The construction worker with a shady past and a shadier present...

Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Hit Man Gary

Death Valley is a secret keeper. On nights so still and placid you wouldn't guess that the stars blink back bright and wide eyed, waiting for an old friend to grace the barren terrain once more. A whine in the distance sends a queer chill through the desert, and like two vibrant eyes, headlights hazily blur into view. There's no one to stand speechless or gape in appraisal at the black Maserati that skids in a cloud of settling dust to a sudden stop. Only the stars look down with knowing eyes as an intimidating figure exits the driver's side.

He doesn't think twice about bringing the pant leg of his Armani suit down to the dusty desert floor as he kneels in sudden reverence. His head bowed, his hands brought in a repentant clasp at his chest, his deep solemn voice quakes the silence.

"Forgive me, Lord, for what I am about to do."

Perhaps there is a lingering second more as the figure allows his words float up to some higher power before he comes to his feet, a patch of dust on his knee in heavy contrast against the black fabric. From the key in his pocket he presses the trunk release and another echoing clink jolts the still night.

It happens quickly. The unconscious body gagged and wrapped in a sheet is rolled out from the trunk. The tall black suit figure feels nothing as the desert listens eerily to the deceptively gentle clink of the closing trunk, the slam of the car door, and the roar of a turbo engine skidding off into the dusky horizon.

"But the Lord changed my life," Gary finished his story that morning on the scaffold as we ate lunch.

It was only ten o'clock but the job started early so we enjoyed our roach coach burritos just as you were probably pouring yourself your second cup of bad office coffee.

It was the summer just before my first year in college and having delayed a part-time job search, my dad had lugged me to work with him. It was your basic construction gig and I was the apprentice, or in my mind, the "trash bitch." The foreman's son was never allowed a real power tool, god forbid anything happened to me after my dad put down the $5000 nonrefundable tuition payment. In turn, I was often left to pick up scraps around the job in a sweaty t-shirt, my neck baking in the California sun. I'd only been on the job a month but I was already starting to understand the value of a college education—and indoor plumbing.

Gary was one of the few decent conversationalists on the job, aside from the fact that he was a fanatic "born again" with a hardened prison past and occasional spiritual rants about sexual purity and college fornication. This was considerably better company however than the sleazy ZZ Top look-alike father-son combo or the presumably gay Brazilian immigrant who enjoyed asking such relevant lingual questions as how to spell "fart."

Gary would have hated to find out that I enjoyed him for his outlandish pre-prison accounts rather than his newfound puritan preaching, but on those mornings, eating refried-refried bean burritos on the scaffold, I loved to hear about his shady past as a badass Vegas hit man.

You can't blame a kid that's lived in SoCal suburbia his whole life for being morbidly intrigued by it. I would often find myself asking gentle prodding questions that would eventually lead to Gary's tales of his high rise suite at the top of the Palms Casino and his collection of Rolex watches he ultimately used to pay off his lawyers. He was an altered man, a real gushy softy now, but when he stood tall and looked down from the fifth floor elevator shaft with a power drill in his hands, you could see the hit man inside.

He drove a ten year old Monte Carlo now and he had traded Armani for clearance Perry Ellis, but he commanded a certain respect about the job. With a nod, the fellow workers would acknowledge Gary as a force to be reckoned with… who knew what beast hibernated beneath the Jesus Junkie. In this way, Gary was feared and loved. I often searched his face to see how much of the hit man was left in him. A loving glow shined from his eyes for the daughter he had reconnected with in his years after prison and he hummed praise songs as he hung dry wall, but we all waited with some sort of queer anticipation for him to snap. It hadn't happened yet, and so I felt somewhat at ease snarfing down my lunch next to him that day.

"You leavin' momma alone?" he asked me with a reproachful narrowed brow under his hard hat.

The "momma" he was referring to was my girlfriend of three years whom he encouraged me to twiddle my thumbs for until marriage. Hiding a twitching grin, I nodded to Gary as I swallowed a massive gulp of overcooked Al Pastor, thinking of the time I'd spent with "momma" in the backseat of her mother's borrowed Escalade earlier that week.

"Well, good. Young rough n' tougher like you has to hold the world up and that starts with a pure heart," Gary instructed sagely.

