A LITTLE PUSH
By Bobby Mathews
We were five miles out to sea when Lindley cut the engine and let the boat drift. Occasionally a sea bird would pierce the cobalt sky like an arrow shot toward nowhere, but other than that we were alone with the quiet sound of green waves lapping gently at the boat’s white hull.
“Now we can talk,” he said, “and not worry about curious ears listening in.”
Lindley was around fifty, maybe a couple of years on either side, tan and trim, but other than the hard knots of muscle that bunched in his forearms while he guided the boat out into the Gulf of Mexico, he looked perfectly ordinary. His hair was hair-colored, his eyes a forgettable brown. A couple of inches shorter than six feet. No dimples deepened when he smiled. No scars left an indelible mark for the eye to fall upon. He wore khaki cargo shorts, a white polo, deck shoes, and a long-billed boating cap.
In other words, he looked like ninety percent of the other boat owners at the marina we’d set off from.
That was, I supposed, one reason for his success. Brian Lindley was a nearly forgettable human presence. But if my information was right, Lindley had killed more than sixty people, none of them for love or hate or any other human emotion. Instead, he killed for one reason and one only: the good old American dollar.
The boat rocked us gently back and forth to the rhythm of a lullaby only Mother Earth could hear, causing me to shake my head. I was sitting at a little built-in table on the rear deck (would they still call it a poop deck?) of Lindley’s forty-foot Hatteras Convertible. He dropped into the seat opposite me and waited.
I took my phone out of my purse, and he laughed.
“Won’t work here,” he said. “We’re a bit too far out for signal.”
“I’m just going to record this, if that’s all right.”
He shrugged, but then leaned forward, and in the unrelenting sunlight I saw how stone cold those eyes were. He looked at me as if I weren’t human, as if I were a thing that he could—and would—destroy if he saw fit.
“You’re sure no one will be able to make a voice print?”
“Yes,” I said. “There’s an app that lets me scramble your voice as it records. I’ll have it on for our whole conversation. Listeners will be able to understand your words, but there’s no way to identify your voice.”
“Won’t that sound weird,” he asked, “with your voice digitized, too?”
He was sharp, give him that, and wary as a fox. It had taken me nearly a year of coaxing, wheedling, and begging to get Brian Lindley to talk with me. And then, of course, he wouldn’t talk to me on the phone. It had to be in person. I didn’t mind, though. I thought things would work out better that way, too.
“I’ll cut my part out and re-record my questions, make everything seem just a little more dramatic, a little breathless, you know?”
I recorded thirty seconds of my own voice through the app and played it back for him. I sounded like an old man trapped deep in a well, nothing at all like my normal voice.
He nodded in satisfaction, his eyes narrowed.
“Okay, let’s get to it,” I said, and clicked the app. “This is April Daley with the Just Plain Murder podcast, and our guest today is someone that I’ve been wanting to talk with for a very long time…”
That part would never make broadcast, obviously. But going through the motions made me feel better, made me feel like I was a little bit in control out here alone with a hit man that no one else had ever been able to catch.
I had taken precautions. I’m not an idiot. Two people, my producer and my sound mixer, both knew where I was. Earlier in the week, we’d taken turns using a camera with a telephoto lens to get shots of Lindley aboard his boat. Ava Buchanan, my producer, had gotten what I considered the best one, with Lindley standing at the back of the boat, its name—The Wildflower—written in deep blue cursive on the hull.
If for some reason I didn’t show up at the marina by midnight, Brian Lindley’s photo would be plastered everywhere, and whatever camouflage his perfect ordinariness lent him would be completely blown.
But out here on the boat, alone, just me and him, I felt like a tightrope walker who feels the rope beginning to separate under his feet: you know the rope is going to snap, but you hope you’ve made it safely across before it finally does. If Lindley decided that I was a liability, things could turn bad in a hurry if I didn’t take charge of this interview.
“First question: How did you get started as a hit man? It’s not exactly something you can go to college for, is it?”
Lindley looked away over the calm green water of the Gulf. Somewhere to the North was Panama City Beach and the run-down yacht basin we’d set sail from. Westward was Baton Rouge and New Orleans and Galveston. The boat was blindingly white, and I had to squint through my sunglasses to watch him. For a while, I thought he hadn’t heard me, but he finally shrugged—more to himself than to me, I think—and answered my question.
“I grew up poor, so there was never a real shot at college anyway. But no, there’s no prep course for this kind of work. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s just something I fell into.”
I let the silence spill out between us. It’s a great interview technique, because the person you’re talking with often feels the need to fill the void with something. But Lindley didn’t seem to mind at all. He was perfectly fine talking; not talking didn’t bother him, either. I took a breath.
“How did you start?”
“I pushed a little boy off the roof of the six-story building where we were playing.”
The answer was so straightforward, so naked, that I was taken aback. My impartial journalist mask slipped and fell away.
“This was the kind of kid, he wouldn’t take your lunch money,” Lindley said. “That would be the cliché, wouldn’t it? No, he’d wait until you had your lunch tray in your hands, then he’d walk past you—sneak up on you if he could, so you wouldn’t see it coming—and slap his hand down on the tray, knock it on the floor. It wasn’t…he wasn’t even greedy. He didn’t want the money. He was just mean.”
