I truly loved the blood ...
It wasn't like a man. It was like some damned juggernaut.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Carla's left arm arrived by afternoon post, Friday. It was in good shape, still wet, stinking of formaldehyde.
I called Gleason, forgetting, in that bright red moment of discovery, everything he'd said the week before.
I told him.
"Who is this? Farrell?"
"Do you want to come?" I asked. "Do you want to see it?"
"You're fucking sick," Gleason snarled.
"Then you do believe me." Half-question.
"You stay out of it. You are off the assignment. I pulled your clearance. No one here is going to help you."
"I don't need your help," I said. "I'm going underground. This is the last time you'll hear from me."
"We'll find you," Gleason said, his voice suddenly limp as wet lettuce. "We'll stop you."
I grinned. "Sure," I said. I let it hang there for a second.
Then: "I'll find Powell before you do. You taught me, Gleason. I know how to hide."
I hung up.
And went underground.
For you, Carla. All for you.
Notes from the trip to Atlanta:
Where is Carla?
That was how it started. We knew about Powell. We knew where and when the boat was due to arrive, and we knew that he would be there to accept the shipment personally. That kind of money--that kind of transaction--he’d trust nobody.
We had watched him, and there had always been one boat. That was the constant.
Gleason arranged it. There was DEA and Shore Patrol and Coast Guard and some local fuzz, getting face time.
And Carla and I, on the bottom rung of the ladder. Carla and I getting sand in our shoes and salt spray in our faces, standing by with handcuffs and a Miranda card for Powell when it was all over.
But when it came down, there wasn't one boat. There were three.
The shell game.
We were in, suckered hard. By a ploy older than the tables Jesus overturned.
The Coast Guard picked the boat that was full of plastique. Big bang. Two four-man teams down.
The boat with the grenadier found three of the four DEA choppers. One minute they were rotors chopping up the surface of the water, spotlights raking bright golden scratches into the night; the next: boom-boom-boom. Senseless, shapeless junk in the surf.
The boat with the shipment on board -- with Powell on board -- beached in the chaos. A lot of blacksuited men armed with German submachine guns got out of that one.
Carla and I were there, with our punky government-issue 9-mil Berettas.
Almost everybody else was dead.
Powell beat the shit out of me, nearly broke my skull and chopped off the middle finger of my left hand.
The blacksuits took Carla.
They ran. Aerial surveillance from the remaining chopper picked them up. Green van. The pursuit took them all the way up to Tennessee. They ran the chopper out of fuel, stuck themselves in the foothills of the Appalachians like a tick in a sheepdog, and stayed.
Powell knew how to hide, too. Even the mountain boys wouldn't find him there.
He was gone. But we had the boat. The shipment.
He called two days later with a deal. He must have been strapped, put up his house or something.
Straight trade: the shipment for Carla.
I told him to go fuck himself. Get bent. Eat shit. No deal. Official policy: No Deals.
Gleason said forget it, blow him off. He's sweating. Gleason didn't think Powell would do it.
I didn't think he'd do it either.
He mailed me back my finger first.
When Carla's arm arrived, it was wrapped in a note: She's still alive.
The sky was clear over Hartsfield Airport. I took a room at the Hilton, a shuttle, a cab, the subway. I dropped down. I burrowed. Powell's network started here. I would work my way through all of his people until I got to him. I would do anything I had to. For Carla.
For you, Carla. Because.
Jaffy was in a second-hand clothes shop in Little Five Points, trying on Spanish gypsy earrings. I had a thick file full of mugs, and his picture was in there. Jaffy saw me looking, looked away.
When he looked again, I was still there, coming for him.
I chased, caught up a block down. I live straight, run the hundred in nine clean seconds.
Jaffy was trying to scramble over the hood of a bruise-colored Volvo. I hit him twice: once in the neck, once in the kidney. He went white, slid down, boneless.
Jaffy and I had a talk. I mentioned Powell.
"I don't know you," Jaffy said. Sweat dotted the soft skin between his nose and prominent upper lip.
"But I know you," I said softly. "And I'm interested. I'm definitely interested."
