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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

81_ym_wrongturn_afknott.jpg
Art by A. F. Knott 2020

A WRONG TURN

 

By David Harry Moss

 

Two men in worn denim coats and ski masks, one ski mask black, one ski mask blue, sat in a rusting gray van and watched Timmy Gordan, his gimpy right leg dragging on the icy cobblestones, cross a city street in the snowy darkness. Timmy, bundled in a brown thrift store overcoat, was short and thin. He clutched a brown paper bag holding an egg salad sandwich and cole slaw purchased from an all-night diner two blocks down. When Timmy reached a brick, two story building with a turned-off neon sign across the front saying “The Bare Cage Show Bar” the two men wearing ski masks darted from   the van, one carrying an empty duffle bag, both carrying fully- automatic handguns.   

They were in an area of the city made up of narrow streets with warehouses converted into wholesale food and produce markets, fish houses, bars, and curio shops, most closed for the night. The upstairs of The Bare Cage was dark, but downstairs, light glowed vaguely behind drawn drapes in a square, tinted window. The time was three a.m. and The Bare Cage was doing after-hour’s business. If a police car went by, the cops, who knew both Sal Grosso, a lawyer and The Bare Cage owner, and Gloria Vado, The Bare Cage manager, looked the other way.

The men in ski masks caught Timmy in the dark alley by a side door near a dumpster. The door would lead into a utility room with a sink and mops. Black ski mask shoved a full auto, full penetration, Glock 10 mm with a twenty-round magazine into Timmy’s ribs.

“Stay cool, little man,” Black Ski Mask grumbled.

Timmy pissed his pants and dropped the brown paper bag. Over the rooftops a dim blur of a wafer moon shined faintly through falling snow.

“Unlock the door and get us inside,” Blue Ski Mask ordered.

“I - I ca - can’t,” Timmy stammered.

“You can’t when we blow your fucking head off.”

Timmy made a gulping noise and used a fist to knock on the door. Eddie Crowley, twenty-eight, tall and good-looking, worked the door. “Were closed.”

 Black Ski Mask dug his gun deeper into Timmy’s ribs. 

“It – it - it’s Timmy. With Gl – Glory’s  san – sand - wich.” His voice shook. “O – O - Open up.”

A latch clicked and the door swung open on oiled hinges. Light splash out. Cold and snow blew inside. Black Ski Mask shoved Timmy sideways and cracked him hard on the head with the handle of the gun. Timmy groaned; his legs buckled; he sank to his knees, and toppled face first onto the snow-covered brick alley, his head leaking blood.  

Eddie blinked his eyes and chewed on his lower lip.

Blue Ski Mask pointed his gun into the small dimly lit utility room. “Back inside, nice and quiet.”

Eddie backed up with the men with guns following.

“Turn around,” Blue Ski Mask ordered.

In the crowded doorway, Eddie obeyed. Blue Ski Mask tapped Eddie on the head, causing an instant cut that spurted blood. Eddie sagged onto the concrete floor. Black Ski Mask kicked the door shut leading into the alley.

Black Ski Mask said, “So far so good.” He had a voice with an edge and jittery hands.

 

“Yeah, so far so good,” Blue Ski Mask said, “and easy waving that fucking piece.”

The two ski-masked gunmen took deep, nervous breaths as they climbed over the prone body of Eddie and eased into a narrow hallway lined on one side with two long dressing rooms reserved for the strippers.

They made a quick search of the dressing rooms. No one. They stepped into the main area of The Bare Cage and saw an empty stage, a bar, and tightly bunched tables. There might have been twenty people inside, men mostly, some of them well known NHL hockey players, four hot-looking strippers in skimpy street clothes, a barmaid named Gina, Bad Billy Skolnik, the bouncer on duty that night, and the attractive dark-haired bar manager, Gloria Vado.

The first one to react was Skolnik. He was sitting at the bar talking to Gina. He sprang from the bar stool when he saw the men wearing ski masks but froze when he saw the guns. 

 A wary Black Ski Mask motioned with his gun for Skolnik, all 6’4” and 270 pounds of him, to turn and face the wall. His gun hand shaking, his voice strident, he said, “I see your ugly face again I decorate it with bullets.”

Skolnik nodded. He could tell the man was wired and dangerous.  Eyes blazing, he turned and faced the wall.  

