Mike Landrieu

As I sit alone in this small church, staring at his casket (a casket, by the way, that cost more than the building it sits in is worth), I can’t help but smile to myself. This is where it had started all those many, many years ago. Mike could have had one of those large, ostentatious Hollywood funerals, but he had asked me to ship him here on the QT. He wanted only one mourner … me.

I first met Mike Landrieu when I was thirteen, the year was 1935. I had run away from home, such as it was. The old man was an abusive drunk and my mother had given up hope years earlier. I hitched myself a ride with a salesman heading west and we got as far as this town when his Ford Model A blew a tire. Not wanting to wait around while he patched the tube, I grabbed my grip and bid him good-bye. As I look back on it now, that blown tire was fate knocking at my door.

While walking through town on my way to the highway, my eye caught sight of a small billboard in front of a burlesque house. It wasn’t the listing of the acts that drew my attention; it was the picture of the star, Rosita Royce. And as many a thirteen-year-old boy can attest to, that is all it took to stop me in my tracks. Having nowhere I had to be and no one waiting for me when I got there, I took myself around to the back to ask for a job.

I walked through the door, which was propped open, and was immediately accosted by Pop. There was a “Pop” guarding the stage entrance in every house. From the grandest in New York City to the third-raters in little towns like the one I was currently in. The man who halted my ingress inquired as to what I wanted and who I wanted to see. When I informed him I was looking for a job, he laughed and said, “Ain’t you heard, boy? There’s a depression going on. There ain’t no jobs nowhere, and if there was a job available, it would have been snatched up long before you showed.”

When he had finished speaking, he slit his eyes, and looking at me sideways said, “How old are you?” I was big for my age, so I lied and told him I was sixteen. I don’t think I fooled him much.

Just then a man walked up and asked, “What’s this, Pop?”

“This here boy is lookin’ for work, but I told him we don’t have none.”

Turning his full attention in my direction, the man asked me my name. When I told him, he stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Mike Landrieu. I run this house.” After we shook hands, I took stock of the man. To me he was ancient; he must have been all of twenty-five. He told Pop that he was going out for a “bottle and bird,” which I later learned was the term show people used for a meal.

“Why not come along?” he asked. “I’ll treat you to some donuts and milk and maybe we can find a job for you.” The short of it is, Mike hired me as his assistant and gave me a room at the back of the theater in which to live.

I liked working for Mike. It was quite an education. He kept me busy, and he taught me the business. It was just a third-rate Burly Q, but Mike ran it first-rate. Even though he was young, he was known as Uncle Mike to all the acts that came through. About a year later, Mike upped and said we were going to Hollywood. He had sold the place.

We hit Hollywood on a dusty, wind-blown day. Back then there were still some orange groves around town and the wind was kicking up an awful fuss … blowing the loose soil around till it was hard to see the road before us.

Mike knew so many people in the business that it wasn’t long before he was representing some of them to the studios. One thing led to another and before we knew it, Mike was a big-time Hollywood agent.

I left Mike in ’55—with his blessing—and started my own agency. Being as busy as I was, I didn’t see Mike as often as I would have liked. I think it might have been six months since I had last spoken with him when I got the call. It was near 2:00 a.m. and I was in bed with a girl from Omaha who thought she was going to be the next Bette Davis.

I picked up the phone and Mike said, “Howdy, partner, I need you.” There was a tremor in his voice that brought me full awake. “Can you come over here right now?” he asked.

I was out the door before the would-be starlet could object.

I pulled into Mike’s driveway and noticed a strange car parked there. I didn’t knock, but went right in and found Mike covered in blood.

“What the hell happened, Mike?”

“I don’t know. She attacked me with a knife, she just went crazy!”

He pointed towards the bedroom. Sprawled across the bed lay a woman on white sheets soaked in crimson blood, glistening in the dim light. I turned away in disgust. Mike had followed me into the room, he was crying.

“Mike, tell me what happened here.”

“I just don’t know. We were going … going to … you know. As she was taking off her clothes, she was telling me about how she had a small speaking part in a Warner’s film. I said something like, ‘Good for you’ or ‘Enjoy it while you can.’ Then she suddenly ran from the room and came back holding that kitchen knife,” he said, as he pointed toward a knife on the floor.

“I don’t know what set her off. I just don’t know.”

I turned Mike around, walked him to the living room, and sat him down on the couch. I retrieved a bottle of Scotch from his liquor cabinet and poured us both a stiff one. “Okay, Mike … no bullshit, tell me!”

He downed his drink in one gulp and said, “She was a honey I picked up down on Wilshire. You know, that little hole-in-the-wall off Pico. She said she wanted to go home with me and I thought that would be a good idea. She followed me here in her car. Everything was going swell. I made drinks and we talked for a while. Then she made bedroom eyes at me, stood up, took me by the hand and led me into the bedroom. The next thing I knew, she was trying to stab me with that goddamn knife.”

He stood and poured himself another drink, then continued: “We fought for the knife and, as I wrenched it from her hand, it slipped into her throat. It was an accident! I tried to stop the flow of blood, but I just couldn’t. She was on the bed just like she is now. She slowly smiled at me as the life seeped out of her.”

Mike started to cry again.

“What do you want me to do, Mike?”

He did not answer. I don’t think he heard me.

I placed my hand on his shoulder. He had been like a father to me. He was the only person that had ever treated me right. I knew what I had to do.

I went into the bedroom and rolled the woman up in the sheets. The blood had soaked through to the mattress, but that was of no concern at the moment. I carried her outside and placed her in her car. Then I went back into the house and retrieved her purse. Her car keys were in it.

Mike was in a trance-like state and had no idea what I was doing. I told him to have another drink and not do anything until I got back. He nodded numbly, and I left Mike Landrieu for the last time.

I drove the woman’s car out to Malibu and left it in a parking lot of a restaurant on the beach. I had trouble finding a cab, so it was a while before I made it back to Mike’s.

I went in to find my old friend sitting in his favorite chair. He was dead; he had shot himself. There was a note in his hand. He wrote that he could not live with what he had done. He asked that he be buried in the town where we first met. And he thanked me for being his friend. His friend? The sonavabitch saved me when I was just a snot-nosed kid without a dime to my name!

I took the note and left. Let the cops figure it out.

I sit here alone in this podunk town with only my memories … and the body of my friend, Mike Landrieu.

This Time Tomorrow

Reckon I’d better start at the beginning. Reckon I’ll tell it all. I first met her up at Grayson’s Creek. I had just bought a pair of new boots and my feet were hurting me something awful. With my feet cooling in the water, I was thinking of things past. I’d been back from the war a year by then. Four years of marching and fighting them bluebellies, my feet never did hurt so much as they did that day. Ol’ Robert E. and them other generals rode horses everywhere they went. Us privates walked the whole damn war.

Softly, she came up behind me. The first I knew she was there was when she giggled. I turned to see a young girl no more than sixteen years. She was smiling.

“Whatcha doin’ with your feet in that water?” she wanted to know.

“What are you doin’ sneaking up on a peaceful man just mindin’ his own business?” I asked in return.

Her hands clasped behind her back, she took a tentative step closer. Still she smiled.

“This is my husband’s land and I have a right to know who’s trespassin’ through.”

“You married?”

“Sure ’nuff. Husband’s name is James Foster. He’s a big man in these here parts.”

“You look kinda young to be married.”

She pointed her chin skyward. Eyes veiled, she said, “Us mountain folk marry young. But James is a lot older, he’s thirty-one. I’m his second wife. His first wife, Anne, took sick and died two years back when the cholera passed through. Not that it’s any of your business.”

“The name’s Tom Dula. What might be yours?”

“I’m Laura Foster and I’m mighty pleased to meet you, Mister Dula.”

Without asking if she could, she came and sat down by me—her feet splashing in the water next to mine; she had no shoes to kick off. “Well, Mister Dula, what brings you to this neck of the woods of Tennessee?”

She was pretty. Keen grey eyes. A pert strong chin. Dimpled cheeks that blushed as she wiggled her toes in the cool, clear water. Her hair was dark and loose and fell to her waist. Her fresh young white skin, translucent in the bright sunlight. I took all this in as I was formulating in my mind how much I would tell her. For some reason, I wanted to tell her all of it. I was twenty years old and on the run from the law. I had killed a man. But in the end, all I said was, “Had me a little trouble over in North Carolina. Thought it might be best if I hightailed it outta there until the dust settled.”

She tilted her head and nodded as though she understood. As though she was wise beyond her years. As though she wasn’t a little wisp of a thing. As though my heart wasn’t hers for the taking if only she wasn’t married.

I pulled my feet out of the water and put on my boots. “I gotta be movin’ on, little missy. No time to tarry further, gonna be dark soon.”

Her smile faded, her eyelashes fluttered. “Thought I might invite you to have supper with me and my husband.”

With one foot in the stirrup, my hand on the horn, I hesitated. Perhaps for a moment too long to her way of thinking.

“You wanna eat with us or not?”

She looked hurt. “I’d be right proud to sit at your table. But how is your husband gonna feel about you bringing a strange man to his home?”

Her eyes grew big and round. Her smile returned. “You just leave James to me, Mister Dula.”

I should have gotten on my horse right then and there and rode out. But I did not, to my everlasting regret.

Their cabin wasn’t but a mile from the creek. As we came into the yard, a man who had been chopping wood stood straight and tall. The axe held loosely at his side. His eyes followed us up the path. His manner was neither friendly nor hostile.

“Where ya been, Laura? Ya know there’s chores to be done.”

Laura brushed her hair behind her ears and straightened her back. “I was just down to the creek and came upon this nice gentleman. His name’s Tom. He’s from North Carolina. I’ve invited him to have supper with us.”

He gave his wife a look I couldn’t interpret. He nodded at me, but no smile was forthcoming. “Does Tom have a last name?”

