From Fever Dreme
Published October, 2015
ONE FROM COLUMN A
Someone slapped my face. Hard.
I was barely conscious. My head hurt. I could taste blood in my mouth.
Someone slapped my face again.
“What does the CIA want with me?”
Someone hit me again, this time with a fist. My teeth were loose, I could move one back and forth with my tongue.
Christ, I hurt.
I tried to talk. The blood tasted like rust.
“I bet you wear little PJ’s with feet,” I said.
That earned me another slap. Harder than the rest. I felt myself fading. I wanted to sleep.
“What does the CIA want with me?” Someone asked me again.
I was slipping. Faces started to appear. I wanted to talk to them. Ten years of faces.
Janet Franco. Russo. Levine. Kliener. Robert Willdom. Vinish. Briann. Foxe. Nnbume. Akira. Al- Shiberra. Colon. Nik-Wazir. Abu Keir. Renous. Crementz.
Not the full hundred. But enough.
Padrone. Remarque. Styles-Munez.
I couldn’t move my arms. Someone hit me again.
Larval. Katz. Ramone. La Vine. Jabbar.
They say you can drown in less than two inches of water. In this case, it was a bowl of wonton soup.
I was in the back of a Chinese restaurant in Roanoke, Virginia. It was after the lunchtime rush, around 2:45 in the afternoon and my fellow diners were few. Actually, there was only one other person at a table near the window at the front of The Purple Lotus.
I watched the top of my lunch companion’s head face down in the soup for any signs of movement or bubbles and didn’t see anything, just little bits of pork and green onions floating around his earlobes. I pushed his head down harder into the bowl just to be sure that his nose and mouth were totally submerged while keeping a wary eye out for Ting, our youthful server recently arrived from Hong Kong.
Ting was nowhere to be seen, and Dominic O’Mara was definitely dead.
I was tempted to wait for Ting to deliver my General Tso chicken luncheon special but I had to boogie. It was only a matter of minutes before she came back with the main course and I planned to be on my way back to New Jersey by then. I picked up O’Mara’s head by his ears just to be sure and then gently lowered it back into the soup. The Ketamine had worked quickly with the help of Dominic’s three Ketel One vodkas.
At my suggestion we met a couple of doors down for a quick drink prior to having lunch. The Bronze Door pub was fairly crowded at high noon with serious business drinkers getting an early start on their wasted day, a couple of bored housewives looking for a possible affair after their tennis lessons and a few digital marketing Internet agency people and their clients. More people were coming in every minute. The interior of the place looked like a Hollywood version of a Henry the fifth-style castle, kind of like Medieval Times meets Robin Hood. Crossbows everywhere.
The bar was hopping by the time O’Mara got there and he looked out of place. Maybe it was because of his size, or perhaps because he was wearing a pair of bib overalls like the bald guy in American Gothic. All he needed was a pitchfork. Everyone else was sporting Vineyard Vine sweaters and button-downs or Brooks Brothers suits. I was wearing a Canali suit and Hermes tie.
I recognized him from the target profile file photos when he walked in. A couple of people looked up when he stood at the door while he scanned the room. I waved to him from the bar. That was OK, I wanted people to see and remember him. He saw me and bulldozed his way over. Dominic must have tipped the scales at about 310 pounds and he was built like the proverbial brick shit house.
He sidled up to the brass rail and tried to sit down on a barstool. His buttocks spilled out from the top of the stool. From a distance, he must have looked like a marshmallow on a toothpick. “You Spears?” he asked me.
“Rick Spears,” I said, pumping his hand. It felt like I put my hand into a stamping machine. “Great that you can meet me.” His stool’s legs looked like they were starting to buckle under his weight.
He looked me up and down and didn’t like what he saw. “Let’s cut to the chase on this. You said that you had some sort of business proposal for me that I couldn’t turn down so let’s hear it,” he said, glancing at his watch.
Despite the bib overalls, Dominic O’Mara lived in a $10.5 million, 132-acre estate about 30 minutes north of town. I’d seen satellite pictures of the house; it looked similar in size to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
O’Mara was the picture of a successful American entrepreneur.
O’Mara was also a traitor who sold secrets to Chinese Military Intelligence, specifically the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army (General Staff Department)— the boys in Beijing who run foreign intelligence operatives like Dominic.
