I had no intentions of looking for anything in particular in the classified ads when the particular ended up finding me:
Specialty hardware tools and equipment for sale. Big and small. Call for an appointment.
Beneath was listed an 860 number and an address in Hartford’s South End. Its been eight years but the classified was the same now as it was then. A front for a low life drug dealer named Packard, publishing his heroine deals in the newspaper for all of his junkie clientele to pick up a new shipment that had just arrived. I knew how the scam went by heart because eight years ago Packard hired me as security for one of his drug runs and then skipped town on me along with the twenty-five grand he promised. Maybe he thought after eight years I had finally been locked up or moved out to greener pastures. Or maybe he was just still as stupid as he had always been.
My old man used to say to let sleeping dogs lie. At least that’s what he’d say when he was too hungover to play catch with his son. Fuck him and his sleeping dogs. If Packard was back in town, maybe I should go play catch with him.
I knew the street in the South End well enough and waited until night before hunting down the street number from the classified. It was a rundown three story house where the top two stories were ready to crumble into a single flight house. I peeked my head into the dark window. There was meager furniture and a table in the middle of the room covered in old junk mail. Moving to the back door I tucked my fist into my jacket to punch out a small window panel in the door. I reached in and turned the lock and opened the door then took two steps inside. Then I felt two quick jabs to my face and followed by a vicious uppercut that made the dark house completely black out and left me unconscious on the floor.
“Wakey-wakey you piece of shit,” I finally heard someone say as a bucket of water was tossed over my head to rip me back into the world of the living. I coughed up some blood trying to catch my breath. My hands were tied together behind me and my ankles roped to a chair so uncomfortable you would have expected to find it in a church. “You’re life is about to get a whole lot worse,” the voice taunted me again, “I wouldn’t want you to miss the final moments of it.”
My vision started to come back in small pieces, even though my head was still feeling as if it had a crack the size of the Grand Canyon running through it. Whatever room I was in was dimly lit and there were three figures I could make out dancing around me with what I could only imagine was blissful glee of violent aspirations.
“You messed up big time,” a second voice joined in the taunts. “The big man wanted to make sure we went really slow and painful with you.”
I started to form questions in my head but the blur that was running over my thoughts kept them from making any sense.
“What, you ain’t got anything to say for yourself?” the taunts again.
“Go fuck yourself, how’s that?”
Another bucket of water was poured over my head before a baseball bat was jammed nub first right into my stomach. Joke was on them. I still didn’t have any breath for that move to steal.
“Tisk tisk… a mouth like that might get Mikey here to start swingin’ for the fences instead of just looking to get on base.”
“If Mikey’s here instead of in the show he probably has a shit swing to start with,” I fired back.
“Let’s find out. Oh Mikey, let our boy here see you take a few cuts.”
I could see the third of the figures step closer to me. He put the bat down by his feet and spit on his hands to get a better grip. “With pleasure,” Mikey added and wound up.
“Hold it!” a fourth voice chimed in from somewhere else in the house. I could hear heavy footsteps come into the room. Mikey turned to the newcomer with disappointment from being held back from his fun.
“What is it? I was just about to lay into this guy.”
“And that’s why I said hold it,” the fourth man said. “This ain’t the guy.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m telling you this ain’t the guy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Then who is he?”
The fourth man stepped to my chair and pulled out a knife to cut my bonds loose. When I started to fall forward he caught me and lowered me to the ground, leaving me there face first. “His name is Thorne.”
“Thorne? How do you know that?”
The fourth man took out his phone with a photo on it and showed it to the rest of the crew. “This is one tough son of a bitch. I fought him in the Golden Gloves back in ’06. Only guy who took me to the judges.”
“You sure? Looked like he went down pretty easy when you socked him earlier.”
Still face first on the ground I started to get feeling back into my arms as blood freely flowed through my extremities again. “How about I sucker punch you and we’ll find out how long you’ll be standing.” I was never one to know when to keep my mouth shut.
Mikey took a step back and delivered a kick right into my gut. “Shut up!”
“Back off!” the fourth man’s stern voice took over the room. “God damn it Thorne, what have you gotten yourself into? Last I heard you were posing as a Shylock for some outfit in Waterbury.”