I started to say something, but Laura beat me to it. “Of course he does, silly. It’s Dula.”

“Well, if Tom Dula is going to eat our food, he can help with the wood chopping. You git on inside and lay the table.”

Without a word, Laura turned on her heels and went into the cabin, leaving us two men staring at one another. I rolled up my sleeves and walked over to the man. Holding out my hand, I said, “I appreciate you having me, Mister Foster. I’d be happy to chop all the wood you might need.”

He shook my hand and at last favored me with a slight smile. “No offense, mister. But Laura’s been gone half the day, leaving her chores undone. It kinda threw me for a loop when she walked up with you.”

I started in on a log at the ready while James Foster picked up what he had chopped and brought it into the cabin. I got me three logs cut and was just starting in on splitting them when Laura called from the door. “Supper’s ready. There’s a basin and pitcher up here on the porch. Get washed up and come on in.”

The cabin looked fair sized from the outside, but had only one room. In the far corner stood an old wood stove. I was surprised to see they had a short-handled pump attached to a thick wooden plank that also served as a work counter. The bed was on the opposite side. Right smack dab in the middle of the room was the table with four chairs arranged around it. James Foster sat facing the door with a napkin shoved in his collar. He looked ready to eat. Laura, standing at the counter and still barefoot, had put her hair up. I liked it better loose.

“Come in, Mister Dula, and have a seat,” she beamed. Her husband had lost some of his reserve. “Yes, boy, come on in. You’re welcome at our table.”

The food was good. I hadn’t known how hungry I was. I told them a little about myself and a few war stories. When Laura pressed me for what kind of trouble I was leaving behind in North Carolina, her husband said, “Ain’t none of your concern, girl. Let the man eat in peace.”

After supper, as Laura cleared the table, James and I took out our pipes. I offered him my pouch. “Here, try this. North Carolina is known for its tobacco.”

Him and me chewed the fat for a bit. Then I figured I had stayed my welcome. “I thank ya’all for the vittles, but I reckon it’s time I was movin’ on.”

Laura, who was at the pump cleaning the last of the dishes, turned around and said to James, “It’s late. You think it would be alright if Mister Dula slept in the barn tonight?”

James had warmed to me as he smoked my tobacco and did not hesitate. “Good idea. Fetch him a blanket.”

After lighting their spare lantern, James walked me out to the barn. “While you unsaddle your horse, I’ll pile up some hay for ya. You’re lucky it’s springtime and not winter. You should be comfortable enough. If you have need, the convenience is behind the cabin.” It was a lot better setup than I had anticipated when I had hit the trail that morning. James bade me a good night and left me to myself.

Before turning in, I watered my horse and gave him some hay to hold him over until I could replenish the oat bag hanging from my saddle.

Lying there alone in the darkness, breathing in the smells of a Tennessee barn, I confronted my demons and wondered how I’d gotten into the fix in which I found myself. Sure, I had killed a man. Ol’ Jake Parsons. It was in self-defense, but no one had seen the act. He was drunk and I was drunk. No one had seen him lunge at me with a knife clutched in his hand. No one saw us tussle and fall. No one saw the knife pierce his heart but me. He was well-respected. I was a nobody. By the time I realized what had happened, people were starting to gather. Murmurs were going around that perhaps justice would be best served with a quick hanging. No need to trouble the sheriff. I pushed through the crowd and made for my horse before more people showed up. I was one step ahead of them and made it out of town before they could coalesce and pursue.

I would have to make miles in the morning. Word had certainly gotten about by now. I would head north and hide among the Yankees. Those damn hated Yankees. But it was better than the alternative: a hemp noose and a short dance in the air. I drifted off to a troubled sleep thinking those thoughts.

I don’t know how long I was asleep before I was shaken awake by a gentle hand. It was dark and I was disoriented. “Hush. Don’t say nothin’.” It was Laura.

“What is it, Laura? What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’. I just wanna talk.”

“Well, let me light the lantern so I can see you.”

“No! Just talk to me.”

I brought myself up on one elbow and waited. What did she want me to say? What was this all about? I soon found out.

“Do you think I’m pretty?”

So that’s what it’s all about. “I think you should go back into the cabin before James finds you gone.”

“Don’t you talk to me like I was a child. I’m all grown up. Now answer me. Do you think I’m pretty?”

With a heavy sigh, I answered her. “Yes, Laura. You are pretty. Now leave me be. You’re gonna cause nothin’ but trouble being out here.”

She came closer. I could feel her warm breath on my cheek. I could smell her hair. She must have washed it recently. It still smelled of soap. Her hand touched mine. It was soft like I knew it would be. She was trying me. Lord, was she trying me. “If you don’t leave, I’m gonna saddle my horse and be outta this barn before you ever knew I was here.”

She grabbed my hand and held it tight. I could not see her, but I heard her sniffles. All her words came out in a rush. “I’m in the prime of my life. I don’t want to grow old and worn on this forty acre farm. I’m no farm woman. I was meant for better. I’m only married to James because my pa made me do it. He has eyes on this land. Let’s leave tonight. Let’s head to a big city. I’ll be your woman. You’ll never be sorry. I know how to please a man. You don’t even have to marry me.”

I gently extricated my hand from hers. I hadn’t been around woman folk much. I mean in that manner. But I knew they were filled to the brim with emotions. You had to be careful with them. You never knew, they could go off like a firework on the Fourth of July. And the last thing I needed right then, with her husband not twenty yards away, was an hysterical woman on my hands.

In a soft voice, one I hoped sounded caring and honest, I said, “Laura, you are probably the best lookin’ woman I ever did see. And if things were different, I’d take you to the ends of the earth. But a man does not ride onto another man’s land, eat his food, enjoy his hospitality, and then ride out with his wife on the back of his horse. It just ain’t right. You understand that, don’t ya?”

Things were quiet for a spell. For a long spell. At long length, she whispered, “Are you saying if I weren’t married you’d take me with you?”

I nodded my head. But then realized she couldn’t see the motion in the dark. So I said, “That about covers it.”

She patted my hand. How she knew where it was, was beyond me. It was pitch black in that barn. She must have been part cat. “That’s okay, Tom. I understand. You go back to sleep now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

She leaned in and kissed me on the cheek, and then she was gone. My only thought at that point was, like hell she’ll see me in the morning. I was gonna be gone before first grey light. I lay back down and smiled to myself. Life sure can be crazy at times.

I must have been more worn out then I knew. I was awakened by a crow’s caws. He sure was insistent. It was full light out. Damn, I should have been long gone by now.

I got up and grabbed my saddle, but before I could fling it on my horse, Laura walked in. “Don’t be in such a rush. We have time to have breakfast before we leave.”

I shook my head in dismay. “I told you last night, you’re not leaving with me.”

“I know what you said. But I’m not married no more.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean James is gone and now I’m free to go with you.”

“What do you mean James is gone?”

She flung her arms up in the air in exasperation and explained it to me. “I killed him last night right after I talked with you. Pulled the big carving knife right across his old throat as he slept, I did.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was she funning with me? The look on her face said otherwise. I dropped my saddle and raced for the cabin. The door stood open and I went right in. There he was. Lying on his back. The front of his nightshirt stained a crimson red. His eyes half lidded, his mouth open.

I heard a noise behind me. It was Laura as she came in through the door. “What are you dallying for? If you don’t want breakfast, I have my kit packed, ready to go. And I won’t have to ride the back of your horse. I’ll ride James’ mare. She’s a fine horse. Her name is Maggie.”

I looked into her grey eyes. She was stark raving mad. Funny I hadn’t noticed before. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to set her off. I just wanted to get out of there. Then any decision I might have made was taken out of my hands. The clip clop of horses’ hooves came to me from outside. Someone was riding into the yard.

She looked at me. I looked at her. I knew what she was gonna do before she knew what she was gonna do. Through her eyes, I saw the thought process going around in her mind. When she had decided her course of action, a determination played across her face. She grinned at me and said, “It would have been so much fun, Tom.”

I was resigned to my fate. I should have died in the war. I should have died when Jake Parsons came at me with that knife. I didn’t know it, but I’ve been on borrowed time since I left North Carolina. I smiled at her and said, “Yup. It would have been one hell of a hay ride, Little Missy.”

Without another word, she turned and ran screaming from the cabin. She ran right into the arms of her father and three of her brothers who had come for a visit. The upshot is that the trial was over before I knew it. Laura testified that she and James had befriended me and I paid back their kindness by slitting his throat while she was out of the cabin, pulling water up from the well. She said it had been my intention to kill her after having had my sinful way with her. Only the fortuitous arrival of her family saved her. It made no sense. But she was believed. I said not a word. What was the use?

The horses move sluggishly. They are in no rush. Neither am I. I hear that old crow cawing to his mate. I notice every leaf on every tree, the green and brown of the different grasses. The clouds have never been fluffier, never whiter. The sky never bluer. The sun rides high, the crisp morning air flows around me, embraces me, caresses me. It is a beautiful day. There’ll never, ever be such an astonishing, lovely day again. Never. It’s a great day to be alive. I’m riding in the back of a wagon, my arms tied behind me. My coffin follows in a wagon of its own. We’re headed for an old white oak just outside of town. The hanging tree. This time tomorrow, I’ll be planted six feet down, wishing I was anywhere else.

Three Steps

I’m three steps from meeting my maker. Three more steps to the noose. I am ready to die; I reckon I deserve to die. I have killed before, but never for such a frivolous reason as brings me to these last three steps.

The whole mess started down El Paso way when I walked into that little cantina. It was a bucket of blood, a real dive. But I had a thirst to slack and it was the first saloon I saw as I rode into town. Once inside, it took my eyes a moment to adjust to the gloom. When I could see again, I saw a bar against the far wall. Two men were leaning against it, staring into their drinks. A few tables were scattered around the room—all empty. It was mid-day, so that was no surprise.

