Story by Nick Swain
Illustration by Sheik
I thought that I was in heaven,
But I was sure surprised
Heaven help me I didn’t see,
The devil in your eyes.
Part 3: Now It’s a Party
The last thing he remembered was stopping outside of the apartment to light a cigarette. There had been a man coming from the building’s doors just after him, his face down and out of the slight breeze the Man’s lighter was fighting against – but he thought nothing of it; after all, people did live inside.
But then all at once there was a shadow coming from over his shoulder, and before he could even exhale smoke he felt a blunt metallic instrument clock him over the back of the head, and he was tumbling down that horrible black spiral again; the same infinite tornado of blackness he’d ridden before when Amelia had shot him; the one he could remember thinking was the end of the line; a final stage to everlasting nothingness.
Somewhere, in that blacked-out world, he thought he could remember brief episodes of waking; where there were muffled voices, and everything was rocking like he was a stow-away aboard a ship.
But after a while, his darkness went from unconscious to conscious, and he realized why he felt like he was moving; it was because he was in the trunk of someone’s car. He’d woken for good, because whoever was driving had hit the brakes rather abruptly and the Man had rolled into the back of the trunk.
There was a rattling and the trunk popped open. He scrambled to come up swinging but was so off-balance he struck his head against the trunks top.
The two goons looking down on him began laughing.
“Come on tough guy.” The two gorilla-sized gunzos pulled him out then, and the Man realized he was at Cinelli’s nightclub, The King’s Court. He’d slipped up bad this time; he’d been so damn full of himself he’d let his other problems sneak up on him. He hadn’t even thought about how someone still looking for Chowder (and obviously finding him – or almost) could be waiting back at the apartment, and after him not showing, settling for the guy who’d gone into the room looking for him.
They took him around back – where the kitchen-help, who were out on their smoke break, turned and scurried back inside after seeing what shape the escorted Man was in. And then they were in a corridor, where the continual upbeat harmony from the swing-band in the dance hall carried on as they arrived at a door that had to be to Cinelli’s office. The giant to the left (who had the Man’s revolver tucked inside the front of his pants) knocked twice and then opened the door.
Sitting there behind a large, rosewood desk with his feet up, was Ricky Cinelli; a hard-eyed, modestly built man with a dark, strongly brilliantined widows-peak, wearing a brown double-breasted suit, purchased somewhere far-away from where the Man had stolen his.
“You the proprietor of this tin-can?” the Man goaded, before being shoved farther into the office.
“Take a seat,” Cinelli offered, gesturing to the second chair without standing.
With both goons towering behind him, the Man didn’t have much of a choice. As he sat, Cinelli spoke: “I’m sure you’ve got lots of questions. Namely, why my boys brought you here. It’s because you happened to be messin’ around in the room of a certain individual who I happen to be, well, interested in. And before you say it, I know, I know… you don’t know nothin’ – you just knocked on the wrong door, or you knew the people staying there before him, or some bullshit like that. Am I close enough?”
The Man fished out his last stolen Camel. “Got a light?”
The same goon belting his pistol slapped the back of his, already tender head, and the screeching of the seat sounded out as the Man stood, ready to go at it with the henchman – who stood his ground – smirking sinisterly down at the Man.
“Fella’s! Fella’s! Can’t we get through at least one discussion before we start that?” Cinelli went on. He struck a match against the bottom of his costly shoe, and lit his own smoke before offering the flame in the direction of the Man; who gave his own tiny smirk as he turned from the giant.
Smoke poured from his nostrils as he settled back down in his seat and said, “I was there lookin’ for Chowder.”
Cinelli’s malicious smiled widened. “What do you know about him?”
“I know he’s one of the boys who took you for all that dope-money you had in your little piggy bank.”
His smile died, and now Cinelli looked angry. “And how do you know that, smart guy?”
The Man puffed out smoke casually. “Cause I’m one of the guys that did it.”
That sensation of being lurked over was back, but when Cinelli raised his hand it was gone. Then he spoke: “You’re the one who roughed-up Mueller today, ain’t ya?”
The Man smirked through the haze.
“Yea, I should have figured. He said some asshole came around asking questions about that idiot. I figured right, then. When Mueller came cryin’ to me about it, I knew he must’ve known somethin’. That’s why he was still alive to come to me.
