Roman found a strange ally in his insomnia. He was putting in eighteen hour
days, training the first
half and breaking the never-ending stack of codes the
latter half. In the
beginning the codes had not been hard, but now they were even
easier, becoming like
the nighttime word searches of a retiree. The phrases leaped
out from the jumbled
letters and sentences like the bright bulbs of a Christmas
tree. If he finished
fifty, there would be sixty waiting the following evening. Still
the waves and sand
outside his window were his only company.
Ninja schooled him in the art of war. After Roman had mastered the basics
from his teacher’s
one-on-one sessions, opponents were brought in. First one
agent. Then two. The
first week of live combat Roman lost every fight. Six
months into the training
Roman was defending six aggressors at a time, his
opponents in full pads,
Roman in only the clothes he’d put on that morning. There
were no lessons on
becoming one with the universe or getting in touch with one’s
inner energy. Ninja
reminded him frequently that this was not a dojo and that kung
fu masters existed only
in the movies. Ninja demonstrated how relatively easy it
was to gouge a man’s
eyes out or rip his ear off. Sometimes part of survival was
killing, and Ninja
showed Roman how relatively easy it was to snap a man’s neck.
Johnson took Roman to the twelfth door down from his room once a week.
It was a door Roman
never wanted to enter. Paper silhouettes in the shooting
gallery hung on their
strings at fifty and one hundred yards. The Kimber sat on the
shelf in front of him.
The dulling over time that Johnson was so convinced would
happen had not yet given
Roman the courage to pick up the weapon or squeeze its
trigger. Johnson did not
press the issue.
After months of the weekly visits, Roman grew tired of just staring at the
gun. He picked it up and
emptied all twelve rounds into the heart and head of his
paper attacker with
pinpoint accuracy. He finished and set the gun back on the
stand. That was the last
time Johnson brought him to the gallery.
A year into the
training, Johnson watched as Roman defeated the best of
Ninja’s students from
all over the country. In frustration, Ninja would sometimes
make them all go against
Roman at the same time. Roman was always left
“How’s he progressing?” Johnson asked the instructor.
“The kid’s a sponge. He picks this stuff up like most people take to riding
a bike or
roller-skating. Some guys no matter how well you train them are just not
good fighters. The only
thing you can do for them is pray. Young Swivel is not
one of those people. He
might be the best I’ve ever had.”
“I thought I was the best you ever had?”
Ninja frowned without replying.
Sometimes Johnson would be gone days at time. But when Sunday came
Johnson made it a point
of spending it with his young protégé. Together they
would go to church,
visit the bowling alley, see a movie, or catch a ball game.
Johnson taught Roman to
drive, and not on your ordinary student driver courses.
Johnson referred to the
lessons as evasive maneuvering. Flooring the car to speeds
in excess of one hundred
miles an hour, power-braking at the drop of a dime,
hundred and eighty degrees and spinning to face the opponent
who in real life would
be chasing you were all things that gave new meaning to the
way a car handles. The
days spent outside the barn seemed to recharge Roman,
completely resting the
complicated gray matter between his ears, and nourishing
his soul with the
much-needed blessings of every day life.
Almost a year to the day after Roman’s arrival at the barn, Johnson showed
up not with a cartload
of documents as usual, but with a single manila envelope in
his hand and a stressed
look on his face. Roman had never before seen the urgency
in his eyes so apparent.
Johnson made small talk while trying to conceal his
“Still haven’t gotten bored with the view?” Johnson asked, looking out the
windows at the same
“I’ve never been to the ocean in person. I guess I can’t get enough.”
Johnson unwrapped the brown string holding the envelope closed. “This is
a transcript from a
video that one of our agents obtained yesterday. The man
talking is Somane Kazar,
a swingman for just about any terrorist group you can
name. Although Kazar
himself is uninterested in proving any fundamental points,
he does work for the
enemy from time to time, as long as they will match his
price. He deals in
weapons, recruitment, and most importantly information. I
guess he’s what you’d
call a terror pimp. He’s got huge drug operations, spanning
from Syria to Colombia.
He sets up funding for some terrorists groups in these
areas by providing them
with narcotics at wholesale prices. The CIA has reason to
believe Kazar is setting
up a big meeting between the local drug lords and some
from across the pond. They also believe that his words are
coded, providing the
date, time, and location of the meeting. We’ve had our best
guys on this, not to
mention the computers. They all say there is no visible code.
