1. The Wrong Lawyer
A Hitman Jake story by Preston Pairo
“The wrong lawyer?” Jake Burton squinted. His gloved hand, that expected to have an envelope in it by now, firmly set his empty shot glass on a coaster stuck to the table. “I got the wrong lawyer?”
Arnie Keller’s slender eyebrows raised as he nodded.
Jake thought Keller plucked his eyebrows into narrow lines to match his pencil-thin moustache. The way Keller did that made him look straight out of a fifties movie with the skinny eyebrows, lip-liner moustache, slick hair, and black turtleneck. Truth was, Keller was right out of Dundalk—high school dropout from the would-be Class of ’99 who’d made some money doing things no one had put him in jail for yet. Like making book in the back of this dark, crappy bar in Baltimore not close enough to Locust Point to be mistaken for trendy.
“Wrong lawyer?” Jake Burton asked again.
Keller shrugged, like was Jake blind and missed how he’d just shrugged five seconds ago?
Jake glared with hooded eyes, his expression set like a bulldog suppressing a growl.
The two men were alone at a corner table. The tavern’s only other customers were a middle-age couple at the bar. Jake didn’t think the woman was bad looking. The guy, though, was that a toupee?
Jake leaned forward, wearing a topcoat of the finest cashmere. For a 51-year-old man of rather ordinary appearance, Jake dressed well and kept his jet-black hair combed straight back and meticulously barbered. “I got the lawyer…” He poked the table with two gloved fingers for emphasis. “…you told me to get. Guy came out the building you said he was coming out of. Time you said he was coming out. Headed in the direction you said—”
“Jake.” Arnie cut him off, getting snippy about it. “You got the wrong lawyer. Didn’t you look at the picture I sent you?”
“Yeah, and that’s the lawyer I got. Three quiet .22’s in the back of his head. Puff-puff-puff. He goes down. I leave. No witnesses. And now I’m here for my money and you’re feeding me some bull—”
Arnie dug impatiently into a pocket of his black blazer—J.C. Penney all the way. He pulled out two pages, unfolded them on the table. The first was a phone book ad from the lawyers section, the one with the picture of the lawyer Arnie wanted dead. “That’s what I sent you.”
Jake examined it and saw a critical difference from the page he’d received. “Different guy circled in this one.”
Arnie ignored that, slapping a photocopied Sunpapers article on the table: the obituary of a lawyer survived by three ex-wives—the lawyer Jake shot in the back of the head. “That’s the lawyer you got. The wrong lawyer.”
“Because you circled the wrong lawyer in the page you sent me.”
“I don’t think so.”
Jake could have proven Arnie wrong, only he’d destroyed that evidence as soon he’d received it.
Over at the bar, Mr. Toupee put his arm around the woman on the stool beside him. She didn’t seem thrilled.
“But look…” Arnie sighed as if Jake was some aging fool, not a guy who’d been killing people and getting away with it for almost 30 years. “…what’s done is done.”
“Yeah, I’ll say.”
“You get the right lawyer,” Arnie continued, “I’ll pay you.”
“So you’re not paying me…” Jake dropped a finger on the face of the dead lawyer in the obituary. “…for this guy?”
“No.” Arnie looked around like he had better things to do.
Jake’s jaw ground tensely, then relaxed. “Yeah, all right, what the hell.” He sat back in his chair, making its wooden legs creak. “I got the wrong guy. My fault. Here…” He motioned for the phone book ad, wiggling his fingers toward it. “…gimme that.”
Arnie handed over the advertisement with the picture of the still-alive lawyer he wanted dead.
“This guy,” Jake said, holding up the page, “right? Not this guy?” He finger-pointed the dead man’s obituary again.
“You got it.”
“All right. See you in 24, 48 hours, tops.” Jake stood.
Arnie smiled. “Good deal.”
“You’re still buying the shot, right?” Jake motioned toward his empty glass.
“The shot I’m paying for.”
“Make sure I didn’t drink the wrong drink.”
Jake exited the bar into the cold, dim night.
It was starting to snow. White flakes drifted peacefully along the darkened back street.
Jake stuffed his hands into the pockets of his luxurious topcoat and turned down the alley, where 24-year-old Loiza Ely—tall, dark, and handsome according to Jake’s lawyer friend, Maddy—stood at the trunk of Jake’s Caddilac, hands in the pockets of a high-end ski parka, catching snowflakes on his tongue.
“Hey, Jake,” Loiza asked looking up into the gentle snow, “you ever do this when you were a kid?” Traces of accent remained from Loiza’s childhood in Bucharest.
“No. Get in the car.”
“What’s the matter?”
“Arnie says we got the wrong lawyer.”
“Get in the car.” Jake threw open the driver’s door and thumped down. Even with the seat back, his broad chest was almost on the steering wheel.
Dark-haired Loiza slid in the leather passenger seat. “What do you mean the wrong lawyer?”
“That squirrely shit’s up to something,” Jake swore.
“So we’re not getting paid?”
“And that was such a pure hit,” Loiza rued philosophically.
It was cold in the car without the engine running.
After a moment, Jake said, “I ever tell you my mother wanted me to go to law school?”
“My mother…” Loiza countered, “wants us to kill whoever at her health insurance company keeps denying her coverage. She says, They won’t pay in money, they pay in blood.”
“That a Romanian thing?” Jake asked.
“A my-mother thing,” Loiza replied.
The back exit to the bar opened and Arnie Keller came out. Pulling his Penney’s blazer close against the cold, he blew into his hands, angling down the alley toward his Mercedes SLK.
“No surveillance cameras around here, right?” Jack asked Loiza.
“Nothing for blocks,” Loiza assured, part of his duties as Jake’s protégé being to recon for such things.
Jake eased quiet and quick from his Cadillac and started down the alley, his steps light for a heavy man.
Arnie, still blowing into his hands, never heard Jake coming until he was five feet away. By then, flinching was about all he could do.
Jake shot him three times in the head—using the same .22 fitted with a silencer that had killed the wrong lawyer.
Arnie was dead by the time he landed face up in the brick alley, his mouth and eyes open toward the night sky of whirling snow flurries.
Loiza came running, said, “Look, Arnie’s catching snowflakes.”
They quickly dragged Arnie across the alley to the Caddy, where Jake popped the three-body trunk and Loiza helped lift him.
“You know,” Jake grunted, slamming the trunk shut, “sometimes I wonder if I should’ve tried the lawyer thing.”
Loiza brushed his hands down the sides of his ski jacket. “I can picture you as a judge.”
They got in the car and pulled around the block.
The woman from the bar came out alone, leaving without the man with the bad toupee.
Jake figured he and the woman had both made good decisions tonight. But something still didn’t feel right. “Tell your mom I’m not so sure about that take-in-blood-what-they-won’t-pay-in-cash thing.”
“I’ll do that.”
“‘Cause I still feel like Arnie Keller owes us ten grand.”