Jason Tombs had to figure out what to do. He had to act fast. He could not just stand there in the open with his dick in his hand.

            Not that he literally had his dick in his hand, but it felt that way. Every minute passed the drop off time he felt like he was squeezing his pecker harder.

            Uncle Lou said 3:00. He also said “sharp,” and whenever he said anything was “sharp” he either meant the edge of a knife or the time. In either case, what he really meant was no dicking around. Everything’s going to happen right at the time, or you got to walk.

            “Got to walk” means “walk fast,” or “do something you little cock smear.” Just standing there is going to fuck up everything, because when the Brothers Grimm (do not laugh; that’s their actual name) do not show up with the truck on time, then that means the cops have sniffed them out. The Brothers Grimm are pretty good at what they do, but they never show up when it’s too hot. That’s why those guys have never done any time. Well, that’s one reason; the other is that their daddy’s one of the local district attorneys.  Politics gets you out of the slammer even more than money.

            So when it was 3:08 Jason made a decision. He was just standing there like an eyesore in the parking lot of the Wild Injun Tavern. Just waiting around with a hand in his pocket (you know, like in that Alanis Morissette song), looking up all stupid at the rusted Waving Indian sign beside Route 11, when he muttered something like in the movies: “I’m not gonna be the bitch.”

            Uncle Lou always says, “There’s nothing else to say.” That’s when you turn on your heels, and do something.

            So Jason got back in his Jeep Cherokee, and drove further up Route 11. Jason was pissed, as he snaked up the mountain towards Wild Indian Lake (more PC than “Wild Injun,” but still backwards enough of a name to remind everyone they’re in a Podunk part of a Podunk state). He kept his cool, though. He wears so much goo his hair never moves, even when he’s driving with his top down. The same may be said of his face. It is like boyishly handsome granite; the kind you might see in a museum. He gets the best pussy all of the time, not because he goes for it, but because he acts like he doesn’t care one way or another.               

            Inside his head it’s not the same. In there, he’s always being squeezed. That is even truer when things don’t go down right. What makes this even worse is that this time he’s one of the drivers. He’s been an errand boy for Uncle Lou for years, but this time he’s graduated from being a lookout or a messenger. He is actually one of those old timers behind the wheel. Well, at the ripe age of twenty-two, he is hardly an “old timer,” but he feels like one of them. It is like he’s done time, even though he’s never done time. So this is all supposed to work for him, but clearly it is not, because at the moment he is driving up Route 11 with the cocaine still in the back of his Jeep.

            Jason pulls into a rest stop. It is no more than a log cabin with an overflowing toilet and a blood-smeared payphone, but the payphone still works. Since everyone under the age ninety has a smartphone nowadays, the only people who still drop by to use the payphone are drug dealers and sex deviants. The thinking is that the cops listen in on cell phones but not payphones. Whether or not this is true, criminals are a very superstitious lot, and Uncle Lou is old school when it comes to tossing a bit of salt over his shoulder and keeping a rabbit’s foot in his pocket.

            Jason finds a couple of quarters in his jeans, and dials. He looks around to see if anyone is listening. He seems to be alone there.

            “What the fuck?” Uncle Lou growls in his “Paul Sorvino” Mafioso voice.

            “The brothers never showed up,” Jason says.

            “Yeah,” Uncle Lou says.

            “So I left with Grandma’s Easter basket,” Jason continues.

            “Yeah, well, Grandma doesn’t wanna lose her bunnies,” Uncle Lou observes.

            “I know,” Jason says. “But it’s pretty hot out here today, and if I don’t get them over to Grandma soon her bunnies are gonna melt.”

            “That’s no good,” Uncle Lou says after a while. “Grandma doesn’t like it when her chocolate bunnies are all melted and shit.”

            “I know,” Jason says. “So where can I find Grandma like really fast?”

            Jason hears the phone set down. He hears muffled conversation.

            He also hears a vehicle driving up Route 11. He looks over to see if it is going to drive into the rest stop. His heart skips a beat when he thinks that may occur, but the vehicle continues up the two-lane highway.

            Uncle Lou picks up the phone. He clears his throat.

            “Grandma is staying at 88 Crater Point Lane,” Uncle Lou says. “She likes it up there. She can watch the seagulls all day in peace and quiet.”

            “Okay,” Jason says.

            “I’ll go there, too,” Uncle Lou says. “Grandma likes it when I bring her a bite to eat. She’s sentimental that way.”

            “Okay,” Jason says.

            “And don’t worry, kid,” Uncle Lou continues. “You’re doing great. You’re like a Peter Rabbit delivering bunnies to your Grandma.”

            Uncle Lou laughs. Jason does too, though he does not know the reference.

            Jason hangs up. He finds another two quarters in his jeans. He glances around again to make sure the coast is clear, and he dials.

*   *   *

            Nicky Alma is fanning himself with a file folder, because the damned electric fan is busted. He has no one to blame but himself. He knew it was broken a week ago when the guys came over to his trailer for a late night game of Texas Hold ‘em. All he had to do was to drive to the Home Depot in town and exchange it for a new one, but that would have meant getting off his ass and doing something during his two weeks off. Now that it is sizzling hot outside, and a pressure cooker inside his double-wide, Nicky has no choice but to watch his “Best of Ronda Rousey” video while fanning his double chin himself.

            The good news is that Ronda Rousey is pretty hot when she gets mad, and by the looks of it she gets mad a lot. Nicky likes those kind of chicks, even if they do not pay nearly as much attention to him anymore since he turned fifty and expanded the tire about his waist. He figures his loose fitting Hawaiian shirts and shorts do a good job in hiding his beer belly, so frankly he is not sure why the chicks are not knocking on his trailer door as much nowadays. It is not like he has lost any of his charm, and he still has the best weed of anyone he knows in the trailer park. Must be the stench of old age. He does not smell it, but he suspects the chicks do. If they are going to be ignoring him like they do, then he will just have to order more women’s professional wrestling VCR tapes to substitute. Like Rocky Balboa stated, life is about filling gaps.

            How Nicky gets VCR tapes in the third decade of the twenty-first century is a good question. It is not like in this day and age the “Best of Ronda Rousey” is sold on anything more ancient than a DVD, and even DVDs are on the way out. Nicky can get things most people cannot, because he knows a lot of people. You can say that he has a lot of friends, and one of them is a HAM radio operator and all around techie living as an expat in Mexico who converts DVDs to VCR tapes for him. Nicky is a keeper. He likes to keep things from yesteryear like a VCR, an avocado green rotary phone, a 78 rpm vinyl collection (one of his record jackets actually signed by Sandra Dee), and a lava lamp. Right now, he is wearing an oversized version of the same Hawaiian shirt that Tom Selleck wore on “Magnum P.I.,” which is his favorite television series. That is also a blast from the past, even if the colorful luau shirt does not fit as well on him.

            Nicky can be a keeper, because he is also a mover. He helps people to move a lot of things that mail couriers will not touch. Because he “makes things happen,” he gets a lot of people in return “to make things happen” for him. Set aside the niceties, and that is the way the world works. Or at least that is how it works for Nicky Alma.

            Nicky’s telephone rings. He pauses the Ronda Rousey VCR tape, and picks up the receiver. He continues to fan himself with his other hand.

            “Ronda Rousey’s love child speaking,” Nicky answers.

            “Hey, Nicky, this is Jason from Empire Tech,” Jason says.

            Nicky remembers Jason Tombs as a student who almost hired him to move a bunch of old PCs from his trade school computer lab to his Uncle Lou’s business. The kid was always as cool as a cucumber. He justified the theft plan on the grounds that the school would be giving those old clunkers to charity anyway. Not that a thief for hire really needs a justification beyond a big stack of greenbacks, but Nicky accepted the kid’s reasoning. What Nicky could not understand is why this Uncle Lou wanted a bunch of outdated PCs in the first place. Before he ever got a straight answer, Jason told Nicky that he had dropped the plan for “something better.” Whatever Jason had in mind did not include the double chinned man in the snazzy luau shirts, and so the two men went their separate ways until this telephone call.

