Trouble in Paradise: March 2019

Friday, March 29, 2019

THE DEBT COLLECTOR PART 3 - The Purge

Mr. Ed instinctively knew that it would be a bad idea for him to be seen with Victor Vaughn from here on. 
You do what you see fit,” Mr. Ed said when he stepped into the rental, “Have a good one.”
Likewise,” Victor Vaughn said. If it wasn’t for the guy tied up to the tree it might have seemed like a conversation between two old friends that had gone hunting at night.

Mr. Ed looked in the back mirror when he drove off and he saw that Victor Vaughn was bent over the trunk of his car, probably taking out some tools. 


1

Mr. Ed was surprised to find outthat the road back to Martossa was blocked by the deputy.
Just a random check,” the deputy says, while checking the rental papers, “What were you doing out of town?”
I went for an early morning stroll,” Mr. Ed says, prying if the guy was already reported missing, “No law against that, right?”
The deputy hands his papers back and waves him through, without saying so much as a single word. 

*

That same morning the boys didn’t have anything better to do and they biked down to the store close to the Martossa Inn. The soft chewy candy that they used to munch on was 10 cents cheaper than in the other stores. Besides, they didn’t have much else to do that day. 
Not much was going on though: the old Mercedes was still gone and Mr. Ed was not in sight either. After an hour they were about to go home to play video games, but somehow they got this feeling that they should stick around just a little longer. Brandon was the one to stay back and observe the inn, while the others biked off in different directions. 

*

After thirty minutes the last of them returned to the tree across from the Martossa Inn. There was no sight of the Debt Collector in town.
Maybe he skipped town already?” Brandon says.
My mom says that he always stays for three to four weeks,” Bobby says.
That is strange,” Bradley says, “And usually there are these extremerumors about this or that, but this time: nothing.”
Video games,” Tommie-Lee says.
Just hang on,” Brandon says.

It’s then that they see the crummy Mercedes turn around the corner. The Debt Collector gets out -- it looks like he had rolled around in the dirt. 
Like he dug someones grave,” Tommie-Lee says softly. If it was any other person that would probably bethe way to crack a joke about it, but in this case chances werethat he actually did kill someone.


2

The next day the disappearance of the guy was all over the news and it turned out that he also had a name: Felipe Owen. He turned out to have been some office worker without too much of a social or family life. The Sheriff stated that he was most likely one of those lost souls who had looked too deep in the bottle and had gone off to kill himself at the darkest hour of the night. There was one woman who stated that he might have been struggling to cope with modern life, like so many men that were build to be cowboys and more apt at dealing with horses and guns than the softer skills that are needed for our day and age.
Felipe Owen definitely hadn’t been one of those men though: if he had lived in the 19thcentury he might have become a telegrapher or worked the post office. The reporter asked if the guy didn’t have any family in town. The Sheriff said that there was and the family had stated that there hadn’t been any contact for months. The police had gone through the apartment and it had seemed like this guy had just gotten up and headed out: there were no indications of foul play.

*

Mr. Ed realized that things had gotten out of hand, but at least there were no leads pointing towards him or Victor Vaughn. Mr. Ed wasn’t sure though how to control a guy like that. If he was back in Moac it would be simple: he would get a few guys to talk some sense into this guy. He could get a few of those guys over to Martossa, but that would draw too much attention. Mr. Ed thinks: this one needs some ingenuity.


3

Felipe Owen was the uncle of Bobby. When the word had gotten out the boys stayed in contact via walkie-talkies. The other boys assumed that Bobby would be so struck with grief that his walkie-talkie would be off. 
They were all surprised when they heard Bobby’s voice: “Let’s just meet at the usual,” Bobby said, “The junk yard with the cars.”
He bobbie-man,” Bradley said, “You alright.”
I’m okay, I guess,” he said, “I just need to get out of the house.”

*

For the boys things had gotten very real over night, since it weren’t just stories about bad things that happened to other people that they didn’t know too well. They didn’t know Felipe Owen and Bobby also didn’t care too much for the man, but that wasn’t the point. 
The point was that it was as if the Debt Collector was closing in on them. In a way it was as if circling around them and this was the last victim that had been close, but not close enough to paralyze them with fear. 

