Ian sat on the couch diagonal from the black guy who had just cracked open a beer for him. “So Frogman,” he said. “You have any idea what we do here?”
Ian looked at the cold beer bottle in his hand then looked around the room. Without saying a word, he shook his head. The black guy was a little more energetic and vibrant than the other two, which made him feel slightly more at ease.
“Didn’t think so,” he said as he took a swig from his beer. He inhaled deeply and let out a loud sigh. “Smell that? That’s the smell of some shit you shouldn’t be getting yourself in to.” It smelled like ammonia and cigarettes.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ian said.
“Hey Tuck,” the black guy said from the couch. “They got the guy in Denver.”
The other guy at the table without the skull tattoos replied, “Yeah I know. It’s on the news right now.” They stared at the TV screen for a minute as the scenario played out in silence. Ian looked at them and wondered if they somehow had anything to do with the events that were being discussed on the news. “Not us. Not our problem,” he said as he shuffled more papers.
Ian eyed the muted TV screen as he sipped from his beer. It showed a series of police officers handcuffing a group of men, most of which were lying face down on the ground while others were pinned up against the police cars. Guns were drawn and a chyron ran across the bottom of the screen reading: FOUR DEAD IN DENVER DRUG BUST. Ian looked around the room – the men could easily be drug dealers or distributors. They were definitely dealing in illegal activity but there was no way to know for sure.
“Murder?” The black guy said, startling Ian. He was looking at him with a comfortable expression. “Nah, that’s not it,” he took a swig from his beer as Ian tried to maintain composure. “Robbery! That’s it, isn’t it?”
“What?” Ian replied even though he felt he knew full well what he was doing.
“You’re trying to hide. You did some bad shit and now you need to run away,” the man said. “Is that right? Did I hit the nail on the head there?” He paused for a moment. “Rape! You fuckin’ raped someone didn’t you!” He raised his voice, pointing at Ian’s face.
“No!” Ian retorted. “I d-didn’t rape anyone! I –“ he wasn’t about to tell these strangers what he did. They didn’t need to know, did they?
The guy laughed. “Kid, relax! Holy shit. What do we look like? The justice department?” The other two guys at the table laughed. Ian gave a half nervous smile. “We don’t care what you did, man. We don’t care who you raped, who you killed, who you robbed, what kind of white-collar bullshit insider trading you got involved with – you’re paying for, what, the whole ID card thing? The good ol’ restart button?”
For a brief moment, Ian considered the possibility that these people were undercover police officers. Perhaps it was a set-up from the FBI or some sort of operation to lure people like him in, get them to confess and then prosecute. Each of them was armed, they patted him down, no one knew he was there and even if they did – he wouldn’t be safer.
They could kill him on the spot, and no one would know. There wouldn’t be a damn thing he could do about it. He had just given a few thousand dollars to complete strangers he met on the dark web with no guarantee that it would solidify his safety.
Ian looked at the beer in his hand. “What do you do here?” he said cautiously. He knew he wouldn’t get an answer, but it was a way to divert the attention away from him.
The moment he asked that, however, the other two guys stopped shuffling their papers on the table in the kitchen and looked at him. The black guy pulled the beer away from his mouth and stared at him. Ian’s eyes widened as he immediately regretted asking.
“What the fuck kind of question is that?!”
“Who the fuck do you think you are?!”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?!”
The retaliatory responses fired back almost simultaneously. Tuck, the guy with the skull tattoos said, “See! This is why we search these fuckers! These fucking narks don’t even need to wear a fucking wire!” He walked up to Ian, pulling his gun from his waist and cocking it back. “Who are you?! What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Huh? You think you can just come in and buy your way into getting our info?!” He held the gun up and pointed at Ian’s head. He dropped his beer and cowered in his chair with his arms up.
“Hey, hey, Tuck!” The black guy said. “Fuckin’ chill out, man!”
“Nah fuck that!” Tuck pressed the gun against Ian’s forehead. Ian’s eyes closed as he braced for what felt like the inevitable. There was more indistinct shouting as the cold barrel pressed against his skin. “So tell me, asshole! Who the fuck do you think you-“
“Put the fucking gun down, Tuck. Jesus Christ!” A different voice came from near the front door amongst the shouting. Immediately, everyone quieted down. The barrel of the gun released from Ian’s forehead. He still sat there, shaking and chattering in the chair with his hands up and eyes squinting. “You can open your eyes, kid.”
Ian nervously opened his eyes and saw another man standing in front of him. He was taller, mid-thirties, dark hair, pale skin yet equally as rugged as the rest. Ian’s eyes refocused on the man in front of him. Tuck had holstered his pistol and the black guy on the couch had reached back for his beer. The man in front of him held out his hand for a handshake with a smile and said, “Frogman 4 5 4 5?”