I'm going to try and post an excerpt each week from one of my novels. This week I decided on The Damage Factory. Available in paperback and on e-book platforms.
What would you do if a secret criminal organization was hired to destroy your life? Three unsuspecting people tied together by a tragic event are about to find out.
"Don’t write anything down. Don’t tell anyone you talked to me. And for God’s sake, make sure no one follows you."
John Georges is out for revenge. He meets with a member of The Damage Factory and hires them to seek vengeance.Their goal is to dismantle lives. As John's victims find out, once The Damage Factory is in motion, there is no turning back.
Three unsuspecting people fight to survive The Damage Factory.
The Damage Factory. Business is good.
The Damage Factory
Copyright 2017 Anthony Izzo
Don’t write anything down. Don’t tell anyone you talked to me. And for God’s sake, make sure no one follows you.
That’s what the rough-sounding voice on the phone had told him.
John George pulled up to the hulking warehouse, wondering if he should turn back, the man’s words echoing in his mind. He didn’t. Instead, he got out of the car and immediately smelled the dead fish odor coming off the lake.
He went to the passenger’s side, opened the door, and took out a bulky manila envelope.
As he approached a steel door, he noticed a security camera mounted overhead. There was a doorbell mounted on the wall. He pressed it and heard a loud bell echo from somewhere in the warehouse. It reminded him of the old fire alarm in his elementary school.
He waited, used to being patient. Used to being alone these days. In the evening he would heat himself up a frozen entrée, the French bread pizzas being his favorite. His expanding belly was proof of his love of frozen foods.
There was no need for large meals or extensive grocery lists.
Occasionally, he would eat Italian at Marcos, sticking with Chicken Parm and a glass of house red. It always felt to John that the waitresses were taking pity on him, calling him sweetie. He must’ve seemed like a sad case.
After dinner, he would return home and sift through photos on the computer, looking at their trips to Bar Harbor and the Outer Banks. More often than not, the night ended with him in tears.
The door swung open and a guy in a flannel, work boots, and paint-spattered jeans answered. He was half a head shorter than John but his neck was like a tree trunk. “You John?”
“Follow me,” the guy said.
John followed the man to small room at the rear of the warehouse. Inside was a table surrounded by wooden folding chairs.
“Take a seat,” the man said.
John pulled out a chair and sat down. The guy took a seat on the other side.
“Are you sure about this?” the man said.
“Did I talk you on the phone?”
“Don’t worry who you talked to. Once we start things in motion, there’s no going back.”
“Where’s the money?”
John slid the envelope across the table. As the man reached for it, his shirt hiked up and John saw a chrome .45 in a holster.
“You can call me Rex,” the guy said, and dumped the bundles of cash on the table. John had emptied out his 401K for the cash.
Rex did a quick count of the money. “All here. Good boy.”
“I’m not a dog,” John said.
“We’ll go over this again. Like on the phone. No cops. No news. We’ll contact you with updates. You turn on us? We turn on you. Here’s what happened to the last guy that tried it.”
He took two photos from his breast pocket and slid them across the table. John took a look, saw a headshot of a man lying on some sort of table. Most of the skin was removed from his face.
“That was done while he was alive,” Rex said.
“I won’t cross you. I want these people to suffer,” John said.
“They will. Believe me. It’s what we do.”
“How will I know when it starts?”
“We’ll contact you.”
John said, “I’ll need proof.”
“Let us worry about that. Someone will be in touch, like I said. However, if you have an emergency. If someone’s on to you, take this,” Rex said, and pulled a crème-colored business card from his pocket. He slid it across the table.
The Damage Factory was printed on it in small, black letters. Below that was a phone number, most likely a burner phone.
John put it in his wallet as if it were a sensitive explosive.
“Don’t fucking lose it. We’ll be in touch. And don’t worry, you came to the right place.”
Mark Staley had gotten the call last night from Rankin: Come in early, we need to talk. The principal wouldn’t say what it was about, only that it was urgent. In fifteen years of teaching high school English, Mark had never been asked to come in early and meet with the boss.
He arrived at Westlake High and parked in the faculty lot. At the side door he swiped his ID badge and entered. He had his lunch in one hand (tuna fish on white and an apple), and a satchel slung over his shoulder.
Mark passed Ed Feeny, one of the custodians, who was busy mopping the floor in front of one of the lockers. Mark gave him a nod.
It was a decent job, if repetitive. Teaching Romeo and Juliet to freshman every year got a little dull. Still, the pay was nice, he was tenured, and he was guaranteed a pension.
