Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash
My name is classified. My date of birth is unknown. I left my former employer under disagreeable circumstances. Now I perform odd jobs for powerful men.
I tracked Hector Reyes to Belize. Then Suriname. Then Venezuela. Then Chile. Each time, the kid ghosted right after I hit town. The kid was clever, and he had help. I caught word he was headed to Cordoba, Argentina. This time, I let the kid come to me. I waited for three weeks in the alley across from Leyendas. It was the only sports bar in town that showed American football. Hector was a Seahawks fan. Sure enough, he showed. After the game, I trailed him to an apartment in Alta Gracia. He went out for dinner at nine. I was waiting in the bedroom when he came back. He dropped his keys on the kitchen table. He stiffened. He bolted for the fire escape. The kid was fast. I was faster. I caught him at the window. I put him in a rear naked choke. He was out cold in a minute.
Hector woke up strapped to a chair. He was in an empty warehouse.
“I’ve been looking for you, Hector.”
“¿Quién eres? ¿Qué quieres?”
“Alright, Hector. We can speak Spanish if you prefer.”
We were both speaking Spanish now.
“My name isn’t Hector. I’m Marcelo. Marcelo Rodriguez.”
“Nice try, kid.”
“I’m serious. Check my passport.”
“Which passport? The one for Marcelo Rodriguez I found in your desk? Or the one for Hector Reyes I found hidden in the vent behind your refrigerator?”
“What do you want?”
“I want to talk about the incident outside the theater in Bellevue.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb. You had the best seat in the house.”
“This is crazy.”
“No, Hector. What’s crazy is two men getting shot in the face.”
“Someone got shot?”
“Yes, Hector. You’re going to tell me how those two men wound up dead in a gutter outside a movie theater in Bellevue, Washington.”
“You’ve got it all wrong. I’ve never been to the States.”
“Ordinarily, I’d play along with you. We’d banter back and forth. I’d catch you in more lies. You’d confess eventually. But I’ve got dinner plans in Geneva tomorrow night. I’m on a tight schedule, so I’m going to skip to the end.”
I drew my revolver and pressed it into the indentation between Hector’s right shoulder and chest.
“Tell me what happened at the theater.”
“I can’t, man. I’ve never been to no Bellevue.”
I squeezed the trigger. Hector howled. It was a combination of surprise and excruciating pain. I gave Hector a moment to contemplate his predicament while I wiped the blood off my revolver.
“Now that I have your attention, Hector, let’s have a serious discussion. Are you a religious man?”
Hector shook his head. He was gritting his teeth from the pain.
“Theologians have argued about the nature of man’s agency for centuries. Calvinists believe man is irredeemably depraved. Man cannot save himself. His eternal fate is preordained by God from the moment he is born. Arminians, on the other hand, believe man has free will. A man is never completely lost. All he has to do is make the right choice. All he has to do is embrace God.”
“Is this why you brought me here? To preach to me?”
I ignored the bravado.
“Listen carefully, Hector. I want you to understand the ground rules for this evening. I am your God tonight. I hold your life in my hands. Luckily for you, I am an Arminian. I do not believe your fate is preordained. I believe you can save yourself. All you must do is make the right choice. Do you understand?”
“Let’s start over, Hector. Tell me what happened at the theater.”
“You gotta believe me, man. I don’t know anything about no theater.”
I dug my finger into the gaping hole in his shoulder.
“Come on, Hector. You aren’t being very considerate of my dinner plans.”
Hector flinched, but he did not cry out. He was a tough kid.
“It’s time for a choice.” I pressed my revolver against Hector’s right knee. “If you tell me what happened in Bellevue, you will walk out of here on your own two feet. If you lie to me again, you will walk the rest of your life with a limp.”
“I’m telling you. This is all a terrible mistake.”
“I’m afraid that’s the wrong choice.” I squeezed the trigger. Hector shrieked.
