You’ll Be Taken Care Of Frank! Hard-Boiled Short Fiction By Tom Ziegler

“You’ll Be Taken Care Of, Frank!”: Hard-Boiled Short Fiction By Tom Ziegler

Frank was not happy with his rental car.  He was supposed to pick up a Chevy Malibu.  It was the same make and model Midwest Supply reserved for him at every airport, but the desk agent said he’d been booked for a Mitsubishi Mirage instead.  Frank told the agent he’d prefer the Malibu, and he was happy to pay the difference, but the agent told him he couldn’t split the bill.

He could, however, cancel the Mirage and use his own credit card to book a Malibu, but it would take 15 minutes to process it all.  Frank glanced at the line of people behind him.  It was long, and he didn’t feel like making a stink.  He thanked the agent and took the keys.  The agent told him to have a wonderful day.

The Mirage wasn’t hard to spot. It only took up half a parking space.  Frank had always gotten a Malibu because it blended in and it got you there.  The Mirage looked like it’d need a push up a steep hill.  He unlocked the door, got in and set his carryon on the passenger seat.  The interior was bare-bones–manual locks and windows, no radio and upholstery that squeaked.

It wasn’t as though Frank needed massage seats and a panoramic sunroof, but the Mirage didn’t even come with air conditioning.  It was November, so it wasn’t necessary, but still.  He turned the ignition, and the engine needed a couple tries to turn over before rattling to life.  He shook his head and hoped this was just a one-off.

On his way out of the rental lot, Frank looked for the commuter jet he’d come in on.  He knew from experience it would be the same one he’d ride back to Chicago that afternoon, and seeing that plane always reassured him.  Like anyone born and raised in the anonymity of a major metropolis, he was inherently wary of smaller towns.  Bent Creek may have been Iowa’s second-biggest city, but anyplace where people were nice to you for no good reason put Frank’s guard up.

It wasn’t as though Frank needed massage seats and a panoramic sunroof, but the Mirage didn’t even come with air conditioning.  It was November, so it wasn’t necessary, but still.

He didn’t dwell on it, though, because he wasn’t there to host an ice-cream social.  He was there to do his job, the same one he’d being doing for 22 years, and he’d be back home in time for dinner at his local sushi restaurant, where they were nice to him because he tipped well.  Then his weekend could start.

Frank ran through the directions in his head as he’d done hundreds of times before–Airport Blvd. east to the 580 business loop, north for three miles, exit 5A to Olinda Ave., turn left, go eight blocks, turn right onto 18th St. and stop in to the back room of L&L Liquors for his first pickup.  Bent Creek was the last of four towns on Frank’s weekly route, and it had two stops.

The first town had three stops, the other two had five, and he’d had to memorize the directions to every one of them.  Frank wasn’t allowed to use GPS, map apps or anything else that could be tracked.  He had his own smartphone, but he left it at home.  Instead he carried a burner phone provided by Midwest Supply that he turned on only to call back in to Chicago.

Every week he received four new SIM cards, and when he got back to the airport in each town on his route, he’d snap that day’s card in half and flush it down the toilet before going through security.

The 580 loop skirted downtown Bent Creek.  Its skyline was dotted with garden-variety skyscrapers that had all sprung up during the ’90s boom.  The tallest building had been built as the headquarters for the regional bank that had been foreclosing on the locals for the past century.

Since the ’08 bust, though, the sign at the top had changed from Chippewa Savings and Loan to Bank of America.  That kind of change was inevitable.  Frank knew that, but there was nothing he could do about it.

The Olinda Ave. exit was coming up, so he flipped his turn signal and started to ease across the highway, but then a bread van cut right in front of him.  Frank braked hard, the van missed him by a whisker, and he blew out a sigh of relief as he cruised down the exit ramp.

There was no way the Mirage was going to win a fight with a six-ton delivery truck, but worse, an accident would have meant an unscheduled call back to Chicago, and Frank didn’t like to make unscheduled calls.

Since the ’08 bust, though, the sign at the top had changed from Chippewa Savings and Loan to Bank of America.

