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Matthew McBride
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hardluckdance.jpg
Art by Lonni Lees 2011

Hard Luck Dance
 
Matthew McBride
 
In the 1950's, everything was black and white and the world turned much slower. Dead people turned up less often too, but they still turned up. In the early summer, he worked for a gentleman by the name of Joseph Kirby, one of the most powerful men in Kansas City. Joseph Kirby had connections with Chicago. Old connections from the days of Mr. Nitti and he wasn't afraid to use them. Benny would know about that. He knew a lot of things.

They called him Benny Tulips, cause he made a guy eat flowers once. Another time he parked a forklift on a scrap yard owner’s foot. Then he changed the propane cannister with his foot still under the tire. Benny even went inside and took a shit in the guy’s office after he was done. Benny was creative.

He rolled up to the curb at the same time as the day before. It was nine AM and his face was smooth, his hair had just enough grease, and there was a flask in the left hand pocket of his Brooks Brothers suit.

Benny adjusted the mirror and fixed his tie.

As Mr. Kirby walked from the building, he tipped the doorman, climbed into the passenger side of the Mercury and said, ''G' morning, you fuck.''

''Good morning, Joseph,'' Benny said.

''Go pick up Fancy and head to Willow Lane, over in Paradise Valley. I want you to bust this guy’s head.''

''Who's head?''

'Donnie the Repairman.''

He asked Benny if he knew the guy.

“Sure I know the guy. Everybody knows the guy.”

''Yeah, well I want you and Fancy to go bust him up real good, Benny. I want you to bust his fuckin' head.''

''Okay, Boss.''

''Drop me off at Dr. Rosenbloom's office, that Jew bastard. Probably gonna cost me a hundred dollars this time.''

''You ever see Dr. Rosenbloom?''

Benny shook his head.

''He's a greedy Jew fuck, that guy.''

''Then why you go and see him?”

Now the Boss just shook his head. He didn't know.

When Benny left the Doctor's office it was quarter till ten and the sun was shining in his face. He had to go meet Fancy, so he loosened the knot on his tie and fired up a cancer stick. With the city limits in his rear view, he slid the flask from his pocket and had a little taste while he opened up the big V8 and let her breathe.


                                                                     *

Corbin Murphy was sitting behind his desk with his gun in his hand when she walked through the door. He was a tall, muscular Irishman who was not afraid to shoot someone. He gave her the once over as she entered the doorway and said, ''Sorry bout the mess, but my Secretary's out to lunch.''

The woman held her head down for a moment too long, and when she looked up, her lipstick was a shade too dark.

''I need your help,'' she said. ''My husband's in real trouble.''

She looked sincere, she was lovely, and she wore her blonde hair up high like a librarian. The dress she wore, her nicest dress, was red and cut low, and just a little too tight in all the right places. She sliced into his guts with her piercing regard and her voice was as soft as a baby's pillow.

She said they were gonna kill her husband and she loved him, but Murphy didn't hear a word she said. A woman with a body like that, in a dress like that, wanted more than he could give.

''Who's gonna kill your husband?''

His hand was fingering the trigger of the gun that was laying in his lap. He would shoot her in the chest if he had to and throw her body out the window. He'd done it before. It was only two stories up.

''You can take that gun off me, Mister,'' she said softly.

Murphy thought about this for a minute, then he laid his gun on top of the desk. He may not have believed her, but he did like the sound of her voice. She stood there for a moment and shifted her weight from one leg to the other. She was wearing too much make-up and Murphy didn't trust her.

“I'm not dangerous, Mr. Murphy.'' Her face was cautious and difficult to read.

''You never know who's gonna walk through that door,'' he said, as he removed a bottle of bourbon from his desk. He reached behind him without taking his eyes off the girl and he found an empty glass. Murphy blew the dust out and poured himself a shot.

He didn't offer one to the blonde.

He did offer her the seat across from him, and when she bent down he could see the deep curves of her chest, but her face held no expression. She let the strap of her dress fall off her shoulder as she sat, something she didn't need to do. Her tit was milky white.