“Well after a while, he told me what he must’ve told you. Took a little… persuasion, from your new friend there -” Cinelli nodded to the amused goon who was still glaring down at the back of the Man’s head. “- he spilled it then. Told us all about where his good pal Chowder was hidin’ out. It looks like he took off from what Benny there tells me, but at least we got one of you, huh?”
“How about the rest of them and the money?” the Man asked aloofly, unimpressed by Cinelli’s confession. “I know when and where it’ll be. And I’m sure you’d like this mess cleaned up before your bosses hear about all that missing money for the first time.”
Cinelli eyed him over detestably. “You know more than I like, smart guy. Why should you come in here telling me this?”
“Let’s just say I’m not happy with the way things turned out with my partners.”
“And so, you thought now you’d turn them in and get somethin’ instead of nothin’, huh? Finder’s fee, that’s the idea, right?”
“Something like that.”
Cinelli stood and turned his back on them as though he were really musing it over. “Ok, smart guy,” he looked back, “let’s have it.”
The Man extinguished his cigarette, smiling like he thought Cinelli might really mean to give him a cut. And hoping that what came next would work out. “You got the time?”
It was 9:54 pm when the crowded Cadillac pulled to a curb on Amoretto Lane. There were five men in the car: one nameless, and crammed between two equally formidable thugs. Cinelli sat in the passenger’s seat while the extra man he’d brought sat behind the wheel.
Frankly, beneath his calm exterior, the Man was anxious. He’d been snagged by the mobsters he’d robbed and was planning on strolling right into that room with them – right into a trap he’d set; if he didn’t, they’d just kill him anyway.
Eddie and Chowder were supposed to climb through the apartment window he’d used earlier, and at precisely 10:02 pm they were to rush out from the bedroom – as the Man would come from the front door Amelia would unlock for him, and give Isaac the surprise of his life. Only now that he would have company, the Man needed to show up just a bit earlier; if it didn’t all happen when it was supposed to happen, he would die.
His only comfort was that maybe she would die with him.
“Ok,” Cinelli said. “Which apartment, smart guy?”
“So what, you can stick me back in the trunk? Nah, I’ll show you.”
Cinelli smiled that awful smile. “Ballsy for a smart guy, aint ya? Just be careful, smart guy. Sometimes, guys are too smart for their own good.”
“Yea I was just thinking something like that.”
They made their way up to the apartment then, the Man used his peripheral vision as discreetly as possible to glance into the alley’s shadowy lane they were passing; he didn’t notice Eddie or Chowder – hopefully, they were already hiding in the bedroom, counting the few remaining minutes; it was that – or they weren’t there.
They ambled up the stairs, through the building’s doors, and there they were – in front of the door to the first room on the left; where Isaac would be (he hoped), and the cash (he hoped), and Amelia… he knew Amelia would be in there because right now, he knew she was hoping for all the same things he was.
“Got the time?” he asked.
“What? Why do you keep askin’ that?” Cinelli scolded. “I don’t think you understand how this works. If I were you, I’d quit worryin’ about the time, and start prayin’ that dough is on the other side of this door.” That was when he took the .45 automatic from inside his jacket, switching off the safety; the implicit signal for his boys to take out their own cannons (the Man noted how his magnum was still tucked into the front of Mr. Benny the Giant’s waistband) and it had begun.
Cinelli nodded to the other giant – who approached the door, reversed, and started as though he were about to punt a football; he was going to kick it in. But suddenly there was a click from the other side – Amelia… unlocking the door. It must’ve been ten o clock.
The Man stepped in front of the door before the goon could start his kicking, (Isaac was in there – he could hear the muffled voice of a man from the other side, angrily demanding an answer to something – the blatant unlocking of his door, maybe?) and twisted the knob before Cinelli could get curious about its sudden opening. And the guns mobbed inside. There stood Amelia; she was openly alarmed by the extra guests and went away from the door willingly as the Man pulled her by the arm.
Sure enough, Isaac was there; standing by the same seat Amelia had been confessing in, earlier. He was down to his undershirt and held a bottle of beer in his hand. It appeared he’d been watching television before his front door became a hot spot; inside and out. There was something in front of the chair; as though he’d been using it as a footstool.
It was the black case that had been holding the money since yesterday.
His mouth was gaping, and he let the bottle slip from his hand to the floor: “…you…you…” He began to back up, stopping only when he was against the chair – it was unclear whether he’d noticed the other men pointing guns at him yet – it was very clear he was seeing the Man who’s murder he had orchestrated the day before, standing there in his apartment, grinning at him.
