Read Mortal Lock Online

Authors: Andrew Vachss

Tags: #Collections & Anthologies, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #General

Mortal Lock (8 page)

This business came to me from my father. My father’s father before. Our family; this is what we do.

The truck I use, that is always new. But the business, that has been here since before there were such things.

I drive by night, without lights. The sounds of the truck carry through the open air, but not so far. The sound of my weapons carries a greater distance, but gunshots in the desert carry no significance.

I have electronic equipment, too. And explosives. My truck is camouflaged, but it flies a flag. Our family’s flag, at the very top of one of the antennas.

Most of the bandits know that flag. They are not fighters; they are carrion-eaters. They know there will always be other trucks, carrying much easier prey. They do not interfere … at least, not anymore.

I take the border-crossers to the gateway, but I never follow them across. On each drive back, I pray they find their Paradise.

Sometimes, I cry because I had to send them to Paradise myself.

But I have my work. My oldest son is almost twelve. Soon, he will start riding with me.

My name will live through him, as my father’s does through me.

That is my Paradise.

for Michael A. Black

By Joe R. Lansdale and Andrew Vachss


Leonard eyed Veil for a long hard moment, said, “If you’re a lawyer, then I can shit a perfectly round turd through a hoop at twenty paces. Blindfolded.”

“I am a lawyer,” Veil said. “But I’ll let your accomplishments speak for themselves.”

Veil was average height, dark hair touched with gray, one good eye. The other one roamed a little. He had a beard that could have been used as a Brillo pad, and he was dressed in an expensive suit and shiny shoes, a fancy wristwatch and ring. He was the only guy I’d ever seen with the kind of presence Leonard has. Scary.

“You still don’t look like any kind of lawyer to me,” Leonard said.

“He means that as a compliment,” I said to Veil. “Leonard doesn’t think real highly of your brethren at the bar.”

“Oh, you’re a bigot?” Veil asked pleasantly, looking directly at Leonard with his one good eye. A very icy eye indeed—I remembered it well.

“The fuck you talking about? Lawyers are all right. They got their purpose. You never know when you might want one of them to weigh down a rock at the bottom of a lake.” Leonard’s tone had shifted from mildly inquisitive to that of a man who might like to perform a live dissection.

“You think all lawyers are alike, right? But if I said all blacks are alike, you’d think you know something about me, right?”

“I knew you were coming to that,” Leonard said.

“Well,” I said. “I think this is really going well. What about you boys?”

Veil and Leonard may not have bonded as well as I had hoped, but they certainly had some things in common. In a way, they were both assholes. I, of course, exist on a higher plane.

“You wearing an Armani suit, must have set you back a thousand dollars—” Leonard said.

“You know a joint where I can get suits like this for a lousy one grand, I’ll stop there on my way back and pick up a couple dozen,” Veil said.

“Yeah, fine,” Leonard said. “Gold Rolex, diamond ring.… How much all that set you back?”

“It was a gift,” Veil said.

“Sure,” Leonard said. “You know what you look like?”

“What’s that?”

“You look like Central Casting for a mob movie.”

“And you look like a candidate for a chain gang. Which is kind of why I’m here.”

“You gonna defend me? How you gonna do that? I may not know exactly what you are, but I can bet the farm on this—you ain’t no Texas lawyer. Hell, you ain’t no Texan, period.”

“No problem. I can just go
pro hac vice

“I hope that isn’t some kind of sexual act,” Leonard said. “Especially if it involves me and you.”

“It just means I get admitted to the bar for one case. For the specific litigation. I’ll need local counsel to handle the pleadings, of course.…”

“Do I look like a goddamned pleader to you? And you best not say yes.”

“ ‘Pleadings’ just means the papers,” Veil said, his voice a model of patience. “Motions, applications … stuff like that. You wanted to cop a plea to this, Hap wouldn’t need me. I don’t do that kind of thing. And by the way, I’m doing this for Hap, not you.”

“What is it makes you so special to Hap?” Leonard asked, studying Veil’s face carefully. “What is it that you

“Fight,” Veil said.

“Yeah,” I said. “He can do that.”

“Yeah, so can you and me, but that and a rubber will get us a jack off without mess.” Leonard sighed. He said to Veil, “You know what my problem is?”

