Who am I? It doesn't matter. You want to call me something, you can call me Jack, I guess. That's what they call me at the bars I frequent, not because that’s my name, but because it’s who I am.
Everyone who’s anyone wants more. Out of their job, out of their relationship, out of their life. Whatever, everyone wants more. Aspirations are either God’s greatest gift, driving us to make more of ourselves, or they are His greatest curse, ensuring that nothing we do is ever good enough.
I never knew what I wanted to do with my life. Went to school, because that was the law, and when I was sixteen, I knocked up some little chick. Truth is, I didn’t even like her. I didn’t even want in her pants, really, but that’s what everyone was doing, so I did it, too.
Too young, too stupid, didn’t worry about protection, and BANG. Jack Junior, come on down.
Dropped out of school, got a job choppin’ trees. Lumberjack, get it? Get the name? Sure you do.
Long days of hard work, and when I say long, I mean “entire,” and when I say hard, I mean “excruciating.” We’d load up our gear, wander out into the forest, and we’d start chopping. You didn’t fall at least three trees before the sun broke over the mountains, you were fired. Grab your sleeping roll and collect your ten bucks or whatever, and walk your ass home.
Five bucks a tree, that’s what you got for cuttin’ it down, strippin’ it usable, and running the chains.
See, you don’t just cut ‘em down. Nobody wants a tree, what the hell are you gonna do with a tree? No, you gotta get rid of all the limbs that are pokin’ out all over the place, make it to where it’ll fit on a conveyor belt for total processing. And then there’s the issue of getting it from camp to the mill.
That’s where the chains come in. You get this big-ass chain, you lace it through the stubs of the limbs you just hacked off. And then you hook it up to this team of horses, and they drag it back through the mountains. You do it wrong, your tree gets away, then you don’t get anything. And Heaven help you if you tie it weak and the chain pops.
One guy I knew, he didn’t tie up his load right, it unlaced and the chain snapped forward. His last paycheck bought him a team of decapitated horses, and a lawyer to defend him on the manslaughter charge. The driver wasn’t lucky enough to just be decapitated—he was ripped in half, and ended up drowning on his own blood while his convulsing feet ripped apart his intestines.
So you have to be fast and you have to be careful. You do that about eighteen hours a day, and then you curl up in a worn bedroll around a fire made of the branches you cut off earlier. Wake up before the sun’s even considering making an appearance, and you do it all again.
You do that until you’ve hacked out enough of the woods to make the company-men happy, and then you load up and head somewhere’s else.
I sent my earnings home, whatever I didn’t spend on booze and whores. It sounds bad, I know, but I needed something—I was a kid in a man’s world, hormones ragin’, and my pregnant girlfriend fifty miles away. And before you start feelin’ too bad for her, you should probably know that while I was away in the woods, working, drinking, and screwing, she was doing pretty much the same thing at home.
Minus the working, of course.
Miscarried after three weeks, but didn’t bother telling me until I came home to visit seven months later. I was expecting to see a woman ripe with child. Instead, I found a run-down whore with a sallow face and a withered soul.
I got a temper, I admit it. I try to keep it in check, and most of the time, I’m able. But I went nuts when I saw her. When I thought about the last seven months, me busting my ass, telling myself it was for the baby, it was all for the baby. I hit her. I hit her a lot.
That’s what the constable told me, anyway. I remember seeing the world turn red, and then I remember waking up in a cell. Her daddy came down to the jail and told me I was nothin’. Told me I was a lousy so-and-so, that I’d never amount to nothin’. I spit through the bars at him and told him to go pimp his daughters some more.
The constable came in that night and unlocked the cell. Told me he didn’t care either way, but that girl’s daddy and all her brothers and uncles, they were coming to kill me.
Told me I could either run or I could stay. Told me he was goin’ home for the evening, and he would worry about tomorrow tomorrow.
And then he left.
I figured that was a pretty wise idea, so I followed suit.
Grabbed my gear and circled back through the woods. While her family was down to the jail trying to kill me, I broke into their home and stole anything of value I could carry, and then I set out into the world.
I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I just went back to doin’ what I knew. Back lumberjackin’, drinkin’, and whorin’ it up.
