Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Silence is Deadly by Jochem van der Steen

I’d been following Stuart Milhone around for two days now without any luck. I’d been driving behind him through Hollywood. I’d been in a cafeteria opposite the drycleaner he owned, sipping lukewarm coffee and keeping an eye on him from the window. I’d even followed him into a Triple-X cinema, sitting in the back row, being forced to watch a fake-tit filled debacle called Over the Desk. All that time he apparently didn’t catch me tailing him. Unfortunately, all that time he didn’t lead me to little twelve-year old Kimmy Palecki either. But of course, the shit had to hit the fan at some time.
“Please roll down your window,” the higway patrol officer told me after he’d pulled me down while I was following Milhone on the highway. He had the build of a linebacker, a blond crewcut and mirrored sunglasses. He had that special air of authority most cops on patrol have. I decided to cooperate.
“Hello, officer,” I said through the rolled down window of my Dodge Challenger. I saw Milhone’s car become smaller and smaller at the horizon. “Is there a problem?”
“Driver’s license and registration please. Slowly.”
I handed him what he asked for. He studied the papers, nodding. Then he noticed the Glock on my passenger chair. His gun was in his hand so fast it was like it just materialized there.
“Out of the car... Slowly...”
I opened the cardoor and got out. I raised my hands to make him feel a bit more comfortable. You want someone to feel comfortable when he’s pointing a gun at you. It keeps him from blowing your head off.
“Take it easy. I’ve got a license for the gun. I’m a registered security specialist. My license is in my backpocket.”
“Against the car. Spread your legs and put your hands on the roof.”
I knew the drill. As the son of L.A.’s biggest mobster I’d been pulled over frequently by cops trying to set me up for something. Most of the time the smartest move was to let them get over it. I managed to save the wisecracks for myself better and better every year.
He frisked me and extracted my license from my jeans pocket. It took him a few seconds to read. Meanwhile I told him, “Could you please tell me why you pulled me over?”
“There was a complaint by someone who felt threatened by you. Said you were following him all day, stalking him.”
“In a way I was, officer. But all in an official capacity. Tailing people is a part of my job sometimes. Would you please let me turn around and explain?”
“Your license seems okay. You can turn around.”
I did and was handed back my papers. “Thanks. The guy I was following is a suspect in a child abduction case. I was hired by his mother to follow him and see if he maybe would take me to the kid.”
The officer frowned. “Sounds like a job for the FBI or something, not some rentacop.”
I shrugged. “Since he managed to get away maybe you’re right.”

****

I met Mrs. Palecki at a diner up on Victory. She looked like the epitome of an american housewife. She was a bit on the plump side, had curly brown hair, full lips and a warm smile. The only thing that told you her only child had been abducted a week ago were the bags under her eyes.
Kimmy Palecki was picked up from her school by a man driving a white delivery van. The license plate had been obscured by dirt. She was not heard from after that. The police started searching for her in full force soon after but found nothing until a witness mentioned he’d noticed another delivery van driving by the school unusually often the last couple of days. The delivery van belonged to Stuart Milhone, owner of a local drycleaner’s. The van was not identified as the one belonging to the abductor but Milhone was revealed to have prior arrests. Stuart Milhone was a known pedophile.
Milhone was brought in and questioned several times but he confessed to nothing and no hard evidence could tie him to the abduction. While still under investigation the L.A. Police had to let him go. That was when Mrs. Palecki hired me. I was to follow Milhone and hope he would take me to the place he kept Kimmy. I lacked the courage to tell her Kimmy might not be alive anymore.
I took a sip from my black coffee. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Palecki. But I haven’t found out anything.”
She hadn’t touched her tea. “But you have to... The police’s investigation will just take too long! I just can’t think about Kimmy being all alone, in the hands of that... that... pedophile bastard.”
I put a hand on hers. “I’m really sorry. I’ve been following Milhone for two days but I haven’t caught him doing anything illegal. He hasn’t gone anywhere that is likely to be a place where’s he keeping your daughter prisoner. There doesn’t seem to be anymore I can do that the cops can’t.”
There appeared a fire in her eyes. “The police are bound by their laws and regulations. You aren’t, are you?”
I started to get a feeling why she choose to hire me instead of one of the cheaper or one of the more popular investigators in L.A. I had gotten a reputation of bending the law every now and then. Partly this was because of fact, partly it was because of my status as the only son of well-known mobster Robert Milano. “Not really. But I’m not sure how that would help.”
“If you need more money,--“
I interrupted her by holding up my hand. “That’s not it. It’s just that I try to follow the law as much as possible. It helps me keep my status as a legal security specialist.”
“Please, for Kimmy...” she almost begged me.
I sighed. “I guess I can think of some other thing I can do to try and find your daughter.”
She jumped up and gave me a hug, almost knocking down my coffee. “Thank you, thank you!”