            “Hello, Jason from Empire Tech,” Nicky says.

            “Just wondering if you’re still in the moving business?” Jason asks.

            “Is the Irishman piss drunk?” Nicky asks.

            “Um, what?” Jason asks apparently confused.

            “Is the Pope Catholic?” Nicky asks.

            “Oh, sure, I guess,” Jason answers.

            “Yes,” Nicky answers unambiguously when it is clear that Jason is simply not getting the drift. “I can move things. What do you need and when?”

            “I’ve got to deliver some chocolate Easter bunnies,” Jason answers in obvious code. “They’re for my Grandma.”

            “The old lady’s got a sweet tooth, huh?” Nicky asks.

            “For snow covered chocolate bunnies, yes,” Jason says.

            “When does she need them?” Nicky asks.

            “Right now,” Jason says with some alarm that does not quite fit with his cool as a cucumber style.

            “Now?” Nicky asks.

            “Have you been outside today?” Jason asks. “It’s fucking hot. The bunnies are gonna melt, if I don’t get them to her.”

            “Yeah, sure,” Nicky says.

            “My Grandma’s generous,” Jason proceeds. “She’ll give you one of the bunnies just for helping me.”

            “Yeah, old ladies can be pretty kind sometimes,” Nicky observes.

            Jason senses that Nicky has agreed, so he gives him the address. Nicky drops his file folder fan, and scribbles the address on a piece of paper beside his La-Z-Boy.

            Nicky hangs up. He picks up the receiver again, and dials.

            “Shawna, it’s Nicky,” Nicky says. “We’ve got a job to do. Come on over here.”

            Nicky hangs up before Shawna can say no. He resumes fanning himself with the file folder, while continuing to watch the Ronda Rousey VCR tape. He knows he should tidy up the trailer a little before Shawna gets there, but he does not feel like spring cleaning right now. Even though he just agreed to another job, this is still his off time. He is not about to sweep out the rats when he is technically on vacation.

*   *   *

            Lou Tombs does not have an ounce of Sicilian blood in him. He once hired a genealogist to see if perhaps one of the roots to his family tree stretched far enough southward that it could be called “Mediterranean.” There was no such luck. Go back as far as there are any written records, and the Tombs are all unremarkable Anglos, not even a Black Irishman or a Scot in the mix. Frustrated, Lou told that genealogist to fudge it. Put some sexiness into that family tree. Give Lou some street cred, so at least he can hold his head up a bit higher whenever he muscles a greasy spic or wop out of his territory. If you’re not the real thing, then do something about it. Bend the truth until you are the real thing. That’s the American Way, isn’t it?

            Lou started off small potatoes: illegal cockfights, gambling, pimping whores. The money was not all that great back then, especially since he could not break into big city prostitution. His johns were mostly poor farmers in overalls, and his whores competed with the sheep for their attention. The silver lining was that the cash was under the table, and the local police did not care what services he provided in those isolated, run down cabins and barns he bought at foreclosure auctions. He could say he made a living. He bought his wife a fur coat. He bought his daughter a kitten and, later, a boyfriend. He put his useless, limp wristed son through college.

            But “making a living” was not good enough. Just like it was not good enough for him to say he came from a long line of English peasants. When he started to see more grey than black in his hair, he realized he had to push down on the gas pedal. He traded in the mother of his children for his mistress. He traded away some land for a stake in the prostitution ring in the City of Beverly. He offered “transportation” and “delivery” services to the drug cartels and the gun smugglers. He knew that the local police could not turn a blind eye to him anymore, but he needed now to make his mark (and his millions) before old age could chasten him.

            Around this time his second wife, Tropicana, got him a new car fit for a Mafia kingpin. It was a sleek, black, 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood. It looked like something out of a gangster movie. For hours at a time, Lou had Tropicana drive him around in his Cadillac Fleetwood, while he puffed on his Havana Cigars in the backseat, just so he could be seen. As the driver, Tropicana wore a sexy chauffeur hat and jacket, so that passersby could see just how high Lou’s star had risen. Lou loved how Tropicana did not wear anything at all under the shirt and jacket. Made it easier for him to oink her when they were done with their road trips.

            With his cocksucker son off writing columns for a “LGBTQ equality magazine” somewhere in Manhattan, Lou adopted his dead brother’s son, Jason. He always saw potential in the good-looking kid with the cold stare and the tense lips, so he made a point of teaching him the ropes early on. He paid for the kid to go to a tech college in town. He did not care to see his report card. Grades are for schmucks trying to get a dead end corporate job. Instead, what impressed Lou was how the kid totally on his own organized a racket across campus and even pimped some female students to an underground ring of horny professors. When Lou heard the details he knew that he could promote Jason to a leadership role in his own operations. Jason has it in him to do big things, and Lou is confident he can make millions off that young man’s efforts.

            So even though the operation has hit a snag, Lou is not all that worried, as he puffs on his Havana Cigars in the back of his Cadillac Fleetwood. Jason will get to the safe house at 88 Crater Point Lane. He will get the cocaine inside and away from any windows, and he will be there waiting for his favorite Uncle Lou and Aunt Tropicana to show up with supper. They will shoot the shit all night, and then in the morning a man from the Commission will drop by to pick up the cocaine. Lou had to give away some of his profit in order to get the Commission involved, but a smaller amount of something is better than a larger amount of zero. Moreover, Lou intends to make up what he lost on this deal when he confronts the Brothers Grimm on how they totally dropped the ball. Lou knows how to squeeze them hard, and he is not afraid of their district attorney daddy.

            It is all going to work out in the end, for good luck comes to those who make bold moves. Lou lights another cigar, as the Cadillac Fleetwood continues up Route 11 toward the top of the mountain. He sees Tropicana’s pretty face in the rearview mirror. This time, she is wearing pants, but he thinks about the fun he will have this evening with his wife in the safe house once they have put the kid to bed.

*   *   *

            It turns out very few people actually want to live close to heaven. As Route 11 winds up the side of the mountain, it merges into the low hanging mist that blankets Wild Indian Lake. The lake is nestled in a crater formed tens of millions of years ago. Encompassed by several mountaintops, it is a basin of water held up over the clouds for the delight of the wild thunder god, or so the Indians believed over the centuries. It was as good an explanation as any for the relative nearness of the thunder and the lightning storms that erupt often over those mountaintops. The higher precipitation over that heavenly crater keeps the lake full all year. The runoff winds down the side of Route 11, first as a river noted for its long stretches of hazardous whitewater, and then, further down in the valley, as a sleepy creek lost in a dense forest.

It is all quite beautiful, but it is also damp, cold, and remote from the modern services with which most twenty-first century people are accustomed. In its heyday, old money families maintained weekend cottages and chateaus beside the lake. The summer season in particular noted a number of these finer people spreading across the lake on their sailboats or sleeping away the afternoons on wood decks built over the water. The bad weather convinced their children and grandchildren to seek out drier locations for weekend fun, and today many of the homes alongside the lake lie vacant and in disrepair. Only a few old timers remain up there near the wild thunder god, and for the most part they keep to themselves.

For the same reason that Lou Tombs wanted to be a Sicilian, he jumped at the chance to buy a Wild Indian Lake home. He did not care about its disrepair, nor even if he could maintain a gas and electricity connection. What mattered was that he had an address still associated with the old money rich. 88 Crater Point Lane lifted Lou’s head even more so than the fabricated family tree. He never told anyone he snagged it at a foreclosure auction. Rather, the story was that he had inherited it from his old money ancestors. Lou did not care that a public records search would show that that is not the case. Who is going to take the time to check the deed? Also, who is suicidal enough to tell Lou to his face that he is a liar?

