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FREEDOM FROM JUSTICE

Liberator’s a dick exploited by the government and wants out.

FREEDOM FROM JUSTICE

by José Richardson © 2018

 

Please note that Freedom From JUSTICE contains a bit of graphic sex, some drug use and a lot of violence and vulgarity. The story is intended for readers 18 and older.  Enjoy it at your own risk.

 

Table of Contents

The Past

The Scumbag, Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

 

 

The Past

 

The smugglers’ cigarettes gave off an eerie glow that brought a faint light to the darkened cockpit of their old Cessna Titan cargo plane.  Neither man could clearly see the other’s face, but after a long history together each knew that the other felt relieved to be over the hump.  They had just crossed the U.S.-Mexican border with three thousand pounds of cocaine in their hold, and in less than an hour they would rendezvous with their buyers.  The plane still flew low and without running lights, but the real challenge lay behind them, and the smugglers took a moment to smoke their cigarettes and enjoy their moment of success.

“Qué bonita,” the shorter, older man with a mustache sighed as the plane came out from under a patch of clouds.

The rays of a nearly full moon filled the cockpit, and a big smile could be seen on the taller, younger man’s clean-shaven face.

“Feeling pretty good about seeing your baby tomorrow huh?” the shorter man continued in Spanish as a smile spread across his own lips.

“You should stop thinking about me and keep your eyes on the road,” the taller man said.  “Weren’t you the one who told me we should keep our eyes out for the bad guys?”

“We are the bad guys, cabrón,” the shorter man said with a slight laugh and a grin.  “Don’t worry, though, I’ve got an eye on the instruments and there’s nothing to see.  Remember, Gutierrez said we would have a clear run up to south central Texas.”

“Yeah,” the taller man snorted.  “Well Frank’s not always known for his reliability.”

The shorter man chuckled in appreciation at his friend’s concern, but restrained himself from replying that it was too late now to worry about their employer’s reliability. 

“You really want to see your little girl don’t you?” the shorter man asked.

“Of course I do,” the taller man said.  “Since Linda and I split I’ve been heartbroken over only seeing Gaby every other week.  She’s growing up in a hurry, and I’m not seeing any of it.  You know she can already say the alphabet in both Spanish and English, and she’s a star with a football.  Every other week she can do something new.  I feel like I’m missing out on so much of her life.”

The shorter man nodded.  “Does Linda feel the same way when you get Gaby for the week?”

“Of course she does.”

“Then why aren’t the two of you together again?” the shorter man asked.  “It’s obvious the two of you still love each other or you wouldn’t be sharing Gaby.  Just tell her what she wants to hear and get back together with her.”

A long silence passed between the two men as they smoked their cigarettes. 

“I’ve tried that and it didn’t work,” the taller man said.  “She wants me to get out of smuggling and do something legal.  And she makes sense, but what the hell else am I going to do?  I don’t know anything else.  Plus, the money’s just too damn good to give up.”

“You’ve got the money to take the time to learn something new,” the shorter man said.

“Look who’s talking,” the taller man said with a smirk as he jammed his cigarette into a makeshift ashtray.

“I know I shouldn’t be talking,” the shorter man said.  “But if you want to stay with Linda and Gaby, maybe it’s time to cut your ties and enjoy your nest egg.”

The taller man nodded without saying a word.

“Who knows?  Maybe seeing your daughter will open your eyes about what to do next,” the shorter man added.  “You need to take some time to think about this.  Listening to me in the dark cockpit of an old plane isn’t the best way to decide how to run your life.”

“Lot worse places to change my life, cabrón,” the taller man said with a smile.

“I suppose,” the shorter man said, returning the smile and offering his companion another cigarette.

Lighting it up, the taller man leaned back comfortably in his seat.  He felt pretty relaxed as he drew gently on the cigarette and stared at the stars.  Rarely did he give himself a chance to sit back and take stock of his life, but he knew he was doing all right.  He had a lot of money in his pockets, time to do what he wanted, and a beautiful daughter whom he loved very much.  True, he and Linda had some serious problems between them, but he felt like things could get better.  He just had to listen to her more, and try to focus on getting out of the business.  Tomorrow he would return to New York and spend a week with his daughter.  Maybe he could sit down with Linda and actually talk things out.  It had only been a few months since their divorce, and he knew that she hadn’t seen anyone else since they split up.  Neither had he.  Maybe she was thinking along similar lines.

‘God, I hope she’s thinking along similar lines,’ the taller man thought as he shifted further back into his seat and remembered the last time he had seen Linda. 

He had just returned with their daughter from a few days of camping in the Catskill Mountains, and he was eager to return to civilization and reliable hot water.  Gaby didn’t mind sleeping outside, eating crappy, cold, canned food and not scrubbing the grime off of her body, but she was only five and a half years old and didn’t know any better.  He did.

His ex-wife told him he could use her shower and he gave her an appreciative peck on the cheek, heading straight for his old bathroom.  As he pulled open the bathroom door, he caught the excitement in his daughter’s voice as she told her mother about seeing real cows for the first time.  He smiled at her innocence and satisfied curiosity, and felt very happy that he could bring his daughter such joy.  Stepping into the bathroom he missed the goofy grin that his ex-wife flashed him.  He had already started fantasizing about the modern pleasures of hot water and soap. 

When the door closed behind him he immediately pulled his sweatshirt over his head and got a whiff of three days of unshowered sweat and grime.  “Ugh,” he groaned as he promised himself to get a cabin with hot water next time.  In a flurry, he kicked off his boots, turned on the hot water and had his head under the shower stream three seconds after his jeans hit the floor. 

For two satisfying minutes the hot water beat onto his face, and he turned around slowly to get the rest of his body wet, warm and clean.  ‘There’s a reason people live in houses,’ he thought as he started to scrub his face and body with a huge bar of soap.  With his eyes closed, he ducked his head back under the shower and let it linger there.  After the soap rinsed off his face, he bent his head back, lifted his nose over the water and took in a deep breath of air. 

That’s when her scent overwhelmed him.  A mix of perfume and soap blended in with the smell of his ex-wife and made his knees buckle.  His lips stretched out into a wide smile and he took in another, much deeper breath; accepting and surrendering to the comfortable feelings that Linda could inspire in him.  ‘It’s been too long,’ he thought, enjoying her smell and taking in an even deeper breath.  He chuckled to himself, very happy with the moment, but then almost immediately regretted the inspired surge of feelings.

He looked down and frowned.

Shoving his head fully back under the shower, he bobbed his face in and out of the stream with the hope of ridding himself of his ex-wife’s scent.  It didn’t work, though, and as he quickly soaped up and started rinsing off the rest of his body, he worried about what Linda would think if she caught him ready for action.

He turned off the hot faucet with the hopes of calming things down, when suddenly the cold water spurted out in full force and caused him to jump.  “Ahh!” he let out as he stepped back shivering.  He looked at the cold stream of water, and could hear and feel his heart pounding in his chest.  “Damn,” he muttered under his breath as he remembered the only shower that he had taken in the last four days was nothing more than a cold-water spigot.  Gritting his teeth he prepared for the worst as he ducked his body back under the water.  His heart thumped faster as he turned back and forth to rinse the remaining soap off of his body. 

As the last suds swirled down the drain, he twisted the shower switch off and let out a frustrated sigh.  “Damn,” he said again as he stepped out of the shower and pulled down a hanging towel to dry himself off.  Linda’s smell still surrounded him.

Trying not to think of her, he started to quickly dry himself off, attempting not to make things worse, and certainly not making things any better, when suddenly he heard his ex-wife ask, “Is everything all right in there?”

He didn’t know what to say.

“I thought I heard you cry out,” she said from behind the bathroom door.  “Is there a problem with the water pressure or something?  I talked to Jaime about that today, and he said he fixed it.”

He looked down with wide eyes and a reddening face.  “The water pressure is fine,” he stuttered.

“Are you decent in there?” she asked with a slight knock.

“More or less,” he said with a blushing face as he wrapped the towel around his waist and knotted it up strategically over his groin.

The door opened up slightly.  “Can I talk to you for a minute?” she asked in a soft voice as she opened the door wider.  “It’s about Gaby...”

He stood with his arms crossed over his chest, trying to appear casual and looking obviously uncomfortable.

“She seems to have had a marvelous time camping,” Linda said with a big smile.  “She told me she wants to become a forest ranger, live in a tent all year long, go fishing every day and build camp fires every night.  She wants to have a picnic tomorrow and eat outdoors all the time; even in the snow.  She really had a great time.”

He looked into his ex-wife’s eyes and smiled.  “That’s great for a kid who lives in the city huh,” he said.  “I bet she’ll be asking to go camping again next week.”

“Then I guess you’ll have to take her won’t you?” Linda said with a devilish grin as she stared at her ex-husband’s half-naked body and his uncomfortable looking stance.  She breathed in deeply and a blush came to her cheeks.  “You don’t mind going camping again, do you?”

“Well I would like to go some place with a little hot water,” he said with a sigh.  “But no, Gaby and I can go again in a few weeks.  If that’s what she wants to do, then of course we’ll go.”

“Well she definitely wants to go, and I don’t want to spend any time out in the cold,” Linda said as she walked toward the long bathroom mirror, brushing her hip against her ex-husband’s thigh.  She looked closely at the mirror and breathed heavily onto it.  “You sure the hot water is working all right?” she asked as she noticed that her breath didn’t fog up the mirror.

For a moment he didn’t say anything.  His eyes were riveted on his ex-wife.  “What’s Gaby doing?” he asked as he looked at the closed bathroom door.

“She’s sitting with a bowl of Captain Crunch, watching a ‘Rugrats’ special that I taped for her last night,” his ex-wife said as she put her right palm on his chest and traced it slowly down the full length of his upper body.  “It lasts for an hour, and sometimes she likes to watch it twice.”

He stared into her big brown eyes for a second, and heard her say, “You’re a good father.”  Then she reached up and pulled her shirt over her head.  “I want you,” she said as her arms reached around him in a tight embrace that he returned with equal force.  Her mouth reached up to his and they kissed slowly, their lips moving tenderly against one another and their tongues pressing gently forward.  As she unwrapped his towel, he reached around her back to unclasp her lacy bra.  He pulled her even closer as his left hand slid down and around to the front of her body.

Her right hand stroked the full length of his penis, and as he caressed her right breast with his left thumb and fingers, their kisses became deeper and more passionate.  Together they reached down to struggle with her cut-off shorts and panties.

“I need you,” he said through a deep breath as he slid his fingers into her.

“And I need you,” she moaned as both of her hands grabbed forcefully onto his shoulders.

As she wrapped her thighs around his waist, he grabbed her hard, smooth ass in both hands, holding her up easily.  She clutched her arms tighter around his back, and slowly they squirmed against one another to find the right connection.  As their bodies twisted and rubbed against one another they finally became one.

“Oh,” he groaned with undisguised pleasure as he sank into her.  She smiled at the sound and clung even tighter to him.  Taking in short, quick breaths, her shoulder muscles strained as she tried to pull herself up over his head.  She could only get so far though, and she then sank back down onto him with an even bigger smile. As he steadied her with his left hand and caressed her back with his right, she purposely pulled herself up again; creating a greater friction between them.

“Oh!  That’s right!” she sighed with soft encouragement as he helped lift and rub her body against his.  She squeezed her legs tighter around his waist, gaining more leverage to help increase the friction and intensity of their combined movements.  For several minutes, they rocked up and down together, groaning now and then as their lips pulled at each others’ face, neck and shoulders.  As the rocking increased in intensity, her face moved away from his and their lips quivered with labored breathing and longer sighs.  Another minute passed and he started to sway on his feet as his knees bent under the increased tension that he felt erupting in him. 

