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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens




By Justin Swartz



          I knew she shouldn't be tied up like that. It wasn't the proper thing to do with a young woman. She was barely in her twenties, and I a hard-nosed sixty. I might as well have been a shriveled eighty as far as she was concerned.

          It was half past midnight on a hot Thursday evening. The city of York, Pennsylvania had advised everyone to conserve energy by turning off their air conditioning. I had none to speak of, and the constant sheen of sweat that built up on my skin did nothing to cool me off. That's actually what sweat's for, you know. It's your body's pathetic attempt to lower your temperature. A fat lot of good that did me, sitting on a plastic folding chair, in the middle of a grimy studio apartment on College Avenue.

          I heard a siren go down the street, and it hit me like a lightning bolt to the heart. It also made the lady on the bare mattress jerk awake, like she'd been electrocuted by that bolt. She couldn't really sit up with her wrists and ankles bound to the bed frame via handcuffs, but she tried her damnedest to.

          "You're still here?" she said with a heavy rasp. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Where's the other one?"

          "Joshua's getting Chinese takeout at the moment," I told her. Joshua was my brother, ten years younger than I was, and every bit as hard-nosed as I. Perhaps even more so, considering it was his idea to kidnap this woman and spread-eagle her across the bed in cuffs.

          "You want to tell me why I'm here?"

          I remained silent. 

          "Oh," she muttered, "there's that look again."

          I raised my left eyebrow in her direction. I wasn't aware I had a "look."

          "Ever since you brought me here, I've been studying you." 

          "Didn't know you cared," I quipped.

          "I don't." She frowned. "That look I'm talking about? That's the look that says 'I don't know shit.'" She moistened her chapped lips. "So, even if you wanted to tell me why I'm here, you can't, because you never got the memo."

I went silent again. The woman chuckled slightly.

          "Oh God," she said, "there it is again."

          "You know, you talk pretty tough for a broad without any clothes on," I growled. 

          It had been Joshua's idea to strip her naked before cuffing her to the bed, and while I wasn't exactly jumping for joy over the idea, it hadn't been all bad. Her skin was a creamy white, and she possessed long legs and fantastic breasts. I hadn't seen a real naked woman in quite a long time, and I hadn't felt the sensation passing through my groin and to my abdomen for longer than that.

          "Stop staring!" she shouted.

          "Can't help it," I said with a smirk. "Nudity is a crowd pleaser."

          "You're nothing but a greasy pig with a fat gut and a small dick!"

          "Wow. Did you read that in a comic book, or did you come up with that yourself?"

          She huffed and turned her face away. I let out a sigh and looked up at the old steel ceiling fan, hanging precariously from a large hole by a thin array of wires. It was minus two of its four sharp metal blades, and I was not looking forward to fixing that thing should Joshua and I plan on an extended stay.

          Three knocks came at the door, followed by two knocks, and then three again. I rose from my chair and let Joshua in before closing it behind him. His hands were full of brown paper bags whose corners were soaked in some sort of grease. 

          Joshua dumped the bags onto our rickety Family Dollar card table and riffled through them.

          "I got you the broccoli and chicken, the lo mein, and the General Tso's," he told me.

          "Joshua, we need to have a talk," I told him.

          "Can it wait until after we eat?"

          "No," I said quietly. "I don't think so."

          Joshua turned to me, a styrofoam container in his right hand and a plastic fork in his left.

          "You got something you want to say to me, bro?" he said in a politely angry voice.
          "Why is she here?" I pointed toward the naked woman on the bed.

          "We'll get to that after we eat."

          "I think we'd better get to it now, Joshua."

          "And I think you'd better sit the hell down and eat your damn Chinese before it gets cold." 

          My brother dropped his container of food on the table and pulled up a scuffed wooden stool before he sat down to eat. 

          I was still standing there, looking at him, waiting for an apology that I knew would never come.

          "Come on, bro," Joshua said without looking my direction. "Nobody likes cold Chinese."

          I turned my chair around to face our Family Dollar special and dug in. Joshua presented me with a large iced tea in a white styrofoam cup, and I took gulps of it in between scarfing down my Chinese grub. I had no idea how hungry I'd been, and it took me a long time to realize that I hadn't eaten since yesterday. There was something very, very wrong with that.

