It's tough when all the good jobs keep getting outsourced. Fortunately for Dale there will always be work for an enterprising American with a positive attitude and good sense of humor. (And having some bad-ass, pyrotechnic experts with ties to the mob in your corner certainly doesn't hurt either.)
If You Hear Gunshots, Press Two by Hugh Lessig
Except I’m calling it now between shitting bricks.
“Yes, Dale, how can I help you?” The voice is calm, a slight accent.
“A black van,” I whisper. “Been sitting along the highway and now men are getting out of it. Lots of them.”
“Yes, Dale. I can help you with that problem.” He clears his throat and continues. “This phone call may be monitored for training purposes since we have outsourced witness protection to the Orient.”
“Afterwards, you will be asked to take a short survey to aid our customer satisfaction.”
“Now Dale, if you’re afraid of starting your car, press one. If you hear gunshots, press two.”
I peek out the window and see what I hadn’t seen before. Someone has left the van, climbed the telephone pole and is working among the wires. He looks up and waves at me. Other men continue toward the trailer, their fluffy ski jackets hiding whatever’s underneath. They look both ways for cars, but there aren’t any. Never are.
This is 10 miles off Interstate 81 in West Virginia, an office trailer in a gravel parking lot with a pole sign that reads Tourist Information. I work for Hazard County—yeah, the feds have a sense of humor—handing out brochures to people who stop by.
The voice chuckles, as if on cue.
“If you love gook-chicks and want to die, press three or just stay on the line. An operator will be with you shortly.”
Ami is the reason I’m here. She’s a Korean-French lady—full name Ami Cho—and she operated a dry cleaner’s in Philly with her father. He owed protection money to my boss and couldn’t pay. (Dry cleaners are particularly hard hit by the recession and account for indirect job losses, Ami says. These Chinese know the economy. Am I wrong?) So her father gets moderately roughed up: lacerated spleen, earring yanked, chemical burns and whatnot. Ami freaks, and I can’t stand to see my China doll like that.
So I turn state’s evidence, and it’s prosecuted as a hate crime. The Chinese consulate gets involved and I’m like Mister Hillary Clinton for a day until the feds shuffle me away.
The window shatters.
Bits of glass fall down my collar. There was no gunshot noise.
I press my face to the edge of the sill, cold air rushing in. “You don’t need silencers, stupid wops! This is West Virginia. Even dead people have guns!”
“Suit you, then.”
I puff out a steamy breath, reconsider. “If I come out, let her live, hey?”
Ami is hiding in the bathroom, probably hugging her knees, perfect straight black hair falling over her finely sculpted cheekbones, stained by frightened tears. See, this whole thing was my fault. I was bored so I called her. That was against the rules. No contact with friends, family or associates, no Facebook, Twitter or smart phone. Just my landline.
She arrived half an hour ago. By the time she shut the door, my pants were down around my knees and we had a reunion right there on the counter. I was up for seconds when the van showed up to spoil the mood.
“If you come out, we’ll do the girl quick,” comes their answer. “That’s a promise, Dale.” I know that voice. The boss himself. Torribio Bolini, aka Boli Bolinii, aka Boss Boli. Known for getting a big meal after doing someone.
“Hey, Boli! There’s a Vincent’s Pizza just down the road. They make their own cavatelli and gnocchi.”
“Good of you to suggest, Dale.”
I always got along with the boss. Some never trusted me because I wasn’t paisan, but Boli appreciated that my family goes back to the Revolutionary War. He considers America the land of opportunity, even with the Russian mob moving in and his family reduced to small-time status.
“You and I love this country,” he told me once.
“Yeah,” I told him back.
Suddenly there’s a noise like a lawnmower engine, except it’s overhead. Boli mutters a curse before an explosion throws me back from the wall. A second detonation rocks the trailer off its moorings, followed by the satisfying woof of a fireball.
Soon the air fills with high-pitched screams of men, like a pliers-to-the-fingernails session only worse. After getting up my nerve, I peer out the broken window and see five Chinese men with revolvers methodically shooting survivors in the head, shooting the dead to make sure, shooting a severed leg for fun. The wrecked van belches fire.
Thirty minutes later.
We’re smoking cigs in the trailer, me and Ami and her five brothers. Her head rests on my shoulder, her goddamn beautiful head. Her brothers watch her watching me, and I feel a need to say something.
“Unmanned aerial vehicle,” says the oldest, his gaze riveted on his little sister. “Armed with a variant of the sidewinder missile.”
“And you got this where exactly?”
“Somehow, I’m thinking your family ran more than a dry cleaner’s. No wonder the consulate got involved.”
The brothers smile as one. Ami nuzzles my shoulder. The stench of cordite settles on us like perfume.
“You Chinese are so smart,” I say. “Between you and the Indians—all your kids ace the SATs.”
The oldest takes the cigarette from his mouth and stubs it on the counter. He stares at me hard.
“Casino Indians or 7-11 Indians?”
Dead silence for a moment, then everyone breaks into laughter. The oldest comes over and puts a strong arm around my shoulder.
“You’re a great addition, Dale. We need a trusted straight-eye back home.”
“You’re marrying Ami and leaving the U.S. for China. It’s what you want, Dale. We’ll take care of everything. You’re family now.”
Of course I am.