Whatever it Takes: A Joe Beck Thriller
by Alastair Brown
It was Friday afternoon, late April, shortly after twelve, and hot as hell. The burning rays of the sun sizzled across the barren desert landscape and a seething heat haze shimmered above the road in the afternoon air as Joe Beck drove west along Route 66 in a black Chevrolet Camaro.
The outside air temperature was easily well over a hundred degrees, but he didn't care. Heat didn't particularly bother him. And, besides, the inside of the car was cool. The air conditioning was on, blasting chilled air from the dashboard vents out across his face.
He was sitting calm and comfortable, resting back in his seat, wearing a black polo shirt and dark jeans, a pair of black leather shoes on his feet. He was cruising at a steady sixty, black aviator sunshades over his eyes and a big white smile on his face as he listened to Bruce Springsteen gave a live rendition of Devils & Dust through the car's sound system.
It was a track from a Spotify playlist he had assembled since downloading the app. It was beamed to the car's sound system via Bluetooth from his cell phone. He thought it was great, it meant he no longer had to buy or carry any CDs. He had millions of songs, including almost all of the Springsteen tracks ever recorded, ready and waiting at his fingertips, able to be played with just a few easy taps.
He passed through Truxton and Crozier, humming the lyrics in mind, the road empty in both directions save for the occasional nomad biker clad in leather and Levi's and riding atop a roaring big black Harley that overtook and sped on past. He was probably a lot more relaxed than he ought to be considering he had a half-naked guy in the trunk, beaten and tied up.
The place he was looking for was up ahead. It was a little settlement not much bigger than a few sparsely-dispersed homes basking in the orange glow of the sun, an abandoned white wooden gas station, and a small fire station just about big enough to house a truck, a dog, a spare hose, and maybe three firemen.
Passing the derelict gas station, thinking it was a good job he had gassed up earlier that morning, he eased off the accelerator and gradually slowed the Camaro down to fifty, then forty, then thirty, before crossing to the other side of the empty road and turning off onto a small dirt track that began as nothing much wider than a footpath on the left.
The car rocked back and forth and bounced side to side as it left the road and rolled over the uneven sun-hardened desert terrain. The roughage scratched on its tires and scraped against its underbody. Hearing the mechanical creaks and clanks, Beck slowed the car down further, to twenty-five, thinking he didn't want to wreck the suspension, not on a rental, and continued southeast across the dirt, heading deeper and deeper into the blazing desolate Arizona desert.
He drove past nothing but mile-upon-mile of golden sun-drenched soil, the occasional angry rattlesnake sitting coiled and hissing at his presence, some rotten decomposing animal skeletons resting against the base of thorny saguaro cacti that had spines like needles that were just about big and thick enough to rip a man's leg off. He carried on at the slow pace for another fifteen or twenty minutes before, eventually, he saw them waiting up ahead.
The men he was there to meet.
They were sitting inside a black SUV. A Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was parked up on the dirt out in the open up ahead, its hood facing toward him in a north-western direction. Clean and polished to a gleaming shine, the sunlight glimmered across its body and reflected off its dark tinted windows.
Beck gently covered the brake and eased the Camaro to a halt, stopping maybe fifteen feet back from their car as its doors swung open and three men stepped out. Two from the front. One from the back. They all had dark shades across their eyes and were dressed in slick black suits with open-collared dark-colored silk shirts.
The two who climbed out from the front were pale-skinned and bald. There wasn't even as much as a single hair on either of their heads, although both men had matching thick brown goatees around their mouths. There were big and burly, a couple of no-messing bruisers. They had wide shoulders, round barreled chests, and the naturally-hardened abdomens of men who didn't need to work out.
The guy who climbed out from the back was a few inches shorter than the two from the front. He was, maybe, five-ten or five-eleven. Slim and tanned. He had short clipped brown hair and a trim, probably toned waist. He moved with the arrogant swagger of a confident man, somebody with a high level of self-perceived importance. It figured, given his shades alone looked as if they might cost about a thousand bucks.
He was the client.
Beck killed the Camaro's engine and opened the door to the extreme heat. The air was scorching. And thick. The heat hit him like a hammer. It felt like opening the door to a sauna and tasted like nothing short of pure fire. He sucked a deep, difficult breath and got out of the car, closing the door behind him with a thud.
"Do you have him?" the client asked, swaggering into the fifteen-foot open gap between the hood of the Cherokee and Beck's Camaro, as the two henchmen stood deathly still on either side of the SUV, their eyes fixed on Beck, unintentionally staring at the dark, thick-looking jagged scar on the left side of his neck, speculating as to how it might have gotten there.
