Chapter 11: The Long Elbow Bump Goodnight

I looked at the gun in Carl’s hand and said, “A .38, Carl? Really?”

Around the warehouse, the clowns were closing slowly around us, the one with the crossbow limping around from behind the workbench to position himself a few yards to Carl’s left. He wasn’t wearing a full mask like some of the others, just a jaunty orange wig and a big red ball on his nose. There was a swollen cut next to his left eye, bandaged but bleeding through. His beard was unmistakable; it was Stupid Gandalf. He pointed his crossbow at Jeremy and said, “I got a score to settle with this one right here.”

Only the guy with the rifle stayed where he was, perched on top of the fried chicken truck, the barrel aimed right at my chest. Mike was the biggest of us all, so a green-haired, Joker-looking clown with a baseball bat settled in a few feet away from him while my old friend Sparkles approached warily from the other side. Sparkles had the brick in his hand, arm cocked back as if ready to swing or throw it any second.

Carl chuckled at my comment. “It’s the only one I got that isn’t registered to me, and I was thinking I might have to use it. You guys aren’t going to make me use it, are you?”

Mike fanned his palms out at Carl and said, “You got to be kidding me, Carl.”

Carl ignored him. “All you had to do, Greg, was get Chelsea the insurance money, buy into Chelsea’s murder plots, and point the cops at the boys as the killers. That’s it. Three jobs. Suddenly your pals with these guys. Suddenly we’re all eating chicken in your back yard.”

A big, round guy dressed sort of like Krusty from The Simpsons fell into position a few feet from Jeremy, his enormous pipe wrench slung over his shoulder, too heavy to keep cocked into position like the brick. Another guy in a cheap plastic clown mask covered Jackson with a length of two-by-four, a four-inch nail sticking out of it ominously.

I took a step toward Carl and told him, “I don’t think you’re going to shoot me.”

Carl shrugged. “I don’t think I am either. But do you see the guy on the fried chicken truck? That’s Jeff. Jeff’s more than willing to shoot you. This whole time I wouldn’t let these guys shoot anyone because you shoot someone, you have to get rid of the gun. They can trace the bullet sure as a fingerprint. But you can’t trace a brick.”

“You could if it had DNA on it,” Jeff called down from the fried chicken truck, prompting odd expressions to swing around at him from all of us.

The guy with the wrench was a solid three hundred pounds and needed to have his blood pressure checked. I could tell because he snapped instantly. “Shut up, Jeff! He means the brick wouldn’t leave a thing in the body that could be traced. You just hose it off and toss it out the window of your car someplace and no one would ever look at and think, ‘Hey, let’s test that and see if it matched the bonk on that guy’s head.”

“YOU shut up, Gary!” Jeff swung the barrel around to Jeff and said, “I’ll shoot YOU.”

“Wait,” Sparkles said. “Doesn’t Gary owe you twelve bucks from when we all went to Bibibop yesterday for Jordan’s birthday?”

“My birthday’s not til tomorrow, actually,” said Stupid Gandalf over the crossbow. He really didn’t seem like a Jordan so I was keeping the name I’d given him.

“Right but that’s when we went OUT for it, cause remember Gary and Jeff both have to work tomorrow,” Sparkles replied. “I mean it’s not a big deal, I’m just saying you’re not going to get your twelve bucks back if you shoot Gary.”

“Unless he has it on him,” Jeff said.

“I don’t,” Gary admitted, deflating a little.

“Hey.” Carl did a legitimate face-palm. “Do you guys think you can shut up and focus here? There’s stuff going on.”

I said, “I get your point about tracing bullets, Carl, but these guys aren’t all that bright. That guy got the getaway car stolen from him twice. In the same week.”

“They did a great job with the beekeeper,” Carl said. “Right in the river, no problems.”

I gestured to Sparkles and Stupid Gandalf. “Chelsea didn’t figure out what the beekeeper did to the Hornet. She’s the one who got him to rig the Hornet. Was it these two put him in the river?”

“I put him in the river,” shouted Jeff. “Me and Catfish Mitch.”

