Introduced by Scott Montgomery
We’re happy to have author and security consultant Billy Kring joining us this upcoming Tuesday, July 12th, at 7PM, for our “Using Your Experience for Crime Fiction” panel discussion. He was kind enough to give us this original short story set in the same state as his latest novel: Tonton, Florida.
“A Cool Swim” by Billy Kring
Al The Butcher was in Ft. Lauderdale to pop some loser named Schwartzman. Al liked the Florida gigs, enjoyed fishing, really liked spending time in Lauderdale, even better than Miami, although he missed eating at Wolfie’s before it closed, and Joe’s Stone Crab, and walking along South Beach with the young, hard-bodied models everywhere you looked. Of course, they always looked down their noses at you unless you dressed or acted like some showbiz hotshot.
A lot different than when he first came down here years ago. Back then all you saw were old retirees with brown, wrinkled skin like creased shoe leather, or bodies white as albinos, and constantly whining about one thing or another. What a pain they’d been. Some of them had also been hard to kill, surprising him with their grit and spidery, clinging strength.
But hell, at least he was down here on business again, and this time in Ft. Lauderdale.
One thing about this one, this Elias Schwartzman, he was gonna be easy. Guy owed a quarter mil with all the unpaid vig when he skipped town, and didn’t have a clue in the world anybody was coming for him. Schwartzman was the nephew of Dr. Fred Gold, who had a few connections, and Elias thought that would protect him, the putz. He was so easy. Al took less than three days to locate Schwartzman and figure out his movements. Elias was like some kind of wind-up robot. Same routine every day, same route everywhere he went. You could set a watch by the frigging guy.
The Butcher watched from his sixth floor Bahia Mar window as Elias moved through the Bahia’s marina, heading to slip G-23, where his Uncle Fred’s vessel, the Vagabond, was moored. It was a nice one, a small Hatteras, neat and white with a blue stripe that went all the way around the hull.
The Butcher smiled. His vessel, a Bertram named Sweet Dreams, was in G-24. He watched for hours until the lull he expected came. There were no people, no activity but Elias in the marina. The Butcher pulled the Colt.45 Commander off the dresser and went out to do some business.
Elias was cleaning tackle when he noticed the big guy in a Hawaiian shirt standing by the boat, watching. “Hey, is there-” was all he got out before the man hopped aboard and put a big, ugly pistol into his ribcage.
The Butcher looked into his eyes, “Hop on the next boat, right there,” he nodded his head toward the Bertram, “I gotta talk to you about your debt.” Elias was candy. He moved to the other boat and did as The Butcher told him. With the gun on him, Elias unhooked the moorings and moved to the thirty-five footer’s controls. At the man’s orders he started it up and pulled out of the marina and into the intracoastal.
Twenty minutes later they were in the open ocean. “Go straight east,” said the man with the gun.
Elias asked, “We going to Bimini, the Bahamas?” The man with the gun didn’t answer. The hole in the muzzle of the .45 looked the size of a cannon.
When the shoreline was gone except for the tops of the tallest towers, The Butcher told him to cut the motors and move to the back of the boat. Elias stepped around the rods and scattered fishing equipment. “You got anything you wanta say before we do it?” He watched as Elias stood there for a long moment. The Butcher thought, This guy’s so scared he can’t even talk.
“Can I look around for a minute?” said Elias.
“Look at what? You’re in the middle of the ocean.”
“Can I look?”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll give you a couple minutes.”
Elias nodded, looking at the sea, the boat, the sky. When the gunman stepped closer to his back, Elias leaned his hands on the rail, took a deep breath and snatched a large, open tackle box from the deck and slammed it into The Butcher’s face.
The flat BAM of the .45 sounded sharp but the bullet went into the air.
Elias raked the tackle box hard on Al’s face, and The Butcher turned his back toward Elias. Elias slammed down with the box, and the lid ripped away as large, treble-hooked artificial lures struck deep into the man’s back and shoulders. Elias never stopped moving. He dove like a sleek otter into the sea behind the boat. Al fired his pistol until it was empty, never seeing Elias, only firing at dark spots under the surface.
The Butcher shook what lures and other things he could from his back. He was in agony. It felt like a hundred of the hooks were deep into his flesh, searing like hot spikes every time the lures jiggled from his movements or from the impaled shirt pulling on a hook. He moved to the transom and started the boat, going in slow circles for an hour, every wave bouncing the hooks into his back. He headed in when the sun was a red ball on the horizon.
The Butcher pulled into slip G-24 at eight PM. Dr. Fred Gold, punctual as his nephew, was on the Vagabond. The Butcher didn’t waste any time. He walked to the Hatteras and pointed the pistol in Dr. Gold’s face. “You know me?”
“Your bastard nephew Elias stuck me like this.” He half-turned so Gold could see the embedded lures. “Get started fixing me up.” They went into the Vagabond’s cabin and Gold had The Butcher straddle a chair backward with his forearms on the top of the backrest. Gold talked as he worked, “This’ll get worse before it gets better, sore and tender, and you’ll have a fever. You understand?”
The Butcher nodded.
The Butcher could hear the ping of the barbs being snipped off so the hooks could be removed. When the Doctor twisted out the last barb, he rubbed something on the killer’s back, and then placed gauze pads over the entire area, taping them down. “Leave it covered.”
The Butcher stood, “How much I owe you?”
“You want to kill my nephew. Get out of my sight.”
The Butcher made his way to the room in the Bahia Mar. He attempted to lie on his back, but that was impossible. Finally, he turned on his side and hugged a pillow to his chest before falling into a frowning slumber.
In the morning his head and back were on fire. Jagged pains shot up his spine and the muscles of his neck were so tight that he could not move his head. The shirt felt like sandpaper on his skin. His fever felt like it was through the roof. What had the Doctor said? It’ll get worse before it gets better? Just rest. The Butcher staggered to his door, putting out the Do Not Disturb sign before crawling, almost whimpering, into bed.
The next day, fighting out of a high-fever delirium, he knew the Doctor had done something. He remembered where the Doctor was. He could make it that far.
The Butcher staggered like a drunk toward the G slips. His skin felt on fire and his eyes blurred so that he squinted every few steps just to see. An arm steadied him and helped him forward. “Come on, son,” Dr. Gold said.
They made it to G-23 where the Vagabond idled, ready to go. Elias came to help The Butcher into the white Hatteras. The Butcher croaked through parched lips, “So hot, so hot.”
Elias said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take you out for a nice cool swim.”
You can find copies of Kring’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Join us Tuesday, July 12th, at 7 PM for a panel discussion with Billy Kring, Martin Limón and Manning Wolfe on using your experiences to write great crime fiction.