“Market changed, got myself into the big city a while back.” I finally felt myself strong enough to turn over and got into a sitting position on the floor. “Couldn’t knock me out in ’06? God damn it, that must be Dynamite Anderson standing over me. I haven’t felt that uppercut combo in years. You still got it.”
“And you’re still a tough ass prick with a running mouth. Never met a southpaw I liked to tangle with.” Anderson handed me an ice pack and then chased his other three boys out of the room before returning to me still on the floor.
“What the hell is this all about?” I asked.
“I should be asking you the same thing.”
“I’m not the one throwing sucker punches and letting his boys beat someone with a baseball bat.”
“If it helps any those ain’t my boys. Coworkers is more like it.”
“Out of work Triple-A’ers?”
“They’re from Providence, not Pawtucket if you catch my drift.”
“What the hell are they doing in the South End? Besides, I got no beef with Providence.”
“You know a man named Packard?”
“Packard? That scum bag? I’m looking for him myself. Heard he was back in town and decided to check out his place before I caught a combo to the chin.”
“What do you want with Packard?”
“The twenty-five grand he ran out on me with a number of years ago, plus interest and inflation. What does Providence want with him?”
“For his brains and skull to be in liquid form and in different locations.”
“Hence the batting practice?”
“Hence the batting practice.”
“I knew he was stupid but what did he do to get some Providence boys to pay him a visit.”
“The big man sent his son to Trinity to get an education. Hartford’s an open city so figured he’d be safe enough here. Only it turns out he’s a stuck up rich brat who loves fast cars and heroine fueled parties. Its the latest rage of a generation.”
“So that’s where Packard comes in?”
“Sold the big man’s son some of that tainted supply that was going around killing people, Trinity students included. Big man gave us orders to find this Packard guy.”
“Then what the hell is all this beatin’ on me? I ain’t him. I don’t even look like him.”
“Yeah, well that’s the problem. We don’t exactly know what the guy looks like. Got info on his stash house and waited for him to come home. The back door opens and we jump whoever walked in the door. I think you know the rest and that brings us up to now.”
“I’d rather not like to think of the rest that brought us up to now.” I coughed again and felt some blood mix with the mucus that I then spit out. “How many poor saps have you beaten the crap out of thinking it’s Packard?”
“Just you.” Anderson laughed. “You said you worked for him so you must know what he looks like. Let me call the big man and have you on the payroll, help us find him and then we’ll be out of your hair back in Little Rhody.”
“Thanks but no thanks,” I cautiously stood up on shaky legs. “I ain’t interested in the murder racket, no matter who’s son his botched supply killed. I’m only in it for the money he owes me which I take it will come secondary to the big man’s wishes and that won’t work for me. Its hard to collect from dead men.” I tossed him back the ice pack and headed towards a door “Best of luck finding your man. I’ll just have to find him first, then you can do what you want with him.”
I spent the rest of the next day in bed trying to recover from my wounds with ice packs and a bottle of White Label. I’d taken worse beatings in the ring but that didn’t make the day after any less painful. Plus if Anderson was right and they didn’t even know what Packard looked like, giving Providence a day’s head start wasn’t going to cost me any. By nine that night I felt good enough to walk and noticed it was dark enough to make another appearance at the house in the South End. The back door was still missing glass as if someone had punched through it and made it easy to slip back inside. No sucker punch this time, the place was empty.
I kept the lights off but made as thorough a search as possible. By the looks of it Packard had skipped town. No signs of heroine or any kind of paraphernalia to go with it in the place. The closet in the bed room was pretty empty as if the target had taken a sudden vacation. The junk mail on the table was all addressed to a Mr. Packard, but the latest postage stamp from them all was marked no earlier than three days ago. The only thing out of place on the pile was a dirty white coaster with black lettering that read “Angelo’s” in bold font. On the back was a hand written note in blue pen that said “Elizabeth 2:30,” with Wednesday’s date on it. Today was only Tuesday.
I pocketed the coaster and give the place one last look over before giving up on it entirely.
