The Good Book


By Steve Shrott



It's a mistake to run from your past. But sometimes, it's just as big a mistake to run toward it, to try to turn it around and make it something better.

I thought about this as I sat in the back seat of the dirty cab riffling the pages of the book I'd written — Inside Man. It detailed the years I'd spent as adviser to Frank Delano, mob boss. I had to write it; protection is the name of the game. If something happened to me, everyone would know Delano was behind it.

It had all started in law school. My plan was to be a corporate lawyer for some huge company and make billions. It didn't work out like that. When I didn't get the grades I needed, I quit.

My girlfriend, Kate, the love of my life, didn't take it well. She was all I ever wanted. Beautiful, intelligent and told you like it was — or should be.

She said I never lived up to my potential. It was probably true, but I couldn't seem to do anything about it. I tried to get jobs, but nothing lasted more than a week. They never felt like the right fit.

When she left I was devastated.

The rent came due and I thought I'd be homeless. But then, Ed, a guy I'd known all my life, came to my rescue. He offered me something with good benefits and no deductions — robbing the wealthy. I had no other choice. We worked the Kentwood district, where all the millionaires live. We made money fencing TVs, computers and original paintings.

When I attempted to sell some of the art, I had a chance meeting with Delano. Had no idea who he was. He had me sit down in his posh offices off 23rd Street. He fingered the Jackson Pollock, gave me a sharp look. "It's stolen, isn't it?"

I looked at him, nervous for the first time since I'd begun my new career.

He looked back. "It's okay. You remind me of myself when I was twenty-five."

I was about to walk away, hoping to be forgotten. Delano got in my face.

"I want you to work for me."

"Doing what?"

"Same thing you're doing now. Only we split the cash."

"Why would I do that?"

"I'll give you something worth more than money — protection. If you get caught, and eventually everyone does, I'll get you out within an hour."

"How?"

Delano gave me a crooked smile that showed off perfectly straight teeth. "I know people."

I stood up to go. "I'll think about it."

I realized he was right, I probably would get caught. But I didn't want to work for a mobster. That was big time. I was small time.

Ed and I continued with the robberies.

The next week, in the middle of a job at a Tudor-style mansion in Encino, the owner returned. Worse than that, it was George Simpson, a well-known senator. He had a gun.

"Hold it right there," Simpson commanded in his political voice. "Put your hands on your head."

Ed looked at me, bug-eyed, then spoke in a whisper to Simpson. "Look, we can settle this like men."

"I don't see any men here. Just punks."

I tried to say something, but the words got lost in my throat.

The senator moved close to me. "I can shoot you guys and tell everyone it was self-defence and they'd believe me."

Finally my words escaped. "Look, we made a mistake. We'll leave everything and go away, never bother you again."

"You disrupted my life. I want a piece of you for that."

I watched in horror as Ed's hand dived into his pocket and withdrew a forty-five, shot it. I had no idea he'd brought a weapon.

The senator dropped to the ground, his gun firing as he fell. Ed's body reeled against the wall, blood drowning his chest. He was still conscious, but he needed a doctor fast. I somehow managed to guide him out the door.

I sat in the hospital waiting room drinking bad coffee and reading ancient magazines. Sometimes when you're in crisis mode, the mistakes you've made keep repeating in your mind. I tried to stop them, but they had a life of their own.

Eventually, the doctor came out to see me, his face unreadable. "Your friend...he died on the operating table. I'm sorry."

I nodded. I had known Ed a lifetime. We weren't friends, but we understood one another, knew what each other needed. I sat back down in the chair, trying to absorb what had happened tonight.

After an hour, I couldn't stand to think about it anymore and decided to leave. As I headed toward the door, I saw two policemen speak in hushed voices to the same doctor. They were holding Ed's wallet. He must have dropped it at the senator's place.

It was over. They probably knew we had shot him.

It's funny, I had intended to go straight after tonight, had told Ed my plans. He wasn't happy, but he understood. Now, I only had one choice.

I sat in front of Frank Delano, who gave me another of his crooked smiles.

He closed up his cell phone. "Okay, it's done. What happened was that the senator came home and got shot by an unknown assailant. He was five-ten, had a Mexican accent. He got away, but the police have an APB out on him."

He stared at me, dead eyes, like he'd done this a hundred times before. I guess he had. "By the way, the senator lived. He's recuperating at Swansea Hospital."

"Won't that be trouble?"

"No. He'll say that the man who shot him was Mexican. In a week, maybe two, a Mexican will be found and he'll confess."

"How did you do...?"

He shrugged, making his short lumpy neck look even shorter. "Doesn't matter. Now you work for me."

I nodded, knowing my fate had been sealed.

The next day, Frank gave me a list of shopkeepers who owed him insurance money for keeping them safe. He told me to make sure I collected every last shekel or there'd be trouble. It wasn't easy, but I learned my first lesson — a fist in the right place works better than words.

I moved up the organization quickly and eight months later, I was giving Frank advice on what to do about individuals who didn't toe the mob line. I had become hard-hearted and power hungry.

I never actually killed anyone myself. In that sense I was still a virgin. Then Frank asked me to see one of his close friends, Johnny Rebos, about a certain matter. I knew it would end in bloodshed.

