The old man paused for a few seconds just inside the door, and then, pulling a dainty white gentleman’s handkerchief from his front suit jacket pocket and mopping his brow, slowly advanced toward us. He had a ways to come across the rather large building—perhaps a hundred feet or so. It gave me a good opportunity to size the guy up.
If this was what the angels were sending to me as a rescue party—I was in some pretty tough luck.
The guy was a dandy. His dress harkened back to an earlier time. I vaguely wondered if it might have been something he had purchased in a costume shop, or was perhaps an original. He certainly looked old enough. As he advanced with his small mincing, and somewhat painful looking steps though, I made him to be perhaps still in his sixties, although pushing the big seven-o, mighty awful hard. Again he doffed his fedora to mop at his brow and top of head. The haberdashery was sweet—off white, with a wide dark band. The man’s suit and vest were a conservative grey, but his wide old-fashioned neck tie more than made up for it. It was a bright Kelly-green, and looked like it had been fashioned from some pretty pricey silk. Had a nice silver and pearl stick-pin in it too. My eyes frantically searched for an outline of a pocket watch, or a chain handing from somewhere.
Trouble was—I could plainly see there wasn’t one.
Physically, the old-timer didn’t impress very much. He looked overweight by a good forty pounds. His sallow skin color and wispy silver hair did little to inspire confidence. The eyes were bright though, almost sparkly—and looked about thirty years younger than the rest of his sad countenance.
Finally he reached us. He seemed to pay no attention to the bloody and smoldering corpse still hanging only a few feet away. I kind of wondered how he could not be noticing it. The entire area still smelled like a slaughter-house. Metallic blood and roasted human flesh—pretty damned hard aromas to miss.
The two bozos that had been dragging me to my death turned me loose at almost the same instant, and my body crashed hard to the floor. This I realized immediately, was a vast improvement over my condition of only a few seconds before. Maybe now, if I could get my legs to cooperate, I could do something about mounting a counterattack. Trouble was, Icy realized it too, as she once again jammed the cattle-prod into my left kidney area and gave me another blast. I can honestly say I had never experience a pain like that before in my life. Even the sensation of being shot did not begin to match it. Again, white light exploded before my eyes, as I writhed and thrashed on the floor. It had been way too close to the old spinal cord injury for comfort. This time my legs were completely gone—useless stumps of numb flesh protruding out from my torso.
My bladder let go and I wet myself. The bowels were threatening to do the same, as I wildly tried to control them. I was too deeply hurt and stunned to even scream out. I simply lay in my own urine and fought to regain some control of my breathing.
There was no fight left in me. Whatever happened now was completely in the lap of the Gods. I struggled to keep my eyelids open, resolved at least to witness how it all turned out. I wondered just how they were going to kill the old man—fast and painlessly, or meat-hook agonizingly slow.
The old man was the first to speak.
“Oh dear,” he said softly, as he looked at me on the floor. “That’s going to leave a mark for sure.” Then he turned his attention to bozo number one. “I’m sorry,” he calmly stated. “I’m afraid I’ve lost my way this morning. Can either of you two gentleman direct me to the Tuller Hotel?” He spoke with a soft and gentle voice. Cultured. No hint of an accent in it. He kind of reminded me of that wonderful old actor of so many late night black and white movies—Cecil Kellaway.
Classy guy. I was kind of sorry he had wandered into the middle of something he could never begin to understand. Too bad he only had a few more seconds or perhaps at best minutes to live. I really wished I could have helped him. I really wished I could have helped me too—come to think of it.
Bozo number one just sort of stared at him for a few seconds, kind of taken aback by the sudden appearance of what was probably the last possible thing on earth that he would have expected to see.
“Just who the hell are you!” he shouted at the old guy.
Ignoring the outburst, the old-timer simply smiled and stuck out his right hand for a friendly shake, and said, “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I don’t know what I’ve done with my manners this morning. “My name is Selby. Norman Selby. I’m a visitor to this fair city and I fear I’ve lost my way. I have an important appointment at the Tuller Hotel, and I afraid I’m going to be late. I wonder if you would be so kind as to point me in the right direction.”
The two bozos looked at each other in consternation and amazement—momentarily speechless. Finally they began to softly laugh. Even Icy, standing slightly behind them, broke into an odd smile.
It was practically a Hallmark moment.
After a few seconds, Icy was the one to break the mood. “Kill him,” she said simply, as her two goons drew their weapons. Bozo on the right pulled a rather nice looking nine-mil pistol, while the other flicked open a switchblade. I was happy to see it.
At least it was going to be over quickly for grandpa.
At the very same time, and from my rather unique perspective on the floor, I saw something else too. I saw the expression on grandpa’s face change—ever so slightly. The three baddies missed it completely, as goon number one changed his knife to his left hand and reached out to the old-timer to take his offered handshake.
