Everyone starts a roadtrip all chillshit like an ice cube. You’ve got the tank full, the munchies and and a cooler of cold brewskis at your beck and call. You’ve even had the forethought to boost a car at Walgreens that gets halfway decent mileage. Then you go down South in July and it gets after you. A few hundred miles later, and you get beat down. It doesn’t seem hard at first. Then you put that foot down, grab the wheel and stare at the horizon. It gets to you and leaves you strung out by the time you get where you are going. Duece could feel it now. His feet tingled from blood deprivation as he walked across the weed-littered parking lot towards the ramshackle dive bar.
Duece, properly named Trevor Emmanuel Watson Price, had endured six hundred miles of road. He felt lucky to have found “The Slippery Oyster.” Most of the regular patrons never quite exaggerated it that much. Duece had come on a mission. A manboy doesn’t sneak out of his house, steal a ride, and then drive through two and half states to wash down raw oysters with 2nd rate premium beer. It was the company he’d come to keep that made it matter. He had come to hire somebody.
Duece needed a stand-in to be the guy he pretended to be. He had tried for a little over six months to turn himself from Trevor Emmanuel into Duece. He wasn’t there yet, but he was out of time. Duece, you see, would handle bidniss like a chillshit boss and have done with it. Trevor Emmanuel still popped his zits and pissed his pants over it. He knew what had to happen. He couldn’t make it happen. He needed the man who could. Time to hire the man known on the black internet as El Duerte.
Becoming Duece wasn’t a considered decision. It just ate Trevor Emmanuel one day the way a bird sucks down a worm. That day in the purgatory of 11th Grade Homeroom started the downward spiral. Mr. Zuckenmeier called roll. “Trevor Price?”
Then the demon manifested. Just out of the blue. “It’s Duece.” Trevor responded in a truculent voice that he didn’t previously have the courage to possess. “Call me Duece the rest of the year.”
“OK, Mr. Price,” he said in that bored, tired, bureaucratic, fvck you voice which defined the high school faculty to Duece.
“It’s Duece tommorrow. Remember that.” Zuckenmeier sighed and moved on to Jennifer Otter.
Something clicked into place the way a round chambers after a soldier lets go of the charging handle. His life change was now locked and loaded. Once Trevor had grown his hair, picked out clothes his family despised and started hanging out with kids who would only graduate if fortune smiled (or at least had a sense of humor), he then needed the girlfriend that would make him Duece. White like him was too plain. Chillshit Duece was reborn to swirl. This went well and was a rocking good time. At least until the condom he used stopped at nothing when it came to protection. Then he had the first inkling of a problem. He put her off a week or two. Then she was a little more frightened and a lot more demanding in wanting an answer. So then he had a talk with Dad….
Dad wasn’t Chillshit. Dad wasn’t sympathetic. Heck, Good Old Dad wouldn’t even pay for the quickie aborsh. Chillshit Duece and Swirl Queen had problems. Duece was down here to get them solved. He had decided to have Dad air-holed. He lacked the guts to do it himself and therefore had to hire a hitter. A hitter he would meet this afternoon. It was for this purpose that he opened the door and walked into the grubby bar.
The Slippery Oyster had not one but two swamp coolers grinding athwart the torpid, wet heat. This and a lack of illumination adequate to match the size of the room made the interior seem like a subterranean chamber. Duece blinked and and sucked in a breath of cold, smokey air. Whatever smoking bans this neck of the woods had enacted were being very much honored in the breach. He stopped for a bit and looked around. He saw 2 pool tables and a stage.
Three biker types lounged about one of the tables. One lined up his shot, the others talked a fair commode load of crap. Three quarters sat on one corner of the table representing one of the men having called “Next.” The stage featured a chair, a pole and woman who regretted having disrobed up there. She probably had a demon to feed and no other way to earn a fix. Two old men sat next to the stage and held folded bills out towards her the way Mary Fossey once offered grubs to an inquisitive primate. Another guy sat there almost asleep. It was that sexually stimulating.
Duece continued scanning the bar and sauntered over towards a booth without any of the bravado his walk was intend to display. He swaggered over to a booth and sat down. The table was old, wooden and adorned with the remains of burned cigarettes and switchblade grafatti. A cheap tin-foil ashtray sat in the middle along with a half-empty ketchup bottle and a pair of shakers for salt and pepper. A waitress made her way over. She was a short, fat blonde and smacked her lips loudly as she blew a bubble and exploded it haughtily against the lower edge of her red, puffy face. She wore cutoff jeans shorts that bunched against the insides of her cottage cheese legs and a lighter blue top, adorned with food and drink stains, that hung low across her ample chest. Duece noticed a vaguely unpleasant odor as she leaned over the booth. “Whatcha drinkin?” She asked with a bored Southern drawl.
