By Debbie Clardy
Fog rolled in off the Gulf of Mexico and the stench of dead fish and diesel fuel floated over the docks. Deke Brown’s heavy footsteps were muffled by the wet boards and humidity. He wiped the moisture off his face with a snowy white linen handkerchief and folded it precisely to replace it in his back pocket without forming an unsightly bulge. He straightened his tie, pulled his Armani jacket against his chest, and adjusted the holster resting under his arm. The contact was late.
Deke cursed all law enforcement agencies in general, but especially those that forced him out of his hometown of Houston and into the sultry wetlands of godforsaken Louisiana to make the buy. The contact had promised a meet at 11:15 p.m. His Presidential Rolex read 11:35.
“Freaking end of the world.” He spoke into the damp air as he walked toward a storage shed close to the dock’s edge. Jingling the change in his pocket, he waited under the awning as sweat drizzled down his freckled neck and disappeared under the collar of his shirt. He wondered if the contact had lied. Would he bring the package safe and sound? Would he bring the law? Anger gnawed at Deke’s gut, and he spat into the dark waters. He clenched and unclenched his hands.
Footsteps thudded and he strained to see through the white soupy mist. When the contact emerged, Deke likened him to a cattail, thick and round at the top with stalk-thin legs. The stranger walked with a quick, jerky gait and glanced over his shoulder every four or five steps. His empty arms clutched his cheap waterproof jacket tightly across his chest as though to protect himself from the night. The contact had dry, leathery skin and spiky, mud brown hair that looked like a Bowie knife had been its last barber.
“Where is it?” Deke asked, emphasizing each word.
The contact shrank against the wall of the shed.
Deke stood only five feet, nine inches but had the bulk of a fifty-five gallon drum. His freckled baldhead and orange-red moustache and goatee glistened with droplets of moisture. His nose, broken more times than he cared to remember, curved slightly to the left and drew people’s attention away from the cold steel blueness of his eyes. The cutting tone of his voice drove the contact further into the shadows.
“In my truck. You got the cash?” The contact’s question was a whisper in the mist.
The contact shifted his weight from one foot to the other and glanced over his shoulder. A thick cloud of fog rolled in off the water. He rubbed his flattened beak with the back of his hand and left it dry, but red.
“I said, get it and get it now.” Deke’s voice growled the demand.
“O... k... kay.” The contact disappeared into the haze.
Water slapped against the pier in an unsteady, frantic rhythm. Tension coiled around Deke and tightened as though being wound by the waves. “Damn frigging levee rats,” he mumbled, and ran his beefy hand over his head and slung the wetness from it.
The contact ran out of the fog. “She wants to meet you.” He hesitated to catch his breath and sucked a portion of the soupy air into his mouth. “Jeez, this place reeks.” His nose suffered another brutal swipe. “She wants to see the dough.”
“What the hell kind of operation is this?” Deke removed the envelope from his pocket and exposed the bills to the swarthy man. The contact’s mouth fell open and he jerked it shut.
“She won’t give up the package without meetin’ ya or seeing that you got the cash.”
“You saw it, now get the damn package. I’m not here for a social call.” He stepped forward and pushed the contact against the shed, placing one hand on the man’s chest and holding him there. Deke removed his handkerchief and wiped the dampness from his face and head again. The linen cloth fluttered to the dock and disappeared into the grime.
“Get the package. Bring it to me and you get the cash. Come back empty handed and somebody’s gonna find you floating face down.”
“Okay, okay. I’m going.”
Deke had no intention of seeing or meeting the woman-child who sat beyond the fog, beyond his sphere of understanding. He would likely want to talk her out of ridding herself of the unwanted package, and that he couldn’t afford. His clients didn’t pay for compassion, they paid for merchandise.
The contact was too long in coming back so Deke ambled away from the shed in the general direction the cattail man had taken. When he heard the stilted voices engaged in a heated argument, he slowed his pace and inched closer. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the words.
“Give it to me, you stupid whore. You want your ass to end up in the Gulf?”
Deke heard the shuffle of feet and a muffled thud.
“I just want to see him? Is he decent, or is he cheap and dirty like you?” The voice was shrill and feminine.
The crack of flesh striking flesh reached Deke’s ears and a soft whimper filtered through the fog. He stood stiff, rooted to the spot. He would not interfere.
“I’m tired of your crap, girl. Get back in the truck.” More scuffling noises mingled with the sound of the water and Deke heard the truck door slam loud enough to echo against the metal shed. He made his way back under the awning quietly and forced down his anger. His knuckles cracked, sounding like dry twigs when he clenched his fists.
The contact came back, this time seemingly calm and collected. He held out the bundle. Deke placed it in the crook of his arm and handed the payment across. The contact grabbed the envelope and fingered the money.
“I don’t want to hear from you again. This is our last transaction.” Deke walked away with the bundle snuggled against his chest. He never looked back.
He drove straight through the morning hours only stopping when necessary. His clients were due in Houston for an eight a.m. meeting. He would have just enough time to shower off the stench of the dock and change.
He tried not to think about the consequences of his actions. Rather, he thought about the reasons. Inconsolable grief, piercing heartache, melancholy, maternal longing, loneliness, lost nurslings; these were only a few of the hundreds of reasons his clients gave for commissioning his services. He had stopped rationalizing, stopped asking why, stopped asking for answers long ago. He didn’t judge their motives. He fulfilled their dreams. He bought and sold babies.