This story I either hate or love, depending on my mood at the time. It originally started out as this supernatural X-Files-style story but now I consider it a sort of “Secret Government” X-Files thing. It began with a “what’s it like to die” idea, and I think Allen does kind of “die” in the end and becomes a better man because of it. Either that or I’m a hack and the story is pointless. Take your pick, you could make a case for either. Story after the break.
“What took you so long?”
The sound of the gruff voice behind Allen’s shoulder was grating and familiar. He did not turn around to face it.
“What are you talking about?” Allen said. “I’ve been here for twenty minutes.”
“That doesn’t matter,” the voice replied. It seemed to be coming from the bench about five feet behind him. They always met near a bench.
The voice continued.
“There’s a package taped underneath a 1997 Chevy Suburban. It’s dark blue, with Texas plates D46-FGT. It’s under the rear passenger side door. The car is in a parking garage ten blocks from here at the corner of 3rd and Market. DO NOT open the package under any circumstances. I know I shouldn’t have to tell you that, but some of my associates have gotten a little lazy recently. Some of them were better than you, if you can believe it.
“So if you are dumb enough to open it and I find out, you will never work for me or anyone else again. If the guy you’re taking it to knows you opened it, he’ll probably kill you. He’s far less forgiving than I am. Got it?”
“Yeah,” Allen replied. It was a bit testy.
“Good. On the bench is an envelope with half of your pay. You’re meeting a man named Hogan. He will give you the other half when you give him the package. You can find him in Apartment 7F at the Regal Condominiums downtown. He doesn’t live there, it’s just his office. He’s dangerous, so get in and get the hell out. When you’re done, call the usual number and say ‘Glinda’s had her kittens.’ You got that?”
“Don’t call me Boss. Now get out of here.”
Allen waited a moment and turned around. The bench was empty except for a plain white envelope, bulged slightly in the middle. He casually picked it up and slid it into his inner jacket pocket.
The garage was easy enough for Allen to find. Once inside, however, it became tedious. He drove slowly up and down every aisle, peering out of his nondescript brown sedan. He spotted a few Suburbans on the third level, but none had Texas plates.
He was two floors from the top when he saw the ugly Texan behemoth, sitting innocently among the other cars. This far up, the garage was more or less empty and Allen was able to park a few spots away. He walked quickly between the Suburban and a neighboring Ford F-150 and dropped his keys to the cold concrete. He knelt down and, reaching under the big car, pulled out a thick manilla envelope wrapped heavily in clear packing tape. It was surprisingly heavy. Allen placed it under his arm and walked back to his car.
The door at 7F was battered and old. Dents covered the metal. Each had a little chip in the middle the steel crater. Allen shuddered to imagine what could cause such damage to a steel door. He knocked three times, quickly, while his other hand gripped the sealed package. His hands were gloved in thin leather, as they always were when he handled deliveries.
He waited outside the apartment, patiently. He often had to wait.
Dim echoes of heavy footsteps approached from the inner recesses of the apartment. They stopped immediately behind the dented door. Allen imagined a huge pink eye regarding him through the peephole.
After a few moments, the door opened, just slightly ajar. A huge red-rimmed eye peeked out of a sliver of rough, stubbled face.
“Are you Hogan?”
“What do you care?”
The voice on the other side of the chained door was rough, smoky and smelled of single malt whiskey.
“I have a package for you. From a mutual friend. He says he’s sorry he forgot your birthday.”
The door closed, hard, and from behind it came a jangle of the chain being removed from the door.
It opened again and Allen was let in by a huge man in old pants and a stained white t-shirt. It was tight against his torso, revealing the softness of age with an underlying muscle that would never go away.
‘”I’m Hogan,” he growled, “make it quick.”
Hogan’s office smelled of old tobacco. Sunlight filtered in through the shades, highlighting the swirls of dust. Allen coughed.
“The old bastard says you’re one of his best,” Hogan said. He didn’t sound too impressed.
“I’m not here to talk,” Allen replied. He was always professional and efficient. He placed the package on a dirty, scarred table and stepped back.
“Yeah,” Hogan snorted, “he said you were a hard ass too.”
Hogan looked over at the table and its waiting package.
