IT LOOKED GOOD ON PAPER - ROBERT CRISMAN
As has been noted, dreams of smooth sailing just make the gods laugh.
Dennis and Eddie decided to take off a dopehouse in Shoreline just north of Seattle.
They knew the dopeman, Danny Mizell. He was a lop and past ripe for plucking.
“Easiest thing in the world,” Dennis said. “We punk-slap his ass, he cries in our lap and takes us right to the money.”
Dennis, 6’5”, 250, no fat, with muscles he’d ripped off some grizzly. Black sandpaper beard just like Bluto’s. A wolf’s hazel eyes. Dennis, punk-slapper supreme.
Eddie was sharp-featured, pale, like Malcolm McDowell playing Alex the Droog without makeup. He listened to Dennis and chewed the insides of his lips. Knock off a dopehouse and anything, really, can happen. Still, though, the money. A shot at outrunning his demons.
How would they get in the door without kicking it in? No sweat, Dennis said. “The guy’s shopping around for a gun, somethin’ smaller’n the shotgun he’s got. He wants somethin’ light he can stick in his pant an’ bring it out quick when the wrong guys come by. I told him we got what he needs. We set up a meet, we’re king of the gunrunners checking him out, he’s inside a movie. He loves that shit.”
“One thing,” Dennis said. “He’s got a dog. A Rottweiler, man. Fucker’ll eat your ass up. He’s the first fuckin’ order of business.”
The big dog always comes first, n’est ce pas?
They went out there that night around ten. They passed by the house, turned the corner and parked and walked back. Dennis carried a black leather case.
The dopehouse was huge, ringed around by a hedge that was seven feet high. The lawn seemed to stretch out a mile in every direction, and might have been mowed after World War I. By the house to the left was a gnarled old tree and a birdbath about to tip over.
All cold and spooky, and the spookiest thing on the lot was the house, a Stephen King dreamhouse for sure.
A three-story monster, with gables and turrets and probably bats in the belfry, all gone to hell. It was once painted white, but the wind and the rain had pounded the paint job to pieces. The upper windows were all boarded over. The ground floor windows made do with dark blankets.
A porch clotted with junk—appliances, furniture, bags full of crap, shopping carts—ran the left front half of the house. A naked, flickering 20 Watt bulb made hardly a dent in the darkness.
A Harley stood parked in front of the porch to the left of the steps. A nice new bike run to shit real quick.
Eddie thought that a bright neon sign saying “Dope House” out by the road would have been an appropriate touch.
They climbed the stairs to the porch. Dennis knocked on the door. A half-minute later, the door opened, slo-o-owly, just like it would at the Munsters’.
Danny the dopeman stood in the shadow, a ghost with a heroin habit. Five-ten or so and a buck-thirty-five, with slumped posture and oily blond hair to his shoulders. He smelled. The hallway behind him was dark as a tomb.
Eddie and Dennis filed in. Danny eased the door shut then scuttled ahead, toward the rear of the house. Down the dim hallway, second door left—and into a room where dogs go to die.
It jumped on you, man! The puke-yellow walls were stained top to bottom. The furniture looked as if someone just dumped it and left it. Mounds of crap festered on furniture and floor, from soda pop cans and moldy old clothes to half-eaten dinners and dog bones. It smelled like they’d mixed in old diapers and dog piss and green, rotten meat and old milk.
A stone rancid mess. The stench shot right down your throat. Enough to make dead people glad they’d stopped breathing.
The TV was turned to some geek-o-rama, Survivor-type bullshit, which figured. And there was the dog, Godzilla with fur, right by the TV. The biggest Rottweiler in history, man. He noted the visitors down and went back to his daydreams.
A baby lay in the crib to the left of the box. God save the child. Under the crib was a dog, this one a gerbil-size hairball that wheezed in high C.
A couch that must once have been stuck in the rain for a month took up the far wall. In front of it teetered a table, festooned with crap, about to fall over. A woman lay scrunched in the couch’s far corner, doped-up and gone.