"I don't know you," Jaffy said flatly, "I don't talk to you."
"You'll talk," I breathed.
I put on a pair of surgical gloves. I always carry several pairs.
I brought the knife out. Big, flat combat Bowie. Showed him.
"Fuck you," Jaffy said.
I cut his left ear in half, sawing through tough cartilage, letting the weight of the knife do most of the work. Blood painted a red-dot Rorschach pattern across his face.
He didn't scream.
"You carry for him," I said. "Florida to here. Where do you meet?"
Jaffy laughed. Blood stained his teeth. "I guess I still don't know you."
"No," I agreed, grinning. "You don't."
I hacked out his right eye with the tip of the blade. Quick. He fainted before he could scream. No heart for the work.
I opened his wrists for him and left him to drain his shitty little life into the gutter.
I could have done worse. I knew how.
When I got back to the hotel that evening, there was a package waiting for me at the desk. I took it up to my room. I was cold when I opened it, even though I knew what it was.
Carla's right arm.
And a note: She almost died. Shock. Awaiting you fondly. Powell.
He already knew about Jaffy. Ugly bastard. I could see him, hovering over me like a puppeteer with his favorite marionette, giant, fat and slick like a slug.
Awaiting you fondly.
I laughed. Had to.
There were three others I needed to talk to in Atlanta. I went out at seven the next morning and I burned through them like Sherman. I took what they gave me, and I took souvenirs. The one that talked too much, I took his tongue. The one that wouldn't talk, I took his larynx.
The chickenshit one, I took his heart.
And I did other things. Close friends would not recognize what was left.
Powell was still hiding out in the mountains, but he wouldn't stay there. He had things to do. It was time to move south. I knew what he was doing, taking me in a circle, making me waste time. In that time, Carla might die.
Powell didn't know me as well as he thought. The circle was good. The circle was taking me through his people, and I wanted to kill as many of them as I could. I was doing more killing than I had done in twenty years. It felt good. It felt good just for itself.
God, it felt so good.
I checked into a Days Inn in Jacksonville. My usual was the Hyatt Regency, but I wanted to make sure I was being followed. I checked in at five in the afternoon and didn't leave the room until the next morning.
I gave him time.
I watched a movie on TV. The girl in the movie reminded me of Carla: Dark hair, blue eyes, big hips. Her nipples were dark and huge, the aureole pebbled and rough.
Carla's upper lip trembled when she came. I remembered it, like it was happening in the room right now, not on TV. She hissed, riding on top, her favorite, first conscious of her own rhythm and then consumed by it. It started with both of us working and soon it was all Carla, her sweet, wet friction: warmth, enveloping, bringing me up and out and over.
I slept, the TV on.
In the morning, room service brought me both of Carla's legs. I was surprised. I had expected him to send them one at a time.
It meant I was close.
The note: She's on life support. Her heart has stopped twice. Have you been checking the postmarks?
Can you smell her?
Yes, yes. I knew what he was doing, and he knew that I knew. The postmarks were all Norris, Tennessee, but he wasn't there. He wasn't anywhere near there. He had an army of people available to run errands, a whole fleet of refrigerated trucks.
And a warehouse full of formaldehyde.
I glanced out the window. A dirty brown Chevy had been parked at the sidewalk for the past five minutes. I kept looking. The Chevy backed off, pulled into the parking lot of the 7-11 across the street.
I checked out, put the new box with the others in the trunk of my car. I had ten big bags of crushed ice in there. It melted quickly in Florida heat.
I trotted over to the 7-11, whistling. The blacktop already felt warm through my shoes, and it was only 8:30.
The Chevy driver was in the bathroom at the back. Alone, one of the stalls. I could tell he was one of Powell's by the way he shrieked my name when the coil of .46 wrapped tight around his ankles. I jerked up and tied the wire off on the fresh water pipe in the next stall.
Chevy was suspended, naked from the waist, above the toilet bowl. He hadn't had time to flush.
"Well, well," I said.
"Please, " he whimpered.
I asked him a few questions. He didn't hesitate. He gave me what I needed. He gave me Orlando. A warehouse on the beach, less than a mile from where Carla had been taken.
