Saturday, November 30, 2013

The House Part 7

Foreman’s Log

                June 22 Day 1 Surveyors came and marked off the land for the buildings.
Julia read through weeks of very normal sounding notes like this; short and straight to the point. A week before she came for her first visit the notes started becoming a little strange.
August 22 Day 62 – Visit from the owner today. Workers kept on pace.
There were 3 of them watching.
She was not sure what he was referring to. She knew it wasn’t her because she had been accompanied only by the construction company owner. She doubted it was an employee because every other labor issue up to this point had been noted specifically with the offense and the penalty paid. The first offense was a warning and it was noted with WRN written after the offense. EL meant a note in the employee’s file. F of course meant fired. She had seen it a few times but this was the first time a note like that was written. A half completed thought that seemed to be a continuation of another. It was a non sequitur and it did not belong in the log. She was disconcerted by it. The next entry was back to the regular pattern. Nothing was out of the ordinary, in fact, for the next 6 entries. Then there was no more order.
August 28 Day 68 – They keep watching me. They follow me home.
August 29 Day 69 – I can’t leave the house. They are watching.
             August 30 Day 70 – I’m scared.

That was the last officially dated entry. The rest of the book was filled with scribbles of eyes and birds. The words “watching me” appeared over and over again. Julia found that her heart was beating hard as she flipped through the log book. She, like the foreman, was scared. The logical side of her brain was fighting this feeling as best it could but something in the recesses of her mind had latched onto the feeling of terror and it was not letting go.
She decided to go to one of the resort’s bars and have a drink. She thought that being around people would wash everything away. She was right. The flirting from the cute bartender didn’t hurt one bit. She allowed herself to be wooed as she drank the lovely rum concoctions he put before her.
                She awoke in agony. It felt like somebody was beating on her head with a bat. She sat up slowly and crawled to the bathroom. She got a glimpse of herself in the mirror and she grimaced at the site. It wasn’t pretty. She remembered flirting with the bartender until late but then leaving as the crowd got thinner. Even as intoxicated as she was, and as handsome as he was, she had not wanted to end the night with him. Even worse, then ending the night, would have been waking up next to him and dealing with what to do then. Julia had been a married woman for a while but he had died in a car accident. She had been avoiding relationships a lot since then. People always assumed it was lost love that kept her single, but that was only part of it. She had hated how much change had happened after she said “I Do”. It felt stifling and she had not met a man as worth the whole confining experience since her husband had passed. She was not opposed to falling in love again but last night was not love. She had been scared and desperately needed to feel normal. The only thing that would have happened this morning is that she would no longer be comfortable staying at this hotel. Word could travel fast and she had no desire to be hit on by every would be Romeo that was employed by the resort.
                She swallowed some aspirin and sat in the hot shower trying to will the aspirin to do its job. Then she slipped on a robe and ordered room service. She consumed water and felt the old familiar feeling of not being sure if she would ever get enough liquid back in her system. She briefly wished that rum would be outlawed so she would never drink it again but the truth was she still liked rum; probably not today or perhaps the next 3 days. She found her eyes being drawn to the stack of papers she had not looked through. She had no desire to look through that rather large pile of complaints but she needed a complete picture of the project from the start to now. That meant the complaints needed to be looked at. She moved slowly to the table, careful not to bounce her brain too much, then she sat and set herself to the task. The first was not very interesting, just an accusation of another employee cursing too much. She picked up the second when room service arrived. She welcomed the excuse to continue avoiding the complaints and she immediately sat down to her breakfast. She had spent time in her youth in the US and the idea of a greasy breakfast to cure headaches had stuck. Of course she was in Panama and there were some differences in what she could get. She had scrambled eggs with cheese, onions and ham, 2 slices of bacon, a thick circular corn based product that was fried in butter and called a tortilla (although she knew it wouldn’t be considered that in the US), and two meat filled empanadas.  This was accompanied with a carafe of coffee and a large glass of orange juice. As she looked at it she realized this would probably take more room then she had in her stomach. She managed to get the room service attendant to take the empanadas with him to enjoy, along with a generous tip as well. She ate about a quarter of the meal before thinking about stopping to get sick. She managed to eat a little more instead and with half of the food eaten she covered it back up and got back to work. The food definitely helped bring some balance to her system.
         The complaints were still waiting for her to dive in when she was done eating and she made herself sit down and get to work. An hour later she found herself cramped up from the position she was sitting in staring at the complaints. The employees were pretty easily offended and she was only about half way through but she needed to move and stretch out her limbs. Between the food and the aspiring she was feeling almost human. So she slipped out of the robe and into some real clothes. She took the room service cart out with her when she left and she went for a walk. The sun was shining and she felt like strolling along the beach.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The House Part 6

                The paperwork was a mess and it took a long time to figure out that there was no logical order to the papers piled together. She first sorted the paper work into two piles: receipts and other.  Julia began trying to create a time line of the receipts; except nobody had bothered to put a date on over half of the papers that she came across. So she started with the easy to place papers with dates first and she took the entire floor when she did it. From these receipts she could see that the crew ate regularly, that things were pretty consistently progressing until her visit 2 weeks ago, and that she had purchased the same supplies 7 times in the last 2 weeks. She grabbed her business calendar that she had been notating the progress and all discussions about the property in. The purchases were all documented with a conversation except the first two. She did not worry about that fact though because that was the standing rule: Call before you buy it thrice! She was a little amazed at herself for allowing it to happen 7 times before she actually thought it through. She finally admitted this project had become a bit of an obsession and that she might need help figuring out what to do next. She could involve her family, they had offered, and she planned too, but first she needed to figure out where she was at. She needed to present a clear picture when she asked for help.
                She spent a lot of time and managed to make sense of the receipts. She organized them and placed them in one folder with the hand copied expense report she had created. It was a little ugly but not too bad yet. She looked over to the other pile and noticed it was quite a bit bigger. Her cursory glance told her she would not spend time organizing the data, it was all dated and in order. She would however spend a lot of time reading. The papers included official requests from the government, the daily log of the foreman and a lot of complaints the workers had filed. She was amazed that the complaints were such a large stack of paper. It intimidated her a bit so she put them off. She quickly read through the government related paperwork. It was legalese was abundant but not abnormal. She did not notice anything that looked odd except for the latest request from the local community. It looked like somebody had just enough law school in them to sound like a professional to all the regular folk out there but like an idiot to anyone acquainted with legalese. She blinked at it for a long time before dropping it into the file. Her stomach rumbled and she called for room service before picking up the foreman’s log. She paced around with it and ended up putting it on the table she had left undisturbed. She knew she would eat here tonight and it was a drag to have to clean before you ate. In the very same vein she had made sure there was a clear and wide path from the door to that table. The knock came and her food was delivered. She was very hungry by then because all she had was some fruit in the morning. It was now the evening and she wondered how the time had gone so quickly. She ate her food and then poured a cup of the coffee she had requested into a cup. She cleared the mess from the table and put the tray outside her door. She sat down to read the foreman’s log as she enjoyed her coffee.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The House Part 5