That’s where you come
Roman turned the envelope upside down, emptying its contents. A twopage
manuscript dropped into
his hand. Roman’s eyes sped though the Arabic
writing as he walked
over to his desk.
“Take your time,” Johnson said. “This might be the toughest one you’ve
ever had. It’s also
probably the most important.”
Roman didn’t respond as he sat down at the desk, holding the papers as if
they were the Dead Sea
The sun had set on the projected paradise outside Roman’s window. Light
from the moon and the
stars hinted at the moving waves of the ocean. The solitary
lamp bent over Roman’s
desk illuminated the transcript. Roman wiped his hand
over his face and pushed
his fingers through his hair. He’d lost count of the
number of times he’d
read the document. The letters didn’t jump out at him or
seem highlighted as
before. There was no code. Roman was sure of it. He took a
drink of the water on
the desk next to him, not out of thirst, but out of frustration.
He glanced at the
flat-screen TV at the end of the room. Its glass was blank and
black. He had only used
it a handful of times. He looked again at the papers in
front of him and again
back at the screen. He picked up his phone and dialed
Agent Johnson’s number.
The scratchy voice on the other end answered, “Johnson.”
“Do you have a copy of the actual videotape?” Roman asked.
“Yes. Why?” The voice wakening out of the depths of sleep.
“There’s no code in these manuscripts in Arabic, Spanish, or any other
language. I need to see
“What time is it?”
“Two forty-five,” answered Roman.
“I’ll be there by four.”
Roman half-expected to see Johnson in his pajamas and slippers, but the
Agent was groomed and
dressed in a suit, as sharp as the day they met. He went
over to Roman’s VCR and
inserted the tape. Roman sat on his bed with the
manuscript attached to a
clipboard and a pencil in his hand.
“I’m not sure how this is going to help”, said Johnson. “The words on your
pages match his spoken
words exactly. It’s been checked and re-checked.”
“Just give me a second,” Roman said, his voice a thousand miles away as
he concentrated on the
On the video, Kazar sat at a wide desk, smiling as he talked about all the
schools he had built
with his money and about the future donations he would
make. He wore a designer
suit instead of the turban and robes Roman had
expected. He spoke for
only four minutes.
“Notice anything strange?” Roman asked.
“I’ve watched this thing about a thousand times. No, I haven’t noticed
Johnson suddenly felt like he was back in a college lecture hall.
“Our friend Kazar seldom blinks. In fact his eyes only close four times.
His blinks are
deliberate, always with both eyes. It’s so simple it’s genius. Play it
back for me one more
time,” Roman said as he readied his pencil.
Johnson rewound the tape and started it again. “I’m lost,” he Johnson said.
Kazar started to talk and Roman began to scratch with his pencil on the
manuscript, his eyes
jumping from the man’s blinks to the Arabic words on the
paper. Johnson stood
over Roman’s shoulder. Each time Kazar blinked Roman
corresponding word on the transcript. He looked the paper over as the
The words circled on Roman’s paper were the numbers three, ten, seventy-four,
and five. “All numbers,”
Roman muttered to himself. Then he looked up.
“Do you know what you’re looking at?” Roman asked the agent.
“Yeah, four numbers that don’t mean a damn thing to me.”
“They should,” Roman began. “Because these numbers are your meeting
place and your date.”
Johnson just looked at Roman.
"You have a three and a ten close together on the page, and then a
seventy-four and a five
close together at the bottom.”
“Okay,” the agent said.
“What if it means “three-ten” as in March 10th? And what if it means
'seventy-four and five'
as in the coordinates 74 and 5?”
“March 10th, that’s two days from now.” The agent sat down at Roman’s
computer, bringing up
the NN’s search engine. Johnson typed 5 degrees south and
74 degrees east into the
search engine. “That’s somewhere in the ocean.”
“You said there were Colombians involved. Try 5 degrees south and 74
west instead. That
should place the location somewhere in South America,”
Johnson typed in the coordinates. “It’s in the middle of a goddamn rain
forest. No villages. No
roads. Too inconvenient, even for our Colombian
“Try five degrees north then.”
