Morti was sipping his fifth cup of hot chocolate when his phone rang. Picking it up on the first ring, he barked, “Yeah.”
The man on the other end was just as brisk. “It’s Latens. I’ve got a job.”
Morti leaned back in his chair. “What happened to your own cleaners?” he asked. He knew the mafia had their own in house cleaning department, but there had been a few times when they called in outsiders, such as Morti, to finish jobs. This appeared to be one of those rare times.
“They’re busy. You want it or not?” Latens asked. He sounded more harried than the last time he’d called Morti.
Morti smiled but kept his voice gruff. “How big?”
“Three bodies. Two women and a man. They’re in an alley, so clean up will be minimal,” Latens responded.
Morti brought up a list of his men, seeing who was free. It didn’t take him long to realize everyone was busy. Morti nodded to himself. It had been a busier than normal night, which meant a healthy profit, but all the money in the world wouldn’t help him at the moment. What he needed was manpower and if all his were tied up, that only left one option available to him.
“When do you need it done by?” Morti grunted. Much would be decided based on how Latens answered.
“Yesterday,” Latens said. There was yelling and the sound of gunfire in the background, making Morti wonder for a second if the other man was in a war zone, but as it was none of his business, he didn’t ask.
“It’ll be double my normal rate for such speedy service,” Morti warned him.
“I don’t care. I need this done now,” Latens said. More gunfire and a few colorful curses could be heard.
Morti’s smile grew. He loved it when his clients were desperate. It always meant more money for him at the end of the day.
“Location?” Morti asked, grabbing the pen and paper which were always at the ready. It had scribbles of other addresses and fee amounts jotted down. In the morning, his secretary would take the scribbles and make sense out of them, letting Morti know how profitable the night had been.
“Alley on Mathews. North of the intersection of Mathews and Sandhill,” Latens said. “They’re behind the third dumpster on the right.”
Morti wrote down the information even as he plotted his next move. It was his way to make his plans before acting, that way there was less of a chance of something going wrong and things going wrong was never what you wanted when you were in the body disposal business. Plans going awry usually involved the police and bribes, neither of which were the way to financial success.
“Security?” Morti asked.
“Less than none,” Latens said with a laugh. “You could kill an entire neighborhood in that area and there wouldn’t be any cameras picking you up.”
“Good,” Morti grunted. He hated having to deal with cameras. The people manning them were so damn picky about how much they were paid for tapes to be destroyed that at times Morti had been tempted to break his own number one rule: No Killing. Didn’t they realize that he knew how to dispose of a body in such a way that it would never be found?
“Payment?” he asked.
Latens paused for a second before speaking. “One of my men will bring you the money at the end of the job.”
“Fine, but I don’t leave without the money,” Morti said. He very rarely allowed people to pay after a job was completed and the ones he did allow had to be very loyal regular customers. Latens and his mafia, while powerful and potentially lucrative, were neither loyal nor regular. They had to pay before the bodies were disposed of just like everyone else.
“Understood. Call me when you’re finished and I’ll have my man bring you the cash,” Latens said.
Morti grunted in reply before hanging up. He didn’t like Latens, never had. There was just something about the punk which put him on edge, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to take the job, because he was. This job was an opportunity to get more business and as Latens’ men were known to be loose with the bullets, that could mean a lot more money flowing into his pockets in the future.
Glancing at the screen of where his people were, Morti memorized the address where a pair of his men were working before getting to his feet. He didn’t normally go on jobs, leaving that type of work for his highly skilled workforce. However, as they were so booked it would be hours until someone was free, Morti had no other choice.
In a way, Morti was looking forward to going out on a job. It had been years since he’d done anything more than direct his people as to where they were to go. Actually getting out of the office and getting his hands dirty sounded like a lot of fun.
Morti got into his nondescript van and drove to the location where his best man, Levi, was cleaning up a sextuple. Bloody mess the whole way around, but Levi was known to specialize in blood clean up so it wasn’t really surprising Levi and his partner got the worst jobs to be had. Morti had learned long ago that if you didn’t have teams which specialized in one type of death, you’d get run over in this type of business. As there always seemed to be blood involved in most deaths, Levi, at Morti’s encouragement, had decided to specialize in blood clean up, which was strangely in high demand every day of the year.
Levi must have seen Morti pull up through the windows of the residential home for he came out at once, stripping off his blood soaked gloves.
“Boss,” Levi said through the passenger side window. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your presence?”
“Got another job. You good without Ray?” Morti asked. Normally Morti liked keeping his men in pairs, it was just better for everyone’s sake, but Levi was his best man. He could do any job, and be trusted to do it correctly and swiftly, on his own.
Levi nodded. “We’ve got most of it cleaned up anyway. Won’t take me much longer to finish up here before I go to the next location. You going to be ok with just Ray?” Levi asked.