My family doesn’t seem to believe a word of it that my uncle killed himself,” Bobby says, “He mostly kept to himself, but he just wasn’t the type to do something like that.”
Then what do they think has happened here?” Bradley asks.
The Debt Collector,” Bobby says, “When we were on that stake-out yesterday, it really looked like he had just dug someones grave.”
That was a weird co-incidence….” Tommie-Lee says.
That guy just has something to do with it,” Brandon says, “Your uncle goes missing the same night that this scary creature doesn’t go back to his hotel for the night.”

What if it’s true?” Bradley asks. 
What do you mean: what if,” Tommie-Lee says all agitated.
The question is: how can we find out?” Brandon asks. 

We can look for traces,” Bradley says, “Inspect the outside of that dude’s car.” 
Looking for what?” Bobby asks, and he turns all pale, “Blood? Pieces of clothing?” 

Bradley nods, realizing that that might actually be a very painful experience for him. He also thought something else because he had his share with heavy stuff and muddling through: Painful, yes, but it will help you process what has happened in the long run.


4

Victor Vaughn wasn’t worried: this hadn’t been the first time that he iced someone and it sure wouldn’t be the last. The circumstances were worrisome though. He usually acted out of duty or towards some greater good. This one had been different though, since there was no need for any involvement on his part, other than the fact that he didn’t trust that Mr. Ed guy. 
It was all the reason to keep this guy close, but he just hadn’t expected that he would go quite this far to establish and maintain this kind of proximity. The whole idea of leverage hadn’t come to mind, but it might come when he would find himself cornered or strapped for cash. 
Victor Vaughn needed to catch some air and that’s why he got in his car and he drove to the edge of town. At the end of the road there was the lot with the junked-up cars. 

*

Look who just turned onto the lot,” Brandon whispers, “This is like a sign, guys: we need to investigate this guy’s car.”
I guess it wouldn’t hurt to just walk over and check it out a little,” Tommie-Lee says.
What do you guys think?” Brandon asks.
I guess just looking couldn’t hurt,” Bradley says, “You in?”
I don’t know,” Bobby says, “What if I like see blood or pieces of clothing…. I think I will freak out for real….”
Stay back, it’s ok,” Brandon says, “Then you can be the lookout.”

*

The car was battered and beat up. They looked around all they could, but except for dirt and more dirt, they couldn’t find much of anything.
I think I can pry the lock of the door, you know,” Tommie-Lee says, “Then we can open the trunk from there.”
I don’t know,” Bradley says, “It’s kind of risky.”
You’re going to tell me that you’re not the least curious?” Brandon asks. 
Okay, I admit to that….”

Tommie-Lee used his army knife and a paperclip; cracking a lock wasn’t as easy as they made it seem in the movies and it took him a good fifteen minutes. He quickly opened the door and pulled the release for the trunk. 
O man,” Tommie-Lee says, “It feels like that guy is watching or something.”
What are we looking for exactly?” Brandon asks. 

Inside the trunk they saw two barrels of gasoline, a large collection of all kinds of knives and a whole lot of guns. There were also what looked like ancient devices of torture, but before they had a chance tostudy everything in there they hear someone yell in the distance:“What the hell!”
O, shit,” they all say and all of them run back to the cars where they usually hang out, “Grab your gears, guys.”

Victor Vaughn ran towards his car and pulled a shotgun out the back of his trunk. By luck the guys had their bows and arrows ready.
You kids made a huge mistake,” Victor Vaughn yells, “A huge….”
The guys didn’t wait for them to be shot at. The first arrow came from Bobby and it pierced Victor Vaughn’s shoulder. The second pierced his other shoulder. The third hit was a rock from the slingshot that hit him right in the head. The fourth hit was another rock that hit him on the knee. The fifth was an arrow that pierced his hand. 
I’ll be back,” Victor Vaughn yells, while retreating, “You better believe it.” 

The boys grab all the stones they can and they drive him back to his car. They don’t stop there and by the time he’s about to drive off all of his windows are shattered, except a small one in the back. 

You guys think this was smart?” Brandon asks, while they are still trying to catch their breath.
My dad says that bad guys respect strength,” Bradley says.
Even when it comes from a bunch of kids?” Brandon asks. 
I don’t know,” Bradley says. 
We’re fried,” Bobby says in a scared voice, “I know it.”
Don’t move ahead of yourself now, son,” Brandon says, “That guy had it coming for a long time.”

