In the parking lot, Stanton Ross stepped out of the Mercedes surrounded by 250-pound bookends. Goons. Hired muscle. Twenty-five inch biceps and IQs to match.
Bucky leaned back against his car. His 22-day rabbit was cooked. No more checking the rearview mirror every two minutes. No more dimly lit motel rooms and greasy take-out with the curtains drawn and only the ghosts he saw in wafts of cigarette smoke for company. He sniffed at the air. “I don’t know fellas,” he said. “Drakkar Noir is pretty 1990.”
The shorter goon to his left grunted. The tall one to his right glared little daggers into Bucky’s frontal lobe. Stanton Ross, a cigar jammed between stubby fingers, just stood there in the middle, looking smug and satisfied.
“Bucky, we finally tracked you down.”
“I guess you were looking under the wrong rocks.”
Stanton grinned and ate another inch of Cohiba. “Too bad your little investment deal went south.”
“Yeah, too bad,” Bucky said.
“Is there any other kind?”
Stanton shrugged. “Boys,” he said.
The goons rushed like linebackers at the whistle. A fair game was too much to expect at this point. The goons were hard men with hard jaws and Bucky was raw meat from the start. He got a few good ones in but took more than he gave. Life was like that.
Stanton waited until Bucky was splayed out on the pavement like a wet dishcloth. He kneeled down and blew cigar smoke in Bucky’s face. Bucky coughed. Then Stanton took a picture with his iPhone. After that, he made a call.
“Hello, Mr. Ross,” said a voice on speakerphone.
“I’m here with Mr. Mills, Joey.”
“How’s he doing?”
“He’s looked better.”
“Tell us what you’re looking at.”
“I’m looking at a safe, Mr. Ross. A very expensive safe built into the floor of a bedroom closet.”
Stanton nudged Bucky. “Sound familiar? I know it does, so tell Joey the combination. Or this gets a lot more complicated. And painful.”
Bucky mumbled the combination.
“You get that, Joey?”
“Yeah, Mr. Ross. Trying it now.”
“And it opened.”
“So what’s the score? Tell me everything you see.”
“Looks like about eight grand in cash. And a…oh…”
“Nothing, Mr. Ross.”
Joey coughed. “It’s a picture, Mr. Ross.”
“Jesus, kid, it’s like pullin’ teeth with you. A picture of what?”
“Well, it’s your wife, Mr. Ross.”
“Let me guess: she ain’t got no clothes on.”
“No, actually,” Joey said, sounding relieved. “She’s fully dressed. Sitting on the beach. At sunset.”
“A sunset, huh?” Stanton blew another puff of cigar smoke. “Okay, grab the photo and the cash and get out of there. Anything else you like, feel free. We’ll call it interest on Mr. Mills’s loan.”
Stanton ended the call and took a deep breath. Then he bent down again, leaning in close to Bucky so the goons couldn’t hear.
“I thought I had this one figured out,” Stanton said. “See, my wife sport fucks like most housewives binge on chocolate bonbons–can’t help herself. So we have an agreement: I let her do her thing and she lets me watch grainy sex footage shot in room 312 of the Bay Motel. We all have our twists, Bucky. I have mine. And we know you have yours.” Stanton placed his heel on top of Bucky’s hand. “But me, I’m the only one that gets to love her.”
Stanton ground his heel down.
Bone met concrete.
Bucky screamed and went to the beach the day he shot the photo. She looked good. They shared a bottle of red wine. But he never should’ve asked her there. And she never should’ve agreed.
When Stanton and his goons were gone, Bucky sat up against the wheel of his car. He inhaled fire into his punching bag gut. He exhaled through a broken nose. Four mangled fingers hung limply on his left hand. He dripped blood on the pockmarked concrete of the motel parking lot. He nudged a tooth with his shoe and smiled. The tooth wasn’t his.