Slow Stories

Me and Slow

I reflected as I blew off the smoke oozing from the barrel.
"Life sure sucks, eh?" muttered Slow Charlie.
Forty-seven years old and he's just figured this out. Wonder why I call him Slow? Charlie he got from his mom, and I bet she must have been some piece of work. I mean, he wasn't exactly suited for any other career, and what parent figures this for their kid's future? But give me a slow one any day for a job like this.
"We're back to square one, Slow. Let's get out of here." Our hard leather soles rap on the concrete and the sucker's lying there all by herself.

* * * *

I continued reflecting in the car, watching neon jitter by. Always let Slow drive. Keeps him from talking. But he was righter than he knew. And I don't mean Republican. I stared out the window and wondered what Old Sal would have said.

* * * *

Old Sal's Pool Hall. Dim flourescents and muted felt, tic tac toc of the balls. Mostly nine-ball in here, with a little cutthroat. Wrong-Way Rog looked up from his next shot as we came down to him. Scrawny guy, not enough meat on him to feed half a bird on a diet. He stood his cue on the floor and tugged his moustache, looking back and forth between us.
I've seen enough guilt to recognize it in a dark alley. I chose my strategy.
"Slow, introduce Wrong-Way to the table."
One big hand on the back of Wrong-Way's head and his face went down, slammed into the slate and bounced back, bloody and broken, his nose an inch wider than it was before. He made that "Hnnn, hnnn," sound that I've always hated.
"Sit." Another hand on the shoulder and the poor little sneak thumped his butt into one of Sal's cheap folding chairs. I lit a cigarette and inhaled.
Old Sal made a noise.
"Shut up, Sal. You know I'm good for the felt. Send me a bill."
I scraped a chair of my own over and sat down. Wrong-Way reached up to his ruined face. He was shuddering and trying not to cry.
I nodded to Slow, who slapped Wrong-Way's hands from his face. I leaned forward and spoke quietly.
"I didn't tell you to touch your ugly face. You do what I say and nothing else. I got your attention?"
Wrong-Way nodded, his eyes reaching out to me like I was going to save him from Slow's affections.
"Alright. Now you answer me a simple question, and me and my pal are outa here and you can get to a hospital. Maybe a doctor can do something for what's left of your face. Understand?"
Wrong-Way was no dummy. He knew what we were doing. Good guy, bad guy, oldest routine in the book. He nodded again. Bone stuck out from the bridge of his nose, a revolting flash of white in red.
"Question starts with who. Maybe you can guess the rest."
He looked at me. "Wh-- who?"
I leaned into him and held up my cigarette. "You're making a big mistake, Wrong-Way. You're thinking Slow's the bad guy. You think he's bad, you just bullshit me once more. I'll put your left eye out with this smoke. Understand?"
His head jerked back and Slow grabbed both his arms. I grabbed his head and raised the cigarette.
"Minneapolis," he whispered, eyes wide and staring. "Minneapolis."
I leaned back, took a drag, my eyes holding Wrong-Way in place. "Minnie's a close personal friend of ours, Wrong-Way. You got thirty seconds to convince me."
"I can't. I can't convince you." Wrong-Way jerked his head from side to side and little red drops flipped off the fat end of his nose. "He gave me that wad and told me to give the job to you two. I don't know why. I don't know. I don't know."
"Do you think I won't have Slow here break your arms for lying to me?" I dropped the butt and crushed it out under my shoe.
Wrong-Way started to fall apart. He reached out to me. "You gotta believe me, man! Minneapolis told me! He passed the job onto me, I passed it to you. I didn't think nothing of it. Fuck, I know he's your friend, that's why I didn't even check things out. You gotta believe me."
He was shaking and blood stains covered his shirt. I looked away before I got sick. "No, Wrong-Way. I don't. What I've got to do is talk to Minneapolis and see what he says. I'll let you know." I stood up and started walking.
"I know what he's--" Another almost-scream as Slow kept Wrong-Way from blowing our exit. Sal looked down as we strolled past the counter. 
On our way out the door, Slow muttered, "He never looks at us. I hate that."
"Shut up, Slow. Let me do the thinking."