Nor did he like distractions.  Something had shifted in the trunk when he’d braked, so he pulled over to strap down whatever was loose.  Frank left the motor running, popped the trunk and gave the area a once-over before getting out.

Rows of old Victorian homes lined either side of the service road beneath the elevated expressway.  Some of the houses were boarded up, and none of them looked kept up.  It had probably been a beautiful boulevard years ago until some civic planner had plowed a six-lane bypass through it so suburbanites could knock 15 minutes off their commute.  Frank didn’t dwell on that either.

He just wanted to make sure he wasn’t going to get jumped.  Small town or not, every one of them had its rough parts.  He got out, walked to the rear of the Mirage and lifted the trunk lid, only to slam it back down when he saw what was inside.  He double-checked to make sure there really wasn’t anyone around and hustled back into the car.

Frank took a couple deep breaths, in and out, to get himself straight.  He didn’t have to ask if what he’d just seen was really what he’d just seen.  He knew what it was.  The real question was–What the hell was it doing there?  Was it a setup?  And if so, why?  Frank took a couple more breaths.  He was starting to panic, and when people panicked, they made mistakes.

Experience told him the first thing he needed to do was find a safe place and check in with Midwest Supply. He hung a uey and clocked five miles on the odometer, making several turns to make sure he wasn’t being followed before pulling into a Church’s Fried Chicken to a spot near the back with no other cars around.  He took a couple more deep breaths.

When he’d had been hired more than 20 years ago, Frank had been told three things–Do your job, do it right, and you’ll be taken care of.

“Do your job” was simple enough.  Frank collected the money from the local guys at each stop on his route, called the numbers in to Chicago and spread the deposits across several local banks in each town.  From day one, he’d been told that was all he’d ever do.

He’d never move up, but Midwest Supply would never ask him to do anything else.  Those two considerations had been made very clear to him for very practical reasons, and the company had never given him a reason to question them.

“Do it right” meant don’t do anything stupid.  At every stop on his route, Frank had to count the money and call in the numbers in front of the local guys.  That way his counts could be matched against the deposits he’d make at the local banks–and they better match.  The company did not screw around, and Frank knew that anyone who thought otherwise was fooling himself.

“Do it right” meant don’t do anything stupid.  At every stop on his route, Frank had to count the money and call in the numbers in front of the local guys.

After 22 years on the job, “You’ll be taken care of” was something he took for granted.  Frank’s numbers had never been off, he’d always done what he was told, and he’d never beefed about a thing.  In turn, he was paid well, worked only four days a week and even got a month of vacation a year.  But even more important, when something went wrong–and sometimes it did–Frank knew he could count on the company to get his back.  Every time.

He turned the burner phone on and dialed.  The other end picked up after three rings.  They always picked up after three rings.

“Midwest Supply.”

Frank went by a coded script he’d been instructed to follow in case an unexpected situation ever came up.

“Hello, this is Frank Kuvasz with customer relations.  I’m having engine trouble.  It’s conked out, and I could use a tow.”

“Thank you for calling in.”  The voice on the other end was pleasant and dry, one degree shy of a recording.  “We appreciate the heads up.  Are you OK?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Wonderful.  Someone will be with you in just a moment.”

There was a click followed by canned piano music.  The tune was familiar, and Frank realized it was the same song the cable company played when they put him on hold.  As he waited, he recalled the number of times in the last 22 years he’d had to make a call like this.  There were three.  Once, he’d seen a body under a sheet being wheeled out of one his stops.

Once, one of the local guys had stabbed another one with a screwdriver in a fight over the count.  And once, Frank had been robbed at gunpoint on his way to the bank.  Each time he’d called it in as soon as he could, just like now.  Soon someone would come back on the line and tell him where to take the Mirage.  Then someone else would drive him to the airport so he could catch the first flight back to Chicago.

The company wouldn’t want him anywhere near the situation, and they’d let him know when it was safe to resume his route.  No one would ever tell Frank what had happened, and he’d never ask because that was how things had always worked.  In the meantime, he just had to keep cool.