Mr. Selby had smiled. A very slight smile, that included an equally small, but entirely discernable—flash of rather, surprisingly white and straight teeth.
Looking back, I don’t really understand why the bozo took his hand. I guess he probably figured the old guy was harmless, and simply meant to pull him forward into the knife. I guess that’s what he probably thought—but it sure as hell wasn’t what happened.
The knife flashed all right, but the thing was—it flashed in the old man’s hand. I didn’t have an idea in the world on how he might have gotten hold of it. Maybe I had blacked-out for a few seconds, but if I had, I sure didn’t know it.
Selby simply tossed the knife away. It skittered across the concrete floor and ended up in a pile of junk several yards away, rendered completely harmless. It would have taken at least several minutes to have even found the thing. The goon tried to swing on Selby, but missed by a country mile. Norman didn’t. He came around with a jab to the goon’s face that I think must have knocked him into the next week. I could hear an audible snap as the thug’s face snapped back under the power of the blow. He sank to the floor—stunned.
Goon number two leveled his pistol at Selby’s chest and pulled the trigger. The resulting blast and echo filled the vast and mostly empty old factory. Thing was though—his bullet didn’t hit anything. Selby was gone from where he had been, and was now standing just to the side of the thug. I had never even seen him move. Once again his fist came up, and once again another bad guy was cascading down to the floor, nearly unconscious on his feet.
My mind flashed to that venerable old fictional karate master, Mr. Myagi. Thing was—there was no karate involved here. And no fiction either. This was just good old fashioned power punching. I was beginning to wonder if the old prizefighter Mohammed Ali in his prime would have lasted very long with Mr. Norman Selby.
The Ice Queen took one quick look at her two henchmen down on the floor, and bolted. As in turned, and made a mad dash for the exit. She was damned fast too. One of the thugs was trying to get to his feet, so Selby didn’t go after her. Instead, he calmly waited for the bozo to get himself upright, and then delivered the meanest, nastiest, roundhouse upper-cut I had ever seen in my life. It actually lifted the poor schmuck’s feet a good six inches off the floor before he slammed back down into it—out cold, and no more fight in him.
Bozo number one regained his feet too, but taking a look at his partner on the floor, decided not to make a stand, and hotfooted it out the door that Icy had just exited. I noticed that he wobbled considerably as he did so—but he made it out.
The silence was deafening as Selby walked over to me and offered his hand. Slowly, I was able to get my feet untangled and the legs working enough again to be able to make it to my feet. I stood, swaying for a few moments. Selby kept hold of me, steadying me on my feet while I got my wind back into me, and regained my bearings.
I looked a long time into his face. I didn’t recognize what I was seeing. No, the face wasn’t familiar, but the act I had just seen was.
“Brick?” I asked tentatively. “Is that you?”
Selby smiled widely and said, “Now if you’re going to insult me Mr. O’Brien—I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to be friends.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Selby, Mr. O’Brien. Norman Selby. Just like I said.”
“How did you do that?”
“What I just saw!” I nearly shouted. “How the hell did you just handle those two men like they were bales of hay?”
He shrugged his shoulders and simply answered, “Moved fast and hit hard—that’s all. Nothing to it really.”
I staggered back a couple of feet again and almost lost my balance. Once more Selby reached out to steady me. “You going to be all right, Mr. O’Brien?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. Been worse than this. My friends call me Johnny.”
“Okay Johnny. My friends just call me Kid.”
“Kid it is then.” I looked him over again from closer range. Only now did I notice the rather large nose that sat on his face, and the several odd angles that went along with it. It was plain that it had been broken a time or three before, and it was obvious too that this was not the Kid’s first rodeo.
“You must have one hell of a back-story,” I offered.
“I do. Perhaps I’ll tell it to you one day, Johnny.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“A mutual acquaintance. That and the locating device in your phone.”
“The GPS. Clever.”
The kid walked over to check out the hanging corpse while I limped to my pile of clothes and quickly removed my sodden undershorts, replacing them with just the outer slacks. Not quite as warm, but a whole lot dryer. Smelled better too. I was just finishing up with my shirt and tie, when the outside door opened again, and in walked Brick Wahl.
“Where the hell have you been?” I loudly demanded.
In answer, Brick underhand tossed me an object. Even flying through the air, I could see that it was the pocket watch. I caught it easily.
“You need to do a better job of hanging on to your toys, Johnny. Can’t just let a little thing like this be passed around all over the city.”
“Where was it?”
“At the nurse’s station. They took it off you last night at the hospital for safekeeping. I guess the two dodo-birds that smuggled you out of there never thought to even ask for it there. Brilliant.”
“Good thing they were stupid, Brick. I was really out of it. What happened anyway?”
“Long story short, Johnny—you pretty much had the air sucked out of you in the explosion. Your oxygen depleted brain had a hard time getting back up to speed, so to speak. It’s a common enough condition in bombing survivors. You’ll be fine.”