Johnson typed again. This time a picture popped up along with a full
directions. “Versailles, Colombia. An hour west of Bogotá. High
elevation. It’s on some
kind of plateau. Lots of fields. The description says the
area is sparsely
populated, mostly inhabited by horse ranchers.” Johnson looked
up from the computer.
“You’ve done real well Roman, but let’s celebrate after we
catch the bastards. I’ve
got to get the cavalry going.”
Johnson rose from his seat and pressed several numbers on his phone. “Yeah, it’s
me. Roman figured it out. Do you have something to take this down
Days passed without word from Agent Johnson. Even though Roman was
confident in his
findings, it would have been nice to hear the results of the
wouldn’t be on the front lines, by any means. Neither would
any American soldier,
ghost or no: Colombian mercenaries under United States
control would carry it
out. Someone who likely had a grievance with the local
drug lord in their
backyard. The NN would want to take the terrorists alive, a
daunting task for a
group of mercenaries that was either in it just for the pay or had
vengeance on their
minds. Ironic was the fact that drug dealers weren’t the most
skilled at violence
Roman ordered as many books as he could through his computer. Most
times they brought five
or six a week, a number that Roman could have finished in
the first day. He slowed
his supersonic eye down to a slow drag and still there
weren’t enough books to
occupy his mind. The worst thing that could happen to
that mind was for it to
lie empty and unfilled. He tried reading the books over
again, but it wasn’t the
same. He stared for hours on end at the ceiling and at his
beach hologram. His mind
ran at full speed whether it was occupied or not, yet
into the vacuum crept
images he wanted to forget. Images like Ed’s belt full tilt or
the shotgun blowing off
the backside of his father’s head. Roman dealt with the
boredom, always did, but
the voices, no matter how much he begged them to be
silent, only became
Tired of it, he grabbed the remote and flipped on the television that was
more expensive than a
used car. Any other teen would have been in heaven with
all that technology at
their fingertips, the freedom to sleep as much as they wanted,
and no school to get up
for. To Roman it was all just some synthetic excuse for a
drug, manufactured in a
factory, marketed by subliminals—a crude imitation of the
lives and adventures
that lived first on the written page and then in his mind.
Before Roman could think about the madness and repetition of the infinite
number of twenty-four
hour news channels, his eyes focused on an image on the
screen. A helicopter
view of a small village in flames. The caption in white letters
beneath it read “near
Versailles, Colombia”. Roman turned the volume up, the
woman reporter’s voice
dispersing through every speaker in his beach house.
“You’re looking at a small village, just outside Bogotá, Colombia. The
location of an apparent
attack on a meeting between wealthy drug lord Carlos Vega
and a group of
high-ranking officers from the terrorist group Nuram. Currently no
survivors have been
found. The attack was made by the local ranching
community. An enormous
amount of firepower was used, and it is still unclear
who struck first. The
Colombian government is denying all participation in the
attack. Although many of
the weapons lying on the ground were clearly property
of the United States,
the State Department denies any involvement, commenting
that the war on terror
is a joint effort with not only the countries of the world, but
also its citizens. The
White House released a similar statement commenting that it
would have been nice to
bring the terrorists in alive so they could face justice.
We’ll keep you up to
date as this breaking story unfolds.”
Roman flipped to another news channel, which had a live camera on the
ground. The reporter’s
voice, which warned that the images about to be seen were
of a violent nature and
viewer discretion was advised, faded to silence in Roman’s
ears as he concentrated
on the images displayed on the screen in front of him. Not
only was the village on
fire but some of the outlying forest was as well. Several
horses lay on the ground
unmoving. Bodies soaked with blood scattered the
fields. A young girl no
older than twelve sat on the ground with her arms around
an older man wearing a
straw hat. She was holding his head up as she hugged
him. Roman read the
words on her lips. The girl’s mouth moved almost
constantly, forming the
word “Padre” over and over.
