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Monday, 27 February 2012

THE WINDOWLESS WOOD-PANEL ROOM. PART FOUR OF FOUR.

Posted by RLL for REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE. © RLL, 1995, 1998, 2006, 2012.

“What’s the plan, Big Guy?”
   “Hit the side door, the garage, then drive away. If they’re sitting where you left them, they won’t see you. I’ll pop down, make the speech to Benny. Anyone asks me, Arthur left with you.”
   “Where am I headed?”
   “Three blocks. Park and run back. I’ll load up that angry empty weapon on the bed. Make damn sure your automobile artillery stash is right with the world.”
   “Where’s the gun, incidentally?”
   “Arthur’s?”
   “No, figured you had another.”
   “That’s what I like Lou. The trust between us. Panel, here, by this bookcase.”
   “Heh.”
   “That sums it up.”
   “Any other surprises?”
   “A big one, but it’ll keep.”
   “What’s the angle?”
   “Benny-the-Rat snitched on me to save his sorry skin, but he didn’t preserve a flake of it.”
   “Are you saying he ratted you out on the skimmed take? Didn’t figure you in on that play. Guy like you, takes care of cash. No reason to skim from the Big Boss. There’s no greed in you. I know.”
   “Yeah, well my bank-robbing days are behind me. I’m saying maybe Benny told sleazy wormy lowlife, yet elegant, lies about me. Lies I’ve yet to work my way out of.”
   “Great. Whacking Arthur’s a fine start to unravelling lies. What’s the follow-up, no, don’t tell me. Just, count me in.”
   “Benny. How bad is he beat?”
   “Ah, they knocked him around a little. I figure the creep’s into that.”
   “Hell I hope not, or it’ll be a tough interrogation later.”
   “They were for beating him dead, and stopped, out the kindness of their heartless minds? I don’t buy that. There’s an angle. They slapped him around on account of they didn’t like his face, maybe. An Avon Lady Workover, Big Guy. Strictly cosmetic.”
   “Screwy. Okay. Move-time. I’ve an entrance to make.”
   The Big Guy selected a full clip for the scary machine-pistol, and made it ready to roll. Lou hitched the bedspread, flipped Arthur a very final farewell-salute, then announced, in his general way, dead, thin, gravel-voiced Arthur’s epitaph.
   “Be alive now if he’d learned to laugh at my stories. This guy had no, but no, sense of humour.”
   Silence.
   Taste it.
   The two men, dressed for battle, strode from the windowless wood-panel room. With the flash of a key in the lock, Arthur’s current last-resting-place was, for the moment, secure. They took the stairs like pros giving lessons.
   Lou left by the side door, fast and light, heading for the garage. Out of sight of the gangster-filled room. It’s holding together, dead man. Impossible. And yet it works.
   Silence.
   The Big Guy waited long enough to swallow, and stepped across the line into that den of thieves. It took them a heartfelt heartbeat to register his bulk in the doorway. With the machine-pistol held like a machine-pistol should be, he made his advance a tangible thing.
   “If I’d known you were coming, I’d have baked several cakes.”
   Silence.
   “Or one big one.”
   Silence.
   “What, no lip? I expected some lip. Or is too fat for that, Benjamin? Seems to me Benny you are alive, when we know you should be long-dead. On the take, and still breathing.”
   Silence.
   “Ain’t that a crime.”
   Tombstone silence. You could cut a knife with this atmosphere.
   “Seems to me Benny your fat lip’s pretty thin for a guy half-beaten to death. You want it right here? The other half? You want I should kill you here? For making me look bad with the Big Boss?”
   Smiles around the room.
   Big joke.
   Or jokes. The joke they’re sharing with you, at Benny’s expense. And the other joke, they’re sharing amongst themselves. He didn’t like Benny’s face. Benny knew. And Jackie-Boy’s fingers had just too-casually left the telephone. Well-well-well.
   “Joke’s on you Benny.”
   They heard the roaring car.
