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Monday, 6 February 2012

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

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

Night. Three pairs of hard eyes looked to the fourth man in the windowless, wood-panel, room. This fourth, large, man sat up on his elbows, and absorbed what was said.
   “You have a certain gravel-toned way of being not only direct but also brief and to the point, as the cliché goes, Arthur. He’s downstairs now? Surely he knows. He must. You’re kidding me. Sorry I had to ask, but I just woke, I’m a little woozy. He’s really downstairs and he doesn’t know?”
   The big man on the bed sat still, thinking fast, not woozy. Looking at the three pairs of eyes, back and forth. And back, and forth. Remember now. Keep it fresh in your head for later, in case you have to tell it like it is. Or tell it like it never could have been.
   Lou woke him in the wood-panel box he called a bedroom. Said the boys were downstairs. Now and of a sudden the picture changed, fast-fade to the future. In the no-time of time it took to wake, Arthur and Jackie-Boy arrived. Life-large in the wood-panel room. Gravel-voiced Arthur repeated the news.
   “We brought Benny.”
   Which was direct, brief, and to the point, as the big man had overstated. Faking the wooziness, stalling, he remembered how they found him, atop the covers, in his costly dressing-gown, and asked himself.
   Why am I still alive?
   Killed me? Hadn’t. Killed Lou? Didn’t. Scared to. Is he in on the joke? Maybe that’s the play. Could be. Maybe. If and what-if. Well-well-well, if it isn’t just like the Big Boss. You are rarely simply killed in this outfit. True bill. You’re mostly killed expressly to send the boys and girls a message.
   Keep in line.
   How do the Japanese draw it? Yeah. The nail that sticks out is hammered shut. Down. Whatever. That’s why I’m alive. They’re fixing to see me hammered shut. The nail, for the Japanese, sticking out. Is a problem.
   However, the nail, for the Japanese, hammered shut is not the solution. The very public act of hammering the nail is. No anonymous back-alley death for this corpse. These bastards already see me as a public messenger. A dead man.
   Okay, so, I’m a dead man. So use it. When dead, achieve the impossible. There’s no worry, no failure. Do it. Fix on achieving the impossible. Be dead. Return to life when the day to wear a living face comes rushing in. After the violence. Be dead, secure a strong position, perform impossible things. A desperation tactic? No. It’s being dead, is all. Being dead and winning. Beating stacked odds. Knowing.
   These thoughts and more, and no thoughts, went through the big man’s mind as he sat on his bed in a very richly-styled dressing-gown, with the three pairs of eyes on him, in his fine-neat-tidy windowless wood-panel room.
   Quite a picture, this. Everyone, these grim faces. A pale touch of the nervousness. Sure but scared in the certainty. Thinking they knew what would unfold in the nearness of nextness.
   He slit rather than broke the silence, slashing the air with words.
   “Lou said you were downstairs. I don’t even take that in and, of a sudden, you’re here, talking Benny to me. Benny-on-the-Take. Yeah. Benny-the-Rat. That’s right. Benny-Skim-the-Dollars. Why is he still alive? The deal was, he’d be history this afternoon. What gives?”
   Thin gravel-voiced Arthur was the big man’s target.
   Lou stood close to the bed. Maybe Lou was okay. Jackie-Boy stayed at the door, glancing at rich things. The far-wall dresser, the mahogany bedside cabinet, a plain but costly chair. At the particular shade of the particular carpet in the windowless wood-panel room.
   Forget that. Arthur is the danger here. The serpent on your cheesecake. Arthur planted himself against those bookshelves by the door. His arm missed a hidden hinged panel, inside of which, well. On home terrain, best to reserve and preserve local knowledge.
   Keep it to the self, and not give it to the other.
   Hidden.
   The hidden thing beside those bookshelves was an advantage. Arthur’s body shielded the advantage, turning it into a disadvantage. Sob. Arthur knew nothing of this. Turning the knowledge into an advantage, again. Besides. There were many useful things elsewhere in the windowless room.
   Arthur’s eyes twinkled.
   “The Big Boss had a change of heart. Benny took a beating this afternoon. I could cry. Benny thinks his punishment’s half-over, and he’s here to heave the rest off his chest. Say sorry for making your side of the operation look bad. That’s the real deal. So. There you have the short and sweet and sour of why it is that dear Benny-on-the-Take, our Benny-the-Rat, Benny-Skim-the-Bucks, is not yet dead.”
   “And?”
   “Between you, me, the guys, and your bedpost, big mean words came down from the Big Boss. You do look bad. Okay. Want to look good? You know what to do. Benny-wise, I mean.”
   “Poor Benny. He’s down there, waiting, huh? I guess we’re headed for a business-meeting, whatever, and there’s this very exact destination he don’t know about. And there’s this exact way of doing the deed, as they say…”
   “You-got-it.”
   Jackie-Boy was a man of few unremarkable words. These words were strictly limited, during the hours of business, to Yes-Boss, No-Boss, and his regular catchphrase, You-got-it-Boss.
   For the fourth man in the large windowless wood-panel room, sitting on the bed in his expensive dressing-gown, hearing Jackie-Boy skip the word Boss was not a good sign. Not tonight. Where’s this morning’s respect? Man. If you’re a Little Boss, and not the Big Boss, they still call you Boss.
