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A Filthy Business by William Lashner

A Filthy Business


The motel was a desolate little structure in the middle of a desert.

Room 232, upper level, door facing northeast. The air conditioner sticking out above the door growled into the still, hot air. It was only morning, but already the sun was a burning eye staring over my shoulder. I slid to the side of the door, putting cinder block between me and the room’s inhabitants, sucked my teeth to ready my mind, and then knocked loudly, once, twice.

“Who the hell?” came the response, guttural and slow with a Texas twist.

“Management,” I said.

“What you want?”

“There was a problem with your reservation, sir.”

“Reservation?” I heard footsteps, bare feet on bare wood, the turning of the bolt. “What the hell you talking about reser—”

Before he could finish I kicked open the door.

Gordon ducked slightly as he stiff-legged his way through the doorway, his sunglasses on, his scowl firm enough on its own to tone down any danger. He wore a black suit, white shirt, thin black tie—he had purposely gone all Tarantino for this play—and he pointed the long barrel of his black gun down at the face of the man now sprawled naked on the floor.

“Don’t,” Gordon said in his startlingly deep voice.

Whatever the man on the floor was thinking, he stopped thinking it.

I slipped a shit-eating grin onto my face and strode into the room like I had paid for it. The man on the floor was lean and hard, with the requisite thug tattoos on his chest: a skull with a pirate bandanna on one breast, a bottle of Colt 45 and a pistol on the other. Not bad, actually. The face behind the beard was handsome in a long-jawed way, and his pale-gray eyes were fixated on Gordon’s gun. I walked right past him to the woman propped up by pillows on the bed.

“Miss Gilbert, I presume,” I said.

She looked at me with a studied unconcern. She was naked atop a swelter of mussed sheets, one knee raised. From my vantage I could see her legs were heavy and her blonde hair was bleached. Her arms lay languidly across her torso, not deigning to cover breasts that were slight and pale. She was young and she was pretty because she was young, but already you could tell she wouldn’t be a beauty, and I suppose she could tell, too.

“I figured someone would get here sooner or later,” she said. “This is just sooner than I expected. But you can go right back and tell him I’m not coming home. Tell him I’m in love.”

I turned to look at the man on the floor. “With that?”

“Jimmy’s the love of my life.”

“I guess it hasn’t been much of a life.”

“Don’t let him push you around, Bree darling,” said the man on the floor. He was a good decade older and was taking things much more seriously, but then again he had the gun in his face. “Love will keep us together for now and for always.”

“You found yourself a charmer, Miss Gilbert, I’ll give you that,” I said. “You call him the Captain, or is he Tennille?”

“Run back to my daddy like a good little servant boy,” said the heiress, “and tell him to leave me alone.”

“Oh, don’t worry. He has every intention of leaving you alone. Both of you. In fact, Miss Gilbert, I just came here to get both your signatures on a few documents.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” said the man on the floor. “She don’t sign nothing without my say-so.”

I looked up at Gordon; he nodded his head sadly and then slugged Jimmy in the jaw with the barrel of the gun. There was blood and a spit tooth and a gratifying volume of shouts and curses, all of it coming from him, none of it coming from her. When I turned back to the girl, she was looking at me with a fine impassivity.

“You’re not one of his usual goons,” she said.

“That’s because I’m not a goon,” I said cheerfully. “I’m a lawyer.”

“God help us, then. What kind of documents are you talking about?”

“Well, for you an emancipation declaration.” I put the briefcase on the table, opened it so that Jimmy could see a flash of money, and took out a multipage document with an official-looking legal-blue backing. “You want to be free to live your life with that fellow on the ground there, undisturbed, for all of eternity. Your father is determined not to stand in your way. I’ve no doubt he’s told you over and again how he made it on his own, rising from nothing with just his wits and his wiles and how that made all the difference in his life.”

“My God he goes on, which is funny because his own father started the business.”

“Well, he wants you to have the same experience.”

“Fuck that,” said Jimmy.

“Here you go, Miss Gilbert,” I said, offering her the document. “You’re still only seventeen, so you can’t really be independent without an official emancipation. But this will do it. Sign on the line and you’re free to live your life without your father’s interference.”

She sat up in the bed, pulled her legs beneath her, took hold of the papers. I drew a pen from my pocket and held it out as she scanned the document, her face twisting in confusion. I had drafted it with enough legalese that it would take a team of Latin majors from Notre Dame to figure out that it meant absolutely nothing.

“Freedom,” I said. “With just the stroke of a pen. Sign the document and the rest of your life is yours. How many would jump at such an offer?”

“And if I don’t sign this thing?”

“Then, because of your age, I would have the legal authority to forcibly take you away from this motel, from this state, and from the love of your life. I would have the legal authority to take you to your father. He’ll probably whisk you off to the house on Molokai so you can recuperate from this whole ordeal. You’d end up back in his clutches, back to being dependent on his money, a virtual prisoner. On Molokai.”

“I do like the house on Molokai.”