I made my way to the bar and put my foot on the brass rail. The barman was a little slow in coming my way. I had just rode twenty-five miles and the dust was thick in my throat. I had no patience for a slow-movin’ barkeep. When he was opposite me, I grabbed his shirt and pulled his face to mine. Looking him dead in the eye, I said, “Give me your finest rotgut and if you dilly-dally, I’ll put a bullet in your leg.” As I said it, I drew my .45 from its leather. His eyes widened and he reached under the bar and came up with an almost full bottle of some good stuff. “Here, mister, it’s on the house,” he stuttered.

With that taken care of, I picked up the bottle and, leaving the glass where it was, took a good pull. I had ridden my horse almost to death. I had to move fast, they were on my trail. Yes, I had killed two men, but they were trying to kill me. I finally lost the posse in the badlands. Now I’m only a few miles from Mexico and freedom. But as it turned out, I might as well have been a million miles from the border.

I don’t know what she was doing coming into that hellhole of a bar, but when I saw her, my plans flew out the window. She pushed through the swing doors as though she owned the place. And, in a way, she did. She was tall and blonde. Her figure had more curves than a coiled rattler. Her hair was up—her smile could kill. Her eyes were gray and they looked my way.

She strolled right up and in a voice that would have made strong men weep, she said, “Ain’t you the big one.”

Without a word, I took the empty glass from the bar and poured some of the amber liquid into it. She took the proffered glass and said, “My name is Rose and I like a man who will buy a girl a drink.”

When we had worked the bottle down to half empty, she told me to grab it and took me by the hand. She led me to the stairs and we ascended to the second floor, to a door at the far end of the hall. “This is where I call home,” she purred. By now I had forgotten about the twenty-five dust-coated miles, the posse, the killings—everything.

Once in the room with the door locked, she pointed to a table and said, “You’ll find some glasses over there. Pour us a shot.” I found the glasses, blew the dust out of ’em, and did as I was told. When I turned back around, she was sitting on the bed. Patting the mattress, she beckoned softly. “Come and sit by me.”

Well, partners, that was all she wrote. For the next three days, we barely left that room. We had our hooch and food sent up. I had never known a woman like her. I’d mostly only been with whores, but she was no whore. She told me that she loved me. We spent three days exploring every inch of each other’s bodies, and I fell in love for the first time in my life.

It was on the morning of the fourth day that my head started to clear. We were lying in bed. I was on my back and she was propped up on one elbow, running her finger down my chest when she said she wanted to go to Mexico with me. I told her that was fine by me, but there was no rush. That’s when she got a funny look on her face and exclaimed, “No, we have to leave today!” Before I could say anything else, there was a knock on the door. I got out of bed and slipped on my pants. I knew who it was; it was the little Mex boy who had been bringing us our food and booze. I usually took the tray at the door and handed him a dollar. But this time was different. He beckoned me out into the hall and asked that I shut the door. When it was closed behind me, he whispered, “Señor, you have been good to me, so I must tell you that you are in great danger.”

I took the tray from his hands and said, “Don’t worry, son. This is the kind of danger I like,” and winked at him.

I started to turn, but he grabbed my arm. “You do not understand. She belongs to another man, a bad man. She has done this before and three men have died. Her man will be back tomorrow, so today she will ask you to leave and take her with you. If you are here tomorrow, José will kill you.”

I put the tray on the floor and asked the boy to tell me all that he knew. He told me people were making bets with each other if I’d get away before José got back or if I’d be planted up on the hill with the other three. It seemed Rose, my great love, was using me to get away from José. In this country, a woman can’t travel alone. And besides, as the boy told me, José leaves her with no money when he goes away.

The news kinda punched me in the gut. I gave the boy a five-dollar gold piece and thanked him. Picking up the tray, I entered the room with a smile on my face.

“Where have you been? I missed you, big boy.”

Still smiling, I placed the tray on the bed. “You chow down. I’m gonna have me a drink.”

I had me some thinking to do.

As I sat in the chair and watched her eat, I weighed my options. We could leave together and avoid this man José, or I could leave alone. Or, we could stay and could have it out with José. The problem was I didn’t know if she was worth it. She had played me. If I took her with me, would she ditch me once we were in Mexico?

I was still thinking on those thoughts when she broke my reverie by saying, “I want to be out of here by noon. I’m going to take a bath; you pack and then settle our bill. I’ll meet you at the livery stable.”

Still smiling, I said, “I’ll see you at the livery.” She gathered up some clothes, got herself dressed, and left to take her bath.

When she had gone, I sat there in thought and added another option to the other three. I could just kill the lying bitch and be done with her.

I put on my shirt and boots, strapped on my .45, and went downstairs still undecided. By the time I reached the livery, I had decided that I’d leave without her. She was a fine-looking woman and the sex was good, but I had enough trouble in my life without no crazy man coming after me. I saddled my pinto and started down the street at a slow pace. As I passed the saloon, Rose pushed through the swing doors and saw me. She dropped her bags and ran up, grabbed ahold of the saddle horn, and walked alongside. Looking up at me, she implored, “Where you going? Wait! I’ll get my horse.”

“I’m sorry. It was nice, but this here is where we go down our separate trails.”

She wouldn’t let go, so I picked up the pace a mite. She still hung on. Then I saw her look down the street and the look on her face said it all. She let go and hightailed it back to the saloon.

Astride a sorrel rode a big man … a big, mean-looking man. It had to be José. As we came abreast of each other, he grabbed the reins of my horse. There we stood, eye to eye, neither one of us speaking. Finally he said in a very deep voice, “Whatcha doin’ with my woman?”

“Nothing, just tryin’ to get outta town,” I answered.

I saw it in his eyes; he was going to draw on me. I may be slow when it comes to women, but I’m fast when it comes to gun play. I had a bullet through his forehead before he cleared leather. That was my mistake, that and taking up with Rose. I should have let him draw first. The whole thing was seen by the town marshal and I was quickly arrested. I thought for a moment of killing the marshal before he arrested me, but I never did kill no man that was not trying to kill me.

For three days, I knew of love. In three steps, I die.

Everything’s Jake

Cowboy

It was early morning when the man rode into town from the east, the sun at his back, his long shadow before him. The street was deserted except for an old mongrel dog sniffing its way home after a long night’s prowl.

He proceeded on the main thoroughfare—the town’s only thoroughfare—until he came abreast of the Blue Moon Café with its “WE NEVER CLOSE” sign hanging from the ramada. Spurring his horse over to the hitching post outside the café, he dismounted and entered the establishment.

At that time in the morning, the chairs were on the tables, and the only occupants were a boy sweeping the floor and a disheveled, overweight man behind the bar wiping a glass with a dirty rag. The barkeep watched the stranger approach.

“How ’bout some whiskey?” said the stranger.

When the barman was slow in responding, the man grabbed his collar, pulled him down until he was bent over the bar — their eyes level.

“I said whiskey,” growled the stranger.

“Yes sir, right away,” was the barkeep’s quick response.

When released, and with a shaking hand, he placed the glass he had been wiping on the bar, grabbed a bottle from beneath the counter, and poured a liberal amount of an amber liquid into it.

As he started to re-cork the bottle, he was told to leave it on the bar.

“Yes sir.”

Turning his back to the bar and placing his elbows thereon, he called to the youth doing the sweeping.

“Hey you, boy, come over here.”

Placing his broom against the nearest table, the boy did as he was bid.

“You got a name, son?”

“Yes sir. It’s Billy.”

“Well, Billy, do you know a man by the name of Jake Tapper?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do you know where he lives?”

“Yes sir.”

Reaching into his vest pocket, the man withdrew a silver dollar and flicked it in the boy’s direction. “You go tell Jake that Mac’s in town.”

*****

Jake lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. It was much too early to be awake, but since she left, he’d found it hard to sleep. It had been a heady eight months. He had never loved a woman as he had loved Jeanie. Sure, it was taking a chance messing with Mac Conway’s woman, but it had been worth it. Now that she had run off with that piano player from the Blue Moon, he thought he’d just stop running from Mac. Might as well get it over with, thought Jake.

Then there was a knock at his door. “Yes, who is it?”

“It’s me, Mister Tapper. Billy Doyle.”

“Whatcha want, Billy?”

“A man down to the Blue Moon told me to tell you that Mac is in town. I think he wants to talk to you.”

“Alright, Billy. You tell him I’ll be right there.”

Jake packed his few belongings and left the room. Instead of going to the Blue Moon, he went to the livery stable and saddled his horse. Then he mounted and headed out of town as fast as the beast could carry him.

It is one thing to think brave thoughts in the seclusion of your room, but it’s another thing to face Mac Conway in a saloon. Hell, it ain’t healthy to face off with Mac anywhere. Now that Jeanie’s gone, there’s no reason to git myself killed.

The next day Mac caught up with Jake, and then he went looking for Jeanie.

Michael

You might want to listen to this before you read my story.

******

Michael was my friend. Michael died saving my life.

Michael row the boat ashore . . . sister help to trim the sails . . . the River Jordan is chilly and cold . . . chills the body but not the soul . . . the river is deep and the river is wide . . . milk and honey on the other side.

I can only hope that Michael has found his milk and honey.

This is the story of Michael.

Michael and I grew up together. We went through grade school together. Then on to high school, where together we stayed. Neither of us wanted to pursue a “higher” education, so we decided to travel to broaden ourselves, as the terminology was in those days. At that time, we thought good would always win out over evil. But we were yet to be taught our lessons of the real world. Evil does sometimes triumph over good.