Morti repressed a smile. Levi was always trying to make sure he didn’t do too much. He kept forgetting Morti was the boss while Levi was just the well paid, much trusted employee.
“I’ll make him do all the heavy lifting,” Morti promised, his words bringing a smile to Levi’s face.
“Well, all right then,” Levi said. “I’ll go get your new little helper.”
Morti waited as Levi jogged into the house and Ray came out a minute later. The young man looked apprehensive, but Morti didn’t care. They had a job to do and nothing was going to come between him, a handsome payday, and a good first impression with a new client.
Ray jumped into the passenger’s seat and Morti took off immediately. “We’re going to a triple in an alley. Very important clients so don’t screw this up.”
“Yes, sir,” Ray said in a quiet voice.
The drive to the alley took less time than even Morti had anticipated. There was no traffic on the road, which was unusual for any summer night. There should have been lots of people out and about, doing whatever young people did. However, there was barely a person on the sidewalk let alone the groups of bopping teenagers usually around. Maybe they sensed there was danger in the air and didn’t want to be yet another innocent victim of mafia violence.
Morti didn’t know and really didn’t care as he pulled into the alley and drove past the third dumpster on the right. Just as Latens had said, there were three bodies crumpled on the ground.
The two women wore club clothing and more makeup than a hooker. They were leaning up against the wall, looking like puppets who’d had their strings cut.
The man, who was slumped against the dumpster, wore baggy clothes and had his hand outstretched. He’d probably had a gun which had been liberated before his friends left him. Good, for Morti didn’t deal with weapons, just dead bodies.
“Give them a pat down,” Morti ordered Ray even as he went to get out of the van. “I’ll get the bags ready.”
“Yes, sir,” Ray said, hurrying to do his bosses bidding. Morti had just opened up the back of the van when he heard Ray jump back.
“Boss!” Ray called.
“What?” Morti growled. He really hated being stuck with this rookie, but there had been no other choice. It had been Ray or he’d have to go it alone and there had been no way he was going alone.
“They’re…they’re…” Ray stuttered, unable to complete his sentence.
“They’re what?” Morti barked. “Spit it out!”
“Alive!” Ray cried. “They’re still alive!”
Morti frowned and walked toward the three bodies. “All of them?” he asked, even as he looked at their chests. The boy was right. Every single one of their chests was rising and falling slowly. And blood was seeping out of one of the girl’s chest. Blood didn’t flow with dead bodies.
“Yes,” Ray answered. “What do we do?”
“We do nothing,” Morti responding pulling out his phone. “We don’t deal with alive people. Get back in the van.”
Morti waited until Ray was inside the van before calling Latens.
“You already done?” Latens asked as he answered.
“No,” Morti answered, “and I won’t be.”
“What’s the problem?” Latens inquired.
“They’re still alive,” Morti said.
“And?” Latens asked after waiting a second.
“And I don’t deal with alive people,” Morti responded.
“If you finish them off, they won’t be alive,” Latens said, obviously trying to sound reasonable.
“I have standards and rules. Rule number one is no killing. You want me to deal with them, they can’t be breathing,” Morti said.
“Of all the...” Latens swore. “I can have a guy there in a few hours to finish the job.”
“Fine, but it’ll cost you triple,” Morti said, not feeling any happier than Latens was. He’d wanted to get this done and go back to his cozy cave of an office. The fun of being out on a call had ended the second he realized his bodies weren’t dead.
“Whatever,” Latens responded. “Since you’re not busy at the moment, how about taking care of a double three blocks away?”
“That’ll be a separate fee,” Morti grunted.
“I don’t care,” Latens said. “Just get over to 415 North Lake. The house is unlocked.”
“Are they dead?” Morti asked. He knew he was asking a question where the answer should have been straight forward, but as he’d just learned, Latens and his people obviously didn’t know the difference between a dead body and an alive one.
“For the love of…” Latens swore again. “Of course they are dead. What kind of organization do you think I run?”
“One that can’t tell an alive body from a dead body,” Morti said. Usually he could hold his tongue when things went wrong, but Latens was just so pompous it took everything within Morti’s body not to dispose of him, alive and all. It would be breaking his own rules, but it would sure make him feel better.
“Just get over there. I’ll call you when your current triple is ready for you.” Latens hung up his phone.
Morti held back the tirade of swears he felt building in his chest. It wouldn’t do to show his anger to his helper. He had an image to uphold.
He got back into the van and started driving to the next location without a word to Ray. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ray glance at him before turning away, only to glance at him again. Morti knew what Ray’s twitching was about and supposed he better confront the issue head on.
“We don’t deal with alive people,” Morti said. “Period. End of sentence. You ever find someone alive, you call me. You don’t touch them. You don’t move them. You pick up your phone and you call me. No matter what your partner might say or try to do, we don’t kill people. All you do is clean up the dead. Do you understand?”
