Coming Soon: "The Outskirts of Hell"
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
The Outskirts of Hell
Paul Joseph, Luiso ©2010 G.U. Creative, LLC
Chapter 1 Los Angeles: April, 1934 An ear-splitting “CLACK” raked the darkness and then silence. In what seemed like an eternity later there was a blinding flash of white light behind my closed eyelids. It didn't take too long for the cycle to repeat; the clack and sooner afterward this time, the flash of light. The pain in my leg muscles started to drag me out of the muddy darkness into the morning half-light of a bedroom. It was my bedroom. I strained to open crusty eyelids and winced as I looked around. The flash of light was the opening created by the breeze lightly pushing on the roll-down blind over the window and the clack was the wooden slat that weighed down the bottom of the blind. As the breeze failed, the slat fell back against the window sill, creating the sound that stabbed through my head. The pain in my leg muscles was the first sign. Soon I'd feel like I was wrapped in cellophane and the withdrawals would start— jolts of electric pain worse than any cattle prod. I needed a fix and I knew I didn't have enough junk to do the the job. I was going to need at least five grams and maybe I had just short of two, leftovers from the night before. Cold sweat drenched me and crawling panic filled me as I stumbled out of bed. I headed for the trick drawer in my dresser where I stashed my kit. I knelt down and fumbled behind the leg of the ancient chest of drawers for the hidden switch. My hands were trembling and giving me trouble but I finally found it and the bottom trim popped open. I grabbed for the cigar box where I kept my rig. As I straightened up to put it on the dresser, it started— that wrapped in cellophane feeling with the electric pain shooting through every part of me. I opened the lid and snatched violently at the contents; my rig and some errant bindles; small squares of paper folded into little envelopes that held the scant two grams. I also found a few that contained some left-over Mexican Brown that was barely worth shooting. I scraped it all into my spoon and added a little left over water from a drinking glass. I tied off, snapped open my old Zippo lighter and warmed it up. Veins were getting harder to find all the time. My arm looked like a downtown road map. I pumped my fist madly and slapped my arm on the upside of the elbow joint. I finally found a vein that worked, plunged the needle in, squeezed the bulb and waited. I knew the rush I'd hoped for wouldn't come, but I was at least hoping for more than I got. It just barely took the edge off the pain. I threw my head back and heard a guttural sound come from deep within my throat. I was in way over my head. I'd sold everything; any leftover family heirlooms including a gold watch that may have belonged to my father—whoever he was, the wedding set that my long lost mother might have worn, my car, most of my clothes, even my police .38! I'd have sold my badge if I didn't need it to get into the precinct. My partner Henry said I should've left “Vice” a long time ago. I knew he was right but at the time I was too bone-headed to listen. Now I was as good as dead. All I could think about was that I needed a real fix, but I was broke and in up to my neck with three dealers. All I wanted to do was curl up into a fetal position and die. Besides the electric pain, I felt sick to my stomach. Every time I took a breath I wanted to gag. There was something cooking nearby and It was making me sick— bacon, eggs and coffee. I slammed through the bedroom door into the alleyway kitchen that was part of my apartment at “The Randolph”; a shabby, run-down residential hotel on a street of shabby, run-down residential hotels. There was a girl there at the stove. Medium long blond hair fell in waves over the shoulders of the ratty bathrobe she wore—my bathrobe! She looked over her shoulder at me doe-eyed and started to say, “It's about time you got up, slee…” and then she got a good look at me— probably the first one she'd had without the haze of alcohol. She looked scared and I couldn't blame her— I'm sure I looked like a mad-man. “WADAYOUDOINGHERE?” I screamed. “I TOLD YOU TO BE GONE IN THE MORNING!” “I, I… I…” she stammered. “I didn't think you meant it, so I thought I'd make us breakfast.” I lurched forward to the stove and grabbed the wooden handle of the coffee pot dumping a lot of the contents into the frying pan. The grease hissed and splattered as she jumped back and swore. I slapped her hard across the face; her blond hair splayed out as she crumbled into the breakfast nook opposite the stove. “GET OUT” I hollered, “GET OUT NOW!” She looked up from the floor at my pale skin, gaunt frame and sunken eyes. Staring at my track-covered arms her face turned from fear to a kind of shaky confidence. Anger filled her eyes as she spat out, “You're just a hype...a lousy, stinkin' hype! I knew there was somethin' wrong with you. Nobody falls asleep on this body!” She stood up fast, yanked my robe off and threw it at me. I could see what she meant; broad shoulders tapered to a small waist and flowed into full hips. My eyes followed them down to long, well-shaped legs. Her knees were small and dimpled, her ankles shapely and well turned, her feet small and pretty. Her breasts were large but not too much so; they sat firm and high on her chest. She slammed past me swearing all the way to the bedroom. As I looked over my shoulder at her back, I saw she had one of those dimpled, “heart-shaped” bottoms you hear about occasionally but only rarely see. If I hadn't been strung out Id've kept her around for at least a week. It was only a minute before she blew past me in a green dress stuffing underwear into her purse. As she got to the door she turned around and sneered, “I'd tell you not to call me, but you probably don't have a nickel anyway! See ya 'round hype...but not for long, I'm sure!” She slammed the door behind her. She was right; I was as good as dead. As a Vice cop, I'd seen lots of junkies in this kind of shape. Most of them were already dead by this time. I didn't know what was keeping me alive. I slumped down naked on the sofa and clutched my gut. I was thinking about calling around around and trying to get someone—anyone to front me some stuff when the phone began to ring. I answered it using my best “tough-guy” voice, but I doubt it sounded all that tough. “Yeah?” I said. The voice on the other end was as