* * * *

"Well, if ain't the Glamour Twins." Minneapolis sat behind an enormous desk that was almost completely bare. The only thing on it was a cheap-looking vase with a cheap-looking rose sticking out. Streetlights slanting in through the blinds striped the broad desktop and glared into our eyes.
Minneapolis himself was nearly as big as the desk, and just about as bald. A runt like Wrong-Way might crawl into one of the folds of Minnie's flesh and never be seen again. Minnie had predatory fat, fat just waiting to bite you, fat that made you want to never eat again. 
"Balls to you, fatso." Minnie's fat was so powerful he didn't care what people said about him. He told me once he never trusted people who pretended not to notice his size. I've called him names ever since.
Minnie lifted one marshmallow hand and extended it to the rose. He batted at it for a second. "It's late, boys. What's on your mind?"
I planted myself in a chair right in front of Minnie, and heard Slow take up a position behind me on the right.
"Down at Old Sal's tonight."
"How is the old bastard?"
"Sends his love. As does Wrong-Way."
Minnie looked from me to Slow and back again. "It's late, boys. Time you were in bed."
I gave him a good sightline down the barrel of my .45. He studied it pretty carefully.
"You're making a big mistake, boys."
Slow took two steps forward and with one hand flipped that huge desk aside like it was folded paper. Minneapolis jerked back and flinched as his desk thundered into the wall and crashed down. The whole building seemed to shake. I kept the gun fixed on Minnie's face. Slow knew what was going on and never got between us. He leaned down next to the fat man.
"Listen to my partner, Minneapolis." He turned away and went to the door. People outside were wanting to get in, but I didn't look away from Minneapolis. Slow could handle it.
"Who was the blonde, fatso?"
"Leave it alone, boys."
I shook my head. "You set us up for a fall, Minneapolis. We never did anything to you. I want to know why."
Minnie licked his lips. He opened his mouth. "I-- "
I squeezed once and a hunk of lead spat from my gun and slammed into Minnie's left shoulder. It tore through skin and fat and muscle, shattered his collarbone and spun off to lodge in the wall behind him. He shuddered once, a single wave of reaction rippling through his whole body.
"Don't even think of a lie. I know what lies look like."
He nodded minutely. His bald head gleamed with sweat.
"Who was the blonde?"
"Cigarette Slim. Jackie Diamond's girl."
Two gunshots from behind us. I heard Slow grunt like he was asking for another card. Time to get out.
"She's dead, Minneapolis. Diamond'll be wanting to see you, I'd think. Let us know how it turns out."
More guns crackled. Two bullets struck the wall behind Minneapolis. 
"Slow, we're out of here." I spun out of the chair and emptied the automatic through the door. Changed magazines, pulled the other gun and me and Slow went out.

* * * *

I had to drive. Slow'd taken a bullet in his left side. He slumped in the passenger seat and got blood over everything.
"Minnie explain it to you, partner?" he asked.
"Shut up, Slow. We got to get to Gina's, pronto."
"I shot Baseball in the face. His wife's going to be in for hard times."
"I said shut up."
"Blondie was sure dumb, huh? What'd she have to do that for?"

"It was Cigarette Slim, Slow. We killed the Cigarette Girl."


Old Sal's Deal

Lady Kate once told me I could smell a deal a mile upwind through a convention of cigar-smokers eating garlic. Maybe true, but I didn't need any special talent when Johnny Siam came in. His deal stank like old seaweed washed up on the rocks and left to ferment for a few days.
"Heard you had some trouble in here earlier." He leaned on the counter and started rolling another of his smokes.
"Yeah." I didn't know what his game was and figured keeping my hole shut was the best plan.
"Want to tell me about it?"
"Two bucks an hour for a game, Siam. You want to rack up a set or are you making a pass at me?"
He stuck out his tongue and sealed the cigarette. He pointed it at me like it was a rod.
"Don't crack wise with me, old-timer. You want me to drag you in for withholding evidence?"
No, I didn't. We stared at each other for a second or two. Siam didn't scare me. I been getting stared at by tough guys since before he was born.
"What's your angle, kiddo?"
"To serve and protect, just like it says on the shield." He lit his cigarette with a cheap disposable and took a drag. "Poor Wrong-Way came in to Emergency saying Costalis and Slow worked him over."
"Wrong-Way says a lot of shit. I'm surprised you took time out of your graft rounds to follow this story up."
Siam took another drag and tapped ash onto my counter. "What happened, Sal?"
"They had a private conversation, Detective. I'm no eavesdropper."
He looked at me for just a second, the cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and then reached forward and grabbed my jacket. I tried to go with it but as he dragged me toward him the counter edge slammed into my gut. My ribs took the impact.
"Here's the latest news, old man. Costalis is on the way out. That means his friends are on the way down." He let go and I staggered back, fighting the urge to rub at my gut. "You been here a long time, Sal. This joint is a fucking institution. I'd hate like hell to see it go."
"I got no enemies."
Siam just laughed at that. "It's not your enemies you got to worry about. It's your friends." He turned away and headed up the stairs. His voice came down over the rising footsteps.
"Maybe you want to talk about your friends, old man. Come talk to me."

