Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Lawyers, Guns, and Money Part 10
Huevos rancheros. Tortillas. Some yucca. Maybe even a little chorizo.
These were the things I dreamed of while breakfasting on beef jerky out in front of the safe house.
Thank God for coffee.
I stood up to stretch. The clothes I'd found in the house-- a pair of tan linen pants and a gray t-shirt with Freddy Fender's picture on it-- almost fit. They didn't hang right on me, adding to the unease the morning brought with it.
Pilar, dressed in yet another black wifebeater and jeans, kept looking my way but didn't ask until she finished her breakfast.
“La perdida,” she said. “The one you had after we left Aurelio's. You had it again last night. Do you want to tell me about it?”
“Want?” I finished my coffee and set the bowl on the ground beside me. “No. I don't want to. But I will.”
I gave her the gist of it.
New York. Home. The Russians. The cops. Roksana dead. Falling.
She listened while she cleaned and loaded the two automatic pistols she'd collected from the gun locker inside the house.
“Is that how you remember that day?” she asked.
“That's how it happened. I saw the two Russians leaving the building and the cops showed at the same time. I ran up and found them standing over her in the bedroom. They arrested me on the spot.”
We sighted a dust cloud in the distance, cutting the conversation short.
The rumble of an overworked engine soon followed.
She slid the clip home and moved up to the gate.
I drew Antonio's revolver from my waistband and took up a position beside her.
She smile as a familiar red pickup came into view. The smile faded as it rolled through the gate. We counted only two people in the truck-- Diego and Manuel, the Indian brothers.
They parked next to the motorcycle and climbed out.
Both men looked haggard and jittery. Manuel had a bloody bandage wrapped around his left forearm. Each of them had a rifle slung over their shoulder.
“Los otros?” asked Pilar.
Diego shook his head.
He looked down and shook his head again.
“Pero tenemos una sopresa para usted,” said Diego. He nodded to his brother.
We followed Manuel to the back of the truck.
“Ayudame,” he said as he hopped up into the bed and extended his hand to me.
He hauled me up so I could help him get their prisoner out of the truck.
The man was tied up with rough hemp rope and hooded with a burlap sack. His clothes-- vaguely paramilitary gray uniform pants and a black t-shirt-- marked him as one of the men we fought in Abandonados.
Diego handed Pilar a badge attached to a laniard.
“Federales?” she asked.
“Tienen su padre, Pilar.”
She glared at him and then nodded. The brothers led their prisoner into the house.
I looked at the truck. I hadn't noticed the bullet holes before.
“They have him, Mateo.”
“Federales? You mean police?”
“In a way. These are not... official police. The Federales contract out work where they do not have bases of operation.”
I looked at the truck. I hadn't noticed the bullet holes before.
“Your father's employees are willing to die for him?”
“They are soldiers. They know what is expected of them.”
She smiled-- a sad kind of smile-- and placed her hand on my shoulder.
“Did you think we only grew coffee, Mateo?”
I let the breath I'd been holding out.
“I suppose not.”
We stood together in silence for a moment, then she took my hand.
“Mateo, I must interrogate this man. You do not have to come with me if you choose not to.”
I had to think about that, but not for long.
“I go where you go,” I said.
Diego and Manuel left their prisoner tied to a chair in an empty room at the back of the house.
The only light streamed through a tiny window high up on one wall.
Pilar walked right to the man in the chair and pulled the sack off his head.
I stayed by the door.
One of his eyes was swollen shut. Dried blood was visible around both of his ears.
He blinked and looked all around.
She let him see the gun in her hand, then leaned in close by his ear, speaking too quietly for me to hear.
He sat up as straight as the rope allowed him to and closed his eyes.
She repeated her question.
Same response. Nothing.
“Donde esta Don Gerardo?” she demanded.
“No hay tiempo para esta mierda,” she said.
She fired a bullet into his left knee.
He screamed and bucked, almost upsetting the chair.
“Donde?” she repeated as she moved the gun toward his other knee.
The man groaned something inarticulate.
She pulled the trigger.
He howled, his one good eye bugged out with pain.
