About A Simple Plan (Henry Fellows/Added Content)
On Killing and Innocence: The Chronicles of Henry Fellows (A Novel)
Chapter 1: Identity
I’m sitting in a stolen car with expired tags in the parking lot of a police station. Downtown Fort Worth, Texas. There’s nothing special about this station. I’ve been to many, sitting in stolen cars or atop purloined motorbikes. Funny thing about police station parking lots—the cops that pass you by, going in and out to do whatever it is cops do, they never suspect there’s a criminal whiling away out there.
It’s the perfect hiding place.
I discovered this by happy accident. Happy accident—maybe that’s the story of my life.
Happy probably isn’t the word you would use; neither would I.
Either way. Here I sit.
My name—well, I’ll get to that, cause you’ve all heard of me, and I don’t want to ruin the surprise. Before you say anything, I know. A conventional human being wouldn’t need to think about giving out his name.
Conventions. Conventional wisdom says I shouldn’t be alive. For a spell, conventional wisdom said I was dead. Maybe conventions aren’t worth what they used to be.
“Hello,” I say to the officers walking by. They look bulky and authentic, nodding their heads at me with a polite seriousness. I myself am a fraud. The whole package. Even my hello. Just said hello, because… there’s some weird reason I’m sure, some little siding in my brain that believes it makes sense to draw attention to myself.
Maybe part of me considers it a game. Always good at games. I remember being the best at hearts, or Monopoly, or darts, even chess. And so it goes. A 38-year-old man still playing.
“Hello,” I say to another pair of officers. These fellas seem to be in a hurry. Must be a pressing matter. Something of import. Perhaps one of Tarrant County’s fine banking establishments has just been robbed. Perhaps someone’s child has been abducted. Perhaps somebody ran the wrong red light and his picture got flagged and now he’s got to go back to Mexico where he belongs.
Doubt it. Pretty sure I know what’s wrong.
The world is a twisted place. In my travels, I found that Mexico was particularly twisted. Particular like every person you meet is particular: they have certain tendencies, qualities, foibles, imperfections, quirks. The United States is extremely particular about its twistedness. That’s probably why I always came back. Love it here. Not that it’s better or worse than any other twisted place. Not judging. Not judging Mexico, either. If Mexico was all that bad, Americans wouldn’t flee there for their two weeks of sun, tequila and whatever other twists they might encounter.
Who am I to say? I’m a criminal, after all.
Turning on the car radio, I dial up the news. There’s a manhunt on. Yeah, they’re looking for me. It’s interesting to be the subject of a manhunt. Not the good kind of interesting. That’s why I’m here, but only in a way. We’ll revisit that momentarily. Right now I have to decide whether or not to walk into that building of brick and forms and little rooms and law. It won’t be pleasant, what with all the shouting and the handcuffs and the questions and the disbelief and the testosterone. Who knows? I turn up the radio.
The man can’t spit the over-annunciated words out fast enough. Some local somebody has informed on me; now the Long Arm is hip to my presence in the North Texas area. That’s why cops were running. Dudes were probably amped up to catch me. Notorious criminals get police amped up. It’s understandable. Having to walk by the same notorious pictures on the wall everyday has to get annoying. The photos themselves; it’s rare to find a flattering likeness, if ever. It must leave them with an insatiable desire to catch the guy so they can tear down the picture and replace it with somebody else just as notorious.
Round and round we go.
The man on the radio says that I’m “armed and dangerous.” To “be on the lookout.” He says it like he’s announcing the winner of concert tickets, like he’s introducing the next crappy pop song. Annoying. Anyway, apparently I have two numbers now. One if you want to talk to me, which nobody knows, another if you want to talk about seeing me. I turn the dial off. I’ve heard this all before. For a while now. It’s all so unfulfilling. I used to be a fairly normal guy—now I have two numbers and they talk about my misdeeds on the radio.
Here I sit. I feel like it’s time for confession, but I don’t think I’m going into the station, yet again. God knows the desire is there. I’m weak, enervating under the high Texas sun. The pavement is baking, radiating off heat. Everything real looks like a mirage. My hands are starting to quiver, but that’s nothing new.
“Hi there,” I say, waving to more running officers. It would be a shame to spoil all their fun. Maybe with all the hullaballoo, the guy from Mexico will get away and back to his loving family. It’s a small comfort, completely fabricated. The things you do when you’re alone for too long.
I want nothing more than to walk into that drab cop shop and drink their stale coffee, watching a public defender squirm under the weight of counseling me. The guy would probably be terrified. I want nothing more than my one phone call. Likely I’d use it to call my other number, or maybe call the radio station to tell the guy that the search was over.
I’m a criminal. Think I already let that out of the bag. Fifteen months ago I escaped from the highest level maximum security prison in America, and ever since it’s been nothing but work.
My name is Henry Fellows. It used to be a moderately well-known name. Certain circles anyway. Business circles. Former heir to the Fellows Security Corporation. Now it’s the name of the FBI’s number one Most Wanted.
There goes the mystery.
Chapter 2: Motive
They don’t know I’m Henry Fellows because I don’t have Henry Fellows’ face anymore. A doctor in the Caribbean made sure of that. A doctor in Europe made sure the work done in the Caribbean wasn’t so aesthetically upsetting. Not that I blame the first doctor. He wasn’t exactly starting with a pristine palette. At that point my face was winded, cracked, bruised and bloody. Escaping from prison can take a toll. I’m sure you weep for me.
After all, I did bad things.
I’m wanted for murder, corporate malfeasance, bank fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, any other fraud I can’t think of right now. God knows what else. Well, escaping from prison, for one. Guess that’s technically a crime, but it’s not like when you’re caught they send you to a courtroom. Just back behind the walls. They don’t want to do any of that, I’m sure. A bullet is the only sane conclusion to my story, says the average lawman. The average lawman wants to put me down, the menacing goblin that I am, the threat to who knows what and who knows where. Not that it really matters. You go out one way or another. A felon on the run with a plan for the future is the definition of hubris.
This is the fifth time I’ve sat outside a police station, deciding. Been all over the world. Walked up the steps to Scotland Yard, fumbled over words with desk sergeants in San Francisco and New York and Sydney. The truth just won’t come out. They won’t believe it. I’m not the guy they’re looking for. Yeah, I could make a fuss, blow out into some histrionics and they’d pull me in, slap some stainless steel on my wrists, but then what? A DNA test, if I’m lucky. More likely, they’ll ship the wish-he-was Henry off to some place with white coats and large black men.
I know about those places. Prison’s not so terrible next to those places. Had a tussle with depression years back, said some things to a friend on a phone, next thing I knew, there they were: white coats and large black men. I’ll admit, there are times when insanity breeches the ramparts of my mind. Not important. Not when white coats and large black men are in the offing. Guessing the coats are white so they can tell when the crazies have urinated on themselves or bludgeoned their bodies or whatever. The black men are there because they are strong, imposing, and know how to put a crazy down. Not that I’m a racist. There were some white guys too. They just don’t stand out in a sea of white coats. I was grateful for the big black guys. When they weren’t pulling some super-strong, meth-fried lunatic to the ground, they would talk to me. I just sat there. It was too scary to do anything else, not to mention dirty. I’ll never forget what one of them said to me. His name was Chris. The dude had arms that could strangle a water buffalo and a voice as calm as the afterward of a lobotomy.
“Why here? Why now?” he asked me. I was sitting as rigid as the furniture, watching the crazies, minding everyone’s business.
“Don’t know,” I said, not really wanting to get into it. “Just counting the minutes until I can get out of this place.” It was a lie. I remember counting the seconds.
“Yeah, you need to get your mess in order. You one of these?” He turned and pointed to poor souls manifesting poor behavior: schizophrenics throwing food, bipolar beasts banging their heads into the walls. As they do.
“No, sir,” I said. “I’m not one of these.” It was maybe one of a handful of times when I unequivocally knew what I was and what I wasn’t. If you’re feeling a little sad, lost in the cosmos, whatever, go and take a field trip to the place with white coats and large black men. It’ll sort you right out.
Just an observation.
Back to the present. I’m pulling out of the station now. Can’t turn myself in just yet. Oh yeah, guess I should have mentioned, I didn’t do it. But that’s what they all say, right? Still, I didn’t. Not what they put me in for. No way. Chris was right that day, and afterward for a long stretch I really did get my mess together. Then came the event. The day of reckoning. Look, I don’t want to be dramatic either, but when you find out that your famous parents were hacked up and that you were the one that did it, dramatic seems appropriate. My motive was apparently jealousy. My prints were apparently at the scene of the crime. Apparently I had a history of belligerence with the victims. Not to mention being institutionalized for a brief spell. A cap full of feathers.