“I told him we could see a girl, a high school girl we all knew, changing clothes in her room. The best place to get a good look into her window was from the roof of the building next door. We went in through the fire door, because it was broken, and the kids in the neighborhood played on the roof. At least the boys did. The whole time we’re walking up the stairwell, I’m telling him about the view, if you know what I mean. By the time we were up on the roof, he was raring to go. When he leaned over the edge to get a look at the girl, I gave him a little push. That’s all it took.”
“How old were you?”
“And how old was he?”
“Same age, I think. We were in the same class. I stayed up on the roof, of course, looking down as he fell, watching him hit the street.”
He shook his head, lost in the memory of it, and I took a look down at my phone to make sure the app was still recording. It was. At the same time, I noticed the service bars on my phone—they were nonexistent, just like Brian said they would be. For a little while, I didn’t say anything, and this time the silence seemed to work.
“I think about that kid from time to time. I did so much wrong there. We were seen together in public, but we were just kids, right? I stayed up on that roof, looking down at the body. People looked up, saw me. I didn’t run. Didn’t try to hide.”
“Were you arrested?”
“No. The cops questioned me, but I didn’t have a whole lot to say. They thought I was in shock; by the time they got to me up on the roof, they thought the kid had fallen. An accident. It—it doesn’t take much, if they’re off-balance anyway. Just a little push.”
“What happened after the cops questioned you?”
“The principal at my school thought it would be good for me to take a few days off from school, and everyone seemed to agree. About a week after the funeral, I came back to class, and the kids who asked me to do it finally paid me.”
“The—wait, the kids in your class hired you?”
He blinked a grin like a caution light—on and off—and said, “Yeah, of course.”
“They pooled their money and came up with twenty-five dollars.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, but it was just as well. Now that I’d gotten him started, Lindley opened up like a broken faucet. We talked for nearly four hours—long enough for the sun to sink low in the sky, not quite touching the water, but close enough for the reflected light to reflect and sparkle off the waves. Long enough for my phone battery to run completely down and force me to rely on my memory.
He told me that his rates had gone up significantly, told me about offshore accounts and how he used cutouts in the form of dead drops and legitimate businesspeople as go-betweens to screen himself from scrutiny. He told me he rarely used a gun.
“A gun is traceable, and it’s almost always a mistake to shoot someone,” he said. “If I use one now, I break into a house—never in the city where I’m going to do the hit—and steal one. And when I’m done, the gun is done, too. I take it apart, and then put the parts in different places. In a random garbage bin, in a lake, in a sewer.”
I got the idea that this kind of conversation—essentially shoptalk—was something he craved very badly.
As the interview wound down, Lindley began to act restless. A few times, I touched him, bare slender fingers on the steel cables in his forearms. When I did that, he would be still for a little while. The conversation and the setting were intimate, and I was pretty sure he was going to make a pass at me before we went back. And pretty sure I’d let him.
“We’d probably better head in soon,” he said, finally. We’d been drifting for hours out in the calm sea. He wasn’t quite sure where we were, and I had no idea. Every now and then, we had seen a boat trawl by near the horizon. But no one had come near us.
Lindley disappeared belowdecks, and I followed. I had to use the bathroom—on a boat they call it the head—but I also had another reason: I wanted to get a better look at how the hit man lived. I found that I wasn’t afraid of him, not really. I was mostly fascinated.
I’d waited so long to get to this point, this face-to-face meeting with one of the most secretive, sought-after hit men in the world. I wanted to prolong the experience.
Everything underneath was gleaming teak, from the floor to the walls (they call them bulkheads, April). The salon—that’s kind of a sitting room in miniature—had seating for six or seven people, and there was a built-in dining nook that I saw could be easily converted into a bunk. The cunning little bathroom that Lindley called a head was a tight squeeze for me. Everyone says I’m “tall for a girl” but Lindley and I were the same height, and I wondered if the cramped space aggravated him as much as it did me.
When I was done, I washed my hands and dried them on a clean white towel I was pretty sure Lindley had put out especially for my visit. I opened the door, and there he was, standing—okay, more like looming—in the doorway.
I’m not proud of what happened next, okay? But when I started writing this down, I said I’d tell everything.
We went to bed. Well, I guess we went to bunk. Lindley stepped to me and put his arms around my waist, pulling me to him. I came willingly enough. We kissed, hesitantly at first, and then more firmly as his passion grew.
He was surprisingly gentle. We made it to the bunk, and then my simple A-line dress was above my waist and my underwear was an afterthought. I want to be flowery here and talk about making love and all that stuff that a twenty-six-year-old girl is supposed to believe in. But it was sex, that’s all. I’d known it was going to happen from the moment I stepped on the boat, and even if I wasn’t totally engaged, I was a willing participant. I wanted to have sex with him, to be with someone who had held the power of life or death in his hands.
