A Nifty Twist on the NAFTA
Chapter 9 – Shiva’s Messenger
A Nifty Twist on the NAFTA
After enjoying a meal to stave off depression in the Via Rail dining car, he went back to his seat. The young traveler took some diet supplement tablets and watched the scenery for a few minutes. The tracks went through industrial sections of urban areas but between centers, he could watch the rugged Canadian landscape slipping by. With a berth to sleep in, this was definitely better than driving. As Sam had predicted, he arrived in Winnipeg well rested from the train travel and the antioxidant tablets.
Shiva’s Messenger took a taxi to an address only one block from the car lot. Renting a stretched limo and putting Mexican flags on the hood had been an option that he’d considered briefly but he didn’t want quite that much attention.
“Hello Garcia Monterey,” the impeccably dressed man swallowed some anti-depression capsules and viewed his reflection in a shop window as he walked by. Garcia adopted a swagger in his step that only prestige can purchase or practice may imitate. With an air of aristocracy, he strode onto the lot and stood still in the exact center. Taking out his video camera, he began to pan it about, while providing a Spanish commentary.
After only a few seconds, a grinning salesman emerged from the office. His step was lively and his polyester suit flapped as he walked. Garcia gave the man a disparaging look from head to toe and didn’t give him a chance to speak.
“I do not deal with underlings.” Garcia turned curtly away to dismiss the salesman entirely.
He remained in place and continued to view the cars. It only took another brief moment before Garcia heard a heavy shuffle of feet coming up behind him. Turning, he saw a grossly obese man approaching him in a waddle. His ensemble was better made than his salesman’s was. To find something off-the-rack to encircle his expansive girth, the man would’ve been in a tent and awning shop as opposed to a big and tall men’s wear one.
“You are the owner of these automobiles?” Garcia asked with only a slight trace of a Mexican accent. He had also dropped the contractions in his speech. A man of Monterey’s noble breeding and classical education would not use them.
“I do. In fact, I own the whole lot.”
“Very good, then may I be honored with your name?”
“Uh, Frost, Andrew Frost. That’s why I named my business Frosty the Car Man.”
“I am Señor Garcia Monterey.” He extended his hand and Andrew quickly took it into his sweaty grasp.
“You put my salesman in a huff by dismissing him so abruptly,” Frost noted this for its amusement potential. “What can I do for you, uh—Senior Monterey?”
“I’m not responsible for his depression treatments. Lower people should accept their station in life.” Garcia’s terse reply exuded how little he cared whether he had offended an employee. “In your country, you have allowed the distinction between classes to become blurred.”
“I tend to agree.” Andrew tittered and the mirthful action was accompanied by undulations in his flesh rolls, “Our social structure is more subtle. It comes down to whose money talks the loudest.”
“Then I shall shout at you.” Garcia smiled wryly but his voice remained at the same pitch. “What is the best car on your lot and how much are you asking for it?” He could have easily answered for himself as the prices were affixed to each window in two-foot day-glow colored signs.
“That one.” He pointed out a recent model Lexus and launched into his pitch. “It’s a sweetheart of a deal at only $48,900. Only one previous owner and low mileage.”
“I will take that car.” Garcia interrupted the sales banter. “My intent is to purchase other vehicles from you as well. However, as I will be spending a substantial dollar amount, I would prefer that this money went more towards buying the cars and less towards the revenue coffers of the national government.”
“I can arrange that for my good customers.” Normally Andrew knew the buyers better before suggesting the backdoor way of tax avoidance but the thought of selling the Lexus and the intimation of other sales was far too tempting to pass up.
“What I just asked you to do is not legal in your country,” Garcia noted casually. “Yet you agreed to it without a qualm.”
“I’ve got an expensive lawyer.” Frost felt a twinge of regret in having responded candidly but he bragged his way out with a well-worn quip. “His divine intervention can bring any market transactions in the grey area back onto the sunny side of legal.”
“I sincerely doubt that.” Garcia scrutinized him with an intensity that nearly made the man squirm. “Regardless of your barrister’s fee schedule, he cannot turn this shade of pitch into anything lighter than a deep charcoal. The laws of government taxation are very clear and more jealously enforced than even murder.”
