/ Language: English / Genre:thriller,

The Hit

Patrick Quinlan

Patrick Quinlan

The Hit

3 November: On the Water

Earlier that night a man’s brains had been blown out.

The bullet passed through his forehead and blasted apart the back of his skull in a spray of blood and bone.

Now, clumps of hair and scalp were drying to the wall. His corpse sloshed in ten inches of water at the base of that wall. The corpse, the wall and the water were inside the main cabin of the Sea Dog, a derelict houseboat fighting a hurricane more than a mile out from land.

Above the boat, torrential rain and wind tore open the sky. Below, angry swells threatened to capsize her. She was forty feet long, fourteen feet wide and shaped like a floating shoebox. Smashed windows ran along her length like haunted eyes. A six-foot deck protruded like a fat lip at her stern. She was driven before the squalls of the hurricane like a refugee before the gun butts of the storm troopers.

Back inside, the low ceiling gave her main cabin the feel of a cave. The cabin was smashed, blown apart, with chunks of furniture, shards of glass and the remnants of a marine radio floating in the water. Worse, the dead man was not alone.

Other corpses floated in the room. Here was a naked man, face down with his head smashed in. Here was a large woman in a nightgown, on her back with a pair of scissors plunged into her chest. Both people were dead, yes, but both were moving and sliding like seaweed with the surges of the ocean. Worse even than the bodies, were the pieces of other bodies torn apart in the explosions.

Only one person remained alive on the boat.

He stood knee deep in seawater. He clung to the metal support near the center of the cabin. Sometime in the past, the pole had been welded there to make up for the Sea Dog’s compromised integrity. But the man who gripped it knew nothing of this. He stood, his left arm thrust through a bright yellow life vest. His shirt was red with blood, so wet that it stuck to his torso.

I’m the survivor, he thought.

He stared down at himself, soaking in the blood’s pattern. It reminded him of the Rorschach blots shown to mental patients. Like those blots, this blood took shape and told a story, a story the survivor knew. He had seen the man die. In his mind, he watched him die again and again. The memory elicited a sound from him now, a grunt of horror, of which he was not even aware.

He snapped alert. He could save the luxury of remorse for another time and place. He was on a boat, it was going down, and if he didn’t do something soon, he was going down with it.

As if to amplify this, another boomer hit the side of the boat. The survivor felt the wave coming and braced for it. It sucked the craft back into its maw. Right before it came there was silence, no movement, no wind, no rain, just a shadow looming on the wall before him and a feeling of emptiness and terrible anticipation in his soul.

When it hit, he lost his grip on the pole and pitched forward. He went down, dunking himself, head banging against the floor. Everything slowed and went dark, and he thought the boat had rolled over. Then he came up gasping.

The Sea Dog remained aright. She was two feet deep in water now. The bodies floated about the cabin like big rubber dolls.

He clutched the life vest to his chest.

He picked himself up and lurched out through the galley. He stumbled out through the gaping hole in the wall to the deck. The Yorkshire terrier was out here, eyes bright and alive. It had belonged to someone who lived on the boat. Now it belonged to no one. The dog yapped at him from its perch on the bench bolted to the deck. Its tan coat was soaked and matted and its festive red bow was pulled askew. Its body shivered with the fear that comes easily to small dogs, and its teeth were bared as if to attack. But its tail wagged in greeting.

‘Hey Versace,’ the man said. ‘Hey buddy.’

Maybe they were a team, he and that dog.

He stopped to consider this idea. Meanwhile the boat surged forward and the rain beat down. Far away, he caught a glimpse of the lights from land. It seemed as if he could almost touch them.

That’s where he was headed. Land. He imagined the streets of the town there, shops boarded up, the few remaining people hiding in their guesthouses. Maybe one bar was still open, the local crazies in there drinking and laughing and playing darts while the stoplight outside swung in the wind and the storm bore in.

He turned to Versace again, just as another roller smashed the side of the boat. The man went down, almost over the side and into the sea. He clung to the deck like a rat as the water washed back over the side. Versace was above him now. The Yorkie barked madly, yap yap yap. The man could barely hear it. He was cheek to cheek with the deck, his hands pressed flat as though the pressure itself would hold him there.

There was nothing to consider. The dog was on its own.

The man pulled himself up onto the bench. Versace tried to climb in his lap, but he pushed the dog away. He peeled off his shirt and pitched it into the water. He yanked on the life vest and cinched it tight. It took him precious seconds figuring out how to tighten the vest.

Another wave hit the boat. The old beast took it hard and again nearly rolled, tossing the man like a rag. He couldn’t stay a moment longer. He feared the water, but the boat was going to break up, sooner rather than later. Maybe a wave would cut it in half. Maybe it would dash itself on a reef, or on some rocky headland. Either way, it was going to the bottom of the sea and taking its unholy cargo with it. He wanted to be gone before that happened.

The time had come.

He stood and tottered to the edge of the platform. The sea roiled and raged just below him, water slopping over the deck. He checked the life vest one last time. He pulled all the straps as tight as he could, taking a deep breath at the same time.

Behind him Versace yapped once more, as if to say goodbye.

The man closed his eyes and let the ocean take him.


Jonah Maxwell felt like shit.

‘What’s this bastard’s name again?’ he said.

It was an overcast day in the Bronx, and he sat in the passenger seat of a parked car, once again about to tangle with a dangerous fugitive. He was sweating even with the window down, and just the slightest nip of cool air reminded him it was already late October.

It was supposed to be an election year and this would normally be the climax of it, but they’d canceled the election a month ago after the Vice President got blown up in his car. The President himself had gone underground, mouthing TV platitudes to the rudderless nation from a bunker under a mountain somewhere out west. The talking heads chattered about the government rescheduling the election for a date in the spring, or maybe next fall. Or maybe never, Jonah figured.

Didn’t matter, anyway – we might not make it to next spring. The doomsday chorus, growing louder every day, was calling for the end of the world just before Christmas, which was the abrupt stopping point of the ancient Mayan calendar. About six weeks from now. The Mayans had watched the stars move for thousands of years, and had projected those movements well into the future. For some reason, they decided that the stars would stop moving on the twenty-first day of this coming December.

Jonah sighed. The end of the entire world. He could almost believe it was true, and it did nothing to calm his nerves. Bad nerves made him sick to his stomach. He closed his eyes, trying to control his breathing, trying to control the tingling in his head, hands and feet – trying to find his center. Street sounds came to him. He could hear the rumble of the elevated subway line over on Jerome Avenue. Closer, children shouted about a block away. Salsa played on a boombox.

The car he sat in was a tiny Honda Civic hatchback parked on a quiet side street. The car had rolled off the line cherry red twenty years before, stock, with an AM radio, windows that rolled up and down by hand and not even so much as air conditioning for the New York summers. Now it was mostly red with one blue quarter panel, rust beginning to eat through everything. The dashboard was caked in grime. The odometer claimed a quarter of a million miles.

Gordon Lamb, the Honda’s master, sat behind the wheel and pored through the papers on his lap. Even with the seat pushed way back, there wasn’t much room because of his belly and legs. He had a two-day beard and his hair stood up as if he had forgotten to shower that day. Jonah called him Gordo, short for El Gordo, a nickname coined by a funny Dominican whore Gordo had spent the night with years before. She had trouble with the whole name Gordon, so she dropped the n. It was perfect. In Spanish, El Gordo meant “the fat one.”

He and Gordo made an odd couple, maybe. Jonah: a slim, muscular, well-dressed black man – cafe au lait because of his white father – who made the ladies swoon, and Gordo: a big, heavyset bear of a white man who you might mistake for a lumberjack.

‘The name’s Foerster,’ Gordo said. ‘Davis Foerster.’ He spelled it aloud and shuffled some paper around. ‘Also known as Mark Foster. Also known as Foster Davidson.’

Jonah glanced out the window. From the looks of it, from the smell of it, Jonah guessed that garbage pickup in this neighborhood had happened two or three weeks before. Along the edge of the sidewalk, in the shadows of the apartment buildings, overflowing garbage bags were piled high. Assorted kitchen scraps and other trash were strewn all over the street and sidewalk. Bomzhies, junkies, and scavengers of all types came and ripped open the plastic bags, looking for food or anything of value to put in their old supermarket shopping carts and trundle home. As Jonah watched, a large rat crossed the street, well-fed, in no hurry, moving from one mountain of trash to the next.

Meanwhile, Gordo launched into the story as if he hadn’t told it half a dozen times before. ‘Foerster’s the perfect scumbag. Been up to petty shit since he was a teenager, but somewhere in there started getting serious. Cops wanted him for questioning on a year-old forcible entry and rape. A man fitting his description knocked on a 75-year-old woman’s apartment door late one night, forced his way in, pushed her down and raped her. Took about five hundred in cash she had laying around the place. Case remains unsolved, but looks a lot like two earlier ones where the old ladies got killed.’

Jonah took another deep breath, letting Gordo’s words wash over him.

‘In any case,’ Gordo continued, ‘two weeks ago, Foerster lands in their laps. He gets picked up on a breaking and entering and attempted rape. Cops want to roll him up on the old lady case. They figure if they can break him on the one where they still have the victim alive, maybe they can break him on the other two. But all of this coincides with the latest general amnesty for nonviolent prisoners. The city swings wide the cell doors, and lets five thousand inmates – mostly drug offenders – walk. At that moment, there are two men with very similar names on Riker’s Island. One is called Davis Foster. One is called Davis Foerster. True to form, they let the wrong one go. Foerster gets off a prison bus in Queens and disappears. Too late, the city realizes its mistake, and quietly issues a $50,000 reward for his capture, hoping to get him back inside before the newspapers realize they did the bad thing again and released another maniac by mistake. Tough for a cash-strapped city, but good for people like us.’

Gordo raised an eyebrow.

‘Most interesting thing? A little bird told me the FBI contacted the city cops about this guy two days after he walked. The feds also want to talk to him, and they’re not saying why. He’s not officially wanted, mind you. They just want to ask him a few questions.’

Gordo dropped the paper he was holding into his lap.

‘All that said, who are you to him?’

Jonah gestured at the jumpsuit he wore. The name Jake was stenciled in white across his right breast. The jumper felt too small for his chest and round shoulders, and wearing it made him feel silly. He was too pretty to pass as an exterminator.

‘I’m the guy who’s here to kill his roaches,’ he said.

They went through the drill every time. The skip’s name, his description, the layout of the place, how they were going to nail him. They had gone over it the night before on the phone, but one more time never hurt. Gordo liked to be thorough, and if it meant they made the collar, then Jonah didn’t mind.

Gordo moved two photocopied maps to the top of the heap. One was a building floor plan, the other a zoning map of the neighborhood. Jonah leaned over to get a better look.

‘Okay,’ Gordo said. ‘This is the apartment, 5C, rented by the so-called Mark Foster. It’s a studio, right? And you can see the fire escape is outside this window, which is in the kitchen and dining room area. If you flush him out that window,’ he switched to the neighborhood map, ‘then you can see over here that he has to come down to this alley.’ He looked up and peered down the street. He pointed to an opening between Foerster’s building and the boarded-up building next door. ‘Which is that alley right there. And that’s where I’ll be standing.’

‘What if he goes to the roof?’ Jonah said.

‘If he goes anywhere other than the alley, you call me on the walkie-talkie,’ Gordo said. ‘But he won’t. His first reaction will be to get down to the alley and disappear. Also, his building is free standing and he probably knows it. It’s gotta be fifteen feet across to the next roof, maybe more. So he’ll figure if he goes to his roof, he’s trapped up there.’

Gordo closed the file and placed it on the back seat.

‘But once he commits to going for the alley, then he’s really screwed.’

‘What if he has a gun?’

Gordo shook his head. ‘Not his M.O. In his entire life, he’s never once been picked up with a gun.’

‘Easy pickin’s, then,’ Jonah said.

‘Cake,’ Gordo said. ‘Twenty five thousand dollars each for a ten-minute gig.’


Inside his apartment, Davis Foerster slumped and smoked a Camel while he pulled the stuffing out of a gash in the upholstery of his easy chair. A bottle of beer was propped against his crotch. His feet rested on the worn parquet floor. The walls around him were bare except near the light switch, where years of hands had smudged the area almost black.

The bruises around Foerster’s eyes had faded. His hair was growing back over the scar that had run across his scalp like a railroad. The middle and ring fingers of his left hand were still wrapped in a dirty plaster cast that extended down to his wrist. Only his thumb, pointer and pinky were free.

He blew a smoke ring toward the ceiling and stared at the thirteen-inch color TV on the stand in front of him.

No cable, and the reception in this building was so bad, he only got one channel clearly. There’d been rolling brownouts all day, and when the power finally came back on, he was treated to the spectacle of an afternoon talk show with a bunch of fatties lined up on stage, all of them sitting and blathering about how it felt to lose a hundred pounds and change their lives. The host was a cheerful woman who America had watched rollercoaster from fat to skinny to fat and then skinny again. She’d tried all the fad diets, and had worked out with all the trendiest workout gurus. So this weight thing was a topic close to her heart.

The camera panned the studio audience. Housewives with tears in their eyes. A couple of the saps even had handkerchiefs out. A person weighs five hundred pounds, Foerster thought, loses a hundred, and still weighs four hundred. How does that change their life?

‘That really touches me,’ the host said to one of the porkers.

‘Fuck you,’ Foerster said.

Foerster didn’t need to lose weight. If anything, he needed to gain some. Get some size to him for the next time he got in a tangle. With a little more size, he maybe wouldn’t have ended up in the joint again.

Another smoke ring, a little one chasing through a big one.

His mind wandered, back to the most recent fall he’d taken. He had climbed through a window this time. Windows were the easiest, especially a couple of floors up. On hot nights, people left them open. All the way, a crack, it didn’t matter. He just picked an open one along a fire escape and climbed up there. He slipped inside and stood in the living room.

Pretty nice furniture in there. Somebody in the place was still working. He remembered hearing a car go by outside – cop car? No other sounds. The good stuff was usually in the bedroom, top dresser drawer in most places. Cash, maybe some gold. The place had wall to wall carpet, which was good – his feet would make no sound. He followed a short hallway. He passed a narrow door. It looked like a closet. Another closed door, maybe the bathroom. A sharp left turn and here was the bedroom. There was a sleeping form alone on the double bed. Foerster allowed himself another silent inhale and exhale, watching and listening. He could tell by the size and shape of the body, and by the hair sticking up from under the blanket. It was a woman.

That was better than money.

He went for her, of course. It was a stupid play and he knew it as he stood over her. But she aroused him and it clouded his thinking. Women didn’t always arouse him, and he had to take the opportunities when they presented themselves. He slid into bed with her, working on his zipper. She made a sort of welcoming sound, like a sigh. It should have tipped him off. In her sleep, she thought he was somebody else, somebody who was supposed to be there.

It didn’t tip him off, though. It got him excited instead.

Later, the cops were happy to fill in the gaps in his knowledge. The husband got up in the middle of the night, went in the bathroom and fell asleep on the can with the door shut. When Foerster grabbed the wife, she gasped, then screamed, and hubby woke up. The big boy came storming in and found Foerster on top of his lady. The next thing Foerster knew, the storm broke loose. Hubby let Foerster have it with a wind-up clock, a lamp, a glass candle holder, a metal magazine rack. They went around and around the room, the wife still screaming, the whole building waking up, Foerster trying to escape, trying to get his zipper closed while the husband clubbed him with everything in reach.

He made it back out the window, bleeding a river down his face. He didn’t get far. Two pigs in a patrol car picked him up a block away. He banged into parking meters and shit as he ran, half blind from all the blood in his eyes, half-mad from the pain, his zipper still stuck half way down.

A funny scene, even Foerster could see the humor in it. But it turned ugly once he got back to the joint. He spent a night in the precinct house, took a trip to the doctor, then did three nights on Riker’s.

The wounds he got in jail were worse than the beating from hubby. The black guys in jail didn’t need to beat him up. They just got him three or four at a time, stuffed a sweaty doo-rag in his mouth, held him face down and did it to him. Jesus. And the fucking c.o.’s didn’t give a shit. It was all in fun, right? A guard even told him he should act like a man, stick up for himself more. The piece of shit said it while standing at the cell door, looking down at Foerster spread-eagled on the floor, cons sitting on each arm, a big two-hundred pound shrieking porch monkey grinding away on top of him.

Foerster didn’t give it easy, though. They did him, but he fought them first, and he got his shots in. He could say that much for himself. No matter what happened, they hadn’t broken his spirit. But he couldn’t imagine what serious time would be like and for a second it had looked as if serious time was in his cards.

As it turned out, the cops knew about the old woman. Maybe they didn’t know for sure, but they suspected. He thought about the woman for just a second, got an image of her. A white-haired biddy, with a clean honest face. The skin around her throat sagged and creased like an elephant’s knees. He had seen her on the street a couple times. She plucked something in him, like a finger twanging a guitar string. So he had taken her. He hadn’t planned it that way, but Foerster hardly ever planned these things. His desires came to him from some other place – he could go for weeks at a time without feeling anything. But when the thing started flowing, he always flowed with it. It felt natural. It felt right.

His mistake had been to let the old woman live. He had seen something in her eyes that night. They’d remained wide open and staring the whole time. She looked so gentle, like a doe paralyzed by the headlights of an onrushing truck. He couldn’t finish her. Not with those big eyes looking right at him.

He wondered: How long could she put him away? Ten years? Twenty years?


Foerster shook his head. No way. He was never going back to jail.

He stood up and got another half-cold beer out of the box. He tapped the empty on the edge of the sink until it cracked, then he placed it on a rickety white table piled high with similar empties. He once hit a guy in a bar three times with a beer bottle and it didn’t break. Then he learned. Crack ‘em just a little and they break on the first shot. Nobody likes to get a head full of glass.

He stood in the kitchen with his next beer and looked around. Shabby ass apartment. Roaches in the cabinets. He didn’t even have sheets on the bed, just an old mildewed mattress and a quilt. He needed to start treating himself better. First and foremost, he needed to stay out of the joint.

On that end, he was in good shape. He had stopped showering in case the cops came while he was naked with the water running. Instead, he was dressed and ready to go at all times. Every dollar he had was in his pocket. He had his bottles, and leaning in the corner he had his table leg. If all else failed, he had practiced his escape route until it didn’t even scare him anymore. There was a trick to it, one so dangerous no coffee and donut cop would ever attempt it – why get killed over nothing?

Foerster glanced at the kitchen window, where a threadbare curtain billowed in the breeze. He was waiting here, and he didn’t like it. He wanted to get moving. Tyler Gant – his man down south – needed him for another science project. It was easy work, the kind of thing a smart tenth-grader could probably pull off, but Gant didn’t seem to realize that. Pretty soon, one of Gant’s goons was supposed to come to Foerster’s door with an envelope. When Foerster opened that envelope, he was supposed to find $5,000 in cash. Then he was supposed to get in a car with the goon and drive down to Dixie.

Shit. Five grand in cash, and Foerster hadn’t even done anything yet? This job must be something pretty big. Wouldn’t it be nice if the goon showed up here today?

Just then, the doorbell rang.


Jonah stood in the bleak hallway and faced the solid green door to apartment 5C.

Weak light filtered through a translucent window at the other end of the hall. Solid glass bricks half a foot thick. Some kid had probably gone out the original window by accident, ended up with a broken neck in the street. Those glass bricks gave the only light – the overheads were all out. At night, this would be one dark hallway. On the wall, some new Picasso had drawn a mural in black magic marker, a big penis rubbing between a pair of breasts.

‘Every nigga has 2 scheme 4 da creme,’ read the caption underneath.

Nice building.

Sounds echoed through the halls. Laughter. Somebody shouting. Running feet. TV sets – the power was on. Water dripped somewhere. Plunk, plunk, plunk.

Jonah’s body shook, a little nothing tremor maybe nobody could see but him. He always got nervous before one of these gigs. It wouldn’t have taken much to throw up – if he thought too hard about his finger approaching the back of his throat, that might do it. Taking a shit would have been even easier. All he had to do was sit down.

In one hand, he held a clipboard with some bogus papers attached. In the other, he held a small black canister of pepper spray. It contained five bursts that could travel up to ten feet. The blasts would last one second each, fifteen percent OC every time. OC stood for Oleoresin Capsicum, fifty dollar words, but Jonah knew what they meant in plain English: STRONG SHIT. If he sprayed that stuff in Foerster’s face, the blood vessels in the man’s eyes would swell up, forcing them shut. His face would burn and the pepper would get down into his throat and lungs. He would start coughing up his insides. He would be under Jonah’s complete control.

Jonah slid the canister into his right back pocket.

The left back pocket was where he kept the handcuffs. They were chainlinks, nickel-plated all steel construction, and rated for police work. Gordo had scammed them from somewhere.

Jonah reached up to ring the bell one more time. Someone shuffled on the other side of the door. Jonah took a half-step backward.

‘Who is it?’ said a scratchy voice.

‘Mr. Foster?’ Jonah said. ‘Mr. Mark Foster?’

‘Who wants to know?’



‘Exterminator. I’m here to spray your apartment, sir.’

The peephole in the center of the door slid open. Jonah stepped in front so Foerster could get a good long look.

‘What’s your name there,’ the voice said, ‘Jake?’

‘Jake, that’s right.’

‘Who do you work for, Jake?’

‘The landlord sent me. Manor Property Management. I’m checking through all these apartments because of a roach infestation. Do you have any roaches in there, Mr. Foster?’

‘How do you know my name?’

‘Your landlord gave me all the names.’

‘My landlord can fuck off.’

Jonah sighed, just a working man getting nowhere with a customer. ‘Sir, I’m going to have to come in there sooner or later. There’s a roach problem in this building. If I have to call the office, they’ll just get the maintenance guy to let me in.’

He waved the clipboard as if that would tell the story.

The door opened a crack. Foerster kept the security chain on. An eyeball peered out at Jonah. ‘They have to give me twenty-four hours notice. You know that, right? You can’t just walk in here without notice.’

