Thursday, December 30, 2010

Short Story Rerelease


(Originally posted in January of this year as POP02. Reposted because of its timeliness.)

Every year New Year's Day Philadelphia is invaded by strange-looking Mummers, creatures who've been making costumes and practicing all year to be "on stage" in the Broad Street parade their one special day, the parade beginning appropriately in the huge crazy neighborhood of South Philly. It ends there as well that same evening after the City Hall awards competitions when many various Mummer clans return to their Two Street home base for a gigantic block party stretching from Washington Ave in a mad carnival pointing endlessly south to the end of the world, or at least the end of town. Many participants by then have exceeded 24 hours straight of drinking, marching, and partying.

On this particular New Year's Day Maggie aka Mags was working deep into her South Philly dialect while sipping beer from a plastic cup having become separated from her own club of Mummer creatures. Her costume was a mad sparkling mix of violet, silver, and green, of feathers and sequins, with a violet star spread over her silver face. She drank now among rival Mummer gangs. A silver cap obscured her red hair.

Stumbling, she backed into a tallish young man or young-something in a harlequin get-up of black-and-white.

"You clown," she drawled. "Whyn't youse watch what youse doin?"

The clown grinned stupidly at what he'd found before him.

"Didn't I see you strutting at City Hall earlier?" he asked. "You're quite the dancer. How'd you finish?"

"Foist place, of coise," she bragged. "We took the prize. T'anks for the compliment-- but youse forget the middle of my routine I slipped and landed on my fanny!"

He said, "All along I thought that was planned!"

They leaned together for support. Mags liked this guy, but realized she was smashed and the colors of the world were spinning on all sides. She needed to get back to her friends before she did something messy.

"So, tell me, young lady, how you became such an amazing dancer?" the boyish clown asked with intense seriousness.

Mags snapped her fingers, which caused him to start.

"I just am," she said, looking into his blue eyes. "Comes easy." (Pronounced "oisy.")

Completely entranced, the clown took the gorgeous colorful creature in his arms and kissed her very sloppily full face. The kiss lasted a full minute, long enough for Maggie to feel a fire begin inside her costume, which she was surprised didn't burst immediately into flame.

Then the striped clown had vanished away.

For a week afterward Mags was crazy in love and tramped all through the riotous huge area of South Philly thinking she could somehow run into the clown creature and recapture the magic. She had no idea what he looked like beneath his costume and makeup, though she recalled he had dark hair and of course she remembered his blue eyes. Maggie walked up and down Passyunk east and west; up and down 13th Street, which contained many young people; of course Two Street, the Italian Market on 9th including Gleaners coffeeshop and 12 Steps Down bar; Pat's Steaks and their rivals Geno's; and all over and around South Street; futilely.

It occurred to her the young man wouldn't recognize her either; that maybe she'd looked more dazzling in Mummer costume than in reality.

Mags sat in her place, contemplating. She snapped her fingers.

"Oh well," she said, resigning herself to the loss, of that which for only a moment had been found. "That's life." She put the encounter out of her brain.

Two months later Maggie was drinking at a tough but trendy saloon up on 7th Street with a gal pal named Connie. Dark-haired Connie and Mags had met after work for a quick beer, but both were dressed as if on the make, and there were now many a green beer bottle on the polished dark table before them. Maggie's black top and blue eye shadow contrasted starkly with her red hair and white face in the subtly-lit room.

Maggie was thinking how many new people were in the neighborhood who weren't real born-there South Philly people. It was a great neighborhood and they wanted to get in on it, but it'd always been a great neighborhood.

A table of the new type sat near the two women; college-grad people who'd come to Philly to attend school and stayed. They worked Center City jobs and had easy money.

Mags sneered their way. "What do you know about the Phillies?" she asked. "Where were you when they had losing seasons? What marks the true Philadelphia fan is their loyalty."

Part of Maggie's attitude was territorial, but part may have been an age thing. She was already 27 and the kids now in bars appeared to her to be babies.

One of the table looked at her with amusement.; a lanky pretty boy in a tie and white shirt, already drunk, bangs of hair on his forehead disarrayed.

"You can't be serious?" he said seriously. "Throwing snowballs at Santa? That's your history. Booing your own players? Scott Rolen. Even Mike Schmidt! Is that loyalty?"

