Jason Pelekoudas tried to explain to Pete the Polack how it worked.
“See, it was a hundred and eight months and you can get parole in a third. But, they count every day you don’t fuck up as two—good time, they call it—so I come up for review in a year and a half.”
“A hundred and eight months still seems like a hell of a long time to be out in a year and a half, I’m thinking,” Pete said. Pete’s last name was Woods. Everyone called him Pete the Polack because he was dumb enough for two of them.
“It’s nine years.” Jason tired of going over it, afraid Pete might think he cut a deal, let the wrong story get back to the wrong person.
“Then why don’t they say nine years?”
“I don’t know why. They just do. So a hundred and eight months—nine years—a third of that is thirty-six, right?”
“If you say so.”
“And half of thirty-six is eighteen.”
“Why half? I thought you said a third.”
“They already took the third.” Jesus. This was worse than the time Jason had to explain menstrual cycles to the rapist on his cellblock. “Now they take half of what’s left, on account of every day I served counted for two, since I kept my nose clean.” Jason hurried on before Pete asked anything else stupid. “So, every day for eighteen months counts twice, which makes it the same as thirty-six months, which is how much time I needed for a hearing. Crowded as the joint is, they was happy to see the back of me.”
Pete had to think about it. “Yeah, but you’re out in, what? A year and a half.”
Jason wondered if beating the shit out of this dumb son of a bitch was worth going back in for. “Eighteen months is a year and a half, Pete.”
“Okay, fuck it. I never said it wasn’t.” Pete spit onto Cass Avenue from the sidewalk in front of the Rosa Parks Transit Center. Jason looked over his shoulder, remembered the night him and Pottsy Mercuri got into it in the alley behind, when it was still the Lindell A.C. Pottsy pissed because he thought Jason had balled his girlfriend. Which he had, not that she was worth getting beat up over. “You been to see Muzzy lately?” Pete said.
“I only been out a week, Pete.”
“Okay, then. You been to see him since you got out?”
“No. It ain’t like Muzzy and me was ever close, you know?” Not since Muzzy thought Jason shorted him on his end of a job, which Jason hadn’t. Muzzy the kind of cheap SOB who rounded everything in his favor, stayed in shape by carrying the grudges he’d accumulated.
“He’s sick, you know,” Pete said. “Got that ALS shit.”
“Ugh. I feel for him.” Jason did, too. Read that sportswriter’s book about Morrie, who seemed like too nice a guy to have be fed through tubes, other people wiping his ass. “That’s no way to go. How bad is he?”
“He’s in a wheelchair, but he still gets around pretty good. He was asking for you.”
“Asking for me?”
“Yeah. Said he has something he wants to talk to you about. Only you. I think he’s trying to clear his conscience before he checks out.”
Jason didn’t remember Muzzy having much of a conscience. Of course, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing it was for you… “He still at the same place?”
“Yeah. Just him and the wife now, and he’s wearing her down. I’m half surprised she ain’t taken him out yet.”
Muzzy Marcol lived in a shotgun house half a block off of Holbrook Avenue, a quarter mile from St. Florian’s Church in Hamtramck. Jason paused on the top step, thought about going home, knocked. Muzzy’s wife answered the door. Mrs. Muzzy—people had called her that for so long Jason didn’t remember her real name—went to Mass every morning since she and Muzzy moved here almost thirty years ago. Fat lot of good it did her, waiting on him in his wheelchair, aging herself two days for every one served. “Jason! Muzzy said you were out. How does it feel?” She raised up to peck his cheek, showing her age but still a sweetheart.
“It feels great. Thanks.” Jason stuck for what to say next.
“Come on in.” Mrs. Muzzy took his elbow. “Muzzy’s been asking about you. You want a cold beer?”
“No, thanks. I really can’t stay.”
“Give him a fucking beer!” Muzzy’s voice carried from the next room. “And bring me one.”
“Muzzy, you know you’re not supposed to drink.”
“Why? It bad for my health, or something? What do you think I do all morning while you’re at Mass? I need a load on to get through all the fucking good cheer you bring home.” That sounded more like the Muzzy Jason remembered.
Beers in hand, Jason and Muzzy sat at an angle to each other in the re-arranged living room. Paths had been cleared for the wheelchair to move into the kitchen, powder room, or to the stairs, where one of those ski lift-looking contraptions could haul Muzzy up and down. Jason took a peek upstairs, saw another wheelchair ready. “Pete the Polack says you’re looking for me.”
“That’s it? You’re not gonna ask how I’m doing? What’s going on? Nothing?”
Jason opened his hands to include the new room arrangements. “I figured it might be a sore subject, you know, so I let it pass.”
