I might have been under considerable duress, but the trip in the five-hundred and-twenty horsepower German sports sedan was one helluva ride.
Even if it might have been my last one in this life.
We were in the same car that almost crashed into the Grand National on the freeway nearly three days ago. As we drove in thickened silence, I took note of the details of its interior. The smart-looking natural leather seats, indeed, felt plush and very comfortable, while at the same time deepening the suspense of the trio's intentions for me. Its sunken, dark matte luster would have been the perfect setting for a movie of my demise, if one were ever to be made.
I watched Pointe's nameless henchman drive the muscled Audi S8 with a finesse that might have come easy after a few thousand miles on the streets of San Diego. All throughout the apprehensive trip to Gunn's house, he'd play every now and then with a variety of shiny technical gadgets on the stylish instrument panel and the wide center console engulfed between the two front seats. They kept him amused at each traffic light at which we stopped. The car's interior was immaculately trimmed with brushed aluminum and walnut tree panels which shined like pieces of lustrous furniture, and buffed to rival the sparkle of the brightest stars in the night sky.
Clues were everywhere. I noticed how Veronique Merchant's tattoo extended around to the back of her neck. The etching sneaked at me from underneath the sway of her jet-black hair. Her head moved about with a stiffened nervousness, giving the first indication that something may have been incongruous between her and Pointe. I tried to feel out their moods and silent interactions as the car traveled via all-wheel drive over the cracks and crevices of San Diego's streets. The reflection on the small talk we had that night on the plaza of Club Waterz summed up Veronique Merchant to the letter. If she had been lying about all of the things she had told me, she was pretty damn good at it. There was something funky going on between her and Ricardo Pointe. It might have been a stretch to speculate about their private lives, even purely irrelevant. After all, it was none of my damn business if Jill was fucking Jack or whomever. But the strange communication between them signaled a grander plan at play with a few wrinkles that hadn't been ironed out.
And as usual, Forrest Greenley had a habit of getting in the way of these types of criminal designs.
Pointe sat in back with me, giving a glance every fifteen to twenty seconds with that silly grin of his. Maybe he was able to read my mind, feeling that he needed to keep his eye on me. Sure enough, I was thinking and planning all along about what I was going to do next during the mysterious drive. The eye of his Glock pistol was watching me likewise, positioned low and pointed within the canyon of deep leather between us.
It had to be close to ten o'clock when the aggressive-looking European saloon pulled up at the front gate of Gunn's castle. I had no idea if the ex-Marine was inside his house.
...Was he in for a big surprise when he saw what I would bring with me this time.
This was not, I thought, what I had in mind when he hired me.
Before we got out of the car, Pointe poked me hard in ribs with his pistol. His sudden display of aggression didn't surprise me by now, with that smirk stretched across his face showing how much he liked doing shit like that. Some people were just purely evil, and did evil things just for fun of it. I'd seen enough faces like his during a lifetime, becoming very familiar with how much their terror helped churn a world that supported wickedness over good.
“Okay. Greenley,” he said after a prolonged stare. “Here's what I need you to do. No. What you're going to do. We're going to walk up to the front door. Together. Just the three of us. Just like two guys and a gal who are here for a nice little late-night visit.”
“Okay, ” I nodded with calculated compliance.
Just as cool and calm as Denzel would.
“That's what I'm talking about. Teamwork!” He snickered with a crooked rasp. “It's all about teamwork! It's so fucking uncomplicated. As a matter of fact, it's simple. You and your friend give us what we want?...And bada-bing, bada-boom! It's over. You get it? I get what I want. You get what you want. Everyone goes on with their lives. We're all happy people. Whacha you think?”
“I got no problem with that.”
“You damn right you don't,” he sneered with cocksure arrogance. “No funny business here, my friend. One false move and you can surely expect to get the business end of this.”
To add effect, he pushed the Austrian-made pistol deeper into my side this time, to the point that it really hurt.
“What?!” she snapped impatiently.
“You're coming with me.”
“...For Christ's sake,” she said underneath her breath. “You already told me that. Even before we got here.”
“I'm going to need you to download those files from the computer, sweetheart.”
The tattooed femme fatale's responded with a hissing sigh through her teeth.
“Did you bring a USB drive like I told you, sweetheart?”
“Yes, dammit,” she yelled, swiftly turning to face Pointe with an agitated look. “Yes I did!!! For the third time already! How many fucking times do you have to ask me?”
“Calm down, sweetheart. Okay? I'm just making sure that we get things done the right way here.”
“And I'd really appreciate if you'd stop calling me your fucking sweetheart!”
Her anger was punctuated with a rigid finger aimed at him.
“After all, I am your fucking manager. I run the fucking club. I sign your fucking checks. And I promise you, when this is over, we are through, Ricardo. You hear me? I am absolutely sick and tired of your fucking bullshit! I can't take this shit anymore! God! I don't know what provoked me to go along with you in the first place. But after this is done, you won't have me to do your dirty work anymore.”
“Don't take it so personal, Veronique.”