****

Breaking and entering will make you lose your license in a heartbeat. Worse yet, it might get your ass in jail. Unfortunately it was the only thing I could think of that I hadn’t done yet and might lead me to Kimmy. So, the next morning when Milhone left off for work I was picking the lock of his home, a one story bungalow in the Crenshaw District. I used to work with the more authentic Bogota-style lockpicks but it used to take me so much time and precision I decided to invest in a Lock Pick Gun. I was lucky enough to encounter a standard kind of lock to open it with the Pick Gun.
Milhone’s home was not exactly the most luxurious one I’d ever seen. It had a ratty old couch, just two chairs, a kitchen that seemed to be used only for storage of empty pizza-boxes and a TV that belonged in a museum. What he did own however, was a stateoftheart computer.
I started up the PC. When I was prompted to type in a password I inserted an USB Memory Stick that contained a very special piece of software. The software tried all kinds of passwords in just a matter of minutes. While the software was busy I searched the house.
I checked under the bed, the matrass and the couch. I opened cookie jars, kitchen drawers and cupboards. I rifled through his books and his CD’s. After an hour I found out where Milhone’s lost socks went, wasn’t good at doing the dishes, loved the books of one Steve Niles and had a god-awful taste in music. What I didn’t find was any clue to Kimmy’s whereabouts. I prayed the computer would give me the information I needed.
I failed to hack into Milhone’s e-mail but I did manage to open a folder that contained several pictures that made me want to puke. They depicted children with a startling resemblance to Kimmy Palecki that weren’t nude or displaying sexual behaviour but were in poses that made it painfully obvious they were made to fulfill the desires of sick perverted individuals. There was for instance a picture of a young girl sitting in a bathtub with a soaked T-shirt. Or one with a girl wearing an old-fashioned school uniform with a skirt so short no real school would issue it. I’d heard of the recent trend in which pictures were distributed that were worth a lot of money but didn’t fall, according to the letter of the law, in the category of child pornography.
Outside, I heard a car engine. It stopped and was followed by the sound of doors slamming shut. I peeked through the window. Two guys in sharp suits, sunglasses and almost military style haircuts left a grey Ford Taurus and walked over to the front door. They had ‘Fed’ written all over their Brooks Brothers outfits. Definetely my clue to get the hell out of there.
I got out via the backdoor. Behind me I heard the bell ring. They probably had finally managed to get a search warrant for the place. A lot of good it would do them. Sure, they’d get their confirmation Milhone was a grade A sleaze, but what they wouldn’t find is anything solid to arrest him on, let alone any clue to Kimmy’s whereabouts.
And with every minute the chance Kimmy Palecki was still alive was getting smaller and smaller.

****

Mrs. Palecki called me again that evening. I was at my apartment, drinking beer and listening to Kyuss on my stereo, just trying to get rid of the frustration I felt at failing her. Her and her daughter. It felt like shit, having to tell her I still had nothing.
She cried on the phone. I told her the feds were on the case, working full-force on it, that they would get results soon. They were good at their job. But what I knew was that in the end the FBI were cops as well. And cops need to gather evidence, build a case. It’s a process that can take months even years. I know all about it, having been the subject of several investigations myself, not to mention my friend Tony or my dad. Sure, they might get results but they probably would be too late.
I drank myself to sleep. I’d failed clients in the past, I’m only human and probably not the best at my job by far, but never had it bothered me this much. Probably because in failing I’d condemned a young girl to death and probably destroyed the life of her mother. But what more could I do then what I’d done already?
My dreams were filled with nightmares. Stumbling on Kimmy’s lifeless body in closets, cars, woods and once even in my own bed. In every dream she was badly injured and in every dream her clear blue eyes seemed to stare at me accusingly.
Maybe I hadn’t done everything I could. But doing everything I could would mean I’d have to go back to being the man I’d been trying to bury for years now.