She pressed the gun against his shoulder.
He broke, talking faster than I had any chance of picking up.
She asked him for clarification a couple of times and then looked up at me.
I nodded. It was all I could manage. I put my hands in my pockets to cover up how badly they shook.
“He is being held in a warehouse in the city. We must go to the capital.”
We made good time, driving against the end of day egress, and hit the city just before nightfall.
Even after all it'd been through that red pickup still had more to give. The engine roared as I steered around corners and through traffic circles on our way to the warehouse district.
I remembered how to get there in general terms. Pilar gave me directions when we got close.
The streets near the warehouses were already emptied out. We passed a couple of cargo trucks on the way in but that was all.
We parked in front of a bodega several blocks away from our destination and walked the rest of the way.
Exterior lights burned in front of most of the buildings we passed. Our building was dark.
The place was falling down, with as many windows boarded up as were left intact. The chain link fence around the property was rusted and broken.
We found a hole big enough for us and approached the warehouse.
“What's your plan?” I asked.
“We go in the front door,” replied Pilar. “If they are any good they already know we are here. There is no reason to sneak around.”
Broken glass crunched beneath our feet as we reached the front of the building.
We had our choice of a loading bay grate or a metal door marked, “Oficina.
Pilar shot the lock out of the office door and opened it.
We stepped into a dark, wide open space.
The hum of electricity buzzed loud and clear. I fumbled around the first wall I found until I located a light switch.
Weak florescent light snapped to life, revealing a crumbling, barren warehouse. The floor was marked and stained where heavy equipment once stood. Dozens of wooden shelving units sat empty.
“There's nothing here,” I whispered as we explored the entire facility.
The sound of a car door slamming shut jolted us out of our disappointed funk.
“The lights, Mateo.”
I ran to the wall and hit the switch.
The big room fell dark.
We heard voices coming from out front.
Pilar grabbed my hand and we beat feet to the back door.
I got there first and shouldered it open. We hit the blacktop just as whoever got out of that car burst into the warehouse.
We ran for it, wriggled through another hole in the fence and headed for an alley near the end of the street.
The guys behind us were quick.
Bullets skipped off the street as we cut through a graffiti-covered courtyard and lunged headlong into the alley.
Pilar pressed herself against the near wall and pointed her guns back the way we'd just come from. I took up position on the far wall and readied the revolver.
We opened fire the second we made them out, backlit by one of the few working streetlights in the area.
They stopped and scattered.
Pilar and I looked at each other and resumed our flight.
A car sat idling across the street from the mouth of the alley.
It was a classic muscle car, painted matte gray with black hood stripes and silver spoiler.
A large black man in a light brown guayabera got out of the car and stepped around to the passenger side.
“Joshua Rucinsky?” he called out.
Pilar grabbed my hand, stopping us at the curb. She aimed Antonio's revolver with her other hand.
The driver opened the back door and leaned against the car. The light from the bare bulb streetlight shone off the Peacemaker in his big fist.
Voices sounded behind us, angry voices shouting in Spanish. “Come on, man,” he said. “If you're Josh Rucinsky, jump in and we'll jet out of here.”
Our pursuers spilled out of the alley and stopped short.
Nature's got a way of letting you know when there's something you need to stay away from. Or someone.
This guy fit the bill.
“If you're not, well... lots of luck!”
He beamed at us and spread his arms out wide.
Pilar holstered her gun.
“It is a nice night for a drive in the city,” she said.
I glared at the guys smirking and lounging at the mouth of the alley behind us then followed her to the car.
“I'd ask for your gun, miss, but I think you'd give me trouble.”
“You think right.”
“You drive,” he said.
She cast an appreciative eye over the car as she got in behind the wheel.
He hustled me into the back seat, and pulled the door shut after him.
“Now, ma'am,” he began, “you do know how to drive a manual--”
The engine roared and we rocketed away from the curb.
“Where do you want to go, Senor...?” asked Pilar.
“You can call me Quinn. Tell you what. I just got here, haven't had a chance to see much of the city, so show me the sights.”
“Si, Senor Quinn.”
He gave me the once-over.
