This story first appeared in the Comet Press Anthology The Death Panel: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness
It is reprinted here with permission of Michelle Scalise-Piccirilli
Praise for FUCKIN’ LIE DOWN ALREADY: “This is a small masterpiece. It’s said that the devil’s in the details and Tom got all the details exactly right. I always said Pic was one to watch. Fuck watching. He’s utterly there. A voice to listen to and learn from.”–Jack Ketchum, author of RED and THE LOST
Praise for THE LAST KIND WORDS: “Perfect crime fiction . . . a convincing world, a cast of compelling characters, and above all a great story.”—Lee Child
Praise for the author: “Piccirilli straddles genres with the boldness of the best writers today, blending suspense and crime fiction into tight, brutal masterpieces.”-–James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of THE DEVIL COLONY
Tom’s great body of work lives on: Amazon Author’s Page
Blood Sacrifices & the Catatonic Kid
Two moves from mate Barry the chronic masturbator started pawing at the white bishop like he was choking his chicken and said, “Heya, hey, look there—” I turned in time to see the Catatonic Kid get up off his coma couch and cut Harding’s throat with a shiv made from a shard of ceramic ashtray.
Harding the orderly stood 6’3 and went two-thirty of mostly muscle. He didn’t go down easy. Arterial spray shot around the intensely white walls of the ward as Mary the Nictophobe started losing her shit. She screamed and sort of danced in place and couldn’t even get herself out of the path of Harding’s spurting carotid.
I didn’t mind watching him go down. He was a rude, rotten son of a bitch who liked to intimidate and humiliate the patients. He had a habit of opening mail and stealing cash or candy bars or whatever appealed to him at the moment. Now he was scrambling on the floor trying to clamp one hand across his slashed throat. But he was so taken by the wondrous and terrifying sight of his own pouring blood that he kept pulling his hand away and staring at the frothing red puddling in his palm.
Harding checked around the room looking for mercy. Our eyes met and he saw I wasn’t going to help. I mouthed, Fuck you, prick. He glanced up at Barry and, even as he bled out, an expression of disgust crimped Harding’s features as he got a look at the unholy sight of what Barry was currently doing with a black rook.
The rest of the nuts, freaks, depressives, hysterics, deficients, and paranoids didn’t seem to notice and just kept up with their muttering, hand-wringing, floor-licking, and carrot-waxing. Mary had crumpled trying to rub the blood out of her eyes.
The Catatonic Kid riffled Harding’s pockets and snatched his wallet. He unclipped the huge key ring from Harding’s belt, drew out Harding’s smaller set of car keys from the orderly’s back pocket, and even pulled the dripping watch from Harding’s wrist. I thought that was going a little far.
Harding croaked, “Please—” and the Kid kicked him in the face.
Harding tried to lever himself to his feet one last time and toppled across the ping pong table. It collapsed under his weight and he lay unmoving atop the crushed net.
The Kid had been in a non-responsive fugue state for the three months we’d been here. He came in the same day I did and both of us were placed into the same group therapy. They tried to snap him out of his unresponsive state by pretending that he wasn’t in one. They talked to him, asked questions, waited for answers. I thought the doctors were some ripe stupid assholes.
They finally wised up and dumped the Kid in the community lounge where he’d lay on his coma couch and stare at the ceiling. The other nuts kept clear of him. The doctors and nurses came in and flashed a light in his eyes every so often, tossed pills down his throat, and fed him. He’d eat slowly, hardly ever blinking. They’d wipe his chin and let him lie back down, and the rest of us would pass him by like he was a piece of furniture.
He’d been faking the entire time and I admired the amount of willpower it had taken. Not just to pretend, but to pretend for so long and then still manage to make it all the way back. I knew guys in prison who’d tried to fake insanity so they could get out of solitary or into the hospital wing. Some of them faked it so well for so long they just went crazy.
The Kid knew which key got him out of the ward. He’d been watching, aware, careful. He moved with a certain predator canniness, swift but cautious, with a restrained sense of power. During the nights he must’ve been exercising, keeping himself fit and sharp.
I followed along behind him, silent in my little baby booty slippers. When he got to the next security station, where Jenkins sat filling out his logbook and helping one of the nurses get medication ready for the patients, the Kid slid along the wall holding his shiv up like he was going to kill them both. I grabbed his wrist and pulled him into an alcove.