For all of his excitement about owning a lakeside home, Lou only went there a handful of times over the years, and he never stayed the night. He never furnished the place. What little furniture remains is from the previous owner, and nearly every piece is a dust covered, dilapidated Victorian that should have been hauled off to the dumps years ago. Lou uses it as a safe house, for it is isolated even with respect to all the other isolated homes in the area. Although facing the lake at the far end of Crater Point, most of the Victorian mansion is buried under low hanging tree branches and snakelike vines. The Queen Anne tower at the front rattles precariously in the wind, and it is only a matter of time before it crashes into the lake. Little exists of the porch railing, and long ago windswept rocks shattered several of the windows. Unless one stands up near to the mansion, it appears already to have been scavenged mostly by the old growth forest. What little of the mansion bleeds through the thick mist looks from afar more like the ghost of a mansion that used to be there than a real building.

Jason does not know anything about the history of this mansion, but he feels the weight of isolation and neglect vibrating from the outside walls. He parked a few yards away from the front steps, and is leaning against the side of his Jeep Cherokee. With his arms folded before his chest and his chin cocked upwards, Jason is the face of relaxed confidence, but his inner voice is telling him to get the hell away from this place. The peeled paint and the scarred shingles give the façade a kind of monstrous look, but much worse is the irrational feeling that this mansion somehow is actually alive in her loneliness. She is a living monster, quiet, reserved, but also very hungry.

Jason knocks that thought away. This is his moment, and he is not about to be undone by childish fears. He just hopes that Nicky gets here soon. He wants to move the cocaine inside before Uncle Lou shows up. Focusing on the job at hand will allow him to put aside any irrational misgivings he has about Uncle Lou’s creepy mansion.

*   *   *

            Shawna DeVito drives the 1957 Ford Thunderbird fast. The visibility and the road conditions never matter, because Shawna has an instinctual feel for speed. She learned early on and in more ways than one when to push down and to pull up. For a twelve-year-old living on the streets, and for a sixteen-year-old escaping from her pimp into the arms of her drug dealer, the question of how and when to develop her instincts was never academic. Most others simply lived their lives, but Shawna had to have an edge in order to survive hers. That edge is different for different people. For Shawna, it came to be identified with speed. She was fast in reading a situation. She was fast in getting away when necessary. She was fast in snatching opportunity when possible. Few people ever really got to know her, because she was just as fast in moving from one relationship to another.

            Shawna likely would have continued living out her life like a ball in a pinball machine, if her instinct had not failed her once. Just shy of her twenty-fifth birthday the cops busted her for moving weed, and a hard ass, former Marine, criminal court judge handed her the most draconian sentence possible. She recalls how the light in the courtroom reflected off of his white crew cut. She does not recall his exact words because everything he said that afternoon amounted to this phrase: “You’re fucked.”

            Shawna is not a lesbian, so there was no bright spot for her in prison life. She contemplated suicide. Someone noticed the signs, and referred her to the brand new prison chaplain. Shawna did not expect much when she first saw “Pastor Nicky.” She did not know much about church, but even she knew that Hawaiian shirts, Bermuda shorts, and sandals are not typical chaplain attire. For once her negative expectation turned out to be flat wrong. “Pastor Nicky” befriended her, and after some hesitation she opened up enough to befriend him.

            “Pastor Nicky” was not a real chaplain, surprise, surprise. He was performing an undercover assignment for the Feds, who had promised to drop a criminal charge against him, if he assisted them in unearthing a prostitution ring inside the women’s prison system. Shawna did not feel betrayed when she learned this, for while he was never a man of the cloth he was always a true friend. Though she did not ask him for any help, “Pastor Nicky” went to bat for her, and he got her sentence commuted. She left incarceration just shy of her thirtieth birthday, and she has been in his corner in various predicaments ever since.

            Nicky trusts Shawna’s instincts, but he wishes she would let up a little on the gas especially when making sharp turns on the side of a freaking mountain. Nicky is over fifty, and he wants to be around to get his own AARP card in the mail someday. He does not say anything, though. He just sinks a little lower in the passenger seat of the red convertible, and pulls down his Col. Henry Blake M*A*S*H hat.  

            Shawna pulls a sharp turn into a rest stop. It happens to be where Jason had called Uncle Lou and Nicky earlier today. She screeches to a halt in a parking space, but leaves the Thunderbird idling.

            “Are you sure you want to pee here?” Nicky asks, while sitting up in his seat, and lifting his hat just enough to take a look at the rest stop from hell.

            “What?” Shawna asks.

            “Rats take a look at this cabin, and then go take a leak in the bushes,” Nicky remarks.

            “I’m feeling something, Nicky,” Shawna says.

            “Yeah, and I’m smelling something,” Nicky says.

            “No, not that,” Shawna says, after turning in her seat so that she can look at Nicky directly. “I’ve got a feeling about where we’re going.”

            “You mean you’re feeling something?” Nicky asks.

            “Yeah, you could say that,” Shawna says. “It’s like the shivers.”

            There is a brief pause, as a sense of doom seems to fall like a shroud on top of both of them at the same time. Nicky looks away. He is troubled by the haunted look in Shawna’s eyes.

            “It’s dicey, huh?” Nicky says.

            “Yeah,” Shawna says. “More than just another job.”

            “We can turn around,” Nicky remarks. “Go back to my place and watch Ronda whoop-ass.”

            Shawna looks off in the distance. Nicky follows her gaze, but sees nothing but the shithouse. Shawna does not do this much, but whenever she does Nicky wonders if his friend is turning into Sylvia Browne.

            “No,” Shawna says after a while. “We need to do this. Just be careful.”

            Nicky grins, and reaches for the pistol he has stuffed in the back waistband of his Bermuda shorts. He holds up the pistol as if to reassure his friend that he has got this handled.

            “Look,” Nicky says. “I even remembered to load the pistol this time.”

            “Don’t be packing,” Shawna says.

            “What?” Nicky asks.

            “Leave it in the glove compartment,” Shawna continues.

            “That’s like going into a whorehouse without a rubber,” Nicky remarks.

            “It’s just a feeling,” Shawna says. “I can’t explain.”

            Nicky thinks a moment, and then grins, and puts the pistol inside of the glove compartment. He trusts Shawna implicitly not just because she is his best friend, but also because she is damned good. His reasoning also tells him that this makes sense. He doubts Jason from Empire Tech is going to be the only criminal there. Jason is not the kind of kid to share one of his “Grandma’s bunnies,” unless he is in over his head. That means there are others involved. The others may be cops getting a bit too close for comfort, or they may be gangsters older and wiser than the kid. Either way, they will be packing, and a lot of guys with a lot of guns at one place always spells trouble for somebody. If Nicky is packing, then he is also trouble, and that means someone is going to try to take him out. If he is not, then there is less need for someone to waste a bullet on him or his friend. This is not the lesson you learn in cop shows, especially from the 1970s when characters like Jim Rockford and Joe Mannix would be packing heat even if they went to a little girl’s birthday party. This is something you pick up on the streets, though, when one too many times you get a little too close to meeting with Jesus because there are so many pistols around.

            Shawna smiles. She is relieved. She gets out of the Thunderbird, while leaving it idling in the parking space.

            “Hey, brat, where are you going?” Nicky asks.

            “I’ve got to pee,” Shawna says.

            “Don’t go in there,” Nicky warns. “I’m no psychic, but I’ve got a nose.”

            “I’m going in the bushes with the rats,” Shawna says. “I’ll let ‘em know you are looking for company to watch Ronda whoop-ass.”

*   *   *

            Jason hears the approaching vehicle before he can see the headlights filtered through the mist. He reaches back into his Jeep Cherokee, and he removes his pistol from the glove compartment. He stuffs it inside the back waistband of his jeans. He is not expecting Nicky to try anything; but this is his moment, and he does not want to be caught unprepared.

            The Ford Thunderbird halts just behind his Jeep. He is immediately pissed off to see that Nicky brought someone with him. That had never been discussed, and his “mover” should know better than to pull a surprise. Even worse, that chick looks like a diminutive Italian. She does not look like she can carry much weight. Assuming she is as useless as she looks, then why the fuck is she here?