          I was halfway through my meal when the young lady cleared her throat again.

          "Can I have something to drink?" she asked, her voice raspy from lack of liquid refreshment.

          I reached for my iced tea and went to insert the straw, but Joshua snatched the straw out of the cup and crunched it in his hand.

          "You don't deserve a drink, bitch," he said. 

          "Joshua, come on," I said in a low whisper. "She hasn't had anything to eat or drink in two days."

          "Oh, so suddenly you care about her well-being?" My brother gave me a disapproving look. "What's gotten into you?"

          "Maybe if you told me why we're keeping her--"

          "Hey!" the woman shouted from her handcuffed prison. "It's a studio apartment! I can totally hear you guys and I want some answers! Who the hell are you and why the fuck am I even here?!"

          I jerked in her direction, my blood starting to boil from a mixture of her agitation and my own agitation toward my brother. Joshua wiped his mouth with a napkin, stood from the table, and put a hand on my right shoulder.

          "You finish your dinner," he said. "I'll handle this."

          My eyes were fixed on the naked woman's body as Joshua pulled his leather jacket off and dropped it to the floor. He followed by unbuckling his belt and unzipping his jeans. Before he went any further, he looked over his left shoulder at me with chilling eyes.

          "Go on, bro," he said in his politely angry voice. "Eat up. When I'm done, it'll be your turn." He nodded slowly to me, like a father assuring a child who is learning to ride a bicycle, and straddled the woman on the mattress.

          I turned back to my meal as Joshua had his way with her. Sounds of her struggle and his assault splintered through my ears as I shoveled the last of my dinner into my mouth. The worse the sound got, the faster I ate, and by the time Joshua was finished, so was I.

          As I took a long drink of my iced tea, one thought ricocheted through the walls of my cranium.

          I didn't even know her name.

          How could I have kidnapped, stripped, cuffed, and guarded an innocent woman without knowing her name?

          More importantly, would I ever know her name?


          Joshua threw his jacket on the back of my chair and dropped his stool at the foot of the bed. The mattress had fresh stains on it from where Joshua had conducted his business with the woman, and it was all I could do not to stand up and pound the hell out of him for what he'd done to her. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't her pal or her savior. I just didn't go for kidnapping and rape. It had never been my thing. Joshua, on the other hand...

          My brother reached inside his coat pocket and removed a stubby .38 Special from its confines. It was black as the night sky, and as he opened the chamber, I could see it was fully loaded with six slugs. He gave the chamber a spin, snapped it closed with a flick of his wrist, and sat on his stool carefully, holding the .38 in his right hand with his thumb on the hammer.

          The woman on the bed wore a face of humiliation and shame as Joshua aimed the .38 at the space between her thighs.

          "Hey," I warned him, "what the hell are you doing?"

          "You want to know why we abducted Pussy Galore here and tied her up in this shitty apartment?" Joshua motioned toward her with his free hand. "Here's your chance."

          "What do you two want with me?" the woman asked in a shaky voice. Her fiery personality had been doused somewhat, courtesy of my brother.

          "Do you know a guy by the name of Jim Lydecker?" Joshua asked her.

          "Of course I do," she replied. "He's my grandfather."

          "And Jim Lydecker knew a man nick-named Goliath, correct?"

          "I've...heard my grandfather mention his name," she said warily. "Why?"

          "Goliath was our father," Joshua explained, pointing at me. "His real name was George C. Hemmingsworth, but whenever he got in the ring, they called him Goliath."

          "Explains a lot," she said. "The three of you must share the same inferiority complex."

          Joshua cocked the hammer on the .38. She bit her bottom lip as her eyes widened in terror.

          "Now, back to the story," Joshua said with polite anger. "Goliath was on his way to win the U.S. heavyweight title back in his day."

          "Can you speed this up? I've got a doctor's appointment in the morning."

          Joshua jammed the .38 against her snatch. She quaked with fear.

          "You want to be cute?" he seethed. "Be cute one more time, and the first one's going up the pipe." He scowled at her. "Is that what you want?"

