Pandemic Files

The Commandments (VII)

VII.

For most of the time Jeff worked under Carlos, Jeff’s cousin Slim also had a pretty prominent spot in the operation, except on the distribution side of things. With the cousins set up in different parts of the organization from the start, their paths rarely crossed. Outside of the occasional evening call for some 2K, share a blunt and a bottle of Henny, the two lived totally separate lives, especially when it came to the business.

That is, until the day Jeff received a call from Carlos to meet him at the warehouse out in West Kendall.

“For what?” Jeff said, exasperated. “You told me I had the day off.”

“It is tu primo, cabron,” he said. “Slim.”

“What about him?” Jeff asked, bristling as he sat up on his couch.

“You will see.”

Twenty minutes later Jeff turned into the warehouse parking lot, pulling up next to Slim’s dark blue Chevy Tahoe. He walked in and took off his sunglasses, waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim gray sunlight filtering through the dusty windows high on the walls. When his vision cleared, he saw his cousin strapped to a chair with Marcus—one of Carlos’s other enforcers, an overall decent guy from what Jeff could tell—standing over him. Marcus was wearing gold knuckle grips, big ones that fit around his giant fingers. He was using these gold knuckle grips to lay heavy-bag punches directly into Slim’s rib cage.

Carlos stood off to the side, watching solemnly as Slim cried out with each blow. The door to the warehouse slammed shut behind Jeff just as Marcus delivered a particularly resounding thump, the crack of it echoing through the large open space. Jeff flinched. Marcus and Carlos turned to him. When Marcus saw Jeff’s face, he stepped back from Slim, lowering his bloody fists to his side. Marcus avoided Jeff’s eyes. Carlos looked directly at him, walking over to Slim’s chair and placing his hand on Slim’s head and pushing it back so Jeff could get a good look at the damage. Slim’s eyes were swollen shut, his lips bruised and split, two of his top teeth missing.

Carlos let Jeff study his cousin for a moment then pulled his hand away, Slim’s head falling so his chin rested against his chest, a string of bloody drool dribbling to his lap. Carlos nodded at Marcus and Marcus gave Jeff a pensive glance before winding up and slamming his gold knuckles into Slim’s jaw. The smack was wet and loud, like a large slab of meat slapping onto a counter. Slim let out a deep guttural growl then passed out again.

Marcus stopped, looking down at the man sitting in the plastic chair in the empty, dingy warehouse. A pile of newspapers lined the floor, spread out in a blood-spattered fan around the chair. Marcus prepared to deliver another blow and Carlos raised a hand.

“Give him a minute,” Carlos said, still studying Jeff. “The man needs to rest, let him rest. Nice of you to join us, Jeff.”

“What’s this about?” Jeff said, trying to keep his voice even.

Every familial instinct in Jeff screamed to blast Carlos and Marcus, grab his cousin and run. But right then Jeff got to also thinking about his mother approaching him that day outside of his apartment, the skeletal look of her face.

Send you back to God, you don’t give me my goddamn medicine!

“That is a good question,” Carlos said, pointing at Slim. “Tu primo thinks it is okay to give away my product. For free.”

Jeff glanced at Slim. Slim’s head lolled, his tongue flicking against his cracked lips.

“All this ’cause he gave away some product?”

“Twenty keys,” Carlos clarified. “A una mujer.”

“A what?” Jeff asked.

“To a woman, cabrón,” Carlos said, motioning towards Slim. “For pussy, all of this for pussy.”

Slim came to and groaned some more, his words barely intelligible. Carlos took a step closer, leaning in with his ear near Slim’s mouth. “Que?” he said. “What was that?”

“I can get it back,” Slim said, his voice gravelly.

“He can get it back,” Carlos said, letting out a barking laugh.

“Is this really necessary?” Jeff asked. “I could’ve covered it.”

“That is not the point, Jeff,” Carlos said, waving a finger at him. “You know that is not the point. It is the principle.”

Jeff stayed quiet. Carlos eyed him, then turned and placed a hand on Slim’s forehead, tilting it back. Slim groaned, his swollen eyes rolling into consciousness.

“Please,” he whispered.

“You see, Jeff,” Carlos said. “I do not work for credit. Credit is for Fortune 500’s, y credit card companies. Not me. I do not care if it is your mother and she is begging for life.” He faced Jeff. “This is not allowed.”

“I just think we could’ve handled this situation a little differently,” Jeff said, eyes focused on Slim’s bruised and bloodied face.

