Excerpt from Wet Work
Dick Thornby Thriller #2
Donald J. Bingle
Jerry hated his wife’s car. He loved the hybrid’s gas mileage, and he didn’t mind saving the planet for future generations, but he was six foot two and husky. Squeezing behind the wheel practically let him steer with his beer belly.
Worse yet, his claustrophobia was heightened by a smoke-belching stream of growling Mack trucks hemming him in as they hauled gravel down the double black diamond sloped street plummeting to the intersection at the entrance to the Joliet bridge. The rusting, Erector Set style span crossed both the shallows of the Des Plaines River and, on the near side, the darker, deeper Sanitary & Ship Canal. With traffic moving, Jerry felt like he was running with the bulls at Pamplona as powerful behemoths thundered about him. When stopped for a red light, like now, he felt like a surfer caught in the break as he paddled out, praying a monstrous wave wouldn’t crash down from above and pulverize him.
So Jerry kept his eyes glued to the rear view mirror ... just in case.
Today his watchful paranoia paid off. A fully-loaded dump truck crested the hill with the momentum of a tsunami, threatening to obliterate him like one of the splattered moths littering his windshield.
Jerry manhandled the wheel hard left as he checked for oncoming traffic, then punched the accelerator to escape being rear-ended to death.
The subcompact whined like an overstressed golf cart, inching to the left until the gas motor kicked in, then trembled into stuttering acceleration. Jerry stared at the mirror, watching as gravel flew off the looming truck’s payload and skittered across the roof of its cab. The unshaven driver inside braked hard, his eyes wide, a lit cigarette falling out of his surprised mouth, as his body lurched forward from the attempted emergency stop.
It was going to be close, closer than Jerry’s morning shave with the quadruple blade razor the kids got him for Father’s Day.
Jerry wasn’t a religious guy, so no prayers whispered forth as he watched his ignominious death approaching, his grim reaper laying black rubber on the pavement and churning out white smoke as worn tires tried to overcome the momentum of tons of loose, shifting rock. Instead, a stream of invectives flowed from Jerry’s lips as he imagined the huge tires of the gargantuan machine rolling atop his wife’s mouse of a car and stomping it down, greasy, bloody, and flat. He was going to die a stupid, needless, painful death simply because his wife traded days for the neighborhood carpool to school.
He hoped she would feel guilty about it at his funeral.
Closed casket, of course.
But, then ... then the crappy automatic transmission shifted up. Jerry leaned forward instinctively, as if that could possibly save him. As he swerved farther into the open lane on the left, the truck driver jinked right toward the curb and the empty sidewalk, each action incrementally slowing the rate at which the gap between the vehicles was shrinking.
Maybe, just maybe ...
Suddenly, the hybrid farted forward, as if it had just seen what was about to happen via its reverse view camera. Jerry kept his foot on the floor—he didn’t want to take any chances. He couldn’t do the math to figure the angles and vectors, but his big, fat gut told him he was going to make it. His pursed lips turned up into a tight smile. But when he looked ahead he saw a lumbering garbage truck turning into the oncoming lane from Canal Street, which fronted the dark, murky waters of the commercial canal.
Jerry had snatched his life from the jaws of defeat only to thrust it into the jaws of a Browning-Ferris Industries garbage truck. He kept the steering wheel hard to the left, hoping to jump the opposite curb to the far sidewalk. With any luck he could stop before he reached the corner and t-boned the big, green machine with “BFI” blazoned on its side. He twitched his foot up and to the left, then stomped down on the brake as hard as he had flattened the accelerator only moments, yet an eternity, before.
Nothing fucking happened.
His foot ground the pedal against the floor, but the brakes did not engage. He searched frantically for the center-mounted emergency brake with his right hand as he gripped the wheel tight with his left, his eyes wide and forward, scrutinizing this new terror. Jerry’s fingers grazed the emergency handle for a millisecond before the bump from bouncing over the curb flung them up and off, grasping at air. He jerked the wheel to the right now, straightening the car to avoid hitting the brick building flanking the sidewalk. At the same time, his foot stabbed repeatedly at the brake pedal. He gritted his teeth, bracing for the BFI, the Big Fucking Impact, to come. But somehow his lizard brain took over and he whipped the steering wheel back left again just at the correct moment, at the very edge of the corner.
The shitty car careened to the side, miraculously clearing the back of the garbage hauler by a whisker, avoiding the BFI.
There was a wondrous moment of sweet, sweet bliss before his still accelerating midget auto-coffin crossed the narrow breadth of Canal Street and rocketed up and off the grassy embankment. The toy car sailed into the air, defying gravity in glorious flight before arcing down and plunging into the stabbing cold, foul black waters of the Sanitary & Ship Canal. The windshield shattered upon impact, water enveloping him in a torrent as he sank deeper and deeper.
The only things he feared more than enclosed spaces were drowning and hypothermia.
Oh boy, a threesome; just not the kind he’d always craved.
The tiny car settled rear down from the weight of the batteries as Jerry—still trapped by the cold shock of the water, the heavy pressure of the deep, and an auto-tightened seatbelt—struggled for freedom. As the last wisps of faded gray-green light abandoned him, he watched in mounting terror as the air in the car rushed past him from behind, bubbling out through the broken windshield, seeking a sunny, warm freedom he would never know.
As his consciousness faded to match the cold black of the muddy bottom of the canal, one last thought flittered through his fading neurons.
He really, really hated his wife’s car.
Dick Thornby stepped off the pathway in Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park and eased into the foliage near the hundred foot tall waterfall dominating the spacious confines of the African Aviary. He tugged at his cap, making sure it nestled low against his aviator-style sunglasses, then eased off his backpack, accessing a pocket and slipping on a pair of latex surgical gloves. He was taking a chance by sneaking into a prohibited area to find cover, but he figured waterfall maintenance was generally handled when the park was closed. A pair of scenic overlooks atop the falls normally provided tourists a panoramic view of the four acre aviary, as well as his chosen perch. But he’d dropped a couple of clapboard signs indicating the pathways to those lookouts were closed for maintenance, guaranteeing his privacy.
That the waterfall was one of the most picturesque and most photographed features in the sanctuary didn’t help his tactical situation. But between his camouflaged clothing and his “act like you belong wherever you go” movements, he didn’t think gawking tourists would raise any issue. A suppressor threaded onto the end of the rifle barrel would minimize any flash when the time came to take his shot, as well as lessening the rifle’s normally booming report.
Escaping after the fact would be good, too, and taking up a position in the enormous bird sanctuary literally as far from the park entrance as one could get was tactically suspect. On the other hand, there was no denying the top of the falls was the best spot to pick off his target during a scheduled meet with a local thug seeking to up the quality and the quantity of his gang’s armaments.
He was willing to take some risks to pop Pao Fen Smythe—the Hong Kong arms merchant who had indirectly caused the death of his last partner and been the moving force behind his son’s crippling third-degree burns. Yeah, he’d risk a lot to take out Pao Fen Smythe ...
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