UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
JOSEPH GRANT

The Perfect Hit

         There are many ways for a man to die. Ennui was perhaps the worst, he contemplated. The one thing he could not endure was the interminable wait before a job.

All research had been done, places scoped and phone calls made; now all there was to do was just wait. It was sometimes worse than the job itself, he mused as he sat on high upon the balcony of his hotel suite, sipping wine in the early morning.

         From his balcony, at least he could overlook the harbor. Beyond the sand-colored gravel of the hotel roof, the waterfront busily churned with maritime activity. It had been once a great strategic seaport during the war but it was now merely another port of call among many down along the coast.

         The teal water of the bay glistened under the early morning sun. This stood out against the gray aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers moored sleepily against Coronado Island, while lesser vessels skimmed in near silent white wakes past them.

         He could see the ivory colored tower of the carrier’s radar system spinning languidly, almost as if with the breeze. Down the side of the great ship was the number “68”, painted in large, white block style.

         Water taxis and day ferries overflowing with passengers glided alongside gently floating yachts, undoubtedly just released from their mooring in the marina slip with courses set past the oatmeal colored sandstone cliffs of La Jolla where vibrant purple and red bougainvillea grew wildly and to sail towards unknown points beyond.

         A thick marine layer huddled over the opposite side of the harbor, cooling it in the warm morning sun, enveloping the horizon in a purple-tinged gray eddy. It reminded him of the San Gabriel Mountains and if one looked quickly, they could almost not be able to distinguish one from the other until the afternoon sun dissipated the false, low-lying backdrop.

         The green and pleasing touristy Ports-O’-Call below him, with its slightly Victorian turrets painted brown and tan, trimmed in white and the newer buildings with their faux Spanish-tiled roofs, designed to appear much older, belied the fact that this area was once indeed a premier naval base, with the town having grown around it.

         It was still a leading military station, as Coronado had the Navy Seals across the bay and Camp Pendleton was not far away. The town of San Diego had grown into a city and the city had outgrown the naval base. The only defense that was enlisted anymore was in the avoidance of being taken by the overpriced shops, scam artists and pickpockets of the Gaslamp Quarter.

         Beneath him, the city began to awake, a foghorn sounded in the harbor, the hum of the air-conditioners of the hotel roof, steam rising from vents of nearby buildings. Deliveries were being made to the hotel, the sound of the truck gears squealing, air brakes expelling, the trailers backing up with their incessant beep-beep-beeping and the coarse language of tired drivers yelling to the hotel staff took him from the comfortable torpor in which he had been happily entrenched and dropped him rudely against the stone cold of morning.

         He sipped at the San Antonio American Cardinale burgundy grape wine. It was a sweet wine and fit his mood exceptionally. It was light enough to get him buzzed but not inebriated. He would need to stay alert today. His attention was shifted to the red and white crossing guards with flashing candy apple lights atop them that descended diagonally down along the street below. He noticed with a smile how, amidst the clanging of the safety signals, access was cut off to the street and the entire downtown area.

         A loud train whistle cut through the cool, sleepy air, its echo reaching the square long before the approaching train. The incessant clanging of the railroad crossing reminded him of his days in the ring. It had been a long time ago, when he was still a teen, but if he closed his eyes, he could still hear the round bells pealing madly. He still carried with him the sting of every glove that smashed him to the canvas.

         A large bus came to a stop behind the crossing, as did a streetful of cars, bottlenecking both sides of the tracks. A few people stood on the corner, waiting to cross; some with coffee and newspapers, he observed. Bike riders in yellow and blue outfits rolled alongside the stopped traffic and slowly came to a halt as a Union Pacific train clambered into view. He noticed the colors. Two orange cars, followed by a lone blue car and a yellow, then a subsequent line of green boxcars that streamed down the line as everything, traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians were brought to a complete standstill. He carefully noted how the parade of boxcars created an unbroken line between him and the rest of the city.

         It was a city he loved; it reminded him of the best of New York and of Paris all rolled into one. The energy and pace of Manhattan and the artiness and vogue of a Montparnasse arrondissment.

         New York had been a long time ago. Paris even longer. Paris was his sometime mistress, but New York had been his wife. He had divorced himself from her and was now living on the West Coast. He felt miserable and especially guilty leaving her, particularly during the holidays and when his city was nearly lain to ruin one awful September morn.