“Besides attitude, sure. Says so right on the indictment. You burned down a crack house. For at least the … what was it, fourth time? That’s first-degree arson, malicious destruction of property, attempted murder—”

“I didn’t—”

“What? Know anyone was home when you firebombed the dump? Doesn’t matter—the charge is still valid.”

“Yeah, well they can valid
,” Leonard said, making a gesture appropriate to his speech.

“You’re looking at a flat dime down in Huntsville,” Veil told him. “That a good enough summary of your ‘problem’?”

“No, it ain’t close,” Leonard said. “Here’s my problem. You come in here wearing a few thousand bucks of fancy stuff, tell me you’re a fighter, but your face looks like you lost a lot more fights than you won. You don’t know jack about Texas law, but you’re gonna work a local jury. And that’s still not my big problem. You know what my big problem is?”

“I figure you’re going to tell me sometime before visiting hours are over,” Veil said.

“My problem is this. Why the hell should I trust you?”

“I trust him,” I said.

“I know, brother. And I trust you. What I don’t trust, on the other hand, is your judgment. The two ain’t necessarily the same thing.”

“Try this, then,” Veil told him. “Homicide. A murder. And nobody’s said a word about it. For almost twenty years.”

“You telling me you and Hap—?”

“I’m telling you there was a homicide. No statute of limitations on that, right? It’s still unsolved. And nobody’s talking.”

“I don’t know. Me and Hap been tight a long time. He’d tell me something like that. I mean, he dropped the rock on someone, I’d know.” Leonard turned to me. “Wouldn’t I?”

I didn’t say anything. Veil was doing the talking.

Veil leaned in close, dropping his voice. “It wasn’t Hap who did it. But Hap knows all about it. And if you keep your mouth shut long enough, you will too. Then you can decide who to trust. Deal?”

Leonard gave Veil a long, deep look. “Deal,” he finally said, leaning back, waiting to hear the story.

Veil turned and looked at me, and I knew that was my cue to tell it.


“It was back in my semi-hippie days,” I said to Leonard. “Remember when I was all about peace and love?”

“The only ‘piece’ I ever knew you to be about was a piece of ass,” Leonard said kindly. “I always thought you had that long hair so’s it could help you get into fights.”

“Just tell him the fucking story,” Veil said. “Okay? I’ve got work to do, and I can’t do it without Leonard. You two keep screwing around and the guard’s going to roll on back here and—”

“It was in this house on the coast,” I said. “In Oregon. I was living with some folks.”

“Some of those folks being women, of course.”

“Yeah. I was experimenting with different ways of life. I told you about it. Anyway, I hadn’t been there long. This house, it wasn’t like it was a commune or nothing, but people just … came and went, understand? So, one day, this guy comes strolling up.
Nice-looking guy. Photographer, he said he was. All loaded down with equipment in his van. He was a traveling man, just working his way around the country. Taking pictures for this book he was doing. He fit in pretty good. You know, he looked the part. Long hair, but a little neater than the rest of us. Suave manner. Took pictures a lot. Nobody really cared. He did his share of the work, kicked in a few bucks for grub. No big deal. I was a little suspicious at first. We always got photographers wanting to ‘document’ us, you know? Mostly wanted pictures of the girls. Especially Sunflower—she had this thing about clothes being ‘inhibiting’ and all. In other words, she was quick to shuck drawers and throw the hair triangle around. But this guy was real peaceful, real calm. I remember one of the guys there said this one had a calm presence. Like the eye of a hurricane.”

“This is motherfucking fascinating and all,” Leonard said, “but considering my particular situation, I wonder if you couldn’t, you know, get to the point?”

Seeing as how Leonard never read that part of the Good Book that talked about patience being a virtue, I sped it up a bit. “I was out in the backyard one night,” I said. “Meditating.”

“Masturbating, you mean,” Leonard said.

“I was just getting to that stage with the martial arts and I didn’t want any of the damn marijuana smoke getting in my eyes. I guess I was more conservative about that sort of thing than I realized. It made me nervous just being around it. So I needed some privacy. I wasn’t doing the classic meditation thing. Just being alone with my thoughts, trying to find my center.”

“Which you never have,” Leonard said.

“I’m sitting there, thinking about whatever it was I was thinking about—”

“Pussy,” Leonard said.