Michael James was six feet tall. He had straight blonde hair and blue eyes. The bluest eyes I ever did see. If limpid means clear as I think it does, then Michael’s eyes were limpid pools of blue. The color was that of the sky, perhaps a little lighter with flecks of yellow throughout the irises. Upon meeting Michael for the first time one was taken aback by his eyes. They did not bore into your soul—they lit up your life. Then there was his smile. I had known Michael for many years and I don’t think I ever saw him without that shit-eatin’ grin on his puss. And that grin, and its persistence, was amazing, given the fact that Michael suffered from a skin problem. He had large red patches on his skin, including his face. They came and went. I thought the name of the disease was psoriasis, but of that I am not certain.

Michael had no mother. She died when he was quite young . . . before I knew him. He had no siblings; he was reared by his father, which is probably the reason I am alive today. By that, I mean he was raised to be a man. He was taught “The Code” of real men, which is: You do what you have to do.

Michael row the boat ashore

Though we both had the travel bug, my case was more pronounced than his. During the summer between our junior and senior years of high school, I took off and bounced around the country while Michael held down the fort, so to speak. When I returned to finish my last year of school (at that time I still bought into the myth that you needed at least a high school education to survive in the world), I regaled Michael with tales of my adventures.

Well, after hearing what a wonderful world awaited us out there, Michael could not wait to hit the road. He wanted to leave immediately, but seeing as how I had just come in from a three-month run, I prevailed upon him to wait a few months and allow me to at least try to get my diploma. He said he would wait, but he did not, or he could not. Within six weeks of my return, Michael was on the road.

the River Jordan is chilly and cold

Michael was hip, and the only place for a hip guy to migrate in 1968 was San Francisco. And that was the end of Michael’s roaming. He fell in love with the city. I endured my senior year as long as I could, but two weeks short of graduation I said, “The hell with it!”, stuck out my thumb and headed for San Francisco to rendezvous with my friend.

When I arrived, I didn’t know where Michael was living; however, I knew if I hung out on Haight Street long enough, I’d see him. It took less than two hours.

This will tell you something about my friend Michael: He always had a place to live out there, and never paid rent. People were always asking him home, and once there, he just moved in. They were always glad to have him. And when I would hit town, he’d take me to wherever he was living and tell me to make myself at home. The person who actually owned the domicile never looked askance when he brought me through the door, they all loved Michael, and any friend of Michael’s . . .

it chills the body, but not the soul

For the most part, Michael stayed in San Francisco. I, however, could not stay in one town for more than a few days. I was like a pinball, rebounding from coast to coast, and from Canada to Mexico. While on the road I was alive. When on the road, I interacted with humanity and had to live by my wits. I loved being on the road. Because of Michael’s reluctance to leave San Francisco, I had two homes, one on each coast. My mother’s in Miami, and wherever the hell Michael was staying at the moment in San Francisco.

On one of my forays to San Francisco, I was introduced to Linda, the love of Michael’s life—his soul mate. They had met at a Clint Eastwood marathon. A movie house was playing the three Sergio Leone films. You know, A Fist Full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly … non-stop, twenty-four hours a day. Michael had a bag of Red Acid, and in 1969, what girl wouldn’t swoon toward a man who was into Clint Eastwood and had a bag of LSD? It was love at first sight.

sister help to trim the sails

Now that Michael had himself a woman, he got his own digs. Every time I hit town they were living in a new place. It wasn’t always easy to find them, but somehow we would always meet up on Haight Street. I stayed with them on Geary in the Tenderloin. We stayed south of Market in the low rent district, we stayed across from Golden Gate Park, and at the end, we were again in the Haight-Asbury district.

One thing I must tell you about Michael so you can get a sense of the man. And yes, he was a man; though we were the same age, he was a man, while I was just a kid. I think Michael knew he did not have much time in this world. He could not wait for anything. Back then, we were doing acid all the time. Normally, you would swallow a pill and wait for it to take effect. But not Michael. The twenty minutes or so that it took was just too long for him. He had to shoot the acid into his vein to get off instantaneously. Of course Linda and I would have to follow suit or there would be no peace. And in those days, I just did not have it in me to stick myself with a needle. Michael did the honors.

the river is deep and the river is wide

The last time I came into San Francisco and saw Michael and Linda was in 1970, it was July. They were living in the Haight. It was a crummy neighborhood; the Summer of Love was three years gone by then. All the shops on Haight Street were boarded up with sheets of plywood, and the denizens of the street were the leftovers from that long ago summer.

True to form, it was not Michael’s apartment he took me to; he and Linda were living with a guy named Bobby. Bobby was a likable enough fellow. He just didn’t know bad men when he met them. Bobby had set up a “drug” deal to buy two pounds of marijuana. Nowadays it seems ridiculous to term buying two pounds of pot a drug deal, but in those days, that was heavy shit.

It was my first night in town and we were sitting in Bobby’s pad smoking a joint when Michael told me he was going to be a father. I looked over at Linda, she was radiant, and she was also blushing. I was just about to say something appropriate when the door crashed open, and two guys burst through the entrance. They were the assholes that Bobby was supposed to buy the pot from.

Michael row the boat ashore

Only one of them had a gun, but that was enough for us. When told to lie on the floor, we did so without protest. They then said to Bobby, “Where’s the cash?”

Bobby answered, “In my pocket.” The guy covering us with the gun told the other guy to get the money. Bobby, trying to be helpful, reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. Then it seemed like a lot of money, but now, as I look back on that night, it couldn’t have been more than $500.00.

As soon as the money was in the asshole’s hand, the other one with the gun walked over to Bobby, placed the gun to the back of his head, and killed him. Upon hearing the shot, Michael and I looked at each other and knew that we were next.

the river is deep and the river is wide

Before I could think of anything to do, Michael bounded to his feet and rushed the guy with the gun. When I saw Michael go into action, it released me from my paralysis, but not soon enough to help Michael. He took a bullet to the chest. While Michael was being shot, I picked up a lamp from a table and smashed it over the gunman’s head while his partner stood frozen in place.

it chills the body, but not the soul

The man with the gun went down hard and the gun fell from his hand. All this went down fast; in a blur, I did not have time to think. I picked up the gun from the floor while the other guy still stood frozen. Obviously they were not professionals, though, at the moment, that did not enter into my thinking. I aimed the gun at the one standing and shot him dead with two shots. Then I turned to the one on the floor. He was moving and about to get up when I put a bullet into his head.

sister help to trim the sails

By the time the second one fell to the floor, Linda was bent over Michael. I dropped the gun and went to them. He looked at her and smiled, then he looked at me and said, “Get her out of here.” We both, Linda and I, said at the same time, “No!” Then Michael died.

Michael row the boat ashore

It took me a full minute, which at the time felt like an eternity, to make a decision. I grabbed Linda by the arms and pulled her into a standing position. She was numb. I told her we had to get out of there; that this was a drug deal gone bad, and there were dead bodies—four of them! I told her prison was no place to have a baby, and Michael knew that. That is why he wanted her out of there.

if you get there before I do

I told Linda to collect everything of hers and Michael’s that could identify them. I had the presence of mind to wipe the gun clean, but not to pick up the cash lying on the floor. Linda could have used it; she had a baby on the way. I took Michael’s wallet. He had never been arrested so I knew they couldn’t identify him by his fingerprints. After I had Michael’s wallet, and while Linda went about collecting her things, I took the time to vomit all over Bobby’s carpet. It was, after all, the first time I had killed. We left Michael and never looked back. Though it wasn’t actually Michael we left, only the body that housed that wonderful, brave man.

tell all my friends I’m coming too

Linda’s folks lived in New Jersey, so I hitchhiked with her to the east coast. She was in a state of shock, and because Michael’s last words, though not implicit, were to look after her, that is what I did. After getting her to her parents, I stayed in the northeast for the next seven months. I kept moving, but would drop in to see her every few weeks. Seven months later, when the baby was born, I was there. I was there for my friend Michael. It was a boy and I was asked to be his godfather.

milk and honey on the other side

Once Linda had the child, and I knew she was in the goods hands of her parents, I said good-bye. And while still on the road, I dropped in to see Linda and my godson every few months.

There are three human beings extant on this earth because of my friend Michael James. I am one of them.

Michael row the boat ashore . . . Hallelujah.

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Night Moves

They are always with me. At times they appear out of the ethereal mist, and other times they speak directly to my mind. I wish they would leave me to myself, but that they will not do. No, first I must do their bidding.

They come in the night and stay until the black sky fades to gray. When the stars leave the sky and the clouds to the east turn pink, I am allowed my rest. But I ask you, what respite can a murderer have? At their behest, I have killed again this night. And I will continue to kill until they go back from whence they came.

After all I’ve been through, I still remember the first time they came to me. It was a little over a year ago, and since then I have killed twenty-nine people. Please do not think me insane. I assure you these beings are real and not immanent. At first, I, too, thought myself demented when they stood before me telling me they came to save the human race, and to accomplish their mission, certain people must die. They explained that the demise of the race was not impending, but if action was not taken, and taken soon, it would be too late to set things on a course to ensure the continuance of mankind.

You are probably wondering, if you do not think me crazed, why they cannot do their own dirty work. That is a very good question and one I have asked them. They, of course, are not of our time and space. They appear—when they appear—as diaphanous specters; they cannot manipulate physical matter. Thus, I have become their instrument here on earth. Where or when they are from, I do not know. And why, out of all the billions on this planet, I was chosen, I know not. But it has been a long night and I must sleep. I will continue this at a later date, and continue it I shall, for I want there to be a record of my actions and the reasons for them.

I am back. It has been two days since my last entry in this journal, and tonight they had me kill again. That makes thirty people—thirty innocent people … men, women, and children—I have dispatched from this world. Yes … I am sorry to say that they have had me kill children. However, I was told that after tonight there would be no more need of my services. The human race was safe for the foreseeable future.

