Renaldo Sandoval sat alone in his room and went over everything again.
Do not look straight ahead. Look at the numbers on the doors as you walk by each of them.
The smell of the solvent he used to clean his pistol had almost dissipated. He unloaded, counted, and reloaded thirteen 9mm, Federal Hydra-shok hollow-point cartridges into the magazine, inspecting each one for possible flaws that could lead to a misfire.
Do not ignore the men in the hall – but do not stare at them either. Look at them once, briefly make eye contact, and then go back to looking at the numbers on the doors.
The suppressor on the muzzle of his pistol fit perfectly. He considered cleaning and lubricating the gun one more time, but decided against it.
The hotel has started using new plastic cards instead of keys. They look like credit cards and slide into a slot above the door handle.
The Hawaiian shirt hung on the hook behind the door, the khaki shorts were laid out on his bed, and the Nike sneakers sat on the floor.
Hold the keycard in front of you as you walk toward the men. Keep your hands in front of you and keep looking at the numbers on the doors.
The green and blue Hawaiian shirt was still in the dry cleaner’s plastic. He had imagined that his first kill would be in the standard black tactical gear in which he trained, or at least in the street clothes he was used to wearing. But for this job, he was going to look like a tourist checking into a Westside hotel with his wife and baby.
Malisa will be a pace behind, pushing the stroller. Her pistol will be in the large wicker handbag on her shoulder.
The thrift-store stroller was already loaded into the van downstairs.
Stop at the door across from the two men, and try the keycard. It will not work. Struggle with it, and get frustrated.
Tora is getting the keycard.
Malisa will dig into the wicker handbag, as if she is looking for another keycard. She will take hold of her pistol and shoot right through the handbag, killing the two men.
Don’t look at the men. Malisa will handle them. Assume they are dead and no longer a threat. But move behind her instead of in front of her, just to be safe.
Slide the keycard into the target’s room while simultaneously drawing your weapon. If the keycard does not work, then immediately abort. But it will work. Once the door is opened, enter the room; locate the target, and fire, once to the chest, and once to the head.
He visualized himself shooting and killing the target. Visualization, he knew, was important. Jesse said killing another human is a strain on the psyche. You never know if you will be able to pull the trigger when the time comes.
He still did not know who the target would be, only that he would be in a hotel room and he would have two guards outside the door.
If the hallway is clear, drag the two men into the room and close the door. Put the weapons in the stroller and casually wheel it back to the elevator.
He thought about walking casually. He tried not to wonder about the target. Was he old? Was he white? What was his name? Would he have a wife or a girlfriend with him? Would there be children?
If the hall is not clear, abandon the stroller and proceed rapidly to the north stairwell. The van will wait in the rear of the hotel outside the north exit.
He set the pistol on the desk, closed his eyes, and took a deep, long breath.
Of course, it did not matter who the target was. All that mattered was the job.
He sat silently for a moment before mouthing a quiet prayer to the Archangel Michael, patron saint of warriors, and chief of all the angels.
“O San Miguel, jefe de los ángeles, defiéndenos en la batalla y —“
“Ren!” Malisa opened his door while knocking on it. “You gotta come check this out. Pico is burning…the LAPD has completely abandoned Koreatown!”
“I’ll be down in a minute,” He said.
“The Koreans are out defending their stores with pistols…they are shooting at looters on the street!” She shouted, “It’s all on TV!”
“Okay.” he said, “Just a minute.”
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking at his gun on the desk.
“I’m cleaning my gun,” he said.
“I’m… preparing for tonight.”
“I was nervous on my first time. I was afraid that I was going to freeze up.”
Malisa continued: “Jesse says that people freeze up because it is a strain on the psyche. Like there is something in our biology that prevents us from killing each other. That’s why they used 50,000 bullets for every one kill in World War II.”
“Yeah I know. He told me that.”
“Soldiers were trained to shoot, but not to kill.”
“Yeah.” Ren sighed.
“Ah, you’ll be fine.” She said. “After your first one, they become a lot easier.”
“Okay.” He said.
“Well, Take your time, come down when you’re ready.”
The rest of the team was downstairs watching the riots on television. It had been twenty-four hours since the riots had started near Florence and Normandie, after the Rodney King verdict.