*

What the boys didn’t know was that Mr. Ed was still plotting his revenge and it so turned out to be that he came across the site of the agency that employed Victor Vaughn as a bounty hunter. They have a listing of all active bounty hunters in the area and Mr. Ed hires a guy by the name of Malcolm Thompson.

Mr. Ed puts out a $10.000 reward for a dead or alive on Victor Vaughn a.k.a. The Debt Collector.


5

Malcolm Thompson was very interested in the 10k that Mr. Ed had offered for Victor Vaughn. Malcolm Thompson once served as mayor in Martossa, but he was so bad to the bone until there was one night in July that it was so hot and miserable that something just needed to give. That night it had rained slightly and then it stopped, but by that time people were so riled up that a whole posse formed out of thin air. The Sheriff and his two deputies couldn’t do much to stop what the posse had on their mind (and secretly they might have been of the same mind). 
When Malcolm Thompson had been elected to office it had been by a majority of 74 percent. It had much to do with the fact that he had been a decorated war hero and that he didn’t come from town seemed much less important. If he had been, then the people of Martossa might have had an idea of what would have been coming for them: tyranny.
Much like anywhere else, or come to think of it, maybe even more than anywhere else people were accustomed of politicians lying wherever they could, while taking bribes left and right. What Malcolm Thompson had established in just a few months wasn’t a whole lot of lies, but he had turned the government of Martossa into a de facto military regime. The kind that tended to be headed by a man with absolute power. 
How he had gotten away with it, no one really knew, but he had managed to instill a culture of fear with his subordinates. They in turn demanded absolute loyalty of all citizens. There was one thing though that Malcolm Thompson couldn’t control and that was the warm, hot and miserable weather of July that seemed to drag on longer than during other years during that faithful year. 
In a way, this heat wave was like a cloak or wall between him and his subordinates. Malcolm Thompson saw that he lost his grip by the day. When there was one day that was even worse than all the others, his subordinates simply deserted him, all of them. 
It was during that night that the posse rounded up after heavy rain of just 15 minutes that did little to cool the people down, but it gave them clarity of mind as to what they needed at that time. There were no words spoken between any of the people, but they had one thing on their mind: the lynching of Malcolm Thompson. 

Much like any man of his caliber, Malcolm Thompson somehow picked up on the angry mob that was after him. He grabbed the escape bag that he always kept by the front door and he skipped town. By the time the posse had reached his house they found it empty and it was the mother of Bobby who said: “The weasel must be gone.”
By that time it started to pour and it lasted for one night and one day. The people took it as a sign that that had been the end of it. 

*

It would be an understatement to say that Malcolm Thompson didn’t feel much like going back to Martossa. He was sure that they wouldn’t be too happy to see him, but on the other hand, if he brought their new tormentor to them in a cage – he figured that it might ease their judgement. The other reason was that he could sure use the 10k. 


6

Connie Moore was among the first to spot Malcolm Thompson driving around town. He had gained some pounds, lost some hair, but she was sure it was him. The rumor spread and the Sheriff got air of it: he summoned Malcolm Thompson to the edge of town and told him not to come back. His deputy escorted him to the edge of town. 
Malcolm Thompson waited until the deputy was out of sight, then he turned his car around. 
This time Malcolm Thompson had more luck and he spotted the guy that fitted the description. The person was just getting out of his car. Malcolm Thompson had half a mind to gun this guy down then and there, the catching alive seemed more of a challenge. He wrote a note and slipped it under the windscreen: payback 5 pm car junk yard, edge of town, signed MT.

*

Victor Vaughn figured that the note came from the boys that he had it out with the other day. He figured that MT stood for something like Mighty Teens. 
Victor Vaughn went down there at five, this time wearing two revolvers on a belt. The guns were for backup though, he brought his own bow and arrow, because he wanted this one to last. 


7

When Victor Vaughn turned on the lot at five, he was genuinely surprised that the boys weren’t there. He thought: those little punks chickened out.
Who the hell are you?” he brisks at the guy who’s at the far end.
I’m your 5 pm.”