All that was true. If you were the heir to a true mogul, the owner of one of the biggest companies in the world, you’d have a chip on your shoulder, too. Oh yeah, they were my parents, so I’d been to their mansion a time or two, touched whatever, the way you do when you don’t anticipate being accused of a gruesome double homicide. And the belligerence? Guilty! My father was a brilliant but aging man and had no want of his ungrateful son’s advice when it concerned the future of the company. By then I was basically running things anyway, taking Fellows Security to heights and depths he never could’ve dreamed. So we’d argue. Emails, eyewitness accounts a-many all confirmed what everyone suspected. No other suspects. Just Henry Fellows. They filmed the trial. The trial of the century, they called it, but they call every trial that until a better one comes along. Think there’s been five trials of the century since mine.
It wasn’t just my high profile or my parents’ fame that made the case so captivating to the masses. That might have been brushed aside after a few days, what with all the wars and the poverty and the famine in the world. What struck a chord was the nature of the crime. Did I say hacked? Think I did. That’s putting it lightly. You probably know most of the details, but I know every single one. The whole thing’s seared into my memory. Massive brain trauma couldn’t wipe that slate clean. Body parts all over the house. It turned into a macabre Easter egg hunt for police. For days they were pulling a kidney from this nook, teeth from this cranny. Disgusting. I was guilty for jealousy, guilty for having visited, guilty for being recalcitrant with my father, but not the rest. My service record should’ve helped. Didn’t matter. They had their man. Henry Fellows. They didn’t care about me heeding the words of Chris at the nuthouse. Only that I was at the nuthouse. My wife? Oh yeah, my precious prep-school sweetheart. We’d been having problems. Convenient. She’d been sleeping around due to my “distance,” not to mention building a trumped-up case for a divorce I had no knowledge was coming until the day of my arrest.
So much for a character witness.
Poor Henry Fellows. For a while, life was cloud nine: money, pictures in magazines, press conferences, all the accoutrements of excess and esteem. Then nothing. You don’t believe me, probably never will. That’s why I’m turning around, pulling out of this police station. I mean, have you asked the question yet? Who the hell is informing on a guy that can’t be found? Let’s see, best guess, the people who killed my folks and left me to rot in a dungeon. I’ll probably die first, they’re probably watching me at this moment, but I need to find out who really did it. Throwing myself to the wolves would be nice. Finally relax. But I can’t do it, not without… what do they call it—closure?
Eh. What a bunch of crap.
Chapter 3: BMW
I’ve been accused of everything, mostly by people that don’t have a clue. Can’t blame those people. As far as they know, I’m the worst person on the planet, a planet already chock full of assholes. Maybe it was my appearance. The media termed it “all-American,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Makes what I did that much creepier. The old face, that is. Old Henry Fellows. Have to say, not a bad looking guy, old Henry. That’s how I got the prettiest girl in school. My sweetheart. Somebody told me her name and I walked right up to her in history class and introduced myself like somebody she needed to know. Worked great. Emma married me before we finished college. It was that sure of a thing. Henry and Emma. Emma and Henry. Sounded good either way, perfect for towels and Christmas cards.
I remember asking Emma why she was taken by me. You know what she said? She said I was handsome. I’m not tooting the horn right here, just trying to make a point. The question came after many conversations, dates, events, socials, the whole thing. We’d talked about everything from family to gravity to Thomas Aquinas and she’d followed right along, giving as well as she got. You’d think after diving those depths she would’ve come up with something better than “You were handsome.” Struck me funny then. Still does. You don’t explore the reefs and the wonders of the deep and look over at your partner and blurt out, “You’re handsome.” Whatever. Metaphors aren’t my forte.
Over it and over it I go. She was going to leave me, and before I could really find out why, it was too late. The mess had started. I was up the creek; she was back on shore with the paddle.
I suck at metaphors.
In truth, the sucking doesn’t stop there. I’m willing to own that. I love my kids fiercely, but I wasn’t around enough, given to caprice, etc. I’d make a more comprehensive list but I want to get through this before I die.
There’s a few people reliable people out there, a few individuals that presently need to be engaged. What? You think I survived this long completely on my own? That would truly be a talent. As I make my way southward on I-35, I call Floyd. I can use his name because it’s not his name. Not about to throw anyone under the bus. Besides, nobody knows Floyd’s real name. I can tell you that he has snowy hair and that his robust forearms hint at the physique he once had. Can tell you he drinks only good scotch and how many times he’s been shot. A lot more, too. Just not the name his mama gave him.
“Yeah?” His voice is gravel but nevertheless a welcome sound. He doesn’t know this number; I’ve probably thrown away fifty phones since the last time we talked.
“Floyd. It’s me. You drunk or asleep?”
“Well, I was both. Now I’m just the one. What’s going on, Deer?” Floyd knows my name is Henry but he calls me Deer. There’s a story behind that. “You staying underground?” he asks. “Don’t tell me you’re doing that police station bit again? Crazy kid.”
“Not a kid, Floyd.”
“But you are crazy.” I feel around my right jean pocket for my pills but pull out the wrong bottle. Not those. Not right now. There’s a method to staving off madness. It’s all about timing.
“Yeah,” I say, turning my attention back to the call and the road. Have to be cautious, stay between the lines. I can’t get clipped for some traffic violation, even with the fake face and the fake papers. Inconvenient. “Look. I’m back in my hometown. Just heard on the radio that someone spotted me.”
“Yeah, just hold on.”
“No it’s bogus.” I can picture him through the phone, hand over heavy eyes, still trying to teach me right from left.
“Just let me finish.”
“You have the floor,” he grumbles. “Thirty seconds to make sense or I’m hanging up.”
“The news report. It said where I was staying last night. Even knew the car I was driving.”
“And yet it happened all the same. Not making this up for kicks.”
“You ditched the car?”
“Like I do every morning.”
“Well,” he says, obviously more awake to the situation. “Change rides twice a day now. Until we know what’s going on.”
I check my mirrors and frame a shot in my head of the cars behind just in case. “Floyd?”
“Yeah, yeah. Thinking. So someone who knows your new face put out a tip, but didn’t bother until you were where?”
“Just like before.”
“Yeah. I mean I was sitting outside the frigging Fort Worth PD building ten minutes ago. They didn’t have a clue.”
“You’re a nutbar. These little experiments are gonna get you shot.”
“Chastise me later.”
A few more grumbles. “Okay. I’m up. Let me get back to you in twenty. Just keep moving. You know the drill.”
“I’ll call you. Changing phones.”
“That’s my boy. Got it.”
As he hangs up I put my knee under the steering wheel, freeing my hands to crack the now useless burner cell.
Mysteries. Never a good thing for a man in my situation. Somebody out there is on to me, has been for a while, and neither Floyd nor I have a clue who it might be. My head is hurting. Like a bell pealing in my brain. The pills. I reach for the other pocket and pull out the right ones.
If this were your morning, you’d probably need them too.
It doesn’t bother me that Floyd calls me crazy all the time. He’s a grizzled old man, seen it all, and I’m not talking front porch wisdom. World wisdom. Lived in a hundred places, touched the parts of life normal people wouldn’t go near with a ten-foot pole wisdom. He knew me before the pills, before the headaches and the shakes and all the rest. I think that’s why he still answers my calls. In his own way he feels responsible for my erratic tendencies. Maybe he is.
I look back at a police car cruising up toward me in the left lane. Can tell by his speed that he’s going to pass and I relax. As much as a guy like me can, anyway. I’m trained for this. That’s what they didn’t know when they locked me up. You didn’t know it either. Blame Floyd. He’s the one who recruited me. For what, you ask?
A lot’s happened since then, but if memory serves, I was in some sandbox in one of the world’s orifices, trying to take a nap. Had gone over to fight after school at the insistence of dear old dad. He had his mind on having a politician for a son. Nothing like a war record. Figure it was a win-win for him. Either I serve with distinction or die. No telling the outcome he would’ve preferred. To my surprise, I was a pretty good soldier, though I never made it past Lieutenant. Had a bit of a knack for pissing off the higher-ups. Anyway, there was some mission, blah blah blah, and here comes this guy from Agency X saying he needed a couple guys from my unit to sort it out. We were a squad of about ten, used to the rough and tumble, but he only needed three. I was in charge, so of course I volunteered.
It wasn’t bravery. Not even close.
It was insecurity. Most of the guys doing the fighting are insecure. Bravery, cowardice, selflessness, endurance, it all comes from pretty much the same place. An indictment? Hell no. You try getting shot at by people that mean it, then tell me how secure you feel. Maybe it’s happened, but in the cacophony of mag checks and radio cues preceding a true firefight I’ve never looked over and seen the face of a guy relaxing at the beach.
So anyhow, I volunteered for a suicide mission because I didn’t want to look bad.
There’s no way to know, but by then I’m fairly sure I was starting to go a little crazy. Tremulous hands. I’d get cold when it was 130 degrees for no reason. Symptoms? Nah. Rub some dirt on it.
