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Gary Lovisi
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dosomething.jpg
Art by John and Flo Stanton

Do Something About It!

 

A Vic Powers story

 

Gary Lovisi

 

 

          When Ronda called me she was angry and almost hysterical with rage.

 

          “That son-of-a-bitch has been up my ass too damn long now. This is the last time, Vic. I want you to do something. Straighten him out, once and for all!”

 

          I didn’t say anything, I’d heard this all before. Ronda was a pint-size young gal who had had it with some two-bit moron neighbor who was causing her all kinds of grief. She told me daily stories about how he’d tailgate her small Honda with his big truck down Gerritsen Avenue, terrorizing her when she came home from work, then parking in front of her house instead of his own. Annoying certainly, but not deadly. Your generic Brooklyn bigmouth with shit-for-brains.

 

          “You there, Vic?”

 

          “Yeah,” I said. “What do you want me to do about it, Ronda?”

 

          “What do I want you to do about it! Are you a freakin’ retard? I want you to kill the bastard! I know you’ve killed people before, and some of them a lot less deserving than this freak. I want him dead!”

 

          I laughed. “I don’t think I can do that.”

 

          “I can,” she said and there was no doubt at all in her voice. “I hate him.”

 

          We were silent for one very long second. Then the second was over.

 

          “Will you come over?” she asked.

 

          “Yeah, I’ll be right over.”

 

 

 

          It only took me fifteen minutes to drive from my rented dive in Canarsie to Ronda’s small one-family cottage in Gerritsen Beach. She lived alone in the co-called new section, cute tightly-packed homes and bungalows on narrow streets by the water. The whole place looked more like a scene from a New England fishing village mistakenly dumped into the ass-end of Brooklyn.

          I could see Ronda waiting in front of her house as I drove down the block. I saw there was only one parking spot, smack dab in front of Ronda’s house like it was Kismet or something, and I headed straight towards it.

 

          Out of nowhere a huge shiny black pickup made a screeching turn from the other corner, cut me off, and shot into the spot like I didn’t even exist.

 

          “What the fuck!” I shouted. Where the hell had he come from?

 

          The guy, your generic young muscle-bound moron-type parked in my spot and was about to get out of his truck when I pulled up beside him. Real close. My passenger side door was blocking his driver’s side door from opening. He was trapped in his truck, just where I wanted him.

 

          I lowered my passenger window. I looked at the big mook, trying to keep calm, wanting to keep it gentlemanly. I didn’t want to start trouble with the guy. I figured, with the deepest respect, I’d say, “Hey, fucking asshole, that’s my damn spot!”

 

Well, that’s what I wanted to say, instead what I said was, “Excuse me, I think you took my spot.”

 

The guy looked at me like I’d just arrived from Mars. His face twisted when he realized my SUV was blocking him from opening his door to get out.

 

“Fuck you!” he shouted. “Move your piece of shit out of my way!”

 

Well, this didn’t seem to be the proper attitude to take at all and I was about to tell him so when he jerked open his door, smashing it into my door.

 

Now I saw red.

 

He just laughed viciously, like the big jerk he was, not even caring about whatever damage he had done to his own vehicle. Muscle-bound morons can be like that –all hyped up on ego and testosterone. I saw he had an old guy in the cab with him, most likely his father, and it looked like the relic was already passed out drunk. It wasn’t even noon yet.

 

“You took my parking spot, now you smashed my door!” I shouted in disbelief.

 

“Too fucking bad! Now move off, asshole!”

 

I heard loud booms behind me and was amazed to see Ronda banging with her fists on the back of the guy’s truck.

 

I sighed, that Ronda, what a gal, she was always ready for trouble. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to calm her down, now that she was all revved up.

 

Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw another woman bolt out of one of the houses nearby and take Ronda down with a running tackle. Ronda was flung back and both women were on the ground, embroiled in a fierce fight on the small lawn in front of Ronda’s house.

 

This was all turning to shit way too fast for me. I moved my SUV forward away from the guy’s truck and double-parked up ahead. Then I got out and ran back to the two women to break up their fight.

 

I tried to find an opening where I could pull Ronda off the thin peroxide blonde. Ronda, while smaller, was a spunky angry little bitch and was beginning to beat the crap out of the other woman, I was kinda proud of her, but I couldn’t let her face a felony beef. I knew I had to stop this before it got too serious.

 

“Come on now . . . ladies . . .” I finally got a hold of Ronda and was about to pull her off the other woman when I felt a huge hand wrap itself around my arm.

 

“What the fuck!”

 

“Let them fight, asshole.”

 

It was Muscle-head.

 

I looked at him serious now, “Get your hand off my arm.”

 

“Make me.”

 

I smiled, ripping into the steroid-hulk and hammering him with my fists. He never knew what hit him. My knuckles smashed into his face and gut non-stop like a battering ram. His face was soon transformed into a bloody mess. In sixty seconds I had him on the ground and was knocking him senseless. He tried to fight back, but I wasn’t no kid or woman, which I presumed was his usual beat-down partner. He never expected the force and fury of my attack. I was so relentless, so quick, he never had a chance to get his breath, much less go on the offensive. My motto: “Never give an asshole an even break!”

 

Once he was down and out, I went over and pulled Ronda off the anemic blonde.

 

“Vic, let me finish her off!”

 

“Ronda, the poor girl’s got no teeth left, enough is enough.”

 

Ronda smiled. “I’m glad you came over, Vic. It’s always good to see you.”

 

“Yeah, it’s nice to see you again, too,” I said with a shrug. “Now that this shit is done with, why the hell did you want me to come here anyway?”

 

“You just did it.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Little Abner. Least ways that’s what I call him. You gave him a beating he won’t forget. Thanks, Vic.”

 

“My pleasure,” I said. “What about the wife?”

 

Ronda laughed, “Oh, Daisy Mae? She ain’t nothing. I can take care of her, myself.”

 

“You sure as hell did. I never realized there could be so many problems owning a home in this neighborhood.”

 

“You have no idea what I have to go through, Vic. No idea. I won’t even tell you about the problems with all the spoiled out-of-control kids and the stray cats. But the worst is Little Abner. I hate Little Abner.”

 

I smiled. Ronda could be like that sometimes. “I don’t think you’ll be having any more trouble with Little Abner and if you do I’ll be glad to come over and give him another attitude adjustment.”

 

“Thanks, Vic, you’re the best. I knew I could count on you to do something about it.”

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2009 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

stoopit.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2010

 

Stoop-It

 

 

Gary Lovisi

 

 

          Jack smacked me upside the head so hard I swore I could feel my eyeballs rattle inside their sockets.

 

Jack liked to smack. He was very good at it.

 

          “Wha-?” I stammered, confused. I was just happy to be out of my cage and working again with Jack.

 

          “Stoop-it!” He said it just like that, using separate words, ‘stoop’ and ‘it’.

 

          “Look, Jack, I know I’m stupid for loosing the cash and all . . .”

 

          I can be slow sometimes.

 

          We’d been doing jobs all along the East Coast, but it had gotten too hot so we decided – well, actually Jack decided – we’d take a trip out West and check out the lay of the land, as he put it. Plenty of young gash and green cash, he said, out in La-La-Land. So we took the plane ride – wow! – got a place, then Jack made calls to people he knew. The unsavory kind. Then he began to line up jobs for us.

 

          “Now listen to me, moron! Don’t be getting stoop-it like you were back East. This here ain’t New York City and don’t let the fucking palm trees fool you, the skells out here may have blonde hair and perfect tans but they’ll cut out your heart, eat it raw, and then shit it back out at ya before you ever know what hit you. You got it?”

 

          “I understand, Jack,” I said, trying not to be scared. Sometimes I think Jack told me stuff just to make me scared and then he’d laugh at me, but he wasn’t laughing now. I knew that he didn’t want me going soft in the head like I do sometimes. He told me I had to focus, pay attention to business and above all, remember the rules. The rules were important. I broke the rules when I lost all that cash the first time. Or was it the second time? I forget which. Jack gave me cash to take some place and someone took it from me, but Jack was always right there to surprise them. Then they were made dead and I was safe. That was our main rule. I always did just what Jack told me to do and he always came and made me safe. He rescued me. Jack was happy because he got his cash back from the bad man he had to pay.

 

          Thing is, Jack and me was partners in crime and partners in blood. He told me we were identical twins, meaning we looked so much alike no one could tell us apart – ‘cepting that I was the stoop-it one.

 

          Jack always told me I was a shit-for-brains, numb-nuts, brain-dead cretin. I used to laugh at them words because they sounded so funny when he said them. I didn’t even know what cretin was. But I wasn’t all that stoop-it and I was glad to have Jack to look after me. I called him my saving grace, like mama used to say before Jack made her go away. Jack did a pretty decent job looking after me even if he would loose his patience at times. I mean, I guess I deserved a smack now and then.

 

          Thankfully I had Jack to look out for me. He was real smart, so I knew I had it made.

 

          Out here in L.A. no one knew us and Jack said that was good. I shrugged, usually I agreed with Jack. After all, Jack was always right. A lot of times when he would work what he called a set-up, he’d have me come out and show myself, then the goons would all come after me. See, I was Jack as far as they were concerned and then Jack would slam the mark with a heavy hit. Down he’d go, deader than dead, never knowing what hit him. It worked good.

 

          Jack always kept me out of sight until he needed me. I had a room in the basement and he gave me a bed, and I even got a TV. I watch it all the time. Mostly cartoons. I love cartoons.

 

          I always knew we got a new job coming when Jack unlocked my room, then I’d hear him call out, “Hey, Stoop-it moron! Wake the fuck up! We got work to do!” Then he’d shave me, wash me, fix my hair, and give me new clothes to wear, clean clothes that didn’t smell bad and that I hadn’t made my business in, yet. When I was all cleaned up and dressed I looked exactly like Jack!

 

          You could not tell us apart.

 

          I liked that. I liked it when I looked like Jack. But I don’t think Jack liked me looking like him at all. He said he only tolerated it because we had a job to do and we got money for it. Jack got all the money, I never saw any but I didn’t care none. I didn’t need money and Jack said he needed money real bad.

 

          My part was always simple. Jack told me two, maybe four times already, made me talk it all back to him so I’d be sure I got it right.

 

          “The job,” I told Jack, thinking hard to remember it all correctly so I wouldn’t get smacked, “is let some people think that I am you. I pretend to be you and go where you tell me to, like some dumb-ass without a care in the world.”

 

          Jack nodded, holding his temper.

 

          I said, “I act . . . o-bliv-vi-ous?”

 

          “Know what that means, stoop-it?”

 

          “Ahhh . . .? I said. “Ahhh, Jack . . . ?”

 

          He smacked me upside the head. “Now pay attention, moron! It means, like you don’t know shit. Which you sure as hell don’t! Understand? I don’t know why I have to explain it to you every time we have a job. We always do the same plan. They’re gonna follow you, think you are me, so they can get the drop on you. When they do, I surprise them. Got it?”

 

          I said, “Yeah, Jack, sure, you surprise them.”

 

          I didn’t let on to Jack that I had no idea why we were doing these things, nor why we were out here in L.A. doing them. It didn’t seem right at all but I knew Jack was my saving grace and that he’d be there to help me if there was any trouble just like he always did.

 

 

 

          I walked to where Jack told me to, at a corner by an alley. I never saw anyone following me, but Jack said they’d be there. I didn’t care, I was acting o-bliv-vi-ous, just like Jack had told me to do. So I walked down Sunset and then cut into a dark alleyway. It was dark and quiet, real scary, and then I heard the footsteps behind me.

 

          There were two of them. Big guys and they looked mean. They already had their guns out. They walked closer and I tried to walk back away from them, pretending not to notice them as Jack had told me to do. I walked farther back but I was running out of alleyway. I was in a dead end.

 

          One of the men said, “This is great, almost too easy. Jack Rawlins, trapped like a rat, and now he’s going to die like a rat.”

 

          “Pretty damn stupid, Jack,” the other guy said, pointing his gun. “We figured you for better than allowing yourself to get caught in a fix like this, but me and the boys appreciate you making it so easy for us.”

 

          I got nervous. It looked like they were going to shoot me. I wondered where Jack could be. I knew they thought I was Jack, but I wasn’t! – but of course I couldn’t tell them that. Jack said that was against the rules.

 

          Finally I saw Jack by a window, looking down at me in the alley below. He was smiling, watching, but not doing anything. I saw him and knew that he saw me, but instead of him giving me the signal that he’d be coming down to help me, he turned his face away and closed the curtains.

 

          “Jack?” I whispered. “You’re my saving grace, I don’t know what to do without you.”

 

          The two men with the guns just laughed and came closer. I knew now they were going to kill me and that Jack was not going to come to my aid. Jack knew what was happening and he had turned his back on me. I could hardly believe it, and it hurt so much. I couldn’t figure why Jack had broken the rules and left me to die. I was in a panic when it all suddenly came to me. I had figured it out. Instead of Jack setting up these men for the fall, Jack had set me up for the fall, but why? “Why did you do it, Jack? That’s not right, you broke the rules!”

 

          “You have the wrong guy!” I blurted to the two men.

 

          They laughed, then aimed their guns at me.

 

          I had to think fast. I said, “You’ve gotta listen to me, Jack and me are twins, I’m his brother. I’m . . . slow. Jack uses me to . . .”