“I, um—.” Andrew’s tongue tripped over his teeth. He mopped his face frantically with his handkerchief while he struggled for a response to extricate himself. He saw no option except to try to brush it off with some truth. “Well, in this country the indigenous people have special dispensations, so we can conduct sales through their tax-exempt status.” Andrew was relieved by the smile and the knowing nod he received in return for this answer.
“I understand.” Garcia paused for a long moment to allow Andrew to believe that he was now in the clear. Finally, he closed the trap on the salesman. Taking a small step forward, Garcia slightly invaded the fat man’s space and the disparity of their height lent an even further intimidation. “What I fail to see, though, is how you and I, that are non-indigenous, can perform a network marketing transaction that does not accrue a tax liability? Even performed through an exempt third party, there is still a tariff that must be disassociated.”
Like a free-range cow herded into a stockade, all Andrew could do was to stand chewing a non-existent cud. He craned from side to side looking for a way out but he knew that there wasn’t any. He had run out of karma and walked into an ambush and this well-dressed man wasn’t a customer. This had to be a federal agent and Andrew’s own tax bill had probably bought his fine clothes. “You’re with the government? I want my lawyer.”
“I am not an official of your government. Now please answer my question.” Garcia figuratively had him gripped by the short curly hairs. “Who incurs the debt for those sales tax remissions?”
“If a man has dug himself into a hole, then the smartest thing to do, is to stop digging.” Depressing visions of prison swam in Andrew’s mind, but at least it was only going to be his word against his accuser. Optimistically, there was still a slim possibility of escape, especially if he quickly destroyed his records before a search warrant could take them.
“Andrew, I am afraid that the pit you have excavated is far beyond an acceptable depth already.” Garcia lifted the camera from his side where it had remained, to his shoulder level. The recording LED shone like a red beacon of doom in Frost’s face. The cornered rat blinked rapidly and his face fell as he saw his reflection, even more rotund than in reality, in the convex lens. “Now Mr. Frost, what do you have further to lose by answering my question? Perhaps the mole that ceases his burrowing fails to find the escape tunnel that might be only a shovel’s distance away?”
“I—.” Andrew’s depression hit rock bottom. He paused and swallowed hard. The camera sealed his fate. There wouldn’t be a need for even the records. Still, the aristocratic young man had just offered a glimmer of salvation. He couldn’t detect any other way, so he dropped his eyes to the ground and blurted out the rest. “The taxes are owed by the native, but they likely won’t pay it and generally, they aren’t even aware that the transaction has been done in their name.”
“Thank you.” Garcia’s demeanor transformed from threatening to genial. He clasped the man’s slumping shoulder in camaraderie. “That was not so hard now, was it?”
“So, what do you want?”
“I have a transaction that I wish to do but I needed to find a partner willing to exploit the underclass of society as the resource that they are.” Garcia switched off the camera with slight audible click and the tension in the air swiftly dissipated. “I have evaluated you and determined you are worthy of engaging in business with.”
“What business are we engaging?” Andrew constructed a clumsy sentence out of words heard recently. He was reeling from the emotional swings and the swift anti-depression treatment at the end that the gentleman had pushed him through.
“Are you intending,” Garcia chided in a friendly manner, “to discuss commerce while standing in the middle of your car lot?”
“Uh, no, would you like to come into my office?” Andrew was always ready to discuss a potentially profitable deal, even if it was illegal as this one might be. Make that especially if it was illicit, as those usually paid the best.
They walked to the office through the sales floor area. The receptionist was a woman that showed she once had beauty, but sedentary life and pampering had eroded it. She was bedecked with ostentatious jewelry and her makeup was gaudy. Given the fact that there was no paperwork at her desk and the salesman actually did the reception in the lot, her position was seemingly inconsequential. By a wedding ring on her finger that was all carats and no class, Garcia guessed she was Andrew’s wife. Difference in their comparative ages suggested she was the trophy of a long ago matrimonial contest but now neither one was a prize.
Her appraising gaze followed Garcia as they continued into Andrew’s inner-sanctum. The Mexican noble suspected that she would know almost the exact value of every article of his clothing. Garcia had nothing to worry about there, as his designer clothing wasn’t imitation. Andrew’s wife could evaluate and her estimate would only strengthen his position.
“What kind of venture are you proposing, Senior Monterey?” Frost lowered his mass into his plush office chair to a straining of air as it hissed out of the seams.
