By Scott McDonald
I took a job in Tucson. Unusual for me but the customer was very motivated and paid extra, plus all expenses. Wanted the job done in a particular way. Insisted that I don’t kill the guy instantly. That I incapacitate him, and then explain to him why a total stranger is making him take the room temperature challenge.
The job goes well.
Just for fun I avoid the most direct route home to Tempe, the boring 10. I have plenty of time, and it’s been years since I drove through the desert and farm country in the Gila drainage on the other side of the San Tan Mountains. I head out of Oracle Junction on the 79, through farmland where cotton is just emerging, scraggly green on the brown rows.
Growing cotton in the desert is completely insane; it takes an ungodly amount of water. But Arizona has always been owned by shysters, and they played a long con. Bribed up the legislature to provide subsidies and free crop insurance and guaranteed profit. It became pretty stupid to grow anything but cotton, and before long the first part of the plan had worked. The economy was so dependent on cotton that it was easy to execute step two. They bribed up a ridiculous canal to divert Colorado River water for the farmers, leaking billions of gallons along the way. For the farmers, right. How do you pump all that water uphill and push it three hundred miles? Build a dirty coal-fired electrical plant on the Navajo Nation of course, where the air used to be clean.
The developers got what they wanted. Enough water to sprawl Phoenix into a pollution and heat island monster. Los Angeles without the beaches or movies.
I like this stark, flat country. On the way to Florence I find the monument to Tom Mix, the cowboy movie star. He was killed by his suitcase. A road repair gang hadn’t put warning signs far enough out, and they saw it happen. Flying along in his Cord Phaeton convertible on a beautiful day, he locked up the tires too late and slid into a gully and stopped hard, the suitcase in the rear seat flew forward and whacked him in the back of his head. Car wasn’t damaged much and Mix, the biggest star in the world, didn’t have a scratch on him. Opened the door and took a few steps. Maybe he shook his head to clear it, not realizing that the suitcase had broken his neck. Dropped dead. There is a plaque on a cobblestone pillar topped with a riderless horse. Nice.
I head north for the Superstition Mountains but a few miles later I change my mind, take a farm road and cut west to catch the Hunt Highway. There’s a restaurant I’ve heard about.
What a nice day. For a few weeks in early spring the desert is grassy, with a lot of flowers. Hazy air, distant hills. A red tail hawk glides in the thermals, patiently looking for a rabbit or a ground squirrel to kill.
Zero traffic, this is a really remote area. Barbed wire fences and very rarely a few cattle. I cross the aqueduct. Coming to an intersection, I’m surprised to finally see a car. Actually a dusty pickup, coming toward me. I wait at the stop sign because a tortoise is calmly walking across the road on the oncoming lane. The truck is approaching and I hope he sees the turtle. As he slows, the guy swerves very deliberately to squish it. He misses but he thinks he flattened it, I can see him laughing. He passes me and I turn around and follow him. He slows and I slow. He speeds up and I speed up. He brake checks me but I’m expecting it. He stops, waves me up. I stop way back and wait. He takes off fast and I chase him. He locks his tires and slides to a stop. Clearly very pissed off. Emotional, which is when you make mistakes. I pull up close and get out, so he sees that I’m alone and I look very non-threatening. He inflates himself to tough guy mode and stalks toward me, with a pistol.
“Hey, asshole!’ he says.
I walk toward him thinking, this is perfect.
You know that kid in your fourth grade class, the quiet kid who liked snakes? That was me. I read every book in the school library about reptiles and dinosaurs. Kids and the teacher thought I was odd, left me alone. You’d think the teacher might have encouraged me. Inspired me to delve into science instead of telling me not to read so much. She made it clear that something was wrong with me. I grew up keeping to myself, never feeling lonely. In fact they say I don’t feel emotion. I have learned to recognize it though. I think it is when feelings get out of control and take over your rational reptile brain. Who knows, maybe if I’d had better parents I might have been a herpetologist or at least an ophidiophile. I don’t like people who murder animals.
I’m comfortably self-employed with a one-man blind cleaning service. A van with everything I need to pull all your window blinds down and ultrasonic them, repair if needed, re-install. Large offices my specialty, every nine months or so. Enjoyable because I don’t have to interact with people very much. Rock steady clientele by now, just enough work. Most weeks if I want I can finish everything in two, two and a half days. I’m very competitive; I keep my customers because I don’t gouge them. Don’t have to because of my moonlighting money. Once, sometimes two times a year, I do a hit.
