PART 3

ELLE KARMA

Chapter 1

 

The question hangs there in the air. It’s quiet and uncomfortable and no one seems to want to be the first one to speak. After a couple moments I can’t remember if they’re waiting for me to talk or not. Finally I take a breath.

“I think-”

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” Elle says flatly.

I look up and meet her eyes. She looks at me cold, stoic and unfriendly.

“Shouldn’t what?” I ask.

“Think.”

“Elle,” Allie cuts in.

“No Allie,” She says. “I’m serious. If I was you Mal, I wouldn’t think about anything. It seems to me that your fucking thinking is what got us into this fucking situation in the first place. Maybe thinking isn’t your strong suit.”

I let out a deep breath.

“I need to talk to Mica,” I say.

Elle lets out a laugh like a bomb going off.

“You most certainly do not,” she says with a forcefulness I’ve never heard from her before.

“Elle,” Allie starts again, but again Elle cuts her off at the knees.

“No way Allie. No way! We just got out from under that bitch.”

“Does it feel like you’re out?” Allie asks bluntly.

Elle stares at her, anger smouldering in her eyes.

“She burn down our home.” Elle says, the forcefulness having left her voice. Now she sounds pleading, vulnerable, frightened even. “She sent people to our home to kill us. More than that. To kill everyone. She’s mad at Mal so she tries to kill innocent people.”

“What?” I say. “What are you talking about Elle.”

“They blew up our building Mal. Our building. We’re not the only ones who lost everything. I can’t believe I have to remind you of that. Other people could have died. Other people lost their homes.”

She was getting frantic again.

“You may have been the target Mal, but what they did, how they did it. They could have killed a lot of people.”

“That’s true,” I admit and suddenly there’s something needling around in my brain. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something that itches. Something that feels wrong. Something about what Elle said makes me feel, somehow off. I start rolling it over, trying to isolate it. “That’s true,” I say again.

“I’m still not so certain it actually was Mica though,” Allie says.

“Seriously Allie?” Elle says baffled. “After everything you’ve told me about Mica and what she’s done. What she’s had you do,” she says throwing an open hand in my direction. “All of that and now you’re saying she isn’t responsible for this?”

Allie has an apologetic look on her face.

“So what then? If it’s not Mica than who? Who Goddammit? Com-Ed? Did you forget to pay the fucking electric bill Mal?”

“Elle,” I say, but she won’t hear it.

“No, oh my God no! No to both of you. I can’t take this anymore. You’re both hopeless. I don’t know if you’re delusional or just stupid, but I can’t do this. I- I just can’t-”

Elle is standing now, pacing the room and dragging her nails through her long auburn hair like stone plows through spring soil. Her eyes are frantic and her body is shaking like she just came down with sudden onset Parkinson’s Disease.

“I forbid it!” she shouts at me. “Do you hear me? I fucking forbid it. I should be divorcing you right now. Fuck! I’m a prosecutor, I should be turning you into the police right now.”

She stops moving and plants herself in the center of the room. She takes a deep breath and lowers her voice to a soft growl.

“I love you, for fuck knows why, but I do. So I’m not leaving you, and I’m not turning you in. Yet. I’m giving you a chance to make this right. To fix this and fix our lives, but that chance is predicated on you never ever, fucking ever, seeing Mica again.”

She stops. She gulps down air and lets her body relax a little. She looks, for a moment, like one of those plastic and string figures that collapses when you squeeze the base if you squeezed it just a little bit.

Allie and I sit motionless staring at the wild eyed creature standing in front of us. Elle straightens herself up, smooths out her hair and finds a way to center herself. She cocks her head and puts on a shallow plastic smile.

“Do I make myself clear?” she asks calmly.

Allie and I nod without making a sound.

“Good,” Elle says. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get a tube of cookie dough.”

Elle turns, runs her hands over her suit, rolls her shoulders slightly, cracks her neck and walks out the door. A moment later we hear her car start in the driveway and disappear down the road.

Allie and I are still sitting motionless and silent in her living room.

“Malcolm,” she says finally.

“Yeah?” I say without looking at her.

“You need to go see Mica right away.”

“Yeah,” I agree.

“Right away.”

“Yeah.”


Chapter 2

 

Elle drove with intensity. Her foot lay like a stone on the gas pedal and her arms jerked wildly at the steering wheel and gear shift lever. The car cut through the city on diagonal streets then wound around it’s edge on the long waterfront drive. She kept the speed up and took every shortcut available to move herself towards her goal.

