Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
I looked at the three. Simmons stood with his hip against the side of the booth, arms folded, a small smile playing about his mouth.
“You want me to handle this, swabbie?” he chuckled.
“I got it,” I sighed. I looked at Weber, whose eyes swam glassily in his ruddy face, like two slimy peas in tomato soup.
“Not so fuckin’ smart now, are ya, fuck face?” he leered.
“Why’s that, son?” I replied mildly. “Because you got two other peckerheads to watch your back? What part of those two ass kickins' I gave you earlier did you not understand?”
“You used that trick gook shit,” Weber sneered. “If you had to fight like a man, I’d smash your ass into the dirt.”
“ ’Trick gook shit'?” I replied. “Son, I hit you in your diaphragm with my fist, just like any boxer, in any gym, in any town, in America. If I had used the ‘gook shit', as you call it, you’d be in the hospital in Spokane right now.”
“Shit,” one of his buddies spat, “You sucker punched him! Everybody ‘round here is smart enough to know you don’t mess with Aaron.”
“He told you I suckered him, huh?” I chuckled.
I sighed and then looked at each of them in turn.
“Boys,” I said quietly. “You’re about to make a big mistake now, all because junior here has some sort of problem with the truth. You have five seconds to walk away, or all three of you are going to the hospital tonight. So…what’s it gonna be?”
The one on the right laughed out loud.
“You really think you three old fuckers can take us?”
“No,” I sighed. I suddenly felt very tired and was seized with the curious feeling that I could actually feel my I.Q. dropping, “Not the three of us. I’m going to take all three of you by myself.”
A crowd had gathered and a low ripple passed through it.
“Bullshit,” Weber sneered. “We turn our backs and those two whack us with beer mugs.”
“We ain’t got a beer yet, kid,” Simmons said quietly, “We’re just gonna watch here."
He sat in the booth and scooted all the way to the wall. He put his hands under his butt and leaned back.
“Happy?” he grinned.
Weber, to his credit, looked a bit uneasy.
“Now,” I said softly. “I’m going to count to five. If you’re not gone by that time, I’m going to hurt all of you quite badly. I’m going to do it in less than 10 seconds, and then I might have you arrested to boot…one.”
One of two things will happen when you count into a fight. The really dumb ones will wait for five and then take a completely predictable swing or lunge like a drunken cow. The meaner ones will go early, usually on three.
Weber lunged on three.
I shot out three fingers into his neck and chopped the bridge of his nose with the other hand. As he screamed and fell, I kicked to the right and felt four or five of the kid’s ribs go at once. I pivoted and swung the same foot into the jaw of the third kid. I heard his teeth slam together, a sound like somebody dropping ball bearings into a tile shower.
I stood and looked around.
Weber was flat on his back, blood gushing from his nose and breathing only with great effort.
The kid on the right was struggling to sit up and screaming every time he tried. The last kid was on his hands and knees, spitting pieces of teeth into a pool of blood beneath him.
“Could you call the police?” I called out to the woman behind the bar.
She walked over slowly, smiling faintly and looking at the three sort of indifferently.
“Nah,” she laughed softly. “I called the ambulance but I don’t’ imagine them boys’ll tell the cops anything, anyways.”
She was a small, wiry woman with coal-black hair worn in a braid that ended in a clutch of beads tapping gently at her belt. She had brilliant green eyes and cheekbones you could set wine glasses on.
“”This been coming’ for a long, long time,” she smiled. “Them boys run my insurance premiums through the roof. Trust me, it hadn’t been you, it’d been somebody they could beat up.”
“I’ll pay for cleaning the bloodstains,” I smiled.
“Shoot, honey,” she laughed. “That’s just atmosphere.”
The ambulance guys did, indeed, not call the cops. The crew chief, in fact, bought us a round. We didn’t pay for anything the whole time we were there.
After about an hour, two county cops wandered in, talked with Doris, our charming proprietress, and three or four other patrons before finally making their way over to us.
“All three at once?” the deputy asked, rolling a toothpick across his lips.
“I warned them,” I replied.
“So I heard,” he yawned. “Well, them boys never been too big on listening.”
He looked at his watch.
“Course, nobody ever put em in the hospital before. Could be they’ll listen now.”
They turned and walked out.
I gave Simmons all I knew about Sam, which was colorful and plentiful considering the relatively short time we were together.
Simmons reciprocated by telling us what he knew about the resort. It wasn’t much. If there was an on-site loop to be in, it was pretty small and didn’t include any of the support functionaries like security, day labor, or trades.
"Allen," Jack interjected at one point, "the reason we're up here at all is because something is off about this project and we don't know what it is. The whole thing is being kept bottled up—presumably by P.P.V.—and that just makes no sense. The key to making this kind of resort work is publicity, sales, and marketing. I should have had my staff buying ads two months ago. But, I'm being held off."