I refer to my tormentors as they or them because I do not know what they call themselves. Their form is vaguely human … two arms, two legs, and a head of sorts atop a torso, but their gossamer appearance precludes calling them human.

Tonight’s victim was a man in Moscow. I was directed to him and given his name. I then set about their business. I was told that his son, yet unborn, would one day invent something that would cause the death of billions. Being told the basis for this particular death was a departure from the norm. I had never been given rhyme nor reason for any of the others. The man’s name and the names of the other twenty-nine, including where and when they died, are in the addendum attached to this missive. I remember every one of my quarry.

I guess I should have mentioned this earlier, but my victims were scattered around the world. I do not know how they did it, but one minute I was in my room behind a locked door, and the next minute I was standing in a foreign locale with the name of that night’s victim swirling through my brain. Then into my mind came the place I could find him or her in the city, town, or hamlet.

Now, the thirty-first person will die. They, at last, have left me to myself. I am now free to end this the only way it can be ended—with my death. I’ve been saving and hiding my medication for quite a while now; there is enough to kill three of me. May God have mercy on my soul.

I affix my hand to this document this 3rd day of May in the year of our Lord 2017.

Signed,

Francis Fitzgerald

≈≈≈≈≈≈

When Dr. Allen had finished reading the above, he turned to Dr. Harris and said, “Interesting, but why have you brought it to me? We both know that the man was a certified, delusional schizophrenic. How long have we had him here at our institution?”

Dr. Harris hesitantly answered, “He’s been here at Oakwood twelve years, sir.”

“Well, there you have it. It’s too bad he took his own life; it doesn’t help our reputation any, but these things happen.”

“Yes, sir. However, there is something I think you ought to know.”

“Yes?”

“I’ve taken the liberty of investigating a few of the names on Fitzgerald’s list. It’s taken me three weeks, but I’ve verified eleven of the deaths and their time and place. They all correspond with what Fitzgerald has written.”

Dr. Allen straightened in his seat, glanced at the papers in his hand, and looking Dr. Harris in the eye, forcefully said, “Preposterous! If there is any correlation, he read of the deaths in the newspaper or heard of them on the television.”

“Excuse me, sir, but Fitzgerald had no access to newspapers. He was denied them because they would agitate him to no end. And the only television he had access to was in the day room where the set is perpetually tuned to a movie channel.”

“That still does not give credence to this fairytale,” said Dr. Allen, waving the Fitzgerald papers in Dr. Harris’ direction.

“No, sir, it does not. However, there is one more thing I think I should make you aware of. My sister is married to a Russian physicist, speaks fluent Russian, and lives in Moscow. I called her about the last name on Fitzgerald’s list. She made a few calls for me and it turns out that Fitzgerald was dead before the body of the man he mentions was discovered. And just one more thing, sir. The man’s wallet was found in Fitzgerald’s room. I have it if you’d like to see it.”

Turning a color red that is not in the regular spectrum, Dr. Allen shouted, “NO! I DO NOT WANT TO SEE THE DAMN WALLET!” Then handing the Fitzgerald papers to Dr. Harris, he said with ice in his voice, “Burn these, burn them now. And if you value your position here at Oakwood, you will never speak of this matter again … to anyone. Do I make myself clear?”

Dr. Harris accepted the papers with a meek, “Yes sir,” and walked out of the room. When he was in the hall and by himself, he muttered, “I’ll be goddamned … the old bastard is afraid.”

But Dr. Harris did not burn the papers. He placed them, along with the wallet, in his desk drawer and locked it. He had some thinking to do. As he started on his rounds, a quote of Shakespeare’s kept repeating itself in his head. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 

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The Green Grass of Home

The sun sends its warm rays down onto the world, onto the trees and onto the green grass of my home. God is in his Heaven as I lie in my grave—my home of two years. I killed a man. I killed him out of fear, fear of losing my love. But I lost her anyway when they hung me from the old oak that stands out front of the courthouse.

My name ain’t important … hell, I ain’t important to no one no more to except maybe the worms that crawl through my body and feast on my flesh.

I had me some bottomland, only forty acres, but it was mine. I had cleared it and planted corn and sorghum in the spring of ’85. I was a man in love. Her name was Faith and she was the most beautiful woman in the world, at least to me.

This is my story.

I’ve never been around womenfolk all that much, so I wasn’t prepared when I first saw her. I was in town for supplies. I had just finished loading my wagon when she walked by. She looked like an angel. Her hair was long and raven-black. As she walked away, the light shone on her hair and rippled as it would over a small placid pond. Her eyes were gray. She made my legs quaver. I fell in love.

I did not see her again until the grange meeting. I went because the topic of discussion was to be water rights. I had my water, but if someone was going to take some of it, I needed to know about it beforehand. She sat stately in the front row. Nothing much was accomplished at the meeting. Afterward, I stood outside lighting my pipe when she walked up to me. She was so beautiful that I got weak in the knees.

“Hello, Mister MacDonald, my name is Faith Simpson. My people own the land next to yours. We just moved here from the East and I’ve been wanting to meet you.”

That was the beginning.

Before I knew it, her family had my water and she had my heart.

On the third moon of our meeting, we were betrothed.

Then, on a cold dark night, I made the mistake of my life. She was standing on a chair, putting up curtains in my cabin. She was getting it ready for when she would live there. Jim Peters—from up a ways on the mountain—had come down on his way to town and stopped by when he saw the light in the window.

I know now that I was mistaken, but this is what I saw. As I walked up to the cabin, through the window, I saw her in his arms. Now I know that she had stumbled and Jim caught her before she hit the floor. But I didn’t know that back then. I pulled my gun and sent Jim Peters to another world.

It was a mistake. It was my blunder, and for that I lie here in my grave and try to feel the warm sun on the green grass of my home.

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Black-Haired Beauty

womanWe were in love … so in love. It was summertime, it was the beginning of our lives—it was the end of our lives. She was a black-haired beauty, loving me as no one has ever loved me. The time spent with her was so sweet. Her soul, her smile, her everything … I loved her so much. So it’s funny how things worked out.

Her father did not approve of me; he thought me a loser … not good enough for his daughter. When I came a-calling, he would show his disapproval by addressing me as the bug he thought I was. Never a civil word did I get from him.

But she and I were in love. The old man didn’t matter … nothing mattered. We had each other.

We decided to run away … we were young and so in love.wise-guy-ll

I went to her house that night … that horrible night. She was to be outside waiting for me, but she wasn’t. Instead, her father met me and he had a gun in his hand.

I loved his daughter, and because of that, he pointed the gun at me and squeezed the trigger.

The gun misfired. Without thinking, I took it from him. Without thinking, I turned it and pointed it at him. Without thinking, I killed him. The weapon did not misfire for me. Although I wish it had.

Now I  await my execution. I sit in a prison cell and every day I think of my black-haired beauty. And what might have been.

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Wise Guy

 

wise-guyHe was dead when I got there. Dead as a doornail, deader than a dead fish, deader than Kelsey’s nuts, dead as … well, I think you’ve figured out the message I’m trying to convey here. The son-of-a-bitch was fuckin’ dead!

The door of the hotel room had been ajar, so I entered without knocking. Someone had bashed his brains in. No, that’s not accurate. Someone had bashed his brains out! They were oozing from the wound and congealing on the floor where he lay. His name is not important but, for the record, I’ll tell you. When he was breathing, he was known as Vinnie “Five Fingers” Diamonte. Now that he was no longer breathing, you can call him anything you want, which would have been a dangerous thing to do when he was among us—the living. He wasn’t called “Five Fingers” for nothing. (I’ll leave it to your imagination.)

I was sent by my boss, Tony Shivs, to pick up three hundred large from Vinnie. Now Vinnie was dead and I thoroughly searched the room, but there was no money to be found. You know whose fault it’s gonna turn out to be, who was gonna get the blame. Yeah, that’s right. Yours Truly.

Perhaps I should back up a little so you’ll know what I’m talking about. My name is Billy Irish. That’s not really my name, but it’s what the wise guys call me. My real name is William Michael Andrew Doyle. Andrew is my Confirmation name.

Through my girl, who was “connected,” I fell in with a crew of Italian-Americans. That’s what I called them to their face. When I was with my own kind (Irish-Americans or micks), I referred to them as wops and/or guineas.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. I was an employee of Anthony “Tony Shivs” Salvintore, and I usually did as I was told. I was kind of low man on the totem pole because I’m not a wop. But that’s cool with me. Not being of Italian descent, there’s no way that I can be “made.” To be a made man, you’ve got to off someone … you know, kill a fellow human being, and that’s just not my style. I’m a gofer, a courier. It doesn’t pay well, but it beat working for a living. At least it did until I walked into Vinnie’s room and found him dead and the money I was supposed to pick up missing.

Making sure that I did not step on congealing brains, I stepped over the body and sat down in a nearby chair. I thought about my future, which, at the moment, did not seem very bright.

I knew that Tony, being the psychopath that he was, was going to think I killed the guy and stashed the moola. Because killing Vinnie and taking the money is exactly what he would have done in my place.

When he sent me there, he told me only three people knew about the pick-up and where it was to take place. And I was, as he phrased it, to keep my big yap shut. It was obvious that someone else was also privy to the information. But knowing that I was innocent of any wrongdoing didn’t mean shit. Yeah, eventually Tony would believe that I had not taken his money. But by then I would probably be missing a few digits (fingers mostly), and I’m sure I’d need a wheelchair to get around for the foreseeable future. So, as I sat there looking at the mortal remains of Vinnie “Five Fingers” Diamonte, the only thought going through my mind was what the hell do I do now?

If I disappeared, then there’d be no doubt as to my guilt. And I couldn’t go back without the money. I’d been sent to pick up a package and if I did not return with said package, then I was a fuckup. And I had heard the old bastard say on more than one occasion, “I ain’t got no room in my outfit for no fuckups.”