He babbled on about the value of the college education I would be getting and the benefit of having a supportive father, and I didn't disagree, but I wanted to know why anyone would trade a pent house in Vegas, tossing dipshits (who probably deserved it) into the desert, for this… Maybe he hadn't really changed. Maybe he was a moonlighter, Bible Thumper by day, Hit Man by night. I played it like a sitcom in my head, and it entertained me after lunch as I picked up the metal scraps strewn about the construction site.

A high pitched beep emitted from the Timex at Gary's wrist, and with a sly sidelong glance in either direction, he flipped open the watch to a secret display inside that read the following words:

Target: Foreman Gunn

Compensation: $1.2 mill.


With narrowed eyes and barely a moment of consideration, Gary would accept the job. Snapping his spiffy Timex shut, he would hang up his hard hat for the semi-automatic camouflaged under the guise of an industry standard screw gun. The Sharpie tucked into his back pocket revealed itself as a silencer, wedged onto the tip of the weapon as he brought his stealthy hawk-like eyes to close in on the target. Foreman Gunn strolled about the job inspecting half-heartedly, his belly hanging over a for-show tool belt that hadn't served any purpose in over three years. The shot would be easy. It was only a game of waiting, as the target neared the exposed flooring below. The seconds passed and Gary stood poised, gun aimed inconspicuously from the upper floor. Five… four… three… two…

"You want some cake, Stephen?" Gary was calling out to me.

I was on the second floor scooping up some mess the electricians had left as I peered down from a ledge that looked out over what was to be a hotel lobby. I could see Gary and gaggle of fellow hard hats gathered around a pink frosted grocery store cake. I was embarrassed at first, having allowed my imagination to consume me, before I recovered with a pleasant smile.

"Yeah, sure, man."

That was right. It was Chiccarones' birthday—that's what I called Juan, the squat Mexican journeyman who enjoyed large bags of pork rinds during breaks. I've always been bad at names, so I'd slap on my own for the workers around the job. The trick was not actually calling anyone that to their face… Hit Man Gary, for instance. Construction sites aren't known for their Pleasantville cheer, and frosted birthday cakes were about as common as high tea on the roof top, but Gary in his infinite virtue had settled a disagreement with Juan with the peace offering of sweets. It was laughable, but it worked.

It was a rare scene, my dad cheerily cutting pieces of cake and handing them out on floral paper plates he'd found in the foreman trailer, as Chiccarones giggled in delight and made nice with Hit Man Gary. It was even harder now to believe that this guy had left at least a dozen mafia dogs to die in the desert, gunning his Maserati back into Vegas for some caviar and Veuve Clicquot Champagne.

"Stephen, I'll need you to apprentice with Gary today," my dad informed me after cake, "He'll teach you an actual skill and… I think he's a good influence."

"An ex-hit man is a good influence?"

It was a jerk-off response, but the foreman's word was law in that little imperialist get up, so I prepared myself for more chiding about "leavin' momma alone" as I latched on my tool belt and sauntered up to Gary on the second floor.

He had pink frosting on his chin when I arrived and I thought to tell him but decided better of it, taking his direction as we started to hang fresh sheets of dry wall. Not that I ever wanted to get in with the likes of the devious Italians that Gary swore still ran Vegas, but I was endlessly curious. I knew I'd taken Gary's stories to an all new level, what had started off as interesting scaffold chats had developed into elaborate HBO-like productions in my head. If I didn't' get things straight, I'd blurt out something that would give me away.

Could a man really change that much, I thought to myself as the work grew repetitively mundane. Could you really go from a cold blooded murderer to a Christ preaching, life loving corn ball—and truly be changed? Gary had. He was a good guy, I liked Gary. I supposed what I liked most was that he had been a bad ass baddy before and now he was a bad ass… er, nice guy? I wasn't sure.

"If you play by the rules, Stephen, soon enough, you can make your own," Gary was saying as I came out of my pondering trance.

"Oh, what?" I blurted.

He smiled because he knew I hadn't been listening.

"It's been a long day," he said as he clapped me hard on the back, "Four o'clock, man, pack up and we'll see if Gloria's still got the truck in the lot. I'll buy you a soda."

