5. The Best I Could Do

A Hitman Jake Story by Preston Pairo

While waiting for someone they’d been hired to kill, Loiza said, “Have you noticed when you’re talking to someone and they say, ‘I’ll let you go now,’ they’re actually the ones who want to end the conversation?”

Since Jake didn’t care for most conversations he was required to endure, he never paid much attention to or cared why someone ceased talking.  That their words stopped was usually good enough—a preference Jake had mentioned multiple times in these early phases of his business relationship with Loiza and yet his young assistant—as he was prone to do—kept talking.

“The next time that happens,” Loiza suggested in his gentle thoughtful manner, “see if I’m not right.  When they say: ‘I’ll let you go now.’”

Jake continued to look through the windshield of his Cadillac, parked near the darkened shell of what used to be Snyder’s Willow Grove restaurant, a once prosperous Baltimore area landmark ultimately doomed by flood waters in an area that—unless viewed from the sky—didn’t look like it should flood.  But an unimpressive section of the Patapsco River was just through the trees, and as if to punish mankind for not paying sufficient homage to its minimal presence, the brown river, when provoked by enough rainfall, was willing to angrily overflow its banks and ruin your day—like unwanted conversation.

“Although maybe,” Loiza considered, “they think it’s polite to say, ‘I’ll let you go now.’  Like you’d be hurt if they said they had to go.  Then again, saying they had to go could be a lie.  Because how often does someone really have to go?”

Jake didn’t answer, thinking Loiza might correctly interpret his silence as disinterest.  No such luck.

After a moment, his young Romanian associate said: “They could just say, ‘I’m going to go now.  Nice seeing you.’  Wouldn’t that be polite enough?  Why say they have to let you go?  Is that supposed to make you seem important?  Some kind of flattery?  As if you took time out of your day to talk to them?”

“Could be,” Jake replied, surprising himself saying that—which he blamed on Grace, who he loved.  Grace was always reminding him to be nice to Loiza, saying politeness was every bit as important to a good business relationship as money.  Which wasn’t to suggest Grace viewed the world through some fuzzy Pollyanna lens, having done a stint in the Department of Correction for killing her abusive ex.  More so it seemed Loiza brought out Grace’s romantic side, as Jake had observed him do with many women of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors—a talent Jake did not share nor comprehend.

Regardless the cause, Jake’s brief contribution to a topic about which Loiza had obviously given extensive thought bought a few minutes of quiet.  Then a pair of headlights swooped along Hammonds Ferry Road, brightening the paved macadam surface that did not lead to any ferry.

“It’s not him,” Loiza reported of the vehicle.

Jake figured as much, seeing as the car came from the north and who they were waiting for would be driving up from just south of their location.

“He’s still at the bowling alley,” Loiza added, knowing that because he’d accessorized the soon-to-be-dead man’s Dodge Challenger Hellcat with a wafer-sized tracking device a few days ago.  “Probably another fifteen minutes.”

Jake nodded, a gesture Loiza didn’t observe for looking down at the dimmed screen of his phone.

“The woman’s already on the way,” Loiza added—more information gleaned from his phone.

Jake nodded again.  Settled comfortably in the driver’s seat of his sedan, Jake again appreciated tha his Cadillac was a good fit for the width of his 200-pound frame.   It made waiting easier.

Across the quiet street, half a dozen semi-trailers stenciled with U.S. Mail in plain block letters sat in a darkened parking lot.  When scouting this location, Jake worried about those trailers being of interest to thieves, which would complicate their plans.  If this was Baltimore proper, not a few miles outside the city where Jake had spent his 50-plus years, the local misunderstood criminal element would have stripped those containers of every molecule of value in about ten minutes.  But in this section of Linthicum Heights, where a mishmash of old businesses outranked any hopeful order of modern zoning ordinances, Uncle Sam’s postal property remained—at least so far—undisturbed. 

As Loiza turned his phone face down against his thigh, the interior of Jake’s big car blended back into the darkness of its surroundings.

It was a cool night.  In a week or so, the springtime chirp of awakening frogs would echo from within reed grasses of the soggy river on the other side of the trees.  Tonight, there was only the steady hum of traffic from the nearby Beltway.

“Another thing people say that makes me wonder,” Loiza offered, ending blissful silence, “is: ‘I did the best I could.’  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I doubt that’s true.”

Jake correctly anticipated he would not need to ask for support of this theory.

