Both Had Guns
They both had guns. That was the thing.
Oh, I know I should have been more careful-- the girl is always telling me
that. She wants me to pack up and live with her and all, but how could I do
Anyway, they were
nothing alike. It would be hard if I had to tell the police to help them with a
sketch. The one guy was small, and he was sniffling like crazy and his taller
friend kept nudging me with his weapon.
I've faced guns
before in the army.
Although they kept their faces in the
shadows, I thought I could do a pretty good job sizing them up.
You usually assume that the taller guy would
be the quiet one, the fellow in charge, while the smaller one would nod and
I fact it
was the other way around.
talk much, and I liked that. I wasn't sure where they were taking me—not to my
house. That was clear. Maybe they were after money or some of my possessions.
It was a mystery at first.
The three of us had turned the corner
now. All the houses in the neighborhood looked the same—you know, the old
Victorian style, now broken down and droopy. And they all smelled faintly of
cat piss, even if there had been no cats in them for decades.
The guys looked at each other from time to time as they nudged me along. I was
not scared, not yet.
Laurel and Hardy. That's what I would call
them. The tall guy would be Laurel, of course, but he did not seem at all like
the gangly goof in those old movies. That would mean that the other guy was
Hardy, but that did not fit either.
We were moving now toward the end of the
block—nothing suspicious, just two boys and their old dad out for a walk. I
recognized the house—the King place, abandoned for years. It was built by Simon
King, a distinguished young officer in the Civil War who had done some horrible
things in the Philippines around 1900. He was to have been court martialed, but
The place had been vacant for a long
time. After the auctions and estate sales, I'm sure the place had been stripped
to the bone.
Why were they taking me here? I had no choice
but to follow Mutt and Jeff.
I suppose that I was not really frightened—I was more confused than frightened.
"Cici " I heard one of them say—I think the little guy. Why
were they speaking my daughter's name? Did they know her? Both men were older
than her, rough looking, nothing like the pretty executive my daughter had
old man." The tall one shoved me. I must have been slowing up. I don’t
move quickly any more. We had gone around the back— it was all dark of course,
but the moon gave some thin light—just the usual ghostly shadows in this
neighborhood. Nothing suspicious.
The shorter guy had gone ahead, forcing the
back door. There was a faint odor in the place, the familiar kind you smell
when things have been closed off. We passed through the kitchen—an
undistinguished place of dull counters and peeling linoleum. There were no
furnishings, of course, only the spectral images of where they had been.
had been in the house years ago, when the home was being dismantled. I knew
there were two parlors—east and west—framing the old front door. For some
reason the shades were still in place—the big guy had gone ahead and was
pulling all of them down. It did not make a difference, though, since the tall
trees and bushes in the front would have hidden any movement within.
Between the two rooms was a wall with a
pretty stained glass window. Abbott walked past it and then murmured something
to Costello. The little guy—he really wasn't as chubby as the comedian—swung
back at the window and smashed it with a quick crack of the pistol. The
remnants could have been repaired, but he turned back and finished the job,
carefully breaking each of the little pieces of glass which must have taken
someone a long time—a century ago—to put together.
Why had he done that? There was no cause
to be so destructive.
"You know what is going to
happen." The tall one was speaking.
"Don't be a
smartass." This time it was the
little guy. He had gone before us and turned small lights on in each of the
parlors flanking the hall. They were both talking intensely, muttering how
surprised they were that an up-and-coming executive like my daughter had gotten
herself into so much trouble. We can't do anything to her, one of them said.
After all she has to stay nice and healthy so she can pay up.
They were both looking at me and about
to ask me a question. But they did to need to say it. I knew I was going to
die. I had known it for a while.
They showed me two rooms
each of the parlors’
"Holler all you like," Shorty
taunted. "Not a damn soul will hear you. You know that, Dad, don't
I did know, but I would not give him the
satisfaction of an answer.
"Course we will have the gag,
right. Don't want to have the old guy make too much noise." This was the
tall guy talking. He actually sounded kind of stupid. He had an odd accent. I couldn’t
place it, but it did not make any difference anyway.
They brought me carefully into each of
the two rooms. The wallpaper was early twentieth century at best, and there
were swirling plaster patterns on the ceilings and traces of the old woodwork.
had no furniture,
making the hardwood floors creak in an odd, uneasy way.
Each room had a single wooden chair in
the center and one or two chairs near the back for the audience.
They took me slowly into each room. In
one of them—the east parlor if I had my direction right—there was nothing, no
implements. In the other was a short table with knives, pliers, saws and ropes.
I looked quickly. There might have been more tools, but I was too tired and too
anxious to notice.
When they brought me again out to the
hall, the little one turned me from room to room, asking which one I was going
The taller, stupider one kept saying
"door number one or door number two" in a swooping voice like the
announcer on a silly game show.
I also knew that I would suffer before
"Well, which one is it?"
I hesitated. I guessed that one of them
would be the key person in each of the parlors.
"Hurry up old man."
I pointed to the bare room, thinking
that there would be less pain there than in the torture room.
They both smiled and led me in, taking
their time tying me down.
I thought again about my choice.
It was not long before I realized
that I had chosen