“You know it!” The guy with the two-by-four said proudly. He held up a palm so Jeremy could high five it, forgetting perhaps, that Jeremy wasn’t on his team.

“Now we gotta kill them,” Gary said. “Or somebody has to. You guys just confessed to murder in front of them.”

I’d been thinking the same thing. Right when they started throwing their names around, I knew the plan was for us to never walk out of here. I needed to stall for some time. I jerked a thumb behind me at Jackson and Jeremy. “These guys saw you coming out of Chelsea’s house today. We’re not the only ones they told. This is coming back on you, and there’s still time. You don’t have to go to jail with these clowns.”

Carl smiled and his eyes went icy. “They saw someone coming out of Chelsea’s house. Why do you think I didn’t bring my car with me? That flashy car of theirs, I saw them too. That’s the only reason they have to die today, Greg. That’s the only reason it had to be so fast. How long would it take them to figure out who I was?”

“You told me about the life insurance policy to make Jeremy and Jackson look guilty, didn’t you? Arturo meant for them to have the money all along. If you could kick it over to Chelsea, you could wait a few months til all this blew over, and the two of you could just leave. Go start over in Jamaica with a life of leisure ahead of you.”

“He was a sap,” Carl agreed. “Who does that? Who sets up his ex-wife with millions?”

“Lots of people set up their sons with money.”

“Give me a break, Greg. Look at these two screw-ups.”

“And all these food trucks, I’m guessing the hot dog truck that hit him was your doing, too.”

Carl was pleased. “A car accident with a hot dog truck? A swarm of hornets? That’s why you don’t use a gun. A gun says murder. All that other stuff just says – crazy world out there.”

“So, if you didn’t want it to look like murder, why’d you have Chelsea kick up a stink about it being exactly that?”

“Because he survived. It just didn’t seem like a guy in his shape would survive two things that should have killed him, happening at the same time. And we didn’t know the propane tank would fly into the car and explode, so that’s three things.”

Gary said, “You going to just tell him everything like in a Bond film?”

“I was thinking the same thing,” said Catfish Mitch. “You want to hang him over a shark tank or something, while you’re at it?”

“Well, he’s right about that,” Jeff said. “What is this, Meet The Press?

Carl laughed a genuine laugh, his demeanor very laid-back like he was talking about cheese spread. “You guys are right, of course. I mean, it’s hard not to lay it out for him. I was right in front of him the whole time.” He pointed at Mike. “I couldn’t believe you found that bar where the meeting was, though. That was seriously good work.”

Mike cocked his head at him somewhat theatrically, then cocked it a little more without a word.

“You know what?” Jeremy cracked his neck and put his fists up. “I see two guns, and there’s four of us. Let’s just throw down and see what happens.”

No,” Mike and I said, firmly and simultaneously.

Stupid Gandalf pointed the crossbow at him and said, “I can shoot a rabbit with this thing at a run.”

Behind him, Carl pursed his lips, shaking his head quietly. No, he couldn’t. But he could probably shoot a grown man from ten feet away. Out loud, Carl said, “Okay fellas, well listen, I got to roll. Really, I like you guys, I do. But I got to go, and these guys have a job to finish. I told them, make it quick, these guys are my friends. I don’t want to get all Reservoir Dogs up in here. Jordan toss me the keys to your Kia, will you? I’ll meet up with you guys at Chili’s later and give it back to you.”

Stupid Gandalf tossed him a set of keys over his shoulder. Carl plucked them out of the air.

Then he left. He simply put the .38 back in his pocket and walked out the same way we’d come in. There was an awkward silence for a few seconds after he was gone, the four of us looking around at each other, and then around at the clowns.

I said, “Do you guys really think he’s going to trust you to keep all of this quiet?”

“All we know is he pays good and he pays cash,” said Stupid Gandalf over his crossbow.

I said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s got this whole warehouse wired to blow, like any second now. He doesn’t have his phone, doesn’t have his car, nobody even knows he came over here except…”

Mike shot me a glance and we both realized where he’d be heading next. Julia was the only other person who knew he was here.