There was a click, the music cut out, and another voice came on the line.

“Francis.  Haley here from employee services.  You doing OK?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“That’s great to hear.  So just to backstop–you’re having engine trouble, it’s conked out, and you could use a tow.”

“That is correct.”

“What exactly is your current situation?”

“I found a safe place to park the car, and I’m waiting for assistance.”

“Well done.  So we are assuming you’ll have to miss both of today’s appointments.”

“That is also correct.”

“And we have rebooked you on another flight.”

“Thank you for doing that.”

“No worries.  It leaves the same time tomorrow as it would today.”

Frank wasn’t sure if he’d heard correctly.  “Did you say tomorrow?”

“Yes.  We’re just going to bump both your appointments to Friday.  We’ve alerted your clients, and they’re aware of the change.  We’ve also booked you a room at the Quality Inn on Jefferson St. off the 580 loop.  Do you need directions?”

“But what about–”

“Yes?”

Frank was certain he’d gotten the script right, and he’d even heard Haley repeat it back to him, but he had to say it one more time.  “The engine.  It’s conked out.  I need a tow.”

“Yes, that.  We think it’s best if you managed the situation yourself.”

Frank felt like all the air had been sucked out of the Mirage.  He tried to form words, but when his mouth moved, nothing came out.

“Are you there, Francis?”

“Yeah.  Yes.  I mean–you want me to deal with this?”

“That is correct.  We discussed it here, and I’m sure you won’t disappoint.  We think you can handle this on your own.”

“But–”

“Yes, Francis?”

“Nothing.”

“Wonderful.  Do give us a call as soon as you’ve got things back on track.”

“OK.”

“Cheers.”

The line went dead, and Frank tossed the burner onto the passenger seat.  He took a couple deep breaths, but they weren’t helping.  He took a couple more, but it was still no good.

“Mother–!”

He reared back to punch the dashboard but took one more breath and slowly let it out as he unclenched his fist.  The car smelled like old fried chicken, and the windows had fogged up, so he reached for the AC button and remembered there wasn’t one.  Frank cranked his window down, started the Mirage and wondered where the best place in Bent Creek would be to dump a body.

*****

An hour later, he was sitting on his motel room bed.  Next to him was an opened map of Bent Creek he’d gotten from the lobby and a Quiznos turkey sub he’d picked up on the way there.  Frank glanced out the window.  He’d left the curtains open enough to see the Mirage, which he’d backed into the parking space outside his room.  At this point he wasn’t worried about a setup–he’d be sitting in jail by now if it was–but he still wanted to keep an eye on the trunk.

Frank scanned the map until he found what looked like a good spot–a forest preserve southeast of town that was bisected by Bent Creek’s namesake waterway.

A road ran all the way to the creekbank where he could dispose of the body, and hopefully the current would carry it all the way to the Mississippi.  The preserve was also outside the city limits, which meant the local police wouldn’t patrol it, but it was surrounded by subdivisions, so he’d have to wait until well after dark.  He didn’t want to run into any after-dinner dogwalkers or that one idiot who thought it was a good idea to go jogging in the woods alone at night.

Frank folded the map up, propped the pillows against the headboard and settled in to wait.  He turned on the TV, but it was just past noon, so his only choices were talk shows, court shows or reality shows.  He turned it off and tried not to think about things, which reminded him of the time he’d been robbed.

The gunmen had been wearing masks, but he’d immediately recognized them as the two local guys from the pickup he’d made just 10 minutes before. Both of them had always been low on the chain, and it was clear they’d never move up, which started them thinking about things–like all the times they’d stepped up, and all the times they’d been passed over, and all that money and juice that should have been theirs, but weren’t.

After thinking about things long enough, those two yoyos had concluded there was only one way to get what was theirs, and that was when they’d started making decisions they couldn’t take back.  Frank had kept his cool during the holdup.  He’d handed over the money, pretended he didn’t know who they were and called it in as soon as he was safe.  When he resumed his route the following week, those two guys were gone.  Poof, just like that.