Somehow or another, we pulled it off. Killed a couple guys, one of mine took a slug in the shoulder, but not too bad. Apparently the jerk from Agency whatever had come up with a pretty good plan for getting us in and out. That was Floyd. I was impressed, and to be honest, a little mystified to still be above ground. He never told me exactly what it was, but apparently I had done something to impress him as well. I was out of the sandbox and working for him and a few others 24 hours later. This is why my service record wasn’t part of the defense proceedings in the trial you people watched with such glee. Redacted. Expunged. Never happened. Life’s a real stitch. Seems like the good things go to some incinerator in subbasement who gives a shit. The bad feels like it all gets put on tape. In my case, this is not a metaphor.
I pull out another burner phone to call Floyd and figure out some sort of plan going forward. Do another check of the mirrors to see if any trailing cars match the picture I took earlier. There’s one—a black BMW. Something about it doesn’t sit right. Still about a hundred yards back, still one lane over. It could be a tail. Could be the people that sent in the tip. Like I said, I was trained for this, so I pull the wheel right for the next exit to see if they follow. No matter what you see in the movies, it’s not that easy to spot a tail. Movies. It’s always two guys talking about their wives or the electric bill, and all of a sudden one of them says, “we picked up a tail.” Rare. Unless you’re working against real morons. One, I’m on a highway. It could just be a guy going south to Austin or San Antonio set on cruise control. Two, any decent follow job requires multiple vehicles to pass you off as you go along. In this case it’s unlikely, however. Nobody knows where I’m going, including me. Having somebody stationed around this exit ready to pick up the follow would be prophetic.
Damn. I see the BMW swerving just in time to catch the exit. My headache is going away. It’s been a while since I’ve been this close to getting caught. I know what you’re thinking. This, coming from a fugitive whose favorite hobby is sitting outside police stations. I do the math. They aren’t cops. Cops don’t drive BMWs, and with a guy like me, they’d have a freaking helicopter overhead by now. Roadblocks, flares and all the rest of that nonsense.
The exit is outside the Fort Worth city limits and just south of the surrounding suburban areas. A large hill separates the highway from the frontage road now. I assess. They’re pretty close behind. I’d love to slam on the breaks and let them ram me but that might render both vehicles inoperable. That wouldn’t be good at all. It’s too hot to be walking along a feeder road for miles. I opt for the crazy choice. Off to the right there’s a fairly steep embankment, so I start to slow down, checking my jacket pockets for my fake papers, phone, pills, and pull my 9 mm from the glove compartment.
I hit the gas hard as the right front tire goes off the road and then slam the breaks, turning the wheel left. Fishtailing the back end, the car goes over, then the hard part. The car rolls two or three times before coming to violent stop, upside down at the bottom of the embankment. There’s glass everywhere, and I can smell fuel leaking. I wiggle everything. It all hurts but nothing is broken as far as I can tell.
My head is ringing and probably concussed, but thankfully the driver’s side window is broken. Lucky break. Crawling out I pick up a few new cuts from the glass but hardly notice because I hear the BMW stop at the place where the car went over. Just like I wanted. They can’t see me behind the car. I peek out from behind the inverted left rear tire and see two guys coming down the slope. There’s a thicket of woods behind me, pretty dense. Figure they’re thinking I’m either dead or unconscious in the car or fleeing through the trees.
Truthfully, it’s anybody’s guess what they’re thinking. Probably trying to understand why I lost control so suddenly. Hopefully it looked real, but it’s not something to bet on. What I don’t have to guess or doubt over is that they are both armed. They look like guys from somewhere else. One older, one younger, both dressed wrong. It’s Texas—everybody wears jeans. These mopes are sporting black cargo pants and form-fitting jackets. Combat boots.
Then I hear it; the sound of a cocked pistol is unmistakable.
Don’t like what I’m about to do, but when you hear that snap you better do something. Still crouched behind the rear wheel, I reach out a foot and crunch down some glass still in the car. Thankfully the older one takes the bait. As he bends down to see my broken body there’s nothing. He’s a fish in a barrel, half in and half out of the car. Bad for him. I lean down and fire one round right above his eyes, returning to my wheel knowing it did the trick.
I can hear the younger one slam himself up against the opposite side of the overturned car. He doesn’t know if his partner was shot by someone inside or out—at least I hope not. Sweat is seeping through my shirt. I too have a jacket on, not because I want to—because I needed a lot of pockets for all the crap I carry when careening off of roads. “Hey,” I call out.
Nothing but labored breathing.
“Hey. Your buddy’s dead. Didn’t want that. Don’t want to kill you either. Give it up. Any chance you tell me who you are?”
“Come on. It’d be a big help.”
More nothing. His nervousness is starting to catch. I’m starting to realize the gravity of what’s happening and it does kind of suck. Perhaps it’s just my strange ways, but I always found that in the pitched heat of life or death there are small ponderous moments where everything slows down. I don’t mean respite. Moments when there’s a choice, to deny instinct and slump into cravenness, give up the fight. I’ve been running and fighting for so long. I let that weakness flow through me and then let it out, like spitting up bad medicine. It’s getting to him. It’s in his breathing. Can’t let it get to me.
“Throw down your gun, Fellows,” I hear. Okay, so the guy knows my name. Something I could assume, but hearing a stranger say it out loud is arresting all the same. I press the clip release on my 9mm and see I’m nearly full. Thirteen rounds. One in the chamber. Might as well use them. Dropping down I fire at an angle through the broken windows of the car. I don’t have a clear shot but the bullets are enough to make him move just enough from behind the front right wheel. He’s stuck his foot out. I take a breath and catch him through the heel. There’s screaming, but mostly now he’s just firing into the car as I roll back around the side and the front where he’s squirming. I hear the desperate sound of his empty chamber and get to my feet, walking slowly toward him.
“Enough, kid.” He’s sitting up, writhing in agony as I approach. My gun is aimed center mast.
“Throw it,” I say. His weapon’s empty but there’s nothing comforting about a guy waving a pistol around. Take your peace of mind where you can get it. “Who are you? How do you know I’m here?” The hope is that he’ll talk. Dude doesn’t have a lot of options, braying like a mule and reaching for his heel.
“Traitor” is the only reply offered. Strange. It’s spit more than spoken. Only about six feet away I get a better look at his face. Damn. Just a kid. Either he was too impetuous for the job or he wasn’t given the right intelligence concerning his target. My guess is both.
“Don’t want to talk, huh?” I ask. It’s hot and this kind of scene attracts attention; need to get moving.
“You and your family are dead,” he says, reaching once again for his heel. It’s not the wound he’s groping for; I can see that now. He’s got a backup on his lower leg and it’s in his hand. The chrome of a small revolver catches in the sun. I want to yell stop but act on instinct, firing two rounds into his chest.
No time. I remember the fuel leaking into the car and pull both bodies fully inside through the broken windows. Taking out their wallets and keys I light a match. It feels a bit Viking to burn the dead, but there was blood in the car, some of it mine. With modern forensics they’d probably find some remnants of me. I can’t have the official authorities closing in tighter, not yet. Ascending the hill toward the BMW, I hear the car going up in flames. The heat behind me is like a kick in the pants, telling me to hustle. Time to switch cars again and regroup. Driving down the feeder road I look for the nearest entrance back onto the freeway. My hands are shaking. More than usual. Two men dead. Two men I’d never seen or met. Don’t like what the last one said about my family. Not good.
I’m still a killer. The idea of turning myself in floods back into my brain. Still a killer.
Henry Fellows, wrongfully accused. And not an innocent bone in my body.
Chapter 4: Travelodge
Two cars later. Four hours later. I’m in Austin now, feeling aimless. The airport seems like a good idea, but I decide to sit tight. That was Floyd’s advice. There’s a cheap motel on the north end of town, so I check in, use my fake ID and cash to rent the room, then fall on to the bed. Smell a year’s worth of sadness on the comforter, probably people running away from something, like me.
Wish I was like one of those losers, the people that make up an imaginary world that is coming after them. That, or they’re running for something just over the mean horizon. For most people, nobody’s coming and they’re not going anywhere. They don’t realize the horizon just stays the same, no matter where you run or how long you sit.
Hey, I get it. I used to live under the same delusions. I’m still seeking the pot of gold, despite what I tell myself. As far as running, in my case, afraid it’s a matter of necessity.
Trying to slip off into a nap, the phone rings. Figure it’s Floyd, has to be Floyd, so I answer.
It’s not Floyd.
“Hank, you there?”
It’s a woman. The voice is familiar.
“How’d you get this number?”