Roman pressed the remote, freezing the images of the faces on the screen
before him. Roman stared
at the all too familiar sight for several minutes. His
stomach rumbled but
before he could stand up, vomit splattered on his shoes. His
legs felt numb as he
walked to the bathroom. He retrieved a washcloth hanging
next to the sink, not
recognizing the pale face that looked back at him in the
mirror. His eyes blurred
with tears as he cleaned up the mess he’d made. He stood
up and looked at the
beach outside his windows. Roman walked to the hologram
controls and turned the
The beatings from Ed had never produced as much as a salty teardrop from
his eyes nor had the
struggles in Ninja’s combat room. The last time Roman cried
had been at his parents’
funeral. He had endured much, facing it head on and
surviving. That night
everything in his life hit him at once. Roman sobbed for the
two years that had
passed. He sobbed for the twelve-year old girl in Versailles,
Agent Johnson arrived back at the barn two days later. In his hands he
carried two box seat
tickets at Wrigley—a toast to Roman, a celebration for the
man who’d made the
success of the mission possible. Two of Numar’s leaders had
been killed at the
meeting. Sure it wasn’t as good as getting them for interrogation
first, but security was
built on the death of one enemy at a time. Whether it was
done by lethal injection
or bullet, the result was the same.
Johnson’s smile was wiped clean at the sight before him when he entered
the room. Roman’s
windows were blank and black. After a thorough search of the
room, Johnson picked up
the remote from Roman’s bed and turned on the TV. The
image of the grieving
girl was still frozen on the screen, an image Johnson had
seen on the news as well
Johnson checked first in Ninja’s room. He went over the security tapes
from the night before.
Roman never came out of his room. He checked Roman’s
room log. The last time
the door was opened was when the mailroom opened it a
day earlier. Johnson
resisted the surge of panic that gripped the back of his neck.
Roman physically making
an escape from the barn was impossible on his own.
The only way out was
through the elevator and Roman’s eye would not open the
doors because his iris
print was not programmed in. Even if he did get the elevator
open it wouldn’t go
anywhere. The elevator was magnetically powered, so there
were no cables to climb.
None of the sensors in the ventilation shafts had been
tripped and besides, the
fan blades at the ends of the shafts were too close together
for even Roman’s skinny
butt to fit through. Johnson reviewed the tapes again.
Roman had vanished into thin air.
After a two-hour search of every square inch of Bravo including the
parking garage, everyone
at the barn gathered in one of the offices. Johnson paced
back and forth.
“Somebody say something. The man can’t just disappear. He’s
not on tape. The
security system checks out. Think, people. Think!”
The twenty or so people that filled the small room looked at each other with
blank stares. Ninja
spoke. “This is one of the most secure locations in the world.
The security system says
he’s still here but we know he’s not. One of us has got to
Johnson shook his head.
“Well it’s not us,” Agent Shultz popped in from the back of the room.
“This place isn’t like trying to find someone in the MGM Grand. It’s relatively
small. We’ve searched
everywhere. The cameras even show he’s not here.
Maybe the cameras missed
“Impossible,” Johnson replied.
“Impossible that they missed something, but what if we’re looking for the
wrong person?” Ninja
“Camouflage?” Johnson asked.
“Yes but not in the normal sense. He obviously didn’t steal our clothes.
That wouldn’t have
helped him get past the iris scan anyway,” Ninja said.
“I think we’re on the right track though,” Shultz stated.
Johnson’s pacing came to a halt. “Are we missing somebody in here?”
Ninja looked around the room and then at Johnson. Their eyes met and
confirmed what they had
each figured out.
“We’re missing Pinkston. George Pinkston,” Ninja said.
“It’s his day off,” another agent commented.
Agent Johnson closed his eyes and let out a slow sigh of frustration. His
words came even slower.
“Unbelievable. The kid really is a genius.”
George Pinkston wasn’t an agent like his other colleagues. He had retired
thirteen years before
from the post office. When the NN saw his impeccable
record as a post master
and his spotless record as a citizen, they tracked him down
and offered him a job
working a couple hours a day in Bravo’s mail room. Sure
there were things George
had to learn, like scanning for bombs and biological
weapons, but the job was
easy as a pie he told his family. The only incoming mail
they ever received was
from other NN bases. It was the only outfit in the world
that never received junk
mail. It was hard to solicit a place that never even
existed. Bravo had no
mailing address, so George’s main job was to drive
everyday to the post
office, check the unmarked PO Box the NN used, and mail the
few items that were
being sent out. George knew better than to ask any questions
and went about his work
like a hobby enthusiast goes about collecting. It was just
something to get him out
of his apartment and out in the real world, something to
knock the stink off him
he often said. The agents liked him. He was the one guy
they could talk to about
things other than their work. He was their one link to the
So when they called him in on his day off, George was a little uneasy,
fearing the worst. Had
he sent mail to the wrong place? Had he forgotten or
missed something at the
post office? Heavens, he hoped not. How bad would it
look for a former
postmaster to misplace a parcel of mail?