“Do you think you can lie to God, Hector? God already knows everything you’ve done. He knows every sin you’ve committed. But he still wants you to be saved. That is the beauty of mercy. All God wants is for you to make the right choice.”
I pressed my revolver into the indentation between Hector’s left shoulder and chest.
“Okay, okay. I’ll talk. It was all Paco’s fault.”
“Me and Paco. We went to see a movie. But we got there early. These two guys were waiting outside the theater. Tough guys, you know. They started talking shit to us. I wanted to leave. But Paco, man. Paco don’t like nobody talking shit to him. Paco pulled his piece. Paco let them both have it. I heard those two guys had friends, so I ran. That’s all. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth.”
I shook my head and pulled the trigger. Hector screamed.
“Why are you doing this? I told you everything. It was Paco.”
“It’s a good lie. The best kind, really, because it resides in the vicinity of the truth.”
“You gotta talk to Paco. Paco will back me up.”
“Alright, Hector. I’ll enlighten you. Consider it a divine revelation. I’ve already talked to Paco. Paco is certainly the type of idiot who would shoot two men over a few words. There’s just one problem. Paco wasn’t at the movie theater that night.”
“Paco told you I did it, didn’t he? You can’t believe Paco. He’s a liar. He’s a chronic.”
“You keep forgetting the nature of God, Hector. I know more about Paco than you do. For example, did you know that Paco used to have a tattoo of a snake on his forearm?”
I set a cooler on a small, coffee table between us. I opened it and showed Hector its contents. His eyes widened.
“You’re sick.” Hector retched.
“Tell me about the girl.”
“What girl?” Hector was starting to look pale. He was losing a lot of blood.
“I’m not a fool, Hector. It wasn’t you and Paco at the theater. It was you and the girl. And those two men weren’t there by accident. They were there to kill the girl, but you stopped them. That’s right. You stopped them, and you shot them with one of their own guns. You’re quite a troublemaker, Hector.”
“You’re loco, man. That kind of hero stuff would be in the papers.”
“Yes, it would. Except the girl was Delilah Jensen, and Mr. Jensen doesn’t care for publicity.”
“It was me and Paco at the theater. I don’t know any Deborah Jensen.” Hector was deathly white now.
“It’s Delilah, not Deborah.”
“Whatever her name is, I don’t know the bitch.”
“Tsk, tsk, Hector. Is that any way to speak about your conejita?”
I sat down on the coffee table. My face was six inches away from his.
“God knows about you and Delilah. God knows she’s helping you run. All you need to do to save yourself is confess your sins and tell me where the girl is.”
“There isn’t any girl. You hear me. No Deborah or Delilah or whatever.”
“Hector, my colleagues failed to perform a very lucrative contract. I need to finish the job. But I can’t finish the job until you tell me where the girl is.”
I pressed my revolver against his left knee.
“It’s time for another choice. You must decide if you ever want to walk again. Where is she?”
“There wasn’t any girl.” Hector repeated.
I squeezed the trigger. Hector wailed. This cry was different from the others. This was the cry of someone who had given up hope. I had heard that cry before.
“It’s time for your final choice, Hector. It’s the biggest one of all. Do you want to live?”
I pressed my revolver against Hector’s forehead.
“Where is she?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I love her.”
“Do you love you her more than life itself?”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Hector.”
I squeezed the trigger and scattered Hector’s brains across the floor of the warehouse.
I lifted the visor from my head. I was back in Hector’s apartment in Alta Gracia. Hector was strapped to a gurney inside the interrogation chamber. He was convulsing wildly. His brain had just told his body — incorrectly — that he had died, and his body was taking the news badly. A grey-haired man stood next to me, staring irritably at a monitor.
“Did you hear what he said?”
“Yes.” The grey-haired man hissed.
“He’s a good kid, Mr. Jensen.”
“He’s a gutter punk.”
“He’s tough. He’s loyal. He’s clever. He never once begged.”