In that moment I kind of laughed inside because I thought he looked like Jeff Bridges, but a brawnier, more prison worn version, and I followed after him with a sheepish thank you. A soda sounded like a decent consolation for a bland day. The hiss of my twist cap Sprite was a refreshing sound and I looked forward to the prospect driving my truck home with the air-conditioner on full blast as my dad slept shotgun. While we were standing under the minimal shade provided by the lunch truck, Chiccarones even stopped by to thank Gary for the birthday cake, happily waddling off with what was left of it to share with his doubtlessly massive immigrant family.

I wanted to think that this job wasn't half bad, but I stopped myself when my eyes landed on my dad, wedging his way out of one of the turquoise porta-potties at the chain link fence across from the lunch truck. No, this wasn't a glamorous job in the least—no Cliquot or caviar for sure. There wasn't the adventurous excitement of a Vegas hit man gig… the closest I ever felt to maverick rebellion was a good afternoon with Grand Theft Auto. My Yoda was a Jesusy prison reformate, who brought pink frosted cakes to hyper sensitive construction workers with short man syndrome… bad ass.

"I have a daughter your age, you know…" Gary said as we sipped from our plastic soda bottles, "College isn't cheap and she's going to Pepperdine."

That was some fancy expensive private school I didn't know very much about, so I nodded politely and tried to look interested.

"You paying for that in Rolexes?" I asked with a little laugh—and then I realize it was a tactless thing to say.

He paused, hesitating to return the smile. "Something like that," he shrugged indeterminably, "with the Lord's help, I'll do what I have to."

"That's cool, man," I responded awkwardly, merely wanting to fill the silence because Gary suddenly looked very intense.

For a moment I saw the hit man, not the pink frosted preacher.

It was a strange relief when my dad called me over to drive home.

We didn't drive off right away because my cell phone was buzzing. It wasn't a number I recognized but my dad gave me a withering look as if to imply that I answer it quickly so he could use a "real" bathroom back home. It was the solar energy company I had applied to earlier in the month. I hadn't expected a response so late, especially for a job I was clearly unqualified for, but data entry is data entry. I avoided my dad's already scowling expression as I accepted the offer in a whirl wind five minutes.

A sudden judgmental chill passed through the car as I saw my father's eyes narrow. It was an expression that asked, "what's wrong with what I do, why isn't it good enough for you?" It had never been anything personal, but this news was the best thing that had happened to me all summer. So quickly I had discovered today would be my last day. I felt like I should say good bye to Gary, however. He would be happy for me, I was sure of it, and I owed him for all those interesting conversations on the scaffold. Delaying my father's bowel movements all the longer, I left the work truck and raced out to the worker lot, hoping Gary has lingered.

He had.

He was the only one left in the parking lot, but I halted in place as I watched him close his trunk. I wasn't sure if my eyes were playing tricks on me, if the heat from the sun had baked my brain, but I swore I saw a body, gagged and squirming in the trunk just as Gary slammed it down.

"Hey, little Gunn," Gary smiled at me, standing before the trunk with his arms crossed.

It took a second for me to regain my footing, licking my lips as I breathed out shakily. "Oh yeah, uh, I got the job I wanted," I uttered hastily, because I wasn't thinking anymore, my mouth was just rambling away while I fixated on what was jostling in the trunk behind Gary.

"Righteous," Gary clapped me on the back, and it hurt more than it should have, "You're going to make your pops proud."

There was a glint that shined in his side pocket, and I saw the keys. A trident's head flashed for an instant… those weren't the keys for his clunker Monte Carlo. I had to force myself to look back up at his face. It was a ragged process of telling myself to breathe, to stand still, because the pieces were fitting together strangely. I could see a bible resting on the shelf below the rear view window, but to the right hung a tailored suit, crisp and perfect… and most likely Armani. My mouth was dry but he was smiling back with his jolly Jesus grin and all I could do was keep talking.

"I er, just wanted to thank you for all those sodas, you know, and the scaffold lunches."

It was mushy but it was Gary and I figured he could take it.

"Any time," Gary smiled as he moved to open his car door.

I was still numb, rooted in place when he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot, waving at me like the Jesusy crack pot I secretly hoped he was.*