“In private, you may address me by my given name.” The elegant Latin American man settled into the hard-backed chair normally occupied by petitioners seeking a price negotiation.
“Garcia,” Andrew’s ego swelled at being afforded this privilege by the aristocratic young man, “let’s talk turkey.”
“Our discussion may be poultry, but not paltry. I want to buy 200 cars.” His demeanor was casual as if he were asking to buy nothing more valuable than a carton of eggs. Countering Frost’s banality with his originality, Garcia elevated himself to a higher plateau. ‘Stupid people panic when confronted with intelligence.’
“Two hundred!” Frost almost swallowed his coffee-stained dentures. “I don’t have that many.”
“You do not need to have them, as the cars are already in my possession. What I do not have are sales slips for them so that I can export to Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement does contain legal requirements that must be observed.”
“Uh,” Andrew thought for a moment before continuing. Issuing sales documents for stolen automobiles was as bad or even worse than dodging taxes by unloading them onto status Indians. “We’re talking about stolen cars?”
“Andrew,” Garcia feigned some slight indignation, “How can you honestly believe a man such as I could deal in purloined vehicles? My status here is that of Trade and Commerce Legate for the Federal Republic of Mexico. I am a highly respected citizen of my country and I am a privileged guest in yours.” Garcia smiled as he managed to slip this title nonchalantly into the conversation. He noted that it had the desired effect.
“Then why do you need someone to issue transfer documents?” Andrew was puzzled but somewhat in awe, that such a high-ranking person was actually in his office.
“Well, maybe,” Garcia continued with an ironic smile, “it is possible the vehicles were misappropriated at some time but the serial-numbers they currently wear were obtained from salvage yards. Mexican car buyers are not so discriminating as Canadians on whether a pre-owned automobile has been in an accident.”
“That’s different.” Andrew Frost sat for a long moment in stunned disbelief. This was the possibility of a huge score and it was falling straight into his lap. “Why me?”
“I know that the population of Manitoba contains a higher than proportional representation of status individuals. That is why I chose to come to Winnipeg. Since this is the link in the chain that ties my name to the cars, I need to establish a purchase that is beyond reproach. For this I require a business associate who knows that lesser people only have value as the resources of their masters. I assume you have a file of throw-away names that can be utilized.” Garcia watched carefully for Andrew’s reaction.
“Yes! Of course I do and if I don’t have quite enough I can get more.” Andrew glanced to his corner safe where he kept his file. He swelled at being considered worthy by such an esteemed gentleman as Garcia Monterey and was completely dazzled by the brilliance of his scheme. “You intend to sell your vehicles to my consignees untraceably for cash and then purchase them back to receive the legal documentation?”
“That is correct. My certified check to you establishes my fully legitimate ownership and in this transaction there is no grey zone.” Garcia smiled as he felt the firm tug on his line, indicating the hook was now bitten. “Once the automobiles are safely in international waters, it is too late to physically compare them against secondary serial numbers.”
“I really like this!” Andrew rocked back in his chair with a smug grin. He began to perspire profusely in anticipation. “When do you need them and what’s my commission?”
“I presume then, that you intend to sell me the cars I require?” Garcia rose to his feet effortlessly and extended his firm dry hand to take the clammy fat one Andrew presented from his seated position.
“Yes, we have a deal. Now let’s fill in the blanks.”
“You have to fill in the blanks on 200 forms—from a list of cars with make, model, year, price and serial number information. I want them ready by Friday. The ship is being loaded and should leave port on Monday. As this is short notice, I will offer a commission of 25%.” Garcia remained standing casually but towering over the desk.
“Uh, 25% is fine.” Andrew initially thought that he should bargain but reconsidered: he didn’t want anything to risk this deal.
“The profit must justify a cost of acquisition and transportation. Paying expenses that are exorbitant may give an impression of impropriety.” Garcia parted with the rational he had prepared in case Andrew tried to negotiate. Again, the height intimidation had helped preempt further dispute.
“What are the exact dollar figures?”
Garcia spoke again with apparent unconcern for the amounts. “There are 200 cars and the price should be an average of $15,000 per unit. That is around 3 million. With your 25% added, the amount is 3.75 million. With the sales taxes included, I will give you certified checks in the amount of approximately $4,000,000 dollars.”
“I’m confused about the taxes. You said in the lot that you didn’t want to pay them.”
