Just Who Is Elliot Shallot
A con man scams a lady but who scams the con man and who will end up dead
Matt is a con man. And he’s a good one. But this time he’s picked the wrong mark. Maria’s mum has just handed over a priceless heirloom and the consequences are devastating. Now Maria needs to find Matt and recover the necklace before the head of the Family takes control. Although willing to allow Maria time, Family Boss Gianni has a backup plan. And from his villa on the shores of Lake Como, he’s putting it into action. When Matt is shot, he convinces Elliot to help him but has he made another mistake.
The man said, “Move over will ya,” then sucked air. Elliot stayed still so the man nudged his shoulder, “Move over… will ya, pal…” A sudden catch and he wheezed with a crackle in his throat like stressed pond ice. Even with the struggling speech Elliot was drawn by the smooth, harmonious way he spoke. He sat gazing at the staring, pasty face. The long drawn down cheeks with the turned down mouth of a bitter man. Caught the watering dark eyes that struggled to smile. The man’s chest heaved. Light brown hair soaked his neckline and a creased brow told a story of pain. Sixtyish you might have thought but the reality was nearer to forty.
Elliot glanced along the lines of bobbing heads. Downstairs was full except for a few seats right up front. He held the glance a moment and made up his mind, “Sure,” he said and shuffled along the bench seat. Moved up to the window and straightened out his black bomber jacket. Glanced at the man’s reflection in the window.
The man pushed a black sports bag into the footwell up close to Elliot’s right trainer. Gripped the chrome rail on the seat back in front with a shaking right hand. His fingers went white. Turned a fraction to sit first and swing in his legs. Staggered though and sagged towards Elliot who reached out and grabbed the man's left hand. Felt cold skin. The veins on the back stood right on up. The man slumped down gasping for breath. Took a few deep heaves and managed, “Thanks… ” and leaned back. His chin touched his chest. Breathing now short and quick. In through his mouth, quicker out his nose. He stared at his knees. The fabric of the grey suit crumpled. The jacket, the two buttons done up with a bulge on the right side just under his arm. Expensive fabric, Elliot could see that. Soft. Tailored. Definitely not a cheap outfit.
The man grimaced in pain as the bus shook into motion. Swayed with sweat on his brow as they shunted into the traffic and accelerated. The roar of the diesel engine drowned out curses that were on his lips. Turned his head without lifting his chin more than a fraction, “Thanks, pal,” he repeated. Breathed deep a couple of times. His breathing settled but gurgled. “That’s better,” and he lifted his chin to glance at Elliot.
“You okay?” asked Elliot. “You look all done in.”
The man breathed deeply again. Let it out really slowly. Stared at Elliot. Saw the scowl on a good looking face. A kind of noble face. Long dark hair brushed back past his ears. Dark brown eyes inside a deep frown. “Had some problems…” he panted. “What’s your name?” The man talked so quietly Elliot had trouble hearing what he said.
The man continued to stare, “Not so loud,” and he flicked his eyes at the back of the heads in front. “How old are you, fella? I’d say approaching thirty.” A drip fell over his eyebrow onto his cheek.
“Thirty-six coming up thirty-seven.”
The man closed his eyes momentarily and let out a long hiss, “A young looker then. That’s good… Working?”
“No luck, eh?”
“What’re you looking for?”
“Anything... There’s a whole heap of anything out there. Enough to more than fill that criteria for sure.” He let out a slow whistle. Managed to wipe his left hand across his brow.
“Yeah, but there’s no anything that pays enough. Sure there are jobs but they pay crap.” Elliot said with a casual smile replacing the frown.
The man leant his head back and screwed his eyes. Another hiss but shorter, “Fussy then?” he wheezed.
“Not so much. I just won’t work doing a crap job for crap pay. One dose of crap at a time is enough.”
“You getting desperate yet?”
“Starting to think… Might soon be changing my thoughts sure enough.” Elliot started to tap the rail in front. Snuck a glance at the man.
“How are you at being discreet?”
“No problem there… I’ve done some stuff. I know how things work.” Elliot smiled a bit, not much, just enough to show that he did.
The man slowly nodded, thinking about getting home. Then said, “You want a job.”
“Just like you’re looking for… Anything… Whatever it takes.”
“Permanent?” asked Elliot.
The man tried to laugh but only managed a cough that rattled, “Look at me… What do you think?”
Elliot looked the man in the eyes and saw the lights flickering. “Tough call that… You intend on shaping up?”
“Maybe… That’ll depend on how you handle things… Does it matter?”
“Nope, not if the pay’s right.”
“Five grand, then we’ll talk again if…”
“Up front… Just in case… You know... If.”
The man coughed and said, “I see you’re a shrewd thinker. That’s good. Up front it is… Just in case.”
“Your jacket got deep pockets?”
“In the bag. Take out two bundles of fifties… That’s it and zip it up again. Now, get them out of sight.”
The man coughed again and wiped his mouth. Looked at the smear on the back of his hand.
“You’re hurt,” said Elliot.
“Not hurt, pal… Shot.”
“How’d you think? Fortunately she only had a .22. Unfortunately, despite the shouting and shaking hands, she shot fairly straight.”
“Luckily… She missed the vitals, clipped a lung maybe but maybe not. I’m not sure. Low velocity. The slug’ll still be in there.”
“Okay… so, you want me to give you five grand of help?”
“Yeah. First job… In my wallet. Inside pocket… a gentle cough and another… There’s a business card. My address… Get me there.”
Leaning over, Elliot slipped his hand inside the man’s jacket, right hand side, and felt the thick wad of screwed up tissue and the wide leather belt tight around his chest. Felt a sudden jerk.
“Careful,” the man scowled.