I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to get the life I wanted, and to be honest, I wasn’t even sure what the life I wanted was. But I knew it was out there, and I knew I wanted it.
I was in a bar when the opportunity presented itself.
“Hey, pal.” The voice was gruff, rumbling. I didn’t even need to look to know it was a wolf. Those guys, they all have the same kind of voice, and no matter how they try to disguise it, you can pick it up right away. Like someone talking with a clot of mud in the back of their throat.
I ignored him at first, because wolf business is bad business. Everybody knows that.
“Hey,” he said again, talking in a low voice, either to disguise the fact that he was a wolf or trying to keep anyone from overhearing him. “I’m talkin’ to ya.”
“Well, you might as well stop, ‘cause I ain’t listenin’.”
“Come on, Jack, is that any way to talk to a friend?”
I looked over at him, wondering how he knew my name, and wondering what he wanted. Wondering what kind of shit had befallen me this time. He was dressed pretty much how you might expect, if you know about wolves hiding out in places they aren’t supposed to be: the dark wool cloak that covered most of his face in cloth and the rest of it in shadows, the sleeves long enough to hide the fact that he had paws instead of hands. He was dirty, and he smelled bad, and unless you were paying attention, it’d be easy to assume he was a road-worn traveler who was better to ignore than acknowledge. Good disguise, until he started talking.
“First of all, I’m not your friend. Second of all, you got the wrong guy.”
He chuckled softly and emptied his glass. “You know what? Maybe you’re right. Maybe I do got the wrong guy. My mistake.” He lifted his glass, tapped it on the stained bar to indicate to the tender that he wanted another. He dropped a gold coin next his glass and turned in time to catch me eyeing it.
“Me, I was looking for a guy who hit the tree trail a couple decades ago so he could support a cheating whore’s drug habit while she took advantage of his money and his absence.” He knocked back his fresh shot, gathered his change, and stood up. “Thought he might want to get even with her, and make a pile of dough while he was at it.”
I watched him walk to the door, and I knew that I should let him go. But that coin, that stupid gold coin, I could work for months and not make that much. He had tossed it onto the bar like it was nothing. I finished my drink and walked out into the night.
The street was deserted, and I couldn’t decide if I was relieved or disappointed. Then he spoke from the shadows, and I realized that the feeling had been relief.
“Thought you said I had the wrong guy.”
“You got my name wrong, but I don’t guess that means you got the wrong guy, necessarily.”
He chuckled that quiet chuckle again and lit a cigarette. His teeth gleamed in the flare of the match.
“So talk, if you’re gonna,” I said.
“For a guy with no prospects, you sure are in a hurry.” He shook out the match and took a deep drag on his cigarette.
“I got plenty of places to waste my time.”
“Well, if you don’t care for small talk, let’s get down to it,” he said. “You ever heard of 3LP Industries?”
“They aren’t just architects. When a building goes up around here, those swine are involved with it from start to finish. Everything—design plans, construction, raw materials, you name it.”
“So, what? You work for them?”
“Not hardly. I lived in one of their buildings. The place was a dump. A pigsty, if you will. You sneezed, the neighbors could hear it, and when it rained, the fuses would blow. Heaven help you if you tried to turn out a light when your hands were wet.”
“You got a point?”
“The point is, I come home one night, plop down in front of the tube, and kick back with a brew. I hear something creak as I sit down, I figure it’s my chair. Next thing I know, I’m in my downstairs neighbor’s place, she’s screamin’ and hittin’ me. With a broom, of all things. And before I can do more than stand up, the rest of my apartment follows me. The whole fuckin’ building crashed down.”
“That’s a real tragedy. What I’m trying to figure out is how my ex is involved.”
“Relax, champ. I’m getting to it.” He crushed out his cigarette and pulled a flask out of his cloak. He took three big gulps, and then offered the flask to me. I declined.
“Your little lady,” he continued, “Was the manager of said apartments. I was one of only two survivors. The other one—the broom-happy neighbor—got her dome smashed in by a piece of my toilet and went into a coma. The whole thing went to court, and instead of getting paid for my trouble, I ended up looking like a villain. Your woman said I was never a tenant, said I was just looking to cash in on the tragedy. Said I was just some guy who lurked around, offering blowjobs for crack in the back alley.”
