Continued from previous story….
A blinding white burned my eyes when I woke up. I blinked and tried to reboot my mind… tried to remember who and where I was. The answer wasn’t long in coming.
“He’s awake!” an excited voice beside me exclaimed. I slowly turned and saw a face: a square jaw, cold eyes, rugged beard… it was the man who had tried to kill me. I started screaming and suddenly hands grabbed me and pinned me to the bed. A needle pierced through my arm and I fell back in bed and lay very still.
I woke up hours later and saw the nurse looking at me strangely, wondering how I was going to react; what I was going to do next.
“Laptop,” I whispered and she moved close. “Laptop. I need a laptop!” I said urgently. She pulled out a syringe and I grabbed her hand. “Don’t!” I warned. Then I softened my voice. “Please don’t put me to sleep.” I begged with my eyes and she understood.
She gave me some painkillers and helped me sit up: then she brought me a laptop. I had no idea why I wanted a laptop but I knew that if I didn’t get one, my mind was going to explode. The memory card in my brain was full and I needed to offload and create some space. I started typing without knowing what I was typing about.
I typed a story about a man who had dug his own grave: about a woman who had mysteriously appeared then vanished… about love found and then lost. I typed for three hours straight and when I was done, I submitted to my publisher and then fell asleep.
I woke up again in the middle of the night screaming with the face of a man in my head. I grabbed the laptop and this time logged onto the Internet. I downloaded a ‘Face Design Software’ then began working on the features: the detailed face of a killer. I drew the square jaw and cold eyes, the rugged beard and raised cheeks. I worked on the chiseled face of my assailant for hours adjusting back and forth on the shades and depth of the features. I played with the color of the eyes and the fullness of the lips, the wrinkled forehead. The years had been unkind to this face. And when I was done, I made a phone call, and slowly got out of bed for the first time. I struggled to find a firm footing.
The hospital was quiet at night but for the constant beeping of the machines. I walked over to the window and looked into the night. Darkness greeted my eyes. A storm was brewing both in the skies and in my body. Imminent war was on the verge. I felt it inside me and at the core of my bones. I wasn’t the same person I used to be, something inside me had shattered into a million pieces and my perspective of life was twisted. The things I used to care about in the line of virtues were all gone to be replaced with a strange feeling. I was alive yes, but really, I wasn’t. The old me, I had left in my grave. The beat of my heart drummed to an irregular tune.
I returned to my apartment a few days later with healing bruises on my face and stitches in my mouth. It would take months for a full recovery for the body and a century for the mind.
The apartment was haunted with the memories of that eventful night. Everywhere I turned, I saw men with scorpion machine guns firing at me, bullets tearing through my flesh. Sometimes the images were so real that I actually ricocheted from the imaginary bullets ending up on the floor trembling with fear. On that first night back, I took my blanket and pillow, through the winding staircase, to the roof of the apartment, and here I found solace.
I lay beside the noisy vents on the roof and the heat from the vents countered the growing autumn breeze. But above all and against all reason, I heard one voice that made me sit up abruptly.
“Old habits die hard,” the voice said. I turned and saw her, skin glowing under the dark sky, her face uncertain as our eyes met. I jetted from the ground and hugged her. She was sunshine in the midst of a storm.
“Alice! Oh Alice. It’s really nice to see you.”
I felt her warmth against my body. I felt her tremble and I knew that she was crying. She released me and took a step back to study my face.
“Oh Dick, what have they done to you?” The tears flowed down her face freely.
“You knew?” I asked her in surprise. “How?” My voice sounded hollow due to the stitches in my mouth. But I already knew her answer.
“I have my sources,” she replied calmly as she wiped the tears from her face.
“That’s why you wanted to get away from me. Wasn’t it? You were trying to protect me.” I blurted as we lowered ourselves on the blanket. She had wanted to be with me but had been scared for my life.
We lay down on the blanket and stared at the moonless sky. The dark clouds moved and a few stars appeared.
“Pick one,” Alice said pointing at the stars.
I laughed. It was something we had done when we were kids. It was why she had known where to find me. The roof had been my refuge as a kid, in the not so good times in my childhood.
“My grandma used to say that every human being has a star up there that belongs to him or her,” Alice continued.
“What am I supposed to do with a star?” I asked her playfully.
She laughed. “It’s a metaphor you dummy.”
We lay in silence and I squeezed her hand and then released it. The conversation was about to get tough.
“Do you love him?” I asked her, dreading the reply.
She pursed her lips and I wished I could see her eyes. “No,” she replied. “Never have.”
“So why are you married to him?” I didn’t understand.
“It’s a long story.” She sighed. “My father owed him money. He came home to kill my father and saw me, and somehow, he just couldn’t pull the trigger. After that, it was all downhill. I went with him so that my father could live. We’ve been married for five years now.” She said it like she couldn’t believe it.
I tried to picture her as an innocent eighteen-year-old girl, watching a gun pointed at her own father and the image made me sick. She had been through a lot and worse, living under the same roof with a killer … the man who had wanted to kill her father!