         The whine of the Red Line trolley shook him from the memory and he was back at the hotel once again. For a time, his mind had drifted back and he wandered the streets of New York, twenty-five years old again and for a while, his life had been pleasant once more.

         If a man is lucky, he will love more than one woman in his lifetime and they, in return, will love him. If he is very unlucky, he will be in love with both of them at the same time.

         As he opened the glass door that separated the hotel and his lonely parapet, he entered the room. Although cooled by air-conditioning, the room still reeked sourly of last night’s alcohol. And there she lay, strewn across the bed, the reason for his not having iced himself once, long before things got better and conversely and perversely, the solitary reason why he would do it again, had he the guts.

         She had been drunk the night before, singing Elton John songs in the piano bar and singing way too loud, uncomfortably so, while other patrons, some as wasted as she, shot disapproving glances. Once the life of the party the night before, she now lay as dead to the world as a corpse.

         Room service had rolled in, rattling and clinking all the way, the Mexican kid trying not to notice the huera on the bed, naked and out cold. The kid shot quick, nervous glances at the dark patch between her legs; the breast implants nearly bursting from beneath her armpits. He did catch the kid staring at her ass and laughed. The kid tried to prolong his visit by explaining the meal, but hotel policy or not, he knew what he had ordered and didn’t need the kid giving him a run through. The kid was nosy and he didn’t like it. When he spotted the kid anxiously looking around the room towards his reproduction hotel uniform in the open closet, hung next to the imitation Federali jacket and pants he had had made at a friend’s sewing division down in Mexicali, he knew it was time to get rid of him. With a twenty-dollar bill, he booted the chiquito pedazo de mierda from the room, as he called him and slammed the door shut in his astonished face.

         That had been over an hour and forty minutes ago. He had feasted while she slept. She had stirred only but once, to turn over and groan. Had she not, he would have checked her pulse upon completing the meal, he said to himself.

         Now all that remained of the once pristine breakfast table with silver and china settings was something that resembled more of an archaeological dig. When he had cleaned most of his plate, he started in on her eggs, knowing full well she would never touch them this morning.

         Television was always out of the question and was always something of a joke. He wanted to stay alert today. Another sip of the Cardinale and that would be it for him. Today was to be an important day. The day that would take him from nothing to any place he’d want to go.

         He scoured the newspaper for any mention of it. The LA Times was scattered about the room. It would be on the front page, if he could find the front page, he groused. But she had gotten to the newspaper before he had last night, did that little dance with it, before stripping naked, getting into a crying jag, accusing him of sleeping with all of her friends and accusing him of not loving her before passing out. Between the warm up drinks at dinner, the drowning of sorrows at the piano bar and after show back here, it had been one hell of an evening, he groused.

         He spotted the front page. It was near the headboard, below her drooling mouth, on the floor. He wondered if she had placed it there in case she had to throw up. Thankfully, she had not. He looked at her as she lay there, almost comatose.

         “You shouldn’t drink so much,” he heard himself drunkenly mutter and laughed at the irony.

         He had loved her much once. Now, not so much. It had all been worn away, sun bleached to the bone by the cheating, the drinking, the smoking, the never-ending lies, the attitude and constant bitching. She had been beautiful once, too, he remembered. Now, not so much. That too had been worn away.

         He folded the paper to the front page. There it was on the bottom, ironically right next to the very reason for his being in San Diego.

         Tijuana, Mexico (AP) Arraignment was scheduled today for Mexico’s reputed drug cartel leaders, Luis and Manuel Ortiz. Charges include international drug trafficking, extortion, possession of stolen property and reported involvement of last year’s notorious string of execution-style slayings of wealthy Columbian businessman, Armando Delgado, his family and several business associates in Mexico City. The murders shook the tourist-friendly city, exposing the seamy underside of La Eme Nuevo or the Mexican Mafia, as it is known.

         The ongoing two year investigation also helped shed light on the long reach of La Eme including its involvement in nearly every facet of national political office, extending to the steps of the presidential palace in Mexico City. A sweeping upset at the polls a month ago led to the ouster and subsequent arrests of many corrupt officials. The reformation paved the way for George Ordonez, a little-known DA from the Nuevo Leon region of Monterey in Northern Mexico, to run as a third party candidate. Such was his popularity with the Mexican people; Ordonez was appointed top drug czar by newly elected President Vincentes in a ceremony three weeks ago.

