4. You’re Not So Old

A Hitman Jake story by Preston Pairo

 

Jake and Loiza sat in what the rental car company called a full-size sedan, but was nowhere near as roomy as Jake’s Cadillac back in Baltimore.

Jake had the engine running for the air-conditioning.  Five hours and almost a thousand miles ago, he’d boarded a plane at BWI wearing a cashmere overcoat.  The turtleneck he now had on was still too much for 80-degree South Florida sunshine.  Then again, being built more like a bear than a gazelle, Jake was not made for hot weather.

Seated behind Jake and Loiza, leaning forward, was a rich man whose wife was coming out of one of those new get-your-food-in-a-bowl places, the popularity of which Jake didn’t understand.

The rich man had said to call him Benny—no last name—as if Jake wouldn’t have checked him out before agreeing to meet.  “That’s my Greta,” Benny said with a mix of pride and pleasure.  “With the balloons under her t-shirt.”

By balloons, Jake assumed Benny meant the conspicuous chest of his younger—by at least 40 years—wife, which Benny confirmed, saying, “Flew her out to L.A. for those.”

Jake was more interested in the weightlifter in tight gym clothes who had his arm around Greta’s slender waist.  “That the hitman?” Jake asked.

“No—that’s the Russian,” Benny replied, not seeming at all upset as the body builder pressed Greta rather passionately against the Mercedes convertible Benny bought her five months ago—a car that somehow didn’t look quite as expensive in Palm Beach as it would have in Jake’s home city.  “Ivan’s her boyfriend who’s hiring the hitman.”

“Is his name really Ivan?” Loiza asked from the passenger seat.

“Actually, I think it’s Carl,” Benny replied, his voice slightly raspy. “I just call him Ivan.  Because he’s Russian.  Looks Russian, anyway.  Those flat features.  Kind of a dull expression.”  As Benny pointed across the parking lot at the bodybuilder cupping Greta’s ass, the wealthy man’s gold Rolex glinted from sunshine coming through the side window.

Jake wondered if the expensive watch, along with the equally expensive chunky gold bracelet around Benny’s wrist, was meant to draw attention from all the liver spots on his hands.  And if that didn’t do the trick, there were gold cufflinks in Benny’s starched dark-blue dress shirt, a gold ring on the pinky finger of his right hand, a wedding band on his left, and two gold chains around his neck.  Not to mention the alligator shoes.

It wasn’t that Benny was ugly, nor was he one of those bloated steak-and-martini guys, but he was clearly past his prime looks-wise, and all the adornments of his net worth seemed intended to waft a little smoke-and-mirrors around that fact.

“They’ll leave here,” Benny said of Greta and Ivan/Carl, “and probably go back to his apartment.  It’s off PGA, west of 95.”  Saying that as though Jake would know where that was.

Jake didn’t, but assumed whatever Loiza was doing on his phone included gathering information about Carl/Ivan’s address.

Jake said, “I’m not sure following them’s a good idea.”  He thought it chancy enough being 50 yards away in a shopping plaza parking lot, even with mid-afternoon sun putting enough glare on the windshield to make it difficult for Greta to see them if she cared to free herself from Ivan’s tongue-penetrating kisses.

“Whatever you think,” Benny replied.  He seemed unable to take his eyes off his wife, yet still didn’t show any hint of anger at her infidelity.  To the contrary, he made mild, almost involuntary sounds as if voyeuristically enjoying another man publically pawing his wife.  Or was his reaction more in response to how his wife seemed to enjoy being pawed?

Benny murmured, “She’s really a hellcat.”

Jake hadn’t heard that term in a long time.  “Hellcat” sounded like something his father’s friends would have said over beers in the corner tavern in west Baltimore not all that far from where Jake’s father ended up being shot to death.

Benny sighed the sort of regrettable sound someone makes when about to part company with a dear friend.  “So…”  He sat back.  “…now you know who the players are.”  His jewelry jangled as he ran his hand through wavy white hair he combed straight back in a simple style.

“Except for the hitman your wife’s hiring to kill you,” Jake pointed out.