Jonah slid his right foot into the crack. Foerster tried to slam it shut but the foot was already there. Jonah shouldered the door hard. Once. Twice. Three times and he could feel the chain going. Four times and it was loose. Five and he blasted the chain housing out of the wall. Then he was off balance and inside the apartment.

They faced each other in a kind of stand off, Jonah startled by the looks of the man. Unshaven, Foerster held an empty beer bottle in one hand – the hand with two fingers wrapped together in a cast. He was pale, almost a shade of yellow, as if light was bad for him. His skin hung on bone, like a vampire’s would.

‘Davis Foerster. I’d like you to come with me, sir.’

Foerster smiled, a wan and sickly sight.

‘You a cop?’

‘No, I’m not. I work for the courts. Why don’t you come along peacefully? That way nobody gets hurt.’ Jonah started to reach back to take the cuffs out.

‘Sure,’ Foerster said. He smiled that terrible smile again. He seemed relaxed, relieved even. ‘I'll be right with you. Just hold this for me, will you?’

He threw the beer bottle. They stood five feet apart, maybe less. Jonah ducked too late. The bottle bonked his head and shattered, spraying glass and beer all over him.

He backed away into the hall again, but things went funny. The hallway was black, and bright white spots – call them stars – shot across the dark field of his vision. They sparkled and left trails of glowing dust in their wakes. They looped and spiraled. Spiders spun cobwebs in the corners.

Then his vision came rushing back, brushing away the darkness. He was down on one knee like a man proposing marriage. Things had gone wrong right from the start. He fumbled the walkie-talkie out of his jumper. He’d better call Gordo quick.

He looked up and it all moved in long slooow mo. Foerster came out of the apartment. Now he had a thick wooden table leg. He carried it like a slugger in the on-deck circle. A long screw stuck out from the business end. The screw would attach the leg to a table. It looked nasty, like it could poke a nice hole through somebody.

‘C’mere,’ he said. ‘You wanna fuck with me, right?’

He swung the table leg full bore. Jonah jerked away, but the swing connected with his hand and knocked the walkie-talkie flying. The handset bounced off the wall, then hit the floor and broke into pieces. Jonah crawled backwards, pulling out his pepper spray. Foerster kept coming. Jonah shoulder-rolled and came up firing like a shortstop. He pressed the button on the top of the canister, but he aimed too low. The spray hit Foerster in the shirt.

Foerster gaped down at the wet stain and Jonah charged.

He hit Foerster hard and it was like tackling a scarecrow – there was no real substance to the man. He bulled him back into the apartment. They flew through the doorway and crashed to the floor. Jonah lost the pepper spray. Foerster lost the club.

Jonah landed on top. They wrestled. This close, Foerster smelled like cigarettes and body odor. Jonah was bigger and stronger, but Foerster raged with desperation. He screamed in Jonah’s ear, and squirmed away like an eel. Jonah reached for Foerster’s waistband, snagged it with his finger, lost it.


Jonah rose to his feet and picked up Foerster’s club himself. He adjusted his grip on it. The weight felt good. That screw stuck out thick and mean.

A glass bottle shattered near his head. He looked up. Foerster stood behind a paint-peeling white table. It was piled up with empty bottles – beer bottles, wine bottles, hard stuff. Foerster grabbed another bottle and threw it. Jonah ducked and it smashed against the wall. He felt the wet tingle of the glass.

‘Get the fuck out of my house,’ Foerster said.

Jonah ran down his options. He thought fast. The club might break this guy in half. Look for the pepper spray instead? That meant turning his back. Lost seconds. Time for Foerster to move. Fuck his M.O. – did he have a gun in the fridge? Maybe. Under the pillows? Jonah didn’t want to find out.

Let him have it with the club? Of course.

He moved in.

Foerster threw another bottle.

Jonah swung.

He connected, spraying beer and shards of glass all over himself. He took another step forward.

‘This is a citizen’s arrest,’ he said.

Foerster threw again. He threw to the right and high. The bottle smashed harmlessly. He picked up two more, one with each hand, and let fly. His aim was gone. Beginner’s luck that first time. Jonah charged him, the club raised high. He brought it down like a woodsman splitting logs – knees bent, legs planted, his thighs and back doing the work, the force of it like electricity through his body, grip so firm his knuckles stood out in white.

The club smashed the empty bottles, then sliced through the table. The table broke in half, then separated and fell in. Glass went flying, a fountain of glass. The sound was like a car crash. Foerster dropped way back, then dove out the window.

‘He’s coming out! He’s coming out!’

Jonah went to the window and stuck his head through it. Foerster aimed a kick. His foot whistled just past the edge of Jonah’s nose. Jonah ducked back.

He counted to three then poked his head out again.

He caught a glimpse of Foerster’s head going down the stairs. Jonah dropped the bat and clambered out onto the ironwork. It had been white once but now was flaking with rust. Across the alley was the old fire escape to the abandoned building next door. He went to the railing and glanced around five stories below. Gordo’s round moon face stared up at him.

‘He’s coming down!’

Gordo raised his arms upward like he was praising his maker. ‘Bring him to me.’ His voice echoed off the brick walls.

Jonah hit the stairs, taking them two at a time. He reached the first landing, turned the corner and two seconds later stood at the top of the next flight. One floor down, Foerster was perched up on the handrail like a bird on a telephone wire, grasping the stairs behind him with one hand.

It was three stories to the street and Jonah thought he had a jumper.

‘Foerster! Don’t do that!’

Foerster didn’t even give him a glance. He let go of the stairs, bent deep at the knees and launched himself out into nothing like a squirrel from a tree.

Jonah’s stomach lurched.

Foerster flew across the alley and crashed into the neighboring fire escape half a floor below. He hit it railing high, catching the railing in his stomach. The whole fire escape shook with the impact. Foerster hung on, legs dangling, and yanked himself up and over the railing. He fell onto the landing and rolled over, holding his gut. Then he began crawling up the stairs.

Jonah watched as Foerster, gaining his feet now, reached the landing across from and a little above his own. Foerster stopped and leaned on the railing, breathing hard. Right there, but just out of reach. He looked over at Jonah and flashed his nasty smile.

‘Nothing to it if you have the balls,’ he gasped. Then he continued on his way.

Jonah leaned over the side again. Gordo’s big face still loomed there. It hadn’t seemed like such a terribly long way down just a minute ago. Now it looked like the Grand Canyon.

‘I can’t reach the ladder on that side,’ Gordo called. ‘It’s folded all the way up.’

Of course. Foerster planned it that way.

Jonah surveyed the situation. Crunch time had come. Lose the skip and you might never see him again. It was one of the first rules Gordo taught him. The skip makes you and gets away, tomorrow he’s gone. Wherever he can get to. It could be New Jersey, but it might as well be Bangkok, as far as you’re concerned.

Well, if a skinny bastard like Foerster could do it…

That decided him. A moment later, Jonah was up on the railing. Precious seconds ticked by. Between his shoes he saw all that open space. Gordo’s face watched from the bottom of a deep well. Ten miles across the alley, and a little bit below, the landing of the opposite fire escape beckoned. Everything seemed to swim and spin.

Now or never, said the demon.

Climb down and forget the whole thing, said the angel.

He bent like he had seen Foerster bend, a full squat. He imagined himself leaping and landing on the other side. Like shooting a free throw, that’s all. See it happen and then do it. In his mind, he saw it happen. To his fevered imagination, it looked like an elf dancing from mountaintop to mountaintop.

See it happen. See it happen.

Do it.

He launched, everything in his legs.

The ground rushed up. The fire escape came at him on an angle. He fell too long and he was sure he had missed it. Then he hit like a meteor. The railing caught him in the stomach and his air whooshed out. He slid, grabbing madly for anything. The rail jammed into his armpits, his hands found grips, and he held on for dear life. The iron shook all the way up, and for a second he thought his extra weight would bring the whole thing down. It didn’t. They made those things to last.

Far away, he heard a long whoop that told him Gordo was cheering.

Jonah pulled himself over the railing and collapsed to the deck. He gave himself a moment to let his wind come back. The cool metal slats pressed against his face. He was shaking a little, but not bad. He was alive and the chase was still on.

He groped his way to his feet. Foerster must have felt him land. Jonah needed to move fast. He climbed, dragging up the stairs at first, then catching a rhythm and starting to hit it. One landing, around the corner and more stairs. Another landing, no idea where Foerster was now. Did he go in a window?

Jonah kept pushing, guessing the roof. He passed another landing, then another. Did he hear breathing above him? He kicked the engine into another gear. He reached the top landing, eight floors he thought, he wasn’t sure. Some view up there. The city, impossibly vast, stretched away in every direction. Near the horizon, something big was on fire, belching thick, dark smoke. He didn’t have time to dig it because there went Foerster, twenty yards ahead, tearing ass across the black tar.

Jonah had sprinted in high school. He had big legs. He took off and for an instant he remembered those days. He could almost see the crowd up in the dim rafters surrounding the old armory track. Back when Jonah ran, they used to pile up metal cots in the infield for the hundreds of homeless men who came there at night to sleep. Back then, the track was still made of wood, and any kid who fell down while jockeying during a race was guaranteed to get ripped up by splinters. Jonah never fell, though. He was too much of a beast. He thought back to the thundering hoof beats as the ancient track shook under his powerful foot strikes.

Foerster didn’t have a chance.

Jonah closed the gap by half before Foerster reached the building’s edge. A low brick wall marked the end. Foerster never slowed. He hopped onto the wall, launched and disappeared. Jonah was uncertain. He slowed, then came to the wall and stopped. The next building was lower and five feet across an air passage. Foerster was over there, still moving.

Jonah leaped up onto the wall, hesitated for a second, then took the gap easily. He touched down on a gravel roof.

They were on a row of packed-together narrow buildings.

Foerster reached the next gap and vaulted over it. Jonah gave chase, gaining again. He felt, rather than saw, the chasm open and close below him. His eyes were on Foerster’s back. They jumped from roof to roof, dodging antennas, Jonah growing closer all the time. They reached the end of the block and Foerster turned right. He crossed to a long and wide gravel roof that was lower still. It was a pretty good jump but Foerster did it no problem and Jonah was too turned on to stop now.

He landed in a starter’s crouch, Foerster just ahead of him, and this roof opened up like a football field. Here his legs would do their damage. He sprinted, and became aware of the handcuffs pressed hard to his ass in the back pocket of his jumpsuit. He would need them in a minute.

Closer. Foerster two steps ahead.

Their long shadows mingled on the gravel below them. Legs and arms pumping. Closer still. Be patient, Jonah told himself. Time it right.

Foerster made a sound, more like a caveman grunt than a scream.

Jonah dove and hit him waist high. He wrapped Foerster’s legs and they slid together across the roof, the tiny stones tearing the blue jumper, digging into Jonah’s flesh. Foerster scrabbled like a crab. He kicked, he scratched. Jonah looked for hand holds, but found none. Foerster slipped away.


Jonah nearly laughed. This fucking guy, was he worth all this?

The answer: Oh, yeah. Jonah needed the money.

He jumped up and continued the game. Foerster was running for the next low wall, bent over and limping now like a monkey. That tackle had hurt him – his small body took the brunt of it. Jonah pursued. Foerster reached the wall, jumped up, and then stuck his arms out like a tightrope walker crossing the gorge. Sure enough, the next roof was a big jump, fifteen feet, and Foerster walked the length of a piece of thick flat lumber about two feet wide. He reached the other side and leaped down. Jonah stopped. There was more lumber piled here, three or four big pieces.

Another gap. Another long fall.

Across the way, Foerster grabbed the beam and yanked it out from Jonah’s wall. He let it fall into the abyss, and it clanked and clattered all the way down to the alley below.

‘Heads up!’ Jonah shouted. He leaned over and watched it go, but there was nobody down there. At the bottom, in the alley, all manner of garbage was piled high. He gazed across the abyss. Foerster was there, just beyond Jonah’s reach. Maybe Foerster had known nobody was in the alley, maybe he hadn’t. What if people had been picking through there today? Foerster could have killed somebody.

‘Let me guess,’ Jonah said. ‘You don’t like jail too much, am I right?’

Foerster leaned on the opposite wall, catching his breath. ‘Ever been?’

‘Can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.’

‘Never been, but you put people in for money,’ Foerster said. ‘That makes as much sense as anything.’ He turned his back and began to walk away. Then he stopped. ‘You’re a fucking hypocrite, you know that? You and everybody like you.’

He kept walking.

It wasn’t over, though. Not like that.

Jonah picked up the longest piece of lumber in the pile. The damn thing was heavy. He pictured ninety-pound Foerster here days before, muscling one of these things around to build that bridge, then coming back every couple of days to make sure it was still there. Jesus. The motherfucker was a boy scout. Jonah slid the lumber out over the alley, pushing down hard on his side to keep the other end up. He slid it. He slid it some more. It was too short. It fell away, banging and crashing on its trip down.


He heard laughter. He looked up and there was Foerster, leaning against the elevator shaft and smiling at him.

Foerster pantomimed a guy checking the time. ‘I could watch this all day,’ he said. ‘But I got places to be, all right?’


The hot sun made her feel sexy.

Thirty-three year-old, bikini-clad Katie Gant reclined in a lounge chair on a massive stone terrace, floppy sun hat shielding her eyes. The terrace looked over the backyard of her giant Tudor style home in the suburbs of Charleston, South Carolina. It was a bright afternoon, and from her lounge chair she could drink in the sloping and closely manicured back lawn, the sparkling blue water of the in-ground swimming pool, even the riot of plantings tucked against the back of the house that made up her own kitchen garden, which had seen quite a bountiful harvest this year, thank you. Although her eyes were open, she saw none of these things.

She had a lot on her mind.

For a little while, as the perspiration beaded and slowly rolled down her skin, she imagined a shirtless young man in jeans shorts and flip-flops down there cleaning the pool. Her husband was away on business, again, and frustrated housewife Katie was trying to get that sculpted Adonis of a pool boy to climb the steps to her. She couldn’t hold the image, though, and gradually it faded and was replaced.

She remembered a morning fishing trip with her dad when she was a little girl down in Beaufort, when at first light they flushed a heron out of the reeds by the shore. The great gangling bird flapped its huge wings and took off across the bay. It was so graceful, that bird, once it got going, gliding just a couple of feet above the water. A few minutes later, the sun came up over the saltwater flats, Dad was tying her bait, and all the world boiled down to just the two of them in a nine-foot aluminum jonboat. At that moment, she never wanted to leave. She wished that time would stop forever.

Yet she had run away from Beaufort soon after graduation. By eighteen, the town was too small to hold her. She was confident, she was blonde, she was beautiful – everybody told her so – and she loved to talk and meet people. The world seemed to hold such promise. There was so much to do and see, and she couldn’t wait to get started. Some kids were going to college, but she knew college would always be there when she was good and ready for it. First she wanted to taste adventure.

She moved to Washington, DC, with some vague sense that powerful people, movers and shakers, lived there. This was closer to the excitement, but somehow she always seemed to just miss out on it. Part of the problem was the jobs she could get. Secretarial jobs – she was always somebody’s secretary. One day, while working as an assistant at the law firm of Benton and Hoffman, she spent seven hours pushing the green START button on a Xerox copy machine. That morning, the machine developed a glitch. It would copy only one page at a time. She needed to make a dozen copies of a government contract that was nearly two hundred pages long. For some reason, unexplained, the job had to be done that day. And for some reason, also unexplained, they couldn’t send it out to Kinko’s or Copy Plus. So Katie did it.

‘Good job today, Katie,’ her boss said, and meant it.

When the day was over, she went home to the apartment she shared with two other girls and cried. At the age of twenty, her employer valued her because she could stand in one place all day long and push the same button more than two thousand times in a row.

Where was the promise? Where was the adventure?

The copy machine debacle helped her realize she wasn’t cut out for the business world. It wasn’t just that she felt humiliated. It wasn’t that she had been treated like a machine, or part of a machine. It ran deeper than that. She saw that if she were in her boss’s position, there was no way she could demand that someone push a button two thousand times. It was a soulless, spirit crushing thing. She wanted no part of it. She was too sensitive, she felt things too deeply.

As it turned out, she was actually an artist. When she was a child, she had loved to draw and to paint, and a life drawing class she took on eight Saturdays reminded her of this. She moved again, this time to Dewey Beach, Delaware, where there was open space, open air and open water.

It was a party town on the Atlantic Ocean, and she partied right along with it. On summer weekends, it seemed like half of the mid-Atlantic region descended on the beaches. She worked as a waitress, first at a bar and grill, then at a seafood place, then at a steak house. Sweating through the menial jobs didn’t bother her anymore. She was having fun.

All night keg parties at rented waterfront townhouses always seemed to end at dawn with eight or ten people nude in the surf. Katie was always one of them. Riding through town in late summer on the back of some guy’s motorcycle, high on pot, the sun sinking in hues of red and orange and gold. Steamy lovemaking sessions on the beach, in the outdoor shower, on the back porch, on sandy sheets, with all sorts of guys. A sun-bleached surfer one summer. An artist, like herself, who came to paint the fall foliage one November, and who stayed through until the following April. A married fireman from Philadelphia who shared a ramshackle house with five other firemen, and who came to town every two weeks. Her first and only black man, a retired football player named Ray.

Ray had spent three years on the Kansas City Chiefs without ever getting into a regular season game. The way he saw it, he made all that money and didn’t get hurt, and that made sense to Katie. She broke it off with him when he tried to get her into a menage a trois with a hard-bodied black woman he brought over from Baltimore.

‘Come on, baby,’ Ray said. ‘Look at that sexy thing over there. You know she looks good.’ The woman leaned against the living room wall in Katie’s small apartment. She had long braids and high cheekbones and tight buns. She looked damn good in a bikini. She had a body to envy, and her big brown eyes said she knew it. Her presence, and the question at hand, made it loud and clear that Ray was already sleeping with her.

‘Fuck you, Ray. No means no. It’s just not my thing.’

Ray held Katie’s face in both hands. He had soft hands for such a strong man. ‘Let her taste you then. I guarantee she drives you wild. She wants to do it. Ain’t that right, Bevie?’

‘Mmmm-hmmm. She look good to me.’ Bevie had a gap between her two front teeth. She said it meant she was sweet down below.

‘Tell you what, Ray. Both of you. Out of my house.’

But she felt sad and empty when he was gone. Even now, years later, he was still her image of the ideal physical man. She wasn’t tall, but she had a lot of body – she reminded herself of Marilyn Monroe. Ray was so big and strong he made her feel like a small and delicate flower. It was a beautiful feeling, while it lasted.

After Ray, she spent fall and winter collecting unemployment checks and walking the empty beach. When she looked in the mirror, she caught the first glimpses of something she had thought she would never see. Age. She was twenty-seven. Her skin had seen too much sun. Her body had seen too much alcohol and maybe too many lovers. She counted them and the number only came to twenty-one, less than the number of years she had been alive. She had come close with quite a few others, so close that she almost counted them, but didn’t. Twenty-one had received the gift, she decided. Still, it was more than she’d like. For the first time, she considered that she would like to be a virgin again.

The next one, she thought. I’ll take it slow and I’ll love him, and he’ll be the one I marry. It’ll all be innocent and like new.

Almost a year later, the next one was Tyler Gant. Handsome, fit and tough – in those days Tyler was every inch the newly retired cop. It had been good for a while with him, good enough to get married. He had taken care of her like no man before him – he was the first man who really had the means to do it. But things between them had turned dark and cold, and now their marriage, their love, was like a dead thing lying at the bottom of that pool on the rolling lawn below her.


The heat hit him like a blast from a furnace.

When the airplane door opened, Tyler Gant stepped from the sleek corporate jet into bright sunshine. He wore a suit of summer linen, and the air conditioning on the plane had let him forget how hot it would be here on the island. He climbed down the narrow steps of the plane to the airstrip’s tarmac, which shimmered in the heat. The black tar almost looked like it was bubbling. Gant was the only passenger disembarking from what had probably been designed as an eight- or ten-seater, but was laid out more like somebody’s living room. He’d sat in a barcalounger reading the New York Times for the whole two and a half hour flight. Bad news from everywhere – modern civilization was falling apart and there didn’t seem to be a damned thing anybody could do about it.

Four men in khakis and loose fitting, short-sleeved shirts waited for Gant at the bottom of the steps. They all wore wraparound sunglasses. They all had big shoulders and forearms. Their faces were nearly identical – stone-faced and expressionless. He guessed they all had guns in their waistbands. Hired help.

They didn’t ask him how his flight was. They didn’t offer him a glass of iced tea. They directed him to a corrugated tin shack near the side of the runway. They entered with him and one of them directed him to remove his clothes. The shack was nothing more than one room with a couple of chairs and a desk. It had a dirt floor.

Gant took everything off, right down to his BVDs. As he did so, he handed the articles of clothing to the men, each one pawing through his pockets, feeling the linings of his jacket and slacks, looking for hidden compartments in his shoes. They found nothing – no weapons, no wires, no nada. Gant stood barefoot in the middle of the room, his toes gripping loose dirt, the men hovering around him. They eyed his slim and muscular body, only a flicker here and there betraying the thought – this man is sixty years old? Barely concealed menace came off them in waves.

‘You guys want to do a cavity search?’ he said.

One of the men smiled. ‘We trust you, Gant. You’re one of the good guys.’ He gestured at Gant’s clothes hanging on the back of the chair and draped on the table. ‘Get dressed,’ he said, and the four gorillas stepped outside.

Gant put his suit back on, but there was no mirror to check his look. He made a Windsor knot without benefit of his reflection, the knowledge where it always had been – in his hands. He came out of the shack and a white Lincoln Town Car was now waiting for him. A black SUV was parked in front of it, and another black SUV brought up the rear. Energy crisis, what energy crisis? The commercial airline industry had disintegrated, and Fielding sent a plane to pick up one person. In the United States, fuel riots were a weekly event, but here Fielding sent a motorcade of gas-guzzlers out to the airport. Maybe it was all designed for show – here on fantasy island money and resources were not an issue. Maybe none of it was really true, a Potemkin stage play put on for Gant’s benefit. One of Gant’s guiding principles was not to trust first impressions – often enough, things were not what they seemed.