dry as old newspaper. “This Cairo?” I tried to put a sneer in my voice with little success. “Who wants to know?” “This is John Malone. Be at my office in an hour. It's in the Tacoma building on Grand and 5th— across the street from the Biltmore. Don't be late!” The phone clacked and went dead. Great...A phone call from Fat Johnny Malone. I guess my day wasn't going badly enough! If there was anything to make a dollar on unethically, immorally or illegally in this town, Fat Johnny was behind it, involved in it or in the shadows of it. He'd buried more men than a Army mortician. If he put the finger on you, you'd barely have time to pray. I don't know what he wanted with me but at this point, I figured it might be a good day to die. I called the Red Car Taxicab Company and the grumpy sounding dispatcher told me through a mouth full of food that they could have a hack out to my place in about thirty minutes. I hung up and stumbled back towards the bed room, stopping only to pour what was left of the coffee the blonde had made into a dirty cup I pulled out of the sink. I reached into an over-head cupboard and grabbed a pint bottle of Rye Whiskey I'd taken off a bootlegger I'd pinched a few weeks ago. There was just over a shot left. I knew I was taking a chance by doing any drinking; mixing junk and alcohol can kill you, but at that point I was beyond caring. I poured it into the cup along with the coffee and took a sip. It brought out a fine mist of colder sweat all over me, but I had to admit that I felt a little better. I knew it wouldn't last though and like I thought, it didn't. In no time I was back to aching for a fix. I made it into the bedroom and started pulling on my clothes from last night. They were the only clothes I had left after I'd sold my wardrobe to anyone with a few bucks in their pocket. I put on one of the only two pairs of skivvies I had left and my last pair of socks. My wrinkled off-white shirt was next along with an old black tie I hadn't re-knotted since Coolidge was in office. I no longer had a vest, but I still had my straw-colored suit. It was the only one I had left. I'd most likely have to be buried in it if anyone would spring for a funeral. I pulled on my trousers and reached for the only gun I had anymore; an old Smith & Wesson Schofield .45 revolver from the 1870's I'd won off a skinny spook in a craps game months earlier. It was a hell of a weapon; thick, heavy and bulky. It felt old, loose and worn out. I don't know how long the barrel was originally, but someone had sawed it off to six inches, more or less. I say more or less because it was shorter at the top of the cut than at the bottom, which made the barrel come down at a slight angle. The job was rough and sloppy. There were vice marks on the barrel. Someone had done a halfhearted file job on its face as if they were trying to improve the cut, but lost interest. Half a dime had been haphazardly welded to the top of the barrel in order to make a front sight, but it was so off-center it was more of a hindrance than a help. The wooden hand-grip had a huge crack down one side. The bluing was worn and rust peaked through it at various places. The shoulder holster it came with was made out of a cut-up tire tube and an old pair of suspenders. Yeah, it was a hell of a weapon. I'd never fired I and I hoped I'd never have to— I was afraid it might blow up on me. I wrestled it on, pulled my suit coat over it, grabbed my hat and made my way to the door. I swung it open just in time to run face-first into Hattie, one of the colored cleaning women that worked my floor. She was big and round with a moon face and huge eyes. She was startled at first but when she got a good look at me, she seemed horrified. She stammered out ”Mis...Mistuh Cairo! Is you alright, Suh?” There was nothing to say to that. I didn't have the energy to tell her my troubles, so all I did was to grunt on the way by. As stumbled down the hallway, I could hear her chanting in a tearful voice, “Lawd Jesus...you just gots to help Mistuh Cairo...he looks like he's 'bout to die!” She was more than likely right, if not by OD'ing, than by one of Fat Johnny's goons. Maybe I'd get lucky and be hit by a bus. I spent most of my trip down the four flights of stairs mopping my face and neck with my handkerchief and feeling like I wanted to leap over the side head-first onto the gray marble floor below. My blood wouldn't have made the place noticeably dirtier. The Randolph, like the rest of the residence apartment buildings on the block, had been a classy coup for the Victorian set, but that was decades ago. Now it rode a fine line between receivership and a wrecking ball. The handrails were dirty and greasy, the marble staircases were cracked and chipped. The wall-paper was peeling at the corners and the whole place reeked with the stale and smoky odor of thousands of cigarettes and the stink of unwashed bodies. I finally made to the bottom landing. There was a huge, full length mirror on the wall in case you wanted to straighten yourself up before meeting the world. I stopped there because what I saw startled even me. I was as pale as death and the black circles under my eyes combined with my pallor to make me look like the silent movie actors of twenty years ago. My suit looked like it had been slept in and it fit me the way a garage fits a car. The big gun bulged under my suit like I was carrying a howitzer. Even my bone-colored fedora seemed too big for my head. If I had been a praying man, I'd have prayed to die. At the rate I was going, I probably wouldn't have to. I opened the huge wood and leaded glass doors and stumbled out onto the street. I looked down the block to the rescue mission where a soup line wound down the sidewalk. I could hear a salvation Army band playing, their workers singing and chanting, but I couldn't make out what they were saying. It was just about then that the cab rolled around the corner. It took a lot to even open the door and when I finally managed that, I fell heavily onto the seat. “Where to, Chief?” the driver asked in a cheery tone. He was a red-headed kid in a news boy's hat, splattered with Union buttons. There was a toothpick hanging from the corner of his mouth. I mumbled, “Tacoma building.” “Gee, Chief…that's only a half a dozen blocks.” he said as he turned to look at me. “You could've wal...” Then he saw me. His mouth hung open like he was trying to catch flies. He blinked hard a couple of times and shook his head as if he was imagining