Angelo’s was one of the scummiest bars you can imagine in the scummiest sections of the South End. Although it did give me a small glimmer of hope realizing how close to Trinity it was located. A short drive over there found the place nearly deserted with only a P.O.S. Oldsmobile and an early 2000’s Camaro with Jersey plates out front in the parking lot. I pulled up into the lot and walked in, sucker punched again but this time by the stink of stale cigarettes and wasted lives. An old barfly was passed out at the far end of the bar. I sat down at the near end instead. The bartender gave me a scummy look.
“Godfather on the rocks,” I said trying to at least bring some kind of class to a place so classless.
The bartender poured the weakest Scotch in the house to a glass that was mostly ice and dropped it in front of me on top of a dirty white coaster. “Five bucks.”
I took out a twenty and left it on the bar top. “I’m looking for someone,” I said.
“I ain’t heard of him,” the bartender shot back.
“You don’t even know who I’m asking for.”
“Doesn’t matter, I ain’t heard of him.”
“Don’t know no Packard.”
I slapped a Franklin on top of Jackson. “Packard,” I replied again.
Still no answer.
I slapped down another Franklin. In my head I put it on Packard’s expense on top of what he owed me.
This time the bartender looked at the paper considering for a moment, then slipped all the bills into his pocket. “Sad news for you, Packard’s dead.”
“That’s a little convenient.”
“Look pal, I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”
“How about how he died.”
“They pulled his body out of the river three days ago. Made the front page of the Courant and everything. Body was all kinds of bloated but they could still see all sorts of holes in his arms from where he was shooting up. My guess is he used some of his own stash, some of that bad stuff that’s been going around killin’ people. His pals panicked having a dead man on their hands and tossed him into the river.”
“How’d you know it was him? I didn’t see his name in the paper at all.”
“I had to ID the body myself,” the bartender scoffed. “Turns out the asshole put the bar down as his address on the license they found on his corpse.”
That all seemed nice and convenient. I gave a defeated look and raised my glass. “To Mr. Packard then. A fond farewell,” and took a large swig of my drink. After a few more moments of awkward silence I spoke up again. “Hey, whose Camaro is that outside?”
“Why do you want to know?” the bartender shot back.
“It’s a sweet ride. What is that, a Z28? 35th anniversary edition if my eyes don’t deceive me.”
“You know your muscle cars. She’s a beauty isn’t she?”
“I’ve been looking into getting something like that myself.”
“What are you looking for? You a Mustang kind of guy?”
“Mustang?” I laughed. “The muscle car every chick wants to drive? Hell no. I’m a GM guy.”
The bartender finally cracked a smile. “Good answer.”
“Where’d you pick up something like that? The dealers here in Connecticut are all so badly over priced. I’ll take anything on the east coast with a good deal.”
The bartender poured himself a beer and took a sip. “My cousin in Jersey runs a shop. He’s got all kind of cars but loves his Corvettes. He might have a couple of Camaros if that’s what you’ve got yourself set on.”
“That’d be great,” I said. “I don’t know if I’ve got the cash for a Z28 but would kill for something with the T-top.”
The bartender picked up one of the unused dirty white coasters and wrote in blue pen on the back side of it “Matawan Motors. 732-555-0475.” I downed the rest of the Godfather and picked up the coaster. “Thanks man,” I said and walked out of the bar.
When I got back to the parking lot Anderson was sitting on the hood of my Blazer. “Looking for Elizabeth?” I should have known he would be following me.
“She’s heading for a night of getting stood up. Packard’s dead.”
“That’s convenient,” Anderson said.
“Its very convenient. They apparently pulled his body from the river two days ago. Check the papers if you don’t believe me.”
Anderson took a drag on his cigarette and let the smoke out. “That’s rather inconvenient for you though. I talked to the big man. He said he would offer a ten-grand reward to help point out Packard alive. Finder’s fee he called it.”
“Sounds like a deal, but I’ve got a big man to answer to myself and I don’t think he’d be too happy to hear I was running around with some Providence boys on my off days.”
“Well that’s a shame,” Anderson took one last puff on the cigarette before tossing it away. He jumped off the hood and started to walk away. “Offer’s still on the table if you change your mind.”