 

          They were on me now, shoving me to the ground, holding me down with their guns to my head.

 

          I shouted, “”We’re twins and Jack is here watching us. He thinks if you kill me, he’ll get away scot free. Look up there, at that window, you’ll see him watching us. Look, damnit! Look up!”

 

          One of the men did look up. I saw a strange expression come to his face, then he turned to his partner, “Joe, that rumor might just be true after all. I think I saw him, or someone who looked just like him, and just like this guy here. I’m going on up there and find out what the hell’s going on. I don’t wanna off some freakin’ retard and let Jack get away again.”

 

          The man named Joe got up and left, the other man stayed with me, keeping his gun to my head, telling me, “Now don’t be stupid, shut up and lay still.”

 

          I said, “I’m not stupid.”

 

          He smacked me in the head. “Shut up!”

 

          I said, “You smack just like Jack.”

 

          The man just looked at me then, said, “Damn, I guess it is true, twins, and a freakin’ retard at that.”

 

          I said, “I’m . . . slow.”

 

          Slow ain’t the word, buddy, now shut up.” Then he lowered his gun, “If what you say is true, you won’t get hurt.”

 

          I said, “Thank you, I don’t want to get hurt or made dead. I just don‘t know why Jack didn’t save me.”

          The man just shook his head. “See, we were after Jack in New York. Now if we thought you was Jack and we killed you, we would go back home and tell the boss that Jack was dead. Only Jack wouldn’t be dead, he’d be alive and safe from us being after him. You’d be the one who would be dead.”

 

          I stood frozen in panic as I realized Jack‘s plan for me. I didn’t like it at all.  Jack had broken the rules. Now I knew I had no choice but to break the rules too.

 

          I heard the shots from inside the building behind us soon afterwards. Then I heard a crash of glass and saw something fall down at us.

 

It was Jack. He was screaming but when he hit the ground he was quiet and still. He was bleeding.

 

          “Jack?”

 

          He coughed blood, tried to talk, said, “Damnit, I fucked up.”

 

          The other man ran away now and I went over to Jack. We were alone. I tried to help Jack. I held him in my arms and tried to wipe away the blood but it just kept flowing and I couldn’t stop it.

 

          Jack just kept mumbling but he couldn’t move.

 

          I said, “I’m sorry, Jack. It’s all my fault you’re going to die but what you did wasn’t very nice. You broke the rules. You were supposed to help me. Those men were going to kill me and you were going to let them!”

 

          Jack laughed, more blood gushed out of his mouth. I wiped it away. He said, “It should be you laying here instead of me, stoop-it. I’m the one that had a life and a future, not a shit-for-brains nothing retard like you.”

 

          That hurt. Jack could say some hurtful things sometimes. I just said, “Well, Jack, I may be the stoop-it one, but I ain’t the one that’s dying. Goodbye Jack, I don’t think I want to partner with you anymore.”

 

          Jack’s last words were, “Stoop-it! Stoop-it! Stoop-it!”

 

          But for the first time in my life they didn’t bother me because I knew Jack was talking about himself and not me.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2010 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.

 

 


fearofwinning.jpg
Art by Stephen Cooney 2013

For Fear of Winning

 

By

 

Gary Lovisi

 

 

          I scooped up my winnings. They was mostly union government greenbacks and gold coin, but someone had snuck in a useless Confederate Twenty which I certainly ignored. It didn’t matter at that point. I’d won and I was happy. I’d done a right proper job of cleaning these fellas out of all their money and was getting set to say my heartfelt good-byes.

          “Hold on there!” The guy with the black beard growled, I never did get his name.

          “You ain’t going nowhere, son,” the one named Taggert added harshly.

          I looked over at Taggert, then at the rest of the men in the room. They were as hard and grim a bunch as I’ve ever seen. Oh, ten hours or so ago, they was all jovial enough, laughing and drinking, drinking and backslapping as they told stupid jokes. Each one drunk and figuring he’d win a bit, lose a bit, go home none the worse for wear and a good time. Well, ten hours had passed and the alcohol had run out and left them a nasty bunch, but what drove them to their worst was that the game had drastically changed all their fortunes. Instead of them taking turns winning, losing and winning back, I’d won consistently through the night and with that last big pot, now I’d won it all!

          Of course I’d cheated.

          I used two sets of hidden dice. One loaded, one shaved.

          “The boy’s gonna give us a chance to win our money back,” Scanlon, a low-down gunman said meaningfully. “Ain’t you, boy?”

          I smiled. I thought it impolite to point out to them that they had no money left to wager with so as to win their money back.

          They awaited my response a bit too keenly.

          “I guess I could stake you some,” I said lamely.

          “Stake me!” Scanlon barked, hand on gun now. He looked highly insulted but what did he expect me to do about it?

          I shrugged, collecting my winnings.

          “I said you’re not going nowhere,” Taggert broke in leaving no doubt about his intentions.

          “I’m the winner, the game’s over,” I replied sternly, trying not to show my nervousness. “Now I’m going to get some sleep.”

          I heard the hammer of a pistol cocked back.

          “Sleep is what you’ll get for damn certain if you step away from this here table,” one of the other men said. I didn’t see his gun but I would bet that it was drawn and pointed at me from under his coat.

          That’s how it was. We was in Bonfiglio’s Barber Shop and Gambling Emporium. Haircuts done cheap and fast in the two-chairs up front – high-stakes craps thrown on the walled table in the back room. It wasn’t strictly casino and not exactly street gaming but it was busy enough and there was always good action and plenty of cash.

          I’d determined months ago to take them all with my crooked dice. I switched them off on the boys using hidden pockets in the lower sleeve of my heavy coat. That coat clinched it for me, because Bonfigio’s was a clapboard storefront with a busted stove tailor made for my shenanigans. Even when it worked that stove only heated the front of the store. The back room, in this particularly freezing cold winter weather was as cold as being outside, but without the howling wind. Smoke came out of all our mouths as we breathed or talked, mixed with cigarette and cigar smoke, half a dozen beer and liquor smells and the odor of various unwashed bodies.

          “You ain’t going nowhere…” Scanlon repeated, “…if you want to continue living.”

          “See, boy, we all know you cheated!” Taggert blurted it out plain as day and as sure as a game cock rooster.

          Well, that was it! It was said and out there now and I had to do something about it. Let me tell you, it was a tough situation to be in. Of course I protested loudly, indignant as all hell. Convincing enough so that a couple of the guys called for the dice off the table to do a check.

          Thank God I’d already palmed my loaded set and had them tucked safely away in the secret pocket—replacing them with the good dice now on the table.

          Bonafice Rogers checked the dice carefully and pronounced them good.

          That got a few of them thinking they might have been wrong. The guns went down but the ideas was flying high and fast, and ideas on this bunch could lead to trouble. That might mean a search—a search I could not allow.

          “Look, guys, suppose I stake you all,” I said fast. “We’re playing a friendly game and I want to keep it friendly. Let’s do one last toss of the dice. If I win, you let me go with my winnings. If I lose you let me go with what I got left after you take your winnings.”

          A few of the fellows nodded assent. They liked that idea. They said it seemed fair.

          Hell, it was more than fair, it was robbery!

          Taggert looked at me cold and hard, “Boy, if you win this round – you’re dead!”

          I swallowed hard, took the dice handed off to me by the stickman, who kept hold of the dice when not in use. He was a lax fellow who hadn’t paid close attention all night and that’s the reason I was able to palm the dice and make the switches so clean. Now, however, like all the others there he was wide alert, his eyes glued to my hand and the dice in them.

          I realized I’d gotten myself into one of those darn tricky and precarious situations for a cheat. I’d been too successful. Now, no matter what, I had to lose.

          I knew if I could make the change to the shaved or gaffed pair in my left sleeve I could game the table and ensure my loss—but I could never make the switch now. Not with them watching so closely. I’d have to use the good dice on the table—it would be just my damn luck that I’d win.

          And winning could be the death of me!

          As if to augment that danger in my mind I saw Scanlon and Taggert point their revolvers at me. Even old Bonfiglio the barber, placed a six-shooter on the ledge in front of him. I was afraid these boys was primed to go off and might start spraying hot lead any moment.

          This was the first time as a shooter that my life could be decided by one roll of the dice and I was nervous as a virgin in a whorehouse. I started to shake those dice hard, realizing that I might be playing craps for the very last time.

          I’d dumped about half of my ill-gotten winnings on the Pass line. Since none of the fellows had any money left it was arranged in advance that they would each take a 10% share of what was there if I lost.

          And I had better make sure I lost.

          I swallowed tightly and let go of the dice. They flew across the dirty felt and hit against the back table wall. My come-out roll was a Twelve, Boxcars, and thankfully I’d crapped out. Which meant that I had lost. I sighed gratefully. Losing never felt so good. Now, maybe I could get the hell out of here.

          Huge greasy paws raked in the winnings and it was doled out equally to the boys by Taggert and Scanlon. There was some confusion and antagonism but they were a happy crew, after all they had gotten their money back. Some like Scanlon and Taggert were getting more than they’d even come to the table with originally.

          I picked up the remainder of my cash ready to bolt out the back door.

          “Hey, where you going?” Scanlon blurted.

          “What?”

          “He said, boy, where the hell you going?” Taggert barked. “We ain’t done with you yet.”

          “Come on, fellas,” I said appealing to their sportsmanship and trying to keep it cordial, willing to put some backbone in my tone to let onto them that I’d had just about enough of their little game.

          Taggert pointed his Colt, “I know you cheated us. I don’t know how you pulled it off, but I know you cheated.”

          “That’s a damn black lie!” I shouted, as indignant and insulted as I could muster.

          “Then stand down for a search,” Bonfiglio said casually.

          I gulped. I couldn’t do that.

I said, “Why, that’s a downright insult. I swear I played fair and square, won my share rightly. I also note that I just lost a big pile of money, fairly too. You all took back a cut of my winnings. Bonifice checked the dice before my throw. He said they were clean. What more do you boys want?”

          I heard the meaningful sound of the hammer on another revolver pulled back. I felt a cold chill run through me.

          “What you’re planning to do is robbery…and bloody murder!” I barked, stammering as I got the words out, rage and fear fighting in my mind. That seemed to hold them off a bit, they wasn’t tried and true killers – least not most of them. Not yet. “You had your chance to win your money back and you won it. So leave me be. I’m going now.”

          “You gotta lose the rest,” Scanlon said seriously.

          I looked at him, then around at the other faces. They were all serious. “That’s all I got left.”

          “It’s either that or your life,” Taggert said sharply. There was no bend in his manner or attitude, he meant business. They all did. “Of course, if you can stand a search then maybe there’s no problem.”

          I couldn’t stand a search and he knew it. I kept my mouth shut.

          “I didn’t think so, boy,” Taggert replied with a wicked grin.

          The stickman, Bonifice, handed me the dice again, growling, “Shoot ‘em!”

          Taggert reached over and grabbed the rest of my cash from the table, all that was left of my winnings for the night. “Your choice where it goes down, Pass or Don’t Pass?”

          I shrugged, did it matter? Maybe it did, because if I shot and made a point I’d have to keep shooting and if I kept shooting I might just post an honest win. I figured that winning now, with these legit dice, couldn’t put me in any worse of a fix than I was in already. It might even set things on a new path. Leastways, that’s what I hoped.

          “Alright, place it all on the Don’t Pass line.”

          Taggert grinned wickedly and put the pile where I had requested.

          I blew on the dice once for good luck, which was all they’d allow me. Some pilgrims feel dice heated by a shooter’s breath can turn a trick or two when rolled. My one breath was just for luck, and only for luck, which is what I needed most right then.

          Then I let loose with the dice. They sprang across the felt tabletop, slamming into the backboard and rolling all over the field in opposite directions. My come-out roll was Snake-Eyes, a Two. I would have lost on a Pass line bet but with a Don’t Pass bet I’d have to shoot again now to make point. I rolled a second time and it was a Six. Six was the point so it came down to the fact that I needed a Seven to win.

          I took the dice in hand again for a third time.

          There was tension all around the table. I was sweating bullets and part of it was from the very possible fact that I might be feeling some real bullets soon enough.

          I needed a Seven, a Seven-out would end it for me and I’d be a winner. But what would the reaction be from the fellows here? Even if I won legit, they still might kill me. Some of them looked pretty mad. If I lost, they’d take all the rest of my money, and then probably kill me anyway. So, if I was a dead man regardless, I’d go out my own way with my own winnings. I decided to try and make the Seven-out.

          I shook the dice in my right hand. I was fearful of winning, I was fearful of losing. In the end I might get a bullet either way so what did it matter?

          “Come on Seven!” I shouted. Then I let loose with the dice.

          Those dice rolled like Mexican jumping beans, which was not a good sign. They rolled across the felt like rain off a beaver’s hide. Slick. Fast. When they stopped I saw a Four, and then as slow as molasses in summer a Three came up.

          “Alright Seven!”

          I’d made my point. I’d won the toss.

          I looked over at the hard faces of the ten men in front of me. I tried to ignore the shooting irons some of them still held out and ready. The hell with them! I’d won legit and I was going to collect my winnings and get out of there.

          I reached over to the pile of cash lying on the Don’t Pass line and grabbed it up.