“I said that only during my evaluation of your suitability. My dealings with your business will be above reproach in every respect. The total amounts on the paperwork will exactly match the payment on my check and that includes the appropriate taxes. Whether or not your status consignees remit, is of no concern to me.”
Andrew was momentarily speechless. His keeping the sales taxes for himself boosted his commission to 30% overall. His broad smile pushed out his fleshy cheeks and made his face look like he had inserted a whole cucumber into his mouth sideways.
“So I need three million dollars to give you?” One million was an extraordinary profit for a day’s work, but Andrew’s mind grappled with the up-front cash. “Canadian dollars?”
“If you prefer, we could conduct the transaction in Pesos. Does this amount present a difficulty for you?”
“Ah, no, no problem at all.” Andrew lied quickly and waved it off. He’d have to cut his lawyer and maybe a couple of his fellow car dealers into the deal for a minor share to swing it. “And dollars will be fine.”
“Then I can expect the completed documents by Friday evening?” Garcia fished a packet of notes from his jacket pocket. Compiling the serial numbers of 200 vehicles from the motor vehicle accident records had taken several hours at the archives.
“Make the purchaser information to match this.” Garcia set his passport on the desk and it was truly a thing of absolute beauty. The imitation Mexican diplomatic passport Sam had crafted looked, felt and even smelled like the real thing. Sam’s attention to detail went so far as to providing Garcia with many country stamps and diplomatic visas.
As he finished transcribing the information, Andrew Frost’s attention fell onto the video camera and he suddenly recalled the incriminating evidence. “Garcia, what’re you doing with that now?”
“You have nothing to worry about with this. I can delete it now if you like but I do have some video notes to my uncle. Would you like to see the cars you are selling me being loaded onto the ship while we find the point on the tape to begin erasing?”
“Sure.” Andrew propped his elbows onto his desk and watched intently as Garcia rewound the tape. Although he couldn’t follow the commentary, the subject matter was unmistakable. If there remained even the slimmest of lingering doubt, it now vanished completely. The passport and video absolutely locked in the barbs.
The young angler smiled at the big tuna that hung torpidly on his line with the hook swallowed so deeply that it offered no irritation. This one wasn’t even giving a wriggle of a fight as he was being reeled in. Garcia had no regrets about erasing the tape. A judge & jury didn’t need this evidence because the verdict was already in and the sentence would be carried out swiftly enough.
“Now, what about my Lexus? I would like to take it today while keeping the current registration. I had my limo drop me off so that I could attend to this, my non-official business. Add the price of the car to the overall amount.”
“Absolutely.” Andrew levered himself out of the chair to obtain the keys to the car. “It’s in the name of Thomas Cardinal and the plates are valid. It’s a pleasure doing business with you, Sir.”
After bidding farewell to his very welcome new associate, Andrew settled back into his seat with a double sigh that emanated both from his lungs and the chair’s tortured upholstery.
“What an incredible deal!” When a fish takes an angler’s hook, instinct or appeal has driven it to trust that the lure has sustenance value. But more often the bait is just a flashy painted spoon, holding only visual flavoring. The primitive fish brain then has a quandary. Can it accept conflicting data from the tongue, when it believes that the eyes don’t lie? Frost had snapped at a tasty looking lure that glittered with apparently genuine dollar signs. Now the thought couldn’t cross his mind that the word ‘incredible’ was also dictionary defined as ‘not believable’.
“I wonder if I’ve just had a future president of Mexico sitting in my office?” Andrew mused. It was amazing that one so young held such a high-ranking diplomatic position. He was obviously very well educated but his family still needed to have substantial clout within the government. Señor Monterey offered a certified check but Frost would’ve gladly even trusted a personal one.
Now Andrew Frost had to give some thought on how to retain for himself as much of the profit as possible. He would take out a very large loan. Commission that his partners got could be trimmed to 20%. Grinning, he absentmindedly massaged the billowing rolls of his jowls. Then, he picked up the phone and got to work.
Garcia Monterey also sighed as he left but his was one of relief. The man continually perspires from every conceivable portion of his gross anatomy. His teeth probably even sweated when he smiled in the sunshine. He carries a cloying air envelope around him as tart as a half-time locker room. Garcia gunned the engine of his nearly new Lexus and the wheels chirped as he headed for a desperately needed shower.
