Saturday, October 18, 2014

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 3

Chapter 3:
Just Shoot Me

February 18, 1986
Today the news was shitty all 'round. First of all, my employer - Xeno Corporation - had just confirmed the rumor that had been floating around the office for weeks: Xeno was going to eliminate 300 positions at its Seattle corporate headquarters, due to steadily falling demand for its mainframe computer software. The bad news didn't come as a shock to me, as it was clear that businesses had begun to favor the use of networks of personal computers over their much larger cousins, and this trend promised to be permanent. I had years of experience operating huge mainframe computers, but so far my only experience using a PC consisted of typing and printing my job resumes. Six weeks hence, I was to find out whether or not there was an urgent need for an updated one.

And the other big news of the day didn't exactly inspire my faith in local law enforcement: a Grand Jury had been empaneled to investigate corruption within the Prince County Sheriff's Office (for which I happened to be an informant). The Grand Jury was going to examine allegations that elements within the Sheriff's Office had allowed crime to run rampant around the outskirts of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, among other places. Voters living in communities adjacent to the airport were loudly demanding a clean-up of the notorious prostitution and gang-related drug problems in that locale. These problems had become more severe ever since the election, four years ago, of a new sheriff who had served in the Prince County Sheriff's Office for the past 20 years. On the face of it, it was unlikely that this sudden explosion in criminal activity could exist there without the willful ignorance of, or even the connivance of, the sheriff. This apparent tolerance for criminal vice had incubated a sleazy environment which soon led to the murders of dozens of airport-area prostitutes, most of them done-in by the infamous Green River Killer (who, incidentally, was still at-large). Due in part to my hard-headed insistence on living cheaply, Angie and I found ourselves living in the middle of that societal cesspool. However, we had been making plans to move from the area as soon as possible - with the cost being a secondary consideration.
* * *
Three days later:
I drove to Tina's mother's apartment in order to fix Tina's broken-down car. The problem turned out to be nothing more than a couple of fouled spark plugs. She leaned against a fender and watched me cleaning sludge off the plugs, and I said, “Tina, you really ought to change your oil once in awhile.” Two giggling little Hispanic girls ran past us as they chased each other around the parking lot.

With a shrug she replied, “Hey I changed it less than a year ago.”

“Right. So, where've you been keeping yourself lately? Been staying with your mom long?” I hadn't seen and had hardly spoken to Tina in days.

“No, I've just been workin' a lot of overtime this week - Laurie's on vacation.” After a long pause, she sounded a bit defensive: “What - you think I'm hidin'-out because the law ain't caught-up with A.J. yet? I don't understand why yer still worried about him, Hercules. He ain't got no beef with you.”

“He would, if he knew all the stuff I've been telling the cops. I suppose Angie told you already.” When she responded with a blank stare, I prompted her with, “You know, about A.J. and Marta.”

She didn't seem to know what I was driving at: “What - that he was fuckin' that little bitch? Everybody in my building must know it by now.”

I had assumed that chatterbox Angie had told her all about Marta's video escapade. The fact that she hadn't I found rather curious. “No, I'm talking about the video tape that
she - “ All of a sudden we heard loud popping noises coming from the street abutting the parking lot, sounding like a string of small firecrackers but detonating at evenly spaced intervals. With my head under the hood, I didn't fully comprehend what was happening until Tina's left front tire abruptly went flat. Another bullet ricocheted off asphalt and hit the left rear hubcap with a metallic twang. “Get down! Get on the fucking ground,” I roared, grabbing Tina's pant leg and pulling her down off the fender. With Tina whimpering and cursing into my ear, I lifted my head in time to glimpse of the rear of a purplish-colored car peeling away from the curb. Unfortunately I couldn't read the license plate.

The scene became abnormally hushed for a moment, until one of the two little girls began crying plaintively over her fallen playmate. From a 2nd-floor landing, agonized screams erupted from the victimized girl's mother. I tried to help by stanching the blood flowing heavily from an artery in her leg and then applying a tourniquet, while Tina tried without much success to calm the mother's hysterics. However, the girl was still conscious when paramedics whisked her away 10 minutes later. Moments before detectives from the Prince County Sheriff's Office began to interview us and other witnesses, I told Tina, “Well, that asshole really fucked-up, this time!”

Her eyes still expressing shock, she replied, “Who you talkin' about? A.J.? Don't give me that bool-shit! This happens all the time - we just got caught in the wrong place at the - ”

“Of course he was in on it! Who do you think they were targeting - that poor kid? Or maybe someone in another car? What other car? They either followed me here or already knew where you were. He knows that your mom lives here - right?”

She glumly replied, “Yeah.” I recalled Angie once telling me that A.J. had been Tina's mother's boyfriend at one time. However, broaching that subject with Tina would not be prudent, as I didn't want a punch in the nose.