Don’t think.

Frank turned the tube back on to a show where a celebrity chef went to a failing restaurant and yelled at the owners until they turned the business around.  He couldn’t understand why anyone would put themselves through that abuse.  Was it really worth the free publicity to get humiliated by this jerk?  It made him wish he was back in Chicago, having dinner at his local sushi restaurant.

Takahachi didn’t need any help.  It was packed every night because Mr. Takahachi knew how to take care of his customers, but Frank could also tell the employees were happy, and that was because their boss respected them.  His regular waitress, Akiko, knew what he wanted every time–sashimi deluxe with brown rice, salad with dressing on the side and a cold Kurosawa sake.

When he finished his salad, Akiko whisked the bowl away as his sashimi arrived.  If he spilled soy sauce on the table, she was there with a towel.  When his sake ran low, she topped him off.  And when the check came, Frank always tipped her well.  Every Christmas he added an extra 100 bucks and even put it in a card, because Akiko was the model of efficiency, grace and graciousness.

But did Mr. Takahashi tell her to go behind the bar and start slicing fish?  No, he didn’t, because she did her job, she did it right, and there was no reason to mess with it.

Stop thinking, dammit.

Frank turned the TV off.  He was allowed to bring books on his route, and he usually ran through two a week.  In 22 years, he’d amassed quite the library.  Lately he’d gravitated toward one-word titles where the author put an everyday object under a microscope to show what a fascinating history it had.  His current book was called Flush, but after reading and re-reading that Thomas Crapper had not invented the modern toilet, Frank slammed it shut and jammed it back in his carryon bag.

He tried to start his backup book, Qwerty, but quickly abandoned that too.  He turned the TV back on and tried to find the Discovery Channel.  Maybe he’d get lucky, and there’d be a MythBusters marathon with the episode where they wanted to see if getting rid of a dead body was as easy as the movies made it look–it was–but all he found was junk.  He turned the TV off and stared at the ceiling.

Stop thinking!

Frank glanced out the crack in the curtains.  That damn body.  It had been facing away from him when he’d opened the trunk, so he didn’t know if it was a man or woman.  He couldn’t even remember how it was dressed.  But he didn’t recall any blood and there was no big stink, so it couldn’t have been dead long.  But why was it there?

Maybe it was a coincidence.  Maybe an employee at the rental agency was looking for someplace to sleep off a bender, so they climbed into the trunk, got trapped and croaked.  Frank shook his head.  It was no coincidence.  He knew who he worked for, and he’d never told himself otherwise.

The body in the trunk was connected to something or someone who was connected to him by any number of degrees.  It wasn’t a setup, but it wasn’t revenge either.  Frank was pretty sure he hadn’t ticked anyone off.  He’d never gotten chummy with the guys on his route, but he’d never been unfriendly either.

He was like the FedEx guy or a meter reader.  So it had to be connected to someone higher up, someone back in Chicago.  And then, like the lingering sting of a slap, he recalled what Haley had told him on the phone.

We think it’s best if you managed the situation yourself.

About a year ago, Frank and his old boss, Mike, had sat down for their weekly meeting.  They’d always met at a Golden Nugget pancake house up by Diversey and Elston.  As he’d done every other Friday, Mike had handed Frank a manila envelope that held four new SIM cards, four plane tickets and Frank’s pay–half in a paycheck from Midwest Supply with all the right IRS deductions and half in cash.

Mike had some news that day.  He was taking an early retirement.  The company was streamlining, and they’d offered him a package, so he thought it was a good time to move on.  Don’t worry–he’d told Frank as he tapped the envelope–time comes, you’ll be taken care of.

The two of them had shaken hands, given each other a clap on the back and said they’d keep in touch.  On the way home, Frank had checked inside the envelope and realized he’d never see Mike again.

