Fatal Justice – A Vigilante Thriller, by John Etzil
I killed an FBI agent last week.
I had nothing personal against the agent and I wasn’t proud of what I’d done, but it wasn’t my fault.
It wasn’t like in Hollywood, where the FBI storms into an arrest situation, everyone sporting one of those dark blue windbreakers with FBI stamped across the back in big white letters so large that a guy could read ’em from two blocks away.
Nor did the dead agent come screeching up in a cloud of tire smoke along with twenty other dark-windowed SUVs and jump out with a megaphone, announcing their arrival.
None of that really mattered though, because I was put in a position where I had no choice.
I was hanging out in my favorite bar, the Red Barn. Yeah, I know, corny name, but it was a red barn, built in the late 1800s and located on Route 10 at Charlotte Valley Road in the quaint little town of Summit.
Sometime around the turn of the century, the owner of the red barn had decided to throw in some light fixtures, add running water and a toilet, install an oven to warm up finger food, and build a bar close to the front door so you could grab a stool and get drunk as soon as you walked in. Not much else to do on a Friday night in upstate New York.
A three-songs-for-a-quarter jukebox sat between the sawdust-covered shuffleboard table and the lone restroom, belting out country tunes on a crackling speaker. “Elvira” and Garth Brooks having friends in low places were the two most popular. If it happened to be a holiday weekend, there was usually a live band playing, and “Elvira” and Garth Brooks having friends in low places were the two most requested songs. What can I say? Summit had its share of simpletons.
The locals drank beer and danced to their favorite songs until they were too drunk to move. Come closing time, they’d stagger and weave their way home, most of ’em staying on their side of the faded double yellow line that ran down the center of Route 10. It wasn’t pretty, but that’s all we had in our quiet little town, so we were happy to have it.
“Can I freshen that up for you?” the bartender asked. She looked at me with those sultry almond-shaped eyes, courtesy of her Japanese mother, that made me melt every time she made eye contact with me. I felt knee-wobbling weak around her, but I thought I did a good job of hiding it.
“Nah, I’m good for now. Think I’ll play a little pool, though. Can I get some quarters?” I whipped out a five and handed it across the bar to Debbie. She sauntered over to the cash register and I admired the snug fit of her Levi’s. I didn’t bother raising my eyes or killing my grin when she turned around and came back with my night’s worth of pool table money. She was used to me undressing her with my eyes, so she didn’t bother to comment. Her sly smirk said it all.
She placed the quarters on the bar in front of me. “Good luck at the pool table,” she said. “Those guys look like players to me.” She gestured over to Max and Gus, the two old men that were smacking the balls around the beer-stained pool table as if they were playing bocce ball. “I wouldn’t play them for money if I were you.”
They were at least two times my forty-three years, but they moved pretty well and still had a bright sparkle in their eyes. Ice-cold beer worked wonders.
“Yeah, thanks. If I lose my pickup truck to them, I’ll be counting on you to give me a lift home.”
“Oh, I’m taking you home anyway, unless Frances over there gets to you first.” She turned to the other end of the bar and waved, her arms swinging overhead like she was waving off an errant F-18 that was attempting to land on the deck of the USS Stennis on a stormy night.
I looked over and there she was. My number one fan. She must have been pushing ninety-five, but goddamn, she still drank whiskey by the shot glass. She sat ramrod straight on her barstool and sucked on a Marlboro Red. At least she’d switched from those filterless Lucky Strikes.
She caught me looking over at her and winked at me, an exaggerated gesture that looked like she was having a stroke. Oh, jeez. She waved and called over to me. I cringed, praying she wouldn’t lose her balance and fall off of her stool.
“Sheriff Joe, come drink with me.” She raised her glass and smiled. “I’m buying.”
Sheriff Joe retired a few years ago. Nice enough guy, but aside from being about a foot shorter than me, sporting a walrus mustache that complemented his combover, and carrying around a gut twice as big as mine, he looked just like me.
