Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Redemption or Bust - Let It Bleed
The sun felt warm on my face when I got licked awake.
I don't know dogs. Got nothing against them but I don't know a German shepherd from a bull mastiff.
The dog licking my cheek was big and brown. The amount of drool pooled near my ear told me it'd been at it for some time.
I saw a sturdy leash attached its collar and followed it all the way up to a sturdy arm.
The owner of that arm stepped forward and blotted out the sun.
“Looks like you got a new pal there, Freddy,” said Sheriff Orion P. Jones.
Freddy let out a happy yip at the mention of his name.
I sat up while the pooch wasn't looking.
“You all right down there, Jake?”
“Been better, been worse.” I looked at him out of one eye.
“That's what I like to hear. I got EMT's on the way just in case so you just sit tight.”
I stuck a hand up to him. “Gimme a lift, willya?”
He frowned at me but did grab my hand and haul me to my feet.
The earth and sky spun around while my equilibrium settled so I shut my eyes and took the ride. The sea of pink flowers had a hypnotic effect on me. I found myself swaying to music only I could hear.
“Easy, Jake.” Sheriff Jones let go of my hand so he could get his arm around my shoulders.
“Evangeline,” I groaned. “She's in trouble. Gotta... gotta get over there.”
I shifted and put more of my weight against the walking phone booth that was Sheriff Jones. He was kind enough not to say anything about it.
“She's fine, Jake. Evangeline's fine.” He chuckled and gave me a little shake. “Haven't you noticed yet? Trouble finds Evangeline every now and again but that woman's never in trouble.”
I nodded and settled in for the rest of the story while Freddy made friends with my leg.
“She called me when you didn't turn up last night. This was over an hour after I sent you home. Couldn't get Riggs on the radio so I went out looking for you.”
“Riggs,” I muttered.
“Yeah. I'm real sorry 'bout that. He was the last of the old guard around here. Never really did take to me, but he was close to retirement so I let him stay on. Kept him close to the station.”
“Not your fault,” I said. It was, but I didn't see the point making the man feel worse about it. “You were talking about Evangeline.”
“Evangeline. She called me every fifteen minutes for the next two hours and then just stopped.”
“Which you found strange.”
“She seem like the kind of person who gives up that easy?”
He applied a little pressure with his arm and began to guide me out of the field.
“When she didn't call again I cruised by the motel. She was standing outside the office with a busted lip and a lump on her head.”
“Shit. I gotta get over there, Sheriff.”
“Slow down, cowboy. I told you she's all right. It seems two guys broke in and tried to grab her. They got their licks in but when I got to the Sunshade she was the one still standing. They were lying in the dirt.”
“Like you said, she can take care of herself. I still gotta get back there.”
The field let out onto a thin dirt road. There were more flowers in the field on the other side, all of them yellow. By the time we reached the sheriff's cruiser I was walking on my own and feeling pretty good.
“How long was I out?” I asked Sheriff Jones.
He shrugged. “You tell me. It's just past four.”
I had no clue. “Guess I needed the shuteye. How'd you find me anyway?”
We got into the cruiser. Freddy hopped into the back seat and stretched out.
“Got a tip about a carbecue out here in the middle of nowhere.”
“What kind of tip?”
“The anonymous kind. What other kind is there?”
I sat back in the passenger seat and rubbed my eyes.
“You sure about those paramedics, Jake?”
“Okay then.” He got on the radio and told the paramedics to stand down. “Out with it. Now.”
I let my eyes wander while I thought about it. The man's cruiser was clean. No coffee cups or food wrappers anywhere. I couldn't find even a single loose scrap of paper. It was unnatural.
“Evangeline first,” I said, “then we'll talk.”
Sheriff Jones took a deep breath, flicked the lawman switch, and hit me with the full force of the Cop's Glare.
“You seem to be under the impression you're in charge of this situation. You're not. All you are to me is a guy from out of town who was around when a cop got killed. Obstruction of justice is a serious matter, Jake. Don't make me open that box. You won't like it in there.”
“You never know. Sounds like a nice change of pace.”
He didn't crack a smile. The glare did not break.
I knew I couldn't match it so I didn't even try.
“Evangeline's safe,” he said. “I wouldn't say so if she were otherwise.”
I believed him.
Honor demanded that I look him in the face so I did so.
“Cut you a deal, Sheriff. You take me over to Evangeline's and I'll spill it on the way.”