   Necks craned, curses were whispered. He studied the terrain. Drinks. Emptied, mostly. These boys figured they’d be off in a hot minute, and had downed the good stuff fast. A cheap-booze-play on the back of an expensive-booze-deal, just to be done with it. The car a memory now, eyes snapped back to his bulk. Man with a gun. Commanding the room.
   Remind them what toughness is.
   “Lou and Arthur, heading out. They want to be there ahead of schedule. You ever meet Machete, Benny? Sure you did. That one time. The Dance-Floor. Johnny Machete. And the Canadian. Heh. Was it good, Johnny-O? Did you have fun? Or was she a ghost?
   Laughter here, there.
   Nothing from Benny, or Jackie-Boy. Jackie-Boy, it might as well be now. He was real restless, fit to die. Men here and there, tables close. Glasses. No glass in front of Benny. Ditto Jackie-Boy. Check, to be sure. Ditto the two drivers, but that last point was worth checking anyway. Stay cool.
   “Word from the Big Boss is to ice the bozo. It’s your job, Benny-the-Trigger, to dull the blade of our wayward friend Mister Machete. You see this scary gun? Okay. You know what it can do?”
   The large man lowered the scary weapon, bringing his aim to bear on Benny’s groin. Benny overused his imagination. When comprehending what this fearsome machine-pistol could and could not do, dear Benny decided fear, not reason, held the key. Now he reacted, sweating from the ceiling down.
   “Sure you do.”
   A flicker at the kitchen door decided him.
   Aiming rock-steady, the Big Guy made a sharp sideways move, and, keeping the gun positioned at the groin-level of a man seated in one of the comfortable chairs, loosed a torrent of bullets into Jackie-Boy.
   When he shot Arthur upstairs he’d been reassured to see Arthur’s thin chest through a slim gap in the gravel-voiced gangster’s shirt. Now Jackie-Boy’s known habit was to wear a vest under street-gear. An invisible vest. Casual. Casual was a crock, though, and the Big Guy knew it. Jackie-Boy’s easy pose in the chair said it all.
   Nasty people shoot the neckline. Some vests have these high-type collars. Nasty people shoot the groin. Aiming for major artery type stuff in the legs. Some vests have a groin-protector extension. But Jackie-Boy sat too easy, too comfortable in the chair, to have an extension protecting his nuts. It would show. So much for easy poses. Jackie-Boy had an easy pose now. Plenty of bullets had him flopped in the chair. Thank comfortable chairs for that one. The world turned, and fate turned with it.
   As the door flashed open, heads were turning in a mixture of panic and unusual calm. The general announcement took plenty by surprise but the message started, and stayed, clear.
   “I’m Lou, this here’s a pump-action. Please, no ideas. The neighbours like their peace and quiet.”
   “Thanks Lou. Okay boys, any minute you’ll keel over courtesy the magic syrup in my booze. For those who think your reflexes are top-notch seeing as you didn’t imbibe, I invite your best shot. I have one of you covered. Lou’s on the other. Benny here don’t count.”
   The room lay as quiet as the silencered assault of the whirling metal thrown from that frightening machine-pistol. They had blood on the air, and sweet death to deal with.
   “Or, try your luck even if you took a drink. There’s only my horse-doctor buddy to save you. I sneak him a call and he coughs up the antidote before you croak. Crazy angle in a nest of crazy angles. A bitter accumulation of facts designed to keep me alive during this violent short-term problem I’m facing.”
   Rigid smiles. Someone, stupid to the last, figuring on moving, settled at the sudden mention of a horse-doctor buddy and telephone calls and crazy angles. He invited the Big Guy’s full attention.
   “Sure, rush me, beat it out me, that telephone call. But I know how long is left, and I know I’ll hold out longer. So sit tight. First you K-O, then. Then I call the doc, but not from here.”