He climbed into the back seat of the Lincoln. A man sat in there, thin with round wire-frame glasses, nattily attired in a gray three-piece suit, sandy hair brushed back from his face. He extended a bony hand from a thin, fragile-looking arm. The arm could have been a loose thread at the end of his sleeve. Gant shook the hand, and the grip was firm enough. As Gant settled in, the little convoy rolled out. In fact it drove right down the middle of the runway toward a high chain link fence at the far end – the exit. The limo driver was a dark shadow on the far side of a smoked glass partition.

‘Mr Gant?’ the man said. ‘I’m Elliott Howe, Mr Fielding’s personal assistant. How was your flight?’

‘Smooth,’ Gant said. ‘No complaints.’

‘Would you care for a drink?’

‘Not at the moment. Thanks.’

‘Mr Fielding is eager to meet with you.’

‘That’s good news. I see he trusts I don’t have a bomb planted up my ass.’

Gant wasn’t one to suck up oxygen making small-talk, and he didn’t like having happy gas blown his way – especially not three minutes after a strip-search.

The car motored along a narrow, winding concrete highway lined with palm trees and dense undergrowth. Their little motorcade seemed to be the only cars on the road. Gant didn’t bother to look closely at the trees and other plants for what he knew he’d find. The island flora were sick – the rainy season was already lurching towards its end, and for the second year in a row it had barely rained at all. The climate patterns had changed here, abruptly and without calling the weatherman for permission.

Even in good times, many local people had been poor. A steady trickle of tourism had kept the island alive. Now the tourists were mostly gone. They had evaporated along with the gasoline and the good corporate jobs and the Wall Street funny money. With no rain, the meager crops the folks here had planted to save themselves were dried out and dead. There was trouble in paradise. Poverty was bad enough, and sustained drought made it worse, but events were quickly moving to the next level. The island government – dominated and manipulated for many years by the man Gant was about to see – had collapsed. People were going hungry. Roaming gangs of men, armed with machetes, had seized some of the land and homes of the wealthy.

Every few minutes, the Town Car rattled over some rough road, or slowed to a crawl to pick its way across a monster chuckhole. Road maintenance was no longer a priority, it seemed. On the right, a maxi van, that Third World taxi service deathtrap, zoomed by going the other direction. The driver laid on his horn as he passed. The maxi went by so fast that Gant didn’t notice much about it. He was left with the impression that maybe a dozen people were packed inside. All he knew for sure was that the van was still operational, the driver still had access to gasoline, and there was a slogan painted in bright colors on the front of the van: Angel Eyes.

On the left, across more undergrowth, Gant caught a glimpse of the turquoise ocean. On the right, through the bushes, and on the other side of a dilapidated green fence, Gant spied cinderblock homes and tin-roof clapboard shanties in a riot of fading colors. Many of the roofs were outfitted with cisterns to catch rainwater, Gant knew. The whole set up had been described to him months ago. But the cisterns were hardly much use these days.

High above the roofs and etched against the sky, he noticed the grand prize – a large water tower. It caught his eye for a few seconds before he looked away. He’d seen aerial and ground-level photos of it, of course, but had never seen it in person. The communities on this island were served by two old towers, this one the Town Car was passing and one other. The water was pump-driven up into the towers from the tiny local reservoir, the pumps powered by diesel gas. The water pressure in people’s homes was created by gravity as the water came down from the towers.

The towers themselves were very low security – you could simply cut open a chain link fence, and in each case, climb a staircase a few stories up to the tank. Each of the tanks had vents that could easily be forced open. It was mind boggling, such open access to a vital community resource like water. For a moment, Gant found himself lost in thought about it.

Suddenly, up ahead, two children darted out from the grasses on the right. They were black kids, boys, dressed only in shorts. They hurled something at the car, throwing their projectiles ahead of the car’s path, timing it perfectly, nailing the spot where the car would be in another second.

It was some kind of red fruit. Gant heard the first one hit somewhere at the front of the car – maybe the windshield. The second one crashed into the window next to Gant’s head. It made a loud THUMP, then hung there for a moment, stuck to the glass, weird, pulpy, almost obscene. The center of it looked like the mouth of some kind of suckerfish, with ruby-colored tendrils extending away like the arms of an octopus. Then the whole mess slithered to the bottom of the window and fell away. In its wake it left a path of slime, like a snail might leave behind.

‘The car is bulletproof, of course,’ Howe said. ‘Including the windows.’

‘They’re throwing away food,’ Gant said.

‘Yes, very foolish. Maybe it was rotten.’

Gant smiled. ‘Those little kids are probably pretty good at throwing a baseball. In another couple of years, maybe they’ll be just as good with a firebomb. Or a grenade.’ The thought pleased him somehow.

Howe smiled in return, but it looked more like a wince. ‘That’s one of Mr Fielding’s concerns. But hopefully, things will never get that far.’

The car slowed to a stop on a curve. Up ahead and to his right, Gant saw two of the men from the airstrip climb out of the lead SUV. They both had compact machine guns cradled in their arms. Suddenly there was the blat of automatic weaponry. Gant’s heart skipped a beat at the sound. He looked back to where the kids had been – they were both OK, running through the high grass toward the shanties. The gunmen had fired into the air.

‘Not very sporting,’ Gant said. ‘Firing on children, even over their heads, could be counter-productive.’

Howe was unapologetic. ‘We live in a profoundly active balance of terror with the neighbors, I’m afraid. We don’t shoot children, but we do try to demonstrate who is in charge on this island. Increasingly, it’s a lesson that seems lost on their parents.’

Gant just looked at Howe. He took a good long look. Howe was a man who had probably never fired a weapon in anger during his entire life. But Howe held Gant’s stare, his eyes never wavering. It was easy to be a tough guy in the back of a limousine.

‘I guess that’s why we hire a person like Mr Tyler Gant,’ Howe said. ‘To remind everyone just who’s in charge around here.’

Gant glanced at the red smudge on the window. ‘Actually, you hire me when no one is in charge, and you want me to fix that.’

The car and its SUV escorts started again. They exited the main road and followed a narrow, well-paved lane uphill through thick green foliage. The ascent was steep for a moment, and then very steep. Gant sat back in his seat, almost like an astronaut waiting for takeoff. He felt the heavy Town Car working to manage the hill.

The entrance to Fielding’s estate was at the top of the hill. Gant took in the security – the place seemed well-guarded. The procession waited while the main gate slid open, then each car passed through in line. Unlike out at the airstrip, here the security team made no pretense. Two men stood near the booth with Uzis carried lightly in their hands. The perimeter fence was wrought iron and very tall – the gaps were too narrow for even the skinniest kid to slip through.

Gant glanced upward and spotted bands of circular razor wire at the top. Beat that fence – a determined mob could probably take it down – and you faced about thirty yards to an identical wrought iron fence, with identical razor wire on top. The thirty yard gap between fences was a dog run. Gant spotted half a dozen Rottweilers roaming free in there. Beat the dogs, beat the second fence, and you probably confronted ten or more slack-faced, dead-eyed professional killers with automatic weapons. It would take something just short of a revolution to breach these grounds – hundreds of people, too hungry to fear death. Either that, or a sudden outbreak of empathy and reluctance to fire among the security team.

The house itself was a palace. When the Lincoln pulled to the top of the circular driveway, Gant did a quick calculation. Old quarried stone plantation house, around two hundred years old, fully restored, probably thirty rooms. Gant’s own large home – a mansion by many people’s standards – would fit tucked neatly into a far wing of this house.

He exited the car and immediately felt the breeze – the air wasn’t nearly as heavy up here. Ahead of him, Howe jogged briskly up the stone front steps. Gant carried his own bag and followed him. They turned around. The front of the house faced inland – a sweeping panorama downhill across the brown and green island, the township far below, and in the distance, a white sand beach. Here and there, wisps of cloud clung to the treetops – maybe a few drops of rain in those clouds, but not much. On a few of the hillsides, Gant spotted homes similar, but perhaps not as grand, as this one.

‘Quite a view,’ Gant said.

Howe shrugged. ‘That’s nothing. Wait until you see the view from the veranda, and from your bedroom.’

They crossed into the foyer. A simple white cross, seven feet high, dominated the space in front of the wide spiral stairway. Gant thought of the garish depictions of Christ on the cross from his Catholic upbringing – super-realistic, emaciated, bleeding from the spikes piercing His hands and His feet and from the thorns pricking His head, wild eyes rolling Heavenward in anguish. It was the stuff of nightmares, and had made an impression on Gant. But none of that for Fielding. Fielding’s own brand of fanatical Christianity was crisp and clean – it had abstracted ol’ Christ right out of the picture.

Howe led Gant to the second floor and down a wide, cool hallway. Their feet echoed on polished stone. They passed through a doorway and here was what must have been Fielding’s office – fifty yards away, on the far end of what might have once been a ballroom. Gant could almost hear the strains of music and laughter from those long ago times – the good old days. As they walked across the open space, Gant could see the desk, positioned to the right of the open balcony. To the left of the balcony was a sofa, two chairs and a settee. Two men sat there, each sipping from a teacup. Gant recognized one of them, a man with white hair, as Roscoe Fielding, the owner of this house, and the master of all he surveyed. Gant didn’t know the other man. They rose as Gant and his minder approached.

‘Mr Gant,’ Fielding said. ‘Good of you to join us. Do you know Representative Harting?’

‘I’m afraid I don’t.’ Gant extended his hand to the Congressman, who took it in his soft paw. Harting was a beefy man of indeterminate age with a swoop of sandy brown hair. He wore a light brown sports jacket over a dress shirt open at the collar, and khaki shorts – the prep school look. It was enough to make Gant dislike him instantly. Even worse, Harting’s chubby cheeks and the spot of red on each one made him look like a spoiled twelve year-old who spent much of his time indoors playing video games.

‘Jim Harting, Tyler Gant,’ Fielding said. He put a proprietary arm around Harting’s big shoulders. ‘Jim is one of the good ones. He’s one of ours.’

‘Fighting the good fight,’ Gant said. ‘Don’t let me interrupt you.’

‘Roscoe and I were just finishing,’ Harting said, with a hint of a Southern twang. ‘He told me y’all had some important business to talk about, and I’m here for a couple more days, so… ’

‘He has plenty of time to grab my ear, should he need to,’ Fielding said.

Howe smoothly escorted the Honorable James Harting out. Gant took a seat across from Fielding. Fielding was thin to the point of pain. His bony wrists extended a few inches past the end of his white cotton sleeves. His eyes seemed sunken back into his face. The face itself looked like it was written on wrinkled parchment.

‘The tea is still hot,’ Fielding said, gesturing to the pot on the table. ‘Hot tea on a hot day, it makes you perspire. Cools you off some.’

‘No thanks.’

Fielding poured himself some, his hands shaking just a bit. ‘We see you already moved the money from the account we set up for you.’

Gant smiled. ‘One bank account is as good as another.’

‘Do you trust us?’

Gant shrugged, didn’t say anything.

Fielding waved the issue away. ‘It’s your money. Do whatever you want with it. Anyway, that’s not why I asked you here. I thought it was time for us to meet. You’ll find that I’m a man who isn’t much for chit-chat. I like to get down to business right away. And I like to speak plainly.’

Gant thought of the politician who had just left. He looked like a chit-chatter and double-talker, if ever there was one. ‘I’m all for speaking plainly,’ Gant said.

Fielding nodded. ‘Good. Then here it is. We’ve paid you a lot of money, and as I say, that’s OK with me. But I’m concerned. I find you much less forthcoming with information than I’d like. We’ve had no status reports from you. You’re hesitant to talk on the telephone or to submit anything in writing, and I understand that reluctance. But you also refuse to send any of your people here to make a report, and that I don’t understand. Our mutual friends told us to expect these things from you, so I’ve been patient, but my patience is wearing thin. I’m beginning to suspect I’ve been taken for a ride. I can’t tell you how much that upsets and disappoints me.’

Gant felt nothing as a result of Fielding’s little speech. He’d been through this type of thing before. Clients, at some point in any operation, especially one as uncertain as this, always needed to be reassured. They needed a hug, and they needed a grown-up to tell them everything was going to be all right. In fact, Fielding had lasted longer than some others before reaching that place.

‘I’m here, aren’t I?’ Gant said. ‘I’d hardly come waltzing through all of your gunmen if I were, as you say, taking you for a ride.’

‘Agreed. I feel a little better already, just having you as my guest.’

‘So then, what would you like to know?’

‘Well, by now I was expecting to see… something. Some action. Since you’re here, would you like to update me on the project’s status?’

‘Why? Don’t you trust me?’ Gant said.

Fielding smiled the tiniest bit. He moved a few papers aside on the table, and came up with a manila folder. He opened it and looked at the one sheet of white unlined paper inside. ‘Tyler Gant. US Army 25th Infantry Division, Vietnam. Two tours of duty, 1969 – 1971. Philadelphia Police Department, 1972 – 2003. You’ve spent most of your life in service to your country and your community. That’s to be commended. You should be proud.’

‘I don’t make a fetish out of it,’ Gant said.

Fielding laughed. ‘They said you were a wiseass. I like that in a man, but only so far.’ His face became serious. ‘You know, I’m only five years older than you.’

‘I know.’

‘Well, how do you do it? How do you stay so young?’

‘Believe me, I’m nothing like I used to be,’ Gant said. “I feel the time passing.’

‘But still,’ Fielding said. ‘It’s remarkable.’

Gant shrugged. ‘I only drink the best whiskey. That helps. And I’ve been blessed with good genes.’ He didn’t mention the two days a week with a personal trainer, the five mile runs, and the yoga nearly every morning. He didn’t mention the fruit and vegetable juicing, and the four days of fasting each month. They probably had all that in a file, in any case. ‘My father turned eighty-nine this year. He just came back from his fall hunting trip. Took down a ten-point buck. Clean shot to the head.’

‘Amazing,’ Fielding said. ‘How’s he getting along in these dark times? Does he find it hard?’

‘He’s a tough old bird. Says he’s seen it worse. He was alive during the Great Depression. That was, of course, worse than now.’

‘I’ll grant that’s probably true,’ Fielding said. He paused, seemingly lost in thought for a moment. ‘Mr Gant, I’m concerned. That’s all I’m saying. You come highly recommended. I’m told you’re among the best at what you do, but I feel like you’ve left me in the dark here.’

‘Do you really want to be in the light? In matter such as these, highly sensitive matters, I operate under the assumption that the less the client knows, the better for the client. I think you should take a moment before you answer. Do you really want to know what’s happening?’

Fielding didn’t hesitate. ‘Yes. I want to know.’

Gant took a deep breath, then nodded. ‘We are very close. There’s a boat anchored off the East Coast of the United States, exactly where doesn’t matter at this moment. A small laboratory has been built aboard the boat. Not state of the art, but quite good under the circumstances. It has everything necessary. A person I trust, and who has experience in these matters, built the lab based on very specific guidelines. Some people I do business with have acquired a quantity of a certain substance, an organism, and they will deliver it to the boat when I give them the go ahead. A scientist is en route to the boat. He was unavoidably detained very recently, so the work is a little behind schedule, but I can tell you that soon he will be in place. Once he is, the work will proceed very quickly. After that, your men can meet us at the boat, and we’ll make the transfer.’

Fielding nodded. ‘You’ll accompany my men back here on the plane, of course. To make sure the operation ends smoothly?’

‘Of course. I’ll probably bring at least one of my men with me as well.’

‘The scientist,’ Fielding said. ‘He’s a good man?’

Gant chose not to answer the question. ‘I’ve worked with him before, and our previous work has been a success. What we accomplished in the past is likely what brought my name to your attention.’

He paused, then looked deeply into Fielding’s eyes. ‘The question now becomes, are you sure you want to go through with this?’

Gant saw the look come into Fielding’s eyes. He had seen it many times before, in many other sets of eyes. It was a hunger, like a vampire thirsty for blood.

‘Mr Gant, this house has been my primary residence for the past thirty years. I’m an American, but this island is my home. I buried my wife here. I raised two children here. I’ve run my businesses from here. Many good friends of mine have been driven away, forced off the island, by the tyranny of the mob. Innocent people have had their homes taken, have been murdered, and far worse.’ Fielding’s thin, weak hand clenched into a fist. ‘ Worse than murdered, do I need to explain the meaning of that to you? And some of the men doing these things were policemen not even a year ago. But this isn’t Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe, or whatever you want to call it. A few of us are still here, and we’re not going anywhere. We will not be terrorized and we will not be driven out. I am totally committed to the course of action I’ve asked you to take.’

‘And the media reaction?’ Gant said. ‘What will you do when CNN and the BBC are broadcasting footage of corpses being buried by bulldozers? What will you do when the Marines come ashore, with investigators from the Centers for Disease Control? What will you do afterward? How will you stay here? This is going to be a land of the dead.’

Fielding waved his hand, as he would wave away a mosquito. ‘Please don’t underestimate my ability to influence media coverage, or to influence the US government response. Let’s just say that members of Congress are among the least powerful of my friends. Anyway, this is a tiny island, barely worth mentioning. I’m sure you read the newspapers – people are dying everywhere. If a few thousand people here suddenly succumb to an infectious disease…’

He shrugged and paused for several seconds. Then he nodded. ‘And what am I going to do in this land of the dead, as you describe it? For one thing, I’m going to stay and see my enemies defeated. Then, after an appropriate length of time has passed, I’ll repopulate the island with immigrant workers who can better appreciate the blessings available here. To put it another way, I am completely prepared for the consequences of the operation.’

When he finished, a silence drew out between them.

‘Have I answered your concerns, Mr Gant?’

‘I guess you have. And I assume that means your operatives are ready?’

‘They’ve practiced nighttime attacks on the water towers half a dozen times now, without being detected.’

‘And you’ve taken the precautions I suggested? You have bottled water and food stockpiled? Your people are ready to defend this perimeter?’

‘I do, and they are.’

‘I want to tell you something. It’s a hell of a thing, what’s going to happen. I hope you’ll feel as gung ho about it afterward as you do now. Personally, I think you probably won’t.’

‘I’m surprised to hear you say that, Mr Gant. You sound like a man suffering from regrets. Will you lose sleep over this project? Have you lost sleep over similar projects in the past? If so, then I’m afraid I have the wrong intelligence sheet here.’

Gant stared into Fielding’s deep black eyes. ‘I’ve been around death a long time, Mr Fielding. It doesn’t bother me. In fact, it’s been my constant companion. If I’m away from it for any length of time, I start to feel lonely.’

Fielding smiled. ‘That’s good. That’s very, very good to hear.’


Gordo hummed a happy tune.

An hour had passed since they missed Foerster, and he and Jonah were in Kelly’s Bar, a dark and moody watering hole with two shamrocks in bright green neon adorning the front windows. The place sat along a grim and desolate strip of road, across from a cemetery. The nearest open shop was halfway up the street, a place that installed alarm systems. Also, there was a scrap metal dealer next door, a sign announcing ‘We Buy and Sell’ hovering above a barbed wire fence, but Gordo had never seen anybody go in or out of there. Kelly’s itself was long and narrow inside, like a tunnel, and always smelled of beer and piss. On the plus side, they had their own diesel-powered generator under an awning behind the building, and they weren’t reluctant to use it. As a result, the jukebox in the far corner and the color TV bolted to the wall over the bar always worked.

Gordo had the beers in hand, pints in frosted glasses. Despite the day’s fiasco, he felt pretty good. It was a temporary setback. Before leaving the scene today, Gordo had gone upstairs and snatched some unopened mail he found laying around the apartment. There was good stuff in that pile of envelopes, he knew there was.

When Gordo arrived at the table, Jonah was slouched on his stool, ignoring Foerster’s mail. Instead, he held a wet cloth napkin packed with ice against his forehead. He said he had gotten hit with a bottle, and he had an evil lump to prove it. The lump had cracked open and was oozing a sort of liquidy pus. Maybe there was some glass in there, Gordo didn’t know and didn’t care. He had bigger things to think about. For one, Jonah had shown him something today. That leap across the fire escapes, that took the door prize for guts. That was probably why Gordo felt so good, just knowing he had a partner with the stones to do that.

For a moment he saw the Jonah others saw. Light-skinned black man, son of a black mother and a white father. He had softer features than a lot of black guys – a leaner nose, thinner lips. Jonah was a solid, handsome dude, like an actor or maybe a pro baseball player out and about in street clothes.

It was rare for Gordo to look at him this way. Most of the time, Gordo still thought of his partner as he was when they first met and became friends in junior high school – a skinny kid with a crazy head of curly hair and basketball shorts hanging down past his knees. They had known each other a long time now – just about twenty years.

Gordo placed the beers on the table and slid onto his stool.

‘You want some acetaminophen?’ he said. ‘I got some out in the car. Generic store brand, but it works real good.’

Jonah shook his head. ‘The stuff is poison, man. It kills the liver.’

Gordo saw right away that Jonah was in a mood. Well, then it was up to Gordo to lighten the place up a little. ‘Listen, it was poor planning,’ he told Jonah. ‘The fucking guy out-thunk me, that’s all.’

‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ Jonah said.

‘We learned something today, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Planning is the key, all right? We just gotta look at all the angles. Cover all possible exits, no matter how crazy they seem.’

Jonah grimaced in response and stared down at the table. ‘That’s a long way to go to learn something.’

Gordo sipped his beer.

He was thirty-two years old, stood a shade under six feet tall, and weighed almost two hundred and fifty pounds. He thought he carried it pretty well, more like a strong, heavy thickness than fat. His massive belly was as hard as an iron skillet. His legs were like the trunks of California redwoods. His arms were like the big bass pipes on a giant church organ. And the nickname? He loved it. El Gordo. It reminded him of a superhero, or maybe a monster from the old Jap Godzilla movies. He had loved the girl down in Santo Domingo who thought it up, too. She was dark black with dyed-blonde hair and a killer body. Chocolata, she called herself, though God knew her real name was probably something a little more conventional like Rosa, or Maria. In any case, Gordo did her good, in ten different ways and in the morning he gave her an extra tip for the nickname idea.

He had been around.