Sitting there staring at Vinnie wasn’t gonna help my situation any. So I figured I might as well test the water, so to speak. I got up, walked over to the phone—once again making sure I didn’t step in any brains—and started to call Tony. Then I remembered there would be a record of it, and once the body was found, the cops would be on Tony’s doorstep faster than I can write these words. Perhaps not that fast, but you know what I mean. Of course, Tony would give me up in a New York minute. Then I’d have Tony and the cops after me. So I wiped my prints off the phone and put it back down. I got out my cell phone and made the call I didn’t want to make.

I had been right. Tony was filled with sweetness and light. “That’s alright, Billy boy, as long as you’re okay. Why not come over and tell me all about it?” I knew that if he ever got his hands on me, I’d be lucky to hit the streets again with all my fingers. Hell, I’d be lucky to hit the streets again, period! No friggin’ way was I gonna walk into his lair, but I told him I was on my way and disconnected.

So that you get the full picture here, I’m gonna have to give you a little background info. The crew I was associated with worked mostly out of Miami Beach. Sure, the mainland entered into a lot of what went down, but we all lived and hung out on Miami Beach. Tony lived at Collins Avenue and 50th Street in the same building that Myer Lansky had lived in for ten years, and was still living in when he died. The building was a massive structure that had been built in the sixties, a real class place if your taste ran to garish and gaudy. My girl, Terry, and I also lived on Collins Avenue, but at 65th Street. Our place was a seedy hotel that had been built in the forties. Threadbare carpet in the halls, and the halls themselves were dark and dank. But we called it home. And for those of you who are not familiar with Miami Beach, it’s a long narrow island separated from the mainland by a body of water known as Biscayne Bay. Collins Avenue runs from the art deco district at the south end of the island to Golden Beach at the north end. The whole mess is eight and a half miles long and no more than a half mile wide. So if one needed to disappear, Miami Beach was probably not the best place to do it.

Okay, now back to my shit. The first thing I needed to do was get in touch with Terry and tell her to get the hell out of our room. I knew if Tony couldn’t get his hands on me, he would have no compunction about grabbing her in my stead.

No; actually, the first thing I had to do was get out of that goddamn room. Vinnie was starting to turn ripe, and how did I know some wise-ass hadn’t already called the cops (anonymously, of course). I called Terry as I went down the stairs—no elevators loaded with witnesses for me.

By the time I hit the street, I had Terry on the phone. I told her to ask no questions—like women love to do—and pack for the both of us for a few days out of town. “Be out of the room in ten minutes and wait for me in the bar across the street.” She asked no questions, and that is why I love her … that and a few million other reasons.

Vinnie had been ensconced in a hotel across from the airport on the mainland. Not that there’s an airport on the Beach, but I’m trying to be precise here. It should have taken me twenty minutes to get to the bar and to Terry. However, thanks to some damn broken-down piece of shit car on I-95, traffic was backed up and moved at a crawl. At the time, I cursed and fulminated about the goddamn traffic, but in hindsight, it was a godsend. It had given me time to think, which is something I had not been doing since I found Vinnie.

What I thought about was something Tony had told me. He said only three people knew about the pick-up. Him, Vinnie, and me. But that wasn’t exactly true; there was a fourth, Johnny Tits. Johnny was a breast man, hence the name.

Johnny was Tony’s bodyguard, a Neanderthal masquerading as a human being. He had been in the room when Tony gave me my marching orders. So, I’m sitting there in traffic thinking maybe Johnny might know who iced Vinnie and where the money disappeared to. I made up my mind to have a little talk with him before departing for parts unknown. But before I could do anything, I had to get Terry to a safe locale.

I finally got to the bar, double-parked, ran in, grabbed Terry and our bags, threw a Hamilton on the bar to cover her tab and tip, and got her into the car—all in less than a minute. We drove north on Collins Avenue in silence for a while before Terry turned to me and said, “Okay, when the hell are you planning on letting me know what the fuck’s goin’ on?” That’s one of the million things I love about her. She can get right to the point with no bullshitting around.

Considering that her health, if not her life, was up for grabs, I decided to be magnanimous and answer her query. “I’m in deep shit, baby. A job Tony gave me went south. There’s three hundred thousand smack-a-roos missing and I’m the fall guy.” Of course (and I don’t blame her), she wanted to know all the details. So I told her, starting with my finding Vinnie, sans brains, and ending with my epiphany concerning Johnny Tits.

When I had finished my narrative, I told her I wanted to talk with Johnny before we left town. That’s when she hit me (figuratively speaking) SMACK! right between the eyes. “What do you mean ‘leave town’? What are you? Some kind of pussy? I’m not leaving town!” Blah, blah, blah.

I told you I loved her, but sometimes … Hey! Did she just call me a pussy?

The upshot was, she tried to convince me that together we could find the money, get it to Tony, and everything would be cool. That broad can talk me into anything when she looks at me with those yellow-green eyes of hers.

I may be a pussy, but I’m not so much of a pussy as to drag my girl into something that could get her killed. If I couldn’t find out who offed Vinnie and took the money, and she was running around with me, then when (not if, but when) the shit hit the fan, she’d get splattered too. You married guys can relate to this: I said yes to everything she said while thinking how and where to ditch her while I took care of business.

As we crossed the causeway to the mainland, she was going on about what we should do first, which was run down Johnny. I love her, but only one of us could wear the pants in the family, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be her! Anyway, I knew of a motor court (yeah, right out of the 40s) where I could stash her until I either became her hero or she had to make my funeral arrangements.

Just in case some of you may not know what a motor court is, it’s kind of like a motel, but with individual, separate units, or rooms, if you will. At any rate, the place we went to was across from Gulfstream Race Track, a horse-racing establishment.

It was a real dump, and I think they got all their business from guys who lost the kids’ college funds at the track and went there to commit suicide. But it was just what I needed. I could pay cash and not have to show a credit card or ID. Tony’s pretty well connected; he had more than a few cops in his pocket, and I thought he might have one of them run down my card when I didn’t show up.

Once we checked in and Terry got all the bitching out of her system about what a shit-hole I’d taken her to, I told her to relax, I’d go get us something to eat and we could start our Nick and Nora Charles routine in the A.M.

As Terry will readily tell you, I’m a fuckin’ liar. If she was hungry, she could order a pizza. I was going to see Johnny. Tony always sent him home at six sharp every night so he, Tony, could have a private dinner with his mother. Johnny lived on a boat across the street from Tony’s place. I knew that and Terry didn’t, so there was no way she could follow me there. And just to make sure I was not bothered by her, I shut my phone off.

So it was back to the beach for me. I parked a block away from Johnny’s boat; I didn’t want anyone who knew me to see my car because by now Tony would have the word out that I was on the lam. And the sycophants that hung around Tony would have loved to make some points with him by bashing me over the head and delivering me to him in a cardboard box.

As I approached the boat, I saw Johnny’s car, so I knew he was around. Then I hesitated. What the hell was I thinking? If Johnny was the one who took down Vinnie, what chance did I have? I wasn’t even heeled. Then I remembered Terry calling me a pussy, so I squared my shoulders, stood tall, and did the dumbest thing I’d done in a long time. I knocked on Johnny’s door. I was kind of hoping there wouldn’t be an answer, and there wasn’t. So then I did the second dumbest thing I’d done in a long time—I tested the door. It was unlocked, and I went inside.

The lights were out. Maybe he went for a walk. Yeah, right. Johnny’s not the walking-in-the moonlight type. I’d never been on his boat before and I didn’t know where the light switch was. Do boats even have light switches? Maybe he used a kerosene lantern. As I was pondering those weighty questions, I walked further into the boat and tripped over a large obstacle lying in the middle of the floor, or was it a deck, considering I was on a boat.

As I lay sprawled on the floor/deck, my eyes became adjusted to the dim light coming in through the door. What I had tripped over was Johnny. Great! My second dead body of the day.

This, I had to ponder, but I couldn’t do it lying on the floor (I’ve decided to call it a floor). I got my ass up and looked to my right and saw a lamp on a table. I went over to it and felt for the switch, found it, and got some light in the room. I closed the door, and for the second time that day, sat in a chair and stared at a corpse.

I like to read. I’d rather read than watch TV, and I’d been reading Raymond Chandler recently. When his hero finds himself in a predicament like the one I was in, he always searched for clues. And he always started with the body. If given my druthers, I’d like to be with Terry at a fine restaurant, swilling down martinis while waiting for the sumptuous meal we had just ordered. I was getting hungry and I sure as hell could have used a drink right about then. But no one offered me my druthers. So I bent down and gave Johnny the once-over. He was lying face down, and there was a neat little bullet hole at the base of his skull, just above the neck. There was very little blood, which meant that he had died instantly. It looked to be the work of a .22, the gun of choice for professional killers. They always go for the back of the head.

Next, I turned him over so I could go through his pockets. I found only one thing of interest: He had Vinnie’s pinkie ring in his inside coat pocket. This was significant because if you knew Vinnie, you knew there was no way in hell he’d give up that ring. I don’t think he would have done so at the point of a gun. It was his pride and joy. He was always flashing it in your face and telling you about the three-carat diamond it housed.

After Johnny, I gave the room the once-over. His gun was lying on the table next to the lamp. I picked it up and gave it a sniff. It hadn’t been fired. It was a snub-nose .38 police special—a revolver. Johnny always said he liked it because it didn’t jam the way automatics are wont to do. (Of course, Johnny did not use the word wont.) I don’t know why, but I stuck it in the waistband of my pants and pulled my shirt out to cover it. Actually I do know why. There was a sicko running around killing people I know. I may not like them, but I knew them, and I’m one step behind him. If I kept blundering around, it would be only a matter of time before I blundered into whoever had iced Vinnie and Johnny.