            Jason keeps his normally expressionless face, though a careful observer could see the cold anger in his stare. He steps forward, and he hugs Nicky like they are the best of buddies. In fact, he is checking him for a weapon. Nicky knows this, of course, but pretends not to notice. Finding no weapon, Jason steps back, sizes up the useless Italian standing beside the driver’s side door, and returns his gaze to the “mover” he actually hired.

            “Grandma’s happy you’re here,” Jason says.

            “I bet she is,” Nicky says.

            Jason nods, and turns toward the back of his Jeep. Nicky follows him.

Shawna remains by the Ford Thunderbird. She looks over the mansion. She senses again that there is a dark omen surrounding this job. Before that feeling had been as strong as it is now, but it had not been particularized to any one person or aspect of the job. Now, she senses that it is all about the house. She is not a believer in haunted houses. From her experience, living people alone are capable enough of inflicting nightmarish harm on one another. For the first time, she is sensing that a place can be as malevolent as a person, and this scares her more than she can even comprehend at the moment.

On the back of the Jeep there is a blanket covering several large boxes. Jason unties the blanket, and reveals that the boxes are strapped to a pallet. Inside each of the boxes is a heavy weight and a number of cocaine bags packed tightly together. It is impossible for one man without a mechanical lift to move the whole pallet at once, and Jason does not want to disassemble the straps and to carry in the boxes one at a time. He wants to keep everything together.

Nicky views the heavy lifting in store for him. He wishes now he had followed his Uncle Ernie’s advice and gone to dental school instead of hopping his friend’s VW van and finding work as a heavy metal band roadie. Back then, he could not focus on anything beside booze, drugs, and girls. He did not realize that a successful dentist in the long term gets even more girls than a roadie, and even a not so successful dentist can get as freaky on his laughing gas as a roadie on his super weed.

It takes a solid hour for the two men to carry the pallet off of the Jeep, up the rickety steps, and into the dark and musty mansion. Jason had to pick the front door lock to get inside. Jason proved very capable in this regard, and Nicky could see that the kid has it in him to become a first class criminal.

Jason and Nicky collapse when they are done hauling the pallet into the dank, cobwebby living room. Being fitter and younger, Jason gets up off the floor first, and he wanders into the kitchen to see if there is anything cold in there to drink.

He opens the refrigerator and finds empty shelves smeared with faded blood and dried entrails. The refrigerator is not working, and he has to use the light from a nearby cracked window to make out what is inside.

He turns on the sink faucet. Nothing happens. He clicks on the light switch by the kitchen door. Nothing happens. Apparently, there is neither electricity nor water in this old house.

Jason wants to check out the rest of the place, but first he needs to get rid of the mover and the uninvited guest. He removes the pistol from his jeans waistband, and he steps back into the living room.

Nicky and Shawna are standing beside the pallet. Nicky is still breathing a bit hard, but otherwise he is composed. They see Jason point the pistol at them, and are not at all surprised.

“Time for you to go home, Nicky,” Jason says.

“Sure,” Nicky says with an affable smile. “Just give me my bunny….”

“You’re not getting anything,” Jason interrupts.

Nicky and Shawna look at each other like they cannot believe their ears.

“But Grandma’s supposed to be generous,” Nicky says.

“Yeah, well, the psycho bitch can flip on a dime,” Jason says.

“Apparently so,” Nicky remarks. “She should see someone about that, before she gets a bad reputation around town.”

Jason steadies the pistol, and pulls back on the hammer. He grins like a devil, which is so out of character from his normally blank expression that he looks a little comical at the moment. Nicky and Shawna do not laugh, though, but neither do they cower in fear from the apparent escalation.

“Grandma’s been a whore all her life,” Jason says. “She doesn’t give a rat’s ass about her reputation.”

Nicky and Shawna do not move. Jason gestures with his pistol in the direction of the front door, but again Nicky and Shawna remain outwardly untroubled. For the first time since drawing his pistol, Jason wonders who is calling the shots here. He is pissed beyond measure, and really wants to shoot them both dead. At the same time, he also does not want to add a double homicide into the mix. It is bad enough he had to call Uncle Lou for help. He does not want to have to explain to him why he called a mover and his gal pal to the scene and then shot them dead. Jason is still fairly green, but he has seen enough gangster movies to know that murder is always a messy job.

Nicky and Shawna know that the longer Jason goes without firing his rounds, the less likely he will end up doing so. An experienced hoodlum would have popped them dead the moment Nicky finished carrying the pallet. The kid has potential, but he is still a kid.

Why stick around, though, when it is clear Jason is not going to pay Nicky for the job? Because the moment the kid called him, Nicky surmised that the kid is up to his neck in something bigger than tech school shenanigans. That means somewhere in all of this there is a bigger fish for Nicky and Shawna to hook. It makes no sense to leave at this time when all they have done is manage to irritate one of the minnows.

“So why are you still here?” Jason asks in as menacing voice as he can muster.

“Well, it occurs to me if Grandma’s off her rocker at the moment, then I’ll just make my case to the boss man when he shows up,” Nicky answers in a pleasant tone.

“What makes you think someone else is showing up?” Jason asks.

“I’m no expert on the finer points of religion, but I’ve learned over the years that until you’re face to face with the Big Guy Upstairs there’s always a boss man we have to answer to,” Nicky says. “I’m sure he’ll be around shortly to keep tabs on us.”

Jason flinches. None of this has happened as expected, and clearly they have called his bluff. He lowers his pistol, and he steps back into the kitchen a moment so as not to sulk in front of them.

*   *   *

            Tropicana hardly contains her excitement. Dressed as a sexy chauffeur with a bursting bustline, Carla “Tropicana” Ramirez Tombs drives up Route 11 with a wide grin on her face. She is a pretty, bleach blond, oversexed Latina married to the older wannabe Sicilian. For all of her young buck lovers she is a cougar with lusciously big lips. For her doting husband she is a young trophy who keeps herself fit and is likely to drive him to a heart attack in bed one of these days. She has snagged a half dozen husbands (and many times more lovers) in her forty-five years of life, and from each one of them she has walked away a lot richer and more inclined to the finest things. In her mind, she has earned every one of her jewels (most especially the nipple rings husband number three gave her as a “make up gift,” when she found him in bed with another man). They are pretty things adorning a pretty life, but they are also sparkly reminders of how far she has come from the hard streets of Tijuana.

            She thinks she is going to stay with husband number six. She met Lou Tombs while working as a salesperson at a vintage car dealership. It was a low point in her life. She had spent everything she got from her prior husband. The next husband had not shown up in time, and so she had had to go back to work to make ends meet. She liked the job, because her bubbly personality and her form fitted outfits worked well on the lot of a car dealership. Even more so, she liked how almost every day she met husband material. Still, she was not getting any younger, and she started to fear that she would have to spend the rest of her years actually working for a living.

            Then, Lou showed up to take a look at the vintage cars, and she made sure he got a good look at her “headlights.” He asked her out, and before long she persuaded him to dump the wifey and the kids. She was in love, but more so she was enthralled with his “Mediterranean” roots, his mysterious mobster connections, and his money. Best of all he never pries. She has never had to go to extremes to hide her boyfriends from him. It is not that their marriage is open, so much as they have an unsaid policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This has been the case since they first went out on the town, and this is why today she thinks she will stay Mrs. Lou Tombs for the rest of her life.

            She has one other wifely skill beside what she does in the bedroom. She is an amazing cook. Everything she does in the kitchen is as succulent and saucy as she is. She knows how to keep a man around as long as she wants him, and she knows that a man lives for his stomach as much as he lives for what is in his crotch. For Lou, her food runs a near second to sex and cigars (tied for first) in describing his gargantuan appetites, and there is no such thing as food without an accompanying red wine. Lou would be denying his “Mediterranean” roots, if he enjoyed even a snack without also getting plastered at the same time.

