This story contains sexually explicit scenes.
“Start yakking, Mack. Who are you and what were you doing in that tree?” This came from thug number one.
Moe brushed off the bark from his hands and straightened his jacket.
Thug number two chimed in. “Maybe he’s a pussy, Al. Pussies like to climb trees.”
Thug number one, Al, was middle-aged, thin-faced, and wore a permanently tired expression. He wasn’t a big man, but the tommy gun extending from his paws gave the illusion that he was. He wore the same brown suit as Thug number two, who must be Gus, like they’d graduated from the fashion school together. Gus was younger, broader, and by all accounts, dumber. But the firearm in his hand didn’t look any less threatening.
“I asked you a question, boy. When you don’t answer, I gotta figure you’re itching to wear lead buttons on your vest.”
Moe searched for an answer. Nothing but sarcasm came to mind. “I’m an arborist.”
“An arborist? What the fuck’s an arborist?” Gus looked at Moe, and then over to his buddy. “What’s an arborist, Al?”
Al kept his eyes and his heater pointed at Moe. “Apparently, an arborist is the same thing as a bull-shitter.” He glared at Moe through slanted eyes as he spoke. It was the kind of look that said this gorilla meant business. So Moe answered.
“I heard there was a party tonight. I lost my invitation.”
Al had the muzzle of his gun jammed into Moe’s chest before Moe could flinch. “What do you know about it?”
Moe lifted his hands in surrender. “Whoa. Hold on. No reason to blow a gasket.”
Al rammed the cold metal harder into Moe’s sternum. “I got a twitchy trigger finger, Mack. Better not test it.”
“I heard about the party from a good-looking blonde.” Moe slowly lowered his hands and eased them into his trouser pockets. “She said she was supposed to be here tonight, but she wouldn’t be able to make it.”
“I think he’s talking about Danja, Al.”
“Shut up, Gus. And you…” Al tapped the gun up against Moe’s chin like he was tapping the ashes off a cigarette. “Get those hands out of your pockets.”
Moe eased his hands out of his trouser pockets and held them back up. Al had the look of a caged tiger, itching to pounce but willing to bide his time. He wouldn’t ace an Ivy League exam, but the thug was smart with instinct. Moe considered his words carefully. “Yeah, you could say Danja sent me,” he hedged.
“The boss is gonna want to see him, Al.” Gus said. Al was the brains of this duo. Gus, on the other hand, couldn’t pass an eye test. The man’s head was filled with rocks, but he was still dangerous. Tommy guns gave a man an edge when on a level playing field he’d be outclassed. As if to prove Moe right, Gus let his gun hang loose in his grip, forgetting to point it at Moe.
“I said shut-the-fuck up, Gus. And get that gun up, you fuckin’ moron!”
Gus jerked the gun back into position, aimed straight at Moe. His finger twiddled the trigger like a kid gaming for a turn. Moe wasn’t sure Gus had enough smarts to know how the trigger on a tommy gun worked. Moe decided to distract the overgrown baby Hughie.
“Maybe Gus has a point, Al. Maybe I should see the boss.”
Al used the tip of his gun again against Moe’s chest, tapping out each syllable. “Listen, Mack, I’ll say when and if you see the boss. You got that?” Al took a step back but kept his firearm pointed at Moe’s heart. His finger caressed the trigger like a long lost lover. “Shake him down, Gus.”
Gus slung his gun over his back like a knapsack and patted Moe from shoulder to ankle. He discovered Moe’s gun and pen knife. “He’s packing, Al, but it ain’t much. A measly Boy Scout knife and a Roscoe.” Gus crammed both weapons into his suit pockets.
“Hand me his wallet, Gus. Let’s see who this clown is.”
Gus worked his kielbasa-like fingers into Moe’s back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and tossed it to Al.
“Keep your gun on him.” Al said.
Gus, playing private to Al’s sergeant, grabbed his weapon and yanked it forward, aiming it toward Moe.
“Anyone ever tell you you’ve got fat fingers, Gus?” asked Moe.
“Only the ladies.” Gus guffawed at his own joke.
“Well, would you look what we got here.” Al had the wallet open and was fingering Moe’s tin. “We’ve got ourselves a private dick.”
Gus whistled. “A private dick, you say?”
Al drew out the few bucks Moe was carrying. “Looks like the snooping business ain’t paying too well these days.” He squinted in the darkness, trying to read the name on the license. “Gafferson.” Al stuffed the couple of sawbucks into his inside suit pocket and then smirked at Moe. “They looked a little lonely. I got some friends they can join.”
Luckily, Moe had stashed most of the payoff from Dutch at home. It was dwindling on its own. If he’d been carrying it, chances are Al would have made it extinct. “You’re all heart, Gus.”