“Yea it’s me, Isaac.”
“No, she… how…”
“I’m a ghost, Isaac. And I came back for you.” He looked at Amelia then, and saw something he’d never seen before; she was afraid – truly afraid. With that doe-eyed ignorance to the situation the Man could almost pity her; could almost remember those old feelings of early yesterday – that now felt like a lifetime ago. He could just almost love her again. Almost.
“Hate to cut the reunion short,” Cinelli said, then he looked to his men. “Benny put him and the broad over by Stutterin’ Steve there.” He pointed with his gun to the Attaché case by the chair; he’d seen it, too. “That’s it, ain’t it? That’s my dough.”
“…I…I…” Isaac still couldn’t speak. His mouth bobbed up and down; it would’ve been comical if there weren’t four mobsters there ready to start shooting. The Man and Amelia (his arm still hooked around hers: either strategically or instinctively) were pushed to the other side of the room with Isaac – he and the Man hadn’t broken eye contact for more than a second at a time, but it seemed Isaac was starting to grasp the actuality of what the Man had brought with him.
“A big dummy, a smart guy, and a dame: that’s who stole from me. Well, too bad your other friend ain’t here, but three is better than one. We’ll find him later anyway.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to go too far,” the Man said. He was stalling at this point; it had to be 10:02 – later even – and Eddie and Chowder hadn’t stuck their heads through that bedroom door. Which meant they must not be here. Which meant they were either very very late – or they weren’t coming.
Of course, they weren’t coming. Why would two mugs who’d crossed him once, not cross him again? Because of the money, that was why…
Then why weren’t they here?
“Still with the all the damn smart talk, huh?” Cinelli said, going over and picking up the case. “This guy just doesn’t know when to shut up.” He went back to his men then; holding the case as one of them unlatched the locks. The lid went up. He couldn’t see the inside from his point of view, but he could see Cinelli grinning at what was inside, and then grinning up at them. He shut the case.
“Thanks, smart guy! It was real decent of you to bring me to this. I know I promised you a fee…thing is I’m gonna have to pay you in lead,” Cinelli began chuckling then, and his goons joined him from behind. Except Benny. Benny was laughing over by the Man; he planned on being the one to kill him (maybe with his own piece).
As the gunmen giggled, the Man heard something. Or he thought he did. Nothing too loud, and nothing he’d stake his life on – but something. A thud; like maybe a tardy idiot or two climbing through a window and collapsing into a dark room. He could feel Amelia’s grip tightening around his bicep, and he felt her warm breath in his ear as she whispered to him: “I’m so sorry…”. From the corner of his eye there was Isaac, leaning back inch by inch; likely for the jacket that had been casually tossed over the seat – there was probably a pistol in it. Hoping one more time for a better-late-than-never, and for that noise to have been real, the Man asked Cinelli: “Can I just get one more time-check?”
“Jesus, this guy is unbelievable! Benny, give him the time and then shoot him in the face.”
Benny smiled eagerly and jerked his arm out, lifting his sleeve. “It’s 10:06.”
“10:06,” the Man repeated, then hollered: “You’re four minutes late, assholes!”
Cinelli and his boys looked around the room, cannons up, momentarily alarmed. But there was no one there. “You got a real crazy sense of humor.
“Adios, Smart Guy…”
As Cinelli nodded to Benny, whose sadistic smile widened so that he resembled The Grinning Man from that silent horror flick, the door to the bedroom suddenly flung open and Eddie and Chowder were there in the archway. They’d been late. The Man had told them to come armed but they must have had their own score in mind because they were both totting shotguns.
They looked from one another – utterly bewildered by the unexpected faces (the last faces they wanted to see) – just quick enough to look back as Cinelli and his guns turned to them.
And then everything happened fast.
The Man started with Amelia; thrusting her from him, hard enough so that she went spilling over into the kitchen behind the counter/barrier. And then he threw his arm (feeling something tear in the inflicted part of his shoulder) around Benny’s throat – whose attention was the other way, on their two new guests.
Chowder shot first; he was sure of that. It was likely just nerves or a quick twitch, but either way, both ends of his double-barrel erupted – tearing into Cinelli’s extra man, along with the boss himself; though the briefcase took most of the blow.
