Tracy had killed a lot of guys. He was good at it and had no trouble doing it; morally or otherwise. He was good-looking and worked primarily for the same people. But because he was a hitter, he had fewer problems than some others whenever there was a management change. Norm had taken over from Charlie, and some in the family felt Nicky was the better choice, but Tracy didn’t care one way or another. There’d always be people that needed to go away, and Tracy could be counted on to get the job done for the family, no matter who was in charge. He was a part of a crew, but pretty much in name only. This way, if someone in the crew needed to go away, there was no conflict. But now and then, the crew needed his services too, and he’d do jobs for them. Mitch ran the crew and told Tracy it was a consignment job, and that the guy was probably long gone with a hundred grand, but if he could find him and kill him, he could take twenty cents on the dollar and turn the rest back in. So Tracy said fine, and went over to the guy's place and, looking around for anything that might tell him where the guy might go, all of a sudden the guy walked in. Right away he could tell this guy, this Viner, was gay and could hardly believe how easy the whole thing was gonna be.
For all his faults, this Viner was a bit of a clotheshorse, and Tracy, being a good-looking guy, was a kind of wannabe clotheshorse himself. So it wasn’t unusual for him to make a reference to the guy’s clothes once he got the drop on him. As he was taking him down the back stairway of his apartment building to the parking garage he said,
“You and your sale-priced Bullocks suit have come to the end of the road, pal. At least you’re dressed for whatever comes next. I’ll try not to get the suit dirty.”
“C&R,” he said.
Tracy stopped and faced Viner.
“Bullshit,” he said.
“No. C&R’s everyday prices were lower then Bullocks sale prices. Didn’t you ever see their commercial? If you shopped around you’d know that. That’s probably why they went out of business.”
The way Tracy operated was Viner drove his own car and Tracy sometimes rode in the back and sometimes in the passenger seat. Once he had the money or as much as he thought he was gonna get, Viner’d go in the trunk or, if he was behaving real good, possibly have been allowed to drive out to where he’d be killed and dumped. As they drove along, Tracy thought about what Viner had said.
“What about Men’s Warehouse?” he asked. “You like them?”
“Well,” he said, nodding, “I have two. One I wear when somebody dies. You know; showing up and looking good but not to stand out in any way. But I bought it for that purpose, so that’s no slight on them, and as we both know, they are fast and convenient. The other suit I bought, I liked but I never wear and I can’t really tell you why. It just hangs there. But I did have an experience with them and again, it’s, well, it’s probably not their fault. I stay out of the sun because my family has a history of skin cancer, but I went up to the lake and didn’t put on my sun block and I came back with a little color, you know? So I went to Men’s Warehouse and it was great. I looked great and the suit looked good too, but I had to go out of town and when I got back I picked up the suit; my tan was gone and it just wasn’t me. So we tried different colored shirts, but you know, nothing worked. Finally, and since it was my fault and I was in a Men’s Warehouse, I just took the suit and let it go at that. One night, I wanted to go casual, you know, and I put on a turtleneck sweater and jeans with, like, not penny loafers but similar to those, in oxblood. But the jeans, I only wear designer jeans, they have no pockets, so I wind up taking the suit coat from that suit and it looked good, but that was only a one- time thing. But that suit you’re wearing isn’t Men’s Warehouse.”
“3-Day Suit Brokers,” Tracy said. “My girlfriend’s brother works there. What do you think?”
“Hmm. Get another girlfriend, I’d say, but I’m just the victim here. Not many victims are gonna tell you what they really think. How many suits do you have from there?”
“Three, and two sport coats,” he said.