The sound of an engine turning over interrupted their get-to-know-you bash. Another engine quickly followed, and then another. Three pair of headlights flashed on, one right after another, like an Edison parade lighting up the front of the Victorian mansion, three pair of headlights flashed on, one right after another..
“Ah, what a shame, looks like you missed the party,” Al said.
Moe kept quiet. It was no skin off his back if the goons believed they’d caught Moe coming and not going.
The sound of traffic had Gus even antsier than he’d been. He shifted on his feet and kept glancing out to the road. “The boss man will be pissed if we don’t bring this sucker to him, Al.”
“Hold your horses, Gus.” Al tossed the empty wallet back to Moe and straightened his suit coat. “We’re not in any hurry. Let the party-goers leave.”
“Oh yeah, good thinking, Al. We’re not in any hurry. Let them party goers leave.” Gus was the kind of ape who made teachers feel like underachievers. His brain wasn’t made for learning. The only thing the guy had was his muscle, but there was plenty of that. Mr. America should be so lucky.
But Moe never did like bullies, and the dumb ones like Gus made it easy to take a jab. Before he could think, the words were out of his mouth “Got a cracker for your parrot, Al?”
Moe was on the ground in an instant, seeing stars and rubbing his chin where Al’s tommy gun had upper cut him.
“You best just shut your trap, Gafferson, before I forget my manners.”
Moe shook his head to loosen the daisies that were popping in his brain. At least his teeth weren’t rattling. He should have known Al would defend his gangster buddy. It was practically protocol.
Gus pushed up his sleeves and balled his fists. “Let’s rough him up a little, Al.”
“Nah, just keep the gun on him while I light up a smoke.”
A couple of blinks later and Moe was able to focus again. Gus’s attention was already drifting and Moe thought he might be able to take him. But Al was a different story. The smaller man took his job serious, and men like Al – wiry and instinctual – had fast reflexes. And even a puppet like Gus could get off a lucky shot. Moe wasn’t looking to add any lead poisoning to his belly. So he waited.
Al shook a Lucky Strike out of the fag box and used a shiny silver lighter to get it going. He sucked and puffed leisurely drags and made smoke rings with his mouth. From the house, more cars started and left. Eventually, nothing but the smacking of Al’s lips, making love to his cigarette, could be seen or heard.
Moe would have stayed on his ass, but the day’s humidity had settled on the grass and left the ground soggy. He stood up and held a cold, wet hand to his already-swelling chin. Gus, momentarily vigilant, and with his chopper poised and ready to fire, followed Moe’s every move.
Al finished the gasper and flicked it in the air. Its smoldering butt sputtered out when it hit the wet grass. “All right, Gafferson, let’s go. Time to meet the big boy.”
Al and Gus played like engine and caboose with Moe as the cargo as the three of them walked toward the house. Gus poked his tommy into Moe’s back every few feet like he was tossing coal on the fire.
The mansion was set far enough back on the property that the front was hidden from the street. As they neared the porch, only the portico lamp offered any light. The cars that had jammed the driveway were gone.
Al punched a buzzer attached to the doorframe – two quick taps, a pause, followed by another quick tap – like a code. Then he pushed on through the large, leaded glass doors. Moe and Gus tagged along. The entryway was made of Italian marble and led to an ornately carved hallway. The ceilings were quarter sawn red oak and reminded Moe of a European castle. An oak credenza was parked on the left with a vase of oversized chrysanthemums filling up its top.
It took Moe a couple of seconds to get his bearings. The room where the ritualistic orgy had taken place was more toward the center of the house and on his right. Al and Gus led Moe to a front parlor to the left, through a big door and into a parlor. The parlor had thirteen foot ceilings with exposed walnut beams, built-in bookcases, and a marble tiled fireplace with a pillared mantle. Antiques that rivaled the rest of the house dotted the floor plan. The room stunk of money
Al pointed to a beige-upholstered armchair. “Have a seat, Gafferson.”
Moe did as he was told.
“Tie him up, Gus,” Al added.
Gus opened up one of the drawers of an 18th-century buffet and pulled out a roll of twine.
Moe shook his head. “This place seems a little hoity-toity to be storing twine in an antique buffet.”
“Just never you mind, mister,” Gus said. He yanked Moe’s hands behind the back of the chair and wrapped the twine around Moe’s wrists several times. It dug into his skin and nearly cut off the circulation.
Once Moe was secured, Gus and Al propped their guns against the wall and waited.
Minutes later, Karl Boch walked into the room. Thankfully, as far as Moe was concerned, he’d taken the time to dress in a pair of slacks and a smoking jacket. Moe had seen enough of Boch’s naked body to last him a lifetime.