Beck nodded and stepped toward him. "Yes. Do you have the money?"
The client nodded. "Where is he?"
"In the trunk."
"Bring him out."
Beck shook his head. "Money first. Show it to me."
There was a long pause. The two bruisers shuffled on their feet and edged forward. Then, the client nodded. "Fine," he said and unbuttoned his expensive suit jacket and reached into his inside pocket. He drew out a brown manilla envelope and held it out in front of his chest. It was sealed and thick. "Ten-thousand dollars," he said to Beck. "Just like we agreed." He lowered his arm and brought the envelope down by the side of his leg and looked toward the Camaro. "Now, the guy. Bring him to me."
"With pleasure," Beck said and walked around the side of the car and popped the trunk.
The guy was lying face down in the back. He was flat out on his stomach with his arms bound behind his back with white plastic zip ties and his ankles bound together, tight, just the same. He was pale and sandy-haired. His skin was lined with bruises from Beck's hard beating and he was soaking with sweat. His skin glistened and his short dark hair was drenched. He was wearing nothing but a dirty, soiled pair of white Y-front briefs. He shook his head from side to side and cursed just about every profanity imaginable, panting heavily, complaining about the heat, the conditions, the situation, the government, federal taxes, everything.
Beck reached in and lifted him out of the trunk like a rag doll. He slammed the trunk shut and walked back around the side of the car, carrying the guy under his arm like he was nothing more than a bag of groceries, even though he must have weighed about one hundred and eighty pounds.
He dumped him on the hot ground in front of the client and his two henchmen and gestured down toward him with an open-palmed hand. "Meet the man who raped your daughter."
The guy yelped and wriggled as the burning dirt singed his bare skin. He must have felt like a meat patty being slapped down on a hot pan.
The client stepped toward him. He cocked his head and stared at him for a long moment. Then, as a bead of sweat ran down his tanned leather-like temple, he pulled a disgusted face and said, "Palumbo," and held out his right hand.
Without a word, the guy on his right reached into his suit jacket and drew a black Glock 43 from his inside pocket. A semi-automatic 9mm pistol with a 3.39" barrel and capable of firing a 6-round magazine at speeds over a thousand feet per second. He stepped forward and handed it to his boss.
The client swapped it for the envelope of money and took the gun in his right hand. He wrapped his left hand around the top of the Glock and racked the slide, clearing the chamber and cocking the striker for the next shot. Then, he sucked a breath and lowered the gun to the ground, and stepped toward the half-naked guy lying at his mercy on the scorching desert floor.
The guy glanced up and saw him looming over him with the gun and pleaded, eyes wide with fear. "Please. Please," he said, shaking his head, squirming on the ground.
A couple of huge midnight-black ravens circled in the clear blue sky above, croaking and swooping for a closer look at what they sensed was quickly going to become a fresh carcass fit for the scavenge.
The client’s upper lip curled in disdain. He shook his head. "You think you're getting off with this? After what you did?" he snarled and took another step closer and blasted the guy's ribs with a vicious punt, his shiny black leather Versace shoes smacking against the guy’s heaving stomach.
The guy yelped in pain. The punt had blown the wind from his lungs. He coughed and rolled onto his side.
The client grinned and kicked him again, harder than before. A scuff of dirt slicked across the toe of his expensive shoes and the guy yelped in pain again. The client, then, turned around and looked at his two henchmen said, "Get the shovels."
They did. They both turned and walked toward the back of the SUV and opened the trunk, their boots thumping on the hardened dirt. They each lifted out a heavy-duty steel shovel and stepped back around the side of the car and stood by the hood, holding them in their hands, the guy on the left also holding Beck's envelope of cash.
The client rolled the rapist over onto his back with his foot. "Get over you son of a bitch."
"Fuck you," the guy shouted, foaming from his mouth, saliva spilling down his face. "And your daughter."
The client's face turned scarlet with anger. "Fuck me? Fuck my daughter?" he asked and raised the gun, arcing its muzzle toward the guy's groin.
"Yeah. Fuck you all. Fuck everybody," the guy whipped back.
"No. Fuck you," the client replied and pulled the trigger.
The gunshot was thunderous, like the sound of a foam noodle unexpectedly being slapped on the surface of a swimming pool, but not as penetrating as the guy's scream. He yelled in pain and wailed in agony, tears in his eyes, as his groin exploded and blood poured down his legs onto the ground.
"Won't be able to fuck anyone now, will you?" the client seethed.
