May You Find Salvation

The moment the final jeep entered the valley, they hit Cuervo’s convoy with everything they had.

Heinrich opened fire first, his RPG taking out the lead vehicle. It went up in a messy cloud of dirt and smoke. Dolph did the same for the tail car, while Maria and Jean-Francois riddled the middle van with 7.62’s, their rifle fire echoing like laughter in the tiny valley.

The attack lasted less than a minute. When the dust settled, and the dead were done dying, Heinrich was the first to descend the hill where they’d been camped. He used his prybar to tear open the van before hopping inside. By the time the others caught up and reached the road, Heinrich was making his way back outside, his expression as cold and lifeless as a cadaver.

“It’s not fucking here,” he said.

Dolph frowned. “Bullshit.”

Heinrich shook his head. He spoke through flared teeth. “No coke. No diamonds. Nothing.”

Maria and Jean-Francois traded glances, before she climbed inside past Heinrich. There were two rows of about 20 boxes each, stacked from floor to ceiling. Heinrich had already opened several, their spilled contents lying on the floor by her boots.

Bibles. Dozens of mint condition bibles.

Dolph jabbed Heinrich in the chest with his finger.  “What the hell did you get us into?”

Heinrich pushed him back. “Keep your greasy hands to yourself.”

Jean-Francois glanced at the cargo, and then up at Maria. “What kind of nut would send two jeeps full of men to die over bibles?”

Heinrich and Dolph kept arguing. Jean-Francois tried to keep his distance. It was then that Maria pointed to something taped to one of the boxes near the front. It was a white envelope.

“This is your fault,” Dolph accused Heinrich. “You said everything checked out for today.”

“Fuck you,” Heinrich replied as he paced back and forth in the dirt. “My guy at the villa must have messed up.”

“Messed up? Like he got the dates mixed up with his personal organizer?”

Maria ignored them and opened the envelope. Inside was a simple, hand-written letter.

“What’s that?” Jean-Francois called over to her. But she barely heard him.

“Guys,” she shouted. “There’s a letter signed by Don Cuervo himself. It says, ‘May you find salvation in these.'”

Dolph pushed Heinrich. “He knew we were gonna hit him today!”

“Touch me again and you’ll lose a hand.”

“You sold us out.” Dolph reached for his sidearm, but Heinrich beat him to the draw. Dolph took two bullets in the gut, but still managed to fire, hitting Heinrich in the thigh.

Both men cried out. Heinrich fell to one knee. Dolph collapsed in the dust. Jean-Francois raised his AK, pointed it at Heinrich.

“What the fuck?!” He shouted, but Heinrich was already lifting himself up, weapon still in hand. “Stay down!”

Both Jean-Francois and Heinrich fired.

Heinrich took two in the shoulder, somehow still got up from the ground, and took another volley before he was down for good.

By the time Maria was out of the truck, only Jean-Francois was still standing and barely. He smiled, holding a hand to his chest.

“Shit,” he said. “Should have seen it coming.” He pulled his hand away. Blood seeped from the hole in his chest and pooled in his open palm.

Maria caught him as he fell, cradled him in her arms until he was gone.

When she was alone, she pulled one of the bibles from the floor and sat down in the back of the truck. She opened it at random and managed to read through the last half of the Gospel of Luke before night fell and she heard distant engines coming down into the valley.


Unbreakable

Max Lasalle sat on the dirty basement floor, cheeks swollen and blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. His bulbous arms were tied behind his back, keeping him rooted to the foundation beam.

“Where’s the woman?” Sal Notti kneeled before him, talking in that calm, accented voice of his.

“Up my ass.”

A quick left jab rattled Max’s teeth.

“Still holding out?”

Max swished his lips and spat out a gob of blood the size of a leech. “I’m unbreakable.”

Sal laughed.

“Fine.” He gave Max a quick jab to the solar plexus. “I needed the exercise anyways.”

As Max reeled, Sal turned to the stick thin man with the big eyes who idled nearby. “Hand me another beer.”

The stick reached into the cooler and handed Sal a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. He downed half of it in one swig.

“You sure you should be drinking these?” asked the stick.

Sal furled his brow. “The reward’s gonna buy me at least another case or two, won’t it?” He took another swig. “Besides, I’ll be breaking this punk in no time.”

Sal smirked but the stick looked less certain. He shot Max a furtive, nervous little glance. In response, Max grinned with stained red teeth.

“What if it takes days? We don’t have that kind of time.”

Sal burped and crushed his can. He tossed it to the corner of the room, where it rattled past a row of tools. He fished himself another cold one.

“He’ll break.” He cracked the beer, eyeing their guest.

Sal was right. Max knew he wasn’t going to hold out another day, much less another couple of hours. His only hope was to wait for an opportunity.

Sal set down his can and approached max, cracking his knuckles. “Okay bud, time for round two. Where’s the woman?”

Max grinned. “Up my ass.”

***

An hour later, after two more sessions with Sal left his vision fuzzy and his ears ringing, Max spotted his opportunity.

Sal polished off the last of his beer and tossed it to join the other dozen or so tin soldiers. He burped, unpleasantly, and held his gut.

He turned to the young man. “Listen, I’ve got a business call to take upstairs.”

