A Dirty Job Chapter 20
ATTACK OF THE CROCODILE GUY
It was a brutally hot night in the City, and everyone had their windows open. From the roof across the alley, the spy could see the little girl happily splashing away in a tub full of suds, the two giant hounds sitting just outside the tub licking shampoo from her hand and belching bubbles as she screeched with glee.
“Sophie, don’t feed the puppies soap, okay?” The shopkeeper’s voice from another room.
“Okay, Dad. I won’t. I’m not a kid, you know,” she said, pouring more strawberry-kiwi shampoo into her palm and holding it out for one of the dogs to lick. A cloud of fragrant bubbles burped out of the beast, through the bars of the window, and out into the still air over the alley.
The hounds were the problem, but if the spy had his timing right, he’d be able to take care of them and get to the child without interference.
In the past he’d been an assassin, a bodyguard, a kickboxer, and most recently a certified fiberglass-insulation installer – skills that could serve him well in his current mission. He had the face of a crocodile – sixty-eight spiked teeth and eyes that gleamed like black glass beads. His hands were the claws of a raptor, the wicked black nails encrusted with dried blood. He wore a black silk tuxedo, but no shoes – his feet were webbed like those of a waterbird, with claws for digging prey from the mud.
He rolled the large Persian rug to the edge of the roof and waited; then, just as he had planned, he heard, “Sweetie, I’m going to take the trash out, I’ll be right back.”
Funny how the illusion of security can make us careless, the spy thought. No one would leave a young child alone in the bath unattended, but the company of two canine bodyguards wouldn’t make her unattended, would it?
He waited, and the shopkeeper emerged from the steel door downstairs carrying two trash bags. He seemed momentarily thrown off by the fact that the Dumpster, which was normally right outside the door, had been moved down the alley twenty feet or so, but shrugged, kicked the door wide, and while it hissed slowly shut on its pneumatic cylinder, he dashed for the Dumpster. That’s when the spy sent the rug off the roof. The rug unrolled as it fell the four stories. Unfurled, it hit the shopkeeper with a substantial thud and drove him to the ground.
In the bathroom, the huge dogs perked up. One let out a woof of caution.
The spy already had the first bolt in his crossbow. Now he let it fly – nylon line hissed out and the bolt hit the rug with a thump, penetrating the rug and probably the shopkeeper’s calf, effectively pinning him under the rug, perhaps even to the ground. The shopkeeper screamed. The great hounds dashed out of the bathroom.
The spy loaded another bolt, attached it to the free end of the nylon line attached to the first bolt, then fired it through another section of the rug below. The shopkeeper continued to shout, but with the heavy rug pinned over him, he couldn’t move. As the spy loaded his third bolt the hounds burst through the doorway into the alley.
The third bolt wasn’t attached to a line, but had a wicked titanium-spiked tip. The spy aimed at the pneumatic cylinder on the door, hit it, and the door slammed shut, locking the hounds in the alley. He’d practiced this a dozen times in his mind, and it was all going exactly as planned. The front doors to the shop and the apartment building had been Super Glued shut before he’d come up on the roof – no easy job getting that done without being seen.
His fourth shot put a bolt in the window frame over the hall window. The bars on the bathroom were too narrow, but he knew that the shopkeeper would have left the door to the apartment open. He attached a carabiner to the nylon line and slid silently down the line to the window ledge. He unclipped, then squeezed through the bars and dropped to the floor in the hallway.
He kept close to the hall walls, taking careful, exaggerated steps to keep his toenails from catching on the carpet. He could smell onions cooking in a nearby apartment and hear the child’s voice coming from the door down the hall, which he could see was open, if only a crack.
“Dad, I’m ready to get out! Dad, I’m ready to get out!”
He paused at the doorway, peeked into the apartment. He knew the child would scream when she saw him – his jagged teeth, the claws, his cold black eyes. He would see to it that her screams were short-lived, but nobody could remain calm in the face of his fearsomeness. Of course, the fearsome effect was somewhat reduced by the fact that he was only fourteen inches tall.
