Authors: Andrew Vachss
Tags: #General Fiction
Wesley would have killed the human who carved up the dog anyway; dogs weren't the only things that he liked to cut, and a practicing degenerate like that automatically attracted the police, even in this neighborhood.
He had ghosted up behind the target, who was still squatting obliviously before a tiny fire he had built out on the Slip. Wesley sprawled in the weeds, looking like a used-up wino, and quickly screwed the silencer onto a Ruger .22 semi-auto.
The first shot sounded like a soft wet slap, audible for only about fifty feet. It caught the freak in the back of the skull. Wesley stayed prone as he pumped three more bullets into the target's body, working from the mid-spine area upward.
He was about to leave when he heard the moaning. He thought it might have been a little kidâthe freak's usual preyâand he was about to fade away when the dog struggled to its feet. Wesley went over then; a dog couldn't identify him.
Wesley still didn't know why he had risked someone spotting him as he quickly cleaned the dog's wounds, protecting his hands against the expected attempts to bite that never came. Or why he carried it back to the old building. It wasn't playing the percentages to do that. But he hadn't regretted it since. A man would have to kill the dog to get into Wesley's place. And that night on the Slip, the Doberman had proved itself very hard to kill.
The police-band radio hummed and crackled as Wesley showered and shaved. He carefully covered his moderate-length haircut with Vaseline jelly; anyone searching for a grip would end up with a handful of grease instead.
Wesley changed into heavy cotton-twill work pants that were slightly too baggy from the waist to the thighs, ankle-length work boots with soft rubber soles, and an off-white sweatshirt with elastic concealed around the waistband. The steel-cased Rolex came off his left wrist, to be replaced by a fancy-faced cheap “aviator” watch. A Marine Corps ring with a red pseudo-ruby stone went on his right hand; a thick gold wedding band encrusted with tiny zircons on his left.
Wesley carefully applied a tattoo decal to his left hand, a tricolor design of an eagle clutching a lightning bolt. The legend “Death Before Dishonor” ran right across the knuckles, facing out. The new tattoo looked too fresh, so Wesley opened a woman's compact that contained soot collected from the building's roof. He rubbed some gently onto his hand until he was satisfied.
Next, he took an ice pick from a steel-drawered tool case and carefully replaced the thick wooden handle with a much slimmer one. The new handle had a sandpaper-roughened surface and a passage the exact size of the ice-pick steel right through its middle. The old steel was anchored to the new handle with a four-inch screw at the top. Wesley applied a drop of Permabond to the screw threads before tightening the new tool.
After laying the ice pick on the countertop, Wesley crossed the room to a brightly lit terrarium which held several tiny frogs. The terrarium was too deep to allow the frogs to jump directly out; still, it was covered with a screen as a precaution.
Four of the frogs were the color of strawberries; the others were green-and-gold little jewels.
Wesley slowly reached in with a tropical-fish net and extracted one of the green-and-gold frogs. He placed the little creature on a Teflon surface that was surrounded by wire mesh. After replacing the cover of the terrarium, Wesley gently prodded the tiny frog until clear drops stood out visibly on its bright skin. Holding the frog down with a forked piece of flexible steel, Wesley rolled the tip of the ice pick directly across the skin of the squirming frog.
He put the ice pick aside, returned the frog to its home, replaced the wire screen across the top, and then dropped the Teflon pan in the steel sink. Holding the ice pick in one hand, he poured boiling water over the Teflon surface so that the residue ran into the drain. He knew, from extensive tests, that the minute secretions of the golden poison-arrow frog were almost instantly
fatal. The two men he had tested it on were slated to die anyway, and the buyer hadn't been particular about how they exited.
A circlet of cork was placed around the tip of the ice pick, which was then inserted into the screwdriver pocket of the work pants. Wesley flexed his leg and saw that the outline did not show. He wasn't surprised.
Wesley walked back into the entranceway, where the Doberman now reclined. He didn't bother to see if the dog had foodâit knew how to get food or water by pushing one of the levers under the sink. He checked the closed-circuit TV screen above the door, saw that the hallway was empty, and left. The door locked silently behind him.