“Keep going,” she whispered as her arms squeezed even tighter around his back.  Then suddenly he fell back against the edge of the sink. “Yes!” she grunted, and suddenly his face contorted as he pushed the small of her back closer to his pelvis.

“That’s it!” she moaned, and he loudly agreed with her.  Toothbrushes, makeup and a can of hair spray clattered to the floor as they clung even closer together.  “Oh!” they let out almost simultaneously as they both edged sloppily onto the top of the sink.  Together they pulled on to one another in one final, intimate embrace that resulted in a nearly simultaneous climax.

“Oh!!” they both moaned as the strength and sound of their panting increased with the release of their orgasms.  Their hands and arms fumbled against each others’ bodies as they struggled to draw each other even closer together.  Their tense faces flushed red with sexual pleasure, and for one very long second they felt like they were the only two people in the world.

They stayed in that tight embrace and clung to one another for a few minutes as their breathing eased and their hearts slowed.  Finally, he pulled his chin gently off her shoulder and looked into her dark brown eyes.  “I love you,” he said as he felt her damp thighs squeeze around his waist.  They kissed each other tenderly and she hugged him tightly around the chest.  The moment lingered as he lifted their bodies off the edge of the sink.

“I’m glad you’re so strong,” she said with a smile as he held her up. 

He stared back into her eyes and thought he was in heaven.  He knew the feeling wouldn’t last, but for one precious moment he closed his eyes, wrapped his arms tightly around her back and prayed that it would.

It didn’t.

“Hey, cabrón!” the shorter man said into the long, dark silence.  “I thought you were worried about watching the instruments?”

“Huh?” the taller man asked, and for two seconds he didn’t know where he was.

“Cabrón, it’s been thirty-five minutes,” the shorter man.  “You didn’t fall asleep on me did you?”

“No,” he said with embarrassment as he regained his bearings.  “Just thinking.”

“Well we’re almost at the drop site.  So why don’t you give me a hand landing this hunk of junk?”

“This hunk of junk makes us a bundle,” the taller man said with a smirk as he focused his jumbled thoughts on the instruments.  “I’ve come to love this plane almost as much as I lov...”

WWHHOOOOSSHH

The whole world changed.  From out of the dark skies a mammoth roar erupted from less than forty feet off of their starboard side.  A tremendous force simultaneously stalled out the plane and hurtled it forcefully toward the ground.

“Jesus Christ!!” the taller man screamed as the shorter man let out a frantic “Dios mío!!”

Both men’s eyes grew wide in shock and horror as they lunged for the controls, and for five very long seconds their lives shrank down to keeping their plane from becoming a burning hunk of scrap metal.  Only when they reached a safe and level altitude did either man ease his grip on the controls.  Slowly they turned to one another.  Their panicky eyes spoke volumes.

“Damn!” the shorter man said, more to himself than to his partner.  “What are we going to do!?”

The taller man took a moment to think over a very short list of options and grimaced.  “Let’s land, forget about Gutierrez’s cocaine and get the fuck out of Dodge!” he said in loud and nearly panicky English.

The shorter man started to nod in uncertain agreement, but then it became clear to him that the near collision was neither accidental nor ignored by the other pilot.  An F-16 flew right in front of them.

For another second the two men stared at each other with the same ‘we’re fucked’ expression.  Hesitantly the shorter man switched on the radio.

“... follow me in for a landing or prepared to be shot down,” a woman’s voice said, first in English and then in Spanish.

The pilot started to repeat her message when the shorter man clicked on a switch to reply.  “Affirmative,” he said in accented English.  “We will follow you in for a landing.”

By the time the pilot started her terse radio instructions for an immediate landing, the taller man was out of his seat and in the cargo hold.  He opened the front outer hatch and with unnatural speed started throwing out large, sealed packets of cocaine.  As the plane started its descent he continued to throw away millions of dollars into the early morning sky.

For a second the shorter man smiled at his friend’s ingenuity and at the idea of Gutierrez having a heart attack with the loss of his merchandise.  If that asshole had given them bad information that was the least he deserved.  The buyer should want Gutierrez’s ass in a sling too.

When he turned back to the horizon, the shorter man’s smile disappeared and his face went blank.  In the distance two United States’ military helicopters hovered in formation, waiting for their arrival.  “What the hell is going on?” he asked himself as he noticed a lot of people standing on a makeshift airfield.  He didn’t doubt for a second that they would all be well armed.

As the plane hit the ground, the taller man stopped throwing packets of cocaine out of the plane and closed the hatch.  In less than seventy seconds, he had thrown over two thousand pounds of cocaine onto the Texas countryside.  It wasn’t enough.  With almost one thousand pounds still in the hold, he knew he would be going to jail for a very long time.  He moved into the cockpit to see if they had any chance of escape.

The shorter man turned to him with an ashen face as their plane rolled across a sandy field.  Over two dozen people with heavy weapons were coming out of the helicopters to meet them.

“Son of a bitch!” the taller man yelled.

“What the hell is going on?” the shorter man asked himself again.  “They got enough firepower out there to take over Mexico.  What the hell are they expecting from us?”

“I am not going to jail,” the taller man said as the plane came to a complete stop.  “These bastards are not going to find out who I am and ruin Linda and Gaby’s lives.  I’ll kick the shit out of all of them before that happens.”

The shorter man nodded at his friend and then stared at the incoming troops.  He walked over to the hatch.  “You think you can take them?” he asked with a completely straight face.

For a second the taller man said nothing.  His expression of panicky anger subsided and was replaced with a quiet and very determined look.  “Remember the plan if things go bad.”

The shorter man nodded in agreement.  He lit a match and walked over to the rest of the cocaine.

“Good idea,” the taller man said.

The sun broke over the horizon just as someone started pounding on the hatch.


The Scumbag, Chapter 1

 

The taller man ran even though he knew he didn’t have a popsicle’s chance in hell of escaping.

His legs pumped like turbines and before his watchdogs knew what hit them, he was around a corner and out of sight.  He didn’t stop.  He sprinted hard and fast at something over forty miles per hour.  He had tried running away before, but they had always tracked him down in twenty minutes or less.  He figured they had some kind of transmitting device planted on him, and he didn’t know what it was or how to get around it.  That didn’t matter, though, he wanted some time alone.  So he ran as fast as he could, trying to break his previous record of forty-six miles per hour.  For once he ignored the stares of gawkers as he swerved around moving cars and frightened people.  After two and a half minutes and a bit over eighteen blocks he figured he had finally gotten far enough away to gain a few minutes of privacy.  He slowed to a walk and looked for a phone.

‘Kaching’ rang the bells on the door as he ducked into a small, dumpy bodega somewhere on 12th Avenue.  “Sale!  Ya, ahora!” he screamed at a lady behind the counter.

The young woman, probably no more than a teenager, just stared at him with a pissed off, quiet, ‘chinga su madre’ kind of look.  No doubt she had been threatened lots of times before, and she wasn’t about to be moved by any screaming blue-eyed Mexican son of a bitch.  Particularly by one who didn’t even have a gun. 

She reached down to grab something from behind the register. 

“Get the fuck out,” he said in a quiet, gruff tone.

He didn’t have, and usually wasn’t trusted to carry a gun, so he didn’t expect her to take off just because he said so.  Still, as one of the second or third strongest people he or JUSTICE knew of or had even heard about, he had the potential to get somebody’s attention.  Forcefully, and a little painfully, he smashed his fist onto the counter, and shattered the laminated wood upwards in twenty-three different directions.  If this cubana thought she was the shit, the damaged counter top changed her mind instantly.  Like most people who saw the extraordinary, she decided she needed some distance to get her thoughts back together.   She completely forgot about her reputation or picking up whatever lay behind that counter to protect her family’s little store, and ran her wide ass out onto the street and right down the block.

“Sorry about the counter, chica, but I need to make a call.  I’m sure my bosses will pay for any damages.  Hell, they should even pay for the call.”  Of course she had already left, but like any good Catholic boy he felt a little confession, even if unheard, was good for the soul.  After rubbing his aching hand for a few seconds he stepped over the counter to find the phone.  Reaching beneath some laminated shards of counter, he grabbed the receiver and started dialing a long distance number that he knew by heart.

While waiting for the call to connect, he couldn’t avoid the paranoia that slowly but surely crept up on him.  He stared out the window, checking the street for three well-dressed and heavily armed people walking in his direction.  He wondered if he should have said no to that extensive but unfortunately necessary dental work he had gotten when he first started out with JUSTICE.  ‘How the hell do you get a GPS unit out of your mouth?’ he thought.  Luckily, before the paranoia made him rip out his teeth, somebody picked up the phone.

“Hallo,” said Adreana Calderon.

“Hallo Adreana, cómo estás, nena?  Es tu ‘tío’,” he said.  He wasn’t actually her uncle, but he had known her family since before she was born, and had even spent a Holy Week or two with them.  

“Tío!  Ay qué bueno a oirte.  Estoy bien, pero...”  Before the chiquita could start rattling on about how her sister, Maria José, was being a pain and how the rest of her life was going, he cu      t her off and asked to speak to her father, one of his few friends, and one of the very few people he trusted in the world.  Looking nervously at his watch tick away thirteen seconds, he heard Adreana reluctantly give the phone to her father.  He smiled as he heard Juan Calderon Portillo gently but forcefully tell Adreana to leave the room so he could talk to ‘her tío’ in private.

“Liberatador, cómo estás?” Calderon asked.  Regardless of time constraints, speaking in Spanish almost always meant allowing for certain niceties that most North Americans would never understand.  Despite knowing that he had little time to talk, Calderon truly wanted to know how he was.

He was tongue-tied.  He thought he had gotten used to being called Liberator.  For the last several years, almost everybody, except those closest to him, called him by that alias.  Calderon was one of the few who regularly used his real name.  Hearing ‘Liberator’ out of Calderon’s mouth reminded him of the shitty situation he was in.  Still it was better to hear Liberator than to have JUSTICE figure out his real name.

“I’ve been better,” Liberator said in a low voice.  “Much better.  These JUSTICE bastards might not know who I really am, but they’ve still got me on a short leash and they keep trying to get me killed.  A couple of weeks ago they had us in Antarctica doing some crazy shit you wouldn’t believe.  Not to mention I froze my balls off in that cold.  I figure they’re just trying to get their money’s worth, but the fucking bastards keep sending me to the hospital.  What about you and Donna, though?  Adreana sounded fine, but have those bastards been keeping an eye on your ass and screwing up your family life?”

“Everything is fine here,” Calderon said with a confidence that Liberator was unsure of. “We’ve had to make some adjustments, but the girls barely notice it and Donna is doing well.  The boys know most of what’s going on, but they’re too eager with growing up and looking at the girls to care too much just yet.  And those JUSTICE bastards are definitely looking us up, down and all around.  They got a car across the street twenty-four hours a day, and the local police seem to be giving them a hand.  I’m just about ready to invite them in for dinner.  Of course we cut down on the spending, but the kids and Donna aren’t complaining.  We have everything we need and a bit more.  You’re welcome down here any time you want.  You know that don’t you, cabrón?”

Liberator paused for a second, thinking that he wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.

“Did you get that financial shit straightened out?” Liberator asked, hoping Juan wouldn’t press him on any subjects he didn’t want to talk about.

