Bounty hunter Karl Morgen goes after Miro Knotts on a skipped bond, finding the dope dealer wrapped around an underaged girl at a rave in Seattle. Dragging Miro in the hard way gets Karl’s license revoked, while Miro gets off with a suspended sentence.
Finished in Seattle, Karl finds work as a process server in Vancouver. To Karl, it’s the kind of place where people settle things with middle fingers instead of guns, the kind of place a guy could get used to. He meets PJ Addie, the kind of woman he could settle down with.
After Miro ducks a drug sweep by escaping north of the border, he decides to come after Karl, blaming him for the mess his life has turned into. Karl puts settling down aside, longing for another crack at the scumbag who had his license revoked. What follows is a ride through Vancouver’s underbelly featuring gangsters and cops and a final confrontation between Karl and Miro that only one will walk away from.
About the Author
Dietrich Kalteis: Dietrich Kalteis’s short stories have been published widely, and his screenplay Between Jobs was a finalist in the 2003 Los Angeles Screenplay Festival. Kalteis lives in West Vancouver, British Columbia.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter 4
Wally Levitt scratched under the black do-rag, telling Mitch Reno how he got chummy with Sunny, the waitress down at Chickie’s Diner. She’d been supplying them with names for the past six months, fat-cat customers with nice places to break into. And he’d been paying her fifty a pop, Wally not mentioning he laid another hundred down each time he climbed into her bed.
“We just kind of hit it off, you know.” He put on his shit-eating grin, took a toke and turned his head, hearing a thump from the garage. “You hear that?”
Just his imagination. A couple more tokes and he’d be Gumby with no feeling below the knees.
Mitch waved off the joint, the smoke making his bowels churn?high time to ease up on it, the Thunder Chicken, too, the name Tolley had for Wild Turkey back in the Hat. Trade it for some Sunny D.
“What I’m saying is we make what,” Wally said, “a hundred bucks to run this shit, fifty each?”
“Yeah, so?” Better than nothing, waiting for Sunny to come up with someplace worth hitting.
Wally puffed smoke at the ceiling, looking down the hall, making sure Jeffery was still in the can, keeping his voice low. “So, why not grow our ownmake some real dough?”
“What the hell we know about it?”
“Half the people in B.C. grow the shit.”
“Going against these guys . . .” Mitch shook his head, but then pictured getting Ginny a stove with all the burners working and slapping new shingles on her roof.
Holding the smoke in his lungs was like trying to hold a beach ball under water. Letting it out slow, Wally drew forward, the sofa springs digging into his ass. “This shit goes for whattwo Gs a pound?”
Mitch shrugged. It wasn’t time for math.
“Thirty plants to a pound. We bagged what, a thousand or so last night?”
Mitch cleared his throat, a signal that Jeffery was coming out of the can, the old man flushing, hacking like he was passing a furball, tugging his jeans over his paunch, snugging the chromed Python into his belt. Jeffery called it the king of handguns, the thing sticking out from his pants like a big dick.
“What’re you girls jawing about?” Jeffery put on the hard-ass, flexing his knees and zipping up, no use for either of these assholes, two-bit punks Stax sent over, mules making the drop to JayMan at the docks, something he’d done solo going on a dozen years. Suddenly Artie was letting Stax run things, making Jeffery feel too long in the tooth to take care of simple shit. It pissed him off, thinking he deserved better after taking care of the Asian guy who owed Artie ten grand six months ago. No questions asked, Jeffery got it done, catching the guy in his garage, knocking him down, setting a Lawn-Boy over the black-haired dude’s face, giving him a choice, pay or get his face mowed.
Jeffery reached for the joint, Wally letting go of it, thinking no way he wanted it back after this guy put his scurvy lips on it, lips the color of earthworms. Reek rose off Jeffery like smog, his leather neck disappearing under the dingy wife-beater, the yellow eyes with the white shit in the corners, hair tipped with grey, looking like it was greased with Valvoline.