A cool night breeze made her shiver and we moved closer to the heat vent. I chose my next words very carefully.
“I’m going to kill your husband,” I said calmly and she sat up like a bullet.
“No Dick! Walk away from this. You have no idea who you are dealing with!” There was panic in her voice.
I watched the worry in her eyes and it confirmed what I already suspected, she had been living in fear for a long time.
“His name is Don Macholy.” I said. “Second richest man in Miami, Times Magazine Man of the Year Award 2005, owns the tallest skyscraper in the city. This guy is a spook. The feds know that he’s dirty but can’t pin anything on him. He is tied to the train bombing of 2004 where 140 people died but no real evidence to put him away was found. He’s a ghost with a battalion of goons hovering around him, waiting for him to snap his fingers.”
Alice stared at me stunned. “You have been doing your homework!”
I leveled my eyes at her. I wasn’t done yet. “Don Macholy, likes Dennis Breakfast, something to do with childhood habits, dines every Wednesday evening with his lovely wife at the Clarice Five Star Hotel.”
And now Alice stared at me in total disbelief. “How did you know about that?” How did you know that I dine with my husband once a week?
I shrugged. “Two weeks in bed can do wonders to a man’s imagination.”
“Focus Alice,” I grabbed her hand and she winced. “It has to be done on a Wednesday. You understand? It’s the only time of the week that he has the least protection around him. The only time he is able to get away from his Empire.”
Alice took a deep breath and I watched as something changed in her eyes. I recognized it as a realization on her part… that I was serious… that we were actually doing this.
She stood up and walked to the edge of the roof. We stared down at other Miami apartments and then farther ahead at the black of the Atlantic Ocean. Our minds were nsync and I didn’t need to explain the rest of the plan to her.
“We lure him away from his guards and kill him,” she said. And then after a long silence, she added. “You know we could die doing this, right?” I knew that we had more than we could chew on our plates. But there was no elegant solution in the horizon. It was a blurred line between bravery and stupidity.
“In that case…” I turned her around and kissed her softly on her lips, something that I had longed to do since the first time I saw her. It was awkward with the stitches in my mouth. But it was a kiss never the less. She closed her eyes and smiled. We didn’t need to say anything after that.
What good is a kiss if it’s not with the one you truly love?
The phone call came two days later and with it, a trembling voice. “Dick, you have no idea what I found!”
“Let’s meet at our usual place in an hour,” I quickly cut off the caller before he could say anything else. There was no telling who was listening.
The caller. His name was Ridely, a best selling New York Author who belonged in my every Sunday Miami Critic Group. Our usual place was Starbucks Coffee Shop on 29th Street.
Ridely dragged his massive self into the room and struggled to squeeze his excessive waist into the seat. For a man who specialized in crime novels and brilliant action stories, the sad reality was that he had never played sports nor seen the inside of a gym in his entire life.
A perspiring Ridely dropped a blown up photograph in front of me and I stared at it in disbelief. It was the face of the man who had made me dig my own grave.
“They call him ‘The Hammer’. He is Don Macholy’s clean up guy and is credited for a lot of people who have vanished, but like you already know, the FBI don’t have anything concrete on him.” Ridely was shaking both from fear and anxiety. “This is some serious stuff Dick, you need to walk away!”
I had expected him to say that. He was my friend and the best crime writer I knew. He had spent a lot of time researching the mob for his novels. I looked at the face of my assailant silently and remembered the horror of that night and I knew that there was no turning back.
“Did you bring the stuff I ordered?”
We paid for the untouched coffee and walked to a parked Chevy in the alley where a puffing Ridely popped the trunk. “Plastic C-4 explosives like you asked, trigger and timer detonated, 100 meters radius.”
I threw the explosives into my backpack and then reached deeper into the trunk and grabbed two unregistered pistols. I checked to make sure that they were loaded then grabbed extra magazines for good measure. I was ready!
“You are going to need eyes,” Ridely pointed out and I noticed that his voice was a lot calmer, a change of emotion brought about by the sight of the guns. He was an out of shape writer yes, but he had spent most of his young adult life at the shooting range and behind violent video games.
“Okay,” I acknowledged. “But you have to be very careful. This is my fight not yours. These guys don’t play.”
“Too late for me now.” Ridely grabbed an Uzi submachine gun and cocked it in a smooth flow of motion.
On Wednesday the D-day, and at 3pm, I sent Alice an email inviting her to meet me in the boat down at the ocean at 6pm. 6pm was the same time she was due to have her weekly dinner with her husband Don Macholy. I dressed up the message to make it real … PS. I love you and can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you.
We both knew that her email was compromised. The plan was for her to shake off her tail and meet me at the boat at 5.30pm. Have you ever killed a man? Alice’s voice.
My phone rung. “This is Dick,” I answered with hesitation. It was my publisher. “Mr. Falcon, your book proposal was a go with the board. The reports are favorable and we need you to come in as soon as possible.”