         Ordonez, who ran on a platform of ridding Mexico of illicit narcotics by the end of the decade, took no time in carrying out that promise. His first course of action and main political trump card during the campaign came in keeping his promise to capture and prosecute of the brothers Ortiz.”

         He stopped reading and then turned his attention to the parallel article: “Ordonez Key Note at Area Anti-Drug Forum”.

         He studied the face of the grinning man in the photo. It was a recognizable face and one that was well known to him. Ever since Ordonez captured the imagination of the Mexican people, by capturing dos hermanos muy mal, he was living on borrowed time.

         This was the sole reason for Carlos Moreno’s visit to San Diego.

         Moreno wasn’t used to life like this. People like him didn’t live, period. They either died young or got sentenced to life. Moreno served some time, but he was lucky. Luckier than most with whom he grew up. He had made it into his thirties. Most people he came up with barely got half that far.

         Life in the real world was a mirage. Monthly mortgages, nine-to-five, it was all a mirage. All those people were suckers, he thought. If there was any real world, Vegas was it. She, too, had been a faithful mistress. Now, that was living! That was his reality. He had made a good living in the casinos, cheating the house until they caught on. Now he had to keep a respectful distance from her, as well.

         But not Shelley, not her. He looked at her, still passed out on the bed. She was his last reality. The only one not taken away from him. The only reality he had left. As phony as she was, a stripper when he met her, with collagen injected lips, a body someone else had paid for, and a mind that had only gone as far as the tenth grade, she was, for better-most likely worse-his reality. If they had taken her away from him, that would break him.

         He had been a broken man, broken in many places, but never all at once. Breaks that would destroy most men and one day would, no doubt destroy him, if he were lucky he sneered. Every man is broken and broken in different places, but not every man is destroyed by it and in places where a man is broken, there is either strength or weakness. If he has learned anything from the experience, he carries with him the memory of that hurt so he’s never broken the same way twice. But for some, there is nothing and some men are filled with too much nothing and gain no remembrance or remorse. And a man without a conscience, as one knows, is a very dangerous thing.

         Carlos had really no idea who was behind the hit. He suspected it was someone within the Ortiz family who had gotten in touch with the family lawyer who had done some legal work for an ex-brother-in-law of his who had naively agreed to help smuggle drugs across the Border. The guy’s only real crime was to that of being stupid. The one he got scratched for was doing some cabinetwork on some guy’s RV. Only the cabinetwork included false fronts. The guy asked the kid to drive it to his friend’s house across the Border when the work was complete. He asked Carlos to join him. Carlos was seventeen and on his way to being a Golden Gloves Champ. His brother-in-law figured he would be good company and protection in case they ran into trouble, he joked.

         Trouble ran into them.

         They were stopped at the Border and the van routinely searched. As both were interrogated separately, Carlos innocently and casually mentioned the false fronts his brother-in-law had installed. Instantly, the RV was ripped apart by Federalis, exposing the false fronts and hundreds and hundreds pounds of marijuana and several packets of counterfeit Mexican currency.

         The brother-in-law, unaware of the RV’s contents pleaded ignorance but was pinched as the main connection between the California and Juarez drug trafficking cartel at the time. The only way Carlos and his brother-in-law did not see serious time was through the efforts of the Ortiz family lawyer and more than a few pay-offs from the intended recipient of the van. The name of the recipient: Raoul Ortiz.

         With a few minor prior marks on his arrest records, Carlos was sent up to a prison outside of Nogales for two years. His brother-in-law only received seven years in a Mexican prison. It could have been worse. On the other side of the Border, the DEA was looking to put him away for 25 years to life for being a repeat offender. Carlos thought about those days and shuddered. He did not know who was behind the hit and did not want to know. He opened the gun case. He looked at the snub nose. He picked up the pistol out the case and aimed it. He started to pose with the piece, looking at himself in the mirror. Amateur, he thought. Now, he would have to thoroughly wipe the gun down for prints. What was wrong with him, he wondered?

         He had killed guys before. But this was his first big hit after getting paroled for running numbers. He had tried to go clean, but what did it get him? Running numbers was about as clean as you could get and they still tagged him and sent him away.