“And got right down to business. ‘What do you want, Muzzy?’ Could you at least pretend you give a shit how I am?”
“I’m sorry. Really. How are you?”
“I’m dying, you inconsiderate bastard. How the fuck you think I am? Every day I get a little worse until one day I won’t be able to breathe and I’ll die. How are you, asshole?”
“Better than that,” Jason said and Muzzy broke up.
“All right, all right. I wasn’t looking for you just to break your balls. Things ain’t been right between us for a long time. I might’ve been wrong about that. I wanted to see you to maybe square things a little, before… you know.”
“Sure, Muzz. What do you have in mind?”
“I know a guy, works for a private security monitoring company. You know, household and business alarms, shit like that. He was in this house in Livonia a few weeks ago, fixing a problem, and he sees this guy’s got what my friend thinks is hundreds of thousands of dollars in sports memorabilia. Jerseys, hats, football helmets, balls. All kinds of shit. He called me last week, says the guy’s going to be out of town for a few days. The place will be empty.”
“Except for the alarm.”
“My guy’s on the inside. He can get you past the alarm.”
“Why doesn’t he do the job himself, he knows how to get past the alarm?”
“The truth? He ain’t got the balls. He’s willing to tee it up for ten percent of your net.”
“When’s the house going to be empty?”
“Tomorrow, through the weekend.”
“Jesus Christ, Muzzy. That ain’t much time to set something up and case it.”
“Not my fault you took your time dragging your ass over here. I spread the word soon as I heard you were out.”
The last words Demmi Kiraitis said to Jason before he went away forever were, “Anything that sounds too good to be true, is.” Had to be something Muzzy wasn’t telling. “How’s this inside guy so sure when the mark will be out of town?”
“He called last week, told the company he’d be away and no one should be in the house. Anyone tripped the alarm and the master code didn’t get put in right away, don’t waste time calling him. Just scramble the police.”
“And I’ll have the master code, courtesy of this mystery man.”
“Won’t it point back to him, working for the company, and all, being there in the past few weeks?” Guy didn’t have the balls to do this himself would roll over on Jason in a heartbeat.
“He says he has that dished. Even if he doesn’t, don’t worry about it. That’s his problem.”
“Until he flips.”
“The only name he has is mine.” Jason drilled Muzzy with a look. Muzzy opened his hands, looked down at himself. “Why would I give you up? What are they going to threaten me with? Worst thing can happen is they put me away for a few months and the state pays my medical bills. They’re not gonna want to do that, so I know I’m getting a pass. I have no reason to put you in.”
Jason had no argument for that. “How much we talking about?”
“My guy thinks maybe half a million. Even if you only get ten percent from the fence, that’s fifty grand for an hour or two’s work.”
A fifty grand score a week out of Jackson could set Jason up for a nice year. “Still…I wish I had more time.”
“Well, you don’t. You want in, or not? Either way, my conscience is clear. We’re square. Come on, kid. It’s time to fuck or walk.”
Jason didn’t walk, hoped he wasn’t about to get fucked.
Seemed like a lot more stairs up to Muzzy’s front porch than last time Jason was there. Mrs. Muzzy let him in, handed him two cans of beer, one with a straw. Jason shrugged, walked into the living room. First thing he noticed was the new wheelchair, then how much smaller Muzzy looked, two weeks since he’d seen him.
“Nice chair,” Jason said. Handed Muzzy the beer with the straw.
“I couldn’t get around in the old one no more.” Muzzy worked a finger on a pad on the arm of the chair. Backed it up, turned it around, brought it back.
Jason sipped his beer. “Nice. They have competitions for those? Slaloms and shit?”
Muzzy sucked beer through the straw. “Took your time getting here. I was starting to think you weren’t coming.”
“You were starting to hope, you mean. You knew I’d come.”
“Probably think it’s my fault, don’t you?”
“Things happen. I felt rushed, I shouldn’t have taken the job. I took it, so that’s on me.”
“I talked to my guy. You know, at the security company. Asked him what the hell went wrong.” Muzzy’s torso moved, could have been a shrug. “Said, how was he supposed to know the guy’d come back early?”
“No way he could,” Jason said. Muzzy’s taste buds must be going, too. Shitty beer. “Still, funny he’d see all that memorabilia and never notice the gun rack right there on the wall above the seats from Tiger Stadium.”
“Guns in the house shouldn’t of been a problem with no one home.”
“But the guy was home, Muzzy. Or someone was. That’s why I been two weeks getting back to you. Shotgun took a chunk out of my leg. Today’s the first day I’m getting around good enough to come.”
“Ah, jeez. I’m sorry to hear that. Was supposed to be a milk run.”