“Yes, it took about a week to get through all the legal red tape, and to avoid our buddies in JUSTICE, but the money’s securely in Linda’s account.  She and the baby won’t have problems paying any of their bills.   Hell, they even bought their own three-bedroom condo.”

“That’s good.  Hearing they’re safe takes a load off my mind.”  Liberator’s eyes brightened with the news.  “Thanks for doing that.”

“Well I’m glad I can still make you smile, but maybe you’re being too nice to your ex-wife.  I mean...”

“Damn it, Juan!” Liberator interrupted.  “I don’t give a shit about the differences Linda and I have!  There is NO WAY my baby is going to have a shitty childhood because of her papi!  You know what a bastard my father is, and I am not going to see that kind of shit happen with my daughter!  Right now I can’t be with her, but at least I can give my baby some money, and that’s what I’m doing!  Besides what am I going to do with all of that cash sitting in the bank anyway?!  JUSTICE pays for everything from the fucking doctors to my cigarettes!” Liberator flicked an unfiltered Camel out of his pocket and put it on the edge of his lower lip.  “Hell, they even buy me the occasional bottle of rum.”

“That may be true, but giving all of your money to Linda leaves you penniless.  Someday you will get out of this mess you’re in and then what are you going to do?  I don’t think you want to be homeless.”

“I’m not going anywhere anytime soon,” Liberator said as he lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply.

“When you do get out, and I know it’ll happen, cabrón, you’re going to need to do something with yourself.  And while you’re welcome to stay here, you might also want to think about what you want to do with the rest of your life.  I talked to Ricardo, and he said he could set you up with a good job back in New York.”

A moment of silence passed as Liberator stared out the window thinking that he might have a future again someday.

“Is it legal?”

“It involves security and research.  I think it’s some kind of private investigation work and protecting people.  I think you’d be providing people protection.  Knowing Ricardo the money is going to be good.”

“It is legal, Juan?” Liberator asked again.

“Well, you know how that Cuban bastard works,” Juan said with a chuckle that Liberator had grown to hate in the last 7 months.  “It’s always more or less legal when it comes to his business.”

“That’s not funny, Juancho!” Liberator spit into the phone.  His grip tightened dangerously on the receiver.  “I had more or less cut down on that kind of shit, and then when I stick my foot really deep into the pool again, I get my ass dragged all the way in.  I know you got fucked too, but I’m the guy getting reamed with all of this secret agent bullshit, while your freedom is just being held over my head.  In the last seven months I’ve almost been killed a dozen times, all because you and me listened to some bullshit about one last fucking job so we could retire by the pool with cuba libres in hand.”

Calderon had heard this speech before, and while it brought up his own anger of getting caught and being held hostage, he didn’t say a word in his defense. They both sat there as ninety-seven seconds of uncomfortable silence passed between them.  Liberator drew on his cigarette and looked at his watch.  Talking about what got him into JUSTICE didn’t help his mood.  And while he knew that he wasn’t anywhere near the smartest guy in the world, he thought that screaming at a friend like Calderon was a stupid thing to do.  Calderon had helped him a lot in the past, and he couldn’t forget that. 

“Look,” Calderon said.  “Once you get out you can stay with us if you like.  My home is your home. You know that.  It’s always been that way.  Donna and the kids love you, and I love you too.  Something will happen and you’ll get out of this mess.  Before you know it we’ll be drinking rum and staring at the sunset.”

Another seven seconds passed.

“You got everything taken care of with the money, right?” Liberator asked as he got another Camel from his shirt pocket.

“Yeah, of course.  An account has been set up for Linda under her name, and only she or the baby has access to it.  I got them in a different location than where they were before.  It’s something I can tell you when you get out of this mess.  You should see the ba...”

“Good.  That’s great.”  Not wanting to hear too much, Liberator cut Calderon off.  It depressed him to think about his family too much.  “You did me a big favor, cabrón.  I appreciate it.  Now I don’t have...”

“Don’t worry, I owe you about a thousand more favors for the shit you’re going through right now,” Calderon said.  “After you got my ass out of those bastards’ hands, I owe you the world.”

“You don’t owe me shit, Juan, and you know it.  You pulled my ass out of the fire twice before. You buy me a cuba libre and we’ll call it even.”

Another moment of silence stabbed into the phone conversation, and Liberator looked down at his watch again.  His lips tightened on his cigarette as he contemplated the danger and isolation of ‘working’ for JUSTICE.  He took off his sunglasses and wiped away some sweat from his face.

“Then you think you can find a way out?”

Liberator could practically see Calderon’s guilty face as he heard those words.

The bells on the door rang again, and three well dressed, and Liberator knew, well-armed JUSTICE agents entered the bodega.  None of his personal watchdogs seemed very happy to see him on the phone or to see the damaged counter top.

“Things are going to be all right, cabrón.  I know it.  Things can’t get worse, can they?” Calderon asked.

A short man, his nose bent to one side from his first encounter with Liberator, one Peter Rosenberg, pulled a pistol out from under his jacket and pointed it nonchalantly at Liberator’s head.  “Please put the phone down now, Liberator,” Rosenberg said with an annoying, authoritative tone that carried over from his days as a New York assistant district attorney.

Liberator smirked at the three agents, put on his sunglasses and motioned for another minute of privacy.

“No, cabrón, things can’t get worse,” Liberator said with an optimistic tone and an equally fake smile.  “I’ll find a way out, and then you can buy me that drink.  Look, I’ve got to go.  Send my love to Donna and the girls, and don’t let Rafael and Jaime get out of control eh.”

“Damn, they’ve caught up with you again huh?”

“Nos vemos eh.”

“Sí, nos vemos, y ten cuidado.”

“Tú también, cabrón.  Tú también.” 

Liberator hung up the phone and looked at his watch for the last time.  So much for eighteen blocks and twelve minutes of privacy.  He needed to figure out how these bastards kept tabs on him.  Lighting another cigarette and still smirking at the three agents, he said. “Damn you guys got here quick.  How you doing?”

The three frustrated agents sighed in unison at the question heard all too often.

“I wouldn’t count on seeing anybody anytime soon, Liberator,” Benjamin Dickens said with a frown.  “You’ve got four and a half years left before you’ll be sharing beers with that Mexican smuggler you love to talk to.  And if you think that running away from us to make a phone call is going to give you a little privacy, think again.  We’ve got Calderon’s place under so much surveillance he couldn’t sneeze without us saying ‘salud’.  You can’t get away from JUSTICE that easily, bud.” 

Liberator thought Benjamin Dickens was an asshole too, but at least he laughed when Liberator told people how he had broken Rosenberg’s nose.

“You know, Benjy, I really appreciate you telling me that the best I can do for a drinking buddy is to hang out with one of you bastards.”

“Hey tranquilo, okay, cabrón?  Aside from having to run over half of Miami to catch up to you; we’re doing all right,” Juliana Salinas Marquez said.  She treated Liberator civilly.  It was true that she had blown a hole in his chest when they had first met, but since then she had shown Liberator more respect than any other JUSTICE agent had.  She was definitely wrapped too tightly for Liberator’s tastes, but he guessed being part of a secret government agency would do that to a person.

“Well, I’m sorry to hear you kids had to do a little work today,” Liberator said.  “I’m glad to hear everything is all right now.”

“Look, Liberator, why don’t you stop this running around and call your friend with one of our phones?  Ben’s correct when he says that we have Calderon’s house under widespread surveillance. It would save us both a lot of time and hassle, and you would get better treatment from us.  We might even be able to get you some time for personal visits to friends and family,” Rosenberg said as he put his pistol back into its shoulder holster.

“That’s mighty sweet of you, Petey, but with the treatment I’ve received, I don’t trust you bastards all that much.  I think I’ll just keep doing things my way.”

With those words Dickens stared at Liberator like he was from another planet.  “Let me get this straight,” he said.  “We’ve walked into several dangerous and violent situations with bullets flying at us from all directions.  We’ve covered your ass and put our lives in danger to protect you and you still don’t trust us?”  He shook his head.  “Damn, man, that’s the kind of messy shit that makes survivors love each other.  After that kind of situation how can you not trust us?”

“Well, Benjy,” Liberator snickered, “since I basically don’t have much choice in getting shot at, I don’t think trust is the word I’d use in describing our relationship.  You’ve covered my ass, that’s true.  But then again you’re the one who threw my ass into the fire and watched it get burned as you covered me.”

Dickens sighed, wondering why he even bothered to try any more.

“For someone who is hitting middle age, Benjy, you can sure be a dumb fuck,” Liberator said.  At thirty-six, Dickens already felt sensitive about the few gray hairs he had. Liberator loved getting under Dickens’ skin, and smirking even more, he took another triumphant drag on his cigarette.  “Even Petey, over here with that stupid fucked up attitude, has more of a clue than you do, pal.”

Dickens shut his mouth.  He was used to giving and taking this kind of verbal abuse from Liberator, but today he felt like he was receiving a little too much of it.

“Look, boys, can we stop the kindergarten antics?  I’ve got better things to do than watch you two get catty,” Salinas said.  “Let’s try and remember why we’re here and go rescue Tim Novak.  We’re pretty sure we know where he’s being held, so let’s get our act together and get him home.”

The three agents focused on Liberator as his smirk slowly disappeared.

“Damn,” Liberator muttered under his breath.  He knew Salinas was right.  Admittedly, he had done some bad stuff in his day, but he didn’t like to see kids get hurt.  Besides, Liberator knew the scary son of a bitch kidnapper from the old days.  Nobody should have to suffer with that bastard. No matter how much he didn’t like his situation Liberator couldn’t just stand by and let this kid suffer.  “Okay, sorry for the wait.”

“Damn right you should be sorry,” Dickens said as he started for the door.

As he followed his watchdogs out of the bodega, Liberator noticed that the girl who had run out of the store was now talking to two cops in a patrol car across the street.  Her expression still held onto the shock and fear of seeing something unusual in her everyday life.

Rosenberg eyed the girl and the cops.

“Yeah, Petey, we need to get some cash to pay for the counter, the call and some cigarettes,” Liberator said with a renewed smirk.  “Can you manage it?”

All three of the JUSTICE agents glared at him.  Yet all Liberator could think about was that he didn’t really give a shit what they thought.

 


Chapter 2

 

Whether it was due to General Dexter Arnold’s budget cuts or just bad luck, the apartments and offices that JUSTICE used as stakeout posts tended to be pretty shabby.  This one had dusty gray walls and carpeting covered with a dark brown film.  Beneath the streaked and hazy windows a rickety table barely managed to hold a radio, an electronic microphone, two sniper rifles and an almost empty box of Dunkin Donuts.  They had to put the extra set of binoculars and the huge thermos under the table.  That wouldn’t have been so bad except that whenever they bent down to get some coffee they suffered from the carpet’s scent of sour milk and rotten potatoes.  Only the working toilet and the not too lumpy couch made this apartment in an abandoned building better than their last stakeout location.

“Not living in the lap of luxury today are we, Juliana?” Rosenberg asked as he continued his three plus hours of pacing around the small apartment.

Salinas looked up from her binoculars.  “Peter, staking out in these rat traps gives me a finer appreciation for my one bedroom in Alexandria.  Whenever I get to spend any time there I feel like I’m queen of the castle.”