* * * *

Never make a deal with someone who thinks you're a sucker. Either they take you, and then you are a sucker, or you take them, and then they think they have to prove you really are a sucker. And then things get drastic. 
Locked up at five and went down to the tables. Studied the table where Wrong-Way had broken his nose, and decided I'd wait till tomorrow to pull the felt. I took down a cue and racked up a round of snooker.
I had only one snooker set. Cutthroat was the game in this town. Nobody around here knew what the hell snooker was, but I grew up on that game. I chased the reds around the table and tried to put my thoughts, my common sense and my loyalties in order.
Max was no punk, and neither was Charlie. And ordinarily Siam could never get me thinking they were being played. But I'd seen their faces when they went out, and I'd heard Charlie's comment.
Sank the yellow, lined up another red.
They were frightened men. And I knew Max. The only thing that frightened him was not knowing the angles, not knowing who was banking a shot at who. And if he wasn't talking to me, he didn't know who to trust.
Blew an easy one and lit a cigarette to steady myself.
I went down a list of players who maybe had the clout to put Max in a real fix and came up blank. He was too useful to too many.
Put down the blue, the last red and the black. Five twenty-one. I switched off the banks of lights and closed the door behind me.

* * * *

The Old Woman was awake when I got home, sitting curled up in my plaid housecoat. She turned off the set and came into the kitchen with me.
"You tired, hon?"
I put my arms around her and felt her bend her strong legs, ready to take my weight. We stood for a second then I stepped back and took off my coat.
"I'm alright, kiddo. You get any breakfast yet?"
She scratched her stomach and gave a little yawn. "Nah. I just got up. But I gotta go to work in half an hour."
I hung up my coat and opened the fridge. "I'll make you some eggs. You should eat."
"Baby, you're tired. Go to bed."
Three eggs, crack crack crack, into the mixing bowl. "Old man like me doesn't have to sleep. You're going to be running your pretty ass off down there for the whole day, you need a good breakfast."
She kissed my cheek and dropped the housecoat on the chair on her way to the bedroom.
I called after her, "You were working Emerg last night, weren't you? You have a guy come in with a busted nose?"
"Yeah, real skinny guy. He a friend of yours?"
"Nope." I poured the eggs into the pan and sloshed them around. Shook in a bit of pepper and salt, and loaded up the toaster. Once everything was done I set a place for her and took out a beer for myself.
She came in, tying up her hair. "You getting senile on me, you old fart?"
"What?"
"You forget how smart I am? You're in trouble, aren't you?"
Beer tasted pretty good. I took another swig.
"Sal, we talked about this. You can't treat me like a child."
"You are a child!" I said it before I though about it. Her eyes narrowed and she pointed her fork at me.
"And you're the one who's banging me, you dirty old fuck." Her stare was scarier than Siam's.
"I'm sorry, Gina. I'm sorry. And no, I'm not in trouble. But maybe one of my friends is."
"Oh, your friends."
"Maybe this guy who came in last night could help. Can you get me his address?"
She finished up the last of breakfast while she thought about it. "You promise me you're not in any trouble?"
"I promise. If I were in trouble, Gina, I wouldn't bring it home to you."
She sighed. "I wish you would, Sal. I'm your wife. I'm supposed to help."
"Just get me this guy's address and you'll be helping." I reached across the table and took her hand, curled my ugly old fingers around her beautiful young ones.
"I meant what I said," she whispered as she got up and went to the door, "You are a dirty old fuck."

