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Monday, 13 February 2012

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

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

Sitting on the bed in the windowless wood-panel room, cradling the machine-pistol, the large man considered the other old warhorse from down through the dark and dismal ages – trouble came looking for you, out-of-the-proverbial-blue.
   Yeah. Hadn’t he proved that himself, with the Canadian? When it got so, you just took your licks and hoped to come out the other end alive and in one piece with most of your blood on the inside where it damn well should be.
   The Big Boss had plans though, and that’s how he came to be the Big Boss. And stay Big Boss. By sending messages to employees. If these hard-hearted killers suspected the cover on their little plan was blown, whatever their little plan was…
   Then.
   Pulling guns and drilling him as he screwed the silencer on, that was the time for action. The vital moment. They didn’t do it. The moment, as moments tend to, passed. No one worked up a foaming mouth. Arthur piped up.
   “You figure we’re needing that artillery, Big Guy?”
   “I like to think it sends a message.”
   “We have telephones for the purpose in this country, or hadn’t you heard?”
   “And the FBI, which don’t quite stand for Federal Bureau of Interception, but might-as-well-as.”
   Laughter.
   He continued.
   “I figure throw Benny a curve. He’s downstairs, keyed up to beg. I tell him tough, we’re on a hit and he’s the trigger. This is his chance. His way, of apologising to me. He’ll buy that. I hand him the gun, say we’re driving over to see Machete. We ride.”
   Machete, Big Guy? We’re running a plan here. A time, a place.”
   “So what’s your point, Arthur? My story is Machete’s meeting us there, okay? Unless Machete is here, of course.”
   “We didn’t bring Machete on this job. He’s too scary. Ain’t that right, Jackie. Machete, he’s too scary for this job?”
   “You-got-it-Boss.”
   Jackie-Boy calling Arthur Boss. That’s twice, Jackie-Boy. One more strike and you’re out. For real. Keep the conversation moving. Arthur’s impatient, Arthur’s suspicious. Don’t slip on the ice. For that would be a bitter, tragic, experience.
   “Don’t quite see what I’m cooking here, Arthur? We add my plan to yours. Scare our deluded pal, Benny-the-Rat. He’s working on I’m Sorry. I don’t want to know. Killing the guy, sure. But the begging, the wheedling, the whining. That gets to me. I don’t like.”
   Flickers, back, forth, person-to-person, body-language telephone call, person-to-person, Arthur, Jackie-Boy. Hand movements, eyes, posture. Sweated brows. Could’ve meant absolutely anything, and probably did, too.
   “Then tell us your plan, Big Guy.”
   “Easy. I shake Benny with the maximum scare. Hand him the gun, and talk tough. To regain favour with us, he must whack Machete. Machete’s way out of line these days, so that should make sense to a guy like Benny.”
   “Benny was a messenger, Big Guy. He only fell out of favour when we let him handle the bundles of green stuff.”
   Was a messenger. See. Was. How quick it is, this thing, this, falling out of favour.
   “We’re promoting him way up the food-chain, to Trigger. He ain’t trusted with cash no more. With killing, there’s still-room but less-room for fraud or big-time temptation. Also, with murder under his belt we totally control him. Besides. The point of this exercise is to whack Benny. We’re feeding him a story here, right?”
   “Sure, Big Guy. Guess I had to hear it out loud. If it don’t sound right, he won’t buy it.”
   “Glad you’re aboard, Arthur. Benny wants in good. Throw him a chance. He’ll be all shook up, shook head-to-toe, when he thinks he’s headed man-to-man against Machete. Hey, I mean, Machete, right. With Benny’s mind elsewhere, I whack him. That’s it. I’m saying you want me to make right with the Big Boss, do my share. Fine. Let me do my share, my way.”
   “I dig it, Big Guy. Yeah, we slot your plan in. You know how we run these social events. By certain rules. With special meaning for the misguided.
   “Sure, sure.”
   They’re buying this. What next? Bring Lou into the game, remind the guy he’s there. If it’s off to war with a silent ally on your flank, make sure he knows it too.
   The Big Guy’s mind churned with possibilities. How to test loyalty. Putting a gun to Lou’s head. No. Asking plain and simple would either be great or not, and real stupid besides. For starters remind Lou he’s here, on the battlefield of this room.
   “Hey Lou. Do me a favour. Go and. No, strike that. You say he’s down there on his lonesome, guys?”
   The guys agreed with that appraisal of the situation.
   “Okay. Arthur, fill me and Lou in on the time and place and all. Jackie, do me a favour, huh. Go keep Benny company. He’ll grind that floor out, walking. Or squirm a hole in my furniture, shaking his butt silly with nerves.”
   Jackie-Boy gave Arthur and not the fourth man in the room a look.
   Strike three, Jackie-Boy, you’re out.
   Arthur’s camp-fire eyes twinkled yes, and Jackie-Boy moved. He was stopped by an arrow-shaft of the Big Guy’s words, carefully chosen and timed for effect.
   “Oh, Jackie-Boy. In case things don’t quite stick to plan. When you keep him company downstairs.”
   The pause went with an all-too-meaningful raising-lowering of the scary machine-pistol. Jackie-Boy froze and watched three sets of eyes. Not a sound. No raised wind, no street-noises. Just silence. The Big Guy whispered, mindful of the open door.
   “Don’t sit next to the guy. I might be aiming on the run.”
   They all laughed.
   Lou closed the door on Jackie-Boy.
   The Big Guy, a dead man sure in the knowledge of impossibilities made real, stepped carefully between tigers. One step. The enemy force, placed at ease and divided. Two steps. A silent ally tested, to prove allegiance.