You?” Victor Vaughn asks, “You’re a dad of one of those punks?”
I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Sure you don’t,” Victor Vaughn says, and he’s getting vexed, “So how you want to do this?”
Man to man,” Malcolm Thompson says, “Just like they did in the Wild West.”
Turn at 3.”

*

They both turned at two, but Malcolm Thompson did it a fraction of a second before Victor Vaughn. He managed to shoot him in the knee. Next he shot him in the hand when he went for his gun. 
Where on earth did you learn to shoot like that?” Victor Vaughn cries out in pain.
What do you think?”

The boys were there the whole time and somehow Malcolm Thompson registers it when when Brandon said “We better split.” 
Victor Vaughn managed to shoot Malcolm Thompson in the belly (he aimed for the heart). He turned around and shot Victor Vaughn in the head. The blood was already coming up from Malcolm Thompson’s mouth and he thinks: off all the places this dump is where I end.

The boys saw what happened and they saw Malcolm Thompson collapse across from Victor Vaughn. 
They killed each other….” Tommie-Lee says.
No shit….” Brandon says.
We better split still,” Bradley says, “What if one of their friends shows up and think it’s us….”

*

The boys alerted the Sherif and he immediately came down with his two deputies following in separate cars. 
Malcolm Thompson,” the Sheriff says, when he turns the fella over with his foot, “To see the light of day.”
I think he’s dead, Sheriff,” the deputy says.
It’s an expression, you idiot,” the Sheriff says, “If he was any more dead he would nothing more than a pile of dust.”
What do you figure this guy did here?” the other deputy asks. 
I have no idea,” the Sheriff says, “Making amends?”
Neither of them will be missed, that’s for sure,” the first deputy says, “So what should we do with them?”

Call the coroner,” the Sheriff says, “I assume that neither of them has any relatives that give two bits that these two are gone.”
People might want to see these two for themselves,” the second deputy says, “You know, to keep rumors from spreading that these two are still around.”
Sharp thinking,” the Sheriff says, “We give the town five days, until Friday. Then at a town meeting we can celebrate that Martossa has finally been set free.”

*

The next day Mr. Ed heard the news. He hadn’t withdrawn the 10k yet and he hadn’t met in person with Malcolm Thompson. As far as anyone knew they never had any business. Mr. Ed ordered one of his men to erase all digital traces that he had ever dealt with any bounty hunter. 

Mr. Ed was fully aware that the luck that he had just had tendency of not coming back twice. He was playing with the idea of donating the 10k to the local church. It was just that there was no way for him to do that without people finding out about it. 
He needed a third man to do this for him. The 10k would clear his conscience.

Friday, March 22, 2019

THE DEBT COLLECTOR PART 2 - The side hustle

In Martossa the time was gone when a man could just work for a few hours and guzzle beer and fart in front of the tv at night. Jobs have become scarce these days and more often than not, a number of jobs are needed to stay afloat. 
Victor Vaughn was struggling to make ends meet and it had forced him to be creative.


1

It took three days for the kids of Karla Doyle to notice that she was gone. This in itself was a very sad fact, because it meant that a woman had died and that at first she was sorely missed. Victor Vaughn didn’t know much more about her than the impression that she had given during those three days on stake-out: cold, screaming, mean, vindictive, lazy, no ambition, no talent and a burden on those around her and the system. 
Karla Doyle hadn’t invested in her kids to begin with and to Victor Vaughn it seemed that they were destined to repeat the cycle. He wouldn’t be surprised that the youngest daughter that was now 13 would become the same kind of screaming fish wife a few years from now. If Victor Vaughn wasn’t a man that was principled to stick to his job, he might have taken matters into his own hands for the greater good. Victor Vaughn was certain: what had happened was no accident on his part, it was fate and most likely pre-ordained. 
There were three more visits on the list for the week and all of them had been easy. Patrick Peterson had been the first. A debt of 3000 dollar. He told Victor Vaughn that he would come up with the money the next day and he did. He struck Victor Vaughn as someone that had some savings, since the house and his kids hadn’t looked unkempt.
Mellissa Torres was a single mother and she owed 1200 dollar. She lived in a small house. A rental, most likely and it looked to Victor Vaughn like she didn’t have a dollar to her name. The lady almost fainted and Victor Vaughn thought that he would let this one go if the same kind of kid with moxie and a shotgun showed up. Instead the neighbor came over, an elderly lady who seemed much better off and who wrote a check on the spot. 
The last on the list was Sherri Craig and she was one of the ten percent. She send the dog out for him as soon as he had entered her yard. The cattle prong took only a few seconds before the dog was paralyzed. He asked if she was ready to pay the 2000 dollars. She said she would the next day, and she did. 

