"Shit," Cyrus Kang swore, gritting his teeth.
Muscle-for-hire Dieter Countryman pulled his hand free from inside his jacket and pantomimed a gun, clicking off two by bending his thumb. The smile on his face was unbalanced and unpleasant.
"Watch it, Cirk," Conrad Waller yelled, his hand squeezing the dash.
Kang refocused on the road. To his left was Countryman and to his right, parked cars. He stomped on the brake pedal to avoid slamming into the rear end of the slower-going flatbed truck. At that same moment, Countryman steered his car toward the Camaro, then broke it off at the last moment and zoomed around the lumbering truck.
The Camaro's screeching brakes pierced the quiet early morning as Kang came to a stop in the middle of the street. Thanks to the lightness of traffic at this time of day, he managed to guide his vehicle to the curb without getting rear-ended.
Waller said, "I just about peed on myself."
Cyrus Kang couldn't let the steering wheel go as a trembler went through his hands. Both men were breathing hard, sweat going clammy on their foreheads. "That was interesting," he finally managed.
Waller stared at him and the two laughed nervously.
Not ten miles to the west and less than forty minutes later, Chet Kimbrough could hear the hollow echo of his footfalls as he walked across the concrete of an underground parking structure in Century City. Naturally what occurred ot him was that iconic scene from All The President's Men with Redford and Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein when they go for the first time to meet Hal Holbrook as the chain-smoking Deep Throat.
He arrived at the pillar marked B13 and hunched his shoulders. It was cold down here, and a steady, omnipresent low buzz emanated from the overhead fluorescents like the mating call of invisible gnats. From a nearby recessed stairwell the other man emerged and came over.
"What I got to say," the new arrival began, "I'll never repeat in court or some hearing your boss puts together. I ever get a subpoena or grief from Countryman or one of his wackjob waterboard-lovin' buddies, you'll hear from me." He let that gestate for a couple of seconds and added, "And I don't mean no irate phone call." He gestured from his chest toward Kimbrough, "You and me share the bohica?"
"I understand," Congresswoman Kang's chief of staff said, nodding curtly. "I want to know what you know because it'll point me in certain directions."
"You can get your dick caught in a wringer like that," he said, flatly and without affectation. "But whatever, man, what can I do you for?"
A car's tires squealed and both looked around but then it got quiet again. "How many jobs have you done for the Fallenbee Directive?"
The other man made a derisive sound in his throat. He was not particularly large but had knotty hands at the end of long arms seemingly out of proportion to his torso. "Be clear on this, you ain't gonna get no trail back to Gilmore to hang his ass like I already told you when you contacted me. You know damn well he's not about to put his mouth on the tailpipe. That's for peasants like you and me."
"Then your orders and money came solely through Dieter Countryman?"
A shoulder went up then down. "Sometimes, but he's up on the food chain too so it wasn't unusual to get assignments through. I don't know, cut-outs I guess you'd call 'em. Untraceables... not traceable... however the hell you'd say it."
"But you and Countryman both were on operations together in the first Gulf War?" Kimbrough asked, seeking to confirm what he'd been told.
The other man said, "Yeah, well, all that hoo-rah and brothers-in-arms shit only goes so far."
"You do any shotgunning for Countryman?" He tensed, unsure what he'd do if the answer was affirmative.
Without hesitating, the former special forces soldier offered, "I once was sent first class to this resort in Tahiti? You ever been?" He didn't wait for a response. "It was Papeete or rather a smaller island you got to by ferry from there. Water clear like angel's tears, stingrays and these goddamn blacktip sharks swimming right around you. Crazy guides over there feeding them, plucking those rays right out of that ocean."
If his companion was the sentimental sort, and Kimbrough doubted such, he seemed momentarily to have a wistful look flit across his face. But that was probably an emotion he was projecting on the enforcer, who resumed his story.
"So there was this dude, some Japanese big wheel. He loved to snorkel, and when he was out one day from the boat I came up from under in my scuba gear and let him see the aquatic life from below."
"You... you drowned him?' Kimbrough stammered.
Harsh laugh. Come on, man. I'm not a monster. But apparently this chump got the message."
"You mean this was some sort of business negotiation tactic by Fallenbee?"
He held out his hands. "All I know is there was an announcement about an agreement a few weeks later on the news. The Shindo Corporation was the Japanese guy's company."
Kimbrough's mouth was ash. They both looked again as a car turned onto their row, its lights on, heading toward when they stood.
Desdemona Valdez moved her hand along the taut stomach of Cynthia Kang and the two kissed long and luxuriously.
"My," Kang said when their lips and tongues untangled, "giving me the third degree, huh?"
"Like I haven't heard that one."
"Smartass." Kang stretched on the bed and Valdez committed to memory the map of her body.
"So you gonna have this guy your nut buddy in Vegas recommended sweep your place?"
"Think I'm just being paranoid? Cynthia Kang leaned over and kissed Valdez's nipple.
Her fingers in the other woman's hair, she murmured, "Anything is possible. And this Mace Gilmore didn't get to be a big shot by being a nice guy. But then, maybe we should be paying closer attention to our so-called public officials. What with renegade preachers, text messaging your booty calls on government-issued cells, lying about sniper fire, can't distinguish Shiites from Sunnis. I mean, good gosh, man, what's this country coming to?"
"Indeed," Kang said, reaching for her, and the two fell back into the rhythm of each other's body and psyche.
Outside Valdez's apartment where the two lovers were, a lone figure in a plain car lit a cigarette.
To Be Continued...