Thank you, Disclaimer Magazine for publishing my short story, “In the Closet!”
Bishop’s Lounge was busy and loud and blue with smoke. I sat by myself back in a dark corner booth, contributing my share of smoke and watching Angela. She had come in with a group of work friends and they sat at one of the tables chattering and drinking wine but she seemed distracted and kept looking over at the bar. She had on a black dress to match her black bob. There was also a black wire in her black purse but she was unaware of that.
A giant yellow-haired goon came in. He stood up at the bar and ordered a drink and looked at Angela and Angela talked to her friends at the table and tried not to look back at him. The bartender brought him a drink and he held it up to the light and inspected it. The glass looked like a thimble in his massive hand. He sipped from it, set it down, and stared at Angela some more.
Presently, she stood up and said goodbyes and crossed the room. Her fingertips brushed the goon’s thigh as she passed him. He picked up his drink, shot it down, set the empty on the bar, twisted around, and followed her out.
When the door closed, I left the booth and strolled casually to the window. I watched them go down the steps and turn right at the sidewalk. A few seconds passed. Then I shouldered my way outside, stood on stone steps, and brought out small binoculars. Through an earpiece, I could hear the purposeful click-clicking of Angela’s heels on the sidewalk and the goon’s labored breathing as he struggled to catch up. This guy might be able to toss a car into the ocean, I thought, but he wouldn’t be winning any marathons soon.
They walked to the end of the block and faced off beneath a street lamp.
“Got the money?” he growled.
Angela, looking bored, blew a stream of smoke in his face, flicked her cigarette butt to the sidewalk, and ground it out with her shoe. “Not yet.”
The big man’s face clouded. He stood staring with hot bright slits for eyes, his voice a menacing purr. “You’ve had a week,” he said. “How long do you need?”
Angela shrugged. “Well, I don’t know, big boy. How long can you…hold out?”
Quick as an adder, the big man’s arm shot out from his side and his meaty hand clamped around her arm. She gasped, round-eyed, and the goon held her that way for a couple seconds before letting go, his face a stony Easter Island head. “You think this is a game, lady?” he asked.
Angela scowled at the goon, her face angry and amazed and just a little afraid. She scowled down at her arm and rubbed it. “Why you gotta be so rough, you big ape?”
The goon smiled, gold teeth glittering. He reached a hand into his coat and brought out a wooden match. He studied the match, looked up at Angela and said: “A man’s gotta get his kicks somehow.” Then he stuck the match in his teeth and the grin died and the stone face returned.
Angela said nothing. She kneaded her arm and stood quiet and for a while the three of us listened to the hustle of the city.
Finally the goon said: “Tomorrow night then.”
“Tomorrow night. We’ll do the hit tomorrow.”
Angela bunched up her forehead, put a vertical crease between her eyebrows. “No, I-you can’t!”
The big man took the match from his mouth, looked at it some more, and put it back in his teeth. His heavy-lidded eyes came up to hers. “Listen lady, I don’t expect you to understand how much preparation something like this requires but, believe me, it’s plenty. This isn’t just a run-of-the-mill job. We have people in place. They expect to be paid. Every day we sit still costs money. Capisce?”
“I’m just…I’m having trouble…getting all the money together.”
The big man grunted and turned to go. “That’s unfortunate. I’ll be sure to let Tony know.”
“No!” she cried, taking hold of his lapels. “No, I can get it. I can. Very soon.”
The goon looked down at her hands on his jacket. He looked up and asked: “When?”
He shook his head. “Two days.”
She squealed, hung limp from the lapels. “I can’t get that much money in two days!”
“That’s a shame,” the big man snarled, taking hold of her wrists and peeling her away. He held her there and said: “Guess you should have thought about that before you asked us to whack your husband. You back out now and Tony will be very disappointed. No telling what he’ll have me do.” The gold toothed smile came back. “Maybe I’ll bring toys.”
“You have forty-eight hours,” he said, releasing her. Then he turned and walked.
I spoke down to my necktie: “That’s all we get, boys. Take them.”
