Authors: Steve Rollins
THE EVIL THAT MEN DO
A thriller by
Books by Steve Rollins:
The Frame Game
The Quantico Connection
The Evil That Men Do
STORM DONOVAN THRILLERS
The Evil That Men Do
Published by Steve Rollins
Copyright © 2015 by Steve Rollins
All rights reserved.
Ebook Edition, License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The Evil That Men Do
Things were definitely getting worse, Madeline decided.
She had even voted for that schmuck Reagan, twice, and despite all his bluster about how much better the average American was doing, she certainly saw less and less money in her purse. Putting missiles in space to stop the commies is all well and good, and oh, good for you Wall Street, but where did that leave an eighty-one-year-old widow with a crumbling townhouse that sucked her savings? Behind the minorities and the gays, one inch from the welfare line. It was an obscenity. There were even foreigners on the police force nowadays; her dear departed husband must be turning in his grave. There was no chance any goddamn colored would have got on the force when he was around.
She fingered the chain of the ornate jewel around her neck, a great diamond her beloved Charles had acquired during his great expansion of the family business. The war was good for that, at least. So much of a fortune to be made, so many opportunities after Hitler was destroyed by the heroes, and the Japs had been sent back to where they had come from. If the government would get off the pot and stop crying about gay marriage and crap like equal rights, and do something about the Ruskies once and for all, she might not be in this mess. The Rock of Rhodesia bounced against her paper thin skin and decaying bosom as she released the chain it hung on, the reflection of the great diamond glinting in the morning Georgian sun. Her brow furrowed with displeasure, not at the pain that the diamond should not have inflicted on her. She was always in pain, these days, and the Rock was feeling heavier to her by the day anyway. Marcos, her gardener, had missed a spot of grass just by the beautiful reddish-brown black birch that her father had planted in the garden, decades before. As soon as the tree had grown to maturity, her husband had become embroiled in his second great war, as terrible for his enemies as he had been against the Nazis. The squirrels that feasted on the nuts grown by the black birch fell in droves under the fire of his .22 rifle, but they returned again now that their exterminator could fire his rifle no more. Dive bombing Madeline’s bird table; the gall they had. She had tried to get Marcos to take action against them, but the man’s response every time she pleaded with him was to say, “No, Senora Frome, I cannot do that. I am only a gardener.”
And now, the useless man was shirking on the mowing of her pristine lawns, she was sure. Not only was he the most expensive gardener in town, there were certain expectations in society, of course, and Madeline Frome would not allow her gardens’ beauty to be surpassed by her neighbors, especially the damned Oswickis or Goretskys. The new money Polacks, who were barely Americans at all. What was the use in paying all this money, chipping away at her savings year after year after year, if he was going to scam her with the lawns? Sure, his work on the flower beds was a wonder, but that didn’t matter. Action must be taken, or she would look like a fool.
Madeline moved away from the window, disgust on her lips, muttering soundlessly to herself. With the use of her cane she inched her way painfully toward the telephone, the ivory handle wobbling of its own volition in her hand as her modest heels clicked over stained wood floors that could have used another coat of varnish a decade ago, but then in Mrs. Frome’s formerly grand town house much of the interior could no longer be considered classic, and would be found by most critics to have passed into decrepitude beyond antiquity. The gilded mirror that had adorned the hall at the bottom of the stairs showed Madeline’s reflection as she passed. Once when she had looked into the great oval of polished glass, it had shown a picture of a southern belle, high society in the years after The Great War, before the depression that had nearly ended the Frome family, before the second war and before the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam that had taken not one but two of her sons, before her third son had become one of those miserable degenerates and run off with a goddamn black boy to who knows where. Hell, most likely. She looked like hell now, white haired, wrinkled and unsteady on her feet. Her eyes at least retained their steel that had made men shake in their boots once with desire and later with fear. Her tongue remained sharp as winter, unthawed by decades of life in the Deep South. She did not need the mirror to tell her that. All that the mirror told her was that she was old, too old to miraculously come into enough money to preserve her house and the life that she had in Savannah for much longer. She had no relatives left to support her, and even if she had, it would be unseemly to go begging. There were elderly people living on handouts from her Baptist church, but Madeline Frome had stopped going to services when her husband passed on. Passed on to what? Madeline didn’t know. Nothing, she supposed. What use was a life, bowing and scraping right to the end?
