by Louis B. Shalako
“What?” I grunted.
When the phone rang, I had no intention of working, no matter who called or what the job entailed. Tony Di Bianco was hard to say no to. With Tony you have little choice but to be polite.
“I need you to get rid of something for me,” his bum-boy Tazio the Knife said.
Tony never talks on the phone. It is beneath his dignity. Presumably, he must have talked to his kids or his wife or his mother on the phone, or someone, during the course of his lifetime.
Tazio is a total lunatic. He never cares. A proper guy should wise up and assume someone is always listening. He would be right happy to go to jail and do twenty-five-to-life for his old friend Tony. Tazio’s a bug; in every sense of the word. He worships Tony.
“I’m very sorry, you must have the wrong number,” I grumbled, dead tired after a long day. I promptly hung up, but that was just our way.
An hour and a half later, I was sitting a little bleary-eyed in a back booth at the truck stop near the main Highway 401 interchange. My tail was clean, and I was using my spare car and my spare name. I just don’t know who I am anymore! It helps to be stone cold sober; and I got no wants and warrants and nothing up my sleeve. My prints aren’t on file anywhere. I’m never armed, and I never carry dope. Honestly, I have nothing to worry about. All I could do was to sit and wait and try not to worry.
Finally another guy came in. It was Phil, and thank God for that. So far, plenty of truckers and travelers had come and gone. I was getting a little antsy, what with the imagination working overtime; and the knowledge of who I was dealing with. It is extremely hard to turn down work from these guys, and I was wondering what I had been tapped for. I was happy enough that it wasn’t Tazio or Tony.
I waved him over. Phil and I are troubleshooters. He’s got a full-time gig. I’m kind of a subcontractor. It’s like working on permit from the union local.
“Hey, Brad,” he said. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
“Hey, that’s okay, Phil,” I replied.
He ordered coffee. We chit-chatted about sweet nothings. He had a wife and kid, I once had a wife and kid, and we always make sure to ask about each other’s wives and kids, right? He commiserated on my loss, but I told him not to make a big thing out of it. “I prefer to try and forget,” I said.
We went on to the Blue Jays, and then the waitress brought him a coffee and she was kind enough to refill mine. I handed her a ten and said “Thanks.” Being able to take a hint, she screwed off and stayed off.
Brad swilled the coffee down quicker than anything, but then all of us have iron guts and gravel-bottomed throats. He probably wanted to get home to the family.
We stepped outside and swapped keys. Phil told me to lose the blue plastic barrel in the back of his black pickup truck, a Dodge with a V-10 motor. Phil’s not an idiot. He had it strapped down properly, which is not easy to do with a barrel. I wouldn’t want that to come in through the back window.
“Any suggestions?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said. “Just stop into the barber shop tomorrow and drop the truck off. If you come at eight, I’ll drive you home before I open up. If not, we’ll make arrangements later.”
“Any idea what’s in it?” I asked. I wasn’t that curious, but if there was a body in there, it would be helpful to know. The contents of the barrel would have some bearing in my choice of disposal, obviously; and Phil gave it a moment’s thought.
“Pour it out into a pond or a ditch somewhere,” he suggested. “Then take the barrel to a car wash and wash it out. I don’t know, blast off the label and squish it up or something and toss it out somewhere five miles down the road. Chuck the barrel anywhere, I suppose.”
“I could drop the barrel off near the barrel factory,” I suggested. “I’ll go down Oil Patch Road and toss it over the back fence.”
An empty plastic barrel shouldn’t be too heavy. I worked in the recycling area when I was fourteen. Them old steel barrels, still half full of chemicals, solvents or motor oil or whatever, were pretty hard to handle, at least for a skinny kid.
“Sure! No one would notice it, or even care if they did,” he agreed. “Anyway, Mister Bawnz can’t take the shipment right now. All those congressional hearings. They won’t do nothing to him, but it’s just too hot right now.”
“Okay, whatever,” I said patiently. I would have preferred to know even less. “Do you think he’ll make the Hall of Fame?”
He grinned at that. Bawnz had the hits and the fans wanted another myth. “Of course,” he assured me with a gleam in his eye. “I got a lot of money riding on it!”
I was damned glad it wasn’t a corpse, although there are ways to liquefy a body. But then it wouldn’t have been such a rush job.
Phil handed me a thick wad of bills, and that was pretty much it. “Put it in number thirteen-twelve. Leave the keys under the passenger-side floor mat and lock the car,” I said.
