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ellistheace.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2014

ELLIS THE ACE

 

By Ross Peterson

 

          I've been smacked with a baseball bat about thirty times. I'm in the trunk of a Cadillac and I could tell you all about my life flashing before my eyes . . . but I don't aim to bore you. I'll tell you instead about how I wound up in this trunk, duct-taped into the fetal position, ten minutes away from my final plunge into the Corroco River.

***

          It was a cold day and there was a blizzard.

          The Duke had sent me to make Ellis “The Ace” Kracauer cough up his, uh, late fees. I'd never met the guy but he had a hell of a reputation: he was the type who'd have a Masarati in his garage one week and the next it'd be gone—the kind of guy who'd show up to work with a black eye and cigarette burns all up and down his arms saying, "Yeah, I fell on some grilling equipment." From everything I'd heard about him, it was a wonder he hadn't split town years ago. He owed everybody something.

          I'd just knocked on the door of his quad-plex apartment when, in the parking lot, I heard an ignition start. "Mickey fuckin' Mouse," I said, and he sped off in some semi truck with no freight. I hadn't bargained for a high-speed chase. At least there were no cops on account of there being no traffic, on account of it being a winter weather advisory.  

          By the time he'd made it out onto the highway, I could hardly see the bastard through the oblivion of white hitting my windshield. I was clutching the wheel on my Buick, gritting my teeth so hard it broke the filter on my cigarette. I couldn't see much, but I saw Ellis's rig spin left then right—like a dog in heat wagging its tail. And then he barreled into the snow. A deluge of white gushed from under his wheels as he jammed the brakes. He spun 180 degrees in a cloud of black exhaust. He would have spun the full circle, but his rig toppled over like a bowling pin. 

          I carefully lurched the Buick to a halt in the snow on the side of the road. Great, just great, I thought, I was going to have to beat the money out of this clown then ask for his help getting my goddamn car out of the snow . . . assuming he'd survived the accident. 

          I got out and trudged to his truck. Ellis had crashed right by a barbwire fence that separated the highway from some rancher's pasture, which was all washed over with snow that converged in one fluffy, nipple-looking mound right beneath the hills. 

          I pulled the door of Ellis's rig open. He was sprawled out over the dash like a worm. He was grinning. He had a bunch of tin foil wrapped around his head . . . and he wasn't wearing any pants. 

          "Hey, uh, Ellis, buddy. You, uh, you okay?" 

          "Ssssshhhhhhh! They hear everything." 

          "They who?" 

          "Cleveland. They have reached Cleveland." 

          "Who, uh, who's reached Cleveland?" 

          "Them." 

          "Listen, I work for the Duke. You owe him 20 grand. You good for it, or am I gonna have to knock out your fuckin' teeth?" 

          "They cast shadows . . . but are without physical manifestation." 

          "Buddy, you gotta lay off the fuckin' acid. I don't give a shit who's in Cleveland, or, uh, about your fuckin' shadows. 20 grand. Cough it up."

          "They've known for years: politicians, pundits. They're silent because they're in cahoots."

          "Hey, I enjoy this just about as much as you do. I don't wanna have to break your fuckin' arm. So I'm gonna ask your crazy ass one more time. 20 fuckin' grand. Do you have it?" 

          Ellis scratched his face until it almost bled. "We can't speak. Not here. It's not safe." 

          "Oh yeah? Why, uh, why's that?" 

          He didn't say anything. I looked into his eyes. He looked truly terrified—like he believed this shit. "Ellis?" 

          He whispered into my ear, "The shadow people do not make bargains. They're here to uproot—to destroy. Their project could engender a better world, but not without pain and suffering first." He grimaced, laughing a little, and dug his fingernails into his neck. He was creeping me out, but I couldn't help feel sorry for the guy.

          I said, "Okay." He sure as shit didn't have any money. I clenched my fist. Here it goes. This one's for the Duke, I thought. But I couldn't hit him. I'd hit all kinds before: mayors, junkies, pimps, shoe salesmen, lawyers, doctors, professional athletes . . . but never a sick man. And Ellis was a sick man. 

          "Go," he said. "Hide." He blinked rapidly then grinned. 

          Driving back, I decided I'd tell the Duke that Ellis had left town. Nevada, maybe; he could have some of his guys down there look for him. I just couldn't bring myself to hit the man. He was so scared and crazy.