         Whatever, he said out loud. He tossed the gun from hand to hand and spun it around on his index finger. He was enjoying his little show of confidence.

         “Hey, Jesse James…” A voice rasped from the other side of the room. “…what time is it??” Shelley stretched and sat up. He noticed her matted hair, the way she held her head to one side, the swollen lines under her eyes. At least the lines were no longer up her nose, he thought with a smile. “Huh?”

         “What’re you smiling at?” She groaned and went straight for her cigarettes. She lit one and drew a long breath. “That’s better.” She exhaled with a smoky cough.

         “It’s..uh, eleven-thirty.” He said, looking at his watch.

         “Why’d you let me sleep so late?” She whined. “You know I wanted to go over to Coronado!”

         “In your condition?” He said and followed her with his eyes as she stumbled past him into the bathroom. He could still smell the tequila shots all over her. She answered him in a hoarse “Fuck you” before vomiting.

         She wiped her mouth as she came out. “What?!” She shrugged. “Why are you looking at me like that!?”

         “No reason.”

         He needed to get out of there. Out of that stuffy room, out of that conversation and into a nice cold drink. “I’m going downstairs.” He said.

         “Where?” She asked almost in an afterthought.

         “To the bar.”

         “Wait!” She sprang to life. “I’ll go with you.”

         “In your condition?” He repeated. “You’re supposed to go to the bar sober and get drunk, not drunk and drink yourself sober.”

         As he closed the door without waiting, he heard another four-letter word or two being tossed towards the door along with what sounded like a shoe. He boarded an elevator and got off at the marbled lobby. He walked past the darkened restaurants, a set of stairs that led to the crummy bistro they had eaten at last night and walked towards the brass doors that led to the sun outside.

         Putting a hand to push the doors open, they automatically parted without him even touching them. This nearly stopped him in his tracks, but he walked on, marveling at beauty of the day outside that at once enveloped him.

         The warmth of the sun felt excellent on his face, thawing him from the air-conditioning as he walked across the damp patio that led to a small faux Japanese-style bridge with large rainbow trout swimming in the shimmering canal beneath it. The trout floated almost effortlessly in the moving water, over countless silver pocket change that guests tossed in for good luck. Suckers, thought Moreno again.

         The constant deluge of falling water made it almost unbearably loud to sit anywhere remotely close to poolside, although many did; he noted. He scoped out a seat at the small tiki bar with a thatched roof and fishing net made to appear as if it had been casually tossed upon it. The bar was size of a linen closet and probably had been, Carlos thought as he ordered a Cadillac margarita. He opted not to go with the overpriced poolside version, the Hurricane-a-rita. The only difference being the amount of triple sec, brand of tequila and price. It all seemed contrived to him, but he did not come here to look at the net, the size of the tiki bar or what brand of alcohol, he grinned.

         The margarita went down smooth and slushy and the tequila met with the Cardinale that was now burning his stomach. It should have made magma of his stomach, if not for the crushed ice. He nursed the drink and enjoyed the view of the bikinied poolside for a brief while. The tequila slipped the knots and set his mind adrift and led him toward darkened harbors and forgotten breakers from which he usually liked to steer clear.

         The girls around him reminded him of her. Not Shelley, but her. The one who should have been, but was not. The one whose leaving hurt him like no other and he thought of how he loved her, loved her absolutely and truly and how she had gone. How his stupidity, time and a bit of luck on the side of prosecution saw fit to take her away from him. He did not blame her for not waiting. She had a life to live, even if he did not. He would not have waited, either, he said to himself.

         Yes, he would have. She was beautiful. Inside and out. He began to think of her and all that she had meant to him. She was the sweetest person he had ever met and had the most beautiful smile to prove it. He remembered how he always joked to her that she was a saint and how she was the best and had since proven it, for she had been the most noble of any who came before or after.

         She had lovely brown eyes, he recalled. They were so alive and true. It had been her beauty but also her hair that first attracted him. She had lovely, wild auburn hair. He smiled as he recalled what he always described as her wicked sense of humor. His smile faded. Timing was everything, he knew. There was nothing he could do now. She was gone. Their moment had passed. Nevertheless, she would always be with him. He would forever carry her in his heart. No matter whom he would love in his life, a piece of his heart would, until the end of time, belong only to her. No matter whom he would love, she would always be on his mind. He would wonder about what could have been between them until the end of his days.

