3 AM, downtown’s deserted. Just my truck and the road. I shouldn’t come this way, too high profile for carrying valuable cargo. Hitting every red light, besides. Good thing the cops are all busy with them murderers and ruddy fucks causing shit where they shouldn’t. I don’t plan on meeting any trouble. Not tonight, anyway.
It’s quiet except the pour. Damn radio’s been broken for days, don’t have cash for a new one. Haven’t been paid for running supplies in a while either, but, they’ll come through: always have, always will. And it’ll be a hefty sum too, enough to buy a couple new cars besides. Just have to be patient, they’ll show. I always get by alright.
Been working off my time at least a year. At this rate I might be a free man come September, but I know how things have been happening. Mugs around here talk like I’m not listening. Lots of frisky business going on, ‘specially down on the harbour. Bosses keeping us longer than our due.
The Docks. Maybe she’ll be working tonight. Might have time for an old regular like me. Hell, a quick visit won’t hurt no one. And friends is hard to come by when you’re in a position like ours. She’ll be down outside, like always, with them other girls, the not-so-pretty ones. Lord knows why she hangs out there. Could get nicer customers if she tried, I’m sure of it, Alahna. Alahna Longnights.
“Longnights?” I asked her once. She just looked at me from the corner of her eye, lips frowning a little at the sides. Never mentioned it again, but I wouldn’t be calling her by that. Told her so and it didn’t bother her a bit. She just smiled and said, “Easier to hide when you’ve got no name.”
Seems busy. Maybe Lonnie’ll be out already. No matter, there are other nights. Then one of them, with faded red hair and nothing on but a longish vest-looking thing, walks over fast, ducking under her own arms for shelter from the rain. Taps on the window twice with this crazy long purple fingernail before leaning down through the mouth of the driver-side window and asking, “Need a hand, handsome?”
“You seen Lonnie around?”
“What’s wrong with me? I might be better.”
“I’m sure you’re right, but me an’ Lonnie go way back. Mind telling her I stopped by?”
“Aw, hell. She’s right over there. I’ll go get her for you, as a favour. But hey, don’t say nothin’ about her face. She’s feeling pretty sensitive.” She turns around and walks away, ass barely covered by whatever that thing is she’s wearing, a fresh twenty twisted through her fingers, and sends a wave toward the alley on the other side of the yard. It’s dark, but there’s her, all smooth lines against sharp concrete. Lonnie looks at the girl for a moment, then to me, and comes over slow, as if it weren’t raining at all, wearing some green number under a thick, rain-sodden jacket, her face blocked by its sopping, fur-lined hood. I reach over and unlock the passenger-side door and a few moments later she’s in, staining my seats with rain, face still covered by that hood.
She doesn’t say, like she always does. Like she’s not really listening. But I know she is, just like me, always listening and pretending not to. It’s the only way to survive out here. The only way to stay one step ahead.
“They’re alright,” she says finally, sniffling and wringing her bruised hands.
“Good. Good. Listen, mind taking your hood down? It’s always good seeing a familiar face.”
Her head shakes, as if she were about to turn it but decided not to at the last second.
“Mind if we go for a drive?”
“Sure, anywhere you like.”
She’s being awful cold. Never remember her acting this way before. Usually all warm smiles and interest, as if you were the only person she’d ever known, eyes lighting up like muddy waters washed clean.
“Want to find a motel?”
“No. Just keep driving.” A car passes on our left, going way faster than anyone should go, making Lonnie jump out of her skin and grab hold of the seat belt she’d yet to put on.
“Idiots,” she whispers through her teeth, fiddling with the buckle. Slowly, as if out of habit, she pushes the hood back from her forehead. Her dark hair’s plastered to her, making her nose seem twice as long.
“Draeger, I need your help.”
She keeps staring at the road.
“You know they’ve got me driving, Lon. Can’t really get myself into any trouble, else I’ll owe more time.”
“They trust you, Draeger. You know they do so don’t deny it. I’ve been hearing your name more and more down here, you know. You’re getting a status. Listen, you’re the only one who can help. So will you help me?”
We stop at a red light and she reaches out, putting a hand on my right shoulder, turning to me. It’s then I see it, what the other lass was on about. Down the right side of her face is a blast-gash, running from chin to eyebrow, the skin surrounding where her other eye should be all twisted and bruised, and worse, flat like there’s something missing that shouldn’t be. Her mouth, still intact on the one side, droops on the other, even when she speaks.
“Look at me. See this? This is why I did it, so you can’t blame me or nothing. It was like self-defence. Draeger, I killed him. I killed Pollack and ran.”
Pollack. Anyone but Pollack. The Game-Keeper. Torture specialist. He’d be the one to rip out your fingernails at his boss’ command. Course he beats up these girls. There’s no one alive who’d come after him. Lonnie’s not the first, but she’s the first I’ve seen this bad. Must have made him real angry.
“Awe, Lonnie. What’d you do?”
“I killed him.”
She’s shaking. Might be crying but I can’t be sure.
“No, I mean what’d you do to make him give you…give you that?”
She looks out the window. Feel bad even thinking it, but I’m glad I don’t have to look at her anymore.
“He asked me to betray someone.”
“Let me guess, you said no, he didn’t like that?”
“Something close,” she looks at me again and I try my best not to stare, “The body. He’s still where I left him. At the old factory on the outskirts. North side.” I know the place. Been out there myself a few times, never on pleasant business of course.
“What were you doing out there?”
She’s silent for a second.
“Pollack was out for business. Asked me to come along for the ride.”
She’s leaving something out, I can feel it. But, I suppose none of this is any of my business.
“I could pay you.”
“Awe, don’t insult me that way, Lonnie.”
“I-I was thinking maybe the river?”
“Just dump him?”