No. No matter the cost, no matter what she had to do, Madeline Frome would not depart this life in disgrace. That was not for her, the bitter degradation of sitting in a chair in the old folks home, losing her mind along with her teeth, with barely educated orderlies cleaning her- no. That would be unacceptable. What had she come here, to her corridor to do? She had stood in her own mind for only a few minutes, but it had been long enough for her to momentarily misplace the memory. What was it? The damned squirrels, of course! She would call her husband at work, and remind him to pick up ammunition for his rifle; they’d clean the vermin out once and for all.
No. Victor Frome had been dead these last twenty years, a heart attack while driving his fine old Cadillac, and running into the courthouse for good measure. His gavel never rang again, no more thieves and murderers and rapists sent to the cells. It wasn’t Victor she was calling at all, as much as her heart ached and pounded when for that brief moment she believed he still drew breath. She dialed the number written down in her Rolodex, in which there were only three cards. The dial tone burred and clicked in her ear, and Madeline repeated under her breath what she would say to her errant gardener. There was no reply, and after a minute she hung up the telephone. Hateful device, she thought. What was the use of such technology if people were never on the other end of the line?
The doorbell rang, and through the old, rippled glass and her bifocal, horn-rimmed spectacles Madeline saw a figure she did not expect. Marcos, that treacherous man, stood bold as the brass on her doorknobs. With a grunt and a twinge in her bicep, the heavy oak front door finally opened, and she managed to pant out one word.
“Si, Senora Frome!” The Mexican man grinned, portly in his comfortable mid-forties, sweating heavily through his light T-shirt emblazoned with ‘Savannah Cardinals Baseball.’ His mustache was drooping from the heat and accentuated the south-of-the-border style that Madeline detested.
“Don’t you Senora Frome me, you ingrate!” Her voice returned with the force of a shrill wind, albeit a mere ghost of the power she once commanded, “You missed a spot on the lawns! Right under the tree! I knew you were trying to hoodwink me, goddamn you, you bastard. You are fired! No settlement pay; I’ve had enough of people like you, shirking work, ruining this town. Get off my porch!”
Marcos protested that he had in fact had a blade on his lawnmower break and had to return to his truck to make repairs, and had already done so. If Senora Frome would only look again. He had just returned and finished the task, and had even managed to tidy up her begonias which had begun to wilt. Madeline slapped him, weakly, and he left with a downcast expression on his broad face.
Good, she thought.
He might have tried to rob her, but she had been too clever, had always been too clever for the likes of him. Now her hand hurt. She had once slapped Victor so hard that she had broken a finger along with his sunglasses, after she caught him peeking at a woman immodestly dressed on the street. Now the weak push of an old woman. She cursed her weakening body that it could not keep up with her sharp mind, and picked up her cane again from where it had fallen. Her back creaked, and she feared she might get locked up again. What an embarrassment that had been.
Some minutes later, she was sitting in her rocker again on the rear porch, admiring her garden. Marcos had indeed trimmed the grass by the tree, as he had said. It didn’t matter. It was only a matter of time before he had tried to swindle her out of all her remaining money, people always did. She fingered the chain round her neck again, and thought of Victor, of happy days past, and how she would do anything to have her glory back once again.
Surely there had to be a better way of hauling bail jumpers back to court than hunting them down across Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties in mid-summer.
Roberta had been doing the same damn thing nearly every day for five years. R3 Recovery stands as bail bondsman. The perpetrator inevitably jumps bail. Roberta hauls ass after him, or sometimes her, and brings them back. Usually. The problem for Roberta at least, and by extension her two sisters who also ran R3 Recovery, was that the guys who had the higher bails set seemed to be able to fund their own bonds; negating the need for a bail bond and bounty hunters except for the real low life jerks.
Roberta ran over the details in her head about the man she was in pursuit of; Mike Lewis, thirty five, assault and battery. Bail set at five hundred dollars. Five hundred! Barely worth the time and energy; Ricki should have never even bothered with it, except for her ridiculous ideas that her reputation would be at stake. Her leather seat in the beaten, rusted dodge pickup that served as transport and occasional sleeping quarters sweated underneath her, the denim of her shorts moistened with her own fluids. Four hours parked, waiting on signs of life, hunched over and peering through binoculars through her steering wheel.