The hotel room’s mirror watched another transformation, as Garcia became Roger once more. Audrey would need some good legal representation. Proof to exonerate her was in Andrew’s safe: Frost confirmed it with a flickering glance on the mention of throwaway names. Hammerhead Faraday was unsuitable for the task so Roger needed to go shopping for another. If only Jessica Ellis were here: for her lawyer abilities in addition to her other pleasurable attributes.
In Winnipeg’s uptown area, he found a large legal partnership. It was a posh office with a staff of attorneys. Roger Connors had considered whether to use this identity for this application. It didn’t feel quite right. I should’ve switched names on leaving Creston.
His current appearance no longer matched the identification. The name was also a thin but unbroken strand that linked to Dr. Cindy. Still, since Audrey knew him still as Roger, her lawyer should as well or immediate questions would pop up. His father supplied the phrase that finally swayed his decision. ‘Pressing concerns should take priority over potential problems’.
“Miss, I need your advice on which lawyer to choose.” The handsome young man placed both hands flat on the reception desk and leaned forward slightly.
The young woman blushed, knowing that she had a rehearsed response at the ready. “I’m not qualified to give legal advice.”
“Suggesting a barrister isn’t legal advice. It’s just giving me your personal opinion.” Roger had anticipated her reply, from a script.
“They’re all good lawyers.” Slightly flustered, she shrugged and stayed with her pre-authorized text. “This is the number one firm in the city.”
“Ok, that makes them all competent.” He set his elbows on the counter to put his face on a closer level to hers and lowered his pitch to suggest intimacy. “I want to know which one treats you the nicest?”
“That is an easy answer.” The query was also not covered by her reply list. “Darcy Leach. She’s really junior though.”
“I’d like an appointment with her then, please.” He treated the receptionist with an appreciative smile.
Moments later, Roger Connors was ushered into an office only marginally larger than a walk-in closet. Darcy stood and rounded the desk to shake his hand. A siren wailed a warning into his mind. Danger! Exercise extreme caution and don’t be an idiot this time! She appeared to be similar in age to Jessica. Winnipeg is reputed to house a disproportionate amount of exceedingly beautiful women and Darcy was certainly one that supported that testimonial.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Connors?” Darcy came straight to business but with a charming, white-toothed smile.
“A friend needs better representation than she’s previously not enjoyed.” Roger’s eyes were on the lawyer’s but peripheral vision showed him there was a diminutive chair in front of her undersized desk. Sitting in that would make him feel like he was attending a tea party in a child’s playhouse.
“Tell me about her situation.” Darcy noted that he had stalled in place after the greeting. She often got that when men entered her office and presumed it was a male reaction to her appearance. She leaned casually back against her desk to converse while standing.
Roger described the bag lady’s circumstances. Although Darcy expounded generally the same points Anthony had raised, it wasn’t done condescendingly. He countered with his firm belief that while many in the same situation may be guilty, Audrey wasn’t.
“Her sentence is finished and she is free,” the young lawyer asked, “so what can be done for her now?”
“She’s no longer incarcerated but Audrey is anything but free. The prison stigma, over and above background prejudice regarding her race, hampers her attempts to find steady work. Without a job, she can’t get her child back and without her son, Audrey is prone to a despair that impairs her employability. She’s locked in a hopeless cycle that was initiated through no fault of her own.”
“My firm normally doesn’t take these cases.” It was beginning to interest her though, as was the client. Much too junior to flout the rules, there was still a temptation.
“Possibly because they pre-assume the client’s guilt and don’t want to partake in the misery for the meager payments that legal aid offers?” Bottom feeders like Anthony Faraday thrived on the scraps a prestigious firm found distasteful. “If a sufficient retainer was posted on Audrey’s behalf, would we then have to flip to a different page of your company’s policy manual?”
The lawyer had to think about this for only a flicker of a second before parrying and smiling deliciously at a deceptive double thrust in his phrasing. “Maybe to the first. And then yes for the next.”
Roger cracked a corresponding grin. You’re sharp as a rapier, Ms. Leach. This fencing interchange was the ideal proof he had found the right lawyer to represent Audrey. It also demonstrated that the hazard signal that sounded in his head when he saw her—was well merited.