things. When he opened his eyes again and nothing had changed, he said “You don't look so good Chief. How's about I help you out?” He reached under his seat and flipped a switch. A panel in the back seat next to me popped open and when I lifted it, there was a bottle of clear liquid and a small stack of cone shaped cups like the kind you find at a water cooler. “Pour yourself some of that hooch and we'll get going…just keep the bottle low. We don't want the Johns bringing us downtown on a bootlegging charge.” I flashed my badge and his cheery manner dropped away. His face went ashen and his eyes got scared. “I'm not gonna pinch you” I said to him, “but you should be careful about who you show this to.” I tilted my head toward the bottle and asked, “Bathtub?” His voice trembled a little as he replied “Not a chance, Chief. That's bonded stuff. My cousin works at the Swedish Embassy. He gets me a few bottles a month.” “That's fine” I said. I poured myself a stiff one and the hack started moving. I was really hurting now and the fiery liquid didn't take much of the edge off. I poured myself another and leaned against the door with the air blowing onto my face. I wanted a cigarette but I didn't have one, so I poured my third shot and knocked it back. The cab made a long, slow right from seventh onto Grand like it had all the time in the world. A lanky traffic cop with immense hands in white gloves waved us through the intersection. The staccato blast of his whistle tore through my head like a white-hot ice pick. The Tacoma Building was on the right side just before 5th across from the Hollywood Biltmore. We were about a half block away when a leggy redhead in a printed dress and a hat the size of a throw rug floated across the sidewalk and stood with her toes at the edge of the curb. The driver didn't hardly see her. He had one eye on the street and one eye on me as I poured my fourth shot in only about three blocks. It was then that the redhead decided to step off the curb. I shouted “Watch out!” The driver spun his head around and slammed on the brakes. I flew off the back seat and hit the back of the front one. I didn't spill the bottle but my drink flew all over me. As I pulled my aching body back up into the seat, I growled at the driver “You need to pay more attention to the road and less on your booze.” The cab had ground to a stop just inches short of the redhead. She stood there frozen; her eyes so wide you could see white all around her green irises. She had a full lower lip clenched between her teeth. I gave her an ugly look. She spotted it and threw her nose into the air. Spinning around, she skipped up the curb and minced down the sidewalk toward the crosswalk she should have used in the first place. The driver gave me a sheepish look and said, “Sorry chief.” He lowered his head a little but still kept his eye on the bottle. My cup was crushed so I grabbed a fresh one and snarled, “Well, wadaya waiting for? Get going—and keep your eye on the road!” The cab took off like it had been shot from a cannon. The cab took the left onto Grand against traffic and on two wheels. Oncoming drivers swore and made obscene gestures. When we had rolled to a stop, I put the bottle back in its hiding place and pushed on the seat until I heard a click. I looked at the meter and saw that the the total was thirty-three cents. I threw my last crumpled single over the seat and and looked the driver in the eye. “This should take care of the booze. Next time watch your driving!” It was all I could do to crawl out of the hack. I tried to slam the door but just didn't have it in me. The driver muttered “Thanks chief” and looking over his left shoulder let the clutch in and pulled away from the curb. The Tacoma building had three wide steps from the sidewalk up to the landing that led to the brass trimmed glass doors. Climbing them felt like I was on my way up Everest. When I got to the top I slumped onto one of the short walls that edged the landing, sat there for a few minutes and wondered what Malone wanted. If I was thinking clearer, I would have known what was going on. I decided that where I was going, it wouldn't be a good idea to have my badge on me, so I took it out of my pocket and stuffed it into one of my socks. I hoped it wouldn't fall out. The April sun was maddeningly bright and it was starting to get hot. I pulled the brim of my hat down and pulled myself to my feet. It was harder than it looked and I'm sure it looked pretty hard. As I moved toward the doors, a small, happy-looking blond breezed up, grabbed one of the brass door handles, pulled it open wide and zipped on in. It would have been to much work to do it myself, so I followed her through. My heels clacked on the marble flooring echoing off the marble walls as I headed toward the tall marble reception counter. As I got there, I nearly fell across it as I put my elbows onto the highly-polished surface. I was mopping my face with my handkerchief when words that were just sounds bounced off my ears, snapping me out of my daze. “HUH?” I asked, looking in the direction of the sound. “I said, you could take off your hat! The words came from a dark-haired Jewess with gold-rimmed nose glasses and a frosty attitude. I was still so dazed that what she'd said barely registered. I was lucky that at least my right arm was listening. It snatched the fedora off my head and hung onto it. She asked, “How may I help you?” but I doubt she really meant it. “Name's Cairo.” I said. “I'm here to see Fat John...” The scowl that invaded her face stopped me dead in my tracks. It wrinkled her forehead and pursed her lips. She glared at me over the gold-rimmed cheaters and waited. “Mis...Mister Malone...he's expecting me.” The frown faded slightly as she ran a hand with about six carats on it down the list in front of her. With a move that was almost a flourish, she swept her arm up and squinted through the gold-rimmed cheaters at a tiny, jewel encrusted watch on the underside of her wrist. Without even looking back at me she barked, “You're late!” There looked to be even more diamonds on the hand she used to stab at a chromium squawk-box next to her on the desk. The buzz it made bounced around the inside of my head like the steel ball in a pinball machine. I heard the same “old newspaper” voice from the earlier phone call say, “Yeah?”