* * * *

When I got to his place and saw the muscle tearing it apart, I figured Wrong-Way wasn't home. Then I saw one scrawny leg sticking out from under the heap of blankets and I knew he was. The muscle looked up. I didn't know his face, and that made me nervous.
"Whaddya want, old man? I could make you a third eye. With this."
He showed me his gun. It wasn't as big as Max's but it was plenty big enough. I decided to play dumb. Really dumb.
"Oh. Oh, I'm, I'm sorry, sir, really. I just live upstairs and I-- I thought I heard something, and..."
He sneered. I've gotten used to sneers. They relax me. They say, "You aren't worth hurting. Get out of my face so I don't have to think about you."
I got out of his face as fast as I could and went down the stairs and outside.
Out on the street I realised I'd screwed up. I got to the end of the block and took one quick look back. The muscle came out the front door and saw me. I cursed myself for being a punk. I'd told him I lived upstairs. 
I kept going on down the street at my own pace, but he kept step with me. Every shop window I stopped at I caught him, still a block behind me. I needed an out, but Wrong-Way lived away from my usual haunts. All I could do was hope this guy was patient.
He was. He was a hunter, this one. And he wasn't hunting me, he was hunting whoever I was leading him to. Trouble was, I didn't have anyone to lead him to. There was only me.

* * * *

Anybody who's ever played hearts knows the fearful thrill of holding that evil queen of spades in their hand. The big thirteen points staring you down, offering you the chance to dump her onto somebody else and wreck their whole game. If only she doesn't land in your own lap.
Me and my shadow, strolling down the avenue in broad daylight. I hadn't bothered looking back for blocks now, but I was sure he was still there. He was my queen of spades, my kiss of death I needed to pass off onto some fall guy.
I did a lot of thinking down that avenue. Wherever I dumped this fellow had to be a place where his arrival would kick up enough dirt that I might get my old hands on a bit. And that might help me help out Max.
Though I hadn't meant to, my slow trudge had steered me back towards the joint, and that got me thinking about my visitor last night.
"Come talk to me," Siam had said. The precinct house stood not too many miles away. I hoped my shadow wasn't getting tired.

* * * *

"Detective Nolan's in his office. Is he expecting you?"
I gave the new girl my charming old man and she fell for it. About the same age as Gina, and about the same build, too.
"Well, I think he is, dear, but why don't you go ahead and tell I'm here."
She smiled back at me and buzzed Siam.
"You can go right on up. Do you know where it is?"
I nodded agreeably. "First time I came down here I filed a stolen car report on my brand new '57 Chevy. I know where his office is better than he does."
I waved off the adoring grin and toddled off, looking a lot more frail than I was.
Siam slouched behind his well-papered desk. He sneered when I came in.
"You remember something?"
"When did you get the new girl, Siam? She's not your type. Looks nice."
He looked out the window. 
Siam didn't do too badly for himself. I helped myself to one of his cigars and lit up. Blew smoke around to give his air-conditioner something to do.
"You're a dirty old man."
"That's what my wife says. I got a little something for you. Should be waiting outside."
He took another look outside. "What?"
"There's a guy outside in a big camel-hair coat. You know, the ones with lots of room inside. Tough guy, blonde hair and a big chin. Probably does well with the ladies. He's not ugly."
"Thanks."
Siam hadn't spoken. He wasn't looking at me, but at something behind me. I turned around slow and there he was. He grinned and took the stogie from my mouth. Dragged on it deep and smiled at Siam.
"I'm the biggest dope in town, aren't I?"

Siam stood up. "Not for long."


Cigarette's Gun and Whiskey

I hate trains. I hate the glamour. I hate the mystique. And I especially hate the romance. The romance on trains is emptier than a bottle of whiskey at three a.m. on a lonely night. Romance. Want nothing to do with it, on a speeding shell of aluminum or anywhere else. So I'm just going to sit here and drink.