About the same time – right around when Benny’s twin was unloading on Chowder, sending him stumbling back onto the mattress behind him, riddled with bullets – Eddie started in with his pump shotgun; first hitting Benny (bursting a grisly hole in his gargantuan stomach, about half-a-second after the Man had reached around his human-shield and taken his revolver back); his next shot actually lifted the goon who killed Chowder off his feet momentarily and he went crashing down by the chair Isaac had dove behind; which was where Eddie shot next. The buckshot ripped the brown-leather apart, but somehow missed Isaac completely. Eddie pumped his shotgun for another go, but Cinelli fired on him from the floor and Eddie lurched over violently, sending a final shotgun blast into the ceiling as he flopped over onto the carpet.
All of this happened in less than seven seconds.
Benny’s huge, lifeless body had pinned the Man by his legs, and before he could try pushing him off, Cinelli was spinning his .45 around on him.
But he shot first; hitting Cinelli’s chest as he set-off a shot that went whizzing over the Man’s head. The Man fired again, and again, and again; one round struck the damaged briefcase but the rest sank into Cinelli, ripping their way into the silk suit of the mob boss as he rolled over on his back; eyes open and eternally hollow. One wilted hand still clutching the briefcase.
Just when it all seemed over, there was movement from behind; Isaac was still alive. The Man turned but it was too late. There stood Isaac, moving from around the back of the chair that had saved his life; he was holding a small-caliber pistol that he must’ve snagged from his coat while the party was going; it was chrome, and had a mother-of-pearl grip.
It was the gun Amelia had shot the Man with the day before.
“Well, well, well,” Isaac spoke gleefully, putting emphasis on each word and still coming closer. “What do we have here?”
He was moving around – where all the dead mobsters were piled – to the case. He wanted to look at the Man before he killed him and finally had everything to himself; worry-free.
“Don’t worry, buddy. I won’t miss like she did…”
Just as he extended his arm down to execute the Man – there was an abrupt boom from somewhere, and a speck of red appeared in Isaac’s otherwise white t-shirt.
There, standing in the kitchen’s frame, was Amelia; she was holding a .45 – an already large handgun that somehow looked bigger in her soft, dainty hands. It must have slid from the late Benny’s paws as he went down.
Isaac tottered backward, seizing the part of his chest where a crimson orb was widening; eventually, he bumped against the wall, and that was when he looked up to Amelia. His face a theatrical display of objection and pain.
She shot a second time, and there was another noticeable burst in the center of Isaacs already flushing shirt. His dead-eyes remained on her as he slid down the wall to the floor, sitting up; an awful red-streak slithered down after him, leaving a bloody vertical smear running along the wall.
Isaac died while somehow looking into both their eye’s.
The brief silence after that was almost supernatural. Amelia lowered the gun and stood still; almost as though she were waiting for something else to happen or not knowing what else could happen.
The Man finally got Benny off his legs, stumbling a bit as he stood; the near three-hundred pounds of psychotic henchman that had been laying on him had numbed his legs considerably. But he caught himself against the wall, by Isaac.
Amelia. Amelia had saved him. He looked over at her and found she was already studying him. The moment that followed somehow seemed timeless – though it couldn’t have been more than ten seconds – but in that span of time they looked into each other’s eyes in a way the Man would’ve never believed could be again. In that moment, a thousand possibilities exchanged between them; a thousand ways that maybe they could forget about the thieving; about the betrayal; about the infidelity; about the killing; and about a certain attempted killing.
In that moment, a thousand scenarios played out between them, in which they moved on with their lives and didn’t let the horrors and violence of the last two days ruin what could be the real deal: a lifetime of happiness.
With their eyes, they envisaged a thousand instances in which maybe they could forget everything that had happened and go on loving each other.
A thousand possibilities – none of them came out plausible.
Somehow that was simultaneously understood, and that was when he saw her eyes drop. He followed her gaze and knew exactly what she was eyeing. She was looking at the tattered – yet still intact – case of money. She was looking at something that was closer to him than to her; something she’d already shot him for once. And now, for the second time he was in her way; the only one in her way.
He knew what was about to happen, this time he could be the one to shoot first.
But he didn’t.
He didn’t for the same reason he didn’t when he’d found her before; for the same reason he’d told himself that he was keeping her alive to get to Isaac and the money; the same reason he’d thrown her into the kitchen when it was clear everyone in the room was about to die; he didn’t shoot her because he couldn’t.
He couldn’t shoot her because he loved her.
But Amelia – whether she loved him or not – she could shoot him; she’d done it once before. And when those cold, intent eyes trailed back up to him, he knew she would again.
