Roeper's New Friend

by Vince Gardner

Roeper's New Friend

It was a night like any other, about 9 o'clock and I was sitting in the room of my condo on Daytona Beach when the ever so familiar feeling of "need beer" sprang around my mind. I reworked that thought to "get beer" and that was exactly what I proceeded to do, taking the elevator down seven floors to the parking lot where my car was parked. I reached for the handle of my 1957 Lincoln Continental, shoving my other hand into the pocket of my greenRoeper Radleywindbreaker and pulled out my keys. I opened the door, sat down and put the keys in, leaning outside to grab the door handle when my cellphone slid out of my windbreaker pocket, hit the asphalt and bounced under the car. "Boing" I said aloud. I climbed out and crouched, sweeping the asphalt but feeling nothing and knowing it bounced probably halfway to the other side. I laid on my stomach, grabbed my phone and immediately there was a big whoosh and the door slammed shut over my head, locking my keys in the Lincoln. I jumped to my feet and cursed my bad luck, wishing I had just opened the damn window.

I made the executive decision that I would call a locksmith tomorrow and that I would just walk to the nearest 7-11, figuring it wouldn't take that long but if there's one thing that little walk told me is that it is very easy to misjudge distances in the translation from car to foot. Twenty minutes later the bright 7 of the convenience store greeted me and I stepped inside to a crowded store. There were quite a few sketchy looking folk slinking around so I made my trip short, I went to the back cooler, reached for a six pack pack of Yuengling and made my way to the checkout line where a heavily bearded Arab was waiting impatiently for some old lady to count out change for a Nevada ticket.

I was about the third person in line and I quietly noticed the frustrated looks on the customers in front of me and of course, as luck would have it, the 50 cent Nevada ticket was a five dollar winner and she exchanged the five dollars for ten more tickets, oblivious to the visible ire generated by the annoyed customers.

"Jesus, while we're young eh bud?" a man spoke up behind me, holding only a bottle of Coke. "Yeah, a little longer and we're gonna have beards like that guy" I responded, indicating the Arab clerk. The man behind me laughed and we continued to wait. Finally, I got the counter, paid Abhishek seven dollars and some cents and happily moved on my way back to the condo, six pack swinging in my hand.

It took a few minutes for me to notice that there were footsteps behind me and a quick sideways glanced revealed it was the man who was in line behind me earlier behind me, the Coke man. I kept on moving and twenty minutes later, he was still there and still about thirty feet behind me. I took the right turn into the ocean side condo parking lot and was surprised to see he took the exact same turn. I walked a little brisker to the elevator and pressed the up button a few times for good measure, balancing on the balls of my feet and watching the little numbers light up as I waited.

The ding finally sounded and I eagerly stepped in to the elevator and to my surprise, when I spun around to press 7 the Coke man was coming through the elevator doors right behind me, before I could press the close door button.

There was a slight pause where my finger hovered above the 7 so I asked "which floor you need?" "The one you're about the press" the Coke man responded and he took a swig from the half empty bottle. There was no turning back now, and me,a little afraid, pressed the 7 and stepped back, clutching my six-pack to my chest like a schoolgirl with textbooks. I waited an eternity as every floor was passed, no one was taking the elevator at ten o'clock I guess, and we arrived on 7 and I popped out the door quickly. I took a left and listened for the sound of fading footsteps of the Coke man going the other way, but they were not fading, they were maintaining the same volume as he walked directly behind me. I stepped up the pace and moved as calmly as I could to my room, room 711.

The only thought running through my head at this time was that the Coke man was suddenly going to grab me and hurl me seventy feet from the outdoor hallway to the asphalt below, possibly through the roof of my own locked Lincoln, which I would at least be in should that scenario take place. I stopped at my room and using my peripherals, saw the Coke man stopping at the room right next to me, pulling out a small key ring. The Coke man was actually my neighbour. A huge wave of relief washed over me.

I stood there for a bit, putting the beer down and in my momentary fearfulness, had not remembered that my room keys were locked in the Lincoln. The Coke man must have been watching me because after I rummaged through every pocket I had, just for show, he spoke again.

"Lock yourself out there?" he said after watching my theatrics for a little while. "Uh, yeah, looks like it" I said and uttered a weak laugh. "Shitty bust, security doesn't have keys for rooms either, you gotta wait for the super tomorrow" he informed me. "Not if I kick this fucker in" I joked back. "Unless you got bionic legs I wouldn't advise it" he responded and chuckled. We both stood there in silence for a while, him with his keys in the lock and one hand clutching the Coke, and me standing there staring at the 711 on my door.