* * * *

She's asleep. We're passing through Virginia now, going slow through city limits and over level crossings. Had this been an expenses job I'd've taken the express. Siam doesn't care how much of my money I spend jumping to his tune, though. He just wants as much of it as he can get.
Always forget Virginia has mountains. Well, the locals call them mountains. Though the blackness of stone takes a far smaller bite out of the blackness of sky out here. Back home, we have real mountains.
I'm stalling. Here's what happened.
My second of the trip, glasses, not bottles, I'm sitting in the rear coach with wraparound windows and a full service bar, and the blonde walked in.
Call her at thirty-five, a hard face with a wide mouth and hooded eyes, one half-covered by a spill of hair over her face. She wore a forest green dress of tight velvet with a slit up one leg, but nobody looked at her legs. Everybody stared at the gun in her hands.
"I'm going to do myself," she said, "I'm going to do it right here in front of all of you. And all of you can go tell Artie Grasser what happened to Cigarette Slim."
Nobody moved. I realized I was staring with my mouth open and shut it, looked down at my whiskey.
She spun around, pointing the gun at each of us. Her voice rose in hysteria. "I'm going to do it!"
"No, you're not." That was me. It took me a minute to realise I was the one who'd spoken. I looked up from my whiskey and into her grey eyes. 
She tossed her hair back and glared at me.
"Is that so?"
I stood up with no idea what to do. Her gun was pointed right at my chest.
"Yeah," I said, "that's so."
"Who the fuck are you?"
"I'm the man who's stopping you from making a big mistake. Now put the gun away, sit down and let's have a drink."
We both swayed from the motion of the train. Two people had left the coach and run out. The others sat in silence, watching our stand-off. I shrugged.
"Look, blondie, if you don't put that thing away, there's going to be a scene, there's going to be trouble with the law and who knows what else. So be a sport, why don't you?"
"Look, you--"
She didn't say anymore because I ducked under the gun and slugged her in the jaw. She went down and I had the gun. I felt bad about it at first. I know a lot of guys don't like hitting dames,they call it unmanly, but after surviving four older sisters and an ex-wife I'll call it revenge.
I thumbed the safety and tucked the gun into my belt, then bent down and heaved the woman up over my shoulder.
"Sorry about that, folks," I grinned at the gaping drinkers, "We had a few in the compartment and it goes straight to her head." 
I carted her out and up the long rank of cars to my room.
And now I'm watching her sleep. She's a worn-out, unhappy woman. She looks older asleep
The gun is loaded. The bullets are real bullets, alright. I don't know what the hell I'm going to do with it.

* * * *

Didn't know I would shoot him with it. We have to get off this train. Soon as Blondie gets back we'll bail. I don't think he's coming

* * * *

I shouldn't be writing this down. Siam'd throw shit halfway to the moon if he read it. Blondie's asleep again. I would be, too, right there on the motel twin with her, but I have to work things out. Don't get a chance to write when she's up, the film starts running too fast.
Could be Siam set this whole thing up. If it is a set-up. If it's not just goofy coincidence turning on me.
Cigarette Slim nicks one of Diamond's Italian jobs and treats herself to a little joyride across seven states. No. Slim tells me she nicked one of Diamond's Italians. Have to keep to what I know. She also tells me she ran out of gas, ditched a hundred and twenty thousand dollars of automobile and bought a ticket back to the Big Smoke.

"I didn't want to drive it back, Whiskey. Woulda defeated the whole purpose, see?" 