“You mean the hitman Ivan’s hiring to kill me.”

“With money from your wife,” Jake said.

“Money from Greta—yeah.  My money.”  Again, Benny seemed not at all angry about these perilous developments in his marriage.  He didn’t even seem inconvenienced.  “My P.I. said he sent you pictures.”

“Yeah.  But nothing else.  No name.  No address.”

“Let’s go back to the house,” Benny suggested, settled into the backseat like a man used to having a driver.  “I’ll get you what you need.”

“Any chance your wife comes home while we’re there?” Jake asked.

“No.  She’s good for a couple hours with Ivan.”

Jake pulled out of the parking lot and turned onto Northlake, toward 95.  “This the right way?” he asked Benny.

“This way works.  Head toward Jupiter—the town, not the planet.”

Jake wondered how many times Benny had amused himself with that line since moving to Florida fifteen years ago.

Loiza continued whatever he was doing with his phone—something Jake would probably only understand about five percent of even after another of Loiza’s patient explanations.  What Jake did know was that Loiza had a separate device under his seat he referred to as a signal reader and was flying a military-grade surveillance drone 2,500 feet above them.

And to think when Jake started killing people three decades ago all he’d needed was a gun and a few bullets.

On I-95 heading to Jupiter—the town, not the planet—Benny began talking about his wife, Denise, which confused Jake because until now Benny had referred to her as Greta.  Then it became clear Benny was talking about his first wife.

Benny spoke of Denise in glowing terms.  How they’d met in college, married, had three children.  What a wonderful mother she’d been.  The best partner a man could want, Benny said, bordering on melancholy.  “I never looked at another woman the whole time we were married.  Well, you know, I looked, but not that way.  Not the way I looked at Denise.  Then the damned cancer…  And the damned doctors…  They talked her into the chemo.  She wanted to do nothing.  Wanted to ride it out—that’s what she said.  Wanted us to have a real adventure for as much time as she had left.  Go someplace exotic.  But the doctors convinced her—treatment.”  Benny made the word sound like a death sentence.  “All these statistics.  All this mumbo jumbo.  Six months in she’s so sick from infection she can’t get out of bed.  Three months later she’s dead.  Left me alone.  Going on ten years now.  Ten long years,” he sighed.  “A whole other life ago.  A whole different life than this.”  Benny looked out the window as if Florida was its own kind of death sentence.

Jake said nothing, keeping the rental sedan in one of the center lanes, holding at 75—five miles over the limit—even as other traffic sped by, wondering how fast you had to drive in Florida before a cop would pull you over, but not wanting to find out from firsthand experience.

His handsome young protégé broke the silence.  With his face still tilted down toward his phone—the perpetual posture of Millennials—Loiza asked Benny how he met Greta.

“Oh, she was trolling the marina where I keep my boat,” Benny replied, seeming to perk up a bit.  “Like they do.”

“Like who does?”

“The gold diggers.  Do they still call them that?  You remember the old Dean Martin Show?” Benny asked the back of Jake’s head.  “He had those dancers called the gold diggers.”

Jake’s father used to watch that show.

“Are you talking about a sugar baby?” Loiza asked.

“Is that a younger girl who goes for an old guy for his money?”

“Yes.”

“Like the candy?  Sugar baby?  Or was that a sugar daddy?  You remember that candy?” Benny asked Jake, as if they were the same age, not 20-plus years apart.

Still, Jake remembered the candy.

Benny said, “Yeah, that day, she had on this strapless dress.  High heels.  Cheap gold jewelry.  Real knockout.”

There was another old term, Jake thought: knockout.

“I’d just come off a divorce,” Benny continued, “so I knew the play—”

“Divorce?” Loiza asked.  “I thought you said your wife passed away.”

“She did.  That was Denise.  Melania was after Denise.  After Roxanne, too—who was after Denise.  Denise, then Roxanne, then Melania, now Greta.”

“You’ve been busy.”  Loiza smiled.

“Yeah, well…nothing else to do.”