   “Say Lou. I don’t want you nervous, like that time. The factory. You know.”
   Lou laughed and spoke, as he often did, to the room in general.
   “You mean I should take care of some business before we take care of some business? Ha, that was crazy. I kept bitching, bitching, how I needed a leak. And the Big Guy here said no way, not now. I ever tell you that one?”
   “About a million-a-jillion times Lou. I heard that one about a million-a-jillion times. Save your breath. It don’t sound no better told again.”
   Lou smiled as wide as anyone could without busting a face, and launched into another of his famous general announcements.
   “Take my advice, Arthur. You need to go, go, but not in what suddenly turns out to be the midst of a raging firefight. The Big Guy hissed no way, not now, like I said. And just then the fan was hit, if you know what I mean.”
   “I’m familiar with the expression.”
   “Saved my skin. After the fireworks died we scrammed like you wouldn’t believe, and I poured the fastest most relieved leak in my life. I’m telling you, it was fierce. To this day my bladder didn’t know it was empty yet, it happened so fast.”
   Lou headed off, to take care of some business. Arthur shook his head, mock-amusement. The Big Guy was no longer the fourth man in the room, no longer the third. Okay, roll with it. Advancing his dead-man private-plan, he left the soft comfort of the bed and walked to the wall furthest from the door. Lou was closing it when a thought formed from shadowed imaginings.
   “Hey Lou. We’ll fill you in on the plan downstairs. It’ll be more natural in front of Benny. Take a leak, then fix a drink for Jackie-Boy. The Special Reserve. Don’t pour none yourself – you’re driving me. Benny don’t taste none either. He’s to have a clear head for the hit. Make a big thing of no booze his way. It’s another punishment. Here’s the key to my cabinet.”
   The Big Guy moved smart, opened the top dresser-drawer, and flipped a key to Lou. Lou caught it, grinned, finally closed the door, and headed for his bathroom-jolt across the hall. Arthur, laughing at the routine, moved deeper into the room.
   “Nice touch, Big Guy, not pouring Benny a drink as a punishment.”
   “Yeah. Keep the charade boiling. It’s the sneaky touches I’m good at.”
   The Big Guy leaned on the dresser by the far wall. An exterior wall. This windowless room was one of three in the house. Made the Big Guy feel safer. Eliminated risk. Sure, there were plenty ways to eavesdrop. And if someone wanted to listen in, hell, who could stop that?
   But a windowless room can’t have a laser bounced off the glass to lift conversations. A windowless room won’t tell you, from the street, whether or not the occupant is home. Probably why Arthur and Jackie-Boy hiked upstairs to see him. Just to be sure.
   That raised the question of Lou’s loyalty. Didn’t they trust Lou, when they came to the house? Had to be certain, had to know for themselves, walk right into the bedroom…
   Or.
   Was Lou in on it, and took them straight to the target with no fooling? Why fool around, right, if they were supposed to head for a drive anyhow. To save pussyfooting, maybe. Ah nuts to it, there were a million ways to waste time figuring angles.
   Still. Here was this windowless room.
   A windowless room doesn’t offer easy targets from the street. Walls may develop ears, but they are still walls. A windowless room won’t reveal information about a target’s routine. Walls are still walls. A windowless room can conceal certain spontaneous acts as they gratuitously unfold, remember? Sure you do, sure you do. A windowless room doesn’t let heat fly, light spill, or sound leak. Or scent, if it comes to that.
   And it will come to that. A windowless wood-panel room is a man’s insurance, when bullets spray. With good thick walls, panelled, stray bullets likely more or less stop where they hit. If they don’t drill into the walls, they’ll ricochet back. But only as a maybe, baby. More a minor inconvenience than a hazard to life and proverbial limb.
   Better that small chance, than punching through a window into the night sky. A flame, a wave, a hot beacon of destruction, crying over here over here over here over here. Windows – good for things, bad for things. Same could be said of gangsters.
   “Poor Benny, huh, Big Guy. He still don’t get it, right?”
   “Right.”
   The Big Guy’s expensive windowless wood-panel room was built to cover the minor inconvenience of a possible ricochet. Nice panelling. Wood soft enough to take a bullet, and dump a lot of energy in the taking. Bust clean through wood, hit the solid stone wall, and a bullet has choices. The Big Guy ran tests on scale-models in a warehouse, one Sunday. There is a poetic perfection, to the naming and choosing of materials. When lives depend on choices made.
   Some bullets didn’t pass the panels. Others rattled, caught between wood and wall. Two chunked their way into the stone, throwing debris, fissuring. Generally, the idea proved more than satisfactory. No ricochets in tests. The best poetic choice? He thought of the top material as a wood for all seasons.
   One bullet tore through everything. But it emerged from a ludicrous weapon of ridiculous calibre. The Big Guy figured if you had to lug that around inside a windowless wood-panel room, maybe it was for the best that your near-neighbours didn’t see you hefting it back and forth. Because, obviously, you were just plain loco.
   There Lou flushed the john, and here Arthur died in a whisper of bullets aimed for his gravel-heart. The much-reduced sound of the short burst, held in check through the silencer, drowned out by Lou’s sudden startling overture, made no audible impact on the landscape of night.

NEXT BLOG: PART THREE.

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