          The woman shook her head rapidly. I could see tears building in her eyes. My blood boiled again. I couldn't take much more of this.

          "Like I said," Joshua continued, "Goliath was set to win the championship. Then he was introduced to Jim Lydecker, a big fight promoter at the time." Joshua's eyes never wavered from the woman on the bed. "Lydecker told our father that if he threw the heavyweight match, he'd double the champ's prize money and hand it over to him once the match was over."

          "You never told me any of this, Joshua," I said. "Why now?"

          "Because it just so happens that I owe fifty large to a loan shark and I ain't got a dime to pay it with, okay?!" It was the first time I'd seen Joshua lose his cool in front of anyone, including me. His face contorted into a sneer, and his eyes grew wild like a tiger's. I'd never seen him like this before, and I had to admit, I was terrified.

          "What's fifty grand got to do with her?!" I demanded, rising to my feet. Another siren went past, and when the lightning bolt pulsed through my brain this time, all of the facts fell into place.

          "There's that look," the woman said. "Only it's a little different now." She jerked her chin toward me. "There's a spark of intelligence behind those eyes."

          "Dad was supposed to get fifty grand from Lydecker for throwing the fight," I said slowly, "and when he didn't, he went after the douche bag, and ended up being murdered?"

          "Oh my God, bro!" Joshua scratched his forehead with the stubby barrel of the .38. "It took you this long to put that together?"

          "Look, I don't know what my grandfather did with that money!" the woman shouted from the bed. "He did a lot of shady things back then, and whatever he left undone, he took it to his grave!"

          Joshua and I exchanged glances. 

          "You mean he's dead?" Joshua asked.

          "That's usually what happens when people are put in graves," the woman quipped, "or didn't your dip shit daddy tell you that?"

          Joshua lifted the .38 in one swift motion and put his index finger against the trigger.

          "There you go again," Joshua said in that polite anger of his. "Trying to be cute."

          I swatted at the revolver as Joshua squeezed the trigger. The clap of the shot filled the apartment and rendered all of us deaf for a brief moment. The bullet passed through the mattress and into the floor, its path taking it centimeters from the woman's left ear.

          Joshua backed up on the balls of his feet, steadied himself, and turned to me. His sneer was longer, sharper, and way more intense than before.

          "Now you've gone and done it, bro," he said. "Now I'm going to kill you too!"

          Joshua lunged at me, tackling me to the floor. The two of us tangled up into a mess of limbs and slid into the card table, spilling what was left of our dinners and drinks on ourselves.

          Joshua was on his feet first, smacking me across the face with the .38 and making a solid connection with my nose. He followed that up by slamming his wrists into both sides of my head, knocking me dizzy, before he brought his knee into my solar plexus as the grand finale.

          I fell to my knees, desperately trying to fill my empty lungs, as Joshua grabbed me by my hair and jerked my head back. The .38 was in my face before I could utter any sound, and as Joshua cocked the hammer, I had the funny feeling I was going to follow in my father's footsteps.

          "You made a big mistake today, bro," Joshua whispered. "You went against my wishes, and nobody goes against my wishes!" His breath was hot against my face. "Have I made myself clear?"

          "Crystal clear," I said, finding enough oxygen to utter the words. "There's just one problem." 

          "Oh, I'm dying to hear what it is," Joshua replied in an ingratiating tone.

          "The ceiling fan you wanted me to fix?"

          "What about it?"

          "I never did."

          Joshua looked up at the swaying ceiling fan, loosened by our struggle, as the wires holding it in place snapped one by one. Joshua screamed as I shoved him beneath the fan at the moment the final wire severed. Those old metal blades, sharp as they were, sliced through Joshua's flesh, tearing his chest and abdomen to ribbons.

          As my brother's blood gushed out onto the floor and pooled under his body, I turned to look at the woman on the bed, still naked, still handcuffed, still looking at me like I was her enemy.

          I fished the .38 from the mess of Joshua's hands and blasted the cuffs off the lady in question, who promptly kneed me in the nuts and slapped me stupid for a good five minutes. Who knew she had that much fight left in her?