“Now, on the floor,” Black Ski Mask said, “and lips on that tile like you was kissing a pussy.” Skolnik went down and sprawled face first. Black Ski Mask sighed.

From across the room, Blue Ski Mask bellowed, “Everybody stay cool and nobody gets dead. All of you nice and careful, empty your pockets and put the stash on the bar. And I mean every fucking bit of cash and every fucking piece of jewelry you jocks are wearing.”

With two crazed, masked gunmen aiming full automatics at them, those in the room readily complied.

“Down on the floor, now,” Black Ski Mask boomed. When he didn’t get immediate compliance he screamed, “Down or I start killing people. I got enough fucking ammo to wipe out everybody in here.”

When Gloria started to lower herself Blue Ski Mask said, “Not you sweetmeat. Into the office.”

Blue Ski Mask followed Gloria behind the bar where Gloria opened a door leading into a small office. Blue Ski Mask shoved the empty duffle bag into Gloria’s chest.

“Empty the safe.” Blue Ski Mask said. “Any cute move like showing a gun and my friend out there paints the fucking walls and the fucking floor with blood.”

Blue Ski Mask positioned himself so he could watch the action in the main room and also observe Gloria.

After Gloria jammed the stacks of bills from the floor safe into the duffle bag, Blue Ski Mask led Gloria back into the main room where Black Ski Mask held everyone at gunpoint.

Blue Ski Mask grabbed the duffle bag from Gloria and set it on the bar top. He shoved Gloria roughly aside knocking her into the shelves of liquor bottles. He kicked Gina in the ribs, said, “Stand up,” and when she did, he grabbed her by a wrist.

“Shovel what’s on the bar into that bag.”

Trembling all over, Gina filled the duffle bag so that now it bulged with cash and jewelry.  

Blue Ski Mask took the filled duffle bag and pointed the gun at Gina. He said, “You, come with us.”

It had taken less than ten minutes for the men to loot the place.

Blue Ski Mask said in a loud voice. “Here’s what happens next. Everyone in here stays put. We leave and we take this barmaid bitch with us. In five minutes she’ll come back and we’ll be gone. All you have to do is wait.”

Black Ski Mask added, “We hear cop sirens the bitch dies.”

Blue Ski Mask turned his attention to Gloria. “I’m leaving you here, boss lady, to make sure no one plays with a phone.”

Gloria muttered, “No cops.”

Blue Ski Mask nodded, shoved Gina toward Black Ski Mask, and said, “Take her.”

Black Ski Mask, dragging Gina who wore only flimsy street clothes, led the way through the bar with Blue Ski Mask following behind. Just like that the robbers, with Gina as a hostage, were gone.

Once the robbers were out of sight, Gloria rushed into the office, reached into the safe, and came out with a Remington RM 380 automatic. She returned to the bar and waited. Five anxious minutes passed. No Gina. And where was Eddie? Where was Timmy?

Finally, Gloria, holding the gun she had gotten from the safe, said, “Come on Billy, let’s go out there and see what happened to our people.”

 

                                                       * * * * *

 

In the utility room, Eddie was sitting up and moaning. Gloria and Billy brushed by him and ventured outside, into bitter fifteen-degree cold and snow.

The alley was empty, except for Timmy, looking like a pile of rags crumpled against the building. His head rested in a pool of blood. Billy knelt in the snow and felt for a pulse. He looked at Gloria with a bleak expression, ran the flat of a hand across his throat, and mumbled, “He’s gone.” Gloria’s upper body convulsed. She squeezed her eyes shut.

They saw the footprints of the robbers and of Gina in the fresh snow. They followed the footprints but not far. Gina lay  behind the dumpster with her skull smashed like a tomato and blood everywhere.

Billy looked at Gloria. “Should I check for a pulse?”

Gloria shook her head and said, “Why?” Her legs wobbled and she started to cry.  

Inside, Eddie, standing now, rubbed his eyes and steadied himself by leaning against the wall. “What happened in there?”

Billy scowled. “Two assholes robbed the place. They killed Timmy and they killed Gina. Why’d you let them in?”

Blood trickled over Eddie’s forehead into his glaring eyes. “Fuck you, Billy. How’d I know they were out there when Timmy knocked?”

Billy lifted his big shoulders and made fists. “There’s surveillance cameras over all the doors. Couldn’t you see them on the screen?”