Jake picked up a mix of braggadocio and regret in Benny’s tone, and wasn’t sure which was the dominant emotion.

“You were saying Greta came along and you knew the play,” Loiza prompted.

“We’re in the marina bar and started talking,” Benny recounted.  “The usual.  She sees the Rolex,” he says of his watch.  “Finds out from me I’m retired.  I’m a widower.  I’ve got a house and a boat and a Mercedes.  She wants to see the boat, which is when I tell her I’m too old for her.  And she laughs.  So, okay, I walk her down the pier to the boat, and I’m asking her to guess which one it is.  And she points to this one, then that one, and I say, Nope, Nope, and she starts sounding more and more excited, because the boats are getting bigger as we walk along.  Then we get to Denise’s Delight and she squeals—you know that put-on squeal the cute ones do to make you wonder if that’s what they sound like when they climax…?

Jake did not know about that.

“That’s the squeal she made.  And she says: Is that your boat?”  Benny sounded comical trying to mimic Greta with his raspy voice.  “She touches me with both hands on my arm when she says that.  She had the long painted fingernails.  One of those French-tip manicures.  And when I tell her, yeah, that’s my boat, she says, Well you’re not so old.”

Loiza chuckled toward his phone.

“Six months later,” Benny said, “we got married.”  He made it sound simple.

“You fell in love?” Loiza assumed.

“No,” Benny scoffed.  “I knew after Denise was gone there’d never be anyone else.  I married Greta because that’s how it goes down here.  They pretend they love us and aren’t after our money, while secretly hoping we drop dead.  And we pretend we believe them.  Only then we don’t drop dead.  Which becomes a problem.  Because I am so old after all—and no sixty-foot Hatteras is going to change that.”

“Ah…”  Loiza made a sound of understanding.  “So that’s where we come in.”

“That’s where you come in,” Benny replied, then reached forward and lightly tapped Jake on the shoulder.  “Exit coming up here.  Donald Ross.”

Thinking about what Benny had just told them, Loiza had another question: “Then shouldn’t we be killing Greta instead of whoever she’s hired to kill you?”

Benny said, “I’ll take care of Greta.”

The rest of what Benny had been saying—his roster of wives—didn’t make much difference to Jake one way or the other.  This was different.  “You’re going to need to tell me what you mean by: taking care of Greta.”  Multiple dead bodies tended to complicate the getting-away-with-it factor, which raised the price.

Benny explained, “With the proof I’ve got of her getting Ivan to hire someone to kill me, I’ll divorce her so she ends up with nothing, and at her age she’ll be lucky to find a volunteer fireman in Stuart to shack up with.”  Suddenly, there was a coldness to his voice.  “Cuts both ways, you know—down here.  She’s no spring chicken.  She’s coming to the end of her playing days.  Broads like her have a short window of opportunity—like NFL running backs.  And she was late getting here—wasted years up in Cocoa Beach working at Ron Jons and living with a professional surfer who wiped out and got hit with a board in the lower back left him walking worse than me.  She tried taking care of him a little while, but a life of impoverished Florence-Nightengale-duty failed to inspire her charitable side.  So she came south at 30.  Bordering on flat-chested and definitely flat broke.  Got herself some discount implants that didn’t make her a star in Miami, so she lowered her expectations, moved to Tequesta, and found me.  It started out okay: the month after we met we’re out in L.A. to get her rack fixed, along with a few other nips and tucks she wanted, then we got married.  We pretended to play house for a while.  But it didn’t take long before she got bored and met Ivan at the gym.  No surprise.  She lasted longer than the other two, I’ll give her that.”

Loiza had another question: “So you knew this was coming?  That she’d cheat?”

“Of course.”

“And that she’d hire someone to kill you?”

“I didn’t exactly see that, but it makes sense.  What would you do if you signed a pre-nuptial agreement that says you get nothing in a divorce, but half if I die?”

“Wait?” Loiza suggested.

“Don’t be naïve,” Benny laughed sharply.  “Time passes slowly for convicts and young women married to old men.”  He tapped Jake on the shoulder again.  “Turn up here.”

