THUG’S PARADISE - MATTHEW QUINN MARTIN
Although this was the first time Rick had laid eyes on him, Boss Raffone looked every inch the picture-perfect mafia kingpin. An exquisitely tailored Armani suit draped his six-foot, seven-inch, three-hundred pound frame like a pin-striped cocoon. The man sat across the wide expanse of a mahogany desk and, despite the chilled air filling his glass-walled penthouse, slight beads of sweat glistened from his freshly-shaven pate. In one hand smoldered the last of a Cuban Cohiba and the other clutched a brass handled blackthorn cane, one rumored to have bludgeoned to death a hundred men.
By the look in his glassy blue eyes, Boss Raffone was betting that Rick Malone was about to become number 101.
Rick felt naked. The fact that he was standing there in nothing but his jockey-shorts and a ribbed wife-beater was only half the reason. The other was the stacked brunette dream standing two paces behind the boss in a skirt little wider then a belt, and shirt so tight it could have been painted on, for all it left to the imagination. Even as Raffone barked at him, Rick had a hard time tearing his eyes off the dame’s seamed stockings.
One of the standing rules of meeting the boss was that you had to do it in your skivvies. Not just disrobe at the door to his lair, but show up at the lobby of his hi-rise undressed, walk the whole block like that––Raffone’s cameras, and his goons, watching your every step of the way as you shivered in the February chill. That tidbit of intel was hard won from Billy The Saint down at Marco’s Pool Palace. Rick had managed to get him behind the 8-ball, so to speak––ten large behind it, and Billy had a bit of a cash flow problem, so he ponied up the goods knowing he’d probably pay for it later. The reason for Raffone’s precaution was two-fold. First, to make sure you weren’t packing heat. The second, to let the boss know that any information you might be bringing was worth it–or that you were crazy enough to risk dying for wasting his time.
Rick wasn’t sure which category he best fit into.
“So, fuckface,” the boss growled as he rose from his seat with a spring-straining screech. “You got something for me?” He punctuated the query with a dull-thudded rap of cane hilt against palm.
“Yeah,” Rick said, still stealing glances at the doll standing behind the boss. Her eyes swept the floor as he spoke. “Those girls you got working out of the Green Street Karaoke Bar––the one with the beds in the private rooms...”
“What about, ’em?”
“You’re going to let them go.”
Boss Raffone’s hollow laugh echoed through the room and Rick’s ears both. “Or what?” the boss asked, as his chuckling slid into a sigh.
“Or I’m going to kill you,” was Rick’s answer. Simple. Solid.
“That’s funny,” Raffone said, even though no laughter accompanied the words. “I’d almost let you live for that.” He stepped close, raising his cane. “Almost.”
And a bone-cracking thwack filled the air as the cane’s brass knob connected with Rick’s jaw. He watched a tooth fly in a spray of blood from his mouth. Two more strikes came and Rick went down to the deep pile carpet stretching out across Boss Raffone’s floor, almost knocking his head on the man’s rich leather sofa.
“Now look at that,” he said. “I’m going to have to call the rug-cleaner. Hope there’s money in your wallet. Nothing I hate more than a broke corpse.”
Rick reached his arm behind him, slipping it under the six-inch gap between sofa and floor. His hand found what it was looking for, nestled between the springs just like he was told it would be. He wrapped his fingers around the hilt and pulled it out.
And Boss Raffone found himself staring at a double-barreled derringer half the size of Rick’s hand. “What you gonna do with that?” he laughed as he moved forward, lifting his cane for another strike. “Shoot a couple of cans?”
Boss Raffone stopped laughing, stopped moving. He dropped to his knees and then to the floor. His eyes rolled up and crossed, like they were searching for something just above his eyebrows. Something like the twin holes weeping blood onto his shag rug that no one but the cops was likely to be cleaning anytime soon.
Rick looked down at what he held in his hand. It was a tiny gun. And it made tiny holes, but they were big enough to let a man’s life to leak right out. Even a man Boss Raffone’s size. He turned to the girl. “Thanks,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“Candy,” she said. “Candy Devine.”
Candy was one of Spidera’s girls. Rick knew that. Knew there’d be a person inside, or he wouldn’t have been so keen to waltz into this death-trap. Spidera had been the one to hire him for this gig, promising the rising star money, power and more, if he succeeded. Rick walked past the former boss’s still-twitching body. Walked right up to Candy.