"But we were there!" Maggie insisted. "Thick and thin. We booed affectionately."

Mags took a swig of her beer. Lager: Yuengling. Philly's beer. No designer beer drinking for her!

"Yuppies," she muttered. The young man's friends glanced her way, snootily. "How gauche!" one said.

"Oh really," Maggie replied. "What do you know about Philly, anyway? How long you been here? A year? Six months?"

The young man stared mystified and curious at the outspoken South Philly creature.

"I'm learning that in Philadelphia," he said, "rudeness is a way of life. I've been here myself five years, by the way. I love the place as much as you do, you know. I am now fully a Philly native! You could say I've been baptized. But tell me, miss, how did you get to be so rude? Is it a learned trait? Or were you born that way?"

Maggie snapped her fingers.

"I just am," she said. "Comes easy."

Maggie braced herself, because the young man rose from his chair and stepped, carefully and quite drunk, toward her table. His friends and Connie watched in anticipation of a fight.

Mags clenched her fist was ready to knock the boy out-- almost did, but fortunately waited. He leaned over and kissed her sloppily on the face. She recognized his blue eyes.

He stood up in triumph, with a pronounced smirk, was about to return to his seat.

"Nothin' doin'," Maggie said as she grabbed his hand and pulled him down next to her onto an open chair. "You're not getting away from me twice!"

Their friends were confused, shaking their heads in disbelief, saying, "They're drunk," but the two people furiously kissing remained oblivious.

Friday, December 24, 2010

POP19: “The Lovers”


A phone call came in to Big Boy at the Green Club.

“Yeah?” he asked.

“I have her!” the voice of Fake Face exulted. “Listen listen pretty pretty please.”

Merrily’s voice, which Big Boy hadn’t heard in four years:

“No Max! Don’t come. He’ll kill you. He’s pure evil. Leave me be. I’m dead. He’ll kill me anyway. Save yourself. I’m nobody. Don’t come. Don’t come!”

As Big Boy swelled with comprehending anger, Fake Face’s voice came back on the line.

“I have her at the Armory. We’ll see you see you there!”

Fake Face touched off his phone. His malevolent eyes stared down at the girl. She was held prisoner within the lock-up ruins. Decayed green bars stood open around them. Fake Face had secured her with a fresh chain.

“Thank you very much for your outspoken approval of me, you sad little girl,” the eerie voice said from behind the static smile.

Darkening blood from her scalp mixed with her pink-dyed bangs. Both her eyes had been blackened. Her lips were split, several teeth knocked out. Bruises mixed with purple-green tattoos on her arms. What had been young artist Merrily would be unrecognizable to friends and family, except perhaps for the strands of pink. As her bloodshot eyes stared up at her tormentor, Fake Face grabbed those bangs and yanked her head forward. Enough strength remained in her to resist.

“I’m happy you’ve decided not to oppose me,” he sneered ironically.

“You can’t intimidate me,” she replied. “I’ll never be intimidated. Beneath your mask, your power, and your gang you’re cowardly.”

His evil eyes met hers in some surprise. Her hatred didn’t flinch. The small girl showed intelligence and will like few of his enemies. The Big Boy, for all his stupidity, had found an impressive mate. Too bad, Fake Face thought with some glee—they were fated to remain forever separated!

After the eyes within the mask turned away, the girl tried reason on him.

“Carny won’t like you in his territory,” she said.

“I’ll kill him after I finish with the Big Boy,” spoke the inhuman voice.

Fake Face checked the metal bracelets on her wrists. They were tied to the chain. His steps casually descended the stairway. After a minute she heard the cocky footsteps exit the building. His gang had smashed open the doorway. Likely Fake Face was checking on the men who’d been placed strategically around the tower to await Big Boy’s arrival.

Merrily exhaled. She was so tired. . . . Existentially tired. Her eyes gazed around this place. What time was it, she wondered? Morning? Not yet. Shadows of stairs and bars shifted inside the tower, a frame around the garish red-and-black expressionist painting which had become Merrily.

She prayed Max wouldn’t come. He was a bull in strength, but hadn’t the nature to go against Fake Face. Whatever Max had done, whatever part he’d played as a gangster, Max, after all, remained a human being.