Jake followed Benny’s directions to a gated community of big Mediterranean-style houses situated on sizeable chunks of land—sizeable compared to Florida’s typical zero-lot-line neighborhoods anyway.

The gatehouse gave Jake pause until Benny assured him there wasn’t any video surveillance and the guards were well paid to be forgetful about residents’ itineraries and visitors.

Three turns inside the community, Jake pulled into Benny’s driveway.

When Loiza said, “Wow,” it was practically a reflex—like yelling, Son of a bitch! after accidentally hammering your finger.  For a twenty-something who lived in his fortune-teller mother’s basement in a lesser neighborhood on the outskirts of Baltimore, 7,000 square-feet of stucco and Spanish-tile roof behind a ten-foot privacy wall was easy to mistake for a palace.

Benny downplayed it.  “The rich people live over there.”  He pointed to even larger homes with deep-water access across the street.

Loiza was so amazed by the house he failed to notice the woman standing in the driveway, talking with a squat powerful-looking man holding a machete.

Jake, however, had spotted the pair immediately, and was gently applying the brakes to the rental car as Benny, with great annoyance, said, “What’s she doing here?”

Once Jake stopped the car, Benny got out, his demeanor quickly changing to the level of joy prominent on the Hallmark movies Jake’s girlfriend Grace watched.

“Hello, sweetheart!”  Benny waved to the middle-aged woman Jake assumed went with the late-model compact car in the driveway.

The man with the machete, Jake assumed, went with the oversized pick-up truck parked alongside the house, it’s open bed piled with cut palm fronds.

“Daddy!”  The middle-aged woman half ran to Benny as if she was still ten, not 50.

As father and daughter embraced, Loiza commented, “He didn’t seem happy she was here, did he?”

Jake said nothing.  He powered down his window as Benny and daughter withdrew from their full embrace but kept one another in a half hug.  Bits of their conversation carried down the driveway—mostly daughter fawning over daddy, who gave all appearances of enjoying the attention, even though his non-rhetorical question, asked once again, remained unanswered: What was she doing here?

The man with the machete, meanwhile, disappeared around the side of the house.

Five minutes of father-daughter reunion later, Benny returned to Jake’s rental car, his smile disappearing as his eyes rolled with aggravation.  “The stupid one,” he said of his daughter as she wobble-wheeled a small suitcase from the car toward the impressive double front doors of his house.  “Here because she wants to spend time with me.”  Another eye roll.  “Jesus Christ.”  A sigh, then, to Jake: “You have kids?”

Jake shook his head.

“Good for you.”  Benny leaned down to peer across Jake to Loiza.  “Son—don’t have kids unless you want your life to have a constant source of disappointment.”

“Okay.”  Loiza nodded agreeably.

“Should we come back later?” Jake asked.

“Wait here.  Let me get you the folder on Ivan’s hitman.  He doesn’t look like much.  You take care of him, at least I’m rid of Greta.  This one…”  Referring to his daughter who’d gone inside the house.  “…as long as I keep giving her money she’ll keep coming back.  Jackass husband of hers can lose money in business like you wouldn’t goddamned believe.  That’s why she’s here.  Spend time with me, my ass.”  Benny pushed back from Jake’s window and headed toward his house.

Loiza said, “I don’t like him.”

Jake turned slowly toward his young helper.  “That’s what happens when you talk to them.  We kill people.  We’re not shrinks.  I don’t care about his others wives.  I don’t care what happens to the one he’s married to now.  I just want to kill the guy his wife’s hoping kills him, and get the hell back home before I sweat through too many more clothes.”

Loiza returned his attention to his phone, looking as if he’d been scolded.

Minutes passed.

The stout dark-haired man with the machete returned from the side of the house carrying a five-foot now-headless lizard by its spiny tail.  He heaved the prehistoric-looking creature into the rear of his truck where it landed atop cut palm fronds.