Slow Alone


I didn't know what to do. I remembered Max telling me just to lie here and keep quiet, but then the door kicked open and it was that bastard Siam. He was smiling.
I had my cannon so I pointed it at him.
"No," I said. I didn't want to talk to him. I didn't want to hear what he had to say. I just wanted to sleep.
"How you feeling, Charlie? Feeling better? Are you doing okay? What can I get you?"
Siam always talks like that. He keeps asking questions without waiting for the answer.
"No."
"Hey, come on, Charlie, what's wrong? Aren't we friends? Huh?" He took a step into the room.
I pulled the hammer back on the gun. It's an auto, so you don't have to do that, but I like the sound. It makes people listen to you.
Siam put his hands up but he took another step into the room. "Now what's going on, Charlie? Why do you want to shoot me? What are you waving that thing around for? Why don't you just give it to me?"
Shooting a cop is a bad thing. It causes all sorts of trouble, none of it easy to deal with, either. Even if you just wing them, you'll have cops all over you for the rest of your days. 
The sheets on the bed were warm from my sleeping in them all night. I sat up, pushing with one hand, and the cold air on my chest helped wake me up.
"Hey, come on, Charlie, back into bed. There's a good boy. I just wanna ask you a couple of questions, that's all."
Now I know how smart I am. That's important, I think. I think a lot of people don't really know how smart they are, and they always think they're smarter than they really are. Siam was like that. He thought that he was smart like Max, that he was a thinker. But he was just a planner. He always had big plans, but he was never smart enough to pull them off. I'm not so smart, but I didn't make big plans. I just did what Max said.
Max is smart. He can ask those really deep questions, you know, so people can't lie even if they want. And he can make plans, fast, and he always knows just what I should do.
One thing Max told me once: "People think you're dumb, Slow. That makes you more powerful than them, because they won't plan around you being smart. So you just let them think you're dumb. Then kill them."
Siam sure thought I was dumb.
"You catch the flu or what, Charlie?"
I was still holding my cannon. I thought I should make him angry. "I don't want to talk to you, Siam."
Siam stuck out one of his long legs and hooked over a chair. He sat down, tilted back and pointed a finger at me.
"Bang, bang," he said, "You going to shoot me or what?"

*****

So I didn't shoot him. I wouldn't talk to him, either, and he did get angry with me eventually. But he left. I slept for a while. My side was hurting.
The sun came up, and the morning heat woke me up in time to hear footsteps coming up the stairs. I held the cannon under the sheets.
The door opened and it was that girl that Max brought in to stitch me up last night. She was a real pretty redhead with a soft voice. I couldn't tell if she was Max' girlfriend or not.
"Hi," she said, "What happened to your door?"
I set the cannon down. "A friend came to see me," I said.
She thought about that but didn't say anything. "How are you feeling?"
"Alright, " I said, "but it hurts some."
"Let me have a look."
She snapped back the blankets and put her hands on my side. The slug had passed through the muscle on my left side. Nothing serious, really, but I was glad to have a doctor to look at it. I was especially glad to have a pretty redheaded doctor look at it.
She peeled back the bandages. "We weren't properly introduced last night," she said as she examined me, "I'm Gina."
"Glad to meet you," I said, "I'm Charlie."
She cleaned off the wound and pulled some new bandages out of her bag.
"Is Max your guy?" When you're dumb you can get away with asking dumb questions.
She laughed, "No way. You applying for the job, handsome?"
I didn't get a chance to answer to that because the door opened again and there was Siam again, this time with a little muscle. And I could tell the muscle was smart.

*****

She didn't yell, which was smart, but she didn't go easy with them, which wasn't so smart. Siam took a solid elbow to his gut that made him gasp, and the muscle just grabbed her wrist and spun her around. She crashed into the chair and I thought she'd go right through it, but the furniture held up better than I figured. Siam unloaded a heavy one into her face. Her hair made a sudden halo as her head snapped back. She'd have trouble explaining that to her boss, I guessed.
I had Siam's forearm in my hand and yanked down and he was suddenly sitting on the floor next to the bed. The muscle and I pointed cannons at each other.
"Let go of me, Charlie, you want to see your sweetie again."
"What's going on here, Siam?" asked the muscle. He squinted at me, taking my size, and said, "I told you I don't like dealing with birds."
"Ah, she won't give us any trouble, will you, sister? You won't give as any trouble will you?"
She glared up as Siam got to his feet in front of her. "I'll give you all the trouble you can take and then some, you no-good piece of trash."
Siam laughed.
"Get up, Slow," he said, "You wanna come for a ride?"

*****

The muscle drove. I liked him. He kept his mouth shut and he thought Gina was pretty, which I could tell because he wouldn't look at her. Siam didn't think she was pretty, he thought she was useful. That's the way he thinks.
We drove past boarded-up factories, with floodlights from the docks casting a distant glare across the streets. I saw weeds sticking up between sidewalk blocks and I wondered how this might play out so me and Gina didn't have to die.
"Once you know what they want, Slow," Max said to me once, "Then you can make a deal. If you don't know what they want, you can't even make an offer."
"What do you want, Siam?"
The muscle had me riding shotgun, with Siam in the back with my cannon, next to Gina. Siam sat forward.
"Well, what do you know? The mountain speaks."
"What do you want?"
"Are you getting nervous? A little jumpy, maybe? Don't you worry, Charlie, we'll take good care of you and your little angel."
The muscle put on his turn signal and drove into a black opening in one of the factories. He didn't have his lights on so the darkness was sudden and almost total. I looked back and could see the square of the opening slowly shrinking.
The whole space was suddenly lit up in red. I could see chains hanging, piles of trash, everything blood-red as the muscle stepped on the brakes and the car came to a stop. The lights went out again.
The muscle pointed his cannon at me while Siam got out. Then Siam got Gina out, and the muscle gestured so I got out. Last was the muscle.
They led us over to one of the piles of trash. As my eyes adjusted I could start to see in the darkness.
"You tired, Charlie? Want to sit down? Why don't you have a seat."
I sat down on some broken planks. Siam put his gun up to Gina's head, pressed it there hard.
"Now you listen, Charlie. You listen to what I say, and you tell me what I want to know, or your little angel sprays some brain."
I'm not stupid. They took us out there to kill us, no other reason. If I told them what they wanted they'd kill us both for sure.
"What do you want, Siam?" I kept my eye on the muscle. Siam was getting all excited and impressed with himself, which was dangerous for everyone. The muscle knew it. He wasn't watching me with more than half an eye. Everything else was taking in Siam.
"Where's Max? Huh? Where's your buddy, Maxie?"
"The bird's a doctor, Siam. You can't just kill her. You can't cover it up."
Siam glared. "Whose gun is this, Chuckie? Yours, I think. Whoops, guess what my crack investigative team will figure?" He grabbed Gina by the cheeks and pressed the gun hard against her temple.
"Why do you want to know about Max?" I figured Siam wouldn't resist a chance to flap his lips while I tried to come up with a big plan to get us out of there.
"Because talking to you is boring, Charlie. Now where is he?"
I thought I might have had an angle on the muscle. He was unhappy, I could tell that much. I wondered what he wanted.
"Hey, muscle," I called out to him. He turned to me. "Fifty big ones if you pop this dickwad."
Siam started to laugh. "Oh, Charlie," he said, "I know why they call you Slow." He waved the gun around and I almost made a move, but I knew I couldn't take both of them fast enough, and with Gina there it was too risky. "Whiskey's got bigger worries than money. Isn't that right, Whiskey?"
The muscle didn't say anything but he looked over at Gina. "I told you I didn't want to get mixed up in this, Siam," he said.
"Oh, forgive me," sneered Siam, "but weren't you already hip-deep in it when I came along? Weren't you looking for a way out when I found you? Or am I not remembering things so well?"
  "I don't like this--"
"You don't have a choice!" Siam shouted, his voice filling up the warehouse for a fraction of a second and then receding. He turned back to me.
"Enough, Slow Charlie. Where's Max?"
The cannon was pointed at me, which at least meant it wasn't pointed at Gina. I figured to make my move before Siam realized she wasn't covered.
"Max? I thought he was going to see you," I said while reaching down and putting my mitt on a heavy two-by-eight. The boards were wet and heavy.
Siam started to sneer, "Think, Chuckie, if Max--"
He stopped pretty quick when the two-by-eight clocked him across the top of his head. He toppled face-first onto the concrete. My cannon skipped straight to me. I picked it up and turned to look at the muscle.
He was looking down at Siam and shaking his head.
"You're in some kind of trouble with him, aren't you?" I said.
He nodded. "Yeah," he said, "I am."
I put my cannon away. "The lady and I are going to leave," I said.
He looked at me. His eyes were sad. "Siam wakes up," he said, "He's going to tell me to kill you."
Sometimes Max would talk about killing. He said, "We're just tools, Slow. Never, ever pretend that they think we're anything but tools. They don't like us, Slow. They're afraid of us. As long as we know that, they can't control us."
I looked at the muscle. "You don't know that he's afraid of you," I said, "So he can control you."

Gina clutched at my arm and didn't cry as I drove out.

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