         “Hi.” Came a voice from behind him.

         For a brief moment, he expected to turn and see her. But to no avail. It was Shelley. Good enough, he shrugged. “Thought I’d find you here.” She said and sat down next to him. All eyes were upon her, some of the males, he noted as well.

         How she managed to pull herself together was nothing short of a sleight of hand, a miracle of make-up and probably some coke. He knew however beautiful on the outside she appeared, her nerves were shot and she was absolutely dying on the inside.

         He checked his watch. It was 12:30. Ordonez was due to arrive in the lobby at 3:00 according to his source inside the hotel.

         “Come on, we have to go.” He said and gulped the last of the liquory-slush of his margarita.

         “But I just got here!” Shelley pouted. “I want a drink!”

         “You always want a drink.” He snarled. “It’s time, we have to get ready.”

         “But why do I have to go?” She whined.

         “You know the routine.” He said as if telling her for the first and not tenth time.

         Shelley certainly knew the routine and even feeling like near shit went along with it.

         Within minutes, she found herself on all fours on the bed while he doggy-styled her. She preferred this position as she could feel the boys hitting against her while he pounded, which gave her an erotic, tingling thrill, but she preferred it also for the fact that she did not have to look at him while he “fucked her brains out”, as he would boast. The joke was on him.

         Not only could she not see him and could fantasize that he was any leading Hollywood stud, but the joke was even more so on him, she thought vapidly, as her brains had been fucked out by the many who literally came before him. When he was finished, Carlos rolled over onto his sweaty back, with the smug satisfaction of pleasuring the most important one in the room in his mind. Himself.

         Shelley stretched her legs out from underneath her and lay on her stomach. She placed her head on his damp abdomen, careful not to let her face touch him.

         “Tell me again, Carlos?” She asked as if she had forgotten what he had told her only a few hours before in the bar. Perhaps, she had, he smiled.

         As he started to think about it, she ran her hand over his chest, her fingers delicately digging into his hair and pulling it up slowly, straightening and releasing the recoiling hair. She studied the bruises from last week’s collection. It had not gone smooth. She carefully avoided the overlapping purple and yellow landmarks the size of a large fist that adorned his ribs and tried to kiss away the scars and dents and the wounds that never fully quite healed with time inside or out.

         She touched the place where the bullet had gone in, a day after his twenty-third birthday and wished that she could take away all of the hurt and pain and that somehow that they could start anew, but was too naïve to think otherwise and continued to think that maybe this time things would go right.

         He told her of the wind and how it carried the dust from over the Border in California and how the dust was everywhere; how it swept along the road from the mountains and surrounding hills, onto the cars, on the doorsteps, brought into the house by foot, on the carpet, up the stairs, under the bed, along the walls, up the ledge and out the window only to fall in a fine silt onto the rooftops and scatter against the garden wall of the big ranchero they would buy. He described the high stone wall and how the dust was kept out, well, most of it anyway. He told her of the earthy tones in which the walls had been originally washed and how the sun and wind had blasted those soft hues away, given the stucco an uneven, harsh peasant color.

         He told her of the rope attached to the small black mission bell that hung over the gate and described it so vividly that she could nearly reach out to grab the rope and peal the bell.

         Once the bell had been rung, he told her, their guest would be greeted by a house servant who would guide them through the lush greenery, palms and bougainvillea, down indigo and white tiled steps and inside the cool shadows of the entrance to the hacienda.

         The guest’s eyes would then adjust to the view of the dissimilarity of the interior walls not bleached by the relentless and unforgiving blaze of the sun. Inside the entry hall, the darkness would fade and reveal a cooled white interior. The guest would notice the assorted mangos, dates, plums and pluots in a green wooden bowl on a large wooden table surrounded by cathedral chairs over which a black, Moorish style wagon wheel candelabra hung attached by chains to the shiny planks of the varnished ceiling above.

         The home itself was cavernous and allowed dappled sunlight to enter through carefully spaced skylights. In the mission coves were souvenirs bought cheaply in the tourist-driven markets of towns like Encenada and Nogales.

         Outside on the patio, they would greet their guest, he explained, sangria in hand, maybe inviting their guest to an afternoon bullfight on the outskirts of coastal Tijuana at the corrida by the sea.

