Yellow Mama Archives

Greg Smith
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dancefever.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2019

DANCE FEVER

by

Greg Smith

 

Bronx, NY. 1978. On the floor, in the cold dark of the cavernous basement, we twenty or so patrons sat, our wrists lightly bound. Shadows, cast by our captors in the focused disco lights above, shined through the four-foot, steel mesh-covered  gap between the sunken dance floor and the bar  level and  played out a drama on the foundation wall before us. Speculation as to what the shadows were up to and why this hip, new club had been invaded by armed men ran rampant. Each of us called out what he or she believed gave the best chance of getting out alive.

Then came the execution: a fat figure with bushy hair got seated center stage flanked by four standing men.  He gestured, pleaded with his hands. Powerful klieg lights projected fine shadows of sweat spraying from his agitating head. A deafening gunshot silenced us as the fat man keeled backward leaving legs akimbo.  Some of our group insisted our ordeal had ended.

But the sound of the door to our basement prison opening chilled our hope. We hushed; our group fear stank like old meat. The footsteps of two or more men descended.  Strong hands loosed me of my bonds. They knew I was a police department detective, having taken my gun and badge hours ago. I cursed my hot date for insisting we ride from Greenwich Village to 231st Street and Morris Avenue to dance at Plato’s Cave. She’d heard John Travolta was a regular on Thursdays. Gun muzzles prodded my back so up the stairs I went.

 

They stood me on the dance floor, a man behind me on either side.  After hours in dimness, the bright lights blinded me but at least it was warm. I raised a hand to shield my eyes. The hand got roughly taken down. Blinking against the glare, I made out six figures up on the upper level. At least two held shotguns.  Blood stained the steps leading up to them.

“Brown, Detective Sergeant,” said a rough voice. “We’re here on business. We could be here all night. Those people downstairs, we got nothing against them. But they have to keep it together. That’s where you come in. You’re to keep them orderly. It’s in their interest. It’s in your interest.”

It figured to be the shorter, stouter man looking to get me on his side. 

“It could get messy.  Can we arrange bathroom visits?”

“No.”

“What about the women?”

“No. It can’t be helped. That’s it. Take him down.”

Muzzles reappeared in my back so downstairs I went.

 

“What’s it like up there?” asked my date.

“What’re they doing?” called a man.

“What’re they going to do?” cried a woman.

I spoke soothingly, “They’re in charge. As long as they’re there there’s nothing we can do.”

The New York barrage came at me: “Who are they?” “What do they want?”  “They’ve got no right!” “How long are they staying?” “What are they waiting for?” “Who the fuck do they think they are?”

I had already loosed myself from the retied bonds. They were flimsy. It wouldn’t take long for others to get free. The men upstairs knew that.

“I’ve got to piss,” said my date.

“Me, too!”

“Me, too!

“Yeah, and me.”

“Do it in your pants. It’s the only way.”

“And if I have to poop?”

“Same thing. So don’t.”

“No fucking way.”

“Hey, why did they choose you to go upstairs?” called a guy across the group.

“Yeh, who are you?” Chimed in his neighbor.

“That’s right, who are you?”

“Yea, I mean, who the fuck are you?”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah!”

“Yeah!”

If I told them I was PD it would make things worse. This crowd would want action.  I kept silent.

“Are they even still up there?”

“Yeah, look at the shadows. There’s nothing.”

“You can see their heads,” I countered.

“Where?”

I pointed. “There. That ridge line is their heads.”

“You’re free,” the faraway woman shrieked.

“Yea,” said the guy. “What’s with that?”

“Are you with them?”

“You’re one of them.”

“That’s it. He’s one of them!”

“Or he’s working with them. What did they promise you?”

“He’s saving himself and letting us die!”

“Bastard.”

“Asshole.”

“Cocksucker.”

The faraway guy had apparently freed himself because he sprinted across and threw himself at me.  I stiff-armed him, sending him into a cartwheel over me.

One by one all the hostages popped up free from their bonds. They crowded me; I rose. The men and women shouted curses and snarled. They mobbed up closer and closer until I was backed into a corner.