He sold cocaine for a while when he was coming up. He had a little route that took him all over the metro area three days a week. It turned him off pretty quick. He grew tired of listening to screaming babies in the back bedrooms of tiny houses while Mom and Dad had a taste in the kitchen before buying. How often had he seen that? Once or twice, but it seemed like every week. He also didn’t like that paranoid, up-all-night feeling after too many lines, hours of time to think about the cops knocking down the door and coming through the walls one day soon. He got out before that could happen.

Later, he spent some time repossessing cars. It was back when the collapse started happening, the first phase. People had bought all kinds of junk on credit, and now they were out of money. Gas prices going through the roof, house values tanking, people losing jobs left and right – suddenly, paying the note on that Hummer or that Land Rover didn’t seem so smart anymore. Those were good times and Gordo made good money. It seemed like he could always make money, up or down, it didn’t matter.

But the banks themselves started going belly up. There was a glut of consumer shit out there – cars, boats, jet skis – and nobody was paying on any of it, but the companies didn’t want it back anymore, either. It cost more to collect the stuff than the money they could get reselling it or unloading it at auction. Then the gasoline dried up, and no middle-class worker bee would take a powerboat or a jet ski if you tried to give them one. You might as well try to give them bubonic plague. It was a good lesson to learn – toys that had once cost ten thousand, twenty thousand, even thirty thousand dollars or more could become worth zero, or less than zero, practically overnight.

When that happened, Gordo drifted for a while. The occasional repo popped up from time to time, but it wasn’t enough. During a brief period, maybe six months, he lost his confidence a little bit. He began to think that maybe he was going to go down with ship, that he wasn’t going to be able to turn this thing around.

Then he stumbled on an idea while watching television one night. They did a short piece on some fluff news show about guys who went around serving lawsuit papers and summonses to people who didn’t want to be served said papers. The show said the guys worked for themselves, on their own, taking jobs from the courts and from law firms that operated around the court buildings. It could be a rough and tumble type job, according to the announcer, good for snoops who weren’t afraid when people got out of line. The news piece was over in about five minutes. Afterward, Gordo sat on his couch and drank a beer, staring at whatever came on the television next. But what he was looking at was an image in his mind’s eye, an image of the Bronx County Courthouse.

For as long as he could remember, Gordo had known about the Courthouse. It was that huge off-white ten-story Art Deco monster looming in the distance beyond the white bunting and the bleachers at the old Yankee Stadium. It sat high above the elevated subway line and all the shops and fast food restaurants wedged together along the wide boulevard of 161st Street. It ate up a whole city block. It always caught his eye, and he would gaze at it between innings, but he never imagined himself going up the hill and walking inside. Then one day he found himself there, as if he had floated there in a dream. He passed through the security checkpoint without incident. He asked some faceless person for directions, waded through the crowds, and stood in line at a window. He took a course, complete with a workbook and pencils and a buttoned-down instructor who told the twenty people gathered in the dusty classroom how it was all going to go down. Two weeks later Gordo was serving paper.

He liked it and was good at it. He could find people, even the people who didn’t want to be found – especially those people. And once he found them, there was no mystery to serving them. His first test came early on.

One day, he had to serve a mechanic who was delinquent in his child support payments. It was a typical set-up. As the economy went from bad to worse, a lot of women were chasing down a lot of deadbeat dads who claimed they had no money. And an auto mechanic would be a good candidate for deadbeat dadhood – cars were dropping off the road like houseflies had once dropped in the first chill of October.

It was 6:30 in the evening, and Gordo tracked his prey to a nudie bar a block away from the auto body shop. The bar had a steeple in front as though it were once a church. The guy Gordo wanted was in there drinking dinner with two of his buddies, watching some blonde-haired Bavarian sow in a lime green thong gyrate to loud disco music back behind the bar. She liked the night life, she liked to boogie. Her huge pink nipples hung down almost to her waist. The thong carved into her love handles. The bartender, a creaky old Slav, looked so bored he was about to expire from the tedium.

Gordo had a copy of the mechanic’s photo from a driver’s license, so he knew what the guy looked like. He walked up to the three of them at their table and sat down. The guy he needed to serve was the one in the middle, still wearing his grimy and oil-caked work coveralls. He had slicked-back hair, a pock-marked face, and oversized hands. His two friends were a small round Mexican in a baseball cap and a skinny, dark West Indian. Gordo envied them their openness – here in the Bronx, the various cultures mostly steered clear of one another.

The three men eyed Gordo.

‘Eddie?’ Gordo said. ‘Eddie Valence?’ Gordo thought that somewhere in the past the family had Americanized its name from Valenzuela.

‘Who wants to know?’

Gordo gave them all an apologetic grin. ‘Hey, I hate to bother you man, but I got a problem with my car outside. I think it’s the carburetor. A guy told me to look in here for you, said you might be willing to make some extra money. It’ll probably take somebody like you five minutes to fix it. Me, I don’t know anything about cars.’

He paused, Valence looking at him, the other men staring past him now, eyes glued to the girl on stage. At the end of a long day, and after a few drinks, even a specimen like that could get a man going. Gordo knew how they felt. He was the same way.

Valence nodded. ‘It’s me. I’ll look at it in a minute.’

‘Tell you what,’ Gordo said, taking the papers from the pocket inside his jacket and placing them on the table. ‘Before you look at the car, why don’t you go in and talk to the judge about all those child support payments you missed?’

All three men were gaping at him again.

‘What I’m saying is you’ve been served.’

Valence took it hard. Without a word, he stood and grabbed Gordo by the shirt. The West Indian also stood. A moment later, both men were splayed out under the table, with the Mexican standing ten feet away, wanting no part of the action. It happened so fast that Gordo had no memory of putting them down there, just a blur of throwing fists and knocking beers over. His hands were slimy from Valence’s hair gel.

Gordo looked at the Mexican, but the Mexican shook his head. Gordo looked at the girl, who had paused in her dance routine. She made no sign, just stared at him. The ancient Slavic bartender held a sawed-off pool cue, but made no move forward with it. Just before he left, Gordo folded the papers and placed them in the breast pocket of Valence’s coveralls.

That sort of thing got around, and Gordo started to gain a reputation. Somebody who’s gone to ground, with no forwarding address? Give it to Gordon Lamb. A hard-ass who popped the last process guy in the mouth? Lamb will take it.

Then, eighteen months ago, while hanging around the halls of justice one morning, he got to talking to a bail bondsman, a short guy named Leo who always wore a bowtie and pants held up by suspenders. Leo’s thing was that the suspenders and bowtie always had themes – whales against a deep blue sea one day, the red hammer and sickle of the former Soviet Union the next day, green hundred dollar bills the next. Leo’s bald head glistened in the overhead fluorescents – if Gordo didn’t know better, he’d guess that the little man polished it like a bowling ball. Leo was also hanging around that morning.

‘If you’re so good at finding people,’ Leo said idly, ‘then why don’t you do the bounty hunter thing? Catch a couple of these assholes that’ve skipped out on me? I got criminals disappearing left and right. How am I supposed to make a living when nobody shows up for trial anymore? You want money, that’s where you can make some real money. Bring these fucking jerks back.’

‘Tell me more,’ Gordo said.


Inside Kelly’s Bar, ten minutes had gone by since Gordo brought over the beers, and Jonah’s headache had not improved at all. The sound system pounded out some bad rock tune. It was just after six o’clock, and almost nobody was in there. Three long hairs, skinny guys in black T-shirts and dirty jeans, crouched over in the corner getting loaded and shoveling dollars into the juke.

Jonah’s head thumped along to the music. A few moments ago, he had gone in the bathroom and seen the angry red lump growing on his forehead. It stung where the skin was broken and it throbbed with every beat of his pulse. He didn’t want to touch it.

Now he sat at their table and sulked while Gordo pored through a pile of mail he found in Foerster’s apartment.

‘That fucking guy,’ Jonah said. ‘All these skips are crazy, man.’

Gordo seemed fixated on the letter he was reading. There were so many envelopes, it seemed that Foerster hadn’t opened any of his mail in a month. ‘You know,’ Gordo said, ‘this guy tells his landlord his name is Mark Foster, then goes ahead and tells half the world his real name. All his bills at that address came to Davis Foerster, not that he paid any of them. Isn’t that dumb?’

Jonah said nothing.

Gordo peeled his eyes from the paper and peered at Jonah for a moment. ‘Sure you didn’t get any glass on your brain?’

‘Fuck you,’ Jonah said.

Gordo frowned. ‘Relax. We missed one. Granted, it was the big fish, but that’s the first one we missed in a month. And maybe we’ll pick up his scent again. What more do you want?’

Jonah shook his head. ‘I want some more money. How about that?’

Gordo smiled. ‘The money’s coming, brother. You just gotta stick with it a little while longer. We catch this guy and then we’re talking about real money, right?’ He picked up his beer glass and took a long sip. ‘Listen, you need to think like me. I’m in the same boat as you. I’m just about flat busted. But I don’t worry about it. As long as I’m still breathing, I’m cool, because I know something big is just around the next corner. Every dollar I get, I put it back into this business. I’m building for the future. See?’

‘I got you,’ Jonah said. ‘Look at the money like it’s no big deal.’

‘That’s right. If everybody’s going broke, then the fact that you’re going broke is no problem.’

There was some truth to that. Jonah wasn’t the only one going under. The modern world – the world Jonah had grown up in – hadn’t exactly rolled over and died. But it was going away and faster than anyone could have imagined. It was already a disintegrating remnant, a pale shadow of its former self. Economies had ground to a halt. Millions were out of work. Governments fell apart overnight. In the Third World, there was mass starvation and disease. Earlier this year, for the first time, there were food shortages in the United States. Food shortages in the land of fat people? It was hard to accept.

Jonah remembered, as a child, being comforted by the fact that the grown-ups were in charge. Now, as a grown-up, he realized no one was in charge. In this new world, you had to make your own way and figure it out for yourself. Nobody was going to do the figuring for you.

Gordo was wrong. It was a problem. It was a big fucking problem. The year was three quarters over and Jonah had pulled down less than half his old salary. It wouldn’t have turned out so bad, except he had lived a high-flying lifestyle in years past, and he still had the bills to prove it. Gordo might be busted or he might not, but one look at the man would tell you that he’d never spent money the way Jonah had.

Less than three years ago, Jonah had been driving a sleek white Jaguar XJ8 with a luxurious interior. He thought of that car as a high-water mark of sorts. At some point he had stopped making payments on it and one morning it just wasn’t there anymore. Goodbye to the leather bucket seats and goodbye to the lamb’s wool foot rugs. Goodbye to the walnut trim with the Peruvian boxwood inlays, and goodbye to the charging silver jungle cat on the hood. Jonah had heard that all the jaguars in the wild were dead – the only place they still existed was in the zoo and as hood ornaments on expensive cars. When he heard that, it made him kind of sad to keep driving it. So when the repo men took his fancy ride, Jonah didn’t even bother to call anybody. It didn’t matter anyway. He knew what they would say.

The weird thing about it was that every now and then, Jonah would get the suspicion that Gordo himself had taken it. And why not? Gordo was a repo man – even now, he wasn’t above a repo job if one came in. Gordo knew where the car was, and he knew how far behind Jonah was on the payments. He knew Jonah’s personal habits and schedule. It wouldn’t take much for Gordo to put out a feeler and see if the car was slated for repossession – probably no more than a few phone calls.

Jonah brought up the issue over drinks one night.

‘What?’ Gordo said. ‘Are you crazy? Why would I repo your car?’

Jonah shrugged. ‘Money. Why else?’

‘Man, you are crazy. You’ve obviously lost your marbles. Listen, I’m not even going to dignify this by talking about it.’

Now Jonah owned a brown 1992 Toyota Corolla, which he rarely even drove. Jonah was just not the type of man who spent his days scrounging for gasoline. In any case, the car was a joke. The rear bumper was missing, although the black rubber covering of the bumper was still there. To the naked eye it seemed as if there was still a bumper, but there was no substance to it. If he ever got rear-ended, the other driver would be sitting in the front seat with him.

The cable TV was gone, and had been for months – no more watching the big booties shake it on BET, no more watching the white girls spank each other on the Playboy channel. He was months behind on the telephone bill, and every now and then the phone company sent him a threatening letter. When the letter came, and he knew the letter by the red envelope it came in, he would open it and send them a check for half of what he owed. Otherwise he didn’t open their letters. Losing the phone wasn’t on his mind. What needed to go was the apartment itself – it was the crib of a man who could blow money on Hudson River views. He was no longer that man, but he had renewed when the lease expired, more out of a misplaced sense of optimism than anything else.

He’d had a bad couple of years. Every time he thought he’d hit bottom, that things couldn’t get much worse, life dropped him another notch. A few weeks ago, he would have thought this had to be it – flat broke, deep in debt, working with Gordo, wrestling crazies back into police custody for chump change – that had to be the bottom. But today was a new bottom. He had risked his life for nothing, no reason at all. Tomorrow he’d probably get killed for the same reason.

If he really wanted, he could remember the exact moment when things in his life first started going dark. It was the day Melinda met Elaine.


Melinda kept her pubic hair shaved clean.

Whenever Jonah thought of her, that bald mons was the first thing that leaped to mind. She was a nice little white girl and Jonah often worried that he didn’t deserve her. She worked that body until it was lean and tight and hard. She cut her brown hair in a short bob. She wore Donna Karan for nights out, with white gold from Fortunoff. For casual times, she picked the smallest clothes she could find at Eileen Fisher. Beneath everything, she wore only Victoria’s Secret. When she slept she wore nothing.

She and Jonah looked good together, whether sitting at a table in Carmine’s after taking in a Wednesday evening Broadway show, or cruising home in the Jag with the sunroof open, or wrestling nude on silk sheets later that night. She was fair and small and smelled like money, and he was brown, but not too brown. No, too brown wouldn’t look right, but the kind of brown that came from his mother’s honest blackness and his old man’s rumpled, cigar-chomping whiteness, that was a good soft brown. Jonah thought Melinda liked them together, the look of it. She liked his money, although she had her own, more than he would ever have. She liked that he was strong. Above all, she liked his skin against hers. Yes. She had a taste for brown. It made for three years of damn fine rutting.

But Jonah had a problem. He was not a one-woman man.

It was the Sunday morning just after Thanksgiving. It was rainy and overcast, and they had wasted the weekend and each other in bed. By Jonah’s count, they had fornicated nineteen times since a good-morning romp on the kitchen table the day before.

He lay sprawled on his back in the bed, head resting on the pillows, watching himself in the mirror embedded in the ceiling, and listening to the sound of Melinda taking a shower in his bathroom. After a moment, the water stopped and he waited for her to come out. He felt sexy and pretty damn good about himself. The soreness, the physical emptiness was like a tingling throughout his body. Just seeing his body made him feel pretty good, too. It always did. Other men bought magazines and lotions and uppers and downers because they wanted a body like his. He worked out like they did, but not as hard and not as long. The body was just there for him, better than most of them would ever have. Washboard abdominals without the infomercial gimmicks. Wide round shoulders and a broad chest. And down below the waist… If he was half-black, it was the half that mattered. Little Melinda was fascinated by his size, obsessed with it, maybe addicted to it.

He ran a hand along his chest, played with his nipple ring, and rested his hand on his stomach. He didn’t know why he got that ring. He just did it on impulse one day, walking past all the freak shops on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village. It was a small gold hoop like a pirate would wear in his ear.

Melinda came out of the bathroom holding something.

He knew she saw all of him from where she stood. She was already dressed. Dark tights clung to her legs. She wore a blue boiled wool jacket, what he thought of as her fuzzy coat, against the chill of late fall she would face outside.

He figured if he played the next few minutes right, he could get something moving inside her body. If she watched him a few seconds too long, she would take all those clothes off again and they’d go for it one more time before she left for the day. Make it an even twenty.

‘What are these?’ she said.

He caught a note of alarm in her voice. It made him look at what she was holding. The first thing he noticed was a pair of black panties, too large for Melinda. His heart did a lazy belly flop as he responded.

‘Looks like underwear.’

‘I found them in the bathroom drawer,’ she said. Now her voice began to shake and her chin began to tremble. She held the label in the waistband face out so he could get a good long look. ‘They’re La Perla.’

‘OK.’ His mind went dumb, searching for anything, any thought.

She shook her head so hard that her hair bounced back and forth. It returned to almost the same position from which it started. ‘Wrong. Not OK. They weren’t there the last time I went in that drawer. Neither were these.’

She offered her other hand for his inspection. That hand held big trouble. Jonah recognized the items, a tube of KY Jelly and a clear plastic applicator which resembled a toy syringe. They came as a kit and were designed for women who had a hard time maintaining lubrication during sex play, a problem Melinda just didn’t have.

‘Where did these things come from, Jonah?’

There was nowhere to hide. He saw this and he didn’t run from it.

In his mind’s eye, as though it were showing on a giant high-definition liquid-crystal television, Jonah watched his relationship with Melinda collapse and crash apart. It was an awesome thing to behold, like a chunk of ice the size of Rhode Island calving away from Antarctica and falling into the ocean.

‘They belong to a woman named Elaine,’ he said. ‘She’s my boss at work.’

Melinda nodded.

She left without another word, but that wasn’t the last he saw of her.

‘I make myself sick,’ she said two weeks later.

She pulled on a thick wool sweater as she readied herself to leave. She checked her look in the full-length mirror. She was satisfied with what she saw. She turned to Jonah. As usual, he lay on the bed watching her dress.

Tonight had been a grudge match.

‘You know that? I make myself sick by coming here again. Already I feel horrible about what I just did. I don’t know what I ever saw in you. I don’t know what you even see in you. On the surface, you seem so arrogant, so self-centered. But what you really are is weak and pathetic.’

‘I’m weak,’ he said. ‘In what way?’

She laughed at him then. ‘In what way aren’t you weak? You’re like a weak little white boy, an accountant maybe, in a nice body. Oh yeah, you have a nice body, not the best, believe me, but nice. But inside, you’re weak and ugly, and when I think of you touching me tonight, it makes me sick.’

‘Come on, Melinda,’ he said. ‘Be honest. It was good, wasn’t it?’

She was dressed, had tousled her hair some, and was ready to go. ‘I need a man, Jonah. I need a real man, not some Oreo cookie, not some pretty boy who never passed a mirror he didn’t like, not some coward.’

She stood by the door, waiting for him to say something. When he didn’t, she went on without waiting. ‘You’re hiding, Jonah. Big ladies man. Flashes his money around. Smiles his pretty smile. Talks all that sincere bullshit. Gets whatever piece of ass he wants. Right?’

‘Hey. You said it, not me.’

‘But without all that, you’re nothing. I can’t believe I didn’t see through you sooner. You always need a new one, right? A new little piece? Because without it, you’re nothing and you know it. You’re not a man, and you think maybe if you can fuck every woman in sight, that’ll make you seem like a man. You’re so weak. You keep acting this way, you’ll be their slave forever.’

He laughed. ‘Whose slave?’

‘The people who own you.’

‘Nobody owns me.’

She pointed at him. ‘Wrong! They all own you. The job owns you. Your little boss lady owns you. She’s using you, Jonah. You might think you get something out of it, but you don’t. She uses you. And you let her do it. You’re like the house slave. They dress you up nice, and they teach you to talk nice, but you’re still a slave.’

She had something more to say, he was sure, and he couldn’t think of anything. She had him, calling him a slave. It caught him off guard. It hurt, that word.

‘Fuck you,’ he said.

She laughed, not a sound of mirth but a burst of stale air from a deflated tire. ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘That’s the best you can do.’

With that, she went out.

He lay still for several minutes after she was gone, his mind dark and quiet. Then he got up, put his robe on, and went about making something to eat in the kitchen. He picked up the remote control off the counter, leaned back into the living room and started a compact disc going in the stereo.

He figured he would just put Melinda out of his mind, like he had all the others. But in the days that followed, Melinda stuck with him, more than he would care to admit. She was always simmering on a back burner of his mind, and too late he realized he had ruined a good thing. What’s more, the things she said stayed with him. He began to see how some of it made a certain amount of sense.

Jonah knew what people thought of him. He wore a pinstripe three-piece suit, Armani; a gold Seiko chronograph, stylish because it was shockproof – he also could wear it mountain biking if he wanted; silk tie, also Armani; alligator shoes; a smooth hundred dollar fade that enhanced what one art director had called his ‘delicately-shaped’ skull. He was a young executive now, working big advertising accounts. Two belated years of night school at the Westchester Business Institute got him in as a glorified secretary, but he moved up fast. He didn’t handle the accounts, no, he was too brown for that, but he was in the meetings, eating the lunches, bouncing the ideas back and forth, selling the people yet another light bulb that lasted even longer. The honchos liked having him there, and not because he ever hit the home run. They liked him there because they needed a lapdog. They paid him well. In exchange, he smiled and looked good and smelled good and didn’t cause trouble. He did what they wanted.

Sometimes what they wanted was sex.

Elaine was not the first well-kept middle-aged lady executive to bed Jonah, but she was the most giving. Even before Melinda found him out, Elaine’s generosity had begun to make the whole thing look like a job, one that paid in sushi and nights out and new clothes.

Now, with Melinda gone, Jonah was free to spend more time with Elaine. Elaine must have sensed the change, because right away she took him for a weekend on the East End of Long Island. They stayed in a rental cottage hidden back in the scrub pine and sea grass along Old Montauk Highway, with Dom Perignon on ice, a Duraflame burning in the fireplace, and the surf crashing outside and just down the hill from the sliding glass doors.

When any bill came, he reached for his wallet.

‘Oh please,’ Elaine would say. ‘Put it away. I enjoy paying for you.’

Later, after a nightcap, his bill would come. And he always paid in full. Elaine was divorced, and she made love in absolute darkness.

‘Jonah,’ she said as she drifted off to sleep on his chest. ‘Don’t let me fall in love with you.’ As if such a thing could happen. For him, maybe it could. He often fell in love. Women were exotic and wonderful creatures to him, no matter what Melinda said. He felt it for them down deep. It might last for just a little while, but it was there, like the best music. When the music was right, when it was some smoky Miles, or some funky driving hip hop, he caught the line and felt it all over his body.

