Chapter 1 After being drawn up over the Pacific and chilled to a few degrees below zero. Once wispy clouds of water vapor, gentle in their basic nature; turn merciless falling back to Earth as icy bb’s pelting Baron’s picture window pane like shotgun blasts in the gale. Just as million-watt flashes of bright-white lightning streak across the sky in spiny fingers, ripping open the inky darkness of the night, while sinisterly casting evil shadows around a hooded monk-like figure coming in the storm. Desperately blinking again and again, Baron wants to know. NO! He has to know! Just as the starry-eyed afterglow still shining in his eyes is turning Baron half blind, before he grumbles to anyone who is listening, “Can’t see a damn thing” –and a savage looking Rottweiler named Cannon raises his head with menacing interest. Then lowers it again back onto the carpeted floor. Suddenly! Like tossed puzzle-pieces flung in the air, more rapid-fire flashes strobe the wind-whipped figure outside, clutching their collar against the gale, while nanosecond glimpses of whoever it is, can be seen leaning determined to force their way through the punishing gale. “Anyone out in this weather has got to have a damn good reason,” Baron groans in exasperation to convince himself. Before more nightmarish lightning strobes the inky darkness and a sneaky little ‘psst’ goes off like someone wants to tell Baron a secret. A Glock 9mm he carried as a DEA agent is in the top drawer of his desk, but it won’t be needed. Nor will anyone need to call 911 for backup either. Checking his watch then, Baron sees 7:58 glowing in blood-red numbers on the cheap LED readout, before he sneers miserably, “Two more minutes and he’s late. I hope he didn’t chicken out!” Then the Rottweiler Cannon raises his savage looking head again—just as the sneaky little ‘psst’ goes off once more and Baron tosses it an annoyed glance. While hanging on the wall is a framed commendation for exemplary service in the line of duty, and looking at it, Baron mutters, “Those were the days” with sad fondness. Awarded it while wrecking his marriage at the same time and turning into a prescription pill-popping addict himself, it seems strangely ironic how ambitious zeal or blind obsession has the power to turn a person into something they thought they could never be. There is also a picture of him shaking hands with then President of United States George H. W. Bush and there’s another picture on the wall of him wearing body armor with DEA in bright-white reflective letters on his back. Taken while he and his Latino partner Oscar were making some South American druglord’s day very unprofitable, it went well with the zealous nickname he had of Rambo back then. But that macho moniker came with a price and he found out what that price was when he discovered his partner Oscar’s beaten body in the back of his Chevy Silverado pickup, and flies were buzzing around a drying red hole in the middle of Oscar’s forehead. A hauntingly still stare was in Oscar’s eyes, telling Baron that… we both know who did this –and it sent a message that: you’re next Rambo. In fact that’s what was sprayed painted on the side of Oscar’s pickup. From that point on Baron has always thought: To hell with gathering evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. They’re calling this a ‘war on drugs’ so let’s stop fighting it like a bunch of pussies with our tail between our legs. All that crap about a drug-dealer’s Constitutional Rights was the ball-and-chain they had to drag around behind them. While scumbag defense attorneys squawk like proud poultry, trying to get their clients off and back out on the street where they’ll have more opportunities to beat the system again with the knowledge they learned, beating it the first time.Then there’s the picture of him with Oscar in what looks like an extremely well-stocked bank vault. But in reality it was one of several of the cartel’s counting rooms that they took-down, and back then they were all smiles in the picture. Twenty-two million went to what Baron and Oscar called their ‘operational rainy-day fund,’ because there was always the possibility that they were going to need a lot of cash in a hurry and going through proper channels to get it was a real pain-in-the-ass and it slowed things down. Some of their ‘operational rainy-day fund’ paid for beefed-up security systems around his and Oscar’s homes, or for fast vehicles to chase and/or get away from the bad-guys who were trying to kill them. Then more lightning streak across the sky in spiny fingers—at the same time as the hooded monk-like figure is turning the corner in front of Baron’s apartment building and getting closer and closer.