupidest of all the... "I wish I knew, but...I don't."
"Hmmmm...well, if you see her, or hear from her, tell her to call me."
"All right. Sounds good."
"You're flipping welcome! Hahahaha......"
Dean slammed down the phone before he could think about what she had just said.
"Godammit, Toby!" he yelled. Toby, who was lapping up water from his dish, looked back at Dean for a second, licked his lips, then turned back and continued. "Are we gonna hafta take care a that peesa shit poodle or not!"
It was useless. She had let him down yet again. What a rude thing to do to a person, leave them waiting and wondering whether or not they would be needed for a favor they had made clear they did not enjoy doing.
As Dean was shampooing his hair in the shower, he thought he heard the familiar commotion of someone at the door: first, the doorbell, then the clatter of Toby waddling across the wood floor and barking, then the doorbell again. But then Dean heard, as he hurried to get the foam out of his hair, the unmistakable yelps of Scarlett. Damn damn damn. So Julia had suddenly decided it was okay to just bring him over without even telling him like she promised she would over an hour and a half before.
Well, at least Dean now felt no need to hurry out of the shower to get the door.
"I meant to call, Dean. I know what you're going to say." Dean could hear her saying before he even got the door all of the way open. "I really meant to call, but I was at the m--"
"Julia, save it!" Dean bellowed so loudly he could hear it echo on the low ceiling of the entry way. It made Julia jump, and Scarlett started barking. "I hope you have a good trip, Julia, I really do, and I love you, but right now you better gimmie your dog and get the hell off my steps before I say anything I regret."
Julia first looked very surprised, then very puzzled, then very angry, then seemed to understand that saying anything more would just make it worse. She pursed her lips and blinked through her sunglasses, then set Scarlett, now quiet again, on the floor of the entry way with his basket of stuff. Then, in one sweeping motion, she turned and straightened and was down the steps trotting towards her car.
Scarlett began to follow, but Dean had his leash. He shut the door. Once Scarlett realized what was going on (he hated this as much as Dean and Toby) he began barking violently, in piercing clusters of yelps. Toby started barking at Scarlett, and Dean started yelling at both of them to shut up. Someway, anyway, this life had to change.
After the longest seventeen hour day he had ever had, Dean was finally asleep, dreaming about a blue balloon in a dark brown alley. Couldn't tell if that meant the alley was dark and also brown, or if it was just dark brown. The alley had sounds, and blew it. But the--then--aballoonwasintheKnock dingdong...
Dean stared at his blurry feet through his watery, half-open eyes. He heard Toby barking violently. He could tell Toby was no longer in the parlor, where he always slept. DING-DONG. Holy shit!! Someone's ringing the doorbell! Dean stood straight up. Is this really happening? What should he do? The clock said 3:26.
Dean's mind and thoughts blurred and smeared together, and he still felt like he was dreaming. But he felt one thing he knew was real: the fear mechanism whirring away at a tremendous rate in the back of his skull. He ran around his bed to a chair, where his blue bathrobe sat. He pulled it on. Toby was barking and yelping like crazy.
Dean walked towards his door, not knowing what he was doing. He felt himself stop, backstep, swivel around, keep going forward, then backstep again. Finally he made himself barge through his door and begin down the hall towards the stairs.
A spark of Dean didn't know what sent him flying back to his dresser, where he felt himself opening the drawer, taking out the little .22 handgun he had, and stuffing it into the back of his shorts underneath his robe.
Toby was leaned up against the front door on his front paws when Dean got there, and he was barking like crazy.
"It's okay, Toby." Toby's head swung around. "C'mon, boy, it's okay. Ssshhhhhhhhhhh..." Dean leaned down and grabbed his collar, an petted him until he had quieted some. Then he took a deep breath, and slowly unlocked and opened the door.
There was a tall figure outside. "Hello," the figure said in a very gravely East Coast-Italian accent, "my name is Marcus Dempsey."
Dean was immediately intimidated by the figure's size; probably almost 7 feet; and JESUS! His eyes! They were enormous and completely black--no, there was just something covering his eyes. Sunglasses. But in the middle of the night?
"Can I help you?" Only the screen door separated this figure from him and Toby.
"I really need to talk business with you."
A pause. Business? How was Dean supposed to answer that. "Ummm...I'm sorry, I'm going to have to uhh...I'm going to have to ask you to leave, or I'll call the police."
The figure, although standing in almost pitch-black, gave a huge, white, unmistakable smile. "Don't play stupid with me, you worm. Mario sent me. Now if that doesn't scare you, you're pretty damn stupid in the head." A small pause, another smile. "Now let me in right now so we can talk BIZNESS."
Dean's mind raced and raced. Everything he had just heard seemed fake, but the bright, rushing adrenaline told him otherwise.
Toby growled and sneered.
An eternity raced by in slow-motion.
