CHAPTER 6: ROOM WITH A VIEW
The nice thing about a city like Vegas was that when a man walked into a drug store covered in blood and reeking of sweaty dog, it was business as usual. I stepped up to the counter and threw down the bandages, handi-wipes, some sports drinks, and three pounds of beef jerky. Some girl with green hair and a pierced head was behind me chatting on her cell phone about flying out to Amsterdam to catch a P● show at the end of the month. It took all I had not to turn around and strangle the life out of the waifish little nit.
“—means Power. Fargo18 said it’s a reference to Damon’s first girlfriend, but he’s full of shit. Paula was his sister, not his girlfriend. Hey, did you know their guitar player is related to a serial killer? That’s so hot. I hear—”
I leaned in close toward the cashier. “Can you ring this shit up a little faster?”
As I walked out to the Jeep with my booty in hand, Cerberus sat in the passenger seat and casually watched me approach. In the few hours I’ve been with the dog, it never once threatened me. But its mindless stare made my skin crawl. And I was going to have to put the top up soon. This dog was far from predictable and the last thing I needed was him jumping out and running off with someone’s kid. I would probably have to put the chain back on him.
I threw the beef jerky at Cerberus’ feet then spent the next fifteen minutes doctoring myself. I was going to have a nasty scar over my left eye to match the one on my right temple.
After I put on a clean t-shirt I threw back the sports drink and waited a few minutes for the electrolytes to kick in. While I waited, I punched Mr. Benoit’s address into my GPS system. A little dot began to flash on the screen.
I looked over to see that Cerberus had eaten all three pounds of jerky, including the plastic packaging. “Have I mentioned that you are just wrong, dog?” He stared at me for a moment before giving a noncommittal lick of his chops. “Just remember, I’m your friend. And we don’t eat friends.”
Still, he just stared.
“And why do you smell like creosote?”
I parked a few hundred feet from Mr. Benoit’s house. It was a stylish ranch house in a cookie-cutter subdivision sitting at the end of the road. The black Mercedes that Benoit rode away on was parked in the driveway at an odd angle. Mounds of dirt and sod from some recent landscaping project were piled in front of the large bay window, but not high enough that I couldn’t see directly into the house.
Using a pair of binoculars that I fished out of the glove box, I watched Mr. Benoit as he talked on the phone, pacing through his living room and throwing his hands around like he was swatting at flies. The driver was sitting back on a couch, pale and barely clinging to consciousness. But there were three other men in the house with them. All big, all well dressed, and all standing around the coffee table on which sat my box.
“I hope you’re still hungry, dog.” I buckled up, started the Jeep, and hammered the pedal. There was no need to turn on my headlights. The street lamps gave me enough visibility to tell where I was going. Besides, I didn’t want the bastards to see me until I was sitting in their laps.
It took about two and-a-half seconds to cover the distance to the house. The Jeep hit the mounds of dirt and launched over the little cobblestone porch. When the grille hit the bay window, there was enough resistance to throw me against my seatbelt. Cerberus bounced and hit the dash, but didn’t seem terribly bothered by it. Just. Wrong.
Shit flew in every direction. Glass and splinters rained down on the marble tile, singing out like a thousand wind chimes. An ottoman went airborne across the house and slammed into the far wall. Lamps, tables, sofas, all erupted in a storm of broken house-bits.
I hit the brakes and skidded to a halt in the middle of the living room. I unbuckled my seat belt, reached back and grabbed the crowbar, then hopped out.
Mr. Benoit was sprawled on the ground, his mouth hanging open as he tried to form words. The driver was still on the couch, covered in shards of glass and a thousand new cuts. Cerberus must have messed him up pretty badly because the guy didn’t seem to be reacting to the Jeep that just crashed through the window.
The others were picking themselves up off the floor, all cut and bleeding from flying debris. One was only a few feet away when he started to reach into his jacket.
“What the fu—,” was as far as he got before I opened his face with the crowbar. The other two sprang forward. The first to reach me got a knee in his face. As he was falling away, I brought the crowbar up and fish-hooked the second guy, ripping his cheek open and sending small streaks of his blood across the cream colored walls. That just left Benoit.
Cerberus was already out of the car and on top of him. The dog had the man’s throat in his massive jaws. Benoit wasn’t moving. His eyes were the size of baseballs as the dog slowly squeezed.
“…call him off…can’t…breathe…,” he said, like I gave a rat’s ass.
I saw the box on the floor next to the driver who was now completely unconscious. I picked it up and tossed it in the back of the Jeep.
“Julius Benoit, how you doin’ there? Is the dog playing too rough with you?”
“…fuck…yoauugghh—.” Cerberus started his twelve-cylinder growl as he tightened his grip.
“You might want to be careful about what you say there, Mr. Benoit. I think he can understand you.”
The guy who got fish-hooked was cursing and stumbling toward the gaping hole in the front of the house. Blood pooled between his fingers and dripped to the ground with sickening plops. “…oooo…stupig moder fuugghhrrr…” He got around the Jeep, but when he tried to step over the debris and out onto the porch, he lost his balance and fell out of sight. He didn’t get up.
Wood and glass crunched underfoot as I walked over to the only upright chair in the room. I swept away chunks of window frame and took a seat. “Nice place you got here.”
He didn’t move. Cerberus had his meaty jaws wrapped around the man’s neck so thoroughly that if he closed his mouth, Mr. Benoit’s head would come clean off. A small trace of blood started to line away from the man’s nose.
Down by my feet were the contents of a spilled humidor. I found a cigar cutter and a book of matches amidst the rubble at my feet. “What everyone wants. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men. But today I’ll settle for some answers.” I took a big draw and blew a cloud of smoke into the air. “Hmm. Not bad. Now, Julius. How’d you know about the box?”