. “Mister Cairo for you Mister Malone.” “He's late!” He sounded annoyed at me and at her— like it was her fault I wasn't on time. “Send him up the private elevator.” “Yes Mister Malone.” The angry glare was back. She snarled “Get up there...and put the rush on it!” I turned toward the bank of brass-doored elevators and and took a couple of steps. The Jewess called after me, “No, you idiot...that one!” She pushed another button and another smaller door in the wall to her other side slid open. I turned and walked as fast as I could and stepped inside. I could see it wasn't fast enough for her. By now I was grinding my teeth against the pain and staring at the lower half of the automatic elevator doors as they slid open with a low, whooshing sound. My eyes were met by a pair of highly-polished black & white cap-toed shoes. I followed them up to a gun-metal gray suit cut like nobody's business. There wasn't a fold or wrinkle in the jacket and you could've cut your finger on the crease in the trousers. The perfect sheen of a black silk vest was broken only by the glint of a shiny, stainless-steel watch chain from which hung a miniature pair of ruby encrusted boxing gloves. The white shirt that peeked out from underneath it was so white, there could have been a spot light behind it and the maroon tie and matching pocket square that brought it all together looked like it had been bought about ten minutes ago. As fascinating as I found his clothes, what really surprised me was the look of the man wearing them. He was an ex prize-fighter, probably a middle-weight. I say “ex” because it was obvious that he never learned to keep his left up. The skin on that side of his face was scarred, flattened and welted. He had a cauliflower ear, and his left eye and the corner of his mouth drooped like he'd had some sort of nerve damage. His nose had been broken and re-set countless times—all badly. Hair the color of wet sand shone under a handful of hair wax. I was so taken aback by the look of this guy that I didn't even notice the short-barreled stainless-steel automatic he held on me at waist level until he bounced the nose of it. “Hoist the mitts, Bo— the boss says you get the frisk. Go ahead Arch.” There was something else I didn't notice; a wide, nondescript man in a brown nondescript suit ambled toward me. The dark eyes that rested in his loose, jowly face glittered with amusement. He had a mud-colored fedora crushed onto the back of his head. A hand-rolled cigarette stuck to his lower lip and smoldered. Hands like catchers mitts pawed over me and went right to the bulge under my coat. He pulled out the Schofield and grinned widely. “Gee pal… wadaya gonna do wid dis? Rob a stagecoach? Haw, haw!!! He turned to the fighter and said in a loud, obnoxious tone, “Hey Champ, Getaloadadis!” as he held up the old pistol. From the look on what was left of the boxer's face, you could tell he wasn't amused at the nickname or the gun. “Shaddup Arch! The Boss don't like to be kept waiting.” He bobbed his gun at me again and said "Drift Bo.” We ambled down a long, dimly lit hallway that had been painted a dusty rose color. About every ten feet there was a sconce lamp and between them, artwork. Arty, high-contrast black and white photos mixed with abstract or surrealist paintings that I didn't understand. They probably cost a bundle but they looked like change for a nickle to me. At the end of the hall we took a right and stopped in front of a door that could have come off a German bunker. The wide man knocked two long and one short and a small slot of a door slid open. The man behind it looked out and slid it shut again. The thick door opened slowly. We stepped inside into a room a little smaller than an auditorium. An ocean of sea-foam green carpet blanketed the floor, nearly hiding my shoes. Three and one quarter of the walls were polished redwood and the remaining section that faced me was made of glass brick. More photos and weird paintings hung on the walls, only these were much larger. Huge Art Deco chandeliers hung from a ceiling so high I expected clouds. All the furniture in the room a was a deep blood red— probably just for the effect. There was a twelve foot snooker table against a wall so long it made it look like a card table. A long backless bench ran along the wall so the players would have a place to sit, but no one sat there. Tough guys leaned against the table rather than played on it. Every piece of furniture in the room was expensive looking. Three large sofas sat in a “U” configuration, each with a floor lamp, end tables and a smoking stand. Across the room, four richly upholstered high-back chairs stared at each other across a pink marble coffee table. Palm trees were scattered around the room in Moorish-looking Ali Baba oil pots, each big enough to hold a tiger. An ash-blonde in a red brocade dress reclined languidly on a red brocade divan. The couch and her dress could have been made of the same material. She smoked a cigarette in a holder longer than a maestro's baton. There was a long table at her elbow and on it was an electric phonograph and a horizontal rack of records. Apparently, it was her job to set the mood of the room with music and to look distant while doing it. Right now, an Irish tenor was crushing the life out of some song about Killarney. She'd probably start a funeral dirge for me. Small cliques of tough guys filled the room. Some carried rifles and shotguns, others carried Tommy guns; all of them had bulges under their arms as they stood around looking dangerous. With all that nice furniture in the room, you'd thing someone would be sitting on some of it, but no one was. They all just stood around looking on-edge and fidgety, but I was too strung out to care about what might have been going on. Out of all those gangsters, the only one that concerned me sat behind a highly-polished redwood desk. As we made our way across the field of carpet I could see a man I'd only heard about before. Chapter 2 Fat Johnny Malone was three-hundred sixty pounds of iron-eyed gangster in a black custom-made suit. Shiny black hair with a tinge of gray at the temples was brushed back hard off his forehead. His eyebrows came down almost at right angles on his forehead giving him a sympathetic look, but that idea was lost the minute you looked into his cold, steel-Grey eyes. His nose was pointy, his mouth small, girlish. Countless chins billowed out of a Hoover collar. A purple ascot tie that sported a yellow amethyst no smaller that an apple, strained to hold it closed. He reclined in a wide red leather desk chair. He looked comfortable. At least as comfortable as anyone wearing a Hoover collar