As he approached his room, Rankin was standing outside the door dressed in one of his many argyle sweater vests. His tie was done in a fat knot. He wore cords and shiny, square-toed shoes. Haircut looked fresh. Rankin looked young enough to almost blend in with the students.
“What’s going on Steve?” Mark said.
“Come in. I want to get this over with,” Rankin said.
Rankin opened the door. Seated in the front row was one of his students, a girl named Haley Ann Presby. A man and a woman occupied the desks to the left and right of her. The woman wore a white blouse and a blue skirt that highlighted her shapely legs. The man wore a dark gray suit. Had an athletic build. His hair was just beginning to gray.
He assumed these were her parents. Mark had tutored Haley Ann and had spoken with Mom and Dad on the phone.
Three chairs were set up facing the desks. A moment later, John Zurich, the school psychologist, came waltzing in. Mark liked him about as much as he did spoiled milk. He was a fussy little guy that favored bow ties. For some reason, that always rankled Mark.
“John will be joining us,” Rankin said.
“What’s this about?” Mark said.
“Have a seat Mark,” Rankin said.
Mark took the center chair, thinking this was an ambush. Rankin and Zurich sat on either side of him.
“How are you Haley Ann?” Mark said.
“Don’t you talk to her,” the man in the suit said.
He noticed the girl’s eyes were puffy and raw.
Rankin said, “Mark, meet Todd and Mary Presby.”
“We’ve spoken on the phone,” Mark said.
The couple had seemed friendly and engaging on the phone when they’d discussed tutoring Haley Ann. Now they looked at him as if he were a rat in the pantry. “Is something wrong?”
Zurich said, “Haley Ann, please share what you told me and Mr. Rankin on Friday.”
The girl teared up. She blotted her eyes with a balled up tissue. “Mr. Staley was tutoring me last week. He was leaning over to look at my essay. He put his hand on my leg under the table. Then he slid his hand up higher. Near, you know. Then he asked me to go somewhere private.”
“That never happened,” Mark said.
Mary Presby said, “Are you calling her a liar?”
“I’m saying that never happened. I did tutor her, but I would never do something like that. I’d never harm a student. Haley Ann, why are you saying this?”
“He wanted me to text him pictures of myself, too,” Haley Ann said.
“Steve, we’ve worked together for fifteen years, you know me,” Mark said.
Todd Presby said, “You protest a little too much.”
“Because this is a lie,” Mark said.
Rankin held up his hand. “Haley Ann, was this the first time this happened?”
“This school better have a good goddamned lawyer,” Todd said.
“The week before he’d rubbed my back, like with the palm of his hand?” Haley Ann said. “I guess that’s when it started.”
“Haley Ann,” Mark said. “Why are you doing this? You know that never happened.”
The girl wouldn’t make eye contact with him.
Zurich said, “Haley Ann shared this with me and Mr. Rankin on Friday. Naturally I contacted Mr. and Mrs. Presby.”
“I can’t believe this,” Mark said.
“We trusted you to help her,” Mary Presby said.
“I did. She went up a full letter grade,” Mark said. “And nothing happened. I wouldn’t do that. Plus, we were in the public library. Did anyone witness this supposed touching?”
Todd Presby sat up straighter in his chair. “Are you going to tell him or not?”
“Right,” Rankin said. “Mark, the Presbys have agreed not to pursue charges on one condition.”
“Which is?” Mark said.
“You give me your resignation. And I’m going to say I think that’s best for everyone,” Rankin said.
“What about my rights? I want to talk to my union rep.”
“Your rights?” Todd Presby said. “Listen, you piece of crap-“
“Todd, don’t,” Mary said.
Zurich stood up, put a hand on Todd’s shoulder. “Why don’t we let Mr. Rankin finish up with Mr. Staley.”
Zurich escorted the family out of the room.
When they were gone, Mark said, “Steve, really? I’m serious. I want to talk to the union rep. This is a fucking railroad job.”
Rankin strolled over to Mark’s desk. There was a manila envelope sitting there. “After I found out about Haley Ann, I had our IT guys go through your emails.”
He handed the folder to Mark. The day was shit. He didn’t think it could get worse.
Mark opened the folder. Inside were what appeared to be printouts of his emails. They were from a sender labeled “hot.xxxyoung.com.” The first picture was a girl of about eighteen. She was lying on a bed, naked, legs spread. A man that looked twice her age loomed over her, hairy and naked.
Mark flipped through the pictures. Each was more vile than the last, images of teenage girls in every imaginable pose and situation.