He pushed the door open, but as he stepped into the apartment something grabbed him from behind, yanking him off his feet, and in spite of his training and stealth skills, he screamed like a flaming wood duck.
Someone had Super Glued the key slot in the back door and Charlie had snapped his key off trying to get it open. There was some kind of arrow stuck on a string through the back of his leg and it hurt like hell – blood was filling up his shoe. He didn’t know what had happened, but he knew it wasn’t good that the hellhounds were bouncing around him whimpering.
He pounded the door with both fists. “Open the goddamn door, Ray!”
Ray opened the door. “What?”
The hellhounds knocked them both down going through the door. Charlie jumped to his feet and limped after them, up the steps. Ray followed.
“Charlie, you’re bleeding.”
“Wait, you’re dragging some kind of line. Let me cut it.”
“Ray, I’ve got to go – “
Before Charlie could finish his sentence, Ray had pulled a knife from his back pocket, flicked it open, and cut the nylon line. “Used to carry this on the job to cut seat belts and stuff.”
Charlie nodded and headed up the steps. Sophie was standing in the kitchen, wrapped in a mint-green bath towel, shampoo horns still protruding from her head – she looked like a small, soapy version of the Statue of Liberty. “Dad, where were you? I wanted to get out.”
“Are you okay, honey?” He knelt in front of her and smoothed down her towel.
“I needed help on the rinse. That’s your responsibility, Dad.”
“I know, honey. I’m a horrible father.”
“Okay – ” Sophie said. “Hi, Ray.”
Ray was topping the steps, holding a bloody arrow on the end of a string. “Charlie, this went through your leg.”
Charlie turned and looked at his calf for the first time, then sat on the floor, sure that he was going to pass out.
“Can I have it?” Sophie said, picking up the arrow.
Ray grabbed a dish towel from the counter and pressed it on Charlie’s wound. “Hold this on it. I’ll call 911.”
“No, I’m okay,” Charlie said, pretty sure now he was going to throw up.
“What happened out there?” Ray said.
“I don’t know, I was – “
Someone in the building started screaming like they were being deep-fried. Ray’s eyes went wide.
“Help me up,” Charlie said.
They ran through the apartment and out into the hall – the screaming was coming from the stairwell.
“Can you make it?” Ray said.
“Go. Go. I’m with you.” Charlie steadied himself against Ray’s shoulder and hopped up the stairs behind him.
The harsh screaming coming from Mrs. Ling’s apartment had dwindled to pleas for help in English, peppered with swearing in Mandarin. “No! Shiksas! Help! Back! Help!”
Charlie and Ray found the diminutive Chinese matron backed against her stove by Alvin and Mohammed, swinging a cleaver at them to keep them at bay while they barked salvos of strawberry-kiwi-flavored bubbles at her.
“Help! Shiksas try to take supper,” said Mrs. Ling.
Charlie saw the stockpot steaming on the stove, a pair of duck feet sticking out of it. “Mrs. Ling, is that duck wearing trousers?”
She looked quickly, then turned and took a swipe at the hellhounds with the cleaver. “Could be,” she said.
“Down, Alvin. Down, Mohammed,” Charlie commanded, which the hellhounds ignored completely. He turned to Ray. “Ray, would you go get Sophie?”
The ex-cop, who felt himself the master of all situations chaotic, said, “Huh?”
“They won’t back off unless she tells them to. Go get her, okay.” Charlie turned to Mrs. Ling. “Sophie will call them off, Mrs. Ling. I’m sorry.”
Mrs. Ling had been considering her dinner. She tried to shove the duck feet under the broth with her cleaver, but to little effect. “Is ancient Chinese recipe. We don’t tell White Devils about it so you don’t ruin it. You hear of paper-wrap chicken? This duck in pants.”
The hellhounds growled.
“Well, I’m sure it’s delicious,” Charlie said, leaning against her fridge so he didn’t fall over.
“You bleeding, Mr. Asher.”
“Yes, I am,” Charlie said.
Ray arrived, carrying the towel-wrapped Sophie. He set her down.