He tried to talk but his voice was inhuman, clogged with months of dust. I said, “Not through the front. There’s a three-man team at the gate, two in a booth and one patrolling in a truck, and the administrative offices are between you and the door. Besides, Jenkins is a nice guy, not like that fucker Harding.”
I let go of his wrist. I could see him thinking about stabbing me with his shard of ashtray. His eyes were red with bridled excitement. He was on the move for the first time in weeks and he wanted to cut loose. The taste of murder was in his teeth. I waited for him to try it.
But he wasn’t just cunning, he was smart. He checked the halls and gracefully eased toward the east exit. It opened up onto the back grounds, the landscaper’s shed, and the staff parking lot.
I followed him to the door and watched him unlock it and push through. I stayed behind. It was too chancy to shoulder my way into his escape more than I already had. He turned around. I waited. He rushed back.
His voice was returning. He tried a few more words. They didn’t sound like English. He spoke again and I recognized what he was saying. “Come on, old man. Let’s go.”
“Hey,” I told him, “I’m here for voluntary committal. I’m depressed, not nuts. Choose one of the other loons for your big breakout.”
“Now or you’ll get the same thing that bastard Harding did.”
“What do you want me for?”
“I might need help along the way.”
“How do you know I’ll be any help?”
“Because I’ll stab you in the heart if you’re not.”
I had been threatened with a lot of things in my time, but never a shiv made from a ceramic ashtray. I recognized the ashtray too. It was Barry’s. I couldn’t help picturing him working the clay, squeezing it, getting his hands slippery, and—Christ, I shook my head, I didn’t want to think about it. He’d made it for his mother. On visitor’s day she’d shown up with the family priest and tried a kind of impromptu exorcism to drive away what she called his “naughty touch demons.” They’d given it a real go. The priest calling down the power of the holy spirit, Barry’s mother wailing on about the power of Jesus, and Barry turning red and twitching, trying his damnedest to keep from tugging out his mushroom. The Kid must’ve filched the ashtray while everyone had been watching the show.
The Kid and I crept along the outer wall of the hospital. Jenkins and the nurse would be coming around in five minutes or so to hand out the meds. We didn’t have long to get to Harding’s car.
The Kid tried the remote unlock and an SUV tweeted. We rushed to it and the Kid tried to hop into the driver’s seat. I told him, “Move over.”
“Let me drive.”
It was a good question. I didn’t have a good answer. I spun the smoothest lie I could. “Forty years without an accident or a speeding ticket.”
“We’ve got to ram the gate and outrun the security trucks.”
Point taken. “I live in town. I know this area. I can lose anyone who comes after us. Can you?”
I knew he couldn’t. The Kid was new to the area. “If you fuck up,” he said, “I’ll kill you.”
“Remember what I said.”
I started it up and felt the thrum of the engine work into my chest, my hands, the back of my skull. There were only 22k miles on it. She’d been well taken care of. I put it in drive and grooved on the feel of my foot on the pedal. Driving with the slippers was almost like driving barefoot. I hadn’t been behind the wheel in three months, the longest period of time since I was fourteen years old, nearly a half century ago. I circled the lot once before heading for the gate. I wished to Christ I’d had time to put on some clothes. The pjs and robe just weren’t proper attire for a crash-out.
I centered myself, tamped down my rage, agitation, and impatience and let the cool take me over. The problem wasn’t getting through the gate. An SUV had more than enough muscle to break through. I could outmaneuver the security detail in his truck.
The trouble was the state trooper station about three miles up the highway. They’d radio our escape and the staties would catch us in a roadblock or just chase us all to hell until they ran us down.
If we floored it in the other direction we’d wind up in a state park that ran out to a spit of land surrounded by the bay. It would be impossible to hide. The Kid would get nervous and try to take someone hostage. Or he’d make a grab for a boat at the nearby marina, and the water patrol would nab us before we got around the point.
“What are we waiting for?” the Kid said. He held his shiv to my throat.
“I’m working out a plan.”
“That’s not a plan.”
There was really only one choice. I eased down on the pedal and headed for the gate. No other visitors or employees were heading out, so it was shut. The guards didn’t have guns but they did have tasers. They stood in their little booth talking and watching a little television. There was a direct phone line to the staties in there. I didn’t gun it. I drove slowly while the Kid got more and more anxious. He liked the throat, it called to him. His eyes were fixed on my jugular. He liked to make a mess and splash blood.
