alfredo had a phone in his pocket, purchased for him by the woman who was keeping him.
he hesitated to use it. he decided to keep walking, on the chance he might encounter a working pay phone.
the sky overhead grew darker.
alfredo left the waterfront behind, and came to an area where high rises fronted the water.
he saw a man sitting alone on a park bench. a white haired man, impeccably groomed, wearing an old fashioned but brand new gray fedora. a stout looking walking stick was balanced on his knee.
alfredo approached the man on the bench . “excuse me. sir, but do you know where avenue a———————— is?” this was the street of the address on the matchbook.
the man looked up at him. “avenue a—————? why, it is all the way on the other side of the city. at the edge of the jungle.”
“ah. thank you.” alfredo looked around. “would you happen to know if there are any public phones nearby?”
“a public phone? no need for that.” the man reached into the pocket of his jacket and produced a small phone. “use this, sir. i insist.”
alfredo took the phone. “thank you.”
“may i ask,” the man in the fedora continued, “if you are going to call…. “ he rattled off the eighteen digit number from the matchbook.
“yes, i was,” alfredo, in no way surprised, answered.
“then i advise you not to call it.” the man had turned on the bench and faced alfredo directly. he gripped his walking stick firmly as he spoke.
alfredo smiled. “and why might that be?”
“because i know the man who will answer the call. or one of whose flunkies will answer the call. his name is don reynard de axa and he is a fool. he will offer you a generous sum to kill a man named bud johnson, whom don reynard imagines to be a person of consequence but is actually of no consequence whatever.” the man paused and looked alfredo in the eye. “but i am prepared to make you a much better offer.”
“and who might you be?” asked alfredo.
“you have never heard of me, but i am don carlos and i am the richest man in the world.”
“i see. and you are going to make me an offer to do what —?”
“to carry out a delicate operation. but one i am sure you are capable of.”
“involving - ?”
“involving a kidnapping, among other things.”
“a kidnapping!” alfredo laughed. “in this century?”
“oh, not for ransom, not for ransom ha ha!” don carlos held up his hand. “but the operation will involve kidnapping, among other things.and i am prepared to pay - ”
but alfredo held up his hand in turn. “if it is all the same to you, sir, i think i will hear this don reynard’s offer first. after all, he contacted me first.”
“of course, of course, suit yourself.” don carlos got to his feet. “i will leave you, i don’t wish to intrude on your conversation.”
alfredo held the phone out to don carlos. “i am afraid i would be abusing your hospitality by using your phone.”
“oh keep it, keep it by all means. it is only a telephone.” don carlos pointed down the beach, toward a bend in the bay. “do you see that low building over there? the green one?”
“it is a restaurant with the homely nomenclature of the sunrise cafe. why don’t you meet me there for breakfast tomorrow morning, let us say ten o’clock?”
“thank you. i will do that - if circumstances permit.”
“then i bid you good morning.” don carlos turned and set off down the beach at a brisk pace, swinging his stick.
alfredo watched him go. after a moment’s hesitation alfredo dialed the eighteen digit number.
as he expected his call was answered immediately. “whom am i speaking to?” a voice asked.
“i am alfredo.”
“stay where you are. a car will pick you up shortly.”
alfredo put the phone in his pocket and looked down the road the way he had come.
a few raindrops began to fall.
after five minutes a black limousine with tinted windows appeared.
men, seeing him pass by on the street, would suddenly realize that they would never be one tenth the man alfredo was, and would go home and shoot themselves.
women, driving down the street in red convertibles. or walking down the street pushing baby carriages, would abandon the convertibles or baby carriages and leave them in the street and follow alftedo - often to their doom.
alfredo, being a gentleman, would usually give these women a night of love - one that could never be repeated for them - and, having his own destiny - leave them.
women , those strange moth-like creatures, created for love and doomed to hopeless longing - could only respond to his abandoning…
with despair and death.
and so alfredo moved through the world, child of destiny, soldier of fate…
now it must be admitted that there were a few persons in this world, men and even a few women, who did not recognize alfredo for what he was.
persons in possession of worldly wealth and power, looking down on the masses from their towers and penthouses, sometimes mistook alfredo for a common spiv or lowlife.
made soft by wealth and ease, they did not sense the powerful forces that had shaped him, and that were unleashed within him…
for alfredo, in following his irresistible destiny, was still a living creature, and had to live day by day like any living creature, from the most humble and timid to the most fierce and terrible…
like most men who are not born to wealth, and who do not surrender their lives and souls to “the daily grind”, alfredo was saved from destitution only by the good graces of women.