She was 30 or so, maybe 50, and skinny as hell. Even her freckles were gray. Scraggly, mouse-colored hair dribbled down off her head past her shoulders. A thin, grimy, once-yellow bathrobe gaped at her thighs and framed a mud track of bruises and abcesses down to her ankles.
She really was zoned. Nobody else in her world at all.
Danny ushered his guests to their seats. Eddie was practically gagging now and Dennis’s eyes had started to water.
A cratered brown armchair sat off to the left of the entry. “Frank?” Danny said. “Have a seat.” Eddie swept the debris from the chair and sat down.
Danny cleared the debris off a chair at the opposite end of the couch from the woman.
“George?” Dennis grinned and sat down.
Then, for a moment, Danny just stood there, as if stuck for an idea of what to do next. Then he remembered—he was the host! “Mona,” he said to his scrunched-up old lady, “go get us some chips, would you please?”
Eddie blinked. Who’d want to snack in this shithole?
Not Mona, it looked like. Danny said, “Honey?” She unwound by degrees off the couch and sleepwalked out to the kitchen.
Now, down to business. Danny actually rubbed his hands and sat down at the end of the couch there by Dennis. He looked at his guests and came up with a grin that looked more like rictus.
Mona walked in from the kitchen. She’d forgotten the chips but that was okay, the others had, too. She flopped onto the couch and went back in her zone.
The TV seemed loud for some reason. Danny said, “Mona? Would you turn the TV down a little?”
Waiting on Mona was a day job, so Eddie reached over and turned the sound down and—whoa! The Rottweiler brought its head up real quick. Eddie snatched back his hand and sank into his chair.
Danny wheezed out a laugh. Funny, ha ha. Eddie thought, Yeah, boy, keep right on laughing.
The hairball came out from under the crib and limped for the doorway. Mona croaked, “Dinky! Here, boy!” She whistled, or tried to, but she had a mouthful of Krispy Saltines. The dog shuffled over and dropped at her feet.
Dennis picked up the black case, cleared crap off the table, laid down the case and opened it up. Danny and Eddie leaned forward in their seats.
Dennis said, “Daniel, my man, you’re gonna love this.”
Danny zeroed in on the Walther that nestled inside the green velvet-lined case. “Yes, yes, yes.” He oohed and aahed. A beautiful gun.
He looked at Dennis. “May I?”
Dennis said, “Yeah.” He picked up the Walther. “But first.” He grinned at Danny and winked. “See this?”
He drew a bead on an imaginary target above the TV. “It’s the rapid-fire action on this one that makes it.”
Danny blinked. His eyes widened. “Hey, man—”
Dennis brought the gun low. He blasted the Rottweiler, bang, bang, bang, bang! The dog’s head exploded.
Danny’s mouth hit the floor. He couldn’t believe what Dennis had done. The baby was wailing like cats being whipped with a stick. Mona, yanked back to the planet, sat bolt upright, eyes wide as plates.
Eddie had almost jumped out of his skin. That gun was loud.
Dennis trained the gun now on Danny. “April fool, dad, and guess what. This is a stickup.”
Everything froze. Eddie could smell the Rottweiler’s blood, or so he’d have sworn. His stomach did flip-flops.
Danny just stared up at Dennis.
Dennis grinned. His eyes danced. “Hey, Danny, look alive, partner. We need your help here. Don’t go to sleep on us now.”
Dennis shoved the table off to the side, to have room to work. Eddie went over by Mona. It was Dennis’s show, unless something unforeseen happened.
Danny locked eyes with Dennis. He didn’t look at the gun. He looked like a kid who just got his lunch money snatched. He’d either go off or start bawling.
He worked his lips. “You fucker,” he said.
Dennis just laughed. “Danny, Danny, is that any way to talk to your good buddy George? Look, here’s the deal. I wanna do things the easy way here. All we want’s the money an’ the dope. If you’ll be so good an’ go get it, my man, we’ll be on our way. Sorry about the dog an’ all, but we had to get your attention.”
“Fuck you,” Danny said.