Murphy downed the shot then asked her what it was she thought that he could do.

She crossed her legs and removed a hand-rolled cigarette from a metal tin, then placed it between her lips as she leaned forward. She was waiting for a light, but Murphy poured himself another drink instead.

Undeterred, she replaced the cigarette back in the tin and recrossed her legs in the other direction. ''My husband's Donnie the Repairman.''

He acted as though the name meant something. Like he knew who this guy was. The name played through his mind, but he was sure he didn't know him.

''He a connected guy?''

She nodded her head slowly and deliberately.

Murphy worked when he needed to work, when he wasn't in the bottle. He could take a pass if he wanted. He needed some air, so he walked across the room to the open window. It was almost ten AM and the morning breeze was stale and piss warm. He watched her watch the gun that was sitting on the desk through the reflection in the window.

''I've got money,'' she said, but he never turned around. He just stood there watching the traffic.

When he got back to his desk she had the gun. He clenched his jaw as he looked her in the eye. He told her to get to it.

''Well c'mon, what are you waiting for?''

She held the gun at arms length with the business end in his direction, but she didn't say a word.

''Do it,'' he commanded, the pulse along the side of his jawbone was flexing.

The sound of screeching brakes traveled up from the pavement into the window of the second story office, and some wise ass down below laid on the horn. She put the gun back down on the desk and watched the way he was watching her.

''I could never have the heart,'' she said, and it felt like she meant it.

The humidity was kicking in and the air was thick. An electric fan in the corner buzzed in its own tedious rhythm and he poured another drink.

As he handed it to the blonde, sweat rolled down the glass and their fingers touched.

''I've never been a drinker,'' she said, but she kept her hand right where it was. A place it shouldn't be if she didn't want the drink.

Murphy stared her down. The creamy white skin and the wrong shade of lipstick. Exactly what he didn't need. He watched her bust line overflow with the soft mounds of flesh that he knew could get him killed. She finally took her hand away.

''What is it you think I can do?''

She rose from the chair and told him what she wanted, then she just stood there for a minute so he could take it all in.

He knew what he wanted as well. To pull her onto his lap and put her tits in his mouth, and offer no apologies for it.

She placed a stack of dead Presidents beside the empty gun then walked away. She took her time and moved it slow. She wanted to make him hard.

Murphy threw his feet up on the desk and thought about the money. It wasn't even noon and he'd just made a pile. Then he thought about her long slender legs. That tight summer dress and all that lay beneath. He thought about loading his gun, then he poured a healthy glass and didn't leave the office until he was good and drunk.

                                                                      *

Benny Tulips waited at the corner of 5th street and Rochelle at the same spot he waited most days. Fancy was late, as was his usual routine on the days he took his mother to the Doctor. She was eighty-two years old and looking at her last stop on the great train ride, but Fancy was a good son. Fancy loved his mother.

He rounded the corner with a shotgun in his hand and a smile on his face, neither of which surprised Benny. Fancy was a huge man with a massive barrel chest and hands that could crush a man’s head so hard his eyes would bleed. Benny had seen him do this on occasion and it always seemed to fascinate him.

''Mother's doing well,'' he said first thing, as he climbed into the Merc. Benny was happy for him. He was happy for them both. Fancy was forty-five years old and he still lived with his mother.

He asked about the shotgun.

''Boss said bust some heads.''

''The Boss said bust one head, Fancy."

Fancy just shrugged and slapped him in the stomach with the back of his hand. Benny handed him his flask.

The Merc ran out nicely as he stepped a little heavy and shifted gears. Fancy started to complain about the heat and he told Benny what he knew about the guy.

''He's been stealin from the Boss. ''

Benny didn't believe it. ''Nobody steals from the boss,'' he said.

Fancy shook his head. ''It's true.''

The thought of anyone stealing from Joseph Kirby was difficult to imagine.

''We need to bust him up,'' he told Fancy. ''I got my club in the trunk.''

Benny wanted to break his arm. He hadn't hurt anybody in a long while and he knew it would feel good.