            Tropicana eyes the two large casserole dishes on the passenger seat. Both are filled with enchiladas she prepared for tonight. Beside the casserole dishes are a few bottles of Lou’s favorite red wine. There are also three candlesticks in holders. Since there is no electricity turned on at 88 Crater Point Lane, they will be camping out for the night. Tropicana is not looking forward to that part of the plan. Nowadays, she is accustomed to the rich bitch life she watches on afternoon soap operas. She does not see any glamour in “going rustic” even for a night.

            Still, she is very happy at the moment, because her nephew, Jason, is going to be up there. She has wanted to bed that stallion since she first saw his tight butt in a pair of even tighter jeans. She has been “extra friendly” with him whenever he drops by their place but has yet to cross the line.

            Tonight, when Lou is fast asleep in his post-coital bliss, she will sneak over to wherever Jason is. She is confident he will welcome her. After all, if her husband can teach him the art of crime, she can teach him the art of love. That is her calling in life.

*   *   *

            Jason did not sulk for very long. He remembered what his Uncle Lou says: “If there’s nothing else to do, then do something.” Although he hates how Nicky and his girl have called his bluff, with every passing moment he knows how self-destructive it would be for him to commit a double homicide at this time. Still, exercising a bit of self-restraint does not make him a choirboy.

            Without saying another word to Nicky and his girl, Jason goes upstairs to see what he can find. There is not much. The master bedroom has a dust covered, blood smeared mattress on springs. The headboard is leaning on a wall off to the side and appears to have been shot a few times with a pistol. The other bedrooms are totally empty. The bathroom has an old fashioned shower with a curtain and a toilet that is pockmarked with dried entrails and shit. Like with the sink downstairs, the shower and the bathroom sink are inoperable.

            Jason is about to head downstairs when he sees the laundry room. Although the washer and the dryer are gone, the hookups are still there. He hears a rat squeal come out from a hose leading into the wall. The hose rattles, and Jason presumes an irate rat is scampering back into its tight wall space. There are likely scores of rats in these brittle and cracked walls. He expects to hear them squealing later this evening.

            Jason sees a rope hanging from a hook. It is matted with rat fur, entrails, and blood. That should do just fine for the unwelcomed guests.

*   *   *

            It is dark outside when they hear a vehicle coming up the unpaved driveway. It parks alongside Nicky’s Ford Thunderbird. Jason watches from behind a shredded living room curtain as Uncle Lou steps out from the backseat puffing on a cigar. Aunt Tropicana collects the casserole dishes, wine bottles, and candlesticks from the front of the vehicle. She follows Uncle Lou up the front steps.

            Jason opens the door. He shares one of those big Mafioso hugs with his uncle. He nods and smiles politely at his aunt, and she smiles seductively back at him. This is all done like the Tombs are a bunch of rich Sicilians greeting one another at a vast estate. Jason is more restrained than his visitors, but does the role-play well enough.

            Jason takes one of the candlesticks, and he finds a match in his pocket. Just as he lights the candlestick, he leads Tropicana into the kitchen. Lou stays by himself in the dark. It is impossible to see him standing there but for the embers from his cigar.

            Jason returns, and lights another candlestick for his uncle. As soon as he does so, Lou glares across the room at the two strangers. They are seated on the floor and tied back to back together in the far corner. Lou is not happy. He hates any surprises that do not involve his wife and a can of K-Y Jelly in their bedroom. 

            “What the fuck is this?” Lou snarls while walking towards Nicky and Shawna.

            “Movers,” Jason answers, as he shuts the front door to keep out the cold mist. 

            “Movers?” Lou asks without removing his eyes from the strangers.

            “Yeah,” Jason answers. “I needed them to move Grandma’s bunnies inside.”

            “Are they part of your crew?” Lou asks.

            “No,” Jason says. “I don’t have my own….”

            “Were they packing?” Lou interrupts.

            “No,” Jason says.

            Lou turns back and faces Jason. Lou is incredulous.

            “You’re telling me these guys are civilians?” Lou asks.

            Jason looks down in shame.

            Lou turns back towards the two strangers. He focuses in on Nicky, who is the male and therefore presumably the leader of the two. He squats down so that his big candlelit face is close to Nicky’s. He removes the cigar from his mouth, and exhales a cloud of smoke into Nicky’s face.

            “Who sent you?” Lou asks.

            Nicky knows if he confirms his “civilian” status the boss man will kill them on the spot. He does not know if the boss man is packing, but if he is not then he will be sure to direct Jason to do so. Nicky figures Jason had hesitated before because he did not want to cross that line without direction. Given that order, Jason will be ruthless.

            Nicky suspects that Jason knows very little about him. Likely, Jason thinks he is an underworld fixer of some sort but is a mystery beyond that. If Jason knew more about him, he would never have called him this afternoon. This means Nicky can tell a tall tale, and Jason will not be able to refute him.

            So Nicky has to figure out who sent him. Nicky does not know this boss man, but he knows his cigar. It is a rare Havana smoked by the powerful and the pretend powerful. Since he does not know who he is, he suspects he is one of the latter. Yes, this boss man is a player. The sheer amount of cocaine makes that clear enough, but he is not one of the All Stars. He is like a minor leaguer who just recently crawled up into the majors. He is in the big leagues, finally, but he still wants to prove his merit.

            This means Nicky needs to claim he is in a criminal gang that frankly does not need to prove its merit. The boss man may not believe him. Likely, if he is intelligent enough to land a deal with this much cocaine, the boss man will not believe him. The boss man will hesitate, though, if there is even a small chance Nicky is telling him the truth. Just as Jason would not pull the trigger without the boss man’s order, the boss man will not pull the trigger if there is a chance of pissing off the All Stars. These two guys are in the big game, but they are not used to the big game. They are pretenders, playacting all this Mafioso shit, and trying to intimidate him. The real deals are quiet and careful, and they will pop you in the back of the head without muttering a word.

            “The Commission,” Nicky answers.

            The boss man blinks. Nicky sees that, and knows that he will not be ordering his execution tonight. He will not order Shawna’s either, because a made man’s girl is herself like a made man. Also, the old school would never take out one of the girls, and everything about this wannabe Mafiosi is old school.

            “Yeah, right,” Lou scoffs.

            Nicky does not take the bait. He stays silent. A civilian will try to get the boss man to believe him when the boss man indicates that he does not.

            Lou continues to stare into Nicky’s face. He is trying to read him. Nicky is an experienced liar. Even the Feds have a heck of a time trying to read him, and he has beaten several of the best lie detectors in the world.  

            Lou takes a puff on his cigar. He cannot read this stranger, and that unnerves him considerably. He decides he is going to treat this guy like a piece of shit all night long. He wants to unnerve him as much as he is unnerved. Wipe away his composed, cool demeanor. Show his nephew that he is in charge even if he does not whack him.

            In the morning, someone from the Commission will show up for the cocaine. If that guy says he has never heard of this stranger, then Lou will get the crowbar in the trunk, and beat his head into pulp. If that guy confirms that this stranger is a part of their crew, then Lou will grab the stranger’s big cheeks, and tell him that he is one lucky son of a bitch. Either way, Lou appears like he is in control. Like he is the man, and in the end no matter how much money he makes here that is what really counts.  

*   *   *

            Tropicana steps back into the living room. She is upset, but is careful to keep a pretty smile on her face.

            “Hon, there are no plates or glasses in the kitchen,” Tropicana says.

            Lou stands up, and walks away from Nicky. He turns toward his wife.

            “Did Nero always eat his food on a plate? Or drink his wine in a glass?” Lou asks with a mercurial grin.

            Tropicana does not answer. She never says a word when Lou asks questions like this. She knows he really does not want to hear her response. He just wants her to look pretty, which is what she does best anyway.

            Lou turns to Jason. Lou fills the living room with his bombast, and he loves it.

            “What do you say, kid?” Lou asks.

            “Nero,” Jason says. “Isn’t that the guy in The Godfather?”

            “The Godfather?” Lou asks.

            “Yeah, the Capo who whacks Fredo,” Jason says.

