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Authors: Stephen Romano

Tags: #Thrillers, #Crime, #Fiction, #Technological, #General

Resurrection Express (4 page)

BOOK: Resurrection Express
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Maybe
.

I’ve got to find out for sure, and I won’t have much time to do it.

Just three days.

“It
is
good to see you, Dad. I went a little crazy when I thought you were gone. We still have a lot to pay back with those guys.”

“Payback hasn’t been good to us. Maybe we should just live.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“One day at a time.”

He looks straight ahead at the road blankly, gripping the air with seven fingers.

“I tried not to involve you in any of this, son. I told them about Mollie Baker first. Even went and saw him in Houston, asked him
to come on the team. He’s running a bar these days. Told me I could go to hell.”

“Still, huh? That’s kinda sad.”

“Some people never get over things.”

Yeah.

He’s got that damn right.

“Sometimes I think Toni was all I ever had that defined me. That I’m not even a whole person anymore. It’s kind of terrifying, really. To think you’re not even the hero of your own life.”

“Don’t think that way, son. Just don’t. We need to live in the moment now.
One day at a time
.”

That was always his way. Zen in the face of pure horror. He was like this when Mom died, too. My masters at the dojo would have called him a pussy. They wouldn’t have known the killer inside him, just to look in his face. He was around in the sixties to see the world when it almost changed, all that free love and flower-power stuff. He could have been a seeker, like Mom was. But Mom is dead, and the revolution died with her.

All that’s left now is a pistol for Ringo.

•  •  •

W
e hit town by one-thirty. A plate of real food sounds like paradise right about now, so Dad says he’ll treat me to a rare steak and peach cobbler at Threadgill’s. That was always my favorite. Franklin the Surfer calls in a take-out order from the road and we wait in the car with Washington while he picks it up. Nobody can see us in public together. Our edge is invisibility, for now.

We don’t speak to each other while I eat out of Styrofoam.

Not because the food is good.

He’s ashamed and so am I.

Austin is a big city, the capital of Texas, but it’s a small kind of big city. Hollywood heavies like Robert Rodriguez and Michael Bay make their flicks down the street, but somehow you never
hear about it much. Downtown is pretty, there’s a tiny cluster of skyscrapers, and you have the south side hipster hives and campus drags over by the university, but it’s all very quaint and livable. South Congress Avenue runs like a tacky stream of grimy lights through the heart of everything, spackled with costume shops and vintage clothing stores, breakfast dives and taco stands, and it all detonates in the center of the city, the capitol building looming above the business epicenters and the legendary nightclubs, where guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan became famous. It hasn’t changed much in two years. It never really does. There’s a sort of funky backwoods alchemy that floats in the air downtown, where the street vendors and the business suits walk side by side, music and merriment and the smell of hot dogs smothered in brisket smothered in four-alarm chili wafts from joint to joint.

Not a lot of Southern accents in this town, either. It’s a real melting pot. Most of the artist types sound like they could be from anywhere but here. That’s how I sound. When you’re down on Sixth Street, the lights and the foot traffic and the multi-symphonic madness is almost enough to make you forget that you’re only a few blocks away from where the worst Southern accent on earth used to do his dirty business, just before he became Supreme Dictator for Life.

Governor W wasn’t the only criminal to hide in plain view downtown, either.

This quaint and livable city full of starving artists and struggling filmmakers and college students and sweet young hotties, all even hotter to be the Next Big Thing . . . it’s a place of earthy illusion and honky-tonk shadow that hides some of the ugliest secrets in the entire world of organized crime. Nobody knows about it because nobody talks, not even the gangbangers. See, the Mafia is everywhere—even in Kansas. We’ve worked for damn near every one of them. But mostly for David Hartman.

It’s always been like that.

Since my professional career began.

Hiding in plain sight, without a driver’s license.