Honor also demanded that he not accept my proposal right away so he didn't. We stared each other down for a good thirty seconds. A lot passed between us in that time.
It was Sheriff Jones who broke off the contact. He put the key in the ignition and fired up the cruiser.
“I can live with that,” he said.
We rumbled down the dirt road in a huge cloud of dust.
“Start talking, Jake.”
“Right. Where did I leave off?”
Jones made a hard right and we left the dirt for the smooth macadam of a main road.
“You ditched the Mustang and walked the rest of the way back to the motel.”
I sat back in the passenger seat and tried to find a position to sit in that didn't make my back hurt.
“After our conversation in your office your man Riggs--”
“Skip that part! I'm sorry as hell about Riggs!”
I couldn't keep a momentary grin off of my face.
“It's Reubens, Sheriff. But not the Reubens you're thinking of.”
“You mean Marko?”
“I guess it is the Reubens you're thinking of.”
Sheriff Jones made a right turn just ahead of some railroad tracks. I recognized no part of the landscape.
“I made some calls after you left, Jake. Jed Reubens is most definitely still in residence in federal prison.”
“What do you know about Marko?”
“Not a lot. He's not local and I can't find anyone who knows when he hit town. The state boys got nothing.”
“He must have local help. What's left of his brother's crew?”
“Around here? Bit players. No one with any real pull. I have a call in to the FBI for more info but I'm not holding my breath.”
We crossed over the tracks and got on a two-lane country road. The tree cover on either side of the road got thicker as we picked up speed.
“He's a killer. I can tell you that. First hand.”
Sheriff Jones' hands tightened on the steering wheel. He took a deep breath and let it out through his teeth.
I gave him a minute to get set.
“He shot Rosario right in front of me. Claimed she was a fed working undercover.”
“Rosario,” he muttered.
“Marisa's twin sister.”
“I know who she is. Was. A fed? Gonna have to look into that.”
“He also said he killed Marisa Reubens.”
His huge shoulders slumped against the seat.
“He outright admitted the crime?”
I glanced down at my hands, which looked like I'd just clawed my way out of Alcatraz.
“He implied that she's dead.”
“That's not quite the same thing, Jake.”
“Closer than further.”
He stopped at an intersection to let no one come through and gave me a lengthy sidelong stare.
“You gonna get around to telling me what they wanted with you?”
A crooked road sign stood on one corner of the intersection. It claimed that Caravan Bay was to the right.
Sheriff Jones stared at me a little longer and then made a left turn.
“They thought I had something of Marisa's.”
“No.” It didn't come out quite as strong as I meant it to.
“You wouldn't be lying to me now, would you, Jake?”
I kept quiet and looked out the window at yet another vista I didn't recognize.
“Speaking of lying, Sheriff, I thought you said you were taking me to Evangeline's?”
“Where do you think we're going?”
I jerked a thumb over my shoulder. “Isn't the Sunshade back that way?”
“I thought you said you wanted to see Evangeline.”
“You got her to leave? You must be even better than I thought.”
He shrugged and turned onto a gravel road I would have missed.
“It's not so much that I got her to leave as it is I didn't give her any choice.”
“My comment stands, Sheriff.”
“Get on with your story, Jake. I can't wait to see where it goes next.”
“Okay. After Marko killed Rosario he had his boy knock me out. Again. I woke up in the trunk of my own car, which as you noted, they set on fire. I got out because my back seat's wrecked. Popped it right off the base one time and never got it fixed. It wasn't easy but I kicked it loose and squeezed out of the trunk. I took off running and passed out in the flowers. You know the rest.”
The woods thinned out some as we rolled down the gravel road and after a couple hundred yards log cabins began to dot the landscape on either side of the road.
These cabins were nothing like the ones out on Bog Island. These were actual log cabins, rough and rustic. No satellite dishes, no fancy cars, no frou frou window treatments. All I saw were cabins, piles of wood, and the occasional hammock.
“The wife and I have a little place out here,” said Sheriff Jones. “Our little hideaway. Normally we'd be getting ready to head out here for a couple of weeks now that season's over.”
“But something's come up that requires your urgent attention.”
He eyeballed me without turning his head. “You could say that.” He drove in silence for a few minutes and then turned into a driveway that was even more hidden than the gravel road had been.
“Sorry about your car, Jake. Sounds like she was an old friend.”
“The only one that understood me.”