Ever the polite civil servant, I grinned back and raised my mug. We made eye contact through the smoky haze, and her toothless grin widened to the point of nausea. Ugh. She had probably been attractive sixty years ago, but old age and dementia didn’t excite me like they used to, so I kept my distance from her.
She was nothing if she wasn’t persistent. If I had a dime for every time she grabbed my ass when I made my way to the restroom, I could’ve retired. I swear she took the stool at the end of the bar every night so that she could reach out and touch all the men that walked by her to get to the restroom or the jukebox. Or the ones who just happened to be unlucky enough to walk past her before being warned about the Frances Fondle.
I shook my head and turned back to Debbie. She was grinning like the cat who ate the canary.
“Thanks for that. I owe you one.”
“Sure. Anytime.” She blew me a kiss, flashed her killer smile, and went off to pour a drink for one of her many fans who spent their nights across the bar from her, getting drunk and savoring the eye candy. Everybody loved Debbie. I couldn’t blame them. What’s not to like about a beautiful woman who laughed at all of your drunken one-liners?
Okay. I admit it. When we first started dating, I was a bit jealous at all the attention she received from the male patrons, but I’d grown and I was mature enough to handle it. Sometimes.
We’d been dating on and off for over a year and had talked about moving in together, but neither of us were ready for that, so we killed that idea. My hesitation was from some past relationship baggage, along with a few other issues I had. Nothing major, but they still needed to be addressed before the start of cohabitation.
I wasn’t sure what her reluctance to live with me stemmed from. We enjoyed each other’s company and got along great. Most of the time. We had many mutual interests. Hiking, working out, the great outdoors, dark beer, red wine, gin, whiskey, relaxing with a good book in front of a warm fire on a cold night, Barry White, love of animals, especially dogs. And hot sex. Man, did we light up the planet.
That wasn’t enough for her, though. Maybe it was the age difference, me being ten years her senior? I don’t know. I’m almost six foot six inches and still in great shape. Not as good as when I played basketball at Notre Dame, but still better looking naked than most men half my age. I silently toasted Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom I’d idolized growing up. He’d turned me on to weight training when I was just a kid, and man, does that pay huge dividends. I flexed my pecs, just ’cause I can, and drank some beer.
Maybe Debbie was thinking longer term? As in, when she’s turns seventy, I’ll be eighty? Perhaps, but damn if we weren’t smoking hot together right now. Have I mentioned that? After a glass of red wine and a little Barry White, she looked at me with a sultriness that all my pole dancer friends combined couldn’t equal.
I looked at her one last time before heading over to play some pool, and I regretted it right away. A drunk named Bobby was leaning across the bar, a dirty hand cupped tight to her ear, no doubt whispering something inappropriate. I saw her lean away and laugh right before I rolled my eyes. Jeez.
She played along like a good bartender, and guys like Bobby always left her a big tip before stumbling home, flopping into bed with their flannel shirts and jeans still on, and wet-dreaming of my Debbie.
I grabbed my beer and walked over to the pool table.
“Evening, gentlemen.” I placed a dollar’s worth of quarters next to the money slot.
“Howdy, Sheriff Jack. How’s business?”
“Nice and slow, just the way I like it.” I raised my glass and silently toasted the lack of criminal activity in our neck of the woods. Lots of folks think that being a sheriff in a peaceful no-stoplight town would be boring. They’d be right. But I’ve had enough excitement for two lifetimes, so I’m perfectly fine with my simple existence.
Mary Sue came over to me, put down her serving tray, and gave me a big hug. “How’s my favorite sheriff?” Her mom, Meredith, and I have known each other ever since we went to Richmondville High School together more years ago than I cared to count. Spitting image of her mom, too. A little taller, about five-ten, curvy, dirty-blond hair, and a warm smile that invited everyone into her circle.
“Wow, it’s great to see you.” I grinned and gave her a fatherly hug. “How’ve you been? How’s college?”
“Good. Eh, it’s okay.” She shrugged.
“Boys treating you well?”