The guy didn't answer. He couldn't. He just groaned and cried and rolled back and forth in obvious physical and emotional distress.
Joe Beck grimaced. He knew the guy was going to be killed, that much was obvious. He had a ten-thousand-dollar price on his head. But the way it was being handled was torturous to watch. But, then, the guy had raped a young, innocent little girl. So, he wasn't about to stand in his corner. Absolutely not. Instead, he just stood there, poker straight, staring into the middle distance beyond the two men, the two shovel-bearing bruisers, and their black Jeep, his mind elsewhere.
The client looked at his henchman and pointed to the ground in front of the SUV. "Start digging," he snarled.
They did. The guy on the left laid the envelope of cash down on the Jeep's hood and, one by one, they stepped forward and whipped the shovels up into the air above their heads, then plunged the shovels' heads into the hardened dirt.
Joe Beck watched as the dirt began to crack and dislodge and a hole began to form.
The client, then, lowered the gun and walked over and picked up the envelope of cash from the Jeep's hood, and handed it to Beck. "Your payment," he said and nodded, as the rapist moaned and groaned and writhed and cursed on the ground.
Beck nodded back, a blank look in his eyes, and took the envelope from the client's hand. Then moved to look inside.
"Don't worry," the client said to him. "It's all there."
Beck flicked his eyes below the flap and saw the cash. It looked like it was full of one-hundred-dollar bills. Figuring it looked full enough and felt thick enough, he nodded his agreement and moved to walk off.
The client pulled a face. "Where are you going?" he asked him. "Don't you want to hang around and see him being killed?"
Beck shook his head. "I've seen enough, already. And I know how it’ll play out. I’ve seen more than my fair share of that before. You need anything else, you have my number.”
The client smirked. "As you wish," he said and nodded his thanks for finding the guy in the first place, pleased with a job of work well done.
As Beck turned around and walked back to the car, he heard another loud thud, the thumping sound of leather on skin, followed by the rapist groaning again. He's obviously not done yet , he thought and opened the car door and climbed in.
Firing up the engine, the air conditioning came on, blasting some cooled air from the dashboard vents, and Bruce Springsteen Countin' on a Miracle track started back up, mid-lyric - a song about a downbeat man with nothing left in life to live for.
Beck watched out the windshield as the client leaned over and brought the muzzle of the Glock to the rapist’s forehead and mouthed something derogatory. The last words the guy would ever hear, Beck figured and backed the Camaro up and spun it around.
After that came another loud bang. A gunshot. The sound of a problem permanently solved. The sound of a man's life being cut short.
Beck didn't even bat an eyelid. It was all in a day's work, he figured, And, anyway, the guy was a cockroach who got what he deserved. He just turned up the volume of the music and pushed the accelerator to the floor, gunned the Camaro’s engine, and drove off.
The sight of the two henchmen digging in their expensive suits and the client standing menacingly over the rapist's dead body faded to nothing but insignificance in the distance, camouflaged from view in the rear-view mirror by the dirt eddying upward behind the Camaro's spinning wheels, the gleam of the sun and the sheer vast openness of the landscape.
By the time Beck was back on the road, Springsteen was onto singing about a guy named Bobby having a gun that he keeps beneath his pillow, a fitting song considering its title. Beck nodded along to the beat and hummed the lyrics in his mind, ten-thousand dollars of cold hard cash to the good, having played his own part in facilitating a murder.
He looked out the window at the Arizona terrain burning under the sun and figured he would hang around for a few days. He would follow the road to the next major town, a place called Kingman, and find a cheap motel. One that accepted cash and never asked for ID. He would check-in and relax a bit, maybe sleep a little before heading back out later. He would grab a bite to eat and find a smoky little bar, one that was well stocked with beers, bourbon, and easy women, where he would kick back and enjoy his evening and maybe pick one of the women to get lucky with.
That was his plan, anyway. But everything changed about another mile along the way after passing through Hackberry, when he saw what looked to be a woman lying on the dirt between the shrubs up ahead by the side of the road.
Copyright © Alastair Brown, 2020
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Whatever it Takes: A Joe Beck Thriller is held copyright © by Alastair Brown as at its respective creation date. All rights reserved. It, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any form without permission. Anyone who displays, reproduces, copies, creates derivative works, or sells textual, photographic, video, audiovisual programs or other content related to this creative work/publication for commercial or non-commercial purposes without permission violates intellectual property laws and is liable for infringement of intellectual property rights.
Whatever it Takes: A Joe Beck Thriller is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual business establishments, actual events, or actual locales is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, brands, establishments, and institutions referenced within this creative work/publication.