“How you think?” Dammit Floyd. Too trusting. I silently curse and smile at my old handler. The person who taught me that trust will get you killed and that trusting no one is just plain crazy. A man of contradictions, an impossible man. Always figured his obtuseness was a deliberate ploy to separate teacher from student. Whatever. Most of the time it was just annoying. I always felt like one of those neophytes in a martial arts movie, constantly chastised for asking a question, or asking the wrong question, or asking too many questions. Etc. You know what I’m talking about. Just get to the point already, you know?
Still, part of me bends to his sagacity, the prudence that kept me alive more than once. “So Floyd gave you this number, I take it?”
“How else would I get it? Where are you now?”
My mouth opens but nothing wants to slip out. I give a little bit. “I’m back in Texas, Nina.” Nina’s my lawyer, or was. Don’t really know anymore. We started speaking a while ago, maybe five or six months. Before that she was left out. Didn’t want her reputation to be dragged further down. Finally reached out in a moment of weakness, at a point when talking to nobody was starting to turn me certifiable. But I never give her my number. Don’t want her in compromising situations. I hired her at the behest of my dad’s oldest friend and my closest mentor, Mr. Jensen. Made sense. She’s rated as top ten in the country, according to “get my rich ass out of prison” magazine. Of course I know what you’re thinking: If she’s so good, how come I’m on the lam, laying in a Travelodge on a comforter from twenty years ago? You saw the trial. She made sound arguments, but the preponderance of evidence against me was too much. I was a terrible client. She wanted to tell tales to counteract the prosecution’s lies, but I wasn’t into it. The jury could see. I was annoyed and scared, but to the twelve retards in the box, it came off as aloof and uncaring. Like my parents being dead wasn’t a big deal to me. Plus, a rich white guy can’t play many sympathy cards. We could’ve brought up my abusive father, but wait, I chopped him up. See what I’m getting at? Probably not. The jury certainly didn’t.
“Floyd told me you did your thing again today.”
“The police station thing?
“Yeah, Henry. That’s the one.”
“Well, I have to do something. That’s five times now. I reach for the gallows and someone goes out of their way to let me know they’re watching.”
“Are you any closer to finding out who they are?” she asks. There’s something in her voice, maybe skepticism. It’s hard to get a read. She’s a smart, complicated woman. I imagine her sitting at her big mahogany desk in her big office building, surrounded by a billion books and a billion other things she’d rather be doing.
“Well,” I say, turning on my side to examine the wallets of the two thugs from the BMW. “Do we still have the confidential thing going on?”
“I’m your lawyer. To this day. Though you could pay me once in a while. It might serve to strengthen what I know is already a tight and heartfelt bond.”
“Cute. So—I killed two guys today.”
There’s a pause. The kind of pause you expect when you’ve just told someone you killed two guys.
“Perfect. Any reason?”
“Yeah. They were coming at me with guns. Frigging mopes knew who I was.”
“How can that be?”
“What have I been telling you? Someone’s playing me. Been telling you guys. Guess it takes actual gunplay to convince you.” More silence on the other end of the line. “Do you believe I’m innocent, or am I just talking to a lawyer here?”
She storms back. “I’ve always believed. You know that. Do you think I would’ve—never mind. Do you still believe?”
I reach for the pills stashed in my right pants pocket. Three times a day for these. Her question has me squirming; why she asked it, the fact that she needed to, that the way I am leads her inexorably to the fact that she needs to.
“I believe. But I don’t like having to kill guys. Even ones who deserve it. Makes me think of what I did, what I might have done.”
“Stop it. Enough with the soldier’s remorse. I get it, but there’s no shame in serving, Hank. You put your life on the line for the country.”
She doesn’t know all the things I did for my country.
“Nina, it doesn’t make sense.” I pause to do a cursory inspection of the thugs’ identification and papers and tell straightaway that they’re fake. My fake face makes a real smirk.
“I was getting ready to say that,” she says. “But which part? There’s a lot going on here.”
“How long since I escaped?”
“Over a year.”
“Right. Fifteen months. Most of that time, nothing. Not a guy following me on the street, not a car tailing me, not a bug in my hotel room.”
“Yet the last few months, every time I think about turning myself in, boom, they blast it out over everywhere. Radio, TV, all of a sudden I’m a murderous phoenix rising from the ashes to shower your local neighborhood with blood.”
“Decent summation. I get it.” Nina’s always saying words like summation in real life. She’s like a carpenter who brings a hammer to a friend’s house on the off chance anything needs to be nailed down. Far as habits go, it’s half annoying and half adorable. If she wasn’t a gorgeous, professional woman, it’d probably be 80/20 on the annoying side.
“Tell me how you get it? What’s the real million-dollar question?”
She wastes no time. “Somebody knows you’re out there, could be ten people, could be a thousand. They know what you look like. Most important, they don’t want you to turn yourself in.”
“Give me a second to breathe, Henry. AND—if they don’t want you talking to the police they could just kill you. But they haven’t killed you. They want you alive for something. Wait, did you really need to kill those guys today?”
The question turns me pale as the Travelodge drapes. It’s the question I was asking myself the whole way down to Austin. I heard the guy’s gun click. I thought that was the signal to go into pure self-defense mode, but nothing’s a total certainty. As Nina reasons out the situation with me it becomes more apparent that they may have just approached the car being cautious. There’s no way to know, not for sure, but deep down my crazy conscience wants me to think I needlessly killed two guys who meant me no harm.
I slowly begin to hear Nina again. She’s saying my name a lot, trying to get my attention. I get lost in thought very easily. It drives her up the wall. One of the reasons I haven’t bothered her for a while. “Hank? You still there?”
I tell her yes as I sit up on the bed. I feel dirty and dead. As dirty as the comforter, as dead as the mortuary that is the rest of the room. “Still here. So what do you think? I’ve heard of mysteries, but this one goes over my head.” My breathing is becoming stunted, like all the unknowns are a wet rag down my throat. “It could be the crazy, Nina. Maybe I was sane before, I don’t know, but the running, the paranoia—it’s getting to me.”
Nina doesn’t say anything. Nothing but breath through the phone, full and rough. “Henry, what you’ve been through… it would get to anybody. Besides, you sound perfectly reasonable to me.”
“I just got a text from an unknown number. It says STOP TALKING TO HENRY FELLOWS.”
Chapter 5: Balls
Since escaping from the clink, my only tangible thought was to stay alive. Yeah, now and again I’d find myself ready to give up, but I can’t be sure how serious I took all that. Maybe you can understand the existential crisis though, how everyday it’s on the news that I’m a patricidal/matricidal maniac, how I look in the mirror and see somebody else’s face. Literally. Put that together with PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and you’ve got one ailing puppy. As a sentient being, the cold unfeeling universe can be off-putting enough, even on the best of days. We have our beliefs, our constructs, little boilerplate epistemologies cradling us, patting us on the back as we lean forward into the hard world. They used to work for me. I see people every day. They seem to be working for them. Picking up the kids, taking them to practice so they can have little identities of their own, I get it. Not everybody in the world can be Kant.
I read a couple of his books while I was waiting to be sentenced to death. Not bad, I guess. The layman assessment goes that he was able to synthesize the various theories on the way people think. He took a little from column A, a little from column B, then wrapped it up in a bow that nobody could possibly understand. It’s quite possible that I’m simply too dense to ingest his truth, but if I had to critique his critique on reason, have to say it was too boring. Little advice from Uncle Henry: If you need philosophy and you’re waiting on the gas chamber, stick to Socrates. At least he had a sense of humor.
The old story is that Socrates died the way he lived, verbally punching everybody in the balls. The guy had fun. The speech he gave to save his own life was just another ball-busting attack on his accusers. I remember wanting to stand up in court and bust some balls, but I’m no Socrates. I didn’t have the balls.
Enough about balls.
This thing with Nina’s got me fired up. There are things to protect besides myself. Nina. My family. Sometimes priorities get obscured. But it’s clear now. She’s obviously being tapped, watched, violated in who knows how many ways. Then there’s my family. They’ve been violating themselves for the news media, but that doesn’t mean they deserve to have their lives threatened or to live in fear. My son’s only eight, the daughter thirteen. They don’t know any better. As for the ex-wife, what do you want me to say?
My hands are starting to shake again. It’s time for more anxiety medicine. I say it’s anxiety medicine, but I can’t exactly get a prescription these days. Smuggled prescriptions are a roll of the dice. Could be downing XTC. Whatever it is, it helps.
Time to make a plan. First, get the hell out of Texas. My family’s in Texas, and I figure the farther away I am, the safer they are. It’ll take calling in a few more favors to make sure they’re watched and safe, but whatever it takes. I make a list of what I know in my head, then start repeating, packing up pills and the few items with me in the hotel room.
1. Someone has eyes on me and knows what I look like.
2. They could’ve killed me or at least tried at any point in the last fifteen months.
3. Every time I want to turn myself in, they tip off the authorities.
4. This time they had somebody following close. Now those guys are dead.
5. My lawyer’s being surveilled, how intrusively I don’t know.
Walking outside into waning sunlight, it takes a minute to spot my car in the lot. Lot of stolen cars today. There. I see the innocuous jalopy, make another call to Floyd.
