This posting features Chapter 50 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
With an audible sigh, the Davemeister settled beneath a willow tree partially concealed by tall weeds and grass. He waited, gun in hand. It was an ideal vantage point. He had a more-or-less unobstructed view of the hotel. It was still early, but he could tell it would be a hot day.
He opened a small white bag, removed a bundle, and unwrapped his breakfast, an Egg McMuffin. With a sigh of contentment, he bit into the sandwich and smiled. He had always loved Egg McMuffins. It was hard to keep a washboard-flat stomach on such grub, but what the hell.
A simple cash transaction with the desk clerk had told him that a bleary-eyed, unshaven man, cradling his arm as though it was injured, had checked into Room 212 of the Econo Lodge the previous evening. He was accompanied by an attractive young lady. They had used aliases, no doubt.
It has to be Harris.
Now was the time for patience. He could break into the room, guns blazing, but such a Wild West scenario was far too risky. Harris had, uh, skills and he was on high alert. Lying in wait was the smart move.
Besides, he was exhausted and, if he was honest with himself, more than a little sick to his stomach. The only saving grace was that this nightmare would soon be over. After Harris was dead, Dave Tremblor could disappear and close this unspeakably awful chapter of his life.
Dave had not started with a game plan. He had never before been tempted to cut corners. He was a law-and-order man, through and through. Before he met Tony Marciano, he would have said he was incorruptible.
But in all those meetings at Sing Sing, Marciano had come at him relentlessly, like water carefully wearing away the exterior of a stone until its smooth surfaces split into cracks and fistulas. What began as an annoying harangue evolved into a sweetly seductive siren song.
“Why ask me?”
“You’ve got something I need.”
Marciano had smiled a sharp, serpent-toothed smile. He knew when he had penetrated a man’s defenses. “All I need is a little information: A name, an address.”
Dave had resisted the man’s charisma. It was out of the question. WITSEC depended on the integrity of its officers. The program was renowned for its confidentiality. David Tremblor would not be the fellow to pierce the veil of secrecy.
But then, curiously, something happened. His life intruded on his idealism. Janice needed an operation, and the department’s chintzy medical policy would only pay 80 percent. Joyce wanted to study overseas. Jesus H. Christ: With tuition and room and board in Australia — Australia, for god’s sake — he needed close to $25,000.
His life had not gone the way he had planned it. As a young man, virile, well-built, good-looking, charismatic, he was going to conquer the world. If he could not be a professional athlete, he would make his name and fortune driving on the NASCAR circuit. He never doubted that he was on his way. The supremely confident, unusually gifted young man would ascend to the top of the professional world and leave less talented losers in his wake.
But the years slipped by, and he was not on his way. He enjoyed a modest life. He was not hurting, it was true, but neither was he singled out as special. No one applauded him or his efforts, as they sometimes had in his rapidly receding youth. He was just another aging sports-star wannabe, his muscles and prostate atrophying a little more with the passing years. He was yet another man who woke each day to find his life in a rut and his prospects bleak.
He had not known how desperate he was to transcend the rut, to break free from his confining, stifling, oppressive middle class cage until Marciano had picked up on his quiet desperation. That was the man’s gift. Tony sized up other men, spotted their weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and went in for the kill. If he couldn’t find a weakness — if a man proved to be incorruptible, the way Harris proved to be incorruptible — he could always turn to less pleasant alternatives.
The alternatives had not been necessary with Dave Tremblor. Marciano had sensed the big man’s growing sense of failure and frustration, his desperate financial need. He had used that insight as leverage to penetrate the Davemeister’s granite façade.
“I can get you money — lots of money — fast. And all I need in return is information. You hear what I’m saying to you? Information.”
“I hear you.”
“Information makes the world go around.”
“I hear you.”
“What do you say?”
“There are consequences.”
“Yes, but there are always consequences. Consequences are not your concern.”
“I don’t know.”
“You could whisper it to me. What’s the harm? I’ll probably find out from someone else, anyway.”
It was as though he stood outside his body and observed the conversation from afar. “If you can use another source,” he had said, “why bother with me? Use your other source.”
“I need it sooner rather than later. You can eliminate the middle man.”
“Middle man? What middle man?”
Marciano had ignored the question. “How does five hundred grand sound to you? Did you hear what I said? Five hundred thousand dollars. All for whispering in my ear a name and an address.”
From high above, floating near the ceiling, Dave looked down at his own face and saw the beginnings of a smile. Five hundred thousand dollars.
At first, he had resisted. He was a WITSEC man, like the G-men of lore. He did not cut deals with mobsters. His personal and professional ethics were above reproach. The conversation ceased.
Tony Marciano was nothing if not shrewd. He instinctively knew how far he could push a man. When he saw Dave Tremblor’s face clamp shut, he recognized the warning signs of a man whose thinking processes had folded. The federal agent would entertain no further discussions. They fell silent, looking at each other blankly.
Tony the Knife knew in his bones that he had planted a seed. When the poor man got to thinking about how $500,000 would change his life, he would be back for further discussions. Yes, a seed had been planted, and harvesting time was sure to come.
