by James Callan
The Sambici Gambit has never before been published.
He stood facing Mr. Sambici. Rico never sat in this office. He came in, got his orders, and left. Usually, he said little more than “yes, sir,” or, “No, Mr. Sambici.” Once, he said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Sambici. It won’t happen again.”
Just thinking about that visit sent a chill crawling down his back bone. Like now. Rico didn’t know what this was about, and he had been standing here for a long time, maybe two minutes, and Mr. Sambici had not even looked up. He started to clear his throat, make sure the man knew he was here. But of course he knew. He knew everything. Never seemed to look or listen. Yet, he always knew what was going on, who did what, who messed up.
A drop of sweat rolled from Rico’s forehead down his nose and hung on the end. It caused his nose to itch, and he wanted to wipe it off. But he didn’t want to move, distract the man. Rico wrinkled his nose, but the drop stayed there, continuing to irritate. As the seconds crept by, the aggravation grew, until Rico had to grit his teeth not to reach up and wipe it off. He had killed people with his bare hands, but he couldn’t stand that drop clinging to his nose. Slowly, he reached up to brush it off.
At that instant, Mr. Sambici looked up, stared at Rico with those flat glasses. Wherever Rico saw him, the light always reflected off those glasses so Rico could never see his eyes.
“I’ve got a problem. Can you help me with it, Rico?”
“I want you to kill Edo. Can you do that?”
Lines appeared across Rico’s forehead, and his pronounced brows hunched down over his eyes. “Edo? Our Edo? I mean, the one who works for you?”
“Yes, Rico. That Edo.” He paused, pinning his minion with his intense stare. “Can you do that?”
The lines on Rico’s forehead deepened, and he looked down at the desk. He swallowed and slowly raised his eyes to look at his boss. “Ah, yes, sir. But I thought—-”
“Don’t.” Mr. Sambici picked up some papers and started studying them. “Take care of it today, Rico.”
The tall, muscular man turned without a word and left his boss’s office.
Rico headed for the TV room, then abruptly turned and hurried outside, climbed in his Jeep and drove around to the back of the horse stables. He didn’t want to run into Edo just yet. Out of sight from the main house, Rico turned off the engine and slouched down in the seat.
He’d killed men before. He and Edo had offed a bunch of guys the boss wanted dead. But Edo worked for Mr. Sambici. He’d been here—Rico tried to think back—maybe three years, about half as long as Rico. He liked Edo, counted him a friend. And he got the job done. He was a good guy to work with. Now, Rico had to kill him.
It never bothered him to pop some bum Mr. Sambici wanted out of the way. Never thought twice about it. This was different. He knew Edo. They watched the Cowboys games together, drinking beer, laughing at the refs. Edo had shown him that bar out on 6740, the one with the sexy waitresses. They got drunk there last week, and had to lean on each other to get to the truck.
Rico wanted to ask Mr. Sambici why. Why kill Edo? But no one asked Mr. Sambici why. He gave the orders. Nobody questioned them. Once he asked Edo to kill one of his own cousins. Edo didn’t ask about that. He just did it. Now, Rico had to kill Edo. No questions. Just do it.
He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out his nine millimeter. Checked it. Flicked the safety off, then back on. Damn. He didn’t want to kill Edo. He started the Jeep and pulled back around the barn and parked near the house.
The idea crept into his mind that he could go in and check with Mr. Sambici. Maybe…No. He had not misunderstood. The Boss said very clearly—kill Edo, and do it today.
“Hey, Edo, we got a job.”
Edo was seated in the TV room, drinking a Coke, watching a football game. “What’s he want now?” Edo’s attention remained on the game.
“You know out on the ranch? Where we planted those two guys what was stealing from him?”
“Hot damn!” Edo slammed his Coke down, spraying brown liquid all over the coffee table. “Did you see that? He grabbed that ball with one hand and two Jets hit him, and he still held onto it.” He let out a yell.
“Mr. Sambici thinks some animal’s been digging around. Said you could see a foot, or something.” Rico shifted his weight, worried Edo might go ask Mr. Sambici about it. But, he needed to get Edo out there without causing him to be suspicious.
“What a play!” Edo hit the back button on the remote and watched the play again. “I ain’t never seen a better catch. Ought a give the sucker a bonus.” He took another pull on the Coke. “What was you saying? Some animal digging up those two wet-backs? I told you to plant ‘em deeper.”
“Yeah. Well, you wasn’t helping much on the digging. Let’s go see what we gotta do.” They threw two shovels in the back of the Jeep and started for the ranch.
“Don’t know what the big deal is,” said Edo. “They’re in the middle of a thousand acre ranch. Ain’t nobody gonna see ‘em, ‘cept you and me.”
“Just following orders.” Rico glanced at Edo, then looked back at the road. Following orders was the truth. He didn’t want to kill Edo. But you didn’t argue with the Boss. “Mr. Sambici takes guys out there to hunt sometimes. Took the mayor and the sheriff out there last year. He don’t want none of ‘em to see nothing like that. Guy drops a buck and trips over a dead foot going after it.”
“Yeah. I git it.”
Rico kept his eyes on the road. Edo was talking about the football game, but Rico wasn’t listening. Why did he have to go and kill him? Couldn’t the boss just fire Edo if he didn’t want him around any more?
Twenty minutes later, they pulled through the electric gate and into Sambici Ranch. The fly ash road wound through pine trees, across an open area, and back into a thick forest. After about a mile, Rico stopped the Jeep.
“Grab the shovels. Let’s see what we gotta do.”
Rico slid out of the car and glanced around to see Edo opening the back of the Jeep and pulling out the shovels. Rico slipped the nine millimeter out of his pocket, thumbed the safety off, then eased the gun back out of sight. They’d walk over in the direction of the old graves. He’d let Edo get a few steps ahead. Rico would call him and when he turned around, he’d shoot him. Rico wouldn’t shoot his friend in the back.
Friend. He is my friend. Maybe my only friend. And I’m gonna cap him. He shook his head. Why was he doing this? ‘Cause I ain’t got no other choice.
He shuffled around the front of the Jeep. Edo tossed a shovel and Rico reached to catch it. He was looking at the shovel, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw Edo’s hand come up. A gun was aimed squarely at Rico. Instinctively, he turned and ducked, but the bullet caught him in the side, slicing through his chest, puncturing both lungs, before ripping a large hole in his other side. The force of the bullet knocked him back. He stumbled once and fell.
Edo walked over to look down at the wounded man.
Rico’s voice came out a wheeze. “Wh—why’d you…do that?”
“Orders. Mr. Sambici said to drop you. I was going for a heart shot. You know, quick. But you moved.”
Rico brows furrowed, and he groaned from the searing pain in his side. He tried to get his breathe, but the pain was too much. “He—”
“Said to kill you. Hey, I’m sorry, man. You never did nothing to me. But…” He shrugged.
Rico’s eyes closed. He struggled to open them. “He told me to kill you.”
Edo shook his head. “Figures. Guess he didn’t need two of us no more. Maybe a game to him, see who’s left standing.”
Each movement slashed Rico with pain, but he managed to get his hand in his pocket. He couldn’t get any air, couldn’t breathe. He gritted his teeth to keep from crying out. He’d show Mr. Sambici. He forced his fingers onto his gun.
I ain’t never failed to…
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