My first customer was a roofer, had done houses forever, wanted to break into doing commercial jobs. He was hassled by a guy who thought he owned the Tempe Mesa area and got rough. Mr. Bennett was patient, gave up trying for commercial jobs for a full two years and then made sure to be visible, in public, the day I broke the other guy’s knee and then put buckshot from a Taurus Judge into his brain. Twelve thousand cash, no taxes. A year later another job, which also went well although I made mistakes. I have studied this and figured out that you have to be patient, think it out and be willing to change the plan. I switched to small caliber revolvers. A lot easier to carry discretely. A .22 or a .32 is not loud, and 6 or 8 rounds is more than enough. I have yet to use more than three bullets per job, so I don’t need a big magazine. Today I’m carrying a .357 loaded with 38 caliber. Very controllable. Magnum performance without magnum recoil. On rare occasions, l use a rimfire .22 semi-auto with a suppressor. When I need to get real close.
I worked out a way for customers and I to connect that’s double blind, I check them out before they hear anything from me.
This last was an unusual commission. The customer didn’t know this guy; he just really, really didn’t like him. Been in the news a little, the kid’s father asking the dealer to show a little decency. The public divided. A baseball card shop owner had ripped a thirteen-year old boy off, underpaid him for a 1966 Ferguson Jenkins rookie card, not mint but in decent shape. Probably worth six thousand dollars, he paid the poor kid fifty. Made all the news, the dealer so self-righteous. Teaching the kid a lesson, he said. My customer, a self-made real estate guy, had me promise to shoot the jerk once, just bad enough to get his attention. Then I was supposed to explain what an asshole he was, what a greedy bastard. Make it crystal clear that stiffing that kid was the dumbest thing he’d ever done because now he’s seen his last sunrise. I’ve never had a customer like this, a guy who hadn’t been involved with the target. Just a man who got real worked up about something happened to someone else. Emotional.
The job was easy. I got the guy after he closed the shop when he got in his car, parked behind the strip mall. No CCTV, I’m careful to look everywhere for that. I would say that being recorded is the biggest danger these days, because there are cameras everywhere. I didn’t mess around with that whole speech, I just put two slugs in him, the second one was terminal. I’ll give my customer the satisfaction of believing that I did it the way he wanted. I’ll do him the favor of lying to him, so he can relish the thought of the guy understanding why he was whacked. What a weirdo.
The guy is shaking, he’s so mad. Maybe he’s going to shoot me; maybe he just wants to scare me. Most likely he is planning to kick my ass. He’s getting extra mad because I’m so calm. Bad language, he’s very rude. He stops about six feet away and starts to bring his Glock up, screaming about this and that, and I have to assume he is actually going to shoot. I bring my gun from behind my back and as he stands there in astonishment I carefully put one in his lung, below the heart. He jerks back and drops his gun, shocked and in pain. I’m using jacketed hollow points and it definitely hurts. Mostly he’s surprised. He coughs and drops to his knees and tries to reach the Glock but I kick it away. I want to be sure the bullet didn’t deflect off his sternum and just embed in his chest wall. He’s getting weak and I grab him by the collar and help him crawl to his truck. He turns noodle and I have to drag him the last couple yards and I lean him up against the front tire. His breath is wet and rattly and he’s trying to talk but it’s all he can do to keep panting little short breaths. His blood pressure is dropping and he won’t be awake long now. Crying, he works up an effort to ask me to call an ambulance. If he had killed that turtle I’d end him, but I’m a nice guy so I give him a chance. I let him lie here hoping someone will come along. He still has one lung inflated. If he isn’t pumping blood too fast, out of a big pulmonary artery, he could get lucky. I’m not worried about him identifying me because there’s no way he’ll remember what I look like, he’s too worked up. And I’m using a random car I found in long-term airport parking, so it doesn’t matter if he tells anyone about me driving a white Honda SUV. I drive away and he’s leaning over on one elbow, waving at me.
Half an hour later I find the restaurant, a little place nestled into an olive orchard just south of Queen Creek. This place is great, no tourists and a real cool 1930s decor. They have comfort food, blue plate specials, and Oaxacan instead of Sonoran Mexican cuisine. Not so much Spanish influence, more indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec, with hoja santa spices. I get a quesadilla with chapulines and it is delicious. They have a crunchy mushroom and shrimp kind of taste.
Bio: Scott McDonald is a blue collar pilot who lives in the American Southwest. His work will soon appear in Shotgun Honey and Fiction on The Web. He is finishing a book about a jaded shamus in Phoenix set in the year 2000.