Friday, December 5, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 67

Cold out here on the glassy waters of Sandy Hook Bay. Downright bitter. My teeth chatter like castanets.

Creeper’s massive shoulders paddled us a mile offshore in nine strokes. Faster than a two-hundred horsepower, turbocharged Evanrude. Now he’s planting the oars and unfurling burlap. Gulls squawk and circle overhead. Marine vultures, each of them. Hungry and waiting.

The bullet-shaped row boat rises and falls on low morning swells, one of the boat’s two aluminum benches poking me in the ribs each lift. A thick, bluish-gray mist hovers above the ocean’s calm surface, a smoky fog that smells like spoiled clams.

Despite my gloomy surroundings, the immediately preceding events, and the obvious nature of Creeper employing a chain-filled boat to transport us, I’ve been making a wholehearted effort not to overanalyze my future. But somehow the cold air, the chattering teeth...well, logic suggests it might be time to focus on impending death. Use the bitter cold of eternity as motivation for my absolutely finest Gift of Gab. Come on, Carr. Let him have it.

“Mmmm. Mmmm.”

Oops. I forgot my lips are sealed with duct tape. Damn. This makes things more difficult, certainly. But on the plus side, when my golden tongue somehow does get me out of this impasse, Letterman, Oprah, Ripley’s--they’ll all want interviews. I’ll have to hire a PR chick.

“Lay down on burlap,” Creeper says.

I roll onto my brown, itchy shroud. Intended shroud, that is. I still have a shot. I have plans. But I wish those damn seagulls would shut up. Too much competition for Creeper’s attentions.

“MMMMMM,” I say.

The big man stares at me. His gray eyes are softer than I imagined, the coldness not right out front. A crooked smile forms on his razor-thin lips, reminiscent of a gash I once received from a broken beer bottle.

I wear the pink scar on my upper right arm.

“You have final words?” Creeper says. “Okay. Is big American tradition. I see plenty of movies.”

He rips the tape from my mouth. Ouch. But the Great Spirit smiles on me. A chance for redemption.

“Why are you killing me, Max? Gina Farascio’s the one who planned your boss’s assassination, had you shot, killed your friend Jerry. Obviously you know that. You just broke her neck.”

Creeper starts wrapping me in torn-up burlap bags. Burrito el Broker. “Boss, my friend both die in your friend’s restaurant,” he says. “Right after you leave. You are part.”

This is a bum rap. “I didn’t know, Max. That’s why Luis sent me away. So I wouldn’t be a part. Maybe Luis didn’t even know. I can’t imagine him allowing such a thing in his restaurant. But even if Luis knew--and I don’t think he did--you can’t blame him. Bluefish wanted him dead.”

Creeper’s monster shoulders roll forward, a shrug that slightly rocks our boat. He continues to truss me in the scratchy burlap.

Okay. It’s not going to be an easy sale.

“It was Gina, Max. It was always Gina. As soon as I asked her husband to help me fend off Bluefish, Farascio’s family must have decided to take Shore for themselves. It’d be easy with me in charge, Mr. Vick out of town.”

You need a kicker on that one, Carr. Come on. “And they would’ve taken Shore if you hadn’t of gotten rid of Tony and Gina for me.”

Creeper’s done with the burlap. Forget the burrito image. I look like a cheese-stuffed, whole-wheat Hoagie roll. Creeper’s huge hands grab up a truckload of chain link. Then, one loop at a time, Creeper begins to package me in my oceangoing steel jewelry.

I’m all shiny for the ball.

“I’d be signing over Shore to the Farascio family right now if you hadn’t killed her, Max. Truth is, I owe you.”

Creeper threads two loops around my waist. The weight of the chain presses the rough burlap tight against my skin.

“Owe me?” he says.

“Definitely. You saved me--I don’t know--maybe a couple of hundred grand over the next couple of years. Max might deserve a very big reward.”

He throws more steel around my neck.

“Reward?” he says.

My body chills like I’m at the bottom of a grave, the cold dirt splashing against my throat and face. “Ab-so-fucking-lutely,” I say. “Very big. How about I write you a check tonight for fifty thousand, plus tomorrow we write up a contract for your services? Full-time employment at Shore Securities. What do you need? Two hundred-grand a year?”

Creeper removes a brass padlock from the pocket of his Dockers. His cucumber-size fingers struggle to line up the two ends of the chain. “I think no,” he says.

Only three more chapters until the big finish.

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