Dennis grinned, shook his head. “Danny, Danny, I’m tryin’ to tell you. That ain’t in the script. You don’t give me shit. I got the gun. What you do is say, ‘Yassuh, boss,’ an’ then do what I tell you.”
That made it twice. Dennis stepped over and grabbed Danny’s hair, and yanked his head up, and jammed the gun in his face.
Dennis’s lips pressed tight over teeth. No more nice guy. “Motherfucker, you make me tired. I’m gonna tell you one time. I want the dope an’ the money. You’re gonna get me the dope an’ the money, right fuckin’ now, or I’m gonna wreck you, you got it?”
Danny tried jerking away. Dennis practically ripped the hair off his head. Danny tried it again. Dumb fucking move.
To Dennis, he was a rollover bitch who would not roll over. That meant he got hurt.
Dennis shoved the gun through his grill. “I’ll kill you, man, I swear to God, I’ll pull this trigger right now! Fuckin’ faggot! I want the money!”
Dennis was frothing!
“Ease up, man,” Eddie said.
See, heistmen are actors, first and foremost. The point is to have the mark to do what you want with the least muss and fuss. You scare him but—Dennis had lost it. Now, bam, just like that, this thing could go out of control.
Mona sat frozen in mid-silent scream. Talk about being brought back to earth with a bang.
Dennis stepped back. Blood poured down Danny’s chin. Gasping for breath, he almost choked on a molar. Dennis, poised to destroy him. This rollover bitch who wouldn’t roll over.
Danny spat teeth. He looked up at Dennis then bent forward and puked. Dennis hopped back as the puke hit the floor. Danny dived at his legs.
Grabbing the left leg, he sank what were left of his teeth in way deep. Dennis yelled, staggered. He tried to shake Danny off, but Danny held on like a bulldog.
Eddie’s head full of white shrieking noise. He could not believe this.
Dennis roared—and busted Danny upside his head with the gun. He grabbed Danny’s hair and forced his head back. He broke Danny’s grip on his leg and kneed him dead in his face. That was the ballgame.
Dennis was on him! Eddie yelled, “Hey!” Dennis hit Danny, bam bam bam bam, four solid shots to the head. One more would kill him. Eddie jumped in to pull Dennis off. Dennis shoved him away. Eddie yelled, “Dennis!”
Somehow, that did it. Dennis stopped in mid-swing and held there a moment, then, slowly, he straightened and took a step back.
Danny slid off the couch to the floor.
Dennis and Eddie stared at the mess. Danny looked dead.
Dennis bent to wipe the gun on the couch and—bam! On his back—Mona! Screaming and clawing and biting his neck! The Walther went flying.
Dennis yelled and bucked once, tossed her off. She sprawled on the couch like an old, broken doll.
Dennis, on her, choking her now! Her face turned deep purple in seconds. And, now, a forehand, a backhand, a forehand, a backhand—open-hand shots, like guns going off! Her face was a blur, streaked running red.
He blasted some more. The sound now, bones breaking.
She actually laughed through clenched, bloody teeth. She spit on his shirt. He drew back his fist. One shot, she’d be dead.
Eddie grabbed at his arm.
Dennis slammed Eddie back—and came off the couch after him.
He stopped in mid-stride. His eyes... He looked left, like he’d heard something rustle. Now Eddie heard it.
Dennis jumped to the crib. He hoisted the baby high overhead. He turned to make sure Mona saw it. His grin came from hell.
Mona clawed off that couch, spilling screams. She slipped, hit the floor. The hairball hugged the couch tighter. Mona scrambled at Dennis, on all fours now, shrieking.
The baby—wailing. Eddie yelled, “Dennis!”
The little dog panicked. Started yapping and snarling and dancing and bleating and spraying—and would not stop! Louder and louder and louder and louder—
So goddamn loud! The dog—drilling Eddie! And, all around now, the screaming, those shrieks! Mona, the baby, this roaring and roaring and roaring—
Eddie snatched that dog up and sidearmed the thing at the wall. It hit with a splat and thumped on the floor, a blood-flecked dent in the wall where it hit.
Freeze-frame tableau. Mona, Dennis, the baby held high. Wrecked dog on the floor. Shards of dead noise all around them.