The rage started to climb to the surface again and I pushed it back, not so easily this time. I took deep breaths and pulled up to the booth.
When the two guards showed their faces I smiled and said, “Get the fuck out now.”
I put Harding’s SUV in reverse, got up some ramming speed, and then floored it.
The guards hung in there until the last second. Maybe they were trying the staties, maybe they were calling in the rest of security from the perimeter and the hospital. They weren’t going to have time. I sped towards them. The assholes inside finally realized I was serious. They both dove out the door. I spun the wheel at the last second and hit the booth broadside. It wasn’t a paragon of architecture and went over like a kid’s tree house. I straightened the SUV out and smashed into the gate. It was thicker than it looked but not by much. The front end of the truck buckled a bit, but we only lost one headlight and the hood stayed clamped down.
The locking mechanism on the gate screeched and the mangled fencing exploded as we went through. I twisted the wheel in order to keep from rolling over, overcorrected and we went up on two tires. I rode it like that for forty feet and we came down on all fours again in the middle of the road. I headed for the highway.
They would call the other security guards first. Then radio the cops. The cops would call in their own cars before informing the staties. It would take an extra four or five minutes. That was enough time to burn right past the trooper station. I got to triple digits and kept punching the engine.
“Jesus, you can drive,” the Kid said.
“I’ve had a lot of experience.”
“You said you knew this area.”
“I do. I’ve lived out this way for a long time.”
“Where’s a good place to lay low?”
I grinned at him. “I know the perfect spot.”
“My granddaughter’s place.”
“And where’s she?”
I got off the highway and onto the parkway, heading for the safe house. Things were rolling the right way now. I turned on the radio and clicked in an oldies station. I expected the Kid to give me shit but he kept quiet. We listened to a few crooners, Frankie and Dino, with me humming along.
I jockeyed among the thickening traffic. I took Sunset Highway through Port Jackson. I felt good for the first time in twelve weeks.
“So what are you so depressed about?” he asked.
“I’ve got issues.”
“And what would they be?”
“I’ve been having trouble enjoying life lately.”
“Are you fucking with me?”
“You sound as if you’re fucking with me.”
“You’re smiling and singing. I guess you’re on the upswing.”
“I think maybe I am.”
“You’re never as full of life as when you’re on the edge of death.”
“That’s as clich?d as they come.”
“Maybe,” he said, “maybe, but it’s true. Don’t you feel your heart racing like it wants to bang out of your chest?”
He got in close. He whispered in my ear. “You’re not afraid of me? Of what you just saw back there?”
“Not afraid of dying either. The way you took out that security shack, we almost rolled, but you kept your head. You didn’t panic. Not even when I was this close to cutting your throat.”
He snorted. “You are a lunatic.”
“That’s a matter of opinion. Tell me something. Why did you take the watch?”
“Harding’s watch. Why’d you snag it?”
“It’s a nice watch.”
“But you can’t even read the time, his dried blood covers the crystal.”
“Who the hell wants to know what time it is?”
He let out a barking laugh. The entire time his voice had been getting stronger. He sounded confident, effectual, his words and laughter resonating. I laughed along with him. He was going to start recognizing sites soon. I circled Port Jackson and went by the supermarket, the high school, the bank, the homeless shelter, the police station, the post office, the jewelry store.
The Kid said, “Where are we?”
I slowed down. I hung a left and cut into a housing development.
“Go back,” he said.
“Around the block and onto the main road again.”
“You do what I tell you, right?”
I drove around the block and let him get his bearings. He nodded to himself. His face broke into a self-satisfied grin. He flipped the oldies station and put on something loud and obnoxious and unbearable. It was just as well. The rage was welling up in me. He was going to cut me soon. It would be a small cut, just to get my attention. Just to prove that he had the capacity, that he was capable. I glanced at my face in the rearview mirror. I’d been cut and beaten before, plenty of times. One more scar wouldn’t mean much.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Taking me where I needed to go.”
“Never mind.” He looked at me and grinned. It was a warm and amiable smile, the kind that young girls would fall for. “How far is it to your granddaughter’s place?”
“A couple miles. We’re almost there.”
“We have to stop somewhere first.”
“Where?” I asked.
“The post office.”
“Kid, we’re dressed in hospital pajamas, robes, and slippers. Shouldn’t we keep a lower profile?”