"I don't think we've met before have we?" he asked. "No sir I don't think so" I said back to him. "John Butler, or Jack, whatever you prefer" he introduced and he walked towards me with his hand out. I shook it and it was still cold from the Coke. "Scott" I told him. "Scott who?" he enquired. "Roeper" I told him. "Hmm, that sounds somewhat familiar" he pondered, scratching his chin. "Maybe you have seen some of my commercials on TV"I asked. "That's it" he snapped and he pointed his finger and thumb at me.

"I get the feeling you're a little on edge Scott" he said. "Maybe a tad" I said. "I'm harmless, believe me, I feel bad when I crack an egg open" he said and chuckled. "Tell you what Scott, you're locked out and I see you have a six-pack, I'm not locked out, but I got no beer, see what I'm getting at?" suggested Butler. "Oh, I don't think so John"I said earnestly. "C'mon, we're neighbours aren't we, what are neighbours for?" he said, extending his arms out, "where I come from you can count on a neighbour for anything." "And that is?" I asked. ".....Chicago" he said, "okay maybe I made up that rural country hospitality but I'd still love to help you out."

I looked John Butler up and down and I could sense nothing wrong with him besides my initial fears that he was following me and going to kill me which turned out to be coincidence, but being scared of being killed is a pretty hard first impression to push aside. He was probably the most average looking man I've ever seen in my life; late 30's, short brown hair, wearing a pair of jeans and an orange t-shirt under a faded grey hoodie. There was absolutely nothing to fear from this man and the negative vibe I initially had from him was fading rapidly, besides I did need a place to sleep and he WAS my neighbour that I had someone missed in the two weeks I've been staying in room 711.

"Allright, let's see what your place looks like" I relented. Butler smiled and pushed the door open, waving his arm like a butler for me to enter. His room looked just like me, the decorations and everything remained untouched. He had an open suitcase on one bed filled with clothes and a bunch of food like cereal boxes on the counter. The TV was on and was playing the introductory sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me.

"You were watching the 007 marathon?" I asked him. "You know it, I was near the end of License to Kill and I just couldn't ignore the sugar craving anymore, but that Yuengling looks pretty tempting too I might add" said Butler and he kicked off his black running shoes at the door and hung his hoodie up on a hook. I had actually been watching the exact same thing when I left for the 711, he must have left either right before me or right after.

He dropped himself onto the couch and uttered a long "ahhh" of relief. "Tired?" I enquired politely. "Oh you don't know the half of it" he said, eyes on the TV. I sat beside him and we had finished the six-pack by the time of M's debriefing. "No beer Scott, but I do have this" he said and he walked into his kitchen and produced a bottle of 25 year old Macallan Single Malt Scotch. "Shit John, that's a thousand dollar bottle ain't it?" I asked. "Something like that" he said and he unscrewed the cap, pouring a generous amount in two glasses sitting on the counter. "I can't drink that" I argued. "It's okay Scott, I'm not exactly a poor man" he grinned and he held the glass to me. I still felt awkward about drinking this stranger's expensive scotch but he insisted and who was I to refuse free whiskey?

The Next Day

The next morning I was woken rudely by the sound of the guitar riff of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up" on Butler's clock radio. I was still sitting on the corner of the couch, head resting on the back and Butler was sitting on the other corner, mouth hanging wide open. When he heard the radio he popped up like he sat on a tack and rushed to the balcony door, ripping the curtains open. He yanked the doors inwards so the breeze could infiltrate his home.

"She's gonna be a beaut today Scotty" he exclaimed happily, arms akimbo, staring over the ocean. He pushed his pelvis outwards and exclaimed "Suck my dick Daytona." "What's got you in such a good mood?" I asked, barely even awake yet and slowly rubbing the sleep from my eyes, not realizing I was still holding an empty glass which was being rubbed on my brow. "What, I need a reason?" he asked, "it's a beautiful day and I don't have shit all to do if that's reason enough."

"Sounds good and I'd love to join you in doing nothing but I got a meeting today with some suits" I gurgled. "Suits huh, what are you a vice president of something?" he asked, still staring out the open door. "Nope, attorney" I told him, "I thought you saw the commercials". "Oh hell no one pays attention to those, all I 'member is your name" he reasoned. "Oh, bigshot lawyer huh" he said, turning around after a few seconds. "Well I don't mean to toot my own horn but you're goddamn right" I said, continuing my slow arisal from the very comfortable couch with a small headache. "Me and my partner are the co-founders of a successful personal injury law firm in Orlando and we are in the process of being acquired" I told him. "They don't want you taking their business away?" he asked.

"That's right, soon Roeper Radley will be no more and we will head up the personal injury division with them, I'm just here to discuss terms and agreements" I said, getting to my feet as Butler was pouring two bowls of Cocoa Pebbles. "And your partner?" he asked, "where's Radley?" "Steve's still in Orlando, he trusts my negotiating skills" I said proudly and I sat on the stool across from him.

