Chapter Nine: Thug Boy
A stretch limousine had pulled around to collect Max at the front of the restaurant. He entered, with Roj hovering near his coat tails. He was thumbing a cell phone even before he sat down. She heard a ring-sound, and someone answered. "Lawson, get a shadow on that weasel Garrison. He doesn't know shit about what is going in his base, and I don't trust him."
Roj would have bet that Garrison had a tail on him by the time he was done trying to dry out his crotch in the mens' room with the hand dryer. How was he going to get back to the office? Would Max have provided his transportation again, or would he have to walk? No wallet, no money, no taxi. Who would he call to bring him back, Hennessey or Costaine?
The question could wait. Max stretched his legs out and leaned back in the seat, his hands clasped above his stinking head. He still frightened Roj a little, knowing how the man had seen her as an impediment and not a human being. She wondered if he saw anyone else as a human being at all. He gave orders, but his demeanor seemed to say that he didn't take them. He was unselfconscious about his occasional lapse of grammar, but spoke with authority, confidently, using vocabulary but not being constrained by it. How had he become such a monster?
"His mother was from Jamaica, and his father was not interested in family life. Max grew up a big boy, able to make his way by strength and force. His dream was to be rich, and his mother did not provide any moral code for him to follow," Desai supplied, from behind her. "She worked to buy food and pay rent, and the boy was left to make his way on his own."
"Does that mean he's justified in what he does?" Roj asked, appalled.
"No, of course not. Poverty justifies no one, except the ones who have nothing of upbringing, and have no more than a stray dog or cat. Those orphans see no hope, have no way of finding a different way. But again, those ones do not usually afford Armani suits and two hundred dollar lunches."
"You've done some research into Mr. Max."
"It is what he has done."
"We don't speak the same language," Roj said, watching the streets move by.
"We do, but you do not want to speak what you mean."
Roj thought for a minute, trying to see where her comment had gone wrong. "All right. You know what Max has done."
"How do you know what Max has done?"
"It is what he has done."
"You're about to drive me nuts," she told Desai, whom she had seriously begun to think of as a 'him' because of the annoyance factor. "You see the past."
"Yes, it has been done."
"But not the future."
"No, that has not yet been done, except in the Hand of the Most High."
"Wonderful. God alone knows how this will all turn out. That's not very helpful, Desai."
"How can you say that? Of course it is helpful, because the One Who Is Above All brings all to perfect completion."
"Well, Desai, dearie, I can't see the past, or the future, and all I want is for Matt to be all right and this dirty assassination plot put to an end."
"You must have faith."
"Drop it, we're stopping."
The limo halted in an alley in the southeast end of town. The day had turned dull, with heavy clouds moving in, and a cold wind. Max got out of the car and opened a door in the side of a warehouse.
Roj drifted after Max in the cold afternoon light, reluctantly. There was something here she had to know, she seemed to understand that in her deepest being, but she didn't really want to see what Max did for his living.
Max's office, down a short hallway with cheap loose carpets that caught all the mud and stones and dirt, was opulent, as well-appointed as the Richesse restaurant had been.
Max picked up a phone and dialed. "Come, Chevvie, you tell the Canada Girl that all is clear, got me?"
Yes, that must be the corridor for the meth. Roj wasn't aware of how the drug was made, or where it was made, but Canada Girl was about to resume shipments of something, knowing that Matt was out of the way.
Roj felt helpless. She could redial Max's contact and what? -- tell them to avoid shipments indefinitely, provided she could make herself heard over the phone.
She drifted out into the rest of the warehouse, out of Max's rich office. On the other side of the insulated walls were an acre of trucks, and a battalion of people swarming around them. There were big trucks unloading, but the receiving trucks were all small, no big rigs. They bore logos such as Americco Pool Supply, and CSV Satellite, and Home Discount. Somehow she had thought that Max's operation would be shipping stacks of drugs, that what she would see would be bags of cocaine and grass and meth -- though in all honesty, she had never seen wholesale drugs at all, only images served up by Hollywood. Here were only plastic buckets of chlorine tablets, spools of wire, and rolled up rugs, among other prosaic things.
"A distribution center?" she asked the air.
"Did you expect a warehouse store called 'Drugs R Us?'" Desai said.
"You're a laff riot, as they say. What am I looking for?"
"I do not know. You are the dead woman who wants something before she can accept being dead."
"That's not true. I accept being dead. But there's something that I can't quite hear ... that I'm supposed to take care of ..."
"You hear this?"
"Sort of, like how you hear the wind in the branches of trees, but not exactly."
Desai seemed taken aback. "Very well."
"What does that mean, Desai? Don't you hear it, too? Or just that's it's good for me to hear something?"
"It means you hear something I do not, but also that you may be hearing something meant only for you."