can be. As we got to the desk, the wide man snatched the hat off my head and put it and the ancient pistol in front of of Malone. He waved them away and the man who'd put them there grabbed them up again. Fat Johnny looked at me up and down. He steepled his fingers and said, “So, you're Cairo.” An eerie grin played at the corners of his mouth. “You look like sh…” He was cut off by the loud buzz of the chromium squawk box which was next to a chromium tray that held two chromium trimmed decanters filled with liquor. Next to those was a chromium ice bucket. A chromium pitcher sat next to a chromium bottle of charged water. There was a chromium desk set and a chromium lighter near a chromium trimmed glass ashtray in which smoldered a cigar as thick as a kosher pickle. There was a detailed chromium box and chromium corners on his desk blotter. A couple of chromium trimmed telephones sat next to that. It was way too much chromium. “Yeah?” The voice of the Jewess downstairs sounded through the static. “The boys are here with Mitch Long, Mister Malone.” As he answered, “Good. Send them up.” his voice had the tone of a cat that just ate the goldfish. He grinned coldly and said “Give Mister Cairo a seat for the show boys.” One of the tough guys nearby shoved a hard chair into the back of my legs and another shoved me down into it. Malone looked at me deadly and said, “I want you to pay close attention to this. Don't even blink!” To the side of his desk, a door opened in the wall near the glass bricks. Three men walked through it onto the marble flooring of the only uncarpeted area in the vast room. The first one was a mincing fancy man with a platinum-blond, Jean Harlow dye-job set in finger-waves. He had thin hawkish features and slate-blue eyes. He wore a blue pinstriped suit the trousers of which were cut a half size too tight and his tie and pocket square were so loud you had to cover your ears. He was looking to make an entrance, this one was. He threw his head back and with a broad motion ran a hand with a glittering pinky ring through his hair. If I wasn't hurting so bad, I would have thought it amusing. His kind didn't scare me; they never do. It was the third man— the daigo—that made my stomach churn. Salvatore DiCeasare— “Silent Sal” as he was known around town. No one that I knew of had ever heard him speak; he let his work do the talking and it talked so you'd remember. He was hired muscle. If you wanted someone not to forget— for a very long time, that he'd been beat up, he was the muscle you hired. If you wanted someone dead quickly, cleanly and quietly, he was the muscle you hired. If you wanted someone to just disappear, he was the muscle you hired. He wasn't very tall— he didn't need to be. He was built like a bridge abutment. He had a chest like a barrel, short stocky legs, long, thick arms and strong, veiny hands that looked too big for his body. Black, wavy hair was parted high on his head and combed straight back off a low forehead. His eyes were squints surrounded by crows-feet so large and deep they could've been made by real crows. His nose and mouth were wide and separated by a thin, Clark Gable mustache. He wore the typical guinea uniform; shiny black shoes, black suit, black shirt, white tie. He looked fearless because he was. I'd seen him once at a craps game where a big Irishman made the mistake of calling him a cheat. The mick pulled out a snub-nose .38 and seemed about to put a couple of slugs in him. Sal's left hand shot out as fast as a snake and grabbed the the mick's gun hand. You could hear the bones cracking as Di Ceasare squeezed. The Irishman's head went back as he let out a howl of pain. Sal's right hand shot out just as fast as his left and grabbed the mick by the throat. I watched as the Irishman turned purple; his tongue jutting out of his mouth as he gasped and gagged. That was it for the mick. When Di Ceasare finally let go, the Irishman dropped to the floor dead. Just thinking back on it made me want to throw up. If I'd eaten anything in the last few days I would have. Between the two men walked Mitch Long; a man who'd obviously come by his name honestly. He was tall—gangly. What's more, it looked like a couple of guys had taken every part of his body, grabbed hold of them and pulled. His head looked stretched, his throat looked stretched, his torso looked stretched, his arms and legs looked stretched. Even his hands and feet looked stretched. As a result, his “off the rack” suit didn't fit quite right, but that was the least of his worries. Fat Johnny slowly turned his desk chair in Mitch's direction and for what seemed like very long time, said nothing. Beads of sweat trickled down Long's face as he stood there trembling. Malone got up from his seat behind the desk. He moved quickly for a fat man. As he drifted toward Long, he passed by an umbrella stand and grabbed out an old battered police nightstick. He swung it loosely at his side. Fat Johnny's father had been a police officer; poor, but honest. He'd been killed in the line of duty when Malone was about twelve. Instead of looking for revenge, he decided to join them rather than beat them. He joined the gangs and by sheer guts, brains and brutality worked his way up to where he was now. That old nightstick was probably the only “Family Heirloom” Fat Johnny had left. As he approached Long, he growled, “Y'know Mitch, all we've really got are our reputations— and you're killing mine. I hear you've been cutting what I give you to sell—way too much!” Long stammered out, “N…no, Mis… Mister Malone. I…I wouldn't do that! I…” “Shaddup Long! I don't like liars any more than I like sneaky little crooks like you.” With that, Malone shot an almost invisible look at Sal. Di Ceasare moved quickly behind Mitch and wrapped his thick arms around his midsection. Long wasn't going anywhere now. Fat Johnny took a fast step in Long's direction and drove the stick into his mid-section. He would have dropped like a rock if Di Ceasare wasn't holding him up. Malone swung again and took out one of Mitch's knees. He yelled in pain, but Johnny wasn't through—not by a long shot. The next blow came down on the right side of his collarbone. I heard the bone crack. This went on for quite a while and by the time Malone was finished, Long was nothing but a broken, bloodied mass groaning on the marble floor. The only one making more noise than Long now was me. I couldn't hold the pain back any longer. I writhed white-knuckled in the chair moaning near the top of my