‘Psst’ goes the sneaky little whisper again, like it’s a light tap on the shoulder to remind Baron why this meeting is happening in the first place, and he pauses to admire another picture on the wall. In it he has his arm around a beautiful woman’s slender waist, and they’re all smiles. Saddened every time he looks at that picture …at how the woman has such a I’m-so-devoted-to-you expression on her beautiful face in the picture—that when a guy like Baron destroys a love like that, the world is never a happy place again. No its endless bouts of mourning-filled regret. It was his unswerving focus on the task-at-hand and his zeal to get results that started his downfall. There is also another indicator in that picture that his work always came first, and that the drug lord’s seemed to lurk in every aspect of his life. Even in their bedroom when he was making love to that beautiful woman. They seemed to whisper invisible taunts that he better watch out!—and…We’re going to kill her to when we get the chance. We’re going to gun her down in the streets and take everyone near and dear to you away when we can. His partner Oscar is on the other side of that beautiful woman in the picture and there’s a small caption at the bottom of the picture that reads: Our 10th Anniversary. Baron still thinks about calling that woman from time-to-time, to explain, or reason with, even beg sometimes—that he’ll do anything, ANYTHING AT ALL! But when he did in the past, he always hung up when a wee little voice would answer the phone, “H’wo Williams’s, do you want to speak to my mommy or my daddy?”It was the child he wasn’t willing to let her get pregnant with, when they were married. No, his reasoning was always: that the time wasn’t right. That they should wait until it was right and finally after 12 years, as her biological clock was ticking louder and louder, telling her: You better get pregnant pretty soon or time is going to run out. She left him.After their divorce he buried himself in his work, along with booze and cigarettes and prescription drugs, going after those bastards with the ferocity of a really pissed-off Rottweiler, hence his dog Cannon. In Baron’s opinion, bringing a child into his dangerous life meant he was giving himself a point of weakness that his enemies could use against him. He had recurring nightmares of ransom notes and pictures of a blindfolded child—his child—looking very-very scared and he just couldn’t take the chance. To get-over-it he often tells himself: You don’t go through life without a few regrets—before the sneaky little psst goes off again, and Baron wishes he could have a cigarette. But he gave-up smoking when he got the diagnosis. It was those ruggedly manly ads of the Marlboro man, cupping his hands to light one that hooked him and later betrayed Baron so badly. While the violently wintery weather outside is being framed in his picture window by a splotchy kaleidoscope of Christmas cheer, blinking on and off, as the staff at KSEA is wishing you and yours: Happy Holidays, on a turned-down television. There’s a crumpled-up letter from Dr. Kevorkian lying in the wastebasket next to Baron’s desk and it reads: Due to current legal entanglements I am unable to assist you in your final wish to die with dignity—just as more lightning flashes outside, throwing freakish shadows of him in his powered wheelchair against the wall, and then the heavy tromp of overshoes is suddenly heard coming up the stairs outside Baron’s apartment building. Raising his head again, Cannon starts growling; ready to tear whoever is coming’s leg off.DON’T TRUST HIM! He seems to be warning. “Down boy, he’s a friend,” Baron shouts sharply and then the Rottweiler grudgingly lowers his head back on to the carpet. Just before a guilty sounding knock at the door indicates Baron was right. The hooded monk-like figure is a male nurse named Matt McQuilless who Baron met when he was being hospitalized. “It’s open,” Baron calls out loudly and a boyish looking young man nervously sticks his head in first before timidly wondering, “Are you decent?” Of course I’m decent you idiot! Baron thinks to himself but wouldn’t dare to say it because he didn’t want Matt to back out of their arrangement—and just the sound of Matt’s high-pitched unmanly voice starts a vicious sounding snarl coming out of Cannon.