“Hey old man. Thanks for reaching out to Nina.”
“Look, I knew you’d be pissed, but—”
“Floyd. Seriously. I’m glad. Can you meet?”
“Wow. Okay. When?”
I look at my watch. “I figure twenty-four hours with the time change should be plenty.”
“You got it, Deer.”
“See you soon. Hey. One more thing. Important. Get back in touch with Nina. Tell her to have someone sit on my family’s house. Hell, two or three guys if need be. She knows people in the protection racket. Tell her to do the same for herself, if she hasn’t already. Insist on it. Can’t be too safe.”
“Maybe the guys…”
“Out with it, Floyd.”
“Maybe the guys you shot—they were the only ones after you.”
“No. Someone just threatened her while we were talking. She’s being tapped.”
“Shit. How do I get a hold of her without—whoever it is, hearing?”
“You’re a professional. Think of something. I’m low on time. Can I trust you to get this done?”
The old man does his grumbling thing but eventually gives in. “Of course. You didn’t say anything about your next move, tip off whoever was listening?”
“No. Thankfully I’m not that stupid. Soon as I heard it was a party line, I hung up. Cracked the cell. Called you on this one.”
“Okay. Sorry. Get moving.”
As I break down another phone I wipe it down, just in case. Nothing is too cautious at this point. Separate the pieces of each burner into different bags. I’ll dump them randomly between here and the next destination.
The joys of being me.
I spot an old plastic bin, no trash bag. Throw my old shirt and some chip wrappers in it. The insects flying patterns around it go with the whole vibe of the place. I take one last look for cameras, but see none. I stay at crapholes all the time for this very reason. Big Brother rarely visits these joints. In a crazy world, the cheap motel can be an oasis of freedom.
Walking to the car I do a quick scan around the parking lot. Can’t see anybody watching, but if they were any good, I wouldn’t be able to. By now I’ve gone over the list of what I know ad nauseam, so I start on another list, one of deductions.
1. Somebody could’ve ratted me out. The doctors, anyone who helped along the way. Unlikely, considering how much I pay.
2. They are keeping me alive and on the run for some purpose. Probably not a good one. Something new. I’ve been out over a year but this other thing is new.
3. Have to assume everyone in my tiny circle is being watched. Can only trust meeting people with experience in being anonymous, like Floyd.
4. After killing the two thugs, the they might be more apt to precipitate an encounter with me.
Not exactly Sherlock Holmes. Check my watch again, mumbling my deductions and pulling back out onto the freeway. Call ahead for departure times and ticket availabilities. I’m going to the airport, after all. Hate the airport. Most people say that. Used to hear it all the time. Folks in the neighborhood, acquaintances at work, I’d always hear the same thing. One of those complaints everyone has in their back pocket. I hate the airport.
Try it when you’re wanted by the FBI, Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals, Homeland Security and Interpol. Then tell me how inconvenient baggage claim is.
Chapter 6: Escape
It’s twelve hours later and I’m in London. Love London, except for two things. First, the hour spent going through customs almost gave me a heart attack. Smelled people from at least forty countries whilst pushing my bag forward one inch at a time. Nobody smells great getting off of an international flight, but I have to say, some countries smell better than others. Not saying anyone’s better than the next—just an observation. Like airplanes and airports are a terrible place for babies. Nobody’s fault, we all need babies, we all were babies, but there it is. Babies suck. Plus, they smell worse than most any country I’ve ever smelled.
I hate the airport. Pretty sure Heathrow is the most used hub in the world. It’s right up there, anyway. Used is a good word for it. I was tense the whole time. Not because they would find anything on me. All my prescriptions look the part. My papers are so good I can’t even tell that they’re bogus. Plus I ditched my gun in a lake by the airport.
A general tenseness, I’d say. Not that I’m being hunted, or that I’m coming off two fresh kills, or that I’m in a foreign country. None of that. Just the din of countless muttered languages, the drabness of the walls and the paint and the metallic view outside walking down to the customs mousetrap. Whatever. It’s London. The guy looked at me and looked at my little nylon bag and back down at my passport and gave it a smug stamp. In truth, not sure he looked at anything. Can’t really blame him. Having to work with the smell and all.
The train into the heart of town was a breeze. Less noise, less people, a good twenty minutes to catch a nap. Much needed. I don’t enjoy flying and I didn’t rest much, despite taking more than my usual dosage. As we sped into the station I woke with a sharp snap. There was an Arab man half staring at me. So I thought. I’d only been awake for one and a half seconds. Immediately my mind drifted to dark places: maybe this is the guy, the one who’s after me, or one of his henchman.
Two long seconds later, the man’s two little children jumped over the seat and onto his lap. Laughing. Embracing. The way families do.
Probably not an assassin.
But one can never be too careful on trains. Really, if something’s wrong, where you gonna go?
Guess I shouldn’t say that. You probably think a guy like me could get out of anywhere; after all, Henry Fellows is the most notorious escape artist in the world today.
Fine. Let’s get it on the table. Escape I did, though that probably isn’t the best word for it. You might call it an unofficial release. Kind of feels like a magician revealing his big secret, and like a magic trick, once you know, you’re going to be let down. Here it is: Before sentencing, Nina pulled a few strings to figure out exactly where I was to be remanded for the remainder of my days. Don’t ask me how she did it, but I told you she was good.
Having ascertained my destination, I learned everything about the place. Procured files on the entire staff, warden on down. Information and security were my trade, after all. Other than a very specific skillset, the one thing I still had access to was money. A lot of money. Really rich people know how to hide it, and if you’re really good, you know how to let a lot of it be found. That’ll make sense in a second. Anyway, I found out exactly who could be bribed, right down to the last guy. Basically that’s it. There was a tall guy paid to accidentally dismantle the locking mechanism on my cell, an alcoholic guy who looked the other way while I walked by him on my cell block. Another guy, actually he was a girl, to unlock the door to the loading dock at the rear of the prison, and one more to smuggle me out in a truck that hauled industrial size cleaners in and out of the place. I paid the tired guy checking people in and out of the south gate and the two stiff guards that stood sentry on either side of it. There was one guy I didn’t pay, some unplanned-for newbie smoking a cigarette on the loading dock. Didn’t pay him. He went to sleep, but I swear, no harm done. Slipped up behind and choked him gently to rest. The kid had a neck like pencil. No more than a bad headache the next day.
You’re calling B.S., right? I’d agree, except that I forgot to mention paying off the guys in the surveillance room to have a temporary “gap” in their security footage. Yeah, I had to walk in some shadows to avoid a few other guards, be on my toes, but it really wasn’t that difficult.
It was obvious the next day that it had been some kind of inside job, but they all knew the risk. The whole thing cost me 20 million bucks. I know. Can’t put a price on freedom. From there I hitched another ride in a semi down to the coast and hopped a freighter to a little Caribbean island where my new face was waiting for me. It was needed. My face had been pummeled by the Aryan Nation, the Nation of Islam, and the Mexican Nation the first three days in there. One more nation would have killed me.
As a little insurance policy for the people that helped me, I set them up with untraceable offshore numbered accounts. Banks that deal in anonymity. You know, banks for criminals. No way I deal with regular, criminal banks. As an extra insurance policy I had a very traceable million dollars wired into the accounts of the warden, the head of corrections, and the head of the U.S. Marshal Service. None of them were complicit in my escape, but I figured they’d be a little less inclined to poke around if they had to explain that one.
Believe it? Well, either way, I’m in London, home of my ancestors. What’d you think, I Shawshanked my way out of there in less than a week? Nope.
I get off at Paddington Station and take this tube and that tube to Covent Garden. Floyd’s got a flat right near the station, a bit central for my taste but if I was just a guy on a visit it would be ideal. Cosmopolitan. Big for fashion types, stage actors and dancers that have cash. Busy. He likes it for the reasons I don’t, hiding in plain sight and all that nonsense. See his place up ahead, one flat in a row of dozens. It’s not an opulent or large place, but it must be expensive. Shoulders scrape shoulders through the hustle and bustle of the London scene; tourists maneuvering their way down the little streets while buses plow by and people drive on the wrong side of the street. It’s raining, but only slightly. Nobody seems to notice. It’s England, after all. Suddenly my person and my locale are in focus. I’ve spent a lot of time in this town, but I’m every bit a man from the New World.
Finally, I arrive and buzz for his flat. Wave to the security camera angled at my face and the door pops open just enough to let me know I’m welcome. There’s a lift but I take the stairs, still needing to stretch my legs. On the landing of the third floor I’m met by my old mentor. It’s been too long. There’s a pause, something in the air, the need for an embrace. I go in for a hug but am met with a handshake. Floyd looks rugged and lean like always, just a little grayer. Two or three inches shorter than me, shorter than I remember. He’s still good looking for a guy his age. Tight, strong jaw. Thick salt and pepper mustache, the kind that works for hipsters or guys in westerns.