*

The commission of Victor Vaughn was 20 percent and with a total collection of 30.000 dollars in under two weeks he had earned a grand total of 6000 dollars. It wasn’t too bad, all things considered, but he had his expenses, not to mention that he needed to travel to start collecting. Victor Vaughn visited ten towns like Martossa each year, but he recently discovered that he himself started to struggle to make ends meet. 
That’s when he started looking for a side-hustle.


2

Bradley and his gang weren’t in the mood to play computer games until they would reach that point that their eyes started hurting. Something was off and they all knew what it was: Victor Vaughn was back in town. 
When they were younger they might have gone fishing, but the thing was that none of them owned a rod anymore, let alone that they knew how to catch a good deal of fish. Instead they sat around in the car junk yard at the edge of town. There were a few junked cars that they used to hang around with a fire pit in the middle. When they were younger they used to climb behind the steering wheels and pretended to drive out of Martossa. The last few years they just sat in its shade and at night they would build a fire in the pit.
They were bored in the way that only young boys can be bored: they didn’t know what to do, but at the same time they were playing games to pass the time and cracking jokes about this and that. Today was a day just like that, maybe minus the jokes.

So none of you guys were visited, huh?” Bradley asks, while flinging a small stone at the empty cans that they had lined up at a distance of three meters. He misses, but he also didn’t put in any effort.
Nope,” they all go. The other boys are chewing on pieces of straw.
Family?”
Nope,” they all go again.
Any of your families have debts?”
Money is tight,” Brandon says.
Your momma is too busy making babies,” Tommie-Lee says.

Bobby jumps up and starts wagging like Brandon’s mother. “Oe-la-la,” he goes.
Give me some of that sugar, hun,” Bradley goes in a bass voice.
At least my momma has some sugar to give,” Brandon says.
Eight to be exact,” Bobby says, “That’sa lotof sugar.”They start laughing and rolling on the ground.

You guys think it’s fun to live with so many people in a tiny house,” Brandon asks when they have all quieted down, “I love my brothers and sisters, but man…it’s too cramped sometimes….

We need to do something guys,” Bradley says, “To take our mind off of all of this.”
Like what?” Brandon asks.
Howabout we go andpractice our aim,” Bradley says, “Like the Indians.”

Like slingshots and bows and arrows?” Brandon asks.
Like, exactly like that,” Bradley says. 
How come you guys never wanted to do that before?” Bobby asks, and the disappointment sounds through.
My dad always says that a man needs the proper motivation,” Bradley says. 
As in some bad element to fight off….”

They pool their resources (Bradley and Tommie-Lee each chip in 1 dollar, Bobby 50 cents and Brandon 10 cents) and they go off to the store to buy thick rubber bands. They can only find the ones that are used by the mail man and for two dollars they are able to buy fifty. The sixty cents they spend on a bottle of juice that they split four ways. 

*

Bradley and Brandon always walk with their Swiss army knife. They sharpen the blade on a stone and this is what they use to sharpen the tip of thin straight twigs. They pass by Bobby’s and Bradley’s to pick up some more tools to make a bow and a slingshot. Bradley’s father tells them that they need to use twine for a bow and this is what they take from there.
They spend most of the afternoon building four bows and four slingshots. By the time they are finished with these it’s already getting dark.
After dinner they allradio in: coast clear.