Ray nodded. “I do, sir,” he said. “Does this happen a lot?”
Morti shook his head. “It never happens because I work with only professionals. Tonight was an anomaly, but if it ever does happen again, do not hesitate to let me know. We are a respectable business and dealing with the living is not part of it.”
Morti came to a stop outside the North Lake house and saw that there were a few lights on inside. They must have been left on by Latens’s men. The houses next to this one were dark. Good, their occupants had gone to bed and wouldn’t be a problem for Morti. He hated neighbors nosing around his business. They were worse than the police. At least with the police, he could pay them to stay quiet. Neighbors, on the other hand, had morals and thought it was their duty to know what was happening.
“This time, we’re going in together,” Morti told Ray. “I want to make sure everything is as it should be before we do or touch a thing.”
Morti and Ray walked up the long walkway at a sedate pace. The worst thing they could have done was hurry and attract attention, no matter how unlikely that was to happen at this time of night. You always had to be on guard and assume the worse.
Morti opened the front door and followed the blood smears into the kitchen. Face down on the floor was a man. More blood went up the stairs. “Find the other one,” Morti ordered Ray, who promptly made his way up the stairs, deftly avoiding stepping in the blood.
The kid was good at getting around the blood, Morti was happy to note. Blood avoidance was always a hard skill for most rookies to learn. If you didn’t have the right amount of balance and attention to detail, you were destined to fail. Levi had done well teaching Ray and Morti made a mental note to put in a nice bonus in Levi’s next check. It never hurt to reward his people for doing a good job.
Pausing to put on gloves, Morti reached down and touched the man’s neck, searching for a pulse. He wasn’t taking any chances, especially after the last debacle Latens had been in charge of.
The body was warm and it only took him a few seconds to detect a pulse. Cursing himself for falling for Latens’s crap again, Morti waited for Ray to come back and deliver the bad news. Morti knew it would be bad news because there was no way it could be good news.
Ray’s nervous face confirmed it for Morti. “Alive?” Morti asked before Ray could say anything. Ray nodded and took a few steps back as if he were afraid Morti was going to blame him for this.
“Don’t worry, kid. You’re not in trouble,” Morti assured Ray. “You will never be in trouble for telling me the truth. Go wait for me in the van. I’ve got a client to take care of.”
Ray scampered out of the house, remembering to quietly close the door behind him. Another trusty skill Levi had taught the kid. Levi was just racking up the brownie points tonight.
Unlike Latens. Morti took a few deep breaths before dialing him.
“Now what?” Latens asked. He sounded as fed up as Morti.
“What part of ‘I only deal with the dead’ didn’t you understand?” Morti grunted.
Latens let out a great sigh. “Not dead?”
“Still alive and kicking,” Morti informed him. That was stretching the situation a bit, but it did get the point across.
“My men assured me that they were dead,” Latens whined.
“I don’t care what they told you, I’ve got two people with a pulse in my immediate vicinity,” Morti said.
“Give me a minute,” Latens said. Morti heard Latens call to someone, but his words were unintelligible. He must have been covering the phone with his hand.
While waiting for Latens to get his act together, Morti walked back out of the house toward the van. “It’ll be awhile,” Latens finally told Morti. “Things have been really busy.”
“I don’t care if your whole organization is being attacked by a rival, I don’t appreciate being sent on wild goose chases and I certainly don’t like having my time wasted,” Morti said. “You now have two strikes against you. If you get a third, I will make sure there isn’t a fourth.”
“Is that a threat?” Latens asked.
“It’s a promise,” Morti grunted. “Don’t call me back until you are sure you’ve got cold ones, understand?”
“Crystal clear,” Latens said through gritted teeth.
“And don’t think I won’t be coming to collect my fee for these distressing finds you’ve sent me to,” Morti said, leaning against the hood of the van.
“I don’t really care. Send us your bill and we’ll pay. We always pay for services rendered,” Latens said.
Morti grunted. “You better. I’ve got a lot of pull in this town. And one more thing. If you ever do send me to anyone less than dead, I will not hesitate to call an ambulance.”
“You wouldn’t,” Latens said in a thin voice.
“I would,” Morti promised.
Latens just swore and hung up the phone. It was obvious to Morti that Latens was having an even worse night than he was. Something big must be going on if Latens was letting the small details fall through the cracks like this. Morti shrugged. Latens’s problems weren’t his.
“Everything fine, boss?” Ray asked as Morti got back into the van.
“What do you say to a snack while we wait?” Morti asked, driving away. “I’m in the mood for Indian. What about you?”
“I don’t care,” Ray said. “What about them?” he asked, jerking his head in the direction of the house they’d just vacated.“They are someone else’s problem at the moment,” Morti said, turning into the parking lot of a tiny all night Indian restaurant. “We deal with the dead, not the almost dead.”