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filthyasthenight.jpg
Art by Sean O'Keefe, 2012

As Filthy as the Night Is Long

 

by

Basil Rosa

 

Located downtown near the bus station, Land thought the Civic View a four-story brick hell-hole. It catered to truckers, drifters, dope dealers, construction workers, pole dancers and their pimps.

Land, squinting, read its crudely painted sign above one window: Nude Dancers Here.

Snoddy whacked him on the shoulder from behind.

“Right on time,” said Land. He remembered that Sava had suggested he try making it look like an accident. Wouldn’t be easy. Snoddy was a loudmouth and a skunk, but he was likeable. He’d never crossed Land directly in any way.

“You know,” said Snoddy, joking. “I don’t value our friendship one iota.”

“Business gets in the way.”

“I can live with that,” said Snoddy. “I said I was sorry about the other night. I didn’t know you and her had a thing together. I wasn’t even sober when I said it.”

“But she was,” said Land. “And it ain’t what you said. It’s what you did.”

“I’m working on that,” said Snoddy.

“Your problem, not mine.”

Snoddy, sneering, told Land, “C’mon, let’s bag Beret Man. That’s the plan, ain’t it?”

No idea, thought Land. Like so many others: lives in his own delusions.

Land watched Snoddy as he crossed the parking lot in front of the Civic View. Poorly lit, the lot was riddled with craters of pooled frozen water. Ice crackled under Snoddy’s pointed leather shoes. Land didn’t wear shoes. He’d come prepared. He wore boots. Still, as he followed Snoddy across the lot, squeezing between rows of parked cars, his boots sounded a crackle each time they broke a puddle’s skin.

Cursing, Land kept on Snoddy’s tail, zigzagging toward the McDonald’s next door to the Civic View. Land paused to watch how Snoddy moved. The kid didn’t know he was a hunted animal. Land knew. The air felt charged.

Snoddy crouched down between two cars. Land had caught up to him and did the same. They were both breathing hard in the cold. Land saw inside the McDonald’s through its street-level windows. No one waited in line. One man sat alone as if watching his dreams roll off a cliff. Scarred hands around his paper cup of coffee poached in a shrill florescent glow.

Land felt angry, didn’t know why, didn’t care. He liked his anger. He’d need it to pull off this job.

Before Land could speak, Snoddy grabbed his arm and pointed toward the Civic View.

Land saw her, a redhead in sunglasses who could stop traffic. He recognized her as a dancer at the Civic View. She stood on a corner where busted pavement bubbled like a lava flow.

It looked like she was waiting for a ride.

“We got that rat bastard now,” said Snoddy. “She’s with him. I remember her.”

“I don’t,” said Land. “Besides, big tits bore me.”

“You carrying?”

“Why would I be carrying,” said Land.

“You’re lying,” said Snoddy. “I know you.”

“So what if I am. You wanna find my piece? You’ll have to frisk me.”

“Right here?”

Land laid on cold wet asphalt and spread his arms. “I’m filthy,” he said. “Filthy rotten.”

Snoddy flinched with the thought. “You’re chicken-shit.”

“Then do it. Frisk me,” said Land.

Snoddy pulled Land off the ground. “Up,” was all he said.

Land stood and wiped some of the asphalt’s wet residue off his short bulky coat. “Nobody’s clean. Nothing’s what it seems. Just remember that.”

“Okay, Dad. Okay, Yoda.”

Land raised a finger to his mouth, silencing Snoddy as he nodded toward the redhead. “She’s not right.”

“Shut up,” said Snoddy.

Beret Man appeared. Usually, he wore a black beret. On this night, it was blue.

Snoddy, gloating, whispered. “Our very own.”

Beret Man took the redhead by her elbow. She shoved him away.

Snoddy frowned. “She’s not making it easy for us. I wish she wasn’t here.”

 “Just get it done,” said Land.

Snoddy said, “He double-crossed me. I delivered, and he took the dope.”

“But he didn’t pay,” said Land, finishing Snoddy’s sentence.

“That guy is a cretin,” said Snoddy. “We gotta make him pay.”