Cops poured in from all over. Two stepped out from shadows in the alley. Three piled out of a parked van across the street. Then, the uniforms streamed in from both ends of the block training their rifles on Angela and the big man. Sergeant Hawkins yelled through a megaphone. “On your knees! Do it now!”
Angela and the big man exchanged a glance, hers terrified, his nonplussed, and put their hands up, dropping to their knees. Two uniforms came up behind them, pulled their arms down, and cuffed their wrists. One cop yanked the goon roughly to his feet but the other was gentler with Angela.
When they were standing, I walked over and said to Hawkins: “Letter of the law. Every “I” dotted. Every “T” crossed. I want this one flawless.”
“Consider it done, Sir.”
I nodded to Hawkins and turned to Angela. “Did you really think you could pull this off?”
“John!” she sobbed. “Oh, thank heavens! John, I’m mixed up in something awful here!”
I took out a cigarette and lit it. I took it out of my mouth and looked at it, watched smoke curl up into the night air. Then I looked at Angela. “Better get a lawyer, Sweetheart,” I told her. “I want a divorce.” I nodded at Hawkins and they loaded her, kicking and screaming, into a squad.
Now try this: Bugsy’s Revenge
Thank you to the fine folks at The Horror Tree for publishing my story “Bar Fight” in Trembling with Fear. I am happy to be included!
I was tailing the unfaithful husband of a neurotic client down a dark alley on the outskirts of Rush City when someone slipped behind me and put a gun to my neck. I heard Bugsy’s voice and knew I had a problem.
“Frank Danger, P.I.!” he said with a delighted baritone that rumbled like a dump truck.
He laid a heavy mitt on my back and sent me staggering. Bugsy was a great guy. I thought the world of him. “Hands up!” he said, “Turn around slow.”
I came around to the barrel of a pistol pointed at my chest. I tried not to look at it. “Bugs!” I said. “Long time no see.”
He told me to shut it and waggled the gun around in a careless way I wasn’t thrilled with. “Eight years, Frankie,” he said. “Eight! Do you have any idea how long that is in the joint?”
“Well,” I said. “If I had to guess, I’d say eight years.”
He didn’t think I was cute. His meaty hand brought the gun up to my face and thumbed back the hammer.
“Easy, Bugs,” I said. “I’m not the guy who sold you out.”
He growled and his gold tooth glinted in the electroliers. He said: “I know it was you, Danger. Know why? ‘Cause I paid good money to find out, that’s why.” He puffed his chest, smiled, and showed the gold tooth. “Some of those cops you run with are dirty as me.”
I shook my head. “Bugsy my friend, you’ve been had. However, as luck would have it, I may know a way I can help you recoup some of your losses.”
“Losses?” He laughed. “You gonna give me back eight years of my life? Nah, we’re gonna make this right another way, Frankie. We’re gonna square things right here.”
“Thirty grand!” I said. A drop of sweat slid cold down my back.
Doubt flickered in his eyes. He tilted his head, tried to think. It looked painful.
“Mind if I smoke?” I asked, going inside my jacket. He frowned but didn’t stop me. I opened a cigarette case and took one, tapped it on my lighter and lit it.
Bugsy was skeptical. “What are you talking about?”
“Just a courtesy, Bugs, some people don’t care for smoke.”
“Before that,” he snarled. “The part about thirty grand.”
I snapped the case shut and blew smoke into the fog. “Thirty grand,” I said. “I have a line on it. We could take it, you and me. It’s just sitting there but I can’t do the job alone. Look Bugs, you mind lowering the gun? You make me nervous.”
He opened his mouth to say something, closed it, and eyeballed me suspiciously. The gun came down slowly and hung by his side but his finger stayed on the trigger. “Let’s have it,” he said.
I jammed a thumb over my shoulder. “That shop back there, the one with all the lights.”
He looked past me. “Do-jo?”
He looked like I told him I could fly. “That’s one of them karate outfits!”
I shook my head. “Do you see the word ‘Karate’ anywhere?”
He gawked over my shoulder. “What’s J-Jiyoo…”
“Jiu Jitsu,” I said. “It’s a Japanese dance. You’ve seen it. The guys tiptoe around barefoot in silk pajamas and wave their arms just so. They all wear ponytails. It’s a lost art. Monks invented it three thousand years ago.”
