Picked The Wrong Day To Quit Smoking
by JeanneMarie
September 2, 2001

I was seventeen when I rolled my first drunk. By that time I'd been on the streets off and on for two years. This black-haired kid the buyer brought with him to the deal looks barely that old.

"This is Frankie Lawson, my wife's brother," Simone introduces apologetically as he shakes my hand. "You don't mind my bringing him along, do you?"

I shrug and offer my hand to the kid. "Whatever floats your boat, Rick," I grunt. He just better not get in the way. The southern son of a bitch has already proven himself in my jaded eyes. He's spent almost a month at my beck and call, accepting two aborted buys with only a grumble. He even got rid of his bodyguard, a really big, pensive type of guy, just because I said he gave me the creeps. I know Simone doesn't want to blow this deal any more than I do, so he probably wouldn't bring little Frankie along if he thought it would jeopardize what we've got going.

"So, my good friend," Rick says brightly, his gaze sweeping the area, "Where are they?"

"En route," I answer. I don't know what the hell a clean-cut businessman would want with enough firepower to turn Manhattan into a smoldering pile of ash, but--and here's the beauty of it all--I also don't care. He gets his guns and bazookas, and plastic explosives, and I get much, much richer. 

Rich enough to finally retire to the Keys if I should so desire. I'm only forty-two, but why tempt fate? My nephew Jeremy has been riding my ass for years to give him the helm; I should let him start taking the heat. 

Simone coughs, bringing my wandering mind back to the here and now. The Lawson kid got pale as a ghost all of a sudden, as if my reply startled him. "What the hell crawled up your crack, kid?"

The boy ducks his head and takes a step back.

"We thought the shipment would be ready upon our arrival," Rick explains. "We're both a bit anxious to get the equipment."

I shrug again. "Couldn't be helped."

The phone in my trailer rings, making the three of us and my two "leg-breakers" jump. I order Tamil to answer for me and attempt small talk with the men. Simone gladly keeps the conversation going. Not a big fan of silence, that one. It's an observation I made pretty much a minute after I met him.

Tamil pokes his big head out the door and yells, "Boss!" 

I cringe, feeling like the villain from some B-movie. "What is it?"

"Your brother-in-law on the phone."

Shit on a stick. Harvey, my business partner, died on me four years ago. I made any mention of him our little code for something fishy. It's worked out pretty well 'cause clients think I'm going off to talk about family matters. Hopefully it's not anything too bad. Could be just Jeremy calling for more bail money. If I had a nickel for every time I told that boy to stay away from the whores... I give the men an apologetic look while Becker--casual as ever--puts his hand in his pocket and moves into position between them and the trailer. For a pair of steroid junkies, my guys are pretty damn savvy. I almost want to take them island-hopping with me rather than stick them with my greedy, hormone-driven, dirtbag of a nephew. But "almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I don't care *that* much.

"It's Ron Farber," Tamil stage whispers, holding out the phone.

Farber's my, uh, personal assistant. The man has a mind like a steel trap and the organizational skills of Martha freaking Stewart, which no one would ever suspect, seeing as he's twenty-three and looks like a Bob-Marley-worshipping, Chunky-Monkey-loving pot-head. Every single thing in his wardrobe is tie-dyed. I only hired him at first 'cause I owed his uncle, a cop gone bad whose tipoffs have consistently kept my ass out of prison, and it ended up being the smartest thing I've ever done. Yeah, I trust a crooked pig; Ed's got it where it counts in my book. 

"This better be good, butch," I say.

"Come home," he answers tightly. 

My stomach drops to the floor. "What?"

"Soupy's friend, Campbell, told me you've got some buds in common."

No effin' way! Soupy is what we call his uncle Ed and Campbell is our name for a fed, any fed. The punk's telling me Simone's on the job? That oily little snake? 

I'd laugh if Ronnie had ever been wrong. Instead I tell him I'll take his input under advisement and hang up the phone. My handgun is right where it should be, in the second drawer on the left. I drum my fingers on the desk, take a deep breath, and stand tall. "Stay put, Tamil," I order as I open the door.