“I’ll have a Bud.” Duece said as he attempted to be as cool as Chillshit Roger Moore. Pilsners just didn’t work well shaken; not stirred. She asked for ID in perhaps the least impressed voice imaginable. “That’ll be $20, Mr. Carter.” She explained.
“$20?” He asked in a surprised voice.
“If you want me to believe for five seconds that you’re really Steve Carter.” She responded. She horked his dead president and dawdled over to a cooler to fetch his brewski.
A man approached the booth at a casual pace. His eyes belied the calm and measured pace as they took in the surroundings in gulps. His mind processing data that may or may not having a bearing on whether he survived the afternoon. He sat down. “Steve Carter isn’t bad, Mr. Wolfolk. Wolfolk… that one pretty much sucks.”
“Oh?” asked Duece.
“If it ain’t your name, you don’t want them to remember it.”
“You’re Gutierrez?” Duece asked nervously.
“Not in two days. And if you have a functional brain, you’ll forget it.”
Gutierrez was as fake a name as Steve Carter. El Duarte might have been too chillshit bad-ass to even still know his original name. His appearance bespoke the evil of his profession. Duece imagined he smelled sulfur. That or the match Gutierrez used to stoke a cigarillo. The man’s face looked like whatever karma he was pimp-slapping had attempted to cave it in with a brick. His nose would look proper on any competitive league’s rugby pitch. His face had a ruddy appearance as if the hellfires had gotten a nice head start on baking it for eternity. His cheeks had been ravaged by acne as small rocks abrade holes in a sandstone surface. El Duarte’s stache would fit in just fine on the set of “Boogie Nights” or on any of the San Fernando Valley back lots that inspired that particular cinematic feature. His hair was long, greying and tied in a pony tail that hung half the distance to his butthole. His eyes were black and as dead as his numerous victims. Duece had just met reality. Reality seemed remarkably unpleasant and its totality made him pause for a second in order to recover.
Trevor Price, Sr. had a painful, vice-grip headache. His child wasn’t at school. His son also had a girlfriend who he had gotten in a family way at age before either person knew what to do with a family. This was amplified because his girlfriend Chante Parkins was a poor African-American who struggled to sucessfully hold an intelligent conversation in what would be deemed acceptable English. Trev, Jr. had put the biscuit in the wrong basket as far as Trev, Sr. was concerned. To make things even worse, the boy had done it to spite him and his wife. This was a raw hate-fvck aimed at them personally.
So Trev, Sr. had done the worst thing possible. His son had finally, just once dropped his whole Chillshit Duece persona and tried to talk. Tried to beg for help would be more accurate. He had slept with Chante, impregnated her and she was demanding that he man up and handle his bidness. That sort of thing is hard for somebody who is still a boy and he went to his Dad for help. Trev, Sr. felt too insulted and had screamed at him and told him that his beloved Chante would never be accepted in the family and that he had about 10 lawns to mow if he wanted to raise the stake for the necessary abortion. Now Trev, Jr had gone missing. He had taken his old, crappy Ford Escort. The lawnmower was still in the shed.
So now he was going to visit Mr. and Mrs. Parkins with his hat in his hand. He had gotten their number, introduced himself and asked if they had seen Duece. They had not and were not very glad to hear from him. They had asked to have a word with him and he had no particular moral grounds to turn them down. It was his son’s careless dick that had gotten everyone into this mess. The girl’s parents were not happy. They had every right not to be happy. Someone owed them accountability. Duece-ne-Trev, Jr wasn’t really strong on the accountability.
He had agreed to meet them at a coffee shop. He had learned from dumping an old paramour who didn’t take the news well that some conversations were best held where people couldn’t quite get truly real. He had met Chante. The Parkins’ had met Duece. He wasn’t impressed with her, and right now they were not enamoured with Jr. Somehow the two teens had decided to get intimate in a careless fashion before the families had met and shared a cold one. The coupling was interracial. Other than that, what could possibly go wrong? The Starbucks was up on the Right. Two blocks ahead. The GPS attached to his windshield chirped at him in far too positive and happy a fashion to not clash with his pervading mood.
As he pulled into the Shariabucks for coffee and compurgation, his cell phone sent that obnoxious vibration up his thigh. He checked it. He wanted to put the meeting off a couple more minutes. It was his money-market account sending him an email. He read it. He was overdrawn by $3,000.00. A check had cleared to a man named Steve Carter who he had never before even known.
