A beam of light, busy with floating motes of dust and tobacco smoke, cut through the vintage orange and blue dartboard. The cork was old, faded and cracked, two darts planted in the left and centre of the triple twenty. A third dart with a hint of spin cut through the grey haze and found the right of the small orange section.
“One eighty, Boss.”
Frank’s wry grin pulled up the right side of his face, bending the dry whiskers of his thick and dusty moustache into his whisky veined nose. His eyes may have looked red and droopy, perhaps even unknowing, to anyone who saw him, but they were sharper than ever. So were his ears, his nose, his tongue and that brain of his too. That’s why he was The Boss. He replaced his now dartless right hand with the bloated torpedo cigar from his left. The movement made an ashy sprinkle fall through the sunlight.
Louis – his right hand guy, his adviser, his accountant – was a good guy, but a fucking little weasel of a guy. His nose was upturned like he was always sniffing for shit and his screwed up face made you think he’d found some. His thick specs glistened in the beam of light so there was no seeing beyond the white lenses as he fetched Frank’s darts.
“You have a go now, Louis. Just make sure you hit the damn board this time. Any more holes in the wall and we could break through to the bathroom.” Frank chuckled weezily. The laugh brought on a cough that he muffled with a clenched fist.
“You got it boss, but you know me and my eyes: no good for anything.”
Frank grimaced as Louis’ darts found the black abyss of the outer ring, collecting around the silver number fifteen and ten.
“Hey, well I hit the board, Boss,” Louis smiled.
Frank’s eyes stared, cold and dissatisfied. His lips remained closed as he ran his tongue over the outside of his teeth. Louis anxiously retrieved his darts with limbs that shook like twigs in an earthquake. Frank turned away and smiled to himself. You’re the fucking Boss, Frankie Bray. He stared out the window. It wasn’t snowing now, but a thin layer still glittered the pavement three floors below and you could hear the menace in the wind. Crystals began to form a divine frame around the window. The sun was setting behind the buildings opposite; like a halo, it perched half concealed by the gothic roof of the local theatre. In its shadow a boy wrapped in striped cotton clothes skidded behind his ma like he was wearing iceskates. She turned, grabbed the kid by one of his oversized mittens and dragged him down the street. Good idea sweetheart. You don’t want your kid on these streets at night.
Pooch, an old, ill and overweight corgi, limped to Frank’s side with a wheezing sound that mimicked his owner. Poor little mutt doesn’t have much time. Frank rescued him four years ago this winter. The dog had been locked in a grassless garden surrounded by its own shit, shaking and groaning, his ribs doing their best to break through his taught and patchy skin. He had decided to give the dog a present: a home – a fucking nice home. Pooch’s owner, the one with the grassless garden, he’d gotten a present too. Frank’s seven year old boy loved the shit out the mutt, his daughter did too and she was going on twenty now. Frank was fifty five. The reflection in the window showed how grey his slicked back hair was, but he didn’t mind; he wasn’t going bald yet, not like Pooch.
Outside came the cadent clatter of an engine. An auto pulled up, a long black bug, on Frank’s side of the road and two men got out. One was in a slimming grey suit and a bowler hat – that was Bobby Red – and the other wore all black, leather gloves, no hat, short brown hair – Ron Detoro: The Sharp. A rhythmic knock prompted someone downstairs to let them in.
“Hey Louis, take Pooch to the study and put a fire on for him.”
Louis knew what taking the dog out of the room meant. “Sure thing, Boss.”
Frank sat at his desk as they left. The mahogany was covered with an emerald satin runner with gilded, tasselled borders. In the top left hand corner was a light wooden box with a brass latch – his cigar box. He was fine with the one he had, but it reminded him to take a long drag – a smooth taste for a smoke, with a hint of nutmeg and white pepper. Next to the box was a cubed bottle with diamond patterned glass. It still had three inches of heavenly amber whisky lying seductively at its bed. He got a small glass from the left shelf under his desk and poured himself two fingers. The muffled sound of relaxed conversation and gentle laughter came from downstairs. Frank reached under his desk again, this time to the right hand side, and moved the dial of the safe to three, then zero, one, nine, click. The door pulled open. Without bending down to peer into the safe, Frank reached in and pulled out another wooden box and a thick padded envelope from the top compartment, placing both in the centre of the desk.