“I'm sure your insurance company will take care of you.”
“That's a joke, right?”
Sheriff Jones slowed the cruiser in front of the last cabin in line. There wasn't another one in sight in any direction. It looked like the others but was set back a little further from the road and had a bunch of antennae on its roof. There was a big porch on the front of the house.
“Who the hell is this?” grumbled the sheriff as he stopped and parked next to a silver El Camino.
Evangeline was sitting on the porch, stretched out on a wooden chaise. The bright reds and oranges of the sarong she had on stood out against the browns of the log cabin. If she was hacked off about not being at the motel it didn't show.
She waved as we got out of the cruiser.
Anger bubbled up when I saw the mouse under her right eye and her split lip.
Santo was leaning against the rail, watching us walk up to the cabin. He looked a little more put together than he did the last the I saw him. The blue bowling shirt was closer to his size than the red one. Evangeline must have gotten him out of bed the other night.
“Who the hell is this?” repeated Sheriff Jones.
“You never met Santo, Orion?” asked Evangeline. “He's my cut man and the only person I trust to clean me up after a scrap.”
“That wasn't a scrap, Evangeline. That was assault. You're just lucky those boys had no idea who they were messing with.”
He paused for effect.
“I thought I told you no one was to know about you being here, Evangeline,” he said.
“It's just Santo, Orion,” she said. “Don't get your balls all in a bunch. He's good people. My people. Won't tell a soul.”
Santo ignored Jones and stepped right up to help me onto the porch.
“Man, if you don't look like ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack,” he said as he took a hold of my face and guided me down to the chair next to the chaise.
His satchel was on the porch by Evangeline's sandals.
“Pass me that bag there, Sheriff,” he growled without turning his attention from my mug.
Sheriff Jones let his breath out through his nose and shoved the satchel over to where Santo could reach down and open it up. Then he started arguing with Evangeline.
I wasn't listening to the argument. I had too much to do to keep from hollering out loud while Santo poked around in the fresh bruises on my face and head. There was wincing and groaning to be done and I pitched myself into that effort with gusto.
“Get this shirt off, man,” he said as he reached into his bag for some gauze and tape.
He cleaned out my cuts and burns with some kind of liquid agony he kept in a brown plastic bottle and covered them with gauze and tape.
The argument was over by the time the fire on my torso died away. All I had to do was look at their faces to know who won.
Sheriff Jones had his hat in one hand and was rubbing his temples with the other.
Evangeline was sitting up on the chaise with her arms crossed and a Cheshire Cat smile on her face.
“All right, Evangeline,” said the Sheriff. “All right. On one condition.”
“Name it,” she replied.
He pointed at Santo. “He doesn't leave until you two do.”
Santo applied something slick and stinky to the ridge over my right eye. “Works for me, Sheriff. I got nowhere else to be.”
Sheriff Jones wanted to bark at him but shrugged instead. “This place is pretty basic but it's out of the way, which is exactly where I want you. Get comfy 'cause it's where you'll be until this is cleared up.”
“You're stashing us in your own cabin?” I asked him.
“The other option is the holding cell in the station house.”
I nodded. “Grizzly Adams time it is.”
“That's right. That porch is as far as you go. You're grounded, and that goes for all of you.”
“Okey,” I said.
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. Sheriff, I've had a hell of a day and unless someone busts in here and makes me leave I'm not going anywhere.”
“All right then. Follow me in, Jake. I want to get your statement into the computer.”
He stepped up on the porch and held the door open for me.
The door swung shut behind us. Sheriff Jones conducted me into a little den before I could get a look around the place.
An antique mahogany desk took up most of the space in the den. Sheriff Jones had to work hard to get his big body into the office chair. He waved at the side of the desk the computer wasn't on.
“Take a load off,” he said as he got the machine going. “Can't afford not to have a set up out here, Jake. I can get away but I can't be out of reach.”
The computer appeared very out of place in that den. The walls were stained dark to match the wood of the desk and the only source of light was an old-fashioned hurricane lamp on the shelf above the flat-screen monitor.
The over-sized keyboard sat in front of the monitor. It was perfect for his over-sized fingers. The return key was big and blue had 'OK' printed on it instead of 'enter'.
Over the next twenty minutes I recounted what I'd told him in the car and he took it all down. I was on the record now. I filled in a couple of more details but kept the bit about Marisa's note to myself.