“Pull the fuck over.”
I pulled over. I turned in my seat and said, “Kid, you should listen to me here. If you—”
He reached out and slashed me on the forehead with his little shiv. It was so sharp that I barely even felt it, but the blood immediately began to pour into my eyes. The cut was small but there are a lot of blood vessels close to the skin on your head and any wound will bleed like a bastard.
That’s what he’d been counting on. He thought the blood would rattle me. It was an old trick. It was a bad bet. He already knew I kept calm under pressure, but it hadn’t mattered. He fell back to type. The Kid was growing edgy. The months of inactivity had worn down his composure. He was getting excited.
I tore the pocket off my pajama top, folded the cloth and held it to the cut. I tied it there with the belt of my robe. I looked at him through the blood dripping off my eyelashes. He was self-satisfied, his eyes alive and bright. Blood had leaked down my chin and smeared across the front of my shirt.
He said, “When I tell you to do something, you do it. You understand me?”
With the wadded tail of my robe I wiped the blood off my face as best I could and drove over to the post office. He said, “Come on.”
“You want me to come with you?”
“Quickly. We’re in and out in under a minute. And I don’t trust you.”
“Take the keys. I’ll wait.”
“You’re still arguing. Should I cut you again?”
“You’ll come with me. Now.”
I went with him. We walked in the front door. The employees and the folks buying stamps and mailing letters gasped and squeaked and backed away. I didn’t look like a depressive who’d voluntarily committed himself. I looked like a maniac who’d probably killed somebody. The Kid pulled a key out of his pocket and walked confidently towards a PO box. He unlocked it and pulled out a satchel. He couldn’t contain himself and let out a giggle.
I thought again of his innate willpower. To swallow the key before he went into the hatch, and then to shit it out and hide it on his person for months, lying there on his coma couch dreaming of the day when he’d get back here.
I glanced up at the cameras in the corners. My face was obscured by the bandage and the belt and the blood. The Kid turned and shoved me out the door. We got back in the SUV and I drove down towards the small house that Emily had rented right on the beach. It was a six month lease, paid up front. She used to lay out in a bikini and sun herself while I jogged along the shoreline.
“What’s in the satchel?” I asked.
“None of your fucking business, old man.”
The wind was up and the ocean road was obscured with sand and sawgrass. I had to drive over a couple of drifts. The sand spun out from our tires. I pulled into the cracked driveway. The Kid said, “This is it?”
“It’s a total shithole! You let your granddaughter live in a junker like this?”
“It’s a bungalow, tucked away on a private beach. A good cool off spot. The cops will drop their search in a couple of weeks. They’ll figure we made it out of state.”
“Where’s your grandkid again?”
“She lives here alone.”
I climbed out and opened the garage door. Then I pulled in and parked. He was going to go for my throat soon. We walked into the bungalow through the inside garage door and the Kid said, “Thanks for the ride, old man, but—”
I spun on him reaching out with the shiv to slash me the same way he’d done Harding. I caught his wrist and wrenched it to the left. The snap was loud in the empty house. The opening note of his scream was even louder. I let it ring and ring, a nice tremolo. He dropped the shiv and I punched him in the Adam’s apple. He gagged and went to his knees, tears leaking from his eyes. He huffed air. In agony he turned his eyes up toward me and I gripped the back of his head and drove my knee into his face. He flopped onto his back, out cold.
I checked the satchel. All the jewelry was there. It was worth just under a million on the market. Any good fence would take eighty percent off the top. There was no way to clean jewelry except get it out of the country or sell it to private collectors. That’s why a professional crew almost never took down a jewelry shop. The return just wasn’t worth it. But our team had been small and tight and the payoff was good enough to give it a go.
I showered and shaved and got my own clothes out of the closet. The cut on my forehead wasn’t all that bad, it wouldn’t even scar. I cleaned it with peroxide and put a tiny band-aid on.
I sat on the couch and looked at the Kid. His nose was pulped, his face mottled, and he was still sucking air through his teeth. He’d been smart and sharp and paranoid, but not paranoid enough. The jewelry score could’ve been a pretty sweet deal if only he hadn’t gotten greedy.
I knew the Kid wouldn’t recognize me.
We hadn’t been formally introduced. He’d been chosen last minute by Cole as a replacement for Wellington who’d been picked up for flooring it through a yellow light, the prick. He’d had a shootout with the cops and been iced.