Midwest Supply had called that same afternoon and said Frank’s paycheck would now be directed-deposited into his checking account, while the cash portion would be wired into an offshore account they’d set up for him.  The company had also told him he’d no longer meet with a contact.  They’d rented him a mailbox at a U-Post-It in Lincoln Square, and every Friday, they’d FedEx him his new SIM cards and plane tickets.

Change was inevitable, as Frank knew, and getting used to the new setup hadn’t taken long, but he still missed Mike.  They’d never been real close.  Frank knew his old boss had a wife and four kids in Wilmette, but he’d never met them, and Mike had steered Frank toward the Lakeview condo he’d bought years ago, but he’d never stopped by.

The two of them had never met anyplace but the Golden Nugget, and Frank hadn’t even known Mike’s last name.  But every week, his old boss had made a point to check in on things.  Everything going OK?–he’d ask.  Sure thing–Frank would tell him.  Anything you need?  Nope, it’s all good.

Mike was the one who’d told Frank if he did his job and did it right he’d be taken care of.  For 22 years, Frank had followed those simple instructions to the letter, and the company had held up its end of the deal.

But now?

We think it’s best if you managed the situation yourself.

Stop thinking, already!

Frank could not stop thinking, however, and he knew he was getting close to crossing that same dangerous line as those two yoyos who’d held him up.  But come on!  Twenty-two years working for the company, and not once did he screw up.  Not once was his count off.  Not once did he gripe.  Mike had even joked they should start an employee-of-the-month club just for Frank.

He’d hired him because he was young and clean with no record and no connections, and the reason Frank would never move up or be asked to do anything beyond his pay grade was because the company wanted him to stay clean.  It protected everyone if he got caught.

He couldn’t name anyone higher up, so nothing could be used as leverage.  Frank might have to do a little time, and when he got out, the company would no longer be able to employ him, but Mike had assured him he’d walk away with a generous bonus by way of thanks.

Now that was all out the window.  Frank was an accessory after the fact to a capital crime, about to commit another felony.  He wasn’t clean anymore, and he sure wasn’t walking away from anything, never mind with a bonus.  He could drop everything and run, but he wouldn’t get far.  The company controlled his offshore bank account and all his credit cards.  And when he did get caught, it wouldn’t matter if he could name names or not.  One day he’d be there, and the next day he’d be gone.  Poof, just like that.

*****

On a normal workday, Frank would have been back in Chicago in time for dinner.  He usually ate out and watched a movie at home or read before bed.  He didn’t have any close friends, and his extended family had all moved out of the city.  He’d dated, but nothing had ever stuck.  It was a solitary yet comfortable routine he’d settled into over the years.  Driving through Bent Creek after dark, he missed it and told himself to just get this job done so he could get home and get back to normal.

The exit to the forest preserve was coming up.  Even though there was no other traffic that late at night, Frank double-checked all the lanes before flipping his turn signal and easing across the highway.  He took the ramp down to the road that ran through the subdivisions he’d noted on the map.  At the entrance to the preserve, Frank checked for cars in front of him and behind, but there were none, so he turned in.

Fifty yards down, the road was surrounded by woods.  Frank could see the lights of the subdivisions through the trees, which had lost all their leaves by now. There was a full moon, so he killed the headlights and cruised down the single lane.  It ended near the water in a gravel lot that crunched beneath his tires, so Frank stopped the Mirage, because sounds carried in the cold, especially when the trees were bare.

He did a slow, two-point turnaround and killed the engine, turning off the dome light so it wouldn’t glow when he opened the door.  Frank popped the trunk, got out and left his door open because people remembered the sound of a car door being slammed at night.  He held his breath and listened for any other cars or the crunch of feet on leaves, but the only noise was a light clicking of tree branches as a breeze picked up.

He shivered.  He wasn’t wearing his coat, but he did have his gloves on, and he reminded himself to throw them away when he got back to Chicago, along with all the other clothes he was wearing.  He’d thought about stopping by a gas station on the way to the forest preserve and buying some work gloves and a cheap windbreaker, but gas stations had security cameras.

