Story by Arthur Davis, Art by John Waltrip
Eddie Sillers raced up the stairs and kicked open the door at the top of second floor landing. The apartment was lit only by faint yellow fingers of the late afternoon sun streaking through the venetian blinds. He pulled out his 9mm, Hyper-Fire Rossi and walked over the threshold into danger.
Eddie Sillers loved and lived danger. Danger was his thing. Many things were his thing, but danger was a really big thing, maybe not the most important thing, but certainly up there at the head of the list of things.
Arnold Kominsky’s stolen Usak carpet was the only attraction in the center of the living room. Even in the shadows, he could see the magnificent gold, yellow, and dark blue central medallion surrounded by a faded red woven field. Immediately he spotted a small bloodstain in the corner of the carpet. The room was completely empty except for the Turkish carpet. There was no furniture, nothing on the walls and no light fixtures. The stink of rotted garbage drifted through the two partially opened windows.
He walked around the rug into the bedroom and bathroom. The apartment was deserted but Eddie noticed that the window glass looked as if it had crystallized, like the fine latticework of a shattered automobile windshield. Eddie put the Rossi into his holster, walked into the living room and stood where he could see into every corner of the apartment and went back to basics. Where was he? Why was he here?
This was Arnold’s third theft in a month and, without the aid of a psychic, Arnold, or Eddie for that matter, would never have been able to track down the rare Usak carpet.
Irma had phoned Eddie from Arnold’s office. Eddie couldn’t hear Arnold’s habitual humming in the background as she related a description of the West 43rd Street location. Her slow, seductive voice lingered over each detail of her vision.
And Irma Laroque led him right to the carpet. The Usak was a beauty. Over nine by twelve feet of intricate patterns. Arnold told him it was worth over $28,000 but
Eddie figured that Arnold was probably overvaluing the merchandise. Something else bothered him about the carpet but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe he was using the wrong finger.
He turned toward the open front door of the apartment. Was there a sound from the floor below? The front door of the building was open when he arrived at the dilapidated, four-story brownstone. Inside the first floor vestibule laid a drunken, fetid, stuporous, janitor-like creature with the remnants of a six-pack next to his massive, hairy right arm. That was common in the Big City. Eddie had paused for a moment before stepping over the bloated wretch. The janitor was suspiciously clean-shaven. That was not so common in the Big City.
Irma’s predictions made him uneasy. If Arnold had Irma, why did Arnold need Eddie? The case was only an hour old and there were already problems, questions, clues, dilemmas, and conundrums.
A beam of light from the setting sun poured through the window and cut across his midsection. Soon it would be dark, too dark for a clue hunt and more than dark enough for Eddie to be caught off guard. Maybe it was a trap. Maybe the whole stinking mess was an elaborate scheme to trap him in some out-of-the-way place. But what for? His alimony payments were up to date. He was wearing clean underwear. He had called his mother on Tuesday. Was a lousy Turkish carpet and Irma’s breathy voice all the fresh bait needed to net the great North American Sillers? The possibilities were endless. So was the danger.
His mind raced. He rubbed his aching forehead. Whenever his mind raced, it hurt. He reached into his pocket. He was out of Grover’s patented mint chocolate Grommets, which he took for medicinal purposes only. He also realized his cock was stiff as a Louisville Slugger. Obviously, there was danger in the air. Danger was a turn-on to
Eddie Sillers. And right now, all his instincts were flashing red. It might just be a long and painful evening if he didn’t get his ass out of there before the bad guys returned. Bad guys always returned.
But it was already too late.
The room took on an ominous scent. He didn’t have to turn around to know who was standing behind him. The rich aroma of a black, Cuban rolled Vestol cigar quickly filled every corner of the apartment with the possibility of pain. And Colonel Valentin Podubny was a master of pain.
Valentin Podubny had worked for the KGB for over thirty years, pulling himself up from a small time party hack and enforcer to regional administrator and finally, after enough ass-kissing and brutality, was posted as Director of the KGB interrogation lab deep in the heart of Lubyanka, the KGB’s yellow-and-grey stone headquarters on
Moscow’s Dzerzhinsky Square. Even with the Democratic reforms in the Soviet Union,
Podubny continued to operate without interference. Whoever was brought down to meet the Colonel, was greeted a man who measured himself by the pain he inflicted and the information he procured. Whether you told the truth or were inspired by some higher political or personal calling, your body and soul would never forget what was about to happen.