“Wouldn’t have been if Mr. Selby hadn’t gotten here in time. He saved my life. You would have been just a little late, Brick—stopping off like you did for the watch.”
“I went after what was important,” Brick said with mild irritation. “I knew the Kid could get you out of here by himself.”
“You sent him?”
“Yeah, we’re sorta . . . old friends.”
“How many are dead at the Hotel, Brick?”
“Too damned many—that’s how many. And I’ve got more bad news.”
“They hit the motel I was staying at too. Missed me because I walked across the street for a nightcap. But they also bombed a house in Bloomfield Hills. Shahida’s dead, Johnny.”
“Jesus,” was all I could say.
“I should have known, Brick. I met him. I saw Moradi. The middle-aged valet guy. I gave him the keys to my car. I even tipped him. God almighty, Brick. I should have known.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, Johnny. He’s a slick son-of-a-bitch. You saw his face good and clear?”
“Well, he wouldn’t have let you see it if he had thought you were going to survive the encounter. Fact of the matter is—you’ve survived two encounters now. Moradi’s going to be coming after you real damned hard, partner.”
“Story of my life, Brick. What the hell else is new?”
The Kid joined us.
“How you doing, Pops?”
“Okay, Brick. No problem here. But two out of the three got away, I’m afraid.”
“That’s okay, Kid. We don’t have to look for them—they are going to be coming after us—and they’re going to be coming in force. We need to lay low for a while. We need to regroup.”
“I know a good place,” the Kid said.
“Yeah, I’ll just bet you do,” I said. “What’s the deal with this guy anyhow, Brick?”
“Long story, Johnny. No time for it now. How is it that you didn’t get killed back at the hotel?”
“Dumb luck. Someone called at the front desk. I took the call, but there was no one there. Right after that the place blew up.”
“So without that call, you’re in your room and dead right now?”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
“Dumb luck my ass, Johnny.”
The Kid chimed in. “I was afraid of that, Brick.”
“Yeah—me too, Kid.”
“What’s the hell’s going on here, Brick?”
“Something’s all wrong here, Johnny. We’re being played for fools. I’m starting to doubt big-time, that a children’s school was ever the real target. I think that was the bait.”
“Bigger fish, Johnny.”
“That’s pretty cryptic, Brick.”
“Well, It’s the best I got right now. But I sure as hell know these guys are way ahead of us at the moment, and I’m pretty sure that’s because someone is feeding them information. That’s why we need to split for a while.”
“Someplace where they can’t get to us. They’ve got a hell of a network around here.”
“Ideas?” I said.
“My place,” the Kid said. Brick nodded his head yes.
“Where’s your place, Kid?”
“Right here. Right downtown.”
I looked doubtful.
Brick spoke up. “Downtown Detroit, all right, Johnny. Detroit—1940.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “I take it Mr. Selby knows all about the watch then, doesn’t he?”
“Damned straight he does,” Brick replied.
“What about our unconscious friend here on the floor?” I enquired.
“Kill him, Johnny—just like you would a mad-dog.”
“Why me, Brick? You above getting a little blood on your hands?”
He looked a little pained. “You’re the gun guy, Johnny. Besides, it should be personal for you—he was just about to string you up like a set of Christmas tree lights.”
He had a point. I looked at the hanging corpse—butchered like a pig. I thought of beautiful Shahida. I thought about all the dead and maimed at the two hotels. Then I walked over to my discarded overcoat and extracted my little Smith. I checked the cylinder to make sure it was still loaded. It was.
Standing over the prone form of a terrorist, madman, and a monster, it should have been easy to pump two .38 Special hollow-points into his head. Trouble was—I had been a cop. A protector of life. A defender of truth, justice and the American way. A believer in the system. This went against everything I thought I had ever stood for.
It should have been hard—but in the end, it really wasn’t.
He had awoken. Rising to his elbows, he glared at me as I cocked the little pistol and aimed it at his head. He grinned. And then it turned into a snarl. Brick was right. He was a mad-dog. The hatred in his eyes burned out of his head.
“I told you the day wasn’t over yet,” I said. Then I pulled the trigger. Twice. The man’s brains and blood splattered over a much larger area than I would have imagined. The shots rang out through the stark and empty hallways of Hell. And a little bit of Johnny O’Brien died in that moment too. A little piece I knew I’d never get back again. Not for as long as I lived.
Damned hard to not get fleas, when you’ve been rolling around with the dogs.
We left the building then, the three of us—Brick, the Kid, and I. Heading for a Detroit of the past. A Detroit of dreams. A city set by a river. And a city in the glory of its youth. Running, we were. Running for our lives. With the Devil at our backs.
And we didn’t use the door either . . .
Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back in a few days with another installment of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET: Richard; the Drippy-Nosed Meatcutter.
Until then . . . Goodnight!
Dumb Joke of the Day . . .