"Hey, Rick," I call out all friendly-like, "Why don't you three come wait in here?"

Simone grins disarmingly, as I knew he would, and even holds the door open for Becker and the kid, who must be his partner. The fact that the government would let a twelve year old help take me down really gets my Irish up. What, is everyone else too busy with the important criminals?

Rick keeps a steady stream of chatter going as I sit behind my desk. He loves my office, loves the site, is tickled pink by the fact that our deal will finally come through. I wonder if he gets paid by commission; the bastard is definitely working overtime here. God all-mighty, is he getting on my last nerve! I take out my gun and shoot him before my brain could tell me what a dumb thing it is to do.

Aw, shit! The feds are coming any second. I am so screwed.

Simone hasn't fallen yet, though he's bleeding pretty bad already. He looks down at the gaping hole I just put in his upper chest and glances at me curiously. The kid grabs him just as his knees give out and they both sink to the floor.

"Get their guns, Becker!" My voice hardly shakes at all. "How close is your backup?" I bark at the kid.

He ignores me. He's holding his wadded up shirt against Rick's chest, trying to keep his friend alive. I know they're more than just two guys who happen to work together. The kid looks almost as pained as Simone, or whatever the hell his real name is.

"How much time do we have?" Becker yells, pointing his Glock at the kid's head.

He tears his gaze away from his friend and looks straight at me. It's pretty much understood that I've painted myself into a corner, but he also knows that I could blow his head off and still sleep at night. "None," he grates out, eyes blazing. "They were a block away and they've heard every word." Pair of brass balls he's got, I have to give him that.

For a few minutes the only thing any of us can hear is Simone's harsh breathing.

I hear the sound of breaking glass right before Tamil drops, courtesy of a bullet in the brain. The cavalry's arrived and it's got a sniper in the unfinished house a stone's throw behind us. Now there really is no way out.

God, I'd kill for a cigarette right now. 

The thought is so ridiculous I start laughing and Becker looks at me like I just told him dogshit could sprout wings and fly.

"There goes my swimsuit modeling career," Simone rasps haltingly. I flinch; I thought he was unconscious this whole time.

The kid gives him a weak grin. "Shut up, Ez." Ez? What the hell kind of name is that?

I make eye contact with Becker. It's all over but the shouting. We nod at each other and drop our guns at the same time. For a split second I envy Tamil.

The kid grabs the guns within his reach and calls out to his people. "I've got them, Chris! Don't shoot, we're coming out!"

Yeah, Chris, don't shoot.

The kid points my gun at us. The look on his face makes me damn glad he can't leave Simone's side. "Put your hands up and walk slowly out the door, asshole."

I open the door tentatively and raise my hands. Apparently everyone *is* busy with the important criminals--me and Becker. I swear, it looks like nobody'll be getting a traffic ticket tonight, 'cause all the freaking cops in Colorado are right here, right now.

Several guys in ATF windbreakers step forward as the kid calls out for a medic, each one glaring at me like I'm the hunter who offed Bambi's mother. A tall, in-charge-looking man with blond hair cuffs Becker and reads him his rights. A big, black guy ignores us all to run into the trailer while a second big guy, this one white with a mustache, grabs me and cuffs my hands behind my back. Yet another mountain of a man approaches. The fact that he's the bodyguard I prompted Simone to get rid of shouldn't surprise me, but it sort of does.

"Vivian Leary," he says, in a voice that only barely controls the frightening rage that shines out his blue eyes, "You're under arrest for illegal possession of a firearm and the attempted murder of a federal agent."

"That is, until we can come up with something better," quips a leaner, shorter guy with long hair.

I bid farewell to my future as I'm led away and shoved into a squad car by a solid-looking Indian man and a brunette woman about my age. So long, Key West, with your palm trees and clear, aquamarine beaches. Try not to pine away for me.

~~The End~~