lungs. Fat Johnny was breathing hard. He pulled a crumpled handkerchief from his trouser pocket and moped his brow. A sadistic grin played across his thin lips as he motioned to the fancy man who jumped at his command. He looked in my direction and smiled fatalistically. “Look's like Cairo's not feeling too good. We should help him out…don'tchathink?” He bobbed his head at the pansy and the fancy-man minced over to Malone's desk. He opened the chromium box and took out a small scale, an alcohol candle, a spoon and a syringe. He used the big desk lighter to light the candle and turned to Fat Johnny. He asked “How much, Boss?” “Give him about four grams, but be careful; that stuff's uncut." Malone grinned the same fatalistic grin and said "We'll just add it to his bill.” The nance weighed out the junk and put it in the spoon. He used some water from the chromium pitcher and heated the mix over the alcohol candle stirring it with the point of the needle. When the mix was ready, he gingerly filled the syringe, held it up to the light and tapped at it with a highly polished fingernail until all the bubbles rose to the top. He squeezed the bulb until nothing but fluid came out. He reached into the box once more and came out with a length of surgical hose. He looked over my shoulder and one of the toughs who had sat me down yanked me up again while another grabbed off my suit-coat. I was thrust down into the chair again as the queer floated toward me. He had one of boys role up my shirt-sleeve. His face twisted into a grimace. I hadn't had a shower in more than a few days and I probably stunk something awful. The fancy man looked down at my track-covered arm and slowly shook his head back and forth. He held the syringe between his teeth as he tied the hose around my arm. When he had me tied off, he took the needle from his mouth and spoke quietly; almost whispering saying, "You're a real mess pally...you should be dead by now." I couldn't argue with him, so I just let that one go. After slapping the upside of my arm for a minute, he expertly found a vein and squeezed the bulb on the end of the syringe, pulled the hose away and the electric pain snapped off like a light switch. A rush enveloped me like a cocoon and just like that the world was a sweet, wonderful place. Through the cloud I was in, I heard Fat Johnny say "Stand him up." One of the toughs grabbed me roughly and stood me up in front of my chair. I hardly felt it. Fat Johnny sauntered over and stood in front of me. He grabbed me by the collar and slapped me hard-- first with the palm of his hand and then with the back of it. I didn't feel that much either. "I want you to listen to me very carefully hype. Those three dealers you're into for that seven-hundred sixty bucks are my dealers, so that means you're into me for seven sixty, plus what you just got makes it eight-hundred." If I'd been in my right mind, I would have been scared senseless but I was so high I didn't care. I just stood there watching Fat Johnny's mouth move barely hearing him. "You've got 'till five pm to get that eight-hundred to me, or..." he said, pointing to what was left of Mitch Long, "you're gonna wish you were him!" Malone waved a hand behind his back and the nondescript man in the brown suit moved in our direction. Fat Johnny grabbed my fedora out of his hand and shoved it upside down into my hands. The Schofield came next. He looked a little surprised. Turning it in the light, he looked it up and down with a confused expression on his face. He shrugged his shoulders slightly and, looking at the thumb release turned it upside down. He broke it open over the hat and the cartridges ejected into it. He shoved the old revolver into the make-shift holster and the tough who held my suit-coat wrestled me into it. He motioned to Di Ceasare and the daigo grabbed my upper arm with a rough movement. He walked me toward the door as Malone called out, "Remember hype, five pm...and don't be late!" We moved across the big room. I drifted and weaved while the daigo guided me. As we passed through the armored door, I put my hat on forgetting the ammo was still in it. The shells bounced and rolled on the marble flooring of the hallway. For a moment, I just stood there watching the shells as they moved around. Di Ceasare looked at me, waited a bit then threw me to the floor and pointed. "Okay, okay..." I said as crawled around gathering them up. I guess I wasn't moving fast enough for him because he used his foot to shove me. I sprawled out on my belly. It took more than a few more minutes to gather up the last couple of rounds and a little more time to make it to my feet again. When I did I was met by a dirty look. I shoved the shells into my pocket as he pushed me into the elevator reaching inside to hit the down button. The doors whooshed closed and in no time I was drifting by the surly Jewess on my way outside. Chapter 3 A few minutes later, I was standing in front of the Biltmore, a huge Romanesque palace that took up a good deal of block across from the Tacoma Building. I went in through the grand arch with its ionic pillars, took a left and floated through the red and gold bar on my way to the head. Tall gold colored bar stools with red silk seats faced a pink marble bar. A tall, aloof looking barman in a gold-braided red jacket stood behind it. He polished glasses and glared at me as I drifted by. He gave me an ugly look as though my walking through the place would somehow soil it. Booths of the same design lined the opposing wall. Table sets of dark wood, gold metal and red upholstery stood between them. I weaved past them into a cool, darkened hallway. A door read "Gentlemen." I grinned as I pushed it open. The Men's room was one of the nicest places I'd ever seen; awash in pink marble and glittering gold tone fixtures. It was prissy, fussy and completely over-done. Red flooring contrasted dark wood with heavily carved trim, inlayed with more gold metal. I remember thinking that the fairy who shot me up would have loved it. I ran some water in the marble sink while I hung my coat and hat on a set of gold colored hooks with pink marble balls on them. I used the urinal and washed my hands with some Bay Rum scented soap. I splashed the warm water on my face and neck enjoying the feeling. I used a rolled up towel out of a fancy, dark wooden box on the pink marble counter and tossed it in a similar looking hamper on the way out the door. I was feeling pretty good now; good enough to call into the