Frank opened the rear door and pulled the motel bed’s flat sheet out of the seat well.  His plan was to wrap it around the body like a shroud to keep his clothes or skin from coming into contact with it.  Since he hadn’t seen any blood, he wasn’t worried about staining the sheet.

Later, he’d put it back on the bed, the maid would strip it, and it’d get washed and bleached and mixed in with all the other linens.  On the way back to the motel, Frank planned to stop by a self-serve car wash, betting the owners wouldn’t care enough to have installed security cameras, and vacuum the trunk.

All his precautions were a bit much.  He knew that.  He also knew they might be pointless.  If the company wanted him to get caught, he’d get caught.  All they had to do was slip his name to the right person, who’d slip it to the right people, and he’d be in jail.  Still, his efforts made him feel like he was in control of the moment, and right now, that was all he had.

Frank lifted the trunk lid, half-hoping the body was gone, but it wasn’t.  It was a man.  His hair was gray and curly, but his body was slight, like a jockey’s.

Any bigger, and he might not have fit into the Mirage’s trunk.  In the glow of the full moon, he looked like he could be taking a nap, and Frank wondered if he might even be breathing, but when he tucked the sheet around the body’s wooden chill, there was no question he was handling a corpse, and he almost jerked back.

Don’t think.

Frank took a single, deep breath and let it out.  He slid his arms under the body and turned it so the bent knees pointed up.  The arms were folded across the belly, and the whole thing fit neatly into the crook of his elbows.  He was surprised how light it felt.

He’d expected the gravity of death to have added several pounds to the body, but then dismissed the thought as nonsense.  At the edge of the creek, he was relieved to see it looked more like a small river.  The current was swift and dark, swallowing the reflection of the moon above.

Frank was wondering how he was going to get the body far enough out to get swept away without him having to wade in, when he spotted a line of aluminum rowboats, flipped over for the winter.  Frank laid the body on the ground and walked over to the boats.  A steel cable was strung through all their handles with both ends looped around and padlocked to a ring in a cement block.

He’d expected the gravity of death to have added several pounds to the body, but then dismissed the thought as nonsense.

He gave the lock a yank, but it held fast.  Then he went down the row of boats and tugged at each of the handles until he found one with a little give.  He ran back to the Mirage and flipped the carpet back in the trunk, praying the rental company hadn’t skimped on tools for a spare.

They hadn’t.  He unclipped the lug wrench from the side of the wheel well and ran back to the rowboat, where he stuck the bar behind the handle and rocked it back and forth, feeling the rivets give just a little more each time, until one end popped free.  He flipped the boat over and dragged it to the water’s edge.  Then he picked up the body, laid it in the boat and removed the sheet.

For the first time, Frank saw the guy’s face.  Thankfully his eyes were closed.  He was white, with small features that matched his frame.  He didn’t have any moles or scars or birthmarks that could be counted as distinguishing characteristics.  Nor could Frank spot any bruises, cuts or scrapes that would have given him an idea of how he’d been killed.  It was an ordinary face, belonging to an ordinary guy, and Frank didn’t know what to think about that.

Then don’t think.

The guy was wearing an untucked polo shirt, so Frank tucked it back in.  He didn’t press too hard because he’d also learned from MythBusters that dead bodies could fart as a result of gases produced by decomposition, and he wasn’t sure he could handle that.  He collected rocks from the shoreline and carefully stuffed them down the guy’s shirt and up under his jean cuffs to weigh the body down.

He then pushed the rowboat to the water’s edge and pulled the drain plug from the back of the bottom.  He gave the boat a good shove, sending it out to the middle of the creek where it caught the current and slowly spun around as it headed downstream.

Frank felt a soft clutch of emotion around his heart.  He tried to dismiss it.  Having feelings about a job was right down there with panicking and thinking about things.

But then he took a deep breath and allowed it to take hold, just for a moment, until the rowboat, and then the body, slipped beneath the waters of Bent Creek.  He even gave the guy a silent good-bye.  Frank picked the motel sheet up and gave it a good shake before heading back to the car.  For the first time that day, he felt like he’d done right.

