Piggyback by Tom Pitts is a California noir novella (available October 29, 2012).
When two young girls disappear with a trunk-load of pot, unaware that their payload has been packed with an extra five kilos of cocaine, a lovable loser persuades a sociopathic killer to pursue them across Northern California in a violent, twisted goose-chase that ends in a horrific place none of them could have forseen. This exclusive excerpt is from one point on the map.
When they pulled into Chico it was well past dark. The moon was bright and stars littered the sky, something Jimmy had almost forgotten about living in the fog of San Francisco. Luna cacciatore, the hunter’s moon. They navigated the streets looking for the address that Kevin surrendered. The houses were mostly older single-story jobs occasionally punctuated with a short apartment building in between.
“I think it’s a bit further up, maybe closer to the campus?”
“How would you know, Paul, you ever even been to this town before?” Jimmy’s patience with Paul was waning. He knew Paul had a jones on. He kept asking to stop for a drink. Jimmy knew this task would be better accomplished alone.
“There it is, up on the left,” Jimmy said. They were across the street from a large, older two-story home that had been converted into smaller apartments. From the tattered curtains and the skull and crossbones flag that hung in the front window, Jimmy guessed that the boyfriend lived upstairs. He pulled under a large oak, out of the glow of the street light.
“What now?” asked Paul.
“Now we sit awhile and see if anyone is home.”
A few minutes and a few cigarettes had passed, Paul finally asked, “How long is this gonna take, man?”
“Look, we want to do this right. You’ve got to get your frame-of-mind right. It takes a little patience. We don’t want to tip our hand.”
A few more minutes went by.
“Hey, Jimmy, you want a little bump?”
Jimmy breathed out loudly through his nose and gave Paul an irritated squint. Paul ignored it.
Paul pulled a small plastic baggie from his jacket pocket. He squeezed some of the powder inside, crushing it between his thumbnails, and set the baggie on the dash. He pulled a set of keys from his pocket and carefully stuck the tip of one key in the bag and scooped out a tiny bit of powder and lifted the key to his nostril, then repeated the process for the other nostril. He sniffed hard a few times to make sure the blow was as deep as it could go.
“Oh, that’s better. You sure?”
“Suit yourself,” he said. Paul did two more hits off the key before returning the baggie to his pocket. “Mind if I put on some music?”
“It’ll wear down the battery,” Jimmy said without turning his head. He kept his eyes on the house, waiting for a light to go on, anything.
Time began to move more slowly. Paul was slowing it down. He was tapping a rhythm out on his knees, humming quietly, smoking cigarettes. After a half-an-hour, a car pulled into the driveway. They watched two young men climb out and walk up the side stairs. One of them carried a brown bag, square and heavy. Beer, thought Jimmy. The two men were talking loudly, but Jimmy couldn’t make out what they were saying. The lights came on in the upstairs apartment, illuminating the skull and crossbones in the window. Jimmy sat still, waiting, more patient than ever.
“The boyfriend’s name is Jerrod. I can’t tell which one that is. Kevin didn’t say what he looked like. This is where they packed the load.”
“What now, do we go talk to them, or what?” Paul’s voice was loud. Their windows were open. Jimmy shushed him with a finger and kept his eyes on the house.
After fifteen more minutes, Jimmy quietly opened the door and walked back to the trunk. He pulled out his blue duffel bag, gently closed the trunk, and got back into the car.
“What’s that?” Paul whispered.
“Tools,” was all Jimmy said as he unzipped the bag.
Inside the bag Paul saw three guns: an automatic, a snub-nosed .38, and a handle-gripped shotgun. There were three boxes of ammunition, a couple of pairs of gloves—both leather and rubber—a shoulder holster, a stun gun, at least a dozen zip-ties, and what Paul thought was a police badge.
“Holy shit, Jimmy. You’re a fucking cop?” Paul’s voice jumped an octave. He recoiled against the door as though the badge were going to bite him.
Jimmy put his finger to his lips and shushed Paul again. “Tools of the trade, my friend.”
“Is it fake?”
“No, it’s real. It just ain’t mine.”
Jimmy took off his jacket and put on the shoulder-holster. He checked the clip in the automatic and stuck it in the holster. He pulled back on the jacket and put the badge in the breast pocket and the stun gun in the side pocket. Then he reached in and grabbed a handful of the zip-ties. He sat for a few more minutes watching the house.
When he got out of the car, Jimmy shut the door quietly. He returned the bag to the truck, again being careful to close the lid gently. It probably didn’t matter; he could hear loud music coming from the house, a rhythmic thump that Jimmy hated. He walked directly across the street. He paused to look in the lower level. Dark, quiet. Satisfied, he began to walk up the stairs, stepping as lightly as possible. The stairs creaked, but the music was loud.
Jimmy knocked at the door. The music thumped on, some kind of hip-hop with a grinding guitar. Jimmy knocked again, harder. The music stopped.
“Yeah?” barked a voice from inside.
Jimmy knocked again. The door swung open. A young man stood there. The sides of his head were shaved and a bleach blond tuft of hair stood up on top of his head. His eyes were red and his smile showed an almost perfect set of white teeth.
Jimmy smelled marijuana. “Jerrod?”
“Hang on. Jerrod, it’s for you.
One question answered. Jerrod walked to the door. His brown hair was knotted into short little dreadlocks. He wore a black shirt with a skull that had snakes twisting through its eyeballs and a logo for a heavy metal band emblazoned below. Jimmy didn’t recognize the band name, but he recognized what kind of kids these were. Assholes.
“What’s up, dude?” There was a little more defiance in Jerrod’s voice than his friend’s.