            Lou thinks a moment, and then bursts into laughter. He playfully taps Jason’s left cheek, while taking another puff on his cigar.

            “I love ya, kid,” Lou says. “Even if you’ve got a lot to learn.”

            Lou turns to Tropicana. He snaps his fingers like he is calling for his waitress.

            “Tropicana, bring out the feast,” Lou says.

            Tropicana steps back into the kitchen, and returns moments later with one of the casserole dishes and a couple open bottles of red wine. Lou takes one of the wine bottles, while Tropicana nicely arranges everything else on top of the cocaine boxes.

            Lou removes an ashtray from his inside jacket pocket. He places it beside the food, and leaves his smoldering cigar there. He gulps a mouthful of the red wine, and grins like a mischievous boy with his hand in a cookie jar. He passes on the bottle to Jason, who takes a more restrained swallow.

            Lou removes one of the cheesy enchiladas from the dish. He cups the food in his hand so that the loose contents fall into his palm. Without plates it would be a lot easier to eat burritos, but Lou actually seems to like the mess. The sloppiness seems more Bohemian, and he imagines that is how the great Sicilian Kings of old ate. They did not need to worry about cleanliness and manners. They were way above all that.

            Cheesy sauce drips down Lou’s chin. He walks over to the stranger. He squats close to the stranger’s face, and takes another sumptuous bite. He grins like the food tastes orgasmic, and looks to see if the stranger is aching for a bite of his own. From what he can see, the stranger does not react, but Lou thinks that internally he is now chomping at the bit. Lou laughs, and more cheesy sauce slithers out of his big mouth.

            Lou finishes his enchilada. Without standing up or looking back, Lou reaches back towards the cocaine boxes.

            “More!” Lou bellows.

            Tropicana walks over to Lou with the casserole dish. She stands behind him, while without looking Lou grabs another enchilada off of the dish. He chomps down on the enchilada in front of the stranger’s face. Gooey tomato sauce squirts onto the stranger’s nose, and that inspires more robust laughter.

            Lou chews down the enchilada as loudly and as grotesquely as he imagines a Sicilian King in a food orgy would have acted. In between bites he sticks out his dark, cheese-encrusted tongue to wipe up the sauce on his chin.

            The living room starts to rattle. It is so subtle at first that no one notices, but after a few seconds everyone at once senses what feels like a small earthquake. Lou grins. In his mind, the earthquake is like a special effect adding a bit more fun to his food orgy. For everyone else, the earthquake is a little unsettling, especially because they are so rare around here. No one lets on that they are worried, though. Lou is in a mercurial mood and has no patience for real or perceived weakness.

            Tropicana walks back to where Jason is. She still carries the casserole dish.

            Lou stands up. As much as he enjoys eating in front of the stranger’s face, he is not in good enough shape to squat all night; and he is certainly not going to sit on the damp floor. He walks over to Jason and Tropicana. The room is still rattling, but he has put that out of his mind. Instead, he only thinks about getting his hand on the next enchilada and taking another gulp of the red wine.

            “Mangia! Mangia!” Lou orders while chewing on his third enchilada.

            Jason and Tropicana each take an enchilada and a swig of wine. Though they are both worried still about the rattling living room, which feels to them like a house beside a powerful railroad train, they dig into the food and the wine with real fervor. Perhaps, Lou’s enthusiasm is infectious. Or, perhaps, they want to put their minds at ease. It is not like they can do anything to stop the persistent rattling, so they may as well eat, drink, and be merry. The more they drink most especially the less they will notice or care about the quake, so long as the rickety ceiling does not fall upon them.

*   *   *

            “This is no earthquake,” Shawna mutters, when everyone else first recognizes how the living room rattles.

            Nicky hears Shawna, but he does not respond. He does not have Shawna’s gift of intuition, but he senses that something is not right here. Besides how the quake is lasting too long for a naturally occurring event, it is too uniform, like a mechanism in a certain gear that continues to run the same way until it is switched to another gear or unplugged. Moreover, it does not feel like something shaking up from underneath the floor. Rather, it is like a wave vibrating through the walls from the windows and the doors. The house is shaking, not the earth, and that concerns Nicky more than if he had concluded that this is history’s longest and most uniform earthquake.

            If the house is shaking, then perhaps there is a pressurized gas line or water heater about to blow. The house had seemed cold and lifeless, but perhaps there is a machine in its damp bowels coming back to life with a potentially destructive force.

            Shawna does not really consider the rational explanations. Her intuition tells her that whatever is happening here is supernatural. She had felt from the start that the house has a kind of personality. Now, it is becoming clearer in her mind that this persona is cantankerous. It is mean, and it is demanding something from the people whom it considers to be interlopers. Shawna is not sure why she thinks that, except that she is pretty certain the house would not be shaking at all if they were not here.

*   *   *

            At some point Tropicana waddles back into the kitchen to retrieve the second casserole dish and the rest of the red wine. Lou dives into the enchiladas with insane intensity. Jason and Tropicana eat as well, but mostly they let the wine in their veins tear down the restraint they had exercised in the past. Tropicana is now much more overt with her winks and smiles, and for the first time Jason is responsive. He smiles back when normally he would have remained blank faced or even dour. He respects his Uncle Lou still, but he is also less inclined than ever to hold back. If his part in the cocaine deal is “his moment,” then perhaps a one-time dalliance with his Uncle Lou’s hot wife is “his moment,” too. As his Uncle Lou would say, “When it’s right in front of you, take it.” Jason is realizing clearer now than ever before that sex, food, wine, and criminality are all the same. You either take it, or you do not, and the suckers do not.

            Uncle Lou finishes the last enchilada, and guzzles down the last of the vino at the same moment. He lets out the father of all belches. His puffy face is scarred with tomato sauce, cheese, and wine, and that means it is the face of a king. Like his regal forebears, Lou knows how the orgy should end. He looks around the living room for his wifey. He finds her a little too close for comfort with Jason. Notwithstanding how plastered he is, Lou knows what they are doing. He has seen them all night grinning at one another like a bunch of teenagers in heat. He should care, but he does not, for he, not his nephew, will be tapping that beautiful ass wherever the bed is. Real kings never have to worry about those young bucks out there. The reason is simple: Every wife is a whore, and every king is the pimp of the pimps. Where else is she gonna go?

            The living room stops rattling when Lou finishes the food orgy. Though Nicky and Shawna notice, the others seem oblivious.

            Lou snaps Tropicana on her rear end. She looks at her husband and smiles.

            “Time to go to bed,” Lou says.

            “Oh, yes,” Tropicana purrs.

            “I’ll show you the bedroom,” Jason says.

            Lou and Tropicana follow Jason up the staircase. Lou has a hard time with the steps. He is drunker than he had realized, but he remains very confident he can get it up. For Lou, ambition is reality, and he will feed his great hunger no matter the odds.

            Jason steps to the side, and Lou and Tropicana waddle into the only bedroom with a mattress and springs. Lou steps inside first. He carries a flickering candlestick that casts monstrous shadows on the shredded wallpaper. In his mind, he is walking into Caesar’s love chamber, and the mattress is a bed of pillows fluffed by the slaves.

            Tropicana steps into the bedroom. She turns around to face Jason and silently mouths “later,” before closing the door on his face.

*   *   *

            Nicky’s wrists are tied behind his back to Shawna’s. The knot is very tight but not unbreakable. Though no Houdini, Nicky thinks he can break out of this one, if he just has enough time. That is the real problem here. He is not as dexterous as he had been years ago, and he senses that he and Shawna need to escape from here sooner rather than later. At first, he had thought he and Shawna needed to scram before the Commission arrives in the morning, but with the house acting the way it is a violent catastrophe may be more imminent.

            Nicky twists his wrists against the rope. He is careful not to move the rest of his body while doing so. He remains focused and calm.

            “We need to get out of here,” Shawna whispers.

            “I know,” Nicky whispers.

            “Really fast,” Shawna whispers.