Benny stepped back outside.  “Attaboy, Arthur!” he congratulated the lizard killer with a hearty laugh.  “That’s a big one!”  Benny grinned coming down the driveway.  “You see that?” he asked Jake.  “Goddamned Irma blew all these iguanas up here.  You can hear them at night digging under the house.  Things are so big, the other day there was a picture in the paper of some voodoo ceremony down in Hialeah, they stitched the head of some guy on the body of an iguana and the proportions didn’t look that off.  Arturo’s gotten five of those scaly bastards in the past week.”  Benny handed Jake a manila envelope.  “Info on the guy and also a guest pass in case you need to come through the gatehouse without me.”

Jake nodded.

“Any time estimate?”

“Soon.”

“I’ll wait to hear from you.”

Once back on I-95, Jake asked Loiza if something was on his mind—his clue being that Loiza wasn’t fiddling with his phone.

Loiza said, “Do you think he really loved his first wife?”

Jake sighed because the topic was pointless, but since Loiza could be distracted by thoughts like this it was best to try to put it to bed.  “I think it’s a story he tells himself,” Jake said.  “Maybe he thinks it makes him more appealing to women like Greta.  Like all the gold jewelry and the big house.  And the boat.”

“I wonder how big his boat is.”

“Ask that thing.”  Jake pointed to Loiza’s phone with disdain.

Instead of going back to his phone, Jake’s associate with the Romanian accent opened the envelope Benny had given them, and went to work on the hitman they’d been hired to kill.

Four hours later, they set eyes on him.  As Benny had said, the hired killer didn’t look like much, but many of the best didn’t.  A killer does not want to be noticed.  Let all heads in the room turn toward Ryan Gosling while the man being paid to commit murder walks unnoticed through the crowd.

Even so, the guy Benny was paying Jake to kill took that concept to an extreme.  He was in his early 30’s, slight, prematurely balding, had terrible posture, and worked as a busboy—and was a clumsy busboy at that.

Jake and Loiza were no sooner seated at a table in the crowded restaurant than their target stumbled and dropped a tray of dirty dishes and glasses that shattered loudly enough to interrupt the happy conversational din of the evening’s trendy and wealthy second seating (the prized patrons who used valet parking, tipped well, and didn’t think twice about paying $6 a piece for raw oysters).

Jake wondered if their target’s ineptness was an act.  If it was, it was a good one.  While acting was often a required skill for a killer, that rarely translated to doing comedy.  And the guy Benny wanted Jake to kill—as Benny might say with his 1960’s references—was borderline Jerry Lewis.

While Jake observed the busboy/killer, Loiza took interest in the women seated at other tables.  Loiza was often interested in women, who often responded in kind, drawn to his dark European good looks.

“Are they all sugar babies?” Loiza wondered, seeing so many women with men likely older than their fathers.

“Probably.”  Jake hoped his one-word response would clue Loiza just how disinterested he was in the subject.

Loiza continued to survey the younger women—their spa make-up and hair, their cosmetic surgery, their revealed cleavage, their tight showy clothes, the gold jewelry.  Not that some older women didn’t share many of those attributes.  “I don’t think it will still be like this in twenty years,” Loiza decided.  “It seems so…dated.”  He took out his phone.

Jake ate an oyster.  He didn’t care about cost, because he wasn’t paying for it.  Hours ago, when a guy on their flight refused to turn off his phone despite repeated requests from flight attendants, Loiza had hacked stored credit card information off the guy’s phone.  So that guy was buying them dinner.

Jake didn’t know exactly how Loiza did the things he did, other than there was apparently a lot of invisible information floating around in the air and Loiza had the technology to snag it.

“The oysters are good,” Jake said, hoping Loiza would put down his phone and eat.

He did not.  Instead, Loiza danced his thumbs across his phone’s screen.  Then he looked up and peered toward something or someone over Jake’s shoulder.  Then more tapping.  More looking.  More tapping.  This continued for five minutes as Jake ate all the oysters.

Then a young woman seated at the table behind them suddenly burst into tears and hurried for the door as fast as her short skirt and high heels would allow, and Jake overheard an older man grouchily complain, “Christ, what now?  She’s got her period again I’m gonna explode.”