The balance of the short interview was spent talking about things Darcy should also do for Audrey’s case. These included helping her navigate the fetid quagmire of the child welfare system to get her son back and giving moral support in recapturing her self-esteem. Darcy agreed to give the case priority and to peruse the file before the weekend. A meeting with Audrey was set for Friday afternoon. The retainer was paid in cash but the amount wasn’t sufficient to evoke more than a slightly curious look.
“Audrey had a winning wager on the dark horse when she met you.” Darcy took his hand again to terminate the meeting but she enticingly held it significantly longer than business decorum merited.
“That good luck is para-mutual.” Rein away stallion, before the lord of nature’s dance spurs your brain in a mare’s nest again!
Shiva’s Messenger went to see Audrey one last time but she wasn’t in her room. He inquired at the front desk and was directed to the motel laundry, where he found her washing sheets. “Are we having fun yet?” He startled her from behind.
“Roger?” She took a second to recognize his new look.
“Are you working here now?” He was very pleased to see that Audrey had cleaned herself up so nicely. It was difficult to picture her as the bag lady huddled in the cold: such a short time ago.
“Just part-time because I’m staying here anyways. It’s nice to be doing something again.” Audrey grinned and spoke down in a conspiratorial tone. “I’d do the work even if they weren’t paying me.”
“You have an appointment with a nice lady lawyer.” He handed over a card. “She’s agreed to look at your case. If all goes as it should, Darcy can help get your son back from foster care.”
“I can’t afford a lawyer.” The rekindled slender hope of seeing her boy again brought a heavy mist into her brown eyes.
“Don’t you worry about that. I talked to Darcy and she’s agreed to do it for you. She knows what you can and can’t afford, so you just let her do her job.”
“I didn’t have to pay for my last lawyer either.” The skeptical look spoke volumes about the quality of service that the double-breasted reef cruiser had provided.
“I didn’t find that one for you. I guarantee you’re really going to like Darcy and she’s going to do only good things for you.” He paused and then told her the rest. “I have to leave today and I probably won’t be back any time soon. I’m going to give you enough money to get you set up in an apartment. We don’t want your bringing your son back to live in a motel. You’ll have to start looking after yourself after that. Maybe you can get regular work here. Perhaps Darcy will vouch for you. I think you’re doing fine. All you have to do is think positive thoughts to keep yourself on the straight path.”
“How do I repay you?” Audrey had been trying to keep track of what he had spent but she suspected the lawyer cost something. Now, he was talking about giving even more.
“This is my pleasure.” He placed an affable hand on her arm, “You paid a debt that you didn’t owe. I’m just refunding it for you.”
“You’re not the one that did those things to me, so why are you the one paying me back?” She lowered her chin to look curiously at his face, “I still think you’re an angel.”
“No,” he found her misconstrued opinion of his benevolence just as funny the second time, “I’m your collection agency.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Could you figure out the bad events that happened to you?”
“Then why do you have to grasp the good ones? Just accept them and be happy.” After planting a kiss on her forehead, he left.
Garcia Monterey phoned Frost’s car lot on Friday morning. “Are the transfer documents ready?”
“I’m really glad you called.” Andrew puffed slightly like picking up the phone had put him out of breath. “I was just about to call your embassy in Ottawa.”
“They would have just patched you through to me here.” Garcia was fortunate this was a phone call. His hugely relieved reaction might have shown in person. “Is there a problem?”
“No. I’m just calling to set up a time for our meeting.” Andrew seemed to forget that he hadn’t been the one that dialed. “I also wanted to ensure that you had the exact figure to put on the check.”
“How about eight thirty?” Garcia then jotted down the amount.
Garcia Monterey hung up the phone. Then after a quick glance at the wall mirror, Roger Connors picked it up again to dial Darcy’s cell phone. “Have you read the file yet?”
“Yes.” The lawyer then went on to excitedly report her finding something bemusing. Audrey had sold the cars to different people, but the same sales lot had filled out all the paperwork. “I expect I’ll have an interesting discussion with the owner.
“That intriguing.” Roger feigned surprise. “You might consider getting a search warrant first or he’ll have an opportunity to destroy any evidence.”
“Please, Mr. Connors,” she chuckled at his presumption of her nonexistent naïveté, “I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”
Shiva’s Messenger keyed in the numbers and an imprinter Sam had provided cranked out a perfect check. He minutely examined the finished product under the desk light. From the intricate logo of an import & export company to the embossed dollar amount and certified stamps, the forgery was a masterful piece of work. Of course it had to be, Sam Levi was a peerless craftsman. Tossing away the other beautiful blanks was almost a dirty shame. Still, having too many was always better than not quite enough.