"It's not some grand plan to stage a splashy coming-out party?" Allen offered.
"That's what they might have done in the 60's," Jack allowed, "before the stakes went up so astronomically. Nowadays, you want to make it at all, you better hope you're presold six months out. To open this thing and have it even 50% vacant… Hey, I'm a pretty rich guy, but it could easily break me, if I were the sole proprietor."
"Problem I have, here," Allen said quietly, "I can't take a man's money or a company's and be spyin' on 'em at the same time. I'll help with whatever I can, but…"
"Allen," Jack said patiently, "it's half my money. What's at the top of your paycheck? What name on the account?"
"Um, Mountain Empire Partners, Ltd.," Allen said, consulting a check stub from his pocket.
"Which is me, Clay Wright, and Anthony Pembroke," Jack smiled. "See?"
"Well," Simmons grinned, stretching out some kinks, "since you put it like that…"
We walked out to the cars. Simmons shook out his keys and extended his hand.
"Truly good to meet ya, Loot," I grinned.
"Same here," Simmons replied. He then looked at me seriously.
"That thing with Weber," he said quietly. "It ain't over. He's too mean and stupid to let it be. Too pitiful, too. That job and his rep were all he had."
Simmons spat thoughtfully and looked off into the fading sun.
"His daddy ran off when he was about 10 and his mama moved to Spokane when he turned 16. She left him their trailer and $500."
"He's just about as smart as a bucket of hair and has no identity except local bully. Oh, don't get me wrong. That kinda ass-whippin' was long overdue and everybody's thrilled you did it. But he won't let it be. He can't."
"I'll see what I can do," I sighed. "I'm not promising anything, though. I'm not one of these guys who believes in karmic balance. Sometimes, what happens, happens."
"'No other way to look at it," Simmons nodded. "Just watch your back."
The motel he suggested was two miles farther down the road. It turned out to be a tidy little compound of white clapboard cabins and a larger central house divided into an office and six rooms in a three-story layout that included some bathroom sharing - a situation I'll usually go to great lengths to avoid.
While scrupulously neat, it was practically deserted. A family was piling into one of the cottages as we pulled in but their's was the only car in the lot.
An emphatic "For Sale" sign was posted next to the office walk. It had a layer of dust and grimy rain streaks down the face; proof of how much luck the poor people were having trying to unload it.
As we walked in, a tall fellow about my age unfolded himself from a desk chair in front of a newish Dell computer. He was thin and a tad frayed around the edges but dressed neatly in faded jeans, a Pendleton shirt, and a canvas hunting vest. The vest was festooned with fishing lures and a collection of patches from states and national parks.
"Help you boys?" he smiled. "Sorry I can't rent you a room, though, but those construction guys down the road just called up and booked the whole place."
"Don't get booked up much, I imagine," Jack nodded, tossing me a significant glance.
"Shoot," the guy chuckled. "Try never. I've had this place four years now and this is the first time I've
"Guy who called," I nodded, "was his name Steptoe?"
He glanced down at a form on the desk.
"Yeah, D.L. Steptoe," the man smiled. "British, unless my ear fails me."
He shook his head and sighed.
"Y'know, I took early retirement from Microsoft. Made a few mil, socked a lot away. Couldn't wait to move over here, breathe fresh air, run some small, uncomplicated business. Bought this place for a song. Couldn't understand why the people would want to sell it. Well…I found out. All the tourists are on the other side of the river. Now, something's going in around here that might actually bring people and it's something that does me no good at all. Pisses me off to even take money from the silly so and so's but…"
"You really want to sell the place or you just want business to pick up?" Jack asked.
"Tell ya the truth," the guy sighed, running his fingers through his hair, "I loved this for the first two years. But the money hassles, the taxes, the paperwork… I love running it, hate owning it."
Jack took out his cell phone and started working the screen.
"I'll buy it," Jack muttered.
"Huh?" I blurted.
"What?" the man asked, his hand frozen at the bridge of his glasses.
"I said I'll buy the place," Jack said clearly. "Cash, no negotiations, $85,000 firm."
"I'm…I'm only asking $62,500," the guy stammered.
"So is that yes or no?" Jack asked. He held up his hand."David? Jack. I'm up here in Washington and I'm buying a motel. That's right, a motel. It's about five miles from the job site, so we can house the set-up crew…Right. I'm going to let you talk with…"
He looked at the fellow behind the counter.
"What's your name, sir?"
"Umm…Dale Posten," the fellow replied. He moved a bit toward me and lowered his voice. "Look, is this guy for real?"
"He's the silly so-and-so from down the road," I chuckled. "I think he probably does stuff like this all the time."
"He owns that new construction up there?" the guy whistled.