Jake turned to see the man—who was about Benny’s age but puffier, deeper-tanned, face round as a melon and with squinty eyes—throw down his linen napkin, shove back his chair, and head to the parking lot to tend to his sugar baby.

In the man’s wake, one of the more reasonably-aged wives at the table of eight commented, “I don’t know what he expects dating a girl that age.”  The other reasonably-aged wives nodded in agreement.  Their husbands remained conspicuously silent.

Loiza turned toward the front window, trying to see beyond other tables outside to the parking lot.

Jake said, “Why does it feel like you had something to do with that?”

Loiza sat back.  After a moment, he handed Jake his phone, by way of confession.

Jake got out his reading glasses and with thumbs-too-large-for-the-scrolling-screen age, managed to read the text exchange Loiza had somehow initiated with the woman who’d left crying.

Loiza had begun with: Do you really love him?

She’d responded: Who is this?

Does it matter?

Blake?

No.  But someone who cares about you.

Donnie?

It doesn’t matter.  What matters is you know you don’t want to be with him.

She didn’t answer.

Loiza had texted: Do you?

NO.

So why are you?  I don’t understand.

Nothing from her.

Loiza: How can you do this to yourself.  Look how beautiful you are and how disgusting he is.

Nothing from her.

Is it the big house?  The car?  Jewelry?

Still nothing from her.

He doesn’t love you.  He just wants to parade you around.

Still nothing.

He just wants to show you to his friends.  Tell them, look how rich I am, I get to fuck her.

Jake jerked back reading that line.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Loiza apologized, assuming from Jake’s reaction where he was in the exchange.

You don’t need him.  You don’t need all that money.  You could live in a small village in Europe with someone who loves you.  You just need the courage to go.

The text exchange ended.

Jake returned Loiza’s phone to him without a word.  A silence that continued through the rest of their meal.

The woman who’d left in tears never came back.  Her older man/husband/sugar daddy/whatever briefly returned to apologize to his friends, throw two hundreds on the table, and sourly depart.

Jake assumed that had been enough time for Loiza to hijack sensitive information from the man’s phone, and that they’d put a slight crease in his credit limit wherever they next ate.

An hour later, they were back in the rental car when Benny called.

“Mitch, I need you to get over here right away and explain my new will to Betsy and Greta.”

“Not Mitch,” Jake replied, assuming Benny had called the wrong number.

“I know it’s late, but this needs to be taken care of now.”

“Not Mitch,” Jake repeated.

“Yeah—I heard you the first time.  Get here as soon as you can.”

Jake disconnected the call, and said to Loiza, “I think there’s a problem.”

Loiza directed the surveillance drone to Benny’s house.  Upon the eavesdropping bird’s arrival moments later, he held his phone toward Jake.

“I can’t see whatever that is.  Tell me.”

“Little car’s still in the driveway,” Loiza reported.

“Yeah.”  Jake assumed that was the daughter’s car—probably a rental if she’d flown in.

“And the pick-up truck.”

“At eleven-thirty?” Jake wondered, then remembered, “Maybe the lawn guy after iguanas.  Benny said they dig under the house at night.”

“And a Hummer.”  Loiza made that sound significant.

Jake didn’t know why, other than Loiza’s standing opinion that whoever drove a Hummer was a classless ass.

Loiza explained, “In the parking lot today where Greta and the bodybuilder were all over one another—there was a Hummer.”

Jake hadn’t noticed that, a fact it took him a few moments to admit to Loiza.

Fifteen minutes later, Jake breezed by the gatehouse, holding the pass Benny had given him to driver’s side window for the guard to see.

Two minutes later, the gate to Benny’s house swung open as they arrived.

Loiza again went, “Wow.”

The house looked even more spectacular at night, lit up like a fortress.  Lights were on at multiple windows on the lower level.  The windows upstairs were dark.

Jake parked behind the Hummer, the bumper sticker on which read, Bodybuilders Lift With Their Dicks.  A pronouncement that supported Loiza’s theory about the classlessness of Hummer drivers.