Merrily realized then she cared more for him than she’d believed.


At the Green Club Max—also known as Big Boy—bounded from behind his desk at the conclusion of the phone call with uncontrolled rage. The men present in the office saw what was happening and moved to restrain him.

“Don’t!” they said. “Big Boy, don’t! You heard her. It’s a trap.”

“AAARRRRGGHHH!” Big Boy yelled as he threw the several large men away from him.

He propelled himself into the main body of the Green Club, his men fighting him every step of the way.

“Quick,” one of them said. “Get more men. Bolt the doorway. We have to stop him. If he goes after her it’s suicide.”

For thirty minutes the battle raged within the Club—Big Boy against his own gang. The struggle wrecked the place—chairs, tables, rows of glasses crashing to the floor as the wrestling moved behind the long mahogany bar and outside it, across the vast room, shaggy-haired Big Boy carrying several men on top of him. At one point his voice was heard to cry out with love and desperation, “Merrily! MERRILY!”

“Get more men!” came a tiring refrain. Then: “Max. Max! You can’t go there. You can’t go there!”

At last five huge men halted his progress. They held him down with their weight against the green carpeting, yet felt his welling strength as Big Boy readied for another attempt.

(NEXT: “Killtown USA”)

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.”) 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

POP17: “The Trap”

The Big Boy Saga Continues


Sal the Hood was a young guy with attitude, his confidence bolstered by two pistols kept on his person. He outlined to Fake Face his plan of how to use Merrily the coffeeshop girl. She’d innocently arrange a meeting someplace with Big Boy, then when Big Boy arrived, she wouldn’t be there. They would be.

“Sound good?” Sal asked.

Fake Face’s head moved in an agitated way, though of course the mask that was his face to the world smiled as always. You never knew where you stood with him, Sal realized. He couldn’t be fathomed.

“A nice plan,” Fake Face said. “But in my outfit I make the plans.”

He pointed to himself. His gloved finger jabbed himself several times.

“ME! Me me me me me. This is what we do. We don’t wait. We move right away. Right now. This minute. Speed is everything. You think I want to wait wait while maneuvers are created against me and flanking takes place on all sides in this game of mouse and cat? We go grab the girl now and once we have her Big Boy is ours!”

Sal the Hood shook his head.

“No, I’m against it. This girl. . . . No can do. It’d be kidnapping, Boss. You heard it on the cd. Big Boy’s aunt is the friggin’ District Attorney! That’s the trap. They’ll fry you for sure if we do that.”

“And I say we go NOW,” Fake Face insisted, holding a gold plated pistol against Sal’s head. “We go, just the two of us.”

The irony wasn’t lost on Fake Face (he was nothing if not ironic) that he was kidnapping Sal. But Sal was a thug, while he himself was a much beloved celebrity in Killtown. Rules were made for those with power.

Sal drove the two of them to the girl’s place, in the chaotic neighborhood of Anarchia. Fake Face couldn’t wait for other gang members. His greed and his hunger were his strengths. He was hungry to grab the girl. She lived with another woman in a tiny basement room which could be reached only from an alley. It was early afternoon. She slept late. She was undoubtedly there now.

Another cloudy day, so dark Sal had the car’s headlights on. The sky moved; purple: ominous. The car pulled into the alley and stopped in a side space against a fence so to not block the way of possible delivery trucks. Sal had described the small door leading to the basement. The door waited fifteen yards ahead. The two men looked at each other.

“Boss, I . . . ,” Sal began.

Fake Face hit Sal across the side of the head with the gold pistol, then again.

“What?” Fake Face asked the dazed figure. “WHAT?! You don’t want to go with me? Is that what you want to say? Or maybe you do want to go. A bad idea! Ha ha. Don’t you think I noticed when you played the recording? Methinks you fell for the girl yourself! No, no, a bad bad idea. You wait here. When I come out with her I only hope you’ve recovered.”

Fake Face left the car and stepped into the alley.

Here is where his plan had gone wrong. A trap had been set, yes. For him. He was the intended victim.

As Fake Face moved confidently forward, three large men in green appeared at the other end of the alley. Big Boy was one of them. They held, in order, an AR-14, an Uzi, and an AK47. They saw the hatted figure pause. In a moment orange flame and gray bullets jumped from their muzzles and tore through the alley to kill and destroy any living thing. For three minutes the weapons fired—the shocking noise of a war.