Rosenberg stopped pacing and much to Salinas’ relief finally sat down in the second chair, picked up the extra set of binoculars, and pointed them at one of the many apartments in the building across 15th Avenue.  Rosenberg peered through the electronic lenses and spotted seven of the nine kidnappers sitting around the main room watching the Price Is Right and drinking Busch beer.  It didn’t make him feel any better that the kidnappers’ apartment appeared even dumpier than the one he sat in.  His nearly continuous frown stemmed from the fact that the nine kidnappers had not once all been together in the main room.  As soon as that happened, Liberator and Dickens’ team would kick some felon ass, rescue the kid and then they could all go home.  “How close have we come to all of them being in the main room?” he asked.

Salinas stood up, stretched and sighed.   For the first time in three hours and seven minutes she was not hunched over, straining her eyes through a set of binoculars to look at another crappy apartment.  “Thirty-five minutes ago everybody but the fat one sat or stood in front of the TV.  They’re keeping a careful watch over the kid,” she said through a yawn.  “I guess if I had Senator Novak’s son in my hands I’d want to keep a close eye on him too.”

Staring into the binoculars, Rosenberg focused on Tim Novak.  The teenager sat crunched up into a ball with his right arm held tightly in a handcuff connected to the piping under the sink.  Tearstains streaked his otherwise blank face, but the kidnapper sitting on the toilet showed more concern for his People magazine than for the kid.  Near the bathroom a woman reading the Miami Herald also showed less than motherly concern.

“Do you think it’s just a matter of time before they leave him alone in that bathroom?” Rosenberg asked.

“The kid’s got to take a shit some time, Peter, and when that happens, I’ll bet he gets a bit of privacy, and we get the opportunity to take some names.” 

“Let’s hope that pizza they gave him for lunch will do the trick.”

Salinas threw down a leaking jelly donut. “Maybe he should have had some of these donuts,” she said and poured her third cup of coffee for the day.

“The coffee’s pretty good, though.  General Arnold might be trimming the budget, but I’m glad to see he doesn’t skip on quality caffeine for his agents,” Rosenberg said.

Salinas nodded, sipped at her coffee and started her own pacing around the tiny apartment, staring not just at the filthy rug, but also at the matching walls.  The tedium of these watches wore on everyone.  For her, staying awake, alert and ready for action was the hardest part of a stakeout.  The actual rescue would be dangerous and exciting, but with almost nothing to do but wait, it became a test of endurance simply not to fall asleep.

“So, Peter, do you think Liberator is going to keep pulling those mini-escapes to make his little phone calls?”  Salinas hoped a conversation about JUSTICE’s most talked about operative would spark enough interest to help keep both sets of eyes open.  Everybody had something to say about the man, and she knew that Rosenberg had an opinion about pretty much everything, particularly Liberator.

“It’s pointless that he even thinks he can get some privacy by running away,” Rosenberg said as he stared into the binoculars.  “We have Calderon’s residence under strict electronic surveillance.  Nothing Liberator says to him by telephone isn’t heard, recorded and analyzed.  I don’t understand why he doesn’t just make the calls more conveniently on our own telephones.  He could take as long as he wanted, avoid scaring civilians and stop destroying private property.”  He sighed.  “Best of all we wouldn’t have to keep tracking him down.  All that running around is damn annoying.”

“Yeah,” Salinas muttered as she glared at Rosenberg with a jilted frown.  ‘So much for the idea of a conversation,’ she thought.  Looking out the window at something other than the very familiar apartment, she took another sip of coffee.

Not noticing his partner’s frustration, Rosenberg picked up the radio and asked.  “Is everything ready over there?” he looked at Salinas with a slight smile and an exasperated shake of his head as he imagined the argument that ensued just to answer his simple question.  Considering their mixture of breaking balls and real fighting, he was surprised Liberator hadn’t broken Dickens’ nose yet too.  Not surprisingly it took more than a minute for Dickens to respond with a testy affirmative.

With that answer Salinas suddenly stopped looking at the people on the street and turned toward Rosenberg.  “Do you think we’ll ever find out who he really is?” She paused.  “So we can get better control over him?”

“Juliana, it seems to me that all of our surveillance on Liberator and his buddy Calderon is not going to provide us with Liberator’s real name or anything else that might lead us to gaining greater influence over his behavior.  Sure we know he has a family, and that he lived in the New York area for the last several years.  Yet even with this information we have about zero chance of finding his ex-wife or anything else to hold over his head.  Hell, I have an ex-sister-in-law named Linda who lives somewhere in Brooklyn, but because she has gotten remarried and lives in an area the size of a small country, I have no idea what her street address or phone number are.  And since my brother isn’t paying alimony, I don’t think he knows either.  I think that since we failed to discover any useful information on Liberator seven months ago, we’ll never find anything useful on him now.  It’s a case of too little too late.  I know that General Arnold wants to use Liberator’s enhanced physical abilities to advance the work of JUSTICE, and what he wants he usually gets, but maybe it’s time to accept that we won’t uncover anything new about the man.  Maybe it’s time to change our tactics.”

Salinas’ face tightened up as Rosenberg again lectured with his usual authoritative style. Even hunched over with his face hidden behind the binoculars, his tone and mannerisms reminded her how much she disliked talking to attorneys.  Particularly when they were wrong.

“You may be right, Peter, but I doubt it,” she said.  “I think there’s a very good chance that we’ll uncover something useful about him.  Eventually we’ll pick up some scumbag who knew him before he ‘became’ Liberator.  People from his past must be out there, and I’m willing to bet they would speak up in a minute for a plea bargain.  That’s how we can get the goods on him, and that’s how we can keep him in our pocket.”

“Ms. Salinas,” Rosenberg said as he put the binoculars down and looked right at her with an intense stare that broke out into an easy going smile.  “With reasoning like that you’d make a great lawyer.”

“Ha ha. I’ll settle for a simple promotion,” she said.  “I’ve met too many asshole lawyers at the Bureau to want to waste three years of my life joining that club.  Besides I want to do the right thing, not just represent the best interests of my client.  It’s called ethics, remember?”

“Yes, I do believe I remember that word from somewhere,” Rosenberg said with a feigned expression of pain.  “And believe it or not, it seems our friend Liberator knows about them too.  I would guess he isn’t a lawyer, but did you hear how he was ‘sorry’ about not hurrying to save this kid?”  

“Yeah. So?”

“So, I think this guy really has some kind of moral fiber,” Rosenberg said.  “It is no doubt deep down inside of him, but it is there.  Remember from what we know of his reputation.  Although still a narcotrafficker, he did substantially cut down on the smuggling a few years ago.  And although he is certainly no saint, perhaps his line about doing one last job and then retiring is the real thing.  Like everyone else, I thought that story was bullshit from the beginning, but now I look at what has happened in the last seven months and I think it just might be true.  Maybe he is a reformed bad guy?  He did save both of our lives in Antarctica, and he has risked his neck for JUSTICE another dozen times in the last seven months.  Today he even felt remorse about not helping Tim Novak.  Maybe we were right about this guy in the beginning, but maybe he has changed in the past seven months.  Who knows?  Regardless, I believe it’s time to reevaluate our ideas about him and figure out a better way to make him work not just for us, but with us as well.”

“Yeah Peter, and maybe you need to get your head examined,” Salinas said. “I can’t believe you, a former assistant district attorney, would think a narcotrafficker could reform so easily.  I don’t care if he kisses babies and rescues cats from trees; he’s still a scumbag.   No matter what Liberator has done recently, he hasn’t given a shit about anybody for years.  Remember, this is a guy who brought cocaine and heroin to America’s streets.  The same cocaine that contributes to thousands of new crack babies a year.  And it wasn’t like a one-time deal.  He may have cut down on his business for the last few years, but by reputation alone Liberator has been around the world of narcotics for at least the last five or six years.  That last job line he laid on us is irrelevant bullshit, and the fact that you’re buying into it stinks.”

“Juliana, I’m not arguing that Liberator should be canonized, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put together a better kind of working relationship.  It’s obvious he has some ethics.”

“So what?  That doesn’t mean we can trust him.  This is the guy who has run off on us a couple of dozen times.  That doesn’t exactly engender trust.  He...”

“I’m not saying we can completely trust the man,” Rosenberg said.  “But he seems to be turning around.  He saved our lives when he didn’t have to.  We can’t expect that kind of continued behavior if we treat him like a criminal.  I don’t like putting my life in the hands of someone who feels exploited, and I don’t think you do either.”

“That’s not the point, Peter.  Liberator is a criminal.  And as such he cannot be given the trust that you’re talking about.”

“You mean Liberator was a criminal.  Now he works for us, and because of that we cannot continue to treat him like the criminal he was.”

“Do you trust this former drug smuggler to save your butt out of the goodness of his heart?” Salinas said with narrow eyes.

“No... not yet... but...”

For once Rosenberg was at a loss for words, and Salinas couldn’t help but appreciate the moment with a wide grin.  “But nothing, Peter.  Whether you’re playing stupid or just ignoring the obvious doesn’t matter.  Liberator is a bad guy, pure and simple.  Yes, he has been threatened, shot at, and even taken a few bullets for us in the last seven months, but he isn’t doing it because he’s been blessed by the Virgin Mary.  We have a gun to his head.  Perhaps more importantly we have a gun to his friend’s head.  Liberator knows that if he seriously fucks up again Calderon will be in a maximum-security prison within two hours, and Calderon’s family will be living on the streets of San Juan in less time than that.  That’s why Liberator does what we want, because we have him by the short hairs.”

“Maybe,” Rosenberg said.  “But wouldn’t it make more sense to build up some kind of trust with the man?  To ensure that whatever happens, we can count on Liberator to do the right thing?  Don’t you think that sooner or later the man is going to snap?  And when that happens, whether he is friends with Calderon or not, he is going to screw us over and take off on his own.  Earlier today Ben spoke of the usual trust that develops between people who share and survive the frightening experience of violence and combat.   You and I both trust each other implicitly in such situations.  Liberator doesn’t, and he is likely to say ‘fuck you’ to Ben, you or I if a situation really hits the fan. We got lucky in Antarctica, but that luck isn’t going to hold.  We cannot keep treating this man like a commodity.  He isn’t a machine, and someday he’s going to get really pissed off and release all of that anger on JUSTICE; particularly Ben, you and me.  And unlike you, I have experienced what somebody like Liberator can do.”  Rosenberg looked up from the binoculars and pointed to his ruined nose.

“That’s all true, Peter,” Salinas said.  “And maybe you should consider that the next time you pull a gun on him or yell at him.  Unlike you or Ben, I like to remain on Liberator’s good side and I give him some of the respect he thinks he deserves.  But I can’t say I will ever be able to completely trust him.  Liberator has been a professional criminal for far too long.  I’d say at least ten years.  With that kind of background what makes you think we have any realistic chance of trusting him?  I mean, as a prosecutor how many professional criminals would you have trusted with your life?  Besides if we find out where his mysterious ex-wife and daughter are, we can tighten the screws further and have even greater control over him.  It may not be a pleasant ethical situation, but unless you or somebody else comes up with a better idea, it’s the best we can do.”

Salinas looked down at an unusually quiet Rosenberg.  Another small, undiplomatic grin escaped from her lips.  It wasn’t often she won these debates with him, although perhaps the argument would continue another day.  After all, she thought, Peter did have some valid points.  In the long run Liberator might not care enough about Calderon.  In the last seven months his tone had certainly gotten angrier and angrier with his friend.  If Liberator finally lost his sense of loyalty to Calderon, then he would undoubtedly leave JUSTICE at the first chance he got.  If that happened she, Peter or Ben would likely get seriously hurt.  Either they had to figure a better way to keep him under control, or they had to establish a relationship of trust.  Salinas thought the better option was for JUSTICE to stamp him more firmly under their thumb, and her opinion was strong enough to shut up the usually argumentative Rosenberg.