“One of you girls out in the garage just now?” Jeffery asked, nodding toward the side door, trying to remember if he locked it.
Wally shook his head.
“So what you hanging around for?” Jeffery wanted to get back to the April issue of Barely Legal.
Wally and Mitch started to get up when the side door flew in, kicked off its hinges. The crack felt like an electric charge. Wally and Mitch dove for the floor, Jeffery yanking the Python from his belt, running into the kitchen and ducking behind the counter. “Come on, girls, let’s get dangerous.”
The blast of the hand cannon got them crawling for the front door, four sets of fingers scrabbling for the doorknob.
The intruder fired, the shotgun blast tearing a six-inch hole in the kitchen ceiling. Another bark from the Python, Jeffery fired through the wall, guessing where the guy with the shotgun was. It sent the intruder running out the side door and around the front of the house. Jeffery headed him off, shoving Mitch aside, ripping the front door open.
The guy with the shotgun outfoxed him, standing poised, the Slugster barrel up as Jeffery opened the door. The blast knocked him back, tore him out of his sneakers and punched him down. A grunt came from his throat, Jeffery’s doll’s eyes looking up at the Florida light.
Mitch and Wally looked up from the floor. A second guy in a white van, pointing a shotgun out the window, peeled down the driveway, screeching rubber. The gunman ran and dove into the open back of it, yelling, “Go, go, go.”
The van hopped the curb, wobbled on jelly springs, the driver bouncing like a bobblehead. Swiping the neighbor’s mailbox, the bumper torn off, the van ripped through a bed of marigolds before getting back on the road, racing to the intersection, making a hard right and was gone.
Mitch got to his feet, watching the getaway, Wally crawling to Jeffery, the king of handguns slipping from the old man’s fingers, a wet sucking sound coming from his throat.
Jeffery stared up, blood bubbling from his mouth, finding it hard to speak. “One of you dickheads give me a hand.”
Wally knelt next to him, caught the foul breath and the sucking sound, blood pooling under him, Jeffery’s chest looking like bloody hamburger. Wally picked up the Python, saw himself in the chrome, spinning its cylinder, saying, “Think you’re done being dangerous, huh, Jeff?”
The distant sound of sirens got them moving, Wally tucking the Python in his belt. He ran across the street to the knocked-over mailbox, getting out his all-in-one, thinking he’d look up the guys in the van, give them first bid for the license plate, pretty sure he’d seen the one driving someplace before. The second bid would go to Stax, the guy who hired him and Mitch to transport the weed. With a few twists, he had the plate from the bumper and chased after Mitch, going through the backyards.
Wally flipped a coin and said he was going to hang back for Sunny’s shift to end. What he did, he went up to Third and got himself the bold pick of the day, preferring Starbucks over Tim’s, came back and glanced inside. The construction guy was still shoveling it in, bitching about finding one of Sunny’s hairs in his rice pudding, Wally figuring the guy should be so lucky.
He went around to the parking spots, no windows on that side of the diner. The pickup had Karlson Construction painted down the side in orange, a Ford from before the time of alarms and airbags. If Wally hadn’t downed two orders of burgers and rings, he would have done the guy mano a mano.
Sliding the slim jim down the window, catching the notched bar on the rod, he popped the lock. Getting in, he had her wired up and purring in no time flat.
Onto the Esplanade and through the intersection, he burped up onion and lit a Newport from the pack he’d lifted off the table. Chirping the tires, he coasted along Third to where it became Marine, spinning the radio knob until he found Rock 101, the afternoon DJ putting on “Thunder Road” after saying he was giving away Springsteen tickets to the first ten callers. Wally dialed the station’s number, getting a busy signal. The Boss had really rocked that time at the Tacoma Dome. Hitting redial like a Morse operator until he was coming down Taylor Way, still burping onion, getting a busy tone every try.