Love was like that.

But for Elaine, love was improbable at best. She had scraped and crawled and scratched people’s eyes out to get her position, and it had cost her half a lifetime to get there. The wars had taken their toll. Even in her most human moments, even in passion, she was like a granite cliff face warmed by the sun. The heat was there, but then so was the stone.

Jonah grew weaker and less alive the more time he spent with her.

Show up, smile at the dumb jokes, fuck the expensive lady. He knew why he was moving up. He was the thinker who never had a decent idea. But behind the scenes, people pulled strings – Elaine was the chief string-puller right now.

Bending had become routine for him. He came in one morning and some comic genius had cut a picture of Step’n Fetchit out of a book and taped it to his computer. All he did, he pulled the picture down and threw it in the trash.

They were laughing at him.

Meanwhile, shopping had become his consolation. He bought so much expensive shit his apartment looked like the inside of Home amp; Garden magazine. In fact, he subscribed to Home amp; Garden and got his ideas from there.

He lived through his things: the car; some pricey Crate amp; Barrel knick-knacks gathering dust on his shelves; a couple of one-of-a-kind ironwood Nubian sculptures, one of a man and woman making love, the other of an old man’s balding head, both of which were good at gathering dust; the cleaning lady from Romania who came in once a week to wipe the dust off everything; his hanging ferns and aloe plants, which the Romanian gave him a hard time for neglecting; a Trek mountain bike (which he sometimes rode on the streets near his apartment); his two year old Rossignol skis (he had gone skiing once since buying them); his bedroom set, his living room set, his home entertainment center; that river view, don’t forget that, put that first on the list; his Ray Bans; his jacket from the Leather Factory…

He couldn’t afford any of it. The pay was good, but not that good. He carried nearly forty grand in balances on four credit cards. Some days it made him want to cry. But the fun didn’t stop there. As the economy went down the tubes, the firm started letting people go. The citizenry stopped buying things, the companies that sold things started going under, and there came a steep decline in the need to advertise things – especially in the need to have a whole creative group sitting around, throwing out ideas about how to advertise things. Jonah sensed that Elaine protected him as long as she could, but there came a day when even she couldn’t do anything for him.

He remembered the day they pinked him, going on two years ago. He was in her office that day. He could tell from her tone that he was dismissed in every way. ‘Baby doll,’ she said. ‘You’re going to do great things one day. I know that about you. This downturn isn’t going to last forever, and when it ends, even before then, I’m sure you’ll be doing better than ever before.’

Half an hour later he was out on the bright and cold evening streets of the city, the people a faceless swirl around him. Christmas coming – the shop windows were all dressed up for the holidays. Tourists ran around, all bundled up and carrying packages. Downtown, the spire on the Empire State Building shone green and red.

He went down into the subway and made the long ride up through the Bronx. He stood at the head of the first car, looking out the front window at the tracks ahead. It was a place he had stood many times as a child. The mystery of it, the vastness of the dark underground empire, never lost its hold on him. He stared and stared as the train roared through tunnels, lights zooming by on each side. The train changed tracks, never hesitating, as workmen with lanterns stood to the side in the gloom. The train passed through stations that were out of service, darkened corners, graffiti-stained walls, empty platforms long disused. Sometimes there’d be no lights at all out there, and he’d catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror of the black window. He stared back into his own eyes.

Who was he? Where had he gone?

Now, Jonah poked his head up and was almost surprised to find himself still in Kelly’s Bar. He glanced around. The long hairs had gone. The juke box was silent, and the only sounds came from the television and a few people sitting along the bar and talking in low voices. Jonah’s head had settled down to an almost pleasant thumping.

Three pints of beer hadn’t hurt him any.



The pain beat slow and gentle, like the bass signature on a sad love song. He was already thinking better about the day’s fiasco. At least one good thing had come out of it. He had sure flown across that alley. There were many days when he felt he wasn’t cut out for this kind of work, but man, what a feeling today. He envied the birds. He was beginning to think he should take up hang-gliding.

Gordo nudged him. The big man sat with three piles of Foerster’s open mail before him, one pile for possible leads, one for garbage, and one for mail he hadn’t opened yet. That third pile had dwindled away to almost nothing.

‘I found him,’ Gordo said, waving the piece of paper in his hand. ‘He’s out on Staten Island. He’s at his mother’s house.’


They gave Gant a bedroom, and a girl to go with it.

The bedroom was very large, with a gigantic bed and the girl draped across it. Cool stone floors and windows facing the ocean. Evening was coming in. Peach-colored curtains billowed in the light breeze. Wide double doors gave out onto a private balcony. Someone had left him a cart on rollers with a bottle of spirits, as well as a bottle each of red and white wine. Also, there were some finger sandwiches, a pitcher of water and a bucket of ice. He barely glanced at the wines or the sandwiches. The whiskey was Glenfiddich 30-year-old Scotch, so that was good news. He poured three fingers-worth into a glass, without ice or water, and sipped it, enjoying the taste and the feel of the fire entering his belly.

The girl was fair-skinned and young, just old enough to be out of high school. She was dressed in an electric blue sarong and a bikini top, and had a body with so many curves that it was almost an outlandish cartoon of the female form. She spoke English with a strong accent from somewhere. Her eyes were green, and while Gant stared out at the breakers marching toward land far below him, he felt those eyes on his back.

‘Russia?’ he said, still facing away from her.

‘Moldova,’ she answered.

He shrugged. Same difference to him. Commies. They lost, we won. It took a hell of a bite out of some of us, but we did win. He turned now, and took a long look at her. Good Lord, he remembered how they used to make you think Eastern Bloc women were huge, ugly – powerlifters in the Olympics. Of course, after the collapse it turned out nothing could be further from the truth. He thought of maps and how one day the Soviet Union was this big red smear across the top of the world, and the next day there were all these little countries you never heard of there instead, places like Tajikistan, and Belarus, and Moldova. He remembered air raid sirens and how in junior high school, when the sirens sounded, the teachers used to make the kids go out in the hallway, kneel in front of the lockers, and cover their heads with their arms. Each kid had to kneel in front of his or her own locker. Gant figured that if the nukes ever came, whoever was left afterward would know him as the pile of radioactive dust on the floor at the base of locker number 126.

Gant remembered other things as well, things that happened during his time as a soldier for the United States of America, but he pushed them aside for now. He sighed, just a little. This girl was probably too young to know the history, or even care. She didn’t know she was a trophy taken from a defeated people. Well anyway, she was here, and he was here, so he might as well put her to her intended use. To the victor go the spoils, after all.

‘Wine?’ he said.

‘Yes, please. Red, with ice.’

He grimaced at the thought of it, but uncorked the bottle and poured it for her. She drank it fast and he poured her another. She downed it and he poured yet another. If she needed to numb up, so be it. From her perspective, this could hardly be the ideal romantic encounter. She drank about half of her third glass then put it aside on the table. She removed her top and her sarong. Her body coming free reminded Gant of wild horses galloping on a high plateau. He sipped his whiskey.

‘Who are you available to?’ he said.

She stared at him, her head slightly to the side, her pretty mouth open just a bit. She didn’t understand. For a moment, Gant tried to think of another delicate way to put it, then decided he couldn’t be bothered.

‘Do you have to fuck everybody?’

‘Oh. No, only guests. You. The fat politician. People like that.’

‘The gunmen?’

She shook her head. ‘Uh-uh. I stay far away from them. They are animals.’

‘Do you ever see a doctor?’

‘Every month. The old man’s doctor himself sees me.’

He joined her on the bed. She’d been with the fat politician, and recently – Harting, Hartley, whatever his name was – that wasn’t great news, but it could have been worse. She could have been servicing the goon squad every day, too. Gant ran a hand along her leg, and soon forgot about the guards, and the good representative, and even Fielding himself. He took his time, even though he knew it was all about him, and not about her at all. Once, he looked into her face and saw that her mind was elsewhere, maybe running on that high green field with all those beautiful horses. Afterward, they lay on top of the sheets, not tangled, not even touching. Gant picked up his drink where he’d left off.

He looked at the girl and her sad face. An artist could make a painting of her – Tragic Girl. Gant was nothing if not curious – he could attribute his success to several factors, including luck, but certainly one of the factors was that he had a voracious appetite for knowing things.

‘OK Moldova, how did you wind up here?’

She polished off the last of her wine, then stood on unsteady legs and fixed herself another one. ‘I was poor, but men always liked me from the time I am young.’ She shrugged, probably at the self-evident truth of her statement. ‘I was dancer in club. A woman came to my village and told me about good jobs abroad. I could be cleaner in hotel, or work as hostess. I sign up, pay some money, and they bring me here. I owe more money, of course. And so maybe I can never leave.’

Gant thought maybe the whiskey, combined with the travel and his tiredness, had given him a buzz. He wasn’t sure he had the girl’s responsibilities down pat just yet. ‘Do you also clean up around here?’ he said.

She gave him a baleful look. ‘Island women come and clean. They have to be searched every time they come. I don’t know how to clean. I fuck instead.’

‘Do you hate it?’

‘It bores me. I fuck, I eat, and I watch the satellite TV from America. Stupid reality shows, people shouting at each other, and then crying, and giving hugs. We read The Great Gatsby in school in Moldova. It is the best story. I owned a poster of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I hung this on the wall in my room. The great American writer. But they don’t show these things on the TV. The greatness is over. I think all Americans must be stupid now.’

She was on to something, but Gant didn’t want to get into it. What to do or say about an entire nation of overweight, lazy people so addled by junk television and junk food and prescription drugs that they had only recently begun to notice they were systematically lied to, and robbed blind and left to sink in quicksand? Only now, long after the cheese had been moved, were some of the mice starting to wake up to that fact.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘at least you probably don’t have to fuck all that much. I mean, there can’t be that many guests.’

‘Howe. The assistant. I have to fuck him, too.’

Gant felt a knife twist in his heart. He didn’t even have to examine the feeling – it was a visceral response. ‘I wish you had mentioned that earlier. I don’t like Howe.’

‘I don’t, either.’

‘Is there anything you do like about this place?’

She didn’t hesitate. ‘The view.’

Gant nodded. ‘It’s a great view. Anything else?’

It took her a moment to come up with something more. ‘Howe’s wife and daughter live on the grounds here in guest house, so I never have to spend whole night with him.’

The conversation made Gant sleepy. He lay back with his glass propped on his chest and closed his eyes. He could sip his Scotch with only the slightest movement of his hand and his chin. His mind drifted from its moorings and began to scan through the past, settling here and there on various memories. It was a pleasant sensation. He smiled.

Gant was nobody to mess with.

It was back in Philadelphia where Gant wished he could still be. Young again, cruising the mean streets. Not the Philadelphia of Market and Broad Street, the corporate towers, not the place the rich yuppies had once commuted to from the suburbs, not the weekday morning traffic jam brought to you by BMW and Mercedes and Lexus. Gant’s part of town was North Philadelphia. It was the drug deals going down in the shadows of burnt-out row houses. It was the homeless men sleeping under highway overpasses. It was the emaciated crack whores plying their trade in the alleys and vacant lots. It was chalk outlines on bloody sidewalks. It was booming hip-hop from tricked-out lowriders and the night he caught two carjackers single-handed.

He savored that night like he savored fine whiskey.

1990, or thereabouts – a long time ago now. A couple of gangbangers took a new Toyota at gunpoint near the bombed-out Amtrak station, but they didn’t know there was an infant in the back seat. The daddy lost his car OK, but went hysterical when he realized he lost his baby too. It became a wild all units call. The bad boys broke a hundred miles an hour on the wide lanes of North Broad, hung a turn and disappeared like smoke. Gant in an unmarked car heard it on the radio and made a guess. He was four blocks away. He roared the wrong way down a one-way, headlights off through the low-slung housing projects, engine screaming and here came a car burning up the street toward him. He guessed again – it had to be them. He hit the flashers and jammed the brakes, skidding sideways, blocking the whole street.

They plowed into a parked sedan, heavy metal crunch at high speed. He leaped out ahead of them, a gun in each hand, running crazy on fear and adrenaline. One move, one funny twitch, and he would kill them both.

‘Freeze motherfuckers! Out of the car! Down on the ground!’

He had guessed right both times. Back-up units showed a minute later, and Gant already had both suspects cuffed and in custody. The baby was fine, still strapped into the child restraint, goggling at all the curious onlookers.

Gant felt his heart beating at the memory. It was one of his favorites. He imagined pro athletes had memories like that – moments when, either through luck or experience or a little of both, they did everything right and for a brief time were unbeatable.

He opened his eyes and the girl had climbed on top of him again. He welcomed her there. It went on between them for a long while, and at some point he slept. When he woke, she was on the terrace, nude in the night air, leaning against the stone railing and smoking a cigarette. A bright quarter moon hung low in the dark sky. When she finished her cigarette, she pitched the butt out into the night then came back inside. She saw Gant was awake.

‘You work for him, right?’ she said.

‘I work for myself. He’s a client of mine.’

‘So you work for him.’

Gant nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘I hear things, from the cleaning ladies. They’re going to kill him. The islanders. They think he wants to starve them to death, so they want to kill him first.’

‘He doesn’t want to starve them,’ Gant said. ‘Believe me.’

‘I don’t care. I hope they get him. He’s a terrible, evil man. He can send me away from here anytime he wants. One day, after he’s used me up enough, and my youth is gone, he’ll sell me to somebody worse and they’ll make me a whore on the street.’

‘Who told you that? Howe?’

‘You don’t listen. I said the cleaning ladies.’

Gant reached over and poured himself another sip of whiskey. ‘You know what? It’s a strange world. You never know what’s going to happen next. If I were you, I guess I wouldn’t worry about things so much. And I’d stop listening to the cleaning ladies.’


Waves of pleasure rolled through Katie’s body, one after another after another. She was on her stomach, her face in the pillow, her free hand gripping the bedsheet, pulling it loose from the mattress. She was a rich lady, on a weekend trip to a fancy desert spa. She had gone in for a hot oil massage, but when she was on the table, it turned out that three men, three masseuses, would work on her. They turned down the lights in the room, and she couldn’t see their faces. At first they just rubbed her down, but soon they were saying things to her, things that embarrassed her. Then they were doing… things… to her, things she had never done before. She couldn’t protest. She didn’t want to.

It went on and on, and she went with it, higher and higher. She arched her back, eyes squeezed shut. At long last, one final, intense shudder went through her, and she collapsed onto the bed.

‘Oh my God,’ she said, and no one was there to hear it. She felt her heartbeat slowing down, her breathing coming deeper and slower. She opened her eyes. It was dark. The digital clock on the bedside table told her it was 3:15 in the morning.

The high was fading, and thoughts began to intrude, as they always did. In fact they rushed in, like cascading water. The thoughts were never good.

She was a failure. It was amazing to think of herself this way. An outsider might say that she had many of the things people wanted from life – she was attractive, she was rich, she lived in this big house, and she was still young. But she had wanted, and still wanted, so much more. From her own perspective, her life was empty. She had failed at nearly everything.

She was a failed artist.

That was one of her greatest failures. She had been a working artist in various media, trying different things, for close to ten years. She thought – no, she knew – that she was good at it. Back in Dewey Beach, and since they moved down here to Charleston, she’d taken part in numerous shows. And in all that time, she’d sold only three paintings, for a grand total of less than $2,000. Even worse, she suspected that Tyler had secretly bought the paintings through intermediaries. When she confronted him, he denied it, but that didn’t mean anything. That little conversation had taken place nearly two years ago – she hadn’t sold a painting since then.

She consoled herself. Maybe she wasn’t commercial, but so what? Or maybe she just wasn’t a saleswoman. She knew that selling yourself was a big part of success, but she just wasn’t that person.

She had also failed at love. The man she had finally married, she realized now, was like a more distant version of her father. Capable, supremely confident and in charge, very good-looking in a distinguished, hair-graying-at-the-sides sort of way. A man who, like her father, made a lot of money. A man who people worked for and looked to for leadership. A man who knew what to do.

But he was cold and unemotional. He was distant, and increasingly so. It seemed that he no longer cared what she did. It seemed that all he’d ever really wanted her for was to show her off – a trophy wife – and to make a baby with her. A son. Which was yet another way that she had failed. There wasn’t going to be a baby.

And that led to the final failure, ironically the one thing she had always succeeded at, had always been confident about. She had always prided herself on being great in bed, a wonderful lover. Of being able to make a man feel like a man, while at the same time feeling like a woman, incredibly so, and loving to feel that way. She knew she had a beautiful body. She’d had some amazing sex in her life, and some amazing men. She could have powerful orgasms, over and over again, for as long as her man’s stamina could hold out. She’d read about all the problems women sometimes had in bed, she’d read about them in magazines like Cosmopolitan and Mademoiselle, and yet these were problems she’d never experienced, not until this past year.

After she’d lost the baby for the second time, Tyler had become ever more distant and consumed in his work. He didn’t want to talk about the options available to them – weird science, he called it. He didn’t want to talk about anything anymore. He took no interest in what she did. It was like they were two roommates in this lovely spacious home they shared, nearly strangers. They almost never had sex, and when they did – four months ago was the most recent time – it was perfunctory, a formality, maybe just a physical release for Tyler, but not for Katie. Katie needed more than a twenty minute session every four months to get a release.

In recent months, a funny thing had occurred to her – maybe she could take a lover. Of course she wouldn’t do anything to risk the marriage, but Tyler was away a lot. If it were the right person, someone who was discreet, and who wouldn’t get too attached, it was just possible that she could do it. At first, she pushed the thought away, was almost embarrassed by it, even though no one could possibly know she was thinking it. But after a while, she would return to it, again and again, and it began to fuel her fantasies. Her marriage had turned barren, and she needed physical intimacy. Everybody did, but perhaps her more than most. It was a simple equation after all.

An ever funnier thing was how, now that she had an emotional and physical distance from him, she began to see Tyler clearly for the first time. She realized that when Tyler had given her everything she needed, emotionally and physically, along with all the creature comforts that went with being his wife, she had never really looked at him with a critical eye. She had let him be the sugar daddy. Was she really that self-serving, that immature? It seemed now that she was.

But now that was she was looking at him with a clear eye, it turned out she didn’t like what she saw. It was as if she had suddenly awakened from a long and deep sleep. About the only source of income he had that she knew about for sure was his pension from the Philadelphia Police Department. Other than that, Tyler was secretive. Certainly, he was some kind of a security contractor. His pension wasn’t paying for this house in a gated, secure community, for the two cars they drove, for the black market gasoline, for the swimming pool they had put in, for the big dinner parties they sometimes threw, for his personal trainer, and for all the rest.

But what kind of security did he provide? He was gone a lot, but where did he go? He would disappear in the middle of the night sometimes, a car picking him up outside at the front curb. He would leave only a short note on the kitchen table, and then return a day or two days or a week later. It made her curious.

He had only brief telephone conversations in the house, and not very often. Tyler seemed to have plenty of workers and subcontractors, but the only one he allowed to come to the house was the big, grinning redneck named Vernon. Vernon had a hook nose and a huge jaw and tended to wear a Caterpillar baseball cap and T-shirts with the sleeves cut off, all the better to show off his massive, tattooed shoulders and arms. He had laughing eyes that seemed to size you up and find you wanting. Vernon struck Katie more as hired muscle than as some kind of security operative.

Katie would bite her tongue for long periods of time, but eventually she could remain quiet no longer. ‘How’s work?’ she would say to Tyler, usually after one of his business trips, or after one of Vernon’s appearances at the house.

‘Work is going good. It’s going OK. We’ve got something big we’re cooking up. It could be a step forward for us.’

‘Really? That’s great. What’s it all about?’

‘Katie, it really doesn’t concern you. You shouldn’t worry about it.’

‘Well, I’m not worried. I know you’ll be successful, whatever you decide to do. I’m just interested.’

‘Well, don’t be. OK? Sometimes it’s better if you just aren’t interested. You know a lot of my work concerns national security issues. I’m not free to talk about it, not even with my wife, who I love.’

National security issues? OK, that was one product she wasn’t buying anymore. It just didn’t feel like Tyler worked for the government. Tyler never seemed to look at any paperwork, and if Katie knew anything about the United States government, she knew that government contracts meant gigantic mounds of paperwork – she knew this from being an assistant at a law firm that dealt with government contracts. The paperwork generated could be astonishing. Breathtaking. And Tyler never had anything like that kind of paperwork lying around. In fact, he didn’t seem to have anything at all in writing. He was much more likely to sit in his study – which he kept locked from her when he wasn’t home – poring over maps than to ever read a contract. He had a telephone wired in there, and she didn’t have its number. Maybe ten minutes ago, yes, in the middle of the night, it had started ringing and then had gone to voicemail.

What was it all about? Anyway, would the government really hire an operation where the second in command was big, dumb Vernon? She thought not, and as she thought that, she realized she had reached a breaking point with Tyler. She would stay married to him, of course. It was hard times outside of this house, and she had no intention of being cast out there. But she didn’t believe in him anymore. And she would, within reason, snoop around to see what it was he was up to. She might even consider finding a way into that locked study – not tonight, but soon. He’d probably be back tomorrow, at least that’s what his most recent note said, but it wouldn’t be long before he was gone again.

‘Tyler Gant,’ she said aloud to the empty bedroom, and was just a little startled by her own voice. ‘What do you do for a living?’


Foerster lay awake in bed, in the small room that had been his throughout childhood. His bed was narrow, like a nun would sleep on, and the springs creaked whenever he moved. The mattress was lumpy. It was an uncomfortable goddamned bed. He probably didn’t get a decent night’s sleep the first eighteen years of his life, and it was no wonder why.

His door was open a crack, and down the hall he could hear his mother snoring. Good God, all his life, he had hated it in this house. He had half a mind to march down the hall and stifle those infernal snores for good.

