Damn. My head hurt. This can't happen again. Of course, I'd said the same thing the two other times someone had used my dome for a kettledrum. But this time I'd had it. Three years in the business with no trouble and now I'd suffered five attacks in the last six months. I wasn't taking any more of it.
I had squired Gustaf Mienke, a New York businessman reputed to have connections with crime syndicates, for a whirlwind week. Driving him around Dallas virtually wore me out. We visited, his choice of words, although few smiles witnessed our departure from at least a dozen places. Places and characters I might add that looked suspicious to say the least and I'd never been to or seen before. Finally, Gustaf left town and my life returned to something resembling normal, but not for long. A week later, I caught hell.
Released from the hospital emergency room, the doctors told me not to come back. My frequent trips to the ER seemed to get on their nerves. One intern had the audacity to suggest a change in friends or lifestyle. His caring attitude apparently disappeared when I stopped leaking blood. I tossed a smile at the wannabe doctor, stood, looked around the sterile room, thanked them, and departed worse the wear.
Skull still bandaged, I must have looked like a Sikh except there's no flowing mustache or beard. But that didn't matter. I didn't care. I'd taken enough crap as a discriminating limo driver. Beaten, robbed, and otherwise pillaged, it was over. But it was still a mystery how or why I was always around when things went to hell. Fort Worth's finest thought it was highly suspicious and let me know I wasn't off the hook.
That's me R.P. Gavin, Robert Pollard Gavin, discreet limo entrepreneur extraordinaire. I dropped out of SMU to start my business much to the chagrin of my father... mother seemed indifferent. I haul the famous and infamous to chic and nefarious spots.
Of course, the dead guy in my back seat hadn't gone over well with the cops. At least my involvement with the corpse was explainable. In reality, the police really didn't have much choice but to believe I had nothing to do with the killing. I didn't dent my cranium after shooting my own fare. The guy busted my head. And I never had a chance to ask why--not that he would have told me. I think he was a hired gun. Both the police and I had a problem--who capped him--right in the back of the head. One shot, Twenty-five caliber that said mob all the way. Damned messy. Luckily, the guy was already on his way out of my limo when he met his maker so his brains were scattered on public property. That also meant that he knew the shooter. Whoever pulled the trigger was in my back seat. I knew Roscoe as Victor Demanto, a New York hood I had picked up at DFW Airport at the request of a once in a while customer.
I had taken a call from a woman for Roscoe. That meant the caller knew me or someone who knew me as my phone number is private and given out with discrimination. I sure wasn't Roscoe so I handed the phone into the back seat.
He talked for a few minutes. The guy leaned forward to hand me the phone, or so I thought, but instead he bashed my head and I took a nap. When I came to, my fare was halfway out of the limo and quite dead and the unknown killer long gone.
A killing in my limo is always bad for business and I had to protect my respectable, well sometimes respectable, okay, occasionally respectful enterprise.
I left JPS, that's John Peter Smith Hospital for those new to the metroplex, and caught a cab to the Fort Worth Police impound lot on Northside Drive. I wasn't one hundred percent and fumbled with my keys, dropped them twice. Truth? I could barely walk and still saw two of most everything. I finally headed for home.
That's a condo, on the north side of Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth and only minutes from DFW International Airport. It made a convenient launch pad for my limo service smack dab in the middle of the metroplex. In fact, right now it seemed I was smack dab in the middle of someone's war. And I was getting the crap beaten out of me and had no idea why and liked it even less.
Halfway home I changed my mind, pulled the Crown Victoria (the feds overstated the fire thing) into the North Arlington strip mall parking lot, and stumbled toward the unlit door of Max's Gym. Max, his real name Gorgio Slavish, (he preferred Max) was open only as he could be--barely. The guy claimed he exercised great discretion selecting his customers. Clientele he called them. Right. The damned truth was if the business had any fewer clientele, he'd be in a bread line somewhere. Despite that, he was my friend and could teach me what I needed to know about self-defense. Notice I said could. Max told me once if the fight or flight urge ever came to me, take the second. Actually, what he said was run like hell. Claimed at my skill level I'd live longer. But, I'm not dismayed. I can do this. At SMU, I had trained with a martial arts fighter. While I got the crap beaten out of me, I did learn a thing or two.
"Hello Max," I yelled into the dark smelly cavern that served as a gym then followed the grumble into the sinkhole that doubled as an office.
