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Authors: Stephen Romano

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BOOK: Resurrection Express
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And then it got worse.

Dad stopped coming to visit me in the joint.

That was six months before one of the hacks delivered a package to me in solitary. A bright pink box wrapped up in ribbons with three of my father’s fingers in it. There was a note in the package that said this:

You’re all alone now, buddy-boy. How does it feel?

They were more right than they could have known.

The downward spiral took me again. My last lifeline to family, cut off forever.

In the dojo, they teach you guided meditation, how to find peace with what you lose and can never have again. That fighting with your hands is a last resort, that the mind is the most powerful weapon. You find that the rage is your best ally. You go down lower and lower, reconstructing the traces, finding what you’ve lost. It was enough in the beginning to save me from the gangbangers and the skinheads. It was enough to bring back my skill set. I’m almost 100 percent now. I’ve been able to have anything I want on the inside, just by taking myself there.

But Toni.

That last 5 percent.

I can’t resurrect her memory.

I will, though.

In three more years.

That’s when David Hartman will die. That’s when I’ll silence the failure that mocks me. My last, most terrible mistake.

The woman on the other side of the glass sees the hidden rage.

Sees everything.

Anything.

And she says:

“Your wife is alive. My daughter is with her. I can get you out of this place within two weeks if you agree to help me find them.”

•  •  •

T
his is bullshit.

Just can’t be true.

She sees that I don’t believe her. Goes into the briefcase and comes up with a photo printed on a slick sheet of letter-sized paper. Holds it to the glass so I can see it. In the picture is the man who destroyed my life, sitting in a nightclub with a pretty blonde on his left arm, bodyguard on his back, a blizzard of beautiful ladies all around them. One of the ladies is a tall brunette, standing closer to them, outlined in disco strobes. My wife was a brunette, under her disguises. I remember that much.

Toni?

Is that her, right there in the picture?

It
seems like her
 . . . but hurts my head to concentrate on the image. The sharp stabbing smell of razor blades bathed in ammonia hits me, freezing the tiny plate in my head like ice.

There are no photographs of my wife anywhere, just like there used to be no photographs of me or my father. We never allowed them. Part of the rules. You stay invisible, walk in shadows. Forget about owning a driver’s license or a photo ID. Before I went into
prison, I even managed to hack my army records and doctor the mug shots. It’s harder to remain a ghost in the machine when you go up the creek for armed robbery and attempted murder, but Toni stayed hidden. I’d made sure of that for years.

But
this . . .

The photograph is grainy and fuzzy. She’s got her arm hooked around the blonde’s. There’s an expression on her face I can’t read. I could never read Toni, even when things were good. She was my teacher before she was my one true love.

Would I even know her now, if I saw her?

“That’s my daughter, Mister Coffin. And your wife next to her. The picture was taken in a private club, by an undercover police officer who was working for me. He was killed a week later, most likely by the man in the photograph.”

“Hartman.”

“Men like him disgust me, Mister Coffin. Texas-sized rhinestone cowboys who make a lot of noise and think they can get away with anything. Ignorant mob operators disguised as oil millionaires. They’re always fat and foul and doused in cheap cologne.”

“David never wore cologne.”

“That’s even worse.”

I look at Hartman’s face: the triple chin and gap in his front teeth, buzzed hair and sleepy eyes mashed back into pale red rolls of sweaty dough, all stuffed into that pinstriped suit jacket. The lady is right, of course. He’s the kind of maniac who wears what’s left of his soul right there in front of you while he rattles on and on about the power and the glory, the rules of being a pervert, all that other stale macho crap that gets far less powerful criminals killed in the street. The kind of maniac who invents new reasons to exist moment-to-moment, crazy and deluded and bloodthirsty. Some people are scared of men like David, and they are right to
be, but usually for all the wrong reasons. You have to stand there and take it. You have to listen to them rant and pretend it’s profound wisdom, trying to keep your sanity in a room filled with blood. All those men and women who got in his way, all battered and smashed. While I learned the facts of life.