“You want some coffee?” she asked into the uncomfortable silence, grabbing the big thermos to pour herself another cup.  Although more interesting than pacing, these debates took a lot out of her.

“No, no thanks.  I don’t want to get too hyper.”  For over a minute Rosenberg stared into his binoculars.  “So that nice guy treatment you have going with Liberator is mostly an act huh?”

Salinas paused for a second.  “Kind of,” she said.  “Like you say, Liberator has saved our lives; so for that reason I obviously like him.  Despite the fact that he is a criminal, it’s kind of hard not to like and respect somebody who pulls your ass out of the fire.  On the other hand he’s definitely a criminal and I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.  So I guess part of it’s an act and part of it’s real.”

Rosenberg looked up from his binoculars and turned to stare vacantly at one of the apartment’s dingy walls.

“Have you ever talked to him about your brother’s death?” Rosenberg asked. 

Salinas turned away from him and after a minute she started pacing around the shabby apartment again.  Waiting for nine people to simultaneously occupy the same room.  Hoping they’d hurry up so that the day would end, and she could be alone with her thoughts.

Dealing with the tension that his question had stirred, Rosenberg checked the rifles to see if they were ready to be used.  Of course they were fine.  To relieve some of her earlier boredom, Salinas had checked the rifles herself.  Sighing, Rosenberg reached over for the radio.  He thought it might be a good idea to check again on the readiness of the rescue team.

 


Chapter 3

 

“Are you ready?”  The radio squawked yet again with Rosenberg’s raspy voice.  This time even Dickens was annoyed with the question. 

When Rosenberg first radioed, Liberator and Dickens had gotten into a huge fight about whether or not they were ready.  For the last three hours Liberator, Dickens and ten other heavily armed agents had been sitting, standing and squatting in another shabby apartment, ready and waiting to run down the hall and rescue a Senator’s son.  To Liberator it seemed stupidly obvious that they were ready to rescue Tim Novak.  Who would even bother to ask such a question?

Then twelve minutes after the first call, Rosenberg radioed again with the same question.  Liberator was still pissed about the question, but Dickens, thinking that Rosenberg just cared about the operation, handled the query calmly and curtly.  By the third radio call Liberator chuckled calmly with Dickens and the others at Rosenberg’s hyper level of concern.   With the fourth call the humor had vanished for everyone.  Finally, with the fifth call, Dickens, like everyone else in the room, wanted to hurt Rosenberg in some way, shape or form.  Surprisingly, he managed to pick up the radio with a calm hand.

“Peter,” Dickens said.  “I really don’t care how bored you are.  Cut the crap and deal with it.  Your constant calling is starting to piss me off.  The next thing I want to hear out of this radio is that it’s time to rescue Tim Novak.”

Dickens clicked off the radio and waited nine seconds for an affirmative response.

“So you’re really pissed off huh?” Rosenberg asked with barely held back laughter.  “My calling you guys has gotten you and Liberator to agree on something huh?  Maybe you guys can use that hatred you’re currently feeling for me to stay focused on rescuing the kid, okay?”

Everybody in the apartment frowned with the same violent thoughts of smacking the now laughing Rosenberg upside the head.

“Yeah, Peter, that’s some great reverse psychology you’ve got going there,” Dickens said into the radio.  “Now cut the shit, and give us a call when they’re all in the main room.”

“Juliana thinks you two might be getting along well enough to finally accept those feelings you have going,” Rosenberg said with another chuckle.  “Maybe you guys could get a room or something?”

Liberator and the other agents joined Rosenberg in a long laugh, as Dickens stood there burning up.

“Fuck you, Petey,” Dickens said.

“Roger wilco, Benjamin,” Rosenberg said. “And remember to focus that anger on the bad guys, okay?  Rosenberg out.”

“Man this waiting is driving us all nuts,” Dickens said as he put down the radio.  “Peter sounds like an eight-year-old, and you and I are fucking agreeing on how annoying he can get, 007.”

“Don’t call me that,” Liberator said, and the smirk he had enjoyed due to Dickens’ discomfort faded with the 007 name.  He blew the last bit of smoke from his second to last cigarette in Dickens’ direction.

“Oh that’s right,” Dickens said between coughs.  “Only General Arnold can call you that, right?  And he gets away with it only because he’d throw you and Calderon’s ass in a cell if you blew smoke in his face.” 

A momentary silence filled the room as ten nervous agents shook their heads at the start of another argument.

“That’s right, Benjy,” Liberator said as his eyes hardened on the now smiling Dickens.  “I suppose if you could throw me or Juan into a cell you might be able to get away with it.  But since you’re nothing but a punk, you’re out of luck.” 

Liberator flicked his cigarette butt at Dickens, but as usual his aim went wide of the mark.

Dickens’ eyes followed the spent cigarette to the floor, and with a look of disdain he whispered, “You’re a fucking scumbag, Liberator.”

Every JUSTICE agent in the room stopped breathing for half a second and the few who had shared beers with Liberator prepared to save Dickens from the potential beating of a lifetime.

“I’m a scumbag, Benjy?” Liberator asked at the nearly inaudible words that everyone heard.  “You and your JUSTICE buddies throw me into the line of fire every couple of weeks, and I’m the scumbag?  You know, risking my life every week is a shitty thing to do!  It’s fucking slavery!  Seems if anyone is a scumbag it isn’t me!  It’s JUSTICE and you, you stupid fuck!”

A pause filled the air as the already high level of tension increased with the volume of Liberator’s words.

“Uh huh,” Dickens grunted, his finger in Liberator’s face.  “I’ve committed the last fifteen years of my life to fighting crime and protecting people, and I’m the scumbag?  In case you hadn’t noticed, Liberator, you could and probably should be in prison.  For the last ten years or so, you’ve smuggled all kinds of drugs into the U.S., right?  Last time I checked that was illegal.  In fact last time I checked that was the shit that screwed up thousands of users’ lives and contributed indirectly to the violent deaths of a lot of innocent people!  Even with the risks we’ve put you through, and you seem pretty healthy to me, I would say that JUSTICE and I are fucking angels compared to you!” 

While Dickens yelled back, Liberator focused on the tip of his finger.  Every agent in the apartment imagined it getting broken very soon. 

Instead Liberator sighed, and with a practiced ease, fished the last Camel out of his pocket and lit it with a disappointed satisfaction.  In the last several hours, Liberator and a few of the other JUSTICE agents had shared three packs of Camels that he had taken from the bodega that morning.  Unfortunately, after this smoke he was out of cigarettes.  Stepping very close to Dickens, Liberator released a big cloud of smoke in his face, enjoying both the surge of nicotine that he loved, and the smoke that Dickens hated.

“Benjy, I didn’t do anything that the American public didn’t ask for.  All that marijuana, coke and heroin that I flew over the border got eagerly smoked, snorted or shot up in a big hurry.  Americans have been demanding all of that shit for the last thirty years, and businessmen like myself have simply been providing what they wanted.  It’s called the laws of economics.  I would think that a college boy like yourself would understand something like that.  If providing a good that Americans want makes me a scumbag, then I suppose you would have to call lots of American businessmen scumbags huh?”

“Just the ones that are dealing dope,” Dickens said, stifling a cough.

“I suppose that would include all the bastards that have made millions of illegal dollars, but have since contributed their way into being legitimate businessmen huh?” Liberator asked.  “For instance, in the 1920s and 30s, JFK’s father, Joe, he made a lot of bucks running liquor during prohibition.  Is he on your scumbag list?”

“Yes, Liberator, he is,” Dickens said.  “And I don’t give a shit if the man gave millions to charity, and helped produce one of the best presidents this country has ever seen.  He was a scumbag, and if he were alive today I’d throw his criminal ass in jail.

“That is a bunch of shit, Benjy, and you know it,” Liberator said with snort.  “Anybody who has the right amount of cash could move around a punk like you with hardly any effort at all.  With barely any money I’ve bought off dozens of cops and customs officials to get my shit to the buyer.  And it didn’t just happen south of the border, Benjy.  Lots of cops in the good old U.S.A., including some of your buddies in the DEA and up, have been on the payroll of some big time vice lords.  You think you’re making a difference, pal, but all that work you’re doing is just a waste of time.  Instead of hitting me with your holier than thou bullshit maybe you should start making some bucks on the side.  A little corruption might help you get some future hair replacements.”

Dickens flinched and turned to Liberator.

“In fact, Benjy, maybe you should just think about totally giving up on your tired drug war,” Liberator said with an even larger smirk as Dickens’ features tightened.  “I might not be Albert Einstein or Alex Trebeck, but shit, even I can tell that the damn thing is doing nothing but wasting money, spreading violence throughout American cities, breeding lots of corruption in Latin America and the U.S., and making millionaires out of vice lords on both sides of the Rio Grande.  Worse for you, the price of blow and smack has dropped like a rock, and the amount of users has barely gone down.  It’s great if you want to stop people from using, but believe me, cutting off their supply isn’t going to work.  Someone will always be there to sell them a hit.  Instead of blaming Colombians and Mexicans for producing the stuff, you and all your JUSTICE buddies should look at who’s buying it.  Because pretending that regular Americans aren’t using isn’t solving the problem.  Your little ‘war on drugs’ hasn’t worked at all.  So maybe you should just legalize the shit and then y...”

“Liberator, you read some fucking books and all of the sudden you’ve got the drug problem solved.  What bullshit!” Dickens said.  “Drugs hurt people, and regardless of whatever kind of economic or sociological tripe you want to spit out, that’s what the drug war is all about.  I’ve seen addicts destroy their own lives and the lives of those around them.  The drug war is not about blaming Latin America for producing cocaine and heroin; it’s about protecting the lives of everyday Americans.  For your information some things come above making money or worrying about corruption.  Saving lives and protecting innocents is one of them.  I know that might be a foreign concept to you, but helping people is a goal worth fighting for.  Maybe if you took your Catholicism a little more seriously you’d see that what you were doing is wrong, and that you are a fucking scumbag!”

Liberator held both his tongue and his fists back as each man contemplated the other with hard stares.  Neither blinked for nine seconds as they stared at each others’ grimacing faces. Only a muffled cough from one of the silent agents broke their staring match, causing Liberator to look away and step back from the potential confrontation.  Dickens’ adrenaline levels dropped immediately, and he let out an audible sigh of relief.

“You know, Benjy, I think you’re one stupid bastard,” Liberator said.  “But you got some big fucking cojones getting up on your God damn high horse to preach that kind of bullshit to someone who could kick your ass in under three seconds.  Even with all of the shit you’ve thrown me into, I’ve got to respect that.  The truth of the matter is when I worked I never hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it.”

Every agent in the apartment took their hands off of their various guns, knives and billy clubs when they heard the rare words of peaceful diplomacy from Liberator.  A second later their grips returned to their weapons as Dickens stepped back into the fray.

“Yeah, Liberator, and I’m sure the thousands of people you hurt indirectly through smuggling coke would really appreciate that sentiment.”

Liberator grimaced and took a quarter turn toward Dickens.  “You’d better be careful about that nose of yours, Benjy,” he said with a look.

“I will,” Dickens said with his own hard stare as he took two steps back.  “And you better think about our rescue mission and what kind of back up you expect to get.  I imagine that if you start breaking any more noses you can probably count on a slower response time at saving your ass.”

Liberator’s eyes went wide and his fist unclenched with Dickens’ threat.

“Sounds like you could be a scumbag too, Benjy,” Liberator said with a chuckle, and another tense silence hung in the air as the two men continued to stare at one another. 

