Four Steps Under 5

Kevin left the office around 8:00 p.m. and drove to Lazy Horse Apartments. It looked like the kind of place where drug dealers and gang members might hang out. He parked his Mustang and reached into the glove box for his pistol. He’d purchased three of them after Brandon had sent him to the hospital: one for his car, one for home, and one for the office. There was no particular reason to think anyone else would have attacked him once Brandon was put away, but Kevin had been determined to never again feel defenseless.

He got out and walked into the apartment complex with his hands in his overcoat pockets. If anyone threatened him in any way or even looked at him funny, he wouldn’t hesitate to flash his weapon. Months of practice at the shooting range had bolstered his confidence.

He located the first-floor apartment and knocked.

The door opened. “What are you doing here, little brother?”

Kevin and Kurt didn’t look much like brothers anymore. Kevin wore business suits, while his brother wouldn’t be caught dead in one. Kurt was a jeans man. Wore them every day—with cowboy boots. And on work days, he wore a white dress shirt and tie to meet the minimum dress code. Kevin was clean shaven, with a professional haircut. His brother had muttonchops and a deeply receding hairline. He trimmed his own hair with scissors—when absolutely necessary.

“May I please come in?”

Kurt scowled but stepped aside to let his brother in.

Kevin walked inside. “We may have a problem.”

Kurt closed the door. “We? Look, if I’m not doing my job right, how about telling me during work hours. Right now I’m trying to watch the Rockets game. You’ve got no business coming into my home impinging on my leisure time.”

Impinging? Where did you learn that word?”

“Screw you.”

“It was a compliment.”

“What do you want?”

Kevin saw four opened beer cans on the coffee table and one on the floor. “Having a few beers?”

“So what?”

“How many did you have at the bar before you came home?”

“You drove all the way out here to bust my ass about my drinking habits? What the hell, Kevin?”

“No. I’ve got something important to talk to you about.”

“Well, I’m sure it can wait until morning.”

“It’s not about work. It’s about that night.”

“What night?” Kurt had one eye on the TV.

“Would you please focus, Kurt? Brandon Boader came to my office today.”

“Who’s that?”

Brandon. The kid.”

“Oh, yeah. So, he’s out, huh?”

“I denied everything, of course. But he’ll probably come see you next.”

“So? I can handle him.”

“I don’t want you to handle him. I want you to keep your big mouth shut.”

Kurt cocked his head. “I’ll say whatever the hell I want. I don’t give a crap.”

“Kurt—”

“Now I’d like to get back to my game.” He grabbed the door knob. “If you don’t mind.”

“I brought you something.” Brandon reached inside his overcoat, took out an envelope, and held it up.

“What’s that?”

“Five thousand. Cash.”

Kurt laughed. “Well, it’s about time. But don’t think that this is gonna make up for the fact that you haven’t given me a decent raise in the whole ten years I’ve been working for you. You’re living in a mansion, and I’m here in this dump.”

“You make a good salary, Kurt, and if you wouldn’t gamble it away, you’d be doing just fine.”

“Bullshit.”

Kevin looked at the TV. “How much you got on this game?”

“None of your business.”

Kevin shook his head. “Here. Take this. It’s a down payment.”

Kurt snatched it out of his hand. “What am I supposed to do, kill him?”

“Not unless you want to go to prison, asshole.” Kevin looked around. “And don’t talk like that.” Kevin looked around.

“What? Nobody’s here but you and me.”

“Your neighbors can probably hear right through these walls.”

“Sure. And I can hear them making drug deals. So what?”

Kevin wondered if he’d made a deadly mistake coming to this place.

Kurt laughed. “I’m shitting you, man. You should see the look on your face.”

“And that’s exactly how you get yourself into trouble: by shooting your mouth off.”

“No, I get myself into trouble when I actually do something. Not when I joke about it. Try to understand the difference, little brother.”

Kevin got in Kurt’s face. “Stop calling me little brother. You know I hate that.”

Kurt shrugged.

“Look, Brandon Boader put me in the hospital,” Kevin said. “And apparently he got even crazier in prison. I looked into it, Kurt. They say he went psycho while he was in there. Hit a guy in the head and cut his balls off.”

“Whoa! Well, if he’s so crazy, then why did they let him out?”

“I don’t know how he got out, but now he’s our problem.”

“Seems to me that he’s your problem. You’re the one he went after.”

“That’s why I’m paying you. Because if you say the wrong thing to him, if you admit or even imply that we killed his parents—”

“Now why would I do a stupid-ass thing like that?”

“You do a lot of stupid-ass things when you’re drunk.”

“I don’t get drunk.”

“That’s not what I hear.”

“You got people spying on me?”

“Look, when you make a habit of getting smashed in public, people talk. Word gets around.”

“Whatever, Kevin. You can’t tell me what to do.”

“I’m giving you five thousand now, and I’ll give you another five when this thing blows over—if you behave. Do you want the money or not?”

Kurt snatched the envelope from his hand. “Not only will I keep my mouth shut, I’ll make this frigging problem go away, and then you’ll pay me an additional twenty-five thousand.”

Twenty-five thousand? Wait—what do mean, you’ll make it go away?”

Kurt held up a finger. “Not another word, little brother. I’m giving you full deniability. Now, get out of here.” He opened the door.

“Wait, Kurt, I don’t want you to—”

“Go home.” He pushed Kevin out and closed the door.

Kevin hurried to his car, wondering if he’d just inadvertently ordered a hit on Brandon Boader.

**********

Kurt sat down on the couch and his cell phone rang. He didn’t even check the caller ID. His eyes were on the basketball game.

“Hello?”

“I want payment, in full, by next Friday.”

Kurt muted the TV. “No, remember, you said I could pay it out.”

“That was before you skipped last week’s payment.”

“But I can’t come up with the whole thing all at once.”

“That’s not my problem, Kurt.”

The line went dead.

Shit!

He placed a call.

“Hello?”

“Hey, man, you still want to do that thing we talked about?” Kurt asked.

“I figured you’d come around.”

“So, it’s fifty-fifty, right?”

“Not anymore. You’ve been wasting my time, Kurt. I could have partnered up with somebody else by now.”

“But you haven’t.”

“Don’t matter. I could have. So, now my share’s gonna be seventy percent.”

Seventy percent? That’s crap! I’m the one taking all the risks!”

“But I’m the one providing the explosive device. And you can’t do shit without it.”

Sixty percent.”

“It’s a deal. When are you gonna do the job?”

“Early next week,” Kurt said. “Maybe Monday.”

“Good.”

“Bring it to the old warehouse. I know a good place to hide it.”

“I thought they were about to demolish that thing.”

“They are—in a couple of weeks,” Kurt said. “Let me know when you’re coming and I’ll meet you there.”

“Will do.”

End of Excerpt
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