“I know I would,” I chimed in, hoping to further a moment of contention between them. Just to break their thievish morale.
“Fuck you,” Pointe said calmly.
“Especially if I was disrespected like that?”
“You keep your fucking mouth shut, Greenley,” Pointe grunted, almost plunging the handgun through the other side of me now. “No one asked for your fucking opinion. You just do what the fuck I tell you to do. Or you'll wind up dead sooner than you think. You got that?”
“Like I said, I got no problem with that.”
When Gunn opened one of the doors of the double-ported entrance, I could have wrote a book about the expressions on his face.
In between speechlessness and a million unanswered questions he might have had, his only response was the look of unexpected disappointment. His wide brown eyes traced Pointe's bent arm down to the side of my blood-stained summer suit. Immediately, I fought hard to ward off a recollection of the The Little Rascals. I used to watch the video shorts when I was young. Stymie, the little clever-minded character with the big bowler's hat, would always wiggle his ears whenever he got excited about something. A burst of laughter was erupting inside of me so badly as a result of the comparative look that was now on Roland Gunn's face.
“...Yeah man,” I let out tiredly.
“I don't want to kill your friend here,” Pointe interrupted rudely as usual. “We need to have a little talk. Inside.”
“Please,” I asked with impatience and half a giggle. “ Just let's us in, Roland. I'll...I'll explain what's goin' on when we get inside.”
With two strange people and a side of me he wasn't anticipating, Gunn quickly understood that I was beyond any means to explain what was going on. For a flashing moment, I wondered if Veronique Merchant had a gun on her, kicking myself in the ass for forgetting about the ease at which some women could hide their weapons.
Roland, obviously dumbfounded, went mute and chose wisely to use body language to express his relent as I led the two strangers into the hallway of his home.
But the sudden shuffles and barks that came from the charging Bella threw everyone off.
Except for me.
I immediately took the opportunity to swing a swift, concentrated blow to Pointe's ribs with my elbow, grabbing his firing arm by the wrist while twisting with such brutal torque that he flipped and fell to the stained wood floor. I was so overly aggressive that we both crashed and tumbled, spilling from the foyer into the living room like human tumbleweeds, knocking over an ebony end table and a ceramic lamp that sounded like an explosive near my head.
Roland grab Pointe's gun, while Veronique Merchant stood stifled in the same spot as when she entered.
But that wasn't the end of it.
I guess Bella actually like me after all. The security chief hollered loudly over a mixture of busy growls and tearing of fabric and flesh as the mastiff went to work on his leg, sensing his bad intentions on her turf. The whole commotion might have looked indeed sorrowful, considering the size of Pointe's bulging eyes. But I guess he had violated the wrong house with the wrong dog at the wrong time.
“A-A-A-H-H-H!!! Fucking dog!!!” he screamed again. “Get this fucking mutt off of me!!!”
He kicked at the large canine's slimy mask, pissing her off even more as she ripped and tore at his leg with more aggression.
Roland shouted forcibly.
The large dog instantly released Pointe's leg, even as he kicked at her again angrily. Roland patted the agitated Bella to calm her.
“Good girl!...It's okay.”
“What the fuck is this?!” Pointe demanded, first from Roland then me, almost crying now as he inspected his injured left leg. “I'm going to kill that fucking mutt first chance I get!”
“Man, if you hurt my dog...I will definitely shoot you.”
Roland Gunn continued standing over us, aiming Pointe's Glock pistol at his head with a two-handed combat grip that showed he meant the business. I stood up and started to recover before I noticed her in the corner of my eye, backing away from the finished skirmish and easing toward the front door.
But Veronique Merchant wasn't fast enough this time. I grabbed both arms and carried her back into the living room as she kicked and screamed.
“You let me go! You fucking let me go!!!”
I manhandled her, and rolled her onto the sofa over my hip.
“Have a seat...Gia!”
A slight look of familiarity brushed across her face.
“Yeah, that's right. Gia. I know all about your little aliases and visits to the college.”
“Who are these people, Forrest?” Roland asked.
“A couple of crooks. That's what I call 'em.”
But I hadn't forgotten about Pointe's chauffeur. And I was ready for him too, when he felt froggy enough. I took a deep breath of fresh air, clasped my hands and rubbed them briskly.
“NOW!...Let's get down to brass tax here! Shall we? First things first. What I want to know is, just what in the hell is going on with you two?”
It wasn't long before the club manager began playing the vulnerable victim role, crying out suddenly and pointing vindictively at the defeated Ricardo Pointe.
“I had nothing to do with this! This was all his idea!”
“Bullshit,” I brushed off. “If that was the case, then what the fuck are you doing with here now?”
“He made me do it!”
“Look,” Pointe said with an agonizing frown, still under Gunn's guard and Bella's watchful eyes. “We can still make this thing work out. If you want.”
“Now's my turn,” I pointed at him. “You shut the fuck up. And don't say a damn thing until I ask you to.”
“Alright. Fine,” the security chief insisted with a childlike tantrum. “Then at least, let's make a deal. You just give us what we want and we'll leave. As if none of this ever happened.”