Eddie figured Podubny to be in the Soviet Union thriving on the economic and political turmoil. Eddie turned when he heard the sound of an automatic being cocked. He was wrong.
Podubny walked into the light in the center of the room. He was a few inches shorter than Eddie with tightly set, emotionless grey eyes. His angular body was loosely draped by a well-tailored European suit. An old, inch-long scar arched between Podubny’s right eye and hairline.
“Who are you?” Eddie asked indignantly. Indignant sounded good. Nothing else came to mind so Eddie decided to go with indignant.
There were four of them. Podubny was always protected by men who knew him, and were committed to his safety. Podubny took a few more steps toward Eddie with the tallest guard right behind. Two others remained near the front door. Eddie figured he was in major trouble. Indignant might not be enough.
“What are you doing here?” Podubny asked in calm, perfected English.
“I’m the building inspector.” Eddie said dropping ‘indignant’ for the ‘big lie.’
Valentin Podubny took in the carpet then the intruder. The inspector was well dressed. That meant money. Too many Americans had too much money. The inspector looked annoyed, but looks could be deceiving. Podubny was curious but not yet concerned. He already knew how civil servants came by good clothes and an attitude.
“You’re on private property.”
The thought of protecting private property coming from a Soviet would have sounded absurd a few years ago. “It’s my job.” Eddie shot back angrily.
The tall man behind Podubny put his hand into his jacket threateningly. Podubny turned back and waved him off, deciding not to make an issue. “Perhaps we have a misunderstanding here.”
Podubny was familiar with building inspectors in the Soviet Union. He knew what they wanted. How different could it be in America? But something was bothering him. He turned back to the two men standing at the front door. Behind them, the door dangled precariously from one hinge in the shattered frame. Splinters of wood lay on the floor of the apartment near the kitchen.
“That’s a violation” Eddie said just a half step ahead of the brushfire on his tail. “I could cite you for that.”
Eddie watched the other two closely. They posed no immediate threat, though they weren’t going to let him walk past without noticing either. Podubny had probably bought their services at the last minute. Like so many in the Big City, they were nameless faces for hire. Eddie knew he could bluff them. The taller man was different. Like Podubny, he had cultivated a manner of intimidation and fear.
Eddie could see no easy escape so he was going to have to create one. He moved forward and extended his hand. “It’s Clemens. Samuel Clemens.”
Podubny accepted the American’s hand without identifying himself. For a moment, Podubny returned the American’s smile then put the Vestol back in his mouth and inhaled the rich fumes. Now all Podubny wanted was to get the inspector out of the apartment and deal with the fact that Popov left 663 and three years’ work unguarded.
Eddie released his hand from Podubny’s indifferent grip. As the two men stood toe to toe, Podubny noticed a flicker of sun on Clemens’ leather jacket. He reached into his pocket and pulled out five twenties. “Will this take care of it?”
The dusky beam of light exposed Clemens’ chin and mouth. The man looked about fifteen years Podubny’s junior.
Eddie took the money and folded it into his pocket. “Have that door fixed by next week and we will forget this ever happened.”
“I’ll have it taken care of tomorrow,” Podubny said.
Eddie nodded and walked passed Podubny. The two men at the front door moved aside. He caught the surprised look of the shorter one with the full lips just as Valentin
Podubny’s strident voice echoed a death knell.
“Oops!” Eddie muttered to himself and turned back into the mouth of the dragon.
Podubny advanced toward him. To his side was the tall man with the muzzle of his pistol fixed between Eddie’s eyes. Screwed to the muzzle of the automatic was a standard black assassin’s silencer with the name ‘Sweetie’ hastily scribbled along its barrel.
Eddie thought of clicking his heels twice but doubted it would get him as far as
Kansas. It was time for the real pissing contest to begin.
“Colonel Valentin Podubny,” he said.
“I’m very impressed, Mister Sillers,” Podubny said.
“It was the Cuban Vestol panatela. You can’t get them in this country and I know you’re especially fond of them.”
“Excellent,” Podubny said and signaled the tall man to frisk Eddie. “You almost had me convinced with your inspector story. We have many inspectors in the Soviet Union. Even with our new Democracy they are like vermin underfoot.”
“Then what did it?” Eddie asked.
