Thursday, May 25, 2017

Robert Ellis: THE LOST WITNESS, My Favorite Hit Man, Part 2

Nathan G. Cava strode down the long row of cars in his suit and tie, worrying that maybe Vinny Bing the Cadillac King had been the wrong choice in a dealership. He could feel a punk salesman tagging along, nipping at his ankles like a stray dog. And something was going on in the main showroom. He hadn’t been inside yet, but he could see some sort of commotion through the glass and sensed that there was a problem.
          He glanced back at the salesman – the mealymouthed man jabbering away on autopilot – and regretted giving the idiot his name.

He had chosen Vinny Bing’s dealership because it was on the south side of town. Poor people lived here, and he hoped that he might get a better deal. He already knew which car he wanted. An SRX Crossover. Not as big as his beloved Hummer, but enough car to feel at home in. He particularly liked the size of the sunroof. The retractable glass extended from front to back, taking up most of the roof of the car. Cava thought it might come in handy for surveillance work. Still, he would be sorry to see the Hummer go. It was almost new, and he liked the way it drove. The fact that people got out of his way and left him an open road. Even those creeps in their BMWs.
          Cava continued his march down the aisle, ignoring the salesman. He knew the car he wanted, but couldn’t decide on the color. In the best of all worlds he would have chosen black. But for someone in his line of work, he thought that it might be safer to go with something less stark. Something that would blend a little better in the neighborhood. He had narrowed his choice down to two, and as he continued walking, he spotted them parked side-by-side.
          He stopped and gave the two cars a long look, then turned to the salesman and waved his hand in a call for immediate silence.
          “What color is that car?” he asked.
          “Oh, you’ve picked a good one, sir. That’s an SRX, and it’s priced just right. It’s on sale today. If you buy it in the next hour you’ll save even more.”
          “What color is it?”
          “We call that one Light Platinum. And it’s the best.”
          Cava pointed to the second car. “What color’s that one?”
          “That’s Radiant Bronze. You couldn’t make a better choice, Mr. Cava. It’s the best.”
          “How can two cars be the best?”
          “They’re all the best. That’s all we sell here. Just name your price and I’ll run it by Vinny – simple as that. Want the keys? Let’s test her out.”
          Cava turned and looked down at the salesman. He was dressed in a ratty suit and his wrinkled shirt needed a hot iron.
          “I don’t want a test drive. I want the car and I want it in Radiant Bronze. Now go get Vinny.”
          “We need to do this inside, Mr. Cava. We’ve got a deal room.”
          Cava paused a moment. He didn’t know what a deal room was.
          “I’m okay with that,” he said finally. “But I don’t work with a translator. If you want the deal, bring Vinny.”
          “Okay, okay. But don’t come in until I give you the signal.”
          The man winked at him, then cantered ahead and disappeared into the showroom. Cava didn’t get it. But then, he hadn’t understood anything the man had been saying for the past ten minutes.
          He started walking toward the showroom, worrying again. Thinking that maybe he should head back to the Hummer and bolt. Take his chances that he wouldn’t get stopped. The witness probably saw his face and knew that he drove a Hummer, but that’s as far as it would go. No one had his plate numbers because he had taken the precaution of lifting a temporary set from the C Lot over at LAX earlier that night, then switched back.
          He could split right now and take his chances. But was it worth the risk?
          He held out his hands and realized that they were trembling. Not enough that anyone would notice, but not rock steady either. Not kill steady. He heard the salesman call out his name and looked up.
          The little guy was holding the showroom door open and waving at him. Cava guessed that this was the signal.
          He took a deep breath and stepped through the door. Heard Ray Charles singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Saw the bright lights hanging from the ceiling, and a man moving in from the right with a video camera. A second camera was pointed across the room at a man with a grotesque smile slowly descending a staircase from the management offices on the second floor.
          Cava tried to keep cool and focus in spite of the confusion. The man making his runway entrance down the stairs was wearing some sort of weird costume. At first Cava thought that he might be dressed up as Santa Claus or maybe even the Burger King. But after a while he put the scene together with the cameras and music and decided that the bizarre looking jerk was just Vinny Bing, the Cadillac King.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Robert Ellis: THE LOST WITNESS, My Favorite Hit Man Makes His Debut

Nathan G. Cava watched the Mercedes pull into the drive and vanish behind the grove of oak trees. But it was the Ford Explorer with darkened glass following the Mercedes onto the property that he found so disturbing. As the gate closed, he pulled into a construction site just across the street. Someone wanted a new mansion, so they tore the old one down. Nothing was left but a ten-foot wall protecting a bunch of dirt.

Welcome to the Westside. Swimming pools and movie stars.

Cava made a loop, his Hummer grinding up the loose soil. When he had a reasonable view of Fontaine’s place, he slammed on the brakes and watched the cloud of dust rake across the hood. Then he reached for his binoculars, steadying his view through the trees with his elbows pinned to the steering wheel.

Fontaine and his girlfriend from the office were heading for the front door. The two men riding in the Explorer were walking around both sides of the house, sweeping the property.

It looked like the Beverly Hills doctor had hired a pair of bodyguards. All of a sudden things were getting dramatic. And Nathan G. Cava didn’t like dramatic.

He wondered what spooked Fontaine, and figured that it must have been that story they ran on the news last night. Cava had seen it on one of the stations when it was rebroadcast at 1:00 a.m. He’d just returned to his apartment, popped an Ambien CR and was lying in bed waiting for the drug to take. That’s when he learned that there had been a witness. That part one of his three-part Hollywood deal wasn’t exactly done yet. There was another loose end. Another screw up, just like all the other screw ups he’d endured while overseas.

Someone had been hiding in the parking lot Wednesday night and had the balls to take that picture. The quality of the photograph ate shit and wasn’t worth worrying about. But someone had been lurking in the shadows. Someone had been watching him. No matter how dark it may have been that night, odds were that the witness saw his face and probably knew the make and model of his car. As he played back the night in his head, he had to admit that he’d been a little nervous, a bit rusty and not exactly up to par. He hadn’t expected her to be so young or pretty. And he didn’t expect her to smile. He had seen her do it through the window when he walked by. He could see the spark in her eyes.

Even worse, he wasn’t really sold on the reason he had been given to talk to the pretty girl and take her life. It felt a lot like the reasons he had been given during his three tours of duty. When he did the math, it never really added up. Especially the two additional years he had spent in Eastern Europe, where he had been given the nickname Dr. Neat. The truth was that he considered himself a physician – not an information specialist who interviews people and delves into their past with the aid of special tools. Although he had followed orders, he hated the nickname and the people who gave it to him. It felt more like a burden than anything else. A burden placed on him by people he couldn’t trust because he knew that they didn’t have souls and were using him.

Cava needed reasons to do the things he did. The more personal, the better. And if he couldn’t be given a reason, he needed to find one on his own. Something with more resonance than money. Something more real and less tarnished than For God and Country. Sometimes he found the reason the moment he looked at a person. But usually it took a couple of days to smoke out and feel true. It was part of the creative process. The thing that kept him sane in a world that had stopped spinning eight years ago. The thing that protected his core deep inside. The core no one could get to. No one could catch or reach or run a jet liner through.



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