Afterward, I went back to the head and cleaned myself up as much as I could in that tiny space, and we went up to the deck. There was a difference in him now, a kind of courtesy and ease of manner that I hadn’t expected. Was it just because we’d been to bed—to bunk—together? Men are weird.
The sun was down now, and I could see a sliver of moon in the cloudless night sky. Venus was there, too, big and bright in the black sea sky. Now there were no birds wheeling overhead, and it seemed to me that the waves had changed at some point while we were belowdecks. I could hear the water now, loud and rumbling, like a constant beat of low thunder.
“What will you do now?” I asked. It was my last question.
He thought for a minute, his body seated there comfortably with me, his mind somewhere else completely. I liked seeing the easy way he held himself now, after we had sex. He was more relaxed than he’d been all day.
“Brian Lindley won’t be here anymore,” he said. “This identity was about used up anyway. I held onto it for a little too long. Probably one of the ways you caught onto me.”
And then his demeanor changed, became more serious. Not threatening, exactly. But it was frightening nonetheless.
“That won’t happen again,” he said. “I can’t let it. If an amateur, even a talented one like you”—he paused here to wink at me, to maybe let me know that I’d been talented in more ways than just one—“can find me, then it’s time to burn this identity and move on. After I drop you ashore tonight, I’ll be gone.”
I wasn’t taking notes now.
“How will you do it?”
Here was where I’d find out if I was really going to make it back to shore.
“No,” Lindley said. “I won’t tell you.”
I exhaled. Thank God. If he had told me how he was planning to change identities, I would have likely ended the night down at the bottom of the Gulf. He would have felt that he had to kill me to keep his secrets. So far the lion tamer was still in charge of the lion.
But I knew that could change at any time. I had to keep my guard up.
Lindley rose, and I was startled by the lithe way he moved. I’ll admit it now: I jumped a little in my seat. He saw it and grinned a shark’s grin at me. I could feel my heart hammer in my chest.
“I’m going up to the pulpit to get a bearing,” he said. “We’ll get you back to shore safe and sound. Don’t worry.”
“What do you mean? Does that mean we’re lost?”
His grin this time was far softer, and I liked it better.
“No, but we’ve been drifting for hours. I want to get a bearing, check the charts, and then we’ll head back.”
Right. The charts. I’d seen them on the desk belowdecks.
The Hatteras Convertible has a long, narrow prow that projects out over the water like an insect’s proboscis. It’s called the pulpit. There’s a metal railing along the front, a little less than hip-high on a tall girl like me. I followed Brian Lindley to it, watching him concentrate on the little compass in his hand.
I stepped up on the pulpit with him and immediately regretted it. The wind was stronger up there, and there was nothing but deep green sea under it, and the pulpit swayed and rolled with the motion of the waves. If I stayed out there long, I’d be seasick, and I’d never been seasick a day in my life.
“There,” he said finally, and pointed. “We should be able to hit the—”
He was right. All it took was a little push.
Brian Lindley windmilled his arms and went overboard so fast that he didn’t even get a chance to scream. I saw his head pop up out of the water and then the drifting boat struck him hard. The hollow thud could be heard over the noise of the night ocean.
He went down then, I think. All I know is that I never saw him again.
I went to the bridge of the big boat and turned the engine on. It was an old boat, without an updated GPS system, but that didn’t matter. Lindley had pointed me toward shore. I kept the boat steady—not quite like driving a car, but not too dissimilar, either—and made it back to Panama City Beach.
I didn’t go back to the second-rate marina we’d launched from. Instead, I ran the boat aground at the jetty, the big finger of black rocks at Saint Andrews State Park. The park was closed for the night, so there was no one around to hear the crash as the boat rammed onto the rocks.
I was careful when I went ashore. A broken leg out here would ruin everything. I left my purse with the April Daley ID in it. Left the phone, too. I couldn’t help smiling as I picked my way over the rocks. The past year had been perfect. Starting a podcast with the express purpose of finding Brian Lindley, coaxing him out of hiding, getting him out on that big boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.
Now my producer and sound engineer would find the boat; they’d find my ID and phone. And they’d think Brian Lindley murdered me. It was sad, in a way. I’d come up with the podcast as a legitimate way to hunt down Brian Lindley, building an audience, working with legitimate people, pushing Just Plain Murder into one of the top ten podcasts in the world—don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
Of course, I couldn’t revel in that success. I was gone, lost at sea. No one would look for April Daley, but they’d try like hell to find Lindley.
Good luck with that.
The car was waiting for me in a gravel lot, right where my cutout said it would be. I found the key buried under the rear driver’s side tire. I got in and drove away.
Brian Lindley was dead. The person who hired me had gotten his revenge, even if it had taken me a year and a half to do it. Now I had to fly to Venezuela and start putting the pieces of a new identity together. But for that amount of cash? It was worth it. So worth it.
Who says you have to hire a hit man?
Bobby Mathews's checkered past includes stints as a journalist, editor, bartender, PR flack, and investigator. He's recently completed a crime novel set in Birmingham, Alabama, where he lives with his wife and two sons. When he's not writing, you can catch him on Twitter: @BamaWriter. This is his first story with All Due Respect.