Of course. They had never left, the green van a decoy.
Chevy's face was a deepening, purplish-red. I chuckled. He would be unconscious soon.
"Please," he whined.
I smiled. I stroked his cheek. I had the knife. I had the gloves.
The worst thing I could think of ...
I did it. Before I headed for Orlando.
Driving, I tried to bring Carla's face to mind. I couldn't.
I thought about what I had done to Chevy, not why I did it.
There was only one why:
Powell sent a man to intercept me in Orlando, knowing that Chevy would spit it all out like a bad taste. The man was enormous, built like a bull, just as stupid and twice as slow.
I garrotted him after I got his truth. It was bloodless. I was in a hurry.
The warehouse jutted up out of the sand, a splinted skeleton leaning against the evening sky. One push would send it tumbling.
One push ...
I planted the charges, one up, one down, seeing it in my mind the way I would see it if I were watching from somewhere behind, from the observation post Powell had doubtless set up atop the scrubby dunes to the south.
I put the trigger in my right-hand pocket and went inside.
Powell was there, haloed by a tight circle of overhead light from the front office. Standing in a circle, at the end of a circle.
Darkness hung like thick drapes all around. There were smells. Blood. Open wounds. Antiseptic. Shit.
And guns. Half-glimpsed crescents of black movement in every shadow.
Carla saw me. Her stumps twitched. White gauze rusted with old blood. IV needles were socked into the bandages at each shoulder.
She was gagged, her he
ad cased in guaze. Her eyes screamed at me.
I shook my head, ever so slightly.
Powell watched all this with intense interest.
"I am hypnotized," he said, "by the electricity of this moment."
I withdrew the Bowie, raised it left-handed above my head like Excalibur. My brain filled with holy light, righteousness.
Powell laughed. "My people are all over this warehouse," he said.
I jammed my right hand down into the trigger pocket.
Powell shook his head. "Outside, too," he said sadly. He turned to Carla, ran his fingertips down her cheek. "She was lovely, wasn't she?"
I stepped forward, ready to lunge. Bullets filled me, ripped me, threw me backward.
I stood and looked down at myself. I could see my ribs. I could see glistening, pulsing balloons beneath.
It didn't look like the aftermath of gunshot wounds. It looked as if the skin had been flayed away.
There was no pain.
I smiled at Powell. I cackled. Rising blood tickled the back of my throat. I gagged, spat.
My hand went to the pocket again. There were watching, as they had been all along.
Had they found both charges?
I pressed the button again.
The rear of the building shook, smoked and flamed. I looked at Powell, the warehouse whirling to pieces around us. I looked at him.
Carla's body, on the floor. Her head, some distance away, eyes filling with plaster dust from the roof's collapse. The neck-stump was discolored, exposed tissue blackened, clotted, skin blue at the edges.
Her head had been removed earlier. Two, maybe three days earlier.
I knelt next to Carla. It didn't look like her. I didn't feel I could be sure it was her. The body was terribly light, stiff.
Wires were stuck into the skin of her back. The wires led to a black greasy device in the shadows behind her.
A device: part truck battery, part telegraph transmitter.
I tapped clapper to contact, closing the circuit.
Her stumps twitched, lifelike.
The electricity of this moment.
I hurled myself at Powell and felt my guts go, sliding out, and then there was pain, my God oh my God, pain, but I still held the knife and I grabbed the hair at the back of Powell's skull and yanked his head back and roared, spitting blood and froth and I put the blade of the Bowie through the roof of Powell's mouth. It punched through the skin at bridge of his nose and then went up, sinking in, an inch cracking through skull and cresting beneath the skin of his forehead, the other two inches trenching the yielding gelatin of his forebrain.
He twitched, like Carla had twitched. He shit himself. He died.
Powell gone, my strings cut, I went down, and I saw her, her face, unfamiliar, and I knew why I had really done it, all the killing, all the blood. It was love. True love. The crazy things we do, the song goes. The things we do for love.
I had maybe loved Carla. But I had truly loved the blood.
I had always loved the blood.
I loved it even more when it was mine.
I did what I had to do. For me.
For me, Carla.