“You’re all free now!” I shouted.  “Every single one of you is free. You can do whatever you want to do. You can go upstairs if you believe there are no men with guns waiting to pick you off. Go on. It’s nice up there. It’s warm and light.  You can get drinks and use the toilet. Go on, pal. You first.”

The crowd quieted and focused on the man. His anger left him and he trembled. “It’s not so bad down here. I can wait.”

A woman said, “I can hold on. Maybe I got to go, I just go.”

“Yeah,” grumbled my date. A wave of “yeahs” and “okays” filtered through the mob. Then like automatons each prisoner shuffled back to his or her original  spot and sat. I returned to my place. We all quietly watched the shadow players pull two tables together and start up, what looked to me, a card game.




tattooedloveboys.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2019

Tattooed Love Boys

by

Greg Smith

 

Manhattan, 1979. This could’ve been easy. Wring the neck, crush the larynx, watch him suffocate. Toss a bindle of smack on the floor. It’s a drug deal gone wrong.  But nooo, Ms. Moneybags wants an overdose.  Accidental death. That was the order. Maybe it got her an advantage in business. I don’t know. The little guy was famous for some kind of music. Not my business. And I’m not a fan. But now I’ve got this monkey on my back and have to use soft hands to subdue him. Could not leave marks. Could not draw attention from the party downstairs. Who’d have thought a twiggy dope fiend facing a capital murder rap would have so much fight left in him?

He’d submitted to handcuffs easily when I flashed my NYPD badge—his rap sheet said he’d been busted before—but gave me a fish-eye when I shackled his hands in front, not in back. When I pushed him onto the bed and starting cooking the dope in a spoon he’d licked his lips and made clicking sounds in his throat. His eyes got wide when he saw the massive dose. Playing in piss-bucket bands he’d surely seen junkies OD.  He’d gotten wise but played it cool.

Ligations on the wrists could be explained by a degenerate history but I couldn’t shoot him up like that. If he died fast thrashing, I might not get the handcuffs off before hypostasis and the medical examiner would recognize he was bound after death and rule homicide. The manacles had to come off. Wearing gloves made it awkward. That’s when he made his move. He scurried off the soiled bed and I just caught him by his torn, black, club CBGB T-shirt pulling him down.  He climbed on my back. I stood and we whirled around. As I lurched about the dingy downtown flop room, he snarled into my ear. He was vicious. He dug his fingernails into my forearms drawing blood. I’d have to clean those nails after death.

Twisting, I got my hands under his armpits. It was an easy press to lift him straight up—he weighed little more a hundred pounds—as a male dancer lifts a ballerina. He kicked at my back which did him no good; so he kneed me in the back of my head catching the top of the spine. That was not good for me;  I saw stars and my heart fluttered. I dropped to my knees; he went free.

Going for the door he tripped over me. Regaining my senses enough I was on him, picking him up by his belt, and carrying him horizontally. He did a sort of dog paddle with his hands, looking to grasp anything.  I dropped him on the bed, flipped him face up, and lay my big frame over his. He was trapped. Except his shooting arm was loose. He socked me in the eye. That pissed me off. I yanked down on the arm and heard a pop. The arm spasmed but did not rise; his shoulder was dislocated. Fuck. It might be okay; junkies can convulse when they go adios.

As I reached for the syringe, damn it if the little shit didn’t squirm free again. His pallor said he was half-dead, but he still had spirit. Good for him. But enough was enough. Cutting the room off I stopped him with a right-cross punch to the cheek. He stiffened; his eyes rolled back. I caught him, tossed him back to the bed, grabbed the syringe tout de suite, popped a vein, and gave him the full load.

He flopped about like a boated fish. I got up and let him fly. It was hard to watch but I hoped he’d crack his skull on the heavy oak headboard. No such luck. After a few minutes he went. His death rattle sounded like “Nancy” or maybe “fancy.”

Looking at my handiwork I saw a mouse was formed under the eye where I’d punched him. Fucko, that suckoed. But there was no way I was returning my fee  to his mother so maybe I could split it with the ME.