"Come on back R.P."
"Hey man, I need your help. I'm ready to learn all that kenpo stuff to stop this." I pointed to the pile of bandages swathing my aching head.
"No shit, man. Not again?" Despite his size, Max had a voice that could qualify for the Women's Chorus of Dallas. Just don't make the mistake of teasing him about singing with les femmes. His fists are like steel anvils.
Even in the dark, I could see him struggle to stifle the grin trying to disguise itself as concern. Unkempt black, bushy eyebrows and mustache didn't come close to hiding the guffaw under pressure to emerge. Plunked down in the only chair, feet upon an overturned wastebasket, he nodded toward a spot on the corner of what served as a desk. Actually, it had two purposes. One a place for the telephone and it kept some space between anyone entering, usually a bill collector and the proprietor. Max specialized in kenpo karate, kickboxing, grappling, handgun training, and bodyguard stuff more commonly known as street fighting. Actually, what I wanted was to be able to take care of any unarmed or maybe even an armed situation and come out more alive that dead.
I hadn't decided whether to mention the dead guy. Odd thing about Gorgio, he could break every bone in your body without a sign of regret but when it came to dead people, he got squeamish. What the hell, I'd tell him. Without the stiff, there wasn't much to talk about. I needed a little uplift and the joy of watching him suffer should provide just that.
"Actually, Max, there isn't a lot to recall." I spent all of two minutes telling him what happened.
Max grunted when I described in detail the mess the dead guy had created. That noise was his way of saying he actually understood what I said even though it sounded like he had choked back a lively heaving session. We firmed up when I would start the lessons, meaning when my head stopped aching.
I left and drove for my brothers' law offices in Dallas to see about a little legal help. That's plural. You see, they're twins, Frick and Frack is how I think of them or Gavin-Gavin, shitheads. That's a no-no. Bad habit. Gavin-Gavin and Crosshank is the firm's name, until recently called Crosshank-Gavin and Gavin. They bought out Crosshank a while back. He wasn't around any more and it wouldn't be long before they dropped the old boy from the firm name. The two aforementioned Gavins, Arnold, the oldest by ten minutes, and Andrew kept the name because it still brought in business. Actually, they were pretty good attorneys, just no taste; the size and plush in the offices offered a clear testament. It felt as if I was walking into the private office of some Harry Hines Avenue hooker who was trying to go straight. Decorated in early American snob, with some meager attempts to show those given the royal opportunity of entry to their austere pushiness that the occupants had excelled in Art Appreciation 101, it assaulted one's tastes. The mixture of Renaissance, Rueben and Dali caused to me reach for a gastric chewable conveniently stored in my coat pocket for just such an occasion.
They were thirteen years older, me being the family's youngest. Thirteen and yes, you've got it. The entire family, mom, dad, excuse me, mother and father, all considered the thirteen unlucky, and that's how I grew up. There's a sister, Judith, Judy to me, who I wouldn't trade for the world. When around the others, I fully understood how the guy, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, of recent notoriety felt. Just one-step away from being a bastard and that was because mother wouldn't allow swearing. You know, I just realized she had never said it wasn't true and when I was around no one brought up the subject. Hmmm.
I could tell just from the way they shrank back when I leaned forward that I was less welcome than the plague. I'm sure it was because of the swathing piled on my head. Of course, the anticipated questions poured out. Arnold, still sitting behind his enormous mahogany desk, asked with an air lacking concern, "What happened to you?"
It was a rhetorical question. Andrew had made his way to Arnold's side and knowing that didn't wait for an answer. "Can't you stay out of trouble? Why don't you get a respectable job?"
"Like being a lawyer?" I said and had to struggle to keep my eyes from rolling.
That brought Arnold to his feet and Andrew's fist down on the desk, protests fomenting as their collective ire rose.
"Stop." I held up a hand and waved for them to a halt before they got up a head of froth. The rude disdain they had for me made my head hurt even more. They worried that someone important might make the connection that suggested kinship and that I had unimpeded access to their offices.
Their reaction to my story and that I may be a suspect in the killing, got implied sympathy in return. You understand what implied means; that's lawyer talk for "Oh, how terrible but why bother us?" Well, it took all of ten seconds to see they were in no mood to help in the slightest. I said my goodbyes and got not even a nod. I left the same way I came in, the freight elevator. Sighs of relief were clearly audible and followed me down the four floors to the building's rear door. Rear door, that's a euphemism for alley.