The tall man came up behind him and pushed Eddie’s arms over his head. He started from his jacket collar and worked himself down to Eddie’s shoes, pulling the Rossi out of its holster halfway through the search. He put his own pistol under his belt and flipped the Rossi back and forth in his hands getting the feel of the weapon, came around to Eddie’s left side, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the five twenties.
Eddie decided right then and there not to send him a Christmas card.
“At first it was the door,” Podubny said without skipping a beat. “It’s old, but very heavy. It’s shattered and the wooden frame is ripped from the wall. I’ve never actually seen that.”
“Exactly. That bothered me. But I couldn’t put my finger on it.”
Eddie was relieved to hear that Podubny was having trouble with his fingers too.
“You shouldn’t have shaken my hand.”
“I hurt you?” Eddie asked sarcastically.
Podubny’s smile widened. “You walked right into the light.”
Now it was Eddie’s turn to smile, but it wasn’t funny. “The light was in my eyes.”
“I always prepare. Preparation is my hallmark. I read a little story about you and your exploits in the Soviet Intelligence Journal several years ago and …”
“Cases,” Eddie said wondering if they had a good photo of him. He hated it when the press used a bad photograph.
“A few of your most unusual talents were described in the article. Curious and I must say, impressive,” Podubny said.
“I am flattered.” Eddie wasn’t, but he’d been on humility kick recently and it needed more practice. He was also thinking as hard as he could for a way out and all he came up with was a sincere apology for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he doubted Podubny would accept it.
“Well, even under these awkward circumstances, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Podubny said and slid the Vestol back in his mouth.
Eddie found himself liking the Russian. Naturally, he assumed that Podubny found him a delightful, well-read, highly intelligent, extremely articulate, charming, clever, and witty fellow, but decided not to pressure him for more compliments.
“Now perhaps you would like to tell me why you’re here?” Podubny looked down at the rich design and idly scuffed his heel against the weave.
Eddie watched the tip of Podubny’s shoe cut into the carpet like it was made of warm butter. “Off hand, I can’t think of an explanation you’d buy or one that I’d buy for that matter.” Eddie was losing the pissing contest. He was bone dry. Not a good sign with four armed men between him and the front door.
“Well Eddie, I would like to continue our talk, but I think my friend here will insist on taking you for a little walk. Maybe you would prefer to tell him your story.” As far as Podubny was concerned it could have been a coincidence, or it could have greater implications but it didn’t matter because the tall solution was standing right next to him.
Eddie looked into the black eyes of the tall man. He was just over six and a half feet and thirty years old with a wide brow and pockmarked skin shaded by a black fisherman’s cap. The pistol in his hand rested at his side.
“I’ll pass on the walk with Clyde.”
Podubny focused his stare. “Clyde?”
“You got a definite Clyde there,” Eddie said without turning his stare from
The living room was cool. The shattered windows sparkled with the last rays of sun. Podubny smiled confidently. The fifty year old with a heart of darkness was facing a minor, though interesting obstacle in Eddie Sillers.
“Valentin, I have a question,” Eddie said, preparing to take his last shot.
“You mean a last request?”
“No. Just a simple question.”
“What is it?” Podubny asked, with a suggestion of impatience.
This was going to be his longest longshot. No one should have to play a card like this one, but Eddie would rather die trying the last dumb thing he could think of than just being taken for a walk.
Eddie forced the air in and out of his lungs until he was totally relaxed and prayed that Podubny and his three henchmen weren’t. There had to be unusually high levels of adrenaline in the bloodstream, like that produced during moments of tension and anxiety and guys carrying guns were always a little tense. Eddie had learned the trick many years ago and wasn’t sure it would work on more than one person at a time.
But then again, he was Eddie Sillers.
“What Shakespearean play has a small pig in the leading role?” he asked in a loud, clear voice.
“Play?” Podubny questioned.
“What Shakespearean play has a small pig in the leading role?” Eddie’s next move had to be timed perfectly. One mistake and this would be his last erection. “Hamlet!” he said in a loud, commanding voice.
The word exploded in the room, bouncing off the walls like a thousand cymbals clashing together at once.
He took two steps forward. All four men reacted as if a cattle prod was about to greet their genitals.
He waited, and then repeated the answer, “Hamlet!”