“What do you think happened to the money?” asked Land.

Snoddy shrugged as if he were innocent, had no idea.

Land bore down on him. “How’d you know he’d be here?”

“The redhead,” said Snoddy. “Beret Man’s the possessive type. Every night, he picks her up.”

“But you said she was getting in our way,” said Land. “Something don’t add up here.”

“It adds up,” said Snoddy. “Don’t be a pussy. You gonna kill this guy, or not?”

“I ain’t killing him,” said Land, “That’s your job, remember? I’m just here to make sure it gets done.”

“Think you’re high up the food-chain, don’t you?” said Snoddy, stiffening.

Land snickered. “I know I am, Kid. We’re in a dangerous profession. Short careers. Takes guts. Takes brains. Nothing you’d know much about.”

“So I’m gonna kill him?” Snoddy sounded sarcastic.

“No, ass-wipe. You’re gonna get his autograph.”

“But I don’t even have a gun,” said Snoddy. “Frisk me. I can prove it. No way I’m gonna shoot that guy.”

Land grabbed Snoddy’s tailored lapels and shook him. “C’mon, quit dickin’ around.”

Snoddy forced his way free. “Wait. Something’s up.”

They watched Beret Man instruct the redhead to stay put. She scowled, folding her arms. She watched Beret Man rush down the alley between Civic View and McDonald’s.

 

The redhead, left alone, shivered in her skimpy leather coat and platform shoes. She blew cigarette smoke out of the side of her mouth.

The car appeared out of the alley, lights off, low to the ground. Beret Man sat behind the wheel. He parked in front of McDonald’s under a sign: No Parking Loading Zone. He looked at himself in the rear-view. He shot the redhead a thumbs-up as he shut off the car.

Snoddy said, “No way. Can’t do it.”

Land said, “You did bring a piece, didn’t you? I’m serious now.”

“No,” said Snoddy. He pointed toward the Civic View. “But he did.”

“Who’s he?” Land watched a man stagger out of the Civic View. He took a closer look. “It’s Lucio.”

“That’s right,” said Snoddy, grinning. “He and I both got a piece. Some reinforcements.”

So that’s how he planned it, thought Land. His face reddened. It was Lucio, all right. If Land tried to shoot Snoddy now, Lucio would see it. Lucio wouldn’t accept Snoddy’s death as another business decision. He and Snoddy were cousins. He’d take it personally and he’d come after Land.

Snoddy’s face fell. “Oh shit. He looks drunk.”

“So what’s he doing here?” asked Land, losing patience.

“Auditioning for The Price Is Right,” said Snoddy. “Figure it out.”

Land had it figured, all right. Snoddy was not only a thief, but an amateur. He watched Lucio in front of the Civic View’s door. Lucio slapped his chest with two hands, and looked up and down the street. When he saw the redhead, he waved at her, smiled. He blurted out her name – it sounded like Connie.

When Lucio passed under a street lamp, moving toward Beret Man in the car, Land saw how pasty Lucio looked, how sweat-soaked, and how he teetered as he walked. Snoddy was relying on Lucio to do the hit, but Lucio in his condition was worthless.

Snoddy, shaking his head, mumbled, “I can’t believe this.”

Land saw his opening. He grabbed Snoddy’s lapels, pulled him close, held him in place. “I know you’re armed. Screw your plan. You have to step in. You have to do this.”

“But it’s Lucio.”

“He’s a mook. He’s drunk. What do you care?”

Snoddy’s face flamed scarlet. He wrenched away from Land. “Just let me think.”

“No thinking, too late for that,” said Land. He knew Snoddy could pull it off. The kid had a pair on him. It was all in his delivery to Snoddy, convincing the kid it would work.

“Look, it’s simple,” said Land. “You walk toward Lucio, let him know you’re here. He’s expecting you, but he doesn’t know Beret Man is in that car. You’re the one who knows. So you act like it’s just another night with Lucio, and you take two steps toward him, make a little friendly noise and then turn and fire toward Beret Man’s windshield. He won’t see it coming. Two shots. Right through Beret Man’s forehead.”