I waited for him to be far enough away before getting into the Blazer and pulling out the coaster with Elizabeth on it and compared the writing to the one the bartender had given me. The hand written numbers 2, 3, and 0 were a perfect match.
The next day I woke up at the crack of noon and decided to go for a little drive. Taking a turn onto Farmington I looked to see the cars that were in the rearview mirror. Two minivans, a beige Mercury, a red Honda Civic and two Chevy Equinoxes, one in black and one in white were all that was trailing me. At the intersection with Prospect Avenue I took a left losing one of the minivans and both of the Equinoxes. I rolled through a few more traffic lights I hit on the bright idea to pull into the Wendy’s and roll up to the drive through. My stomach started to rumble so I decided to kill two birds with one stone in the form of a trio of Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers. After paying at the window and taking my bag all that was left of the trailing candidates was the Mercury patiently awaiting for me to get back onto Prospect from the bar next door. I couldn’t tell if Anderson was behind the wheel or not, but it was good to know these Providence boys weren’t very good at stealth when trying to follow someone.
I decided against leading them on a merry chase and headed back home. Knowing that someone is following you can be a powerful weapon if they don’t know you’ve made the chasers. I pounded through my spoils of bacon cheeseburgers and finished off the bottle of White Label while applying a new ice pack to my face. Every once in a while I’d give a courtesy look outside but never saw anything beige or resembling a Mercury. Still, I figured they were out there someone. And since they didn’t follow me through Wendy’s they were probably hungry.
It wasn’t until midnight that I started to stir again. I checked my Colt and loaded it just in case, hiding it in my coat pocket. I tossed the icepack that was now just melted water into the sink and popped a couple of Advil’s for the road. It was show time.
I pulled my Blazer on to the road and could feel by instinct that there was a beige Mercury somewhere behind me. I headed north and west through the city at a slow pace making sure the headlights behind me stayed in view until I saw the road side: Elizabeth Park. I cut down Albany Ave and into the park deserted at the late time of night. The winding road through the pond towards the rose garden allowed me to duck behind a turn and shut the lights and engine off while finding a safe refuge behind some over grown trees. Seconds later a pair of head lights crept passed me and I could see a Rhode Island plate in the red tail lights cruise on by. I still waited a couple of minutes to be sure they wouldn’t double back before I turned the key to my Blazer and banged a youey back out to Albany Ave. The coaster would have them looking all over Elizabeth Park for me and Packard. I headed east towards the river.
The clock in the car said two when I took the exit off the highway to Airport Road. A few quick turns and I shut the lights off on my car again pulling into the Charter Oak Boat Launch. A short walk away was a small green strip of land where during the day those with money can take their crafts onto the river for a day of fun in the sun. But at night there was no sun for another few hours leaving the place as empty as I expected it. I grabbed hold of my Colt and moved over the open hill on the moonless night. As I topped the ridge I could see from the reflected lights of East Hartford across the river a lone figure at the water’s edge with his back to me. Despite being able to take a solid punch what also made me a good fighter was being light on my feet. This proved valuable in sneaking up on the lone man. It wasn’t until I was fifteen feet behind him that he finally turned. By then I already had my Colt pointed at him. He knew he couldn’t move.
“You god damned son of a bitch,” I said.
“Holy shit!” the figure said in disbelief. “Thorne? Is that you?”
“Who the hell do you think it is?”
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“I want the money you ran off on me with.”
“You’re still pissed about that?”
“Twenty-five grand is a hell of a lot to be pissed about. I’m adding some expenses on top of that I’ve had to incur to find you.”
“So what are you going to do, shoot me here if I don’t get your money?” Packard said.
“You hired me for security years ago, you were looking for some muscle to protect you. Someone bigger than you who could beat the crap out of you.”
“Well shit,” he laughed. “That’s what this is all about? You ain’t here to kill me are you?”
“Kill you? Hell no. How am I supposed to get twenty-five grand from a dead man?”
“I don’t have that kind of cash on me.”
“What kind of cash do you have on you then for the deal you’re supposed to be making any moment now?”
“How do you know about that?” Packard asked.