   One guy reached for the dregs of his drink. The Big Guy flickered at him. Everyone watched with a queasy expectation. The lone drinker tensed. Found his voice.
   “Mind if I finish? It’s darn good stuff. Aside from the silly syrup, which I didn’t even taste a hint of, as a by the way. I raise my glass to you, Big Guy. You’re slick. Slick as a puddle of butter, and your shelf-life runs to about the same. I wouldn’t be you tonight, or any night, for all the folding green in the past and present and future of the world.”
   “Thanks. I appreciate the gesture, if not the sentiment.”
   Slumped men, Jackie-Boy-style minus blood, soon slumbered. Calm after storm. The line about the horse-doctor? Bluff. They’d wake a mad kind of sore. For now bluff icing on genuine cake convinced those still with the party that their sleeping beauty buddies relied on the co-operation of the wakeful.
   “You driver boys play ball, they’ll all live. All I ask is you run, run free. And I mean run. Leave the wheels. Don’t come back. Not in this life or any other. Walk in my door or jump through my windows, you better wear a wooden overcoat to save those boys in tall black hats the trouble of fitting you. Big speech over. Benny stays. Now beat it.”
   They beat.
   “That wise, Big Guy?”
   “Letting them run? Or killing Jackie-Boy?”
   “Oh, killing Jackie-Boy was more than wise. Those drivers, though.”
   “They’re sending a message to the Big Boss. Keys, Lou.”
   “She’s under a tree, thataway, two blocks, not three. Figured the quicker I ran home, the better.”
   “Smooth. Do me a favour, huh Lou. Pat Benny down.”
   “Don’t be bashful Benny. I ain’t giving you the full company medical, here, but I aim to be thorough. For my own safety, you understand.”
   Benny glared, concentrating on Lou with a filthy effort, cheap shot, dime-a-dozen rental face. It suited Benny’s hotel-lobby lifestyle, his wayward life, and forecast the manner of his overdue death.
   You sure picked the wrong side to be on Lou.
   “Yeah, whatever you say Benny.”
   You sure picked the wrong side.
   “Okay, I’d say he’s clean, but, hey, he’s a rat.”
   Wrong side Lou.
   “He ain’t packing, though.”
   “You schmuck!”
   Lou hit the kitchen, and retrieved his canvas bag. Stashing the shotgun, he gave large looks to the Big Guy for the rest of the plan. Or what was left of tonight, and life. The Big Guy wondered what Benny knew. Oh, one thing. The obvious thing. What’s Benny’s angle on it? What’s the rest of the plan, too.
   Part one, leave the house with Benny in custody. Otherwise, the Big Guy would have hoofed it out the door with Lou earlier. But Benny is the key to things, somehow. Benny knew he was the key to things? Oh, Benny knew that. Had to. Play it through, Big Guy.
   Benny skimmed. Verboten. Benny lined pockets. Good for Benny. Benny was slapped around, sure. By Machete, who else. Machete loves action. Especially trivial action. Keeps senses honed, without the risk. That’s Machete all over. Benny, not stupid, stops skimming. Then the story runs around that Benny didn’t exactly stop. It was more of a pause, if you follow the drift. Friend Benny is headed for the big hamburger-joint in the sky. Tombstone-tomato-land. We’ll whack Benny, they said. A lie.
   And the beating?
   To make the lie taste good. But you’re sharper than that, Big Guy. Now. You have until those drivers squeal. If they want to confess their mistakes. Say they aren’t stupid enough to call Machete just yet. He’ll eat them, down the telephone line.
   There’s a little time.
   Enough for what must be done.
   Now. Scram. Hide out, slap Benny around. Find Machete, before he finds you. Put it together. Be tough, but be smarter than tough – or you’ll haul Lou down with you. That’d be a crying shame. Suddenly the Big Guy gestured at Benny. The scary machine-pistol was his pointer.
   “We’re taking a walk, Benny. Then we’re taking a ride.”

NEXT BLOG: PORNOGRAPHY. EROTICA. A STORY FEATURING NAUGHTY BITS.

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