Every agent on duty in Bravo was in the room when he arrived. And
although he never knew
exactly what those agents did all day, he felt that all of
them being gathered
together in the same room with him in the middle was not a
good thing. He was
instantly transported back in time to his school days. To the
only time he’d had to
visit the principal’s office—for kissing Penelope in the
coatroom—four days into
his first grade year. A few swats on the fanny sounded
pretty good right about
Johnson was the only agent standing. He looked at George with his arms
crossed, much like the
principal had on that long-ago fall day. George looked
around the room at the
people he considered friends. None of them were smiling
though. He could feel
the ends of his fingers twitching.
“Just relax George. We only want to talk to you for a minute or two,”
Johnson said unfolding
“Am I in trouble? I’m truly sorry if I lost somebody’s mail. I’ve never
done anything that
stupid in my entire life,” George said, trying to make eye
contact with everyone in
“You’re not in trouble, George, and you haven’t misplaced anything.
You’re a very good mail
guy. Too good maybe.”
“You know who Roman is right?”
“Yes, I talk to him several times a week. He’s a very nice young lad.”
“Did he mail anything in the last couple of days?”
“Why yes he did. The only reason I remember is that the box he wanted
mailed was so heavy. I
had to use a courier service because the box was too big
for U.S. mail.”
“What was in the box?”
“Several other smaller boxes. He told me the night before he wanted to
send all of his baseball
cards home and that if he was down at Ninja’s he would
leave the address on his
“When I got there the next morning Roman was gone but the box was
there, already packed. I
picked up a couple of the littler boxes inside the big box
and they were heavy,
filled with baseball cards just as the lad had said. He left the
address on his desk too.
I had to tape the big box shut at the top. No big deal, I
just figured he didn’t
have any tape. Like I said before, I had to get the dolly
because of the weight of
the box. Did I do something wrong?”
“No George, not on purpose. You were just doing what we told you to do.
The only problem is that when you sent that box off, you also sent Roman.”
If George had been in a cartoon a giant light bulb would have appeared
over his head. Instead
he scratched the whiskers on the end of his chin. “I never
thought to look for
somebody trying to mail themselves. Never thought to look
under the small boxes
either. Hell I even scanned it, but only for the usual bomb
residue or biological
hazard. Our equipment isn’t designed to look for humans.
Johnson ignored the apology, focusing his attention on the other agents.
“We’ve got to find him.”
Agent Shultz spoke, ”Where do you think he mailed himself to?”
“I’ve got my log right here,” George began. “Let’s see here...”
“It’s irrelevant where he mailed himself,” Johnson interrupted. “He
would’ve gotten out of
the box the first chance he had.”
“The weight of the box was just as heavy when I took it to the courier
service,” George added.
“You think he might have tried to go back home?” Ninja asked.
“His home life was shit. But he might try to contact his foster mother.”
Johnson looked at the ceiling as if the answer might be written on it. “If I
Roman where would I go?
Where would I go?”
“What about the money?” Shultz asked.
Without responding Johnson flipped open his cell and began pressing
numbers. The phone
picked up, but there was no voice on the other end. “This is
Agent Johnson. Access
code five nine eight six three eight nine five tango three.”
“How can I help you, Agent Johnson?” the female voice replied.
“I need a freeze put on a back account.”
“City, state, and bank name?”
“Chicago, Illinois. First Bank of Chicago.”
Johnson heard the keystrokes through his phone.
“Account holder’s name?”
“Last name Swivel, S, W, I, V, E, L. First name Roman.”
“One moment please,” the voice said, accompanied by a flurry of more
“I’m sorry Agent Johnson. That account was closed earlier today by
“You can’t freeze the transfer when the check is cashed?”
“I’m sorry. The bank’s computer system shows the account balance as
zero. There’s nothing I
“Shit,” Johnson said still thinking. “Can you tell me who the check was
“One moment.” More key strokes. “The check was written to a Gale
Pentoch in the amount of
one million six hundred thousand fifty dollars and forty
cents. Can I help with
“No. Thanks.” Johnson shut the phone.