Dance Fever Part II

by

Greg Smith

 

Bronx, NY, 1978. Donna jammed her elbow repeatedly in my ribs. I focused on the shadow play cast onto the basement wall. Our captors upstairs had quit their card game. One man stood and made crisscrossing waves with the straight edge of his hand. Donna’s elbow dug deeper into my side. I batted it away. It came again.

“Can it.” I hissed. She let go a moaning sigh.

Two new figures joined the men upstairs. One wielded a large kitchen knife. Another held an object aloft. It was an oval with frizz. And tendrils. It was the head of the man they’d executed.

“Eww,” cried a few of our crowd.

My date didn’t see it. She whined, “Do you love me, B.K.?”

I looked at her. In the half-light of the subterranean room her features were soft. But anxiety had her eyes wide.

“We’ll make it out of this. Sit tight,” I said gently.

“If we get out of this, I want you to marry me.”

“Sit tight.”

“You got me into this.”

“You wanted to come here.”

“You’re the policeman,” she said too loudly.

A slick-haired Romeo type nearby snapped his head toward us. “You’re a cop? What the fuck have you been doing?”

“Who’s a cop?” cried the woman sitting behind him.

“She says he’s a cop,” said Romeo, pointing a finger at me.

“Where?”, asked another.

“What?”

“He’s a cop,” said another.

“What the fuck?" called another.

A cacophony of loud voices cried louder and louder: “He’s a cop.” “What the fuck?” “Get real.”

The shadow play froze with the dead man’s head being dangled by its frizzy hair. Footsteps clicked on the dance floor overhead. The door to our basement opened. Two men walked halfway down.

A coarse voice shouted, “Shut the fuck up down here!”

A gun exploded with a muzzle flash. We all dove to the floor. Plaster blew out of the opposite wall. I thought of the two-shot Derringer tucked into the small of my back—the gangbangers missed when they frisked me. Footsteps pounded up the staircase again and the door slammed. The odor of cordite wafted in the air. I raised my head. Some others did, too. Rounds of “shhhs” went through the crowd. The men upstairs let loose a round of laughter and jeers.

The Romeo guy gave me a sidelong look. He butt-shuffled over to me and leaned in close. “We’ve all seen them. Are we going to make it out of this alive?”

Under the flashing disco lights I doubted anyone could have gotten a good look at the invaders. And bright lights in my face when they took me upstairs, charging me with keeping order down here. IDs would be difficult.

“Killing twenty-five people wouldn’t be easy.” I said. “We sit tight.”

“I say we set fire to that pile of junk over there. They smell smoke and evacuate. We leave." The slickster produced a Zippo lighter and flicked it to flame.

“Are they going to unlock that door to upstairs before they leave?”

“That door’s not so strong. They go, we can knock it down.”

“You’ll suffocate us all. Put that away,” I said.

He clamped the lighter lid over the fire. “I’m not waiting here for them to murder me.”

I took hold of his wrist and wrenched it. He winced but held the Zippo tightly. His free hand came in. I brought in mine. We locked in battle for the lighter.

“Hey, mister,” whispered a soft voice behind me. “Are you really a policeman?”

Romeo and I both looked to the voice. It belonged to a man dressed like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. He was Latin and thin. His dark irises pierced the dim light.

“You know about the back stairs?” the Latin man asked.

“Bolted from the other side,” I said.

“What about the dumbwaiter?”

Romeo and I eyed each other and forgot our battle. We let loose our grasps; he retained possession of the lighter.

“Show me.” Romeo and I said simultaneously

The man led us to the far wall where he pushed aside a pile of cardboard boxes. A three-by-four elevator was revealed. He lifted one half of the door. The bottom slide opened simultaneously. A dark lift was revealed. I put my hand in it. There rested a steel carriage.

“How does it work?”

The guy pointed to a panel of three buttons set on the frame. “Electric motor. It comes out in the kitchen by the back door. Near the back staircase.”

“Would they have seen the upstairs end?”

The Latin guy shrugged. “Maybe. If they tried the doors they wouldn’t have opened because the lift is down here.”

“We can go up this and out the back door,” said Romeo. He pointed a finger to press the activation button. I batted his hand away.