“Like I said, it happens.” The beer felt good going down over the Vicodan. “You seen Pete the Polack lately?”
“Pete? No. We don’t run in the same circles much anymore.” Muzzy looked down at the wheelchair, legs dangling.
“I thought your social life might be suffering, so I brought him with me.”
“Where is he?’
“Outside. In the car.”
“Bring him the hell in.”
“He’s good out there. Listen, about that mark being home that night. Dumb luck and all, him coming home like that.”
“Like you said, it happens. I still feel bad about it, though. I get word of anything else good, it’s yours. I don’t get included too much anymore, but whatever I hear, you can have.”
Jason shook his head. “It’s cool. The way I figure it, you did what you could, and you’re a sick man. I probably owe you a little, extending yourself the way you did.”
Muzzy waved that off with just his fingers. “You don’t owe me dick. I almost got you killed.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t your fault, Muzzy.” Jason finished his beer, crushed the can in his hand. “The almost part.”
Jason not sure Muzzy was breathing, he got so still. “What are you talking about?”
“I didn’t waste that day I had to case the place. Drove the neighborhood, I forget how many times. Day, night. Rented a car so people wouldn’t see mine too often. Staked out the house when it got dark. No one came in and no one went out. The lights went on and off with timers the same times as the night before. Didn’t see anyone moving around inside. The garage was empty when I backed the van in, two o’clock in the morning.”
They looked at each other for at least a minute. Jason went over to the wheelchair, took the straw from Muzzy’s can and folded it into his pocket. Picked up the beer and took a sip. “Pete says his cousin dropped him off in the middle of the afternoon to wait. I must’ve just missed him. More bad luck.”
“Yeah,” Muzzy said.
“It was Pete fucked it up.” Another sip. “Said my name so I’d turn around. Didn’t want to shoot me in the back, I guess. I heard a voice, no one supposed to be home, I hit the floor. Threw myself out the window when he come around the couch for a better shot.” Jason rubbed his leg. “Must’ve been me running away got Pete over his reservations about back shooting.”
“You say he’s in the car?”
“I told him I’d bring you out, clear the air. I ain’t mad. It was business. I understand that. A couple things still need to be straightened out.”
“Bring him in here. Christ, look at me.”
“It’ll be okay. This kind of conversation, you don’t want no one to accidentally overhear. Your wife’s at the store, but we might not be done by the time she gets back. I’ll wheel you out, we’ll take a drive. Put the top down, get you some fresh air. Supposed to be good for you, right?”
“Nothing’s good for what I got.”
Jason dipped his head. “I guess not. Sorry. Still, it can’t hurt. Beautiful day out. Like Indian summer. It’ll be nice.”
Jason moved behind Muzzy, took hold of the chair’s handles. Muzzy did something on the control panel. “No, we can talk here. She don’t come in when I got company unless I tell her. Go get Pete.”
Jason gave a push, felt the resistance. “Muzzy, we’re going outside. I can wheel you out, or I can carry you. It’s your choice.”
Muzzy rocked his head back and forth a few times. Moved his finger on the arm of the chair and Jason felt the wheels unlock. Pushed him though the kitchen, backed the chair down the steps. Maneuvered around a chip in the front walk.
“Where’s Pete?” Muzzy said. “I thought you said he was in the car.”
“He is.” Jason opened the passenger-side door, lifted Muzzy out of the chair. “In the trunk.”
“What the fuck is this? You said the three of us was going to talk.”
Jason folded the chair, put it in the back seat. “We are going to talk, Muzz. You and me. Pete can if he wants to, but he wasn’t all that talkative on the way over.” Started the car.
“What the fuck is going on? You said just talk.”
The car pulled away from the curb. “We’ll talk all you want, Muzz. The Lions, the Wings, the weather. Talk about the Middle East, for all I care. We got about four hours.”
“Four hours? Where the fuck we going?”
“Cheyboygan. Actually, a little past, up closer to the bridge. I know a pretty little woodsy area off US-23. Real nice up there. A little cool this time of year, but it’s not supposed to be too bad for a few days.”
“What the hell are we gonna do up there for a few days?” Muzzy slumping against the door, side of his face pinned to the glass.
“Not we, Muzzy. You. You’re gonna wait.”
Jason shrugged. “Depends. Winter. A bear, maybe.”
Dana King’s novel A Small Sacrifice was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Indie PI Novel for 2013. His first traditionally published novel, Grind Joint, was released by Stark House in November 2013, and was named by Woody Haut in the LA Review of Books as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013. His short story, “Green Gables,” was published in the anthology Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, edited by Todd Robinson. Other short fiction has appeared in New Mystery Reader, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and Powder Burn Flash.