The wooden box was larger than his cigar box with a phrase etched into its top: ‘Stay ahead of the game, Frankie. Love Pa.’ He opened it up. The inside had a quilted and silky scarlet lining, mostly concealed by the pile of white, teardrop shaped pills. He picked one up and rolled it between his thumb and forefinger before tossing it into the marble pestle and mortar on the right of the desk. He gave it a few taps with the pestle – that was all it needed – and poured the chalky powder into his whisky. He stood up, swirled the liquid gold clockwise around the glass, and saw the pill cry bubbles that dashed for the surface. He knocked the whole glass back in one and took another look out the window. The booze was good, a hot and spicy kick to it. The pill was good too. He felt his face warm and heart accelerate so he pulled the window open a couple of inches. The icy air pinched his cheeks, stung his eyes, relaxed his mind. He could smell the pretzel stand six buildings down on the corner of his street. The guy would be packing up his things this time of day. He used to throw his last pretzels to the pigeons, but Frank got someone to put an end to that; pretzel guy doesn’t feed the flying fucking rats anymore. His ears twitched as a faint sound became clear. Birds were nesting in the gutters on his street, some cooed and some tweeted, some rustled twigs and litter together into a bed. Frank breathed deeply through his mouth and nose, the aromas of his $3,000 Havasham and Barnett whisky still lingering. He closed his eyes and rolled his tongue over his teeth.
The stairs outside his office creaked one by one. Then there was a knock at his door. Again it was rhythmic, jolly; it must have been fucking Bobby. Ron would bash his knuckles against the door once, and hard, then again if nobody answered but a little harder.
“Come in, Come in,” said Frank, his voice a relaxed croak. In another life he would have made a fine blues singer.
Bobby and Ron strolled in. Bobby was all smiles under his bowler hat, his shadowy red whiskers covering the bottom half of his pale face. Ron though had a long mug that held a flat, emotionless mouth under a thin nose, small eyes and large black eyebrows. His chin had a dimple you could hold a smoke in.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” Frank said. He poured them both a glass of whisky. “I don’t suppose you have any news on the Rondale heist. I can’t think of a reason why there would be any problems, but I’d sleep all that bit better knowing it went well.”
Frank handed both men their glasses. As they took them from him he looked sternly into each of their eyes before letting go of the drinks. He always did that. Ron replied with his own icy stare, but Frank was sure of the sharpshooter’s loyalty and respect, if anything he felt a mutuality he didn’t feel too often. Ron didn’t need to kiss The Boss’s ass, he just did what he was told and he did it fucking well. If he didn’t have the lust of a fucking eunuch, and was a couple of years younger, he would have been a great match for Alice. Frank would have liked Ron in his family. He’d give Frank some competent, obedient grandchildren. Bobby fucking Red though, when The Boss stamped those cloudy dead eyes his way, he looked like he’d shat himself. Even though the kid came across as an arrogant prick, the kind that would wink at his reflection as he passed a shop window, he lost himself in Frank’s shadow; he’d smile as he threw his eyes somewhere else in the room, like he was on trial – and he was.
“The heist went okay, Frank,” said Ron. He was six and half feet and always stood with his hands hidden – this time in his outer jacket pockets.
“Okay, not great. Cop was shot dead,” said Bobby. His face and limbs were constantly moving, not in a twitchy way but in a too comfortable, relaxed sort of way, now he thought he’d passed Frank’s little test. It had never really annoyed Frank before. Now he wanted to kill the fucking shmuck.