          “I should drill you right now,” Taggert growled, none too happy.

          “He won, fair and square,” Scanlon admitted, lowering his piece. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

          Bonifice nodded, he checked the dice again. “They’re clean. He won it with honest dice.”

          “Of course I did,” I said, grabbing my money and stuffing it into my pockets.

          “Hold up!” Taggert shouted. I heard a revolver shot; I looked back in fear. He’d let a round go into the ceiling -- some wood splinters fell down onto the table. I gulped nervously, this wasn’t looking good.

          “I’m done and I’m going!” I demanded.

          “No you ain’t!” Taggert said and clicked back the hammer of his Colt. “The next one won’t be in the ceiling, it’ll be inside you.”

          I stood frozen. I stammered, “What the hell you want?”

          “You’re gonna stand for a search.”

          I looked around at the faces of the other men in the room. Most were ambivalent at this point but they were coming around at the prospect of some further entertainment at my expense.

          I was unarmed and had to think fast.

          “You shouldn’t have won that last toss,” Taggert added. “I left you an out and you didn’t take it.”

          “You left me an out!” I barked, “You call me a cheat, you force me to stake the table for two rounds, I lose the first one and you take half my winnings, then you want everything else I won. I won’t go for that.”

          “Put the money back on the table, roll the dice again, just against me, one last time,” Taggert ordered. “If you lose this time you get to walk out of here alive. If you win, you’re a dead man.”

          Well, this was just plain robbery now. It was also clear to me that I had to lose and lose fast. It was I versus Taggert. He had a gun trained on me and I was unarmed.

          The stickman passed me the dice with a wicked grin.

          I was beginning to hate this damn game. I was beginning to feel it might be the death of me yet.

          The men around the table were grinning widely, some drinking, laughing, placing side bets on whether Taggert would blow me to Kingdom Come or make me run out like a beaten whelp with it’s tail between it’s legs.

          “Come on, roll ‘em!” Taggert shouted impatiently.

          So I rolled ‘em -- flinging both dice as hard as I could right into Taggert’s eyes. He winced, got off a shot that went wide, then I was on him. In a flash I was pounding away at him for dear life until the other men grabbed me up and held me fast.

          “Let me go!” I growled. “Who the hell does he think he is!”

          “I don’t think so,” Scanlon said, looking around at the other men. “What should we do with him?”

          Taggert came close to me then, “I think I’ll shoot him dead. But first, he’s gotta stand for a search.”

          Then they held me fast and searched every inch of me and my clothing. Bonifice the stickman finally announced with some surprise and perhaps even remorse, “He’s clean. I mean really clean. No dice.”

          “See! I told you I was clean.”

          There was silence for a moment. Taggert had been so sure of his accusation but now there was doubt on his face also.

          I gave them my best self-righteous, told-you-so glare, showing disgust for each and every one of them, and damn if some of them even withered under my gaze. They knew now they’d been wrong.

“Thanks for the game fellas,” I barked out. “Now I’m leaving and I’m taking my winnings with me.”

          They were quiet so I got the hell out of there fast while the getting was good. I was on my horse and on the way out of town when I heard a thunderous howl of rage.

          I smiled, Taggert had found the two sets of dice I had planted on him.

          It wasn’t long before I was on my way into the next county and I wouldn’t stop running until I was into the next state. While I still have tremors about Taggert tracking me down to this day, I don’t get no more nightmares about the fear of winning.

 

 

END

 

Copyright 2013 by Gary Lovisi.

 

 


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5finger.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2017

Five Fingers

by

Gary Lovisi

 

 

 

            For decades I had been obsessed with the little known, supernatural conundrum I’d dubbed “The Borlsover Affair”. I’d heard and read snatches of it here and there of course, but never beheld the truth of the matter until now.

          The story particularly intrigued me as I was a writer -- one who can only create his stories in original first draft by hand  -- hence I became obsessed with the tale of an animated appendage told to me by one of the survivors of the affair. The man was named Saunders -- an old and rather unsavory broken fellow living out his last days as a mathematical master at a second-rate suburban school. Upon the application of a far too liberal mixture of alcoholic beverages one evening I forced him to tell me the entire tale -- a grotesque nightmarish story he had often intimated to me, but never fully expounded upon, for the fear was always upon him. The alcohol loosened his tongue as I knew it would that dark late October night, before Halloween would come upon us, as he told me the full tale of the Borlsover Family. He began recounting the sad life of old cantankerous Adrian Borlsover, gone blind but gifted with some form of automatic writing in his animated right hand, and of his young nephew, Eustace -- and then of the hand itself.

          “A beast with five fingers it was, Mr. Jameson,” Saunders grimly whispered to me in the dark corner of a secluded booth in an empty barroom that chilly evening. “Not a proper hand at all was it. Long bony fingers, muscle to it certainly, but no warm flesh nor blood. A demon thing, haunted by some disembodied spirit of Adrian Borlsover or some other of the Borlsover clan -- a human hand that put pen to paper to write such blasphemy as one could never imagine. I think the entire family was cursed. Poor Eustace! The hand took him eventually.”

          I nodded grimly, for I believed the man entirely. I believed him because over the many years of research and through vast expense, I now had the hand in my possession, locked away in a safe in my home.

          I told this all to Saunders. His eyes bugged wide in terror, froth flecking at his lips as he appeared momentarily unable to utter any words.

          “So will you help me?” I asked him plainly, impatiently. My plan was to investigate the hand, understand it, to control it, and Saunders was the one man alive who possessed that knowledge. He was someone who had actual experience with the thing and could help me make it do my bidding. Long ago, Eustace Borlsover and he had discovered it, on that dark day a mysterious small box was delivered to Eustace with his uncle’s severed right hand inside it.

          Saunders shook, took a long drink. “You have it, don’t you? You son of a bitch! Why? Why on Earth! How ever did you find it?”

          “It was not easy, Mr. Saunders, I can assure you. The time and expense was excessive but… Well, who can place a value upon such a thing? I am a writer, as I told you before, and I write all my work by hand with pen on paper -- in the classic style. It is the only way I can write and I make a very successful living from it. All first drafts are done in that manner, then after editing I transpose the manuscript via typewriter for further rewriting and editing, but the idea phase -- that most important part of the creative process -- I can only do by hand with pen to paper first.”

          “Automatic writing?” he asked with a wild-eyed look of suspicion.

          “Perhaps…?” I replied softly. “I imagine one might call it that if one were to think in those terms. The mind creates the ideas, but the hand holding the pen writes them all down carefully and with great speed. Writing them faster than I could ever type them. Better than I could ever speak them into any recording device or to any secretary via shorthand. While each writer has their own system that works best for them, this is the only way I can create my work.”

          “But sometimes, doesn’t it seem to you that your hand writes what it will, almost with a mind of its own?” Saunders asked hoarsely.

          “Yes, it does,” I replied with a sly grin. “Sometimes in the heat of the creative process…the hand does seem to do what it will.”

          “So what is it you want?”

          I laughed at him, then smiled indulgently, “Mr. Saunders, I know not what you are thinking. My success enables me to indulge myself in these little conundrums that I find interesting, fascinating, even exhilarating. The story of the hand of Adrian Borlsover is one I have been obsessed with for a long time, and now I own the thing.”

          “You may think you own it, Mr. Jameson,” Saunders husked dryly, trying to hold back the evident terror he felt lodged within from long dark memories, “but I am afraid that it owns you now as well.”

          “Nonsense,” I said briskly, impatient, refusing to accommodate the fearfulness and abject blue funk that had overtaken the man. “I want to study the thing and more so -- what I really want to do is set it to writing for me, then to read what mysterious words and sentences it will put down on paper. Who knows what mysteries it will unlock and tell us?”

          Saunders looked at me with utter disbelief. “It is a demon haunted thing and no good can ever come of its use. I would fear its words, sir, I would fear the print from a pen written by such a hand.”

          “Not I! I should be delighted to read what it has to write down for us, Mr. Saunders,” I told him firmly. “Come now, join me in this endeavor and I can assure you, you never need want for money. I know you are perpetually short on funds, but if you join me you need never fear that situation again.”

          “Aye, I am low on funds but I fear not poverty -- I drink up most of my pay to keep the nightmare’s away -- for it is an old fear that rattles around in my bones about that hand, Mr. Jameson. I still see it in my mind’s eye, scurrying across the floor of Master Eustace’s library, climbing up the drapes, cater pillaring its long bony fingers along the book shelves. It’s a nightmare I’ll never forget, but I will join you and help you as best I am able, just as I did young Eustace, God rest his soul. But not only for money will I do this work, but upon your command I will be there to destroy the creature when you come to your senses to allow it to be done.”

          I laughed heartily at that, “I don’t think that will ever happen, Mr. Saunders. But I accept your service and will pay you well for your advice and experience. Now let us get home and get some sleep, for we start our adventure bright and early tomorrow morning promptly at eight am.”

          I helped Saunders to a cab that took him to his run-down hovel of an apartment. Then I drove to my townhouse, my mind swirling with thoughts of what marvelous words that amazing hand would soon put to paper for me.

 

          The next day promptly at eight am, Jenkins, my assistant, let Mr. Saunders into my parlor for our initial meeting. I must say that for the amount of drink, lack of sleep, and his advanced age, he seemed remarkably sharp and alert.

          “I’m here, Mr. Jameson, I’m ready to begin,” he stated firmly, though I thought my eyes could detect a slight tremor of his left hand. Tension, fear, terror, or early onset of some debilitating disease? I did not know, nor did I much care, for we had important work to do.

          “Then let us get started,” I said, leading him into my large wood-paneled book-lined study and closing the door resoundingly behind me. “We are alone now.”

          Saunders looked in awe around my large library, which was the pride of my home. High shelves along all four walls full with books rose almost 20 feet in height, topped off by a large glass skylight in the center of the room. “By God, the place reminds me of old Adrian Brolsover’s library. That was a foul place of dark happenings and dire memories.”

          I smiled ignoring his grim words. Instead I said, “It is time we begin our work. I suppose you would like to examine the hand first?”

          Saunders blanched, “It’s here! In this very room!”

          “Yes, in this very room, I have it locked away in my safe.”

          Saunders gulped nervously, “Young Master Eustace once locked the hand away in a safe -- and it got out.”

          “Fear not, Saunders, all is secure here,” I told him briskly. I would have offered the poor sot a drink but I feared that at the moment he was unnerved quite enough. Better to calm him and show him that the hand posed us no threat.

          I undid the combination of my safe and brought out a cigar-box sized wooden case and placed it on my desk in front of us. There was a bolt lock that secured the lid and I instantly undid it.

          Saunders gasped in terror, and I couldn’t help but let out a slight laugh. “It is quite safe, Saunders, I assure you.”

          Then I opened the lid and we beheld the hand. It was the severed, dried, blackened, long fingered right hand of Adrian Borlsover. There was a deep indentation in it where Saunders had told me it had been nailed to a board by Eustace years before. There was no board, nor nail now, and the hand lay there entirely still and unmoving -- a horrible severed human appendage!

          “It really is quite harmless. In fact, I must admit it rather disappoints me,” I told Saunders, who looked upon the thing mouth agape. I continued, “With all I had heard and read about it, I expected some movement, some form of life or animation of the fingers, something -- but in all the days I have possessed it, it has not made one single movement.”

          “Be thankful of that, Mr. Jameson.”

          I laughed, “Well, regardless, here it is. It is not doing anything, and we can examine it to our heart’s content. Would you like a drink?”

          Saunders nodded absently, his eyes could not leave the hand, “I could sure use one, sir.”

          “Very well,” I called in Jenkins and told my man to bring us two bourbons -- Saunders and I had been imbibing the very same the previous evening so I assumed that would be acceptable to him, and he agreed.

          I covered the hand with my handkerchief once Jenkins appeared to take our order, then uncovered it once he’d brought our drinks and left the room. The hand was still there, of course, apparently having not moved at all.

          Saunders was shivering by now. He lunged for his glass and downed the dark fluid with relief or terror -- who could truly say.

          I sipped my drink slowly as I looked carefully at the motionless hand.

          “And it has not moved since you first obtained it?” Saunders asked curious, somewhat hopeful, to my dismay.

          “Not one iota.”

          He nodded, looked down at the hand laying there upon the top of my desk, “And how long has it been in your possession?”

          “One week, and I have examined it carefully each and every day. I must admit I am disappointed that the thing seems dead, unmoving. How can it write anything if it can not even move?”

          “Is that so important to you? That it take up a pen and write?” Saunders asked me, calmer now, but with serious concern in his voice.

          “Of course! The story about the thing tells us it wrote such diabolical messages as chilled old Borlsover to his very bones. I am a writer. I am fascinated to see what words it will put to paper, but there is something else…”

          Saunders looked at me now with dark suspicion in his eyes. I just laughed, “My dear fellow, it is not that bad, I assure you. Look at my hands, especially my right hand which I use for my writing.”

          “Arthritis?”

          “Yes, rather severe and growing worse,” I told him with a sigh. “Soon my very means of earning a living -- a quite nice moneyed living by the way -- will end. For if I can not write using my hand to hold pen to paper, I am doomed.”

          “But surely you can use a typewriter? Or even hire a secretary…?”