                The work hit a snag 2 weeks later. It started with stolen materials. Pipes and wires were put in the building and the next morning they were all gone. Then tools started going missing from the locked shed on the property. Then the water people were calling saying the person who had approved their water paperwork was not authorized to do so and they would need to halt the work until the paperwork could be refiled and examined, the tests would need to be done again, and another inspector would have to come by and approve it all. Finally the local community leaders decided they needed a taste and they were demanding that their approval for the project be sought, again. The construction progress was dead in the water.

Julia’s easy project she managed in her spare time started to creep more and more into her daily life as the construction company kept getting her involved. They were authorized to work and call the shots but the people in charge of approving everything refused to talk to anyone but the owner. She came to the decision that she would have to take a vacation from her regular job to manage this entire resort fiasco. Her family was not thrilled but were used to doing business and they made it work for her. She left the city behind the next day. She dropped off her bags at her usual spot and headed to a meeting with the construction company.  As she drove she realized she no longer was as charmed by the locale. She began to notice the random discarded trash along the roads, the level of poverty of the surrounding communities, and most of all the damnable amount of vultures she saw along the way.


She eased out of her work clothes and eased into the tub. The water was toasty the way she liked it and the radio was playing soft relaxing music. Unfortunately Julia was not relaxed she was majorly miffed. Her construction company was testing her and she knew it was gender related. She had worked with this company before but her brother had been in town and had been along for every discussion. It seemed they thought he was the one that called the shots and that she wouldn’t know what was what. Over the phone she had not been aware of the real issues but when she got here and talked to them…. the story they told! They had told her ghost stories about the place being cursed, accidents that had occurred, the vultures being the devil’s minions and people and property going missing. She had been so shocked that she had not really reacted right away. She had taken all the paperwork and information with her when she left and promised to look it over and get back to them. Then on the way home she began to get angry. She was fuming mad and aggressively drove through the streets until she reached the freeway and hit the petal hard. Her fury was overwhelming her senses because her speed and aggressive driving garnered the attention of la policia. She had barely avoided going to jail. When she got home she tossed the paperwork from the construction company on the bed and nearly avoided starting to scream in frustration.

She attempted to allow the music, the bubbles, and the rum to improve her mood. The um wasn’t going down well, the bubbles were making her sneeze and the music was grating on her last nerve. She needed to relieve some of her pent up irritation but had found no outlet for it in the tub. That had been her mom’s trick, to let the frustration float down the drain, and it worked for Julia quite often but not always. She switched tactics and she went into the bedroom and began working up a sweat with exercises and boxing moves a younger brother had taught her a few years back. She did not feel completely satisfied when she collapsed in exhaustion but she felt better. She felt like she could think and she showered off the sweat and set up an office inside the room and cracked the paperwork.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The House Part 4

             Her son and husband were in the ground less than a month when she sold her son’s land. All her other properties in Panama went next. Her husband was not a superstitious man but Maria Bustamente was. She sold it fast and cheaper than it should have went for but she wanted out. She sold all her possessions next. When she boarded the plane, to fly to her sister’s home in Brazil, she only owned the contents of the two suitcases she took with her. The ladies who had made up her inner circle loved the sensationalism of the story and the rumors were flying. They took great delight in her sad predicament but they all had the common decency to appear grief struck and horrified as they spun their tales. All of the women that is except for one.
                Julia Vega never got involved in the gossip. The women praised her for it but secretly despised her holier than though attitude. They were sure she was stuck up and as a result there was a lot of gossip about her whenever she left the room. Julia was pleasantly unaware of the spewed poison that crawled out at as she left. Julia worked at being appositive person, as anyone should but usually didn’t. She had her bad days but those were for her to know about; and perhaps a confidante. She firmly believed you got back a lot of what you put in. It was a motto that her entire family lived by and it had served them well. They were business owners in 4 different countries and 2 continents. Julia was working on developing her family’s company in its 5th country. She was doing well. She was the one who bought Maria Bustamente’s land. She was not interested in it but she wanted to help the woman leave it behind. She had paid a fair price for both of them. Enough for Maria to not feel cheated and yet not enough that Julia regretted the decision. She had no plans to touch the land or do anything with it and she turned the land over to be sold by a realty company. There it would sit for the next 3years.
                It was only a passing fancy that brought her to the spot of land she owned. She would identify with it much like Javier Jr. had. It would completely capture her imagination and she drove home thinking of what to do with the land. When she got home she began searching her files. Maria had left her with everything about the land including Javier’s resort blueprints. When she found them she rolled them out and she knew that Javier was on to something. He just had the layout completely wrong and she began to sketch her rapidly forming idea. She didn’t sleep that night but that did not stop her from taking her plans to her developer. She had got the ball rolling but unlike the Bustamente she did not need to go and oversee the work. She had people for that. She decided that she did want to see it in progress. She would visit on the occasional weekend and for that she would stay in a relatively nearby resort. It was actually forty five minutes away but she wanted the creature comforts the resort could provide.
                Her first visit was during the second month of construction. Everything had been going fine. The foundation had been laid for the footprint of the main reception and it was in the process of being framed. The bricklayers were hard at work when she showed up on a Saturday morning. She knew this would be the case because they expected her. She knew it was never quite going at this frantic of a pace because they would be past this stage. She did her part and praised the group to the construction foreman. Then she went for a walk of the grounds. It was the rainy season and there was quite a bit of life happening as she strolled. She came across a stream of rather large red ants taking the fallen blooms of a tree to their colony. She giggled as she watched them carry blooms that were bigger than they were to the nest. She pictured a bunch of baby female ants asking for flower decorated walls and their dads went out to make that dream a reality. She knew this wasn’t what ants did but she could still enjoy the thought. She started on her walk of the grounds again and once again felt extremely pleased that she had decided to take this project on. She did notice the vultures watching between the branches at the top of the trees. When her walk was finished she went back to the resort and indulged herself by spending the rest of the day by the pool that overlooked the ocean.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The House Part 3