“Man,” I smiled before shaking my head in disbelief. “You really are the asshole she said you were, huh?”
I walked over to him, rested on my haunches, and looked him straight in the eyes.
“Okay, Pointe. You wanna play games? Okay, let's play a little game. Shit, I'll even make a deal with you. But,” I raised a hand. “We're gonna play by my rules. I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Every time you give me the right answer, we'll close in on making a deal. Every time you give me the wrong answer, I got a little surprise for you. Okay?”
I got no answer from him.
That's when the bad side of Forrest Greenley entered the room.
“You got any children, Pointe?”
Still, no answer.
So I swung a right hook that knocked and rolled him backwards.
“What the fuck's wrong with you, you black son of a bitch?!”
Bella worked up her growling again.
“Bella!” Roland uttered. “Nice girl...nice girl.”
I stood up, walked slowly toward him and landed on my haunches, front and center again.
“...Okay. Let's do this again. I'll ask the question. And, I want an answer. Do you understand?”
Pointe looked at me as if I'd gone crazy.
Still no answer.
So I licked him with a left fist this time, making the thief tumble to the right.
He stood up and tried to challenge me, turning red in the face with anger and humiliation.
“Fuck's wrong with you, man? You go a fucking problem?”
I didn't flinch, remaining calm. I would need the energy later.
“Now. You can sit back down. And answer my question.”
Pointe stared at me and started breathing heavy.
The security chief slowly sat back on the floor.
“I asked you, do...you...have...any...children?”
“Yes,” he mumbled.
“Two. I have two girls.”
I looked around and gave another crazy smile, first to Roland and then Veronique.
“You have got to be kiddin' me? And they're females too? How old are they, Pointe?”
“What the fuck is this?” he asked with opened arms.
I swung another right at him, but he blocked this one. So I stood up, stretched my legs and lowered to a bend again.
“What the fuck you want from me, man?” he asked, his voice squealing now.
“I want a fuckin' answer to my question. You wanna make a deal?...Okay goddammit, let's make a deal. The deal is, you response to my fuckin' questions. I make the rules now. You play the fuckin' game like I want you to. So, lemme ask you again. How...old...are...your...two...girls?”
“One is twelve, the other sixteen.”
“...A twelve year-old and a sixteen year-old. Do they look nice? You know?”
“I...I don't understand,” He wavered his lips.
“You know...are they kind of shapely? Got a nice little ass on 'em.”
I could see the fury growing in his eyes, but I kept it up, hoping he'd get more angry.
So angry that he'd try something.
But I wanted him to try something.
“I love my daughters.”
“Sure you do.”
“...I'd appreciate if you didn't talk about them like that.”
“So, you love your daughters. Okay. I get that. Now, lemme ask you another question. Has anyone ever harmed them?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Anybody ever taken them from you?”
“Look, what has this―”
Bella rumbled again, as her detestation for Pointe stirred more. I heard the canine's massive paws pacing nervously back and forth in the hallway. I could tell she wanted more of him.
“Has anyone ever taken your daughters from you?”
“So let's say someone did. Do you think you would like that?”
“...'Definitely not', I mimicked. I gestured at the armed Roland with another crazy smile. “So, how in the hell do you think this man feels about his daughter?”
Pointe looked up at him for a second. Still, there was no shame in his eyes.
“What makes you assume I have anything to do with his daughter? I don't know him.”
“Knowin' him aint' got shit to do with it. But then again, you may not want to know this brother. Ex-Marine. Daughter's missing. And he's really pissed about that, too. And then I had the nerve to bring two miscreants. Inside of his house? Lemme tell you, Pointe. Shit's getting' deep. You better start talkin'.”
The embattled security chief took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled, quickly realizing that the hole he had dug was only getting deeper now.
“Where is she?”
“I don't know.”
I wanted to knock him across the room again. But the Great Spirit held me back.
“I'm going to ask you again. Where is she?”
“I don't know, I tell you. Ask her,” he motioned at his cohort. I looked over to Veronique Merchant. She sat wide-eyed on the sofa and very lost in this event.
“So, you're gonna let your partner rat you out. Well, I'll make sure she does that. And why this man hasn't blown your brains out yet is still a mystery to me. Hell, even the dog doesn't like your sorry ass.”
A sharp bark from Bella only confirmed the last comment.
“...So. I'm gonna ask you one last time. Where is she?”
“I've told you already! I don't fucking know!” he shouted. “I had her picked up by two of my guys at her apartment. I told them to take her wherever Veronique wanted to keep her until we found the computer.”
“...Even though I think you're lying to me?...No, I know you're lying to me. That's okay. We're gonna figure this shit out tonight.”
I took a minute before standing up. When I was finished with him, Pointe looked away, unable to withstand any more of my temporary insanity.
But I wasn't really insane.
I doubted if he would really want to see that side of me.
Book Excerpt From "The Black Kabuki"
Copyright 2014 Forrest Greenley Mysteries.
All rights reserved.