The Man dove into the hallway just as a bullet blew out a piece of the drywall – right where his head had been. It was happening again; it was happening, and he couldn’t bring himself to stop it. So, he did something he’d never done before.
He ran; the Man ran through the short stretch of hall, out the building’s doors, and started down the sidewalk. He ran; realizing it had all been for nothing.
As the Man fled from the building’s doors, Amelia LeMaire took the heels from her feet – tossed them – and hiked up her skirt just the slightest; gripping the automatic in one hand as she bent over and seized the briefcase from the lifeless grip of Cinelli.
And then she went out the room, after the Man.
Because, though it was true that she cared – rather deeply, actually – for this Man she was about to kill, she couldn’t just let him go; leaving things this way. She was sure he cared something for her, too; but she couldn’t let him live – she could never be sure he wouldn’t come back for her – feeling another way. He’d done it before.
Amelia went out of those same apartment doors. And she went out shooting.
As the Man slowed to the end of the sidewalk, catching his breath and trying to make himself accept what had just happened, the drivers’ side window of the car ahead of him suddenly shattered; the man inside could be heard wailing about the glass in his eyes.
He looked back, and saw that it was Amelia; she was still holding that .45 in one hand, with that ragged Attaché case in the other. She was coming for him; scurrying down those steps and actually coming for him. She was going to gun him down in the street.
He bolted for the nearest alley, reaching its cover just as a round ruptured through a piece of the brick wall – spitting stone-shrapnel fragments against the Man.
He made it to the end of the alley, panting. Not believing the way it had all turned out; how he was back where he’d started. All he could do if he couldn’t bring himself to stop Amelia was to keep on running in and out of the city’s shadows.
It was halfway across the next street when he saw the lights from a screeching patrol car appear from the road off to his left – heading the way he’d come from; no doubt responding to the private firework show that had been going on around the corner before spilling out into the streets.
Before he could stop himself, or think twice about it, the Man let-off one of his last bullets at the passing squad car; bringing it to a screeching halt as the Man made it into the darkness of the next alley. Before anyone could get out, the Man fired his last shot their way – making sure they knew where it was coming from.
They got it alright; the two uniforms sprung out of the car and rushed over – service .38’s up and ready, pointed down the dim-lit street the Man was creeping in.
Before they made it to the lane where the Man was cloaking himself, an attractive dark-haired woman appeared from the first alley – it was Amelia, still clutching a gun and a shot-to-hell briefcase.
The Man shifted enough into the center of the alley so that she could just catch the ghostly silhouette of his shape against reaching glare of the street light. She shot hurriedly, sending a bullet driving over his shoulder – almost piercing the same spot (now bleeding again) she’d shot him before.
She started into the street – not noticing the two cops until they began shouting at her to: “Drop the fuckin’ gun, lady! Drop it, right now!”
Amelia spun on them in shock and squeezed the trigger; getting off a single round before the already-shaky cops fired back; one after the other. Four bullets tore their way into Amelia’s curvaceous middle as the Man watched from the shadows. She gasped out a shrill cry of twinging pain, fighting for stability in her bare-stocking feet – but after a couple back-steps, gravity took her in its familiar fashion and she collapsed over onto the pavement; half on her back, half on her side – facing Him. She lived up until hitting the street – he knew it because her eyes had locked into his one final time before it was over. Almost saying goodbye in a way they’d never gotten to. And though her eyes remained exposed and gazing – she was gone.
Amelia was dead. Gun on one side of her, briefcase on the other.
“Ah, Jesus. Jesus, why would she…” one of the cops muttered, as his partner ordered the already-growing crowd back.
Amelia’s alluring blue eyes, now void of the mischievous glimmer that had resided there in life, glared hauntedly towards a dark alley, as a rapidly growing crowd of curious pedestrians and patrolmen formed around her; all asking questions; all wanting to understand what had just happened.
Camouflaged in the shadows of that alley, a Man without a name stood by, regarding the now empty blues of a woman he’d loved. A woman he’d still somehow cared for, even after everything. A woman he thought he knew. After a little while, he turned away and started down an alley that seemed to have no end; leaving her for the last time, there in the streets, with her only real companions: blood and money.
A nameless Man disappeared into the night.
— ♦♦♦ —
This essay delves into what makes a great pulp story and why we love them. Pulp stories may vary in genres but the good ones all have something in common-they open with a punch!