The Contractor

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By Roland Howell

Max Gabriel and a man called Al sat in a black Lincoln parked half a block beyond Corona’s Steak House in Queens. Max felt uncomfortable. There was something too calm about Al. Guy’s in his business had to be pretty cool but Al was like ice. He had flown in from Detroit. Max knew nothing about Al only that Al was not his real name. The boss had set it up.

Max handed Al a piece of paper. “Here’s a layout of Corona’s. There’s only ten tables in there. He’ll be sitting at the one in the rear on the far right,” Max began. “He’ll be wearing a dark blue suit and a bright red tie.”

Al glanced at the diagram then asked, “Anybody else going to be at the table?”

“Yeah, a dame, probably a hooker. He likes to eat a big steak and then get laid. “

“How do you know he’s in there now?” Al asked.

“He’s there. He’s been there for over an hour. We got ways of keeping track of things.”

The two men heard the sound of a siren behind them. They looked in the rear view mirrors. It stopped in front of Corona’s and two paramedics rushed inside pushing a gurney.

“ Shit, this screws up everything,” Max exclaimed.

“Relax, we’ll wait a couple of minutes then I’ll go and see what’s up,” Al said. “Nobody knows me here.”

He’s pure ice, Max thought. He looked at Al. “I don’t like the whole thing. Maybe we should blow the deal and leave,” he said.

Al stared at Max a moment, got out of the car, and walked back to Corona’s. Max kept his eyes on the rear view mirror. He watched Al go into Corona’s. It’s all spinning out of control, he thought. A crowd was gathering outside the restaurant and he saw the gurney being loaded into the ambulance. Then he saw Al coming out of the crowd.

Back at the car Al opened the door, pulled a pistol with a silencer from his overcoat pocket, said “bye bye” to Max and shot him four times, twice in the head just as the ambulance came wailing past. It turned right at the end of the block. Max shut the car door and like the ambulance went to the corner and turned right.

In the middle of the third block Al turned into a narrow alley. It was twilight time but he could make out the ambulance ahead with the rear doors open. As he approached the man on the gurney got up, stepped out, and closed the doors. The ambulance drove away out the far end of the alley.

“Just as planned,” the man said. Any problems on your end?”

“No, he’s gone.”

“The boss will be pleased. It’s not a pleasant business but, occasionally someone gets out of line and threatens the structure. Fortunately, there are professionals like you who can solve such threats, quietly and cleanly.

The man smiled and Al thought he sounded too smooth, too educated, maybe too clever. He brought the pistol in plain view. “Time to settle up,” he said.

The man ignored the pistol and gave Al an envelope. “The other half, count it,” he said. Al opened the flap, thumbed across the bills bouncing his eyes between the man and the bills.

“I would be a fool to stiff you,” the man said. “I have a car waiting around the end of the alley. Do you want a ride to La Guardia?”

“No, you just walk on down the alley and around to your car.” With the muzzle of his pistol Al motioned for the man to move. The man smiled and walked away.

Al waited and watched until the man was gone. He slipped in an unlocked door off the alley and into an empty basement area. He waited over a half hour before checking the alley. Everything was clear and he walked back out of the alley and on to the next cross street. It was alive with traffic. The light went red and he walked along the line of curbside vehicles looking for a taxi. There were two of them, one empty. He wrapped on the window and the driver lowered it.

“Where to?” the driver asked.

“Grand Central,” Al answered.

“Cost you seventy bucks.”

Al smiled and pulled a hundred dollar bill out of his pants pocket. “Here it’s all yours. Just drive carefully,” he said. “I’ve put in a hard day so don’t talk.” He settled down in the passenger seat and closed his eyes. They’d probably be looking for him at all three airports, he thought. Kill the killer, like insurance for them. Screw them. Take a train. It’s been a long time since I took a train. Wait until morning and take the train to Cleveland. Move in with Rita for awhile. The trees should be full of color by now. Looking out the train window, they’ll be beautiful. My mother, on the farm, she loved the trees in the fall. One more contract and maybe I’ll close shop, marry Rita, and settle on a little plot of land out west. Maybe.


Copyright 2009 Roland Howell