“You right-handed or left-handed?” He looks to me, up from the chair he’s bound to. The wood is mahogany—old, thick, and matching the desk I’m leaning against. Stout juts his chin to the right, the sweat dripping from his goatee adding to dampness already home to his crotch.
I cut the zip tie that binds his right hand to the chair.
“And you?” I say, turning my attention to the other piece of shit, McDonough. The thicker man looks to his right hand as well, but as he does, Ray re-enters the office. Like me, he’s still wearing the Kevlar. Unlike me, he comes bearing gifts: a gas can in each of his gloved hands.
“I see you’ve started without me,” in a way I had, but not how one might think. I’m young here, no longer part of the CCPD, and at a time in my life where failure and I had yet to fuck one another. It meant Jeramiah was still years into the future, Batista still retained the parts of his face he’d eventually lose, and Ray, well Ray was still six feet instead of five.
“Just awaiting your return,” I say, and feel the metal hit the desk.
Ray sucks his teeth, “That’s why these two are going to love you, Bishop. You’re inclusive in what you do, never failing to leave anyone out of the process.” He’s fucking with them now, and the show, it wasn’t new. It’s how Ray’s always been, war, post-war, or otherwise.
I finish my business with McDonough, freeing the hand he’d motioned to. We’re in the man’s own office, surrounded by pin-up posters, a couple of filing cabinets topped with liquor bottles, and a small beige couch that had seen better days. Through venetian blinds to the right of Stout I take in Culver Bay, the docks, and the purple sky above them both. A storm was coming. For some, it was already here.
“Each of you are going to list as many people as you can. Men who could sit in those very chairs and I’d have a hard time spotting the difference.” I had their attention. Of course I did. It’s the way this game was played. Home to a set of rules I’d been forced to understand.
“Whoever gives me the highest number of shitbirds, you are the one who walks. Not forever. Just today. Until Ray and I here come looking for you again.” If they were smart, they’d picture using that time to either come at me themselves or hightailing it the fuck out of Dodge.
It’s what the man in front of them hoped they’d believe, anyway.
I hand them pens and clipboards.
They write. Stout faster than McDonough. This surprises me, even though it shouldn’t have. Not because human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry but because dirty cops have always been a beast all their own.
Goatee still dripping, Stout gestures through the gag. “You sure?” He nods. I take the clipboard. Read it. Look to McDonough. “You need more time?” He shakes his head, his eyes like O’s, and then he begins to openly weep. I nod to Ray.
From the small duffel he removes goggles and places them on the bald man’s head, taking and then handing me the clipboard in the process.
“You’re thinking ‘why the goggles’, am I right?” And Ray, as he likes to do when we get to this part, he hunkers down and places his hands upon McDonough’s knees. “It’s because feeling what’s about to occur is only half of what people like you deserve. You need to see.”
Protests comes next—a type of pleading from both men, the kind that each of them would withhold from others without a thought.
Did it change things? Would it?
No. And then McDonough is drowning in fuel, his clothes hungry for the liquid. Ray empties the can, shakes it, then switches it for the full one. He sets it a few feet in front of the man. My turn. I push Stout closer to that gas can, ensuring he would accept the full brunt of what was to come.
Neither was ever leaving this office alive, no matter how much they wanted to believe in what I told them. Part of them probably knew that, but still, I’d never ask.
I’d lost my mother. I’d lost my sister. I’d one day lose a leg. But here now, back at the start, I was not yet the monster I needed to become.
The fire spreads fast, the explosion coming faster. From the passenger seat of the van, I pull the names from the clipboards—names I did not have at the start of the day. Ray smiles. I nod.
Time to go to work.