Hit-men, mechanic, cleaner, whatever the term, they usually keep to themselves, and don’t advertise. And if one is needed, who really knows if it’s even possible, but you put the word out in the street perhaps in an article as a challenge in the newspaper, and wait for someone to contact you.
My uncle met a hitman not from an ad, but by chance. Yes, that’s right a hit man. How do I know? He told me one afternoon during one of the many lazy days I spent at his place. Not much evidence you say, just hearsay, and you’d probably be right. So, the only proof I have to offer is the missing middle finger on his right hand which he said was shot off during a shootout.
Let me go back to the past and share some details. Occasionally in the afternoon when my mother went shopping, she’d drop me off at my uncle’s place. At that time, he lived in a third-floor apartment of an old dark green Victorian house located in a medium sized town next to the Mississippi river. I went there again and again, and many times over until I was around ten years old and would pass the time putting together model cars and airplanes until my mother picked me up. The afternoons went by quickly and I didn’t mind going to his place because he had cameras, along with military paraphernalia to look at and play with. Also, there was a wall covered with bookshelves filled with a wide variety of books covering every topic from A to Z.
From what I understood from the many stories my uncle shared during the time I spent there found out he was photographer when he lived in Europe, and believe why there were so cameras at his place, and it seemed to be a plausible story. That’s how I got interested in photography. This particular day I got the nerve to ask him about the missing middle finger on his right hand as it was completely gone from what I could see. I spent the rest of that afternoon listening to the story of how he met a hitman. He said it all started with a candy bar. He told me a story that went something like the following.
There was a guy, who while working in the telecommunications industry out in the field, tired, and had a craving for a candy bar one afternoon. So, he pulled into a small country store on his way home, and since he was low on gas, thought, might as well fill up the tank. It was the first time he’d stopped at this particular convenience store. He pulled up to the pump, turned off the engine, and noticed the car parked on the other side of the gas pump right away, because it was his car, well the car he’d always wanted—a Porsche. Sitting in the Porsche was a young woman, who looked about twenty something. She had dark, brown, wavy shoulder length hair holding and smoking a cigarette, which he thought was a dangerous thing to do at a gas pump. Hey, dumb ass, don’t you know you’re not supposed to smoke at gas stations. Want to blow us all to kingdom-come! That’s what he thought, but said, in a friendly way, “Don’t you think it’s foolish to smoke while you’re buying gas? Could cause an explosion and blow us all to Kingdom Come.”
“She turned toward him, smiled tenderly. “You’re right,” she said in a contrite syrupy southern accent and crushed out the cigarette. “You’re absolutely right! What am I thinking?”
This girl was drop dead gorgeous, a real Georgia Peach. Since this was the North, and he recognized her Southern twang, asked, “What part of the South are you from?”
“Georgia,” she said. “What’s your name, handsome?”
He chuckled, and said, “Joe.”
Joe was right, a Georgia Peach, and he loved her thick syrupy drawl. “Really,” Joe said. “What part of Georgia?”
“Augusta,” she said in the same sweet twang.
“Augusta,” Joe said delighted. “I used to live there.”
“Really,” she said surprised. “When did you move up here?”
“I grew up here,” Joe said. “My dad was in the Army, so we moved around a lot. We ended up here after he was discharged. His hometown is near here.”
“How long did you live in Augusta?” she asked.
“Oh, not long,” Joe said. “I don’t remember much, because I was only three, or so years old when we moved away after my dad was discharged.”
“What about you? What are you doing up here? Vacation?”
“My boyfriend’s a hit-man,” she said. “He’s here to whack someone.”
Joe’s brain stopped. Silence fell as if the world had frozen over. Did I just hear her say her boyfriend was a hitman? “Excuse me!” Bewildered he said, “What did you say? Say what?”
“Sorry,” she smiled astutely. “I’m not supposed to say anything. It’s a secret—hush, hush.” And raised her right-hand’s index finger to her lips, locking whatever secrets she had away for safe keeping.