Bugsy stared over my shoulder. He really wanted that thirty grand. He looked back to me and asked: “What’s the play?”
“Simple,” I said. “We go in the front. You handle the Japanese guy while I go back and get the loot. It’s in an office safe but he never locks it.”
“How did this guy come by that much money?”
I winked. “Opium den.”
“Bugsy’s eyes narrowed. “How come you know so much?”
“I’ve been on this one a long time, Bugsy,” I told him. “Just waiting for the right opportunity.”
He suddenly shook his head. “I never knew you to pull no heists. You’re supposed to be a good guy.”
I shrugged. “Good guys gotta eat.”
Bugsy pondered that and asked: “What about masks?”
I waved it off. “Cops won’t put resources on this. That guy probably can’t even ID us in English.”
Bugsy nodded as though he found that reasonable. “Okay,” he said. “But don’t get cute or I’ll cut you down where you stand.”
“Understood,” I said, and we walked over. Once inside the dojo, I nodded to the instructor and spoke Japanese. “Evening, Phil. This guy’s got me hostage. He thinks we’re going to rob you.”
Phil’s eyes twinkled. He put his arms straight up, turned a frightened face to Bugsy.
“What did you say?” Bugsy demanded. “What did you tell him?”
“I told him this was a holdup. I said you were dangerous and you’d shoot him dead if he did anything stupid.”
Bugsy waggled the gun. “I will, old man. I’ll shoot you dead.” He looked at me. “Don’t just stand there. Get the money!”
The phone was on a desk. I had an operator send an ambulance and clattered out the back into the alley. I heard Bugsy say: “I mean it old man, not another step!” Then there was a scuffle. The gun went off and there came a dry, snapping sound. Bugsy began to scream.
“Danger!” he wailed from the floor. “Danger!”
I went down the alley and around the side of the dojo to the sidewalk. A lone set of headlights bounced towards me through the fog. I held up a hand on a hunch and the lights bounced over and stopped at the curb. “Riverside Casino, my good man,” I told the cabbie. “I’m feeling lucky tonight.”
A white ball streaked across green felt and snapped into a triangle of colorful balls. The formation exploded and the balls thumped off rails, clicked off one another, came to rolling stops. Two stripes fell into pockets.
Billy Miller removed a greasy baseball cap, ran a hand through greasy hair, returned the cap to his head, and said: “I hate you.”
Stephen Zander smiled and chalked his cue with a big fist. He was tall and rangy, twenty-seven, with broad, stooped shoulders and fried golden hair. He looked like a weathered Brit-rocker from the Seventies.
“Thirteen over there,” he said and gestured at a pocket with his cue stick. He laid out flat over the stick and his arm made a fluid motion at the elbow. The white ball rolled slowly across the felt, clicked off the Thirteen and the Thirteen inched along – nearly stopped -before dropping with a click into a side pocket.
Zander indicated another pocket and grinned at Miller. “You’re going to school today, son. Eleven off the Fourt-”
A phone buzzed and Zander frowned. He leaned his stick against the table, and dug the phone from a pocket.
Zander stabbed the screen with his finger and an agitated female voice chittered. Zander winced, pulled the phone away, held it out to Miller, and mouthed: “Talk to her!”
Miller frowned and shook his head.
Zander’s smile went away and a scowl took its place. He barked at the phone. “I told you I was stopping after work!”
The phone chirped higher and Zander stormed around the pool table and out the screen door to the parking lot. The door clattered shut behind him.
Miller watched the door and peeled the soggy label from a bottle of beer. He was alone in the small room now and, after waiting a while for the door to reopen, he ambled to the right side of the bar and called: “Becky!”
“Grab what you want, Love!” a woman said from a back room. “I’m cleanin’ the fryer.”
“Taking another bottle of Snakes!”
Miller walked around behind the bar and took out a bottle of beer. He tossed the bottle cap in the trash and laid four dollars on the register, then came back around to the front of the bar and studied the pool table. Fifteen minutes passed before Miller said out loud: “Forfeit,” and chalked Zander’s stick. He took painstaking care aligning each shot and cursed the ones he missed.