And what was that goal? Well right now she wasn’t entirely sure. Her world was in shambles. Her marriage was a mess, her job at risk, and even her life itself in jeopardy. The solution to it all was unclear. Even trying to think about it made her slip into an anxious sweat. Ultimately she didn’t see any way of closing this business, not without someone ending up dead.

Malcolm, the police, they both thought that the explosion at their building had been intended to kill. Malcolm saw himself as the target of a savage mob boss determined to end him for trying to get out of the organization. The cops thought it was Malcolm trying to, who knows what. Their line of thinking was less clear, but what else could you expect from wet behind the ears suburban cops that never had to look into anything more complicated than a stolen ten speed bicycle. Perhaps they thought he was trying to kill her.

“Ha!” she laughed out loud.

That was absurd. Malcolm may have been a killer, but he was no murderer and the distinction is as wide as the Pacific Ocean. He could no more have killed Elle than he could have sucked his own cock, and she had made many efforts to assure he’d never have to think of trying either.

The idea that the explosion was intended to kill either of them was equally absurd to her, but she was a prosecutor and was trained to look at things differently. If it had been city cops, city detectives, investigating the explosion they would have been able to tell right away that the bombing was more of a message than an actual attempt. People with the cunning and ability to set off a bomb like that don’t make mistakes. They knew that Malcolm wasn’t in the building when they set it off. They knew he was out, but nearby. They knew he would see it.

All that aside though, this was not the time to try and put together answers or plan for the future. Right now her focus wasn’t on trying to resolve the problems, she wouldn’t be able to do that alone. She would need help, guidance, advice, and ultimately instructions. No, what she needed now was comfort. Comfort and protection. What she needed now was home.

She swung the wheel hard and the car shrieked and fishtailed onto a narrow street just a few blocks from the nicer of the two ballparks in the city. It was dark and lined with cars on both sides. She gunned the engine and let her German luxury car sail over the speedbumps in the road. She swung it again pointing the nose down an ancient concrete ally that was mostly crumbled to gravel now and slammed on the breaks.

She sat, the car still running, between two medium sized brick apartment buildings and let herself breathe. She closed her eyes. She pictured a warm quiet place. A place of safety and comfort. A place where she could cry, scream, let out all her anger and frustration. A place to recollect herself and find the strength she would need to take on the next steps. 

She looked out the passenger window at the red brick wall of her father’s building. She imagined his kitchen all amber in the soft incandescent glow of forty watt lightbulbs. She imagined the comforting smells of something savory in the oven and a glass of plummy red wine in a glass in her hand. The reassuring feeling of her fathers large hands on her shoulders and his deep gravely voice telling her it would all be okay.

She cut the engine and stepped out of the car. She composed herself again and walked around the building to the front door. This building, like every other one on the block, had four floors and a sublevel. Each floor had two flats except the sublevel which had three studios. Next to the front door was a row of eleven small black buttons, each with a small white card next to it with a name scribbled in handwritten blue ink. She scanned through them, found the button labeled “D. Lorah” and pressed it.

<span style=”font-weight:400;” <chapter=”” 3

 

Chapter 3

I sat silently at the bar sipping a neat bourbon and spinning my wedding ring on my finger. It’s an aimless habit and I think most men do it. Most married men. When they have something troubling on their minds. I have such troubling things. Things that are hanging on me, gnawing at me, drowning me in angst and unrest.

Two days ago I had a job. It was a bad job and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like what it made me do and I didn’t like how it made me feel. I didn’t like the person I had to be when I did it, but it was a job and I imagine that a lot of folks, regular people I mean, I imagine they don’t all like their jobs either so I try to keep a little perspective on the matter. I had a shitty job but it came with financial security, stability, and personal safety. I also had a dead sexy wife who was successful, rich-ish, and for reasons unknown, crazy about me. Things were okay. Not perfect mind you, but okay.

But now here I am, drinking at a bar I’ve already been kicked out of once this week waiting for a person who may or may not want me dead, and being investigated by the cops for a crime that I legitimately did not commit. Sure, I may be responsible for it tangentially speaking, but I didn’t actually do the thing, ya know.

And the worst part of it is, I’d love to shake my head and act like I can’t figure out how any of this is happening, but I can’t do that. I know the score, and if I had two working brain cells I could have seen it coming. I knew when I walked in that morning that no one quit Mica. No one did that job then just left and went and did whatever. I knew it then so I can’t act surprised now.