“You know we're going to have to go over all this again,” he said as he saved the file and shut down. “It's a good story but there are holes in it. I'd brace you harder if I thought it'd do any good.”
He freed himself from the chair and shouldered me off the desk.
“Just tell me what you're holding back doesn't put people in danger who don't belong there.”
“Just me, Sheriff.”
“How 'bout Evangeline? You already got her roughed up once.”
“You can't lay that on me. That was your boy Riggs' idea.”
His eyes got hard and his face darkened.
“You call Riggs my boy again and we're gonna have a problem. Read me?”
“Yeah. I read you. You had to know something was going on though, Sheriff.”
He sighed and leaned against the wall. “I knew Vern was in town. He's pretty hard to miss. Word is he was tops at undercover work but inconspicuous? No.”
“You knew who Marisa was?”
“Everyone knew who Marisa was.” He grimaced and shook his big head. “Man, you're good. You got me answering your questions while you're still holding out on me.”
The best answer to that was silence and I gave it to him.”
“Let's go back outside,” he said.
I stopped at the chair I'd vacated and dropped back into it. Santo was on me like a seagull on stack of dead fish.
Sheriff Jones stepped down off the porch.
“The fridge is full, folks,” he told us. “Don't be shy about raiding it. I got a feeling the wife and I aren't gonna get out here for some time.”
I got Santo to stop futzing around with my face for a second.
“I appreciate the hospitality.”
He put his hat back on. “Don't thank me, Jake. Just stay put. I'll be back to check on you when I can. You've given me a pile of work. Three, possibly four dead bodies to keep track of--”
“I'm only directly responsible for one.”
“Rogue federal agents, a dirty deputy, the State Police, and a psychotic Reubens brother to deal with.”
“Look on the bright side, Sheriff,” I piped up.
He squinted at me. A thin beam of late day sunshine cut through the trees and bounced off of the gold trim of his hat.
“You found my Olds.”
Birds cawed and squirrels chittered.
Sheriff Jones straightened up and cracked his knuckles. Then he turned and walked to his car without saying another word. Out loud anyway.
Santo had his penlight flashing in my eyes as Sheriff Jones got back into his cruiser and took off. Even the cruiser sounded angry.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Where are you?”
“Not a clue, Santo. I've never been here before.”
Evangeline came over to stand behind my chair. She put her hands down on my shoulders. I reached up and put one of my hands down on one of hers.
Santo kept up the question act long enough to annoy me.
“You might have a little bit of concussion going on in there,” he said. “Think you can go a day without getting hit in the head, champ?”
“I'll do my best.”
He chucked me on the shoulder. “That's my boy.” He dropped his stuff back into his bag and stood up. “I'm gonna go have me a drink,” he said as he walked into the cabin.
“Orion doesn't drink!” Evangeline called after him.
“Everybody drinks,” he muttered. “I'll find something.”
We listened to his footsteps as he found his way to the kitchen.
Evangeline gave my hand a little squeeze and then lay back out on the chaise.
“How did the sheriff get you away from the motel anyway?”
She laughed and shrugged her shoulders. “He talked sense. He's got no one to spare to watch the place in case I get more customers like that last pair.”
“I heard they got the worst of it.”
“That they did.”
We sat in silence for a moment. The woods around Sheriff Jones' cabin were largely unspoiled and very much alive. Between the birds and the cicadas peace and quiet seemed scarce.
“Tell me you brought my gear with you,” I said.
“You mean that disreputable bag you carry your clothes around in?”
“That's the one.”
“It's in the bedroom.”
I jumped up out of the chair and went in search of the bedroom, or at least I meant to. The spirit was willing. The body said, “up yours, bub.” My ass clung to the seat of the chair like a barnacle on an old ship but I managed to pry myself loose and limp on into the cabin.
Evangeline beat me there. She had my bag open and waiting for me.
The bedroom, like the little bit of the cabin I'd seen on the way there, was as basic as the sheriff said it was. A queen-sized bed, without a headboard or footboard, took up most of one wall. Twin nightstands seemed to exist only to hold the simple brass lamps that lived on them. A chest of drawers that had to be handmade sat opposite the bed and a small vanity with an attached mirror was placed next to that.
A woven throw rug covered the floor between the bed and the vanity.
I retrieved my Browning and the gun-cleaning kit and put them down on the bed. Then I tore into the bag in search of the jeans I wore out on Bog Island.