“For that money, I’d have gone to Macy’s or Bullocks. My philosophy is to have four great suits. If you can get it at a bargain so much the better, but that suit is not you. I’m sorry. Look, you’re going to kill me anyway, so I might as well be truthful. You’re better-looking than I ever was and quite obviously ever will be. But so many of you handsome guys dress like idiots. I didn’t mean you specifically, but the point I’m trying to make is you start out with the advantage of looking good and then fuck it up by failing to develop any style or fashion sense of any kind. I can’t tell you how many times good- looking guys like you have come up and asked me about clothes. Now, I give you and them credit; you at least know what looking good is all about and you want to improve, because you have enough guts to ask. To that extent, I admire that. But the problem is, most of you, and I suspect that goes for you too, have been doted on and told how handsome you are, all your lives, and you turn a blind eye to what you’re wearing. You’re at the mercy of some bimbo or other with big tits that you wind up with to buy your clothes; like they know!”
“Yeah, but her brother seemed to know what he was doing,” said Tracy. “And he’s a three-legged fryer too and they’re supposed to have fashion sense.”
“You said he was a three-legged fryer,” said Viner. “What’s that?”
“He’s queer, you know. They’re supposed to be up on fashion and shit.”
“A three-legged fryer?”
“Yeah. How many legs does a chicken have?”
“Two, I guess.”
“So sometimes in grocery stores they give you an extra leg with a half-a-chicken. They call it a three-legged fryer. But since a chicken only has two legs….”
“It’s queer,” said Viner. “Okay, I got it. Three-legged fryer. That’s good.”
“You never heard that?”
Viner shook his head.
“I don’t think we travel in the same circles.”
“What did you call queers in your circles?”
“I don’t know,” said Viner. “Honey, sweetheart, whatever.”
“I don’t mean when you’re in bed with them. I mean between guys, you know?”
“Gobblers, I guess. That’s short for knob gobblers. Faggots, whatever. But who says they have a better fashion sense than anyone else?”
“They do, for one thing,” said Tracy. “I mean, artists, decorators, hairdressers…anything artistic. Anyway, this guy; her brother, seemed sharp. What’s wrong with this suit?”
“It doesn’t fit for one thing, and it just doesn’t suit you,” said Viner. “I mean if you were one of those killers with a pot belly and looked like a slob or something, what would it matter? But you’ve got a flat stomach. In fact, you look in pretty good shape. So by that reasoning, why are you wearing a three-button suit?”
“I figured it looked classier.”
“And he let you figure that, did he?”
“Well, I asked, and yeah, sure. He said it looked good.”
“Was he looking at your dick when he said it?” asked Viner. “Because, and I’m only guessing here, I think he would have agreed with you no matter what you said. First of all, he was probably terrified. I mean, I’m sure your girlfriend is wonderful but I’m guessing she likes, well, masculine men for one thing, and maybe killer-type men for another. Add to that how good-looking you are and I just think he was probably fantasizing about sucking your dick and just saying, yeah, yeah, yeah to everything you said. Am I right?”
“Yeah but, he works there. He should know something. He should at least have taste.”
“He’s a fucking salesman,” said Viner. “He has a taste for a fucking paycheck and his sister walks in with a you; a done deal. I’ll bet he never said no once in the time you were in that store. Am I right? He liked every idea you had, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Listen, you got a little lucky today with me, admit it. I wasn’t coming back here, but I took a chance, and now you got me and I’m dead. What I’m saying is, unless you’ve got somebody else to kill today, let’s go out and get you a suit. I’ll bet you anything that inside of fifteen minutes, I can make you look better than your girlfriend’s queer brother.”
“You don’t have anything to bet with,” he said. “Not even your life.”
“Yeah but you’ve got nothin’ to lose but an hour of your time. We’ll go over to Macy's. It’s at the south end of the mall. Where were you gonna dump my body anyway?”
“Up in the valley by the dam project. Why?”
“Why up there? The fucking coyotes’ll eat me. Do me in the parking lot at the mall. That way at least I’ll get a burial.”
“Your party doesn’t want you to have a burial. They want you to disappear.”
“Well, how do you get paid then?” he asked. “You just show up and say I did Viner, give me the money?”
“We haven’t got that far yet. It’s a consignment deal. I collect the money from you. Then you disappear.”
“In that case, why don’t I give you the money and I disappear on my own?”
“No, it don’t work that way,” he said. “But that does give me an idea. When we get down there and get the money, and if you don’t give me any shit and the money’s right, we’ll go get that suit and talk about the rest of it later.”