“Don’t do nothing, honey,” said Jimmy as he climbed onto his knees. “They can’t do nothing to us.”

“Sweet ring,” I said, looking down at him.

“It was a gift.”

“Is that a Super Bowl ring? It couldn’t be a Super Bowl ring, could it?”

“It’s mine.”

“It’s on your finger, that’s for sure.”

“And that’s where it’s staying.”

“Go ahead, Miss Gilbert,” I said, “just sign on the dotted line and this wonderful font of grammar and dignity is yours forever.”

“I’m hers forever anyways. What about her money? What about her trust funds?”

“Freedom and money,” I said. “Sometimes you can’t have both. You’d be poor, yes. But think of this, Miss Gilbert: you’d have Johnny.”

“Jimmy,” said Jimmy.

“Right. Jimmy. At your side. Forever and ever. Through all eternity. Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. What could be sweeter?”

“Are you really a lawyer?” she said.

“Bar certified and everything.”

“I hate lawyers.”

“That’s okay, we hate ourselves.”

She laughed and then climbed off the bed, stooped beside the still-bleeding man. She caressed his face while she said, “Maybe I should talk to him, Boodles.”

“No baby, stay with me. We’ll do this together.”

“Maybe I should talk to him just to sort things out.”

“There’s a limo outside waiting for you,” I said.

“I’ll go too,” said the man.

“Just for Miss Gilbert. And there’s a picnic lunch in the backseat. Some of Estela’s fried chicken.”

“Estela’s chicken?” she said, her eyes brightening.

“Don’t listen to him,” said Jimmy. “Stay with me, baby.”

“I need to talk to my father, Jimmy, sweetie, or he’ll never let us alone.” She kissed his bruised lips, his forehead, his ear, and then lifted her face to me. “Did Estela pack iced tea with the chicken?”

“With the limes how you like it,” I said.

“I’ll come with you,” said Jimmy, “and make sure he don’t do nothing funny.” But she was no longer listening.

“It’s best if I go alone, Boodles.” She straightened. “You wait here, I’ll be back.” As she passed me on the way to the bathroom she said, “Just give me a minute to clean up.” She grabbed a suitcase and closed the bathroom door behind her.

Jimmy tried to scramble to his feet but Gordon knocked him down again, and that was that. Still on the floor, still with the gun pointed at his face, he leaned against the wall, poked at his missing tooth with his tongue, and stared at the briefcase. Whatever he wanted to do in the name of violence and greed, the money in the briefcase was stilling his hand, as I knew it would.

She came out of the bathroom in jeans and a T-shirt, her face scrubbed, her hair wet and loose. She looked wholesome and fresh and totally out of place in that shithole. Her posture was straight and haughty; she handed me the suitcase as one would hand it to a bellboy. She barely glanced at Jimmy on the floor as she walked out the door. Carrying her suitcase, I followed her to the parking lot, where Kief, in full chauffeur’s getup, cap included, waited at the limousine’s open door.

“It’s tougher than you think being his daughter,” she said.

“I couldn’t imagine,” I said.

“That’s right, you couldn’t. But at least now he’s paying attention. Sometimes all we want is to be looked at the right way.”

“I understand.”

“You have nice eyes.”

“I don’t get that much.”

“Don’t hurt him.”

“I’m a lawyer.”

“I know Daddy’s lawyers.”

“Enjoy Molokai.”

“Do you want to come? I think I’d like you to come. I could arrange it.”

“Hawaii’s not for me,” I said. “Lawyers burn easily.”

“The afterlife must be tough on you guys, huh?”

“Enjoy the ride.”

After she was inside and the door slammed shut, Kief looked up at still-open door of the motel room.

“That seemed easy enough,” he said.

“It helps having Gordon along, especially Gordon with a gun. But in truth, she wanted out. If Riley hadn’t found her when she did, the girl would have sent out a homing signal on her own.”

“Desert motel, two kids on the lam. I’m assuming they had some pretty impressive pharmaceuticals up there.”

“Take her right home,” I said. “No detours.”

“No problem.”

“And no partying with the passenger.”

“Really, boss? I thought we were a service industry.”

“We’re not servicing her. Take her home and take the next flight out.”

“I might as well be working for Uber.”

I watched the limousine pull out of the parking lot, turn onto the road, and start heading to the father’s mansion high in the hills above LA. Then I walked over to our rental SUV, where Riley was leaning against the back bumper, her sunglasses on, her arms crossed.

“Now comes the fun part,” she said. “How’s our boy Jimmy doing?”

“Not so well. Gordon had to work him over a bit. There’s a tooth on the floor.”

“You find the jewels?”

“Not yet.”

“What about the ring?”

“Oh, the ring is there.”

“The old man, he seemed pretty hepped up about that damn ring.”

“It’s a collector’s item.”

“Will Jimmy boy give it up?”

“One way or the other.” I opened the rear door of the vehicle, reached to the seat, and pulled out a large-handled wire cutter with the price sticker still attached. “It’s all just another negotiation, right?”