She traced a pattern on his chest, then nearly collapsed into his arms. “He had my sister working there,” was all she could choke out between the sobs.
“Well, not anymore,” he said, holding her. Rick looked down at Candy. He knew that she would have done the deed herself, if she could have but, in that outfit of hers, there simply wasn’t room to hide a piece. Not even one that small. Lord knows how she’d even managed to smuggle it in here. He knew, too, that Spidera’s girls could be whatever you wanted. Angel in your bed, or Angel of Death. Haloes or hails of gunfire. They could do it all. For a price. Not that Rick had to pay. His touch was all the currency a girl like Candy could ever want.
Her tears dry, and her face flamed with passion, she went down before him. Her breasts straining the buttons of her blouse as she took his length into her mouth. Deep in. Pausing only for air and to moan his name. “Rick. Rick. Rick...”
“Rick. Rick,” the shrill voice cut through the sound of Candy’s digitized tones in his earbuds. Rick tugged them out, pulling off his virtual reality goggles with them and setting both on the desk, gingerly. Those VR specs had cost him nearly a month’s time bagging groceries at the First National, but they were worth it. Playing Thug’s Paradise just wasn’t the same on a plain old LCD screen.
“Rick? Rick?” The voice came from the other side of the hollow core door of his one-room basement apartment. He wiped the Jergens from his left hand, and jizz from his sagging, hairy belly with a wad of tissues then tossed them into the overflowing wastebasket.
“Rick! Rick!” the voice said again, this time with a pounding on the door. “You’re going to be late.”
“I know, Ma,” he yelled, struggling to squirm back into his trousers. “Be out in a minute.”
“Are you playing that game again?” his mother asked.
“No.” Rick looked over at his clock. 6:30 A.M. He shook his head. He had been playing it. The empty cans of Red Bull covering his desk and discount cigarette butts clogging his ashtray told him he’d been playing it all night long. Again.
“I said, I’m coming!” He took a quick look around the room, clicking off the game and hastily shoving anything too embarrassing into his filing cabinet. There were things a thirty-three year-old man just didn’t want his mother to see. She’d been turning a blind eye to most of it ever since he’d moved back home five years ago. But Rick judged by the amount of dirty laundry heaped on his floor and the mostly empty pizza boxes stacked in various places that she’d probably give his room a cleaning while he was at work. He knew from experience that she never spoke about what she saw, but her disappointed and shameful silence was enough to make him want to put his father’s shotgun barrel into his mouth.
Rick took a quick look in the mirror. His red-rimmed eyes had bags hanging under them and the shadow on his face had passed the five o’clock mark two days ago. He reached for his stained First National apron and told himself. “You can do this. Nine hours, man. Just nine more hours.” Eight bagging groceries, and thirty minutes each way on the bus. He’d even grab a tuna sandwich and a can of Hawaiian Punch on the way out to save himself some time.
And then he’d be back. Back in his comfy desk chair, VR goggles wrapped around his eyes, and pants down around his ankles. Back in the game, mouse in one palm and gob of hand lotion smeared across the other. Back in Thug’s Paradise. Back where the only light was neon. Where you could tell where a man stood by the sharp cut of his double-breasted suit, or the rake of his fedora. Back where you could do the crime, but never had to do the time. Where the women were all dames, dolls, molls and broads. And where all of them wanted a piece of Rick.
Back to Thug’s Paradise, where maybe it was all a game...but at least he wasn’t a loser.
BIO: Matthew Quinn Martin is a very accomplished writer of a great many stories, many of which are plays, some of which are short stories, three of them films of varying length. He's had crime stories published at The Flash Fiction Offensive, the soon-to-be defunct Eastern Standard Crime and at A Twist Of Noir.
He wrote the feature-length crime drama Slingshot, produced by Bold Films and starring Julianna Margulies, David Arquette, Thora Birch, Balthazar Getty and Joely Fisher.
Currently, he is hard at work on not one but two novels, one solo, one with Libby Cudmore.
And Matthew is an MFA candidate in Popular Fiction writing atthe Stonecoast Program, University of Southern Maine.
For more information about Matthew, his stories, his films, his novels, his life, check out http://www.matthewquinnmartin.com/.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago