Brent’s emails propagated like starving sewer rats. He didn’t need confirmation from dozens of emails to tell him that. With Old Man Bodnar himself upstairs in his massive fifth-floor corner office about to cash in his chips from stage four pancreatic cancer, Brent Hoyleman champed at the bit to replace him as the firm’s next partner.
But Mike Russell’s email wasn’t a confirmation of their nightly jog. With two Iron Mans under his belt, Mike reminded Brent of himself when he started five years ago—aggressive, ambitious, willing to do what’s necessary, whatever’s necessary. He love that line from Body Heat. Instead, Mike begged off and attached his M.R.I. resulting from a “disastrous” workout on the bench press. It looked dismal. Peel away the medical jargon about “disc bulges,” “congenitally short pedicles,” “osteophytic spurring” of this vertebrae of that vertebrae and he read this: “Severe left-sided neural foraminal stenosis . . .”
Brent stopped reading midway, bored with Mike’s whining about his pain. He grimaced with disappointment, not at losing a running partner but at the fact Mike would be bunkered down at home. Brent had been working his seductive magic with Mike’s pretty wife Lisa at every opportunity, and he was sure she was responding. He’d have to put that operation on hold for a while.
* * *
The guy far behind on the park trail stood out like a lap dancer in a madrassa. For one thing, the guy ran as though he’d never run a lap before in his life: bearded, flat-footed, arms pumping, head bobbing. But it was his size in a powder-blue track suit that really grabbed eyeballs—he had to be six-foot, eight inches and over 300 pounds.
He was there again the next night on the same jogging path. Runners of all ages and sizes passed him, closing around his massive form like water flowing around a rock in the middle of a stream. He never closed the distance between himself and Brent—not that he could have kept up.
OK, this is weird, Brent thought. Who is he? Was he following me or is this a coincidence?
Lawyers, like cops, don’t like coincidences either. Brent wasn’t plagued by a conscience, so he didn’t feel guilty about any “shortcuts” he’d taken in his rise up the firm’s ladder. Before he interviewed with Fuqua, he’d mixed client and personal funds. The client who paid for his Maserati was a vegetable in a nursing home, without family, and none the wiser. He’d taken drugs as payment, ignored a judge’s gag order to leak information to a tame journalist, routinely bribed Judge McEvoy in the Appellate Court for favorable rulings. Just last Friday, he’d greased the old boozer with a handshake in a public restaurant that transferred five crisp Benjamins from his palm to the Judge’s. His pro bono work wasn’t beyond reproach, if you counted four consensual blowjobs from a single mother he represented in a domestic violence case. Brent hightailed it back to his gated apartment complex in the dark; he kept his head on a swivel.
The route he mapped out was one he and Mike worked out on a Google map before his injury that would take them through the derelict side of town. Brent narrowed down his list of suspects to one candidate. The guy was doing two years in Chillicothe for tax fraud. He gave Brent an envelope with $5,000 in cash to make his problem with the I.R.S. go away. Instead, he ratted the guy out by filing a whistleblower claim and collected a hefty $38,000.
No sign of the big blue jogger after the first three miles. He made it to the last mile where the blackened hulks of empty buildings loomed above the treeline under a crescent moon. He found the perfect spot for the ambush and crouched behind a stunted bush. He’d bring that steel baton down and split his skull open like a watermelon, watch the man’s brains ooze out of his nostrils.
Gee, officer, I had no choice. The man was hunting me . . .
Footsteps from the other direction—
Mike Russell appeared in the clearing ahead, flashlight in hand, in a husky whisper, called his name: “Psss, Brent . . . Brent Hoyleman, Olly, Olly oxen free, bro.”
Brent stood up from his hiding spot.
“Mike, what are you doing here? I thought you were—”
The punch dagger in Mike’s right fist hit him under the left nipple so hard that he staggered backward into the weeds unsure what had just occurred. His legs folded under him and he squatted down in the dirt, a hand on his chest.
“You’ll bleed out in a minute, Brent. Just let go, it’s over.”
“Were you asking me why? Simple, bro. With you gone, I have the inside track on the next partnership. Maybe two others and that new hire in Estates could give me a run for the money, but I can handle the competition. You? You’d be the next partner hands-down, but I don’t plan to suck hind teat waiting around for thirty years before you get ass cancer or retire. No, it had to be this way, old buddy.”
Brent coughed up a gout of blood. It was black in the moonlight.
“Not long now. The M.R.I. was from before I came aboard. Your menacing jogger in blue? He’s a biker I did pro bono for on a drug charge. He thinks I’m getting him clean by training him. Quite a sight on the jogging path, isn’t he? Harmless, though. . . . I can read you like a book, Hoyleman. I knew you’d be out here sooner or later looking to collect a scalp to brag about around the office.”
Brent tried to speak but the words came out in a sibilant hiss.
Mike cupped his ear. “Was that a ‘fuck me’ or a ‘fuck you’? So long, friend. Oh by the way, Lisa sends her love.”
Nominated for a Derringer, Robb T. White has published several crime, noir, and horror stories as well as hardboiled novels in various anthologies and magazines. “Inside Man,” a crime story, published in Down and Out Magazine, was selected for the Best American Mystery Stories 2019. His novel When You Run with Wolves was cited as a finalist by Murder, Mayhem & More for its Top Ten Crime Books of 2018. “If I Let You Get Me” was selected for the Bouchercon 2019 anthology. He has a pair of series private eyes.