It had been a week and after not hearing from his son, Senor Bustamente, Known simply as Senior, headed to him. As he had been getting ready to go he had assured his wife that everything was fine. Despite the many reasons he listed for her as a possible reason their son had not been heard from in a week, he knew that Javier Bustamente Jr. was a good man. He would not leave his mother to worry about him unnecessarily. He was conscientious and cared how his actions affected others. He would not spend a week ignoring emails, text messages and phone calls ever. He did not want to admit it, even as he made the drive, but he was very scared about what he would find when he reached his son’s temporary home.

                The drive was made longer by his fears but he was finally at the town. He drove down the streets until he reached the little rental and saw his son’s car in the driveway. He couldn’t help it; he felt relieved and extremely upset to see that his son was at home. He pulled next to the car, put it in park, turned off the car and put on the emergency break in mere seconds and he flew out the door like he was still a young man bounding with energy.  He pounded on the door feeling the relief and anger come out through his fist as it banged through the door. The door did not open. His son did not welcome him in. He felt the panic start pushing all other feelings away. He began pounding on the door hard and yelling for his son to come to the door. He chose to focus on his anger and not his fear. He yelled threats and warned that he would kick the door in. He tried the handle and found it locked. He yanked and yanked on the door and began bouncing off of it.

                “No senor, no!” came a frantic cry from behind him. He turned toward the direction of the sound and he saw a small Chinese woman running across the street toward him. “No derribar la puerta! Es mi casa, tengo la llave!”

He stopped yanking on the door and waited as she came near him. She continued to speak as the distance rapidly closed between them. “Usted es el padre de Javier, ¿no? Hemos estado preocupados por él, porque no lo hemos visto desde hace semanas.” < You are Javier's father, right? We have been worried about him because we have not seen him for a week.>

“¿Cómo sabes que soy su padre?”, Senior inquired. The woman waved the question away by simply point at his face. “Why haven’t you looked on him before now?”

“He is paid up through next month and we do not really know his habits. A lot of people come to this town for privacy and we respect that. I was thinking about invading his privacy since last night and I came running when I saw him emerge from your car. As I got closer I realized you were his worried father. Then I saw you trying to break in the door and I ran across the street.” She slid the key in the door and opened the door. She moved out of his way and allowed him to be the first to enter the rental home. He called out for his son but this time it was quieter and less hopeful. It was the smell in the house that made him lose hope. It smelled like death. The tears were falling before he had even made it fully into the kitchen. He was not a man who cried easily but that smell told him it was time to mourn for his son. His pace quickened as he found the kitchen empty. The living room was empty as well but abnormally tidy. Except on the coffee table there sat a big black feather. Senior knew this type of feather very well. He used to shoot birds on his father’s farm as a boy and he knew a feather that size and shape came from the tail. He picked up and examined it and felt a wave of revulsion come through him. He was not a superstitious man, not merely because he was a very head strong man, but because he didn’t have time to waste on worrying about superstition. So the revulsion and dread inspired by that feather were very unnatural. He dropped the feather from his hand and walked slowly toward the bedroom. He feared the worst. He had no idea what his worst fears were until he walked through that closed door.

The stench in that room doubled him over and he began throwing up. He was tightly closing his eyes but he had already seen too much. He had seen the blood. It was everywhere. The dark spot in the middle of the bed where his son must have been severely wounded, the dried blood at the outskirts that was that peculiar reddish brown color and the blood splatters all over the wall. He could not move and he could not warn the woman to stay back and her blood curdling scream sliced through the air. That was when they heard movement. That was when the leathery flap of wings hit their eardrums. The woman turned and ran but Senior was too panicked to do anything but convulse with dry heaves. They tore through his body but he could not stop them even if he was aware they were happening. Something had snapped and Senior was no longer in control of his own mind. That was why he didn’t move when the vulture flew through the window and landed on the bed. It was also why he didn’t move as others emerged from the bathroom covered in gore. The police would arrive 10 minutes later and begin shooting the birds as they continued to attack Senior. They were already too late by the time they got the birds away from him.

The House part 2

Javier did not leave his house early the next day. He spent most of the night, after waking from his crying fit, awake and afraid. It was not until dawn, when he could finally see outside, that he was able to rest. The vultures from the evening before were gone and he found a wave of exhaustion hit him. When he finally emerged in the afternoon he looked like death. His face was an unhealthy pasty color and his eyes were bloodshot. He was unusually jittery and his head darted around looking for the vultures. He did not find any but that did not help him to relax.

Javier was debating just going home and managing the construction from afar. He was even considering selling his land and restarting his dream somewhere else but Javier had a stubborn streak and in the light of day he allowed the stubborn streak to dismiss his fears; sort of. He still looked like a man who was on edge and his neighbors could see it and they went inside instead of greeting him as they usually did. Had it not been for the call from his pavers today he would still be in bed; hiding from the world.