Two weeks later, during another routine interrogation at Sing Sing Prison, Tremblor had theatrically cleared his throat. Something in his demeanor signaled the aging mobster that they were returning to a discussion of money.
“Tell me about the middle man,” Dave said.
At first, Tony frowned. The reference eluded him. After a few seconds, though, it was clear. He had not ascended to the top of the bloody world of mob politics without being quick on the uptake.
“A figure of speech, my friend.”
“So do you have other sources of information inside DOJ?”
Tony smiled his trademark smile. It was what one informant labeled his “shit-eating grin.”
Dave Tremblor nodded. “I thought so. In that case, a million dollars would seem to be the right price — assuming, hypothetically, anything was for sale.”
Tony whistled low and long. “A million dollars. That’s pretty steep.”
Dave leaned down within inches of the shackled prisoner. His hard face, unsmiling, was unnerving. “Considering what’s being sold, it’s a bargain.”
“Information is being sold. Simply that, and nothing more.”
Dave leaned up and folded his arms. “Huh-uh. Integrity is being sold. A way of life is being sold. The information is secondary.”
“The information is primary to me.”
Dave shrugged. “A million dollars is a fair price. It’s non-negotiable.”
Tony had virtually unlimited resources at his command. In his world, a million dollar transaction was small. Peanuts, really. Still, he understood that posturing was required. “That’s a lot more than the original five hundred grand. Let me think about it.”
Dave headed for the door of the interrogation room. “Don’t think too long. Inflation can be a bitch.”
Two weeks later, after attending to other business, the men revisited the million dollars.
“Have you thought about our last discussion?” Dave asked.
Tony nodded. “I have thought about it. I have indeed.”
“The price will need an adjustment.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I think so. I told you about inflation.”
Tony shook his head emphatically. “On my order, today a million dollars will be wired to a Cayman Islands account, untraceable. You can have access by the close of business. But there will not now — not ever — be a penny more.”
“You are hardly in a position to negotiate.”
Tony shrugged. “I’m doing my time, in any case. It don’t matter to me.”
“I doubt that.”
“One point five million.”
“One million. Period.”
“One point two five million.”
“One million. Take it or leave it.”
The game seemed to have played itself out, but Tony had faith in the needs of his fellow man. He could wait. A man living behind iron bars has nothing but time — time, and HBO.
To his credit, Dave Tremblor refrained from mentioning money or information during their next visit. Tony carefully watched the fellow, all the while hiding his amusement behind hooded eyes and a mask of nonchalance. He knew the agent would be back. A man who is willing to sell his soul is a man who cannot walk away. The rest of the conversation is simply dickering over the price.
Sure enough, two weeks later, at the conclusion of their session, as Tony stood to head back to his cell, Tremblor cleared his throat.
“Yes, Officer Tremblor?”
“About our negotiation.”
“What about it?”
“One point one million.”
A sigh. “My man, we have been through this before.”
“One point one. That’s firm.”
Without a word, Tony turned and headed toward the door.
“Wait.” Dave paused, sucking in his breath. “I want confirmation that the money is in the account.”
Tony spun on his heels. “I like you, my friend. I like you, and I trust you. Here’s what I will do. I will make some calls. This afternoon, an associate will e-mail you a group of seemingly random numbers.”
“The numbers are to a Cayman bank. The one million will be there by COB. For your part, you can wait until our next session to whisper sweet nothings in my ear.”
“More generous I cannot be.”
“How do you know I won’t disappear before then?”
Tony smiled. “No one truly disappears. Isn’t that the point here? Anyway, if you have family and friends you care about — and I know you do — why risk it?”
The men paused while the implicit threat hung in the air.
Nodding, Dave turned away. “See you in two weeks.”
“I look forward to it.”
And so he had headed down this path — a path that forced him to betray his creed, to kill his best friend, to inflict collateral damage on untold lives.
Had it been worth it? Dave blinked tears from his eyes as he squinted into the sun. Who could say? Probably not. In the final analysis, a million dollars was cheap for what he had sold.
Two black men wearing protective eye goggles came around the side of the hotel with weed eaters. Their presence snapped out of his reverie. They were edging the grass near the pavement. He watched as they moved in a straight line around flower beds. Just following their progress made him feel hot.
Finishing the last bite of his Egg McMuffin, he reached for his soft drink, noticing for the first time a plastic water bottle jutting from the weeds near his feet. Without thinking, he reached for the bottle to slip it into his paper sack. It was funny: He had killed people — innocent people, no less — but he still hated litter. Talk about confused priorities.
The bottle was still half full of water, its lid missing. That was not odd.
What was odd, though, was the feel of the water bottle. It wasn’t exactly cold, but it did not feel as though it had been sitting in a hot field of weeds for a long time. It was sweating. This bottle was fresh. It had not been lying there for long.
Before he could fully contemplate the meaning of this information, Dave Tremblor heard the distinctive, harsh metallic sound of a magazine clip inserted into a pistol. A moment later, he felt cold steel pressed against his right ear. He dropped his Egg McMuffin wrapper in the high grass.