One of the great things about Savannah that Roberta had discovered in her time chasing down jumpers was that despite the high crime rate, insular attitude of the public toward outsiders and a penchant for drunk driving, these were balanced out by the great Baptist tradition of gossiping and tattle-telling. You couldn’t move in Savannah without a curtain twitching, especially during the summer months when the humidity was so high that mold grew on the inside of Roberta’s truck and required bleaching so often that the interior stank of cleaning supplies. Meanwhile, the other good citizens of Savannah camped out inside their homes and offices and openly thanked whatever higher being they could for their air conditioning units. The upshot was the reason that Roberta was so successful; with so many people indoors watching the world go by, someone always saw something. Her sister, Riley, was still learning this lesson, catting around town like young girls do, scandalizing the neighbors in the same way Roberta had done before her. It was a particular Vaughan family trait to follow the path of happiness and hang the public opinion out to dry. She bit her lip at a particular memory, momentarily taking her eyes away from her binoculars. When she returned her magnified gaze to the target, a flop house three hundred yards away at the end of the housing projects, she saw the blue Camaro identified by her anonymous tipper as being used by the fugitive Mike Lewis. Time to get to work. A heavy set man in his mid-thirties stepped casually out of the vehicle and brushed some debris from his vest. He turned on the spot once, and for a moment, it seemed as if he looked right at Roberta, right into her eyes even from that great distance. His face was poorly disguised by a thinly grown, graying beard that did little to change his face from the mug shot taken at the time of his arrest; a copy of which lay on Roberta’s dashboard. It was Lewis, alright. As she lowered the binoculars and stowed them in the glove compartment, her lips tightened. The introduction of the new cargo had caused her wallet to drop onto the floor of the car; the worn leather flopping open unhindered by anything other than the twenty dollars she kept in there for gas. She sighed. It wasn’t much of a paying job, but R3 Recovery needed all the cash they could get right now. Her rifle lay on the rear seat, covered by a blanket. She had never fired it at a human being, and didn’t plan on beginning that trend today, even if this man was the violent sort. It remained where it was laid as she coaxed the old engine to life and crawled down the street, the slight downhill incline taking most of the work out of it.
Curtains twitched in windows high and low as spying residents kept a look out. It had occurred to Roberta on more than one occasion that if these good people would merely form some kind of neighborhood watch instead of running a gossip mill, there might be a bit less crime in Savannah. Sure, that’d probably just make the Vaughan sisters poorer than they already were, but a little social responsibility might not be such a bad thing. She cursed herself for thinking like a politician, but unlike the rhetoric spouted on CBS, her thoughts were not directed toward the black community. In a town like Savannah, the population was almost exactly fifty-fifty, with a smattering of Asians and Hispanics. Racial divisions, sure not quite segregation, but not far from it still existed, and woe betide crossing that particular line, as her parents had. Three mixed race children later, all girls to boot, and the Vaughan family were the minority of the minorities.
Roberta stepped on the brake as she coasted to a halt behind the Camaro, riding up on the curb slightly with her huge, front left wheel. She checked her appearance in the rear view mirror. A bit sweat-smeared, but coffee skinned and reasonably made up for the task ahead. She flicked a couple of rogue ringlets from her bangs, then thought better of it and let her hair loose from the clip that held it behind her ears in a rough bun. Her brown locks cascaded to her shoulders, and Roberta worked out some of the worst of the tangles that remained. Lewis had, allegedly of course, beaten a local call girl within an inch of her life. If Roberta’s hunch was true based solely on the race of the poor streetwalker, this pig had a penchant for women of color. She might as well accentuate the mixed genes that she possessed. With a final look of almost approval at herself, she opened the pickup’s door, and stepped into the sweltering summer air of Savannah.
The house that Lewis had entered was like many others in that part of town, which was to say, run down, uniformly beige and in need of condemning or thousands of dollars’ worth of renovations. The door was conspicuous by its peeling blue paint, a poor job from the start as it had been layered thinly over white, and which was very much still present. Father would have shaken his head to see such shoddy workmanship. Roberta crossed the communal yard the building shared with its neighbors in a few long-legged strides, accentuating the swing of her hips in her denim shorts for the benefit of anyone watching—hopefully Lewis, but it never hurt to give the townspeople something to gossip a little more about. The door sounded wood wormed, the hollow thunk of the rap of her knuckles suggesting some damp wood at the core; not surprising for this area of the world. No one answered, so Roberta made a show of leaning back, peering in the windows and around the street. The windows were hung with long net curtains, good for keeping out mosquitoes and prying eyes, but she had already seen them on her advance to the doorway. She was about to knock again, when the door opened an inch or two, with the sound of two clicking bolts. Mike Lewis appeared.
