Waiting is easy for me. I put on a Beethoven sonata, the Pathétique, and emptied my mind of all thoughts until the silver notes were all my consciousness held. I ate, slept, drank coffee, observed the moon rise over this great city, and felt peace in my heart for the first time in a year. I had no hatred in my heart for Sandy; the fox doesn’t hate the groundhog; he just knows all the groundhog knows and that makes him one-up on his prey.
I met Alexei Kagalovsky, or so he said his name was, in front of a cavernous night club on Coney Island Avenue in Little Odessa. The foyer was all imported Italian marble and the women were dressed in gold lamé gowns. The tables in the back of the room were manned by waiters in bone-white shirts and black bow ties. I saw huge slabs of beef and heaps of pickled herring as well as dozens of bottles of chilled Stoly sitting in buckets of ice. Lasers crisscrossed the room.
Alexei made a big point of telling me he had a master’s in Oriental studies from Leningrad State University. Russians are tacky bastards as well as vicious. He dressed like Dr. Frankenstein’s Igor without his basket of brains, and I noticed his Levi’s were the kind they advertised as stone-washed and full of chic rips and tears at the thigh. The razor crease down each leg spoiled the effect. His boots had a mirror shine. He wore a Presidential and carried of wad of bills that he liked to flash whenever he ordered drinks. He put his hand on the ass of the girl serving us and later tried to insert it sideways into her cleavage when she bent over to put the glasses on the tray.
I practically gave up my life story since my mother shit me out thirty-nine years ago in Brownsville. He laughed a few times at my wry descriptions of heists gone bad. We got down to it an hour later. He was interested in more stones, he said. “Big fat rocks.” He kept using the word “cool” and picking at his crotch. Was I still partners with the woman who sold him the first ones? I let him think so.
He worked fast. I had a phone call from a man who said he was working for the man I met. He had a line on the woman I was seeking, he said. He gave me a phone number with a South Dakota prefix.
When I dialed it, an old woman came on. I gave her a spiel about knowing Sandy Biggers from years ago and owing her money. Would it be all right for me to send her the five hundred dollars?
“Biggers. Sandra ain’t been called that in a long time.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “When I knew Sandy, she was still married to—Gee, what’s his name?”
“That no-good sonofabitch Stanley Biggers.”
“Ha-ha, yeah, good old Stan.”
“She don’t go by Biggers no more since she come back. She don’t need your money, mister. G’bye.”
The old girl couldn’t see the smile on my face, but I was grinning from ear to ear. She was using LaFramboise again. The family name, full of French and Indian history, she used to brag about to me when we were doing crimes together. The old woman’s clipped English rang distant chords of a memory of being in the Badlands. If you’re Sioux in South Dakota, there’s only one place you belong: Pine Ridge Reservation in the Badlands. It’s the worst Indian ghetto in the United States—alcoholism, unemployment, childhood diseases eradicated a hundred years ago, domestic violence, murder, suicide, mental retardation—Yowsa, it’s all there on the rez.
A rabbit runs to its bolthole. This rabbit was going to get the surprise of her life.
While I watched the countryside blur past from my seat on the Greyhound, I entertained myself with selections from Turandot and La Bohème. I prefer opera on long rides. My favorite piece is Sempre Libera from La Traviata. I prefer piano to violin and Chopin to Schubert. Any étude or nocturne of his is worth all the rest of that pretentious Viennese shit put together. It was a long ride, and I had time to think.
Route 90 crosses the Missouri at Chamberlain. By then I was red-eyed and itchy where my beard chafed my neck. I was sure Sandy wasn’t worried about me catching up to her after all this time.
The answer, when I got it, shouldn’t have surprised me because I learned long ago that women who get involved in drugs and crime (or with criminals, same thing) are creatures of habit. It is their tragedy to become like their mothers, and as some wit said, it’s a man’s tragedy that he never does. Sandy Biggers was a crack whore, then a meth fiend, who’d suck a cock for a fix or help her lowlife man stab another man in the back. Sandy LaFramboise was a heart-scalded little girl who never really left the reservation.
But my fucking diamonds did, all right. They went to some orthodox Jew in London my Chicago fence knew well and mistrusted. He cheated her badly but he still made her rich.
Then, God help me if I understand this, she took the money and gave it away to the tribe, the dumb cunt. My diamonds, my score—gave it away to a bunch of raggedy-assed Indians. Bought them a daycare and a recreation center, paid off legal debts and hospital bills. She even built a medical clinic and put a doctor from Kadoka on retainer for all the sick children. She gave money to mothers and fathers. She paid for drug and alcohol rehab for anyone who asked for it. She even set up a full-tuition college scholarship in Sioux Falls with some provost who had Cheyenne blood. She bought computers, cell phones, and iPods—I could go on because everyone who knew her had another story of her charity. Saint Sandra LaFramboise of the Badlands, whew, she was quite the celebrity by the time I got to South Dakota. There wasn’t a fuckin’ diamond left to put into a stickpin or a drill bit by then.