I told the Gang Unit detectives about my suspicion that I had been the intended target and that A.J. was responsible for shooting the girl, but that did little good as at least two police agencies were already hunting for him. I described the drive-by car as a late-70s reddish Chevy Monte Carlo with fancy wire wheels, a car similar in model and color to the one reportedly used in the assault on Marta's father. As for Tina, she pleaded total ignorance to the detectives. However, she hadn't actually witnessed anything aside from hearing the shots.

The first thing I did after answering the detective's questions was to find a phone to contact Angie, who was at work. After a coworker told her that I was on the line, Angie said into the phone, “Hi, Den. We better make this a quickie - I got three hungry customers to deal with, and the manager is glaring at me.”

After telling her what had just happened, all I heard was her anxiously heavy breathing. “Angie, are you still there? Listen to me - when your shift is over, do not go home! Just stay right there. I got Tina with me - we'll come get you as soon as we can.”

Then I attempted to call Detective Jameson. The Sheriff's Office switchboard operator informed me that Jameson was in court that day, but that she could beep his pager and have him return my call when he was free. When the operator asked for a contact number, I hesitated, wondering if “court” meant that Jameson was testifying before the Grand Jury, which had convened for its first session today. The thought of that scared me. For all I knew, he was deeply involved in the very corruption the Grand Jury was investigating. And even before today, I had worried that someone inside the Sheriff's Office had tipped-off A.J. or his confederates that I was an informant. If that worry was justified, it would explain why his gang seemed intent on killing me. “Thanks anyway, but it can wait til tomorrow.” By then, I planned to be living outside the jurisdiction of the Prince County Sheriff.

Returning to the parking lot, I reluctantly granted an interview with a newspaper reporter but adamantly refused to go on camera with a local TV station's reporter, who clearly wanted to exploit my first-aid “heroics” for all it was worth. The highly photogenic Tina didn't mind being on TV. In fact, she appeared to enjoy the attention, in spite of having been scared out of her mind only an hour ago.

Since the detectives were nearly finished with their on-scene investigation, I hurriedly mounted the spare tire onto Tina's car so we could get the hell out of there before they left. While I did that, Tina and her mother Laverne carried-on a heated discussion in the parking lot, and I occasionally felt Laverne's eyes bearing down on me in stern disapproval. She scorned interracial relationships even more than my own mother did. A minute later, as Laverne marched stridently back to her apartment, Tina approached me. Tightening the last lug nut, I said to her, “I distinctly sense that your mom blames me for this, and she probably has good reason to.”

“Aw, don't take it personal, Hercules. She just don't like me shackin'-up with a honkie.”

“I gathered that. Hey I've been thinking. After I pick-up Angie, I'm gonna get us a hotel room. I want you there with us.”

“At a roach-infested motel, you mean? Hell no.” She glanced at her wristwatch and said, “I got to be at work in an hour, so come over later and I'll get you a decent room there.”

That's no good – A.J. knows where you work. Just call in sick tonight, and I'll find us a good hotel, far away from here.”

“I can't - not on a Friday night. The night manager can't replacement me on such short notice, so one of the day clerks would have to work a double shift. Anyway, I refuse to turn my life upside-down for any muthafucka.” I rightfully assumed that that included me.

“Okay, we'll stay there tonight, but that's all. At least the place has security guards on duty, in case he's dumb enough to show his face there. I wonder if those creeps even know they shot a kid yet.” Just before we departed, I suggested to one of the detectives that they should stake-out the Airport Hilton, on the chance that the Monte Carlo with wire wheels would make an appearance there. The detective politely explained that every available patrol officer and detective in south Prince County was already on the lookout for that car - but he promised to pass along my suggestion to his superior.

I closely followed Tina's Toyota on the freeway as she drove the 10 miles to work. Once she was safely inside the hotel, I drove a short distance down International Boulevard to Angie's workplace, Denny's Restaurant. Upon telling her I was going home to pick up some personal items, she wanted to go with me but I insisted she go to the Hilton as planned. I told her, “Just tell me what you need for the night and I'll get it for you. We'll get the rest of our shit when we move, which'll be any day now.” Among the things I wanted to retrieve that night was my Remington pump-action shotgun.

It was dark by the time I left the Hilton, which was located only a mile from my mobile home. Within a few blocks of home I got the jitters again, so I killed the engine and headlights, coasting to a stop one block from home. Then I slipped around to the back of the trailer, away from the street. After tip-toeing around to the front, pinpricks of panic stung my face upon finding nearly every window broken and a snaking string of bullet holes in the aluminum siding and flimsy screen door. Several concerned neighbors were milling around in the street, so I asked one of them, Bobby, if he knew when this had happened. He replied, “I heard the shots about five minutes ago. The police are on the way, I think.”