“I'll take that revolver, man,” he said. “Wouldn't want any... mishaps... in my ride, now, would we?”
Pilar looked over her shoulder and nodded at me.
I handed the gun over.
“Gonna need that back,” I told him. “It belonged to a friend of mine.”
“Sentimental value. I get that.”
He opened the cylinder, pocketed the bullets, and handed me the empty piece.
Pilar took the next right. Hard.
“Take it easy, willya?” groused Quinn.
“A car like this one is not made for taking it easy.”
He looked at me and chuckled.
“1969 Olds 442. Can't disagree with you. Just don't wreck her. I got a long drive home when we're done here.”
He took a few minutes to collect his thoughts while Pilar zipped through the empty streets of the factory district.
The man took up a lot of room, huge through the shoulders and thick around the middle. Sweat beaded on his bald head.
The Peacemaker trained on my gut never moved, though the Olds jumped and rattled with every bump in the road.
“Sergei sends his best,” he said.
I sat all the way back and exhaled.
“That tells me everything I need to know, doesn't it?”
“Pretty much, Josh.”
I saw Pilar's inquisitive eyes peering at me in the rear view mirror.
“Sergei Lubov. My father-in-law. Former father-in-law. Who sent you to bring me back to New York.”
“He hired my partner and me to find your ass, which my partner did. Got a call that he had eyes on you but there was a... complication.”
“Don Gerardo,” I said.
“You got a good head for this, Josh. I do believe you missed your calling.”
Pilar made a smooth right turn onto a well-lit, busy avenue.
Neon lined both sides of the street, advertising everything from empanadas to mezcal to fortune-telling.
Everything was as I remembered it. I'd spent the first five months of my time in country in this city. It was a good life, until my face started showing up on the news. I missed it.
A three-piece band played in front of a white concrete fountain halfway down the block. Those among the young, hip crowd that weren't already hanging around the musicians appeared headed that way.
“So that was you in Abandonados? Your guys, anyway?” I asked.
“You mean the Federales? Not directly. But we did tell 'em where we thought they'd find you.” He nodded toward Pilar. “And your father.”
He turned back to me.
I caught Pilar's eye in the mirror. She had a death grip on the steering wheel.
“Normally, they'd never touch Don Gerardo, but since he's now harboring a known fugitive...”
“Where is he being held?”
She sounded calm.
Quinn had the danger sense to know better. The Peacemaker stayed on me but his eyes were on her.
“My sources said he'd be here in the city. I'm guessing yours said the same.”
“The place was empty, Quinn,” I said. “There was no one there. Other than the hoods you saw chasing us.”
“Then you don't know where my father is,” stated Pilar.
“I'm afraid not. The Federales got no reason to keep me in the loop.”
We rode in silence, each of us considering what the others revealed.
“Now,” continued Quinn, “I haven't heard from my partner in a couple of days and I can't find him, which is bad since finding people is my line. Men like him are not inconspicuous.”
“Mirabeau Lamar Blaylock,” I muttered.
“That's right, Josh. You wouldn't happen to know where the man's at, would you?”
I stared. He stared right back.
“He tortured my friend,” said Pilar. “He paid the price.”
“Tortured your friend.” He looked at me. “You mean with his own hands?”
I nodded my agreement.
Pilar stopped short, knocking Quinn and me around the back seat.
“Is that going to be a problem?” she asked over her shoulder.
He took a deep breath before answering.
“I think we can all agree that Beau, for lack of a better term, fucked up. Sergei's a sharp guy. He wanted dope on Don Gerardo, wanted to find out who he was dealing with before sending in the heavies, find out if it was gonna blow back on him in New York.”
She hit the gas, cruising under some elevated train tracks.
“If Beau worked you over, man, I'd say he had it coming.”
“I'm glad to hear you say that, Quinn. What now?”
The metal trestle supports blurred one into the next as the big engine chewed asphalt.
“You're not gonna like the what now, Josh. Sergei wants you brought to Brighton Beach but he said if the job went sideways we were to settle it down here. I think it's gone about as sideways as it can get.”
He raised the Peacemaker.