“Fuck. You know I want these fucking jobs clean, and I mean fucking spotless! Anyway, anyway, nothing to do with you guys so I won’t bore you. Okay, so, I guess we should get down to business. Ron, take a seat over there, will you? Pull your feet up, read the paper, there’s a great cartoon in there, maybe it’ll break that stone face of yours.”
Ron gave a courteous grin and sat down on the arm chair.
“Hey I saw that one, Frank. That’s some funny shi–” began Bobby.
“–I would like to discuss matters of some fucking importance if that’s alright with you, Bobby?” interrupted Frank. His anger flamed but he tamed it. A cool breeze wrapped around the room. Frank could still taste the whisky and cigar, smell the pretzels, hear the flying rats fucking in the gutters.
Bobby took off his bowler hat and held in front of him with both hands. “Sure, Frank. Sure.” He said shakily as he ran his hands through his fiery, unkempt hair.
Frank poured himself another whisky – four fingers this time. “What do you think I am, Bobby?”
Bobby knew something was wrong. “What, Boss?”
“Do you think I’m a big fucking bird who likes to take weak little shit stained birds like you under their wings?
“I dunno, Boss.”
“It’s a very simple analogy, Bobby. Do you think I’m a big fucking bird and you’re a little fucking bird? Yes or fucking no?”
“I guess so, Boss, you’re like a –”
“No! I’m not a big fucking bird and I don’t take shits like you under my fucking wings just because I can!” Frank sipped at his whisky and collected himself. “I, Bobby, am a shark. You are one of those fucking fish that follow around in my shadow, eating all the parasites that bother me. You do me favours and I let you swim in my untouchable fucking shadow.”
“Pilot fish, Boss,” said Ron, the paper folded in his left hand and his whisky in his right. His legs were crossed and his eyes never left the print.
“Pilot fish, yeah, those. You’re one of those Bobby, at least I thought you were. Ron’s one.” Ron raised his glass. Frank, his eyes fixed and calm for now like unperturbed daggers, took a drag from his cigar and puffed the smoke into Bobby’s paling face. He reached for the inscribed box on the desk, still by the side of the padded envelope, and took out another teardrop pill. “See this, Bobby? One of my other pilot fish is telling me you’ve been selling these?”
“I… a… yeah, I did, but it was my share. I just didn’t take any myself, you know?”
“I made it explicitly clear that these were not to be mentioned to anyone outside my made men, never mind sold to some schmucks on the street! Didn’t I make myself clear, Ron?”
“Explicitly,” said Ron from behind the paper.
Frank continued. “Have you ever tried one of these, Bobby?”
“No Boss, no. I’ve never done nothing like that before, not coke, not meth; I barely ever even smoke. I can’t do shit like that because I need to stay fit, you know. I got my running and my baseball. I got a marathon in two weeks.”
Frank pulled a shining, silver revolver from inside his tweed jacket and shot Bobby in the shin. “I strongly doubt you’ll be breaking any records, Bobby.”
The shot was loud but Frank was used to it, used to the recoil too. Ron didn’t even look up from his cartoons. The gunpowder festered in the dimming light with the thick cigar smoke. Neighbours would have heard the shot, but even if a cop was stupid enough to be scouting round here they knew well enough to convince themselves it was only a backfiring auto.
Bobby didn’t scream. His leg buckled and he made a noise like he was being strangled. He looked back up to Frank with tears in his eyes, whimpering, holding back the screams.
Frank, his composure now lost with the pull of the trigger, tilted his head to the side and ran his tongue over his teeth behind his closed, still lips. His red eyes shook with anger. “You know, Bobby.” He got to his knees and looked at Bobby like a disappointed father would with his misbehaving son. “If you had taken this, maybe you’d have seen that coming.” He climbed back to his full six feet.