women who, willing to die for him, were only too happy to support him.
one dark morning alfredo went for a walk along the waterfront.
the waterfront of one of those enormous cities, dwarfing the ancient capitals of atlantis and london and new york, that are springing up like weeds all over the doomed earth.
he felt that his destiny was - finally - at hand.
the waterfront was deserted. deserted of life, there were a number of small vessels floating in the oily water.
suddenly a man appeared.
he approached alfredo, and did something few men did.
he looked alfredo straight in the eye.
smiled, and walked past
intrigued by this unexpected event, alfredo turned to follow the path of the bold stranger.
but the stranger had anticipated him, and stopped, and faced alfredo.
the stranger held a small object out to alfredo. “you dropped something.”
“i never drop anything,” alfredo replied.
“never is a long time,” the stranger replied with a polite smile. “but i did not say that you dropped it just now. only that you dropped it.”
alfredo never indulged in palaver or small talk. he simply held out his hand for the object the man was offering him.
it was a matchbook. a plain white matchbook. alfredo opened it. an address, that he did recognize but assumed was one in the surrounding city , and an eighteen digit phone number were written inside it.
“i bid you good day,” the stranger announced, with his same courteous smile.
alfredo nodded, and the man turned and walked away.
alfredo watched him go. the man did not hasten or slacken his pace, and disappeared from sight without meeting anyone or being picked up by anyone.
i’m walking down the street, minding my own business.
i see these two guys on the ground, one on top of the other, beating the shit out of each other.
i start to walk around them and i see the guy in the bottom is my friend mac.
naturally, i jump in.
i grab the other guy around the neck and start pounding on him and we all three roll around together.
then mac bites me on the leg!
what the fuck!
mac, i yell, it’s me, buddy, your pal! bite this cocksucker on his leg, not mine!
but things are going so fast and furious i don’t know if mac hears me, and the three of us all keep banging away at each other!
finally somebody calls the cops!
break it up! break it up you fucking trolls, the cops yell and start whacking us with their clubs!
finally they get us all apart and put us in the wagon.
i look up and i see mac and we start laughing!
look at my leg you sick motherfucker, i yell at mac, that was me you were biting the whole time! i’m going to be crippled for life!
we both have a good laugh but then we look around and notice -
where’s the other guy? where’s the cocksucker mac was fighting to begin with?
they probably let him go because he was the mayor’s son or some shit!
maybe he was a cop, says mac. i thought from the beginning he might be a cop.
so we get to the jail and i think, well maybe they got some half way decent food, because you never know.
but before i can ask about when they feed us, mac asks where the tv room is, and this fatass bitch guard says, sorry fellas, this is an old school jail, no tv for your first 24 hours, you got to show you are good boys first.
fuck you, bitch! i think but i didn’t say that out loud.
so they stick me and mac in the big cell and i say to the fatass guard hey i need a doctor, look at this bite on my leg, and she tells me to shut my faggot mouth, but not in that nice a way.
so me and mac are sitting there shooting the shit and then suddenly the guard comes back with another guard, another bitch with an even fatter ass and she says they have an announcement to make.
some fucking aliens have landed and their spaceship landed in the river and it’s flooded and they need all the cons and jailbirds and bums they can get to fill up sandbags.
fuck! can things get any more fucked up?
i ask the first fatass if we can get something to eat first and she just looks at me and doesn’t say anything. i ask again about a doctor for my leg and she just leans against the cell door and ignores me.
then another guard, a big ape with a shotgun, shows up and they start moving us out of the cells and the rec room and out to these trucks waiting outside.
mac asks the guy with the shotgun, are we just going to fill sandbags or are we going to have to fight these aliens?
and the guard tells him, no, man, they got solders for that shit, don’t worry about it.
so we all get in the truck.
and we drive. and drive. and drive. we are out in the middle of nowhere.
where is this fucking place, i ask the guard, alaska? china?
you’ll get there soon enough, he says, just relax and enjoy the scenery.
finally we start to hear shooting. and then we get to the river and all hell is breaking loose.
we get off the truck and this army guy, a sergeant or general or whatever the fuck he is, comes over and says to the guard, in this deep voice like darth vader , give me some of your healthier specimens and we’ll give them weapons and move them up forward.
and the guard says, shouldn’t it be the other way around? have the stronger ones stay here and fill and move the sandbags? any pussy can pull a trigger.
and darth vader says, that’s good thinking, soldier, even though the guy is just a fucking jail guard and not a soldier at all.
so me with my bad leg and mac who’s all banged up and has a cough like a fucking monkey, they put us on a fucking raft with the rest of the weak sisters and they float us over to where the shooting is going on.