            “Agreed,” Nicky whispers. “Just don’t move your wrists.”

            It is almost impossible to undo a knot tying two people together if both try to undo it at the same time. Shawna remains absolutely still, while Nicky twists against the rope. Both of them pray that Jason does not check on their knot when he returns.

*   *   *

            Tropicana lies awake beside her snoring husband. Lou barely performed this evening, and she is not satisfied. She is also not feeling particularly good. She ate and drank too much in that food orgy downstairs.

            She sits up on her elbows, and looks out the cracked and cobwebby bedroom window. The moonlit mist outside casts a ghostly shine on the glass. She has been in a lot worse places, but she had thought that old and dingy bedrooms were relegated to her past. She never wants to come back here. If her husband wants to keep it as a safe house, then that is fine, but she wants to fuck and to sleep in the luxurious, new home her husband bought a few years ago. They have made it to the big leagues, and they should live that way every night going forward.

            Still, there is one positive interlude yet to come. Jason is downstairs, probably as horny as she is, and readying himself to learn what sex really is in the hands of an adorable goddess. She may not feel all that divine at the moment, but she will not let this opportunity pass.

            She sees a light flicker on through the narrow space under the bedroom door. The electricity is supposed to be off, so that is strange. Perhaps, it came back on. She does not think any further about that. Instead, she recalls seeing a bathroom across the hall from their bedroom. If the electricity is on, then perhaps there is water also.

            Tropicana leaves the bed, and opens the bedroom door. The light is coming in from the bathroom across the hall. The bathroom door is wide open, and Jason is not in there. Perhaps, he switched it on and forgot to switch it off. That would be odd for such a careful kid, but of course he is as plastered as she is. He is probably out of his mind at the moment imagining her pussy. She grins; for that is what Jason should be thinking about right now.

            Tropicana walks into the bathroom, and closes the door behind her. She pulls aside the shower curtain. The shower is much older and dirtier than she likes, but in this dilapidated safe house beggars can’t be choosers. She feels a strong urge to take a shower. That makes sense given what she wants to do downstairs with her newest young buck, but that only partially explains her sudden desire to get wet. The feeling is more like a deep craving, even deeper than illicit sex, if that is possible. Tropicana licks her lips in ravenous anticipation of that shower.

            She drops her sexy pink panties to the floor, and steps out of them. She takes the clip out of her hair. She turns on the shower faucet. It takes a while for the water to gurgle out from the cranky pipes, but eventually there is a steamy flow of water in which to bathe her hot wife flesh. She steps under the shower, and indulges a strong, masculine, water massage. She shuts her eyes, and imagines Jason caressing her like this. If he is even half as good, then she will have a great time with him later tonight.

            With her eyes closed, and her thoughts elsewhere, Tropicana does not notice how the “HOT” shower knob rotates clockwise, and the “COLD” shower knob rotates counterclockwise. The knobs move very slowly at first, and she does not notice that the water temperature is increasing.

            Then, all at once, the “HOT” knob rotates to the max, and the “COLD” knob to the opposite. There is an audible click as the bathroom door locks itself.

            Tropicana screams. The heat stings her flesh like flames, and she instinctively holds up her arms like she is pushing back an intruder. She writhes every which way in excruciating pain, and stumbles out of the tub and onto the floor.

            The showerhead moves on its own to the side, so that the steaming hot water continues to flow onto her reddening flesh. She scampers forward on the wood floor on her knees and elbows, but the showerhead moves to keep up with her.

            As steam bursts out from burn sores all over her flesh, she lifts her head, and lets out an unearthly wail. She is more beast than human, a frightened animal totally engulfed in fire pain and scrambling forward on survival instinct alone.  

            The toilet seat opens, and the toilet water gurgles. There are white bubbles in the toilet water that look like the saliva of a starving man about to feast.

            The water pressure from the shower increases way beyond what is normal. It is strong enough to push the top half of her writhing flesh into the toilet. Tropicana’s arms flail about on the outside of the shaking toilet, and her open, right palm knocks down an empty toilet paper holder. Her red-hot face thrusts into the bubbling saliva.

            With the shower water shredding burnt flesh off of her butt, Tropicana opens her mouth and starts to vomit up everything she had consumed that night. The thick vomit erupts out of her stomach like gooey, blood soaked projectiles. The saliva gets even more animated as it breaks up the yellow and red gunk, and the drain laps it all down like a throat starving for anything to eat.

*   *   *

            “What the fuck?” Lou screams out as he awakens suddenly from a deep sleep.

            He sits up too fast. He is drunk, and the dark, unfamiliar bedroom is spinning on a tilted axis. He has a vague sense that everything is shaking again like before but is too inebriated to focus on that.

            What is clear is that his wife is screaming from across the hall. There is sheer terror in her voice. He does not know how to make sense of it or what to do. His own advice pops into his head: “When there’s nothing to do, do something.”

            He gets off the bed, and tries to rush toward the bedroom door. He is way too drunk, though, and falls onto his knees. He grasps the side of the mattress, while the bedroom spins even faster.

            He hears someone running up the staircase. Presumably that is Jason rushing up to the rescue. Lou resents the idea that that kid will get to his wife before him, so that motivates him to get up off his knees and to stagger forward.

            Lou opens the bedroom door just as Jason grabs the bathroom doorknob. The bathroom door is locked, and Jason rattles the knob ineffectually. The deafening wail from inside the bathroom sounds inhuman, and Lou steps back into his room in fear. He stands alone in the spinning room a moment, but again pushes forward when the thought recurs that Jason may get to his hot wife first. He loves the kid, but there are limits as to how far he will indulge any good looking upstart with an eye for his wife.

            Lou opens the bedroom door again, and pokes out his head. He almost falls to the floor once more because of disequilibrium. He holds onto the bedroom door just to prop himself up. He stands there with wide-open eyes trying to make sense of the surreal madness across the hall. Though resentful, he is too scared to move forward.

            Jason is able to get a little more control over himself. Instead of rattling the doorknob frantically, he squats down and works on the lock. He is generally pretty good with locks, but for some reason this one is a real bitch. He wipes sweat off his brow, and moves his candlestick to a different spot on the floor so that he can view the lock better. The wild screams stop inside the bathroom, and instead there is the sound of wretched vomiting and choking. In a way, this is much worse, but Jason is keeping his cool all things considered. His rational mind has been able finally to get a hold on his fright, and he is methodically focusing on the door lock in front of him.

            Steamy hot water spreads out to the hall from beneath the bathroom door. It is so hot it stings Jason’s feet whenever it splashes into his shoes. By candlelight, he sees what looks like shredded skin floating on the shower water. He smells the sick odor of burnt flesh fanning out across the hall. He sets aside the distractions as best he can, for he senses he has little time left to break this lock.

            Then, all at once, the bathroom light and the shower switch off, and the door opens on its own. Jason picks up the candlelight, and steps into the dark bathroom. He is slapped hard with the smell of blood and burnt flesh, and he almost steps out.  He restrains himself, though, and instead holds the candlelight over his aunt’s nude corpse. Her flesh looks like a shredded, red lizard. It is hard to see even with the aid of the candlelight because of the amount of steam still rising from the sores. Jason is not able to see inside the toilet all that well, but it seems that blood and vomit have coagulated her face up against the drain. She will need to be ripped out of the toilet.

            Lou pokes his head into the bathroom. His eyes and his mouth open wide. He loses all color in his face.

            “I’ve got to get outta here,” Lou mutters.

            Jason looks at his Uncle Lou incredulously.

            Lou staggers down the staircase as fast as he can. He has a much clearer mind on what to do than he did before seeing his wife’s corpse, but he remains inebriated. He stumbles on the steps about midway down, and tumbles to the first floor. Horrid pain pulsates throughout his body, and there is a deep gash on his forehead, but Lou is too frightened to stay put. He forces himself back on to his feet, and rushes toward the front door.