“And I open my eyes and there he is. Veil.”

be some scary shit,” Leonard said.

“Looked about the same he does now.”

“Yeah? Was he wearing that Armani suit?”

“Matter a fact, he wasn’t,” I said. “He looked like everyone else did around there then. Only difference was the pistol.”

“I can see how that got your attention,” Leonard said.

“It was dark. And I’m no modern firearms expert. But it wasn’t the stuff I grew up with, hunting rifles, shotguns, and revolvers. This was a seriously big-ass gun, I can tell you that. I couldn’t tell if he was pointing it at me or not. Finally I decided he was just kind of … holding it. I asked him, politely, I might add, if there was anything I could do for him, short of volunteering to be shot, and he said, yeah, matter of fact, there was. What he wanted was some information about this photographer guy.

“Now hippie types weren’t all that different from cons back then, at least when it came to giving out information to the cops. Cops had a way of thinking you had long hair you had to be something from Mars out to destroy Mom, apple pie, and the American way.”

“Does that mean Texas too?” Leonard asked.

“I believe it did, yes.”

“Well, I can see their point. And the apple pie part.”

“I could tell this guy was no cop. And he wasn’t asking me for evidence-type stuff anyway. Just when the guy had showed up, stuff like that.”

Leonard yawned. Sometimes he can be a very crude individual. Veil looked like he always does. Calm.

“Anyway, I started to say I didn’t know the guy, then … I don’t know. There was something about his manner that made me trust him.”

“Thank you,” Veil said. I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic or not.

I nodded. “I told him the truth. It wasn’t any big deal. Like I
said, he wasn’t asking anything weird, but I was a little worried. I mean, you know, the gun and all. Then I got stupid and—”

when it happened?” Leonard asked. “That’s like the moment it set in?”

I maintained patience—which is what Leonard is always complaining he has to do with me—and went on like he hadn’t said a word: “—asked him how come he wanted to know all about this guy, and maybe I ought not to be saying anything, and how he ought to take his pistol and go on. I didn’t want any trouble, and no one at the place did either.

“So Veil asks the big question. Where is the guy right now? I told him he was out somewhere. Or maybe gone, for all I knew. That’s the way things were then. People came and went like cats and you didn’t tend to get uptight about it. It was the times.”

“Groovy,” Leonard said.

“We talk for a while, but, truth was, I didn’t know anything about the guy, so I really got nothing to say of importance. But, you know, I’m thinking it isn’t every day you see a guy looks like Veil walking around with a gun almost the size of my dick.”

“Jesus,” Leonard said. “Can’t ever get away from your dick.”

“No, it tends to stay with me.”

“How about staying with the story,” Veil said, still calm but with an edge to his voice now.

“So I ask Veil, it’s okay with him, I’m going back in the house and get some sleep, and like maybe could he put the gun up ’cause it’s making me nervous. I know I mentioned that gun several times. I’m trying to kind of glide out of there because I figure a guy with a gun has more on his mind than just small talk. I thought he might even be a druggie, though he didn’t look like one. Veil here, he says no problem. But I see he’s not going anywhere so I don’t move. Somehow, the idea of getting my back to that gun doesn’t appeal to me, and we’re kind of close, and I’m thinking he gets a
little closer I got a small chance of taking the gun away from him. Anyway, we both stick. Studying each other, I think. Neither of us going anywhere.”

“Neither the fuck am I,” Leonard said. “Matter of fact, I think moss is starting to grow on the north side of my ass.”

“All right, partner,” I told him, “here’s the finale. I decide to not go in the house, just sit out there with Veil. We talk a bit about this and that, anything but guns, and we’re quiet a bit. Gets to be real late, I don’t know, maybe four in the morning, and we both hear a motor. Something pulling into the driveway. Then we hear a car door close. Another minute or so, the front door to the house closes too. Veil, without a word to me, gets up and walks around to the drive. I follow him. Even then I think I’m some kind of mediator. That whatever’s going on, maybe I can fix it. I was hell for fixing people’s problems then.”

“You’re still hell for that,” Leonard said.

“Sure enough, there’s the guy’s van. I’m starting to finally snap that Veil hasn’t just showed up for an assassination. He’s investigating, and, well, I don’t know how, but I’m just sort of falling in with him. In spite of his sweet personality, there’s something about me and him that clicked.”

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