By Gary Phillips
Two days later, there weren’t a lot of handshakes to go around in the forty-sixth floor boardroom of Grayson Industries in downtown Chicago. An exception was the two who heartily clasped the hand of Kenneth Raymonds.
“Way to go,” Martin Maule said to the beaming Raymonds.
“Excellent. I’m looking forward to the new regime,” Barbara Horten added.
Raymonds barely registered their congratulations as he made his way around the table to Clara Goodacre. He brushed past disgruntled others leaving the boardroom. “As I said, Ms. Goodacre, sure sorry about what happened to Luke. He will be missed.” He did his best not to linger his gaze on that luscious body of hers
Coolly she said, “Thank you, Mr. Raymonds. And congratulations on your win.”
“Well I hope you understand this is just business. And it’s not like Essex will starve in the forced buyout.”
“Yes, that is so.” She put her yellow notepad into her Louis Vuitton attaches case and snapped it shut. She started out, Raymonds in-step beside her.
“Will there be a search for a permanent head of the operation or do you simply take over as I’m sure it was your capable hands that held matters together nayway. What with all his gallivanting around playing meddling do-gooder.” He was conscious of the smirk his lips had formed.
“Trying to make a difference wasn’t a hobby with Luke, Mr. Raymonds. It was an avocation. Good day.”
She walked away. Raymonds stood near the doorway to the boardroom, enjoying watching that firm backside of hers. His phone buzzed, interrupting his lascivious fantasies He reached into his blazer’s inner pocket and extracted his phone. He frowned as he comprehended the text message displayed onscreen. It read:
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PREDATORY SKILL. PAY ME TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS OR I WILL IMPOSE MY WILL ON THOSE CLOSE TO YOU. YOU HAVE ONE DAY TO COMPLY. THE DEATH BRINGER.
The text also included instructions on how to wire the money to an encrypted account. Raymonds gripped his smartphone tighter, his hand shaking, his face reddening. “That motherfucker,” he muttered. He stomped down the hallway and rode the elevator downstairs in a roiling rage. Outside his driver was waiting, leaning against the Lincoln Town Car.
“Take me to my jet,” he demanded as the driver opened the rear door for him.
“Not the hotel, sir?”
“Wasn’t I clear?”
“Yes, sir, you were.”
Not much later Raymonds’ silver-grey Gulfsteam G650ER cleared the tarmac of Chicago Executive Airport. In the air he made several calls, including one to a former employee of a private security firm that had gained notoriety for their behavior in Iraq. This person had done wet work for him before. Business was a cutthroat undertaking not for psalm singers and hand wringers his dear old daddy had told him often.
“I realize that,” Raymonds was saying over his encrypted satphone. “But let me assure you I will determine his location by the time I touch down in Burbank. Okay, good,” he said after listening to the man’s response. He clicked off and the door to the cockpit opened. He gaped at what he saw.
“I surely must be living right,” he said to Clara Goodacre. She smiled seductively as she stepped beyond the entranceway. He let his legs gap wide, making no effort to hide his growing erection. But it shriveled quickly when she saw who also stepped out of the cockpit.
“Warfield,” he rasped. The cleft in his chin quivered.
“I’ll let you fellahs talk, I know you have a lot to cover.” She went back into the cockpit to pilot the plane. The door clicked shut behind her and the sound filled Raymonds’ head. Warfield easily covered the distance between them and had him by his shirt front before his fellow billionaire could fully shake off his shock.
“Did it occur to you, asshole, we’d study a blueprint of the plant before we went in there?’ Warfield snarled his words into the other man’s face. When he realized the bear thing had a bomb inside of it counting down, he acted fast. He remembered there was a service grate toward the rear of the building. He’d used a laser device that looked like a penlight, good for one ray blast. Warfield had dashed past the bear, avoiding its claws, managing to sever part of the leg mechanism with his laser pen to slow it down. Without stopping, he grabbed up the wounded Critch Duling, and got them down the maintenance floor shaft below the building went up.
“Huh,” Raymonds breathed, sagging under the physical and psychological onslaught of Warfield. “You won’t get anything from me, you crafty bastard. Go ahead, work me over. When we land, I’ll have you arrested. You’ve got no proof tying me to the Death Bringer scheme.”
Warfield backhanded Raymonds, slapping him down into his seat that rocked when he dropped into it. “You left just enough bread crumbs for us to follow. I know you figured once we started to narrow down the location, pouring through all sorts of records I’d recognize the Ganesh Unlimited name. You wanted to buy up Grayson and send them into a ditch to protect your oil and gas investments”
After the untimely death of his teenage son in a hiking accident, Raymonds had gone off to discover himself. He found out he loved money. But as a cynical sop to what he considered a wasted time, he bestowed several of his subsidiaries with Buddhist or Hindu names – mocking their spiritual connections. But really, the death of his son had killed the humanity in him.
“What possibly makes you think we’re going to be landing with you in the plane, genius? There’s plenty of places to throw you out between here and home.” He paused, an agate brightness congealing behind his eyes. “And don’t forget the Pacific is a might big ocean to hide a body in.”
Raymonds took his hand away from his face and pointed at his captor. “You’re bluffing, Warfield. You might talk tough, but you’re one of the good guys. You won’t just murder me.”
Warfield came at him, about to slug him when the jet began to rattle and the running lights in the interior blinked on and off. The nose of the aircraft dipped as the cockpit door swung open and Goodacre called out.
“Luke, the controls aren’t responding.”
“Coming, Clara.” he went into the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot’s seat. The door remaining open.
“See what I mean?” she said.
Warfield worked the yoke and clicked several toggle switches on the control panel. The jet had leveled off but the engines seemed to be sputtering.
Raymonds said, “What is it, what’s going on?”
Warfield told him, a strain in his voice.“An outside entity has taken over the jet’s electronics. We can override this and it’s going to take too long to try and disengage the onboard computer.”
“Fuck,” Raymonds exclaimed.
Goodacre was back outside the cockpit, opening a compartment. She removed a parachute. “There’s only one in here, Luke.”
“Ain’t that some shit.” Warfield was beside her, his hand around her waist, the other holding the parachute.
“Come on, Warfield, you can’t do this to me.”
“Guess your silent inventor partner wants to go solo. Not that I blame him, you miserable shit.”
Raymonds was on his feet as well. “He, he must want more money,” he stammered. “This is just to show he’s in control.” He almost cackled. Raymonds wiped a hand over his face, pulling at it, contorting his features as he did so.
“Then you better get a hold of him and tell him you’ll pay,” Warfield said.
“I can’t, not just like that. I don’t know where to find him. That’s why I was heading back to town. He was shaking me down..
“Who?” Goodacre demanded.
He hesitated and the plane rattled and shook again viciously. This time it plunged into a nosedive. Goodacre blanched, holding onto Warfield.
“Forget him. Time to save ourselves,” Warfield announced, strapping the parachute on.
“Strangeways, Felix Strangeways. He calls himself –“
“The Gadgetsmith,” Warfield finished as the jet screamed toward the Earth.
Raymonds dropped to his knees and blubbered, crying, “Do something, will you, Warfield. I’ll give you anything. But for God’s sake, do something!”
Raised deep amid the cracked concrete and weathered palms of South Central L.A., weaned on the images of Kirby and Steranko in comic books, and Hammett and Himes in prose, Gary Phillips also draws on his experiences – ranging from being a community organizer, teaching incarcerated youth, to delivering dog cages – in writing his tales of chicanery and malfeasance. His latest work includes the graphic novel Big Water, co-editor of Black Pulp, and the novella, The Essex Man: 10 seconds to Death.