“Yeah, Liberator, maybe I’ll become a bad guy just like you,” Dickens said with his own chuckle.  “Lord knows the money’s better than giving a shit.”

Another moment of silence filled the room, but it was one of surprise, and the tension started to ease in the apartment.

“Yeah, Benjy, and maybe I could show you the ropes eh?” Liberator said with a snicker and grabbed Dickens’ right hand in a firm grip.  “Maybe you could at least back me up when we rescue the kid?”

Dickens returned the grip, smiled and then started laughing.  After a nervous moment Liberator and the other ten agents joined in the senseless laughter too.  Even though nothing that funny was said, their mutual laughter made everyone feel a little better.  Not only was it a great reliever for their seven hours of tedium, but everyone knew it would relieve the violence that had almost erupted between the two men.

“Liberator,” Dickens muttered through one last chuckle.  “You’re an asshole, you know that?”

“Thanks, Benjy, I’m just trying to be your kind of man,” Liberator said with an actual smile.

“And stop calling me Benjy, 007,” Dickens said, and before Liberator could reply they both started laughing again. 

But the laughter came to a complete end as the radio squawked with Salinas’ voice.  It seemed that even the roaches went quiet as the tension returned with an even greater intensity.  Salinas told them that the kid was taking a crap, and that all nine kidnappers were in the main room.  It was time to go kick some ass. 

Liberator’s whole face turned down as he looked away from Dickens and headed for the door.  Twenty-two sympathetic eyes glanced simultaneously at Liberator, and then hardened in preparation for their own job of having to rescue the rescuer.

“Good luck,” Dickens and several other agents said in hushed voices.

Liberator didn’t reply.  Instead he opened the door, adjusted his sunglasses and went to try to rescue some Senator’s kid he’d never heard of.

 


Chapter 4

 

Each step toward the kidnappers’ apartment door further hyped the already high adrenaline levels that flowed through Liberator’s system.  By the time he had counted the eleven steps to the apartment his hands shook so hard that the knock on the door sounded like automatic gunfire.  As he waited for a response, Liberator noticed that his fist had left a small dent in the metal door.

From behind the door Liberator heard the combined racket of beer bottles falling to the floor, gangsters slipping out of their chairs, and guns being cocked.  As they picked up their weapons, a lot of panicky people swore in loud voices.  One voice towered above the others, though, and submerged the racket with orders for calm and silence.  Liberator knew the voice belonged to Danny Billick.  According to JUSTICE, Billick was the ‘brains’ behind kidnapping a senator’s son.  From the sound of the issued commands, Liberator was disappointed to find out that for once JUSTICE had hit the nail on the head.

Suddenly knocking on a door in a grimy hallway and risking his life to save some kid he had never even heard of seemed like a very scary, very stupid and very bad idea.

Liberator knew Billick as a brutally violent son of a bitch even by criminal standards.  Rumors flew that for two days he had repeatedly raped and tortured his ex-wife to death.  Once upon a time she made the right decision to run away from Billick because he had beaten her up on a regular basis.  She had moved to a small town in northern California and believed she had gotten far enough away from the bastard, because she had settled down with another man and had even had a child.  Billick had the final word, though.  When he eventually found her he tortured her beyond human endurance.  When she finally died, he killed the man and sold the little girl into a prostitution ring.  Or so the talk went.

Unfortunately, Billick was resilient too.  The last time Liberator had seen him, Billick cheated at poker.  Nobody playing could figure out how, but with two jacks of clubs in his hand it was obvious that Billick had tried to screw Liberator and the other players out of a big pot.  Liberator broke Billick’s left index finger trying to get the truth out of him, and although Billick was scared shitless, he was tough about it, and never admitted that he cheated, much less how.  Because nobody could figure out how to pin it on him, Billick ended up keeping the pot.  For Liberator, Billick’s combination of violent psychosis and physical toughness made him one nasty motherfucker.  One he would have been happy to never see or hear from again.

Liberator thought that he and Billick had parted on decent enough terms.  Their farewells seemed pleasant enough.  After all Billick had only suffered a broken finger, but he had pocketed $17,326.  That was a long time ago, though, and until now Liberator hadn’t cared enough about Billick to remember such details.

“Damn,” Liberator muttered to himself, “I hope we parted on good terms.  Even for me it’s good to have peaceful relations with crazy sons of bitches like Billick...”

Before Liberator could follow his instincts and turn around, the dented front door swung open.  Three pistols and a shotgun were pointed at Liberator’s chest and head.  Behind his sunglasses his eyes practically burst out of their sockets.  But instead of panicking he managed a slight smirk and slowly raised his hands above his head.  Nervous, angry faces stared hard at him.  When he recognized Liberator’s face, Billick’s angry expression changed immediately to one of surprise, wonder and recognition, and he grunted something to the others that Liberator didn’t catch.  After two seconds and with no bullets in him, Liberator’s smirk grew a little wider.  He even thought about saying a rosary if he survived this mess.

“Hey, Danny.  What’s going on, buddy?” Liberator said with the last of his held breath as his right hand stretched out into empty space.  Two more seconds passed and then Billick met Liberator half way and grabbed his hand.

“Liberator.  What the hell are you doing here?” Billick lowered his gun as he got the question out.  Although the rest of his crew didn’t exactly follow suit, they vaguely followed Billick’s lead; the guns stayed on Liberator, but everyone took their fingers off of the triggers. 

Liberator took in a deep breath, said a silent Hail Mary and walked quickly through the door, past the guns, and into an apartment where everybody would probably have liked to see him dead.

“Damn, Danny, I know I broke your finger, but you got away with a lot of cash.  I figure that would be enough to not have a bunch of guns pointed at me,” Liberator said and released his held breath, believing that the Virgin Mary was watching over him.  Although most of the nine felons had only lowered their guns a little, Liberator felt intense heavenly thanks for making it a third of the way into the apartment without a hole in his head, chest or stomach. 

Billick’s apartment looked even dumpier and more crowded than the one Liberator had been sitting in less than two minutes ago.  Despite the cramped space, the kidnappers were spread out in something like a strategic pattern.  Without trying to look too obvious, Liberator counted them and noticed that all nine kidnappers still stood in the main room.  Unfortunately, two guys stood near the windows that were now covered with heavy red curtains.  Liberator actively repressed a frown, realizing that his first line of backup was gone.  Even worse were the two men and lone woman hovering near the bathroom and the kid.   Two more men stood behind Liberator with their eyes on both him and the door.  Lastly, Billick and the biggest thug in the room stood next to Liberator like friendly puppies.  Clearly all nine kidnappers were incredibly tense at the appearance of Liberator, and except for the calm Billick, they all fondled their weapons.  Seeing all of the guns pointed in his general direction, Liberator couldn’t help but wish he had one himself.

“Once again, Liberator, what the hell are you doing here?” Billick asked and nodded to the hulk standing next to Liberator, who started frisking him for weapons. 

Liberator suddenly smiled that JUSTICE had ordered him to go into the apartment unarmed.  All the hulking thug with the intimate touch found was a nearly empty money clip and a Bic lighter.

“Danny, you still smoking Marlboros, right?” Liberator asked with a nod as he tried to ignore the groping touch. “I could use one really bad right now.”  His hands still shook from the massive amount of adrenaline surging through his veins, and he felt a strong urge for the calm of a nicotine hit.  He could have sworn Billick smoked a pack a day of something that came in a red box.

“Yeah Liberator, I bet if I was standing in a room of heavily armed men I’d want a cigarette too,” Billick said and laughed.  “I gave up smoking, though.  That shit will kill you, you know?”

Billick raised his pistol a little higher, and as he started to screw on a silencer his face contorted into a malicious sneer.  “Besides, I smoked Winstons, you dumbass.”

The biggest thug in the room finished molesting Liberator and stood up.  “Damn, that is some funky, strange Hawaiian shirt you’ve got on.  What’s it made of?” 

“Rayon,” Liberator muttered as he took a cautious step closer to the bathroom. With all eyes on him, he felt like he was tiptoeing across a creaky stage.

“I like the texture.  It’s thick, but kind of smooth.  Where did you pick it up?” 

Behind his sunglasses, Liberator’s eyes narrowed and he grimaced at the huge thug.  To Liberator, this asshole with a sixteen-gauge shotgun in his right hand had just felt him up like a cheap whore.  Now he wanted a fashion tip? 

Ignoring the shopping question asked by the largest and apparently gayest man in the room, Billick nonchalantly pointed his pistol at Liberator’s head.  Liberator lost his smirk and stopped dead in his tracks.  With crossed eyes he looked at the tip of the pistol. 

“For the last time, asshole, what the fuck are you doing here?” Billick demanded.  His fingers flexed in anticipation of using the new pistol.

“Uh.”

With the silencer attached, the end of Billick’s .45 stretched out about six inches in front of Liberator’s nose.  Breathing in deeply, Liberator thought he smelled the gunpowder.  As his body shivered with a final rush of fear and adrenaline, Liberator rediscovered his arrogance and smirked again at Billick.  “Not even going to give me a cigarette, huh Danny?”

Billick’s eyes narrowed and he sighed.  “Damn, I always thought you were a fucking dumb ass cocksucking piece of shit.  Instead of cigarettes, maybe you should think about telling me what the hell you’re doing here.”

With an Our Father on his lips, Liberator moved very fast.  Just before Billick pulled the trigger, Liberator grabbed Billick’s arm and simultaneously moved out of the way of a bullet in the head.  One of the windows shattered in a storm of glass.  Ignoring everything else, Liberator kept one hand on Billick’s wrist and grabbed his testicles with the other.  Finishing his very quick prayer, Liberator picked up a groaning Billick over his shoulder and threw him face first toward the bathroom.  Unfortunately, Billick missed crashing into anyone else, but a genuine smile crossed Liberator‘s lips as he heard a bone crack. 

Ten seconds.

Liberator’s momentary smile dropped like a dead bird when he noticed the big molester raise his shotgun.  His decision to move was instinctive and instantaneous.

“Watch your nose, coño!” Liberator spit out as he crammed his left fist into the hulking man’s face.

Before the big man hit the ground with a resounding thud, the small apartment broke out into a series of ‘what the fucks’, ‘shits’ and one ‘Jesus Christ’.  Ignoring their panic and trying to avert his own, Liberator turned around in a crouch to see the three thugs guarding the bathroom that held Tim Novak.  With mouths wide open, they looked up from Billick’s body sprawled on the floor.  In less than a half second their astonishment melted into a panicked frenzy and all three thugs raised their weapons at Liberator and everyone else in the apartment. 

Nine.

With guns suddenly pointed in their direction, the remaining kidnappers on the other side of the apartment simultaneously screamed, “Fuck!” and ducked for cover.

Not waiting to be shot at, Liberator leapt forward, landing on top of the woman near the bathroom.  She fell to the floor, and Liberator stepped hard onto her chest to make sure she stayed down.

To Liberator’s immediate left, a burly felon leveled his Glock 17 at Liberator’s stomach and found a foot shoved forcefully into the center of his chest.  Liberator heard a muffled crack from the felon’s ribs and a louder thud as his pistol hit the floor.  Liberator grinned at the gun.

Eight.

“Die you freaky motherfucker!” the guy to Liberator’s right screamed.

Liberator saw the aluminum bat in his peripheral vision just before it smacked him in the back.  Crying out in pain, Liberator felt a few ribs crack as he fell to one knee next to the bleeding Billick.  The pistol was now out of reach, and with the bat being pulled up again that sweet gun was going to stay out his reach.