   So, there’s the clincher. Strike one, Jackie-Boy. Don’t even know you walked up to the plate yet, but, strike one. It connected to Benny, but how? Or, how did Benny connect to…
   Arthur smiled, eyes sparkled. Secrets lay, hidden in flickering. Those eyes, flaming camp-fires in the night, attracting, distracting. Attention zeroed in on the flames, not the figures standing behind. Who are they? Hard to say.
   Shadow-men.
   The fourth man saw these imagined flickering outdoor flames in the rich glittering wetness of the thin gravel-voiced man’s eyes. Not the big secret fanning those flames. Though he could guess that secret, but big. Again, he attacked the silence, fighting for existence from the comfort of a luxurious bed.
   “So. Benny?”
   “He’s sat waiting, real apologetic-getting. We told him, beg for mercy little fish. Tragic. We’d be upstairs because we’re the bigger fish, making the big talk. Choosing the teeth he’ll owe us, when we slide downstairs for that grovelling apology.”
   Shadow-men.
   The fourth man watched thin twinkling-eyed Arthur saying this. It sounded and looked good, sure, but seemed not quite right. They had to kill Benny this afternoon, Benny should be dead. Tough break for Benny.
   Imagine it.
   Be him for a moment. Sure he begged. Guy had no spine. Nothing, a gopher, middle-man. Here there everywhere. Benny-the-Messenger. With a light take from the few money jobs entrusted solely to Benny, two and two made for the source of the missing bucks.
   His time came and they knew he’d beg.
   Suppose they were to, say, let him off. They’d most likely entertained the notion. (String the runt along. Give him a drop of hope.) They’d listened, sympathetic. On Benny’s side. Even as they beat the sap to a pulp, out of genuine concern for his welfare, natch. Regular guys, shooting the breeze.
   And yet. Before it lurched as far as the graveyard, Benny-the-Rat said things worth saying. Benny’d seen the light. Hallelujah. Benny knew, finally and for true, these guys would kill him. So Benny figured he’d snitch a bigger fish.
   Maybe.
   Hogwash? Maybe it happened another way. But this way, though it didn’t look or sound good, looked and sounded right. No one but no one pals with a squealer. Benny, you’re a dead man. You don’t know it, or how to use it. That’s the big fish little fish difference. My ticket out of this. I know that I am dead, and this gives me life.
   “You’re awful quiet there, Big Guy.”
   “Sorry Arthur. Been thinking. Guess Benny’s nervous, sweating down there, on his lonesome. Hey Lou, how’s he look?”
   Was Lou in on it? He could trust Lou. Could he trust Lou? How to test his loyalty. Try the periscope? Means moving Jackie-Boy downstairs and killing Arthur here. Lou seeing Arthur dead. Unpredictable. Lou didn’t have to see. With the carpet that colour and plenty space under the bed. Only one way to know, and it meant.
   Meant not sitting quietly on the bed, thinking. They’ll be shifty any minute. Judging the time for action is as important as action itself. And the time for action had come. The wrong action at the right time can carry a battle, crazy as it sounds. If you’ve ever lived through that, you’re in the know, it don’t sound so crazy.
   Don’t sound so crazy at all.
   Lou swayed jovially in some imagined breeze. This atmosphere, Lou cut with a smile. A smile for the benefit of a general audience, in answer to the fourth man’s question.
   “He took a beating worse than Brando.”
   “Yeah? I bet that’s tough on the skin.”
   “It don’t make for no milkmaid complexion.”
   They laughed.
   The time for action was now. Fierce. Without turning his back on them the fourth man reached to the bedside mahogany cabinet, flipped the lid, and casually lifted some whacked-out designer’s too-fancy action-movie version-idea of what a machine-pistol should be. Scary. All-black, nothing much shiny.
   It took a silencer, and he made a slow deliberate point of fitting said silencer. The whole assembly had the newness which spoke of having come straight from the manufacturer. Such illicit things are easily arranged in countries where corruption is clichéd, and, quite unsurprisingly, also often as easily arranged in countries where corruption is unheard-of. At business-level best, one man okays the deal.
   They watched in an unconcerned, easy-going, way. The same way he watched as they’d filled his bedroom. Lou woke him. Arthur and Jackie-Boy walked into his life, no guns, and he just knew. And knowing, faked tiredness for their benefit. His lone reaction a lack of reaction – the hardest thing in the world to maintain, when two or maybe three killers step into your place of rest without showing guns.
   Real professionals. Diamond-hard guys. Tougher than army boots or the men who filled them. Heaters out and ready, bursting down the door? Not their style. No, not even close. Though they could mix and match in ways which would surprise you.
   Could he trust Lou? Time for action. If they knew they’d lost their element of surprise, they’d kill him right now – no matter what the Big Boss wanted. The Big Boss told these bastards, work to a plan. Yeah. The Big Boss was predictable that way. It could never be go-kill-this-guy. Sure. Mistakes were bound to happen, and they did. Bumps in the road. Mistakes, accidents, the plan gone crazy. It’s easy. The target tries, tries, pulling a fast one, and blam blam blam.

NEXT BLOG: PART TWO.

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