The desklamp next to the bed was on, casting a weak pyramid of yellow light, and Foerster, on his back, held up a business card where he could see it. He’d found the card in the desk – he must have left it behind the last time circumstances forced him to stay in this pit of despair. Foerster had been given this card at least two years ago. Now it was a little crumpled and faded, but you could still make it out fine. On the left side of it was a picture of a chess piece, a white knight. Running down the right side were the words Executive Strategies – Security and Intelligence Solutions. Tyler Gant, President. Then it gave an office address in Charleston, South Carolina, and a phone number. No website or email address listed, but there was another phone number scrawled in ink along the bottom, which Foerster had called only a few minutes ago from the ancient rotary dial phone on the desk.

He wasn’t sure why he had waited until three in the morning to call the number, or why he had hung up without leaving a message, except that he wasn’t sure if he should call it, and at the same time he was curious to see if it still worked. It did work – the same bland ‘leave a message at the tone’ recording that was on the machine two years ago was still on there. Foerster knew that the phone rang in the upstairs den at Gant’s house. Or at least that’s where it used to ring. He also knew he was taking a chance by calling there. Gant had given him that card grudgingly, and had told him to never call the number except in a desperate emergency, and only from a pay phone.

Well, this probably qualified as an emergency – he was hiding out from bounty hunters at his mom’s house! Gant would probably pop a blood vessel if he knew where Foerster was calling from, but hey, pay phones could be hard to come by in this day and age. Anyway, Foerster needed to get a message to Gant that he was no longer where he said he’d be, and that he needed to be picked up quick before he got put away again. The fastest way to do that seemed to be by telephone.

But it was a risk. Phone calls were easy to trace, and Gant had said in no uncertain terms that he didn’t want the cops to have any way to connect them. Well, fuck it. If Gant wanted him to do the job, then he needed to know where Foerster was. If he sent one of his men over to Foerster’s apartment, Foerster wasn’t going to be there. And Foerster couldn’t wait around here forever, wondering when Gant would send somebody – he had fucking people on his trail, man.

Shit. Foerster could not understand why everything always got so fucked up. It seemed like the simplest thing would suddenly take a turn and head off down some trail toward disaster. It was the story of his life. By all accounts, he was a genius. From his earliest days, he had a tested IQ in the 150s. It was at the far right end of the bell curve, where fewer than one percent of the population could be found. He could sleepwalk through school – without even trying, he was done with the sixth grade curriculum before the end of fourth grade.

This wasn’t good enough. His father had wanted an athlete, a football player, not some scrawny kid with a big brain. Foerster’s drunken bum of a father had taken to calling him Nancy Boy, and beating him with a leather strap. When had this started? He wasn’t even sure. It seemed like his first memory was of a huge, red-faced beast standing over him, the smell of mingled beer and whiskey in Foerster’s face, the smack of the leather loud in his ears, the sting of the whip on his skin, and his father saying, ‘I’ll make a fucking man out of you yet.’ If there was a hell, Foerster hoped the old man was roasting there right this minute.

But his father had only been the start of his problems. It seemed that nobody in this entire world wanted a smart kid. Having intelligence made you some kind of a freak. Nobody ever liked Foerster. His school teachers hated him – probably, they knew he was smarter than they were, and were envious of him. The other kids? Forget about it. If they noticed him at all, it was to throw rocks at him, or chase him home, or hold him down and punch his legs until he got painful Charley Horses. He’d show up at the house bruised and battered, and his father would laugh and say, ‘Serves you right for not fighting back.’

If Foerster had been dumb enough to believe in God, he’d say that God was testing him like He’d tested Job. Almost nothing had turned out right as far back as Foerster could remember. That is, until he met Tyler Gant. Although Gant’s personality left something to be desired, and Gant’s tough-guy authority act chafed on Foerster, the time he had worked for Gant had probably been the one thing that had gone well in more than twenty-five wasted years.

Gant had used Foerster’s brains the way they were meant to be used, working him to his highest level. He had shown Foerster at least a dollop of respect, and had paid him what he was worth. Their project had come off without a hitch, and they had made history together. Foerster had watched the news coverage for days, silently bursting with pride, almost unable to contain himself. At the Illinois state house, politicians and their staff members – blood ticks sucking on the near-dead carcass of this diseased country – were dying of anthrax.

Foerster wanted to go a bar and have a few drinks and say to someone, some stranger, ‘See that? See what they did? That was me. I was on that team. I grew that stuff.’ He wanted to call his mother and tell her all about it. He wanted to dig up his old man and rub it in his face. But of course, he could never talk about it with anyone, ever, the rest of his days. About the only person he could possibly talk about it with was Gant himself, but Gant had told him to stay out of communication. One day, Gant said, he would be the one to reinitiate contact.

Foerster never imagined two cruel years would pass before he heard from Gant again. The world had slid further into the abyss during that time, and Foerster had slid with it. He had nearly forgotten about Gant, about the feelings of achievement, of being a winner that had come with working for him. Then a brief note, no return address, had appeared in Foerster’s mailbox. Although Foerster had moved three times since last they spoke, Gant had found him. Got some work for you (maybe). Same terms as before, times 2. Will send someone. Burn this letter. TG.

Same terms, times two – that was awesome. Foerster had made $25,000 on that job, for two weeks of work. He had received ten percent in cash before he ever did anything. That meant he would get $50,000 from this job, and $5,000 as an advance. Foerster had been in and out of jail in the months since that first note had arrived, but other notes had come since then. The time was getting close – Foerster could expect someone to pick him up any day.

Until yesterday, when those two clowns had crashed into the middle of Foerster’s plans like a bulldozer, he hadn’t realized how much he was looking forward to working for Gant again. As he slid the business card onto the table and closed his eyes, Foerster committed himself – he would do whatever was necessary to keep out of jail and get back to working with Gant.


Jonah felt exposed.

It was early the next morning. He and Gordo were parked in St. George, a few blocks from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. They sat at the corner of Richmond Terrace and a quiet side street of shabby homes. Traffic was busy on Richmond Terrace, a weird parade of bicycles, motor scooters belching exhaust, a few cars and many people, some pushing along carts of various kinds. Diagonally across from Jonah and Gordo was a convenience store. A hand-lettered sign in the window read ‘CASHIER LEGALLY ARMED.’ Jonah wasn’t sure if that sign made life safer or more dangerous for the cashier.

From the passenger seat, Jonah pointed a big parabolic microphone at a house maybe fifty yards down the side street. The house was a ramshackle place, with light-blue aluminum siding that had seen too many winters. The microphone protruded from its base like a long black phallus, and was surrounded by a clear plastic half-dome. Jonah gripped it by its handle, which was rather like that of a gun. The mike was plugged into a tape cassette player sitting between them, which in turn was powered by the car’s cigarette lighter. The whole rig looked somewhat like a satellite dish, or perhaps like a death ray weapon from outer space. Gordo had picked it up at a second-hand sale.

For years, Jonah had noticed men on the sidelines at professional sporting events, holding the ultra-powerful mikes so that the television audience could get the benefit of every grunt, every scream, every high-speed collision between the finely-tuned war machines out on the field. Later, he learned they were also used by nature lovers for listening to songbirds. The mikes were even sensitive enough to listen to those birds through walls, or while the birds carried on boring phone conversations near open windows half a block away. Yeah. Jonah was familiar with parabolic microphones.

Unfortunately, nobody else seemed to be. He was attracting a lot of hostile glances.

‘Man, everybody’s gawking at us.’

In the driver’s seat, Gordo was reading the science pages of the New York Times. For once, he was dressed neatly, in a pressed shirt and slacks. He was clean-shaven. If things went their way, today he would be a man of God.

He glanced up from his newspaper. He gazed up and down the street.

‘I say fuck ‘em. Let them gawk.’

He snatched the binoculars off his lap and scanned the street.

Jonah watched the spy glasses move back and forth. The big man had brains – Jonah had to admit that. Among Foerster’s mail had been a bill from North Bronx Central Hospital. It seemed Foerster had been admitted for a bleeding ulcer some months before and still hadn’t paid. The dunning letter came with a copy of Foerster’s admission form. The form contained the name, address and phone number of an emergency contact.

Foerster’s mother.

‘Nothing yet, huh?’ Gordo said.


‘Don’t worry, he’ll come.’

‘Oh, I won’t worry,’ Jonah said. ‘Why should I worry? Here’s a black man, probably from Mars, pointing a laser gun at somebody’s house during broad daylight. Nothing unusual about that, right? We’re lucky they haven’t called out the National Guard.

And meanwhile, Foerster would have to be an idiot to show up here.’

Gordo raised an eyebrow.

‘Patience, my brother,’ he said, scanning the paper again. ‘He’ll show up. I feel him in my bones, like some people feel the rain. A friendless bastard like that, he’s got to come back to his mother eventually.’

And as if by magic, Foerster appeared.

Jonah stared at him for close to a full minute before he realized who it was. Skinny, unkempt Foerster stood at the bottom of the concrete steps of his mother’s house, talking to a heavyset older guy. Foerster wore a gray wool cap like a sailor, probably to hide the scars on his head. It wasn’t remotely cold enough out for wool. Jonah could hardly believe the state of the man. He looked… dingy, like a ring of soap scum left around the sink after washing the dishes. He appeared to weigh about twenty-seven pounds. It was hard to imagine that this specimen had fought Jonah off yesterday, then had outrun him and given him the slip. He must be highly motivated.

‘Would you look at that,’ Jonah said. ‘He’s right out on the street.’

Gordo held the binoculars to his eyes. ‘Put the mike on them.’

Jonah turned the volume up and aimed the mike at the two men.

‘Yeah, yeah, I may stick around awhile,’ Foerster said. ‘My project in Cleveland just ended. It looks like I have something lined up down south, but after that job ends, I might just settle here in the old neighborhood for a while.’

‘What the hell is he talking about?’ Jonah said. ‘What job? Cleveland? I mean, come on already.’

Gordo shrugged. ‘He lies like other people breathe.’

‘Well, we’re glad to have you back, Davey,’ the oldster said. He clapped Foerster on his scrawny back and the mike picked up the slap. ‘I’m sure your mother will be happy to have a man around the house again.’

‘Sure, sure. I guess she gets lonely sometimes. It’ll be good for her.’

‘It’ll be good for both of you. Nothing like Mom’s home cooking to fatten a man up.’

‘For Christ’s sake,’ Gordo said. ‘They’re gonna need a lot more than Mom to fatten Foerster up. The guy’s a walking hunger crisis.’

They watched as Foerster went in the house.

The oldster crossed the street and walked off down the block.

‘All right,’ Gordo said. He took a deep breath. ‘I guess it’s time to go for it.’

He climbed out of the car and dropped the binoculars on the seat. In his hand he held a pile of religious tracts he hoped to discuss with Mrs. Foerster. The top one, the one Jonah could see, was called THE COMING FIRE.

‘Let’s go over this one more time, OK? Just so we don’t get crossed up out there. When I see an opening and decide I’m going in, what am I gonna say?’

‘God is love,’ Jonah said. ‘I hear that, then I come running to back you up. Fifty yard dash. I’ll be there in about six or seven seconds. When I come through the front door, you’ll be shouting out instructions – upstairs, or back door, or cellar, depending on where he’s going. He’s only been here one night, so he probably hasn’t had a chance to come up with much of an escape route.’

‘Sounds good, right? Workable?’

‘Actually, it sounds about twice as half-assed as yesterday’s plan,’ Jonah said. ‘But given the circumstances, I feel pretty confident about it. At least you’re the one going in first.’

Gordo smiled. ‘OK. As long as you feel good, I’m happy.’

Jonah watched Gordo amble up the block toward the house, tracts in hand. He trained the microphone on Gordo’s wide back. Gordo started muttering under his breath as he walked along.

‘Are you listening, Jonah? Lovely neighborhood they got here. Looks like the tide went out on this place about twenty years ago.’

He arrived at the house. His breathing came a little heavier, a little more labored. He seemed like maybe he was talking to himself now. It was hard to tell. ‘Are you ready kid? This is the test. This is the big test. This is for all the marbles right here.’

He climbed the short steps to the front door.


Inside, Davis Foerster went around in circles with his mother yet again.

She wasn’t happy to see him. Hey, he wasn’t happy to see her either. But when she opened that front door last night and saw him standing there, she might have been auditioning as an extra in a low-grade horror movie. Her jaw dropped, her eyes widened, and overall her face looked as if a creature from the swamp, trailing gore and slime, had appeared at her home. But she had let him in. That she had. What else was she going to do? He was her only son, after all.

She wanted him out as soon as possible, and he wanted to go – more than anything. If it were up to him, he would walk out that door right now and make a beeline for Charleston. Hanging around here gave him the creeps in more ways than one. He kept expecting the angry ghost of his shit-for-brains father to pop out of a closet or from behind the moldy shower curtain in the bathroom. Foerster wanted out before that or something worse happened. But he needed a grubstake to get him going, and she wouldn’t part with the cash.

Oh, she would give him enough for a bus ride maybe as far as Philadelphia and for a Big Mac at a highway rest stop, but that was it. She wouldn’t give him what he needed to get where he was going, to set himself up with a room for a couple of weeks in case the job didn’t come through right away, and to eat like a human being during all that time. His mom was a major disappointment. Then again, he wasn’t surprised at all. Why should he be? This was the way she had always been. You couldn’t pry money out of her with a crowbar.

Now she was sitting across from him at the kitchen table in her goddamn house dress, a hair net on her head, the cordless phone at her elbow like a faithful dog. That was her big hobby, talking on the telephone. Any minute now, she would pick up that phone, dial a number and start her gabbing. She was a world champion talker and not much of anything else. To Foerster, she looked old and tired, like a hag. She didn’t even bother to get dressed anymore. For a moment, he studied the lines of her face. He decided she should have a wart on the end of her nose. That would complete the picture.

‘But Davey, why don’t you just get a job? I’d let you stay here if you were working.’

He reached for the hard pack of Camels he had placed next to her on the table. She didn’t allow smoking in the house. He didn’t care. He slid one out and lit up. ‘No way, Ma.’ He pointed the lit smoke at her. ‘No way, you understand?’ He laughed, and for a moment the depth and breadth of her stupidity, the sheer grandeur of it, delighted him. His mom was the Grand Canyon of dumb, and he could finally see the humor in it.

‘What kind of job am I supposed to get? Everybody’s out of work around here, the whole city’s going out of business, and you tell me to get a job. That’s a big help, Ma. A big, big help. Anyway, I have a job. I told you that already. It’s a good job and it pays good money. OK? It’s just that if I want the job, I have to get to South Carolina, and I need money to do that. What am I gonna do if I stay here, flip burgers for $6.50 an hour, if anybody’s even hiring? How am I gonna live like that? Why would I want to?’

She seemed on the verge of crying. Again, no surprise there. Tears were her favorite weapon. ‘For one thing, you’d be living here, eating my food. That way you could save your money. For another, you wouldn’t be a criminal. I don’t want a criminal in my family, Davey. I can’t stand it anymore.’ She looked up at him, looked into his eyes. ‘Aren’t you tired of dealing with the police? Aren’t you tired of being afraid? I know I am.’

He smiled, a modern Jesse James. ‘I’m not tired, Ma. I’m just getting started.’

With that, he left her. He went down the hall and began climbing the wooden steps to the second floor. He remembered how those steps used to give him splinters when he was a kid. All these years later, and she had never done anything about them. The wood was still raw and rough. Well, at least he wasn’t dumb enough to go around barefoot anymore.

Halfway up the stairs, the doorbell rang. He turned and glanced back down at the door. Doorbells gave him a nervous feeling. They always had, but especially so in the last twenty-four hours.

Below him, his mother shuffled into the foyer, and Foerster continued up the stairs.

His escape set-up here was good – not nearly as good as it had been at his apartment, but good. He had put the whole thing together years ago, and when he looked at it last night, he decided it could still hold water. His room was on the second floor and he had a twenty-foot fire ladder, called the Res-Q Ladder, coiled on the rug by his window. It was a chain link ladder with metal slats. It hooked to the window sill with big iron hooks. If a fire started, you were supposed to throw the ladder out the window. It would uncoil itself on the way to the ground, ready for action in a couple of seconds. He had taken it out of the closet last night as soon as he came upstairs. He had even tested it, and it worked just as it always had.

Fire ladders weren’t just good for fires. As a kid, he used to climb out to go smoke a joint without alerting the parents. Now, if the shit happened to hit the fan again, he would be ready. He hadn’t yet worked out what his escape route on the streets would be, but he still had some time to put that together. He was thinking he would run for the vacant lots down by the waterfront esplanade, maybe even the ferry to Manhattan if a boat was in and the timing was right.

He reached the top of the landing. He listened. His mother was there at the front door now, just chatting away, probably with some crone from down the street.

He started toward his room, relaxing a bit.

Then the old bat screamed. ‘Davey, help! Help me!’

‘God is love!’ a man shouted. ‘God is love!’

Foerster bolted for his window.


Jonah ran toward the house. He went hard and covered the distance in no time, flying across the tiny front yard and vaulting up the three steps.

The door gaped wide and he flew through the opening.

The old woman sat on the floor, her back to the wall. Gordo must have knocked her down. Jonah noticed her thick legs, which had support hose pulled to just above the knees – she had the legs of an elephant. Her hands were splayed out on the floor. Her breath came in sporadic gasps. That worried him. The last thing they needed was a heart attack or a stroke victim on their hands.

‘Ma’am, are you all right?’

‘I’m OK,’ she said, gazing back into the house. ‘There’s a man in here,’ she started, but then turned to Jonah and screamed. He followed her eyes and was surprised to discover the microphone in his hand. He had forgotten about it and torn it loose from the cassette recorder.

‘Don’t kill him,’ she said. ‘Please don’t kill my son.’

‘Jonah!’ Gordo shouted from the top of the stairs. ‘He’s coming out! He’s coming out the window.’

Jonah turned and darted back outside. The blood roared in his ears. He leaped down the stairs and went around to his right, running down the narrow grassy space between houses. The grass was spare and brownish green. He looked up at the windows on the second floor, but saw no sign of Foerster. He stopped and glanced back out at the street – just in time to see Foerster chug past, arms and legs pumping up and down like the pistons of a steam engine.


Jonah ran back up the alley to the street.

Foerster’s slight figure dashed ahead toward Richmond Terrace. Jonah wouldn’t underestimate him this time. Foerster had a head start and he knew the neighborhood. All the same, there was nothing to do but chase him.

Gordo came out onto the front steps, but Jonah paid him no mind. He tore off after Foerster instead.

At the corner, Foerster turned right.

Please, Jonah thought, please don’t let him be gone when I reach the corner.

He turned and Foerster was up ahead, bursting across the street through the traffic. Jonah followed, mike still in hand. He cut across the street, eyes pinned on his prey, too much so. A woman in front of Jonah stopped short. She wore a kerchief on her head and a long coat, and she had an old supermarket cart piled high with rags and aluminum cans and chunks of scrap metal. Jonah crashed into it, knocking it over, but stayed on his feet. A car screeched and a scooter zig-zagged around them. People yelled.

Jonah kept running.

Foerster weaved through the milling pedestrians. He turned left and headed along the walkway toward the Staten Island ferry terminal. Jonah saw his head bobbing and weaving through the crowds. Jonah made the turn five seconds behind him.

The ferry was there. Its horn gave a blast, signaling it was ready to leave. The last stragglers were getting on board.

Shit! Could he have the ferries timed too?

Foerster ran past a fat couple and disappeared into the crowd. Jonah kept moving, waiting for Foerster to resurface. A moment later, he passed the fat couple himself and entered the terminal building through a double doorway. He stopped running and walked through the dismal waiting room. Foerster must have come through here, but now he was nowhere in sight. Damn! He had lost him.

He couldn’t have turned right or left, Jonah was sure of that. He must have gotten on the ferry. There was a bottleneck of people up by the ferry entrance. Jonah joined the line. A man did a double-take when he saw Jonah’s microphone. Jonah flowed along behind him and climbed on board.

The ferry was the Samuel I. Newhouse, commissioned in 1982. Jonah shuffled past a plaque commemorating its namesake. Random thoughts flashed. The boat was old, and still plying its trade. Was that good or bad?

He didn’t know whether to go right or left. If he went the wrong way, and Foerster doubled back, they were sunk. No, he had to assume Gordo had followed them to the ferry terminal. If Foerster climbed off the boat, Gordo would get him. Unless Foerster had made himself invisible, which now also seemed possible. The horn blasted again. The boat was leaving. Jonah went right, flowing along with the crowd. He moved slowly through a corridor with padded chairs arrayed along the big windows.

He felt the boat lurch, then begin to move.

He walked slowly to the end of the corridor. The ferry had left the terminal and now he was going to Manhattan. He glanced out the door at the end of the corridor. Another sitting room, filled with people. He turned around.

And spotted Foerster.

Thirty yards back, Foerster slid between people up a flight of stairs. Jonah had gone right by without noticing the stairs or Foerster. Now there was a thick knot of people, a crazy New York stew-pot of races, colors and creeds between Jonah and those stairs, between he and Foerster. The people were all trying to follow Jonah into the next compartment, but Jonah wasn’t going that way anymore. He was swimming against the tide.

He pushed a small Asian man out of his way.

The man pushed Jonah back with both hands, getting his body into it. He shouted something into Jonah’s face. Jonah shoved him hard, knocking him towards the window. The man fell into a woman’s lap. But the two men behind him were also Asians. They were together. All three started yelling now. One of them punched Jonah in the chest.

Jonah had no time for this.

‘Gang way!’ he shouted. ‘Police!’

He blasted through the two remaining Asians, and the rest of the crowd parted in front of him. He burst up the stairs, went through some doors, and came to an outdoor deck. Foerster waited out there. His head swiveled, surveying the whole deck, but there was nowhere left for him to run. He stood and gaped at Jonah.

‘Let’s do this the easy way,’ Jonah said.

But Foerster didn’t do anything the easy way. He moved toward the edge of the deck. Suddenly he vaulted up onto the safety railing. A woman nearby gasped. Foerster squatted on top of the railing like an insect, watching Jonah carefully.