Carlos nodded, then in a swift single motion reached around his back and pulled a chrome pistol from his waist, pointed the pistol at the side of Slim’s head and pulled the trigger. The other side of Slim’s head exploded outwards, bits of brain and skull landing on the newspaper and ground in front of Marcus. A small chunk landed on Marcus’s left shoe, and Jeff was immediately thrown back to the day Briggs died, the first time he ever saw La Sombra. Willing himself to stand still and not react, Jeff fought through the sinking feeling in his stomach that had accompanied him during the entire car ride here, a feeling that had now expanded to his chest and balls. He looked at what was left of his cousin, felt his gorge rise and looked back at Carlos. What he saw made him wish he hadn’t.

Carlos was staring at him, but his normal green eyes had been replaced by two oily pits of darkness. As Jeff stared, the grayish sunlight coming through the windows darkened to a deep purple, like the air surrounding the window was suddenly bruised. The long rows of florescent lights overhead flickered on for a moment then shut off again. Marcus glanced up at them but didn’t move from his perch a few feet away from Slim’s body, seemingly not noticing the dead man’s brains on his shoes.

“I’m sorry,” Carlos said, his voice rumbling with bass. “This is a distraction?”

Jeff remained quiet, frozen in place. He hoped his facial expression didn’t belie the fear that suddenly gripped his throat like a vice. His fists clenched involuntarily, nails digging into his palms, he focused his stare on a hole in the wall across the room, just above Carlos’s head. Carlos walked over to Jeff, stood in front of him and looked him up and down. Jeff willed himself to stop trembling. Marcus remained off to the side, standing stoically next to the dead body, his face expressionless.

“I like you Jeff,” Carlos said. “I have known you since you were young, the annoying teenager always causing trouble. I take you in because I see something in you. Loyalty, this is what I see.” He pointed his gun at Slim’s body. “That’s why I bring you here. So you can see. He is not your family anymore. Family is loyal.” He pointed the gun at his own chest, then towards Marcus. “I am your family. We are tu familia. Anybody hurts la familia, la familia way of life.” He pointed the gun back at Slim.

Jeff lowered his eyes finally, focusing on Carlos’s face. The man’s eyes had reverted back to their normal green, the wrinkled lines in his forehead standing out like knife slashes. Carlos turned to Slim’s body and Jeff noticed surprise in his stare. Carlos tucked his gun back at his waist, glanced at Marcus then nodded at the his dead cousin.

“Get this cleaned quickly,” he said. “Both of you. And hurry, Marcus. I need you for something else tonight.”

Marcus nodded. Carlos gave Jeff a long stare then walked out of the warehouse. Jeff stood completely still until the door slammed closed, then let out the breath he’d been holding. The silence that followed was suffocating. Marcus eventually turned to Jeff and motioned towards Slim, still avoiding Jeff’s eyes. “I’ll take care him,” he said. “Just clean up the newspaper.”

Jeff opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. So he just nodded, turned and stared at the closed warehouse door, listening as Marcus grunted through picking up Slim’s body. Jeff didn’t turn to face the plastic chair until it was empty.

Part VI

Part VIII

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Pandemic Files

The Commandments (VIII)

VIII.

The day Jeff shot and killed Marcus did not start off with Jeff wanting to shoot and kill Marcus. It started, instead, with a simple business transaction, one which would have given him not just enough cash to live but also—and this was the most important factor—enough cash to buy his freedom.

Marcus and Jeff were set to meet in a parking garage in South Miami around noon that day. Jeff arrived early, standing jittery outside of his car, wired from the drive over. He’d checked his rear view a couple dozen times on the way, paranoid about getting pulled over with so much weight in the trunk. Marcus drove up in the same black Lincoln he’d been riding in ever since Jeff met him. Parked the car next to Jeff and got out wearing a full black suit and sunglasses, straight out of a Tarantino flick. He carried a black briefcase, and Jeff could feel his eyes from behind the glasses.

“Carlos said he ain’t heard from you in a while,” he said.

“Carlos is a damn liar,” Jeff said, sniffing and swiping at his nose. “Wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t heard from him.”

“He had to reach out,” Marcus said. “He doesn’t like having to reach out.”

“Tell him I don’t give a fuck what he likes,” Jeff said, then turned and popped the trunk on his car. He took a step back and motioned. “It’s all here.”

Marcus didn’t move right away, which was the first tell for Jeff. Eventually he took a step and leaned over to look in the trunk. Wordlessly, he nodded, then held out the briefcase. Jeff took it and placed it on top of the car, flipping the locks open and staring down at the stacks of hundreds rubber-banded together. Jeff slammed the briefcase closed and left it on top of the car, turning back to Marcus.

“Carlos thanks you for your service,” Marcus said, and there was something about the way he said it that gave Jeff his second tell. He felt the presence of his own gun strongly, tucked at his back. He almost didn’t bring it—year or two ago he would’ve never been stupid enough to pack with so much product in his trunk—but his paranoia had overpowered his fear of the law. Now he was glad, and inched his hand up the right side of his back as he spoke.