I wanted to call the score off, but funds were too low. Emily talked me into rolling the dice. Cole knew somebody who knew somebody who knew the Kid, who was fresh to the coast. Hershaw okayed the replacement.
We still should’ve moved the plan back a week or two and gotten a feel for the Kid. But there was no time. I’d picked him up and he’d climbed into the car and sat behind me. I’d caught his eyes once in the rearview. I hadn’t suspected anything hinky. I’d done my job and driven to the shop and planned on getting us back to the safehouse without incident, where we’d wait a couple of weeks together until the heat was off. Emily and I would lounge around another month or two after that until the end of summer and then split.
I pulled up to the shop and Cole, Hershaw, and the Kid had gotten out. The three of them had entered the place while I kept an eye out for the cops.
My Blackberry rang almost immediately. It was Emily. She wasn’t supposed to call. I answered and realized she was sending me video. I watched as the Kid’s face filled the screen as he approached her. I could see Cole and Hershaw dead on the floor behind him. The Kid had popped them both in the back of the head with a pipsqueak .22. Up close it was an almost silent kill, I knew.
She had set her own Blackberry aside on the counter and it kept sending footage. I watched him reach out toward her and listened to her squeal in pain. That was him cutting Emily’s forehead to get her attention and keep her from hitting any alarm. Then he asked about the jewels. She tried to explain that she was in on the score but he got antsy and slashed her throat. He was fast.
There was nothing I could do but drive away.
If I’d stayed, he would’ve popped me too. That was his plan all along.
I didn’t carry a gun. No driver did.
Someone had hit an alarm. I pulled into the supermarket lot across the square and watched the door. He bolted through two minutes later, still on schedule. He looked around for the car and did a tiny dance of anguish. The police station was less than a minute away. They were already coming.
He’d been smart. He’d planned ahead for contingencies. He’d already taken out a PO box. He ran into the post office and hid the satchel of jewelry and then swallowed the key in case he got picked up. But he had no wheels. There was nowhere to run. He couldn’t be caught on the street.
I had to give it to him, he stayed cool. He knew how to adapt and improvise. He took off his jacket and tore a hole in his t-shirt and kicked off his shoes on the way to the homeless shelter across the street. He stepped in the front door just as the cops came around the corner. It all seemed to have been perfectly rehearsed. I kept watch.
I found out the Kid played the crazy card and threw himself on the ground and pretended to be nuts. They shipped him off. I voluntarily committed myself the same day.
And I watched the Comatose Kid.
And I waited.
He rolled over on the floor, grunting in pain. “Aooww.”
“You hear me, Kid?”
“I’ll take that as a yes. Look at me.”
He opened his eyes and touched his face and moaned again. “My nose—”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “I was your wheelman.”
“Your driver. I was your driver. Remember now?”
“You broke my nose.”
I sighed. “Focus, Kid. You were a last minute replacement. But we only met in the car. You sat behind me. You killed Cole and Hershaw. You killed the girl.”
He cleared his throat. He tried to sit up and couldn’t quite do it. “I didn’t need partners.”
“If you’d followed the plan, you wouldn’t have been stuck pretending to be in a coma for three months.”
“I didn’t mind it.”
“And you call me a lunatic. You popped your partners. You cut the girl. You cut her and then you killed her because you like feeling a knife chewing through cartilage.”
“I did what I had to do.”
“The girl was our inside player. She was the one who got us the alarm codes. She was my granddaughter.”
“I didn’t know.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered. You would’ve done her anyway. And me, if she hadn’t sent me the video feed.”
“That’s why you drove off.”
“And you committed yourself? And waited? In the hospital?”
“But. But you could’ve taken me at any time. Why? Why did you wait?”
“I had to make sure you had the key on you,” I said. “I wanted the score. I’m a thief.”
I kicked him in the face, then slung him over my shoulder and walked out the back door. He didn’t have much struggle left in him but he squirmed around and mewled a bit. I marched down the path through the dunes out to the beach. I tossed him down. Emily’s chaise lounge was still where it was the last time she’d laid on it, but it was almost completely covered by sand now. I dug it out and there was a pretty sizeable hole left over. I buried the Kid in it and smoothed the sand out and placed the lounge over the spot. I sat down for a while watching the waves roll in.