****

Tony had joined me in my car. He was spilling a burrito all over his trademark Hawaiian shirt that had earned him the nickname Tony Hawaii. “So, he’ll be closing up in five minutes?”
We were parked in front of Milhone’s dry cleaning business. It was next door to a Chinese take-out place.
“That’s his usual routine, yeah. We grab him just before he comes out the door.” I got two skimasks from under my chair. “Wear this one.”
“The latest fashion,” Tony cracked. He pulled the skimask over his head, almost having trouble fitting it over his bulbous nose.
I pulled the mask over my own head as well. Just like a cheap damn thug. “You ready?” I checked with my partner in crime.
He snapped the cylinder shut of the Taurus Raging Bull he’d been loading a few minutes ago. “As I’ll ever be.”
As if in answer I pulled the slide of my Glock 9mm and got out of the car. “Let’s do it.”
Milhone was just changing the sign on his door from ‘OPEN’ to ‘CLOSED’ when he saw us coming. His mouth went open, forming a big ‘O’. Seeing two masked thugs with guns coming at your door will do that to you.
I kicked the door open. It banged against his face, making his nose bleed.
“Who are you? What are you doing here? If you want money...”
I grabbed him by his shirtfront and stuck the Glock under his nose. “Shut the fuck up. This isn’t about money. This is about the little girl you fucking kidnapped, you asshole. You’re coming with us.”
While Tony scanned the streets for any police cars or potential witnesses I dragged Milhone over to the trunk of the Dodge. Tony joined me there, opening the trunk so I could order Milhone to get inside.
“Are you crazy? I’m not going to step into that!” he protested.
“Don’t fuck with me. Get in the car or I fucking put you down right here right now.” I backed up the words by putting the Glock against his forehead. “Move it!”
I was convincing enough for him to obey. When he was climbing into the trunk for a brief moment I was wondering if maybe I’d even convinced myself I would’ve shot him in cold blood if he hadn’t done what I’d told him to. I closed off those thoughts at the same time I closed the trunk.
“Let’s go for a ride.”

****

Manny Gores never really made it as a musician. That’s no surprise for a guy who has the vocal talents of a hyena and has trouble getting more than one chord right. Not that it stops him from trying however. That’s why he’s got his own sound-proofed room / studio in Venice. Since he hasn’t made any dime from his musical carreer he also rents out his studio every now and then to his cousins, who take care of most of the collecting work for one of the chapters of the L.A. mob. If they need to break a guy’s knees, cut off a finger or two and don’t want to alarm the entire neighborhood they go to Manny. The reason I parked in front of his house didn’t have anything to do with my aspirations of becoming a guitar hero.
Tony stayed in the car while I rang the doorbell. Manny opened up, dressed in a Megadeth T-shirt and knee-length shorts. Stuck to his face was someting that was probably meant to be goatee but lacked almost as much hair as his skull.
“Hi Manny. Could I use the room for half an hour or something?”
Manny looked at me with suspicion. “I thought you were out of the business for years now.”
“I want to record a song for my dad. To tell him how much I love him, you know. I was thinking something from Sinatra. What do you think?”
Manny shook his head and chuckled. “Yeah, right. Whatever. You pay the bill you get the room. Clean up the blood yourself, the rest you do there is all up to you. You know the deal.”
I thanked Manny and waved at Tony. He stepped out of the car and went over to the trunk. He drew his Taurus and opened the trunk. He didn’t even bother with the mask anymore. I’d left mine in the car as well. There went caution. He grabbed Milhone by the neck and rolled him out of the car, on the pavement. He helped him up and walked him over to me. Something he whispered in his ear seemed to be sufficient to keep him from screaming for help.
Manny let us in with a gratuitous wave like he was a real estate agent showing a potential client around. Of course Manny wasn’t that big a piece of scum.
Stairs behind a lead door led us to the soundproof basement. Some posters of rocklegends like Jimi Hendrix and Iggy Pop adorned the walls. There were some speakers as well as an electric guitar and a set of drums. I wondered how many people’s heads had been banged against the drums and how much bloodspatters were hidden behind the posters. I felt like a ghoul but didn’t have the time to dwell on it. I was there to save Kimmy Palecki’s life, whatever the cost.
“On your knees,” I ordered Milhone. He obeyed without any protests. It didn’t make me feel any better about myself.
Tony smiled an ugly smile. “Not so tough now you’re up against two guys your own size, are you?” Milhone was silent.
I knelt down next to him. “We don’t want to hurt you, Milhone. The only thing we want is the location of Kimmy Palecki. You tell us, we let you go. It’s as simple as that.”
There was no emotion as he told us, “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
I put a hand on the back of his skull, moved my mouth close to his ear. “Come on, I know all about your rapsheet. I went through those ugly little pictures you got on your harddrive. I know what kind of sick bastard you are. I know your car was seen near Kimmy’s school just before she disappeared.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said again, like it was his own personal mantra. For a moment I wondered if he was really innocent. What if we’d nabbed the wrong guy. Then my mind flashed back to the pictures on his drive. What he did to those kids the first time he got caught. And I thought, what the hell. This sick bastard hadn’t been innocent in a very long time.
I slapped him in the face with the back of my hand. “Cut the crap, asshole! We both know you did it. Now do one good thing in your dispiccable life for once and tell us where Kimmy is.”
There was trickle of blood in the corner of his mouth. “No!” he yelled.
“Goddammit! I’m running out of patience.” Tony rolled up his sleeves. He walked over to Milhone and grabbed him by the wrist. Milhone struggled a bit but Tony was way stronger than him.
Tony put Milhone’s hand on top of one of the speakers. He put the barrel of the Taurus Raging Bull against Milhone’s open palm.
“You’d better tell us where Kimmy is or I shoot a hole in your hand the size of fucking Kansas!”
“No... No... Don’t...” Milhone pleaded. Tony started to squeeze the trigger.
“Stop!” the freak screamed. “I’ll take you to her! Just don’t shoot!”
Tony smiled and took his gun away. “You’re lucky I’ve gotten more patient with age.” He rammed the butt of the revolver against Milhone’s palm. I thought I heard something snap. Milhone started to cry. I felt no sympathy for him. I felt like this case was making me slip further and further into the darkness.