“What should I do?”

Sal pointed to a sledgehammer propped against the wall. “If he tries anything funny, break one of his knees.”

He seemed aghast. “Which one? The left or the right?”

“Whichever. Just make sure it goes snap.” He clicked his meaty fingers for added gravitas before running up the stairs.

The young man dragged the sledgehammer closer and stood guard over Max. The way he held the weapon, nervous and noncommitting, told Max it was now or never.

“You don’t have it in you.” Max spoke calmly. “And that’s okay. You’re not ugly like Sal.”

“Shut up.” He clenched the hammer but his voice was meek.

Max shook his head. “Tell Sal I slipped the ropes while you were distracted. Better for your conscience. Not everyone is cut to be a bounty hunter.”

The young man bit his lip and lowered the hammer. He took two steps closer. Max could see that it was time for the coup-de-grace to end this debacle once and for all.

“Besides, this is all bullshit. Sal knows that woman is dead as much as I do. No reward for a dead body.”

Something changed in the young man’s features, but not the way Max expected. Instead of loosening the ropes, his grip on the hammer hardened.

“Wait–” but before Max could finish his sentence, the hammer came down on his knee. The bone exploded with a sickening pop and crunch. He screamed.

The young man’s eyes became fire. He grabbed Max by the hair.

“My wife is alive, and you’re going to tell us where she is.”

“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” Max screamed, but the hammer came down on the other knee.

His legs burned. The room spun.

The last thing Max saw before passing out was the sight of Sal rushing down the stairs, buttoning up his pants, a look of amazement covering his face.

“I guess we broke Max.”


Too Good to Be True

Michael slapped the scuffed, silver-grey briefcase against their dining room table. He ran a hand through his dark, stringy hair and shot Javier a look of cold and utter certainty.

“We did it bud. We’re fucking rich.”

Javier stepped forward, set in the combo Sammy gave them and popped the locks. The lid flew back with a satisfying snap, revealing rows of Andrew Jacksons, in thick symmetrical piles, pressed together with greasy rubber bands.

Even though Javier had seen the contents back at the empty lot where they made the deal, seeing those tiny faces stare up at him a second time that day made it easier to swallow. All morning, he felt it was too good to be true and had been nervous as hell. After all, it had been the most lucrative deal he and Mike ever made. They managed to move the whole crop in a single afternoon. Sammy had even delivered them a message from the big man himself.

“Compliments, from Kurt,” he smiled with a gleaming mouth full of silver, before driving off in a cloud of dust.

“Start dividing,” Michael shot a finger to the case. “Gonna put on a new shirt. This one’s sweaty as hell.” He jogged upstairs, leaving Javier alone with the case.

For a full moment, Javier stood there transfixed on their newfound fortunes.

It called for a celebration.

He walked into their kitchenette, popped open the freezer and pulled out the bottle of Russian Prince squeezed in between the pizza pockets and hamburger meat. He poured himself a tall shot, and knocked it back in one sip, revelling in the glorious burn from deep inside his chest.

He was about to pour himself another one when he felt pocket vibrate. Unknown caller. He put his phone to his ear and waited for the voice.

“It’s Sammy.”

His chest sank and a bead of sweat ran down his back. He worried about the deal, but pressed on as cool as he could.

“Yeah?”

“Mike’s going to kill you.”

He coughed. “What!?”

“Kurt doesn’t like dealing with two middle men, so he made Mike a new deal.

“Bullshit.”

“Serious. He’s gonna pop you one. You still got that old revolver?”

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?”

“Upstairs, in the study.”

“Get it. Where’s Mike?”

“Upstairs, he’s gone to…” but then it dawned on him, “fuck.”

“Listen, you can either run, or…”

“Or what?”

“Off him first. Kurt will be just as happy to deal with you as Mike.”

The phone clicked in his ear. Javier felt at a total loss. He didn’t want to believe what he just heard. It felt too unreal, like a dream.

Then again, everything that had happened that day felt like a dream.

He pulled a slender santoku knife from the drawer and went upstairs. He moved silently atop he carpeted floor and peeked into Mike’s room, but it was empty.

That’s when he noticed the door to the study was ajar.

He crept closer, clenching the knife. There was music playing from within. Mumford and Sons.

Javier relaxed. That wasn’t the kind of music you put on when you were about to double cross your best friend, was it? Hi sighed. Sammy was playing him. Trying to turn him against Mike when they needed each other more than ever.

He dropped the knife. The cold, sharpened steel hit the floor with a soft thud, no louder than a footstep. He pushed the door open and stepped inside the study.

“Hey Mikey, listen, I think we might have a prob…”

Mike stood there, shirtless, waiting for him. In one hand was his cell; in the other, the revolver pressed flat against his leg.

“Jesus. Mike, I…” Javier began, but was cut off.

“Sammy told me everything.” Mike’s voice was shrill, wounded.

“Wait!” Javier raised his hand in sudden protest. But he moved too quickly.

Michael’s body twitched. The revolver jumped up to eye level. It only took a momentary squeeze. The kickback was deafening. Javier hardly noticed. The burning feeling, from deep inside his chest, became his whole world. And then regret. And then the dark.