But that’s the rub. I do feel surprised. Something about the way Mica let me go that day, the way she looked at me. I really thought that was it. I really thought I was out.

Then the bomb. Something sits wrong with me about that too. Something about what Elle said. It could have killed a lot of people. Even if I was the target, it *could have* killed more. Innocent people. That wasn’t Mica’s style. My jobs have always been laid out very specifically, very planned out. The details were worked out for me; timelines, locations, even methods. Always planned with the lowest impact on the outside world. Never a witness to silence or an innocent bystander. Never a single piece of collateral damage. Never once a person hurt that wasn’t the intended target. Never a person who didn’t have it coming.

But that’s not true. The Phillips Kid. My last job. Elle had said he was a witness. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was a witness to his sister’s attack and he was going to testify against the assailant.  Mica had sent him after an innocent kid. That wasn’t like her, and neither was the bomb.

I’ve used a lot of methods to kill a lot of people. I’m not proud of that, and if I could change my life and take it all back I would. If I could go back to that moment when I was nineteen and let that disgusting shitsack in that tower of roaches kill me dead, I would take that chance in a heartbeat. I’m not proud of the things I’ve done. I justify it by telling myself that these things need doing, but deep down I know it’s not true. I know that killing a bad guy is exactly the same as killing a good one and the games we play to tell ourselves it’s not are just that; games. I know it’s all crap and that I’m no better than a toilet, but that said, in all the years and all the times I’ve killed, I’ve never killed with a bomb.

I’ve shot people with all manner of guns. I’ve stabbed and cut men and women. I’ve smothered and strangled and poisoned adults and even teenagers, and when the situation called for it, I’ve beaten men to death with my bare hands, but I’ve never, not ever, blown someone up. Neither has anyone else working for Mica as far as I know. I’ve never really given it much thought until now, but when I think about it, it’s true. I’ve never been asked to use an explosive of any kind before and it seems so clear why.

Bombs are messy and they attract attention. Gunfire is loud, people notice it, but they run away from it. No one hears shots fired and runs to see what’s happening. An explosion though, when people hear that bang and see that fireball, they all come sprinting to see what’s burning. Worse than the attention though is the mess. You never know what’s going to happen with a bomb. You have to be far away when it goes off, far enough at least that you don’t go up with it. Distance robs you of control. You can’t control who you hit. You never know who’s going to be walking by when it’s time to set the damn thing off. You don’t know if your target is going to be with somebody else. It’s true for cars, offices, houses, and especially appartments.

Mica would not have set a bomb. Mica would not have risked hurting others, and Mica would not have sent me after that Phillips kid. Not on purpose. Not knowing who he was. That’s two events in two days. Two times that someone has died or almost died under circumstances outside of Mica’s M.O. I’m starting to think these two things are connected. Unfortunately the only person who can confirm it is unavailable at the moment.

I feel a light hand on my shoulder and I jump.

“Whoa there tiger,” Mica’s soft voice says. 

I turn and see her back in her usual uniform. Barefoot in soft denim bell bottom jeans and a loose fitting cotton shirt that’s hanging off one shoulder.

“Didn’t I already kick you out of here yesterday. And didn’t I just bail your ass out of jail today and tell you to get the fuck out of Dodge? You’re not very good at following instructions Malcolm.”

I lean back in my bar stool and take the rest of my drink in one swallow.

“Who is Kelly Phillips?” I ask dryly.

Mica’s face hardens and her body stiffens up. She leans back against the stool behind her and lets out a long sigh.

“Shit,” she whispers.

I nod, and she pulls herself up on the stool and leans in towards me.

“Mal,” she says seriously, “do you have a smoke?”

Chapter 4

Her father’s home was nice, but not what she’d grown up in. She was eight when her parents had split up and her dad had moved out of their home and into a small studio apartment. Elle could remember those days, the tension in the home and the endless fighting. Her mother had said terrible things about him after that, awful things that Elle had never believed.

Her father had always tried to be a good man. He had never know his father. He had left him and his mother when he was only three years old and his mother had had to work two or sometimes three jobs at a time just to keep them fed and clothed. Don had vowed from childhood that he would be better. That he would help people and take care of his family at any cost. He had passed up football scholarships at prestigious universities so that he could go to the Acadamy and become a police officer. He had dreams of working his way up in the force to a position of leadership so that he could change the organization, make it more focused on serving the people and helping out in poorer communities. All he had ever wanted was to make the world a better place.