The front doors to the house were unlocked.

Benny called, “Back here, Mitch,” as Jake stepped inside the marble foyer.

Loiza remained on the front landing, doing something with his phone Jake assumed might turn out to be helpful.  In case not, Jake’s Beretta was holstered beneath his left arm, silencer already attached and concealed by his sports coat.

Dual staircases swept from the foyer to the second level, where an ornate railing bordered an open hallway.  An opulent cut-crystal chandelier the size of small whale hung overhead.

“In my office, Mitch,” Benny directed.

Jake advanced cautiously toward the sound of Benny’s voice.

Beneath the left-hand staircase was a massive entertainment room, furnished comfortably in a contemporary color palate of gray and white.  No one was in there that Jake could see.

Farther to Jake’s left, a wide hallway led to a wing of the house where light spilled from the first doorway.

“Thanks for coming, Mitch,” Benny called, providing additional audible clues as to his location.  The way he kept emphasizing the name, Mitch, sounded like some type of warning but Jake had no idea what that warning might be.

In all fairness, Jake didn’t know what Benny could have possibly said that would have prepared him for what he walked in on.

Benny’s study was a large space, with recessed lighting, built-in book cases, a massive wooden desk, and trio of coffee-brown leather chairs.  Despite the comfortable seating arrangements, everyone was standing—perhaps brought out of their chairs by whatever had shattered one of the floor-to-ceiling windows, leaving a blizzard of broken glass on the floor.

Then again, there weren’t enough chairs, even including the one behind Benny’s desk—which made a total of four.  And there were five people.  Then again, one of them was dead—probably dead, anyway.

The group was arranged in the room in a triangle of what Jake interpreted to be conflicting interests, all well beyond arms reach of one another.

At one point was Benny: behind his desk, wearing expensive pajamas.

At another point, Benny’s daughter Betsy clung to Arturo, who stood machete-ready like a great Mayan warrior in khaki lawn-service garb, his work boots crunching broken shards of glass whenever he shifted his weight.

The third point of the triangle was Benny’s wife Greta, who had on a plush robe and appeared frozen in shock, aiming a gun at Benny.  She didn’t react to Jake entering the room.

Bodybuilder Ivan also didn’t move when Jake came in, but that had more to do with his being face down on the floor, bleeding fatally.

Jake wondered how long the group had held these positions.  And why?

“Mitch here,” Benny declared of Jake, addressing his daughter, wife, and groundskeeper, “will explain the santa clause in my will.”

No hay Santa Claus!” Arturo shouted, stomping his foot to broken glass and making a threatening sweep with his machete.

Betsy gasped with admiration of such machismo.

Greta snapped from her stare just long enough to re-aim the 9mm Glock knock-off at Benny’s head.

“I keep telling you,” Benny offered patiently, “not ho-ho-ho Santa Claus, but santa clause.”  He stressed the “e” sound at the end of the word, then spelled the two different forms, which seemed to add to the air of confusion Jake guessed is what Benny had used to lock the group in this impasse.

Winking at Jake, Benny said, “But the santa clause does have to do with December twenty-fifth.  Which happens to be Christmas, thus the legal term, santa clause.  But that’s just a coincidence.  It just happens to be the distribution date for my estate in the year that I die.  It’s also the look-back date, at which time it’s to be determined if my spouse or any of my children died in the same year, and how their share shall of my estate shall be reduced or eliminated depending upon who died first, second, third, and so on, and in what order.  Which,” Benny winked again at Jake, “I told them they all should know about before they kill me or kill one another, thinking they’ll get a larger inheritance.  Because it might mean they get nothing at all.  And I said I couldn’t remember exactly how we set it up, and you’d have to explain it to them.

“Now Greta,” Benny continued, “seems to get it, because when Ivan said he wasn’t waiting until Christmas for killing me, they got into a struggle over the gun and it went off, which is how Ivan ended up the way he is.  And why Greta’s a little out of it.”  Benny snapped his fingers at his younger wife, who didn’t blink.  “Turns out,” Benny added as an aside, “the guy Ivan told Greta he was going to get to kill me is just a waiter.”