          “For editing certainly, but not for the crucial creative process. No, none of that will work for me. I have tried everything. The creative process is a complex and delicate one, one’s muse can be a fickle bitch at times. I am only able to write by hand and now my livelihood will be ruined. I must find a way to make the hand responsive to my commands. I know it can be done.”

          “That you shall never do, Mr. Jameson. The thing has a mind -- if one can say such -- of its own. It is not the mind of Adrian Borlsover, whom I knew, but something else, something quite malevolent. If I were you I would douse it with gasoline and set it ablaze right away. Destroy it before it destroys you. It is of no use to you as it is, so why not dispose of it here and now? I will help you do it. Please.”

          “Nonsense! Look, Saunders, I hired you because you have experience with the thing, with trapping it and controlling it. I want you to get it working for me. I want it moving and writing again!”

          “You’re quite mad, you know that.”

          “But I pay well, eh, Saunders?”

          “You pay well, and I’ll do it, but not only for the money.”

 

          Saunders and I worked on various plans to reanimate the hand. After we each examined it minutely, we were convinced that it was indeed dead. This caused me considerable despair, until I decided there might be some way to shock it into wakefulness. Saunders vehemently disagreed with this idea but I overruled him. I began by using sharp probes, long pins and needles, to poke and prod the thing, but it was all to no avail. Old Saunders was alarmed by my actions and warned of reprisals, but I heeded him not. Then I came upon the idea of using a battery to give the thing an electric shock.

          “A good jolt of electricity may just do the trick, eh, Saunders?” I asked, setting up the apparatus. I first tried a 9 volt battery, but when there was no reaction, I grew more ambitious and set it up using a far larger automobile battery. The connection instantly caused the hand fly off my desk and fall to the floor. Still lifeless and motionless. It was hot and smoking as I picked it up and replaced it upon my desk. Saunders was mumbling to himself by then, but I could not make out his words.

          I was severely disappointed, depressed even, for nothing we tried seemed to reanimate the hand. I had spent so much money and many years of my life to procure this now useless object that my frustration boiled over in sudden rage. I attacked the hand with a knife, stabbing it repeatedly as I cursed it and all the Borlsovers. I shouted vile words as I plunged the knife into it again and again.

          “Stop!” Saunders ordered, finally restraining me. “What are you doing! You’ll  make it -- mad!”

          “Good, then if it has any feelings, any life left in it at all, it should get mad. By God, I’ll give the damn thing something to get mad about!”

          “No, don’t do it!”

          I pushed old Saunders aside and continued to stab away viciously into the dried up blackened thing, my knife cutting deep gouges into it -- and through it -- the knife going into the wood of my desktop. The hand gave off no reaction. None at all. There was muscle tissue there, bone and sinew, but no warmth, and no flesh or blood at all.

          I grew despondent, my writing career was over and the fortune I had spent to obtain the hand had been wasted. I was in debt and broke. With a curse I hurled the useless thing across the room where it smacked against a bookcase. It dropped to the floor with a dull thud. Then the thing moved. The fingers twitched, and quickly in the manner of a geometer caterpillar, the fingers humped up one moment, flattened the next, the thumb appeared to give it a crablike motion, and the hand righted itself upon it’s fingertips and quickly shot off behind the bookcase. It was gone in an instant.

          I was astounded and looked at Saunders. He was cringing in terror.

          “You’ve done it now!” he whispered in dire warning.

          “Did you see that, Saunders?” I barked elated now, seeking his verification. Verification that I had not imagined what I had just seen, nor gone entirely mad. Insane.

          “Yes, and you’ve done it now, Master Jameson,” was all he said in an accusing tone,  adding fearfully, “Now you’ve made it mad. Master Eustace made it mad and no good can come of it now.”

          I swallowed hard, it was a lot to get used to. Not the fact that the hand might be mad at me, that was pure poppycock, but that it had indeed moved! That it had actually come to life! This was wonderful!

          “Come on, Saunders,” I blurted full of excitement. “We must trap it!”

          “Aye, now we must, but we shall not.”

          “Oh, come now, it’s just a thing, only a hand, nothing more. We can trap it and then I can use it for my own ends.”

 

          Well, I uttered those words to Saunders days ago with utmost confidence, but they had not proved true. The thing possessed an uncanny energy and wiliness I never would have thought possible. It hid from us and was difficult to find. Every time Saunders and I would seem to trap it, it escaped our grasp.

          I locked down my library, we nailed shut the windows, boarded up all vents, bolted the door. I gave Jenkins strict orders never to enter the room unless by a prearranged signal. I did not want the thing to get loose and escape. I felt sure that while we had it locked within my library it was just a matter of time before we would find it and capture it.

          Saunders and I never left the library now except to bring in items for use to trap the thing, which all eventually failed. We slept in the library on cots, taking turns keeping watch. We tried many ways to find the thing and trap it but nothing worked. It was as if it were playing some game with us, hiding out just to spite us. Though none of our plans had worked as of yet, I knew I would eventually capture that hand and I would not let anything stop me.

          It was on the night before Halloween when the moon was full, beams of illumination coming in through the library skylight, when I saw the hand. It was upright upon fingertips, slowly walking along the top rail of a high bookshelf. I could plainly see its’ silhouette against the skylight. I dared not move for fear of alerting it. Saunders was fast asleep in his cot -- as it was my watch just then. I reasoned that to awaken him might alert the hand to hide itself, so I did my best to be quiet and began to stalk the thing.

          Silently I moved closer and quietly climbed the mobile library stairway I used to reach the upper shelves. The hand was motionless now, I could see it plainly against the skylight glass. It seemed to be transfixed by the light from the full moon. I moved up the steps. Quietly. Silently. I had just a few more steps to go and I would be even with it -- close enough to quickly grasp it into my own hand. I knew I could do this, I could surprise the thing and capture it in one feel swoop. I took the last step, the wooden ladder beneath my foot gave the slightest creek. I shuddered in fear that the sound had given me away, but the hand remained motionless. I was almost upon it. I reached over and outstretched my fingers to grasp the thing, when it suddenly turned and flung itself off the shelf upon me. It’s long cold bony fingers instantly grasped my throat and closed tightly. I gasped, I could not breath. I was flung backwards by the sudden surprise of the attack and had to do my damnedest using my left hand to hold onto the ladder so as not to fall the 20 feet to the library floor below. My right hand vainly tried to pry the thing’s fingers from my throat, as I desperately tried to breathe.

          By then the ruckus had woken Saunders. “Mr. Jameson?” I heard him ask in alarm. Then he looked up and must have seen us struggling there at the top of the ladder against the skylight and the full moon. He saw me and shouted, “Mr. Jameson! I told you it would come to no good!”

          I barely heard his words for I was in a life and death struggle with a demon thing that possessed supernatural strength I had never encountered before. I gasped for breath, my eyes bulging as I struggled to keep my balance on the ladder with my left hand, while  I tried to pry the creature’s fingers from my throat with my right. It was to no avail. The thing’s fingers were like steel rods. I was gurgling froth, then blood. Finally I could hold onto the ladder no longer. I felt myself losing consciousness and tried to scream -- the scream stifled in my throat by the tightening pressure of the demon hand.

          Then I lost my grip and fell backwards, end over end, hitting the hard wood floor of my library with a resounding whack. I lay upon the floor face up and conscious but unable to move, my eyes locked upon the stub of the hand with it’s long bony fingers still wrapped around my throat. I could not move. I must have been paralyzed from the fall. I was alive, but I could not move, but the hand could move and did. It was still seeking to choke the very life out of me.

          Then I saw Saunders approach out of the corner of my eye. Now I knew he would help me  and pry this hellish thing from my throat.

          But would he be in time?

          “Mr. Jameson, are you alive? Are you conscious?” he looked down at me frantic with terror and fear, staring at the hand upon my throat with dire dread. I feared he might  run off. I know I would have done so, had our situations been reversed. Instead he told me, “You were trying to trap it, now it has trapped you. Your anger brought it to life and once you began to hurt it -- I knew it would hurt you. I am sorry.”

          “Help me!” I pleaded, though no sound could escape my mouth as my lips formed the silent words.

          Then I saw Saunders run off, and I suddenly felt deserted and doomed, for I knew I could hold out for only a few moments before I took my last gasp of air and expired.

          However, Saunders quickly returned and he held the wooden box from my desktop and placed it close to my head. He opened the lid. Then he withdrew a large pair of snipers that he brought up to the demon hand at my throat. He quickly snipped off the thumb of the hand, and as that appendage fell away to the floor in twitching anger, he pulled the rest of the hand from my throat. I thankfully took my first full breath of blessed air as I watched Saunders place the twitching hand and severed thumb into the box. He quickly closed the lid and locked the clasp. Then he picked up the box and left.

 

          The doctors tell me the fall left me paralyzed and that I will never get out of this wheelchair. My life and my writing career are effectively over. Saunders takes care of me now, I am an invalid and quite helpless, thankful for his company. Saunders assures me that he destroyed the thing but the manner of how he did it, he will not discuss with me.        When I try to write it is quite impossible. Arthritis coupled with the damage done from the fall make it difficult for me to even hold a pen in my hand. But I try. I try because once that had been my profession, my livelihood. I had been a writer. Now I am a former writer who can not even sign his own name.

          I’ve not been the same since my encounter with the hand. I know Saunders told me he destroyed it but I still realize its presence. I can sometimes feel it’s bony fingers pressing upon my throat, but there’s something more, something there that is deeper inside of me. Dark thoughts haunt me; it is almost as if something has passed between us. In the middle of the night, when Saunders is sleeping and I am alone praying for dreams of sweet slumber that refuse to come, I know that strange things happen. In the darkness of night my right hand silently picks up a pen and puts it to paper. It writes such terrible things as send my blood to ice. They are demon haunted messages -- black realms of malevolence that make me shudder, through I be paralyzed -- such is their power.

          I have kept these messages hidden from Saunders, but of course he found the written sheets this morning in my bed and read them in utter terror, but not disbelief. At that moment he realized what I already knew, that the thing had some kind of hold upon me still, and it is only then that we looked upon my offending right hand, realizing what must be done.

 

 

END

 

 




Copyright by Gary Lovisi 2014 and 2017, All Rights Reserved.


 


“Five Fingers” originally appeared in the anthology The Monkey’s Other Paw, edited by Luis Ortiz, Nonstop Press, 2014.


 




thedevilyouknow.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

The Devil You Know


by


Gary Lovisi

 

 

 

 

 

          Herbert Thrall, being a bold and brash young man, wanted to move up the corporate ladder by any means necessary so as to be a mover and shaker in the wild and woolly New York financial world. However, that dream seemed better dreamt than done. After five years he found himself trapped, working for a middling firm, in a middling position, and his future prospects were middling, at best. That was unacceptable! Herbert Thrall possessed a certain boldness within him that cried out for recognition and success and upon his 26th birthday he decided that his life plan to obtain great wealth and power on Wall Street was just not making it. Something had to change. Thrall had a plan. He knew it was drastic and unusual, but he accepted the risk if it got him results. He was all about results.

 

          Herbert Thrall met with the woman at a cozy bar off Wall Street across from his office. It was a watering hole for the losers who thrived on liquid lunches. They sat on opposite sides of a fancy wooden table in a back booth to ensure privacy. Privacy in these matters was probably important, he assumed, but he felt as if he were hiding some secret affair, rather than what was the actual reason for this meeting. He was meeting this woman, who proclaimed herself a witch, at a bar in the early afternoon on a Wednesday and it just didn’t seem right to him. It seemed this kind of thing should have been done in a graveyard at St. Paul’s Church; or perhaps the Sheep Meadow of Central Park at midnight during a full moon. Even a lonely drug den tenement on the Lower East Side would have been better suited; but alas it was happening here and now and so he accepted it. However, being if nothing else but brash and bold, Thrall asked the witch woman about it. She just laughed, not even weirdly, for her tone was actually rather pleasant, even sexy and cute. And this witch was a rather stunning young woman, not much older than he was. He looked at her closely. Wondering. Trying to gauge his chances of getting her in bed later—after all this was over with, of course. Well, maybe after they had a few more drinks. She appeared agreeable enough. So far. He just wondered what kind of experience at witchcraft a woman like her could have, being so young.

          “You are wondering, perhaps, if I have the requisite experience and powers to make your dreams come true?” she stated with a wan smile. Was she reading his thoughts? He looked at her closely. She had a lovely smile, surely inviting, as she took a sip of her drink. Daniels and Coke.

          Herbert Thrall nodded. “I guess. You’re not what I expected, that’s all.”

          “Yes, of course. You expected some ancient crone with warts and bad breath.”

          “Something like that, I guess.”

          She laughed lightly. He laughed. He liked the sparkle in her eyes. Yes, a few more drinks and he was sure she’d be coming back with him to his one-room apartment for some horizontal bedroom antics. He could hardly wait. Then as if reading his mind, she told him, “Best we get down to business now.”

          “I guess,” Thrall said softly, wondering exactly what was involved in this ‘business’—as she called it.

          Herbert Thrall knew only too well. He was in the process of selling his soul for great wealth and financial power in the Wall Street market. He felt strangely ambivalent about it all. He was not a religious man. In fact, he did not care about his soul—if he even had one—he just wanted results. To him, the price was worth the cost if he got the results he wanted. What he wanted was to make a killing. He had gone all the more standard routes in the business world without success, then he had come upon this young lady’s name from a friend. Results were said to be guaranteed. That got his attention.