“I remember that,” I said. “The headlines said something about huffing and puffing and blowing the house down.”
He lit another cigarette, and I saw that he wasn’t smiling anymore. He glared at me as he inhaled, and then flicked the match away. “Yeah. Kind of a sore spot, so you might not want to bring it up again, unless you’re curious as to what it would be like to be fed your own asshole.”
“Fine. So you still haven’t gotten around to telling me my part in all this.”
“They paid her off, you dildo. Along with the building inspectors, the cops, the judge, whatever. They paid her to lie in court, to tell the world horrible things about me. And they paid her to shut up about it afterwards.”
“You know this for a fact?”
“Where do you think I got the gold? I was gonna kill her, right? Went up behind her, stuck a knife against her back, and before I could even open my mouth to tell her why she was about to die, she yanks this sack of loot out, ‘Please, just take the money, don’t hurt me!’ Starts bawling, begging me not to kill her. I thought about taking the cash and knifing her anyway. But then I thought, why does this broad have a sack of gold in the first place?”
“She was probably on her back in a hotel all night. Bitch wasn’t good for much, but she could fuck like the world was ending.”
“No, man, this was a big-ass sack of gold. More than even the best piece of tail could make in a day. Plus, I had been shadowing her for a couple of days, waiting to make my move. She went to lunch in a diner, ate alone, but at one point, this guy in a suit walks by, drops this little leather pouch right at her feet, like it’s an accident. She waits a few minutes, then picks it up, tucks it into her shirt. At the time, I just thought she was being a greedy bitch—no surprise there—but when she was wailing about don’t kill her, and she immediately tossed that same pouch, I knew something was up.”
“You’re like the Sherlock Holmes of the animal kingdom.”
“You probably don’t want to be teasing a guy who could dismember you with his teeth.”
He had a point, kind of. What he didn’t know was that I kept a hunting knife tucked in my boot that put his choppers to shame. “I apologize. Continue with your story. Can I bum a smoke?”
He handed me a cigarette and his matches. I screwed a cigarette into my lips and tore off a match. When it flared, I took a quick peek at the matchbook cover—The Horny Toad Tavern. Another one of my regular dives. The guy had spent some time looking for me. Something to keep in mind.
“So I continued to follow her. It was a pain in the ass, especially with a pouch of gold burning a hole in my pocket, but I kept it up. And eventually, it paid off. A month later—a month to the day—she went back to that diner. I watched from across the street again, and sure enough, the guy in the suit walked by. Dropped the pouch, went to the counter, ordered a burger, fries, and a milkshake. This time, I decided to follow him instead of her.
“He left the diner, walked a couple blocks, and dumped the food into a trashcan. Then he hailed a cab. I did the same, did that whole, ‘Follow that cab’ line, which was pretty sweet. Guess where he ended up?”
I stomped out my cigarette. “Look, man, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, especially considering your teeth. But what the hell are you talking to me for? You know the broad has the money—her monthly allowance is way more than she can spend in a month, if that bag of dough in your cloak is any indication. You know where she lives. You know when you can get at her. So why me?”
He took another drink of his flask, brought out his pack of smokes. “You got my matches? Thanks. So…why you? Because I’m an obvious suspect. That first time, when I was just gonna knife her on a dark street, I figured I could get away with it. That kind of shit happens all the time, right? Sure they’d question me, but there was no way they could pin me. And even if they did, I didn’t care. Not then. But now…well, now there’s a payoff. There’s a way to make her pay and make a profit.”
I nodded. “I guess I should have been more specific with my question. Not ‘why me,’ but rather, ‘why me?’ Because there were at least ten people in that bar who would have iced her for the kind of money you’re talkin’. And you know it. There was no reason you had to track me down for this thing.”