The silence from Snoddy was what Land needed. He knew he’d made a successful pitch. He had ten years of certified experience on Snoddy. The kid talked a big game, but he was just another maggot. All the higher-ups knew he’d kept the drug money from Beret Man for himself.

“Just might work,” said Snoddy.

“Sure it will.”

Land knew Snoddy carried a .45, usually a Glock. It would do the deed.

Snoddy. He had to laugh. The kid’s name rhymed with putty.

When Lucio leered at the redhead, Snoddy made his move. He sprang out from behind one of the cars, as if he’d appeared magically on the scene, crying, “Hey, Lucio, what’s up?”

Lucio wore caramel-colored shoes and a long beige wool coat. He moved slowly.

“It’s Snoddy. Recognize me?”

Lucio, playing along, his eyes bloodshot, beamed as he shook his head yes.

Snoddy was light on his feet, quick, and he beamed back and wagged his head toward Beret Man in the parked car. Once Lucio looked in that direction, Snoddy swiveled his body and opened his coat, both hands on a blue-steel .45. He leaped into the air, firing once, twice, blasting the car windshield in an orgy of shattered glass.

The redhead screamed, blocking her face. She ran down the alley.

There was another pair of gunshots, but they weren’t from Snoddy.

Lucio had been shot. He clutched his chest, blood squirting between his fingers in jets that shined in the glow of the street lamps. Snoddy approached him. Lucio wavered, reaching for Snoddy. He dropped first to his knees, then facedown against pavement. He lay there, twitching. Blood spread from under his body.

Snoddy howled, his face running the gamut of contortions. “Lucio, Christ, Lucio....”

Land stood, raised both his arms and fired two shots into the back of Snoddy’s head. Certain Snoddy and Lucio were both down, he crouched close to a car’s wheel. He heard no noise in the distance. This was a city, after all. There should be noise, but there wasn’t.

At first, Land wanted to scream, to run from that parking lot. A triple murder. A job well done. He couldn’t scream; he wasn’t that weak. He wasn’t like them. They were all weak. They were all snitches, thieves and cowards.

He didn’t judge; he didn’t even want to think. Didn’t want to be there.

Snoddy and Lucio dead. Beret Man dead, thanks to Snoddy. How nice to get his victim to do a little dirty work for him. Did Snoddy really think he’d get away with stealing that money? Nobody would miss Beret Man, or Lucio. They were low-level enterprising scumbags, their loyalties shallow, their lives destined to be short.

Yet Land couldn’t laugh. Couldn’t tell himself job well done. Had to get out now, catch the planned bus to Manhattan where he had a connection and a room in the Bronx where he could simmer a while until the deed cooled off.

Sweat beetled across Land’s forehead, his breath short and choking him as he stayed low and ran between the cars, crashing through ice-skinned puddles. He kept hearing the gunshots. He saw each man’s face in the moment before death. Again and again. Looming. Pale. Shocked.

Dead? Me? Not me. I’m destined to live forever.

The word death pumped through Land, leaped from the pounding in his chest as he headed toward the bus station. He hugged buildings and kept from lights whenever possible. He had already bought his ticket and he was boarding his bus – they ran every two hours to Manhattan – and he was rolling out of town before an ambulance and the cops arrived.

On the way to his seat, an old black woman smiled at him. He smiled back.

Keep running, thought Land. Don’t accept any other fate. It’s the others. They’re the cowardly ones. Loyalty counts for something.

He sat in a rear seat next to the toilet, and he thought the sessile fumes appropriate. As the bus rolled, he tried to sleep. In waking dreams, he ran and ran, telling himself he had to, that he’d made the only choice, that he was just as filthy as the rest of them.

 

 

 

Basil Rosa, who also writes as John Michael Flynn, worked as a tobacco farmer’s hand, a commercial lobster fisherman, and a carpenter before earning degrees from Roger Williams University, and the University of Michigan. At the end of the Cold War, he served in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Moldova. He lives and works in central Virginia. www.basilrosa.com

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