Despite looking for clues, I was clueless. So, I sat back down and thought things over. I’m not the brightest bulb in the patch, to mix metaphors. But after a couple of minutes, a few things penetrated my thick skull. First of all, it must have been Johnny that did Vinnie; it’s the only way he could have gotten the ring. And second of all, the money was not on Johnny’s boat and probably never had been. The boat had not been tossed. Whoever killed Johnny came for the hit, not the money. It’s the only thing that explained why Johnny had only one hole in him. If someone wanted the money, they would have put a minimum of one into his knee to loosen him up. You don’t kill someone if they have info you want. And knowing Johnny, he’d take a lot of loosening up. He was dumb as shit, but he was one tough motherfucker. Johnny knew his killer. It’s the only way someone could get behind him with a gun—he was a pro. And Johnny’s gun was on the table, not in his hand—he knew his killer.

I had some more thinking to do, but I wanted to do it alone and without a dead guy with his half-closed eyes looking at me. So I hightailed it out of there, after wiping down any surface I touched or may have touched.

I wanted to walk along the water, but of course, the goddamn monstrosities like Tony lived in impeded my ingress onto the beach. Consequently, I walked up and down the sidewalk in front of Tony’s building. After about an hour of that shit, the pieces started to fall into place. It was time to talk to Tony Shivs.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. No, not the crux, but another one. I’ve been having cruxes throughout this whole goddamn story. This particular crux was that I needed a way to get into Tony’s building without being announced by the security people. But I had a plan.

I went back to my car and retrieved a baseball cap. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but it was better than nothing. What with video cameras everywhere nowadays, I thought it prudent not to make it too easy on any law enforcement personnel who, at some future date, might want to know who had visited Tony at nine o’clock that night. I went back to Tony’s building and walked down the incline into the underground parking garage.

The plan was, I would secrete myself behind a car near the door that led into the building; of course, the door was always locked. And then when an unsuspecting resident went through said door, I’d jump out before it closed. I would grab the handle and let it close almost, but not quite. I was counting on the person or persons to be too intent on getting up to their abode to notice what the door was up to. And guess what? It worked like a charm.

Okay, now I was in the building. I kept the hat pulled down low, kept my eyes on the carpet before me, and made my way to the elevator, hoping all the while I didn’t meet up with anyone. I didn’t. When I got outside Tony’s door, I took a deep breath and knocked.

“Yeah, who is it?”

“The doorman sent me up, sir. Someone left a package for you.”

I continued to keep my head down so that when he looked out of the peephole, all that he would see would be a teal baseball cap (Go Dolphins!). I did not want Tony answering the door with a gun in his hand, which he would have done if he knew it was me that had come a-calling.

I readied myself as I heard the locks being disengaged. When the door opened an inch, I pushed my way through and said, “Sorry I’m late, Mr. Salvintore, but I got tied up.”

“It’s about goddamn time you got your mick ass here. And what is this package shit?”

“Just my little joke, Mr. Salvintore.”

“It ain’t funny.”

“No sir, I guess it ain’t.”

“It’s late. Where’s my three hundred grand?”

“As I said, I’m sorry, but things came up. I hope I’m not disturbing your mother.”

“Naw, she’s down in the card room playin’ canasta with them other old broads.”

Now that I knew his mother was out of the way, I drew the gun from beneath my shirt and pointed it at the son-of-a-bitch. “Why don’t you sit down on the couch, you fat, greasy wop. I want to talk to you.”

You should have seen the look on his face. It was almost worth all the shit he’d put me through since I started working for him.

He was moving slow, so I reiterated my demand and told him that, because his building was so well constructed, no one would hear the pop of the gun when I put one into his fat ass. He must have seen something in my eyes because he kind of wilted and meekly sat on the couch. I availed myself of a nearby chair.

Once we were both seated and relatively comfortable, I asked him a question I’d been dying to ask. “Where did the three hundred large come from?”

“Some guys up in Tampa sent it down for me to invest for them.”

“Okay, why send me to pick it up? Vinnie worked for you, he could have just driven it in. You didn’t need me.”

“Ah … ah …”

“What’s the matter, Tony? Nothing comes to mind?”

“No! That ain’t it. I thought it would be safer if you brought it in. No one would think that you had that kind of dough on ya.”

“Tony, you are full of shit! I’ll tell you why you sent me there. I was to be your patsy. You are a greedy motherfucker. You didn’t want just your ten percent for placing their money. You wanted the whole shebang. And when they asked what happened, you were going to give them me. And then I’d be hanging from a meat hook in some freezer until I told them where their money was. Which of course, I couldn’t do. So me and the meat hook would have been closely associated until they went too far and offed me.”

At that juncture, Tony’s right hand started to migrate a little bit. I knew he had a gun stashed between the cushions, and I was waiting for him to make his move. I let him get almost there and then I said, “Touch that gun and you’re a dead man.” His hand rebounded as though his arm was made of rubber bands.

I continued. “Now that we understand one another, why did you have Johnny Tits kill Vinnie?”

“Who said I did?”

I raised the gun, pulled back the hammer, and said, “Any more bullshit and I’ll shoot you in the foot.”

“Okay! Okay! Yeah, I had Johnny take care of Vinnie. Vinnie had to go anyway, he was skimming from me and he thought I was too dumb to notice.”

“Why did you kill Johnny?”

“How the fuck …”

“Were you going to say, how the fuck did I know you killed Johnny or how the fuck did I know he was dead?”

“Alright, you seem to know everything. Man, I thought you were just some dumb mick bastard.”

“Yeah, I know, and that’s how you played me. But tell me about Johnny. There’s no way he could have been skimming from you.”

I could see the wheels turning in his head. He was trying to figure my angle. He was also trying to figure out an angle for himself.

Finally, he said, “I can use a smart operator like you. And I don’t mean as a gopher. It will mean a big raise from what I’m payin’ you now.”

“We’ll get to that in a minute. Right now tell me about Johnny.”

“You’re right. I sent him to off Vinnie and take the money. The plan was to hang it on you so the wise guys in Tampa would leave me alone. But I’m telling you, if I had known how on-the-ball you were, I would have played it different.”

“I’m flattered, but why did you off Johnny?”

“The son-of-a-bitch wanted a cut of the three hundred large. He even hinted he’d screw the deal if he didn’t get a fair shake. I don’t take that kind of shit from nobody.”

“No, Tony, I reckon you don’t. Did you do it yourself?”

“Yeah, I just walked across the street after dinner. I always go for a walk after dinner, but this time I visited Johnny.”

It was getting late and I wanted to get out of there before his mother came back. So I thought I’d bring our little meeting to a close. “Where’s the money now?”

“Why ya wanna know?”

“I just want to see what all the fuss was about, and besides, I think you owe me a couple of grand for the aggravation you put me through today. We can talk about my new job tomorrow.”

The look on his face was priceless. He had weathered the storm. All he had to do was let me walk out of there with a few bucks and then he could pick up the phone and put a hit out on me.

“It’s on the table over there, in the shoe box.”

I went to where he indicated and took the lid off the box. There sure was a lot of money staring back at me. I turned back to Tony and said, “I’ll get the money tomorrow; you give me whatever you think is fair.” Then I looked out his sliding glass doors and said, “You sure got some view,” as I walked behind the couch still looking out the doors. When I got behind Tony, I turned the gun around, and with the grip hit him behind his right ear as hard as I could. He fell over onto the couch, but he wasn’t knocked out, only stunned. Moving fast, I picked up a throw pillow from the couch, placed it on the back of his head, stuck the revolver into the pillow, and squeezed the trigger. What do you know? It really worked. The shot could not have been heard from outside of the apartment.

I went to the kitchen and got a dish rag. I wiped the gun of my prints and threw it on the floor. Then I went to the box, replaced the lid, and tucked it under my arm. At the door, I used the rag to open and close it. I also used the rag for the elevator buttons and the exit door to the garage. Luck was with me because I didn’t see anyone on my way out.

When I was back in my car and on my way to Terry, I turned on my phone and called her. She had been trying to call me for a couple hours. The conversation went something like this:

Terry: Oh, Billy, are you all right? I was so worried. I thought Tony might have gotten to you.

Me: No, I’m fine. I just had something to take care of.

Terry: You mean you shut off your phone and didn’t give me the courtesy of letting me know if you were alive or dead? You son-of-a-bitch! I never want to see you again. Drop dead!”

It went on like that for a while and then she got real quiet, and I could hear her crying. It made me feel like a heel. But, I’m happy to report that I have been forgiven. I think the money may have helped a little. We’re in San Francisco as I write these words. We’ve just gotten married and we’re going up to Oregon to set up housekeeping. She wants to have lots of kids.

If anyone feels so inclined, I’d appreciate it if you’d like my Facebook page. You can click on the button on the right side of the page, near to top. Thank you.

Fishin’

fishin

Johnny Donahue was my best friend when I was twelve years old. On Saturday mornings, we would go fishing. Because we would arise at 3:00 am and meet shortly thereafter, we called it “going fishing at three in the morning.”

This particular Saturday morning when I arrived at Johnny’s house, two of his three brothers were milling about outside. His brother Terry was a year younger than than we were and hung out with us quite a bit, so it was no surprise to see him. But, to see his youngest brother, Matthew, who was only six, was a different story. Before I could ask Johnny what was up, Matt came running up to me and said, “I wanna go fishin’.”

Johnny approached me. “If I try to leave him behind, he’ll just follow us or make such a racket he’ll wake up my parents.” So we bowed to the inevitable and let Matt follow us as we started for the lake. It wasn’t really a lake; it was what was called a rock pit. A rock pit being a place that was once dry land until a company came along and started dredging gravel, dirt, and muck for development out west near the Everglades. What was left after they had taken as much as possible was a small lake. We were fortunate; there were two such lakes within blocks of where we lived. They were identical, about a quarter mile long and half as wide. Between them was about a hundred yards of fine, sugary white sand.