“What are you looking for, Jake?” Evangeline put a hand on my shoulder to slow me down.
Like anything you're ever looking for in a bag those jeans were at the very bottom. I yanked them out of the now empty bag and rifled the pockets.
It was crumpled and torn but it was there.
“You wanna tell me what's going on, Jake?”
I didn't say anything as I smoothed out Marisa's note.
“I know that sounded like a question. It wasn't.”
I scoured the note for anything I might have missed.
CABIN D, BOG ISLAND. M.
There was nothing else on the page and nothing on the back.
I checked it over again, held it up to the light, but the sixteen letters and two pieces of punctuation in Marisa's handwriting were all that kept it from being a blank sheet of note paper.
I folded it back up and stuffed it in the pocket of the jeans I had on.
The harsh silence in Orion P. Jones' spartan bedroom smacked me like a two-by-four. I looked up and ran into a glare from Evangeline that made me wish I was still in the sheriff's cruiser. In the back. Behind the chicken wire.
“Rosario's dead,” I said. “Reubens has a brother and that's who's running this thing.”
“What about Marisa?”
“Reubens-- Marko Reubens-- said she was dead too.”
“But you don't believe him?”
I started stuffing my crap back in the duffel bag. “I'm not sure I do. Gut feeling.”
Evangeline snatched the duffel bag out of my hands and threw it against the wall. “What does your gut tell you about that?”
I had choices. Witty. Belligerent. Smart.
Smart meant keeping my trap shut.
I went with smart.
She cracked her knuckles. “Tell me the rest.”
“The big guy, the one who knocked me out at the motel and grabbed Marisa? He's a corpse too.”
She thought it over. “That leaves one.”
“One more body. Orion said he had three, possibly four bodies to keep track of.”
“Yeah. One of Reubens' goons made me shoot him. I didn't like it beat getting shot.”
She sat down on the bed and rubbed the back of her neck.
I resisted the urge to reach over and rub it for her.
“What does that piece of paper have to do with it?”
“Not sure. Rosario knew Marisa left me a note. I have to assume Marisa told her about it.” I dug it out of my pocket and handed it to Evangeline.
“There's nothing here, Jake.”
“I know. There's something I'm missing. Something Rosario died trying to tell me.”
I took the note back and looked it over again.
“I gotta get back to Bog Island,” I said. “I need a look inside that cabin.”
I checked the Browning and stuck it into my waistband and made for the door.
“Where the hell do you think you're going?” She got between me and the doorway.
“To see if Santo'll give me a lift.”
Santo picked that moment to start singing. For a guy with that much croak in his voice the song was smooth and easy, like Perry Como after he gargled lighter fluid. The words were slurred. I couldn't tell if he was singing in English or Spanish.
“Or get him to lend me his car.”
“He'd lend you his dick first.”
“You could drive me out there.”
She gave me that glare again.
“What if you get there and run into the whole Reubens gang? You in any shape to deal with that, Jake?”
I didn't have an answer for her. Anything I could have said to her was pure, unadulterated bullshit and both of us knew it.
“All right then,” she said, “you know the drill. First you're gonna eat something. And then you're gonna get some sleep.”
I took out the Browning and put it down on the chest of drawers.
“Last time it was sleep before eats.”
She crossed her arms and upped the volume of her glare. “You want me to add an ass-whuppin' to the schedule?”
“Would it change your mind if I said I'd love one?”
The glare cracked, just for a second.
“Don't mess with me, Jake. Not now.”
“I have to get out there, Evangeline.”
“And you will. After you've eaten and rested and had a little time to heal. One more shot to the head even Santo won't be able to save you.”
“And if they get it first?”
“What if they're there right now? Do you even know what it is? Why are you even still in this?”
Three excellent questions I couldn't answer. Three strikes. I struck out looking. All I could do was take my bat back to the dugout and take a seat.
Evangeline didn't waste time gloating. She turned and left the bedroom while I sat down on the bed to ponder what had just happened.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
She ducked her head back into the room. “Gotta get Santo squared away before he passes out and pukes all over Orion's floor.”
I lay back on the bed and listened to her talking Santo down. It sounded like an old song and dance with Evangeline alternating roles between Florence Nightingale and Attila the Hun.
There was somebody in bed with me when I woke up two hours later but I couldn't stay awake long enough to find out who it was.
If it was Santo all I could do was hope I didn't get puked on.
Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.