“Easy boy, he’s a friend,” Baron says and the Rottweiler retreats grudgingly to the other room, before sound of water being lapped-up by the Rottweiler’s frustrated tongue can be heard. Then he returns again with a tiger-like savageness, as if he’s asking once more: ¬‘are-you-sure-you- don’t-want-to-rip-this-guy’s-leg-off –look on his face. “I don’t think your dog likes me,” Matt says cheerfully.“Ah he’s a pussy cat once he gets to know you,” Baron dismisses with a wave. Then to cut the tension in the room and demonstrate he’s just a regular guy like Baron, who likes sports, drinking beer and naked women, Matt asks, “Did you watch the game? It was out on the east coast.“The Sonics beat the Knicks in a close one” and Cannon juts a sideways look with his eyes at Baron like he’s insisting: this guy really needs his leg torn off –just for good measure.…Why don’t you let me?“Nah,” Baron replies.“I lost all my interest. When you’re in my situation nothing is worth doing anymore. I figure I might as well get the inevitable over with. So here we are.And he tosses up his hands in defeat.“You promised you’d take care of Cannon after this is over,” he reminds Matt after that. Yeah I’ll take care of him with a bullet to the head, Matt thinks to himself. Because Baron made it clear that the apartment next to his is empty and the apartment on the other side of that one has an old lady who is hard-of-hearing in it. The apartment on the first floor underneath his, has a woman who works nights.“Take whatever you want in the apartment after this is over, it’s yours,” Baron says. “But since I used to be a DEA agent, I recommend that you don’t leave any fingerprints. It might get you caught.”“I can’t believe you actually met Pablo Escobar in the flesh and lived to tell about it,” Matt glows with admiration or what appears to be admiration for Baron. But his eager-to-please attitude seems kind of phony, like there’s a hidden agenda running under the surface of Matt. Now it’s true he’s getting paid for this, so maybe that’s it. He secretly sees a future in this, earning some extra cash on the side for him and his family, but assisting Baron in committing suicide definitely has some potential booby-traps that could blow-up in his face.“Don’t forget Carlos Ledher to,” Baron proudly reminds him. “I even had a drink with him and met Pablo’s wife and son when I was working undercover. Knowing what I know now, I should have shot em both the first chance I had. Then sneer contemptuously, “Not exactly my kind of people.” Which causes Matt to nervously flinch and then sheepish remark, “That must have been like meeting the devil himself.” But again it seems overeager, like a sleazy politician pandering for votes overeager.“Yep,” Baron says proudly.Then checks to see if Cannon has gotten over his… ‘I want to tear this guy’s leg off demeanor—just before a mild chuckle bubbles out of Matt. Pointing at a picture on the wall now, Matt jokingly asks, “What happened here?”“Oh that” Baron laughs while seeming glad to talk about it.“It happened one night when we were looking up, chasing a drug-plane in the New Mexico desert and I hit the brakes hard but we didn’t stop us in time from skidding over the edge of that cliff and spearing my brand-new Chevy Trailblazer straight up and down on the ledge of that cliff. “We had to sit there perfectly still for hours and hours” –emphasizing it as if it was life-or-death, because it really was life-or-death. “Teetering on the ledge of that cliff, then when the sun came up later. Vultures started landing on my Trailblazer and I swear it was like those dirty bastards were trying to tip the delicate balance so we’d fall to our deaths. Finally a wrecker came and pulled us back up over the edge of that cliff to safety, but it was close. “We fired our pistols at those dirty bastards to scare em off. But they kept coming back again and again, landing on my Trailblazer and trying to knock us off I’m sure. Then those dirty bastards could have dined on our dead bodies. “My ex-wife was so pissed after that to, because we had just started making the payments on it and I was already smashing it up.”