“Busboy,” Jake corrected.

“Even better,” Benny chuckled.  “When Greta found this out, she threatened to dump Ivan, so he said he’d kill me himself, which is what he came here tonight to do—and was about to do when Arthur burst through the window.  Not to save me, but because he thought Betsy might be in danger.  Turns out they’ve been having an affair for about a year now, and want to kill me so they have money to run off to El Salvador together.”

Embracing Arturo as if posing for the cover of a Harlequin romance, Betsy defended, “He was thinking about killing you anyway, Daddy.  He doesn’t like being called Arthur.”

Mi nombre no es Arthur.”  The lawn keeper defiantly stomped his foot.  “Mi nombre es Arturo.”

Which was when Jake shot Arthur/Arturo in the chest, removing the only viable weapon from the room, seeing as the slide to the knock-off Glock in Greta’s hand was jammed by a bullet that had failed to properly load after accidentally shooting the bodybuilder—a circumstance Greta only now appeared to realize as she snapped from her standing coma and repeatedly attempted to pull the trigger, aiming at Benny, and nothing happened.

Betsy wailed and collapsed to the floor atop Arturo, screaming, “Mi amante, mi amante!

Greta kept trying to get the gun to fire.

Benny asked Jake, “I don’t suppose you offer multiple discounts.”

Jake shook his head.

“Full price it is then,” Benny agreed, nodding toward Greta, who Jake promptly shot dead.

As Benny’s wife landed alongside Ivan, the rich man’s sobbing daughter realized he was glaring at her disdainfully.  “Daddy, please!  No!  I’m sorry, Daddy.  I’m sorry.  I won’t ever do it again.”

Benny asked Jake, “How come it’s always the kids who complain about their parents?  How come parents never get to complain about their kids.  Mommie Dearest—remember that one?  I think that started it all.”  He turned his words to his daughter.  “Like it’s our fault how you turned out.  Like you listened to anything we told you—or tried to tell you…”

“Daddy,” Betsy cried.  “Daddy, no, please.”

“Like that moron you married,” Benny snarled meanly, then informed Jake: “Dunce wanted to open a chain of pet motels.  Wanted to name it after some band, Three Dog Night.  You ever hear of them?” he asked Jake.

Jake didn’t answer.

“Daddy, please.  Please!

“Daddy please,” Benny mocked. “That should be the title of my autobiography.”

“Don’t let him kill me, daddy.”

“An hour ago you wanted Arthur to kill me!” Benny reminded.

“I’m sorry, Daddy.  I won’t do it again.”

“Damned right about that.”  Benny nodded Jake the go-ahead and Jake fired.

As his daughter’s body landed dead atop Arturo, Benny, passing Loiza in the hall, remarked, “My children have been nothing but a source of disappointment to me.”

In Benny’s study, Jake made sure none of the four bodies on the floor had a pulse.

Loiza went out to the rental car for the necessary items to start what was going to be a much longer cleaning process than the job originally called for.

Half an hour later, Benny, showered and dressed—including all the gold, the Rolex, the bracelet, the chains, the rings—returned to his study with an envelope thick with cash, and to let Jake know he was heading out.  “I’ll leave you boys to it,” he said.

Looking up from the floor, Loiza had to ask: “What will you do now?  Without your wife and daughter?”

“First of all, I got two other kids.  But since they’re not currently here looking for money, I’m going down to the marina to listen for the magic words.”

“Abracadabra?” Loiza assumed.

“No.”  Benny smiled.  “You’re not so old.”

After their client left the house, Jake, scrubbing marble, said to Loiza, “I keep telling you: don’t talk to them.”

Fifteen minutes of silence later, Loiza wondered, “Do you think he was always this way?  Or did all the money make him like that?”

Hoping to end the discussion, Jake said, “I think being like that made him all that money.”


Hitman Jake and Loiza first appeared in Preston Pairo’s legal thriller, Her Honor.