Gale Pentoch exited the shower, grabbing her olive-green robe off the hook
next to the mirror. She
wrapped her long brown hair in a matching towel; drops of
water fell on the floor
as she performed the task. Gale grabbed her make-up bag
out of the cabinet above
the sink and felt the cold air rush in as she opened the
bathroom door. Ed lay
passed out on the couch, already through his first bottle at
ten o’clock on a
When they’d first been married, Gale did her makeup and hair in the
bathroom. Now she
preferred the bedroom. The mirror was bigger and there was
more room to maneuver.
She took her robe off and looked into it. Her body was
still the same shape it
had been when she went to Prom. The beatings had started
probably two years into
their marriage. Was it the beatings or was it the drinking?
There had been so many
occasions of both through the years, it was hard to
remember which was
first. Never, as a little girl using her mother’s lipstick and
fooling with her blush,
did she think she would have to use the makeup for more
than beauty purposes.
Now it was for camouflage. She had mastered the art. Not
in several years had she
heard anyone ask what the bruises were on her face. The
tears that used to fall
at first had long since dried. The purple and green marks on
her cheeks, arms, and
stomach failed to bring any emotion as they were reflected
back at her now. The
bruises on her stomach used to bother her the most, but now
they were just part of
the landscape on the path of life. The large mirror was
attached to the top of
her wide dresser. The two-piece set her grandmother had
given her when she was
married did a great job of exposing every injury, and
likewise aided her in
covering them. She’d always had an exquisite sense of
fashion. Spending a few
extra minutes getting ready seemed like a fair trade for
being able to wear the
clothes she liked.
The ritual was completed in the time it took most women just to do their
hair. Gale gave herself
one final look over, twirling around a bit while keeping her
head toward the mirror.
The movement of the air lifted the bottom of her dress.
For a brief moment she
was Marilyn Monroe.
Gale walked back through the living room. Ed’s snoring was louder now,
and his stench clashed
against her sweet perfume. She picked up the empty bottle
as she entered the
kitchen. Gale fetched the orange juice out of the fridge, resisting
the urge to grab the
Vodka as well. She shut the door and noticed a check taped to
it. She put the orange
juice on the counter beside the refrigerator and pulled the
check off. Her knees
weakened as she counted the number of digits in the check
for a second time. She
glanced back at the living room, then sensed someone
behind her. Roman sat at
the kitchen table with one finger over his lips. She
walked over and hugged
“Don’t worry, he can’t hear over his drunken snores. I missed you,” she
“You understand my reasons for not visiting, I hope,” Roman said.
Gale said nothing.
“I’ll get right to the point,” Roman began. “I had the bank issue the check
in your name because of
circumstances beyond my control. I was hoping that we
could split it.”
“I don’t know what to say, Roman.”
“You don’t have to say anything.” Roman took two slim cardboard pieces
out of his flannel
pocket. “These tickets are to Florida. Panama City. I know your
sister doesn’t live far
from there. You’ll have a fresh start and enough money to
last the rest of your
life if used wisely. The train leaves in an hour.”
“What about you? What about working for the government?”
“The government and I had a difference of opinion on some things. I’m
taking an early
retirement. I’ll explain on the way. After we get down there, we’ll
wire the money to a
secure account out of government control. After that I don’t
Gale looked down at the check again and then back at the living room.
After all she’d been
through, Ed still had some kind of unexplainable control over
“You have to leave him Gale,” Roman said.
“I know,” she said and regrouped her thoughts. “I’ve got to get some
things out of the
“There’s no time. If you want to go, we go now.”
Before Gale could
respond Ed came around the corner. He shuffled his feet
along the kitchen tile
as if he was to weak to lift one in front of the other. He went
to the liquor cabinet
and poured another glass. He looked Gale over from head to
toe, his demon whiskey
eyes in the place of those he was born with.
“You goin’ out whorin’? In here preparing your sales pitch or what? You
better practice bitch,
no man would waste a dime for your whore ass,” Ed said and
then gulped down the
glass in one swallow. He wiped his lips and finally noticed
Roman sitting at the
“Well if it isn’t the prodgical son.”
“Oh, mister genius ran off and comes back with a little lip on him, huh?”