“If you’re stupid enough to put your advertisements in the classified sections again I figured you’re stupid enough to go back to your old drop off point as well. Let me guess, the boat comes up the river at 2:30 with a new shipment from your contacts in Elizabeth, New Jersey.”
“Purest heroine in America comes through there.”
“Then what the hell are you doing peddling stuff cut up with poison that’s killing people as soon as they use it?”
Packard shrugged. “It’s just business man.”
“That business has a price on your head. You dealt some of that to the kid of a big shot from Providence.”
“That stuck up Trinity brat,” Packard cursed.
“There’s a ten-grand price on your head.”
“You don’t think I know that?”
“So you tried killing yourself to throw Providence off your scent? That was so obvious it only brought more questions on to you. You really are that stupid.”
“What would you have me do?”
“Who’s the body?”
I didn’t get an answer.
“My guess is some other junkie you had take your tainted stuff. Killed him off good, then you dropped your wallet in his pocket and tossed him in the river. Had the holes in his arms and few days in the Connecticut would have bloated him up nice and good so no one could properly identify him. At least that’s the case until your buddy Angelo pops up and says that’s you. HPD have enough heroine junkies killing themselves, they wouldn’t give a shit to check up on whether Angelo was telling the truth or not. Case closed, no murder they have to open a file on. So in the official records you’re dead, but yet here you are still waiting for Angelo’s crew from Elizabeth to show up.”
Packard kept quiet for a couple of seconds giving away that I had hit the nail right on the head. Finally he spoke. “If it wasn’t for this shipment I’d be way the hell out of here. You here to collect on my head?”
“Do the math,” I insulted him. “Twenty-five grand is bigger than the ten they were offering. I just want whats owed, however I’ve been in touch with the boys from Providence so if you don’t pay up its a simple call to let them know it turns out you ain’t dead.”
“You brought Providence with you?”
“Hell no. They think you’re meeting up at Elizabeth Park so I ditched them in the rose gardens. Still, I’ll say a bold damn move from you to be sticking around if you know there’s a green light on you.”
“You think I like sticking my neck out like this? Problem is I already paid up to the boys in Elizabeth the fifty grand the day before that Trinity kid shot himself up. I need this shipment man. When it gets here you take half. That’s what you say you’re owed right? Then I disappear with the rest and you’ll never hear of me ever again.”
“What am I going to do with twenty-five grand worth of heroine? I’m not some junkie dealer. I want my cut in cash, and then I’ll forget you ever showed your face in the city again.” I raised my Colt closer to his face to show that I meant business.
“Well we’re back to where I say I ain’t got that kind of cash. I gave it all to Angelo for what’s coming here any moment.” He took a step forward and leaned his face closer to the barrel of my Colt. “So whatcha gonna do? Shoot me or let me get my stuff?”
I hesitated for a moment to think over my options. Then two bullets smashed themselves right through Packard’s temple. He fell over backwards in a bloody mess. My finger had stayed off the trigger.
A dark figure came over the hill and walked towards me exactly where I had come from to surprise Packard. He carried a professional looking rifle with him, scope and all. It wasn’t until he lit a cigarette that I caught a glimpse of his face. Last time I saw him he was stabbing a baseball bat into my gut. Now he held the rifle at his side as he approached. “If anyone asks we tortured him first before blowing his brains out.”
Those boys from Providence weren’t as stupid as I had made them out to be. They were so clumsy in following me that I never gave a thought towards them pinning two tails on me. The Mercury was probably still doing circles at Elizabeth park. Mikey had never lost me and stiffed me out of twenty-five grand. He looked over Packard’s dead body and fired one more shot into his head out of spite more than anything else. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope handing it to me. “Finder’s fee,” he said before taking a puff from his cigarette. “The big man insisted and says no hard feelings.”
I cursed under my breath before taking the envelope. Inside was a large wad of one-hundred and five-hundred dollar bills. Since Mikey hadn’t shot me when he had the chance I took it on faith the envelope added up to ten grand.
“What should we do with the body?” Mikey asked.
“They already pulled him out of the river once,” I said. “Might as well put him back in there.”