Eddie sucked air. Dizziness flicked him, along with a sharp tug of fear...
Mona, eyes fixed on him now, as if he was all that there was in the world.
Dennis stood frozen, diminished. And—Eddie saw this—fear uncoiling inside him...
Dennis the pro was supposed to have danced this one through with no muss and no fuss.
Eddie knew that they had to get out of here now. He looked at Mona. “The money, c’mon.” He gestured her toward the door.
She rose slowly, eyes wide on Eddie. She looked at Dennis. He stood there, curiously lifeless, holding the baby, almost as if he’d forgotten he held it. She went over, stopped, sucked a breath, took the baby.
She held it tight. Her blood stained it red. She lurched out of the room with Eddie behind her.
To the basement, through nine miles of junk. Under a pile of ten year-old laundry, a plastic-wrapped brick and a shoebox. A Thom McCan shoebox.
The brick was Mexican brown the size of a football. The shoebox was crammed with old bills, mostly fifties and hundreds. Eddie riffed through it quickly, then closed the box. He scanned the room. “This it?” She nodded yes. He stood and motioned her back toward the stairs.
Back to the room where dogs go to die. Dennis stood right where they’d left him. Mona went straight to the couch and scrunched there, baby held tight, her back to the men.
“I got it. Let’s go.” Eddie started out of the room, the shoebox and plastic-wrapped brick in his hand. Dennis stared after Eddie, then grabbed up the case and the gun off the floor. He stuck the gun in his belt.
They sped down the hall, Dennis’s eyes locked on Eddie, his jaws tight.
They got to the street. At the corner, a woman walked slowly their way. She was old and walked with a cane.
They whisked up the street toward the car. They got 50 feet. They heard scuffling behind them. They turned.
Danny lurching their way with the shotgun!
Dennis whipped out the Walther. Eddie yelled, “No!” Dennis aimed, blasted.
Danny jerked like a puppet and flopped in the dirt. The shotgun went off, and blew a hole in the heavens.
Time stopped, or seemed to. Echoes of gunfire hung in the air. Danny there, splayed...and, behind him, sprawled on the ground, the old woman.
They ran for the car. They got there and Dennis said, “Wait!” He shoved the guncase at Eddie. “Bring it around.” He loped back toward the house.
Eddie threw the trunk open, shoved the box and the case under blankets, the brick under the spare, and slammed the trunk shut. Inside the car, he hit the ignition and wheeled on around to the house.
Dennis piled in the car. Eddie ripped out, made the corner, and lammed.
Up ahead, Eighth. Dennis said, “Left.” Eddie went left and goosed it to 50.
“Slow down,” Dennis said. Eddie eased it to 40.
Dennis still held the gun. Eddie said, “Dennis, we’ve got to get rid of the gun.” Dennis gave him a look. A hooded, distant, unreadable look.
They sped on down Eighth, took a right, then a left, then a right, two blocks, then a left. They hit 85th. Dennis said, “Left.”
Eddie went left.
A long moment ticked by. Eddie said, “Dennis.”
Dennis sat, cold and remote as a rock on the moon.
“Back there,” Eddie said. “What’d you do?”
Dennis stared off into nothing. The silence stretched thin as a membrane.
“Dennis, man, what’d you do?”
More silence, and then, “The fuck do you think?”
Oh Jesus. “Dennis—”
Dennis waxed Mona. The dead drop no dimes.
Now he brought the gun up. He rested the barrel against Eddie’s neck. “Just shut the fuck up, man, an’ drive.”
Somewhere, a siren kicked in.
The freeway ahead. Dennis said, “Stay in this lane.”
Now on I-5, clouds, darkness, the silent bip-bip of oncoming headlights. Rain started to fall.
Dennis berserk. Danny, that old woman, dead. Mona, too. The town was on fire for them now.
Blown plans and spilt blood. A hangman stood at the end of the rainbow.
From the south, a rumble of thunder.
Thor and the rest of the Homies, you know? Rolling around on the floor of Valhalla.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.
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