Ed said and then turned
“What, you wantin’ to fuck mister genius now?” Ed placed the glass on the
counter and grabbed Gale
by the wrist. “I’m puttin’ a stop to your whorin’.”
“Let her go Ed,” Roman said.
“You missed your ass beatings didn’t ya boy?” Ed let go of Gale’s wrist
and shuffled towards
Roman, grinning out of one side of his mouth.
Ed’s swing came slower than Roman remembered. He stepped toward the
drunk and ducked at the
same time. From his knees Roman took Ed’s arm and
bent it the wrong way
with all his strength. The arm snapped like a dead limb on a
tree. Blood spewed
across the room hitting the wall in a narrow stream, like shots
from a squirt gun. Ed
fell to his knees, arm limp and hanging the opposite way it
was designed. As pale as
he was, Ed still lost color in his face. He reached over
with his other arm and
felt the jagged edge of the exposed bone.
Gale dropped the check on the floor and covered her mouth. Ed started to
shake violently, turning
in circles on his back.
“We’ve got to go.” Roman walked over and picked up the check, placing it
in his front pocket and
putting his arm around Gale’s waist. He walked her past
the broken drunk. Ed
looked as if he were in the throes of withdrawal.
“I’ve got to help him,” she said.
“We don’t have time. Johnson has surveillance across the street. We have
to exit out the back
door, run across the alley, and walk through that apartment
building on the other
side. I’ve got a cab waiting on the street in front of it.”
Roman pulled her to the
door, but as he opened it, Gale slipped out of his grasp and
ran to the phone.
Before he could yell for her to stop, she pressed 9-1-1. Roman ran over and
hung up the receiver.
Ed’s convulsions continued, his entire shirt now soaked with
blood. Roman gripped her
chin and directed her eyes toward his.
“He’s in shock that’s all. They’ll send someone out when they trace the
call, even if you didn’t
say anything. He’ll be all right. Johnson will be in this
place in a matter of
seconds. I’m going with or without you.”
let go of her face then and ran for the door. Gale looked down at
Ed and then followed.
Johnson sat in the car across the street from the Pentoch’s. Through his
earpiece he heard the
dispatch for the 9-1-1 call. Seconds later he was in the
house, scanning the
living room and then making his way to the kitchen. Johnson
was unmoved by the sight
on the floor. He sidestepped Ed and looked out the back
door. The apartment door
across the alley closed. Johnson ran back to his car.
The taxi drove up to the front entrance of the Amtrak station. Roman led
Gale into the station.
She was in a kind of shock of her own, silent since they left
the house. Roman looked
down at his watch—five minutes until departure time.
The speakers in the
station announced last call as they boarded the train. Roman
led her to their seats.
They sat, Gale by the window, Roman on the aisle.
“He’ll be all right. They automatically send somebody when you call. I
understand that no
matter how much you hate him, you also love him. I promise
you this is for the
Gale was silent.
Roman patted his pocket, reassuring himself he still had the check. He
looked around at the
passengers, scanning for anything out of the ordinary. Roman
looked across Gale out
the window at the ticket window. Turning toward the train
was Agent Johnson, with
ticket in hand. The agent walked passed the window and
boarded several cars
The conductor came over the intercom and went over the usual rules and
regulations. The train
began to roll. Roman took the check out of his pocket and
stared at it. He looked
over at Gale who was still in another world, and grabbed
her hand. The gesture
seemed to snap her back to reality.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Johnson’s on the train. He’s a few cars back. It won’t take him long to
find me.” Roman laid the
check flat in her palm. “I want you to go to the
bathroom and don’t come
out for at least twenty minutes. He doesn’t care about
the money anyway.”
“Can’t you reason with him?”
“I wish it were that simple.”
Gale looked down at the check. “I can’t take this money Roman.”
“You are going to have to. The check is in your name. Think of it as a
reward for the hell
you’ve been through. I’ll find you some day.”
Gale hugged him with a
firm grip. “I’m sorry Roman. For everything I
“I know.” Roman got up and walked toward the front of the train.
By the time Johnson had checked all of the cars, the mono was at half
speed. His search turned
up empty, not surprising considering who he was dealing
with. He found Gale in
her seat on a second sweep of the train but didn’t even
bother to ask where
Roman was. The bathrooms were empty. He checked every
seat. There was no
outgoing mail to hide in this time.