Our 3:00 a.m. fishing routine consisted of me, Johnny, sometimes Terry, our fishing poles, a frying pan, a can of baked beans, and a stick of butter. At sunrise, we would stop fishing, clean our catch, build a fire, and cook the fish we had caught moments before. And of course, coming from good Irish (Boston) stock, the beans were always Boston Baked Beans.

As a rule, we always fished the north lake. Why, I don’t know. Probably because that’s the lake we swam in and we felt comfortable there. However, this morning we were fishing the south lake, and by the time the sun was fixing to come up, we had caught nothing. Matt may have helped our bad luck along by throwing rocks into the water right where we were fishing. So, we decided to call it a day, or a night, or whatever. It was still dark out when we reeled in our lines and started for home.

Johnny, Terry, and I were walking along the shore of the south lake. Matt was somewhere behind us. Or so we thought. There was no need to fret about Matt. We were only blocks from his home, which he knew his way to as well as we did. And there were no “Bad Guys” to worry about. It was 1962, after all. But with what happened in the next few minutes, it just goes to show you how wrong a guy can be. At this point, it’s still pitch black out, but a gray sky in the east was only minutes away.

As we neared the bit of land between the two lakes, we heard a sound, which immediately put us on guard. In those days, our neighborhood was way out in the boondocks, and we had never run into another living soul in all the time we went fishing at three o’clock in the morning. The sound was a scratching sound, immediately followed by a sound that sounded like plod. Scratch, plod, scratch, plod—it had a kind of rhythm. By then the dawn had broken—barely. It was light enough to see where the sound was coming from.

We could make out the silhouettes of two men and a car. The bigger of the two was leaning against the car, arms folded, watching the other man as he dug a hole. Those were the sounds we had heard, the scraping of the shovel as it was thrust into the sand, and the sand as it was heaved onto a slowly growing pile. As we stood there watching this strange sight, it got stranger still. The big guy went to the trunk, opened it, and dragged out a dead body. Or what sure looked like a dead body in the semi-darkness.

At the first glimpse of the body, all three of us dropped to the ground. After all, we were the first generation of children raised on television; we’d seen enough to know that witnesses always get “rubbed out.” Dead men tell no tales.

Johnny and I were right next to each other, with Terry behind us. We lay in that position for about five minutes, wondering what would be the best course of action to take that would not end up with us getting shot. Johnny and I were for staying on the ground and slowly crawling away so as not to be seen. Terry was for jumping up and making a run for it. Well, wouldn’t you know it, little Matthew decided which course of action we should take, and it was none of the above.

As we lay there conducting The Great Debate, we saw Matt walking up to the two men from the opposite direction. He must have circumnavigated the lake, and was heading in the general direction of home. The only problem being two bad guys were between him and his home. Because he was so small, and the men so intent on what they were doing, Matt was able to walk right up to the hole still being dug and peer into it. Even from our vantage point, we could see the men react as all reasonable men would react when discovered burying a corpse at six o’clock in the morning. They nearly jumped out of their skins.

After taking a moment to regroup, the bigger of the two, the one not shoveling, grabbed Matt by the arm, and forced-marched him about ten feet before flinging him in the direction of the street. Of course, the little kid stumbled and fell. He sat there looking up at that big bully as the man pointed to the street. You didn’t need to read lips to know the guy was telling Matt to scram.

Now, if I may, I’d like to digress for a moment and tell you about Johnny, Terry, and myself. Johnny and I were good kids. We were altar boys; we never gave the nuns at school any trouble. We kept our noses clean. Of course, as we got older and joined the Boy Scouts, Johnny made Eagle Scout while I never made it out of Tenderfoot. Johnny went on to become an FBI agent, and I went on to break many, many laws with impunity. But on that morning, we thought alike. Now Terry, on the other hand, was a holy terror. Whenever he hung with us, we could expect to either be reprimanded by someone, or punished by our parents when we got home. All the Donahue boys, except Terry, had red hair and freckles. Terry was different, he was a blond. Come to think of it, he was different in a lot of ways. I tell you these things so you will understand why things turned out as they did.

Back to the story: When we left off, Matt was sitting on the ground with Mr. Big standing over him.

Johnny jumped up and yelled, “My brother!” and started running in the direction of all the excitement. Because he was my pal, I was two steps behind him, and Terry was a step behind me. We reached the scene of the crime and injected ourselves between Mr. Big and Matt. When he saw us, the big guy laughed, and turned to the guy shoveling. “Hey, Nicky … the cavalry to the rescue.”

Nicky, he dropped the shovel, pulled out a gun that he had tucked into his belt, and pointed it at us. At this turn of events, Mr. Big said to Nicky, “Put the fuckin’ gun away, pick up your fuckin’ shovel, and dig the goddamn hole.” I thought Nicky was going to shoot him. I would have if someone spoke to me like that. But Nicky only shrugged, slipped the gun back into his belt, and resumed his spadework.

“So, kids, what’s the problem?” said Mr. Big “Why don’t you be good little tykes and just run along home?” When we heard that, Johnny and I looked at one another. We knew our troubles were over. All we had to do was walk away, go home, tell our parents, and they could take the appropriate steps to deal with the situation.

As Johnny took Matt by the hand and we turned to leave, we heard, “You guys gonna bury that dead body?”

“Fuckin’ Terry!” was my only thought at the moment. I don’t know what Johnny was thinking, but by the look on his face, he was thinking along similar lines. With that bit of oratory, Nicky again dropped his shovel and pulled out his gun. Mr. Big stared him down until Nicky meekly put the gun away. But in an act of defiance, he did not resume his shoveling duties. So there we were: four kids, two bad guys, and a corpse. What next? was probably the only thought going through everyone’s head—except for Matt and Terry. Matt was too young to comprehend the situation, and Terry was just getting warmed up.

As we stood there in this Mexican standoff, we heard a groan coming from the corpse. Then the corpse raised itself on one arm and shook its head. Now I’ve got to hand it to Mr. Big. If nothing else, he was a fast thinker. I could tell he was just as surprised as the rest of us at the resurrection taking place, probably more so. But without missing a beat, he turned to Terry and said, “You talkin’ about Marty? He’s no dead body; he just had too much to drink.”

I was thinking, Saved by the bell. All we’ve got to do is play dumb and we can walk out of here.

No sooner had I thought those encouraging thoughts, I heard, “Then why are you digging the hole?”

You guessed it. Fuckin’ Terry again. But no one paid any attention to him. Marty was slowly getting to his feet, and all eyes were upon the Lazarus-like spectacle. The only one present who did anything was Nicky. He pulled out his gun again. Mr. Big walked over to him and slapped him on the back of the head. “Not in front of the k-i-d-s.”

How old did this guy think we were that we couldn’t spell kids? But that was cool, if he wanted us stupid, we could be the stupidest sons-of-bitches you ever saw. But unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to exhibit our acting skills. Just then, Marty said to no one in particular, “You fuckin’ assholes. You tried to kill me!”

“We ain’t done trying yet,” was Nicky’s retort. With that brilliant statement—in front of witnesses nonetheless—Mr. Big lost his cool. He turned to Nicky and shouted, “Alright, just shoot the bastard once and for all. Kill him before I kill you, you sorry sonavabitch!”

Nicky grinned from one end of his face to the other. “Right, boss,” was his reply, just before he raised his gun and put two right in Marty’s head. The rest of those assembled, with the exception of Mr. Big, jumped a foot in the air with the explosion of the first shot. Marty did not take it so well. He was flung back against the car and stared at Nicky for a long moment before he collapsed like a wet dishrag. Us kids were frozen to the piece of earth we each happened to be standing on at the moment the shots were fired. Even Terry couldn’t think of anything stupid to say.

As soon as Marty hit the ground, Mr. Big ordered Nicky to pull the body away from the car. Mr. Big got behind the wheel and yelled for Nicky to hurry up and get into the car. Standing at the passenger side window, he asked, “What about the kids?”

We were still rooted to our respective pieces of earth, so we were close enough to hear Mr. Big’s reply. “Nicky, fuck the goddamn kids, fuck Marty, fuck you, and fuck this miserable town! Get your ass in here or so help me, I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off right where you stand.” With that, Mr. Big pulled out his own gun and pointed it at Nicky’s head. Having his boss point a gun at his head didn’t seem to faze Nicky. Before getting into the car, he turned to Johnny and me and winked. “See ya, kids.” He then got into the car and Mr. Big backed it out onto the street, and drove out of our lives forever.

But wait, the story isn’t over quite yet. After our friends had left, we formed a circle around Marty. We stood there looking down at him. He was lying face down in the fine white sand with a small pool of crimson-colored blood forming next to his head. Terry said, “Cool.” Johnny looked like he wanted to throw up. I was paralyzed and Matt was building sand castles. After a few minutes, Johnny said, “Let’s go home.”

The walk home was the least eventful part of that entire morning’s fishing expedition, at least until we arrived at Johnny’s house. When we got there, he said, “You guys wait out here. I’ll go in and tell my parents what happened.”

A few moments later, we heard a scream, followed by the exclamation, “My babies!” Within seconds, Mrs. Donahue, wearing an old blue bathrobe and with curlers in her hair, flew through the front door, stooped down, and like a mother hen, enfolded Matt and Terry into her arms. After a few moments and a few sniffles, she stood up and shouted, while pointing at the door, “Get in there, misters, before I beat you!”

After that, there was nothing left for me to do but make my way to my own home. I was hungry; we hadn’t caught any fish that morning. And, for some reason, we were never again allowed to go fishing at three o’clock in the morning.

Yellow Hair