He thought about his friends back in Boyle Heights and wondered if they were watching everything on TV … or were they out joining the rioters in the streets?
Thinking of his friends reminded him of being in high school, which was less than a year before but seemed like lifetime between then and now.
He thought about his last day in school, and getting sent to the office for arguing with the teacher, Mr. Molina. What an asshole. The argument was about Hamlet. Mr. Molina insisted that Hamlet was contemplating suicide. But Ren had argued that Hamlet didn’t have the guts to kill himself, and that he was just wasting time, delaying the inevitable confrontation.
Hamlet wasn’t a king, he didn’t have any responsibilities, and so he never had to take any kind of action, not once in his entire life. He never had to make a decision. So when he was forced to take an action, he bitched and moaned about it by over intellectualizing.
“Hamlet was a pussy.” Ren said to the teacher, in front of the whole class. And that’s what got him sent to the principal’s office. But instead, he left the school and never went back.
He closed his eyes to concentrate. He had to focus on the job. He sat for a long time before beginning his prayer again.
“O San Miguel, jefe de los ángeles, defiéndenos en la batalla y en la guerra terrible que estamos librando—“
“Ren,” Malisa interrupted again, “Tora’s back, you gotta come downstairs now!”
Ren’s stomach leapt. Tora had returned with the intelligence for the job. He would soon know who the target would be. He left his gun on the desk and rushed downstairs.
The team gathered around the table and did not speak. Tora remained standing while the others sat. Reporters could be heard talking about the riots until Malisa switched off the television.
Tora’s face glowered, grave and intense, as usual. He waited until everyone had settled around the table.
“The target,” He said as he removed photographs from an envelope, “is Miguel Sandoval.”
Malisa gasped, and then grinned wide at Ren.
Tora laid the photographs on the table. They were all black and white candid shots and one mug shot of the man they all knew and recognized.
Miguel Sandoval: The boss of La Eme – The Mexican Mafia – in Los Angeles and one of the most powerful men in the city.
Tora continued: “You all know who he is and to whom he is connected. Mr. Sandoval checked into the Beverly Hilton yesterday, apparently to get away from the riots. He is staying in the room by himself, and he will have two guards posted outside his room. We, of course, can assume that they are both armed, and so is he.”
The members of the team leafed through the photos.
“Wow, Miguel Sandoval, That’s a major target,” Malisa said, “that explains why we got the intel so late.”
“Only two guards?” Jesse asked, “You sure?”
“Intel confirms it.” Tora said. “Only two. That’s why we are moving now.”
Tora handed Ren the keycard. “This is a master key. The target is in room 4112. “
“4112.” Ren repeated.
“Are you ready?” Tora asked.
“Oh, he’s ready.” Jesse smiled. “He’s my boy.”
Ren swallowed. “Yeah…I am ready.”
Tora turned to Malisa, “What about you?”
Malisa smiled, loose and breezy. “Oh I am definitely ready for this.”
“Very well,” Tora said. We leave in ten minutes.”
The members of the team stood from the table.
As somebody switched the television back on, Malisa turned to Ren. “Hey, are you related?”
“What?” He blinked.
“You and Miguel Sandoval.” She said, “You have the same last name.”
“No.” He said, “We are not related.”
“Are you sure? It would suck if you had to do a second cousin or a third uncle on your very first tap.”
“We aren’t related. It’s a common name.”
“I know it’s a common name,” She smiled “but maybe you should call your Mama or something and find out just to be sure.”
“We aren’t fucking related.”
“Okay,” she said, “settle down I’m just fuckin’ wit’ you.”
Ren stood up. “I have to get changed.”
He trudged up the stairs and back into his room. He changed into the Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. He hated having his legs exposed even if it was just below the knees. Usually he wore jeans, boots and a black motorcycle jacket.
It had been months since he had to cut his pompadour for the training period, and he was just starting to get used to having short, non-greased hair.
He pulled on the Nike sneakers and checked himself in the mirror. He tucked his pistol into the waistband of his shorts, in the small of his back under the silky Hawaiian shirt. He looked at himself and tried to stand naturally. He was not sure if he was pulling it off.
Downstairs, Malisa was already in her sundress. A large pair of sunglasses sat on the top of her head; her black curly hair, pulled back into a loose ponytail.