He’d just pulled up to the pump, hadn’t started filling the gas tank, still thinking about which candy bar to buy, and this girl tells him her boyfriend is a hitman. He thought, Am I at a convenience store or the Twilight Zone?
“So, your boyfriend’s going to—whack someone—and then you’re heading back home?” Joe couldn’t believe he’d asked that question. I thought hitmen were from New York or Chicago.
“I guess so,” she said in a bubbly way, waving her hands like she was heading to an amusement park. “I don’t really know the details. Just along for the ride.”
Up to now in his life this had been the most bizarre conversation he’d ever had, and whispered under his breath, Should I tell someone? Call the police? Maybe she’s pulling my leg? If she is telling the truth how will I react when I see her boyfriend? He immediately turned to see who was leaving the store, and saw older gentleman come out and get into his car. His head turned constantly from her sitting in the car watching her head bouncing to the music, then back to observe the store like a tennis fan watching a match and looked pretty silly.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t say anything to him. He only whacks people for money; not for spite or fun.”
“That’s nice of you for mentioning that,” Joe said, “thanks.” He wanted to get back on the topic of Georgia, but that was on the back burner of his mind, because HITMAN—HITMAN—HITMAN echoed in his brain. What was he supposed to ask now, By the way, how long has he been a hitman? How did he get into that line of work? Does it pay well? Do you ever help him? All the questions running through his head were absurd.
Finally, he said, “Well, nice talking to you,” In a transitive state squeezed his eyes tightly wondering, when I open them will I be in a different place. Then after opening his eyes, thought, Still at the gas pump, and mumbled, “I’ve got to fill up the tank.”
“Okay,” she said. “Nice talking to you.”
Joe took out the gas nozzle and filled the tank while continuing to keep an eye on the store trying to guess who her boyfriend was as customers walked out. No one stood out, no one looked like a hitman, of course he was using TV and movie hitmen as a model. Real hitmen are probably invisible like the Ninja. The tank was full, so he put the nozzle back, nodded and smiled at the girl, walked into the store to pay for the gas, and get a candy bar.
There was a line in front of the counter, so as he waited scanned the store for the hitman. He saw one guy by the cooler who had the TV hitman look, another guy getting a cup of coffee, one guy reading a magazine. Joe watched everyone who left the store wondering, who will walk over and get into to the Porsche
Finally, it was his turn to pay. “I had the gas on pump-five, and I’ll take this candy bar.” Then Joe felt a shadow blocking out the light behind him. He didn’t turn, but thought, Could this be the hit-man? Joe paid the clerk and walked out, but wanted to see what the big guy standing behind him looked like, so he stopped by the trash can outside next to the door, torn off the wrapper from the candy bar, and looked around as he stood there pretending to be busy. The big guy gave a quick glance and kept on walking. He was tall, stocky, had a few days of beard stubble, thick eyebrows and dark brown eyes. Joe waited, fiddling with the candy bar wrapper, as the man walked to the gas pumps. That’s him! He’s got to be—the hitman.
The man walked slowly without a care, in control, then got into a truck that was pulling a horse trailer. “That wasn’t him.” He whispered, “I can’t stand here all day eating a candy bar, I should just go.” Then, a hyper guy of average height” came out and threw a candy bar wrapper in the trash can. The same candy bar that Joe was eating.
He looked at Joe, held up the candy bar. “These are really good, aren’t they?” Then asked, “How’s it going?” in a friendly way.
“Not bad,” Joe said. “Yourself?”
“Good, good. I just got here from out of town,” he said as he opened his drink. “Drove up from Georgia. What about you?” he asked, then took a drink.
Joe watched the man’s Adams Apple move up and down as he held the bottle and took another gulp, the man’s eyes on him the whole time. Joe’s mind raced. Georgia? This is the guy. The hitman’s talking to me, then he saw the girl in the Porsche waving. The guy waved back. Joe nodded.
The hitman from Georgia, Joe thought, and grinned, nervously. He could feel chocolate stuck to his teeth and felt he would be tongue-tied if he spoke now.