          “I’m just a conduit to your desires,” she explained simply. “Are you ready?”

          “I guess. What do I have to do?”

          “Nothing. You just have to read what was written on the card I handed to you when we met.”

          “Yeah, ah yes, but it really didn’t say much, only one sentence was written there. That seems strange. That’s all I have to say?”

          “That is all that is needed. It is simple. That sentence is the only requirement,” she replied simply, waiting.

          “Well, all right then!” he said enthusiastically, as if that ended the subject.

          “No, you must say it out in words,” she stated firmly.

          Herbert Thrall suddenly realized that he was not going to get laid tonight—at least not by this witch woman.

          “No blood, no oath to Sa… you know? No…sacrifices?” he asked curiously.

          She just giggled. “This is 2016, Mr. Thrall, no need for all that mumbo jumbo these days. Anyway, that will all come later, I assure you.”

          “Later?”

          “Many years in the future. No need to concern yourself with any of that now. For now, just say the words and everything will be all set. The world will be yours.”

          Herbert Thrall shook his head in disbelief—was this really happening? More so, was it really possible? Yet, this woman did come very highly recommended. It was said she got incredible results. He looked at her again. Was she really a witch? It seemed inconceivable, but he knew these days anything might be possible. However, she seemed more like some bimbolina wannabe hairdresser from Queens. He began to regret ever getting involved with her, but then again, this wasn’t costing him any money. She had asked for no payment—other than his soul—which was nothing to him. He certainly didn’t care about that. What was his soul anyway?

          “Okay, it doesn’t make sense to me, but—”

          “Don’t worry about that. Magic doesn’t work on making sense. Just say the words.”

          “Okay, Okay, I’ll say it.” He picked up the small business card. Looked at it once again. On one side was the simple word “Conduit”. That was all. It seemed odd, but he shrugged it off. On the other side of the card were written the words she told him he must speak out loud. Then the deal would be done. The contract would be complete, and he would get all that he ever wanted.

          He nodded, his usual brash boldness now taking over his personality once more. What did he have to lose? What did he care about something he wasn’t even sure he possessed at all? It didn’t make any difference, really. He’d do it. Then all his dreams would come true.         

          “Well? You want it all or not?’ she prompted, a bit impatient now, like she had somewhere else to be, all of a sudden. Did she have other clients? What the hell did she have to be impatient about? Where was she going that was so important? She was a no one. He was the one selling his soul, after all.

          “Okay, I’ll say the words,” he said softly. He looked at her squarely in the eyes, pursed his lips and spoke out firmly, “I, Herbert Thrall, hereby accept the terms of this agreement.”

          “Well it’s about time! Very good,” the young lady said. She downed her drink and made ready to leave the booth.

          Thrall looked at her in shock, “That’s it?”

          “That’s it. You accepted the agreement, and that is all that is needed. That is all that is required. We’re done here.”

          “But there’s no—no paperwork, no contract? You don’t even know what I want out of this agreement with…”

          “The other party to this agreement knows only too well, that’s all that matters,” she replied as she picked up her purse and stepped out of the booth.

          “Ah, hey, wait. Where are you going?”

          “We are finished here, Mr. Thrall.”

          “But, ah, why don’t you come back to my place for a drink, eh?” he asked, almost pleading, sadly desperate he realized.

          She just laughed at him lightly, “Oh, Mr. Thrall, you are much too important and wealthy a man now to want to fool around with a part-time hairdresser from Queens.”

          Herbert Thrall watched her leave in growing confusion and some anger. Had he been taken? No, he hadn’t paid her one thin dime. She’d even paid for their drinks. He quickly checked. His wallet was intact. His cash and cards untouched. He shook his head trying to figure it all out.

          “Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess.” he said softly, shrugged. He was about to let the entire matter drop and put it all down to foolishness when he saw Tom Saunders from the office enter the bar. His supervisor was a demanding man, and they were not friends at all but now he watched as the man seeing him ran over to his booth. He had a broad grin upon his face, and actually looked happy to see him.

          “Herb! Damnit, Herb! Man, I been looking for you all over!” Saunders eyes were bug-eyed, he was frantic, but happy. He had never seen Tom Saunders happy, unless he was bullying an employee—usually Herbert Thrall.

          “Well, you found me! What did I do wrong now?” Thrall answered, fearing the worst.

          “Wrong! You have no idea! The Wilson case you were working on…”

          “Yeah, I know, no sales—it’s an impossible account.”

          “Impossible! No sales! Man, have you got it wrong! They bought it all, through you. They would only buy through you. You did it! You cracked their account. They just dropped a cool hundred million with us and your percentage of that will make you fabulously wealthy. How the hell did you do it, Herb?”

          Herbert Thrall looked up at his supervisor with a shocked gaze. “Is this some kind of joke?”

          “No joke, old buddy. Simonson says he would like to see you in his office right away.”

          “CEO Chairman Simonson?”

          “One and the same, my friend. You are headed to the big time, my boy! You have just become a mover and a shaker!”

 

          The weeks passed in a whirlwind for Herbert Thrall. Everything he had wished for had come true. He was winning at deal after deal, building incredible wealth. Everything was just falling into place. By the third week he was made a partner in the firm. By the fifth week he owned the firm!

          As the money and the power piled up, and the accompanying women added to his success and pleasure, Herbert Thrall wondered if he had indeed actually sold his soul—and what it might mean. He now had everything he had always wanted—everything he had so desperately wanted for his entire life. It was amazing and wonderful. Mind boggling for sure. And yet, with all the money, all the power, all the women, he realized that he suddenly felt somehow unfulfilled. Something surely seemed to be missing. It was not something he could voice in words. It was a feeling that seemed to grow inside him. He now had any woman he wanted—women he could never even dream of having before—and yet he knew they were only with him because of his wealth and power. It was strangely unsatisfying. Not gratifying at all—as it should have been. Even as his wealth and power continued to grow -- the more it grew—the more unsatisfying it became to him. He wondered what was going on. He knew he had to find out why he felt this way.

          Herbert Thrall sought the advice of a dozen doctors of all types, the best experts in any field he chose—he could afford the best now—but none of them gave him any real answers. Or at least any satisfying answers. Some told him he was depressed, or that he needed pills, or medicine, psychotropic drugs—nothing he had ever needed before in his life. He knew they were all full of it. They were wrong. They did not know what they were talking about. They did not know what was wrong with him. He knew it had to be  something else. Something they—and he—was missing.

          He had to find out why he felt this way. He had considerable resources now, he had his own “people” as they say. So, he had them track down that witch and part-time hairdresser from Queens. The Conduit. His people quickly found her. The two met in the same bar, in the same booth, as they had a bare months ago.

          She looked just as pretty as ever. She smiled, “How are things going?”

          “I don’t know.”

          She frowned, looking concerned for a moment, “Everything is going according to the contract, is it not?”

          “I guess so.”

          “Good, for a moment I thought we had a problem.”

          “No—yes—maybe,” he stammered.

          “You have come a long way in just two months.”

          “Yes, that is true.”

          “So, what is the problem?” she asked impatiently, as if she had no time for him now.

          “I don’t know, exactly. I feel…”

          “Unfulfilled?” she prompted.

          “Yes, I guess I do,” he replied morosely, with a loss of his usual energy.

          “Another word for it might be ‘empty’?”

          “Yes, empty! I have everything I ever wanted, and still I feel empty.”

          “Of course you do. That’s because you are empty.”

          He looked at her sternly. The dregs of his brashness and boldness resurging for a moment. He was a big man now, no one to be trifled with. He was a mover and shaker and he did not like this kind of disrespectful tone form some part-time hairdresser—and whatever else she was—part-time witch—bitch!

          “Perhaps you need a correction?” she asked him.

          Herbert Thrall thought about that for a moment. He had never considered such an action. “A correction? What do you mean? I mean, maybe I do, but what does it entail?”

          “Oh, nothing much really. It’s like a change of venue.”

          “I don’t understand. Change of venue? I’m not in court or on trial or anything.”

          She just giggled lightly, “Oh, Mr. Thrall, you can be so funny sometimes.”

          “I’m not being funny now, I’m serious.”

          “I know, that’s what I mean, you being so serious and all, that’s what’s so funny.”

          “What the hell do you mean!” he barked angry now.

          She laughed deeply, “Would you like a correction or not on your contract, Mr. Thrall? As a customer in good standing who has made an agreement with us, you have the right to ask for a correction.”

          “A correction? You mean, like to the terms of our agreement?”

          “Something like that,” she stated enigmatically, but did not explain further.

          “Then yes, I want a correction,” he stated.

          “Very well, Mr. Thrall, it has been duly noted and accepted. We are finished here. Now I shall take my leave.”

          “But—wait, do you want to come back to my penthouse? Have a few drinks? Then we can…”

          “Oh, no, Mr. Thrall, that is not allowed. Fraternization leads to problems. You should be happy that your correction has been accepted and duly noted. Goodbye, Mr. Thrall, and have a nice life.”

 

          Five minutes later everything in Herbert Thrall’s life began to change. The next morning his financial empire was in free-fall. It was on TV in every Breaking News report. His health was also apparently failing drastically, as was his love life which had suddenly gone to ruins at warp speed. He was in shock and dismay and had no idea what was happening to him. He thought things were supposed to get better. They were now worse. Far worse! He still felt that unfulfilled feeling in the center of his chest. A great emptiness. He thought he was having a heart attack, but it just felt like a large empty void. Horrified, he took a cab to Queens and the Ne’er-Do-Well Hair & Nail Salon on Queens Boulevard. He ran into the small run-down storefront frantic and desperate, gasping for breath. He was near apoplexy and in panic. He looked around and finally saw the young lady who went by the name of Conduit working in the last cubicle in the back—she apparently really did work here—and she was with some old fat lady with orange hair.

          He quickly walked over to her and said firmly, “I have to speak to you. Now!”

          “What are you doing here?” she demanded, not happy at all to see him, as she was apparently busy at work.

          “I need to speak to you. Something terrible has happened!” he cried desperate now. “I need help. Everything has gone to hell, all I wanted is gone. Gone! I think I need another correction!”

          “Sorry, only one to a customer,” she said firmly. She turned her back on him and finished rinsing the old fat woman’s orange hair and then she told her, “Let that set for fifteen minutes, Mrs. Bunker, and I’ll be right back.”

          Then she took Thrall out the back door of the store into the privacy of a back alley.

          Once they were outside with the door closed, she asked angrily, “What is your problem!”

          “What the hell is going on here! I thought we had an agreement?”

          “We do, and you got all you wanted out of it, you were even allowed a correction, as you requested.”

          “Yeah, but… Correction? That was a disaster! It screwed up everything! What the hell kind of correction was that?”

          “A correction from Hell, Mr. Thrall, just as you requested,” she said with a charming smile. “My Master works in mysterious ways. Sometimes it is better the devil you know than the devil you do not.”

          “But…”

          “No buts, Mr. Thrall, an agreement is an agreement.”

          “But I have nothing now! Nothing! Do you understand? I have no financial empire, no wealth or power, no health now too, nothing! And I have no soul—I’m still empty inside…”

          “No soul, poor man. You sold your soul, you made the agreement. You made that first agreement with the devil you know—but you made a correction with the devil you do not know. That can be a change for the worse. Goodbye, Mr. Thrall, enjoy what is left of your life,” she said as she walked back to the shop.

          “But I’m dying!”

          She did not respond.

          “Help me!” he cried desperately.

          She ignored him as she walked to the back door of the shop.

          “I need another correction!”

          The young lady looked back at Herbert Thrall with a little smile as she opened the back door to enter the hair salon, “Mr. Thrall, I’m afraid you’re all out of options and collection is now due.”

          Herbert Thrall blanched white at her words and felt a sharp pang grip his chest. At first he thought it might be a heart attack—he even hoped it might be something as banal or commonplace as a heart attack—but he knew it was something much worse. Something much more severe. He felt more empty now than any emptiness he had ever felt before—an emptiness of such deep despair he had never thought it possible. Herbert Thrall screamed. Collection had now been made in full. He collapsed in the alley—and though he did not die—he wished that he had.

 

          “So what I asked for will really come true?” the eager young man replied with the eagerness of impatient youth.

          They were sitting in the back booth of the bar where Herbert Thrall did his work these days. It was a dive that catered to dead-enders and the desperate. He found it fertile ground.

          “All that and more, my friend,” Thrall promised the eager young man. “I have a new employer now since I left the firm. All you have to do is speak the words—that you agree to the terms of the contract—and you can have anything you desire.”

          “So all I have to do is—sell my soul?” the young man said with a disdainful laugh, now voicing the cost of the deal. He disbelieved the entire story of course, but at this point in his life he was desperate. He would try anything to get the results he desired.

          “Yes, that’s it,” Thrall said simply with a twisted smile.

          “Soul, schmoul, who the hell cares. You got yourself a deal.”

 

END

 

Copyright 2016 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.