''Thats what I'm sayin. We need to bust him up good, Benny.''

''Okay,'' he said, and they talked about baseball until they got there.

                                                                       *

The suburban landscape outside Kansas City was dull and uninspiring. The houses in Paradise Valley were neat and orderly, and everything had its place. The family car was under every carport and the hoses were all rolled up. All the yards were perfect and the rows of chain link fence looked shiny and new.

On Saturday, Pop would pull the Buick out into the driveway and give it a good hand cleaning while Junior washed off all the soap. Mom would be inside cooking pot roast while little Suzy washed the dishes. For desert there was apple pie, then all would gather round the television for an hour of 77 Sunset Strip.

They were living the American dream like civilized cattle, and every house looked like the same house. All except 1107. That one looked like trouble.

They parked across the street and Benny finished his smoke while Fancy took the final hit of the bourbon. A parade of children was riding to the nearest ball diamond with baseball gloves under their butts and baseball cards clicking loudly in their spokes.

Benny ignored them best he could, but Fancy smiled wildly as he tossed the empty flask into the seat. He was still holding the shotgun.

Benny glanced over at the house as he retrieved his club from the trunk. Fancy was still smiling.

''Stanley,'' he announced with casual affection. He always called the club Stanley, on account of the first guy that ever got hit with it went by that name. Stanley was old and blood stained from years of busting heads, but he could still get the job done. Benny stomped his butt out on the ground and looked over at his partner.

''Ready?''

 

Fancy shook his head and they made their way across the street.

                                                                       *

He was sleeping in a broken down recliner and dreaming of a better life when Fancy kicked open the front door with a size 15e. He sprang instantly from the chair and made a futile dash across the living room as Fancy raised the double barrel 10 gauge. He turned to beg and Fancy blew him through a wall and into the kitchen. It was quick, and loud, and Benny's ears were already ringing before he made it through the door. He thought he smelled gun smoke.

By the time he got to the body, Fancy was already down the hall kicking open more doors. Benny took a look at Donnie the Repairman, and he didn't look so good. Then the shotgun went off again and Benny wondered who else was dead.

''We ain't supposed to kill 'em, Fancy.”

 

When Fancy came back down the hall he was sweating.

''Who the fuck was that?'' Benny yelled, pointing toward the bedroom.

''Just some dog.”

''Christ, you shot a dog?''

''I hate dogs. It was just some fucking mutt."

Benny couldn't believe it.

''Well, why the fuck you kill the Repairman? We was just supposed to talk to the guy Fancy. The Boss said bust him up.''

''I busted him up good, Benny.''

''Yeah, you busted him up dead. How we gonna talk to him now?''

Fancy looked down at the body and shook his head. The blast from Fancy's 10 gauge at close range had been devastating. The torso was shredded and his intestines were scattered throughout the kitchen. Fancy was standing in a thick pool of the Repairman's blood, and there was plenty of it.

''Awe, look at that shit Fancy,'' Benny yelled, his ears still ringing. ''Your gonna track his guts into the Merc.'' There was blood dripping from the ceiling and running down the wall and Benny gave Fancy a quick shove. "Get back ya big lug,'' he told him. ''I feel like I'm with one of my sister’s kids.''

Fancy looked up with a hurt expression, but his eyes were cold chips of ice. He was a lunatic with a fifth grade education so Benny had to keep his cool; besides, Fancy was holding the shotgun and Benny was holding a club.

Suddenly a whistle blew and Fancy almost jumped out of his shoes. Benny might have jumped himself, but not as high as him. Fancy took a few quick steps into the kitchen where he took a teakettle off the stove. Benny started down the hallway to check on the dog, but thought better of it. He didn't need to see that shit. Fancy reached into the Repairman's cupboard and pulled down a yellow coffee cup and placed it on the counter. The handle had been broken off at one point, but crudely reattached. Repaired.

''Thirsty?'' he asked.

Benny just said no.