*****

After a surprisingly deep sleep, Frank turned on the TV.  The top story on all the local morning shows was about an area high school changing its team name from the Mohawks to the Mustangs out of respect to Native Americans.

Frank put the burner on the nightstand and picked the top sheet off the floor.  He hadn’t slept under it last night.  It wouldn’t have felt right.

Each report started with a shot of a half-baked demonstration by the kind of yokels who protested that sort of thing.  Then came a soundbite from a Meskwaki tribal elder who said the change was a long time coming before she pointed out that the Mohawks weren’t even indigenous to Iowa.

But there was nothing on a body bobbing along the surface of Bent Creek.

Frank called in to Chicago.

“Midwest Supply.”

“This is Frank Kuvasz with customer relations.  Haley is expecting my call.”

“One moment, please.”
There was a click followed by the same canned piano music as before.  Less than a minute later there was another click.

“Francis.”

“Haley.”

“Good morning to you.  I trust the situation has been remedied?”

“It has.”

“That’s great to hear, and thank you so much for managing it yourself.  Your performance has not gone unnoticed.  I trust you’ll be able to make both of today’s appointments?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Cheers.”

Frank put the burner on the nightstand and picked the top sheet off the floor.  He hadn’t slept under it last night.  It wouldn’t have felt right.  Spreading the sheet over the bed, he checked for marks.  There were a couple smudges near the bottom where the guy’s sneakers had scuffed it, but they weren’t conspicuous, so he remade the bed and then messed the covers up.  After a shower, Frank gave the motel room a final dummy check to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything and left.

His pickups went fine, and no one mentioned that he was a day late.  He then made his deposits without incident.  Just another day at work.  Frank drove back to the airport and couldn’t help but smile when he saw his commuter jet faithfully waiting on the tarmac.  He parked the Mirage, went into the terminal bathroom and flushed his SIM card down the toilet after snapping it in half.  At the rental desk, he handed the keys to the same agent from the day before.

“Thanks so much!” the agent beamed at Frank.  “I hope the Mirage was to your liking.”

“It did the job.”

“You have yourself a wonderful flight!”

Once his plane had taken off, Frank allowed himself to consider what was going to happen next.  He’d certainly managed the situation himself, and according to Haley, his performance had not gone unnoticed.  He thought he knew what that meant, and he didn’t like it.

Maybe he should have shoved the body under one of the rowboats and left a leg sticking out so it could be discovered by a dog walker the next day.  Haley could scold him for disappointing her, but then maybe she’d let him get back to doing what he’d been hired to do.  But that wasn’t why Mike had taken Frank on 22 years ago.  He’d known he could count on him to always do his job and do it right, and that was why his old boss was still taking care of him, even now.

Maybe he should have shoved the body under one of the rowboats and left a leg sticking out so it could be discovered by a dog walker the next day.

What Haley and everyone else at Midwest Supply didn’t know was that a year ago, Mike had included something extra in Frank’s last manila envelope–a brand-new passport with his picture but someone else’s name.  It was waiting in a wall safe Frank had installed behind the bookshelves in his living room, where he also kept a good chunk of the cash he’d amassed over the last two decades.

He wouldn’t leave right away.  They’d be watching him.  It could take weeks or months or even another year, but if there was one thing Frank had learned in the last 22 years, it was patience.  He wasn’t going out like those two yoyos who’d tried to hold him up, and he sure as hell wasn’t winding up like that poor sap who was hopefully halfway to the Mississippi by now.  One day Frank would be there, and the next day he’d be gone.  Poof, just like that.  But it would be on his terms.

He pulled his carryon bag from under his seat.  In a few hours, he’d be back home, where he’d treat himself to an extra Kurosawa at Takahachi, and Akiko would find an extra 20 on her tip.  He got his book out, opened it to where he’d left off and didn’t look up until his plane landed at O’Hare.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed “You’ll Be Taken Care Of, Frank!” by Tom Ziegler, feel free to check our free digital archive of crime, thriller, and horror flash fiction which is available here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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