Slipping out the wallet Elliot flipped it open and through the see-through window read off the name. “Matthew Martinez, eh… There’s no address, just a phone number.”
“In the last card slot there’s a note. The address is on that.”
Elliot fished out a piece of paper from a letting agent, “I know where your place is. We’re on the wrong bus.” Checked the cards with some concentration. Just two. Debit and credit. Same name as the card. Both the same bank. One of the main banks. Flicked through the few notes. Maybe sixty pounds.
Matthew’s eyes sagged, “It was the first bus that came along… You seen enough flicking through like that?”
“Just making sure I know who I’m working for… Next stop we get off… You okay to stand?” He slipped the letting agent note back in the slot and pushed the wallet back into the jacket pocket.
Matthew screwed up his eyes. Felt a touch of moisture in the corner. “Give me a few moments… Make it the next stop after. Or the one after that.”
“We get a cab?”
Matthew stamped a firm reply, “Nope. Bus…” Then sighed, “How far to the right stop?”
“From the next stop after: for me five minutes down the street. For you… What do you think… fifteen?”
“I’ll do it in ten,” and Matthew gave Elliot a long unblinking stare.
“Next stop after then… Matthew.”
“Don’t call me that. It’s Matt… Poke me when it’s time.”
Matt’s shoulders slumped with his right hand still glued to the rail. His left on his knee. Thick gold band on his wedding finger. He closed his eyes and started to shake a bit.
Eight minutes later Elliot prodded and said, “Two minutes or so. You ready?”
Matt loosened his right hand grip and swung his legs out. “Grab the bag, can you,” he said. Gripped tightly with his left and pushed. Staggered but stood. Moved into the walkway hanging on to the seats each side. The older lady in the opposite seat stared through thick rimmed glasses. The younger man in the seat behind scowled. Elliott threw the long strap over his shoulder and shuffled along the seat. Grabbed Matt’s left arm taking some of the strain. Looking at the lady, then smiling at the man, said. “He’s been to A&E. Broken ribs from a fall.” Both the lady and the man looked away as Elliot pressed the button.
Elliot felt the shaking as they stepped onto the pavement. Matt’s knees sagged. He hissed, “Tug up my trousers, can you.”
With his arm around Matt’s waist from the left side they struggled up the road like two guys on a bender. Slotted in behind a group of slow walkers and staggered past a pub with music blaring out of open doors. Smokers cluttered the pavement. A young bunch dressed casually. Jeans, T-shirts with slogans. Only a couple smoking the rest listening. A sweet smell to the smoke from one long crumpled roll-up. They laughed and slung a few comments. Something about handling drink. Elliot was not so tall but Matt could feel the strength wrapped in his lithe frame. The heavy sky added to the increasing darkness as evening slipped towards night. Sensing a change in the weather Elliot frowned but hoped.
The bus shelter seat was empty but Matt did not sit, “Might only have one more getting stood up left in me. I’ll save that for the bus,” he said.
“Hang on in there,” said Elliot. “There’s a bus heading this way… Look, see it… This’ll be ours. When it pulls up, make an effort. I’ll get you on then there’s about a twenty minute rest.”
It was tough getting on. Being front of the queue helped but people still shoved. Matt grimaced as Elliot found a bench seat near the door and sat him down as an impatient woman passed with a firm push making Elliot wobble. He stared at her back but let it go. “Can you shuffle over, you’ll be better propped by the window,” he said. His grey skin made Matt look old as he slumped against the window breathing hard with teeth clenched. Looked at Elliot and managed a weak smile. Elliot used his card and tapped the fare.
Sitting, he swung the bag in front to nestle onto his lap. Glanced around the bus. Even though most seats were taken by the time they were underway no one took much notice of them. At nine in the evening on a Saturday two guys slumped on a bus was not such an unusual sight. He nudged Matt and said, “Hey, don’t you go to sleep on me.”
“Just resting my eyes is all.” Matt murmured.
For twenty minutes Elliot kept Matt awake then they were struggling up the street towards his place. Slipped across the road to the sound of hooting. Matt slumped, causing Elliot to pull him up and tighten his grip around his waist. A wound down window and the shout, Get off the road. Staggering onto the pavement Elliot felt the first spots of rain. Thought it had the feeling that said it would pick up soon. Through a gateway with no gate. A nothing special place. Two sets of stinking bins rammed against the crumbling bricks of a low wall by the gate. Weeds in the cracks in the slabs. Peeling black front door at the end of a deep porch.
“Keys,” said Elliot.
“In my jacket pocket, right hand,” replied Matt.
The door opened straight into a stark, narrow, once painted white, entrance hall with stairs going up one wall turning right at the top. Worn out carpet on the treads. Red racer hanging on long coat hooks with the front wheel just about to stop spinning.
“That door there,” said Matt indicating a door set at an odd angle blocking the old hallway that once led out back past the stairs. The door led into a small apartment. The ground floor of a converted terrace. In a block of converted houses. A door slammed upstairs then clacking leather soles on bare boards and the scrape of chairs. A deep base boom, boom started resonating through the ceiling.
“Go left,” groaned Matt, “the bedroom… on the right.”
It looked like it had just been evacuated. Curtains drawn. Bed jumbled. Clothes randomly spread. Wardrobe door open and the small chest cluttered on top. The sweat smell of used clothes prevailed. Bare boards except for a shaggy, stained, cream rug by the bed. Looked like one of those you made with a kind of crochet hook. The only thing that looked any good was a set of high-end golf clubs standing in a big black bag in the corner by the window. Elliot pulled the covers flat and lowered Matt down to sit on the edge. Swinging his legs up he got him laid down and pushed a pillow under his head.
“What now?” he said.