“B-b-boss, I… I’m sorry, really. I’m young I was stupid I made a mistake.” Spit flung from his lips as he pleaded. His eyes swelled and his nose ran. “Please, Boss, don’t. I got a wife, a kid. They need me, I swear I didn’t think it would be so bad.”
Fucking pathetic. “Shh shh shh. Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. I had a good feeling about you, you’ve really disappointed me. You were so eager six months ago to please me. I feel like I’ve been taken for a fucking fool.”
“I just wanted to make you proud, Boss and I slipped up. I just slipped up.”
“Fuck you, Bobby.”
The second bullet found Bobby’s forehead and the blood sprayed across the room.
Frank gave a frustrated wave of his gun hand. “Ah shit, I’ve ruined the fucking dartboard.”
Ron climbed calmly from his chair. “Well it’s your Christmas soon isn’t it, Frank? You could do with a new one anyway. A new made man too.”
Frank chuckled as he put away his gun. “Spread the word, Ron. But we can’t make another mistake. Make sure the next guy is one of us, no fucking health freak asswipe.” Frank took a couple more drags of his cigar. The taste was better after the pill. He downed the whisky. Better too. Then he grabbed the padded envelope.
“Bobby had a wife and a young son, is that right?”
“That’s right, Frank. His dame works at the tailors on Montague, she’s pretty good. The kid’s about eight, maybe nine.”
Frank tossed him the envelope. “You give that to the broad. That’ll see them fine without Bobby’s wages for a good time – luxury for a year or steady for four or five. Tell her if she wants to work for me, my door is open.”
“You got it, Boss.” Ron tucked the envelope underneath his jacket.
The door downstairs opened and Frank could hear the wind sweep a few leaves into his reception. Excited feet clapped against the old wood staircase and a boy’s voice bounced in the hallway behind the door.
“Pa, pa, you said we’d go see a play tonight, you promised you promised,” cried little Jack. His voice was muted by the thick closed door of Frank’s office. Jack got to the top of the stairs and almost crashed into the hallway wall with his speed. He turned down towards Frank’s office and opened the door without knocking. His mouth dropped open, two front teeth still too big for his freckled face, and his sea blue eyes grew wide.
“Jack, my boy, my champion, what have I told you about knocking?” said Frank.
“I…I di…” Jack stumbled.
Frank’s wife, Tilly, and his nineteen year old daughter, Alice, followed the kid’s steps up the stairs and across the hall with a more relaxed stroll and stood in the open doorway behind him. They were more used to seeing bodies than Jack though. Tilly pursed her burgundy lips and raised her plucked eyebrows in a shrug of the shoulders ‘not again’ fashion. Alice grimaced, her fair face scrunched up as she looked to her father in the same disappointed way that he used so well himself.
“Ron, you mind clearing the place while I’m out?”
“You got it, Frank, you got it.”
Little Jack’s eyes didn’t move from the body. The viscous red splash surrounded a collapsed and mushy dent in Bobby’s head, his eyes still open, staring at the ceiling like there was a ghost looking down on him. Little Jack looked similar staring at Bobby’s spilling brains.
“Oh and lock away the pills, Ron.”
Frank stepped over the body and ushered his son into the hall with the rest of the family. “Hey Jack, don’t you worry about Bobby back there; he always bleeds when he sleeps.” He smiled at his wife. She smiled back. Even Alice couldn’t help but grin. Frank breathed in some smoke and blew it out his nose. There was background noise: whizzing, honking, wind, birds, neighbours, neighbours’ dogs. There were the tastes and smells of everything around him: whisky, cigar smoke, wood, gunpowder, pretzels, the burn of the fireplace in his study and the smell of the old dog it was warming. He saw stuff too: the grains in the wooden walls, a fly here, an ant there, blood stains. But he didn’t feel, or sense, anything else. Maybe there was nothing to worry about. Maybe I should’ve taken another fucking pill. He shook his head. Don’t you worry, Frank. You’re the fucking Boss.
Chapter 3 by D.C. Ward
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