He chuckled his chuckle and smoked his cigarette, and sighed. “Why you? Here’s the tricky part. I want the bitch to pay. That’s why you. In the course of my stalking—after I had found out about her financial blessings—I discovered that she also had a granddaughter. No, don’t look at me like that—there’s no way it’s yours. Her first and only kid was born long after the two of you had split. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because by thirteen, the daughter was knocked up. Moved into the city, but still sends the kid through the woods every week or so to drop shit off for your ex. I’ve never been able to get the kid to stop long enough to find out what’s in the basket, but I’m guessing it’s dope. The daughter’s tits-deep in the drug business, and I wouldn’t put it past her to send the kid with a basket full of junk—this little girl’s a cutie, there’s no way the cops are gonna bust her shit.”
“So…you want me to what?”
“I want you to make your ex-girlfriend—my ex-landlord—watch as we dismember her grandchild. Then we loot the bitch’s pad, split the cash, and go our separate ways.”
“So that’s why you needed someone who absolutely hated her? Because you want them to kill a kid?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Sorry, chief. That was like twenty years ago. I’ve moved on. Sure, she’s a bitch, but I don’t hate her enough that I’m okay with killing a little kid over it.”
He sighed, dropped his cigarette, and dropped his hand into his cloak.
“Not so fast there,” I said, not wanting to know what he was about to pull on me. “I’m not gonna do it for revenge, but maybe if we split the cash 70/30, we can still do business.”
“70% just for killing a kid? Get fucked.”
“For killing a kid and making sure you have an airtight alibi.”
“65/35. If it’s really airtight.”
“Done. And it is. Let me get another cigarette, and we’ll talk details.”
He handed me another cigarette, took one for himself, and lit them both. And then we talked details.
When everything had been arranged, I bummed another cigarette. He gave it to me, but creeped off into the night without offering a light. I stood alone in the alley until I was sure I was alone, and then took out my lighter.
“You get all that?” I asked as I lit my cigarette.
“Yeah, we got it.” The voice was coming from a micro-device hidden just behind my ear. It sends, receives, and does the GPS thing, and it’s smaller than a pencil eraser. Anyone sees it, they just think it’s a mole behind your ear, and unless they’re close enough to stick their tongue in your ear, they won’t hear when someone talks to you through it.
I was glad to hear the serious tone to the voice. Still high-pitched and squealy—almost the exact opposite of the wolf’s voice—but even and somber. I’ve had to deal with the other brothers before, and they’re both morons. One’s an alcoholic and the other’s a stoner. I heard that the youngest brother smokes so much weed that he once tried to build an entire house out of grass. Might be an urban myth, but if you ever have to do business with the guy, you’ll be left wondering.
But that voice, it was the oldest. The main guy. The CEO of 3LP Industries.
“Let’s talk details,” he said.
According to the wolf’s plan, I’m supposed to be sneaking up to the grandma’s house right now. My ex-girlfriend. Sneak up to her house, tie her up in bed, beat her, rape her, whatever. Cut all the security cameras.
What I’m doing instead is eating a sandwich and looking at internet porn.
I pick up my phone and dial a number. The wolf answers, using an earpiece very similar to the one I used a few days ago.
“Go,” he growls.
“Subject unattained,” I say with a serious voice as I draw sunglasses on characters from the newspaper comics. “Repeat, subject unattained. She's still at the grocery store.”
“Copy that. Am about to engage target. Will move to next rendezvous point before further actions are taken.”
According to the wolf’s plan, there are three choice spots on the trail the little girl takes. At any one of these points, he can stop her, and—if the grandmother’s house has been secured—nab her.
I wait a very precise amount of time and then call him again, telling him that I still haven’t managed to get grandma’s house under wraps. While I tell him this, I begin gathering my things.
It’s just like any other day, except my clothes are a little dirtier than usual, because I didn’t wash them the night before. And I’m starting later than usual, but nobody needs to know that.
I grab my lunch pail and my ax, and I head out the door. Another thirty minutes, and I make another call. “Not gonna happen,” I say into my phone. “Switch to Plan B.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? How hard is it to grab an old lady?”
“You’ll find out,” I tell him, more than a hint of anger in my voice. “I just got hassled by the fuckin’ fuzz. You know what that’s all about?”
“What? No. What did they want?”
“Just a routine thing, they said. Except they’ve never routined that shit before, and I’ve been working these woods for three years. Which makes me wonder just who you’ve been talking to.”