The drive was uneventful as was his arrival and wait at the job site. The pavers were late but not as late as he had expected. His experience with construction guys was that punctuality wasn’t their thing. So only being slightly late seemed like a good deal. The guys were fast and efficient and soon Javier was driving back to his rented home and he still had daylight left. As he drove in the gate of the property he let out a breath he had been holding. There were no birds. He went inside.

That was the last time the neighbors saw Javier.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The House

          The house sat vacant. It was unfinished, only brick and mortar; no doors, windows, or flooring. Nobody lived there and the locals would drive by and discuss the house. But they never stopped, never ventured in. So there it sat; unmolested, undisturbed for years. Until one day it had a visitor. I am getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning. Let’s tell the story of this partially finished home.

Javier Bustamente had a dream and it did not involve digging ditches. Except there he was in the middle of Panama digging a ditch. He stopped to wipe the sweat from his eyes before he began digging again. As he stood there he looked out at his land and knew that his dream might not involve digging ditches but sometimes you had to do the dirty work to make the dream happen. He had bought the land a year ago after scrimping and saving all his earnings since his first job. At first he was not sure what he wanted but as he continued to save everyday an idea formed; he would open a fancy resort that would bring in the international customers that were slowly trickling into his country. Javier had never done manual labor before and as he dug he soon appreciated the gardeners and cleaning crew that had always done the work around him. They worked hard for their pay and he could actually say he finally understood that. Javier hoped that soon he would be working smart for his paycheck and not hard for a paycheck. Working smarter was something his dad always talked about. His father always told him the smart worker made the money and that was why Javier had never done manual labor and that was why he learned to dream so big.

The clouds were moving in and he knew he should get some more work done before the rain storms hit. So he dug the shovel in and lifted the soil out, placing it in the ditch between his new land and the road. He needed to get this finished before tomorrow when the trucks came. His shoveling speed increased for a few minutes but he soon learned that was the path to early exhaustion and he let himself find a rhythm. He worked for the next hour before the slowly rising humidity and heat of the day forced him into his car to drive back to the small house he was renting a ways down the road. He would get back to it in the afternoon when the heat broke. He was looking forward to a shower, lunch and a short siesta. Javier had purchased a large parcel of land and he knew that it was a big undertaking but he was sure it was one that would pay off.

Javier awoke later then he had meant to but there were still several hours until night fell. As he headed toward his car he took on the service of two others, and they joined him in the ride out to the land he owned. They sat in silence as he drove until he turned on the radio. One of the men tapped lightly against his arm rest and the other man hummed along as the song approached the crescendo.  He turned off the main road and headed toward his property that was walking distance to the beach.

As he pulled into what would soon be his driveway, but was now just dirt, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. It was movement and his brain registered a wake of vultures tearing at something and as he turned towards the commotion, just for the briefest of moments, he thought he saw them ripping apart a baby. One of the men whispered “Dios” and brought his cross to his lips. Javier kept his eyes on the vultures and soon saw the characteristic face of a possum. He let out the breath he was holding and opened his car door and got out. He walked towards the birds in an attempt to shoo them and their prize away. He thought better of it when he saw several birds pause in their feeding and puff up as he got nearer. He did not want them to think he was attacking them or attempting to steal their meal. He was not sure about what vulture capabilities were but he knew they had strong beaks for tearing apart a carcass. On top of all that, though this is something he was not willing to admit, they kind of scared him on a more primal level. He backed to the car and decided to use that to get them to move. They did move but not real far away. He hopped out grabbed his shovel and scooped the remains and flung them as far as he could. The vultures watched him for a minute then left to complete their feast. Only then did his hired help emerge from the car. They did not look happy but they were ready to work. Javier put on music and they all started digging.

As the day began to slip away he stopped the work and he and 2 tired men left the work behind; the wake of vultures forgotten. He took them back to town and headed to his house to shower before heading out to find something to eat.  As he pulled into his carport he saw them watching him from the trees and surrounding buildings. He stopped the car and hit the lock button on the door. He knew it wasn’t logical. Vultures couldn’t open car doors, so locking them was a futile gesture. He was breathing hard and he saw his hands shaking. His logical brain kept telling him that these were different vultures and that there were a lot of them in this area. Unfortunately his logical side was not calling the shots right at the moment.  He looked away from the birds for a moment and looked at the door to his temporary home. It was not that far away and he could drive closer so he turned the car back on and drove up to the front door. When he opened the car door the birds took flight and he fumbled for the door. The keys were a confused jumble as he tried to remember which one opened the house. Finally he got the key in and as he pushed himself in through the door he noticed the birds were now on the house looking down at him. He slammed the door and locked it before melting to the floor against it.

Javier began to cry and he cried until he fell asleep. When he awoke later he was in the fetal position and there was the scent of urine. He decided to shower and not think about what that meant but before he moved towards the bathroom he looked outside. He had to know if they were still there. He looked outside and did not see the vultures but it was very dark and he could not quite make the leap to believing they weren’t there.  He shivered at the thought of the birds watching him from the darkness and hurriedly moved away from the window.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Thanks for your patronage!

Hey all! Thank you for reading The Money (If you didn't, ya better get reading). I am super excited that I finished it (the fans of this blog know how rare that is for me). I would love feedback on it. In the meantime I am starting a new story but want to wait until it is further along before I post it here. I am also thinking of reviving old stories from this blog and trying to finish them. We shall see how that goes considering I am a week away from going back to full time teaching.
I have another blog, that chronicles my adventures in Panama, that I would love to share with you:

I will keep writing and hopefully you keep reading. Do me a favor and turn a friend on to this blog. It needs more eyes I think.