The man looked at him and laughed. “Man—you’ve chocolate all over your teeth,” then laughed again. “So, do you live around here?” the hitman asked.
Are all hitmen so amiable, he wondered as he tried to get the chocolate off his teeth with his tongue, then said, “Yeah, I do.”
“A long time?”
“Grew up near here.” Is he going to ask me for directions? If he does, maybe I’ll know who he is after, and get word to the police, then again, maybe that’s not a good idea.
“You must know your way around here pretty well.”
“I guess so,” Joe said, thinking, What’s the next question going to be? Will I know who it is? This town is small. Joe was feeling edging, tapping his feet, putting his hands in his pockets, taking them out, making funny facial movements. “Is that your, Porsche over there?” Joe thought, Why did I ask that?
“Yeah,” the hitman said. “A beauty, isn’t it?”
Now what do I say? “That’s my truck on the other side of the pump.” I’m sure he’s impressed, Joe thought, and looked at his old truck. “I talked to your girlfriend when I was filling up.”
“Oh, yeah?” the hitman smiled, then asked, “What did she say? She’s cute, right?”
Oh—nothing much. Just that you were from Georgia, and I told her that I used to live there,”
“Get out a here,” the hitman said, and slapped him on the back. “What part?”
“Augusta! He said cheerfully like seeing an old classmate. “That’s where we’re from.
“Well, I moved away when I was only three or four, so I don’t remember much, in fact nothing.”
“Well, you lived there, and that’s all that counts in my book, so we’re like neighbors, friends.”
“Yeah, okay, if you say so.”
“How’s the hunting around here?” the hitman asked.
“Hunting?” Joe said, like a word he’d never heard before, like it was a word from another language.
“Yeah, hunting, the hitman said. “People hunt around here, don’t they?”
“Yeah—they do—they sure do.”
“What about you,” the man said, and punched Joe in a friendly way on the shoulder. “Do any hunting? Say—I was just asking because I’d like to do some target practice.”
“Target practice?” Joe asked.
“I just bought a new rifle. Like to check out the scope to make sure it’s lined up. Do you know a place?”
“There’s a quarry straight down that road,” Joe said. “Follow it all the way to the top of the hill, and you’ll see the sideroad that leads there. You can drive right in. That’s where some people around here go.”
“Well, thanks, and good luck to you.”
“Yeah, good luck to you, too,” Joe said.
Joe watched him walk to the Porsche and wave before he got in, the girl blew Joe a kiss, the Porsche purred as they drove away,
Joe got into his truck and followed from a distance. Would a hitman want anyone to know about target practice? Seems strange. Joe followed him to the quarry. It’s funny; the man acted like such a friendly guy. Is he really a hitman? And the girl, she talked about it like going on a picnic or something; so blasé. The man does have nice taste in cars though. I wonder who he’s going to knock-off.
The Porsche pulled into the quarry and drove down the narrow road that led to one of the pits. From there, the man would be able to aim and shoot down the valley about three-hundred yards. Joe wondered what kind of weapon he had.
Joe waited for a while, then parked off to the side on another road above the quarry where he’d have a good view. He was quiet, took out a pair of binoculars that he kept in the glove box, and made his way to the edge of the woods.
Both of them stood around the car hugging, kissing, then the hitman stepped around to the front, opened the hood, took out a long black case, and set it on the ground. That must be the rifle, Joe thought, as the man opened the case and proceeded to remove the equipment. “It’s true, he must be a hitman; all of his doubts erased. Now, who is he here to knock-off?”
Joe watched through his binoculars. He saw the rifle jerk the man’s head and shoulder back, then heard a rifle crack, then echo off the jagged quarry walls. The shooter was proficient, an exceptionally good shot, dead on. After about half an hour he packed everything, they drove away, and heading back into town. Joe followed them, staying as far away as possible without being noticed.
They went to the motel outside of town. It was a one-story building with a vending machine out front. The office was in the owner’s house. Joe found a spot in the car dealer’s lot located across the street, planted himself, and watched them check into the motel, unpack the gun case and a few other bags.