He donned the same slightly oversized suit jacket that Romero had worn and strapped on the same shoulder holster. The identical Ruger model to the one from Creston was again the right weapon for the task. It was quiet and deadly. Again the fit was invisible and he practiced his draw a few times until the motions were engrained into his muscle memory. He looked in his mirror.
“Hey there Garcia. Why don’t we go and put a new clause into the North American Free Trade Agreement.”
The Lexus drove into the Frosty the Car Man lot at precisely twenty-five minutes after eight. Garcia took several deep breaths. His attention was only on the air filling his lungs. Now centered, he was prepared to react instantly to developing contingencies.
He counted only three parked cars that weren’t plastered with stickers and soap writing. The main door wasn’t locked and Garcia entered the sales floor area. The kitschy receptionist with wealth-detection radar was absent and so was the cheap suited salesman.
Andrew Frost heard the door buzzer as his guest entered but winching his hefty carcass off the sofa without a beef-butcher’s hoist had taken a little time.
“Garcia,” Andrew checked his watch as he waddled. “You’re right on the button.”
“I am always punctual.” The Mexican diplomat stood with hands clasped behind his back in hopes of the posture discouraging the customary handshake ritual. Frost was performing for the audience of his own ego though, so there was no getting around it. After releasing the sweat soaked grip, Garcia casually rested the palm of his gun-hand against his pants to let the cloth soak up the moisture.
Andrew swagger-stepped into his garish headquarters with the illustrious guest in tow, as if he were a recently knighted lord with a royal patron. Garcia wondered how the man rationalized his inflated self-image. Maybe Frost viewed himself better than others saw him. ‘A mind sees what the heart believes’—and, as per usual, his father provided key to understanding.
“I have some men for you to meet.” Frost swept a hand at a couple of occupants in the office but neglected mentioning names. “Two of my contemporaries are putting through some of the sales.”
“If I had known there were more participants in the deal I could have divided the amount into separate checks.” Garcia nodded to the two other car lot owners in acknowledgement of the nameless introductions. Since the men aren’t of similar age to Andrew, the word contemporary was misused. Shiva’s Messenger didn’t need their names and the timeframe didn’t permit his establishing their individual morals. Their involvement here and the company they kept had to peg their relative value. Garcia relegated both to the same level of contempt as they held for the natives housed in their expendable names files.
“That’s fine,” Andrew was animated in hamming his role. “My colleagues and I have agreed already that I’ll cash the check and divide up the funds appropriately.” He looked slightly askance at his fellows that he had again misclassified, as none were professional or skilled coworkers. Frost had lied to them in specifically saying that Garcia Monterey had stipulated for only one check.
“My banker sent this other gentleman.” Andrew indicated to the corner of the room behind the door, where a muscular hired thug had his gun holster worn brazenly over his t-shirt. “He insisted on having some security due to the large amount of cash.”
“Then let us get to it.” The diplomat smiled and punctuated his statement with a clap of his hands. Garcia glanced back at the guard, sizing him up and noting his exact location. The term gentleman and banker were applied as inappropriately as the other phraseology. The Mexican aristocrat then turned away from the loan shark’s thug without even a nod, as if he was a peon and his presence meant less than a dead parrot hanging from a perch. ‘Take out the ones with the guns first.’
“Here are the 200 filled out transaction forms.” Andrew crossed to the desk and opened the cover of a thick file folder. He fanned out the papers like a blackjack dealer would with a deck of cards.
“All appears to be satisfactory.” Garcia only flicked his eyes at the desk. Whether there were errors or if the forms were even filled out at all was irrelevant. The diplomat plucked a certified check out of his inside jacket pocket and placed it on the desk but saw no need to announce it or dramatize it.
“They are all in order, I double-checked each myself.” Andrew shuffled around the desk and squatted by his wall safe: his knees popped noisily under his weight. After spinning the dials, he opened the armored door to withdraw two briefcases that he set on the desk. Whether by oversight or by his intent to put the check in a secure location afterwards, Frost neglected to close the safe’s door.