“It’s an electric motor. They’ll hear it.”

Romeo looked to the Latin guy. He said, “It’s not too loud.”

“They’ll hear it and whoever is in there is dead. We sit tight.”

I examined the operating panel. “Why are there three buttons?”

“One goes to the subbasement. No way out there. Just rats and the sewer line.”

“Okay. We sit tight.”

“Who put you in charge?” barked Romeo.

A chorus of ‘shhs’ came from our fellow prisoners.

“They’re in charge and they’re killers. Go sit down.”

“Fuck you, cop. You don’t run me. You’re just chicken shit.”

The “shhs” came louder and harder.

I grabbed Romeo up under his armpit and bum-rushed him back to the pack of hostages. I said in a low, clear voice, “They hold all the cards. We’re at their mercy. Sit tight and shut up.”

“Fuck you.”

I threw him to the floor, went to my spot by Donna, and sat down. She lifted my arm around her shoulders and snuggled in. It’d been three hours since armed gangsters had invaded Plato’s Cave disco, forced all of us into the basement, and executed the fat guy with the frizzy hair. They’d brought me up to lecture me to keep the prisoners orderly. They’d taken my gun and badge. Since then, from the shadow play on the basement wall, created by the bright klieg lights on the dance floor, they seemed to be killing time, waiting for someone or something. They’d played cards, toyed with the head of their victim, now they lounged. It was two a.m.

Donna had laid her head in my lap and dozed. I stroked her blond hair. She whistled as she did when her respiration slowed for sleep. She hadn’t asked for a lot. She just wanted to be taken out on a weeknight. I felt warmly toward her right now. I nodded into half-sleep.

The acrid odor of smoke snapped me alert. By the wall nearest the vent to the disco room upstairs Romeo was fanning a crackling fire of a small pile of debris. I jumped up. Donna came to. Other dozers woke. Cries of distress filled the basement. Panic ran through the crowd. They ran to the stairway and up it. The forerunners pounded on the locked door. Overhead heavy footsteps stampeded and  voices shouted. I ran to the fire, knocked Romeo aside, and stomped my size-twelve Stride Rites onto the blaze. The sound of an electric motor starting came from the back of the room. It whirred for ten seconds, then stopped.

More shouts and pounding footsteps came from above. Muted explosions of gunfire came from above and to the rear. I finished stomping out the fire. Romeo grinned at me. The electric motor ran again, then stopped with a clang on this level. Romeo, Donna and I ran over and opened its door. The Latin guy fell halfway out. His eyes were open. There was a hole between them. Blood poured from it.

Donna screamed. She ran to the packed stairway. The mob desperately pushed upward.

“Get away from the door!” I yelled, running to the roiling crowd. “Get away from the door! Get away! Get away!”

The two people at the top front heard me and got it. They tried to retreat but the crowd on the steps pressed forth. One squirmed free and dove over the bannister. The other ducked down. A fusillade of bullets ripped through the door. The next two in line on the stairs took them in their heads. Gore sprayed out over the crowd. They screamed and tumbled over themselves and each other. Arms and legs flew in every direction. On the floor men and women in svelte, tieless suits and taffeta dresses crawled for the far wall.

I searched for Donna. She was trapped by one of the dead. I rolled him off her. Her disco dress was soaked with blood. Her eyes were pinned open. She was in shock. I search her over for a wound. There was none. She gagged. Her eyes fluttered. I hugged her.

“You’re O.K. Donna. You’re O.K. Get up. Get up. This is not over. We’ve got to get out of here.”

I dragged her to her feet and half walked/half carried her to the darkest shadow in the room.

I whispered to my love, “They’ll be back. You got to come around.”

The door to upstairs was kicked open with a shudder. Three men descended. Guns were ready in their hands. One was a machine pistol.






Dance Fever Part III

by

Greg Smith

 

 

Bronx, New York, 1978. The three killers descended the stairs guns-in-hands. They stepped over dead and dying club-goers. Fear and gore stank the basement. Survivors crawled for shadows. Disco night with Donna had hemorrhaged into a nightmare. Gang-bangers overran Plato’s Cave disco and imprisoned everyone in the basement. My sugar swooned in shock when the bloody assault came. She was my lookout. We had to survive.