“Hi, Mrs. Ling,” Sophie said, then she stepped out of her towel, went to the hellhounds, and grabbed them by their collars. “You guys didn’t rinse,” she said. Then, buck naked, her hair still in shampoo spikes, Sophie led the hellhounds out of Mrs. Ling’s apartment.
“Uh, someone shot you, boss,” Ray said.
“Yes, they did,” said Charlie.
“You should get medical attention.”
“Yes, I should,” Charlie said. His eyes rolled back in his head and he slid down the front of Mrs. Ling’s refrigerator.
Charlie spent the entire night in the emergency room of St. Francis Memorial waiting for treatment. Ray Macy stayed with him the whole time. While Charlie enjoyed the screaming and whimpering from the other patients waiting for treatment, the retching and pervasive barf smell began to wear on him after a while. When he started to turn green, Ray tried to use his ex-cop status to gain favor with the head ER nurse, whom he had known in that old life.
“He’s hurt bad. Can’t you sneak him in somewhere? He’s a good guy, Betsy.”
Nurse Betsy grinned (which was the expression she used in lieu of telling people to fuck off) and scanned the waiting room to make sure that no one seemed particularly attentive. “Can you get him to the window?”
“Sure,” Ray said. He helped Charlie out of his chair and got him to the little bulletproof window. “This is Charlie Asher,” Ray said. “My friend.”
Charlie looked at Ray.
“I mean my boss,” Ray added quickly.
“Mr. Asher, are you going to die on me?”
“Hope not,” Charlie said. “But you might want to ask someone with more medical experience than me.”
Nurse Betsy grinned.
“He’s been shot,” Ray said, ever the advocate.
“I didn’t see who shot me,” Charlie said. “It’s a mystery.”
Nurse Betsy leaned into the window. “You know we have to report all gunshot wounds to the authorities. Are you sure you don’t want to take a veterinarian hostage and have him sew you up?”
“I don’t think my insurance will cover that,” Charlie said.
“Besides, it wasn’t a gunshot,” Ray added. “It was an arrow.”
Nurse Betsy nodded. “Let me see?”
Charlie started to roll up his pant leg and lift his leg up on the little counter. Nurse Betsy reached through the little window and knocked his foot off the shelf. “For Christ’s sakes, don’t let the others see I’m looking.”
“Is it still bleeding?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Like a bitch.”
“Big bitch or little bitch?”
“Extra large,” Charlie said.
“You allergic to any painkillers?”
Nurse Betsy reached into her uniform pocket and pulled out a handful of pills, picked out two round ones and one long one, and slid them through the little window. “By the power invested in me by Saint Francis of Assisi, I now pronounce you painless. The round ones are Percocet, the oval one is Cipro. I’ll put it on your chart.” She looked at Ray. “Fill out his papers for him, he’s going to be too fucked up to do it in a few minutes.”
“You get any Prada or Gucci bags in that store where you work – they’re mine.”
“No problem,” Ray said. “Charlie owns the store.”
“Free,” Betsy added. She slid another round pill across the counter. “For you, Ray.”
“I’m not hurt.”
“It’s a long wait. Anything could happen.” She grinned in lieu of telling him to fuck off.
An hour later the paperwork was done and Charlie was heaped in a fiberglass chair in a posture that seemed possible only if his bones had turned to marshmallow.
“They killed Rachel here,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, I know,” Ray said. “I’m sorry.”
“I still miss her.”
“Yeah, I know,” Ray said. “How’s your leg?”
“But they gave me Sophie,” Charlie said, ignoring the question. “So, you know, that was good.”
“Yeah, I know,” Ray said. “How are you feeling now?”
“I’m a little concerned that growing up without a mother, Sophie won’t be sensitive enough.”
“You’re doing a great job with her. I meant how are you feeling physically?”
“Like that thing where she kills people, just by looking at them. That can’t be good for a little girl. My fault, all my fault.”
“Charlie, does your leg hurt?” Ray had opted not to take the painkiller Nurse Betsy had given him, and now he was regretting it.
“And the thing with the hellhounds – what kid has to deal with that? That can’t be healthy.”
“Charlie, how do you feel?”
“I’m a little sleepy,” Charlie said.
“Well, you lost a lot of blood.”