and the aliens aren’t shooting bullets, they are shooting death rays or some shit that burn holes right through you!
no sooner do they give us these rifles that look like something you’d give an eight-year old kid for christmas than one off the aliens shoots a ray that goes through mac’s head leaving a burnt out hole the size of a baseball and he’s dead!
and then things really started to get fucked up! i can’t even describe it.
so finally it gets dark and the aliens get beaten off and they put us - the ones that are left - back on the truck and we head back to the jail.
nobody feels like talking on the way back but with so many guys left behind dead at least we have room to stretch out a little bit.
i’m hoping we at least get some decent grub when we get back.
no such luck. they give us raspberry kool aid and bologna sandwiches. they were the worst bologna sandwiches i’ve ever eaten and, brother, i’ve eaten some bad bologna sandwiches.
now, you are probably thinking, after all that, that i might regret getting involved and never should have jumped in to help mac and then all this wouldn’t have happened to me.
but if you think that , that is because you are some kind of snowflake faggot hillary clinton voter.
mac was my friend. i had to help him or give up my honor.
sonia kept the motor running when joe got out of the car.
the street was dark and deserted.
most of the snow had melted but a light rain was falling through the fog.
joe crossed the street to the little store on the corner.
if the store had a name it was too faded to make out in the dark. signs in the window announced - beer - sandwiches - lottery. a larger more boldly printed sign said “ big drawing tuesday”.
joe opened the door and walked in. a little old man was seated behind the counter reading a comic book.
joe showed the old man his gun. “give me all your money.”
“no money, sir.”
“you must have some money.”
“no sir, security service just come by. you first customer come by since.”
“no, sir.” the old man shrugged. “ beside, security only take few dollars. most people pay with card. you look like smart feller, you know that. buy energy drink, buy candy bar, buy beef jerky, pay with card.”
“take what you like, sir,” the old man continued imperturbably. “take energy drink, take potato chips, take big game ticket, but no money.”
the old man put his comic book own on the counter. joe thought he saw the old man start to reach under the counter.
joe shot the old man in the chest.
then he heard a car outside in the street.
when joe got out the door, he saw officer riley coming toward him with his gun drawn.
joe raised his own gun. out of the corner of his eye, he saw his own car still in position and the motor running with sonia behind the wheel.
dead game, that girl, joe thought. but it was the last thought he ever had as the slugs from officer riley’s gun ripped through his guts.
another squad car pulled up, with its lights flashing, and parked behind sonia, cutting off her escape.
callahan got out of the second squad car and approached sonia.
sonia rolled her window down. “my uncle is - “
“we know who you are, miss,” said callahan. “we will make sure you get home safely. you just stay away from guys like joe b from now on, you hear me.”
a rookie cop had accompanied callahan and he drove sonia away.
callahan walked over to where riley was standing over joe’s body.
“joe b.,” said riley. “he had big plans.”
“yeah,” callahan laughed. “he was going to be the new emperor of crime.”
“a smart guy,” said riley.
“he was a smart guy, all right,” callahan agreed. “a real smart guy.”
billy waited as johnny, mary, and frankie came up the road..
as they got nearer he knew right away that johnny was number one, mary was number two, and frankie was number three.
the trio approached billy the way three dogs might approach some small furry creature of a kind they had never encountered before.
“hello,” billy said. his voice didn’t shake, which surprised him.
“hello yourself,” johnny answered.
mary and frankie came closer, and the three formed a semicircle around billy. he still had his back to the hill.
“what are those things?” billy asked, pointing to the shoe shine kit slung on mary’s back.
johnny looked at the kit, surprised by billy’s question. after staring at billy for a few seconds to give him the message that his question was idiotic, he said, “it’s a shoe shine kit, what did you think it was?”
“i never saw one before,” billy admitted.
that all laughed. “i guess you never shined shoes,” mary sneered.
“um - sure i have - “ billy stammered. “i mean - “
“you mean what?” johnny demanded.
“i mean i never shined anybody else’s shoes,” said billy. he thought that was a good answer.
“do you shine your own?” mary asked.
“sometimes?” mary raised her eyebrow. “who shines them the other times?”
“my governess,” said billy. as soon as he said it, he knew it was the wrong answer.
“what’s a governess?” frankie spoke for the first time.
“a shoe shine kit with wings,” said mary, and frankie and johnny laughed.
“maybe you could use a shine right now,” johnny said to billy. “those nice brown shoes look a little scuffed up.”
“i don’t think so,” billy answered.
“i think you do. you got any money on you?’