The Money Part 15

     3 months later I was working hard cooking up some dishes for a few people who were working hard to become regulars. It was hot in the cart but I was happy to be here. Most days I was able to go almost the entire day without the shake s hitting me. I had went to a doctor about it and he had given me pills but they made me hazy and I hated that more then the shakes so I stopped taking them early on. I threw the stir fry over 2 plates of rice and took it to my customers. When I got done with them I saw her. She sat in the benches nearby watching me. It was the first time I had seen Emily since I had collapsed against the door. My breath caught and I realized that bastard Lupo was right. I had a crush on Emily. I was not clear why she was there, I had stuck to the deal that Ava had set with me and was almost paid back. Business was even starting to pick up and I figured that one payment remained but it wasn’t due until the end of this month. She motioned me over and I left the cart and walked over.
     “Looking almost healed Ray. Stir fry? Never expected you to make stir fry your specialty.”
      “It isn’t, Its stir fry weekends. My menu changes 3 times a week. I am either going to pick one if I find my popularity waning or add more daily specialties. I am having fun with it.”
       She smiles “That’s good Ray.”
        I sit there and wait for her to say something else but she doesn’t so I offer to make her something and she agrees. I go back in to the cart and have a few customers appear at the window. I add their order to hers and start cooking. A few minutes later I bring the food to them and her. I sit back down. She smiles at me and takes a bite then another. “This is good Ray.”
       I smile and then return to my cart.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Money Part 14

     I was awakened by light. I had been moved to a bedroom and the sun was shining outside. I tried to move but it hurt so I stopped. I heard the sounds of people working on what I figured could only be rebuilding the house. Saws screamed and hammers pounded. I listened to the noises for a while before I fell asleep again.
    When I woke back up Jimmy was changing my bandage and checking the wound. “It’s improving.” With that he left. My eyes closed again.
      I woke up feeling hungry and noticed it was night. I decided to move and I fought the pain as I sat up. I hoped no stitches tore as I pulled myself up. I moved slowly toward the door and down the stairs. The house looked like it had when I had last seen it. As if nothing had happened. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and caught my breath. My side hurt pretty good from the wound but it wasn’t doing anything but slowing me down.
     “So you are up and at it.” I heard her voice before I saw here. She stood in the shadows. “Emily isn’t here. She left you with me. Does that frighten you Ray?”
       I looked at her for a moment and assess where I am and all that has happened since we last spoke. “No Ava. I am not afraid of you anymore. You will do what you need to do and as soon as that is done I will do what I need to do.”
    “What do you need to do Ray?”
     “Go home. Open that restaurant and forget the people I helped kill.” I looked at her silhouette. “Try to regain some normalcy and then return the money I still owe you.”
       She laughed. “Glad to see you hadn’t forgotten Ray.” She turned and disappeared down a darkened hallway.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Money Part 13