“The rest of what?”
“You trying to talk me out of killing you, of course. What do you think; I just fell off the fucking turnip truck? You ain’t the first, pal, and you won’t be the last, but I will cut you some slack if you come up with the money. Otherwise I’ll cut off some other shit you won’t be needing, but it’ll be sad to see it go anyway. So what’ll it be?”
Ten minutes later they arrived at the storage yard, and after opening up his unit, Viner pulled out a box and started to open it, then stopped.
“You wanna look?” he asked.
“Go ahead,” he said. “If your hands come outta there with anything besides fucking money, I’ll see the coyotes get to eat your ass while you’re still breathing.”
Viner came out with eight wrapped stacks of bills and put them down next to the box.
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“Hey, don’t start that shit,” he said. “Eighty grand is what he gave me. If he skimmed twenty off for himself, that’s between you guys. Eighty is all I took and all he gave me.”
“Whaddayamean, 'all he gave you'?”
Viner blanched and said quickly, “I mean, I just mean that’s what I have…that’s what I took.”
“'All he gave you'. That’s what you said. You said it twice. What the fuck is this? He gave you eighty grand to run off with. Why would he do that?”
“No, ya got it wrong. I meant I took eighty grand. He didn’t give it to me.”
“And you knew it was a hundred grand I was expecting. Why would you say he skimmed twenty for himself? What the fuck is goin’ on? I’m bein’ set up. That’s why they told me I could take twenty cents on the dollar. That’s too high for a mope like you and a deal like this. You knew you were on the spot and you still came back to your apartment. I’m not lucky. Those fuckers set me up and you’re a part of it.”
“Well, no,” said Viner. “But you’re lucky in a way. This is my deal now. Mitch gave me the money. He figured you knew about him…you know? Him and me and that as soon as anyone found out, they’d take him out. So he started, you know, saying he heard you talkin’ treason and that Norm wasn’t doin’ the job and it shoulda’ been Nicky and all this. Then he said you... you were sayin’ Mitch was queer. Norm gave 'em the go- ahead. The money came outta the union fund to set you up, but he was gonna put it back.”
“Where were you supposed to take me?”
“Well, that was it,” said Viner. “It was Contures; that gay place up on Valley. They don’t open until six. I was supposed to say I had a guy holding it for me there. He was gonna kill ya in the parking lot so he could say, ‘look, the fucker accused me and he gets hit while he’s suckin’ dick or somethin’.”
“Motherfucker,” he said. “And you’re…you two are fuckin’ each other. Sonofabitch!”
“Well, not exactly, but kind of, sort of.”
“What the fuck does that mean; kind of, sort of? What the fuck is that?”
“Look,” said Viner, “it’s like you guys work it out in the joint. Ya go up for a few years and it’s okay to get your dick sucked and fuck a guy in the ass. It’s funny to us but you don’t think anything about that. That don’t make you queer. You’re having sex with men but that don’t make you queer. As long as you’re getting sucked and doing the fucking, no, you’re still big strong men. You’d never in a million years be queer. Well, Mitch did those three years back in the day and he knew a friend of mine up there. It was no different. Anyway, he gets out. I used to own the property of the chop shop out in Irwindale. I meet him and ah, it’s the same deal. I suck him and he fucks me now and then…that’s it.”
“Does he kiss ya?”
Viner sighed and shook his head.
“Of course not. You guys are…anyway, that’s it. That time up in La Canada at that restaurant. I’m with a friend; a woman friend, and he comes over and says hello and sees you across the room and he thinks that you think he’s queer or somethin’ and that’s what we’re doin’ here.”
“That’s it. You guys are so paranoid over somebody even thinking you might like a man that way, that that’s what we’re doin’ here. He set you up over the slightest chance that him coming over and saying hello to me in a restaurant, might mean you think he’s queer.”
Tracy shook his head and said softly, “It’s just wild enough. It’s just wild enough to be exactly as you said. Except for one thing.”
Viner opened his hands and said, “What?”