“Isn’t that how it’s done?”
She’s not wrong. It’s how all of us send each other off, like some rite of passing. Without anything more I pull into gear and head North, rain pounding on the windshield.
When we reach the factory, Lonnie jumps out of the truck before I even have a chance to kill the engine. She gives me this impatient stare and disappears around the corner. Leaving my keys in the ignition, I step down, and follow her around to the building’s west lot. The air smells the same as it always does, like sulphur and sewage. Moths circle a slowly dying lamp to my right. Finally, I find her standing over a couple of garbage bags twisted around Pollack’s limp body, bound with yellow duct-tape.
“You do this yourself?”
“Can you lift him?”
“Might be easier if I bring the truck around.”
She just stands there, waiting for me to do it.
“Alright. Hang on.”
I walk to the truck, still idling, and back it around the corner, getting as close to Pollack as I can without running him over. Lonnie gets in the passenger side, still shaking. Must be scared. Guess I shouldn’t be so hard on her.
“This’ll be over soon.”
She nods and stares blankly at the dash. I wait a moment, to see if she’ll say something, then get out of the car. The whole job doesn’t take long—lifting him into the box and strapping him in so he doesn’t roll around.
“That was quick,” she says as I get behind the wheel and shift into gear.
“Ain’t my first.”
“Yeah. I know.”
She looks at me out the corner of her eye before turning to the passenger-side. A sign behind her head reads, Mutiny Point, 16km. Our destination. I don’t drive too fast, just in case. Not too fond of the sounds a dead body makes when it’s bumping along like cargo.
Lonnie pokes at the radio and finds nothing but static.
She crosses her arms.
“Listen. You ain’t been acting like yourself. Everything’s going to work out just fine, you’ll see. No need to worry.” At that she turns almost all of her to me, seat belt straining, both sides of her mouth pointing straight down.
“See this? Think this is nothing?” We don’t talk again until another sign passes, telling us we’re close. The rain’s not so heavy out here, but our silence is.
“How’d you kill him?” I didn’t mean to ask.
Something like fear runs through her, shivers through her entire body.
I pull into the long drive that stretches toward the dugout beside the river. The water’s running fast from the rain. I park and step out of the car, thinking she won’t follow, thinking she won’t want to have a hand in this part, but she steps out a few moments later and starts walking down toward the river without me, arms wrapped around her sides, still wearing that jacket. I pull down the lid of the box and loosen the straps now tangled around Pollack’s body.
Pollack. Shot in the head. What a way to go. Couldn’t believe it. I knew him, sure. Watched a few of his dirtier episodes, seen what he’s capable of. Seen him make loose-lipped liars wag their tongues before cutting them out. But brought down by a woman? By Lonnie?
I notice a bit of bag around his head’s come loose and is flapping in the breeze. Hell, won’t hurt to take a quick look, even if the guy might not have a face to look at. Just a bit of tape at the neck stopping me from seeing…
His face. It’s intact alright.
But it’s not Pollack’s.
I look down to the small beach by the river, surrounded by tall reeds, where Lonnie stands facing me, the moon bright enough to reflect the tears streaming down her face. But she ain’t seeing me, more seeing through me, and scared, like she’d seen a ghost.
I hear the crunch of gravel and turn around to find just that: a ghost. A living, breathing Pollack, unruffled as usual, in a dark suit, pointing a gun at my head.
“Been hearing some funny things about you Draeger.”
I turn to Lonnie, who’s still crying, then back to Pollack.
“To the river, asshole. And hands up.”
My head jumps to the pistol in my jacket, but walking towards Lonnie, I can’t seem to look away from her, all beautiful and sad in the moon’s light. Her and Pollack? It just doesn’t make sense. I can hear her sobs now, and her eye, dark and sad, pleads with mine for forgiveness.
“I’m so sorry. Please understand,” she whispers quietly, so Pollack can’t hear.
“Know why you’re here, Draeger?”
My arms, still up, start to ache.
“It’s because of Alahna. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?”
She just stares at the ground, nose wrinkled.
“Wasn’t so hard to persuade her. Some pretty good handy-work, if I do say so myself.”
He snickers before asking whether I’d like to know why I’m there.
“Does it matter?”
Silence sits with us a moment, the river the only sound to be heard. Even Lonnie’s sobs have stopped. Wish I could tell her it wasn’t her fault, that this kind of thing happens all the time.
“I suppose not. But, of course, you’ll have your life for a few more minutes while I tell you. Isn’t that nice?” he smiles, showing almost all his teeth.
“Remember, about three weeks ago, that shipment of counterfeits Druid sent to Charlie? You were the delivery-boy, were you not?”
I was. But that job went through with no trouble.
“You talked to a man named Red that night?”
“Sure, yeah. Nice guy. We made small chat.”
“Weren’t nothing small about it. You gave him some information on me you really shouldn’t have.”
Yeah, we talked about Pollack. Just a few details, didn’t think it was all that important, really. I’ve seen Red around before, seems like a trustworthy guy. Wouldn’t really talk unless it meant his life.
“You told him about the next shipment you were running for me. Pretty much gave me away to a man who can’t keep a secret under pressure. Almost got me killed, Draeger. And you know I’m no fan of surprises.”
Yeah. We all know.
“Got yourself a nice girl, here. Stood up for you and everything. Didn’t know she was leading you to your own funeral, though, did you?”
A strangled whimper from Lonnie’s cuts through the air and Pollack gets this crazy look in his eyes I’ve seen a couple times before. The kind of look I never wanted to see again, if I could help it. He raises his gun, points it straight at my forehead and before I have a chance to reach for my pistol he says,
“Say ‘hi’ to Red for me, will you?” and shoots.
Oh Lonnie. Don’t be sad. I understand. You were just trying to stay one step ahead.