“You a friend of Rebecca?” Jimmy said, looking right past him, scanning for hints of other occupants, any sort of clues.
Jerrod looked back at his friend. “Rebecca who?”
Jimmy ignored the cat and mouse. “So you are her friend? Good. You’re the guy I want to talk to,” he said, unbuttoning his jacket so his shoulder holster was visible.
“Don’t talk to this guy,” said his friend.
“Shut up, Tristan, I know what I’m doing.” Jerrod folded his arms and asked, “Who are you, dude? You got some kinda identification or something?”
Jimmy stepped across the threshold of the doorway and shut the door behind him.
“I didn’t say you could come in.”
“Look, kid, we think something may have happened to your girlfriend and we need to find out where she is, speak to her, and make sure she’s okay.” He was using the softest tone he could, doing his best to sound like he wanted to help.
“You still haven’t told me who the fuck you are.”
“Maybe you could call her parents?”
“Pfft,” said Tristan. Jerrod turned at him and glared.
It was time for the badge. Jimmy pulled the official-looking leather billfold with the badge pinned in it and flipped it open and closed it, quickly returning it to his jacket.
“Something serious may have happened and we really need your help.” Jimmy was still scanning the room, looking for any information of use.
“Nothing happened to her, she’s fine.” Another question answered.
On the kitchen counter, Jimmy saw a sink full of dirty dishes, a half-dozen empty brown beer bottles, and an old rotary phone. On the coffee table in front of the couch he saw a tall green-stemmed bong, more empty beer bottles, two fresh beers just started, and a small square mirror. He could see, even from across the room, there was a light film of white powder on the mirror. That was good enough for him.
He pulled the automatic from his holster and, using the butt of the gun, hit Jerrod right below the eye. Jerrod blinked and took a step back. Jimmy could see the rectangle imprint of the gun butt below his left eye. When he didn’t go down, Jimmy backhanded him with the gun still in his hand. This brought the kid out of shock enough for his hands to instinctively fly up to his face. Jerrod dropped to his knees.
Tristan’s eyes were wide. “Am I under arrest?”
Jimmy pointed the gun at Tristan’s face. “On your knees.”
Tristan got down on his knees. Jerrod kept asking, “What the fuck, dude, what the fuck?”
Jimmy let just a couple more what the fuck’s go by before he knelt down and pulled Jerrod’s head back by his short dreadlocks. The young man’s cheekbone was already swelling fast. Jimmy hit him again with the butt of the pistol. This time a little lower in the face, closer to the mouth. He was sure he’d cracked a tooth or two. Then he asked, “Where the fuck is your girlfriend, Jerrod?”
“My fucking face. Goddamn it, my fucking face.”
“He doesn’t know anything.” Tristan was on the verge of tears.
“He doesn’t, huh? Then I’ll have to kill him first.”
Tristan turned white. He was trying to say the word “no”, but there was only a hollow wind sound was coming out of his mouth.
“How would you know what he knows or doesn’t, Tristan? Maybe you have some answers for me, huh?” Jimmy was still holding up Jerrod’s head by the hair, but he now was pointing the gun at Tristan.
Tristan’s head started to shake; his mouth was oval-shaped, still trying to say no.
Jimmy hit Jerrod with the butt of the gun again, this time in the side of the skull.
“Lie down, face first.”
Jerrod obeyed, quietly saying, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Jimmy got up and stepped on the back of Jerrod’s head as he moved over to his friend. Jimmy pointed the gun again at the Tristan’s face. The boy raised his hands and cowered.
“You too, face first.”
“Put your hands behind your back.”
Jimmy pulled the zip-ties from his pocket and secured them tightly around Tristan’s wrists. He pulled a wallet from the boy’s back pocket and tossed it on the coffee table, then he moved back to Jerrod and did the same thing. He stood between them for a moment, listening to them whimper, then went over to the stereo and found the volume knob and turned it up just a little. He sat down on the couch and began to go through the wallets. He took the cash from each one and put it in his jacket pocket. He examined the driver’s licenses. They both looked much younger in their pictures. Neither had the goofy hairstyles they were wearing now. He did the math from the birthdates. They were both twenty-two. They both had Sacramento addresses.
Neither of the boys said anything.
Jimmy got up off the couch and walked over to Tristan and kicked him once in the ribs.
“In my pocket, in my front pocket.”
Jimmy rolled the boy over and dug the phone out. When they were facing each other, Tristan looked his captor in the eye. Jimmy winked. He walked over to Jerrod and asked, “Cell phone?”
Tristan answered for his friend, “His is on the kitchen counter.”
Jimmy sat back down on the couch with the wallets and cell phones spread out in front of him. He began to go through the contact lists, making notes of the obvious numbers like, home, mom. Jerrod’s phone had a listing for Kevin Rose. He set the phone down and picked up the small square mirror off the table, got up and waked over to Jerrod. He pulled his head up by the dreadlocks again. There was a smattering of blood where his face had been resting on the floor.
“You like to do blow, huh?”
“No, no, no …”
With the palm of his hand, Jimmy smashed the mirror on Jerrod’s forehead. One of the cell phones began vibrating. Jimmy let his head drop back down onto the shards of glass on the floor and walked back to the table. It was Tristan’s phone. He looked at the caller ID. Shelly—Michelle. Another question answered. The phone kept buzzing. He thought about answering it; just to hear her voice.
“Michelle is calling,” he said to Tristan.
Tristan squeezed his eyes tight. Jimmy smiled. He waited for a moment and the phone blinked. Voicemail waiting. He was about to reach out and pick it up when Jerrod’s phone began to buzz. The caller ID read Becky. Perfect.
Copyright © 2012 by Tom Pitts
Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive.