Monday, 20 February 2012


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

Water-sounds swirled on, along, as Arthur hit the soft red-brown carpet with a gravity-greedy thump. Muffled. The wood-panel walls, and, with good reason, the carpet, had an extra layer of padding. Its dark red-brown shade also featured in the plan. You never know when you’ll need mad things. The Big Guy used the room one special time, taking care of some business, in this exact way. Well, not in this exact way, remember? Sure you remember.
   To reminisce about the Canada Girl, now was not the time. And so. Here he stood, gazing at the body of not-so-dear but definitely-departed Arthur. Carpet layout an act of genius, the boys said. Padding. An act of genius, boys said. For the noise. And noise.
   Noise is a killer.
   Held breath sharpened the man’s thoughts as buddy Lou stomped downstairs to fix a drink from the Special Reserve. Step lightly between tigers. Forced to it, continue with your campaign. You have eliminated one soldier in an army. Their General. It’s no longer a deal for backing out of.
   The last living man in the windowless wood-panel room filched a gun from Arthur’s corpse, and slipped it into the dead man’s right hand. For Arthur had been right-handed. Had been.
   Ouch. Had been right-handed. See. Had been. Funny how quick it creeps up on people, this thing. This, falling out of favour.
   Examine your work. Bullets are hard metal expressions, impressions, of energy expended. Those bullets left that gun and lost energy running through the silencer and across the intervening distance. They entered Arthur’s body, losing more energy as they passed into and through and beyond flesh and bone.
   Arthur had something in the way of resistance to put up, as flesh and bone disrupt and even stop bullets, by having energy expended upon them, true. Dear Arthur, however, being a thin man, did not put up much of a fight. His resistance to energy was best described as light, or, mild. Two fine words never once applied to Arthur’s personality itself.
   One bullet sailed through Arthur, into the wood. Splinters popped at the moment of truth. A few spindly spears littered the floor next the corpse. No big deal. Now, the periscope. By the outer wall, behind the dresser, a pipe, unseen, very narrow. Now. Reach down, feel around, nearly, that’s it, find the side-hook, grab hold, up periscope. The perfect answer to keeping an eye on the world outside, from within a windowless room.
   Up periscope.
   This – Lou’s loyalty-test. Concealed periscope, a view of the street. Twist left a little, right a little. Two cars, under the big bright lights. Empty. Figure the odds, figure the odds. The last living man in the windowless room figured, but fast.
   Jackie-Boy hated the set-up, and brought everyone inside. No mention of numbers until now. Just vague knowledge that the boys were here. Maybe they were downstairs from the start, the whole crew, and Lou was in on that. Crazy. Maybe not. Figure the odds.
   What don’t you see?
   People. You don’t see people. How big a crew? Two cars. Four men per car. Arthur and driver, two killers in back. Figure the second car contained another killer, another driver. Jackie-Boy and Benny in back. Eight men. One dead upstairs. Seven men. Okay. Seven men against one. Plus Lou. Eight men against one. Or seven against two. Maybe some help from Benny. But the last living man in the room didn’t bet on it. Eight to one. Seven to two.
   He propped a chair over the bullet-hole, removed splinters, then unloaded his scary gun. After that, he unchambered the remaining round and paused for more thought. Even a few bullets short of a full load might mean the end. So load this gun properly, for the right battle. He reached into the mahogany space, where the spare clips lay.
   Where are they, these men? Safety in numbers. Not on guard outside the house. Too suspicious. Act very casual, they would. Sitting scattered around the room. Scattered. Just in case. Benny, no booze. They laugh, maybe. Lou isn’t drinking, he’s driver number three for the trip to. Wherever.
   The drivers won’t drink. One guess on Jackie-Boy. He won’t either. No. He’s the boy needs a clear head. Him and Machete, wherever Machete is. Waiting. On the end of a telephone. Think fast Big Guy, time it right. Spin this to ten tight minutes. No sooner, no later.
   Timing. The Big Guy made ready. He sat the scary gun on his soft bed after clicking a spare clip in, then stood carefully by the door. Checked the scene. Scene was fine. Well. Arthur-wise. Clip or magazine. Terminology, funny thing. He called them clips, and knew plenty of guys who said magazines. Some named them, individually. This one’s Playboy. And so it went. He called them clips.
   Beside the door, bookshelves. Living coldly on the inside of a hinged panel, a silenced ·22 calibre self-reloader, or what is too-fashionably referred to as an automatic, waited for the moment of truth. A near-pointless weapon.
   For close-in work, covert, two shots, right place, right time, the business. Sure. It fired itty-bitty bullets. But when it made itty-bitty holes in places where itty-bitty holes are not really supposed to be, that made your ·22 calibre as lethal as a slug from a big ·45.
   He opened the door, walked the hall, checked the stairs. No one. He worked back, room to room. Started with a ceiling panel leading to the attic, and ended by flushing the john.
   “Hey Lou, Lou, how are things down there?”
   A door opened. He heard a glass clink. No talk. Strictly scary. There’s over a half dozen guys down there. Lou appeared, plodding his way into the hall. Casually finding himself at the first step, Lou replied, in his general sort of way, craning his neck upward.
   “I been the host of hosts. What gives?”
   “You’re not the only guy needs to take care of some business. Arthur’s dumping for charity across the hall. Do me a favour. Bring clothes. All I have is the fancy stuff. It’s murder tonight, and this ain’t no White Sock Job. Up here it’s this I’m wearing, good threads, a bedsheet, a towel, or thin air. No choice for business. If you’re done, return my key. The Special Reserve ain’t special ’coz it’s cheap. And don’t flash me no look like I’m cheap. I knew before, wiseguy.”
   He wasn’t sure Lou’d buy it. Lou might be fed a line downstairs, and sway to the enemy camp. If their hogwash lit Lou’s red rage, he’d burst in guns blazing – no matter what the Big Boss had planned. Lou had a thing for trouble, tasting it in his sleep. Usually. Awake, with his mind evilly distracted by the crushing needs of a full bladder, things were different. Of course.
   No he wasn’t sure Lou’d buy it. Lou understood heavy-duty weirdness floated in the air tonight, and the Big Guy guessed Lou’s take on it – clam shut. Do as told. Keep your head down, so the bullets miss. If they hit, hope you’re packing clean underwear.
   Be cool tonight, Lou. This night of all nights. No, he wasn’t sure Lou’d buy any of this. But the Big Guy’s I-ain’t-cheap crack saved it. Lou shrugged, grinned, and did as asked. First he went into the main room, where the boys lounged. Grouped at the cars, they’d trashed cigarettes when Jackie signalled. Then floated in from under the glare of the big lights.
   Floated in, on rubber soles.
   Second he started to shut the door, when he heard another flush from above and the Big Guy called to Arthur about dealing with a little problem. This time Art definitely had to do his own dirty work.
   Third Lou shut the door and walked through the room full of men, scattered around, then marched into the kitchen beyond, where a pile of laundry lay. He had pairs and pairs of eyes watching him on the return trip. Opening the door to the sounds of another frantic flush, he turned and made what could have been a funny comment about Arthur.
   “How come it always sticks at the bend in some other guy’s house, never your own, huh.”
   No one laughed.
   Upstairs the Big Guy kept busy, rolling with it. He moved along in his shoeless feet and swish-swish dressing-gown. Time not to overdo the flushing. Let that ride. Time to bring Lou in on it. Or kill him, at the periscope.
   Surprisingly, no one burst in.
   Pause. Reflect. Instigate action. That half-plan with Arthur’s right hand went nowhere. The Big Guy stashed machine-pistol shell-casings and Arthur’s gun in the mahogany cabinet. Then, casting off that very richly-styled dressing-gown, he matched corpse to underside of bed in unholy wedlock.
   No drag-marks, no drag-sounds.
   Some blood on the carpet. So what. Some blood on the Big Guy. A red cloth filched from a handy drawer fixed that. Ditch the cloth where it don’t matter. Down periscope too. Next. The fan, probably the last detail.
   What do you see…
   Damp patch on the carpet.