“i think you do,” said johnny, coming closer to billy.
billy tried to turn to run back up the hill, but johnny and mary each grabbed one of his arms.
“look in his pockets,” johnny told frankie.
frankie put his hands in johnny’s pockets, but all he found was a little pack of kleenex.
“no money, huh?” johnny looked billy in the eyes. “what, your butler and your chauffeur carry your money for you? you’re rich, aren’t you? live in a big house with a hundred butlers and maids.”
“do you play doctor and nurse with the maids?” frankie asked.
“shut up!” mary said, and smacked frankie on the side of the head.
“i don’t have any butlers and maids,” billy insisted. he pulled away from johnny’s and mary’s grasp. they let him go.
“no?” johnny raised an eyebrow.
“just a governess.”
“just a governess,” johnny repeated, and they all laughed again.
“let’s get out of here,” said mary. “we’re wasting time.”
they started away.
“wait!” billy called after them.
“what now?” johnny turned back to him.
“can i go with you?”
johnny laughed. “you mean just tag along?” he glanced at the others. “sure, why not?”
“what’s your name?” mary asked billy.
“i bet they call you william.”
they started off down the road, walking fast. billy had a hard time keeping up with them, and they did not speak to him, or to each other, until they reached the town, which consisted of a single square with about eight buildings.
there were no people in the streets.
“look at this hick town,” said frankie. “i knew there’d be nothing here.”
“let’s look around,” johnny told him. “any bars?”
”mickey said the town was dry,” mary reminded him.
”there’s a drugstore over there,” said johnny. “the next best thing.”
they headed over to the drugstore, with billy bringing up the rear.
there was a narrow alley between the drugstore and a barber shop.
a bum was lying in the alley, asleep.
johnny and mary began going through the bum’s pockets.
frankie grabbed the bewildered billy and stood him beside him so that the two of them blocked the alley from anybody passing by - not that anybody was.
“nothing,” said johnny. he stood up.
“let’s take his shoes,” said frankie.
“why would you do that?” billy asked. “can you get any money for them?”
“no, stupid, just for fun,” frankie told him.
“we aren’t taking his shoes,” said johnny. ”or even his hat. let’s get out of here.”
they walked down to the other end of the alley.
“maybe this isn’t the town,” said mary. “maybe there’s another town down the road.”
they looked across a vacant lot and down the road leading out of town.
but there was no sign of another town on the horizon, just a range of low hills.
despite doctor frank’s apparent age, and the fact that he was carrying his heavy black leather bag - which ray had offered to carry for him - ray was having a hard time keeping up with him as they made their way through the snow back to the abandoned building where red was waiting with the corpse of cindy.
the wind was blowing in their faces. and blowing the snow in drifts on the streets and sidewalks.
a light was showing in the basement window of a building.
there was a faded poster on the wall above the lit window. doctor frank stopped to look at it and ray stopped beside him.
the poster announced: “one week only - the international singing sensation - sleepy barlow - returned from her triumphant tour of the continent”.
the poster exhibited a barely legible picture of a young woman in a strapless gown singing into a standup microphone.
ray was not sure where “the continent” that sleepy barlow had returned from was.
“sleepy barlow!” exclaimed doctor frank. “she puts on a great show!” he peered closer at the small print. “looks like this is the last night she’s here. we have to see this!”
“but - “ ray protested, “what about cindy? we have to save cindy.”
“she’ll be all right,” replied doctor frank. “or not. i can either save her or i can’t. come on, let’s catch the show.”
ray did not know what to do. “isn’t it a matter of life and death?”
“maybe, but i can either save her or i can’t.“
there was a guard rail in front of the lit window, and below it was a door that seemed to lead into the basement . a short flight of steps led down to the door and the doctor started carefully descending them.
“maybe i should go on ahead and tell red you are coming,” ray said.
“suit yourself.” the doctor continued down the steps.
but, thought ray, could the doctor find his own way to the abandoned building? did he know where it was? ray decided to stick with him, at least for a while.
the door opened when the doctor tried the handle, and ray followed him inside, into a passage with an open door at the end of it. light spilled from the door, and they headed for it.
a small sign on the wall beside the door said “elite cafe” and below it was another poster like the one outside, advertising the appearance of sleepy barlow.
ray followed the doctor inside the elite cafe. he saw a small bar with three stools but no bartender and a tiny stage with a standup microphone like the one on the poster. there was no sign of a band or any room for one.
there were four small tables on the floor, but the only person visible at them was a young woman that ray assumed must be sleepy barlow.
the young woman turned to them and as they got closer ray saw that she looked exactly like cindy and red - their twin, or triplet, except that she had shoulder length black hair. she was wearing the strapless gown from the poster but had a sweater over her shoulders.
she did not seem suprised to see doctor frank, or to notice ray at all.