precinct, but not good enough to go through the front desk. I dropped one of my last nickels in the slot and dialed direct to Henry's extension. The phone rang three times before he picked it up. A deep, formal voice answered, "Detective Muller." "Henry, it's Cairo." "Lou! Where are you?" His voice filled with tension and dropped to a whisper. "The Chief's been asking all over for you!" "Over at the Biltmore...had some business." "You'd better get over here right away. You're not in very good with the Chief as it is." "Come pick me up, wouldja?" "What happened to the coupe?" the coupe he was speaking of was the 1916 Saxon I "inherited" from Tom, my best friend from the orphanage we grew up in. He signed it over to me when he joined the army and went to fight in France during the great war. I never knew why he insisted on giving me the car. I always figured he'd come back. I was wrong. The Saxon was smart, sturdy, and ran well, but I wound up putting it in my arm just like everything else. "Sold it." An exasperated blast of air came through the phone and then silence for a long minute. "Lou," he warned when he finally spoke again, "you're gonna end up dead if you keep this up!" I was too high to give him much grief, so I answered, "I should be dead already." I said fatalistically, "If I die, I die. No one lives forever. Just come get me wouldja? He sighed again and said "Walk over to Pershing Square. Sit where I can see you. I'll be over as soon as I can." I hung up the phone without saying anything more and floated down the hall back through the bar, past the surly barman and out the archway to the street. It was a warm and sunny day, but some clouds were starting to show on the eastern hills. I walked around the corner and down the block to Pershing Square. I found a bench near the street and parked myself on it. I must have fallen asleep, because all at once Henry was kicking the bottom of my shoe and growling "Wake up Dammit! How long do I have to holler to get your attention?" I pulled myself up from the bench grinning. I ambled toward Henry's car, a huge Jordan Motor Car sedan that took up a good part of the block and with enough room in the back seat for a gang fight. It had been his Dad's but because of poor eyesight, he didn't drive it anymore. I watched Henry's back as he walked around to the drivers side. He was a real matinee idol, Henry was. Tall, well put together with broad shoulders and a profile that would make John Barrymore jealous. He had wavy, corn-colored hair and pale blue eyes the color of a summer sky. His grin was lopsided, but rather than being an imperfection it seemed to be catnip to the women. Nearly every one of them who worked in the precinct office would sigh when he moved by them and more than a few had made it known they were available. He couldn't walk down the street without a girl or three smiling at him or trying to get his attention. I hadn't seen that grin much lately. Something seemed to be on Henry's mind; something that pulled on him and I didn't think it was about me. I shrugged my shoulders and got in to the big car. As I sunk into the thickly padded seat and I was out again. When you're junked up, you have some pretty weird dreams. I was dreaming of being in a fire, sweating and lurching about. It kept getting hotter and hotter. When I finally awoke it was with a startled whack, like someone hit me. No one was there. I was parked in a driveway in Pasadena. It was Henry's folk's driveway. Henry was on his folk's porch arguing in German with a couple of odd birds I'd never seen before. Henry and his folks had come from Germany in 1914 after the Arch Duke Ferdinand had been assassinated. With the Austronesian-Hungarian invasion of Serbia and the German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg and France, they decided that the the conflict would only escalate from there. They came to America to start over just missing the great war. Henry stood toe-to-toe with a character about his height of six feet, but easily twenty pounds lighter. The guy had dark hair on the top of his head, but the sides were cut so close you could see skin. He had small ears and a pointy nose along with brilliant blue eyes you could see from a long way off. At his side, he clutched a homburg that matched his coarse black suit. He smiled stiffly with a sort of grim amusement as Henry yelled his perfect German into his face. The other man looked like a gorilla in street clothes. He was unshaven and his disheveled hair stuck out from under a tan slouch-hat. His collar was undone and his tie looked as if it had been tied with a couple of pairs of pliers. His brown suit could have been slept in for about a week. He had a wide, stocky build; you could have played handball off of him. He wore "Teddy Roosevelt" style glasses with thick Coke Bottle lenses. His mouth hung open slightly as his head moved back and forth between the two men like he was watching a tennis match. Henry's dad stood by listening intently. He looked a little uneasy. His mom was inside peeking out a window from behind the drapes. The two men moved off the porch and headed for some foreign looking sedan parked at the curb. Henry hollered after them, "Dieses bessere ist das letzte Mal, das ich mit Ihnen spreche!" The grim smile never left the blue eyed man's face as he answered "Don' t-Sorge, ist es." they got in and left. Henry noticed I was awake and shot me a foul look. He followed his dad inside and was in there a long while. Henry finally came back out with both of his parents. His mom, a small, older, widely built woman looked over at me and and her eyes got wide. I thought I saw her lip tremble and a little tear show up and roll down her cheek. Henry and his dad were enmeshed in conversation looking over a page size piece of black cardboard with holes punched into it. They held another printed page behind it and stared. After a bit, he put them both into a large manila envelope and handed the envelope back to his dad speaking a little more German to him. At last, he hugged his dad, bent down and kissed his mom and walked over to the car. He said to his folks, "Bis bald, Mamma, Vati." and got in. He was putting the key in the ignition when I growled at him "What the hell are we doing in Pasadena? It'll take us over an hour to get back downtown! Don'tchathink I've got better things to do than to sit in a car while you have tea and strudel with your folks? He took his hand off the key and glared at me for a long minute. His pale eyes