“What’s this all about, Al?” Boch stared hard at Moe, but no sign of recognition etched his face.
“Found him trying to sneak onto the property by way of a tree in the back corner.”
Boch made his way over to a smoking table and picked up a Meerschaum pipe. Using the reamer tool on his smoker’s companion, he loosened up the tobacco in the bowl of the pipe and lit it. Immediately an aromatic, woodsy smell filled the room. “I trust this tree will be taken care of.” He spoke like a gentleman, but Moe knew better.
“Sure, Boss. First thing tomorrow.”
“Do we know who this trespasser is?”
Gus piped up. “He’s an arborist.”
Boch shot a dagger at Gus that would have made a smart man cower. Gus wasn’t a smart man. “You know, Boss, a bull-shitter.”
Al interrupted before the killing look from Boch could turn into a command. “His name is Gafferson. Moe Gafferson. And he’s carrying around a private dick license.”
At the mention of Moe’s name, one of Boch’s eyebrows arched and then settled quickly back into place.
“He knows something about Danja, Boss.”
That bit of news got an immediate reaction that didn’t leave Moe guessing. Boch rushed over to Moe and leaned close to his face. “What do you know?” The smell of pipe smoke couldn’t cover the crisp smell of sex and blood that lingered on Boch’s body. “Where is Danja?” he demanded.
Moe tried not to gag. “You mean now? I got no way of knowing.”
Boch eased back and straightened his smoking jacket. He puffed on his pipe and stared at Moe.
Al chimed in. “She told him she wasn’t going to make it to the party tonight, Boss.”
Boch nodded and tapped the bit of the pipe against his teeth. “It seems Mr. Gafferson needs some help remembering, Gus.”
Gus landed a quick jab to Moe’s cheek. Moe didn’t think. He just reacted. His booted foot landed square into Gus’s cojones. Gus turned every shade of pale, dropped to the floor, and grabbed his crotch, instantly speechless and unmanned.
Two quick punches from Al sent Moe, chair and all, careening backwards to the floor. Moe tried to work his hands loose, but they were tied too tight. Karl Boch sidled up close to Moe’s head and jammed his foot against Moe’s throat, pressing until Moe’s windpipe threatened to collapse.
“We can do this easy, Mr. Gafferson. Or we can do this messy. It’s totally up to you.” Boch wasn’t speaking like a gentleman anymore.
With his air passage blocked, Moe’s head was about to explode. The ringing in his ears kept him from hearing exactly what Boch was saying, but he could see his lips working. Pain shot through Moe’s lungs and tried to escape through his eyes. He managed to nod just before his lights went completely out.
Boch removed his foot. “Set him up straight boys.”
Moe gasped for breath, coughing and sputtering like a tuberculosis victim. Gus was still battling with his ability to stand, but he managed to hook a hand in Moe’s armpit and with Al’s help, they sat Moe upright. Just as they’d righted him, Gus rammed his elbow into Moe’s ribs. It lacked Gus’s full strength, but was still enough to have Moe hacking again.
Al and Gus avoided the furniture and settled back against the wall like a couple of guards at Buckingham palace. Boch took a seat in the Rosewood tub chair that flanked the smoking table. He crossed his legs and smoked on his pipe, a man of leisure while he waited for Moe to catch his breath.
Moe cleared his throat and swallowed hard against the burning in his esophagus. He used the time to work on a Grimm’s he could tell to Boch. It worked in Moe’s favor that Boch hadn’t realized how bad off Danja was at last night’s poker game.
“Now Mr. Gafferson, about the blonde.”
Moe fought the tickle in his throat and struggled to talk. “I got a call.” The words came out raspy and harsh. “The broad said she knew something about the night I was stabbed. So naturally, I was interested.”
“How’d she know to call you?”
“Beats me. But I figure if someone let the air out of my brother, I’d be snooping for details, too.”
Moe tried on a cocky grin. “She’s looking for her brother’s killer. She thought we might have something to discuss.”
“What else did she say?”
“She asked me to meet her downtown, at Joe’s Diner.”
The fume from Boch’s pipe began to fizzle. He sat it down on the smoking table. “So you met her?”
“Hey, a sexy gal asks me to lunch, I’m not going to turn her down.”
“When did this rendezvous take place?”
Moe wracked his brain for the most feasible time. “Lunch. Today.”
“What was the lady wearing?”
“You expect a rube like me to notice a thing like that?” Moe shrugged his shoulders. “She had on a coat. That’s all I know.”
Boch picked the pipe back up, tapped the bit of the pipe stem against his teeth, and stared at Moe. His dark evil eyes sent a chill up Moe’s spine. “You’re detective skills are pretty lax, Mr. Gafferson.”