He made some sort of gurgly noise mixed with some broken vowel sounds when my cell phone rang. I checked the caller i.d. Julie.
“Hold on a second. Yeah?”
“Hey, baby. Watcha doin’?”
“Helping a friend redecorate. You?”
A steady buzz came through the receiver for a moment, then she said, “Thinking of you.”
“Oh. That’s…sweet.” Benoit’s eyes were getting even larger now and Cerberus’ growl was getting deeper. “Look, I’d love to play but I’m in the middle of something at the moment.”
“You still looking for your box?”
“Already found it. I should be on my way home any minute now.”
“Okay, baby. I’ll be waiting.”
“Don’t have too much fun while I’m gone.” I put the phone back in my pocket. The man with the open and bleeding face started groaning as he faded back into consciousness. I stood up and walked over to Benoit. “Look, Julius. I’ve got places I’d rather be. So answer my questions so I can get out of here. How’d you know about the box?”
Benoit breathed heavily through his nose for a moment then said, “Darby.”
I figured as much. “How do you know her. Ease up a bit, Cerberus.” The dog relaxed his grip and Benoit sucked in a deep draught of air. I swore the dog actually did understand what we were saying.
He coughed. “
“You do some work for him?”
Benoit made a croaking noise that sounded vaguely like a “yes.”
I took another draw from the cigar. “When did Darby tell you about the box?”
“…this afternoon…five, six hours ago.” Right about the time short-bus from
“Well, make sure to tell Darby that I’m viewing this little visitation from you no-necks as a violation of her restraining order. Next time I’ll have her ass hauled off to jail.”
“You…better…better kill me…”
I knelt down next to Cerberus, staring into Benoit’s eyes as I scratched the dog behind his ears. “Julius, I may be a lot of things, but a murderer isn’t one of them.” I stood up. “Don’t know if I can say the same about the dog, though.”
I tossed the cigar onto the chair, whistled, and then the animal and I got into the Jeep. As I backed out of Benoit’s living room, I could see him rubbing his throat as the chair caught fire.
Cerberus shoved his head in the back seat and started sniffing at the box.
“Hey, get away from that. Hey!” I pulled at his head but it wouldn’t budge. When I pulled a little harder, the dog growled and sneered at me. “Whoa, okay. Smell all you want. Jeesh.”
The dog went back to running his nose over the box, sucking in air through his giant nostrils. But after a few seconds, Cerberus gave a snort and then faced the front of the Jeep.
When I got back out onto the road, I dialed Rick. It took three tries before he finally answered. “What..uuuhh…the fibbik…say him where?”
“Rick, you babbling idiot, wake up!”
“I’m up I’m up. What? Dingo?” Rick sounded like he had been gargling rocks. “What’s up?”
“You owe me a new Jeep.”
I heard him take a swig of something then light a cigarette. Rick gave out a belch and said, “So why do I owe you a new Jeep? There something wrong with yours?” I could hear a woman’s voice mumbling in the background.
“Yeah, I just remodeled a home with it.” Rick started laughing. Cerberus nudged over from the passenger seat and sniffed the phone against my ear. His breath smelled of blood and rotten eggs. I gently pushed the dog back, half expecting to lose my arm in the process, but the dog acquiesced.
“What the hell did you do that for?”
“The guy you sold the Z to decided to have a peek.”
Rick’s laughing stopped. It was a few seconds before he spoke. “What happened?”
“What do you think? Darby sent a local goon squad after it.”
“Damn, she could sense it all the way out there?”
I pulled onto the Strip and came to a stop, letting the throngs of people shuffle from one temple of flashing lights to the next. “It doesn’t matter where it’s at. If the box is open, she can sense it.”
“How’d she get muscle out there so fast?”
“You’re shitting me?”
“Nope. Guess they’re a thing now.”
Rick laughed again, but it was more from nerves than humor. “Well, did you get it back?”
“Yeah, lucky for you.” I was only able to make it two more blocks before I had to stop for another herd of people. “All right, bro,” I said. “I’m on my way back home. Break a leg.”
“Yeah, thanks. And Dingo. I really am sorry, man.”
“It’s cool. Just don’t expect a Christmas card this year.”
I put the phone in my pocket and waited for the lines of people crossing the road to clear. I was tired, torn, and dying to take a hot shower. I entertained the notion of grabbing a hotel, but I didn’t want to spend any more time in this city than I had to.
I gave Cerberus a scratch on his head but then stopped when I saw the people in front of me running away in a panic. It didn’t make any sense until something hit the Jeep like two tons of angry gorilla.
My head hit the side window, spiderwebbing the glass as the back end of the Jeep swung around in a violent arc. I could hear people screaming, their voices wavering from the Doppler Effect created by my spinning Jeep. The front left tire hit the curb and then the Jeep lurched up onto two wheels, balancing for what seemed minutes. Cerberus slid off of the passenger seat and landed on the other side of my head. Gravity disappeared. The flashing lights of the strip danced in awkward ways, but then stopped when the Jeep finally fell on its side in a loud, anguishing screech of metal and concrete.
Outside I could hear more people talking, a few of them shouting. I crawled out of the top of the Jeep and slowly pulled my way onto the sidewalk. Even though the sun had set hours earlier, the pavement was still hot to the touch. But the freshly opened wound over my left eye was distracting me from the pain of burning asphalt. A few people moved closer, chattering away and pointing, but no one moved to help me. They all gawked at me for a moment, some even taking quick little snapshots before continuing on toward the pretty, pretty lights. Lights which for me were quickly fading.
Yep. Business as usual.