The bridge crew was busy slamming the piles for the bridge over the Capilano, Marine Drive reduced to two lanes, Wally checking out the flagger chick. To Wally’s way of thinking, traffic was getting more fucked every time an immigrant stepped off a boat. An extra bridge lane wasn’t going to make a shit bit of difference. He drove past Park Royal, remembering the bowling alley, movie theater and driving range, back when there was stuff to do in West Van besides shop.
Pulling into Ambleside Park, he turned past the sailing club, a couple of parked cars and a truck with its trailer. Lining the pickup nose first on the boat ramp, Wally ground his cigarette on the passenger seat, burning through the cheap vinyl. The hole smoldered until Wally unzipped his fly and put it out, laughing like a school kid.
Nobody around except an Asian guy tossing a crab trap from the pier. Getting out, he found a toolbox in the truck’s bed, setting it on the gas pedal. The Asian guy looked over, Wally giving him a wave, then he threw the stick into drive. The pickup rode down the ramp until the salt water rose over the Karlson lettering, swirling into the cab before the engine stalled. The Asian guy couldn’t believe it, Wally calling to him, “You Chinese ain’t the only ones can’t drive worth a shit.”
Strolling like he had all day, he made his way back to Marine, happy with the way this day turned out, passing the West Van cop shop, a sign out front warning visitors about swooping birds nesting overhead. It got him laughing?swooping birds too much for the boys in blue. It brought up an idea he had been playing with since he was in high school: decals of a big donut with a hole. The idea was to stick them over the O in the word police, tag every squad car in town, give every pig in town a donut.
Fishing around in his pocket for bus fare, burping onion again, he wondered how much was in Artie’s safe. Maybe he’d get some wheels with style, something like an Escalade with vanity plates. Good time to pick one up with the economy in the toilet.
Funny time to be thinking about her, on his way to see Artie Poppa on a nude beach. But Karl was thinking about her all the time now, drawing her face in his mind, the sea-green eyes, the auburn hair, the way their bodies came together, realizing he was in love with her.
A name on the Vancouver drug scene, this Artie Poppa had ties to the Mexican drug cartel, networked into a web of biker distribution all down the coast. What Karl didn’t know was why Artie wanted to see him on a nude beach. But what do you do? A guy like that has his goon call and wants a face to face, you don’t say no. Karl thought Poppa must have heard about his reputation, heard the if-your-man’s-breathing line. Truth be told, Karl missed the excitement of playing with the bad guys.
He threw the Roadster into park next to the “clothing optional” sign on top of the bluff. A notice waved next to it, announcing something called the Bare Buns Run coming up next week.
Stax had called in the morning, told him Artie wanted to see him at two, Karl asked why and why there, Stax repeated the time and place, asked if he got it and hung up. Karl guessed it was the kind of place that made it tough to wear a wire or hide a piece.
Pine trees hung over the bluffs, blocking the view of the Pacific, swaying in the breeze coming inland. Cold for this time of year. Parking next to Artie’s Cadillac, Karl left the Taser under the insurance papers in the glovebox, guessing he’d have the naked folk edgy?a guy walking around with fifty thousand volts of frying power.
Letting Johnny Cash finish “Hurt,” he switched off the Blaupunkt, sliding the steel roof shut, locked up and started down the escarpment, five hundred and forty-two stairs. The same stairs Bob Young took when he made the serve with the envelope between his cheeks. He told Karl his thighs ached for a week.
Nearing the bottom, Karl understood what Bob meant, his own thighs felt on fire. Doughy bodies, some sitting, some lying, the odd one baked leather brown. Karl thinking it was a world of its own down here, quiet and hidden below the university lands, away from the city’s static.
Along the tree line stood Vendors’ Row, a stretch of umbrellas and makeshift tables. Sandwiches and drinks, Native blankets, Swedish massage, pot and X under the table, whatever you wanted. The place reminded Karl of a time of free love in the sixties, a time before his. There was a vibe about it he liked.