“The cameras were shut off. I must have hit the fucking switch by accident. I made a mistake.”

The two men disliked one another. Billy thought Eddie was a hotshot punk and Eddie thought Billy was a big dork with a tough guy reputation he didn’t deserve.

Their feelings for one another complicated matters for Gloria. Billy was Gloria’s cousin, family; and Eddie was Gloria’s high school sweetheart who came back into her life after ten years with a hard-luck story. “Times are tough for me, Glory, can you help me?” She gave him a job as doorman at the bar because, just maybe, she was still in love with him.

“You should have done a better job watching that door, dimwit,” Billy pressed. “You let them in.”

   Holding a bloodied handkerchief to his head, Eddie’s face reddened and his eyes blazed in anger. “I could have been killed and you worry about a fucking door.”

“Two people, friends of mine, are dead.”

“Fuck you.” Eddie spat on the floor at Billy’s feet. “I could have been number three.”

Billy’s jaw firmed and his huge fists hardened.

Gloria said, “Shut up, both of you. Shut up.”

 The three of them returned to the main bar area and found it empty. The hockey players and the four strippers had all booked through the front door.

Eddie put his dark parka on, stomped behind the bar, poured himself a double Crown Royal, and slugged it down. He found a clean white bar towel and pressed the towel against the bleeding cut on his head. “I’m out of here.”

Gloria said, “You should wait for the police, Eddie. They’ll want to talk to you.”

“Fuck the police. I’m hurt, damn it.”

Gloria looked at Billy who stood with square jaw set and beefy shoulders raised. She said, “Let him go.” Billy backed off.

“Glory,” Eddie blurted, “phone me, okay?”

Gloria nodded.

A glowering Eddie avoided Billy, pushed Gloria aside, and barged through the front door.

“How’d you ever fall for a prick like that, Glory?” Billy asked.

Gloria shrugged her shoulders and sniffled. She was thinking about Timmy, a guy she let hang out at the bar and run errands for her, and her pal, Gina. Both dead.

 

                                                     * * * * *

 

Uniformed cops arrived first, followed by paramedics and homicide detectives and a CSI team including a coroner’s meat wagon and of course print and TV reporters, and lastly Sal Grosso, whom Gloria had phoned.

Sal looked like Lieutenant Columbo from that old TV crime show. He even wore a rumpled raincoat. Sal was one of the best criminal lawyers around. Owning The Bare Cage was a diversion, a hobby.

A burly, middle-aged homicide detective named Duffy  approached Gloria.

“So, let’s see,” Duffy said, eyes narrowed, “you were doing some illegal after hours and got robbed at gunpoint and two people got murdered.” Duffy frowned. “Nothing unusual about that.” His voice reeked of sarcasm.

“It’s my fault,” Sal said. “These hockey guys wanted to have a little private bachelor party for one of their teammates so I set it up with their agent. I got the best-looking women in the city dancing here.”

 Duffy dug a pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket. “Let the lady tell it, if you don’t mind.”

Gloria shrugged. “It’s like Sal said. These guys wanted to meet the girls, in private, away from the public. They’re celebrities. There were no drugs and no whoring. If someone did something with someone later, it didn’t happen here.”

Duffy lit a cigarette. “I believe you.”

“I run a clean place,” Sal said.

 “I believe that too. Women dancing naked. Showing bare tits and raw pussies. Very clean, very upstanding.”

  “It’s called adult entertainment,” Gloria snapped.

Duffy blew smoke. “I need names, addresses. For that Eddie character and for those four strippers.”

Gloria said, “Are they somehow, suspects?”

“Right now, everybody is somehow a suspect. Those killers knew too much about this place. Like that kid going out every night at two A.M. to get a sandwich and those hockey players being here. This sounds like an inside job.”

 

                                                      * * * *

 

 Gloria got home at noon. Right away she phoned Eddie.

“How’s your head?”

“It stopped bleeding. What did the cops say?”

“They want to talk to you. But mostly they want to run a check on the four girls who were there. The cops think it was an inside job and they think one of those girls was behind it.”

“I’m thinking that too. They came across as devious bitches.”

“Want me to come over?”

“Yeah, sure, but not now. Later. Like tonight, later. I think I should go see a doctor, maybe get stitches, after I talk to the police.”

