the afternoon sun filtered half heartedly through the hotel window.
the phone rang.
joe took it out of his pocket and answered it.
"joe, it's mike."
"hi mike. what have you got for me?"
"joe, i don't know how to say this -"
"just say it."
"i haven't got anything for you. i'm sorry."
"why don't you have anything for me, mike?"
"nobody wants you, joe - it's just that simple."
"i see. or maybe i don't see."
"they want younger guys, joe. i try to talk up your experience, but they won't listen."
"and you can't make them listen?"
"no, i can't. these things go in cycles, you know that. youth is in this year, what can i say?"
"all right. keep trying."
"that's all i can do."
"that's all you can do." joe clicked off. he lay on the hotel bed for a few minutes. then he got up and put his jacket on. it felt like it might rain, so he closed the room's one window. then he left.
his room was on the second floor, the same as the desk. he started to walk past the desk at the same pace he walked everywhere, cool calm and collected, not picking up the pace or slowing it down one millisecond.
the body-building desk clerk - what was his name, adam? aaron? - was on duty. a real tough guy.
"you got that rent?"
"i got till eleven o'clock tomorrow morning, " joe answered evenly.
"i know that. are you going to have it?"
"don't worry about it. i will either have it or i won't. i will either stay or go," joe went on in the same even voice. "what's the problem?"
adam or aaron hesitated. "the problem is i don't want you trying to intimidate terry on the night shift."
"what are you talking about? i never said shit to him."
"he seems to find you intimidating."
joe shook his head. "that's his problem." he turned away and went down the stairs to the lobby.
there were five or six persons in the lobby, watching the television or staring into space. joe walked by them. people! hadn't he killed enough of the sorry cocksuckers in his thirty years on the job? but they just kept on coming.
he pulled open the front door and stepped put into the street and started walking.
outwardly joe was calm as always, but inside he was a seething red volcano of blind boiling rage. so this, he thought, is what it comes to after thirty years on the job! this is the fucking gratitude i get. the gratitude i get for all the scum i removed from the hairy pimply face of the earth. the scum, the losers, the wife-beaters and child molesters and mumbling panhandling burnouts, the parasites and troublemakers and busybodies and tiresome assholes - what would the world be like without me and guys like me?
he wondered, just how many people had he offed? he could never keep track. he took his phone out of his pocket and clicked on the calculator.
lets call it 2.5 people a week - times 52 weeks equals 130 - times 30 years = 3900. that sounded about right. he had taken a week off in 1986 and again in 1999 but how much difference did that make? had he maybe killed an even 4000? who cared?
not the assholes walking past him on the street, that was for damn sure.
nobody cared. nobody fucking cared. about him or about the other guys who put their time in keeping the world safe and clean. where were all the guys he had known - frank and eddie and old mose and jerry the jumper and the rest? dead, probably. one or two of them might have even been dumb enough to get caught.
so it had come to this. back to having to try to scrounge up business on the street. he hoped he had not lost his eye for a likely customer. maybe working with agents and middlemen like mike had made him soft.
joe had started out thirty years ago specializing in fags and satanists and revolutionaries and black panthers and child molesters. but
he had moved with the times and now he worked mostly sexists and racists and homophobes and child molesters.
but right now he would take anything he could get.
he went down to powell street. not right at the cable car stop on market where the tourists swarmed in packs but a little further up where he might spot a likely customer and talk to him without being overheard.
he spotted a guy right away. not the family jewels, but promising enough.
"hey buddy, can i talk to you a minute?"
"i'm not panhandling, i got something you might want to buy."
"i don't think so."
joe ignored this and moved a step closer. "you got the look of a guy who might have marital problems."
the guy laughed. "what are you selling, fucking viagra? news flash - i can buy it online."
"no, no, something much better. serenity. peace of mind. the end - emphasis the end - of all your problems."
"you're selling insurance?" what a knucklehead.
joe pressed on. "do they sell insurance for alimony? you got an old lady wrapping your balls in barbed wire? maybe your old lady is a guy - hey i'm 21st century, i'm on board with it."
the great light dawned in the guy's eyes. he looked around. "uh - yeah, yeah, maybe we can work something out." he hesitated. "this isn't some kind of scam, is it?"
joe ignored this. "a thousand dollars. how cheap is that? you'd pay someone a thousand dollars to mow the lawn and clean the leaves out of your gutters."
the guy started to take his wallet out of his pocket, then stopped. "a thousand sounds about right."
"five hundred now. five hundred when i'm done. that's standard."
"what! no way! what do i look like, i just fell off a roller coaster and landed on my head?'"
"three up front, then seven."
"no." the guy laughed, started to walk away. "hey, you almost had me there."
joe forced himself to breathe evenly. he wanted to strangle the man and beat him into a-1 steak sauce. he didn't want to lose the thousand. he would have it in reserve, get the rent some other way. maybe even - he saw red - maybe even panhandle to get it.
"wait, wait," joe heard himself say. "all right, the whole thing on delivery."
"oh? all right, then."
"i'll need some details."
the guy looked around. "here?"
"there's a burger king down the street. we can talk there."
later, joe felt a little better. as they discussed the details, the guy had been man enough to treat joe to a double chipotle whopper with onion rings and a large coke (he would have preferred pepsi). but he was still pissed.
he still had to get the rent. it was almost dark. could he find another customer? or ----?
he started walking up powell street, sort of lost in thought. when he got to the really steep part, he stopped. he remembered when he first came to san francisco he had thought the cable cars must be free, because nobody could be expected to actually walk up the steep streets.
he was in front of a little alley. the street was empty, and quiet.
he turned. a punk kid came up behind him. white, with big baggy pants and a black oakland raiders cap.
"do i know you?" joe asked.
"you do now." suddenly the kid had a gun in his hand and he shot joe in the guts. the single shot echoed off the steep hill.
"what the fuck!" joe fell on his back. he looked up at the kid. "what the fuck! how could you do this to me? you don't even know me."
"do i need to?"
"there's got to be some mistake."
the kid looked uncertain. "it doesn't matter now."
"what's - what's your name?" joe gasped.
"larry. what's yours?"
"goodbye, joe." larry hated to make more noise, but he shot joe again, between the eyes.
he put the gun in his belt and hurried toward mason street. had he fucked up? was it the right guy?
this wasn't really for him. maybe he had chosen the wrong career path. maybe he should have been a pimp instead. but he wasn't really comfortable around women.