“You frigging codger,” I say.
“Well you know,” he grumbles, smiling and slapping me on the back in a way that reminds me of my grandfather. He’s wearing worn out jeans, clod in black biker boots. I wonder if that was his Triumph I saw parked out on the street.
As we go inside I see there’s still sheets covering some of the furniture. He didn’t beat me here by much.
“So how’s it going, Deer? Let me see that face. Still in shape I see,” he says, sizing me up with a few touches on the chin and shoulders.
“Well, I left my ‘I paid twenty million dollars to break out of jail and got a new identity’ shirt in my other bag, but other than that, fairly good, boss.”
“Boss,” he laughs.
Like a shot it occurred to me. This is Floyd’s first time to behold the new visage. Me waving to the camera must’ve been the dumbest thing… Thus the truncated laugh. Thus the arrested hug. How could he not be circumspect in manner? He had to adjust to my shorter, flatter nose; my new, thinner, green eyes. The slightly raised hairline. The dimpled chin. He knew it was me, but clearly that wasn’t making it any easier for him. I stop talking and watch Floyd watching me. His probing blue eyes are refusing to yield.
While trying to comprehend Floyd’s state of mind, I feel someone grab me from behind. Forearm around the throat, brutally tight squeeze. My old handler’s just watching, right there in his living room. Weird. I’m starting to get lightheaded, to go all foggy. Can’t exactly ask questions, so I figure it’s time to try to not die. Throwing my head back told me that my attacker was short—strong and short—that’s about all I know. Reaching with my free arm behind won’t get me any leverage so I decide to crash into the wall behind, throwing all the weight I have in order to sandwich the assailant between me and the drywall. A grunt accompanies the concussion; the grip is finally loose enough for me to turn out of the choke.
My eyes are cloudy, but I know who this is.
There’s about half a second to wonder what the hell is going on before receiving a vicious kick to the liver. Everything from God to gravity tells me to go down, but somehow I come back, grabbing the attacker’s jacket and hurling two dirty uppercuts into his gut. He drops, but an attempted knee across the face is blocked and suddenly my feet are out from underneath me. I’m flying, crashing on my back—he’s already on me, reigning partially blocked punches down. This is a bad place to be. My forearms are turning to pounded meat and my wind is gone and I was never really that good at this crap anyway—
“Alright,” I hear. Suddenly the punches stop. I look up and see a sardonic smile coming down. “You satisfied?” It’s Floyd doing the talking. I think he’s actually sitting in a chair. I’m receiving a world-class beat down and he’s positively recumbent. Gracious.
“I’m satisfied. It’s ‘bout what I remember,” the man says, dismounting from the precarious position he had me in.
“What the hell, Billy?” I moan, rolling around on Floyd’s hardwood. Feels like I just got taken by my little brother.
“Sorry, Deer. Billy just wanted to make sure it was you. Called him in to help.”
“Help what?” I ask, trying to sit up. “You know that hurts, right?”
Billy offers a hand to get up. “Come on. You’re just out of practice. But you never could close out. Get you on the ground, it was always over.” He’s right. I got out of the game when all that ninja leg-lock ankle twisting crap was coming into vogue. Never really went in for it. Depended on my quickness and my head. And weapons. Which is why Billy remembers kicking the crap out of me when we used to spar.
I take a minute, walking little circles in the flat with my arms akimbo, trying not to look at either of them.
I’m bloody and pissed.
“So I called Billy in,” Floyd says, feet up on a glass coffee table in the middle of the room.
“Yeah, you said that.” Still wincing, I try to find a cruel rejoinder but the pain is beating back any semblance of wit. It’s a shame. The moment deserves some.
I gather myself and get a proper look at Billy. William Kaftan, to be more accurate. Back in the day we did a lot of jobs together. It’s been years, but he looks about the same. Slight beard, a few grays starting to creep in. He’s still got the same wrestler’s build and the same pug face. A permanent who gives a crap expression. He takes a spot on the corner of the table between me and Floyd and I can see a few new scars over and around his eyes.
“Whatcha been up to, Bill?” I ask, half sarcastically.
“Same as you, moving around a lot, doing my own thing.”
“Yeah. Same as me.” I know he’s taking a piss, but he’s also alerting me to the fact that he’s still in the game—a freelancer. “Too many of you guys floating around these days.”
“Well, sometimes things need getting done, Hank. Hear you’re in a bit of a spot.”
“So you’ve watched a TV in the last two years. Good for you.”
“What’s with the animosity, brother? Thought you’d be happy to see me. I’m happy to see you, even with that douchebag mug you got going on.”
All the jabbering is starting to annoy. Billy’s making me feel uncomfortable, the way he likes to, so I move over to the sofa and a little more space. There’s no doubt that Floyd called him in for good reasons. Kaftan’s a top-level operator, born killer, highly proficient with tech, bombs, the works. “Yeah,” I mutter. I can see Floyd putting his hands up, looking over at Billy.
“What’s that?” It’s Floyd. I guess he caught me mumbling.
“Nothing,” I say. I really don’t feel like talking. Not a lie.
“What’s the deal? You don’t want Billy?”
I can’t take it anymore. “Billy’s fine. He’s great. Can he help? Almost certainly. The guy’s a pro. Did we need him to give me a field test to authenticate my identity? Could’ve done without that. Pretty sure I’ve been through enough shit lately. I mean the pile is mile-high. You want to keep stacking it, fine.” I reach for my pocket, my pills. I’m really getting worked up. I want a mirror to see how red my stupid face is getting. “But Billy’s only here for money, correct?”
“That’s affirmative, big guy,” Billy says, standing up. “Floyd said you’d pay a million to each of us if we helped.” I scoff at his bulky little body. He’s got one of those shiny loud t-shirts on, the kind cage fighters wear. What a tool.
“Floyd? Help with what? We don’t even know what’s going on here. Who’s chasing me? Why? Who killed my parents? Again, why? What’s the link? Is there a link? Can anyone in this apartment answer any of those questions?” I bury my head in my hands. I sound really over the edge. Probably need to conjure up some forced apology; Floyd’s used to this nonsense, but Billy’s probably thinking he just tussled with a full blown nutter.
“Geez, Floyd. You didn’t say he was this bad.”
We all look toward the source of the comment. It’s new. Female. Slight European accent.
“Oh no,” I say.
“Hey buddy. Nice to see the new you. Heard you shmucks might need a brain around here?”
Chapter 7: Security!
“I need a gun,” I say. She’s entering the flat like she owns the place, like she enters every place. The gun isn’t for her, but my mind is so discomposed it’s the first thought and the only thing that comes out of my stupid mouth.
“You’re probably going to need more than that,” she says, dropping bags by her side, setting a laptop on the coffee table so that all may huddle around and see. Plopping down on the couch she punches up a video clip circulating on the web. I see it has millions of views. That’s all I see. She’s right next to me and I have to close my eyes. No time to prepare, no warning at all that I might be in her presence. I think our legs are actually touching.
Her name is Marie Vigier. Not her real name. She’s like Floyd, like Billy, like I used to be. Claimed to be from France, and with her slight accent, guess nobody ever had reason to doubt it. She’s not exactly the type you question. Everybody just called her Marie V. Doesn’t matter. She’s full of crap. A spy. A rogue. Most important, she’s someone I came close to being involved with. Kind of. Way back in the day. It never went all the way, though for a spell I thought it was going to ruin my marriage; you know, before I knew my wife was boning other dudes.
Warning: Never try your hand at romance with trained killers. Especially women. First, they’re moody, secretive, and given to wild turns of emotion. And that’s just the woman part.
The incredulity scale is redlining. What have you done, Floyd?
“Million bucks, right?” She presses play and motions everyone over with her index fingers. It annoys me. Like saying “gather around” would be putting her out. God knows she couldn’t actually use a whole arm to signal her request. My left pocket pills are beckoning, but they’re so close to her leg they almost seem contaminated. The only recourse is to watch the screen with one eye open and fix in the fetal position.
“What is this?” Floyd asks, leaning in. Billy’s on my right, trying to position his bulk comfortably on the armrest of the couch. I could move over, but then again, no.
“It’s the guy that’s after the whimpering fugitive here,” she says. I open my other eye. The video is rough, like it was shot from one of those little cameras people wear on their bodies to make themselves feel important. Yeah. There’s two men in the picture, one chasing the other through a dingy urban alleyway. The man being chased turns and fires two wild shots. Amazingly, one of the bullets hits the man in pursuit.