“Listen,” I said to Stupid Gandalf. “I need to make a call. Or send a text. Very quickly, then you guys can do what you got to do.”

“We can already do what we got to do.”

Up on the fried chicken truck, Jeff was growing impatient. “What’s with all the chatting? Start with the big guy and beat your way down to Jackson.”

“Hey!” Jackson sounded offended but I didn’t see why. If I had to pick the order, sure, I’d prefer to be last. Maybe they’d tire themselves out.

Next to him Jeremy bounced around on his heels, his fists still up. He said, “Come at me. Who’s first. Come at me.”

Then the blunt side of the two-by-four came down on top of his head and he crumbled to the ground, out cold. “You’ve been stung,” taunted Catfish Mitch. “By the Catfish.”

I held up both of my hands. “Hold on! Hold on! Let’s work out a deal. You said you’re getting paid well, maybe I can pay you better. How does…”

“Shut up!” Jeff roared, stomping forward a few feet and pointing the rifle at me. My mouth snapped shut.

Jackson dove to the ground and curled up like a hermit crab by his brother as if trying to retreat into his shell. He started old-fashioned crying.

“See that’s the problem with America these days,” Jeff fumed. “Everybody thinks everybody’s for sale. Everybody thinks they can talk themselves out of anything, throw money at any problem…”

“Hold on a second,” Mike said, firmly and loudly. I winced. I’d known Mike his whole life. He was not only 6’5”, he was a former football player who hit the gym at four o’clock every morning. And like his late father before him, he was old school and he had a temper. He took a step at Sparkles, whose arm reared back to launch the brick at him. “Do you guys have some kind of problem? With America?!”

And then his right arm shot out as he surged forward, catching the brick before it could leave Sparkles’ hand, followed quickly by his left, striking Sparkles square in the chest. Suddenly Sparkles was on the floor eight feet away and for a frozen microsecond, we all processed that Mike was holding the brick now. Then he spun at the waist and fired the brick-like a football.

Jeff didn’t know what hit him. Literally, the brick hit him square in the face from forty feet and he went down as if shot, flat on his back. The rifle clattered off the truck, but by the time it hit the floor, Mike had already taken the baseball bat away from the other clown covering him and broken his knee with it.

He turned and there was a sound like a door slamming. A crossbow bolt was sticking out of the baseball bat just in front of his face. Mike frowned at it.

I turned to look at Stupid Gandalf, whose eyes were wide and shocked. Behind me, I heard another two meaty smacks just a second apart and when I turned back, Mike was standing there breathing hard, and everyone else was down.

He started walking toward Stupid Gandalf, who was frantically trying to load another bolt into his crossbow. “Put it down,” Mike told him, not even running just walking fast.

Jeff locked a bolt into place about a second too late. “Put it down,” Mike told him again as he closed on him.

Instead, Stupid Gandalf raised the crossbow, and Mike put him on the floor for it.

We had to take a few seconds to kick the weapons away from everyone. I got out my phone and called Julia’s number while we did it. No answer. I left a message telling her, “Carl’s the killer. Get out of the house.” Then I called Sophie, also no answer.

How much was I paying for these cell phones again?

I didn’t leave a message for Sophie because she didn’t listen to voice mails. She was seventeen and that was her policy. Instead, I texted her as I went over to the fried chicken truck, hitting Send and then climbing up to see if Jeff had any weapons other than the rifle.

Jeff was breathing, but he was a mess. He’d live, but he was going to need a dentist, and a plastic surgeon, and most likely some counseling. He had a box of ammunition for the rifle, but no other guns. I climbed back down and Mike was tapping Jackson with his foot. “Hey. Get up. It’s over.”

“Did we win?” Jackson asked, peeking out from between his fingers.

“Yeah, Jackson. We won.”

I said, “We have to go get Julia, that’s where Carl’s heading next. Jackson, call the cops.”

I tapped my phone to call my wife again as we jogged across the warehouse to the door we’d ducked under earlier. Mike and I exchanged grim expressions as the phone just rang and rang.

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