“Did anybody see anything?” I loudly asked the small group of bystanders, but received no coherent reply.

Going inside, my shoes crunched shards of window glass. The living room was a complete shambles, with the TV, VCR and brand-new $1,000 stereo system ready for the electronic graveyard. I then called 9-1-1, and the operator told me, “We've already dispatched a unit to your address, sir. They should be there any minute.” While waiting for the police, I loaded four shells into the Remington and then packed it and small valuables and clothing into a large duffel bag.

After smoking a Marlboro and downing two shots of brandy, I got impatient. “Shit, it's been 20 minutes,” I grumbled to myself. The hell with it - I'm outta here. For all I know, a COP shot-up the place. So I grabbed the duffel and exited the trailer. To my disbelief and disgust, Angie rolled up in her 1962 Cadillac Sedan Deville. I yanked opened the passenger door and scolded, “I thought I fuckin' told you - “

She smiled apologetically. “I forgot to mention my tampons, Den. I really need 'em.”


“Hey what's goin' on? It looks like a block party!” Then she noticed the damage. ”O my God! W-where's the police?”

“Good question, but at this point I don't give a rat's ass. Now just stay in the car and I'll get you your goddamn tampons.”

“Oh, and a bottle of Midol, in the medicine cabinet.”

“Unbelievable,” I said under my breath.

We drove off a few minuted later, with Angie leading the way. The shotgun was now tucked between the driver's-side door and my leg. Although fretting that a cop might pull me over and see the weapon, I was much more concerned about being a target in a shooting gallery again.

We automatically took the usual route: a left turn at 192nd Street, and six blocks later a right turn at International Boulevard, which would get us to the Airport Hilton within five minutes. The traffic light at 192nd turned red scant seconds after Angie turned left, so I lost sight of her car as heavy cross traffic prevented me from running the light. I was so fixated on looking-out for a Monte Carlo with wire wheels that I failed, at first, to recognize A.J.'s emerald-green BMW on my right, which had slowed to stop at the intersection, just as I got the green light. Impulsively changing my mind, I drove straight ahead from the left-turn lane, which incited the drivers on my right side to honk at me in anger. Speeding up, I expected A.J. to turn right to follow me northbound, but he had apparently continued west on 192nd . Relief swept over me in the belief he hadn't recognized my car, although my hand still shook as it lay on the stock of the shotgun. Then the irresponsible, cowardly part of my brain nagged me with questions and half-truths: See what happens when you try to play solid citizen? Why don't you mind your own business, stupid? Since when did YOU ever give a shit about society, anyway? Marta and those other two chicks in the video are just a bunch of horny young sluts - if it hadn't been A.J. exploiting them it would've been somebody else. Face it, dude, the only reason you ratted on him was because you were jealous that he was fucking Marta - you wanted her for yourself, didn't you? You struck-out with girls in high school, so you had to lust-after a 16-year old when you're almost 30 - HA! What a dumb ass...
Shaking off negative thoughts, I turned left on 188th, as it was the only westbound through-street for the next mile. That street was well-lit, so I had no difficulty in seeing the emerald-green BMW coming at me from the opposite direction. Within a block of each other, I saw what looked like the barrel of a gun pointing at me from the driver's side window. A surreal fight-or-flight sensation washed over me, with only one thought in mind: “I AM GOING TO DIE!” So, as if possessed, I slid the shotgun barrel out the window, tucked the stock under my armpit and squeezed off a round of buckshot in the general direction of the BMW’s rear fender, while two slugs from an automatic weapon blasted through the top of the windshield, my left should nearly paralyzed from the recoiling Remington, which had rocketed out of my awkward grasp and onto the backseat. Blue smoke stung my eyes now, and a chip of safety glass had neatly sliced my cheekbone.

The inaccessible shotgun was useless to me now, as the BMW, evidently undamaged, had pulled a screeching U-turn and was rapidly gaining on me. Traffic got heavier approaching the intersection of 188th and International Boulevard, and I was terrified of having to slow down. With shots still zinging around my Camero, I drove like a drunk trying to get to the bar before closing time. Unable to pass while ascending a hill without risking a head-on collision, I weaved around several cars in order to get to the right lane. With cars backed-up at the light at International Boulevard, I forcibly lurched the right side of my car over the curb and, to the shouts of incredulous drivers, drove on the sidewalk. Seconds later, I saw why traffic was so bad. There was a huge police presence at the intersection, bringing tears of relief to my eyes. Somebody in the car beside me yelled, “Hey you dumb motherfucker!” as I wedged my car back into the creeping traffic in the right lane, but I didn't care. A deputy at the intersection was directing traffic around the line of police cars that surrounded a vehicle they had pulled over: a late-70s purple Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Copyright 2014 by K.D. Bishop