***

          . . . so scared and crazy . . . scared and crazy. You want to talk about that shit? That's what the hell I am, bumping around in this trunk because one of the boys saw Ellis up by the border in a Tommy Bahama shirt with a neatly trimmed mustache, a pair of dice bouncing around in his palm, Marti with the big jugs hanging on his shoulder, and he was lucid as a son of a bitch, laughing, drinking scotch, and upping the fuckin' bet with a bunch of Norwegians. 

          And damn it all to hell. I could have hit him.



snowplow.jpg
Art by Brian Beardsley 2014

The Snowplower

By Ross Peterson

 

            I can still see those eyes looking at me from behind the flames. We were all outraged—livid. I mean, hateful.

          It'd been winter. We were all a little stir-crazy. We'd gotten drunk. Nightmare on Elm Street had been playing cable. It kills me, really, how easy everything would've run had we been patient—played by the rules. Gornick, after all, hadn't done much, avoiding incrimination. The tracks in the snow—they'd painted a picture—a goddamned vivid picture.

          We lacked witnesses, but were close. A couple more days, waiting on forensics, we would've had him, turned him over to the state.

          It'd been the liquor that'd done it to us. That, or the thought of some goddamned city lawyer coming in, circumnavigating the law, and Gornick walking. We acted quick; hadn't been any thinking that went on, really.

 

          It's after the witching hour and I ride down Main, past flashing red stoplights, dead air on my scanner. I sip coffee from a styrofoam cup, weary, steering with my free hand. There've been no DUI's, DID's, or DIP's this night—no escaped livestock, either. It's these dead, slow goddamn patrols that kill me, give me the visions of federal prison.

          It's been twenty years, by God. Twenty years almost to the goddamn day since Gornick ran those kids off the Swan in his snowplow, committing what'd been the town's first multiple homicide since the mining days.

          I know I ought not to drink on the job. But it's too quiet, too dead; my goddamn mind's too cluttered. And I know they're coming for me. Like the snakes in the goddamned grass, the feds'll get me. I don't know when, but they'll turn me up. My luck's gonna run out.

          I pull, from my glove box, a pint of Rich and Rare. I dump some in my coffee, take a lukewarm belt. I guess you'd have to ask a damned police psychologist why I'm doing what I'm doing now, but I hit my ignition and head towards the Swan.

          I pass two headlights on the way up. It's Jenkins in his new truck, a Silverado. He's on his way home, no doubt, from another graveyard at the mill. I wave and he waves back, lightly lifting four fingers off his wheel. Then I pass some scattered trailers on the edge of town, before the hill. 

          I thought about how we'd stood there, laughing, screaming, in a raving whiskey fever, watching Gornick and his plow go up in that jack-o'-lantern pyre. We'd trapped him, right where I drive now. We'd pelted at him a hundred water balloons full of gas, set him ablaze with a couple Molotovs. Goddamn those eyes, how he'd looked, sitting there still while he burned, like it'd been just another road to plow.

          My headlights cut through the blackness and I flip on the four-wheel. I drink until my pint's gone. Then I pull over in the snow for a piss. I get out, yellow some, realize I'm drunk. I reckon I'll stay here awhile, think.

          I'm about to zip up, but I hear, from just up the road, a motor and a beep. It can't be but a few yards away. I slap my face trying to sober up. It looks bad, after all, being drunk in the middle of nowhere on duty.

          From the darkness its headlights intersect with mine. I squint to see the vehicle behind them.

          It’s irrational, I know, but a chill runs up my spine when I see it's a snowplow, an old juggernaut, beat to hell, looking like some aborted military experiment from the first World War. It's a headachy orange, dirty gray.

          It halts and, unconsciously, I've drawn my .45. Its door creaks open—just wide enough for a UTS pump action to poke out.

          "Drop it," a voice says. I don't know what else to do but obey. "Hands up."

          A booted foot kicks the door open wider. I raise my arms. "You Garcia?" the voice says.

          I nod and the door opens wider. From under the dome light I make out the figure's face. He's got a mustard bottle nose and he's bald with a few strands of yellow hair. One tooth protrudes from his lower lip. He's got little, blazing eyes. Eyes I know, eyes I've seen.

          Fucking Gornick.

          And in the passenger seat I see a charred black skeleton. The driver says: "Get in my plow, boy. My daddy and me gonna have a word with ya . . . ya hear me, you fuckin sonofabitch? Huh?" He chuckles. "I say get in my plow, boy. Me n' daddy gonna have a word with ya."




Ross Peterson is a writer from Montana. His work has appeared in Pulp Modern, Yellow Mama, Smashed Cat, and others. He also reviews films for Horrornews.net. He loves board games, and you can find him on Twitter. 

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