HEADHUNTERS

 

A Griff & Fats story

by

Gary Lovisi

 

 

 

 

          I picked up Fats at the usual place. He was at Jackie’s on Dumont Avenue, stuffing his pudgy face full of burgers, fries, wind rings, and Jackie’s sad-sack coffee. That’s the kind of joe where the pot hadn’t been scrubbed since the days back when Jackie still got her period. Now that was surely long ago! It was nasty coffee that packed an unkind bite, sorta like Jackie herself sometimes. I wonder why anyone drank it. It was the kinda brew that if spilled on the hood of our car might just peel the paint off our old unmarked Plymouth war-wagon like sulphuric acid burning through melted butter. I told Fats to be careful with it. I don’t know how he could drink that rot-gut stuff and survive. There was a lot about my partner that was a mystery to me back then. That was the least of it, though.

          I pulled the car up to the curb. Fats came over, belched in my face, laughed and said, “Hey, oh, so what’s up, Griff?”

          I did a fanning motion in front of his mouth, made a something-stinks-face right back at him. He just laughed at me, then to accentuate his point he farted, loud and squishy. I just shook my head. What the hell was I going to do with him?

          My exasperated voice said it all and to the point, “Come on, get the hell in. We got business.”

          Well he knew what that meant, and Fats bounced into the death seat like a whale with an attitude and I took off, down Dumont, down, down deep, and out of what we called back then ‘The Square’.

          Or as they all called it back then, ‘The Square Mile of Vice’, the heart and soul, the very hell of the town I call Bay City. It wasn’t the only bad part of town. It just seemed to try harder. That’s the place where Fats and I did most of our work back then, Homicide cops in the early days of the bygone 1960s.

          The so-called ‘old days’, when Kennedy, the first one, hadn’t even been killed yet, when the New York Yankees were still playing real baseball with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris hitting 50-60 home runs that summer of ‘61, and when crime, drugs and guns were still in the hands of people who knew how to handle them. Professionals.

          Not like today, when every teeny-bopper, doped-up, wise-ass punk, crack-head on the street has the kind of fire-power Fats and I could have only dreamed of having back then. Today, when every child-punk, rat-bastard considers himself the toughest, gangsta mutha in the world—but in reality they’re only screwed-up, lost, scared, alone kinds without any good sense or upbringing worth half a shit. Because no one cared about them. No one took an interest. Or no one on the good side of things. Of course, that doesn’t diminish their danger—it only enhances it. In fact, it takes the violence to a whole new level that was rare back in the old days. Usually. But not always. We did come upon some really weird shit in them old days, for sure.

          The 1990s, when I’m telling you all this, really do suck, but the 1960s was no bed of roses either. Not for Blacks for shit-sure, and not for a lot of others too, back then. Not for cops in Homicide either. Not if you was honest like Fats and me. We had our days back then, shit still happened. Everything was just hidden back then, too. Undercover. The 1960s was just the training ground for all the crap the 1990s would become—and the decades beyond that later on would be even worse. Far as I could tell, there wasn’t much positive truth to all the nostalgia about them old days being so peachy keen. Leastways, not a real lot, not usually—but I guess if the truth be told, I’d have to admit those days were just a bit better than these days. Maybe a lot better? The thing is, even a little better can make a whole lot of difference sometimes. They were the good old days. Most of the time. For most of the people. But not the kind of people we dealt with in the day-to-day on the job.

          The case we caught that morning was an interesting one. It concerned a guy who’d lost his head. Literally. He’d lost it because the guy that killed him had evidently sawed off the victim’s head and took it with him when he left the corpse and the crime scene.

          “Nice, eh? Sounds like some freako stuff to me, Griff,” Fats growled in anger. Things like this always upset his delicate sensibilities. I could tell he figured we were in for something bad with this. He saw it coming. So did I. He didn’t like that at all.

          “Guy takes the head. Leaves the body. What the hell’s that supposed to mean? I mean, what’s he gonna do with it? A damn human head.” I muttered, then shrugged, and just kept on driving.

          “Freakin headhunter. Like them guys in the jungle, Griff. I wonder if he’ll shrink it down. You know, maybe make a necklace or something out of it? I saw a picture somewhere in a magazine that they did that to some missionary in the Amazon,” Fats grunted. He did not approve of this kind of behavior. Who the hell did!

          I shrugged again, what did I care? We weren’t in the damn Amazon, but then again, in a town like Bay City, the jungle is just a state of mind.

          “Well?” he asked me, as if I had all the answers.

          I said, “I can see you’re starting to get talky. That’s not a good sign. Next, you’ll start thinking and before you know it, you’ll start getting all kinds of ideas. When you get too many ideas, Fats, you can be trouble.”

          He just smiled at me. He did have a nice winning smile. That was also a bad sign. Trouble on the way. I did not want to encourage him.

          “You’re gonna get in trouble again, if you don’t watch yourself,” I told him.

          He laughed again, “Trouble, not me, trouble only to the bad guys.”

          “I know, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

          He laughed, said, “So what we got, Griff?” He pulled out a bag, took out a bagel stuffed with cream cheese, and began munching it like it was the last bit of food in Bay City.

          “You’re always hungry. Always eating.”

          “Mama didn’t raise no shrinking violet, gotta have fuel to keep the furnace running in tip-top shape.”

          I just laughed, at 290 pounds last weigh-in—and he had probably added a few ounces since then I imagine—he was anything but in tip-top shape for a copper. However, Fats was one hell of a cop, and in them days that’s all that mattered.

          I told him, “They found the body in one of the junk yards out by Blacktown. Laying there nude, right out in the open. No ID. And no head on the corpse. Freaked the dogs, and the guy that runs the junk yard. Freaked the harness bulls that came upon it and called it in too.”

          Fats laughed, “I can imagine. Must be one hell of a mess.”

          I looked at Fats, sitting there, munching on that bagel like he hadn’t a care in the world.

          He looked over at me carefully. Wiped his face.

          “Wanna bite, Griff?”

          I just gave him a gruff “No” and floored the gas. I didn’t bother with the damn siren, and just cut and weaved in the traffic so I could get us to the junk yard before the press hounds got there to indulge ‘the public’s right to know’ with a lot of grisly photos and wrong information. The press hasn’t changed much from the old days either. They’ve just gotten like everything else—worse.

          Doc Carten and the meat wagon were right on the ball and Fats and I pulled up, pushed through the small crowd, ripped away the yellow crime scene tape and walked out to a secluded area behind stacks of flattened, rusted old Buicks and Chevys. Ghost cars, some with the dried blood still on them in places, wrecks that I’d bet could tell some tall tales of horrendous crashes if they could talk.

          The body hadn’t been moved. Not yet. It was waiting for us. Doc lifted the sheet, and Fats and I got an eyeful of a naked guy, six feet tall—or he would have been six feet tall if he’d still had his head on his shoulders. His weight was about 240 pounds, a big boy, white, no tattoos, big belly, like I say, a big boy. Him having no head, is what kinda really stuck out for us. I mean, you couldn’t help but notice. And wonder why.

          The neck stub on the corpse had been cut clean. Nice even job there. Bloody and messy as hell, but a clean cut on the bone. I wondered if it had been done while he was still alive. I couldn’t tell from the blood yet, I’d have to wait for the Doc’s dope on that. That would be freaky shit if he’d been cut while still alive, and I knew we might never really know for sure, but I had a feeling that was exactly how it had been done. I would bet on it, and that made the murder a lot worse than if the head had been taken while the guy was still alive.

          I looked at the cut more closely. Fats and Doc now at my side. I didn’t like what I saw. It wasn’t a knife, axe, hatchet, or even a razor cut. I thought back on Gando Jarmandeu and that razor, his calling card, and sighed in relief. It wasn’t none of that, at least. It was something else. Something more involved. This looked like a clean saw cut. Like it had been done by a butcher? Maybe. That thought was not reassuring to me.

          “Well, ain’t this just lovely,” Fats told us in a light tone, tinged by his dark humor. He’d just finished up his bagel and was now busy opening up a box of Ju-Ju Bees. He chucked them down his gullet by the dozen, like he was watching a movie Saturday morning at the Rialto. I just hoped he wasn’t going to start throwing them at me and Doc the way we used to do when we were kids. Those damn things were annoying when they hit you. I wasn’t in no mood for playing games right then.

          Doc Carten, the crime scene investigator, just looked up at Fats, then me, then said, “Fine-toothed saw did it, like what a plumber would use on thin gauge piping. This was done carefully, but it caused a lot of blood—too much—but notice the stub of the neck bone. It isn’t jagged like you’d expect in a similar killing done by other means. It’s smooth. Clean cut. Whoever did this wanted the head and wanted it in fairly good condition.”

          “Damn that!” Fats murmured.

          “And…ah…” Doc continued in a soft tone, “the guy was done while he was still alive. His head was definitely sawed off while he was alive—at least at the beginning of the cutting.”

          “Nice,” I whispered gloomily.

          “So the killer did his deed while the guy was still alive—and then took the head,” Fats said with a nod of his own head. “That’s cold! And he took the head with him!”

          “What the hell for?” I asked.

          The Doc shrugged, then laughed, “I don’t know. Two heads are better than one?”

          Fats just laughed along with Doc, said, “Maybe freako wants to mount the damn head on his wall?”

          Fats came up with the damnedest ideas sometimes.

          The Doc shrugged it off, became serious for a moment, “Nah, that can’t be it.”

          I looked at Doc and then back to Fats and took a closer look at the neck stub. When I was finished, Doc covered the body with a sheet. He said, “I figure time of death about 24 hours ago, Rigor has set in. Fingertips cut off also. Of course you know, he wasn’t done here.”

          “No shit,” Fats bellowed, “yeah, the tips of his fingers have also been severed. So, no fingerprints. No chance of ID, unless there’s a missing persons report somewhere that will match with this mess. Which I doubt. Which something tells me there ain’t going to be. Why do I think that, Griff?”

          I shrugged, I had the same hunch, then offered up, “I don’t know, Fatman intuition?”

          “Fats nodded like an all-knowing Buddah, said, “Boys, I got the power.”

          Doc shook his head, he had had enough, “Okay if we move him now?”

          “Yeah, take him away,” I said with a nod and Doc and his boys did their thing with the corpse. We watched a bit. I wrote some junk in my log book. Then I went over to my partner. I didn’t say much. We were both just thinking. Two great minds at work. Scary, ain’t it?

          Finally I said, “The killer cut the fingers off so no one could identify the body. Without a positive ID there’s no legal proof an actual murder has been committed. Nothing for us to go on. Nothing for the DA to go on. This killer didn’t have to pull out the teeth to stop an ID of the corpse from death records—this killer didn’t need to do that, because he just decapitated the corpse and took the whole freakin’ head with him.”

          “Griff, the killer could’ve nixed any ID by pulling the teeth. Not a big deal for a guy like this who knows what he’s doing. Knows what the wants to do. He didn’t have to cut the head off. That’s nasty stuff, even for your average psycho. But judging by the fact that he went through all the trouble to do that—it appears that’s what he wanted. He really wanted that head!”

          I said, “I think you’re right.”

          Fats belched, rubbed his blubbery face, laughing with that wise-ass laugh of his. “You mean about the guy wanting the head to shrink down, Griff?”

          “Yeah, sure. No, you idiot. The fact that some freak took this guy’s head to mount on his wall.”

          “Trophy, either way,” Fats told me seriously.

          I nodded, he was probably right about that, one way or the other. “But why? Why do it at all? Why go through all the extra trouble after you kill a guy?”

          “I don’t know but it looks like someone of a very serious and angry nature was very pissed off at our dead guy,” Fats offered serious now. “That’s a serious level of anger, or hate, I cannot even imagine.”

          I nodded, tried to think about this logically, gave up, we just did not have enough information yet, then I said, “I guess we’ll find out who the killer is once we find out who the headless guy is. Was.”

          Fats just laughed it all away, it was his turn now to state the obvious. “We got a corpse with no ID. There’s no distinguishing marks, no missing persons report on anyone even remotely like him, the fingertips have been clipped, so no prints…”

          He gave me that what-does-that-tell-you? look of his.

          “A missing person report might still show up. We have to expand the search. It’s only been 24 hours,” I said, helplessly hopeful.

          Fats just smiled, “Griff, I got a feeling on this one. It ain’t good. We can wait 48, we can wait 72. We can take reports from all neighboring jurisdictions. And we’ll do that. And you know what? We’re not going to come up with squat.”

          I nodded. I knew Fats was right. I had the same feeling.

          Fats had me laughing when he sent out an APB—on the guy’s missing head.

          “You can’t put an APB on a head just by itself,” I told him. A little ball-busting went a long way in those days.

          “Why not, Griff? That’s all we need. I mean, we got the rest of the body. Alls we need is the head,” Fats said it with a sly wink. Was he busting me back? Yes he was!

          I shook my head, laughing as Fats made the call into Central. We did all we could on it. And that was that.

          The case fizzled after that. Just as we knew it would. The Medical Examiner did an autopsy and backed up what the crime scene boys had told us. Now there was never any doubt that the man’s head had been taken while he was still alive. That was grim news and a really brutal fact, and that level of violence or anger told us a lot—but it led us nowhere.

          Meanwhile, no one fitting a description of the corpse was reported missing in Bay City or any neighboring jurisdiction. There was no way to ID the corpse, or the remains—and no place to go with the case now, so the ME kept the body on ice and we filed the case with all the other crap shoots in this town that got us no answers. It was a big file.

