Cease, Heat, Nasty
I walked down the sidewalk, which was nearly empty in the stifling August heat, accompanied only by myriad dim reflections of myself in the dusty windows of the empty stores I passed. This part of town was past being just depressed; I would have called it depressing, if I had anyone with me to talk to.
The number of the building I stopped in front of had once been lettered proudly in gold leaf, but now one whole digit was missing and the others were neglected, slowly disintegrating. I could see enough in the almost-clean spaces to know I was at the right place, though, and that was all that mattered.
My footsteps echoed hollowly as I climbed the rickety staircase. At the top, I knocked once on the worm-eaten door, paused, then knocked once again. I could feel the eye at the peephole, watching me, then the door opened and a nasty-looking fellow in a shabby suit and a shirt that had definitely seen better days peered at me suspiciously.
He waved me in laconically, shut the door behind me and then went back to whatever he’d been doing. Judging from the way he sprawled in his chair, I assumed it had been nothing.
A guy who looked like an unsuccessful prize fighter stood between me and the man I’d come to see.
“You know the drill,” he rumbled.
I did. I raised my arms slowly to the side and stood as he patted me down. When he realized I wasn’t carrying, I got a stupefied look. “Mr. Sposo, he aint got any heat.”
“Doesn’t surprise me, Charlie. Let him go.”
Charlie got out of my way. The expression on his face was that of a man presented with a riddle too complex for him to solve.
I ambled forward until I stood in front of Sposo. “Well? You called for me. I’m here.”
“Thanks, no. I’d rather stand.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He pulled the front section of yesterday’s newspaper from a pile and slapped it on the desk, turning it to face me. “See that?”
“Yeah. They’re expecting a heat wave.” I staggered a little as Charlie shoved me.
“Don’t wise off to Mr. Sposo.”
I gave Charlie a sideways look, then met Sposo’s eyes again.
“I mean this.” He pointed to the article on the right column.
I knew what he meant. Everyone I knew had called me and told me how much trouble I was going to be in. Hey, I believed in freedom of speech. Even guys like me had Constitutional rights.
“I’m tellin’ you – what is it they say? ‘Cease and desist.’”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah, “ he said, settling back into the big wooden chair. “Just like that.”
“And if I don’t?”
“There used to be an elevator in this building. Elevator’s gone, but the shaft’s still there. You don’t, and Charlie will show you to the elevator.”
Charlie had sat up like a mastiff offered a bone. Obviously he liked playing ‘fetch’ for Sposo.
I leaned forward slowly, took a sharpened pencil from the jar in front of me and shook my head ruefully. “That’s too bad. I hate to spoil Charlie’s fun, but –“ With no warning, I swung the pencil sideways and buried it in Charlie’s throat.
He gibbered at me, eyes bulging, hands grasping, as he tried to stop the bleeding to no effect.
In one movement, I stepped nimbly back and curled my other hand into a fist and swung, crushing the windpipe of the man who’d opened the door. He crumpled to the ground like a wet piece of paper.
Sposo tried to reach for the drawer where I knew he kept a gun, but I made it around the desk in time to slam the drawer shut. At the same time, I took the newspaper and slapped it over his mouth, pressing down to stifle his scream.
I watched him quizzically. “You know who I am and what I can do, and you still summoned me down here like an errand boy. You tried to tell me what to do. I can’t have that.” I shoved his head back hard, paper still over his face. His head slammed against the radiator and his eyes rolled up in his head.
I checked for a pulse, but I knew he was dead.
On my way to the door, I took a piece of celluloid from my pocket. It fit nicely under the threadbare carpet, and I struck a match on Charlie’s shoe and lit it. Just to show there were no hard feelings, I straightened the handkerchief in his jacket pocket.
“Charlie, if I thought it would help you, I’d let you in on a little secret. Just because a man doesn’t carry a gun, it doesn’t mean he hasn’t got any weapons.”
As the carpet caught, I closed the office door behind me and trotted down the steps. As I left the building, I began to whistle.
– 30 –