"Ahh...there must be some mistake..." Dean heard himself say...
"No. No mistake. Now I told you not to play stupid. What you are going to do right now for my benefit, Mario's benefit, and, of course, your own benefit... is open this goddamn door and talk bizness. Now."
Dean felt like a cow about to be slaughtered. He sat like a statue, dumbfounded, in shock, watching the beginnings of thoughts and ideas in his mind of what he should do next rise and fall like waves.
Suddenly the figure reached over and opened the screen door. Toby went crazy barking and charged at him, but was cut short by Dean's stone arm latched tightly around his collar. The figure stepped into the puddle of light from the bulb above the entry way. He was very tall, very thin, with a very expensive looking suit and tie on. On the left cheek of his face there was a hideous four-inch scar that dragged from his left temple to just below his lower-lip. His hair was jet-black and greased straight back, plastered perfectly to the roundness of his head. But he had a face like a twelve-year-old's!
Dean stepped back without knowing it. Toby yanked his arm in every direction in his effort to tear this intruder apart...
"Would you shut up that goddamn dog." said the figure.
"I...I'm calling the fucking police, man..."
"You stupid WORM!! Do you know who you're JACKIN WITH HERE?!! MARIO!!!! THE MARIO!!!! YOU WERE SENT TO DO A JOB!! NOW, I TOLD YOU, I GAVE YOU PLENTY OF WARNING NOT TO PLAY STUPID, AND NOT TO DO SHIT EXCEPT LET ME IN, AND TALK BIZZNESSS!!!! NOW DO IT!!!!"
Toby exploded into an insane attacking frenzy, but Dean felt himself say okayokayokay and yank Toby into the parlor and slam the door, significantly muffling his barking and yelping.
"I should kill your entire family for what you just did, but this bizzness is more important." The figure was obviously so furious that he was beyond fury into another area of calm. He was barely audible, and he talked very slowly. He walked into the living room very casually. Dean felt himself backing into the wall next to the parlor door. "Now, I'm going to come in, and your not going to do anything, except stand right there, and answer my questions. Is that clear?" His eyes and their movement were lost completely under his dark sunglasses. The scar sat pressed into his face, as indescribably wicked as a detonated bomb...then it meandered hideously as the boyish face twisted into a smile. "Is that clear?"
"Listen...I don't know any Mario...please, there must be some kind of a...misunderstanding, or mistake--"
"HEY!!! " The grin that spilled out and overspread this nightmare's face was now devilish and wicked, and the scar was its sidekick. It latched onto Dean's eyes and thrust itself deep into the fear center of his brain, like a virus invading and conquering a cell. "You just wasted your last chance. We're going to have to do this the hard way." The hand and the very expensive tailored black sleeve and the cufflinks reached out of sight beyond the black curtain of the sports coat, and returned gripping the handle of a sleek snickering evil 9mm handgun. A jolt of white, blinding fear shot up Dean's spine and latched onto his skull. His mind began to race, and began to shut down. Pins and needles stabbed every nerve in his body, and his vision was obscured by the haze of throbbing terror. In front of his darting eyes sat the grin, widening, steady, constant, evil.
The gravel in the grin slowly crunched out: "I'm sorry it has to be like this. Now Uncle Mario wants to know where his cocaine is. You have his cocaine, and I came to get it. Remember? Exactly like I said on the phone not even twenty fuckin' minutes ago."
"Heh heh. Now don't act like you don't remember our telephone conversation. Just don't do it, because I'll kill you, right here, right now." His voice began to rise: "I can't believe you motherfuckin' worms. You think that you can screw over a God like Mario JUST BY PRETENDING YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHIIIING!!! I presume that, being the worm you are, you didn't even separate the Franklins from the Grants and the Grants from the Hamiltons and the Hamiltons from the Jeffersons, and put them all into separate, unmarked, 8 by 10 manila envelopes, like I TOLD YOU OVER THE PHONE, and that the coke isn't bagged, tagged, marked, sorted, or even IN THIS FUCKIN' 50 MILE RADIUS, BECAUSE YOU'RE TRYING TO SCREW US OOVEERR!! Am I right about this, Mr Worm?"
The figure and the gun blazed in front of Dean, both furious, both waiting for an answer... All his nerves vibrated in unison. What the hell, what the hell! Race Race Race Race, his mind raced. Tension and haze grabbed his vision like a vice and clouded it, made it throb with the gallop of his heart. "I-- AH--" he muttered. The nerves were shunting all of his life-blood and consciousness into the wall behind him.