It was ironic, she thought as she sat in his warm but sparce living room, that helping someone out, someone who couldn’t help themselves, was how it all fell apart for him. She remembered that night. She rememberd how he wept and how her mother shouted. She remembered her mom’s anger when he left the force, and when she found out what he was doing and who he was working for. She remembered how she called him a coward and a fraud and forbid him to see his own daughter. It wasn’t until much later, when she learned the whole truth, that she understood and saw her father for real for the first time.

Don walked into the room carying a tray with two glasses of red wine and a plate of Triscuts and soft cheese. He set it down on a low coffee table in front of Elle and handed her one of the glasses. She smiled softly in appreciation and took it, setting aside her small clutch purse.

He lifted a glass for himself and walked across the small room to a high backed leather chair and sank himself into it like an old habit. They sat like that for a while, silently sipping their wine and inspecting each other as if from a long absence. Elle shifted in her seat and pulled her legs up onto the sofa.

“It’s good to see you sweetheart,” Don said finally.

Elle looked him in the eyes, then diverted her attention to the floor.

“Yeah, I miss you dad.”

“I miss you too,” he said. “But coming here is a bad idea. You know that. What if she found out? What if- what if Mal found out? How would you explain that?”

Elle was already nodding her head.

“I know,” she said. “I know, I know, but-“

He stared at her with sympathy and understanding, but with an undertone of disaproval that only a parent knows how to weave in.

“I didn’t know where else to go. I don’t know what to do. Everything’s gone to shit and I don’t see any way out of it.”

Her father nodded his head and sipped his wine. There was another pregnant pause before he leaned back in his chair.

“What happened with the bomb?” he asked.

Elle straightened up and put her feet back on the floor. She set her glass down and picked up her purse. She stood and began pacing the space, her finger absently rubbing at the gold clasp fastener on the clutch. Her father set his glass down as well and folded his hands in his lap.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Elle said harsher than she intended to. “I don’t know.”

“That was supposed to be a contingancy, a last resort,” he said exactly like a father reprimanding a daughter.

“I know dad!” she snapped. “You’re not hearing me. It wasn’t me! I didn’t do it!”

He leaned forward with a frown.

“You didn’t set it off?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to say.”

Don tilted his head in thought.

“Was it an accident?”

Elle shook hers in the negative.

“No! It was called in. Called in on a cell spoofing Mal’s signal.”

“But who else knew it was there? You didn’t tell anyone you planted it? Who even knew it existed?”

Elle was still shaking her head.

“That’s just it dad. No one. Who would I tell. It’s just you me and her.”

Don let out a long sigh. He wiped his face whit his palms and put his hands on the arms of the chair.

“So then you think it’s her? You think she was trying to kill him?”

Elle shook her head.

“No. No dad, she doesn’t make mistakes. If she wanted him dead he’d be dead. She never misses.”

“So?” he said drawing out the voul.

“So, I think it was her, but I think it was a message. I think it was a message for me.”

Don squirmed.

“You think she wants you to kill him? That doesn’t sound right. She’s never asked you to do anything like that before, has she?”

Elle shook her head.

“No, not Mal. Well, not just Mal. I think she wants the whole thing shut down. The whole group. I think she’s closing up shop.”

Her father looked at her skeptically.

“You mean-“

Elle nodded.

“Did she actually tell you this?”

Elle sat back down. She was rigid, nervous, her knees pressed tightly together and her hands white knuckled around her small purse.

“A long time ago,” she said. “Before Mal, before anything really. Well anything involving me. Sometime in high school I think. She didn’t say anything explicitly, but she told me a story. It was weird and I didn’t really understand at the time, but it stuck with me. Then later on, when she brought me into the, well, whatever, sometimes I’d think about it and it started to make a little more sense. It wasn’t until yesterday that I really understood though.”

Elle lowered her head and went quiet. She was very still.

“This story,” Don said. “It was about you killing Mica?”

Elle looked up at her dad with tears in her eyes. She shook her head.

“No,” she said.

The gun went off and the small blue clutch fell to the floor open. She felt the recoil move up through her wrists and elbows and disperse into her shoulders and back. The acrid smell of gunpowder filled the space and her father fell forward out of the now blood soaked chair and onto the floor.

Elle wept. She sat on the sofa sobbing. Feeling the sharp pains of shame and regret stabbing at her heart and lungs. She wept until her eyes burned and her bones ached. Then she wiped the tears from her face and the prints from the gun. She laid the small revolver on the floor next to her father’s body, then took out her phone and opened the camera.

She sent a text message, then she walked out the front door of the building and into her car and drove towards the lights of the city.