It’s crazy. Somebody in the background screams, “deputy’s been hit!” but the guy keeps running, rabidly, insanely. The camerawork is fitful, adding to the tension of the scene.
“Probably had a vest on,” Billy says, trying not to be impressed.
“Yes. But he didn’t even stop to catch his breath,” Floyd says, stroking at his mustache.
The prey is clearly running toward a chain-link fence at the far end of the shot. As he jumps for it, the chaser throws something that connects with the guy’s head, crumpling him to the ground.
“What just happened?” I ask.
“Keep watching,” Marie says. There’s a note of ironic humor under her voice.
Standing over his splayed out game, the hunter gives the body two dirty kicks to the ribs before checking for a pulse. Finally, he looks up into the camera. I’m almost surprised it’s not the face of the devil. Nope. Just a normal looking black guy, mid-thirties, shiny bald head. Handsome I guess, save the snarl on his face.
“He alive?” asks a voice from off-camera.
“Living. For now,” he says, applying handcuffs to the runner.
“What’d he throw?” Billy asks.
“His gun,” Marie says.
“That’s idiotic,” I say. “Who throws their gun in a gunfight?”
Before I can even get the words out, the black man is pushing his face right up into the camera’s lens. “You see that, Fellows? You’re next. I’m coming for you. Hide, run, whatever. See him?” the guy asks the camera, pointing down at the sad sack in the cuffs. It feels like we’re having a frigging conversation all of a sudden. Honestly, can the pile get any higher? “He was number two. Just a warm-up. Hope you’re watching. Get a good night’s sleep, Henry. You sick bastard.”
The clip stops. The green in my eyes is giving way to red. “That’s not who’s been after me,” I say, trying to control my breathing. It’s self-evident—the need to seem collected and vacantly inscrutable. The room’s full of spies and cutthroats, after all.
“So who is he?” Floyd asks, sitting up a little, peering right at Marie.
“Yeah. That’s Deputy Trevor Hawker,” she says, patting me on the leg. “U.S. Marshals.” I recoil from the touch. “And if he wasn’t after you before, I’d say the game is officially afoot.”
“You’re kidding me,” I say. “Hawker. Great name. Why does it sound familiar?”
“I think you know his older brother. Former Director of the U.S. Marshals Service. James Hawker. Forced retirement after some nefarious allegations came up concerning his bank records.”
“What do you mean?” It’s Floyd again, standing up now.
“I slipped some dirty money to the guy, made it look like he was on the take.”
“No wonder his brother’s pissed,” Billy says, ever the poignant one.
“There’s five or six of these videos on the internet. Hundreds of millions of views. Films all his recent arrests, big time fugitives, drug traffickers, hit men. Always finishes with the same post script. He’s coming after you.” I give Marie a tacit acknowledgment, still trying to gather my wits.
“So he’s good,” Floyd says, crossing his arms.
“And clean,” Marie adds, closing the laptop. “As in not corrupt. I did a hard press on his background. Masters in criminology. Went to LSU undergrad on a baseball scholarship.”
“Lemme guess,” I say. “Pitcher?”
“No. Right fielder, I think.” Marie didn’t get my joke. She’s French, after all. “He’s about the best there is, Henry. Pushes the line of what’s legal, but as far as I can tell, this is the one guy you don’t want on your ass.”
It’s more ominous news, but suddenly I get why the old man brought Marie here. At least she’s done some research. Not like anybody else in the room has a clue what’s going on. I get up from my seat on the couch and take a few steps toward the fireplace on the opposite side of the room. Need the separation. Need to breathe.
Floyd’s face is heavier now. “Sorry I didn’t talk about bringing people in—look, I knew you could afford it. And you don’t have to pay me a dime.”
“It’s okay,” I mumble, staring at the mantle. There’s three highly trained professionals behind me. Apparently a million bucks each for their services. Fine. Time to start making them earn it. “We know Hawker here is gunning for me, but let’s assume he has no idea what I look like.”
“Cause you’d already be in chains,” Floyd says.
“Right. Let’s assume he’s the best, eventually he catches up to me.”
“Law of averages,” Marie says.
I’m not looking but I can feel Billy wanting to say something. He does. “We could always just take him out.”
“Shut up, Billy.” The three of us say it at the same time.
After shaking my head, I continue. “Hawker here is a problem, but he didn’t kill my parents. And his guys weren’t the ones I shot in Texas. He’s law. He’s got rules. Some, anyway. Best guess, who’s been watching me, watching my lawyer, all the rest?”
“Oh, so you get to kill guys—”
“Shut up, Billy.” Again, three-part unison.
“Henry, it has to do with your business.” There it is. Marie’s making sense. It’s the only thing that ever made sense. The Fellows Security Company. You can still buy the stock, though the name’s been changed. After Vietnam, my dad got married and went into the personal protection racket. Started the company with his old war buddy, Clifton Jansen. A few years go by, about the time I was born, he diversifies into armored cars. Making sure people’s valuables move discreetly from one place to another. A few more years go by, he hires a gaggle of fresh-faced nerds from the Valley to design web protection programs; before you ever the heard the term “identity theft,” our company was all over it. That end started as a luxury for the ultra-rich but before long everybody and their grandmother was looking for security. But we were ahead of the game. Grandmothers didn’t make Fellows Security a multibillion-dollar supranational.
By the time I came aboard, our main clients were Fortune 500 companies, banks, currency exchanges, even governments. A lot has come out in the papers since my parents’ murder and my arrest, but the published information surrounding the company is spotty at best. See, there are giant corporations that have public faces, i.e. cellphone manufacturers, wholesale chains, media companies, etc. You know about them because that’s what they depend on. They tell you who they are because there’s an inherent dependency on the everyday guy. If Joe Sixer doesn’t know you make TV’s, then Joe Sixer won’t buy your TV.
Then there’s the other kind. Like the company that has the market cornered on pesticides. Billions of dollars in revenue, but who advertises pesticides? Sure, an exposé comes out every now and then, but it all gets lost in the minutiae. Think some do-gooder and his documentary are anything next to something like that? There are multi-billion dollar companies that just make pipelines. They don’t get the gas out of the ground, don’t put their little label on it, so why would you ever know they exist? Most of time, you wouldn’t. People get their tanks filled and their houses heated and go their merry way. Just how things work. Basically that’s it. You never had your ballgame interrupted by a pipeline manufacturing commercial or a mass pesticide commercial or a commercial for Fellows Security Company. Some businesses, your clients find you. The job of our company was to be good, perfect, beyond reproach. Yeah, advertising isn’t job one, but screw up, and you’re finished. Word gets around when multi-million dollar contracts are a matter of course.
I smile a little, thinking about joking around with some of the less uptight people at our corporate headquarters. Fellows Security, making sure your cell phone conversations never, ever, ever go away. Fellows Security, storing all your personal financial information on a server you didn’t pay for, free of charge! Fellows Security, screw with us, and we’ll open your country’s commodities markets to the hackers of the world! I even made up jingles. It really pissed my dad off. He had no idea how the company worked, in the end. The man was born in a time when a computer filled an entire room. He covered himself with the mantra, privacy and discretion is a basic human right. Really, dear old dad didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. We were way past privacy. Fellows Security was the gatekeeper for secrets. For some reason, scary people trusted us with their terabytes. Let’s just put it this way: Fellows had to help out the NSA on more than one occasion. We had government and military liaisons working right alongside. Ostensibly, we were a defense contractor. Governments worked for us as much as we worked for them. My responsibilities centered around information protection and secure data storage; hence the skills at surreptitious money manipulation. Perks.
I know what you’re saying. Sounds crazy. Agreed. But there are pills for that.
“But impossible,” I say, coming out of my little trance. Everyone’s staring, wondering where my mind has been.
“What is?” Floyd asks.
“What Marie said. We went over this during the trial. If the murders were about getting information, we will never find them. It could literally be anybody. Anybody with secrets needing to be erased, someone who wanted access to data. Don’t you think it was my first thought? None of that crap could even come out. It’s all locked behind thousands of pages of confidentiality agreements and lawyer shit I can’t even pronounce.”
“But it’s our best guess,” Marie says, holding a hand up, like she’s anticipating being interrupted. “Hold on. I get it. Needle in a haystack. But someone killed your parents, someone who knows things.”
“That may well be true, but—”
“But they didn’t get it, whatever it is they were after.”
“You guys probably heard all this. My father wasn’t schooled in the day-to-day. He couldn’t have provided access if he wanted to.”
“Were they tortured?” Billy asks. I’m about to tell him to shut up, but the look in his eyes stays my ire.
“Yes, Billy. Cut up into hundreds of pieces. It was on the news.”
“I know. But in the trial, did you ever find out if they were tortured? A cow is butchered, but it doesn’t necessarily imply torture. Get me?”