"And he wants this?" asked Butler. Truth was, me and Steve Radley had a long discussion about being acquired. I thought it was a dream come true, no liability for the business, we get a bigger paycheck and move up in the legal world. Radley didn't want to do it though, he wanted to be his own man and not work for anyone. Things were getting pretty ugly when I finally decided to pull the founder card, reminding him that I was the one who actually started the business and he was a partner in name only. I refreshed him on the fact that I made all the real decisions so he relented and asked me to go to Orlando to talk with the acquirers.

"Yep" I responded.

"What do you do for work?" I asked him. "Oh you wouldn't believe me if I told you, and if I did tell you you'd think I was lying" he responded with a loud exhale of breath. "Oh yeah?" I pressed, "is that so?" I thought John was being overdramatic and that he worked at a bank or something. I looked at him but he seemed to have his serious face on, but that could just be because he was eating Cocoa Pebbles. We finished and then progressed to the door, I was going to call a locksmith about getting into my car so I could get room keys to change. "You really won't tell me?" I asked as I stepped out the door.

He stopped and raised one arm on the doorway, "tell you what Scott, meet me at the diner down the street when you're done your meeting, Geronimo's and I'll tell you." He then waved one hand sideways and closed the door, leaving me in the hallway. I made my way down stairs to the maintenance man for a locksmith's number, thinking about Butler's offer. There was no way anyone could turn down a meeting like that, that kind of stuff only happens in books, and it had really piqued my curiosity that someone would guard their job unless he was a spy or something, like CIA or FBI.

Post Meeting

I left the meeting with the promise that the next will be the last and they will complete the acquisition and that I should just "Enjoy Daytona while you're still here," so I was feeling pretty good. I drove my Lincoln straight from our meeting to Geronimo's diner. While I was parking, I remembered that Butler hadn't given me a time to meet and was wondering if he was even going to be there. I stepped in and saw him sitting at a corner booth with his back to the wall, sipping some sort of caffeinated beverage with an iPod in, tapping his foot to the beat.

He waved at me and I sat down opposite him, tossing my suit jacket onto the booth "How long you been here?" I asked him as I took my seat. "Couple hours, told you I had nothing to do" he reminded me and he got up and walked to the counter. I tapped my fingers together and stared at the wall until he sat down with a coffee mug and slid it over. "There you go pally" he said. I took a quick sip and grimaced. "This tastes like aspirin" I said with a frown. "I didn't say the coffee's here were good, I just said to meet here" and he laughed.

"What the hell is that?" I asked, peering into his mug, "double mocha-latte-frappucino?" It was a milky brown beverage in a glass and smelled quite sweet. "A cortado my friend, had a real taste for them when I was in Lisbon, plus, the coffee here is shit" he said simply. "You shoulda seen the look on their faces when I ordered it, they had no idea what the hell to make, they didn't have the right stuff anyway" he added giggling. "Lisbon, that's Spain isn't it?" I asked. "Portugal" he said after a sip. "So your job lets you travel eh?" I jumped in. He nodded. "Spy, secret agent, am I right?" I said giddily, "CIA, FBI?"

Butler laughed and spilled a bit of his makeshift cortado onto the table which he quickly mopped up with his hoodie sleeve. "Everyone guesses that, everyone" he said, "they all think I'm James Bond." "Well are you?" I enquired, leaning over the table, waiting for my curiosity to be satisfied. "Nu uh, I wish, he gets all the bitches" he said and he took a deep drink.

"Politician?" I asked, thinking that might be a job someone would want to hide, "everyone hates them." "Says the lawyer" laughed Butler. "Fair enough, how about a hitman?" I guessed next, "work for the mob, rubbing out people named Vinnie the Wrench and Tony Two-Thumbs?" I asked. "That's right" he confirmed and he stared right into my eyes with an unwavering look.

"Haha, no, you're shitting me" I started to laugh but Butler just kept staring. "No Scott I shit you not, you wanted to know and I told you" he said. I didn't believe him for a second, even with that serious face, everyone knows the best practical jokes are done with straight faces.

"I don't know you very well John but you're not a hitman so give it up, tell me" I pressed on. "I'm gonna lean forward right now for some Sugar Twin, look at the inside of my hoodie under my left arm" he said quietly and he leaned forward. I saw a scuffed wooden handle protruding from a leather holster hanging under his hoodie.

"That don't mean nothing, the guy who played Santa at the mall where I grew up carried a gun" I dismissed and Butler fell back, looking dejected. "See, what did I tell you?" he asked tossing his hands up, "no one believes me when I tell them I don't know why I bother." "Well it's a little hard to swallow you understand, that you're a mob hitman?" I clarified and he just shrugged. "Well that's allright Scott you don't have to believe me but now you're gonna think I'm nuts and make up stories for fun, not only the mob though, I do them for anyone who pays" he said sighing.