    When we arrived at the shed, I realized that it was bigger than I expected. I also realized it was more of a bunker. It had 2 stories, one was completely below ground. It had food, water, ammo, and several bed rolls. Near the ammo was a dumbwaiter which I assumed was used to supply the people up top. The second story was supported by metal girders and the base of that floor was metal. I walked up metal stairs to what was the ground floor and I looked around. The walls were adobe brick and they had little gun ports in various places. Including a few in the top where an attic might be. 
   “Ray, these walls are thick. They have a layer of the bricks you see, ¼ inch steel, and another layer of bricks before the metal siding. We built it for our last stand and hoped never to use it.” She looked at me in silence for a bit before pointing upstairs. “You claim you wanted high ground and there it is. Get situated fast. Take extra ammo up there as well. We will be in for quite a fire fight.”
    I did as I was told. Making several trips up the stairs as the pops of the guns outside grew in intensity. I looked down at the others below watching as they readied their stations. Emily got everyone’s attention. “We still have video down here so resist the urge to peek out. If we can keep them from discovering where we are we may turn that to our advantage. So far they have not breached our inner tunnel and we hope that stays secure but we are completely sealed in at this time. We will not open the door until all is clear, understood?” 
    Everyone, except me acknowledged the order. “Ray, are you going to be a problem?” All eyes turned to me and I heard several safeties click off.
   “No ma'am.”
   “Then let me hear that you understand that no one leaves this structure until we are clear.”
   “I understand ma'am. Now if you don’t mind I am going to recheck my weapon.”
   “Emily! They are heading our way!” Ava yelled as she ran up from below.
   “Get ready and wait for my order!” Emily hollered as she swapped places with Ava. Ava took the spot directly below me and began rechecking her weapon. She looked up at me and nodded. It was not a nod of solidarity more a nod of understanding. I returned the nod and knew that if things went wrong she was shooting me first.
   “Open the portals and take aim. Fire only if you have a clear shot.” 
    I opened the port and slid the gun in. Luckily it was Washington because no sun could make the barrel shine in someone’s eye; so far so good. I looked through the sights and slowly scanned the hill. I came across one of the guys who had delighted in torturing during that month of training. I breathed in and out very slowly and pulled the trigger. He went down and didn’t move. Bullets strafed my position and I closed the port and moved one to the right. I had 3 ports and I planned to make use of all of them. I opened the port and slid the barrel through and was rewarded with more bullets flying at me. I looked through the sites anyway and tracked down to the first armed idiot I saw and took him down.  I continued looking through the sights knowing I had one bullet left before I needed to reload. That was when I saw Wall and I hesitated. I knew he was there but had hoped not to find him in my sights. I stared at him for a while but did not fire. He left my line of vision, firing as he went and I scanned again. That was when I saw him and he seemed to be staring right at me. “Lupo” I muttered. A grin cracked his face and it made me look away. I looked down and saw everyone was busy fighting for their lives and I had let 2 targets pass. One was a friend of sorts and the other one scared me into inaction. I sat there looking for a second longer and turned around willing myself to take out Lupo but he was no longer there.
   I went back to work scanning the lawn before me and fired at a person, winging them. His gun arm flew back and his gun, still firing, shot a person behind him. I saw Lupo again and excitedly pulled the trigger to hear it ‘click’. I had dry fired at Lupo and he turned and looked at me with that same smile. Then he started laughing before shooting the guy I had winged.
   I pulled the rifle back and shook as I tried to reload. I dropped the bullet twice before I managed to load it in. and had a similarly hard time loading the next 2. I sat there shaking as the battle continued.
   “Ray, come down! I am sending someone else up. Go help Jimmy with the ammo reloads until you get control!” Ava barked and I did as I was told. I rushed down the stairs, passing Emily’s control station as I did. She and two others were hard at work mapping the fight and discussing the explosives and the appropriate time to use them.
    Jimmy was sweating as he loaded the dumbwaiter, closed the door and pulled the rope to raise it. “Let me help Jimmy. I started being more of a hindrance up there then a help and was told to come down until I got my shakes under control.”
    Jimmy turned his bandaged head at me with a scowl and said, “Sure thing.” Then walked past me and sat to watch me struggle to keep up with the orders from above. I lost myself in the work and was soon able to tune out the scowl directed at me by Jimmy. Emily tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for Jimmy to resume his duties. “We have an issue.”
   I nodded stupidly, still expecting to be shot.
  “We have explosives set around the yard that would help at this point but nobody remembered to arm it. I need you to prove yourself and go back and arm it. It’s back through the hall about halfway. You will find a door and this key opens it.” She pressed the key into my hands. “The panel is at the back of that room and is inside a red panel. Turn the key in that panel and hit the button there. Then come straight back. Knock quickly 7 times to be let back in. Anything else will be met with bullets” She handed me my pistol, opened the giant bank safe door, pushed me through backwards and then slammed the door in my face.
    I heard the locks being applied and I slowly turned to look down a mostly dark hall. The emergency lighting was still on and it flickered a lot. Most of the hall was barely luminated. I started walking down the hall but I felt uneasy and I kept looking into every nook and cranny. I made it to the door in question and opened the door. It was dark inside and my unease increased but I was determined to do my task. I entered the room and the door slammed shut behind me and a flashlight beam blinded me. “Ray…. so good of you to visit.” His voice was like giant scales scraping across concrete. I stopped breathing.
   “Breathe Ray.” I did. “I wondered when I would see you again.” My gun was tucked in my belt in the small of my back. I was not able to go for it. He switched his light beam to a lantern and I could see his smile. A whimper escaped my lips. “She sent you here to arm the explosives? How careless of her to forget to arm them. Do you like her Ray? Is that why you betrayed me? Was it a crush? She is quite stunning really, I can see the attraction. Ray you are not a smart man. If you had just walked away you would be halfway back to Portland and ready to start your little business. Instead you stayed and didn’t take the shot when you had it.” He noted my surprise. “Yes I knew it was you. Then you had it again but no shot was fired. What did you forget to load the weapon? I finished off that man you maimed. You are a better shot then that Ray. I should know I trained you myself.”
   “Enough!” I felt furious and incredibly unbelievably scared. “What is the point of this!? Why are you attacking? What do they mean to you? Did she spurn your advances you pathetic piece of….”
    He was on his feet and had his hands around my throat. “Careful Ray, you don’t want to finish that statement.” One of my hands grasped his and the other slowly moved to my gun. He tossed me by my neck into the wall with the red panel. I crumpled to the ground and finally grasped the gun.
   “You are the pathetic love sick pup, Ray. She took over part of my territory and it is past time to take it back. This would have been harder without your help; so I feel like I owe you something but I am not sure that extends to your insolence. You can use that on these women but not on Lupo.” He glared at me but the look had less power. I was past fear at this point. I was full into survival mode. He had pushed me far enough to make me dangerous. Blood started obscuring my vision I must have been cut when I hit the wall. I shifted the gun out of my belt and kept my thumb hovering above the safety.
    “You are not turning on the explosives Ray. Instead you will lead me back to that door and get me inside.” He said calmly as he reached down yanking me up by my shirt. I pulled the weapon and fired.
    He dropped me and my ears rang. I had left my ear protection by Jimmy and that shot had been ear splitting. I turned and saw Lupo was bleeding from the gut. He leaned against a wall and smiled at me, “This changes nothing Ray.”I read the words more then I heard them. He knocked the gun out of my hand and pushed me towards the door. I looked back and he was in fact bleeding but he only looked slightly irritated by it. He continued to push me back to the door that held everyone behind it. 
    “Knock Ray, get her to open it.”
    “She wanted 5 quick knocks” I lied.
    “Get to it then.”He pushed my gun into my back. So I knocked 5 times.
     A speaker by the door came on “Hold on Ray, I am still having trouble with the lock controls because of the backup power.” Lupo nudged me and I pushed the button to talk “No problem. I would like to get in soon though this hall is creepy.” I released the button.
    “Ray, it should open in 7 seconds.”  She said back and I instinctively dropped to the floor as the door swung open and a barrage of bullets was our greeting. Lupo was hit by a lot of them and a few grazed me but I stayed down as Lupo fell. When the firing stopped I stood up and ran back down the hallway and into the room to activate the explosives. Then I hustled back to where Emily waited for me with an open door. She ushered me in, I leapt over Lupo's body, and then she slammed the door and reengaged the locks before giving the order to arm and fire the explosives. I watched the screens as explosions took dozens down, including Wall. We waited impatiently for the smoke to clear and saw the few remaining retreat. “Let’s take back our home!” Emily yelled and her people rushed outside as she kept watch. I stayed there feeling exhausted and I went to lean back against the door and fell into it instead. I felt a little woozy and realized I was bleeding pretty good. One of those bullets meant for Lupo must have hit me instead. “Oh damn! Jimmy, Ray is down! I know he isn’t your favorite person right now but I want you to help him!”
    My eyes felt heavy and I found myself fighting to keep them open. “Ray!” Jimmy kept yelling at me. Why did he keep yelling? “Ray! Stay with me!” He slapped me when my eyes closed. “Ow, Jimmy, knock it off. I am tired. Why are you so orange Jimmy?” He slapped me again. “You are lucky Emily cares if you die or I would let you close your eyes. Hey! Em! I got the bullet out and the bleeding is slowing. I am going to need to sew him up. Nothing super important was hit. Once I patch him up I am putting him to sleep for a while.” He pulled out the needle and I squirmed in response. “Knock it off Ray.” After a few minutes he put a needle in my arm and finally let me close my eyes.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Money Part 12