“hello, doc, you’re looking well.”
“as are you, my dear.” doctor frank put his bag on the floor and took a seat across from sleepy. ray hesitated, but sat down between them. sleepy continued to take no notice of him.
“it’s not very nice outside,” sleepy addressed the doctor. “i was wondering if anybody would show up.”
“i just happened to be passing by,” the doctor told her. “ this is ray, by the way. he is an old friend of red’s. and cindy’s.”
sleepy did not seem to be interested or impressed by this, but she did say, “hi, ray.”
“hello,” ray answered.
“of course, you don’t have to perform just for us,” the doctor continued. “if nobody else shows up.”
“oh no, no!” for the first time sleepy showed a little animation. “the show must go on! you’re an old timer, doc, you know that.”
sleepy looked back at the bar and the stage. “blackie should drag his miserable carcass out here pretty soon and you can get something to drink. the show starts in five minutes. anything particular you want me to start with?” she asked doctor frank.
“what seems to be the matter, sir devilish?” jordan, the countess’s faithful butler intoned. “but come in, sir, come in, let me assist you, get you out of this nasty wind. looks like rain, sir, we wouldn’t want you to get wet.“
sir devilish keene was round and red-faced, with a waxed mustache and a gold-tipped cane that he flourished without fear or favor. at jordan’s signal, a footman sprang out of the shadows and helped him assist the heavy old man into the foyer.
“the matter? the matter? “ sir devilish sputtered. “where’s that girl? where’s that damned girl?”
“girl?” jordan enquired. “what girl?”
“the driver! the damned insolent little trollop of a limousine driver! didn’t want to help me in! made a damned fuss about helping me - a sick old man with a cane and her passenger - into the house!”
“ah - well, you are safely here now, sir, and in good hands, in good hands. here, sit down, sit down. would you like a wheeled chair, sir?
“a wheeled chair! do i look like a damned cripple? none of your damned wheeled chairs!”
the butler and the footman lowered sir devilish into a chair. “where is the countess?” he demanded.
“a good question, sir devilish. i am sure she will be here to greet you and the other guests - but especially you - shortly.”
“hmph.” sir devilish continued to scowl as he settled into his chair.
“would you like a drink, sir devilish?” jordan asked.
“of course i would like a drink! do i look some kind of damned teetotaling methodist woman? brandy and water, if you please. and none of your damned ice.”
“of course, sir devilish.”
sonia and joe had been watching all this, and overhearing most of it.
“am i going to have to be introduced to him?” joe asked.
“no, it might be best to stay away from him, “ sonia murmured.
joe and sonia moved away, back into the depths of the house.
“no sign of mister madison,” joe noted.
sonia shrugged. “i am sure he will be here. be patient.”
they entered a room with a large fireplace.
joe noticed the back of a head visible over the back of an armchair in front of the fireplace. on the head was a red skullcap.
“oh, there's the cardinal,” said sonia.
“another famous detective, right?”
“yes, but a much nicer one. let me introduce you. “ sonia added in a lower voice, “we don’t want to avoid all the detectives.”
but before sonia and joe could approach the cardinal, they heard loud voices in the room behind them.
they turned and saw the ubiquitous cleve.
“some kind of announcement in the blue room, “ cleve drawled. “they want all the guests to assemble there.”
sonia glanced at joe. “then i suppose we may as well hear what they have to say.”
sonia and joe followed cleve.
“probably another murder,” cleve sighed. “i always say they are tempting fate by inviting all these damned detectives.”
“oh,” sonia answered with an attempt at a smile, “it is probably just that the countess does not feel well.”
but when they entered the blue room, they found a pale, trembling jordan standing in the center of it. a stern-faced sir devilish keene stood beside him, leaning on his cane.
“is everybody here?” jordan asked. “i am afraid i have some terrible news to impart - there has been a murder!”
“you do not say so,” muttered cleve, with a smirk.
“how awful!” cried a woman seated behind jordan. “the poor countess will be devastated!”
“i am afraid the countess is in no position to be devastated,” jordan replied sadly. “for you see - it is the countess herself who has been murdered.”
“no!” cried several guests.
“perhaps,” said a melodious voice behind joe, “it is some sort of accident.”
joe turned. a tall, hawk-faced man in the regalia of a cardinal stood in the doorway.
“i am afraid not, your excellency,” jordan addressed him, “unless there was some sort of accident that left her with her throat cut from ear to ear.”