I hanged up the phone and waited for the excitement to well inside me. Nothing happening. Those feelings, I had left them at the grave.
The name of the yatch was the Dragonfly and she was a thing of beauty that had cost me all my savings to rent. The white of the luxury boat glowed in the surrounding water and I was glad that there were no other boats nearby. I strapped the explosives in strategic places on the fifteen meters yatch then looked up at the sound of pounding footsteps. It was Alice running and she was out of breath, something was wrong!
“They are on their way!” she yelled. “I couldn’t shake them off!”
It was time to move. My earpiece suddenly crackled into life. “Eagle one, I have eyes on the target moving towards the boat. You have five minutes to get out of there!” It was Ridely’s voice. What’s up with the Eagle One stuff Ridely, this is not a game.
“Do we have our price?” I spoke into the earpiece as Alice and I rushed to the downstairs cabin of the boat. The price was Don Macholy and The Hammer. There was a pause on the line, static, and then “Positive. I repeat, you have five minutes. Get out of there Dick, now!” I winced as I heard my own name over the radio. So much for clandestine intelligence. There was no knowing who was listening in on the channel.
I set the timers on the explosives and we quickly suited up into our swimming gear: facemasks, air tanks and flippers. Alice thumped me up and we opened the hatchet under our feet and jumped into the tiny room. We then closed the hatchet door above us and I pressed a button on the side and ocean water flooded the tiny compartment, threatening to crash us.
We dove into the water and kicked into the current. I looked at my watch, one minute before detonation. We were both good swimmers and the flippers did wonders to our speed. We swam hard and only stopped when a rush of huge waves tossed us in a powerful undercurrent and dumped us miles away on the shore. The boat had exploded!
I helped Alice out of the water and we lay on the sand in the dusk and stared into the darkening night above us. We coughed and gasped for breath and it took a while before either of us could speak.
I finally stood up and cased the beach. “Over there!” I yelled as I pointed at a boathouse. We stumbled over and sure enough it was deserted but clean. We threw the facemasks, flippers and air tanks into the corner and then continued to explore the room. There was nothing but old paddles and fishing nets. I took the radio from the plastic bag in my pocket and tried to raise my friend Ridely but there was no response.
Suddenly, we heard muffled footsteps.
“Run! I yelled at Alice. But it was too late.
The door blew open and three men stormed inside. Alice and I stared mouth agape. It was Don Macholy, The Hammer and another goon: black faced, tattered tailored suits, but very much alive. The Hammer threw down Ridely’s headset and I stared at it in horror, trying to imagine my friend dead. My heart pounded like a drum.
Don Macholy clapped sarcastically as he walked towards Alice. “My dear Alice, your little charade back there just killed five of my best men. I am very disappointed in you.” His facial expression personified evil as he pulled out a .45 and inserted a silencer. Alice watched him with weary eyes.
But The Hammer wasn’t as composed. He rushed me with a stifling right to my stomach and a left hook to my jaw. I staggered backwards and blood gushed through my teeth. “You piss of shii…” He hit me again and I dropped to my knees. “I gave you a chance to get away and you wasted it!” His face was next to mine and through the haziness of the moment, I saw his nose. I moved and closed my teeth on the nose. The Hammer screamed but I didn’t let go. I bit his nose off. He screamed like a little girl and fell on the floor clutching at the hole on his face. The commotion took Don Macholy by surprise and the gun wavered in his hand. Alice made her play.
She sidestepped and poked the man in both eyes. The gun went off just as she moved out of the line of fire. She twisted her husband’s hand and the gun fell to the floor. Don Macholy threw a feeble blow and she ducked. A movement caught the corner of her eye and she threw herself behind her husband. The third man fired and Don Macholy’s eyes widened as he received the full blunt of the bullet. The third man hesitated and gave his boss a worried look. Alice dove for the gun and fired. And then, all was silent.
I watched Alice from the floor and her swiftness amazed me. This was not the same girl I had grown up with. She looked more like an assassin than a prey. I stood up and picked up The Hammer’s gun, watched him crawl on the floor in pain. This was the man who had made me dig my own grave. This was the man who had killed my friend Ridely! I pointed the gun at his head and watched him cower away, one hand protecting his face. I counted down from three, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. Have you ever killed a man? A raging internal conflict.
Alice walked over and shot The Hammer in the head two times and the man’s body twitched once and then went limp: and then she doubled back and put one more into her husband’s head. She wasn’t taking any chances. I startled with every shot that she fired but a part of me understood that it was the only way out. Everything was happening too fast. I saw Alice pouring kerosene around the floor and then dashed after her through the door. I looked back and saw the boathouse light up like a bonfire and burn. Alice never once looked back.
It is rumored that we moved to the coast of Africa away from the reach of the mob. Nobody really knows the truth. Our place of residence didn’t matter. What really mattered was that Alice and I were together like we were meant to be. The stars were finally aligned in my favor. We hugged each other a little tighter at night… we loved each other more everyday. One day, and with the sun on our backs, we will return home, maybe.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...