“Heck yeah, once I tell them that my Uncle Joe’s a sheriff.” She loved digging on me about Frances’s inability to remember my name.
“That’s good. Tell ’em about my gun collection too.” I winked at her.
“Oh, don’t worry, I do.”
“Mom and dad good?”
“Yeah, they’re fine. They just left for their annual Florida jaunt.”
“Yep, fisherman’s paradise. You know my dad and his fishing.”
“Yeah, I do. Kindred spirits, he and I.”
Stuart is a well-known cardiac surgeon and works in Albany, a fifty-mile trek up Route 88. They live in a spacious but modest two-story colonial on over sixty acres that adjoin Clapper Hollow State Forest. When he’s not mending broken hearts, he’s planning his next fishing trip to the Keys.
“That’s true,” she said. She smirked and turned a little snarky on me. “He’s almost as bad as you and your hunting trips.”
“Hey, don’t be jealous now. Just ’cause I pack up my rifles every summer and fly all over the place killing ferocious animals, that doesn’t make me a bad person. At least I feed the needy.” I raised my mug and toasted my annual meat donations to the local food banks.
“Yeah, that’s swell of you, but you disappear for like eight weeks at a time.”
“So? Wait a minute… You miss me, don’t you?”
“You go by yourself and nobody knows where you are. What if something happened to you out in the wild?”
“Aww. You worry about me. That’s sweet Mom.”
She laughed at my teasing. “Fine. Be that way. I have to get back to work, see you in a bit.” She grabbed her tray and went to take an order from a young couple two tables away. What a great kid. Her parents did a fantastic job raising her.
I sat down on a stool, my back against the wall, and watched the two ball-smacking grandfathers engage in teenage banter while they took turns missing shots. I’ve always loved math, and after a few minutes I calculated that they each averaged seven missed shots before they sank a ball. My quarters were going to last me a long time tonight.
In between the errant shots, I glanced over the pool table, across the sawdust-covered dance floor, and into the far corner of the room. That’s the real reason I was sitting here. Playing pool was fine and all, but if I measured that up against sitting at the bar and chatting with Debbie all night, I’d pick ogling her every time. But not tonight. I needed to watch someone, and this was the perfect position to observe without being noticed.
I spied on the three middle aged men at the corner table for a while, and as the night wore on, I felt a bad feeling grow in my gut that our long run as a sleepy little town was about to end.
If you counted the two-inch heels on his ostrich cowboy boots, he probably topped out at five foot six. Slicked-back hair, pinky rings, flashing cash, gold chains parting his half-unbuttoned silk shirt that hid his potbelly. It was the complete wise guy costume, straight out of a Goodfella’s wardrobe closet. Throw in his NYC accent and he stuck out like an honest politician.
As soon as I’d walked into the bar, I’d found him. It was too easy. One of the habits I’d formed from being in law enforcement was scoping out every structure I entered, even while off duty. Whenever I walked into a room, my eyes went right to the corners. Also known as the power seat, it’s a location where you could see everyone and where no one could sneak up on you from behind. There I’d find cops, military folks, or bad guys. Sheepdogs or wolves. It was easy, even for a novice, to distinguish between the two. Tonight, it was the wolves who were setting up camp in that corner.
But tonight wasn’t a normal night. Earlier today I’d received a heads-up, and now I was doing recon for my third job. The secretive one that I do for free. I smiled and took a sip of beer.
Ostrich Boy’d been holding court with two of his hammerhead associates at that table for a few hours, and the three of ’em looked to be tying a good load on.
They were boisterous, with exaggerated table slapping and hand movements, and when the fatter of the two underlings stood up and worked his way over to the restroom, I saw the outline of a pistol under his shirt. He might need that to fight off Frances, but I doubted he knew about her male molestation practices, so I was confident he’d had other things in mind when he’d strapped it on.
Fatty returned a few minutes later, none the worse for wear after his transition through Frances’s fun land, and when he sat down, the other man rose up to make his trek to the restroom. He was thinner than Fatty, and the outline of the pistol wasn’t as clear under his loose-fitting shirt, but it was still visible for microseconds at a time to the trained eye.