held a mix of anger and pity. He said, "Y'know Lou, I can't imagine caring any less about how you spend your days. Looks to me like all you do is get junked to your eyelids and sell your life off piecemeal. You're no good to yourself, no good as a partner and no good to the force. I should have turned you in a long time ago. Keep this garbage up and I still may." There was nothing for me to say to that, so that's what I did. He turned away, started the car and we left. I was right...the trip took most of an hour and we were still about ten miles short of downtown. I was no closer to coming up with Fat Johnny's cash than I was when I left his building. What's more, my leg muscles were starting to ache. Henry pulled over to the curb in front of a five & dime and said "Stay here." I don't know why he bothered, I wasn't going anywhere. There was a police call box on a pole near the corner. He used a key on a long brass chain to open the cover. He pulled the receiver out and put to his ear. He spoke into the box, nodded his head and hurried back to the car. I said, "Drop me off near Central, wouldja?" "Nix to that. There's a chink over in Chinatown running around with a knife cutting up people. That's where we're headed." "But I need to..." "Shaddup, Lou!" he growled. "And when we get there, try and make yourself useful." We headed south and picked up Broadway. The sky was filling with clouds now; big, black angry looking clouds filled with water. You could feel the pressure in the air as though they could burst open any second. Just before Bernard there was a little alleyway of a street called Bamboo Lane. We took a right and slowly rolled down looking for the address. I had already started to sweat and my leg muscles were aching bad now. I whined "Isn't this something the uniforms should be handling? Why did they put us on it?" "You ask too many questions, Lou." Henry growled. "The detective Sargent put us here, so here is where we go!" The address came up on the left so Henry pulled at the wheel of his boat of a car, did a three point U-Turn and parked. He opened his door and put a leg out just as a woman's shriek came from inside. He looked at me and ordered, "Go around the back and wait. I'll chase the China-man through and you grab him. Okay?" I tried not to look too afraid, but really didn't know if I could even take a little oriental guy right now. I nodded my head, got out of the car and started walking. Just as I entered the alley between the buildings, the storm broke with huge raindrops the size of pearls. I didn't care because the water made me feel a little better, but it didn't last. All of a sudden I felt wrapped in cellophane. I gritted my teeth against the pain, but it didn't help much. The sound of the heavy rain fought with the noise of oriental languages being yelled at loud volumes. I was headed toward the back door when it burst open to a horrible sight. Henry crashed through it with a small China-man clinging to his back by an arm wrapped around his neck. Loud, crazy laughter echoed from the little man. There were huge, bloody gashes in the shoulders of Henry's coat and his arms hung limp at his sides like he couldn't raise them up. I don't think either one of them noticed me because Henry was working like mad to get the chink off of him. He slammed backwards hard into a wall, but the chink stayed with him like he was glued there. Henry tried swinging the him into the ladder of a fire escape, but no soap, he was still on him. It was then that Henry saw me. There was a nightmare in his eyes as he screamed "Help me Lou...HELP ME!" For a moment I just froze as the chink playfully stabbed at Henry's back and sides the mad laughter filling my ears. I pulled the Schofield out from under my coat. Henry was on his knees facing me now as the chink stood behind him with the long knife raised over his head. I pulled the hammer back and pointed the old pistol at the China-man's chest. I pulled the trigger only to hear it snap on an empty chamber. It was then that I remembered that the cartridges were still in my pocket! The chink howled with insane laughter now. He looked at me like I was an idiot; making fun of me in a language I couldn't understand. I looked at his face. I don't think I'd ever seen that kind of madness before. There was a darkness behind his eyes— like something else was staring back at me. He threw his head back and shrieked," さいころ、無宗教の人、が死にます", then the long knife came down into Henry's chest. Blood soaked the chink's hand as Henry's eyes rolled back in his head. He gurgled and coughed out a mouthful of blood. His head rolled forward and he was gone. The chink pushed Henry's body into the ground and started toward me. I started frantically stabbing around in my pocket trying to pull the slugs out, but my fingers didn't seem attached to my hands. Cartridges fell onto the muddy ground as my fingers fumbled around finally getting one of them into range of the old gun. I had no time left. The little chink was coming toward me slowly like a tiger stalks his prey. The maniacal laughter rang in my ears as I flipped open the thumb catch and the cylinder popped into view. Heavy rain drummed on my hat and ran down my hand as I moved the only round left in my hand near the antique pistol. I jammed it into one of the chambers and slammed the it closed. I pointed it again, pulled the trigger and heard the same dead snap. I wondered to myself, does this -------- pistol work at all? Just as I pulled the hammer back again, the China-man lunged at me; his insane laughter filling my ears. His bloody right hand held the long knife over his head, his left reaching out either to grab the Schofield or to sweep it away. I never found out. I pulled back the hammer and pulled the trigger again and the storm-darkened alley lit up like high noon as the ancient revolver went off with a "BOOM" they probably heard in Tijuana. The China-man was knocked back about ten feet as the thumb-catch on the old pistol broke away. It flew open and wrestled itself from my grip and hit the wet ground with a heavy thud. I grabbed my hand in pain. I looked over at the China man spread-eagle on the wet ground. He was finally quiet. That happens when most of your head is gone, but as I looked, I saw something still coming; something dark and terrifying. Whatever it was hit me like a freight-train. I was flat on my back on the rain-soaked ground now. What was worse was that the maniacal laughter was back, only this time it was coming from me!