Tuesday, December 21, 2010

POP18: “The Armory”



Sal the Hood escaped the police. But now he faced a greater danger.

He stood in a second floor room at Fake Face headquarters. The right side of his face was red-bruised from the Boss’s pistol-whipping.

Sal backed toward a large window as Fake Face and the gang interrogated him, surrounding him in a semi-circle like a hungry wolf pack. The silver-blue room was designed in trapezoids. The floor and ceiling spread in unusual angles. The room made no sense. The effect was unsettling.

“Kill him now,” Jake Pol suggested.

“Where’s the girl?” Fake Face asked Sal.

He wanted answers before he killed anybody.

Sal the Hood needed answers. He’d been utterly surprised by Big Boy’s trap, but could see why he’d be blamed for it.

Sal wondered how Fake Face had survived the onslaught of machine gun fire. The Boss moved very quickly—but could anyone move that quickly?

“The girl is innocent, Boss,” Sal said.

“No one is innocent!” Fake Face exclaimed.

His burst of emotion was enough opportunity for Sal to bring out his two pistols, with right hand and left hand, which he pointed at the gang.

“Dummies!” Fake Face said. “We didn’t search him.”

Fake Face held his own pistol, gold-plated, casually on Sal. The pistol glimmered in the room’s light. Involuntarily, all admired its polished beauty. The Face’s confidence was overbearing. Sal wished to disrupt that confidence.

“Stalemate,” Fake Face said. “I don’t care about you, Sal. I want the girl. The girl!”

At that moment Sal left his feet and crashed through the sleek window behind him in an explosion of cascading glass, dropping with it to the street.


Sal found Merrily at the coffeeshop where she worked. She’d not been home when the war of gunshots took place—had missed the action. But she’d heard about it.

Now she saw Sal walk into the coffeeshop bruised and bloody. Beads of blue glass and blood drops fell from his hair and clothes.

“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I’ve f’d up everything. You’ve got to get out of here. Bad people are after you.”

They left his car parked hidden behind the shop, then ran on foot. Merrily was too stunned by Sal’s appearance and the city’s gang war to say anything. The world had been tossed into chaos.

“I know a place,” he said.

Half-a-mile away in the midst of No Man’s Land stood a yellow-brown stone tower which looked like a castle. Sal pointed to it. The tower loomed amid the squat neighborhood in front of them.

“The Armory!” he said.

They hustled to reach it.

The Armory had been built during the nation’s Civil War. Later it became a police station used for gang squads, and to house in its lockups dangerous criminals. Gangs of various sorts had traversed the city for more than a century.

Three decades ago the Armory was used as a performance space. Now the entrance and windows were boarded. Local artists had painted a mix of swaths and lines of bright colors on the lower boards, to create vibrant artworks against the drab urban backdrop.

“Will we be safe there?” Merrily asked.

Sal replied, “It’s our only chance.”

He told her Fake Face was Max’s enemy—that Fake Face surely controlled a wing of the police. The cops wouldn’t involve themselves in a gang war.

At least, the Armory offered the illusion of safety. The kind of place to which kids growing up in Killtown wished they could escape. A castle! Protection against a hostile world. Now it’d become that for real.

“I know a way in,” Merrily remembered. “When I was younger we’d sneak inside to smoke dope.”

The tower looked impregnable, but a certain board could be shifted to create a sliver of an opening. Merrily was tiny enough to squeeze through. Sal was compact enough that she pulled him within. They shifted the board back into place.

Once their eyes adjusted, Sal found a hammer and nails among the debris: tools left by years-ago workmen. Quickly he hammered a two-by-four against their way in.

“Further security,” he said.

They climbed a metal stairway that rose into the higher reaches, past the level which held the lockups. As they passed they glanced at the rusted, inoperable doors.

Above this, they found a comfortable spot on a walkway. They crouched down in shadows against a wall. Merrily had stuffed her pockets with pastries from the coffeeshop. They shared these. Around them could be heard sounds of movement. Rodents.

Merrily shivered. Sal looked at her from his swollen right eye.

“I, Sal the Hood, promise I’ll do everything possible to get you out of this mess. I swear to God.”

“This Fake Face,” Merrily asked him. “Why doesn’t somebody do something about him?”

“Fear,” Sal said. “Or because they’re as corrupt as he is.”

Sal took out his two pistols, flipped off the safeties, and made sure bullets were in the chambers. They were ready to fire. He handed one to Merrily.

“If anything happens to me, wait until he’s right in front of you before you pull the trigger. Don’t miss.”

“How do we know it’ll be him?”

“It’ll be him,” Sal said.

As they spoke, a host of cars surrounded the Arsenal. Ever-happy Fake Face stepped out of his bright yellow limo, Jake Pol next to him. They wore their dress suits. The gangster’s keen eyes within the mask scanned the old structure in front of them.

Minutes later a figure could be seen climbing the tower, outlined against the purple sky. The figure found an opening on one of the upper floors and vanished inside.

“What’s the matter?” Merrily asked in a suddenly hushed voice.

“I don’t know,” Sal whispered. “I thought I heard a noise. Probably a rat.”

He stood up. A face smiled in front of him.

“Hello hello!”


Their pistols went off simultaneously—two flashes with accompanying roars. Merrily saw amid light and smoke a plastic smile.

“No!” she screamed as Sal the Hood tumbled through space to the ground far below.

With both hands Merrily frantically pointed the other pistol—too late. Fake Face grabbed it.


Cold rain pounded down hard upon the city. Particularly hard along the riverfront. Police in long raincoats stepped from patrol cars in response to a call. Beneath the bluish dark sky they searched the scene with flashlights. They’d been told a criminal would be found here. What criminal? Who’d be out on a night like this? An amber beam landed on a round red object. Cops ran toward it. One of them vomited. The gruesome object was a human head. Sal the Hood.

(NEXT: “The Lovers.”) 

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