While I learned that love cannot stay.

The concerned citizen sees my eyes, and tries to read what I’m thinking. It probably isn’t hard. I’ve always worn my soul on my face, just like Hartman did. It almost makes her smile, but she only speaks softly:

“Your old friend has been involved with some very serious people in the past year. Lately he’s been on the payroll of Texas Data Concepts in Houston as a consultant. Are you up on what that company is all about?”

“That’s a silly question to ask a guy like me.”

Every good hacker knows TDC, especially the ones who operate in the Lone Star State. They’re into everything. Computers, applied sciences, rocket technology. Hell, N.A.S.A. is right up the block.

“Fair enough,” she says.

“Hartman is no rocket scientist, that’s for goddamn sure.”

“That’s true also.”

“So what’s he been up to with smart guys like that?”

“That’s a really
good
question, Mister Coffin.”

She makes a grin set in steel, withholding the information. Guess that’s what I get for calling her silly. I’ve never been all that tactful in situations like this.

I stare her down for a long second. Then, very slowly:

“Why do you need
me
?”

“You’re one of the best. Seventeen robberies under major electronic security, and not a shot fired.”

“Those are the ones you know about.”

“We know about a few of the other ones, too.”

“I was learning then.”

“We all make mistakes.”

“So you need me to steal something.”

She shifts her weight. Considers her next answer carefully.

“Your father says there’s no one else on earth who can pull off what we have in mind, Mister Coffin.”

“My father’s dead.”

“No. He’s with my people. Has been for a long time. I can’t be any more specific than that, not in this room. I need an answer and I need it right now. Are you in?”

Is that really my wife?

Could I see her face again?

Am I in?

I nod to her quietly and she buzzes Merrick to take me back to my cell.

2

00000-2

A PISTOL FOR RINGO

T
here’s a ritual when you get out that involves a lot of people in uniforms asking you questions, putting your name on papers, an orientation about seeing your probation officer. They strip you down, shine a flashlight up your privates, grab your sack and tell you to cough. You’ve seen those movies where they hand you back all your personal effects, too, right? That part is bullshit, at least in a joint like this one. If you’re not in city jail or county, they confiscate everything when you go in except the clothes on your back, and if you were wearing a belt, they take that, too. You’ll never see that stuff again, so don’t even ask. They also take your shoes and let you keep the cheap lace-ups you lived in while you were inside, throw in a pair of fresh socks. They don’t let you take anything out, either. Pity, that. But I planned ahead.

The gate rolls open at exactly nine in the morning and I smell free Texas air for the first time in twenty-four months. The cold sharp wind blows through my hair. I wear it longer than I did back in the day, to cover up the nasty scars where they sewed my head back together.

T-Jay told me when I first met him that long hair in the joint was a cardinal sin—it gives you that vaguely feminine look that the functionally homosexual want to know better and it’s easy to get ahold of in a scrape. They call it your “love locks.” T-Jay gave
me that bit of wisdom ten minutes before I kicked Mentor’s ass. Nobody ever tried to grab my locks after that.

I pull it back and feel the scum of two years.

You never really get clean inside.

October sure smells damn fine when you’re not in prison anymore.

•  •  •

T
wo giant men in gray suits and black shades are standing just outside the gate, waiting for me. One of them has bleach-blond hair like a surfer, a thick moustache that makes him look old and weird. The other guy is black and young like a football player, balding on top. The football player extends a hand and introduces himself as my bodyguard. Says his name is Washington. The surfer’s name is Franklin.

Franklin and Washington.

“Sounds like a law office,” I tell them. “Or a California roll.”

They don’t laugh.

The surfer looks confused.

Washington tells me to step this way.

A black GS Lexus hybrid with tinted windows waits on the curb, just a stone’s throw away in the visitors lot. Franklin the Surfer opens the passenger’s door and I see a man sitting inside. His long hair is white, pulled back in a ponytail. He’s thinner than I’ve ever seen him, like a skeleton. Too much drinking. I always gave him grief about his whiskey, even when I was a kid. I sit next to him and the door shuts behind me.