3

Victor Vaughn’s budget had gotten tight, just over two years ago. This was also the time thathe started looking for a side-hustle. A few years prior a faction that was related to digital currencies had dabbled in tweaking democracies and matters of state. It soon proved to be one of those idealistic projects without any foothold, since it’s a big challenge to get people to root for politics and other abstract matters that don’t directly involve family members and others close of kin. It has something to do with this idea that things would be different in a perfect world.The idea itself has some appeal, since it gives people this feeling that they are better than the average citizen, or at least their neighbors, but when it comes down to it it’s all vanity and thin air. In the end, having a nice house, a nice car and not too many traffic jams is more important than more abstract matters. 
It doesn’t hurt to try though and that’s pretty much what that faction did: they had tried to reinvent democracy and matters of state for the digital age, but they ultimately hadn’t succeeded. One of the remnants of that ideology was that of the bounty hunter as they saw fit. They must have figured that instead of having civil servants doing the policing, it could be privatized by setting up bounties for known bad guys and to simply execute the law as such. The goal that they kept in mind was to make things as cheap as possible. It quickly became very clear that things weren’t as simple though: those with money were effectively controlling law and order. 
This made very clear that the job of a bounty hunter wasn’t a replacement of the police force, but an addition. They had already set up the framework though for anonymously submitting bounty’s. Victor Vaughn had become one of the bounty hunters and pretty much anyone who had a bone to pick with anyone could order his services – no questions asked. There must have been some faction that pulled the strings that saw some benefit in this type of operation. 

Victor Vaughn checks online, but there are no bounties in Martossa. He figures that the community is too small to have an outsider solve their problems. Then again, his work as a debt collector wasn’t that much different from working for bounties.

*

That night Victor Vaughn is in need to liquor up and he opts to visit the most crummy bar in Martossa: the Tittle Tattle Room. It’s an unlikely name, especially for a bar that attracts the most questionable characters that are in shady business of all kinds. Victor Vaughn takes a seat on the bar. There’s an old hooker on the far end, or by the looks of it, she might be the madam. The bar is sticky, the beer cheap and old school music plays all night: it reminds Victor Vaughn of a time when men were men, women were women and bad guys were just bad. In a way, this past as a state of mind was a complete fabrication: a mix between the 1980s as in music and culture, but also the 1880s when times were much simpler and all a man needed was a gun, a horse and woman from time to time. 
Mr. Ed enters the bar at midnight and takes a seat next to Victor Vaughn. Mr. Ed immediately sees him for what he is: bad news(much like himself). They share a few whiskeys and it turns out that they both needed a break from their line of work. Mr. Ed has been in Martossa for ten weeks, Victor Vaughn for ten days.
Why did you stay here that long?” Victor Vaughn asks. 

Mr. Ed sizes him up, “What’s it to you?” 
You don’t seem the type to just sit around and abide your time in a sleepy little town by the sea.” 

Mr. Ed takes a sip of his drink, “Let’s just say that I needed a change of scenery.” 
In my experience there’s only one of two reasons why a person feels the need to skip town for an extended period of time,” Victor Vaughn says, leaning in, “Money problems or they have some rattling skeletons someplace.” 
And you’re telling me that I don’t strike you as the kind of guy who’s short on cash.” 
Your words, not mine.” 

Mr. Ed thinks: this ain’t your business.
You know what they say, right?” Mr. Ed says, attempting to get a response, “It takes one to know one.” 

Victor Vaughn doesn’t show his cards that easily and he thinks: I got you cornered, fucker!
I have business here,” he says. 
As have I,” Mr. Ed says. Maybe Mr. Ed is more bored than he realized, or maybe he’s in need of something to make him feel alive, like the rush of adrenaline when he lets go of all his inhibitions, like he does when he needs to come on strong in his business. 

Mr. Ed can’t keep himself from prying, even though he realizes that it will probably backfire sooner rather than later. 
What would it take?” Mr. Ed asks, while studying Victor Vaughn, “What do you like to use(name your poison)?” 

Mr. Ed is fully aware that he can’t ask him directly. Mr. Ed realizes that they’re are more alike than either of them likes to admit: if it was him though, he would deny everything, at any level, but he has this feeling that he will be able to manipulate and control Victor Vaughn. 
You mean my poison?” Victor Vaughn asks. 
Every man has at least one,” Mr. Ed says, “Unless you’re the kind of man who’s going to tell me that a poison is just a poison.” 

Victor Vaughn thinks: my trunk.
I like to carry it around with me,” Victor Vaughn says after a few moments, “Or at least carry it in some sort of proximity.” 
Is that a fact?”