Dominic was in the construction business. Outside of Halliburton and a couple of minority-owned companies, O’Mara Construction was one of the principal construction contractors listed with the General Services Administration (GSA). In the past five years, O’Mara had billed the U.S. Government $2.2 billion for its services, ranging from building airport control towers, a couple of small bridges in the Ozarks, and three new embassies in Johannesburg, La Paz and one currently under construction in Qatar.
Oh, and a new annex building that the National Security Administration (NSA) was planning to build in the Catoctin Mountains in Maryland near Camp David that would house some backup servers and telecommunications gear. O’Mara Construction, LLC had just been awarded the contract. Ground breaking was scheduled the end of this year and completion expected in spring of 2018.
O’Mara had sold the structural schematics for the NSA installation as well as the three embassies to the Chinese. They paid him well.
My job was to kill him.
O’Mara was known to be a hands-on guy who didn’t shy away from getting in the trenches with his guys and working up a sweat. There was a story about him driving a bulldozer over a Saudi prince’s Rolls Royce in Riyadh when he was personally supervising the completion of a runway being added to the King Khalid International Airport. Seems that the prince had decided to park his car near the entrance to the construction vehicle holding area one morning shortly before the crews were coming on to start the day. A couple of supervisors asked him politely to move his vehicle so the dozers could get out. They didn’t want to take a chance of damaging it.
The prince ignored them and continued a conversation he was having with a couple of bankers from London who were funding a jet resale and leasing company he owned. The hanger was about 100 yards away and the prince was giving them a tour.
Time is money to O’Mara, and when his guys reported to him that the prince hadn’t moved his car, O’Mara stubbed out his Marlboro, started up a Mitsubishi Heavy Equipment steamroller, steered through the yard entrance and drove it over the prince’s burgundy Rolls Royce Ghost Series II without slowing up.
When the prince regained enough composure to actually speak, O’Mara calmly swung down from the operator’s seat and told him that he could send the bill to his uncle, the head of the royal family, who had promised a $10 million bonus if O’Mara finished the runway on time. The prince was standing between O’Mara and a paycheck. That was the last O’Mara heard of the matter. He got his bonus check.
It wasn’t my job to question why O’Mara found it necessary to add to his already considerable fortune by being a traitor to his country. Frankly, I didn’t care. To me, a guy that sells out his country is lower than a child molester. O’Mara was going to get what was coming to him, courtesy of the CIA. It had to look like an accident.
“I appreciate you seeing me, Mr. O’Mara,” I said. “Like I told you on the phone, I think you and I may be able to do some business together.” I had been supplied his cellphone number and a list of business associates that he trusted. In exchange for a guaranteed six-figure IRS refund paid out over the next two years, the Feds had one of the men on that list vouch for me, and, acting as an intermediary, arrange for O’ Mara to answer his cellphone when I called.
“So what’s the deal?” O’Mara said, looking at his watch again. I ignored him and waived the bartender over. “Let’s get a drink before we talk business. How about a vodka?” I asked him. The bartender’s name badge said Brian. “I’ll have a Ketel One straight up, no vermouth and couple of olives,” I said to Brian when he approached. “What would you like?” I asked O’Mara.
I could see that O’Mara was momentarily considering whether or not to tell me to fuck off and go back to his car, but his greed and love of drink ruled his life. One drink with this schmuck wouldn’t hurt, he told himself. “Same thing,” he growled. The O’Mara target file and his psych profile hadn’t been wrong, I thought.
“I’m told that one of the ways that I can get your attention, Mr. O’Mara, is to talk about money,” I said quietly, looking directly at him. “So I have 25 million reasons why you should listen to me.”
I had his attention.
The bartender brought the drinks. I thanked him, picked up my glass and took a sip. O’Mara picked up his martini glass and drained it in two gulps. He signaled Brian the Bartender for a refill. “I’m listening,” he said.
“I represent a government, not ours, but from a country that has heard about you. They think that you could be useful to them in the future. And for now, I am authorized to give you a bank account number in Belize that has an initial deposit of $25 million in it.” I paused, took another sip of my drink, and waited to see what he said next. Brian brought him his refill.
“What the fuck do you take me for?” he said. I was concerned his voice was going to carry above the crowd noise. He looked ready to pound my head onto the top of the bar. “You come out of nowhere and want to give me $25 million dollars for doing what?”
“Nothing,” I said. I looked him in the eye and didn’t flinch. “You don’t have to do anything for it. Consider it a down payment for allowing me to meet with you.” I took another sip of my drink and looked away. “I assure you that I mean what I say. You are now $25 million dollars richer.” I looked back. “Of course, there’s much more in your future as well.”