Bat Man came back with another swing; this time at Liberator’s head.  Reaching out in a blur, Liberator caught the bat with his left hand.  He grunted with tears in his eyes, but he knew that a possible broken hand and damaged ribs were better than his brains on the floor.

Gripping the bat, Liberator jabbed it hard into the right eye of the would be Babe Ruth.  Bat Man’s head jerked back and he fell to the floor.  Liberator searched frantically for the fallen pistol, until he caught the four men on the other side of the apartment pointing their guns at him.

Seven.

“Fuck.” Liberator said as the shit hit his fan.

BAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMBAMABMABMAMAMABMAA

With an incredibly panicky hope, Liberator ducked, dove and rolled through a barrage of bullets toward the windows and two of the shooters.  He yelped loudly as two bullets pierced what felt like his left leg below the knee.  The torn flesh hurt like boiling grease, but due to that blessed adrenaline rush and his fear of dying, he ignored the pain and focused on not getting shot again.

Six.

Liberator zoomed ten feet toward the two by the window and their eyes grew to the size of dinner plates.  Liberator collided knees first into the closer of the two, and smashed into him so hard that the man flew through the closed window.

In horror the second shooter stopped firing at Liberator and watched as his friend plunged to the street, three stories below.  Ignoring the falling shooter, Liberator grabbed his partner’s right arm, pulled it hard to the left and then forced his own knee into the kidnapper’s rib cage.  A massive crunch rang out and the thug with the caring heart collapsed to the floor.

Five.

With their partners unconscious on the floor, the last two kidnappers near the front door drew a clear aim on Liberator.

BAM  ABA BMA  BAMBA   BA M BAMBA MBA M B AM  BMM MM BMA.

As they opened fire Liberator leapt nine feet forward and six feet up.  Flying across the room, he flipped over the gunfire and landed right foot first into the left shoulder of the only kidnapper with glasses.  The kick knocked ‘Four Eyes’ across the small apartment and halfway through the door to the hallway.  The last standing kidnapper turned toward Liberator and tried to level his gun for a last shot.  Before the pistol moved even 6 inches, Liberator snatched the gun away with his left hand and broke the last felon’s jaw with his right.

Four.

In wild contrast to the recent fury, Liberator stood still for a second and caught a deep breath that he let out in a quick huff.  All around the apartment lay destroyed furniture, shredded curtains, wood, plaster, glass fragments, bullet holes and fallen bodies.  Looking over himself, Liberator noticed he was a mess too.  A clot of blood covered his upper left calf and ankle.  Sweat streamed down his entire body and he probably had a huge bruise on his back.  Nothing too serious considering what he had just been through, and because of that he let out a nervous giggle at just being alive.  With nowhere else to go, the high adrenaline levels would make him giddy for the next thirty minutes or so.

Three.

From behind the door Liberator could hear Dickens and the rescue team just arriving at the apartment.  They banged loudly on the stuck door.  With Four Eyes jammed halfway through the door, the agents couldn’t pry it open.  In frustration several of the agents started cursing loudly at the bloody and unconscious doorstop.

“Liberator!  You all right in there?!” Dickens screamed as he banged on the stubborn door.  “How about the kid?!”

Liberator was surprised by the concern in Dickens’ voice.  That, the adrenaline levels and the fruitless pulling and pounding on the stuck door caused him to giggle again.

Two.

“Yeah,” Liberator said between deep breaths.  “I think we’re all right.”

Looking up from his leg, Liberator turned around to make sure nobody in the apartment would shoot at him again.  If everybody lay safely unconscious, then he would feel free to help pull the thug with the glasses out of the door.  Once the door was open his ever so useful rescue team could clean up the mess he had just made to rescue Tim Novak.

One.

Liberator’s mouth dropped.  Despite a mashed-in bloody nose, the molesting hulk managed to pull himself quietly off the floor. 

He pointed his shotgun at Liberator and said.  “Watch your chest, asshole.” 

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM.

Zero.

 


Chapter 5

 

Three shotgun shells slammed into Liberator’s lower chest.  The force threw him five feet in the air, carried him over a couch and bounced him off a wall.  Andy Johnson, the giant molester, shot in a wide arc that also hit the front door to the apartment.  Dickens and the other ten rescuers backed away loudly and quickly from the kidnappers’ apartment.  The poor bastard stuck in the door took three bullets.  His insides spurted out and he stained the door with a crimson red ooze.

A moment of silence fell onto the apartment and into the hallway.  Everybody took a few seconds to wonder what the hell was going on.

“God damn it!” Johnson said as he started to reload.  “Who the fuck is this son of bitch?!”

“Make sure that son of a bitch is dead!!!”

Johnson whirled around and just barely stopped from shooting a bloodied Danny Billick and a haggard Tim Novak.  Billick looked horrible too as blood streamed down his hardened face.  Even so his expression portrayed a grim determination to get out of this disaster alive.  He held up Tim Novak in front of him as a shield.  The kid was so pumped up with something that he didn’t know or care about being a victim. 

“Where the fuck are the kid’s pants, Danny!?!” Johnson screamed as he stared in horror at the near naked teenager.

“Wake up, Andy!” Billick yelled and his eyes lit up on his bloody face.  “We got a situation here.  Where the kid’s pants are is the least of our fucking worries!  Turn your ass around and be rea...”

BOOM.

A grenade exploded, hurling the front door and the dead kidnapper with bad vision high across the room and into the far wall.  The whole apartment shook from the force of the blast, but both Johnson and Billick managed to remain standing.

With the rescue operation bungled, Dickens decided quickly that the only option to salvage the situation was to get into the apartment and confront the kidnappers directly.  With the door off its hinges, Dickens and two other JUSTICE agents held their breaths, hoped any bullets would hit their Kevlar vests, and burst into the apartment with scoped pistols raised high.

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM.

A panicky Johnson emptied his shotgun at Dickens and the agents, and all three tried to leap back out of the doorway as quickly as they had leapt in.  Dickens and the shorter of the two agents made it back out, but the third agent fell hard.  She lay halfway through the door with one shell in her stomach and an increasingly large pool of blood spreading out across the floor.

Johnson’s whole body shook as he loaded the last of his shells into his shotgun.  “B b back the fuck off you god damn cocksuckers!” he stuttered.  “Or I’ll shoot your fucking eyes out!!” 

Another silence fell over the apartment as Dickens and the other JUSTICE agents wondered what the hell their next move should be.

The pause lasted only three seconds when Billick tightened his grip on Tim Novak.  “I don’t know who you motherfuckers are, but if you want this kid to see tomorrow you’d better back far fucking off,” he said.

Angry with himself for the mess they were all now in, Dickens looked at the blank faces of the other JUSTICE agents and frowned at the agent lying halfway in the apartment.  Without hesitating Dickens grabbed the woman’s shoulders and started pulling her into the hallway.  The two agents closest to the doorway immediately aided him in getting the wounded agent out of harm’s way. 

Seeing the woman being dragged out of the apartment, Billick raised the Glock he had picked up and squeezed the trigger twice.  BAM BAM.  The downed agent’s upper leg and ankle exploded in bone fragments and blood.  In two days the leg would have to come off.

With a snicker Billick said, “That’s right you motherfuckers.  You’d better back off.  Otherwise, you’ll all be dead and suffering.”

Nobody replied.  For twelve seconds only the sound of muffled voices and movements could be heard from the hallway.  Billick expected some kind of response.  He was used to getting attention, and with his gun now crammed firmly in Tim Novak’s ear he felt like he should be getting some attention.  His face tightened as he focused on how to get out of this mess. 

“Andy, make sure Liberator is dead!” Billick said into the silence.  “That son of a bitch is too freaky to take any chances on!  Put a bullet in his head.  I’ll cover you.”

Johnson stood still, unmoved by Billick’s voice.  His face blank, he pointed his gun at the door, waiting to open fire on anyone who showed their face.

Before Johnson could even respond, Dickens yelled, “If you assholes don’t want to suffer for the rest of your lives then you bett...”

BAM BAM.

Billick fired his pistol at the hallway, silencing any potential threat that Dickens might hope save Liberator’s life.  Firing the gun and taking action made Billick feel better.  More importantly, the shots woke Johnson out of his stupor.

“Go on Andy.  I’ve got you covered,” Billick smiled as his pistol remained on the door.

Johnson walked shakily to the right side of the couch, trying to keep one eye on the door while the other eye searched for a clear shot at Liberator.  As Johnson rounded the couch he practically stepped on Liberator.  He noticed immediately that the body lay in only a small pool of blood.  None of it covered Liberator’s chest, and only a little of it covered his legs.  As Johnson raised his gun, Liberator’s open eyes stared straight up at him.  “Fuck!” Johnson screamed.

Liberator moved in a blur.  Johnson felt a tremendous amount of pain, and then doubled over onto the floor unconscious.

“You fucking asshole!” Liberator screamed as he removed his foot from Johnson’s groin.  “I hate getting shot at, and I really hate getting shot!”

Picking up a fallen pistol, Liberator stood up as Johnson fell down.  Three flattened slugs fell from his chest.  Getting shot hurt like hell and caused some massive bruises and two more cracked ribs, but the ‘funky material’ had stopped the bullets from penetrating Liberator’s shirt, and more importantly his chest.

Liberator stepped over the couch in one quick motion and leveled his pistol shakily at Billick’s head. “Drop the fucking gun or drop fucking dead!”

Billick tightened his embrace on Tim Novak and took three steps back.  Cocking his pistol, click, he shoved the gun back into Tim Novak’s now bloody ear and yelled, “Back off, Liberator, or this kid’s brains are going to become a wall hanging!”

Liberator stopped walking, but his pistol remained more or less level at Billick’s head.  “If he dies then you can bet your ass you’ll be next, Billick.”  Behind him Liberator could hear someone slowly enter the room.  He didn’t look back. 

“Let go of the boy, Danny,” Dickens said with open arms and a reassuring tone.  “The only way you’re going to get out of this apartment alive is to release the boy.  Let him go and you’ll see tomorrow.”

Billick stepped back a few more feet, and shifted his weight a little, trying to move Tim Novak into a position that would shield him from any and all gunfire.  He smiled.  “I don’t know who you fucking cocksuckers are, but I’m betting if this kid dies, then your asses are fucked.  Maybe we can work out some kind of deal.  Ransom the kid off together...”

Dickens’ face almost dropped to the floor. 

Liberator didn’t even hear what Billick said.  “Let’s shoot this asshole, Benjy,” he spit out.  “He fucking deserves it, and I’ve got a dead aim on his forehead.”

“Bitch, with that trembling hand you couldn’t hit the fucking ground,” Billick said and readjusted his embrace on his comatose shield.  “Besides, even if you manage to hit me the kid dies when my finger lets go of the hammer.”  Billick’s eyes motioned to his pistol, and a sly grin lit up his face.  “I’m betting we can come to some kind of understanding, though, huh?”

“What makes you think I give a shit about that kid, Billick?” Liberator whispered as he pulled back on the hammer of his own gun.  Click.

Suddenly, as if someone had splashed cold water on his face, Dickens wondered who was the more immediate threat to Tim Novak’s safety.  A second passed as he tried and failed to find a fast and easy way to calm Liberator down.

“Put the gun down, 007!” Dickens ordered. “Right now!”

Liberator’s gun remained more or less level as Billick took another two steps back.

“Damn it, Liberator.  Have a little faith.  Put down the gun now,” Dickens said again.  “Please, trust me.”

“Trust,” Liberator frowned, “is something you earn, Benjy.  Remember?  And you’ve got a ways to go.” 