“I was more interested in what she was saying than what she was wearing.” Moe’s hands were completely numb. He worked again against the twine, trying to stretch it, but without any luck.
“Do you at least remember what she looked like?”
“Like I said, blond, good-looking. A little scrawny for my taste, but I’d bushwhack her.” Moe wrinkled up his face, trying to look thoughtful. “Oh, and she had an accent.”
“What exactly did she tell you?”
“She told me a lot of things, but the skinny of it was her brother, Peter Schmidt, was killed because of a diamond scheme he’d hatched up. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Boch fiddled with tobacco, refilled his pipe, and then relit it, taking slow, deliberate puffs as he circled the match. “That doesn’t explain what sent you here, Mr. Gafferson.”
“The dame said there was a party going on at Councilman Boch’s tonight, and I might find more answers at it. If I could get in. I figured I wasn’t high-brow enough to get a welcome, so I tried the back way.”
“What else did she tell you about this party?”
Boch sprung up from his chair and began to walk around the room. “This sounds like a pretty fantastical tale, Mr. Gafferson. Did this woman give you a way to contact her?”
“Nope. Didn’t even give me her name. When I told her I might need to talk with her again, she said she’d be in touch.”
Moe was counting on the snippets of truth in his story to convince Boch the whole kit and caboodle was on the up-and-up. He was also hoping the councilman had bought Dutch’s story about Danja ‘just disappearing’ last night.
“Mr. Gafferson. I’m afraid we’ve been terribly rude. But you can imagine how my security men might overreact when they caught you trespassing.” Boch ceased his pacing and leaned against the fireplace mantle. Moe half expected the man to complete the gentleman act by offering Moe a brandy, or by challenging him to a game of whist.
Moe didn’t want Boch thinking he was a complete idiot. It might backfire. “So what answers do I get about the scar in my belly?”
“I’m afraid you’ve been duped, Gafferson. You see, I did have a girl working as one of the house servants. Her name was Danja. But she didn’t work out, and I had to fire her. Now the ungrateful wench has concocted some fairy tale as a way to exact revenge.” Boch tipped his head toward Al and pointed at Moe’s restrained hands.
Moe ignored the million holes in Boch’s yarn and pretended to be satisfied. “I guess being a councilman makes you an easy mark.”
“You have no idea, Mr. Gafferson.”
Al pulled a lethal-looking hunting knife out of his boot and quickly sliced through the twine. Moe’s fists immediately began to sting like a hundred fire ants were nipping at his fingers.
“Mr. Gafferson, why don’t you let Al and Gus escort you to your car, and we’ll both forget about tonight.”
“I’d shake on it, but my hands are feeling a little worthless right now.” Moe was glad for the excuse not to have to touch the bastard. “Oh, I would like my roscoe and knife back that Gus over there stuck in his suit pocket.”
Gus looked inside his suit like he was surprised to find the items there.
“Absolutely. Gus will be glad to return them to you.” Boch glared at Gus to get his point across. “Although, security demands he wait until you’re at your car. You understand.”
“There’s no need for them to waste time escorting me.”
“Oh, but I insist. Good evening, Mr. Gafferson.” And with that Boch strolled out of the room.
Al and Gus left their tommy guns in the house but walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Moe all the way to his car.
“Figures a low-life like you would be driving a piece of shit like that Buick. It ain’t worth nothing, not even for scrap metal,” Al said when they walked up on Moe’s car.
“It gets me around.”
“Yeah, well see that it don’t get you around here no more, chief.”
“Yeah, we don’t want to see you no more,” Gus echoed.
Moe opened the car door. “Always the parrot, aren’t you, Gus?”
“Forget it, Gus. He’s a bum,” Al said.
Moe stuck a leg in the car and remembered the roscoe and knife. “Hey, how about my hardware?”
Gus shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave.
“Mr. Boch might not like another call from me tonight.”
Gus pulled the weapons from his suit and tossed them in the air. They skated across the blacktopped road and ended up beside Moe, a little dinged up but still intact.
“It’s been a real treat, Twiddle-Dee and Twiddle-Dum.” Moe jumped into his car and pressed the starter button. He flipped on his brights and watched Al and Gus scramble to get out of the light.
Moe circled the block, turned off his lights, and parked the Buick on the street parallel to Boch’s. He counted to fifty, the slow way: one-one thousand, two-one thousand. And then slid from his car and walked back around to where he’d just been. There was no sign of Al and Gus. He reached up into the oak and felt around for his Brownie. It was right where he left it.
Rough Cut originally appeared in Ruthie’s Club http://www.ruthiesclub.com/
Copyright © 2004 by Desdmona.