****

Milhone took us into the desert. He was telling me how to drive, sitting next to me in the passenger seat. Tony had his gun trained at the back of his neck. The Taurus was powerful enought to blast right through the seat and splatter the freak’s brains all over my windshield were he to try anything funny. I was hoping he wouldn’t. After all, I just bought the car.
“Here... Here’s where it is,” Milhone said.
I stopped the car and looked around. We were in the middle of the desert. Just a long road, sand and more sand. “There’s nothing here.”
Milhone pointed. “You see that small hill? That’s where she is.”
I saw it. The hill was about as high as my car. “Underneath that? Did you bury her there or something?”
“No, no! I’ll show you. I’ll show you.”
“Fine, get out of the car.” I held open the door for him.
When he was out of the Dodge he ran for the hill. Tony told him to slow down a bit before he shot him. My pal go even a bit more edgy when Milhone reached the hill and started to wipe away the sand. The freak would be dead before he could even think about getting a weapon from under there.
What Milhone unearthed wasn’t a weapon however. It was a steel trapdoor.
“What the hell?” Tony said. I agreed.
“It used to be an old bomb shelter,” Milhone explained. “It was probably built in the sixties, during the Cold War when everyone was afraid the Russians would drop the big bomb.”
“And you’re keeping Kimmy in there?” I was disgusted. “Open the fucking door and get us inside.”
He opened the door. It squeaked like a chihuaua. He went inside. We followed him.
A steel ladder led down. Milhone switched on the lights. All comforts of home.
Downstairs we ended up in a room about the size of a living room. There was a bunkbed, an oven and a radio. A shelf held non-perishable food in cans. But where was Kimmy? I asked the freak.
“She’s probably hiding under the bed again.” He kneeled down next to the bed. “Princess?”
Tony gave me an incredulous look. I shrugged.
“Princess?” Milhone repeated. This time his voice sounded different. Worried, confused. He yelled.
“What’s wrong?” I asked and kneeled next to him. There was blood under the bed.
Kimmy was naked and spread-eagled under the bed, bleeding from her backside and her mouth.
“Did I play too rough with you, princess?” The freak really sounded worried and sorry. That damned freak!
I pulled him by the hair. He fell. I dragged Kimmy’s body from under the bed. I checked her pulse but knew she was dead before I did it.
“Motherfucker!” Tony yelled and aimed his Taurus at the freak’s head. I grabbed his wrist.
“Don’t. Our pal here’s going to call the cops and give himself in.” I handed Milhone my cell phone.
He was shaking like a leaf. “C-call the police? Turn my-myself in?”
“Yeah. Or Tony here shoots you through the head. Who’s going to find out over here?”
Tony’s face was beetred. He was sweating like a pig. “It’d be my pleasure to kill the bastard.”
“We went far enough already. He’s going to jail.”
Tony smiled. “That might even be better. Just think about what his fellow cons will do to him when they find out he raped a little girl to death.”
Milhone went as white as a corpse. Apparently he had a pretty vivid imagination. He gritted his teeth and stormed towards Tony. He seemed to be intent on strangling him.
The loud boom of Tony’s Taurus was deafening in the small space. The freak’s brains ended up all over the cans on the shelf.
“I had to shoot,” Tony said. “He was going to kill me.”
I stared at my friend. I have to confess I’d often seen Tony as a dim-witted thug, a henchman. But now I was thinking he drove Milhone to attack him on purpose. That he was looking for an excuse to kill him of. I wasn’t so sure I was sorry about that.
“Yeah. I guess he was.”
“What do we do now?”
I held the little girl. “There’s no way I can tell her mom what happened to her.”
I put the girl on the bed. Closed her eyes, cleaned up the blood. Tucked her in. Gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“Let’s go,” I told Tony.
We left the shelter, locked the door and covered it with sand again. We got in the Dodge and drove off.
In the car I called Mrs. Palecki to tell her I failed. I guess in a way I did.


REWIND<< This short featured on the original Pulp Pusher site.