I didn't think twice. I loaded the bullets into my gun, headed out to his home.

I started to fall asleep on the drive and needed a coffee. I stopped at a Starbucks and ordered it black. I headed toward a table in a dark corner.

"Paul, is that you?"

I heard the voice and my heart quivered. I snapped around.

"Kate?" I said.

She grinned. "Glad I ran into you."

"Yeah, me too."

Silence filled the space.

"I need to talk to you, Paul. Can we sit?"

"Sure."

That's when I saw the stroller with the tiny baby inside.

"Paul, I'm sorry for running off. I just couldn't deal with things then."

I pointed to the stroller. "What's his name?"

She paused. "Paul...Junior."

I stared at her. She nodded.

"He was born several months after I left. I've been trying to find the courage to tell you."

She gently touched the baby's cheek, made it giggle.

Everything was coming at me too fast. Like being hit by a hundred bullets at once.

She looked at me, that sweetness still in her face. After where I'd been in my life, I was surprised it mattered anymore.

"I'm not expecting anything from you. I just wanted you to know, Paul."

"Sure."

"What are you doing these days?"

"This, that."

"Seeing anyone?"

"No."

"Look, I know I don't deserve a second chance. But do you think we could try again. Maybe make it work this time. We do have a child. And it wasn't so bad, us together, was it?"

She smiled at me, her eyes pleading. I couldn't believe what she was asking. She didn't know what I did, didn't know who I was today. I couldn't expose a young life to that. "I don't think so."

"Oh. Okay. I understand."

Later that night, I thought about Kate. Thought about the twists and turns my life had taken. Somewhere it had gone off track.

I still loved her.

I called Frank, told him I didn't do the Rebos job and cut my ties with him. He was incredibly angry, said I was ungrateful for all he'd done. He was right, he had done a lot. And now he could have me killed. I tried not to think about that, concentrated on making sure Kate and Paul Junior had a good life. I felt that finally, I fit in somewhere. Family man.

But I couldn't forget about all the bad stuff. It tortured me. I saw a psychiatrist, but talking didn't do much good. I started writing and realized that I had needed to tell my story for a long time.

Now the book was published and doing well. It had saved my life when I needed it. Maybe it would do it again tonight.

I paid the cab driver and ambled across the street. It had been three years since I'd seen Frank Delano. He had called me last week. He'd read the book, wanted to talk. I understood why. I had mentioned things that I probably shouldn't have.

When I saw the mansion again, my knees began to buckle. I wasn't sure I could make it inside. But I had to, so to speak, finish off this chapter of my life. I slowly marched up to the house in which I had spent many long nights discussing who would get whacked.

The door opened and like always, Serge stood there, a three-hundred pound doughy statue. He began patting down my chest, thinking I might have a wire, but then Frank sauntered down the stairs.

"It's okay, Serge." He looked at me. "Isn't it, Paul?"

I nodded.

"Come."

He walked upstairs, I followed. It felt odd being here again. Not as Frank's associate, or adviser, but as his enemy.

His office looked exactly the same as when I had been here last. A large oak desk covered with maps of banks, schedules of Brinks Trucks and a paper weight of Jesus in the corner.

He shut the door, took his seat. I sat staring up at the large man who could have me killed just by snapping his fingers. He placed a glass in front of me and himself, filled them both with Scotch.

"You're looking well, Paul."

"You, too."

"Congratulations. I heard the book's a big success."

"Yeah, I guess it is."

"Never thought of you as the writer type."

"Me neither. Just fell into it."

He took a sip of his drink.

"Look, Frank I didn't mean to reveal...it's just the publisher wasn't happy with what I turned in and...I needed the money. I have a kid now."

"Sure, sure." He nodded, as if he understood, but I could see rage behind his eyes. He stood up, creating a monstrous shadow on the wall. "You could have come to me about money instead of writing that crap." He grabbed the Jesus paper weight like he was going to throw it at me. Instead his hand stopped mid-throw and he gently placed it back onto his desk.

"I only suggested you had connections to people in high places."

"You mean when you wrote about the senator and how I saved your butt."

"I just said I heard things. Look..." I opened up the copy of Inside Man I held in my hands, knowing he wouldn't look.

"Without me you would have been rotting away in a cell right now. Maybe on death row."

"I didn't thin..."

"That's right, you didn't think. Now the Feds are investigating all those things you wrote about. I told you once I'd protect you. But it works both ways. You should have protected me. You let me down, Paul."

I saw the rage dissipate and a new expression form on his face. One I didn't know. "Frank, you always told me that at some point everyone gets caught. Maybe, now, it's your turn."

"Perhaps. But I'm not going down without taking care of you first."

Before Frank could reach for his gun, the door flew up and the cops rushed in. They handcuffed Frank, then read him his rights.

I gave them my book with the transmitter in it.

It had saved me again.


Steve Shrott's mystery fiction has appeared online and in print magazines such as 5minutemystery.com, Futures Mystery Magazine, and The Taj Mahal Review. His stories have also been published in various anthologies including 'The Killer Wore Cranberry. A Second Helping,' and 'The Whole She-Bang.'

He has crafted material for well-known comedians, and written a 'how to' book on humor writing. Some of his jokes are in The Smithsonian Institute.


Copyright 2012 Steve Shrott. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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