El Duerte has a suitcase full of cash. He was a hired man. He couldn’t have respected his boss any less and would do something about the TOR site that allowed some teenage fvck-up to hire an exclusive hitter. He could not vouch for the provenance of the money, but he wouldn’t have to. He would pass it on to an idiot, turn it into product and move it to a production house three days hence. But he had a weed to whack first – to make look like an accident so a cheap little bastard could collect on a will. Then he could cash in and vanish for a few months on the proceeds. He knew where to find his mark and he knew how to fix the car just right. Hell, if his mark liked to grow tomatoes, he knew exactly what to do to the can of bugspray.
For now, he just enjoyed the miles. He could partially check out on a drive. He could remember nice places to visit, his favorite restaurants to order a burger – after he finished another job. His Camaro looked like garbage on the outside. Lame paint job, stolen license plates, tires deliberately left dirty so that the quality wouldn’t be obvious. It was under the hood where El Duerte made his investments. Well, that and the sound system. A man needed his tunes. It would be several hours before he holed up at the dump of a hotel he’d operate out of until he finished his victim. For now he just kicked back and enjoyed the white, painted lines ticking past his ride on the interstate.
Carl Parkins looked at a blueberry scone that he had no desire in the world to take a bite out of. “You need the anti-oxidents.” His wife Annette accused him.
“I need to kill the evil, white son-of-a-bitch.” He replied. “That or switch to decaf.” He finished with his head
“Daddy!” His daughter, Chante protested. Tears ran down her face and it did ugly things to her make-up.
“You gonna upset a woman with a baby?” His wife inquired in a tone of voice with which she would descibe an ugly cockroach.
“Gonna tell her, that white son-of-a-bitch, and you some goddam truth.” Karl said in a low, menacing voice. “Stuff you shoulda’ been telling her when she was 12.”
“What do I do, Daddy? What in God’s name am I gonna do?” Chante pleaded.
“Do we have to do this here, Karl?” Annette asked. Other patrons were staring while trying not to be obvious. An older couple had moved away while chucking them the stink-eye like a javelin. A young man who looked only slightly less useless than the man child who had impregnated Chante muttered an imprecation into his laptop.
“Guys,” Said Chante angrily. “Duece’s dad is here.”
It was three days later, a corpse was found in a swamp near the bank where Trevor Emmanuel Watson Price, Sr. Worked. It was Trev, Sr. He smelled of alcohol, he had almost been a tee-totaler. His car was off the road and in a swamp. Yet the plug-in device next to the steering wheel would inform his insurance company that he was going no faster than 8 mph, downhill. Tobias Yellich and Martin Smith had drawn the case. Yellich asked Smith “What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin-flip.”
“Two-cheeseburgers. How about you, pardner?”
“The last 30 minutes in the fvcking swamp with that car.”
“You win anything for your efforts?”
“Ain’t no way he drove off the road. The car had to be aimed by whoever was driving it to hit the one 15 foot spot that didn’t have a guardrail. Plus, I could swear I see a spot where the someone jumped out and hit the grass before the car went into the muck. Would’ve sunk further if it were being driven the speed limit.” Yellich remarked as he knocked about a pound of mud off his hip-waders.
“So the poor, bereaved widow isn’t gonna like what she hears from Nationwide?” Smith remarked. “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”
“We need to have a serious talk with her and that cute, little son of hers, Duece.”
The next day Yellich and Smith read through their growing murder book. “Would you lookie here?” Smith asked. “Some guy named Steve Carter received a check far above the balance of Price’s Money Market Account. It got presented for payment by Sanders Check Cashing and Title Loans. Real gentleman’s establishment that Sanders Check Cashing and Title Loans. I’m sure Mr. Carter is a prize-winner as well.”
“The interview with the widow was a dead-end like she probably was. Whatever Price was into, she knows less than Schultz did on Hogan’s Heroes.”
“How about his boss?” Smith asked. “Was he into anything at work that he wasn’t supposed to be?”
“They ran every transaction he touched as a worker and they’re all straight.” Yellich mused. “He didn’t screw under BOA’s flagpole. He wasn’t that stupid. Now his cute, little son…”
“Yeah, so maybe this isn’t “Death of a Salesman?” Smith asked.
“I told the kid his Dad was dead and he initially said ‘oh.'” Yellich continued. “He then decided he was upset and said. ‘No way. He can’t be.'”
“So who’s Steve Carter?” Smith said. “We need to run over to the address we got off the DMV and find out.”
The detectives were less than impressed with 1429 Fern Valley Ln. The roof had partially caved in and an entire ecosystem had grafted on to the siding. The driveway had better grass than Yellich’s lawn.
“If I lived here, I’d have a hard time getting HBO.” Smith remarked.