“Enough,” Big Boy finally ordered.

They ran forward to verify their victim and discovered—nothing. Nothing except the shreds of an expensive burgundy derby, which Fake Face had looked to be wearing when he approached. But where was the man himself? Where was the blood?

“Here’s a few red drops of something,” one of Big Boy’s men said.

The drops went right up to a wall. Fake Face couldn’t have gone through bricks!

For all they knew it was a rodent’s blood.

The three former college football players wondered if, as in a game, they’d been too slow—if they’d hesitated just a moment; full of too much eagerness—before pressing the triggers of their weapons. Had they fired too high? They didn’t know.

To the side sat a car with the gangster Sal half-passed out in the driver’s seat. A few stray bullets had dusted the car’s fenders. It was otherwise untouched. Big Boy and his men looked underneath the vehicle and behind it. Sirens sounded in the distance, growing louder. The three men were puzzled. The sirens grew louder.

“What do we do?”

The sirens grew louder.

“We beat it,” Big Boy said.

That evening Big Boy had a drink with his aunt in the District Attorney’s private office. He filled a plush red armchair as if it were a toy. The man was visibly shaken. A collection of nerves which no amount of whiskey could cure.

“Get ahold of yourself, Maxwell,” she scolded him. “It’ll do no good to fall apart.”

“But—,” Big Boy said.

“But—yes,” she countered, looking away from him toward the vulnerable window. “If Fake Face is alive we’re in trouble. He’s the kind you have to finish. Otherwise, he’ll be after us.”

The beetle-browed woman shuddered at the thought.

(NEXT: "The Armory")

Monday, December 6, 2010

POP16: “The Recording”


“I met him at school,” a woman’s voice said.

To Sal it was strange to relive the conversation. His memory returned to the coffeeshop of paintings and plants, and the girl behind the counter who resembled a kind of wild artwork herself.

“It was a small school for poorer kids or those who can’t get into the big name places. We were in the same class. Astronomy, I guess it was. We both arrived late all the time and sat in the last two seats in the back row. The prof hated us! That made a kind of conspiracy between us.

“’I’m going to fail anyway,’ I told Max.

“’No, you won’t,’ Max said. ‘You’re too smart. You’re the smartest person in class, Professor Harbus included. And I’ll pass no matter what!’

“Max was on the football team and football players always passed.

“Max was gigantic. Not just a football player, but a very large football player. I’d laugh when he’d squeeze himself in or out of his desk, which looked about to collapse. Max laughed also. He was a genuinely nice guy. A little naive, but so was I. Among the normal students we both stood out, were freaks. That’s what bonded us, even though we were opposite in everything else. Max was a frat boy and rather conservative, if he’d ever thought about it, while I was a bi-punk artistic anarchist.

“We came from different worlds. Max came from money, power, influence. He could’ve gone to a way better school if he’d been smarter, or applied himself. He was a black sheep in his high-brow world, but still carried the air of a preppy. A failed preppy, but a preppy all the same. Me? I was a runaway who lived in a squat.

“We had a phrase between us: ‘It’s only life.’ That’s how we approached the class and everything else. A pop quiz? Other kids laughing at us? The professor’s grimace? ‘It’s only life.’”

The voice on the cd continued on for several minutes about the class and the college, until it came to the part which most interested the two men.

“Anyway,” she said. “It was spring, near the end of term. The fraternity that Max belonged to threw an outdoor kegger, with a garage band playing crazily enough in a garage. Max had invited me, so I stopped by. Now, know this. I liked Max, a lot, but just as a friend.” She sighed. “You men! You always have to ruin it. Max had been impressed with me and maybe even intimidated by me—I’d picked up on that—I was outspoken in class, while he’d gone through his entire life in the presence of powerful people like his aunt—she’s the D.A., you know—and had never spoken up about anything in his life, browbeaten, kind of a forced disability, if you will, his mind and potential crushed into a tiny box. He was afraid to speak to me! I put this together later.