         It was a beautiful place to see a bullfight, he contended. The Plaza Monumental las Playas, with its crimson painted bullring against the extreme ivory sands and the azure sparkle of the sea behind it, created an arresting contrast to what occurred inside. To watch the brave matador, he said, adorned in his colorful traje de luces vying for the perfect veronica was truly an impressive artistic expression.

         From there, the dust would again be taken by the wind to the outer lying bodegas before it again returned to the desert, pushed out the door towards the road by the young and old who would spend their days sweeping the dust to which they too would one day return.

         Shelley frowned at this ending to the story. This time it was different. She did not like it changed. “I liked it better with a happy ending.” She complained.

         “There are no happy endings in life.” He told her desolately. “Just endings.”

         She started to speak. He waved her off. “Come on..” He said. “I have to get ready.”

         When he was dressed and ready, he gave her implicit instructions to meet him at the Sante Fe train station. There, he said, she would park his car and providing all went smooth, he would meet her at precisely 4:00. Any later and the entire area would be swarming with police, FBI and no doubt some very agitated Federali.

         Shelley thought he looked ridiculous in his hotel bellman’s outfit and told him so. He shrugged her off and reminded her to bring the other clothes, mainly the Federali uniform. This was the most important, he said. That would ensure them getting through the Border without incident.

         He told her to have the bellman get their bags and insisted she check out well before the appointed arrival time of Ordonez at 3:15. Carlos kissed her goodbye and impressed upon her again the importance of following his instructions. She grumbled and then stopped as he shot her a look. She knew his work was important and the last thing he needed to think about was her bitching. He needed to concentrate. As he closed the door behind him, he hoped she would not fail him or flake out like she had in New Orleans when he almost missed his hit.

         He went downstairs into the lobby, an overnight bag tucked under his arm, specially made for him by his friend down in Mexicali. The strap of the bag was worn over the shoulder and a false bottom was added so that Carlos could comfortably slip his hand in and covertly aim a loaded handgun such as the one he had in his grip right now and point gun barrel through the opening in the front. It was pure genius, thought Carlos, as the idea had been his own.

         The hit and execution of it, smiled Carlos, was his alone as well. He had received instructions on the where and when, but the how was left exclusively to him. Even when he met those who had been the middlemen in the hit, they seemed disinterested, almost insulted by his enthusiasm to tell them his strategy. Perhaps they were insulted. Perhaps the less people knew in this business the better, he shrugged.

         The idea was to intercept Ordonez as he made his way triumphantly through the lobby, amidst the confusion, the local news clamoring for an interview, the hot lights, flashbulbs and general crush of his own people making their way through the lobby. In the course of the disorder, he could get a clean shot off and in the ensuing chaos that results as an initial reaction to unforeseen violence, dressed as an employee of the hotel, he could easily escape out the South wing of the hotel in the myriad of tourists and gift shops.

         From there, he could ditch the employee uniform as he went out the side service entrance, down the embankment, onto the sloping grass and to the sidewalk where he could cross the street while pandemonium reigned behind him. He’d then slip over the railroad crossing just in time for the 3:25 to cut the town in two, with him safely on the other side of the tracks, clear of any trailing police. It was the perfect getaway Carlos smiled.

         His heart quickened as he looked at his watch. It was 3:13. Ordonez was due any minute. He breathed and tried to keep composed and collected.

         “You!” A voice came from behind him. “I’m talking to you! I’ve been waiting here for five minutes! Grab my bags!”

         Carlos turned with a pained expression. Was someone talking to him? He turned to see some doughy fifty-something businessman looking at him. “Hey, Ace. I’m talking to you.” The guy growled at him.

         So aggravated was Carlos, he almost made the wrong hit. Instead, he turned away from the asshole, thinking how lucky the guy was but didn’t know it and spotted a black limo pulling up to the door. With the man’s gums still flapping, Carlos watched the car door open and several people armed with cameras of various makes and sizes surrounded the distinguished dark skinned man as he stepped out, waving and smiling.

         Carlos immediately recognized him from the many photos he had studied. From the neat, black mustache to the diamond pin he always wore in his tie, to his slicked back hair. That’s Ordonez, no doubt about it, Carlos said to himself. As the press, hotel staff, guests and anti-drug representatives converged on the man, so did Carlos.