She carried the large wicker bag over her shoulder and a bundle that looked like it could be an infant. She swayed slightly and stood like a casual tourist about to check into a hotel with her husband and young baby.
The large, bright red van had the words “PRIME TIME SHUTTLE” painted in white letters on each side. Jesse drove, while Ren and Malisa rode in the back.
The rest of the team would ride in different vehicles and serve as backup. It gave Ren little comfort to know that there would be backup. For if the backup were needed, it would mean that the plan had gone wrong and he would most likely be dead.
But he was prepared to die. He had trained for this.
As they began to make their way to The Beverly Hilton, Ren closed his eyes and silently ran through the words of the prayer to saint Michael.
“O San Miguel, jefe de los ángeles…”
Ren opened his eyes … Miguel … jefe de los ángeles … chief of the angels … Boss of Los Angeles. Ren was not normally superstitious, but this was a disconcerting coincidence that he struggled to dismiss.
He closed his eyes again and thought the words of the prayer.
“O San Miguel, jefe de los ángeles, defiéndenos en la batalla y en la guerra terrible que estamos librando.
Si muero en este campo, le pido que me deje morir en estado de gracia, que perdone todos mis pecados, y – “
“Woa!” Malisa shouted, “Check it out you can see the smoke… the city is burning!”
Ren caught a glimpse of the fires down Pico Boulevard. Closing his eyes, he struggled to shut everything out.
Si muero en este campo, le pido que me deje morir en estado de gracia, que perdone todos mis pecados, y que me conceda la gracia de la contrición perfecta.
En el nombre del Padre,
y del Hijo,
y del Espíritu Santo,
They pulled in to The Beverly Hilton. Jesse helped them with the stroller, and the large rolling suitcase that Ren would drag behind him. Malisa carefully placed her bundle in the stroller, as if it was a real baby, and they entered the lobby.
The steel and polymer of his gun pressed into his lower back as he walked across the lobby. It felt like it was sticking out ten inches and that anyone would spot it.
Scanning the lobby, he did not see anyone that looked like they might be a hired gun for Miguel Sandoval. However, Ren and Malisa checked in at the front desk as if they were tourists, and then strolled to the elevator.
As they rode the elevator alone, his adrenaline began to surge and his heart rate increased. He had trained for this. He took measured breaths and slowed his heart rate.
The elevator doors opened.
They looked at the sign and followed the one toward 4112. They walked down a long hallway, looking at the numbers on the doors.
A brown-skinned man with slick black hair wearing a dark suit stood in front of a door about two thirds of the way down the hall. The man looked young, tough and Mexican. Clearly he was one of the guards.
But there was only one man. Ren tried not to look. He forced himself to look at the numbers on the doors.
Where was the second man?
Ren and Malisa approached him. He was looking straight at them, watching them. Ren looked at the man and made eye contact. He gave the man an uncomfortable half smile and a nod. The man’s expression did not change.
He stopped a door away and across from the man and inserted the card key. The door beeped and the light turned green. Ren turned the handle – and the door opened.
Fuck. It wasn’t supposed to open. It wasn’t supposed to work on this door.
He froze, not sure what to do. Tora said the card was a master. Then he heard the shots. They were muffled but unmistakable, and a lot louder than he had hoped.
The guard was hit in the stomach and belted a loud guttural “Umph!” before the second shot hit him in the forehead and he fell to the ground.
Ren instantly remembered the plan and slid behind Malisa and the stroller as he drew his weapon. He inserted the card key into the 4112 slot. It didn’t open.
He tried it again, and again. On the third try it worked. He pushed the door, and was immediately stopped. A chain lock prevented the door from opening.
He raised his gun, pressed it to a link of the chain and fired. The link blew apart with a deafening ‘crack’.
Ren shoved his way in just as a wet naked overweight man charged out of the bathroom and toward the inside of the room The shower was still running.
Ren fired as the man dove behind the bed. His bullet missed its target and shattered the mirrored wall at the back of the room. He darted to the side of the bed and saw the man’s bare ass: he was on his hands and knees amid the mirror shards on the floor.
The naked man spoke to the ground: “O San Miguel…”
Ren aimed his gun at the center of his back.
“…defiéndenos en la batalla…”
Ren waited, with his gun aimed, as the man prayed.