:00 p.m. Wesley went up to the garage. The old man was checking tire pressures on the Ford. Wesley noted that the plates had been changed to ones with the characteristic “V” prefix of Suffolk County. He climbed behind the wheel and slipped a key into a slot hidden beneath the dash. An S&W Airweight dropped into his waiting palm. He pushed the release and examined the opened cylinderâthree flat-faced aluminum wadcutters and two steel-jacketed slugsâthen snapped it closed and put it back under the dash.
He held the pistol in place and turned the key again; the electromagnets regripped and the gun disappeared.
The Ford had four coats of carnauba wax on its dusty-appearing flanks; it wouldn't leave paint smears unless it hit something head-on. Even in the nearly airtight
garage, the idling engine was as silent as a turbine. Wesley raced the engine, but the volume rose only slightly. He looked questioningly at the old man, who said: “It robs you of some power, but it don't make no noise. If you want to go and you don't care about the sound, just pull the lever next to the hood release.”
Wesley pulled the lever. Even with the engine idling, the motor rumbled threateningly.
“Muffler bypass,” said the old man.
esley drove slowly out of the garage mouth. The street was empty, as it usually was. The old man would have warned him if it were otherwise. He turned onto the FDR Drive, heading for the Triborough Bridge. Traffic was still slow.
The races didn't begin until 8:05 p.m. Of course, Mansfield would be there early, since the Daily Double window opened about 7:25. Wesley hit the exact-change lane on the bridgeâone less face to remember him or the car, as unlikely as that was.
Traffic lightened up as he approached Yankee Stadium and was moving along fairly quickly by the time he spotted the track ahead on the right. He paid the parking-lot attendant $1.25 and nosed the Ford carefully along the outer drive of the lot, looking for the spot he wanted. He found a perfect place and pointed the front of the Ford back toward the highway.
Just as he was about to get out, a red-faced attendant ran up screaming, “Hey, buddy, you can't park there!”
Wesley computed the risk of arguing and making himself memorable against the gain of having a safe place to exit from. He immediately rejected the idea of a bribeânobody bribes parking-lot attendants at Yonkers, and any attempt would be remembered. He decided instantly: either he got the spot he wanted, or he'd wait for another night.
The attendant was a fiftyish clown with an authoritarian face. His wife probably kicked him all over the house; but here in the lot he was boss, and didn't want an ignorant working stiff like Wesley to forget it.
“Get that fucking car outta that spot!”
“I'm sorry, sir. I didn't know. I'll do it right now.”
Wesley climbed back into the Ford and pressed the ignition-disconnect button with his knee. The starter screamed, but the engine stayed dead. “Shit! Now the fucking thing won't even start!” Wesley made himself sound frightened at the attendant's potential anger, and got the result he wanted: the clown, having established his power, relaxed.
“S'all right, probably just the battery. Maybe it'll start after the races.”
“Goddamn! I'll call a garage. But then I'll miss theÂ â¦”
“Oh, hell. Leave it there,” the clown magnanimously told him.
nd Wesley did. He walked toward the back gate, paid $2.25, got a large token in exchange, slipped it into the
turnstile, and passed inside. He paused at a booth that offered “PROGRAMS 75Â¢” in huge letters across its top. He gave the man three quarters, took the program and a tiny pencil from a cardboard box on the counter, and turned to leave.
The counterman's voice was loud and obnoxious. “Hey, sport, it's a dime for the pencil!”
Wesley never changed expression; he reached in his jacket pocket for another dime and paid the man.
Outside, he moved toward the track, looking for the target. He had plenty of time; Mansfield was a known railbird, and he'd be glued to the finish line before the first race went off. The mob guys usually sat up in the Clubhouse and had flunkies bet for them, but Mansfield liked to see the action up close.
That didn't make things easier for Wesley, just different.
He drifted away from two old ladies on the rail. Experience had taught him that the elderly were the most observant, almost as much as children. At seven-thirty, Wesley went to the $2 Win window and bought five tickets on the Number 5 horse, Iowa Boy. The jerk just in front of him screamed, “The Six horse, ten times,” and threw down his hard-earned double sawbuck as though he had just accomplished something major.