With each round of drinks, Ostrich Boy got a little hands-on friendlier with Mary Sue, who unfortunately got stuck waiting on their table, and with each passing refill, he became a little louder and his jokes more colorful.
When the latest round was delivered, he’d put his arm around Mary Sue’s waist and pulled her in close to him, resting his ear against her stomach, the top of his greasy head nestled tight against the bottom of her breasts. His fat tongue wagged like he was a hungry dog about to be fed. I thought he was going to start drooling.
“Hey, someone do a selfie of me and my wench,” he said.
The two underlings guffawed and fumbled with their smartphones while Mary Sue, eyes wide as saucers, looked horrified. She was just a college kid who waitressed part-time, and she probably didn’t have much experience with handling clowns like him. I thought she was going to whack him with her serving tray—that’s what I would have done. But to her credit, she stayed cool. She pushed his arms open, freed herself from his unwanted pawing, and walked away while brushing the germs from the front of her blouse.
Ostrich Boy’s friends laughed at him and smacked the table with childlike glee at her rejection. Sure enough, he took Mary Sue’s reluctance to share in his Kodak moment personally, and got all pissed off. He stood up from his chair and shouted towards her, loud enough for everyone to hear. “What, I’m not good enough for ya?”
She kept walking, the scowl of disgust on her face so obvious that even drunken Bobby noticed it and stopped his conversation with Debbie to look at her. At least something good came out of Ostrich Boy’s juvenile tantrum. I made a mental note to thank him.
Fatty tugged at Ostrich Boy’s belt, waving him to sit back down. “Jeez, Sammy, take it easy, we’re only messin’ with you. Besides, she’s just a kid, young enough to be your daughter.”
His words fell on deaf ears. I’d read enough reports and eavesdropped on enough witness protection candidates to know that guys like Sammy lost their temper fast, and took abnormally long to regain their composure. Small penis insecurity, no doubt.
He smacked Fatty’s hand away. “Don’t ever fuckin’ touch me. She needs to learn some respect.”
Wow, tough guy. I yawned.
He shot daggers in Mary Sue’s direction one more time before sitting down. He took out a cigarette, flipped open a gold lighter, and inhaled deep. He exhaled so hard that the smoke traveled across two tables before being sucked up by the smoke eater that hummed from the ceiling. You didn’t need to be Dr. Phil to see that this guy had deep anger issues, which made sense since he was a suspect in twenty-eight missing people cases. Missing, as in dead. Just that their bodies haven’t been found.
That’s a few more bodies that I could take credit for, but at least I only killed bad guys.
I was off duty and planned on coming out to relax and spend some time with Debbie while she worked the bar, but once I was alerted to Ostrich Boy’s proximity, everything changed. I did a quick mental inventory of my hardware to make sure that I didn’t forget anything.
Glock 17? Check, in my right hip holster under my untucked flannel shirt.
Spare magazines? Check, one in each cargo pocket of my Vertx tactical pants. A total of fifty-one nine-millimeter rounds. Wait a second. Fifty-one divided by three is seventeen. I love math. I could shoot each one of them exactly seventeen times. With my Glock 17. Hmm. Coincidence? I didn’t believe in them.
Enough. Back to work on my mental checklist.
Osprey silencer? Check, left cargo pocket.
Cable tie handcuffs? Check, coiled up in my back pocket.
Swiss Army knife? Check, right cargo pocket.
Blackjack? Check, right next to my Swiss Army knife.
It might seem like I was sporting a lot of hardware, but when you’re six foot six, you can get away with carrying an arsenal and folks won’t notice. Even if they did, they wouldn’t dare ask.
Attitude? Oh, um, not so good. I needed to work on that. The mental health experts say that the first step in solving a problem is admitting that you had one.
I had one.
I shook away the vision of shooting all three of them in the parking lot and stuffing their bodies in their trunk in a compromising sexual position before taking a photo, posting it on their Facebook pages, and driving their car into the woods and setting it on fire.