“On the table over there,” he said, “right next to the lamp.”
Without turning his back to Hogan, Allen moved back to retrieve his envelope. He pocketed it without looking inside and started for the door.
“Have a good day,” he said, and reached for the knob.
“Wait a second,” Hogan barked. He looked over at Allen; his eyes were wide. Allen sensed something was wrong and tried to open the door quickly. Hogan advanced; he was quick for a man of his size.
“You opened it, you little shit!” he yelled. He swung his heavy ham hock fist at Allen. Allen ducked it and swung away, back into the apartment.
“You opened it! I’m gonna kill you, and then I’m gonna kill that beady eyed old shit you work for!”
Hogan reached into the waistband of his pants and pulled out a snub-nosed, nickel plated gun. Allen backed into the wall. His eyes bolted to the door, still slightly ajar, and back to Hogan. He knew that with Hogan’s speed, he wouldn’t be able to make it.
Hogan had the pistol pointed at Allen’s head. The barrel never wavered, and Allen saw in the old man’s eyes pure anger and death.
“No one disrespects me,” Hogan said. He pulled the trigger and Allen cringed back against the wall as the hammer fell, offering nothing more than a cold click.
“What the…” Hogan stammered.
Allen took advantage of the surprise and lunged. He knocked the gun away, and, with the same smooth motion, planted his knee firmly in Hogan’s crotch. Hogan howled and fell to his knees.
With wide eyes, Allen reached into his jacket again and this time pulled out his own pistol. Hogan got up, but before his lethal hands could reach, Allen fired a single round, and Hogan fell. It was the first time Allen had ever fired his weapon, aside from a firing range. He looked down at Hogan’s crumpled mass for a moment before he fled.
He never looked back at 7F.
Allen drove calmly to a convenience store pay phone at the other end of the city. His hands trembled slightly as they gripped the wheel. He looked tired.
He dialed the usual number and waited six rings for it to be picked up.
“Zimmerman Associates, this is Erin, how may I direct your call?”
“Glinda’s had her kittens.”
“Congratulations!” the perky voice replied. “Your uncle can’t wait to see them. He hopes you’ll bring them to the park on Thursday, at the bench east of the lake.”
He hung up and left.
From where Allen stood, leaning against a retro-styled park lamppost, he could see out over the lake. Along the shores, old men and little children fed the ducks and laughed and watched the water ripple softly. Allen could see the bench where he stood last week to receive his orders. It was on the far bank, across the lake from where he now stood.
“Good to see you’re on time for once,” the gruff voice said from over his left shoulder.
“I’m never late, boss” was Allen’s cool response.
“Hey, you don’t have to blow my head off. Is that what Hogan did to you? Accuse you of being late? Is that why you blew his head off? And I thought I told you never to call me Boss.”
Allen’s head and shoulders slumped.
“Ah, you thought I didn’t know about that, did you? It doesn’t matter. Hogan was unstable and going stir-crazy in that shit-box apartment of his. You did me a favor. I would have done it eventually anyway.”
“He shot me, you know. In the head. His gun was empty or else I’d be dead.”
“Let me guess, he thought you opened the package.”
“He got real paranoid a few weeks ago. Thought the cops were bugging his place. Bullshit, basically. That’s why I had that envelope sealed up real good. I hoped it would help, but I guess I was wrong.”
“Listen, everyone’s gotta do it eventually, you know?”
“Good. I have a client who lives on the east side. He has some documents that I need. He’s already been paid by one of my operatives, but I want my best man to go get the actual papers for me. I need you to go to his house at…”
“What?! No? Did you just say no?”
“Yeah. I’m done. I can’t do it anymore.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. You’re my best! You took down the biggest bad-ass I deal with! You could be a goddamn assassin if you wanted to.”
“I’ll pay you double.”
“Listen, you can’t quit just because you had to shoot someone. That shit happens. You’re good at what you do. Who am I gonna get to take your place?”
“You’ll deal with it.”
Both men sat silently for a few moments.
“Fine. I can’t reason with you. You change your mind, you know the number. Think about it.”
Allen leaned on the post for a few more moments then, with a smile, he walked down to the lake and fed the ducks.