My eyes flashed toward Pilar. Hers stared back at me in the mirror.
“Izquierda!” she yelled as she floored it.
I flung myself as far to the left as I could get, landing hard against the door.
Quinn slid forward, almost off the seat, as she braked, threw it into reverse, and hit the gas.
The tires squealed and the suspension screamed.
Quinn flopped to the right as she crashed the Olds into the concrete base of a support column, crushing the back end. The passenger side took the worst of it.
The window shattered as the big man's head slammed into the glass. The trunk, the door, and most of the quarterpanel caved.
The Peacemaker, covered in blood, landed on the seat.
I sprang forward and grabbed it.
Quinn groaned once, twitched, and went still, splayed out half in the footwell and half on the back seat. Bone stuck out of his broken left leg, right through his pants.
I fumbled with the door handle and fell out of the car.
I couldn't hear much through the ringing in my ears and I felt like I was going to throw up. When I got to my feet my legs didn't want to do what I wanted them to but I managed to spin around enough to see that no one was coming our way.
“Pilar,” I groaned as I opened the car door.
She was out cold, bleeding from her nose and an ugly gash above her right eye.
I stuffed the Peacemaker in my waistband to get her free from the seatbelt and down to the ground.
She didn't move as I sat her up against the car.
I felt for a pulse and found one, good and strong, and she came to a few seconds later.
“Buenos dias,” I said, feeling stupid with relief.
She looked at me out of one eye. The other stayed shut tight.
“Mateo,” she whispered.
“I'm here, babe. I'm here.”
“I think he's dead.”
“Mateo, I cannot feel my legs.”
I took a look down her body.
“They're there, Pilar, looking as great as ever.”
I didn't mention the blood staining her jeans, from the right knee down.
“Hang on a sec.”
I ducked back into the car. Quinn hadn't moved. I reached around his body and snatched his wallet.
“Mateo,” groaned Pilar.
I pocketed the wallet and ducked out.
“Help me up, Mateo.”
I knelt down and draped her arm around my shoulders and got my arm around her waist.
She was on her feet but I had all of her weight.
“We gotta move,” I said.
“One thing at a time. I'm still working on how. Don't worry, Pilar. I got this.”
I drew Quinn's Colt with my free hand and drunk-walked Pilar away from the ruined 442.
Accordion music drew us toward the center of town.
Pilar and I made slow progress and it only got slower as the adrenaline rush wore off.
I didn't like the way her right leg dragged behind her as we hobbled-- it reminded me of the pain in my own knee and made it harder to keep the nausea and dizziness at bay.
Traffic picked up as we got closer to the square, two, three cars at a time. Their headlights did the work the streetlights couldn't be bothered to.
Nobody paid us the least bit of attention as we staggered along.
“All right,” I said. “This is where it gets interesting.”
I leaned Pilar against a post and limped into the middle of the street as one lone car-- a twin-tone Pinto held together with Bondo-- turned the corner.
I pointed Quinn's gun at the driver, keeping the gun on him as I moved around to his open window.
“Necesito su coche!” I hollered.
The driver, a bespectacled, heavy-set man who resembled Antonio, rolled his eyes at me before he put it in park and got out of the car with his hands raised.
I hurried him to the curb at gunpoint.
He kept his mouth shut and shook his head, all too familiar with crime in his city. Didn't mean he wasn't scared. It showed in the sweat on his face.
I pulled out Quinn's wallet and handed him all the cash in it.
The wad of bills would buy the man five piece-of-shit Pintos, if that's what he wanted.
I didn't wait around for a reaction. I scooped Pilar into my arms and carried her to the car.
He watched from the curb as we took off.
I drove around for a while, just trying to get my bearings. I never had a car when I lived in the city, never had to drive anywhere. Things look different from behind the wheel than they do from the sidewalk.
Pilar stirred in the passenger seat, her eyes half-open.
I cut across town, sticking to side streets as best I could, heading for the docks.
I knew a lot of people down there, people who'd help a guy out with a minimum of questions. I'd heard tell about a doctor who took care of people who couldn't go to the regular hospital and was pretty sure I knew who might help me find her.
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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.