“Oh yeah if I did something like that, my wife would kill me to,” Matt identifies with him.“How long have you been married?” Baron wonders. “10 years,” Matt quickly quips, but a little too quickly, and Baron starts doing the math.He said was 26 before when I asked him. And he went to nursing school for four years. He’s been out four years so this guy is full of shit!“That means you would have had to graduate from high school early and you told me your grades were lousy in school. Then you would have had to get married when you were fifteen or sixteen?” Baron deduces. “Ahhh no-no,” Matt stammers, and now his eyes are darting frantically like he’s searching for another lie. Just before Cannon jumps to his feet with a should-I-now look on his aroused face.“It just feels like 10 years,” Matt says to soothe everyone.“Actually it was 7 years ago. No wait-wait 6, I mean 6 years ago that I was married.”Never before has Baron seen a guy put so much thought into a simple question, and from his experience as a DEA agent it was beginning to make him suspicious. “How old are your children,” he quizzes with furrowed brow then.“6 and 3,” flies out of Matt’s mouth, like he wants to speed past this subject as quickly as possible to.“Hmm,” Baron hums deep in thought and in the awkward pause Matt looks like a man in front of a firing squad. “And how many assisted suicides have you done?” he inquires, giving Matt a tell-the-truth-this-time kind of look. Seeing he’s under scrutiny now, “Eight” comes out of Matt’s mouth like he’s a burglar in the beam of a security guard’s flashlight, asking, ‘where were you going with that?’“You ever heard of the Hemlock Society?” Baron quizzes once again. “The Hemlock Society,” Matt repeats puzzled.“Yeah the Hemlock Society, I thought since you do assisted suicides, surely you’ve heard of the Hemlock Society?”“Oh yeah-yeah, the Hemlock Society sure” Matt absent-mindedly remembers now and then clumsily fumbles with a screw that’s part of the apparatus he’s going to use to end Baron’s life with.“It’s rather ironic isn’t it,” Baron starts reminiscing.“I always wanted something like this to happen to the criminals I was pursuing. For them to get the death penalty and die by lethal injection, but now this is like bad karma, be-careful-what-you –wish-for kind of stuff. “Yeah that’s ironic,” Matt agrees with a sheen of nervous perspiration shining on his forehead and beads of sweat are starting to roll down his face now. Maybe the fact that I’m a former DEA agent, Baron thinks to himself? Even the smallest speck of evidence could get him caught and prosecuted. Then Matt would surely lose his nursing license and probably end up in prison like Dr. Kevorkian.At the proverbial junction between this life and whatever comes after it, Baron turns religious.“Do you believe in heaven and hell?” he asks and Matt scoffs “Heaven and hell yeah whatever” as though it’s ridiculous. “You know the story of Lazarus and God?” Baron goes on. “When Lazarus died and went to heaven. The Bible says that he stood at the gulf between heaven and hell with God, and he saw a rich man down in hell who ignored him when he used to beg for money back on Earth. “The rich man called out to God, “Send Lazarus to drip his finger in some water and touch my tongue with it, that I may have some relief. Now I dream that I see those bastards who killed Oscar suffering in hell and they call out. “But I tell em fuck you asshole, from heaven. You’re getting what you deserve.”A spastic shutter runs Matt then and there’s a wild-eyed uncertainty about Matt for a second.Then!“Is that a gang tattoo?” erupts out of Baron accusingly. “Ahhh yeah-yeah I-I was a…” Matt starts floundering. “…in a gang for a little while when I was growing up. We lived in a rough neighborhood for a while. So I had to. Otherwise I would have got beat-up all the time. But then my family moved away and I was never in another gang.”“That looks like a pretty professional tattoo and you can’t get those if you’re underage,” Baron says. “You’d be surprised,” Matt quips hoping it will suffice.“Some of those kids in that neighborhood were pretty good.”Matt was right, Baron tells himself. Some of those kids are pretty good at giving tattoos.“I guess that why I became a nurse,” Matt goes on. “…out of some subliminal revulsion for that kind of life, like I want to help heal people instead of hurt them.” “Subliminal revulsion,” Baron repeats skeptically. “Sounds like you’ve given it a lot of thought.”