“I’m relaxed, though. You know, blood loss relaxes you. You suppose that’s why they did leeches in the Middle Ages? They could use them instead of tranquilizers. ‘Yes, Bob, I’ll be right in to the meeting, but let me stick a leech on, I’m feeling a little anxious.’ Like that.”
“Great idea, Charlie. You want some water?”
“You’re a good guy, Ray. Did I ever tell you that? Even if you are serial-killing desperate Filipinas on your vacation.”
Nurse Betsy came to the window. “Asher!” she called.
Ray looked pleadingly at her through the window – a few seconds later she was coming through the door with a wheelchair.
“How’s Painless doing?” she said.
“Oh my God, he’s incredibly irritating,” Ray said.
“You didn’t take your medicine, did you?”
“I don’t like drugs.”
“Who’s the nurse here, Ray? It’s the circle of meds, not just the patient, but everyone around him. Haven’t you seen The Lion King?”
“That’s not in The Lion King. That’s the circle of life.”
“Really? I’ve been singing that song wrong the whole time? Wow, I guess I don’t like that movie after all. Help me get Painless into the chair. We’ll have him home by breakfast.”
“We got here at dinnertime,” Ray said.
“See how you are when you’re off your meds?”
Charlie had a foam walking cast and crutches when he got home from the hospital. The painkillers had worn off to a level where he was no longer painless. His head was throbbing like tiny twin aliens were going to burst out of his temples. Mrs. Korjev came out of his apartment and cornered him in the hallway.
“Charlie Asher, I am having bone to pick with you. Last night am I seeing my little Sophie run by my apartment naked and soapy like bear, pulling giant black dogs around singing ‘not in butt’? In old country we have word for that, Charlie Asher. Word is nasty. I still have number for child service from days when my boys were boys.”
“Soapy like bear?”
“Don’t change subject. Is nasty.”
“Yes, it is. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I was shot and wasn’t thinking straight.”
“You are shot?”
“In the leg. It’s only a flesh wound.” Charlie had waited his entire life to say those words and he felt very macho at that moment. “I don’t know who shot me. It’s a mystery. They dropped a rug on me, too.” The rug diminished the machismo somewhat. He vowed not to mention it henceforth.
“You come in. Have breakfast. Sophie will not eat toast Vladlena make. She say is raw and have toast germs.”
“That’s my girl,” Charlie said.
Charlie was no sooner in the door and on his way to rescue his daughter from toast-borne pathogens, when Mohammed grabbed the tip of one of his crutches in his mouth and dragged a hopping Charlie into the bedroom.
“Hi, Daddy,” Sophie said as her father went hopping by. “No skipping in the house,” she added.
Mohammed head-butted the hapless Beta Male to his date book. There were two names there under today’s date, which wasn’t that unusual. What was unusual was that they were the names that had appeared before: Esther Johnson and Irena Posokovanovich – the two soul vessels he’d missed.
He sat down on the bed and tried to rub the pain aliens back into his temples. How to even start? Would these names keep coming back until he got the soul vessels? That hadn’t happened with the fuck puppet. What was different here? Things were obviously getting worse – now they were shooting at him.
Charlie picked up the phone and dialed Ray Macy’s number.
It took Ray four days to come back to Charlie with the report. He had the information in three, but he’d wanted to be absolutely sure that all the painkillers had worn off and Charlie wasn’t going to be crazy anymore – going on all night about being the big death, “with a capital D.” Ray also felt a little guilty because he’d been holding out on Charlie about breaking some rules in the store.
They met in the back room on a Wednesday morning, before the store opened. Charlie had made coffee and taken a seat at the desk so he could prop his foot up. Ray sat on some boxes of books.
“Okay, shoot,” Charlie said.
“Well, first, I found three more crossbow bolts. Two had barbed-steel tips like the one that went through your leg, and one had a titanium spike. That one was stuck in the pneumatic closer on the back door.”
“Don’t care, Ray. What about the two women?”
“Charlie, someone shot you with a deadly weapon. You don’t care?”
“Correct. Don’t care. It’s a mystery. Know what I like about mysteries? They’re mysterious.”