I should call the sheriff, he thought, I know he’s a killer, but he hasn’t done anything, but shoot at some stones in a quarry. What will the sheriff say? Maybe they can’t do anything unless they have some evidence, or proof that he’s actually planning to knock off someone. If I just knew who it was?
Joe got tired of sitting in front of the motel, and had nothing going on that night, so I decided to stop at the local watering hole, grab a beer, and see what was happening. He parked out in front, went in and ordered a beer. It was slow, just a few regulars, some pool players, a few chicks, and him.
The beer was going down nice and easy, so he lost track of time. It was dark now and the bar was getting crowded. Joe raised his bottle to take a drink, then felt a tap on his shoulder and turned around. It was him, the hitman and his girl. “Hey, how are doing?”
“Not feeling any pain,” Joe said. “What about you?”
“Great! Hey, thanks for the tip about the quarry,” the hitman said. “It was fantastic. I got in some target practice,” he held his arms up like he had the in his hand, “had a lot of fun, too.”
“That’s great!” Joe said. “Just, what are you hunting for?”
“Oh, you know,” the man said, “whatever. We’re on vacation, traveling around, taking in the sights.”
“There’s not much to see around here,” Joe said.
“Oh, I disagree,” the man said. “What do you think, Lynn?”
“I love this place,” she said. “It’s away from the city, nice and quiet.”
“Yeah—that’s a good way to put it, Lynn daring, nice and quiet, the hitman said, “a good place for someone to disappear.”
Joe thought for a moment. What should I say? “Yeah, you’re right this town is a good place to disappear for a while.”
“Just out of curiosity,” then the man raised an eyebrow looked at him with a grin. “What are you doing here? You seem like a pretty smart guy. Why do like this place? What do you do? And, you know,” he said, “I never asked your name.”
“I’m a carpenter,” Joe said, then thought, Should I tell him my name? The last thing I need is a hitman who knows who I am. “It’s, Joe,” he said, “nice to meet you.”
“Joe the carpenter?” the hitman said in a raised voice, then took his thumb and rubbed his nose. “I’m Billy. They shook hands, then the man asked,
“You shoot pool, Joe?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Looks like the table free, Joe, let’s go shoot some stick.”
They played pool and then Joe left the bar. As Joe drove home, he thought, Who’s the lucky person? His place was in the country just outside town and took about thirty minutes to drive home. When he got there his dog, Buster was waiting for him. Buster was a black and brown collie, the smartest dog ever. He bought him from a farmer when it was a pup, and they hit it off immediately.
Buster followed Joe into the house and went to the dish and got something to eat. “That’s a good boy, hungry, aren’t you?” Joe said, and watched him gobble down his supper
Joe put his coat on a chair and got a beer from the fridge, Buster finished eating and went to his coat and began sniffing it. What does he want with my coat? Joe picked it up and searched the pockets. In one pocket he found an envelope, took it out, stared at it, flipped it over, then opened it. There was a key inside; he studied it and wondered where it came from. It looked like a locker key, but where was the locker? Also, there was a note folded numerous times, like origami. It said, Payment for Priest, and was signed, Fox.
What does that mean? And, how did it get into my pocket? Joe tried to piece together what he’d done the previous night. I bought gas, a candy bar, then went to the bar, took off my coat and left it on the chair when I played pool with the hitman, Billy. Somehow during that time, the key got into my pocket. Payment for Priest. Don’t know anyone named, Fox?
Joe turned all night thinking about it, then got up early the next day, made coffee, a couple of fried eggs, never taking his eye off the key that sat in the middle of the table. He watched it as he ate breakfast and drank his coffee. He cleaned off the table, at the same time looking at the key, then jumped, startled and dropped a cup when, Buster started barking. He walked to the window, and saw a Porsche parked in the driveway. “Billy,” he muttered. The hitman was there throwing a stick for Buster to retrieve. He knows about the key! How did he find my place? He threw a fishing magazine over the key and went outside. “Morning,” he said. “What brings you out here?” he asked.
“I think you know why,” the hitman said. “You have something of mine?”