Mark’s stomach churned. There were some sick bastards in the world. He set the folder down. “Not mine.”
“They were sent to you Mark. Why the hell would you have them sent to your work email?”
“I don’t know what kind of bullshit set up this is, but these are not mine and I didn’t lay a hand on that girl.”
“The proof is right here. You have issues. Do you see why I need you gone?”
Mark balled up his fists. “You’re really pissing me off.”
“Don’t make it worse by doing something stupid. Resign. I’ll keep it quiet. Walk away. And for God’s sake, get some help.”
“If I don’t resign? If I fight this?”
“Mark, you’ve had a rough year after the accident. I get it. But you need professional help. If you don’t resign? I’ll have to report this. The school board. The media. The Presbys will pursue legal action. No one wants that.”
“Okay. So say someone did send me these. Spam gets sent all the time. Dick enlargement pills, stuff like that.”
“We checked your browsing history. It’s full of stuff like this. I can’t allow you to be around kids, Mark. Go home. Write that letter. I’ll tell people you went home sick,” Rankin said.
Mark scooped up his bag. If he spent another moment in the room, he might bust the principal’s lip open. “This isn’t over.”
“Please leave. I don’t want to have the school resource officer escort you out.”
“Why isn’t Dad home yet?”
Erin Matthews watched her daughter balance a bowl of popcorn on her lap. In one hand she held a glass of fruit punch. Erin had visions of it splashing all over the sofa.
“Watch your drink, kiddo,” Erin said.
Paige said, “’Kay. What about dad?”
They’d been planning to watch a horror movie together, something lightweight with a lot of jump scares. Erin thought it was called The Becoming. It wasn’t exactly Saw or Hostel, and seemed appropriate for a thirteen-year-old.
“We won’t start without Dad?” Paige said.
Jason wasn’t usually late. He was stopping on the way home to pick up a pizza, a few groceries, and a bottle of Cab for the two of them to share after Paige was in bed. He’d called a half-an-hour ago to say he’d be home soon.
She had a little nervous flutter in her belly, the same feeling she used to get before going on patrol or when she’d been heading to the scene of a nasty accident. Her days as a soldier, then later as an EMT, were never dull. “I’m going to call him.”
“I’m glad,” Paige said.
She took her cell from her pocket and dialed Jason. It went straight to voicemail. Hey, it’s Jason. At the beep, tell me your story.
She loved him dearly but there was more cheese in that voice mail greeting than all of Wisconsin. “Hey, just wondering how it’s going. We’ll wait to start the movie ‘till you’re here. Love ya.”
She hung up, pocketed the phone, and sat next to Paige. Grabbed a handful of popcorn and popped some in her mouth.
“Well?” Paige said.
“I left him a message. Probably left his phone in the car again.”
“That sounds like Dad,” Paige said, popcorn bowl in her lap. She was in a hoodie and flannel PJ bottoms, cozied up for movie night on a cold November evening.
Erin hoped all was well. They’d lived under media scrutiny for the past year. Seemed there’d always been a news van parked on the street or strange cars slowing down as they neared the house. She’d had the phone number changed twice after a constant stream of phone calls from reporters.
Worst of all, she’d kept her Glock loaded and in the nightstand drawer, something she’d never do normally. It usually resided in a safe.
She took out her cell and tried him one more time.
Don’t panic. He’ll be here.
Mark had emailed Rankin his resignation. He was sitting in the living room of his two-bedroom apartment, laptop on the coffee table. He had a bottle of Lagunitas IPA next to the computer. Mark reflected that he might kill of quite a few of those tonight.
He finished his beer. The air in the apartment felt hot, close. Getting outside might actually do him good.
He called up Sam. His older sister always made him feel better. She’d have to be a miracle worker in this case to raise his spirits.
“Hey little brother,” Sam said.
“You want to go get a beer? I can’t stand to me in my apartment right now.”
“Where?” Sam said.
“The Brew House.”
“Meet you there in ten. Sounds good.”
He shut down the laptop, set the empty beer bottle in the sink, and grabbed his jacket.
As he walked out to his car, he spotted a man over by the dumpster. He was leaning against the hood of a blue Toyota. He had a bristly flattop and a thick Fu-Manchu mustache. Wore aviator shades, which was odd for nighttime.
The guy definitely didn’t live in the complex. “What the fuck?” Mark muttered.
The guy watched Mark get in his car. He decided to write it off as some guy waiting for a friend.
Sunday, September 23, 2018
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