We all look fixedly at Billy, past the vestures of a tool, blocking out the spiked up greasy hair and the shiny shirt. “Hearing you out,” I say. “But again, we thought of all this. If anyone wanted to get information they could figure out in two seconds that he was incapable of providing it.”
“Right. But he could tell them who could. A person uniquely equipped with both the know-how and the access to get at the deep and the dark. You were COO.”
“That’s a plausible theory. But it’s one that Nina and I explored. Again, nothing.” Annoyance is seeping into my speech. Going over old frustrations can be quite frustrating. They were terrible times, times when I still had enough hope to soldier on. Made coming up empty all the worse. My “chemical dependencies” really ramped up during those dark days.
“Take us through one more time, Hank.” I can see my old handler is fully engaged; might as well humor him.
“Some real nasty guys show up. They case my parents’ estate, find a way past the guards, or pay them to take a break. This makes it look like the killer was somebody they knew, since none of the guards were touched and apparently none of them heard a damn thing.”
“Right. And they were vetted? Thoroughly?”
“Yeah. They were vetted. What do I look like?” Realizing I don’t want an answer to the question, I hold my hand up. “So they drill down on my folks for information, literally, God only knows what, and they can’t provide it.” My lungs reach for air. It’s easy to forget that in all the mystery and strangeness these were still the people who raised me. “So they torture them. Maybe they hurt my mom. That’d be about the only way to get that old cuss to talk. Loved her like nothing else.”
“And he gives you up,” Marie says. “You were privy to most operations of the company at that point, correct?”
“Yeah. I was hands-on with the programmers, in as many places as I could be at once. So operating off of Billy’s line—only thing that makes sense—they go all Nightmare on Elm Street to obfuscate any signs of interrogation. They take nothing. Leave millions in art and jewelry. Make it look very, very personal.”
“But they screw up,” Floyd says. “Don’t realize quite the job they’re doing. Before they can get to you the police already have you in custody.”
“Yeah. Cops had their man from the jump.” I sit back down on the stool in the corner. “If this is the way it went down—and I’m not saying it is—it’s pretty ironic. Getting pinched for their crime, the guy that they did the whole thing for.”
“Which they didn’t know going in. Can’t assume anything, really. Could be they just blew it. Found out you were the guy they needed right then and there. The media made a big deal about your dad being the brains behind the tech. You were relatively obscure, you know. Shit happens on a job. Maybe they just got it wrong,” Marie says. She’s looking up at me now, big brown eyes. She’s changed in a few spots but I think age has made her even prettier. Shorter hair, less of that youthful weight around her jaws. All of a sudden I have the crazy notion of sitting down with her in a café around the corner, talking about the old days, watching normal people walking by. This, after going over my parents’ butchering.
I’m a nutbar.
“It’s a black hole,” I mutter, surveying all the thinking going on in the room. Terrains I’ve plotted time and time again.
“It is all very strange,” Marie says. “But I don’t know… maybe you should reach out to what’s his name—Jansen. Weren’t the two of you close?”
“Yeah, we were close. But he doesn’t know anything, didn’t know anything.” I put a pillow over my head and think of Mr. Jansen. He was more a father to me than my actual father. A very smart guy; he used to say things in weird little ways. Taught me people skills, the way to get around people just by using words. But in the end, smarts weren’t enough for good Mr. Jansen. My dad seized more and more of the company, leaving him out in the cold. Don’t think I ever heard him say a thing during a board meeting those last few years. It bothered me, watching a great man, a founder of the company, basically marginalized. It was one of those things I used to argue with my father about. Mr. Jansen would advise me to keep my wits, don’t get overruled by emotion, that kind of thing. Had some weird expression for it: Illegitimi non carborundum. Some bastardized Latin thing he said he picked up from a commanding officer during the war. Guess it was another way of telling a overwrought son not to get beaten down by an overstepping father. Not sure. I suck at languages. “Let’s leave Jansen out of this,” I say. “Much as I miss the old guy.”
Marie’s not satisfied. Again she says, “I don’t know.”
“Oh, you don’t? What we’ve got here is a nice theory, a theory that ends with the people of interest being most of the free world. That, and now you’re telling me that Captain America is on my ass—a guy who if he doesn’t shoot me will throw a ninety mile-an-hour Beretta at my head.”
“That was pretty cool, now that I think about it,” Billy says.
“I appreciate it, guys. Take any payment you want, but I’m out of here. Nobody else is getting caught up in this.”
I stand up to go. Really don’t see what good any of this is. Marie hops up and blocks my way. I stop out of respect for her… you know.
“Hold it. Think I’ve got an idea—actually it’s your idea. How about you turn yourself in?”
My shoulders slink so low I think I hear one of them hit the floor. From behind, Billy’s sounding off as well. “Something else. If we can’t kill this Trevor Hawker guy, maybe we should just kidnap him.” There goes the other shoulder.
“Actually, that’s not a bad idea,” Floyd says. It sounds like he’s serious. I’ve run out of shoulders.
Yes. This is my life.
Chapter 8: Fishing
Can’t believe I’m doing this. Once more, sitting outside a police station. It’s Scotland Yard again, crowded as hell, right in the middle of everything. The Prime Meridian for retarded ideas. Cramped. There’s no space in London. Texas feels a planet away now. I think about my kids. They’re being watched by some decent people. I checked in with Nina earlier using a proxy, but still. Doesn’t seem like enough.
Traffic is swishing by, throwing the wet from the street against my jacket and jeans. I’m on a motorbike I pinched about an hour ago. Two earpieces, one listening over the police channels, one listening to local radio news. Floyd’s inside one of those big white vans across the street, the kind that makes me think of trapezoids. You know, European. Ugly. It fits right in. Billy’s on some nearby roof looking down on me, checking the surrounding streets and alleys for signs of anything interesting. No idea where Marie is. I’m starting to forget the whole plan.
Plan. What a joke. This is the best that three million of my money and a team of trained agents can come up with?
There’s a walkie in my leather coat pocket. I turn it on. “Anybody hear anything yet?” There’s nothing but silence. “Maybe I lost the tail? Or they’re not coming today? Maybe when I killed the last two—”
“Would you shut up, Henry?” It’s Marie. Now I remember. She’s across the street, parked in a tight spot between a Bentley and an area marked for construction. Everything’s under construction over here. “We’ve only been in position for three minutes.”
“Okay. Good point.” Yeah, probably give it a little more time. I’m just not comfortable. There’s the big box sign up ahead, the one that says New Scotland Yard. And the weird looking cops with the neon yellow coats. Guess it’s to let everyone know who they are. Mission accomplished. More women than men. Too many women cops in England. Not enough guns. Lacks a bit of teeth. Not that I would mention that to Marie. Just when I’m about to ask myself why Scotland Yard is in England, my walkie cracks. It’s Floyd.
“Everyone, turn your radios up. Civilian.”
I push the left earpiece in and listen to the news. It’s weird to hear a lady with a proper British accent talking about me. Can’t believe this plan is working: “According to police, there is credible evidence and eyewitness reports that the notorious American fugitive Henry Fellows is in the central London area. Please call 999 if you see or hear anything suspicious. In case you have forgotten, Fellows was convicted of brutally murdering his parents fifteen months ago. Most of you will recall that his father was the CEO of the Fellows Security Corporation and one of the world’s preeminent philanthropists. He is also suspected of two more murders committed just outside his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, two days ago. Fellows is an extraordinarily despicable, dangerous man.”
That last part was a bit harsh. Anyway, I take the earpiece out before the follow-up guy chimes in. The one that follows dances on a stage of facts with fear mongering and sensationalist imagery. I can’t stomach that guy right now. He’s a real asshole.
“Go now?” I ask, clamping hard down on the walkie. My hands are stony, turning stiff in the unrelenting London rain.
“Do it,” I hear Floyd say. Everyone’s in position. Billy’s playing spotter. Floyd’s running the play. I’m the bait. Marie V. will be the chaser. My starting point is a curb on the right side of the road, just in front of the big office building on Broadway. I plug the headphones into the walkie and fire up the bike with a sharp kick start. Here we go.
On a good day, driving the roads in London makes me want to kill myself. The coordination is difficult for anyone. That’s why I chose the bike. Can’t be driving with the wheel on the wrong side. Anyone who tells you the adjustment is easy is a liar. And we’ve got a possible high-speed chase in the offing. The bike will help. That, and the fact that I’m going to drive down the right side of the road. Today I will be the obstinate contrarian jerkoff every Brit pictures when they think of Americans.
Sure, it’s idiotic. But we want to make a splash, to be noticed, to bring the wolves to the sheep. Might as well be conspicuous.
The bike almost flies out from under as I yank the gas. Switching gears, I see a line of cars coming right for me. No free hands. All I can do is listen and wait for news of a follower—whilst trying not to die. Cars are beeping and careening every which way. The rain is coming down hard, moving down Victoria against a tide of onrushing metal…