Since the day I met him, Hartman had me in his pocket. On that day, I saw him at his worst. And while he did his business, he pulled those insane words out of the air, sounding like a comic-book version of an evil genius, run through the dirty mill of some backwoods Quentin Tarantino sound-bite machine. That part never changed, like the air in Texas never changes, like the streets of Austin never change. While Hartman’s insanity just got worse and worse, the more he was able to get away with. His schemes and hustles, backed up by the smartest operators and mechanics on two legs. The streets of Austin stained dark red under their feet, the air hot and ancient.

David Hartman has the thickest Southern accent I’ve ever heard.

He sounds like chicken-fried steak smothered in cream gravy.

Thick and awful.

If someone thinks you’re crazier than they are, they usually don’t know what the hell to do with you, but Hartman was crazier than everyone.

Crazy enough to send us after dangerous people, and not just the mob.

There were politicians, too—guys who greased the wheel, de facto bosses Hartman wanted leverage over. Defense contractors. Lobbyists. He eventually had dirt on all of them. We pulled a file less than an inch thick from a bank vault in Upstate New York that contained the names and locations of thirteen men in the federal Witness Protection Program. Nearly all of them turned up dead a few weeks later. Toni asked me if I felt responsible, and I told her no. I’ve been surrounded by death all my life. I was trained to be a killer—by the army, by my masters in the dojo.

And yet I’ve never killed a man with my own hands.

That would make me like my father. I’m not sure I want to be like him at all. It might prove that he’s right, about what he passed on to me, just by being a professional shooter. I don’t want to believe that. I want to believe in what Toni taught me.

I want to see her again, more than anything.

•  •  •

I
report to the Travis County Correctional Office at 3
P.M.
sharp, just like they told me to at orientation. Washington escorts me upstairs to see my probation officer while Dad waits for me in the car. The PO is frumpy but nice, a young girl fresh to the business. I can tell she’s not on the payroll, but the people above her are. I was pardoned by the prison board for good behavior on a thirty-year sentence and this just tickles the hell out of her. There’s nothing in my case file about the six men I nearly paralyzed with my bare hands while I was inside. There’s plenty in there about the bullet that nearly killed me and the botched operation that almost vegged my brain permanently. Lots of reports from the docs and psychologists about my selective memory loss. She asks if I still get the dizzy spells and I lay down a happy series of very safe lies. She asks how my motor reflexes are and I give her the fifty-watt okey-dokey. My smile makes her blush. She tells me in that cheerful voice that she likes my long hair—it’s very Austin, she says. Then she chuckles that I remind her of James LeGros, the movie actor, and I have no idea who that is, but I pretend to be flattered.

James LeGros is a handsome guy, apparently.

She says that I have a good skill set and that I should do well over the next year. She’s assigned me a work program that consists of three phases: first I do six months in an entry-level position at a retail store near campus called Toy Jam, one of those locally owned knickknack businesses where twentysomethings pull down eight bucks an hour. Phase two is a professional job, if I can find one—probably in a computer firm. It has to be approved by the
board. Phase three is community service, two hundred hours. She says they let me off lightly.

Christ. Eight bucks an hour.

Good thing this is just a dog-and-pony show.

I play the part and tell her that I won’t even be able to afford a cheap room on that kind of money. She says it’s no problem because I’ll be boarding at a halfway house on the north side for the whole six months. No curfew, but I’m not allowed to have a cell phone. After six months in the toy store, I’m free to design websites and get my own apartment. Random visits from my probation officer, which will be someone else by then. Counseling three times a week. Five years later, I’ll be free.

I’m back on the inside, only it looks like the real world now.

I walk out of the office and my football player bodyguard stands up and puts down his magazine. “How did it go?”

“Still a prisoner.”

“Yeah, well, not for long.”

•  •  •

T
hey cut me loose at the halfway house and I’m on my own. At least that’s what it will look like. Washington tells me there will be eyes on me at all times. My new employer wants to look after her investment, but it also has to look legit. Go through the motions. Obey the rules. If anyone messes with me, I’m covered.

Three days. This will be tricky.