“Yup? Whatcha wan’, girl?”
By his accent, Roberta figured him for a Savannah native. Up close she could see his mouth was filled with nicotine and whisky stained teeth, some of which were missing. The smell of bourbon was on him, which might make the coming events a little easier, or much, much harder depending on his temperament under the devil’s drink. Judging from the crime he was accused of, Roberta suspected the latter. She cleared her throat and took half a step back, and put on a nervous tinge to her voice that did not require as much acting skill as she would have liked to admit.
“Hey mister, boy am I glad to see you! See, I was just drivin’, to my momma’s house and my engine just straight stopped. Lucky for me, I saw you pull up, and I figure a strong man like you just might know his way around an engine, right?”
She flashed her most seductive smile, and was relieved to see the suspicion in Mike Lewis’ flint gray eyes soften; not much, but it was enough to know there was a chance of getting him out of his house. She imagined what the thought processes must be like in his mind. He’d been on the run for six weeks, in fear for his freedom and yet unable to get out of town without money, and certainly his chances of getting any female action was limited by having to steer clear of bars. Then, Roberta crops up on his doorstep, five foot five, mid-twenties and with a body toned by chasing scumbags like him down for half a decade. He must have thought that he was about to have all of his dreams come true.
“Well,” Lewis said, scratching his grizzled chin and clearly wishing he had not adopted the scruffy beard, “I guess ah could take a look see. What’s it worth to me, darlin’?”
Roberta was well practiced at hiding revulsion, and had certainly encountered more vile examples of humanity than Mark Lewis, but nevertheless his brazen, almost seamless maneuver from suspicion to predatory advances in mere moments almost put her on the back foot, almost put fear in her eyes, which would have ruined everything. Almost. She had to play dumb. She couldn’t over power this man, despite being a capable fighter. Sheer size differences made that unlikely, if not flat out impossible.
“I dunno, sugar, we’ll work something out later I’m sure.” Roberta flicked eyelashes, and turned to her pickup. “This is the piece o’crap right here, think it’s something under the hood, but I don’t know much about cars.”
She walked, replicating the hip-swinging strut she had used before. Thankfully, she took after her mother in the caboose department. Despite the confidence she put out, it was impossible to fail to recognize her skin crawling as she heard Lewis exit his bolt hole and follow her, knowing where his eyes were. She reached the driver’s side of her vehicle, opened the door and leaned into the lifted pickup to pop the hood.
That’s right, get a good look, you pig.
Lewis wolf whistled, and Roberta managed a look of false modesty as she span around. Lewis was nearly on top of her, grasping. She slipped away.
“Wait on, sugar, we just met. You gotta do me a favor before I do you any, deal?” she said.
Lewis grunted unhappily and peered into the engine of the truck. Roberta used the moment to reach back into the foot well and over to the passenger’s side to pull her steel handcuffs out. Her breath tightened in her chest as for the briefest moment through the gap left at the bottom of the hood in its raised position she met Mike Lewis’ eyes.
“Couldya turn on the engine, huh?”
“Right on it!” she sang, sweetly. She got into the vehicle. This was not in the plan; in a few moments he would realize there was no fault with the engine at all. She fired up the engine, and left it idling.
“OK, rev it!” he said, raising his voice over the engine. She did so, and then quickly slipped out of the passenger side door while Lewis was examining the perfectly functional engine block. She slid round to the front of the pickup, handcuffs in her right hand. Lewis had both hands fiddling with parts of the vehicle. In a moment, it was done. Lewis tried to spring back at the sensation of cold steel closing on his wrist, but only succeeded in falling to the ground, cursing. Roberta had deftly slid the handcuffs around one wrist, and slammed the other cuff to hold onto the hole in the metal frame of the car where the hood usually latched on. Lewis bellowed his anger when he realized, running through an impressive, unforetold breadth of vocabulary of obscenities. Roberta just smiled at him, backing away from his flailing hand as he tried to grasp his captor.
“Calm down, Mike. The police will be right along to pick your stupid cracker ass up. If you were wondering who to thank for your free transport to jail, you can send flowers to R3 Recovery.”
Another one bites the dust, as the song goes.