“Okay. Tonight.”

“Love you, Glory.”

Eddie got dressed and waited. At one o’clock Duffy came and stayed twenty minutes asking questions.

“All I know,” Eddie said, “is I opened the door and wham, the lights went out.”

“Any idea who might be behind this robbery and worse, behind this double murder?”

Eddie shrugged. “I’d start with that big asshole cousin of Gloria’s and work my way through those four strippers, if I was a cop.”

Duffy nodded. “You and Gloria Vado are friends from way back, right?”

“From high school, and we’re more than friends. I should have married her and still might.”

 “What did you do, leave the city and travel around and come back?”

“Something like that,” Eddie said. “I was in the Navy for three, and then I landed a nice job on the west coast selling pharmaceuticals but the company got sued and folded.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Bad luck always happens to me. I roll with it.”

Duffy nodded. “What did you do after you lost that selling job?”

“This and that. You know how it goes. We about done?”

Duffy nodded. “You were a big help.”

“Remember what I said about Glory’s cousin.”

“Billy Skolnik?”

“Yeah. Billy Skolnik. He’s a scumbag. Put Billy Skolnik at the top of your list of suspects.”

Duffy scratched his chin. “Which one of those strippers do you think is most capable of being involved in this?”

Eddie touched his lips with his tongue. “Take your pick. How can you think good of any woman who makes her living taking her clothes off?”

Duffy nodded. “You sound like a religious-minded man.”

Eddie lifted his shoulders. “I try to be. Every time I pass any kind of church I try to remember to bow my head.”

 

                                                        * * * * *

 

Eddie gave Duffy five minutes before he put his parka on and left his apartment. For over an hour under a grim gray sky as hard as steel he drove away from the city on the Interstate, weaved through heavy, fast moving trucks, their big tires spitting up slush, before turning off on a two-lane secondary road. He stayed on that road for twenty minutes before turning onto a narrow, rutted, dirt road with scrub trees and ugly snow-fleeced mounds of black stripped-mined fields on both sides.

With shards of mist rising and thickening to fog he came to an old barn with a sagging roof next to an old farmhouse with a broken railing across the porch and warped shingles on the roof. A light burned in a window and smoke spiraled from a cracked chimney. He saw a gray van parked in front near what was left of a rusted pickup truck. He stopped, took a deep breath, and got out of his car. 

The front door of the farmhouse swung open just as Eddie stepped onto a termite ridden porch that had railroad ties stacked on the side. A wiry, dirty-looking man in frayed jeans and a flannel shirt, with un-kept ratty hair sprouting like weeds over a sharp, pock-marked face, ushered Eddie inside the house, into what could pass for a living room. The room smelled of tar oil from the creosote in a railroad tie burning in the stone fireplace. Black stains marred the blistered ceiling where the roof leaked.

Eddie scoped the shadowy room, saw a big battery-operated lamp next to a whiskey bottle on a table, saw a second man, muddy boots, dirty jeans, bare-chested, scabs on his tattooed arms, lying inert on a worn sofa. On the mattress of a rusty cot Eddie noticed three neat stacks of bills along with watches and rings, two fully-automatic handguns, and two ski masks, one ski mask black, one ski mask blue.

“Good to see you bro,” Pock Mark said.

Eddie pointed to the man lying on the sofa. As he spoke, he spotted the needle, the spoon, the white powder. “What happened to dishonest Abe?”

Pock Mark laughed, a mouth full of rotten teeth showing at the dishonest Abe joke and shrugged. “Shit happens, bro. He’ll come out of it. Always does.”  

“What’s he geared on?”

“Crank. Crystal meth.”

Eddie shoved his hands into his pockets.

Pock Mark said, “We got it all sorted. Three nice piles, thirty grand in all plus the trinkets. Ten grand each.”

Eddie’s lips twitched. He frowned. “How much did you two skim to pay for Abe’s trip?’

Pock Mark kept the smile but it lacked mirth. “Just a little.” He stood taller. “Expenses.” His eyes darkened. “For us taking all the fucking risks.”

“You fuckers killed two people.”

Pock Mark held his hands out in a shrug. “Abe did that. He tapped them too fucking hard. Be glad I did you.”

Eddie pulled a thick plastic trash bag from one of the pockets of his parka. “Go sit with Abe on that sofa.”