“The other night,” Loiza recounted, “I was talking with this girl and she was really upset with her mother.  She said they always get in arguments about things that happened when she was growing up.  Things the girl was upset her mother did.  That she didn’t spend enough time with her, or her brothers.  Which’s why one of her brothers is so messed up.  The girl, too.  Messed up.  She has abandonment issues…”

Jake didn’t know what abandonment issues were.

“…and all these day-to-day things trigger those for her.  It’s making her life real tough.  She says it’s hard to commit to a relationship.”

Jake assumed he misheard the word, “trigger,” having no idea how a term associated with weapons could apply to whatever Loiza was talking about it.

“She says her mother—every time they have these arguments—which is a lot—tells her, ‘I did the best I could.’  She yells it at her—says: ‘What do you want from me?’” Loiza raised his voice, not in a mocking way but to make clear he was repeating someone else’s words: “’Your father left.  He didn’t pay any support.  I had to work two jobs.  I did the best I could.’”

Jake thought that sounded like what his own mother had struggled through after his father was gone, only Jake’s father didn’t leave, he’d been gunned down in the street by what used to be called “stick-up artists,” although Jake wasn’t sure what was so artful about shooting holes in someone’s chest—but if it was, he supposed he’d become a regular Rembrandt.

“Marisol says her mother did a lot of screwing around after her father left.”  Loiza’s phrasing returned to its usual even timbre, but his inflection made clear he was taking sides.  “She went out lots at night and left Marisol home with her brothers.  Came home drunk.  Had drugs in the house and guys she was screwing, too—in the house.  Marisol could hear them having sex across the hall in her mother’s bedroom.”

Jake briefly closed his eyes because he could not close his ears.  He did not want to hear any more about whoever this Marisol girl was, or her mother.

“And at the bottom of it,” Loiza sympathized, “it’s not so much what her mother did—although that was pretty upsetting—but how she thinks it was the best she could have done.  Was it really…?  I mean, makes you wonder what the worst would have been.  Even the second worst.  Or third.”

Jake again surprised himself by offering a response.  Opening his eyes, he opined, “You’re probably taking it too literally.”  His deep voice seemed matched to the shape of his body.

“How’s that?” Loiza asked.

“Her saying she did the best she could.  The mother.”

“So…she didn’t?  Didn’t do the best she could?”

“No.”

“Then why say it?  It’s a lie.  On top of having been a lousy mother.”

“Yeah, well, was she really lousy?  Come on.  The girl—Marisol?”  Confirming her name.

“Marisol.”  Loiza’s pronunciation made her sound like a character from a foreign movie.

“She’s still alive, right?” Jake stated.  “Not suffering the lingering effects of any debilitating illness from not getting to a doctor when she was growing up.”

“No.”

Jake nodded.  “She have a job?”

“Yeah.”

“Doing what?”

“She’s a marketing rep for an athletic retailer.  In their analytics department.  She mines web traffic—”

Jake held up his hand, cutting off further description, anticipating Loiza was about to run off a string of those terms which, to Jake, may as well have been from a long-forgotten dialect–but which made more sense to him now than before he met Loiza.  “She helps the company she works for sell whatever crap they make,” Jake assumed.

“Basically.”

“Then she made it through college?  To know how to do whatever her job is.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay…”  Jake paused, seeing headlights approaching from the south.

“Not him,” Loiza said of the car, which drove by seconds later.

Jake asked, “And Marisol is how old?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Married?”

“No.”

Their verbal exchange held an even pace, back and forth like a metronome.

“Divorced?” Jake asked.

“No.  Single.  Never married.”

“Kids?”

“No.”

“Pets?”

“She has a welsh terrier: Archie.”

“Drugs?”

“A little marijuana—that I know about so far.”

“She drink?”

“Wine.”

“By the glass or the bottle?  When you take her to dinner—I assume you take her to dinner?” Jake looked at Loiza through the darkness.

“Yeah.”

“Does she order a glass of wine or do you get a whole bottle and she does it in?”

“She has a glass.  One time, she had two.”

Jake settled back.  “Trust me,” he assured, “she’s fine.  Despite her mother.  But also because of her mother.  That in between not being Mrs. Dr. Spock, her mother wasn’t so bad.  Even if it really wasn’t the best she could have done.”

“Spock wasn’t married or a doctor.”

“What?” Jake asked.

“You said, ‘Mrs. Dr. Spock.’  Spock wasn’t married and he wasn’t a doctor.  On Star Trek,” Loiza clarified.

“Not that Spock.”  Jake had sometimes watched the original Star Trek when he was a kid—the Shatner version.  “Before the TV show, there were books about raising babies every mother had written by Dr. Spock.  My mother died, she still had a raggedy copy in her dresser drawer.”