“No one, all right? Just bad timing. Meet me at the house in thirty minutes, can you do that?”
“Yeah, I’m freed up now. See you in thirty.”
“Over and out.”
If I really wanted to meet him in thirty, I’d have to put a move on. According to the wolf’s Plan B, I should hustle to the grandma’s house—my ex’s house—and wait in the woods until the little girl shows up. According to Plan B, the wolf is supposed to go in and get grandma subdued, and then I come in with the kid and bad things start to happen.
According to the other plan—the pig’s plan—I’m supposed to wait until the wolf panics and kills the grandma. They’re worried about the grandma, the three pigs are. She has been demanding more money for her silence, and they think that even if they pay her, she’ll end up blabbing. They were going to have her killed, but didn’t want to raise any suspicion.
If the wolf killed her, the same wolf she had shamed in public court, the wolf she had called a liar and a whore, the wolf whose life she had ruined…
If the wolf killed her, there wouldn’t be any need to investigate deeper. A simple open-and-shut-case.
“What about the kid?” I had asked my earpiece that night in the dark alley.
“Doesn’t matter either way. If you can leave her alive as a witness to what a hero you are, do it. If not, no big loss.”
So I wait by the house, and I watch through the window as the wolf enters the bedroom, as he approaches the grandma. She’s high as a kite, you can tell by her eyes and by her initial look of incomprehension. But once she makes him, she’s a demon. Scratches at his eyes, tears at his throat. He fights her to the bed, and right as he subdues her, that’s when I see the flash of red bopping through the forest.
The kid’s hoodie. She wears it all the time, and everyone makes fun of her for it. Bright red sweatshirt with a hood she always keeps pulled up over her head. Little idiot.
She knocks on the door, and that’s when the wolf loses it. You can see it in his eyes. Guy just freaks out. Takes a chunk of grandma’s face off.
A shiver goes down my spine, and I realize that I’m gonna have to take him out fast. Those choppers are nothin’ to fuck with.
Once he gets going, there’s no stoppin’ him—he takes bite after bite, until grandma is completely devoured. The sheets are soaked with blood, and the front door is opening up—the dork in the little red hood has pulled out the hide-a-key and is coming on in.
The wolf grabs a nightgown out of the closet and throws it on over his clothes. Jumps into bed and yanks all the blankets up around him, covering most of his face, covering most of the blood.
The little girl trots in and drops her basket on a chair next to the bed. I watch as she turns on the TV, talking to her “grandma,” but not really paying attention. The wolf tries to make his voice high, but it still has that gurgly, growly thing going on. He ain’t foolin’ anyone, but the kid isn’t paying attention enough to care.
She babbles on as she watches cartoons, askin’ stupid questions, not listening to the answers. You can see that the wolf is freaking, though. Jackass.
The little girl turns up the TV, so I don’t know what question it is that sets the wolf off, but if it’s anything like her previous idiocy, the guy’s totally overreacting. I mean, at one point, I think the kid was telling him about his big ears or some shit. I don’t know.
All I know is that he’s suddenly lunging for the kid, mouth gaping, blood still staining his canines, and he looks like the world’s deadliest geriatric cross-dresser. The little girl finally turns around and starts screaming.
That’s my cue. I bust in through the window, and catch the wolf in the throat with my ax. He turns to me, his eyes questioning, and you can tell he would totally ask me something if I hadn’t cut all the parts in his neck that are vital for asking things. I chop him again, right through the middle of his head, and the little girl screams as a chunk of his brain pops out and lands in her hood. Just for good measure, I chop him in the stomach, with the hopes that I’m catching my whore of an ex right in her chewed-up face.
When I’m done, I sit down on the bed and wait for the authorities, and I think about the gigantic number that will display the next time I check the balance in my brand-new offshore bank account. And I think about how maybe this is finally enough. I think about how I still don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, but I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out while I sit on the beach drinking exotic drinks and getting blowjobs.
The kid’s wailing and freaking out, and I’m tempted to smack her with the side of my ax just to shut her up. But that would ruin things wouldn’t it?
After all, I’m the hero of this story.