I cranked up the Vic and headed for Andy Grisham's garage. Andy specialized in converting family sedans into souped up armored cars. I wheeled the Vic onto the paved drive fronting a four bay garage that was no more than a shack. He argued the less money put into the place the less cost passed on to customers. Truth of the matter, he was one if not the best in the area at what he did. It wasn't uncommon to see NASCAR guys around the place. They put a high value on innovations he'd come up with. If he could improve a car's performance or safety, he gave it freely to the gear heads. It's my understanding that if the racing boys made money on whatever he'd given them, they split the profit. The guy was simply good at what he did and that's why people came, run down shack or not. Like me, he'd managed to walk that fine line between those escaping from and running to the law. I entered through the front door and as soon as he saw me was on the floor laughing; his gut, one that Buddha would have envied, rolled like jello. I've heard hyena's yelps that were more sympathetic. And for him, that was something.
Finally, he gathered himself, struggled to his feet, and asked, "What the hell happened?" Without waiting for an answer he added, "Maybe you ought to take up a different career. Like begging or something. Yeah, a hobo, that's more like you."
I told him to kiss where I couldn't and then how I wanted my hack armored. His estimate that it'd take at least two to three weeks sent me toward the phone. I started to call Acme and rent a cab. But, being the good guy he is, Andy said, "I'll let you have a loaner." While Andy did his thing, I'd still be in business. He pointed to an Escalade.
I made sure he understood there was no way I could afford the Cadillac and would be looking forward to getting my trusty Vic back.
Over the last three years, I'd built up a good business running my limo as a discrete charter. I took clients (that's different from Max's clients) anywhere they wanted, saw that they got back, any time, no questions asked but more importantly, nothing ever said, everything cash and no public record made except what the beloved IRS required. And for this special service, I was very well paid. Some of the best and most reprehensible names in Dallas and Fort Worth had made use of my services limo that is, no hanky-panky. But this killing could put a real damper on business. I had to find out who did the dirty deed, and, at least among those that counted, do something about it.
Here I must offer a confession. I do keep a sophisticated coded record. It's one of those CYA things. You know if one of my clients should, in some despicable way, involve me and I have to prove my innocence. A highly skilled nerd or geek, whichever you prefer, wrote a computer program that codes my entries. Only I know the ciphers that will unlock the information. It's called a personal code. As far as the professional's know, it's unbreakable. I carry the only copy of the secreted information in a secreted place. Clever? I think so.
Later that night I keyed in the gate command at my condo and slowly drove into my garage. Unlocked the door and pushed it open. Something felt wrong. Marcie usually was waiting just behind it and I never knew how she'd be dressed. In fact, to my never-ending delight, she usually wasn't. But then, I sensed something was wrong when she called me this morning, just no pizzazz. Instead of my girlfriend behind the door, there in the middle of the floor lay a note.
Reluctantly, I picked it up. "Hi R.P. It's been a blast but time for me to move on. Thanks for all the great times and the clothes. Sorry to run out on you so soon after getting your head busted. Love ya, Marcie."
She'd given me every indication she'd take off sometime. I just expected it to be a long drawn out goodbye. Life sure sucked. Correction, my life sure sucked. I didn't bother checking the closet. Clothes were everything to Marcie and she would have taken them all. Ginger, my ever-loving Turkish Van, rubbed against my leg as if nothing had happened. In her cat world, as long as there was plenty of food, had a clean sand box, the door opened when she wanted out or in, got her ears rubbed, everything was as it should be. Maybe I was taking all this too seriously. Maybe, given a few minutes and Marcie will be no more than a fond memory.
After a good hot shower, I put my six-foot frame into the whirlpool bath for twenty minutes. I needed that. The Jacuzzi brothers could have my vote for anything they wanted for their invention.
I dressed casually in dark blue slacks, white turtleneck, and off-white blazer to handle the autumn cool and then headed for the Dallas pub, Bookie's Brass Rail, ready to drown my sorrows. Bookie Graham attracted the business crowd, men and women that preferred a slightly off-color setting. In other words, this place seldom had a fight and generally, it was a good place to pick up a lady of similar desires. I wasn't there for that purpose--jilted does that to me. All I wanted was to drown my unhappiness. Suzie, my less than favorite barmaid apparently could see something was wrong. Usually, all I got from her were smart remarks designed solely to destroy my self-image and esteem.