 

          It was a month later when Fats and I got the call. A flat-foot beating it in the Square Mile of Vice had found something in a hat box laying on top of a pile of garbage in an alley. It smelled pretty bad. The first thought was some lonely hooker’s dog or cat had hit the bucket—or maybe something more ominous—perhaps an aborted fetus thrown out by some back yard butcher. Or God help us, some new-born baby, thrown out dead in the trash. It happened back then too. More often than you’d think.

          Then we heard the true poop about what had been found. A human head in a box. Fats and I were on our way like big dogs with the hot scent of a bitch in heat. This is what we had waited for, something we could chew on, and hearing about this newly found head was the lead we hoped we needed.

          The uniform officer on the scene took us into the back alley. Slow. The smell hit us as we got closer. It was a real bad rotting death smell. Fats and I walked faster. Towards it.

          The uniform guy told us, “There’s something here you ought to see. I heard about the guy found in the junk yard out by Blacktown. This might have something to do with it. With him.”

          I said, “Okay, let’s go take a look.”

          The box was a woman’s hat box, of all the damn things. Nothing fancy, or colorful, the colors were dulled. It was old, or sun-faded. It had been tied closed with a string.

          “I cut it to look inside,” the uniform told us. “The string, I mean.”

          I nodded. He seemed the curious sort.

          Fats moved the box, began to pry off the lid. The uniform guy stepped back. I moved in closer. Fats pulled off the lid and then the smell really hit us, like a ton of old vomit. Not vomit though. It was the death smell. Concentrated. Locked in that hat box and just dying to get out. The smell of decay and putrescence.

          I looked inside. There was a severed human head.

          “Male?” Fats asked.

          “Yep,” I replied.

          Fats said, “Okay, looks like we got our missing piece.”

          The rot and decay were powerful. Advanced. About what we expected after four weeks in the hot Bay City sun. The face was almost entirely gone. Very little folds of skin or flesh. Worms had eaten through most of the flesh. And they were still there. Feasting. Busy. White, thick, ugly, squirming maggots. Disgusting. The hair was matted with black chunks that had been blood. What was left of it. There must have been a lot of blood. Not much left now. Now white bone shone through the face in most spots. I could see the teeth were bad. Not a full set. Brown and white, green and black. Some broken. No gold.

          Fats said, “I don’t know who he is—was—but I think we just found the missing part to our little puzzle from the junk yard, Griff.”

          I nodded, but I wasn’t all that sure yet. The head in the box seemed to be looking back at me. Mocking me. I didn’t like that. I wondered how anyone could do such a terrible thing to another human being. That thought lasted all of two seconds. I was a cop. Homicide. I didn’t need to wonder about any of that, that’s just the way things were. Back then, and even today. Especially today.

          I didn’t like the whole thing, and the hair—there was something about that hair.

          Fats nudged me, “The cut on the stub, it’s eaten away and all, but…”

          “I don’t know about this…” I said carefully.

          “Could be the rot, but damnit, Griff, this has just gotta be the head we’re after. Right?”

          I nodded a bit reluctantly. Hopeful more than anything else. I didn’t tell Fats what I really thought just then. Not right off. It was just a hunch, a crazy hunch. So I kept mum about it for the moment. We took the box, closed it up, the smell making us both sick. The uniform guy who’d found the mess had left and was all the way at the mouth of the alley, about fifty yards off, puking his guts out all over the sidewalk.

          On the way over to the station Fats said, “Guess we cleared that up. Match the head to the body, maybe we’ll even find out who the lucky guy was. Once we find that out we can dig around for the killer.”

          I nodded. My partner, Mr. Optimism. I didn’t know how to break it to him. My hunch. The ME would give it to us straight and for sure, soon enough. Sometime tomorrow we would know for sure.

          “Why you looking so glum, Griff?” Fats asked me, opening up a Hershey bar with almonds. He loved to eat that damn chocolate goop.

          “I don’t know,” I answered back softly, a bit too non-committedly.

          “Now what the hell?” he blurted, looking at me hard, demanding an explanation.

          “The cut ain’t right... The decay obscures it but I don’t feel it’s right,” I told him.

          The smile left Fats’ face. He did not seem happy at all now. He looked at me hard, “Okay, Griff, spill the rest. I feel you got more. Like to rain on my parade. Figured we had this bad boy all signed, sealed and delivered.”

          Fats held the chocolate bar in a holding pattern in front of his big mouth waiting for my answer.

          “The thing I told you about. The hair?”

          “Ah, Griff, that don’t mean nothing.”

          “I think it does. At least it could. Fats, the hair ain’t right for a white guy, but it’s good if the guy’s a negro. Maybe.”

          “Bullshit! I can’t believe it”

          “I’m not making this up for fun.”

          “I know, Griff, but the guy could be a half-breed, mixed blood. You know? Have features of both races? You realize what you’re saying? You realize what it means if you’re right about this?”

          “Fats, believe me, I realize it. The headless corpse in the junk yard was a white male, the head we found in the alley seems to belong to a negro male. They do not match. We got the wrong friggin’ head!”

 

          The next day the ME did an autopsy on the head we had found and backed me up. I wasn’t all that happy I’d been proven right. The head belonged to a negro male, age thirty-ish, no ID was possible. There was no body to match the head, so we were still missing some significant parts in this case—if the two cases were even connected.

          I thought Fats was gonna be sick on it but when we went out for grub he just ordered an extra plate of pancakes that morning at Jackie’s, smothered them in maple syrup and brown sugar, and ate them like they were the last pancakes on Earth.

          It was disappointing. A head with no body. A body with no head. A no damn match. It was a frustrating time for us. No leads. Nowhere to go with it. We were forced to shelve it. Once again. At least for the time being.

          After that, things kinda quieted down. Things got back to the usual crap, the more normal kind of murder, killing, and mayhem that everyone in Bay City was used to. Killing for very specific reasons. No mutilations, aside from the usual ones.

          Fats and I never did find out who the headless corpse was. We never found his head. We never were able to ID the severed head of the negro male, or come up with his corpse either. It was frustrating, but not unexpected. The cases were left open. They’re still open.

          Fats told me once, “You know what I hate about police work, Griff? And it goes double for us in Homicide.”

          I took the bait, asked, “What’s that?”

          “It’s the unremitting bullshit, the relentless evil of the human mind, the rot of the human spirit. I can’t stand it sometimes. Man, I know what’s going on here.”

          “Yeah, Fats, I know too…”

          “Some evil motherfucker has got that guy’s head stuffed and mounted it some-damn-place on a wall in his house or… something like that…”

          “And he’s probably looking at it right now,” I added.

          Fats looked at me, laughed, then said, “Or the damn head’s looking down on the guy who did him.”

          “Either way it sucks.”

          “I guess.”

          I said, “Either way, Fats, that’s always the way it is. Always the way it will be. We’ve got a thousand questions and maybe we get lucky and find one or two answers. It’s never enough.”

          “I’m gonna be on the lookout for this head-chopper, Griff. I’ll never forget this. Someday he’ll make a slip-up. Someday it will come out. Someday the guy that’s got that head mounted on his wall or wherever the hell it might be, is going to get fucked by you, or fucked by me, or another cop, or someone, somewhere, sometime. When that happens, it will all come out and I’ll nail his balls to the wall. Right next to that damn head he took.”

          I nodded. When Fats lost his jolly fatman personna he was not someone to mess with. Even in conversation. Or what barely passed for conversation for him at those times.

          I said, “We got time, Fats. A guy that can do something like that, he just can’t all of a sudden stop. It’s not in him to stop. It’s in him to snicker that he got away with it, and a bit later, in him to get bold and cocky. You know what I mean?”

          Fats nodded, “Yeah, I’ll tell you what’s in him, he thinks he pulled one over on us all. He’s laughing his ass off about it. He’ll be dying to talk about it too—but he can‘t do that—but it will only eat at him more and more to want to tell someone about it—to need to tell someone about it. It’s in him—eventually—to get caught.”

          I smiled. My partner was right.

          Fats lit up a Camel. Took a deep drag. He let the smoke fill up the car, looked at me through the haze and said, “And when he slips up, I’ll be there, Griff. On his ass so fast he won’t know what the hell hit him. Then I’ll nail his balls to that damn wall for sure!”

          I just nodded, gunned our old Plymouth war-wagon down Dumont Avenue. All I could say was, “Fats, when the time comes, you bring the nails, I’ll bring the hammer.”

          Fats said, “One day, Griff.”

          “Yeah, brother, one day.”

          Fats just smiled, took one more deep drag from his cancer stick and finished up with, “That’s good. That’s the way it will be, Griff.”

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

END



"Headhunters" originally appeared in HELLBENT ON HOMICIDE, tpb 1997 in UK, from the Do Not Press and is copyright 1997 & 2019 by Gary Lovisi.



CIGARETTES

 

By

 

Gary Lovisi

 

                          

 

     Phil Johnson had reached his limit with Kathy. His wife's constant cigarette  smoking was driving him mad. Something had to be done about it before the situation drove him up the wall.

     Phil had a plan he was sure would make Kathy stop smoking. He decided now was the time to go through with it.

He made his way to the dresser in their bedroom, feeling around on top of the six-feet-high piece of furniture for what he'd hidden there, days before.

At that time he hadn’t decided upon any action, or really thought it through that well, but now this seemed his only thing to do.

      He brought down the revolver. It was hard, and cold, and its chill sent a slight shiver through his nervous flesh.

      "This is serious, now. I've tried everything," he mumbled.

There had been the endless stop-smoking programs, doctor’s visits and quack remedies, even hypnosis and acupuncture. And of course, a whole pharmacy of various drugs and procedures, each guaranteed to end the cigarette habit once and for all. None of them worked. In the end, Phil realized that nothing would work, unless the smoker really wanted to quit. He decided he'd make Kathy want to quit.

     He spun the cylinder of the revolver. He opened a box of shells, taking out two of the shiny metal spheres. He put one bullet in the chamber and pressed the trigger.

A loud report was heard throughout the house.

     "Phil! Phil! What was that?" Kathy shouted.

     She ran up the stairs and into the room, huffing, and puffing on the perpetual cigarette she carried, exhausted from the exertion of just a few stairs.

She was a chain-smoker, and the house, her clothes, and her own body stunk of oppressive cigarette smoke. The disgusting odor followed her into the room like a pall of death.

     Phil winced as she came in. He didn't smoke, never had. His sensitive nostrils picked up only too well the stale odor that clung to Kathy. The strangling smell that followed her wherever she went in the house.

     "Phil! What's going on? I thought I heard a gunshot!" Kathy shakily put out the cigarette in one of the ubiquitous overflowing ashtrays that were in every room.

Phil wasn’t surprised when she instantly lit up another cigarette before walking over to him.

     Fuming, he sat down, the revolver in one hand, the unspent bullet in the other. He watched as she came close.

     "I've come to a decision." There was a power and strength in his voice that belied the lack of volume. He showed her the pistol, teasingly.

     "Put that away," Kathy said. "It's dangerous. Don't you know not to play with guns?"

     Phil laughed, bitterly. "At least it's quick and clean."

     He saw she didn't understand him. He added, "Guns kill, but cigarettes kill, too. They're killing you—and making me miserable. I can't stand it anymore, Kathy. I've had enough."

     "Is this another lousy attempt to make me stop smoking?" As if to emphasize her feelings on the subject, Kathy took a long drag and let out the exhaust luxuriously, so that a cloud of smoke passed his face. It made him cough.

     Phil sneered, "You'd think you just had great sex, the way you smoke those damn cancer sticks!"

     "So? What's it to you?" she said. "Maybe if I got it more often . . ."

     Phil turned red, changed that subject. "What's it to me? You've got some nerve! I live with you—or at least I’ve tried, for the last five years. It hasn't been easy. You know what it's like making love to a damn exhaust pipe?”

 She looked away.

“Don't you have any consideration for my feelings? Or anybody else’s? Sometimes my love for you is overshadowed by the disgust and anger I feel every time you light up cigarette after cigarette. No matter what I say or do, you just go right on doing it, as if I don't exist."

     She looked at him, curiously, "You're being very foolish, Phil." She shook her head.

     As she walked away, Phil said, "Get over here, you damn chimney!"

     She froze, then turned, finally realizing his anger and madness.

     "You sick motherfucker. Leave me alone!"

     "Yeah?” he said. “We'll see!” He put the bullet in the chamber, then spun the cylinder.

     "What’re you going to do? Blow your brains out?" As she said it, she was scared. Then, she panicked as another thought hit her—maybe Phil was going to use the gun on her, instead!

Phil laughed like a B-movie villain. "No, my dear, but I might blow the few brains you have out of your lovely head—if I can find them through all the smoke."

     As she started to move away, he grabbed and threw her down on the bed. "Now stay there and shut up!"

     From the pocket of her dressing gown, he withdrew her ever-present cigarette pack. When she got up, not to escape his madness, but to take back her cigarettes, he slapped her down to the bed again.

He hardly realized what he’d done. Normally, he wasn’t violent, but now violence oozed from him. He stood over her, his bulk a formidable obstacle to her freedom.

Shaking, she stayed on the bed, watching him, fearfully.

     "It’s about time you quit, for both our good."

     "No, I don't want to! And you'd better leave me alone!"