“What do you mean?”
“The note, and key,” he said very clearly.
“How did it get into my pocket?”
“I put it there.”
“Let’s go inside,” the hitman said, and walked in front of me.
Joe didn’t know what to make of it. Who is this guy? What does he want? Joe thought and followed him into the house. The hitman sat at the table his eyes followed Joe. Am I the target? Joe thought. Why me?
“Want a cup of coffee?” Joe asked.
“Sure, thanks.” They both looked at the magazine.
“How do you like it?’
“Simple and plain,” the hitman said soft and slow.
Joe handed him a cup and poured. “Say, when.”
Joe put the pot back on the stove and sat down. “What’s on your mind?”
“I’ve got a proposition for you.”
“What kind of proposition?”
“One—that involves money.”
“Money? How much money?”
“What do I have to do?”
“Did you read the note?”
“Yeah” Joe said. “Who’s the priest?”
The hitman looked Joe square in the eye. “I am.”
“What kind of priest?”
“The kind that makes people pay for their sins.”
“Joe couldn’t take anymore and said straight out, “You kill people for money?”
The hitman moved the magazine and picked up the key. The hit-man’s right hand looked strange; a finger was missing. “I kill people for a lot of money.”
“What happened to your finger?” Joe asked.
“Shot off in a gun fight,” the hitman said.
“What’s this got to do with me?”
“I don’t want to kill people anymore.”
“What’s this got to do with me,” Joe asked again. The hitman handed him the key from the table and the key for his car.
“Take it,” the hitman said. “Take the money. Take the car.” I’ll take your place.”
“That’s all there is to it,” the hitman said. “You can never come here again.”
“Wait—wait a minute,” Joe said. “Why me?”
“No special reason. Maybe it’s your destiny?”
“Where’s the money?”
“It’s in a locker at a warehouse. I’ll give you directions, if you say, yes.”
Joe thought, Am I in a dream? Wake up? What’s happening here? “What if I run out of money?” I asked.
“If you run out of money, you contact Fox.”
“Fox is the banker, he said, but, if he finds out about this, we’re both dead.”
“What do I do, just call him on the phone?”
“Hopefully, you never will, but if you want to contact him put an ad in this newspaper,” Billy said, and handed Joe an address,” he’ll send instructions, you follow them, and get paid.”
“What about the girl, Lynn?”
“She stays with me.”
“I can never come back?”
“I’ll go outside and play with your dog,” Billy the hitman said. “What’s its name?”
“Buster, I like that,” Billy said, and walked outside. “You take a little time, then let me know, okay?”
Joe watched Billy play with Buster. Why am I even thinking about this? What would I do?
He wondered how much money was in the locker, then went outside and walked right up to, Billy. “I’ll do it,” he said. “Where is the key?”
“Here you go,” he said. “There’s a warehouse just outside of town. Do you know it?”
“Yes, across from the plumber’s shop.”
“That’s right,” the hitman said. Just go to the locker and it’s all yours.”
I looked up at my uncle and said, “So, what was in the locker?”
“It was filled with money,” my uncle said. “Don’t tell anyone,” and held out his hand, the one missing the middle finger. “This is our secret, okay.”
“Our, secret,” okay!” I said, and we shook on it.”
“About ten years later when the I was nineteen, and had a craving for a candy bar, stopped at a local store, and thought, Since I was low on gas might as well fill up. He pulled up to the pump, and on the other side filling up was a guy in a Porsche.
“You live around here?” he asked.
“Yeah, I do.”
“This is a nice place,” he said, “a nice place to disappear.”
“Where are you from?”
“All over, just passing through,” he said. “I’m heading to quarry.”
“Do—a little target practice.”
“Yeah, you could say that, he said. “I’m planning to do a little hunting around here.”
“What’re you hunting for?”
“Whatever’s in season.”
“Well, nice talking to you,” the boy said. As he walked into the store to pay for the gas and get a candy bar, he looked at the license plate of the Porsche, and stopped, stunned for a moment—it read, Priest.