“…Sé nuestro amparo contra la perversidad…”
Malisa leapt on top of the bed and pointed her pistol at the man on the floor. She fired without hesitation, hitting him once in the middle of the upper back and once in the back of the head. The man collapsed in silence.
“Let’s move.” She said and turned toward the door.
Outside the door she looked to the left and to the right down the hall.
“Clear.” She said in a conversational tone. She placed her pistol in the stroller and bent to drag the dead guard into the room.
Ren was struck with a deep sense of mortification. He had hesitated, and Malisa had to take the shot. He forced himself to ignore his feelings and help Malisa move the body of the guard into the room.
As he stepped out of the room and entered the hallway, he heard the bing of the elevator. He looked up as another tall dark man in a black suit turned the corner and saw them, instantly produced a pistol, and fired.
The shot was much louder than their suppressed shots had been.
Without thinking, Ren returned fire and the man was hit. He fell lifeless to the floor.
Ren fired three more times at the man’s corpse.
“Ren.” Malisa said.
Ren turned to Malisa. She sat on the ground with her right hand, covered in blood and clutching her left bicep.
She had been hit.
Doors opened throughout the hallway and curious heads began to pop out.
“We have to go now.” Ren said and helped her up.
He kept his arm around her as they trotted to the north stairway. They hurried down four stories, and out the north exit.
An alarm bleated when they opened the door.
Waiting right outside the door was the bright red PRIME TIME SHUTTLE with Jesse behind the wheel. They climbed inside and closed the van door as Jesse peeled out of the parking lot.
“I’m hit.” She said.
“How bad?” Jesse asked.
“I’ll need to get it stitched up pretty quick.” She said, “but I’ll live.”
“Okay, we’ll head to the doc now then.” He said, “And the target?”
“Confirmed kill.” She replied.
They said nothing as they drove through the dark streets to the veterinarian’s house on the west side, near San Vicente and La Cienega.
Ren had never been to the veterinarian’s house, but he had heard of it. He knew that the vet could do some advanced first aid, he worked for cash, and he knew how to keep quiet.
“I’ll take her in,” Jesse said, “You go find a phone and call in our status.”
Ren drove for several minutes without thinking and without realizing where he was.
Palms, sweating, heart racing, he pulled off to the side of San Vicente and threw up on the curb.
Finally, he found a pay phone near The Beverly Center Mall.
He stood for a moment at the pay phone, trying to remember the phone number.
After he called in and said that the target was confirmed dead, and that they were getting Malisa stitched up, he returned to the vet’s house, parked, and waited outside.
After a few minutes Jesse came out and sat in the passenger seat.
“So you did it.” Jesse smiled wide, “Your first official kill. How does it feel?”
“No.” Ren said. “I froze. Malisa had to take the shot.”
“She said you took out the guard.” Jesse said “The one that shot her.”
“Oh. Right. But—“
“Don’t worry about not getting Sandoval.” Jesse said. “Killing is a strain on the psyche. It takes practice. You reacted well under fire – when you didn’t have time to think – and that’s what really matters.”
Ren looked straight ahead and said nothing.
Eventually, Malisa emerged from the house and climbed into the back of the van with a newly stitched and bandaged left arm.
Ren started the engine and proceeded to drive back home.
He felt the urge to silently pray, but he could not think of the words. Besides, somehow it no longer seemed appropriate. As if he had given up the privilege to pray back at the hotel. He felt as if Saint Michael would no longer hear his prayer.
He remembered reading Hamlet in school, and how Hamlet hesitated to kill his uncle Claudius, while his uncle knelt in prayer.
Mr. Molina said it was because if you die while in prayer, you immediately go to heaven. And Hamlet did not want his uncle to go to heaven.
But Ren knew that Hamlet just hesitated. He couldn’t pull the trigger when the time was right. That was all. Hamlet was a pussy.
But of course he would eventually get around to it, and in the end, both characters would die.
It all seemed so pointless. Ren had trained for the kill, but not for the deep feeling of emptiness that remained.
Somewhere close to where he was, the city raged and burned. The riots had rendered the streets empty and desolate, and there was no other traffic or any sign of any other person, for the rest of the ride home.
Daniel Mkiwa is a writer. He lives in the Los Angeles area. http://www.mkiwa.com