"Who did you kill in Lisbon?" I asked him quickly. "Joaquim Da Silva" he responded quickly. "Who's that, it wasn't their president or nothing was it?" I asked confused. "Nope, it wasn't really anyone you'd know" replied Butler as he looked at an ugly painting of some weird melting trees.

"If you're not going to believe me, I don't see the point in spending any more time with someone who thinks I'm a liar" said Butler and he scraped his chair back and got ready to leave. I didn't realize how mad I had made him. It took me a few seconds to gather myself but I drained my coffee, grabbed my jacket and followed him out.

"You're not kidding?" I asked him through the parking lot. "Dead serious my friend" he said as we walked back to the condo, my Lincoln remaining forgotten in the parking lot. I had so many questions I didn't even know where to start. I had actually met an assassin, a killer for hire, a true and blue hitman and I wanted to know everything there was to know, as a personal injury lawyer I didn't much deal with crooks, scofflaws and assassins.

"How do you do it, poison, knife, gun?" I asked. "Whatever feels right, whatever it depends" he said. "How many people have you killed?" I asked him. "17, and I remember them all" he responded. I bombarded him with questions all the way back to the condo and we took the elevator back to the seventh floor and I was still pestering him when he was at his doorway and I had every intention to enter the room with him and continue my question session.

"Whoops, looks like I pulled a you and forgot my keys" he said, patting his pockets.

"That sucks, just come in and we'll talk to the super later" I offered him anxiously. "Okay, sounds good, sounds like you still gotta lot of questions for me" he concluded. I was surprised at his candid attitude and how willing he was to tell me of all the people he killed, the methods, who hired him, the price he demanded, etcetera.

"What do people usually hire you for?" I asked as I unlocked my door. "I'm not a superstar hitman Scott, I'm a midlevel man, in a world of Paul Simon's I am an Art Garfunkel, and the people who hire me are mostly just threatened and greedy corporate folk taking out threats, it's often from people you wouldn't expect" he told.

I stepped in and tossed my jacket onto my bed, loosening my tie. "So do you have fake passports and stuff?" I asked him as I pulled the tie off. "Nope, nothing suspicious about Jonathan William Butler getting on a plane" he said, "luckily I was born with a common name, it would probably be a lot harder if my name was Horatio Humperdink." Butler stood near the door and kept talking,"It's the same reason I wear such plain clothes and look so normal, it's best to try and blend in, you do not want to stand out as "some weird guy with sunglasses, a beard and a mullet hanging out when that man was killed"" he explained. I sat down in a chair to take off my shoes while John puttered around my apartment. "Can I see your gun?" I asked gingerly. He walked up to me and pulled back his hoodie flap, revealing a medium caliber revolver hanging in a shoulder holster. He leaned over and allowed me to pull it out. "Careful buddy, it's loaded" he warned me with a wink.

"Do you live here or are you here on a mission?" I asked, turning the gun over in my hand and admiring it. "A mission, I'm always on a mission Scott, I'm a busy man" he continued.

"Well how do you do it, do you stalk them and poison their beers or sit in a clocktower and wait for them to walk by or what?" I continued, pointing the gun towards the TV.

"No I work a different way, I'm not like a hitman you see in movies" he said, reaching around his pockets and pulling out a handkerchief to rub his forehead I guess.

"How do you work then?" I asked.

"I get close to them, that way it doesn't have to public for their death, the less witnesses the better, I like making it look like a suicide, those don't really get investigated much" he admitted. He was unfolding the handkerchief but it wasn't a handkerchief, it was a pair of latex gloves. "What's with the gloves?" I asked. He walked towards me, snapping them on and retrieved his revolver from my outstretched hand.

"Don't want any fingerprints on anything, you'll notice I was careful with the door" he said calmly. It was at that exact moment when I realized the grievous error I had made and I sat there, unable to move, staring at John Butler who was staring right into my eyes with his latex gloves on and the revolver in his right hand by his side.

I sat in silence, completely immobile and Butler slowly walked beside me and pointed the muzzle, which was warm from his body heat, against my left temple. "Steve really didn't want to sell" he said.

Florida Today

Lawyer found dead

Eileen Dexy

Scott J. Roeper, 42, head of successful Orlando-based personal injury law firm Roeper Radley, was found dead in a condo where he was currently staying yesterday on July 17thfrom a self inflicted gunshot wound. An anonymous caller, who heard a gunshot sometime in the mid afternoon immediately called the authorities. Roeper was in Daytona discussing an acquisition by a larger law firm who will not be named as per request. The cause of Roeper's death was an apparent suicide and blood work showed the presence of cocaine in his system, foul play is not suspected. His partner, Steven Arthur Radley, claimed that Roeper was a habitual recreational drug user and that he had likely just "gone too far."

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