“Yeah my wife complains that I think about things too much,” Matt agrees.“You mean your wife of 10 years,” Baron quizzes him again with a furrowed brow, just to be sure.“Yeah,” Matt forgetfully sighs. Then suddenly! “Ah no-no I-I mean 7, no 6 years—6 years that’s what I meant to say.”“Reee-lax,” Baron crows. But this time Cannon seems resigned to the fact that he isn’t going to get a chance to tear Matt’s leg off. “There is a complete collection of every issue of Playboy magazine going back to January of 1976 in my closet. It yours,” he adds to help Matt calm down.“No my wife would kill me if she found out I had those. And then if one of my kids got into them I’d be Bad Dad of the Year and we’d probably be heading for divorce court after that. My wife is Catholic and she doesn’t put up with any of that.”“Neither would mine,” Baron says.Then!“You mean the 7 year old?” he jabs again just to see.“Yeah,” Matt agrees absent-mindedly. “Wasn’t he six a little while age,” Baron springs the trap.“No-no you’re right. I-I-I meant to say 6,” Matt flounders again before getting right to the point.“What did you do with 22 million?” flies out of his mouth. “Remember you told me when you were in the hospital?”“Was I sedated?” Baron gasps surprised. “The only two who know where that money is, are me and Oscar, and Oscar is dead. They tortured him but he never told them, because if he had it wouldn’t have been where we hid it anymore. I’ve checked many times and it was still right where we hid it.”“Where,” Matt hollers half hysterical now.“You don’t understand the risk I’m taking,” he pleads as if at the edge of sanity now. “If I’m caught I lose my nursing license and go to jail. Those evangelical assholes will be calling me a monster like they did Dr. Kevorkian and my wife will divorce me for sure and take the kids.” “Now I can see why you don’t believe in heaven and hell,” Baron chuckles, before the jovial look on his face turns stern. Good criminals are sociopaths. They’re good at lying while appearing to be telling the truth.“I understand you’re under a lot of stress, worried that you’re going to get caught,” he says to calm Matt down again. “I’m not going to need the money anymore, so what the heck,” Baron finally concludes and Matt has a look on his face like his life has just been saved. “BUT,” Baron emphasizes ominously. “Becoming an instant millionaire can change you into something you never thought you’d ever be.”You’re almost dead so save the dramatics, Matt thinks to himself.“I’d have to hire attorneys, expensive attorneys,” Matt stresses. “Then all religious assholes will be sending me death threats so I’ll have to go into hiding. That costs money.”“Alright-alright,” Baron erupts with a I-give-up fling of his hands. Then suddenly, as if crocodile is racing up to him, jaws ready to clamp down on him, Matt plasters himself against the wall, shrieking “Call your dog off!” “Down boy,” Baron shouts abruptly and Cannon retires obviously hating the idea, back to lying on the carpeted floor.“I’m sorry. He gets excited whenever I wave my hand,” Baron explains breathlessly and the little psst goes off again in a whisper.“The 22 million is in a large safe in a storage locker near the corner of Franklin and Redwood. The entry code is 604-4455. The storage locker has been prepaid for the next three years. It’s behind a bunch of junk.”“Great,” Matt grins satisfied now and within a few minutes the IVs are in Baron’s arm and anesthesia is starting flow that will put Baron to sleep first and then Matt will stop his heart. “I’m on my way to be with God,” Baron drowsily sighs, just before Matt finally admits.“Oh by the way I’m not married.”“Not married,” Baron’s lips move faintly as he groggily repeats. “No and I don’t have any kids either.”“You lied to me,” Baron sighs while weakening but he stirs as if he wants to punch Matt now but can’t.“That right, I wish I could have been there when they killed your partner,” Matt adds with a pleasant smile on his face.“You bastard I trusted you,” Baron exhales with weakening alarm. “And your dog,” Matt says holding up a pistol for Baron to see now, that he’s been secretly carrying all the time. “Is going to be joining you right now”Then last Baron hears is shot being fired and the yelp of a dog and he’s gone.
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