"Speechless, huh?" rippled the grin. "Well, maybe you could hide all of the coke, but it's going to be pretty damn hard to hide the huge container you kept it all in. You stupid worm. You don't even know where I have the delivery truck key. Did you forget about that safeguard?! You can't deliver 1700 lbs of cocaine without the fuckin' key to the delivery truck, and I'm the only one who has the key. I guarantee you, It's hidden on me like a fart in a whirlpool, and that fuckin' truck is hand-crafted, customized, Check-o-slavack-yan... can't be hot wired or nothin. So you better start cooperating. If you was going to try to screw over Mario, why are you even still in the country? If you had left with all of your shit and gone to Antigua or some damn place, you would have at least bought yourself another week or so to live before Mario and his goddamn global connection caught up to you. But you didn't, and you can't hide the ten foot metal 'Cocaine Tank' attached to your backyard. ... Can you."
"oh...Jesus Christ, God..." Dean peeped. "That's next door."
The astonished, confused, almost pain-covered expression that smeared over the figure's hideous face lit up the room. "What did you just say?"
"I said the tank is next door."
The black 9mm began to shake very slightly. "Isn't this 3737 26th?"
"...no, this is 3739 26th..." Dean felt true, godsent relief... "...but the lower half of the loop in the 9 is chipped off."
The figure stared in silence.
Very faintly, Toby could still be heard barking behind the parlor door. Water dripped slowly from the kitchen faucet into a soaking pot.
And Dean could see fear behind the sunglasses.
"Are you shitting me?" The figure's shiny black head began to rock from side to side. The sunglasses could no longer hide his emotions from Dean. The wall was cold against his hands, and it contrasted so greatly with the warm, sweet relief he was now feeling that it made him want to laugh out loud.
"Oh, you stupid, stupid..." The figure slowly raised the gun until his arm was fully outstretched at Dean. The barrel gleamed and grinned at him, and the gagging fear returned to every quivering cell. Off in the distance, somewhere behind the gun, the gravel peeled like thunder: "I'm going to slaughter you, so don't even think about moving."
Slowly the figure turned and moved silently across the living room into the dining room. He lifted the curtain of the window that looked over Dean's backyard. The huge metal tank sat about 30 feet away in the next yard, separated by a patch of trees and a pathetic white fence.
Dean's mind flew and flew, aching and sputtering. He could barely even see--death, it...could it be...Near? Fade, Fade, Fade. But his back, his back. Why his back? Of course! His gun was in his back, in his shorts, in his god damn shorts! The last drop of control in his nervous system screamed the phrase: DO SOMETHING!!!!!!
Then...a spark...it suddenly grabbed his trembling, fake hand and sent it whirling around to his back. The long waterfall of bathrobe that cascaded beside the wall was retracted, in fake slow-motion, and the hand swung back around with the sleek steel weapon tightly enclosed. The fake picture of the figure miles away turned in slow-motion and the hand in the suit and cufflinks raised the shiny black black black....
All was black.
A different dimension later, Dean opened his eyes. The room was in real-motion. A sound. Tremendous, violent barking. The back of a trembling .22 held by a strip of blue bathrobe hovered three feet from his eyes. It was pointing at his window, which was broken, just above the dining room table... On the floor, his dining room floor, behind the table, was a toppled chair and something tall, black and slender. Dean walked closer, without knowing it. There was a man sprawled against the back of the chair, and the back of the chair was in turn sprawled, broken, against the floor. The tall, round hump of a man's back... a twisted neck, revealing a twelve-year-old-looking face... disfigured with a scar, greased back hair, broken sunglasses... suddenly bright, evil, unblinking skyblue eyes stared up at him, through him, beyond him... A black, round puddle glistened on the well-tailored hump... and something bright and metal protruded from the scar...
Loud, explosive peels of barking and yelping, in stereo. Toby in the parlor behind of him, and Scarlett in the backyard. Dean felt himself not exist as those eyes, uncovered, exposed... Then a tight fist pounded his stomach from the inside, and he felt himself running to the bathroom and kneeling in front of the toilet. Release.
It was 3:34. He sat in whimpering shock. Then it was 3:35.
Suddenly he heard footsteps very near, and a screen door open and shut.
"What the hell is going on in here!" said a high-pitched nasal voice. The footsteps got louder, until they were close enough to be in a position to see the tall, slender suit on the broken chair. "Christ Almighty!!"
What the hell's going on?! Was this even real? God, let this all be a dream!! After a silence, Dean could hear the footsteps charging around...suddenly they were too close...
Dean thrust out his quivering .22 just as the footsteps revealed a figure in the bathroom doorway. It was a short man with sandy brown hair, sideburns, a mustache, and a goatee. He was wearing a green and black polyester jogging suit. His eyes bulged and his teeth were crooked.
Right when the figure saw the gun, he reached into his pants and pulled out a large silver revolver. The fear choked all of Dean's nerves again, and he yelped involuntarily.