At the car, my father kisses my cheek and tells me to hang in there. He finally looks me right in the eye. I can tell he’s almost crying.

“You are the hero, son. You’re the hero of
my
life. You’re a better man than I’ll ever be. Always remember that.”

•  •  •

T
he night comes and I have a hard time sleeping.

I’m sharing a room with three other people in a house that looks like an old daycare center and smells like one, too. No television, no Internet. They served a pretty good dinner, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, better than anything on the inside, but not as good as Threadgill’s. I still can’t sleep. Not because of all the snoring and mumbling going on in the bunks next to me. In prison you learn to pass out through any kind of noise, with one eye open.

Toni’s keeping me awake.

She always did.

She was twelve when I met her. That was when Dad was in prison for the second time, his longest stretch. I met her in the institution where they sent me to live as a ward in the care of the state. She was like me, her parents criminals, her childhood gone, her mother less than a fragment, like mine. In a toilet full of perverts and hateful scumbags masquerading as human beings, she was the only ray of light. She was the one who taught me the importance of language and communication. She taught me that cursing and swearing was for the ignorant and the angry. She taught me how to read. I was thirteen then. The first book I understood was a book she read to me. I can’t remember what it was about now.

Is that funny? Probably not.

I was a late bloomer, but I caught up fast. The hardest part was learning not to swear. You can become less ignorant, I told her, but the anger never leaves you—not when you’re like I was back then. Not when your world is filled with dirt and disappointment from day one. She said that was no excuse. She said anyone can beat their programming—it’s what makes us different from animals. I was able to purge the word “fuck” pretty much from my vocabulary. Toni had a zero-tolerance policy for that one. But the rest of it . . .

. . . well, shit, man.

Pretty soon, my mind was filled to bursting. Toni insisted on the classics first. Hawthorne and Poe. Descartes and Mark Twain. She said to memorize what these men wrote
about
and never mind the exact words. Told me to retain the images, the feelings, the
philosophies
—the worldviews that would shape my adult perspective. These were the geniuses who knew everything there was to know about the unredeemed soul of man, in any century, and the way that technology is constantly perceived and re-embraced time and again by the human animal.

Perception is unreliable.

Language is the glue of civilization.

People are no damn good.

The next year, we ran off together. Walked right out of that place, right under their noses. Slept under freeways, learned the street. Discovered what real love was. Four years running scams, until I was busted. They told me I could spend eight months in a juvenile detention center for being drunk and violent, or I could become a soldier and work off some of that aggression. When I went in the army, Toni told me I needed to learn a trade. We couldn’t be common hustlers for the rest of our lives. Hustlers die, she told me. So do soldiers. We must cheat those evil men who want to steal our birthright. We must know the names of our killers in the moment before they make us run for our lives. We must live, and our children must live after us. Otherwise, we’re not immortal creatures. Just dead creatures, lost on the face of time.

I loved her best when she spoke to me that way. She was wise beyond anything I’d known before. As if something higher was speaking to me through her words. You think that way when you’re in love, I guess.

Though love cannot stay.

I knew that, even as a child.

Knew that so many things were temporary—the most important things.

But I loved her then, loved her so much . . . and so I did it. Trained my body and my mind. We became the best. Traveled from one end of the world to the other. Ten years of ripping off banks. Ten years before the trouble started again. That’s what beautiful girls get for being beautiful girls in a world of sharks. Sometimes I wish she hadn’t been so beautiful. Maybe Hartman would have kept his hands off her.

Who am I kidding?

I get out of bed and sit on the floor, trying to focus myself. Trying to see her face. Trying to resurrect her. It never worked on the inside. It’s still not working. I lost her before I even went in that terrible place of concrete and steel . . . and now . . . now that I know she might still be alive . . . that she’s still
his
woman after all this time . . .
that I might still hold her in my arms again
 . . .

The smell of gunmetal and roses is more overwhelming than ever.

BOOK: Resurrection Express
12.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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