“You brought me here. You never intended to go through with it because you were makin’ it up as you went along. And he’d never have given you the money; any money. Just say your friend had it and killed me in the parking lot. You didn’t need money for that. And you’re his punk; his willing punk. He’s not threatening you. You’re treatin’ him good of your own free will. Maybe you love him or did love him before you took the money. You might sell him out to keep me from killing you, but the eighty grand down there proves you took the money; all one-hundred grand and I’ll bet there’s another twenty here someplace. But you’re good. That was good. Now let's go buy me that suit and we’ll talk about the rest of it later.”
Tracy looked at himself in the three-way mirror. He turned right, then left and unbuttoned the coat. Viner came over and buttoned it again.
“No, that’s what I mean; you’re not listening,” said Tracy, raising his voice. “I feel a little constricted when I turn around. The coat looks good straight ahead but when I turn, the shoulders feel tight. That’s why I told you I wanted a vest. That way I can unbutton it.”
“You’re built like a goddamn tennis player; too top-heavy. They can alter that. No vest for you. You’re not a banker.”
“Why not? You don’t have to be a banker to wear a vest. I like the three-piece suit look.”
“Listen to me,” said Viner. “We can solve this. I agree. The three-piece look is nice and you’re... you can wear it, but not a vest. Would you consider a sweater vest? A sweater vest looks great and would be perfect for you; more collegiate, less stuffy.”
“Whaddayamean? Like, more like a professor or something?”
“Well yes, kind of. Before you decide, let's at least try one or two. Then, if you want the three-piece suit, fine, just not with stripes. In charcoal gray would be nice.”
“I like stripes,” Tracy said. “They look classy.”
“Well, why don’t you just kill me then, because I will not let you buy that fucking suit! Why don’t you get a fucking top hat to go with it and put a fucking carnation in the lapel every morning. You’ll be a big hit at the track. I can hear 'em laughing from the infield now. Goddamn it, if you’re not gonna take my advice, why the fuck did you bring me along?”
“Lower your fucking voice. If you get us thrown outta here you’ll fucking regret it. There’s worse things than dying, ya know.”
“Then gimme some hope!” said Viner. “Hope for life, hope for death, hope that you won’t buy that fucking suit.”
Tracy looked back in the mirror.
“I’m just kinda built funny, aren’t I? I’ll probably look not quite right in my suits for the rest of my life. It’s not taste. Maybe it’s me.”
Viner sighed, grabbed his forehead and said, “I can’t do this. Now you’re depressed. I’m the victim and you’re depressed. This is too crazy. Listen. On my word, buy the charcoal gray three-piece suit. Do it for me; in memory of me if you like. Tell the guy, let’s go have a drink and you can do what you need to do after that.”
“I like the night life,” said Tracy, taking a sip of his drink. “I don’t get out that much in the day.”
“You’re not afraid of skin cancer, are ya?”
“No history of it in your family?”
“It’s like I told ya before; about that tan I got. I mean, now that, now that this is it, I’m thinking about how I could have made it better, ya know? I could have been more well rounded; played golf or something like that. I hate putting on that fucking sun block. It stains your shirts. That’s what it is. We live but there are all these restrictions in what we can do. So we don’t do them and one day you know you’re gonna die and ya wonder, what the fuck was that? Why not play a little golf? It’s not like ya have to play eighteen holes. The sun’s good for ya.”
“Now you’re making me depressed.”
“I mean, it’s not like you’re gonna get out of it alive, either. You should... you should play a little golf; maybe tennis. It’s California, for Christ’s sake. There’s no night life out here. They roll up the sidewalks at nine.”
“You gotta know where to go. Besides, you wouldn’t do anything different and neither would I. It’s easy to say that when you’re gonna die. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this speech. If it was me and not you, I’d be sayin’, ‘I might have looked great in that gray, pinstriped suit’. That’s what hope does, in the end. It makes ya believe shit is gonna change; be different. You took that money from Mitch. What did you think was gonna happen? And then, you go to the one place where you might get caught. You’ve got a hundred grand and could go anywhere; anywhere on earth, and ya go back to your apartment and ya raise your voice and embarrass me in Macy’s because I wanted a gray pin-stripe three-piece suit. Does any of that make any sense to you?”