Victor Vaughn’s pupils narrow microscopically. It’s too little of an effect to really notice, but Mr. Ed has this feeling that Victor Vaughn told him more than he wanted: what he’s getting at is too big to carry in a pocket. 
A briefcase?” Mr. Ed asks and he thinks: a kill kit.
I do like to travel light,” Victor Vaughn says and it’s at that moment that Victor Vaughn sees Mr. Ed as a potential threat. Usually he isn’t the kind of guy who scares away from things too easily, but there’s something about this Mr. Ed guy that seems off. For one, Victor Vaughn told him things, although indirectly, that he wouldn’t disclose under ordinary circumstances (even though there still isn’t anything that he could be pinned on). 

*

That night they are among the last ones to leave the bar. Both of them are pretty liquored up, but it did little to soften the subtle mistrust that there was between the two of them from the start. 

Outside they shake hands. Mr. Ed walks off around the corner. From there it’s easy to keep an eye on Victor Vaughn: his old Mercedes has trouble starting and by the way the car bends through it’s back axes it’s obvious to Mr. Ed that it’s more than just a briefcase that’s in there. Mr. Ed writes down the number plate.

Mr. Ed tells himself that he shouldn’t pry in another man’s business when it doesn’t concern him or when there’s not money or leverage to be gained. The crickets and tree frogs are all Mr. Ed hears while he thinks about it. 
The two tail lights of the Mercedes disappear intothe night, along with the sound of the struggling engine. The oil must be as black as tar, or more grim than a fistful of black holes at the darkest hour of the night. If that means anything, then it’s this: better back off.


4

The next day the boys are bored and they bike around town. After a good half hour they are still bored and go for drinks in a store that’s close to the Martossa Inn. 

*

Mr. Ed rents a car that same day, determined to get to the bottom of things. In his own way Mr. Ed feels like he’s doing the right thing and that he almost is a changed man. He travels around town looking for the crummy Mercedes. It wasn’t as easy as he expected, since it turned out that there were a lot of crappy cars.
Mr. Ed finally found the Mercedes of Victor Vaughn in a back street close to the Martossa Inn. That guy might be strapped for cash, Mr. Ed thinks. He throws a burner phone through the cracked back window to track the car later that night, just in case.

*

What’s with that guy in that car over there?” Tommie-Lee asks. 
Yeah,” Brandon says, “Something is going on there.”
Maybe it’s a stake-out just like we guys are doing,” Tommie-Lee says.
That stuff isn’t illegal?” Bobby asks.
Well, technically,” Bradley says, “Just like your mother, technically.”
Wooow,” the other boys go and they start laughing.
That one was too easy,” Bradley says, still laughing.
It doesn’t even make sense,” Bobby says, “My mother is a very sweet woman.”
Aha.”
How can you talk bad about my mother?”

Wait a minute,” Bradley says, “That’s the shrink that I talked withfor the last few weeks.”

They knew about the therapy, but still it isn’t something they regularly talk about. 
He doesn’t look the part,” Brandon says.
I thought the exact same thing,” Bradley says, “But that guy is different though: he’s more street smart than any other kind of smart.”
Then what is that guy doing over here?” Bobby asks, “The Debt Collector has it out for him?”
Looks more like the other way round,” Brandon says, “The car that he’s keeping tabs on: it’s that old Mercedes.”
I thought that guy was some kind of vigilante,” Tommie-Lee says, “What is your shrink up to?”
No idea,” Bradley says, “No friggin’ idea.”

*

Victor Vaughn is sleeping off the whiskey of the night before. Unlike Mr. Ed, he doesn’t drink whiskey on a daily basis and when he does it really kicks in. He had a dull headache that wouldn’t budge, a dry throat and he felt like he literally couldn’t move. He ordered room service: scrambled eggs for two and a jug of coffee. 

*

Mr. Ed stayed in his car on stake out for a few hours. When it’s pitch dark, he sneaks out to crank the trunk of the Mercedes. He figures that by that hour he will not be disturbed by nosy neighbors or Victor Vaughn. It takes a while since he had last picked a lock and that’s most of the reason why he didn’t see someone walk down the street. 
It wasn’t Victor Vaughn though, but some skinny guy that walks his shitty little dog. This guy keeps ranting that it’s not right to break into cars and that it seems to him that all that’s bad has finally descended to Martossa. He tells Mr. Ed a few times that he will call the police in his high self-righteous voice. Mr. Ed realizes that this guy might actually cause him some very real problems. 