“Brown!” bellowed the machine pistol butcher. He was young. His face was hard. “This is on you, Brown. You had to keep ’em quiet. Sitting tight.”

Some prisoners had charged the door when an escape attempt in a dumbwaiter failed. The death squad opened fire on them. Now they scanned the darkness for me.

“Brown!” called his scum-sucking partner. “come out. Bring the girl. It’s better for you.”

“Brown!” yelled machine pistol.

The gunmen prodded the dead and dying. They eye-balled the living. Smoke from the earlier fire hung in the air. A man broke for the stairs. He took a barrage of lead in his back. Women screamed. Men whimpered. Everyone shrunk into dark corners. My two-shot Derringer and police training were no defense.

I pressed Donna flat to the darkened wall. She revived and screamed. I clamped a hand over her mouth and hauled her off. The machine pistol burped. Muzzle flash lit the void. Plaster exploded where we were. Hostages cried. Donna struggled. I clenched her and ran to the rear.

I dragged the body of the Latin guy—murdered in the stupid escape attempt—from the house dumbwaiter. It fell in a pile. I jammed Donna into the carriage.

“When this stops, get out," I lowed.

Slamming the vertical doors shut, thumbing the down button, I threw a Hail Mary to God. The electric motor buzzed and I crashed to the floor. The gunmen fired a barrage in my direction.

Excited shouts came from the dance floor level. Footsteps pounded into the kitchen. A loudmouth barked: “Kill whatever’s in it,”

The murder squad vacated the basement. I rose and pressed the call button on the dumbwaiter. It lit but the engine did not start. Donna had opened the door in the sub-basement. She was safe. I smiled and edged softly to the stairs. Can I make a break for it?

The men upstairs shouted and pounded the kitchen-level dumbwaiter door.  The engine restarted. I ran back and pressed the buttons madly. The carriage whizzed upwards past me.

Leaping over bullet-decimated corpses, I pushed aside dazed survivors and ran up the blood-slick stairs. The creep with the machine pistol stood alone on the dance floor. He didn’t see me. The Derringer pistol came out.

In the kitchen the dumbwaiter stopped and the door rattled open. The gangsters shouted among themselves. The punk looked to the commotion. No gun shots rang. Donna had sent it empty. Smart move. I stepped into the club and fired both barrels into machine-pistol’s skull.

Gore burst from the punk’s face and he keeled. I grabbed his gun. A slick old dude on a banquet looked at me. I put one into his gut. He gasped and doubled over. I ran for the exit. Footsteps pounded from the kitchen. Its double doors blew open and I sprayed a fusillade of bullets into the first man out. Trigger men behind him fired their guns. I threw myself into the maze of tall cocktail tables and rolled to the DJ’s booth.

“Get that mother...,” ordered the loudmouth.

My fingertips touched a lighting control board. Flipping the master switch and pushing all the levels high flushed the club with bright, swirling light. The mob shouted. One slid across the gore of the hard-faced killer. He danced an inept Hustle and fired blindly in the wrong direction. He hit his own man.

A reel-to-reel tape player stood ready-spooled. I hit “play.” The Bee Gees shook the world with deafening syncopation.

“You can tell by the way I use my walk...”

I directed the show. The dance floor flashed in alternating panels of red, blue, and white. A twirling, mirrored ball descended refracting shards of multi-colored, crystal light. Barry Gibb’s falsetto soared. I sang along. The dancing gangster fools staggered. Picking them off was easy. I made head shots, body shots, and double taps. It was a blood fest. It was a thrill and I loved it.

“Ooo. Ooo. Ooo,” I thought.

Police Intel would report the mayhem was a rival gang muscling into the dance club cocaine racket. That fine white powder crowned itself king of New York nightlife. I wouldn’t care. Each kill brought me closer to Donna.

“Stayin’ alive! Stayin’ alive!”

Yeah, I love her.






Greg lives and works in New York City. Stop by his website The New York Crimes at nycrimelimericksandbeyond.com for fun, free stuff. And please, enjoy!

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