Just plain stupid.
One minute, I'm standing at a urinal taking care of business, the next I'm on the floor hands taped behind my back with duct tape. My head throbbed from where the jerk hit me and my shoulders were sore from him roughly lifting me to my feet.
I didn't get a good look at the guy, but my glance revealed a brutish fellow with a bald head, reminding me of a bowling ball.
We walked down the hall. It was always abandoned unless a customer came in — we had the fifth floor to ourselves. He pushed me roughly through the door of our front office and into my employer's office.
Barnacle didn't even blink when the guy shoved me into a black, hard leather couch and strode across the rich maroon Oriental rug and took a seat facing the desk. He pulled his gun and pointed it straight at my boss' head.
On the other side, Barnacle casually clicked his mouse twice, closing whatever web site he'd been perusing. He slowly took a swallow from the ice-filled glass of coke on his desk. Finally, he turned his chair, pushed up the sleeves on his black sweater, and faced the man with the gun.
“You Barnacle?” the man with the gun asked.
Barnacle nodded at the man and flashed me a look. I knew it well and it said “keep still.” I stopped trying to struggle to a sitting position, which was proving quite difficult with my hands taped behind my back.
“What can I do for you,” Barnacle asked.
“Two things,” the man with the gun said. “First, keep those fucking hands where I can see them.”
Barnacle lay his hands, callused and misshapen from years of hard use, and said, “What else?”
“You can die.”
You know, I just had to admire a man who's cool under pressure. Barnacle sat there, gun not two feet from his face and smiled.
I didn't know a whole lot about the man. We'd met three years earlier in Haiti . I was, shall we say, in the service of her majesty, and Barnacle was doing whatever he did. We helped each other when we found ourselves in the same jam, and decided to go into business together, helping those who could afford it.
I knew little of his personal life. So far as I knew, there was no family. When I arrived at eight in the morning, he was already in the office, sipping his coke and surfing the web. He was doing the same thing when I'd leave at five, deviating only if we had a job to do.
He was good with his hands and could shoot well enough. But his range of knowledge was stunning. I guess it pays to surf the web.
“So, why am I going to die?” Barnacle asked.
“Hell if I know,” the man with the gun said. “Kill someone you shouldn't have? Saw too much? Fuck the wrong bitch? Doesn't matter to me.”
Barnacle shrugged his shoulders. “What does matter?”
“So what is the going rate for a hit these days?” Barnacle asked.
“What's it matter? You are going to die.”
“Seems that way, but I'm still curious,” Barnacle said. “What am I worth?”
“Well, only because I don't want you dyin' disappointed. Two grand.”
Barnacle reached up with his right hand and scratched his gray-peppered beard.
“Wow, two grand, that's pretty good,” Barnacle said. “A lot better than I used to get.”
The man with the gun actually smiled. His bushy eyebrow — you just couldn't refer to it in the plural — raised with something resembling excitement.
“You used to do hits?”
Barnacle smiled and nodded. I knew his smile was fake. The man with the gun did not know that.
“What did you used to get?”
Barnacle smiled again. “Nothing close to two grand. You must be one of the best.”
The man with the gun smiled a big toothy grin. His chest puffed out some.
“I always get the job done,” he said. “What was your weapon?”
“Whatever,” Barnacle said. “And yours is obvious.”
“Yup, A .357,” the man with the gun said, bouncing the hand that held the weapon. “Loud as hell, but it'll blow a hole in you the size of Rhode Island .”
“I don't doubt it,” Barnacle said. “So tell me. Why haven't you pulled the trigger yet?”
“Couple reasons,” the man with the gun said. “For starters, I just like to get to know someone before I kill them. And I'm waiting for the fire alarm to go off.”
“Very smart,” Barnacle said. “Hide the noise of your hand cannon, which I bet is quite loud. Ever cause problems?”
“Sometimes,” the man with the gun said. “Couple weeks ago, caused all kinds of commotion.”
“Yea,” the man with the gun said. “Shot this kid. Had to pump him four or five times before he died. Little shit wouldn't quit crawling.”
“Yea, 14, 15, something like that.”
The whole town was up in arms about that one. William Harris, Jr., Billy, had been gunned down as he walked out the front door of his private school. He was the son of some computer software mogul, and the newspapers had speculated this might have something to do with the brutal murder.
Barnacle frowned. The man with the gun lost his smile.
“You don't like it?”
“No,” Barnacle said. “The kid was innocent.”
The man's face went flush. “I don't care what you think. You're a dead man.”
“Then yank that trigger.”
“My employer wants me to give you a message first,” the man with the gun said.
He looked down to reach in his shirt pocket with his free hand. Without hesitation, Barnacle leapt over the desk, grabbing the man's gun hand and forcing him backward to the floor. He forced the man's gun hand to the floor and with his other hand, pulled a gun out of somewhere. He shoved the barrel into the man's mouth, knocking out a couple teeth.
The man let go of the gun and lay on the ground sucking on the barrel of a gun with Barnacle sitting on his chest.
The man looked wild eyed as tears began to roll down his face. Blood trickled from his mouth thanks to the lost teeth.
“Today's your lucky day,” Barnacle said. “Since I'm not getting paid to kill you, you get to live, Now, you do understand you got in this office only because I let you, right?”
The man nodded his head. Barnacle stood up and roughly pulled the man to his feet.
“Go on, get out of here.”
The next day, Jimmy Cabrone walked into the office. My heart lurched. He was known as Little Jimmy, a mobster involved in damn near anything. As he handed Barnacle and envelope, I began to reconsider my employment.
“Appreciate the info,” Little Jimmy said as he took Barnacle's hand and shook it.
When Little Jimmy left, Barnacle sat at his desk, pulled a wad of cash out of the envelope and began counting.
“What is that for?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer.
“Information,” Barnacle said. “Our friend yesterday killed a kid. I confirmed it for Jimmy.”
I sat there a minute. “That was all set up?”
Barnacle smiled, then said, “Yes. Killing a kid is just wrong. And it brings too much heat down.”
“I guess that guy yesterday is going to feel some heat,” I said.
Barnacle just nodded, turned toward his monitor and double clicked his mouse.