"Wonderful. I'm not only dead, I'm hearing unintelligible stuff. It's not enough to be forcibly lobotomized, I have to try to learn a new language." Roj turned away from the warehouse. "There aren't any drugs here, that I can see. This Max dude scares the bejabbers out of me, though, even if he can't kill me again."
"Please do not use that phrase, 'bejabbers,' if you don't mind. It is disrespectful."
Roj was about to argue with him, but a door opened and a man burst through, adjusting a pistol in a shoulder holster under his suit jacket. "Hey," she said, "I know the smell on him. He is another one of Manly Max's Minions and so for sure he is up to no good at all. But what?" She flew to his side to see what he was up to in such a hurry.
As he threw himself into a late model Lincoln, Roj joined him, alighting in the front seat. "Now where were you, Thug Boy? You certainly weren't in Max's office, but here you are all nice and pressed and tidy, like you were just waiting to go. I'll bet you were hung up in a janitor's closet in your undies, and when the call came, you were taken down and sent to Costume and shoved on stage, do I win my bet?"
He didn't answer her, of course, because he didn't hear her, but he did pull out of the warehouse at speed.
After traveling north and west under the increasingly leaden clouds, Thug Boy finally pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex. He climbed the outside stairs to Apartment 31 and rang the doorbell.
A woman answered the door, a baby in her arms.
"Where Jerome?" Thug Boy asked, peremptorily.
"He's gone to the County, to get clean," the woman answered, defiantly, angrily. "He don't want no more of your business."
Thug Boy shoved the door all the way open, pushing her back. "So he ain't here."
"No. Get out, he's not doing your business no more," she said.
"Oh, look, you got all these babies."
A two-year-old was standing by a coffee table, and a four-year-old sat in front of the television watching Sesame Street. "Go away," said the mother. "Or I'll call the police."
Thug Boy laughed. "Police? Here? I'm gettin' some sweetness before any cops can spare time for this place."
"No," said the woman.
Thug Boy pulled open his suit coat and showed her the gun in its armpit holster. "Yes, or you goin' to be missing some babies."
"Oh God, no," the woman said, "please God, don't do this to us."
"Put Baby down, or I'll have to toss Baby off the balcony," Thug Boy said, shaking his arms down inside his suit, readying for action.
"Delaney!" said the mother in a sharp, shrill voice. "Take Rose and Fox back to your room, and shut the door, and you stay there until I tell you to come out, do you hear me?"
Delaney collected Rose from his mother. She was a heavy burden for the little boy, but he managed it, and his call to his younger brother took all three of the children through the hallway into the recesses of the apartment.
Roj was horrified. Witnessing a rape at gunpoint was more than she could bear to consider. What chance had the woman against someone who was determined to violate her? If she struggled, he would kill her and the children as well without a second thought, and just fade away, out of the hands of justice once again. If she reported him, he'd be back for revenge. He had no fear in him at all, only lust, and he was glad of the feeling. How could Roj stop him?
There was a strange whisper in the air, that said to Roj, Do what you must. "What do I do, Desai? Come on, tell me!" If she attacked the man, he'd still shoot Jerome's wife. If she took his gun, shot and killed him, Max would come back and take revenge on the woman, after the police investigated and charged her with homicide or manslaughter or whatever killing another human being might be called. They might call it self-defense, but would the woman just say, "No, the gun floated up in the air and shot him right in the heart all by itself"?
Thug Boy shrugged off his jacket and began to pull at his belt. He was chuckling, and the stench of his evil intention was like vile steam rising from his body. An eagerness increased his heart rate, and he licked his lips with anticipation. He has no intention of simply raping her -- he intends to kill her afterwards, no matter what, to punish Jerome for getting out of the drug business!
Jerome's wife stood still, trembling, tears trickling from her eyes, prayers to God darting from her lips almost silently: My babies, please don't let him kill my babies.
The man reached out towards the woman's throat with his left hand while his right hand gripped the front of her blouse to tear it. Roj leaned in, removed his pistol from the holster, calmly thumbed off the safety, put the muzzle against Thug Boy's knee cap, and fired.
The woman sprang back, eyes staring in terror. Roj opened the front door, and slid the gun out to the very edge of the balcony. Thug Boy was writhing on the floor, bleeding all over the carpet, gripping at his knee with both hands. "Damn it! God damn it! Motherfucker!"
The word had a galvanizing effect on Jerome's wife. She reached behind a chair near the door and brought out a baseball bat, eyeing the incapacitated Thug Boy thoughtfully.
Don't do it, Roj thought. Don't beat his brains in, woman, please.
Jerome's wife hefted the bat, went to her phone, and dialed 9-1-1. "This is Laurella Haines at 3764 Andelin Street, the Comstock Apartments Number 31-- a man just came in and shot hisself in the leg in my living room. He bleeding pretty bad."