Pock Mark’s expression showed alarm. “What is this?”

“A double cross.” 

Eddie yanked a gun, a Ruger SR9c, from the right-hand pocket of his parka. He bit into his lower lip, aimed the gun, and shot Pock Mark twice in the chest where the heart would be. He stepped over Pock Mark and shot the stoned Abe in the head. He jumped back, almost tripped over Pock Mark, to keep brain, bone and blood pulp from splattering his clothes. The gunshots echoed in the room and the smell of cordite intermingled with the oil from the burning railroad tie.

Eddie was sweating now and in a hurry, even though he had all the time in the world because no one would show up here, maybe ever. He stuffed the thirty grand and the jewelry into the plastic bag and flung open the front door. He stopped in his tracks because of who he saw. He uttered, “Oh fuck.”

 

                                                            * * * * *

                            

With curling fog as a background, Gloria Vado, in bleached jeans, a black crew T, black boots, a black leather biker’s jacket, stood on the porch. She had a bland expression, tight fitting, black leather driving gloves on her hands, and she held a RM 380 Remington automatic.

          “Glory,” Eddie gushed. Parked on the road, Eddie spotted Gloria’s car, motor running. “I didn’t see you following me.”

“You’re weren’t supposed to. Back up.”

“You don’t want to see what’s in there.”

“Do what I tell you to do or this gun might go off.”

Eddie eased back into the living-room, his eyes never leaving the gun in Gloria’s right hand.

“Put the bag on the floor. Slowly.”

Eddie bent down and placed the plastic bag with the cash and jewelry on the floor.

“It smells like death in here,” Gloria said. Her eyes swept the room. She cringed when she saw the two dead bodies. “So much gore. Sit down in that chair.”

Eddie back-stepped and dropped into an old, worn easy chair with broken springs.

Gloria shuffled sideways to the cot. “How did your life take such a wrong turn, Eddie?”

“What about the wrong turn your life took?” he snarled. “Working for a shyster lawyer in a dive bar that’s nothing but a whore house.”

Gloria shook her head. “He’s not a shyster lawyer and it’s not a dive bar and it’s not a whore house.”

“You went to business school and ended up there. If I’m a loser so are you.”

“I’m not ashamed of what I do or where I do it and I didn’t kill four people.” Gloria picked up one of the full-automatics and slipped her gun into a pocket of her biker jacket.

  I killed two people, not four. I killed these fucking lowlifes here.” He waved a hand over the bodies. “You should be glad.”

“In my mind you killed Timmy and Gina and I’m to blame because I gave you that job.” Gloria did something to the full-automatic she held because it made a clicking sound.

Eddie made a gasping noise and half sprang from the chair, his look startled. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his parka and sat again on the edge of the chair.

“How did you team up with these two creeps?” She waved the gun at the dead men.

“I had this flunky job selling mining equipment, safety goggles, hard hats, shit like that, and we played pool together in a rat hole bar with dim light, a low ceiling, and coal dust on the plank floor.”

 Gloria aimed the gun at Eddie. “I never fired one of these. How does it work?”

Eddie’s hooked fingers dug into the arms of the chair. His look was terror stricken. “What are you going to do, Glory?”

“Execute you, for killing — .” Her voice throbbed. Her eyes got wet. She clenched her jaw. “Timmy and Gina.”

“Fuck Timmy and Gina. They were nobodies. You and me, Glory, we’re in love.”

“Not anymore, you bastard.”

Eddie was lifting the gun from his pocket as he bolted from the chair. Gloria pulled the trigger of the fully-automatic handgun and it clattered twenty times.

 

                                                                       END

David Harry Moss has had fiction published in print and online. He writes in many genres—crime, horror, western, romance—wherever the story idea seems to fit. He has held several jobs and those experiences are a valuable source for writing. Currently he lives in Pittsburgh, where he is a ticket taker for the Pirates and Steelers but has also lived in Minneapolis and Phoenix.

A. F. Knott is a self-taught collage artist focused on book layout and book cover design as well networking in conjunction with Hekate Publishing, one of its missions, bringing together artist and writer. Sometimes seen selling in New York City's Union Square Park. Work can be found on 

flickr.com/photos/afknott/ Any exchange of ideas welcome: anthony_knott@hekatepublishing.com

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2020