You will not,” Mr. Ed says in his most threatening voice, where all his fury is concentrated in a hushed whisper. Mr. Ed realizes that this will only make this kind of guy more likely to make a phone call. If this guy was a chicken he would go cackling until its head was positioned on the cutting board.
You gonna stop me?” the guy rants, “You gonna stop me?”

You do what you got to do,” Mr. Ed says, while looking the guy down.

*

Mr. Ed follows the guy into a dark alley. It’s there that we see the true colors of Mr. Ed: he beats the guy to a pulp while he hums some classical melody. Mr. Ed ties him up and throws him on the back seat of the rental car. 
Mr. Ed drives out of town, smoking cigars and guzzling whiskey, his vision narrowing, not sure what to do with the poor sap. 

Roughing up and intimidating had always been part of his game, but what was required here, was something else in its entirety: this guy might need to be iced. Mr. Ed remembers his old man telling him one day when he was 12 years old that a man needs to be ready to make the tough choice when needed. 

*

What if you don’t?” he can still hear himself asking.
If you don’t it’s the same shit in perpetuity.” 
What does that mean?” 
Jesus, how can I explain this one to a 12 year old kid?” 

The words fade into those of his daughter begging him to change his life. She had always been the goodness of this earth and it was because of her that Mr. Ed had gone to Martossa to chronicle his wisdom: he spoke with the down and lowly, those that had strayed of their path and were in need of the words of a mentor – the kind of man that had succeeded in life and needed what needed to be done. The reason why he couldn’t do all this at home had to do with the fact that it helped him to stay away from temptation: in Moac he had gotten away with too many bad things.

Mr. Ed was contemplating to skip town altogether, but he might also want to be able to come back some day. There was something about Martossa that he intensely liked. Then there was his credo to never leave loose ends. It didn’t come more loose than a guy who was beat up and who would be sure to call the police once Mr. Ed turned his back on him.

*

That night Bradley had one of those nightmares: he was all alone in the middle of the jungle and he had this feeling that some presence very close to him. Usually some scary creature would show up and he would wake up in a sweat. This time it didn’t go quite like that: this time the wicked voice entered his dream: warmer, Warmer, WARMER!


5

Mr. Ed spend the night deep in the jungle and he felt sure that he would not be disturbed. He still had the guy tied up on the back seat, but he didn’t feel too good about keeping the guy tied up in there. He carried him outside and tied him to a tree. 
In a few hours the sun would come back up and Mr. Ed tried to get a little shut eye. He usually had a few men to take care of this kind of business, but over here it seemed that he knew no one. He was mentally preparing himself to do the dirty work himself.
When the sun finally came up he saw a lone figure walking up to him through the side-view mirror. He looked kind of familiar and when he was closer Mr. Ed saw who it was: Victor Vaughn. 

Mr. Ed cracks the window.
That’s some co-incidence,” Victor Vaughn says, “There’s me taking a nice stroll out in the woods and then to run into my friend from the other night.”
What do you want?” Mr. Ed asks, sizing up Victor Vaughn. 

Victor Vaughn does the same with Mr. Ed.
It looks to me that you might be in some sort of predicament,” Victor Vaughn says.
How so?”
You’re out here in a rental with no gear,” Victor Vaughn says, “And you got a man tied to a tree.”

What man?” Mr. Ed asks, realizing that Victor Vaughn must have seen the guy when walking up, or he might have already been exploring the grounds for a few hours.
Let’s just say that I have a healthy dose of distrust,” Victor Vaughn says. 
Aha.”
I have everything on tape,” Victor Vaughn says.
“….”
If you refuse my help, then I will send your little encounterwith this guy out.” 

Define everything.”
The trunk, the discussion, the beating in the alley,” Victor Vaughn says, “Camera with night vision, very handy.”
What do you want?”
I would like to help you out,” Victor Vaughn says, “As one visitor to another.”
And if I do let you help me, then I will be an accomplish, because I was in a position to prevent whatever will have happened.” 

Victor Vaughn nods.
This is a real Fuck Me Charlie.”
As I see it, these are the only two options.” 

I told you my credo when it comes to business,” Mr. Ed says, “Never come clean.”

*

It was all Victor Vaughn needed to hear.