I grimaced and chastised myself for thinking such crazy shit. Jeez, what the hell was freakin’ wrong with me? I could start a forest fire, for God’s sake.
I blamed my temporary lapse of judgment on the warm beer in my hand, looked down at it, and drained it before it could do any more damage.
The three of them finished their colored drinks, threw some cash on the table for Mary Sue’s tip, and headed over to the bar to pay their bill.
Ostrich Boy tried to make eye contact with Mary Sue, but she ignored him. Good girl. Skinny Guy stayed behind, dug into his pocket, pulled out another bill and dropped it on the table before falling in behind them. He must have felt guilty for his friend’s behavior and wanted to make it up to Mary Sue.
Fatty and Skinny split the bill. Once they were done paying they just stood there, hands in pockets, while Ostrich Boy, hands moving a mile a minute, flirted with my Debbie. In the mirror behind the bar, I couldn’t help but notice his bleached thousand-watt smile as he tried to woo her. I smiled at the thought of his expensive pearly whites being shattered by the heel of my boot as he lay unconscious in the parking lot.
My fantasy was interrupted when it dawned on me that during his entire conversation with Debbie, his two friends had stood with their backs to the bar, overlooking the crowd. They stood out like the Secret Service agents you see at political gatherings, except they didn’t have those coily earpieces and weren’t dressed as nice. I realized that they were as much his bodyguards as they were his friends, which made sense since he was a bigshot in the underworld. I made a mental note that if it came down to it, I would drop the wingmen first.
After a few more minutes of bantering with my woman, Ostrich Boy turned and signaled the two hammerheads that he was finished and it was time to leave. They sauntered over toward the main entrance, bought a pack of smokes from the old-style pull-knob cigarette machine, and left.
I had no idea why they were in our little out-of-the-way town. My experience had taught me that men like them never just stopped in out of the blue. They were here to meet somebody or conduct some type of illegal business. Maybe it was a drug deal, or maybe they were here to kill somebody who’d wronged them, but I was just happy to see them leave. Good riddance, hopefully forever. They were somebody else’s problem now.
Except that I couldn’t let it go. I was torn between letting them leave and forgetting about them, or being more proactive. I hadn’t planned on doing my third job tonight, but I couldn’t help but think that I shouldn’t be looking a gift horse in the mouth.
I was still unsure how I was going to handle this, so for future reference, just in case, I decided to see what kind of car they were driving and jot down their license plate number. Probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to follow them and see where they were headed either…
“Back in a second, boys,” I told my pool cue whiffers. “Hold my place in line.” I glanced at the table and saw that there were still a full set of balls spread across it. Looked like their ratio of seven missed shots to one made had grown a little worse. Must be the beer. I figured I had an hour or two before my turn came up.
I made my way towards the back door, keeping a wary eye out for a sneak attack from Frances, and slipped out unmolested. The clear cold air was a nice change from the stuffy smoke-filled bar, and it felt refreshing to take a deep breath and not cough out someone else’s exhaled smoke.
Since I’d arrived a few hours ago, the temps had dropped and a coating of snow had covered the ground. Not an uncommon occurrence for this time of year in upstate New York. By now it had stopped snowing, and I could see the moon and a few stars through the parting clouds. The effect of the full moon on the fresh snow had an eerie fake-looking brightness to it. But fake-looking or not, it was bright outside, and I had to be careful not to be spotted by my prey.
I stayed in the moon’s shadow on the backside of the Red Barn to keep out of sight, and as I made my way towards the front corner of the building, I could hear the three of them laughing and cursing. They reminded me of my drunken frat brothers in my freshmen year at Notre Dame, except they were twenty five plus years older, less mature, and dumbed down by a couple of hundred IQ points.
They sounded far enough away that I wasn’t concerned they’d see me when I poked my head around the corner and peered into the parking lot. Before I spotted them, I heard Ostrich Boy talking about Mary Sue. Other than the cursing, I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but his tone was bad.
His maniacal laugh was even worse.