Wesley glanced over to the Double window and saw Mansfield just turning away with a stack of tickets in his manicured hands.
Probably wheeled the Double
, Wesley thought to himself, watching to see if anyone else was paying attention.
o point following Mansfield. Wesley went to the men's room. It was filled with the usual winos, misfits, and would-be high rollers, all talking loudly and paying attention to nobody but themselves. Too crowded; he'd have to do the job outside after all.
Wesley had watched Mansfield for three weeks and time was getting short. The target might be leaving for the Coast any day now, and that would end the contractâWesley would only operate in New York.
ack outside, Wesley saw Mansfield in his usual spot, right against the rail. Iowa Boy was parked out for most of the race but closed like a demon and paid $16.80. From the way Mansfield tore up his tickets and threw them disgustedly into the air, Wesley concluded that the fucking loser was running true to form.
It wasn't really dark enough yet, but Wesley knew that Mansfield always stayed to the bitter end. The fool liked to bet the Big Triple in the ninth race. When he went into the men's room, Wesley followed right behind. But, as he expected, it was impossible to work there.
he crowd kept getting denser and more excited. Wesley hoped for a hotly contested race to really get them all moaning with that sexual roarâthe one amateur sociologists mistake for greedâthat erupts when the horses come around the paddock turn for the final time.
The seventh race had a few real dogs runningâa couple of hopefuls up from Freehold and a couple more on the way down. The tote board showed a possible payoff of almost a grand on a deuce if you coupled the right nags, and the tote board was showing heavy play. Mansfield had gone to the $20 Exacta window, so he'd have something to think about this race for sure.
This kind of work would be easier with a partner, but Wesley didn't work with partners. He had already been down twice, long enough to note that not many men who worked with teams went to prison alone.
Wesley pressed right behind Mansfield, but the target never noticed. He may have been a top professional on his home ground, but at the track Mansfield's nose was wide openâhe sold dope, but his jones was strictly for Lady Luck.
The crowd started screaming as soon as the pace car pulled away with the gate, and got louder and louder with every stride. A pacer named E.B. Time was trying to go wire-to-wire at 35â1, and the crowd was berserkâYonkers was a short-stretch track, and the long shot might actually hold on.
At the paddock turn, the roar swelled and all eyes were glued to the track. The horses thundered down the stretch, with the drivers whipping the shafts of the carts, bouncing up and down, as though the race hadn't been decided in the Clubhouse hours before. Wesley slipped the ice pick from the screwdriver pocket and held it parallel to his right leg, point down.
Five horses hit the wire together as Wesley slammed the poison-tipped ice pick deep into Mansfield's kidney.
The crowd screamed
as one, straining forward to see the board.
Mansfield slumped against the rail. Only the weight of Wesley's body pressing against him kept him from falling. The ice pick was back in Wesley's pocket a microsecond after doing its work. He backed his way through the crowd unnoticedâthey were all waiting on the photo examination for the winner to be posted.
Wesley had already wiped the ice pick and tossed it softly into the grandstand shadows when he heard the first tentative scream. He knew Mansfield had been dead before he hit the ground. The poison on the tip would make sure the sucker had no luck that night. A knife did more tissue damage, but a knife would need more room to make sure it didn't get stuck in the body.
He was out of the gate and shifting the Ford into Drive when he heard the sirens. By that time, thousands of losers were leaving, too, clogging traffic in all directions.
he towel Wesley had previously soaked in kerosene removed the decal tattoo before he was out of the parking lot. He drove the Ford back across the Triborough, discarding the rag out the window, but turned toward Queens instead of Manhattan. Just before the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, he pulled the car over to the side, where a red Chevy sat with its hood up and no driver in sight. Wesley got out of the Ford, quickly removed his
jacket, stuffed both rings and the watch into the pocket, and left it on the front seat.
He reached back in and turned off the Ford's engine, pulling the key out of the ignition. He entered the Chevy, grabbed a new jacket from the front seat, reached in the pocket, and put on the gold Accutron and the sterling ID bracelet he found there. The jacket fit perfectly.