                                                                     *

It was damn near one PM when Murphy left the office. His pockets were lined with cash as he thought about the blonde, about what she wanted him to do. The hottest part of the day was fast approaching and the fact that he was drunk made things worse.

He pulled the Thunderbird onto the road and made his way to Willow Lane. There was a gun in the pocket of his sport coat, the same one from his office. But this time it was loaded. Murphy had always been cautious when it came to broads. Especially the kind that walk into your office in a tight summer dress. With ruby red lipstick, and big tits. He undid a button on his shirt and thought about her tits as he drove for awhile. He thought about the pile of cash she'd thrown his way and all the subtle promises she'd made with her body.

Murphy left the city and the traffic was light as he entered a whole new world where everything looked the same. House after house in perfect rows, with perfect yards, and everything he saw in perfect order. He knew if there was such a thing as a perfect world, this sure as hell wasn't it.

As he searched hard for something out of place, he passed a slicked out Mercury with a couple of thugs inside. The driver had a long, thin face, but the passenger looked pretty solid. Murphy pretended not to notice. You didn't have to be a private dick to know a gangster when you saw one, and Murphy just saw two.

He sat up a little straighter and took comfort in the gun. It was time to go to work and he was ready to earn his money. He parked on Willow Lane and watched the Repairman's house from the comfort of the driver’s seat. He was a few houses up, but even from that distance he could see the front door had been kicked open. He had that feeling in his gut, the kind of feeling you only get if there's enough time. Murphy had time in abundance.

He took a quick nip of bourbon just to take the edge off and climbed out of the car. As he passed the neighbor's house the curtains drew shut quickly, but he knew he was still being watched. Murphy walked onto the porch and stepped over a large piece of trim that lay across the doorway. He was expecting a dead body, so he wasn't surprised when he saw the Repairman. Except it wasn't the Repairman. At least Murphy didn't think so.

This guy was fat, or at least he used to be, and there were misshapen chunks of fat splattered on the wall and kitchen tile. It looked like orange/white clumps of Jello, and there was a place where you could tell someone had slipped in some of it. By the looks of the joint, someone had taken the hard luck dance right through the kitchen wall.

''Sorry bastard,'' Murphy said, as he watched flies gnaw on a part of Donnie's liver. Or somebody's liver, and he made his way down the hall. When he came to the bedroom door he was taken aback by what he saw. Some asshole had slaughtered a Beagle with a shotgun. The same asshole that shot Donnie the Repairman he assumed, or whoever that was in the living room/kitchen.

He stepped back from the door and shook his head. Murphy didn't like dogs, but still. It looked like the Beagle had taken the hard luck dance himself.

He followed bloody footprints back into the kitchen. One thing was certain, whoever killed the Repairman and the Beagle had tremendous feet. Murphy's shoe fit inside the other footprint, and he thought about the brute from the Mercury. If the memory of his passing glance served him correctly, the passenger was a powerfully built man of considerable size.

Murphy observed the kitchen with all the clarity that an experienced detective on the downside of a whiskey buzz could. He walked to the stove and felt the teakettle, which was still warm. There was an empty cup on the counter and someone had helped themselves to a taste. There was still some left in the bottom and it looked fresh. He searched the kitchen for anything useful, then he knelt down and ran his finger through the blood. Still thin, and not quite cool. It hadn't had a chance to coagulate.

Murphy tried to show some form of respect for the poor bastard and half-ass nodded at what was left of the corpse. He tried to think of a verse from his Catholic school memories, but struggled to come up with anything that was worth a damn. He stepped wide over the lifeless body and left the room as a group of kids rode by on bicycles. One of them honked a rubber horn, but Murphy couldn't smile. He had a pile of guts with half of a face to think about, and he was still pissed off about the Beagle. Nobody's world was perfect, he thought. Even in paradise you'll find trouble.


                                      THE END


 

 

Matthew McBride lives on a farm outside the beautiful wine country of Hermann, Mo, with his wife Melissa and his bull Hemingway. He has two sons, Nicholas and Dylan. His writings have appeared in CRIMEFACTORY, Plots With Guns, A Twist of Noir, and many others.

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