   What do you hear…
   Arthur’s real quiet under there.
   What do you touch…
   What do you taste…
   What do you smell…
   Okay. Gunfire smell. Blood smell.
   Hit the fan.
   An extractor-fan. Essential, with a high degree of living involved. That, and no windows. The system wasn’t too noisy. Very efficient. The Big Guy banked on Lou accepting the sound. Fans are funny that way. Switch them on, and you hear noise. Soon, the racket is background noise. You leave the room and walk back in? It’s like a bomb exploding, that noise. But you assume it was always present.
   The same phenomenon of memory applied to the sense of smell. You sit in a room with a smell, paint say, and it fades. You leave, you return, and boy does that stuff hit you in the face. Bet on the fan taking these vile incriminating scents away from Lou’s bank of first impressions as he comes in the door. Bank on the fan distracting him a little.
   Was it on before? It was on before.
   The scary gun lay on his bed. A viper at rest. The ×22 he made sure of, in its hinged hidden home. Whisking on the rich dressing-gown, he answered Lou’s knock at the door. Hoping that everything was in place, and made sense being in place.
   “Big Guy.”
   “Arthur’s dealing dirty work on the throne. Come in, and close the door. That the best you could do? Where’s the key I gave you?”
   “You asked for these rags, and here’s your key. What gives tonight?”
   “Who knows? It turned screwy. That’s Benny for you, I guess. Do me a favour, will you, check the periscope. What’s happening on the street?”
   Lou do this, Lou do that. Jackie-Boy do me a favour. What’s with you tonight? You want your shoelaces tied too?”
   “I ain’t wearing shoes. What’s with me is I’m dressing, so turn around. I’m bashful. We’ve a lot on tonight, it just occurred to me to check the periscope, and you’re here. I’m dressing. It’s convenient. You understand convenient?”
   “Sure I understand convenient. That’s where nuns hang out. Seems to me you’re having plenty of these sudden just occurred to me type thoughts tonight, Big Guy.”
   “Yeah. It’s that kind of night. What you see?”
   “Nothing on the street, except the cars out front.”
   “Two cars?”
   “Yeah. Two cars, eight seats. So, two drivers. Three triggers. Space for Benny, Arthur, Jackie-Boy. Neat. Planned. Scary. Everyone’s downstairs. I figure Jackie-Boy didn’t like your set-up, and he sent the signal. Come-on-in. It don’t look good Big Guy. Seven to two odds. It don’t look good, not by anyone’s figuring.”
   “What are you blabbing about, Lou?”
   “Here I am, my back to you, looking down this periscope. Lying on the bed, a big scary gun. Itching for action. You fix it up so it’s empty? Y’think I bought that Arthur-in-the-john routine? Think I didn’t spot the sound of that fan? Think you swept those scents away, in so short a time? Besides, Arthur ain’t in the john, and I make that seven of them to two of us.”
   “Walk right now Lou. It’s my fight.”
   “I don’t much care for Jackie-Boy, Big Guy.”
   “And I don’t much care for Machete, Lou.”
   “You figure you’re headed for a cement-rendezvous with Machete?”
   “Who else? Me and Benny, we’re both slated for the treatment.”
   “You decent? We ain’t much time.”
   “Sure. I’m dressed. Turn around.”
   “Where’s Arthur?”
   “On vacation.”
   “How long?”
   “It’s a six-foot vacation.”
   “Under the bed, huh?”
   “For now.”
   “What do you need?”
   “They scattered around?”
   “Yeah. In case you’re aiming on the run, or something.”
   “You pour those drinks from the Special Reserve?”
   “They all wanted in on the good stuff when I offered. Except for the two drivers and Benny. Being Jackie-Boy, Jackie-Boy declined.”
   “Verboten. You said I’m driving, so no.”
   “Good. It’s spiked.”
   “That’s what I like Big Guy. The trust between us.”
   “Didn’t know if you were their man on the inside. I figured if you grabbed the rigged machine-pistol, I’d whack you. Or, you’d be smart, and we’d talk. We’re talking.”


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