    It seemed like forever had gone by and then I was having someone yelling my name in my ear. I jerked awake and felt my neck pop and slowly all kinds of aches and pains became apparent to me. I was still in the chair from the night before but the boss guy was no longer oozing evil at me. I looked toward the source of the noise and saw the walking wall and his expression was still severe. He waited for me to collect myself a bit and get moving but started talking when I just sat there instead. “Diamond did good last night.” 
   “So am I off the hook?” 
    “Not so fast Sunshine. She did good considering you goofed her up for part of the night. She came in about 230, about 70 less than a Sunshine free evening.”
     I realized Sunshine was my new name, I’d heard it before. A name like Ray can cause some folks to get creative. I was excited though because 70 didn’t sound so bad. “I think I have 80 in my pocket!” I said triumphantly. The Wall just laughed at me. I wasn’t in on the joke but my stomach rolled and I knew when he explained I wouldn’t like the answer. 
   “Add the word thousand to the end of those words.” I was officially screwed and Wall sat there chuckling about it.

   “Wait! Seventy thousand! You only borrowed fifteen thousand! How did you pay the rest!?”

   “Listen Oompah, I am telling you the details right now so how about you shut up and let me do it.” Jimmy’s face flashed anger, and Emily’s flashed 'Really Ray?', and then Jimmy lunged at me. I crashed the cup of sand into his face. He crumpled but I wasn’t done I started wailing on him with both hands and feet. That was when Ava came in and tried to kick me but I was ready and I yanked her leg up and she fell on her butt in front of Emily. I bolted out the door and locked it behind me.
    “We have the key Ray!” Emily called from inside. 
    “I know Emily.” And I ran out another door locking it as I went. I ran through several parts of the house, slowly going up, while closing and locking doors that were meant to keep people below trapped.  I found myself back at the ground floor and I ran toward the door and flung it open and then doubled back and went upstairs, grabbing a phone I saw on the way. I hid in a bathroom that faced out toward the road coming in and I punched in the number that I hated calling. His voice, gravelly in my ear, came leaking through the speaker. I began shivering again and then, shakily, I told him what I saw outside the window. “I know the place, Ray. Keep them all there and try not to die. Or do I don’t really care just keep them there.” He disconnected and I continued to shake. 
    I heard a commotion from downstairs and a growl of rage that I assumed was Ava. “You go look outside Ava. I need to stop Jimmy’s bleeding.” I was right about the growl. I felt bad suddenly knowing what I had just brought down on them. I felt bad about Jimmy, I hadn’t wanted him all bloody but of course Ava had given me glass and not plastic. For some reason I had always envisioned this going along with plastic disposable glasses. I mean who gives a captive guy actual glass? Ava does, probably because Ava wanted me to fight. She will get her fight: I was sure of that. 
    “Ray! You took my phone!” Emily yelled. “I can find you by simply calling myself with Jimmy’s phone. If you aren’t here I can use Ava’s to get a GPS on you.” 
     I smiled at her warning. I looked outside and saw Ava outside looking at all the cars, when she started running up the road I opened the window and looked outside. I looked up and cold see the roof was within reach. So I climbed out and up and lay down on the back side of the slope. I then silenced Emily’s phone. I was amazed she had not set a passkey on this device. I sat there and began playing angry birds when she finally called. “Damn it Ray” was how she started the call. “What did you do that for?”

   “I’m sorry Emily. I really am but Jimmy had a point; I never borrowed that much from you guys. I did actually spend the money on a business like I said originally. I have a little cart ready to find a new home and for me to start cooking.”

    “Then why did you tell this stupid story about an evil guy? Why didn’t you tell your actual business story?” Was the first story the truth?”

    “No, Emily it wasn’t. The second story is only halfway done. The rest of it is going to make you kill me.”

    “Tell me the rest Ray.”

    “After I found out how much I owed I was returned to my hotel room. The Wall had taken all my information down and had instructed me to call them even if I simply changed jobs within the same company. I owed them a big favor. I told my friends some stupid story about having to pay for Diamond’s time and about being at a strip club with Wall until the morning. They were glad I was alive and they decided to believe me. Even though I reeked of sweat and couldn’t stop shaking. When I got back home my life was pretty normal except for the occasional call or visit from Wall. He wasn’t too bad of a guy. I even started going out with him when he came around but we always knew why he was there. I owed that favor but the boss never seemed to be ready to collect. I started daydreaming about cooking around this time and Wall encouraged me. As did all those friends who I mentioned before. I began making plans and saving money, people did invest in my cart idea. Not a lot but enough money to get the cart and that was when I got a call from the boss.”

    “Ray, who is the boss? Doesn’t he have a name?” I could hear a sound of trepidation in the question.

    “Of course he has a name. Who doesn’t have a name but I did not know it at the time. Can I continue?”

    “Ray tell me his name.”