“So that’s it?” Jeff said. “I’m out?”

“Yes,” Marcus said somberly. “You’re out.”

Marcus was fast—his gun was out of the holster in less than two seconds—but not fast enough. Jeff pulled his trigger before Marcus had a chance to even raise his arm. His gun bucked, Marcus hopped once then fell back against Jeff’s open car trunk. Sliding to the floor, Marcus used his last bit of strength to raise his gun and squeeze one off, a bullet slamming into Jeff’s leg right above his left knee. The pain was instantaneous and explosive. Jeff fell to the ground and grabbed his thigh, opening his mouth in a silent scream before turning and firing again, hitting Marcus in the forehead. His head slammed against the concrete, his eyes rolling back in his head. Jeff watched him for a moment to make sure he wasn’t moving. When he was sure Marcus was dead, he allowed himself to lay there and grimace for a ten-count before forcing himself to his feet.

Hobbling over to the trunk, Jeff pushed Marcus aside, rolling him over to lie next to his Lincoln. Jeff turned back to his car and slammed the car trunk closed just as faint police sirens rang out in the distance. Cursing under his breath, Jeff grabbed the briefcase off the top of the car and opened the door, throwing it in the passenger seat and climbing in. He tucked his gun in between the seat and the middle console, then started the car and gripped the steering wheel, pausing to take a couple of breaths and think. The car idling, he breathed slowly, inhale, exhale, letting his mind roam.

Counting to ten, Jeff threw the car into reverse, spinning out of the parking spot and speeding up the parking garage ramp. He hit the fourth floor and whipped around a corner to the fifth, then the sixth. On the seventh he parked between two other cars and shut his engine off. Climbing over to the backseat, he grabbed his gym bag off the ground and pulled out a towel and some gym pants, stripping his bloody jeans off and taking a moment to study his wound. Despite the intense explosion of pain, the bullet had only grazed him, the wound oozing a small amount of blood. Gritting his teeth, Jeff wrapped the towel around his leg, twisting the ends together and tying it tight. The pain was so sudden it almost made him pass out. He leaned back in the seat for a minute until the pulsing subsided. The arrival of the police sirens a few floors below brought him back to full consciousness and he quickly pulled on his gym pants.

Slowly, Jeff climbed back over to the driver’s seat and pulled down the mirror above his head. He stared at his haggard face for a bit, then used the non-bloodied part of his ruined jeans to wipe the dirt and sweat and tears away. He tossed the jeans in his gym bag and closed it, then grabbed the steering wheel again. He willed himself to be calm, to remove the tension and despondence from his expression. He told himself to pretend he really was just leaving the gym, that he was just another one of these basic-ass college students who hung out around here, just trying to get home after a decent workout.

Putting the car in gear, Jeff reversed out of the parking spot and slowly started driving back downstairs. The police lights met him on the second floor, and as he turned the corner to exit the garage, a cop stepped out in front of his car. Three cruisers blocked off the section to Jeff’s left, where cops had already cordoned off the area surrounding Marcus’s dead body.

The cop motioned for him to roll down his window and Jeff complied, fixing his face into an expression of confusion, just a touch of fear.

“Everything okay officer?” Jeff said.

“Where’re you coming from?” he said.

“I just left the gym,” Jeff said. “I heard…I don’t know, sounded like gunshots. So I went back inside, was sitting there waiting to see if there were anymore but I didn’t hear anything so I figured I’d see what was going on.”

The cop studied him curiously, then peered in the backseat. Jeff thought about his wrapped leg, about the blood seeping down his calf. He thought about the kilos in the trunk, the briefcase full of cash in the passenger seat. He thought about how he looked, how white this cop was. He willed himself to ignore the fear, the dread. The cop peered in at Jeff’s gym bag, looked in the passenger seat at the briefcase, then studied Jeff’s face. Finally, the cop took a step back.

“Step out of the vehicle,” he said.

“What? Why?” Jeff said reflexively.

The cop squinted at him, then started to reach for the door handle. “Step out of the vehicle.”

Jeff’s heart sank as his hand inched towards the gun tucked between his seat and the middle console. He pictured himself pulling the gun and shooting this cop in the face, the ensuing car chase and his eventual ruin in a fiery crash on I-95. Just as the thought began to formulate into a kamikaze plan, some commotion drifted over from near Marcus’s body. The cop next to Jeff’s car glanced back as three of the half dozen officers surrounding Marcus ran back to their cruisers. Two of the cops jogged in Jeff’s direction. The cop near Jeff held up his hands questioningly.

“What’s happening?”

“Witness saw a car pealing out of here a few moments ago,” one of the cops yelled. “Heading down Sunset.”