Jake waited while Loiza thumbed his phone for confirmation of what Jake was saying, read the search results, and said, “I wonder if that’s who Spock was named after.”

“Point is,” Jake replied, wanting to wrap this up, “someone says they did the best they could, you’ve got to take in context.”

Loiza disagreed.  “I think Marisol would rather her mother apologize and say she screwed up.”  The way Loiza said screwed made clear he would have preferred to use fucked but knew Jake didn’t care for that term in conversation, reserving it for rare use as an exclamation when truly warranted by extreme circumstances.  “The lie,” Loiza believed, “makes it worse.  Because it wasn’t the best her mother could have done.  And her saying it was makes it worse.  Like she’s telling Marisol she and her brothers meant so little to her she left them home at night while she went out drinking and drugging and screwing.”  Emphasizing that last word as if being deprived of his preferred choice of verbs.  “Or else Marisol and her brothers made life so hard for her, she had to do all that drinking and drugging and screwing.”

Jake, as with many conversations, arrived at the conclusion it was pointless.  They were discussing the past through someone else’s recollection, which, if eyewitnesses in court proceedings were any indication, were nothing more than faulty memories of incidents originally viewed with diverted concentration, interpreted through Coke-bottle lenses of personal bias, stored in deteriorating brains.  Which meant the odds of accuracy were slim.

There was also the possibility, Jake was tempted to suggest, Marisol was using her mother as an excuse to not commit to a relationship—that Marisol was, in effect, playing her own version of doing-the-best-she-could.  Instead, he got back to business, telling Loiza to check his phone.  “See where he is.”

Loiza did so, and promptly sat upright.  “He’s on his way.”

Jake reached under his seat for his gun, placed it on his beefy thigh.

The next set of headlights on Hammonds Ferry Road belonged to a black Dodge Challenger.  The months-old muscle car made an unnecessarily sharp turn into the parking lot, kicking up loose stones before braking to a hard stop alongside the US Mail trailers.  The driver promptly killed the car’s lights and engine, but not the sound system, which continued to thump window-jarring bass.

A minute later, a blue Mazda SUV pulled into the same lot and coasted to a stop next to the Challenger.  A woman—mid-30’s—emerged casually, wearing tight-fitting vet-tech scrubs.  She shut her driver’s door, fobbed it locked, and let herself into the Challenger—sitting in the front passenger seat for all of half a minute before the shadow form of her head and shoulders merged with that of the driver.

Jake waited a sixty count, then asked Loiza: “Okay?”

Loiza continued thumbing the nearly black screen of his phone, making a final check of all nature of hacked information valuable to Jake’s readying to kill someone, then said, “You’re good.”

Jake eased out of the Cadillac, agile as a bear in a black turtleneck and well-fitting pants.  Leaving the door open, the interior lights switched off, he advanced low and efficiently through shadowy darkness toward the Dodge from behind.  The slight scraping noise made by the rubber soles of his shoes against cracked macadam was covered by the monotonous thump-thump bass of the Challenger’s sound system.

Gun raised, Jake came alongside the driver’s window and fired through the glass, the first silenced shots making clean holes before physics caused the window to shatter into chunks of safety-glass ice that rained down the door and inside the passenger compartment as Jake kept firing, emptying the 15-shot clip at close range.  The couple inside the car was dead by the time Jake turned toward his Cadillac, twisting off the silencer and pocketing it as he threw the weapon into the woods.  Leaving the gun and spent shell casings for the cops to get excited about, think it would lead them somewhere.

Back in his car, starting the engine, Jake pulled away easily.  Less than 60 seconds from first shot to being out on Hammonds Ferry Road, Jake drove with less urgency than a guy on his way to the 7-Eleven for milk.

In two minutes, they were on the Beltway.  Another minute they were on I-95. A few more minutes and they were in the city, and there still hadn’t been any 911 or police dispatch calls about two dead people in a car near the old Snyder’s Willow Grove place.

As Jake pulled to a curb to drop Loiza in Locust Point, Loiza looked at him and smiled.  “Now that was the best you can do.”  Evaluating their evening’s performance.

“Don’t jinx it,” Jake admonished.

“We get hired,” Loiza surmised.  “We scout it.  We plan it.  We do it.”  He paused as if savoring the moment, then added: “You ever want to say you did the best you could, it needs to be like you’d get twenty to life if you screwed up.”

Maybe the kid had a point.