“Three million smackeroos!” Andrew continued his theatrics by flourishing a hand over the neatly stacked bundles of Canadian banknotes. “I counted this myself three times and it was the most fun I’ve ever had.” There’s the epitome of a thrill-filled life. Andrew chortled both in response to his own sparkling humor and his Oscar caliber performance.
The outer door-warning buzzer sounded but Andrew gestured his audience to relax. “That’ll just be my lawyer. There’s dollars on my desk so he’s right on cue. Garcia, you might want to occupy yourself with some counting while I bring him in.”
“I believe I will.” Shiva’s Messenger drew his gun while he spun on his heel. The arrival of the legal ray of sunshine that brightened up Frost’s grey scale transactions meant Garcia should finish his current job before meeting the next. “One-two,” the assassin tallied in a whisper as he put two evenly spaced rounds above the wide eyes of the guard’s shocked expression.
Andrew didn’t even miss a step. He hadn’t heard the muted reports over the slapping of his thighs and his labored breathing. Garcia didn’t stay swiveled to watch the bodyguard fall. Instead, he pivoted back and fired four more muffled rounds. “Three-four and five-six.” The two nameless businessmen were now as deceased as they were anonymous.
‘Always count the shots that you take forward and the rounds you replace backwards. Reload as often as practical and always before you’ve shot your last. Never be caught with an empty weapon’. Garcia recalled one of his father’s favorite truisms. He turned to face the door and held his gun casually behind his body.
“Bravo!” The assassin could not ask for a grander finale.
“You?” Anthony Faraday stared agape at the young man he’d spoken with a few days ago. His puzzled look transmuted to one of horror as he noticed that neither businessman showed signs of life.
“What the—?” Andrew also noticed that the mortality warranty on his associates had suddenly expired. His head turned quickly to stage left, where his protection had stood only moments ago. The ruffian now lay as a heap of costume and props in the wings.
“One has to just love a good coup de théâtre?” Garcia adlibbed. “This little plot twist has left you with no rebuttal.”
Like a gaffed tuna, hauled flopping onto the deck of a trawler, Frost blinked frantically and his mouth soundlessly fluttered like it was trying to find water for the gills. His eyes bulged questioningly at the deadly aristocrat but before a flabbergasted brain could frame a succinct query, two lead sinkers dove into the grey matter. Now terminally out of breath, Andrew’s fleshy fillet splashed onto the blue threadbare carpet, never to sweat again.
“I’m not one of them.” Anthony found the overdrive gear for his lips and quickly tried to distance himself from the slain.
“No,” Garcia rounded to his last victim and his voice was colder than a Winnipeg winter, “you are much worse than them. You’re the Ketaki flower: you claimed you came from the top of the fire column for your clients but you didn’t. That is why I am going to let you suffer a bit. Seven, eight and now nine.” Shiva was bang on target but I’ll be off the kill shot. He aimed low and squeezed the trigger.
Anthony screamed as the hypersonic bullet devastated his left kneecap. The lawyer fell and grabbed at his tortured limb.
“These other filth just used names for their profit without caring who got hurt.” Garcia continued his soliloquy. “You looked into their faces and recommended, as their defense lawyer, that they plead guilty for expediency. You knew they were innocent—because you were profiting from their supposed crimes.”
“I’ll help your girlfriend’s aunt for free.” The shark man pleaded.
“Can you imagine my delight at seeing you walk in this door?” Garcia disdainfully ignored the worthless offer and pulled a handful of .22 caliber rounds out of his pocket. He slowly refilled his gun while deliberately allowing the shark to savor his bitten tail fin. “I found you callous toward the people you were paid to represent but that wasn’t enough to justify my killing you. Luckily for me, your greed couldn’t keep you away.”
“I can pay you.” Anthony was desperate.
“More than three million?” As if to punctuate, Garcia slammed the lids down on the cases and clasped them. “Now as your only remaining council, I recommend your expediently pleading dead.”
With a double-tap, like a gavel on his forehead, justice was carried out swiftly and with no grounds for an appeal.
Garcia collected all eleven spent casings and tucked the check back into his pocket with them. In the reception area, he flipped the receiver off the cradle with the back of his hand. He used one of the spent rounds as a tool to stab the numbers 9-1-1 on the keypad. There was no sense giving Mrs. Frost time to empty the office of evidence or to close the safe. The killer was so far away by the time the police responded that he never even heard the sirens.