          As she collapsed onto the floor, I put a hand under the mattress and retrieved her clothes. She looked at me with grateful eyes this time, but as she started to slip into them, a siren blasted out front of the apartment building and made both of us freeze.

          "Go," she said. "Get out of here!"

          "Are you crazy?" I said back. "I'm not going anywhere!"

          "They won't believe anything you tell them! You're still one of the bad guys, remember?"

          "I’ll take my chances."

          I tossed the .38 on the floor, got down on my knees, and put my hands behind my head.

          "Don’t you get it?" she said. "They’ll put you away for life!"

          "I know."

          A look of stark realization passed over her face as pounding footsteps announced the arrival of the York City Police Department. They burst in with Glocks drawn, shouting things I no longer heard, as they read me my rights, slapped handcuffs around my wrists, and drug me downstairs to the squad car.

          Six months later, I was sentenced to sixty years in prison, with the possibility of parole in thirty years. By then I’d be ninety years old. I’d probably die in prison, that much I knew, but I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. 

          One day before my sixty-first birthday, the woman on the bed came to see me. She was dressed in a Penn State hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans, and black Converse hi-top sneakers. She didn’t look any different, but I could tell the ordeal Joshua and I put her through had taken a toll on her spirit.

          She took her seat across from the glass partition and grabbed the phone. I grabbed mine and waited for her to speak.

          "I’m sorry for what’s happened to you," she said. "You didn’t deserve this."

          "Yes, I did," I told her. "What I did wasn’t right."

          "But you made it right in the end. Don’t you see that?"

          I shook my head. I don’t think I’d ever see any of it as "right."

          She leaned toward the glass and whispered into the phone. She seemed distraught over something.

          "When Joshua..."

          "Raped you?"

          "...he made me pregnant."

          I leaned back in my chair, the air leaving my chest in one long, sad sigh. As if this couldn't get any worse...

          "What are you going to do?" I asked.

          Tears welled up in her eyes. "You mean did." A tear trickled down her face. "I aborted it." She stifled a sob and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

          "Do you regret it?"

          "Every day...but I didn't want to have a rapist's child."

          I nodded.

          "Why didn't you testify at my trial?" I asked the woman.

          Her eyes widened a bit, as if she were casting her mind back to that awful summer night six months ago.

          "I couldn't bring myself to do it," she explained. "I was still too traumatized by it all. I didn't want to relive that again." She closed her eyes. "Please try to understand."

          "I do," I said. "Don't worry."

          A security guard stepped toward me and pointed to his watch. 

          "My time's up, I'm afraid," I said. "Thanks for stopping by."

          The woman nodded and went to put the phone back on the cradle. I caught her attention and pointed to the phone. She put it back up to her ear and listened.

          "I never got your name," I said.

          "It's Rachel," she said with a chuckle. "Rachel Lydecker."

          "I'm Gus Hemmingsworth," I replied. "Hello, Rachel."

          "Hello, Gus."

          The security guard stormed toward me and pointed to his watch again. I stood from my chair, as did Rachel, and I looked her in the eye for the first time.

          "Goodbye, Rachel."

          "Goodbye, Gus."

          We hung up our phones at the same time, and neither of us looked back.

          Rachel never came to visit me again. I like to think she met a nice guy and is having some kids of her own at the moment. I also think about what I could have done differently that night, in order to make things come out where nobody had to die and nobody gets a sixty-year sentence, but all the scenarios I've played out in my head never end well. 

          The simple fact is I could have stopped Joshua at any time. I could have stopped him from kidnapping Rachel, cuffing Rachel, and raping Rachel...but I didn't. I was scared of Joshua and what he'd do to me and her. But I've also learned an important lesson: every action has consequences, and while my actions landed me with this eight by eight cell, Joshua's actions cost him his life.

          And damn him to hell anyway.

Justin Swartz was raised in Uniontown, PA, about fifty miles south of Pittsburgh. He loves his coleslaw, his pierogies, and his Steelers, thank you very much. He's been published in Gary Lovisi's Hardboiled, Yellow Mama, and Dead Guns Press. You can read more of Justin's fiction at http://lastgunsmoking.blogspot.com. You can also reach Justin for comments & questions at his e-mail: robojammies@gmail.com.

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