“I am sorry about that. I said I was sorry.”
Tracy nodded his head, took another sip of his drink and said, “Ya can’t do this job without being philosophical. I’d tell you to be philosophical too, but it’s not in the nature of our relationship. Tell me, where would ya go if I, you know, decided not to kill ya?”
“You know,” Viner began, “it was a kind of... it was kind of poetic. I mean you’d figure me for Vegas or Reno or even Atlantic City, you know? But I had a thought about those...those riverboat casinos on the Mississippi. I mean, I’m sure wiseguys got eyes and ears there too, but it was just a thought.”
“I’ll give ya credit. You know who you are and you don’t want to change. You’re a gambler and you fucked up. Most gamblers do, but when ya get 'em cornered; most of 'em anyway, they say ‘Hell no….not me. I’m gonna open up a Subway and sell sandwiches for a living; settle down’, and all this. Deluding themselves to the end, and I know, because I am the end. And I’ll tell ya, in recent years; not all the time but more than when I started, I have conversations with the mark before we conclude our business.
Maybe... I mean maybe we should all play golf and walk around with tans looking our best and wearing the right clothes. But we don’t because we pretty much do what we want to do and for a lot of us, that don’t mean golf. We tend to want what golf might give us; a tan or even more exercise. But we don’t do it.”
He took another sip of his drink and said, “My bimbo girlfriend; the one with the que…gay brother? She’s got cancer. I can’t be there for her. I mean, everybody wants to be there for somebody when tough things happen; illness, grief, that kind of thing. I can’t because, because I’m another kind of cancer in a way. We come around, things look bad. Maybe we give ya a little false hope, go into that, what do you call that stagnant thing cancer does?”
“Yeah, remission. But in the end, we get our mark, ya know. So I can’t be there for her. It’s somebody else’s contract now.”
“I’m sorry. I... I’m sorry I called her that.”
Tracy shrugged and said, “It’s pretty much true. She’s nice, she’s good people though. But that’s it, ya know. It all ends the same way.”
“Is... is she in remission?”
He shook his head and said, “No. I don’t know. Why?”
“I was wondering if... if you have a remission; you know, a stagnant thing?”
“Yeah, I do. You’re enjoying it now. But there was this one guy. Above the dam up there where I said I was dumping you? That road; Highway 39, used to go through to the 2, ya know; the Angeles Crest Highway. Now it ends at Falling Springs, but where it ends is only about two, three miles from where the 2 goes by. Ya get up on the 2 and go east, ya can get to Wrightwood. From there, ya know, Barstow, Vegas, whatever. I gave him a choice. And ya know what? On the one hand it was sad but on the other, it couldn’t have gone any other way. I mean, there he was; I offered him life. All he had to do was hump three miles and maybe another fifteen or eighteen on the road. Ya know how far he got? Two hundred yards. I think he was afraid of, ya know, snakes and mountain lions, bears, whatever. Those things are real but he might have made it. He probably would have. Instead he just came back down and said, ‘Nah, thanks anyway’.”
“I’m not sure I’d do it either,” said Viner. “I’m from the city. That shit scares me.”
“Ya see?” said Tracy. “We all have a fate worse than death.”
Tracy got up and put some bills on the bar.
In the car Viner said, “Is there anything more I can say to change your mind?”
“Where’s the other twenty grand?”
“I got it. Why?”
“You never fucked around with Mitch, did ya?”
He shook his head.
“That was good,” said Tracy. “That was good. So, ah, so ya got somebody who could use twenty grand?”
“Whaddayamean? Ya mean like family or something?”
“It don’t have to be family; anybody. Somethin’ to leave behind, you know. You won’t be using it.”
Viner drove on and finally smiled sadly and said, “No, not really. That’s funny isn’t it? I mean, sad in a way, too.”
“What about lovers; anyone like that?”