He took a healthy hit of vodka and looked at me with new interest. “What proof do I have that you’re telling me the truth?”
I took out a slip of paper from my left suit coat pocket. “This is a deposit slip for your new account with the Thorne Bank of Belize.” I handed him the slip. “Have your accountant check it out or do it yourself right now. The money is there,” I said. I finished my drink.
“And I don’t have to do anything for it?” he said. Another healthy swig and vodka number two was done. “What’s the catch?”
I caught Brian’s eye and pointed at O’Mara and at myself. Brian nodded and set to work. This next part was going to be tricky.
“No catch. At least not right away,” I said. “The government I represent thinks that down the road you may be able to supply information that would be useful to them. Your company has construction contracts around the world, and my people may want to take advantage of that in the future.”
I saw Brian bringing the drinks. I had to intercept them. “Hey, thanks,” I said to him, reaching out and grabbing both drinks from his hands before Brian could place them in front of us. In the palm of my left hand I had a fast-dissolving Ketamine pill. I dropped the pill into O’Mara’s glass and I held both glasses for a moment with my palms over the tops while the pill dissolved. I looked at O’Mara. “These are going down smooth,” I said. Brian left with our empties. O’Mara nodded.
“What kind of information are they looking for?” O’Mara asked me.
“They don’t exactly know for the time being,” I said. “Let’s just say that they want you on their payroll. Competitive intelligence information. Maybe it will be the inside story on a new Brazilian government road contract. Or maybe it will be information about new factories you are being asked to build in the Sudan by the Japanese. Maybe it will be information about Korean businesses in Malaysia. My people simply want to make sure that when they ask you a question in the future, you will provide them the information they seek.”
I put the glasses down, his in front of his huge right paw. “Whatever the information is, my people want you to know that they will never ask you to do anything that would affect the national security of the U.S.”
“That’s good to know,” he said. “I’d never do anything against the U.S.”
This was going to be a pleasure.
“And what did you mean when you said this was a down payment?” he asked me, slurping another mouthful.
“Call this a signing bonus,” I said, taking a sip. I didn’t see bubbles or any residue in the bottom of his glass. “My people will make future payments of 25 million in that account every time they ask you a question,” I said, nodding toward the paper he had put into his right pocket. “What do you say?”
“I say it sounds like easy money, partner,” he said, raising his glass. I watched him take a healthy hit. No frowns. No sign he noticed a slightly different taste. “Yup, very easy money,” O’Mara said, draining his third glass. The guy could drink.
“A couple other details that I need to discuss with you about how we can get in touch with you when my people have a question,” I said. “Let’s get out of here. Are you hungry? How’s the Chinese joint next door?”
I flipped a hundred on the bar and made to leave. I watched him carefully to see if the Ketamine was kicking in. I’d given him a dose that could take down a racehorse.
He blinked and looked at me. Did his eyes seem a bit glazed? “Yeah, let’s eat,” he said. “I’m feeling like I need some food. Too much booze on a empty stomach.”
He stood up and carefully made for the door like a drunk that doesn’t want to show how many he’s had, with me trailing close behind him. His size and girth went before him. The crowd parted like the Red Sea when Moses came through as he walked slowly to the exit. Outside, he seemed a little disoriented so I steered him toward the Chinese restaurant by the elbow.
“Yeah, let’s go here,” he said, beginning to slur his words. He was still walking under his own steam though, so I followed him through the door of The Purple Lotus and we came to a stop at the hostess desk. The Purple Lotus wasn't purple and I didn't see any flowers. Lots of leaping dragons and chintzy-looking red and gold tasseled screens, though. The place didn't smell that terrific either, about five years of peanut oil-drenched, deep-fried food rustled up back in the kitchen permeated the air. I needed an asthma inhaler.
“Two please, in the back if we can, we’ve got to talk some business,” I smiled and said to Jiao, who smiled right back and self-consciously adjusted the name badge on her left breast when I stared at it.
“This ray, gentermen, prease,” she said, smoothing her skirt. You get the idea about the Chinese accent so I won’t overdo it here.
We followed Jiao to a small booth and O’Mara squeezed himself him in. He took up the entire booth. His eyes were closing and his chin was starting to hit his chest. I took both of the menus from Jiao.
“Ting your server today,” she said, looking me in the eye. “Let me know you need something.” Her hips swayed away. Any other day and I may have taken her up on her offer.
