Background on this piece: During class, we had a guest. We had five minutes to write down as many details as possible and then had to write a 500-ish word tale (or start of one) about the guest. Here is my story…
The man posing that question was, as you can imagine, a shifty-looking good-for-nothing. He had those nervous eyes, dark and partially hidden behind a barely cracked front door and a ratty screen; eyes that darted here and there looking for danger and a quick lie. Those eyes searched everywhere, glanced at everything. Except me, my question, and the truth.
“I’m asking.” I said, aware that I sounded obliquely threatening.
“And who’s you?”
“Does it matter?” That was a really good question, even if the tiny man hiding behind ninety-nine bucks of fake wood and holey screen didn’t appreciate it. John—I didn’t have a real name, so he became John Doe—was in deep shit. That happens when you rip off a bookie and half of Vegas. If I brought him in, found him first, he’d get a private cell and three, maybe four squares a day. If he plays ball. John knows a lot. What’s in his head and in his files (He doesn’t trust his memory and, as a result, he writes everything down in these little notebooks) can send a lot of folks to prison. Big folks. Folks in the rackets. Folks who do bad things to people who snitch. Really bad things. Like cement diving gear kinda things. I think John knows that. He’s been around, ya know? I just gotta find him before they do. Twenty years of loneliness in solitary or wit-pro beats a Sicilian necktie and napping with the local trout.
The scraggly bastard peering around his door was the best lead I had. For the right price, he’d whip up a set of papers for damn near anyone. Murdered your wife and need to skip up to Canada? Done. Rip off more than thirty-five million from the casinos in Vegas after somehow fixing the damn Superbowl? Easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy. And that it precisely what John had done. I haven’t got a damn clue how he’d done any of it, but he had. And now he’d vanished off the face of the planet and all I had was a damn picture we’d lifted from a hacked webcam video and a tip that this deranged little bastard had ginned up some new papers for the mob miscreant.
“Got a picture?” The voice croaked from behind the door. It’s possible he was wasting time. It’s equally likely that he was quite aware that my friendly little visit might be followed by visits of a more unpleasant nature. If I’d found this little nugget of information, the cohort of criminals I was trying to save John from couldn’t be far behind. They had better intel sources than I did. I knew it. So did the asshole behind the door.
I pulled the picture out and looked at it a second. It wasn’t a good one. The room was dark, lit only by that weird bluish-green computer screen light. The wall behind him looked like some steampunk armor plating. He wore a greenish gray (hard to tell with the shitty lighting) plaid button up that hung loosely on a malnourished frame. His lank hair, which looked maybe chin length, was a curious mix of black and grey and swept back. He kinda looked like a dirty version of the character Sam Elliott played in Roadhouse. Even had the same facial hair, an unshaven salt-and-pepper beard and mustache combo that was more of the latter and less of the former. It really wasn’t a flattering picture. Hunched over as he was, John kinda looked like Gollum.
“Here.” I flipped the photo around for the creature behind the door and watched as his eyes flitted here and there on the page.