“Okay,” he grinned. We shook hands. All Phil had to do was to drop off my spare car and then walk two blocks and call a cab. If he was worried about leaving a trail, he could walk maybe ten or twelve blocks and be home in half an hour.
* * *
“The common pond hydra is a small, freshwater animal,” Detective Sergeant Andreas Papadopolous told me four days later, from across the little desk in the interview cubicle. His angry black eyebrows, almost a mono-brow at the best of times, met heavily in the middle. His black mustache, thick and long enough to stick out past the end of his nose, quivered in outrage, but then we were friends once. We played Little League softball on the same team. Our team always came in last place, as I recall. In my whole career, I hit one home run, and I had one single-handed double play to my credit. I caught a fly ball and some guy was leading off from second base just a little too far. Dead easy. My homer took a funny bounce off the fence in the smallest of the parks we played in, and the fielder tripped and lost his glasses. No Hall of Fame for me. Maybe I should have gotten onto the steroids.
“So?” I murmured.
“In order to capture its food, and for self-defense; it has a kind of poison. It has stinging cells in ah, the ectodermic layer,” he explained. “These critters are normally pretty small, Brad.” Some deep tension, a real anger lurked below the surface.
“And?” I asked.
“It’s just that when a hydra is cut up, even into fairly small pieces, it has the ability to regrow, like a lizard that loses its tail. They re-grow into whole and complete individuals. You kill one and you end up with four or five of them. It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? It’s just that you’re not such a bad guy, and it’s just that you went through some tough times, what with the losing your house and stuff, Mary and little Bradley getting killed by that drunk driver and all. You know we’re all genuinely sorry and all that. We’re just trying to keep you out of trouble here, Brad.”
“What are you implying?” I murmured. The key thing is to be patient with the cops. Amateurs think they can talk their way out of it and somehow go home at night. It’s the amateurs that fill up this nation’s jails. My lawyer will be here tomorrow for the bail hearing, and then I can go get a good meal and be at home and in my own bed by tomorrow night. And I’ll never do another minute in jail, at least not on this bogus little beef.
“What I am implying, is that you made a run for Tony Di Bianco; and that while you really didn’t know what you were doing... I mean, how could you know what a two-hundred-something litre drum full of concentrated growth hormone would do to a pond full of innocent little organisms? Uh... you are in one hell of a lot of trouble,” he growled.
“What are you saying?” I asked, allowing just the slightest tone of rising impatience to creep into my voice and my demeanor. “What are you getting at?”
“What I am getting at is that now we have four people dead and an unknown number of ten-foot tall hydras. They’re running around in suburbia. They’re following the old river and the canal. We don’t know where they’re going to pop up next. They’re kind of hard to kill, and you really haven’t lived until you’ve seen your best friend and partner of fifteen years sucked in and ingested by one of those things.”
Andreas broke off for a moment to take a couple of deep breaths. “And if you don’t wipe that smirk off your face, I’m...” He broke off in red-faced anger as a heavy knock came at the one-way mirror on the wall.
Detective Papadopolous — whom I had grown up with and gone to elementary school with — got up and stalked out of the room. His only other option would have been to beat the living crap out of me. It’s what I would have done if the situation were reversed.
“I don’t believe any of this,” I told the guys behind the mirror. “Anyway, screw you if you can’t take a joke!”
* * *
They really couldn’t charge me with anything. I bet they tried that scam on ten other guys. We all fit the same kind of profile or something. There was one bad moment when I wondered if maybe they had me somewhere on a surveillance camera. None of them other suspects knew anything more than I did, and arguably less. Tony and Phil’s names were never mentioned, except by the cops.
A few of the boys came around and picked me up in a limo a few days later. We got pretty drunk, at least I did, and they were all saying how ‘Big Tony’ owes me one. I never knew I had so many friends. All good guys, really.
As for the offer they made, I’ll have to think about that one for a while. It all depends on what he wants me to do. Sooner or later the authorities will kill off the last of those hydra-thingies, according to the news boys. Maybe we’ll get a couple of really cold winters in a row or something. That will probably kill them.
Now I’m on my way with the family firm if I want. There may still be time to back out. It’s better than social assistance, food banks, soup kitchens, and geared-to-income housing. There is just no future in that. Tony takes the whole crew to Florida for a month every year. It’s first class all the way. This is the greatest country in the world.
Copyright © 2011 by Louis B. Shalako