    “I can’t Emily, not yet. I can stop talking and you will never learn or you can let me continue." I waited for her acknowledgement and after a few seconds of silence I continued. "He called me on the phone and I started to shake and even whimper as I heard his gravelly voice. He knew what I could do to get my business going. He gave me Jimmy’s number and told me how to get the money. Then he reminded me that I still owed him a favor. I sat there for a long time shivering and laying in the fetal position. The thing about it is he had never done a damn thing to make me react that way. He hadn’t beaten me, he hadn’t really given me a spelled out threat and his thugs were nothing but courteous to me when we interacted. Except there I was nearly crying on the floor of my apartment. When I finally stopped shaking I made the call and I met up with Jimmy. A few days later I had your money in hand. I called the Wall and he said “Do the cart thing with it.” So I did, I was happily working away and doing it well within the time frame we had discussed I was about a week away from opening when I got another call that ended with me curled on the floor but this time I was crying. I was crying because I believed this time I would die. I was going back to Vegas. I cancelled the move to the cart spot I had rented and I got on a plane. I was greeted at an airport by Wall who took me to a giant patch of land outside of Vegas. We drove for a while along the dirt road of that land until we crested a small hill. On the other side of that land was a giant compound. It looked like a comfy compound with swimming pools and satellite dishes but those walls were made to keep people out and some people in. When we approached guards opened a metal white gate and then closed and locked it when we got through. Wall looked at me and said “Game face, Sunshine” and we got out of the car. I kept stride with him as my mind wandered through several scenarios and suddenly we were at the pool where a few beautiful women were swimming. Wall led me to a table and had me sit before he left. I stared at the girls swimming in the pool and felt confusion settle over me. That was when I felt it. A shiver ran up my spine and I looked around but until I looked up at the balcony I did not see him. When my eyes found his he motioned for me to come up and I did as I was told. He pointed at a chair and I sat down.

    “Ray, good to see you again.” His gravelly voice flowed through my head and I shivered again.

     “Thank you sir.” I said.

     “Ah, yes. I never gave you my name did I Ray. Since you are about to make good on that favor it seems only fitting to reveal it to you.  You can call me Lupo.”

     I heard Emily suck in a breath as I said his name and I felt tears come to my eyes.I knew that she finally knew what was coming and how badly I had betrayed he

    “Damn it Ray! Lupo!?” She cursed for a bit then yelled at Jimmy to get out the guns, get Ava back and call for backup. “What did he want Ray!? Finish you damn story!”

    “I’m sorry Emily. I am but what he wanted was you and your sister.”

     “I figured that part out Ray! Did you tell him where I lived?!”

     “No but I gave him a description of the area.”

     “Shit!” That was the first time Emily had cussed in my presence and its rarity hit me hard.
     “He told me to become delinquent and not pay until you had to send people for me. He then told me to escape every time I was caught so that you had them bring me here. That when I got there I had to make one call and my slate was clean. I had never met you before and until I did I figured you were like him and I rationalized it.”
    “You have a survival instinct Ray and I understand that but you should get off the damn roof and come down here and load up because he will kill you too.”

     “I know.”

     “Not surprised by me knowing where you are?” I heard the sounds of clips sliding into guns in the background.

     “No. You’re a smart woman. I’m coming down but listen to the rest as I do. Maybe if you hear the rest you won’t put a bullet in me when I come downstairs. Lupo had his guys train me for a month while Jimmy kept trying to track me down. I ignored his calls as I was instructed and made stupid sad little texts in reply. I ran, did pushups, fought, and practiced shooting all day every day for a month. I came back ready to do my part. Letting myself believe that eventually my cart would open for business and I would be cooking for happy customers. Even though I had rose colored glasses on I took some precautions when I got back. I learned a lot about them. I learned what they did in siege situations and while I was on the roof talking to you I scoped your land. I have a suggestion…” Cold steel at my temple stopped my words.

    “Continue talking Ray.” Emily said

    “Uh….. I always imagined Ava being the one with a gun to my head. Alas it could only be you. I suggest we, or you, go to the tree line, where the little shed is, at the back of the property. Then we, or you, dig in there and wait. There is only one way to get there and you will see them coming. You can take them down as they come. I am a decent shot and I could take the roof.” She cocks the gun. “If you recall, it was you who made the point that I will be killed by Lupo as well. I could have stayed upstairs on the roof letting you feel like you had me trapped. I could still be telling you the story and killing time. So either shoot me or give me a gun because we don’t have time for this crap!”

    She pulled the gun away and uncocked it. I turned and saw the revolver in her hand and let the breath out I had held involuntarily. She opened a door I had not seen before and led me into the room where 20 people were loading up and prepping for battle. Jimmy’s bandaged face scowled at me and Ava somehow looked even madder. She stomped toward me and thrust a rifle and a pistol in my hand; then slapped me hard across the face. I nodded then walked out heading to the spot I described before, while simultaneously checking the safety and the magazines on the gun. Emily grabbed my shoulder, “Hold it, the spot you describe can be reached by going back down stairs and you need to carry more weapons then that. Lupo is definitely coming prepared. I stepped back in and she shut the door and then slapped all the locks in place. A buzzer went off and the security screen I had failed to notice among the screens showed a few big vans at the gate. I looked at more screens and saw the rooftop and envisioned myself sitting there chatting while she watched me. “Yeah, you were actually better hidden before you climbed onto the roof.”

    I noticed that her people were carrying weapons through a door in the back and I grabbed some and followed along. As we walked I saw little hideout rooms where people sat waiting for the oncoming attack. I walked further to where a giant stockpile of weapons was being set up and handed my weapons over except for the rifle and pistol. I walked back upstairs and watched as people stopped everything when the phone rang. Emily picked up the phone, listened and then handed it to me. It was Wall “You told them didn’t you. Lupo knew you would. I was hoping he was wrong. It was nice knowing you. We are coming in now.” and the power went out. I dropped the phone and started to freak when the emergency lights went on. The room erupted in chaos and soon I found myself pushed along with people running down the stairs. We heard small explosions. “The gate is down!” someone yelled.
    I threw the rifle sling over my shoulder and grabbed another gun from the table I found myself standing at. It was a 45 and had a nice heft to it. Suddenly I found myself flung around by Ava. “We are going with your plan. Let’s get moving.” She ran off and I fell in behind her. As I ran I imagined Lupo beating us there. I shook nearly uncontrollably the entire way.