It took me six months to get to her, because I am a patient man. I followed her and watched her habits. I recorded every movement in a notebook I kept in my motel room. She left the reservation once a month to take Grandmother LaFramboise to see her cardiologist in Rapid City. I watched twice from the parking lot, noted how careful she was with the old broad. She had put on weight and cut her hair short. She looked healthy and happy.
On the third trip to see the old lady’s doctor, I made my move. Sandy had run errands on both previous occasions and she ran true to form this time. I followed her to a nearby Rite-Aid and waited for her to come out. I didn’t mind that surveillance cameras were probably taping the scene. Just two old friends meeting up after a long absence.
“Hi, Sandy, long time no see.”
She looked at me and then recognition blitzed.
“I always wondered if you made it out of there,” she said.
“That was thoughtful.”
“If it’s any consolation, I didn’t know Cecil was going to kill those people. I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
“Tut-tut, I see you’ve been busy doing some restitution. With my money.” I’ll give her this much: she had more apples than Cecil when she saw fate looming.
“What do you want?”
“I think you know, don’t you?”
“I’ve got some money left, about twenty, thirty thousand—”
I laughed at the figure.
“I know. It isn’t very much. I’m sorry.”
“You’re wasting my time, Sandy.”
“Look, you don’t have to do this. Wasn’t Rocky enough? Cecil?”
“Oh, yes, I do.”
“What if I won’t—go with you?”
“You can scream. I’ll not wrestle you in this goddamned parking lot. But I’ll kill her. You know I’ll do that much. Then I’ll kill as many of your relatives back there as I can get to.”
“OK,” she said.
“OK, then, let’s go. Time’s wasting.”
I had the place fixed up and ready, of course. I’m nothing if not patient. She was cooperative. She even placed her hands together over her head so I could lash them to the beam. She didn’t scream, though, and she didn’t even flinch when I uncovered the knives and the other gizmos I had secreted under a felt cloth—mostly for psychological terror. She just offered herself up. A true martyr. Rocky Fontana died for love of this woman. His face was a mask of pain at the end and I’m sure she was all but forgotten in the haze of his suffering. She didn’t beg or cry. That bothered me because it made what I was doing seem clinical and sanitized somehow.
I’m a sadist, which I’m sure you’ve picked up on by now since you’ve got me sitting in your shitty little interrogation room drinking this filthy machine coffee and talking into a camera for the record. What do I care? Let me finish it because that bitch poisoned my life by not crying out or screaming when I went to work on her. Let me get it done now, and you can make what you will of it because I’m tired thinking about it. About an hour into it, her head slumped to her chest, but her breathing was regular enough.
I took the Louisville slugger I had put in the corner, which was supposed to be for the coup de grâce anyway. I walked up to her and slapped the meat end of the bat in my palm to get her attention. She raised her head up and looked at me—and smiled. That was too much even for a killer with my patience, man! I swung at her head, struck her full in the mouth, really put my hips and shoulders into it the way they teach you in Little League and used a full extension of my arms. I never played the game, you see, but I have a natural athletic ability of sorts and it was, shall we say, a homerun swing. Teeth, blood, tissue—it all came flying out of her mouth and spattered the walls and ceiling. The lower mandible was completely separated but hanging there, literally, by threads. Just hanging there by shredded tendons or ligaments or whatever the fuck holds a shattered jaw to a head. I threw the bat down and grabbed her head and looked for some kind of recognition or light in her eyes. Something personal. There was nothing. I put her out with that swing and she wasn’t coming back. Not even a curse for me before I did it or for her fucked-up life. Nothing but a sweet-faced, stoic acceptance of her fate. You know something? I never did a fraction of what I intended to do to her, either. I noticed your female partner hasn’t been back in the room since we started this little deal here, right?
One more thing, it’s not important, but I thought I’d mention it. She had aspirated blood. It was nothing I did to her either. She just spat it up. Maybe growing up in that godforsaken reservation and being addicted to meth—I don’t know. I’ve seen it in the joint—that is, guys with TB. They spit up blood with oxygen bubbles in the center. They call them ‘ghost drops.’
It’s all one to me now. So now you know.
What’s that? You said something about my ‘nature’? What—you don’t like the truth of my nature? Listen, man, like the guy said. If you want nature, follow a dog. I’m done here. I know what’s next. The bullpen, right? With the rest of the lowlifes and shitbags you got in lockup. That’s OK. Must be close to chow time, right?
Robb White has published two hardboiled detective-fiction novels: Haftmann’s Rules in 2011 and Saraband for a Runaway in 2013. His noir, crime, and mainstream stories have appeared in several webzines. Besides the novels, his series character Thomas Haftmann has appeared in many webzines, such as Sex and Murder Magazine, A Twist of Noir, Yellow Mama, and Flash Fiction Offensive. He also writes book reviews for the print magazine Boxing World. Red Giant Press of Cleveland brought out his first collection of literary stories: “Out of Breath” and Other Stories last year. His script, East Palestine, won a bronze award in the action category at last year’s TrindieFest in Colorado (2013).