Without a word, the cop near Jeff ran and jumped in the passenger seat of one of the patrols, the vehicle speeding off. Jeff waited there, watching the half dozen cops who’d stayed behind with Marcus’s body. One of them glanced at him and his idling car and walked over, his expression one of mild amusement.

“You see anything?” he asked as he approached.

“No,” Jeff said, shaking his head. “I just heard it.”

The cop studied him for a moment then nodded, looking away. “Get outta here before this shit gets any crazier.”

Jeff nodded and drove towards the parking garage exit, glancing over at the briefcase in the passenger seat as he pulled out into traffic.

Part VII

Part IX

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Pandemic Files

The Commandments (IX)

IX.

Jeff watched Carlos and a couple of his men walk into a two-bedroom townhome off 168th. He waited until they closed the green front door behind them, then opened his car door and stepped out quietly into the evening. He checked his revolver then tucked it back in its holster under his left arm, grabbing the pistol from the dashboard and closing the door. Slipping the pistol in the back of his pants waist, Jeff walked right up to the green door and rapped his knuckles against it twice. A deep voice came from the other side.

“Who dis?”

“Jeff.”

There was a pause, then a succession of clicks. Jeff reached around his back for the pistol, waiting until the door was fully open before pulling it. The man on the other side was extremely large, with a sloping forehead that cast shadows over his eyes. Jeff aimed high and pulled the trigger three times, hitting the man twice in the chest and once in the face. The ogre stumbled backwards before falling with a giant boom. Jeff quickly pulled the sawed-off shotgun from the man’s grip, then put the pistol to the man’s head and pulled the trigger again. The man’s legs hopped, twitching. Jeff stood with weapons raised in both hands just as two men came around the corner, guns drawn. The boom of the shotgun was so loud Jeff’s hearing cut out suddenly, nothing but a ringing accompanying the dramatic, flailing deaths of the men in front of him. Stone-faced, Jeff jacked another shell into the shotgun chamber, raising the nine millimeter in his other hand. He waited a moment to see if anybody else would come around the corner, then he crouched down and started moving.

Jeff started with the first bedroom, where suitcases of coke lay stacked near a group of half-naked Asian women huddled in the corner. Jeff startled when he saw them, quickly raising his guns and putting a bead on one. He almost pulled the trigger, until he saw the fear in the shivering woman’s eyes. He lowered his guns and motioned for them to leave. The first woman—a girl, really—moved slowly. Then it was like a flood, the half dozen others booking it for the front door. When they were gone, Jeff studied the four suitcases of coke, then raised his guns again and headed out of the room. He checked the living room behind him then walked back down the hallway towards the second bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. Jeff approached it slowly, creeping.

“Jeff,” Carlos called out from inside. “That you?”

Jeff said nothing, slowing his approach. He put his pistol back in his pants waist and raised the shotgun with both hands.

“I got some heat here,” Carlos said. “I’d be careful if I were you.”

Without a word, Jeff kicked open the bedroom door, aimed the shotgun and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked but nothing happened. At the same time, something whizzed by Jeff’s head, so close he could hear the whistle. A bullet embedded in the wall behind him and Jeff jumped to the side, crouching to take cover against the wall outside of the bedroom. He looked at the shotgun curiously then tossed it away, pulling his pistol along with his revolver, from the holster. He held them both up, staring straight ahead at the wall. Ticking off three seconds, Jeff pushed himself to his feet, took a deep breath then turned the corner and started squeezing. A searing pain sprang up his right leg almost immediately, but Jeff gritted his teeth and kept blasting. He watched Carlos’s gun fall from his hand, watched the red dots appear on his shirt and blossom into bloody flowers, watched as Carlos pirouetted to the ground.

Jeff stopped shooting when both guns clicked empty. Walking into the room, Jeff opened the revolver and held it up in the air, letting the smoking casings fall to the ground. He reached in his coat pocket and felt around until he pulled out a single bullet, shoving it in the chamber and clicking it closed. Crouching down over Carlos’s gurgling face, Jeff put the revolver to the side of the man’s head and pulled the trigger. Jeff left through the front door, carrying a suitcase under each arm. He was blocks away before he heard sirens.

Two hours later Jeff sat on a bed in the motel room he’d rented the night before, staring at the open suitcases lying next to him, at the plastic-wrapped baggies filled with white powder. After a moment, he closed the suitcases and stashed them in the closet, then walked over to the window and pulled the drapes open. He stared out at the dingy parking lot, at the blue sky beyond. Eventually he smiled. Kept on smiling too, even when four police cruisers squealed into the parking lot just outside his room. The officers hopped out with their guns already drawn, but Jeff kept smiling. Even when they came streaming up the stairs and kicked in the motel room door.

Even then, Jeff just raised his arms and smiled, his eyes two dark pits of blackness.

Part VIII

Part X

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