Dickens shook his head and mouthed, “Shit.”

Liberator shifted his arm a bit to the right, attempting to steady his aim and finalize his line of fire.

“Drop the gun, Liberator,” Dickens commanded.  “Or I’m going to drop you.”

Liberator turned away quickly from Billick to glance at the end of Dickens’ pistol, aimed squarely at his head.  His momentary surprise turned into a frustrated rage.  “This isn’t over, Benjy!” he yelled.  “Not by a long shot!”

Liberator looked back angrily at Billick who somehow appeared both frightened and hopeful.

“Break my nose later, 007, but drop the gun now,” Dickens said as he gulped down a huge breath of air.

Three silent seconds ticked away and a drop of sweat broke out above Liberator’s eyes.  Then without moving his arm, he released his grip on the pistol.

Wump.  Without a bounce or a skitter, the gun dropped to the floor.  Liberator tensed up with yet more adrenaline, but remained absolutely still.

As Dickens lowered his own gun he let out his held breath.  In an eerie silence, Dickens and Liberator looked at Billick, who didn’t even try to conceal his smile.  Liberator’s jaw clenched as he crouched and prayed that he could either dodge a bullet or get a survivable wound.

“I’m gonna fuck your wife until there’s blood all over the floor, and then I’m going to do the same thing to that daughter I hear you got,” Billick spit out with a sneer.  He pulled the bloody end of his gun from Tim Novak’s ear, and leveled it at Liberator’s face.  “And then I’m gonna burn both of them to death you stupid fu...”

Crash.

With the noise of breaking glass, Liberator ducked and rolled toward Billick and the boy.  He sprang up with his left-hand grabbing Billick’s pistol, and the right hand yanking Tim Novak away from Billick’s grossly intimate embrace.  As he faced Billick, nausea immediately grabbed his stomach and chest.  Billick’s face, and most of his head were gone, splattered on the floor and wall opposite the window.  Blood spurted out of Billick and onto Tim Novak’s shoulders and back, and onto Liberator’s hands.  Not even a quarter of a second later Billick’s body collapsed to the floor, creating an even gooier mess for some unlucky agent to clean up.

For the next thirteen seconds Liberator stood still above Billick, holding onto the pistol and the nearly naked Tim Novak.  Blood flowed over his boots and his body started to quiver from the overdose of adrenaline that still ran through him.  He dropped the gun and steadied his hold on the kid.  Looking at his vacant face, Liberator wondered again if the kid was worth the risks he had just taken.

Dickens approached Liberator and gently pulled Tim Novak from his grasp, handing him off to a JUSTICE doctor, who, along with the other agents, entered the apartment.  “You all right there?  You hurt at all?  Your leg, is it all right?”

Liberator threw up in one hurried, violent motion, adding to the general mess oozing from the headless Danny Billick.  Ignoring Dickens, Liberator brushed by him to get some air.  He cranked the shattered window open, breathing in deeply, letting the fresh air clear his lungs, and hoping the air would calm him down and dissipate his high levels of adrenaline.  Quickly throwing up again, he noticed the poor dead bastard who had been knocked out of the window.  Liberator spit out some bile wishing it would hit the dead shooter.  It didn’t.

Liberator spit one last time and then turned around to see the JUSTICE doctor giving Tim Novak some water.  The poor kid probably had not had much to drink since he had been kidnapped twenty-three hours ago.  Plus it looked like the kidnappers had doped him up with a shit load of heroin.  Liberator knew coming down from such a high would be a horrible experience.  Still, with all of that crap in him, the kid probably wouldn’t clearly remember anything that happened in the last twenty-four hours.

“That’s good,” he muttered.

“What’s that, Liberator?” Dickens asked.  For the last forty-seven seconds he had been looking at Liberator with a growing sense of concern.  Slowly, Dickens walked toward him.  He hoped to make amends with Liberator for pointing a gun in his face.

“Benjy, I don’t want to hear shit,” Liberator said.  “I’m fucking pissed off about getting shot and threatened by both you and these assholes.  Nothing you say is going to change that.  And don’t ever call me a scumbag again!  Not after you point a gun at me!”

Standing face to face, Dickens avoided eye contact.  “Look, Liberator, you should have trusted me,” he said with his arms crossed over his chest.  “I knew Juliana and Peter had a clear shot on Billick.  I’ve got a radio earplug remember?  They were waiting for Billick to pull the pistol out of the kid’s ear.  Once that happened, I knew they would take the bastard out.  You had to drop your gun so Billick would do that.”

Liberator stared at Dickens with an unmoving frown.  “Maybe you should let me know these things before you threaten me with a gun again.”

“Maybe you trust us a little more, Liberator,” Dickens said, staring back.  “Then we could wor...”

Dickens didn’t even see the flash that crashed into his nose with a slight crunch.  Liberator pulled his fist away from Dickens and wiped the blood off of his hand before Dickens even hit the dirty floor.

“You know, Benjy, maybe you should trust me a little more,” Liberator said.  “After all I’m the one who got shot in the chest and leg while rescuing this doped up kid.  So until you can show me a little trust, go fuck yourself!!!” 

After a few seconds with all eyes on him, Liberator leaned down to roll Dickens over, and made sure he was ‘all right’.  The remaining JUSTICE agents looked tense, but the doctor came over to see if Dickens had more than an obvious broken nose. 

“You know, Liberator,” the doctor said as he checked out Dickens, “that kid is Senator Alan Novak’s son.  You’re going to have some favors coming to you now, buddy.”

“Thanks, pal,” Liberator said with a blank stare.  “That makes me feel better about getting shot.” 

Liberator stood up and felt the twinge of pain in his leg.  “Can you please take a look at this when you get a chance?” he said as he showed off his bloody leg.

The doctor nodded ‘yes,’ and Liberator looked back out the window, thinking about the last six minutes.  No matter what he did today, no favor from any Senator was going to get him out of his sentence, or even excuse his breaking Dickens’ nose.  That would be a problem.  With his own broken nose, Rosenberg might laugh, but Salinas would definitely be pissed off.  So would Arnold, and since he was in charge of the whole organization, Liberator knew there would be trouble ahead.

“Damn,” he said with a sigh, not looking forward to the hassle he knew he would face in the next half an hour or so.

 


Chapter 6

 

Twenty-two minutes later, Liberator stood outside of the building where Tim Novak had been held hostage.  Surrounding him were several marked and unmarked police cars, and probably twenty cops and over two-dozen JUSTICE agents.  Seven months ago he would have worried that he was the center of so much police attention, but today he knew he was just a pseudo cop surrounded by a bunch of real cops.  It depressed him.

To make his day even worse, Liberator saw a short, broad man making a beeline path straight toward him.  General Dexter Arnold, Executive Director of JUSTICE, paid little attention to the crowd that struggled to get out of his way.  He had just heard about Dickens’ broken nose and he meant to do something about it.

Liberator frowned as the General made his way closer to him.  Immediately and to no avail he fidgeted for a cigarette.  “Damn,” he said when he remembered he didn’t have any.

Arnold got right in Liberator’s face and eyed him like a piece of garbage.  Behind his sunglasses, Liberator felt momentarily safe from the General’s gaze.

“I’d like to kick the shit out of you, 007,” General Arnold whispered into Liberator’s ear, and snatched the sunglasses off of Liberator’s face.

Now eye-to-eye, Liberator had no choice but to look closely at the General.  He tried to focus on something other than the man’s eyes, and unfortunately Arnold’s big pores stuck out like potholes. 

“I know the feeling sir,” Liberator said before clamping his jaw shut.

“Do you now, boy?”  General Arnold’s tone went cold, and his scowl tightened even more.  The General stared hard at Liberator, as he and everyone within ten feet waited for Liberator’s answer to the menacing question.

Looking down Liberator remembered the authority, the resources and the ruthlessness that General Arnold possessed.  The first and only time Liberator told General Arnold to ‘fuck off’ a pistol was immediately stuck in his face.  Liberator remembered staring at the muzzle for a fraction of a second before he pulled it out of the General’s hand and shoved it into the General’s face.  Less than two seconds after that Liberator had five guns pointed in his direction.  Without a stammer or a drop of sweat, General Arnold told Liberator that he would indeed participate in a mission to capture an old smuggling ‘buddy’.  Liberator was also told that the next time that he held a gun on any JUSTICE agent he would be immediately shot and killed, regardless of the consequences.  Looking at the same determined expression of all five agents, and at the dead calm of the General, Liberator did not doubt for a second that his life would be very short if he ever again pointed a gun at another JUSTICE agent.  Liberator returned the gun to the General but still refused to help capture his former business associate.

Twenty-four hours later Liberator had a change of heart.  General Arnold had placed Juan Calderon in a maximum-security prison that Liberator had never heard of.  After fifteen hours of jail time, Liberator was sent to see Calderon.  It was not a pleasant meeting.  Few words were spoken between the two friends.  The normally calm and cool Calderon had cuts and bruises covering his arms and face, and he trembled during their short five-minute visit.  Then General Arnold told Liberator of Calderon’s trial in absentia, and how his ‘parole’ was contingent on Liberator’s cooperation with JUSTICE.  Later that day Liberator aided in the capture of his former associate, and the thankful Calderon went back to his family.

Liberator didn’t doubt for a second that General Arnold would again pursue a ruthless course of threats and intimidation backed up by very real actions to get what he wanted.  Liberator thanked God and the whores who had first given him his alias that JUSTICE did not know his real name or the whereabouts of his ex-wife and his little girl.

“Sorry, sir,” Liberator said as he stared at his boots.  “I misspoke.  It won’t happen again.”

“Damn right it won’t, 007.  Damn right,” General Arnold said and grinned.  “And look at me when we talk okay.  We’re all friends here, remember?”

Liberator bit his lip, and made every effort to restrain his hands from clenching up.

“Yes, sir, General.  Sorry, sir.”

“Of course something has to be done about you breaking Ben’s nose, 007,” the General said and his grin disappeared.  “I don’t want to ever see this kind of thing happen again.”

Liberator face went frighteningly pale with the General’s words.

“No.  Nothing that severe, 007,” Arnold said.  “If Ben doesn’t object, I am only putting you under house arrest for the next ten days.  It is not as severe as I would treat a normal agent, but I realize that you’re still new to the organization.   You can and will use the time to refamiliarize yourself with JUSTICE’s rules and regulations.  You will catch up.  Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Liberator said, his face tightening.

“Of course, such a lenient punishment requires Ben’s approval,” Arnold said and gestured toward Dickens.

Standing nearby with gauze on his nose, Dickens did not smile as he overheard Arnold’s words and saw Liberator’s discomfort.

“Yes sir, General, that will be fine,” Dickens said quickly.  “Maybe he’ll remember that with the help of JUSTICE he survived this operation.  Then he can learn to trust us a bit.”  He paused for a second and took the gauze off of his nose.  “Besides if you really punish him now, I wouldn’t feel right about breaking his nose later,” he added with a slight chuckle and a straight face.

General Arnold broke out laughing and handed Liberator back his sunglasses.  Without another word Arnold turned around and left Liberator standing alone again in the sea of police and JUSTICE agents.

Liberator frowned as he put his sunglasses back on.  For a solid minute he wondered how he could get out of this mess and then went to find a cigarette.

 

***

Of course the adventure continues.

Read how Liberator faces off against JUSTICE, seeing them for what they truly are and discovering the price he must pay for freedom.

Just email José at joe@joestories.com and he will get the rest of Freedom From JUSTICE to you.

 

 

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