         For a moment, he and Ordonez locked eyes. The man looked at him and smiled. He put out his hand. Carlos stared at him emotionless. For a fleeting instant the man’s smile faded. It was the moment of truth, la momenta de verdad, as they called it in the bullring. Ordonez’s eyes widened as he looked down at the bag with the pistol. Carlos immediately fired and chaos erupted, sending Ordonez to the blood spattered white marble lobby floor. All around Ordonez scattered, including his pitiful advance team, leaving Ordonez unaided and momentarily prone. Only the press stayed and filmed the appalling spectacle.

         Carlos ducked down the side hall along with a number of the panicked crowd and threw off his sweaty green bellman’s vest, shirt and fake I.D. As planned, he briskly walked away from the hotel, down the embankment, to the sidewalk and as he breathlessly cleared the tracks, the clanging of the Safety Trans bells ensued him of the success of his plan.

         Three factors never occurred to Carlos as he met Shelley at the Sante Fe train station. The first was that with the shooting of Ordonez, the very first move by the authorities would be to have the entire downtown area sealed off and shutdown; no people, cars, buses and or even the Pacific train that was slowing to a stop. The train would need to be searched by the police to see if any potential assassins had stowed away onboard. Instead of creating an impediment between him and the police, it would create a barrier and prevent his swift escape to Mexico, thus leaving him and Shelley trapped with the law fast closing in.

         The second aspect that Carlos failed to consider was that while Ordonez was shot, he could survive. A second or even third shot would have taken care of this, but it was not possible, given the scenario. Within hours of the shooting, a still critically wounded Ordonez would be responsive enough to identify Carlos Moreno from his hospital bed out of an FBI stockpile of known felons in the area.

         The last nail was that unbeknownst to Carlos and Shelley was the actual fact that the hit was botched and that he was a wanted man. Having taken a grimy, rattrap of a motel room off the Gaslamp District in downtown, Carlos smashed in the television in frustration of discovering there was no way out of the town, he had no idea his face had been broadcast on every local news station in a five hundred mile radius an hour later.

         Carlos bitched about being cornered in San Diego for the time being. As he looked over the distant lights of the far off harbor, he conceded that while it was a good town to lie low in, he’d still have rather been in Mexico, right now.

         Neither he nor Shelley knew that not only would Ordonez not die, he would not even come close to it. Nor did they know as they prematurely opened another bottle of Dom in celebration that they would not collect and buy that ranchero Carlos had spoken about so wonderfully.

         Nor could they have known as he sipped the last of his Dom that the approaching footsteps belonged to someone with a very familiar face. A knock would come in a few seconds and Shelley, despite her boyfriend’s occupation and number of times he told her never to open the door herself, would respond by opening the door and letting in the young kid who asked for Carlos by name. Carlos would recognize the individual, but only too late. Shelley would have no clue.

         There were many ways to die. One was by being careless. The face belonged to the same Mexican kid who brought their food up at breakfast. The one Carlos had called chiquito pedazo de mierda. Meaning: little piece of shit. Turns out, he was the youngest of the Ortiz brothers. This was his first hit.

Joseph Grant is originally from New York City and his short stories have been published in 118 literary reviews and e-zines, such as Byline, New Authors Journal, Nite-Writer's International Literary Arts Journal, Howling Moon Press, Hack Writers, New Online Review, Literary Tonic, six sentences, NexGenPulp, three UK literary reviews, Bottom of the World and Cupboard Gloom and two most recently in Darkest Before Dawn and a story in the upcoming anthology of horror, Northern Haunts, (available soon in Barnes & Noble, Target and on Amazon) and upcoming stories in Grim Graffiti, Heroin Love Songs and Bottom of the World #2.

He has won “Story of the Month” at Bartleby-Snopes Literary Review and has earned a guaranteed spot in the 1st PRINT issue of the magazine. He has written for The New York Bar Guide (as a reviewer) and in various newspaper articles that have appeared in The Pasadena Star, Whittier News and the San Gabriel Tribune. He has published a work of verse, Indigo, with Alpha Beat Press and has completed his first novel. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

Six of his stories have been recently featured in 6S Volume 1, a collection of short stories by various writers available at Amazon.







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