“Ya know, that’s one thing about you gays,” said Tracy. “I took out an insurance salesman a while back. He said you can’t sell life insurance to you guys. It’s a contradiction too because in other ways you’re as considerate as they come; always remembering to send cards and flowers and shit. Nicest people around, really. And yet when you’re gone, you’re gone. Ya don’t seem to care about leaving anything to your significant others. What’s that all about?”
“Ya got insurance?”
“You may have noticed we’re not exactly a monogamous group. If you had insurance, how many of your ex-girlfriends, or even ex-wives, would you have as beneficiaries?”
“Yeah, I can see that. Tell me, would you do any of it differently? I don’t mean golf and all that. I mean if you could go back, would you have had somebody to give twenty grand to?”
Viner paused and said, “No, not really. I’m a degenerate gambler and I’m gay. That’s my life. I like the thrill of winning. I like young guys. No, fuck it. I liked bein’ who I was. You know, like that French song, 'No Regrets'?
Viner paused and looked over at Tracy.
“You’re not gonna kill me, are you?”
Tracy shook his head and said, “No. I haven’t killed the last few. But even if I had, I find your honesty refreshing. We are who we are. Take me back to your place.”
After a while Viner said, “I suppose you’re keeping the eighty grand?”
Tracy shook his head.
“No. Twenty cents on the dollar, remember. I’ll give it to Mitch. Take your twenty grand and go somewhere; play some golf.”
Just outside his parking garage, Tracy nodded to himself and said, “Thanks for the style lesson. Your steamboat casino idea’s not a bad one. If they see ya in a big city, we’re both dead.”
He got outta the car and before closing the door said, “I guess we’re both dead anyway, aren’t we?”
Tracy sat across from Mitch. The eight ten-thousand-dollar wraps sat between them.
“How’d ya find him?” Mitch asked.
“I didn’t. I found a receipt for a storage locker down below the freeway. I figured it was a worth a look. It took me ten minutes.”
“The hundred grand?”
“No, just what you got there.”
“Eighty, not a hundred?”
“Yeah,” said Tracy. “That’s all there was. I figured I’d drop it off before I went lookin’ for him and the rest.”
“Well, ah, I mean, you got a line on him?”
“Not really,” he said. “But guys like him accept the risks. They choose to be who they are; what they are. He’ll turn up. If he doesn’t, I’ll come back for the sixteen grand.”
“Why not take it now? There’s not likely to be much of the twenty left when you find him.”
“It’s not like I’m overworked, Mitch. Besides, it’s what I do. I‘m not into collections.”
Tracy got up and smiled.
“I find people. When he’s comin’ out of a coyote’s ass, I’ll come for the money.”
“I wish there was some way I could change your mind,” he said.
“Nah. I’m more acquainted with this sort of thing then you realize. It’ll be fine,” said Tracy, getting up. “There is one thing you might be able to help with, though. You guys are big golfers for the most part. I’d like to take a lesson; maybe pick up some clothes and equipment. Can you recommend anyone?”
He sighed and said, “Sure. There’s a place out in San Bernardino. Actually, I’ve got her card. Betty Sampson, a black pro. She’s the best teacher around. Use rented clubs for a few days and then ask her what she thinks would be right for you.”
“Way out there, huh?”
“The courses are so crowded these days. Believe me, I’m trying to do you a favor. Ya go in the morning and all the traffic is going the other way. Coming back it’s the same.”
“How long would you figure I could play?”
“Two months…maybe. Here’s her card. It’s right off Waterman. You’re sure you won’t change your mind?”
Tracy shook his head and smiled. They shook hands.
About the author:
Walter “Jack” Savage is a retired broadcaster and Associate Professor of Telecommunications and Film. He is a graduate Mankato State University in Minnesota and received his Master’s Degree from California State University, Los Angeles. The Suits and the Killer is Jack's third story chosen for publication by The View From Here. Yellow Food and Ellies Is Here 2 appeared in issues 16 and 19. Jack is the author of four books: two novels and two short story collections with his new novel, The Children Shall Be Blameless due out in 2012. He and his wife Kathy live in Monrovia, California.