The railing was to Jonah’s left. He looked over it, down to the water. The boat was really moving now. It had to be a three-story jump to the harbor. The water was foaming down there as they motored along. The whole scene gave Jonah vertigo, but it didn’t seem to bother Foerster. When he was young, Foerster should have run away and become a circus freak. It would have saved everybody a lot of trouble.

A breeze had kicked up. Jonah took a couple steps toward his quarry.

Foerster grinned. His face was sweaty and pale.

‘Don’t come any closer. Take one more step and I’m out of here.’

Foerster would jump. Jonah knew he would. And there was no way Jonah was going after him. Not from this height. Not into that water. He glanced down at the microphone in his hand, and an idea struck. Foerster was less than ten feet from him. Jonah brandished the microphone like a gun. He moved into a two-fisted crouch. He hoped Foerster didn’t watch much football.

‘Freeze, Foerster!’

‘Get away from me!’ Foerster shouted.

A crowd had gathered around them.

‘You climb down off there or I’ll let you have it with this.’

‘I’m gonna jump. I swear it, I’m gonna jump if you don’t get the fuck away.’

‘This is a stun gun, motherfucker. I give you a pop, you’ll be useless. You ever get a blast from one of these? This is a new one. It’ll put you in shock. You don’t want to go in the water like that. I promise you’ll drown. You want to drown over this? Is that what you want?’

Foerster gazed down at the water below him, then back at Jonah’s stun gun.

‘Climb down RIGHT NOW. Let’s go. Climb down. On the deck.’

Foerster eyed the stun gun.

He eyed the water.

The light went out of his face. His jaw sagged.

‘That’s not a gun,’ somebody said. It was a man’s voice, coming from just a few feet behind Jonah.

‘What?’ Foerster said. His eyes focused on a point just over Jonah’s left shoulder.

‘It’s not a gun. It’s a microphone. You never seen one of those before?’

Jonah glanced in the direction of the voice. Mr Know-It-All was chubby, maybe thirty years old, with a heavy beard and wearing a Yankees windbreaker jacket. Jonah heard his own voice, coming as if from someplace else. ‘Foerster, you’re gonna die, understand? This guy has no idea what the fuck he’s talking about. In another second, I’m going to shoot you and you’re going to die in that water.’

‘Then I’ll see you in hell.’

Foerster dove off the railing. Someone in the crowd – a man or a woman, Jonah couldn’t tell – screamed as Foerster’s skinny body carved a graceless, tumbling arc through the air, then splashed into the water below. Jonah rushed to the railing and saw Foerster disappear beneath the surging foam.

Jonah closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

He looked again.

Foerster’s body appeared, bobbing off to the right and already well behind the boat. Jonah watched it closely, looking for signs of life. An arm moved. Then the other arm moved. A moment later Foerster was swimming, pulling hard, growing smaller and smaller in the distance. Soon he was a speck, then maybe he was there and maybe he wasn’t – a tiny spark on the water, a ray of sunlight reflecting off a discarded beer can.

The S.I. Newhouse motored along, passing the Statue of Liberty.

Up ahead, the tall buildings of lower Manhattan drew nearer. They seemed to launch themselves heavenward, like bamboo shoots springing up out of the ground.

‘Shit,’ Jonah said. ‘That’s twice now.’

He turned and faced the guy who knew what a microphone looked like. Five feet away, the guy stared at him blandly.

‘Was that any of your goddamn business?’ Jonah said.

The guy shrugged. The beard looked like it came from a costume store and was just glued right on there. ‘I made it my business. You have a problem with that?’

Jonah stepped into the punch, landing it solidly across the guy’s chin. The guy’s head swiveled to the right and he took two stumble-steps backward before falling on his ass. His head bounced off the ironwork of the floor. He was down and his eyes said he would stay down. A woman from the crowd kneeled by him and glared up at Jonah, not saying anything. All around them, people murmured.

Jonah could feel it already – the dull ache in his hand and in his wrist that by tonight would travel the length of his arm up to his shoulder. Instant karma – you paid a price for hitting people in this world. Still, punching that loudmouth felt good. It felt right. It felt like something Gordo would do.


‘I don’t know how it happened,’ Foerster’s mother said between heavy gasps for air. She had sobbed for a time and had only stopped a few minutes before.

‘I don’t know how Davey got so bad. I can’t tell you how smart he was as a boy. He was the smartest boy in his whole school. Everybody said so. He won big prizes for science and math.’ She shook her head. ‘And now this. In and out of jail. Beat up by the police. Always on the run.’ A long, world-weary sigh escaped her. ‘You know, his poor father must be rolling over in his grave.’

Gordo put his big hands on top of hers and let them rest there a moment. They sat at her kitchen table. Jonah had come in a few minutes before and shook his head – missed him again. Now he hovered around, not saying anything, and in general making Gordo nervous. Gordo was working here.

He glanced around the kitchen, really noticing it for the first time. The wallpaper was peeling away in several places. The ancient cabinets were half-falling out of the wall. There was almost no counter space. The linoleum on the floor was scuffed and ripped. The plastic tablecloth was sticky with age. Through a doorway he could see into the living room. The furniture was old – old, and not in a good way – and covered in plastic. Hell, back here in the kitchen the refrigerator was five feet tall. Gordo hadn’t seen one of those in ages. If he opened the icebox, he knew what he would find. Caked ice, five inches thick on every side, with a few frozen dinners stuffed into the dim tunnel remaining.

In the aftermath of the raid, he had managed to charm her. Even after bursting into her home, even after accidentally knocking her over – thankfully, she was a sturdy woman and hadn’t broken a hip or some vertebrae when she went down – he had managed to win her over to his way of thinking. With a maniac like Foerster for a son, she must have been halfway there already.

He had helped her up, brought her here to the kitchen table, and told her that he worked for the courts. He deliberately kept it vague, allowing her to believe whatever she wanted to believe about that. It seemed she had come to the conclusion that he was a court officer of some kind, maybe a special detective who reported directly to the judges. That was a fine thing to believe. He had also told her that he was trying to help her son, not hurt him. He had told her that if the police got to Davey first, her son might not get off as easily. You could tell by the bruises and the stitches in his head that the police had very little compunction about the use of force, even deadly force. The court system was a great deal more humane than the police.

He had won her over so thoroughly that she had agreed not to call anyone right away. She had also agreed to let Gordo look around in Davey’s room for a few minutes. There wasn’t much to see. A twin bed that might cramp the style of a ten-year-old. Posters of obscure heavy metal bands still on the walls. An aluminum fire ladder attached to the window sill and hanging down to the alley – quite the escape artist was our little Davey. And one thing that might actually mean something, though at this moment Gordo couldn’t imagine what: the business card of a security consulting firm located in Charleston, South Carolina. Gordo found it on the bedside table, which suggested to him that Foerster had it out for a reason. It was a very curious thing, that card.

‘Well, it happens,’ Gordo said now. ‘People go bad. It’s no reflection on how you raised him.’

Mrs. Foerster looked up, and in her eyes Gordo detected the light of hope. ‘Do you really believe that?’

‘Of course I do. Jonah here can vouch for what I’m saying.’

Jonah nodded his head solemnly. ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘Of course I can.’ But it sounded empty, like the absent-minded blather of a man who wasn’t listening and had no idea what he was agreeing to.

Gordo soldiered on with the lie. Jonah had already tuned the whole thing out, and Gordo himself was even growing a little bored with it. He wanted to keep Foerster’s mom on the hook by projecting compassion, and he even wanted to feel compassion for her. But in reality some plenty warped shit must have gone on in this house during Foerster’s upbringing, and no amount of hand-wringing was going to unmake that fact. In Gordo’s experience, a career whacko like Foerster didn’t get that way entirely on his own. He had help, and the help started early.

‘In our line of work,’ Gordo said, ‘Jonah and I deal with some very bad men. Some of them – not Davey, mind you, but some others – are the worst men in our society. And we find over and over that many of them were raised in good homes. Maybe they have some kind of defect, a chemical imbalance in their brains, or maybe they get led down the wrong path by people they meet on the street. I don’t know what it is.’

‘I don’t, either,’ she said.

‘Whatever the reason in this case, it’s very important that Davey be taken off the street for a while. It’s important that he get help from professionals. And it’s important that other people… well…’

‘That he doesn’t hurt anyone else,’ she said.

‘That’s right.’

She nodded, as if finally coming to a difficult decision. ‘I should have called someone as soon as he showed up here. But I wanted to protect him. I love my son, Mr. Lamb.’

Gordo nodded. ‘I know you do.’ His hand moved to her shoulder. ‘We can make things right for Davey. Will you help us do that?’

She began to cry again, silently this time. Her body shook all over. ‘I’ll do anything you want.’

Gordo held up the business card. ‘Do you know anything about this? I found it upstairs. It could be a clue.’

She took the card in one hand. ‘He told me he has a job lined up in South Carolina. I don’t know if it’s true or not. He’s lied so much that I have no idea whether I’m coming or going sometimes. He wanted me to give him money so he could go down there, but I didn’t believe that’s what he wanted it for.’

‘Did you give him any money?’

‘I gave him forty dollars. He said it wasn’t enough. I was actually afraid of him, what my son might do, to get more money from me.’ She started crying some more at the thought of it, but not as forcefully as before. Silent tears rolled down her cheeks.

‘Do you have any idea what kind of work he might do with a security firm?’

She shrugged. ‘Something with computers, maybe. Like I said, he’s very smart.’

‘Can you do this for me? Can you call the phone company, right now, and find out if by any chance Davey called that number from this phone? I’d do it myself, but I’d have to go through channels and it might take a couple of days. We’re really working against the clock here.’

‘Well, he was only here one night, and he came quite late. I don’t know when he would have called.’

‘Mrs. Foerster, a man like Davey can be quite resourceful.’

‘Well, OK,’ she said, but she sounded uncertain.

‘Good. That’s good. Here’s the phone.’

Gordo and Jonah waited while she sat on hold. Jonah was pacing a little bit, and if he was going to do that, Gordo wished he would go out on the street where Mrs. Foerster didn’t have to look at him. But she was a good girl, a trooper. When she got someone on the phone, she did just as he told her – she asked them to outline all the calls made from her phone in the past twenty-four hours. As she listened, she jotted something down on a piece of scrap paper. She turned it around so that Gordo could read it.

3:07 AM.

She looked deeply into his eyes. He noticed her eyes were bloodshot, and yellowing. He nodded. She nodded.

Jonah floated closer and looked at the note.

‘OK, thank you,’ Foerster’s mom said into the phone just before hanging up. ‘You know, I have some family visiting, and I just don’t like the way they think my phone is their phone. Calling wherever they please, anytime they want. I have to keep close tabs on them.’

Gordo liked the story. She was clearly a veteran liar. She had flowed into it just as smoothly as he would have.

‘Well, you were right,’ she said. ‘He called there in the middle of the night while I was sleeping. But the call lasted less than a minute.’

‘That’s very interesting,’ Gordo said. ‘I wonder what it means.’


‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ Jonah said as they walked back to the car. ‘The guy called some random office in the middle of the night when he knew nobody would be there. He probably did it so he could lie to his mother a little more about some place that was supposed to hire him. I can’t imagine anybody hiring that guy.’

‘Sure, that could be,’ Gordo allowed. ‘Or he might have called there for a hundred other reasons. He’s a crazy person, so he might actually think that some private security firm wants to hire him. For all I know, he’s so delusional he thinks he works for the government, or for some clandestine foreign spy agency.’

‘Or the New World Order,’ Jonah said.

‘Right. He might go to South Carolina and walk in the office there, and they won’t have the slightest idea what he’s talking about. It could be bad for them because it might set him off.’

They were almost to the car. For some reason, it bothered Jonah to think that any firm, especially a security contractor, would want Foerster to work for them. It burned him up. He didn’t want his mind to think it.

‘Or, and I know this is a little hard to swallow,’ Gordo said. ‘Foerster might have some skill or combination of skills that makes this security company want to hire him. Hey, these guys might be people who hire rent-a-cops with tinfoil badges to hang around empty shopping malls and make sure nobody walks off with the sheetrock or the wiring. But we know one thing about Foerster – he thinks about two steps ahead, and he can be pretty fucking hard to catch. These might be enticing traits to somebody. And we know one thing about private security companies in this day and age – it’s not always clear what they’re really up to.’

‘So you’re saying?’

‘I’m saying I’m going to do a little research on this company, see what I can find out. Then I might give them a call and try to talk to this guy Tyler Gant.’

‘Are you going to tell him why you’re calling?’

Gordo unlocked Jonah’s door, then went around to the driver’s side. ‘That’s the tricky thing. I want to find out if Foerster’s headed there, if I can, but I really don’t want to tip my hand and let this guy know we’re looking for Foerster. I mean, fifty grand is fifty grand. Better we get it than he does.’

They slid into the car, and Gordo started it up. ‘So let me get this straight,’ Jonah said. ‘You’re thinking of going down there?’

Gordo gave Jonah a wide-eyed look as if they’d got their signals crossed somehow, as if something so simple a child could understand it had been nonetheless misunderstood. ‘Of course I am. Aren’t you? I mean, if we find out that’s where he’s going. This is the biggest single score we’ve ever seen. We’re not going to give it up that easy.’

Jonah said nothing.

‘Are we?’

Jonah shrugged, hating the tight, petulant sound in his voice that he knew was coming. ‘It’s going to cost money.’

Gordo nosed into the traffic on Richmond Terrace. The new realities – the bikes, the scooters, the pedestrians, and all the rest – meant that if you were still driving a car it wasn’t always clear when you were free to merge. ‘Think of it as an investment,’ he said. ‘I mean, this is the big one. This is the white whale. We can’t just walk away from this, right?’

Jonah wasn’t sure. They had missed the guy twice already, even though the cops had caught him on more than one occasion. Foerster’s slippery moves had Jonah thinking maybe he, and maybe even Gordo, weren’t cut out for bounty hunting after all. Sure, they’d caught a couple of nickel and dime skips. But when they went for the real money, the guy juked them and jived them and faked them out of their shoes. Beyond that, what if the whole South Carolina thing was a decoy or some scam Foerster was playing? What if he headed west, or north, instead of south? They could go down there, spend at least a couple of thousand dollars they didn’t have, go deeper into the hole, and it could all be a washout, a big nothing.

‘Jonah, am I right?’

‘I think we should wait a minute and think about this,’ Jonah said, knowing his words were exactly what Gordo didn’t want to hear. Already Gordo’s face looked pinched, as if a painful cramp had seized his lower abdomen. Jonah plunged on anyway. He had an opinion, so he might as well express it. ‘I think we should be a hundred percent certain he’s headed down there before we make a move that way.’

Gordo followed the flow of congested traffic towards the bridge into Brooklyn. It was amazing to see that on this monster span, one that went so high in the air and had such wicked crosswinds, an entire lane in each direction was now reserved for bicycles. What was next – a lane for oxen?

‘Jonah, don’t kill it, man. We’ll never be one hundred percent sure of anything.’

‘OK, ninety-nine percent. Ninety-eight percent.’

Gordo sighed. ‘I’ll do whatever I can to put together enough evidence so you will know that going to South Carolina is the right move.’

‘Well,’ Jonah said, and again the sound of his voice irritated him. ‘I’ll be waiting to see it.’

Patrick Quinlan

The Hit


There was a delay with the plane.

The pilots were up front, dickering with some part of the instrumentation. At one point, Gant saw the younger of the two take out a screwdriver and remove a panel, then start poking among some wires inside there. Rather than watch these guys fool around with things they probably didn’t understand, things they would need to keep Gant alive and up in the air in the very near future, he went outside onto the tarmac.

It was just after eleven o’clock, and the sun was riding high and hot. Gant walked a little way from the plane and took out his cell phone. He had world service, so he could call Vernon from here. Three goons milled around over by the shed where Gant had stripped down yesterday, waiting for the plane to take off. A black SUV was parked there. The men eyed Gant with unfriendly stares. Did they have some way of listening in to his conversation? He thought not, but supposed it didn’t matter anyway. He could keep it brief and to the point with Vernon.

The phone rang three times. ‘Yessir,’ came the sunny voice. ‘I know it’s gonna be a wonderful day when I see this number calling.’


‘That would be me.’

‘Where are you?’

‘I’m walking down the street. I just had my breakfast at the Charlotte Inn, and man, what a breakfast it was.’

Gant smiled. Vernon often took his meals at the best hotels and restaurants in Charleston – he had the money to spend, and he enjoyed the jarring contrast between himself and the alarmed gentry who ended up sitting at tables near him. Gant could picture Vernon strutting through the historic district like a peacock. Six feet, four inches tall in bare feet, the top of his white Stetson hat adding another four inches, the heels of his snakeskin cowboy boots adding another two. Tight jeans, a black T-shirt painted to his broad chest and shoulders, a riot of tattoos reaching from the razor wire tattooed around his neck, all the way down his shoulders and arms to his big rawboned hands. He was a piece of work, all right – toothpick in his mouth, huge jaw jutting out, daring just about any hard man to go ahead and try his luck. There probably wouldn’t be any takers today, or tomorrow, or any time this month.

‘You ready to work?’ Gant said.

‘I’m always ready to work.’

Gant glanced up and saw the stewardess, flight attendant, waitress, or whatever from the airplane. She clomped across the uneven paving in her high heels and skirt, waving to him. One passenger, one stewardess. Man, it was crazy.

‘Listen, I don’t have much time,’ he said. ‘I’m about to catch a plane here. That thing with the boat? The delivery? I need you to give the green light on that. It’s a go. So tell our supplier we’re ready and tell the boat it’s coming at them.’

‘Got it, boss.’

The woman came almost to within touching distance. ‘Mr Gant, we’re ready for you now. The plane is all set.’

‘Thank you. I’ll be just another minute.’

‘Of course.’ She turned and started clomping back. Without much interest, he watched her big behind move away toward the plane.

‘Also,’ he said to Vernon. ‘What’s the story in New York?’

He sensed a hesitation on the other end of the line. It was uncharacteristic for Vernon, to say the least.


‘There ain’t no story in New York, I’m sorry to say.’


‘There’s no story. At least, none that anybody would want to hear.’

‘Vernon, I don’t have time to dance around. Out with it. The plane’s about to take off without me.’

‘All right,’ Vernon said, but his voice didn’t sound like it was all right. ‘Our man went to make the pickup late last night, and nobody was there. Our boy wasn’t home, even though he knew we’d be coming soon. Nobody was home, and there was no message left.’

Gant thought about it. He started walking toward the plane. ‘Maybe he went out last night to a bar and picked up a girl or something. Tell the guy to wait around a while.’

‘I already did. He’s waiting in the apartment. See, it wasn’t locked. In fact, the door wasn’t even closed.’

Gant felt his breathing become just a tiny bit shallower. ‘Shit.’


‘All right. Keep on it. I’ll be home in a few hours.’

‘I’m on it.’

Gant rang off and trotted up the steps into the plane. He took his seat as the flight attendant pulled the door closed and locked it airtight. He cinched his seat belt as the woman took her fold out seat near the door of the cockpit. The engines roared into life, and without further ado, the plane taxied into position for takeoff. These guys were in a hurry to get out of here. Gant settled back, closed his eyes and relaxed himself as the plane accelerated down the bumpy runway and then left the ground. He took several deep breaths as they went into a steep ascent. Later, when they leveled off, he opened his eyes. Out the window he saw huge, white puffy clouds. Only then did he begin thinking again.

Jesus, that Foerster thing was bad news. This business was about knowing people. It was about relationships, and he was beginning to think the relationship with Foerster was not a good one to have. It wasn’t the first time he’d had these thoughts. In fact, he had it on good authority that his relationship with Foerster should have ended after just a brief fling.

Gant had once known a man named Monty. Monty was restless, a mover, and an adventurer. He had his fingers in a lot of different pies. He was the only man Gant had ever met who wore a handlebar mustache – it gave him the effect of being a man out of time, a museum piece catapulted from the 1800s into the present day. Gant half-expected Monty to pull up on a bicycle with an enormous front tire, instead of the vintage Corvette he normally drove.

Monty was gone now, turned up dead in the Amazon more than a year ago, in the nearly lawless border region where Colombia, Peru and Brazil all met. They found his body in an alley behind a bar in Leticia, Colombia. What he was doing there was never explained by anybody. In fact, the only reason Gant knew he was dead was because one morning when he slid behind the wheel of his car, a small newspaper clipping to that effect from The Toledo Blade was taped to his dashboard. It turned out Montgomery Blaine was born and raised just outside Toledo, and still had parents there. A small handwritten note was taped to the dash along with the clipping.

He would have wanted you to know.

It gave Gant the creeps sometimes, to think of the people who must be watching him. Whoever they were, they must approve of, or at least not care about, Gant’s more unsavory activities. Still, it wasn’t a good feeling to have those eyes following his moves.

In any case, Monty was the one who had given him Foerster. It was during the lead up to the anthrax job, more than two years ago now. Certain people were feeling Gant out about it. Could it be done, take out two Illinois state senators at the same time, in a government office building in Chicago? The key here was that the two good liberal senators, a man and a woman, both very powerful in state politics, shouldn’t look like they were specifically targeted. And whoever took them out either had to escape completely, or know nothing of the reason or the people behind the attack.

Taken as an intellectual exercise, Gant said yes, he thought maybe it could be done. There’d have to be collateral damage to cover up the purpose of the attack, and that meant innocent people would have to die. Also, a bomb wouldn’t work because you’d never get it past security and into the building. But an airborne biological agent in the ventilation system – highly concentrated, highly virulent anthrax, for instance – that might do the trick.

OK, his audience said, but could he, Gant, pull it off?

He wasn’t sure, even then, if the job was for real. Maybe it was just some people blowing off steam by fantasizing about something they wanted to see done, or might want to see done. Maybe it was a set-up, a sting, someone somewhere had been turned by the government, and the FBI was listening to every word. Gant didn’t know. In fact, even now, he still wasn’t sure. But at the time, despite the uncertainties, he decided to treat it as if it were real. If it were a sting, then he was looking at a lot of time, possibly the rest of his life, in prison. But he took the gamble anyway. Fortune favors the bold.