Hector’s convulsions were getting worse.
“Dee’s too young.”
“He loves her.”
“She’s only nineteen.”
“He’ll make her happy.”
“She’s not ready.”
“She’s old enough to make her own decisions.”
The grey-haired man stroked his chin.
“Mr. Jensen, in thirty seconds, he will suffer permanent damage. It’s now or never.”
The grey-haired man gestured reluctantly in my direction. I opened the chamber and injected Hector with a syringe. He stopped convulsing immediately. About fifteen seconds later, he slowly opened his eyes.
“Where … am I?”
The grey-haired man pulled a chair up next to the gurney and sat down.
“Do you know who I am?” He said to Hector.
“You’re Dee’s father.”
“A man in my position has to be careful. Careful about who he does business with. Careful about who he allows near his family. Dee kept you a secret from me. I don’t like secrets. I like to know who I am dealing with. I like to know who is spending time with my daughter. I like to know who my daughter has agreed to marry.”
“Mr. Jensen, I …”
“It’s not time for you to talk, Hector. It’s time for you to listen. I have ruthless enemies. What happened outside the theater could happen again. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen a year from now. The next time they might succeed. The next time you could be the target. The next time your children could be the target. Do you understand? If you stay with my daughter, you will be looking over your shoulder every moment of every day. You will always be at risk of losing everything.”
“I love her, Mr. Jensen.”
The grey-haired man sighed.
“And love conquers all, I suppose?”
“No, Mr. Jensen.” Hector replied. “Love faces every obstacle together.”
The grey-haired man stared intently at Hector. At last, he stood up and spoke briskly into his phone.
“Bring her in, Nettles.”
The door to Hector’s apartment opened. Two men entered with a young woman. She ran immediately to Hector. She was a mess.
“Hector, I’m so sorry. He bugged my phone. I tried to stop him. Can you ever forgive me?”
All Hector could muster was a half-smile, but it was enough to answer her question.
“Get him out of there.” The grey-haired man barked.
The two men unstrapped Hector from the gurney and lifted him out of the interrogation chamber. Hector swayed unsteadily on his feet and leaned against the young woman. She hardly noticed. She was too busy smothering him with kisses.
“Tell Anderson and Klopek to bring the cars around.” The grey-haired man glanced at his watch. “I want to be at the airport in 30 minutes.”
“Where are we going?” Hector asked.
“We’re flying to Geneva for your wedding.”
Well after midnight — after the ceremony, the reception, and the dancing — I stepped onto the patio of the chalet to smoke a cigar and sip some cognac. Hector was already there. I joined him at the railing overlooking the lake and offered him a cigar. The kid took it.
“Even you’ve got to admit this is messed up.” Hector said. “Yesterday, you shot me in the head. Today, you’re at my wedding handing me cigars.”
“I was rooting for you all along if it’s any consolation.”
“I’d hate to think what would’ve happened if you’d been rooting against me.”
“You’re a good man, Hector.”
“No offense, but I’m not sure I can take your word for it.”
“I’m quite sure you can’t.”
I lit Hector’s cigar. We stood next to each other smoking and staring out over the lake. I spoke again.
“Marriage is impossible. Believe me, I know. I’ve failed at it three times. Eventually, she’ll make you so angry you’ll want to murder her.”
I pressed a misshapen bullet into Hector’s hand.
“When she pushes you to the breaking point, take a good, long look at this bullet and remember what you are capable of enduring for her.”
Hector ran his finger along the bullet’s flattened edge.
“Is this what I think it is?”
“The miracle of 3-D printing.”
I took another puff on my cigar and casually flicked it into a nearby snow drift.
“So long, Hector. Good luck.”
Then, without another word, I slipped quietly back into the shadows.
Joseph S. Klapach is an attorney who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, three children, and two dogs. His writing has appeared in a number of journals, including Idle Ink, Every Day Fiction, Epiphany, and miniskirt. He is hearing impaired.
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