I can’t believe I’m really looking at him.

“Son,” he says.

“Dad,” I say.

We embrace, at the end of a lifetime.

•  •  •

T
he car is brand new and makes no sound.

It’s three hundred miles from the Frederick T. Summer Correctional Facility in Laredo to the city of Austin. Not exactly a long drive, but we have lots to talk about. Neither of us says anything for a while. I’m staring out the window when I break the silence, watching the highway streak by, not seeing the highway at all.

“You look good for a dead man.”

Then I look at him—for the first time, really
look
at him.

He holds up his right hand.

A permanent thumb and forefinger pistol, aimed right to heaven.

“Bang,” he says silently. “It’s a little joke David Hartman played on me. Said I’d never work again when they were done. He was half right.”

The joke is terrifying.

Goddamn.

“I’m sorry, Dad. It’s my fault.”

“The funny thing is . . . you’re probably right, kiddo. But I owe
you
first. And I’ll never be able to pay you back, not really.”


Hartman
did that to you. It wasn’t karma points for my bad childhood.”

“I know.”

“I’m still sorry, Dad.”

“You did what you thought you had to do. I would have had your back no matter how crazy you got. You’re my son.”

“You think what I did was crazy?”

He takes a deep breath. Then speaks, even softer now:

“Elroy . . . you have something inside you I’ve never understood. It’s always frightened me. I’ve been afraid of it since you were a child. But it’s my responsibility because
I gave it to you
.”

“That’s not true. It just happened.”

“It happened because you’re the son of a man who . . .”

“You can say it. It’s not like we’re on trial anymore.”

“Maybe we still are. Maybe we always will be.”

He might be right. He’s a professional killer, after all, and I’m my father’s son. But I’m not like him—I’ve never been like him. All I have is the rage.

“Can you still handle a gun, Dad?”

“I’m learning. But I’ll never be the way I was, not like the old days. The big bastard had me in the dark for three weeks, on a ranch just outside La Grange. Our new friend had me pulled out of there.”

“The concerned citizen?”

“Yeah. She’s been watching us for years, apparently. Well connected, well funded. She claims she’s just a rich lady but I’m not sure I believe that. Her people are real pros. Swooped in hard.”

“The suits?” I point at the law partners in the front seat.

“No. Those guys have been watching me in a safe house for a few weeks. Before that it was six months with some other guys. One of the last bodyguards said he was ex-CIA. It only took our new friend four months to buy you out of that hellhole you were in. Wanna know how she did it?”

“Does it matter?”

“She bought the prison board. A million across. That’s what she told me.”

“Jesus. She could have hired anyone for that kind of cash. What’s so special about us?”

“We’re the best, remember?” He says that like it’s not really true, makes that funny little snort and shakes his head, just like he used to when I did something bad as a nine-year-old. I let it roll off, looking back at the road.

“Dad . . . they told me you were dead. Why didn’t you let me know you were okay? You could have at least sent word.”

“Had to play this one close to the vest. It’s important for our family, son. This is how we finally retire.”

“What about Toni?”

“If we’re lucky, she’ll still be alive when we get to her.”

“So what’s the plan now?”

“You go through the motions. As far as the law is concerned, you’re out on good behavior and it’s all been taken care of. Just play nice, like everything’s on the up-and-up. They’ll be looking out for us. Our new friend, I mean. Her people. We have our first meeting in three days.”

“What do they want us to do?”

“Something special.”

“A money job?”

“Sort of. It’s
important
.”

“And the less I know, the better, apparently.”

“Something like that.”

Doesn’t matter. Let them think they own my ass until I find her. Toni was with Hartman in the picture—which means she’s still
with Hartman.
But not dead. The photo I saw years ago with her throat cut had to be a fake.

BOOK: Resurrection Express
3.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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