“If I lived here, I couldn’t flush after I took a shit. This particular Steve Carter doesn’t exist. Who pays a man who doesn’t exist $6,000?” Yellich wondered. “Let’s go the Sanders Check Cashing and watch some CCTV. Maybe we’ll get Carter.”
“Eichen over at Theft and Property Crimes thinks there’s a car theft we should know about.” Smith remarked. “We can check out the tapes or CDs over at Sanders’ digs on the way to Division.”
“So the transaction of interest occurred at 14:15….Can you run that back.” Smith asked the manager at Sanders Check Cashing and Title Loans. “Aww fvck….fvckity, fvck, fvck, fvck.”
“When you told him his dad was dead he said ‘oh’?” Yellich noted. “‘No way. He can’t be.’ I have a funny theory about who was driving the stolen car.”
“Why aren’t I laughing?” Smith asked. “Is it because this business establishment just cashed a $6,000 check that was 99.999% likely to have been forged or signed under duress?”
“Other than your lack of a sense of humor?” Yellich replied. “Because your theory matches mine. Let’s see Eichen and confirm what we both know.”
The detectives sat in an Assistant Principal’s Office with the School Resource Officer; a 250 Lb man built like an NFL Middle Linebacker. Officer Pedersen had a less-than cooperative Duece in tow by the scruff of the neck.
“My main man Duece.” Smith chortled. “School’s out for Summer, Kiddo.”
“Waddya mean?” Duece asked in a defiant tone.
“Just who in the freaking hell would drive 650 miles, in a stolen car, to show up in the worst T&A Bar in Arizona when they’ve got those sorry places on the edge of town?” Smith asked.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Duece responded. “I got a woman.”
“$20 for a Budweiser?” Yellich japed. “Not even if it really was the king of beers. You’d think Steve Carter would have better taste.”
“Take out your wallet son.” Smith commanded in a clam voice. “We can let you stop digging here if you cooperate, Mr. Carter.”
“I’ve got rights! Don’t give me any Gestapo crap!” Duece said.
Principal Howard asked. “Do we need to arrest him on the campus?”
“He’s got his rights, ma’am.” Yellich responded. “It wouldn’t be proper police procedure if I didn’t read him two of them.”
“It just won’t be the same here without Duece.” Pedersen remarked.
Chante Parkins sat in the waiting room at an abortion clinic. Her back hurt and her head ached with stress, confusion and guilt. The father of her child was under arrest and richly deserved it. Her own father had told her he didn’t love her anymore. Her mom had told she had to do what was right for her. She was 17, confused and nobody who should have been helping her would give her anything in the way of help in her hour of greatest need. She arrived here, at an abortion clinic, the way a poor swimmer reaches the bottom of a pool after the oxygen ran out. She almost wished the clinic would kill her the way it would kill her unborn child. She had no true idea what she was getting into or how to even pay for having the abortion done.
The nurse ushered her in. She was a black woman of a portly build. Perhaps 5 to 10 years older than Chante. She had a name tag that read Champion. Her eyes held a sympathy that neither of her parents had managed to convey. It was almost like she saw a piece of herself in the young, helpless-looking girl seated in front of her.
“So what do I gotta do?” Chante asked.
“Honey, here are your options.” The nurse replied. “You can terminate this week; if that’s what you want. That would end it and cost far less than waiting or trying to raise a baby you don’t have money for?”
“OK. What else can I do?” The girl inquired in a sad and frightened voice.
“I’m not supposed to mention this more than once.” The Nurse Champion continued. “You could have your child. But you have to plan that out. It costs money and time. You need people to help you. Do you have that?”
Chante began to cry. “I…just…done…know. The father is going to jail and my family…” She then totally broke down.
The Nurse continued. “What I’m supposed to tell you to do is wait two more months and completely make up your mind. But I wouldn’t tell you to that” She handed Chante a tissue and waited patiently as the girl blew her nose and smeared off a lot of mascara. Nurse Champion sat patiently. For some reason she really wanted to help this poor girl.
When she had recovered a spell, Chante looked up. “What’s wrong with waiting? I don’t know what to do…I really don’t know.”
The nurse lowered her voice. “One of the doctors back there likes aborting them a little more along. He says the tissue from the fetus gets money for the clinic. He says we all get more bonus if the abortion is later along.”
“He also said he was five bastards short of a new fishing yacht.” She said with a bitterness in her voice. “So either abort this child this week or walk out of here and keep it. I might be the only person in this place that could possibly intend you well.”
Chante walked out of the clinic to never look back.
A man laid out on a beach in Costa Rica. He would be there at least two more weeks after his last score. He would need a new name and maybe even a getaway face before he did another job in the US. In the meanwhile, the drinks were cold and the younger women beautiful. The reckoning would come later. The world would have to catch up with El Duerte first.