‘I need a microbiologist,’ he said to Monty one evening. They were walking, as they often did, among the Friday night crowds in downtown Charleston. They moved along streets lined with multimillion-dollar pre-Civil War homes into Battery Park, where the breeze off the harbor and the chatter from the gawkers would surely thwart any attempt to listen to their conversation.

‘A microbiologist?’ Monty said. ‘I didn’t suspect Tyler Gant even possessed a word that long in his vocabulary. That’s a six syllable word. What, pray tell, do you need one of those for?’

‘That’s classified. But I need a good one. And I need him or her to have a certain, shall we say, moral flexibility.’

Monty became serious, as he always did when he realized that Gant wasn’t kidding around, or that an opportunity had presented itself. ‘It could cost you some money, finding a person like that.’

‘I’m prepared to pay money.’

Monty nodded. ‘Let me see what I can do.’

The next conversation took place a month later in the parking lot of a closed rest area off the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway in West Virginia. It seemed like a long way to go to have a chat, but Monty insisted on it. They parked their cars about fifty yards apart. Gant walked across the asphalt to the rental sedan Monty leaned against. The pavement was cracked and broken. The rest area itself was high up in the mountains. The view of the valley far below and to the west was wide open. You could forget to breathe while looking at it. The view south along the ridgeline was probably the purple mountain’s majesty the children used to sing about. The wind howled incessantly, and immediately Gant knew why Monty had picked this place to talk.

Gant glanced only once at the rest area building – in some distant past it had been home to bathrooms and maybe a restaurant or gift shop. It was boarded up now. One of the wooden boards that covered the front doorway had been pried open a crack. Gant peered at the darkness between the board and wall – it wasn’t out of the question that people were living in there. It wasn’t out of the question that vampires lived in there. It looked like a place where they would hide out in the daytime.

Monty had a single sheet of paper in a manila folder. Neatly typed on the page was a name, an address and a telephone number. That was all.

‘Davis Foerster,’ Monty said, his voice just barely audible above the wind. ‘The CIA has been watching him from the time he was fourteen. He won a prize from the National Science Foundation that year, for a project that demonstrated ways of accelerating the growth of cancer cells. The following year he jumped to computer science and won another national contest, this time for a paper arguing that in our lifetimes, artificial intelligence would become smarter than man, and would bind all the networked computers in the world together into a single, hyper-intelligent entity that would quickly make humanity obsolete. This entity would then go on to use the available computing capacity on earth to unlock the secrets of the universe.’

‘The CIA?’ Gant said. ‘You work for the CIA?’

‘I work with all kinds of people.’

‘For the job I’m thinking of, I’m not sure a CIA man will do.’

Monty shook his head. ‘As far as I know, the CIA has never touched Foerster. They were interested in him and that’s all. They did a psychological assessment on him. What you have to understand is this guy is eight different kinds of bad news. He’s unstable, from an abusive upbringing. He’s considered deeply neurotic and possibly delusional. He’s consumed by rage and feelings of powerlessness and persecution. He’s been in and out of various facilities, juvenile detention and mental hospitals, for the past seven or eight years. His first stay in juvie came when he was sixteen – a group of ten-year-olds were outside his window taunting him, so he went outside and sliced one of them up with a razor blade.

‘He seems to lack empathy for other living things, human or animal. He tortured stray cats as a child. He conducted experiments on them, like some kind of grammar school Josef Mengele. As an adult, he’s believed to be a serial rapist, and his M.O. is most likely blitz attacks with blunt objects on defenseless victims, like old women or women who are asleep. In fact, it’s likely that at one time or another he’s killed a woman or women in the initial attack and then had sex with the corpse. Of course, by now he may have graduated to more sophisticated methods.’

‘If they know all this about him,’ Gant said, ‘why is he still on the street?’

Monty shrugged. ‘You’re the ex-cop war hero. Go and arrest him if you want. But I suggest you hire him for the job. He can do whatever science you need, and he has the moral flexibility you described. Keep him close while the operation is ongoing. Afterwards, I think you should dispose of him. He’s not the kind of person you want out there knowing your secrets.’

Monty smiled then, his white teeth gleaming. ‘And, as I’m sure you realize, the world will probably be a little better off without him.’

In the end, Gant took half of Monty’s advice. He hired Foerster. Afterward, he paid him handsomely and sent him on his way. Why had he done that? For one, Foerster seemed a lot more stable in person than Monty made him out to be. He was a jerk, of course, almost unbearably obnoxious at times. But he was no drooling psycho. He worked long hours without complaint, living on take-out food and very little sleep, and when it came to the science he knew exactly what he was doing. There was trial and error, sure – he had never grown anthrax before, weaponized or not – but he mastered the intricacies of it in short order.

There was something creepy about Foerster, but the operation was a huge success, and he was part of that success. It might have been bad judgment, it might even have been short-sighted selfishness, but Gant figured that if he ever needed a microbiologist again, Foerster was his man, so it was better to keep him alive. And it was even more than that. Gant recognized something in Foerster. In a sense, they had some things in common, were almost kindred spirits.

They both kept secrets.


‘You can’t keep hiding out here forever.’

It was her mother talking. That morning, Katie had evacuated to her mother’s tidy house in Beaufort, about an hour away by car. Now, in the late afternoon, she was still there. She had no immediate plans of leaving.

She’d eaten lunch with her Mom, and as the sun waned they were enjoying a few Margaritas on her Mom’s back patio. It was pleasant enough, sitting at the table and putting a buzz on. The patio looked out on her Mom’s backyard and garden. They were more modest, certainly, than Katie’s, but still pretty nice. It had rained a lot down here this summer and even now, in November, the whole backyard – the trees, the bushes, the hanging vines – were as dense and lush as a rainforest. It seemed to Katie like a magical place out of a fairy tale. And the strong drinks didn’t hurt either. They put a filter between Katie and her Mom’s more annoying commentary.

It was good to be there in one important sense – Tyler had arrived home and found her gone. In fact, he had called about an hour ago, wondering where she was and what he ought to thaw out for dinner. Of course, he knew exactly where she was – both their cars were outfitted with GPS units mounted inside the dashboard, which he could monitor from his laptop computer. It was very convenient. If the cars were ever stolen, he could find them again with just a few clicks. And if Katie ever used her car to run away from home, he could find her again the same way.

Tyler also knew what he ought to make himself for dinner. He was a big boy and had lived on his own for many years before they met. He had called her to send a message. Although their conversation was brief, and polite, he was in effect telling her: I’m home now and you should be, too.

But she wasn’t home and she wasn’t coming home. Not tonight. See, two could play at this game of being absent without leave. He thought he could come and go as he pleased and she was supposed to stay home and play wifey, but she was done with that. It was over. Certainly, she would make it look good for public consumption – for instance, she was organizing their annual Halloween party as she always did – but privately, she would make him feel how she felt.

Katie’s mother went on. ‘I mean, it seems like every few days you’re sleeping over here, and I doubt it’s for my benefit. If you’re having these sorts of problems, maybe you should go into counseling together.’

She looked at her mother, really soaking her in. She was a woman in her late fifties. She was careful about sun exposure. She drank eight glasses of pure spring water a day. She followed a mainly vegetarian diet, though she wasn’t a fanatic about it. At Katie’s insistence, she had taken up yoga about ten years ago, and had retained some of her youthful flexibility and strength. Her eyes were bright and alert, even after a few drinks. About the only obvious clue to her age were the crow’s feet around her eyes, and the wrinkles on her forehead and neck – she refused to consider plastic surgery, though many women she knew had already gone for it two or three times.

Still, Katie’s father had died five years earlier and his death had taken its toll. Her Mom she wasn’t as vigorous as before – wasn’t quite the queen of the ball she had once been. She had diminished without him, and had become thinner and more fragile. She was still passionate about gardening, and about her charity work. She still lived life and gave herself to it. If anything about her had outwardly changed, it was that she no longer traveled the way she and Katie’s father had loved to do together. But that was par for the course now anyway – few people were traveling like they once had. Even so, her mother was getting older, and it was happening right in front of Katie’s eyes. She could almost picture her mother in another ten years, and she didn’t like what she saw.

‘Mom, would Dad have ever gone to marital counseling?’

‘Well, we never needed counseling, as far as I know.’

‘That’s not really my point. My point is, would he have gone?’

Her mother gave a gentle shake of her head. ‘I don’t think certain men of your father’s generation would go in for that kind of thing. Many did, but some men were holdovers from an earlier time. They weren’t very touchy-feely. They held their pain inside and didn’t talk much about it.’

Katie took a sip of her Margarita. It was fruity and delicious. She was about to score one on her mother and took the time to savor it. ‘Exactly my point. Tyler is a man from Dad’s generation, and I’d say he qualifies as a holdover from an earlier time. Like maybe the Great Depression.’

Her mother made a pained expression. ‘I’m not the one who told you to marry a man your father’s age.’

‘Nobody told me to do it. He’s the man I fell in love with.’

‘Well, for God’s sake, Katie. A younger man, a more modern man, would be better able to deal emotionally with the problem you’ve had. A younger man would be more open about it, would be more willing to talk about it, and then maybe the two of you could move on from being stuck in this place.’


Her mother held up a thin hand. To Katie, this was the first indication that her Mom had crossed the line from tipsy to drunk. ‘No, I’m going to say it. Tyler wanted to have children, his own children. He wanted to have them with you. But you can’t have children, and what’s worse, you can’t have them because of your own flagrant behavior. OK, you were young, but that doesn’t change the facts. You ruined your body by sleeping around.’

‘Jesus, Mom,’ Katie said. What she thought was: Fuck you, Mom.

‘It’s true, isn’t it? How is an old-fashioned person like Tyler supposed to deal with that? He can’t talk about it. He probably can’t even think about it without getting upset. Personally, I think your marriage is doomed.’

With that, she stood on unsteady legs and gathered their glasses. ‘Are you having another drink?’ It came out ferociously, almost an accusation.

‘Sure, why not?’ Katie said. ‘I’m not going anywhere.’

Her mother went inside and Katie sat, watching the light begin to fade from the sky. She never watched the news, but even she knew that many people thought the world was ending. The weather was changing. The economy was collapsing and millions of people were out of work, or had lost their homes. None of these hardships had touched her life, but she felt them somehow, like they were all around her, in the air she breathed, on the empty highways she drove, in the gated communities where she and her mother both lived.

And she had her own hardships, didn’t she? It was a painful thing, not being able to bear a child. She had lost that ability years ago, at the age of twenty-five, without even knowing it. Back in her Dewey Beach days she had picked up a case of gonorrhea. Worse yet, she apparently had it for months before any symptoms appeared. Even worse, she got it during a time when she was particularly active, partying too much, and she wasn’t even sure who it came from. She was horrified by it, of course. Who wouldn’t be horrified by a foul-smelling, painful discharge coming from their body, especially that part of their body? But she had gone to a medical clinic and a round of antibiotics had knocked it out in a few days. Katie was good at forgetting unpleasant facts, and a short time later it seemed that the whole episode had happened to somebody else.

Then, two years ago, she had miscarried a baby. It was early into the pregnancy, less than two months. These things happened. Then, last year, it had happened again. A battery of tests quickly revealed something she hadn’t even suspected. Her uterus had been scarred by the gonorrhea. As a result, her pregnancies were ectopic – meaning the fetus lodged each time in one of her fallopian tubes, and grew there for a little while. But the tubes were too narrow. They weren’t designed for growing a baby, so her body expelled the fetus in self-defense. This was one impromptu anatomy lesson that she hadn’t wanted to learn.

The good news was that there was no threat to her overall health, and she could enjoy a normal, active sex life with a willing partner. The bad news was that she could never carry a baby to term. The worst news was that there was no way to explain her past to Tyler in a way that would make sense to him, or that he could accept. She had never felt like a whore before – not until the day they found out why she couldn’t have a baby, and not until she looked into her husband’s eyes.

She remembered how some weeks afterward he wasn’t home one night, and she wandered the big house, thinking that she might start cleaning. Instead she poured herself a glass of wine and went into the living room. She sat on the leather sofa across from Tyler’s chair. She could see the indentations his body had made. It was like he was sitting there, invisible. When the grandfather clock chimed nine, she began to cry. There wasn’t much force behind the tears, and she regained herself. Maybe she was reaching the point where she was all cried out. She hoped so.

She remembered another time when he left the bed in the middle of the night. She padded down the stairs, looking for him. She found him in the living room, slouched in his chair, whiskey glass in hand. His eyes were open, staring straight ahead. He looked up when she came to the doorway. Those eyes were hard. She saw no caring there, no warmth, just cold intelligence measuring her. He could have been a creature from an alien race, come to take specimens back home. He stared at her a long time.

‘Go ahead,’ he said. ‘Tell me how much you love me.’

There was nothing she could do, nothing she could say. Things were never OK between them. They had moments when they were easy together, like they used to be, but those moments became increasingly rare. It was quiet in the house, and she felt his anger most of the time, rather than saw it. He shut her out. She suspected that when the time was right for him, he would put an end to the marriage. Right now, Katie, flawed as she was in his eyes, fit his purposes. Appearances were important to Tyler, and in their community they still seemed the perfect couple – a wealthy, successful and very fit older man with a stunning young wife. But she imagined a day would come when his purposes changed, and then he would make her go away. Maybe he would find himself another young woman. For all she knew, maybe he already had.

He blamed her, of course. He blamed her for those men who came before him. She had always been vague about her past love life. But that luxury was gone. He extracted confessions from her regarding each and every man that came before him. When she told him about Ray, she could swear she saw Tyler’s heart break. He got drunk and slapped her that night, for the first time ever. It didn’t hurt, but it surprised her and she cried.

Good for you, she told him in her mind as the tears rolled down her cheeks. You should be the one with the broken heart for a change.

Now, her mother came out the sliding glass doors with the next round of drinks. ‘Mom,’ Katie said. ‘I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t live like this anymore.’


Foerster was dead tired.

He stood at a payphone on the street in downtown Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It was night, just after ten o’clock, and he was half a block from the beach. He could hear the water lapping at the sand. High-rise hotels and low-rise motels lined the strip here. A lot of them were closed and boarded up. Foerster didn’t care. He had exactly nineteen dollars left of the money his mother had given him, and he would avoid paying for a room if he could.

A handful of honky-tonk bars were open right near here. Neon lights blinked, country music blasted, and people milled around and smoked cigarettes in the night air. A lot of military types in olive T-shirts and crew cut hair. A lot of biker types wearing leather and denim jackets and showing gang colors. A lot of sun-kissed, big-haired blonds wearing shorts, bikini tops and high-heels. Once in a while, a police cruiser rolled slowly by. To Foerster’s eyes, these were the only people who seemed to be out.

He seemed to have no energy left – like someone had inserted a tube and drained the vitality right out of him. The payphone kiosk was practically holding him up. His head was congested and he felt a bit feverish. No surprise there. By his own estimate, he’d traveled about seven hundred miles in a little over thirteen hours. Luck had been with him. After swimming to shore from the ferry, he’d limped to the highway entrance ramp, stuck his thumb out and inside of ten minutes got picked up by a long haul trucker headed for Maryland. Half-drowned and bedraggled, the barest trickle of traffic on the roads, and he’d still managed to get a ride. Foerster was almost willing to say that something more than luck was at work here.

Maybe it was meant to be.

Of course that was silly. Nothing was meant to be. The universe unfolded in random fashion and people were the helpless playthings of enormous forces beyond their control. But then again…

If mere luck had sent that first ride, it couldn’t have worked out much better than it did. The driver was young, with a three day growth of beard. He had been arrested half a dozen times, hated cops, and sympathized completely with Foerster’s story. He even gave Foerster a flannel shirt and jeans to wear, plus a towel to dry off with. The clothes were a size or so too big, but it was better to be dry than wet.

‘How do you even keep this thing on the road?’ Foerster said after they’d traveled a while. They were rolling down the New Jersey Turnpike by then, headed for Delaware. ‘I mean, it must cost a fortune. Most of the independents are already out of business, aren’t they?’

‘Want the truth?’ the young guy said, a mischievous gleam in his eye.

‘Of course.’

‘I’m carrying a load of dry goods for a discount chain. Buried here and there in the boxes with the ladies’ nightgowns and bed linens is a load of cocaine headed for the Midwest. There’s more than a million bucks worth of coke inside this truck right now.’

Foerster was impressed. ‘Yours?’

The trucker shook his head. ‘The guys who own the chain store. It’s how they stay in business. Drugs, my friend, are good for America. It’s how my employers stay in business, how I stay in business, how everybody stays in business.’

Foerster had hoped to go all the way to Charleston tonight, but he hadn’t made it there. The ride he’d gotten out of Virginia, a middle-aged salesman named Mort, was coming here to Myrtle Beach. Mort would have been happy to drop Foerster off along the interstate. But the place where Mort exited the highway to come here, some seventy-five miles inland, was the same exit where an old rundown roadside attraction called South of the Border had once been. Foerster had been there once as a kid – a bunch of rinky-dink rides, an observation tower that looked out on nothing but the highway, a bad restaurant and a gift shop selling cheap crap and T-shirts with funny slogans. South of the Border’s major claim to fame, a dubious one, had been the billboards advertising the place, posted every mile or so for more than sixty miles before you ever arrived.

South of the Border was still there at the highway exit, but it had changed. It was closed, and some bomzhies had taken it over. When Foerster and Mort had arrived after dark, much of the place was on fire. Silhouettes raced back and forth in the light cast by the flames. Traffic raced by on the highway. No sirens sounded, and no firemen worked to put the fire out. The amusement park just burned and burned, the crackling of the flames punctuated by the screams and the laughter of the drunken nutjobs who had torched it.

Mort had pulled over a little way from the inferno. ‘Sure you don’t want to try your luck in Myrtle Beach?’

Foerster didn’t want to, but what choice did he have? No one was going to stop for him – not in the dark, not with that blaze going. Finding another ride was going to be a bust, and Foerster sure as hell didn’t want to stay over in that nightmare stop. So Myrtle Beach was his only option.

Now, at the payphone, with the night’s action unfolding all around him, he dialed his mother collect. It was a little late, but she wasn’t famous for her early to bed, early to rise work ethic. She was famous for her loud snoring and her late-night TV watching. He wouldn’t be surprised if she answered.

As the phone rang, he took a look around. He was getting a few funny looks from people on the street, and why not? Here was a pale skinny guy with a carved up scalp, wearing a flannel shirt and jeans that hung off of him. Tanned beach bunnies and muscle-bound, vein-popping steroid freaks, all in skin-tight clothing, would see him as a member of an alien race. But none of the looks they gave him were too threatening, so he took no immediate action.

On the other end of the line, his mother accepted the reversed charges.

‘Davey?’ she said. ‘My God, where are you?’

‘Don’t worry about that right now. I’m OK, and I’m in a safe place. That’s all you need to know. What happened today after I left?’

‘What happened? Those two men chased you down the block. Later, they came back and asked me all kinds of questions.’

‘What did you tell them?’

‘Nothing. What could I tell them? They wanted to search the house. I told them to see a judge and get a search warrant. Until then, I couldn’t help them. I know how these things work. The police can’t just barge in here any time they want.’

Foerster shook his head. ‘They’re not the police.’


‘They’re not the police, Ma. They can’t search the house. They can’t get a search warrant because they’re not cops. They’re private goons.’

‘Well, they left anyway.’

‘OK. Good, Ma. You did the right thing. That was good. Now I need you to do something for me. Upstairs, on the bedside table, I left a business card. It’s the business card I showed you. It’s from a friend of mine, like I told you. He wants me to do some work for him, and I need his phone number.’

‘Davey, I don’t have that card anymore.’

‘What? What do you mean?’ Foerster felt his heart do a jerky little dance in his chest. If she had given those clowns Gant’s card… No. His mind rebelled against going down that road.

‘I didn’t want those men to see the card. So when they chased you I went upstairs, tore up the card, and flushed the pieces down the toilet.’

Foerster rubbed his head with his free hand. His fingers moved along the railroad line of scar tissue and stitches. OK, he’d live through the night without calling Gant. He’d make it down to Charleston tomorrow, the same way he’d made it this far. He’d have to find some kind of sleeping arrangement, maybe on the beach, maybe in an alley, but that was OK. Hell, maybe he’d find a chick to take him home, right? Stranger things had happened in this world. It was better she had destroyed the card than it had fallen into the hands of those bounty hunters. And it showed him something, too. Maybe, just maybe, she was on his side for a change.

‘You did the right thing, Ma. Thank you.’

‘Davey, are you OK? You sound like you’re on drugs. Where are you? This is your mother talking.’

Foerster rolled his eyes. ‘I’m fine. I’m on my way to Charleston, like I said.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

Jesus. He wished someone else could listen in sometimes, just so people would know what a psycho bitch his mother was. ‘Ma, I’m in Myrtle Beach right now, about a hundred miles from Charleston, calling you from a payphone. That’s where I am. I hitchhiked all this way. I’m gonna go down to Charleston in the morning and see that guy about the job. I was thinking I’d give him a try tonight if you still had the card, but it’s not a problem. I’ll meet up with him tomorrow.’

Her tone said she still didn’t buy it. ‘OK, Davey. If you say so. I’m glad you’re all right.’

‘Thanks. I’m glad you’re all right, too. I’m glad they didn’t… do anything to you. Listen Ma, I’m almost out of money. I’m tired and I need a place to stay. Maybe some food. Is there any chance you could Western Union me some more money down here tomorrow morning? If I know the money’s coming I can probably convince somebody to give me a room for the night.’

His mother hesitated. Foerster already knew what was coming. ‘Davey, I’d feel funny about it. I just gave you money this morning. After everything that happened with those men, I’d just feel funny about it, that’s all.’

‘OK,’ he said. ‘I understand.’

‘Davey?’ came his mother’s voice, but Foerster hung up the phone. He glanced around. The nearest bar was a place across the street called Bottoms Up, with a blinking neon sign of a cowgirl in a short skirt, bending over. A buzz of music and raised voices came from the place. Foerster stepped into the street and headed toward the front door. He took the money from his pocket and looked at it – a ten, a five, and four ones.

It was going to be a hell of a night.