With the table clear, Miller leaned the stick against the table, walked around, clattered out the screen door into the parking lot, and was blinded. His eyes snapped shut as hot, orange light warmed them through his eyelids like midday summer sun. He put up a hand and squinted.
Overhead, a circular craft whirled and whirred and filled the night sky. It bathed the world, as far as Miller could see, with orange light so that everything was the color of marmalade. Wind from the saucer swept grit into Miller’s face and he turned his head and closed his eyes. When he did so, the light winked out and the wind stopped and the night air was cool again. It was silent. Miller stood blinking, then saw a crumpled heap across the lot by his car. He sprinted over and knelt down and took Zander by the shoulders. “Stephen?” he yelled. “Stephen!”
Zander’s mouth twitched. His eyes fluttered open, green and clear and intense, and Miller gawked into them.
“Dude,” Zander whispered. “Wait ‘til you see all the shit I can do now!”
The woman sat at the bar and stared into her drink and Harvey stood behind her. He laid a hand on her back and leaned in so his mouth was in her ear. “Did you get it?”
She nodded at her drink.
Harvey sat down. “Beautiful.”
The bartender walked over. “What can I get you?”
“Whiskey,” Harvey said. “Neat.”
“How about you, ma’am? Ready for a refill?”
The woman covered her glass with her palm. The bartender left and came back with a whiskey.
“You don’t seem too enthused,” Harvey said.
The woman didn’t say anything. She pushed an ice cube down into her drink with a straw. It bobbed back to the surface.
“You got the signature,” Harvey said. “The hard part is over. Here, let’s see.”
The woman turned and dug in her purse and handed him a piece of paper. He looked at it and gave it back to her. She put it in her purse.
“Don’t lose that,” he said. “How did you manage it?”
“Just slipped it in the stack. He never reads anything.”
“They won’t suspect a thing,” Harvey said. “That explains everything nice and clean. There won’t be a reason for anyone to poke around.”
“He’s not the type. Everyone knows it.”
“Wasn’t,” Harvey said. “He wasn’t the type. He’s been down since he retired. You said so yourself.”
“Not that down.”
Harvey pointed at her purse. “That letter says otherwise.” He brought out a pack of Camels, shook two out, and offered one to the woman.
“No, thank you.”
He lit one. “What do you want to do?”
“I just wish there was some way to know for sure that we will get away clean. I wish there was some guarantee.”
“Life isn’t like that.”
“No,” she said. “On second thought, I guess I do want one.”
Harvey fished out a Camel and lit it for her.
She exhaled. “But you think it’s safe?”
“I wouldn’t let you do it if I didn’t.”
“What do I tell them, you know, if they do poke around?”
Harvey shrugged. “The truth. He seemed a little down but you didn’t think he was the type. They’ll believe you. Melancholy makes people do crazy things.”
“How long until we can be together?”
“After? I’d say a year just to be safe.”
The woman nodded. “Okay.”
“You’re sure? We shouldn’t go through with it if you’re not sure.”
“I’m tired of waiting,” she said. “I don’t want to wait anymore.”
“Me neither,” Harvey said.
“He’s not a monster you know. He doesn’t treat me poorly.”
“I wish there was some other way.”
“I know but there isn’t. This is the only way to swing the money side of it.” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “Everything will go off without a hitch, you’ll see. We just need a little faith and before you know it, we’ll be together. Did you buy the sleeping pills?”
“Good. Have you eaten yet?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“No? I’m starving,” Harvey said. “Lucky for me, they have great food here.” He stubbed out his cigarette and waved to the bartender. “Can I get a menu when you get a second?”
It was the fire that taught Jeff about miracles. After all, he shouldn’t have been there – Jeff never visited on Wednesdays. “Maybe I’ll see what the old man’s doing,” he’d said and when he pulled into the drive, the house was engulfed.
Reflecting, Jeff doesn’t know if his father would have escaped – so frail was he when Jeff found him, barely visible through the smoke. Jeff’s eyes shimmer. He smiles, grateful. He sees again his hands gripping the skinny ankles, hears anew the screams as he drags his father back into the flames. “Better safe than sorry,” Jeff whispers aloud.