Ray was wearing a Giants cap and he flipped it around backwards for emphasis. If he’d been wearing glasses he would have whipped those off, but he wasn’t, so he squinted like he had. “I’m sorry, Charlie, but someone wanted you and the dogs out of the house at the same time. They threw that rug on you from the rooftop across the alley, then, when you were pinned down and the dogs were outside, they shot the closer on the door so it would slam shut. They sabotaged the back door’s lock and glued the front doors shut, probably before they even started with the rug, then they slid down a line to the hall window, slipped between the bars, and – well, then it’s unclear.”
Charlie sighed. “You’re not going to tell me about the two women until you finish this, are you?”
“It was highly organized. This wasn’t a random assault.”
“The hall window upstairs has bars on it, Ray. No one can get in. No one got in.”
“Well, that’s where it gets a little crazy. You see, I don’t think it was a human intruder.”
“You don’t?” Charlie actually seemed to be paying attention now.
“In order to get through those bars, an intruder would have to be under two feet tall, and less than, say, thirty pounds. I’m thinking a monkey.”
Charlie put down his coffee so hard that a java geyser jumped out of the cup onto some papers on the desk. “You think that I was shot by a highly organized monkey?”
“Don’t be that way – “
“Who then slid down a wire, broke into the building, and did what? Made off with fruit?”
“You should have heard some of the stupid shit you were saying the other night at the hospital, and did I make fun of you?”
“I was on drugs, Ray.”
“Well, there’s no other explanation.” To Ray’s Beta Male imagination, the monkey explanation seemed completely reasonable – except for lack of motive. But you know monkeys, they’ll fling poo at you just for the hell of it, so who’s to say –
“The explanation is that it’s a mystery,” Charlie said. “I appreciate your trying to bring this…this furry bastard to justice, Ray, but I need to know about the two women.”
Ray nodded, defeated. He should have just shut up until he’d figured out why someone would want to get a monkey into Charlie’s apartment. “People can train monkeys, you know. Do you have any valuable jewelry in your apartment?”
“You know,” Charlie said, scratching his chin and looking at the ceiling as if remembering. “There was a small car parked across from the shop all day on Vallejo. And when I looked the next day, there was a pile of banana peels, like someone had been staking the place out. Someone who ate bananas.”
“What kind of car was it?” Ray said, his notepad ready.
“I’m not sure, but it was red, and definitely monkey size.”
Ray looked up from his notes. “Really?”
Charlie paused, as if thinking carefully about his answer. “Yes,” he said, very sincerely. “Monkey size.”
Ray flipped his notebook back to the pages in the front. “There is no need to be that way, Charlie. I’m just trying to help.”
“It might have been bigger,” Charlie said, remembering. “Like a monkey SUV – like what you might drive if you were transporting – I don’t know – a barrel of monkeys.”
Ray cringed, then read from the pages. “I went to the Johnson woman’s house. No one is living there, but the house isn’t on the market. I didn’t see the niece you talked about. Funny thing is, the neighbors knew she’d been sick, but no one had heard that she’d died. In fact, one guy said he thought he saw her getting into a U-Haul truck with a couple of movers last week.”
“Last week? Her niece said that she died two weeks ago.”
“Esther Johnson doesn’t have a niece. She was an only child. Didn’t have brothers or sisters, and no nieces on her late husband’s side of the family.”
“So she’s alive?”
“Apparently.” Ray handed Charlie a photograph. “That’s her latest driver’s-license photo. This changes things. Now we’re looking for a missing person, someone who will leave a trail. But the other one – Irena – is even better.” He handed Charlie another picture.
“She’s not dead either?”
“Oh, there was a death notice in the paper three weeks ago, but here’s the giveaway – all of her bills are still being paid, by personal check. Checks she signed.” Ray sat back on his stool, smiling, feeling the sweetness of righteous indignation over the monkey theory, and a little guilt alleviation for not telling Charlie about the special transactions.
“Well?” Charlie finally asked.
“She’s at her sister’s house in the Sunset. Here’s the address.” Ray tore a page out of his notebook and handed it to Charlie.