"Okay, listen." said the man, "I have no idea what the flying fuck is going on right now, but we're both going to put our guns away, and try and figure out what is, okay? That's it, nice and easy..." he slipped his gun back into his pants. Dean felt himself slowly reach up and set his gun on top of the toilet. "Good man. Now. I heard a gunshot. I don't know how much you know about any of this, and I don't want to be the one who tells you anything you shouldn't know. I'm a real nice guy, and I'm not going to hurt you unless I have no other choice. Okay? I can tell you're real spooked, and I assume you're the one who ended that fool's life out there. Now I want you to talk to me, tell me everything that happened. All right? Can you do that?"
Dean nodded slowly. He picked up the bathmat on the floor next to him and wiped off his wet, dirty face.
"Good. But try to hurry, all right, there might be..." The man backed out of the bathroom and into the hallway, where he could see outside through the open front door and the back window, then he came cautiously back. "Start at the beginning."
Dean cleared his throat and took a deep breath. Should he be saying anything to this man? Probably not, but his mind had shut down a long time ago. He felt safe with this man, in fact, but he didn't know why. "Ahh...about...at about 3:30, I was upstairs asleep, and I heard knocking...and the...there was someone at the door, so I...got scared, and got my gun, and came to the door...Toby was there, and he was--
"Woah, woah, wait. Who was there?"
"Toby, my dog."
"He was barking at the door, and I opened it, and that guy, he...he started talking about business, about something...some business he needed to talk to me about. I said I would call the police, and I didn't know what he was talking about...he got real upset, and started screaming about...Mario, and cocaine, and that I was a worm for 'playing stupid'...and that I couldn't hide the huge tank in my backyard..."
A glint lit up in the man's eye. "...did he say his name, by any chance...?"
"Uh, yeah... Martin or Marcus. Marcus."
"Oh, shit!!! That stupid knucklefuck idiot came to the wrong house!!" A pause; many complex emotions on the man's face... "listen, uh..."
"Listen, Dean. You obviously got wrapped up in something you shouldn't have been. You know too much already, but I don't want to kill you. And I won't kill you. But...I guess that now, I hafto........if you tell anyone what I'm about to tell you, then I will kill you, because then I would hafto, because then you'd be giving me no choice, okay?!" The man exhaled deeply. "I'm you're neighbor. That tank nextdoor is my tank. A man named Marcus Dempsey, some damn goon under Mario, who's this big mob-boss peesa shit, he called me tonight. We were going to make a little transaction...I think you get the goddamn picture. But Marcus came to the wrong damn house!! So you shot him."
"No, no..." yelled Dean in a whisper. "You don't understand. He was going to kill me anyway!"
"Hey, I know. You knew way too much. He had no choice. But I do, and I'm not going to hurt you, unless you give me a reason."
"Aren't you going to kill me just because I killed your friend, or partner, or whatever..."
"A hahahahahahaha. That stupid asshole is most certainly not my friend, or partner. I just met him for the first time on the phone tonight. Mario runs one hell of a big business, like a whole damn cartel, but I was just doing a job for him. I'm completely independent. Well, actually...I probably would have killed you, had you jacked up the transaction..."
"Heheheheh. Dean, I'd rather kiss you than kill you. Because, the truth is, you helped me. You helped the entire transaction, for me and Harry, anyway."
The man went to the hall and swiveled his head around. "We gotta get the hell out of here. Get up, c'mon, let's go."
Dean, holding onto both Scarlett and Toby by their leashes, both in muzzles, watched the man's hands slip immense amounts of money into 8by10 manila envelopes. They were both standing in a huge marble room in the basement of 3737 26th Avenue. Nextdoor. Dean still found what he had just heard amusing, like you find a traffic accident amusing: Jake, the man, along with Anthony, Chris, and Harry, the other men in the room, all loading money: they were all worms. Their plan: begin to talk business with a Marcus Dempsey, load the cocaine, get the van keys, drive the cocaine to Milwaukie Private Airfield, and take off in the waiting plane... then hijack the plane, kill Marcus Dempsey, and force all of the cocaine into Europe at a tremendous profit. In other words, screw over Mario. Dean noticed himself smiling at the irony. Marcus Dempsey had it coming, no matter what he did. It was his destiny.
"Ay, Dean. Make yourself useful." said Harry. "Take that pile of dough over there and start separating the bills. Turn 'em all in the same direction."
Dean smiled as he lifted the pile, which was well over a million dollars. Mario was alredy screwed over. None of that was necessary for these men now, because Marcus was already dead, and the "safeguard key" was sitting there, plain as day, bulging out of the ripped four-inch scar.
There's a hundred, there's some fifties, loads and loads more of hundreds...the money numbed his hands. He had killed a man. And he had screwed over a mob boss. What a good reason to demand a change in your life.
"We gotta get the hell out of here." said Jake. "And you, Dean--have you decided where you wanna go? We'll make sure Marcus doesn't get to you."
"Well--" Dean felt like he was dreaming. "There's someone I'd like to see in Germany."