They hadn’t expected this. They had never been trained for such cunning. The tall one next to Podubny shifted uneasily when Eddie repeated the answer. Eddie spotted it at once. The tall one was probably up to his eyeballs in adrenaline.
Eddie knew that each man was experiencing crushing anxiety, confusion, and panic-like symptoms. In a matter of seconds, they would be soaked in their own sweat, their balance compromised. The absurd answer to the riddle would force their brain to react with a torrent of cytomiprolate, a naturally occurring hormone released in emergencies to quell the reaction to absurdity in the face of danger. Too much adrenaline meeting too much cytomiprolate caused catastrophic cortical consequences as Clyde was about to find out.
He dropped the Rossi.
No one in the room moved to pick it up. Beads of sweat covered Clyde’s face. He began to tremble and sway. He shook his head violently trying to throw off the effects. He looked around the room as though it was about to close in on him. He turned and stumbled past Podubny and the two others in the doorway. He fell down the stairs landing in the pool of stale vomit, rousing the janitor at the bottom of the steps.
First one, and then the short man was overcome with the same feelings of anxiety and confusion as Eddie repeated the answer as loud as possible, over and over again until the walls thundered with the word. Both men frantically followed Clyde down the steps.
“Slillers …” Podubny gestured in a slurred jumble.
Podubny forced himself to bend down and pick up the automatic before Eddie could get close, then backed up until he was just under the hallway light as Eddie came up to the doorframe.
“Hamlet!” Eddie shouted without getting too close.
Podubny raised the pistol up trying to fight off the debilitating effects of the combination of adrenaline and cytomiprolate.
“Hamlet!” Eddie shouted again but Podubny overrode his weakness and lifted the barrel of the gun another few inches.
“Illers …” Podubny said and shook his head trying to expel the mush clogging his brain.
Eddie knew it could go either way. There was no way to press his advantage further. Rushing the Russian could lead to a belly full of bullets. He should have gone for the gun sooner. Having a gun was very helpful in situations like this.
Podubny staggered to the head of the stairs and, step-by-step, slowly backed down to the first floor landing without letting go of the bannister. As he reached the last step he summoned all his strength and the gun arced upward directly at Eddie standing defiantly at the top of the stairs. Podubny pulled back on the trigger. Nothing happened.
“Ers,” he said pulling harder and harder but his trigger finger never got the message.
The hate and anger in his eyes faded into a blank daze as the automatic fell out of his hand. He turned back into the doorway and was gone.
Eddie slumped against the wall next to the banister at the top of the stairs, unclenched his fists, and took a deep breath. The foul smell of puke filled the hallway. It had been a long time since he’d been cornered—caught off guard. A younger Podubny could have countered his game and Eddie would have taken a long last walk with Clyde.
Eddie Sillers, Private Eye, had used the “Hamlet” gambit only once before. It had saved his life then too. That was when he had been involved in the case of the Princess and the Pearls. He had taken a hard fall for the Yugoslavian Princess and the bittersweet memories were still painful. The Princess. Podubny. Was there a connection? No. Impossible. The names were spelled differently.
Podubny was gone. The superintendent was gone. He knew Podubny would be back. Maybe soon. And he knew it would take more than a very bad joke to save his life next time. Podubny had been embarrassed. He’d be back for revenge, if nothing else.
Eddie looked back across the hall into the dark apartment. The two windows that had been dimly lit a moment ago were now dark. There was a faint roll of thunder in the distance. He pulled a fresh, hand-rolled Grande Imperial Lonsdale from his breast pocket, slid off the wrapper, bit off the tip and blew it out of his mouth. It bounced off the door across from where he was standing and landed on the floor next to the banister.
Eddie stared at it for a moment. He knew he had been lucky. He ran his tongue along the sides of the cigar sealing the Cuban wrap with his spit and lit up. Vestols were more expensive.
He walked down the stairs, picked up the Rossi, stepped over the puddle of puke into a rainy Big City night, and wondered if Irma Laroque had big tits.
Eva by Joseph Cusumano, Art by John Waltrip
This is such an interesting story it’s hard to describe. In a nutshell…angels exiled to Earth find themselves amidst a Nazi controlled town. They try to blend in and to cope with all that they see and encounter, especially with regards to their enigmatic neighbor Eva. Will their hopes of returning to the Celestial Courts ever be fulfilled? You’ll find out next week when you read “Eva”.