     "All in good time," Phil said, wondering if this turmoil was a screen for other problems between Kathy and him; if he was justified in what he was going to do.

Actually, he was not justified in doing any of this, but her unyielding fouling of air and house from constant smoking had gone too far. He could not back down, now.

     "You know what cigarettes are doing to you?" Phil tried to calmly explain. "How sick they're making you? You have no stamina, no appetite, no desire to do anything. They sap your strength, and they make everything you wear, everything you come into contact with, stink!"

“Oh, please!”

     He pointed the gun at her. "There's one bullet in this gun." He spun the cylinder again, for emphasis, as though he needed to scare her. "Do you realize that every cigarette you smoke is like putting this gun to your head and pulling the trigger? Sure, I'm exaggerating, but it’s almost the same chance you're taking. Is it worth it?"

     "That's nonsense," Kathy said. "You and I know it's not the same thing."

"But I don't give a damn! You’re going to stop smoking, one way or the other. So I'm making it the same thing.

"You'd better let me go!"

“No. You're going to sit here till you make me a solemn promise . . ."

“Never!" she said. "I got my rights. I do what I want!"

"I never said you didn't have rights; you've got the right to smoke, too. If you want a cigarette, it's fine with me, but you've got to take a chance—with the gun at your head. You make your own luck. If the chamber's empty, I'll give you a cigarette, if it's not . . ."

     "You're out of your damn mind!" He saw the fear that in her eyes and knew it was mirrored in his own.

     When she tried to get up, he pushed her back down. When she slapped him,  hard, he slapped her back.

After a while, shocked by the intensity of it all, she lay quietly. Both were now surprised by the extent of violence and anger, which had never appeared before, in their marriage.

     Finally, Kathy said, "All right, see? I've quit! Now will you let me go?"

     "No," Phil said, sternly. "We're here for a few days. If two days can pass without you smoking, I'll release you, on your promise."

     She began to cry.

     Phil cried too, inwardly, but did not show his tears—could not show his tears. More than anything else was the realization that he had to be strong for both of them, now.

 He realized this was their last chance. He only hoped Kathy would understand, when it was over. He had to do what he had to do. There was no turning back, now.

     Before long, Kathy had cried herself to sleep. Phil put on the TV and watched a few old movies. Afterwards, he raided the fridge.

     Kathy had been asleep about six hours. When she awoke, it was with the gleam of cigarette lust in her eyes.

Instinctively, she reached into the pocket of her robe, where her cigarette pack was always kept. When she found it empty, she remembered all that had transpired earlier—events more dreamlike than real to her, now.

     She saw Phil standing over her. She had loved him so much—before this all began. Now she was just scared she was in the hands of a maniac. His recent unexplained cruelty was making her hate and fear him more, each minute.

     He smiled, awkwardly. "Have a good sleep, baby?" He gave her a bowl of fruit. "Here, have something to eat; you must be starving."

     She took the bowl, but she could only stare at its contents with disgust. She knew what she really wanted.

     "Phil," she said, quietly. "Can I have a cigarette? Just one. I always need one after I wake up. It gets me going."

     He laughed. "Yeah, it gets you going to the second one, the third one, and so on, all day long. But you can have one, if you're willing to pay the price."

     He spun the cylinder of the revolver. "The odds of you blowing your brains out with one bullet in a-six chamber revolver are one in six. That's about an 84 percent chance for success. Better odds than most, I guess."

     "How could I have married such a bastard?" she said under her breath, but he heard it. It hurt him more than he dared admit.

     "It goes both ways. Maybe someday you'll understand that," he said.

     "Bastard!" she yelled.

     "Sure, that's me, baby," Phil muttered. But he knew she was right.

     The rest of the day, Kathy sat quietly. Phil watched her twitching and fumbling, thunderously—but not from the fear of her situation—from her need for that first cigarette. Her eyes were glazed and tearing. She sat stone-cold silent, but she was going through the worst nicotine fit anyone had ever gone through.

     Time passed. He hoped she would break soon—before he did—or before the uppers he'd taken wore off, and he crashed. He feared he couldn’t go on with this much longer.

     The day wore on. Night came and went. No one ate. Always awake, Phil watched Kathy sleep. The uppers kept him up. The next day was rough, but somehow, they got through it.

     Kathy was sleeping again, tossing and turning. Sometimes Phil heard her mumble incoherently, knowing she was having some nasty dreams. He wondered if they were about him.

     Finally, she woke up. Immediately tense, wired. Anxious. Ready for a fight. She glared at him. Phil tensed, as this might be it. Crunch time.

     "Give me a cigarette, you bastard!" she growled.

     He spun the cylinder in the revolver. "Ready to pay for it?"

     "Son-of-a-bitch! I hate you!" she yelled, followed by a flurry of curses.

He was shocked at how many dirty words she knew. She rarely cursed around him, but now she did it with the verve and originality of a dockworker.

     When she calmed down a little, Phil brought out the pack of cigarettes.

     Kathy's lips grew moist when she saw it. The tips of her fingers twitched. She shook, convulsively.

     Phil took out one cigarette, slowly crushing it between his fingers. The shredded tobacco fell to the floor. The cigarette was useless, now. Harmless.

She watched with an intensity bordering on mania.

     "Bastard!" she said. "You can't treat me like this. I'll get even with you! Give me that!"

     She jumped at him—actually, at the pack of cigarettes he held— but he firmly pushed her back down to the bed. She began screaming that soon turned to frustrated crying.

     "Give me a cigarette, Phil!" she cried.

     He almost weakened. He hated himself for doing this, but it was the moment he’d been waiting for. If he didn't hang on now, he'd lose everything. All this pain, trouble, terrible cruelty— it would have been for nothing. And that would be cruelest of all.

     He showed her the gun.

     "No!" she said.

     "First the gun, then the cigarette."

     "I hate you!"

     "I know," Phil muttered.

     It was quiet for a moment.

     "Phil, please," she begged, "please, baby, don't do this to me."

     "I can't help it, I'm a bastard. Remember?"

     "Son-of-a-bitch!" she screamed.

     "And a son-of-a-bitch," Phil added. "Do you want a cigarette, or not?"

     He crushed another one, slowly, between his fingers. Then another, and another. Kathy watched madly. Her body jerked, as each of the small white cylinders was crushed.

     "Oh, well, just one left," Phil said. "Should I destroy this one, too, or do you want it?"

     Kathy sat, quietly, her eyes red as fire. Her hands were shaking. He felt the anger emanating from her, like a furnace.

     She shut her eyes, then. "Give me the gun."

     "No," Phil said, "You think I’m stupid? I'll spin the cylinder, then put the barrel to your temple. You tell me when to pull the trigger."

     "You're sick, Phil. You know that."

     "Do you want a cigarette, or not?" She nodded. "You ready?" he asked, quietly.

     Even more quietly she said, "Y-yes."

     Phil nervously spun the cylinder of the revolver, then put the point of the weapon to her temple. "Keep your arms down and don't move. Tell me when to press the trigger."

     She was in tears, again. "You're a dirty bastard!"

     "I know."

     "You're going to kill me."

     "You're killing yourself. Can't you see that? Tell me when to fire."

     "Never!" she said, with feigned determination.

     "Then I’ll just destroy that last cigarette." Phil looked over at it, on the table.

     "No!" Kathy yelled. "Fire!"

     He shook his head, in disbelief.

     "Didn't you hear me? I said, Fire! Fire! Fire the damn gun!"

     He hesitated for what felt like minutes. He had to fire. Otherwise, all this would have been in vain. What a mess he had gotten them into. It was never supposed to go this far.

     Slowly, he brought the point of the revolver to her temple. It stayed there for a long time.

    Her eyes were closed, tightly.

    Phil thought she looked so beautiful.

    She said, "Fire, you son-of-a-bitch!"

    He pressed the trigger. It moved slowly. Downward. Things were out of control, now. If they had ever been under his control, at all.

    There was a loud click.

    Then . . .

    Nothing!

     The silence was laced with thick sweat, dripping down their bodies. They were both soaking wet. Phil’s loud sigh of relief was followed by one from Kathy.

     Disgusted, he threw the gun on the floor.

What had he done? He couldn't believe he’d actually pulled the trigger! The full impact of it rushed in upon him. With his handkerchief, he wiped his sweaty face. He picked up the cigarette from the table and glared at it.

     "Here." He handed it to Kathy. "You've earned it."

     She took the cigarette, rolling it over, inspecting it carefully, as if it were some kind of alien artifact. Then her eyes locked with her husband’s.

There was hatred and confusion in that gaze. Phil wasn't sure what he saw there.

     "Go ahead and smoke it," he said, disgusted. "Anyone who’d allow a loaded gun to be put to their head so they could have a cigarette— damn well deserves that cigarette. So, go ahead. Enjoy it."

     Now she was shaking, again, her eyes darting from the cigarette hanging so  temptingly between her fingers, to Phil’s strained and haggard face. She looked back, and forth. Nervous. Unsure.

     He watched her. Was she having a nervous breakdown? Is this what he had accomplished?

     Finally, she smiled. "I don't want it, anymore."

Then, to Phil's surprise, she took and crushed the cigarette between her fingers.

      He was so proud of her. He rushed into her arms, finding her warm, and receptive. They both cried, and hugged. Soon, they were in a wild, passionate embrace, sinking to the floor, peeling off each other’s clothes.

     He gasped, as she massaged his crotch, before tracing a path down his thigh, brushing his buttocks.

Then her hand found something else— the gun he’d thrown to the floor.

She grabbed the gun.

     "Now," she whispered. "It's your turn, my love."

     She raised the gun to his temple and fired.

     He jumped.

     There was a loud report—followed by a spray of fine red and gray mist into the air.

For a moment, Phil looked into Kathy's eyes. Deeply. Sadly. Understanding. Trying to say something, but now only blood flowed from the movement of his lips.

Then, he slumped down dead beside her.

     She cradled his head in her arms, "You're not a bastard, Phil," she said. "Not anymore."

 

 

END

 

Copyright 2019 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.



 


Gary Lovisi now has a free YouTube channel about vintage paperbacks, book collecting, etc. Here is the link to “Collectible ‘Dell 10c’ Vintage Paperbacks, Episode #28:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0UUjyQNhezs


 GARY LOVISI BIBLIOGRAPHY:  (Recent and partial):


 

Sherlock Holmes:


  


The Secret Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Series:


 

THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Ramble House, 2007)


 MORE SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Ramble House, book #2, 2011)


 SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: BOOK THREE (Ramble House, 2016)


 HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. HOLMES (Gryphon Books, 2016)


 SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BARON'S REVENGE (Airship27, 2012)


 THE GREAT DETECTIVE: HIS FURTHER ADVENTURES, edited anthology (Wildside Press, 2012)


 THE MYSTERY SURROUNDING WATSON'S LOST DISPATCH BOX (MX Pub., UK edition, 2014)


 SOUVENIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Gryphon Books, 2002, non-fiction, new edition forthcoming)


 SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE GREAT DETECTIVE IN PAPERBACK & PASTICHE (Gryphon Books, 2008, large-size, spiral bound)


 

Crime:


 

BATTLING BOXING STORIES, edited anthology, (Wildside Press, 2012)


 VIOLENCE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION (Wildside Press, 2012)


 MURDER OF A BOOKMAN (Wildside Press, 2011)


 DRIVING HELL'S HIGHWAY (Wildside Press, 2011)


 THE LAST GOODBYE (Bold Venture, 2015)


 THE NEMESIS CHRONICLES (Bold Venture, 2016)


 ULTRA-BOILED: HARD HITTING CRIME FICTION (Ramble House, 2010)


 DIRTY DOGS (Gryphon Books)


 EXTREME MEASURES (Gryphon Books)


 HELLBENT ON HOMICIDE (Do Not Press, UK, 1997)


 BLOOD IN BROOKLYN (Do Not Press, UK only, 1999)


 Science Fiction / Fantasy & Horror:


 GARGOYLE NIGHTS (Wildside Press, 2011)


 MARS NEEDS BOOKS (Wildside Press, 2011)


 WHEN THE DEAD WALK (Ramble House, 2014)


 SARASHA (Gryphon Books, 1997)


 The Jon Kirk of Ares Series: (Wildside Press)


#1 THE WINGED MEN, 2014


#2 THE INVISIBLE MEN, 2015


#3 THE SPACE MEN, 2015


#4 THE MIND MASTERS (forthcoming, 2017)


#5 THE TIME MASTERS (forthcoming, 2017)


Other Fiction:



WEST TEXAS WAR AND OTHER WESTERN STORIES (Ramble House, 2007)


 

Non-Fiction:


 

THE SEXY DIGESTS (Gryphon Books, 2001, large-size)


 THE PULP CRIME DIGESTS (Gryphon Books, 2004, large-size)


 THE ANTIQUE TRADER PAPERBACK PRICE GUIDE (Krauss Books, 2008)


DAMES, DOLLS & DELINQUENTS (Krauss Books, large-size trade paperback)


BAD GIRLS NEED LOVE TOO (Krauss Books, hardcover, 2010)

 

MODERN HISTORICAL ADVENTURE NOVELS (Gryphon Books, 2006, large-size, spiral bound)


 THE SWEDISH VINTAGE PAPERBACK GUIDE (Gryphon Books, 2003, large-size).


In Association with Fossil Publications