“It turned out he put so much into me going to their little frat party, and built it into importance, so that by the time I arrived he was drunk. Blotto. Which for him must’ve taken a couple kegs, he’s so big. He embarrassed himself, introducing me to his friends as if to say, ‘I know a girl’; pawing me, trying to kiss me—which he’d never have done if he hadn’t been drinking. If he’d been smoother. . . but the size difference between us was so great it was too awkward and I guess we looked ridiculous. Too bad he couldn’t leave it alone. We connected in other ways, you know. Through our minds. Maybe just a little through our souls.

“As he tried to lean down to kiss me, Max tripped and fell, to many laughs. His face turned red. To hide his embarrassment and to show off to me, Max immediately challenged another boy to a chugging contest. Someone brought out two large tankards. I didn’t watch the other guy. I watched Max. I pleaded with him to stop. Beer splashed down his face and neck, but enough entered his mouth to put him over the edge, into unconsciousness. He staggered and passed out. ‘Do we drag him in the house?’ his friends asked themselves. Instead they let him lie there like a felled ox.

“Max skipped the last two days of class. A buddy of his brought me a note. ‘I’m sorry,’ was all it said. It was signed, ‘Max.’ The final exam was in a large lecture hall. Max made sure to sit across the room from me. Not once did he glance my way. I wanted to somehow tell him, ‘Hey, it’s only life,’ but missed the opportunity. Max finished the test early and walked out. That was the last time I saw him.”

There followed three minutes of silence on the cd. Sal held up a forefinger, signaling Fake Face to wait. Thunder could be heard in the background. Then a man’s voice came on: Sal’s.

“Would you like to meet him again?” Sal asked.

“Sure,” Merrily answered.

The way she said “Sure” captured many emotions, good and bad. Hope; uncertainty; surprise; weariness; longing; doubt-- and many other feelings among them.

NEXT: “The Trap”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

POP15: “The Girl”


Sal the Hood was given the task to set-up Big Boy. For Sal it was a chance to jump up the ranks. Little did he realize he was a pawn being used in a plan to set up his boss: Fake Face!

Unaware of this, Sal went ahead with his plan. He knew that the Face employed several attorneys and accountants. They helped in financial schemes of the outfit, but would be useless to combat the nascent Big Boy empire. Big Boy had the legal authorities already in his pocket, as police occurrences across the city made obvious. Needed was that most reliable of devices to lure Big Boy from the protection of the Green Club. A woman.

That was Sal’s covered ace. He had the means to trap Big Boy—wouldn’t have made the suggestion to the inscrutable and dangerous Face otherwise.

A few weeks ago he’d stopped late one night with Jake Pol at a garishly designed punk coffeeshop.The coffeeshop sat in what might be considered neutral territory, uncontrolled by Fake Face or Big Boy. Or by the police, for that matter. It was a decrepit no man’s land filled with dives and squats; vagabonds, fugitives, and low-rent artists. An insane local character named Carny held some influence, but otherwise the scene was anarchic.

The barista at the indy coffeeshop was a fascinating young woman named Merrily. Merrily wore the usual piercings and tats, was small and fragile looking, but fascinating, with large eyes and an intense personality. Tensile strength, Sal thought. Merrily took an interest in him. The intensity of her eyes when she looked at him was overwhelming. Later he realized she was like that with everything new to her, a part of her curiosity at life. She had the innocent freshness of a child. He enjoyed the attention all the same.

“Let’s go,” Jake said, because there was no attention given to him. Sal noted the quirky venue’s location and a few days later returned on his own.

During his second visit Sal learned that Merrily knew Big Boy, whose real name was Maxwell.

“It was a dark and stormy night.” Sal was her only customer. There was time to talk.

“I left my phone in the car,” he told her. “Let me grab it in case my, er, friends call.”

“You mean Jake?” she innocently asked.

“Yeah,” Sal said, as innocent.

Thunder rumbled within thick blue clouds in the sky outside as Sal resumed his seat. He placed the phone on the counter, its recording device turned on. Merrily had bangs of pink-dyed hair, the rest of her head shaven. Sal studied the bangs, her freckled face, and her blue eyes as she told the story of her and Max.

“Here it is, Boss,” Sal told Fake Face a day later. “I have it on cd.”

“Play it,” the smiling face ordered.

The creepy eyes within the mask studied Sal as the recording began.

NEXT: “The Recording”