“So like I was saying, in the future if I need to call you I will arrange a special phone and number that will be used just by me,” I said to O’Mara, keeping up the charade. O’Mara nodded his head heavily. “I may want another drink,” he said. He started to nod off and would jerk himself awake with a start-eyes wide.
Ting the Server introduced herself and told us the specials. She glanced at O’Mara several times. “Is your friend OK?” she asked me. I nodded.
“We’ve had a couple of drinks before coming here,” I said. “Were you born in the states?” I said, changing the subject. “You speak English very well.”
“I came six months ago from Hong Kong,” Ting said. “My brother own this restaurant. I learn English in Chinese school."
I noticed O’Mara stirred when Ting mentioned China. He looked around and I asked him what he wanted to eat. “How about two large wanton soups and the General Tso specials?” He nodded again. I turned to Ting. “Two of the specials and a Ketel One vodka straight up for each of us if you have it.” She nodded and went away.
O’Mara looked like he was going to be completely asleep in five minutes. I wanted to keep him awake for a little while longer. “O’Mara. Do you understand that I am going to arrange a special phone for us to use?” He nodded again. “Got to check the money in the account,” he said. “Call bank.”
“By all means, like I said, contact the bank directly. This is going to be very profitable for you,” I told him. “This is going to be a long and very profitable relationship.” Repeating myself. Killing time. Before killing.
A couple more minutes went by. O’Mara kept raising and lowering his head.
Ting brought the wanton soups and the vodkas.
O’Mara’s head lolled on his chest. His breathing became very slow.
I looked around the restaurant. No one around. “O’Mara? Can you hear me?” I asked quietly. No response. Head down. He was out.
I kicked his shin under the table just to make sure. No response. Both his meaty hands were in his lap. I reached across the table and grabbed the suspenders on his overalls and pulled his face forward to the soup. Then I grabbed the top of his bald head with both hands and pushed his face into the bowl. The top of his head was kind of knobby. He needed to shave his skull again to make it completely smooth. I wondered if he used a blade razor or an electric? Why do I notice these things? I made sure his mouth and nose were below the surface of the soup.
He tried to rise up several times but he couldn’t fight the drug; the Ketamine was too strong. Soup sloshed onto the table. Both drinks went over. I kept both hands on the top of his head holding him down. After two minutes, he didn’t move.
I wiped my hands on my napkin and looked around. Totally quiet. I noticed Ting coming our way with the platters of chicken. You could hear a pin drop in the place.
“Call 911,” I screamed and scrambled to my feet. “My partner had a heart attack!” Ting let out a howl and dropped the tray of food to the floor when I jumped up. I must have scared ten years off her young life.
“Jesus. I think he’s dead. Call 911. Call 911. Call 911," I kept screaming.
Ting took one look at O’Mara face down in the soup, howled again and ran toward the front of the restaurant. Chicken, rice and sauce all over the carpet.
I followed right behind her, shouting, “Oh, my God, call 911. My partner! Call 911.” The male diner at the front of the restaurant stood up like he’d been electric-shocked, holding a napkin to his mouth, knocking his chair over. “Call 911,” I kept shouting.
The kitchen staff was now running toward the table. Jiao looked at me with wild eyes as she dialed 911. “This is emergency,” she shouted into the phone. “Someone at Purple Lotus had heart attack. Come quick.” The 911 operator said something to Jiao. “No, I think he dead,” Jiao said. “They give him mouth to mouth. No, I stay on.”
I noticed that one of the cooks had O’Mara on the floor and was breathing into his mouth. Christ, what kind of germs was the short-order Good Samaritan ingesting? It made me want to retch. I noticed that the cook's white smock was covered in yellow and brown grease stains. Apparently hygiene was not a priority in the kitchen. The cook looked like he knew what he was doing, but O’Mara wasn’t moving.
“Oh, God,” I kept shouting. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I’m waiting out front for the fire department,” I shouted. Jiao and Ting nodded. I was making everyone hysterical. “Oh, my God,” I wailed.
I was out the door and around the corner in a flash to where I had parked my rental car. I’d picked the bar and the restaurant for that reason. Quick access and getaway. Two minutes later I was already on Interstate 81, heading north on the way back to the Garden State and ready for my post-errand call from Little Tyke. I thought I heard some distant sirens.
My real name is George Dreme. I kill people for money.
I wished I had taken a few bites of the General Tso. I was hungry.