His sneakers brimmed with sand by the time he spotted them, the grit getting between his toes. An old man on a blanket with his goon standing over him. A middle-aged guy looking like Ray Winstone in dreadlocks sat on a Coleman near them, banging on a conga, his gut jiggling, his wife strumming on a six-string. Eyes squeezed shut, she dished up a Ziggy Marley number about sailing to Jamaica. Their towheaded twins were busy building a city in the sand, looking up as Karl approached.
The goon was Stax; he stepped over to the Ray Winstone guy and said something to him. Ray and his wife stopped playing and packed up the kids and moved down the beach. Artie peeled off his shades, a Ricardo Montalbán face with the coldest eyes Karl had ever seen framed by a unibrow. A silver cross on a chain hung around his neck, the cross looking upside down, with the cross tie closer to the bottom than the top.
“Karl Morgen?” Artie said it was good of him to come, his accent barely there.
Karl offered his hand, surprised by the grip of the gnarled hand, guessing Artie knew hard labor in a younger day. Standing behind Artie, Stax was dressed in jeans and a wife-beater, fitting it like liverwurst in its casing. Karl checked himself in the goon’s wraparound shades. The twin images were distorted, leaving Karl wondering was he really that white.
“Good place to get your vitamin D,” Artie said, Karl’s paleness not lost on him, waving for Stax to stop blocking his sun.
“Get it places you don’t even want it,” Karl said, taking off his sneakers, shaking out the sand.
“Good place to see if anyone’s got bugs, too,” Stax said, motioning for Karl to turn around, his own wire sewn inside the pocket of his jeans, Miro listening in. Nothing special about this guy. Middle-aged and going bald. No big deal he dragged Miro off some couch in Belltown. The cockiness reminded Stax of the guy who owed Artie ten grand two days too long, Stax going to collect it, the guy telling him to come back when he finished lunch. Stax knocked away the guy’s grilled cheese and pressed his head against the butane stove’s coil, branding a spiral across his cheek. He lifted the guy’s head and asked if he was ready for some dessert. Got Artie’s ten grand back just like that.
Karl held his hands out and did a turn. Stax patted him down, hoping he’d try some shit like he pulled on Miro.
“Stax tells me you’re good at finding people,” Artie said.
“Heard that, huh?”
“Yeah,” Stax said, “some shyster lawyer in Seattle says you got a reputation like that TV guy, Dog.”
“Gave that up. Got myself a healthy line of work.”
“Ah, a man’s health . . .” Artie shook his head. “Without it he has nothing.” Artie tapped his own chest, Karl seeing the two-inch scar on the left breast. “Have a cardioverter-defibrillator planted here, keeps me ticking.”
“That like a pacemaker?”
“A pacemaker corrects the heart rate. My little friend gives a jolt if the beat goes too fast or slow. Never ate a donut in my life, you believe that?” Artie looked to the sun and shrugged. “Now I eat like a rabbit, take meds and I’m in bed by ten.”
“Maybe just bad luck,” Karl said.
“Cardiologist says it’s bad genes; me, I blame stress in the workplace.”
Karl looked at the waves rolling onto the sand. What did Artie expect, a cushy life with a pension?
“So now I breathe the sea air, feel it tickle my balls.”
“Guess there are worse things,” Karl said, his eyes going to Artie’s upside-down cross again, wishing he’d get on with it, knowing he wasn’t here for a dick-swing and a reminisce.
Artie noticed him looking at the cross, asking if he was a religious man.
“Not so you’d notice.”
“It’s a Peter cross,” Artie said and held it up to Karl. “On account they crucified St. Peter head down.”
“Head down, huh?”
Stax told him yeah, those Romans could really torture a man, make it last for days.
“Guess Jesus got off lucky,” Karl said.
Artie said it was no joke, tapping the scar on his chest. “Things become clear to a man after he comes this close.”
“Yeah, look, I don’t mean to be rude, Mr. Poppa,” Karl said, “but see, I burn easy.”