            Lou tries to open the door, but the doorknob will not budge. He pulls with all of his might, like his will alone may overcome whatever force is working to keep him inside this house. He kicks the door in frustration when it remains impenetrable and steps over to the adjoining living room window.

            Pushing aside the shredded curtain, Lou makes a fist with his right hand, and punches through the glass. The brittle glass breaks easily enough, though the punch opens several bleeding wounds in his knuckles and wrist.

            Before Lou can pull back his fist, the glass reattaches itself to the hole that he had formed. His right hand and wrist are cut off. In the moonlit mist, it is possible to view that severed hand and wrist floating in the air on the other side of the window. The hand turns, and opens its fingers to reveal the palm. The open palm moves side to side like it is waving back at Lou.

            Lou pulls back his bleeding stub. He is too shocked to feel pain just yet, even though there is a lot of blood already slithering down his right arm. He stares at his waving hand with utter disbelief. His teeth chatter compulsively, but otherwise his face is completely still and blank.

            The waving hand slams against the window, and explodes at once into blood and flesh bits. The residue starts to slide down the window, but then is absorbed by the glass with a noise that calls to mind a child’s tongue licking on an ice cream cone.

            The exploding hand snaps Lou out of his shock. He raises his bleeding stub up to his face and screams in pain and fear.

            Lou’s bleeding stub then flings back behind his head. It is like an unseen force standing behind him suddenly grabbed a hold of his stub and yanked on it. This dials up the pain considerably, and Lou wails even louder. He also stumbles back with the unseen force, and falls hard on his butt.

            Lou’s impact leaves a hole in the damp living room floor, but he does not stay in that hole very long. The unseen force then slides him on his butt backward across the living room floor and into the kitchen. He is dragged into the kitchen still holding his bleeding stub and wailing like a frightened child.

            Jason runs down the steps in time to see his Uncle Lou dragged violently into the kitchen. There is blood and vomit all over Jason’s arms and chest, so presumably he had been trying to remove his aunt from the toilet. Jason is barely able to hold up his candlestick, because the candlestick holder keeps slipping on his blood-smeared hand. His normally cool demeanor is gone. He is notably bewildered and working on adrenaline at this point.

            Jason pushes open the kitchen door. Everything inside the kitchen is shaking violently. The gas oven switches on, and the oven door opens. What looks like thick, bubbling saliva oozes out from inside the oven. The saliva splashes up against Lou’s backside and clings to him.

            As soon as Lou is drenched with saliva, he bends forward with the dexterity of a gymnast. His face and his fat belly press hard into the floor in between his legs. It is like he is being compressed into a bite size.

            The oven launches out its racks presumably to make more room for the food about to be digested. Jason barely gets out of their way as the racks slam against the kitchen door.

            Jason reaches forward to try to grab Uncle Lou’s left foot. Jason slips upon the saliva, and falls face first onto the floor. He is knocked unconscious. His candle flame starts to set fire to the floor. The sink faucet suddenly comes alive, turns toward the fire, and shoots out a long stream of iced cold water. The water puts out the fire, but with the candlelight gone the kitchen is totally dark but for the light inside the oven.

            Lou slides butt first into the oven. The unseen force juts his knees up against his chin. The oven door slams hard on his face, and the oven switches on. The gauge that sets the cooking temperature goes back and forth. The unseen force apparently is trying to figure out the ideal heat for cooking a wannabe Sicilian Mafioso King. The decision is made: 425 degrees, which is the heat for roasting a turkey. The oven heat will be lowered to 350 degrees after about 45 minutes. Since Lou is very well stuffed already, there will be no need for the house to prepare bread stuffing as a side dish.

            Lou continues to scream with his face pressed up against the oven window. It does not take long for the scorching heat to bring an end to his madness, and his face is soon a charred smudge that will stay on the window long after he is totally cooked and absorbed by the oven.

*   *   *

            Jason opens his eyes, and sits up on his knees. He has a terrible headache and is sick in his stomach from having overindulged at the food orgy. Mostly, he is angry. This is supposed to be “his moment,” and even since those damn Brother Grimm left him stranded at the Wild Injun Tavern everything has been going downhill. He grabs for that calm and composed mind that has served him so well before, but his vicious and unrestrained anger pushes his rational thought process out of reach. He is left at that moment with nothing but a beastlike urge to pounce and to rip apart. His face is hidden in the severe darkness, but if he were to light another candle and to look in a mirror he would see the face of a blood and saliva scarred clown with demonic eyes.

            Jason retrieves his pistol from the back of his jeans, and stands up. He has the vaguest sensation that the oven is on behind him, but he does not care about that. In his mind, the only thing to do is to finish the job. This damned house may have taken out his aunt and his uncle, but it is not going to deny him “his moment.” He knows all too well what he has to do to be that man that his Uncle Lou had begun to see in him. Like every right of passage that means pulling back on a pistol hammer and popping someone weaker. In this case, there are two heads to pop open, but that is not going to be a problem. He has the two bullets. The law of the jungle sanctions this. Only the strongest man gets to see the sunrise. The stupid, weak ones stay behind in the dark.

*   *   *

            Nicky and Shawna remained calm, even as the madness erupted around them like something thrust out from a nightmare. They heard the screams, but in the pitch blackness could observe very little until the waving hand smashed against the living room window. The moonlit mist outside enabled Nicky to see that happen with both his eyes. Shawna saw it happen inside her mind. That psychic impression frightened her as much as the physical impression frightened Nicky. For both, the fright ignited an even greater resolve to escape as soon as possible. Still, life experience has taught them both to remain calm when most consumed with fear, and that is what they did.

            As Nicky continues to twist against the rope, a sound across the room catches his attention. He looks up and sees the straps on the cocaine boxes moving apart. All at once, the straps break and fall to the side. The cocaine boxes open, and one by one the cocaine bags inside jump out from the boxes and land on the floor. The bags flow across the floor until they are in a single line, and then the line of bags slides toward a floor vent across the room. Nicky can see all this because the cocaine stash is close to the living room window, and the moonlit mist outside shines onto that half of the room. In the glow, each cocaine bag looks like a brick of white fairy dust sliding on a black surface. It is so surreal Nicky half expects a Fairy Godmother to materialize all of a sudden out from the shadows and wave a magic wand over the whole scene. He is amazed as much as frightened, and for a moment he stops twisting out of the rope because he has forgotten what he is doing.

            Nicky’s mind snaps back when he hears the kitchen door open. He looks over and sees a dark form holding up a pistol. The pistol glistens briefly in the moonlight.

            Jason is about to step towards Nicky, when he hears what sounds like an old broom sweeping the other side of the room. Just as he turns his head to take a look, the floor vent pops out, and the cocaine bags one by one slide into the hole.

            Jason forgets all about Nicky and his girl. If this is “his moment,” then frankly it is even more important for him to save the cocaine stash than to whack the mover and the Italian bitch. Jason holsters his pistol in the back of his jeans, and runs to the open vent. He gets on his knees and grabs for the cocaine bag closest to the hole. As much as he tries to pull it back, the unseen force is much stronger, and all he does is tear a hole in the bag. The unseen force vacuums the loose cocaine out from the bag.

            Jason senses unseen hands inside the hole grasp the top of his head. He tries in vain to turn away, but the hands will not give up the grip that they have. His head slams into the hole. He tries to push up on the living room floor, but notwithstanding his great strength the downward pull overwhelms him. Jason does not have enough time to scream in agony before blood and brain bits start to spray out from the sides of the hole. As his head is crushed, his shoulders, and then his torso, can be pulled in as well. The steamy blood and flesh geysers that erupt out from the sides of the hole sprinkle down on everything in the living room. Even the pistol is consumed, and as a result two bullets are fired out from the hole and into the ceiling. A pungent, black, metallic cloud wafts out, and it combines with the pervasive fragrance of burnt flesh to call to mind the ugly smells of a battlefield. In a way, this was “Jason’s Last Stand.” It was “his moment.” He faced the enemy in a dark and sordid corner of hell, and he was the one who failed to see the sunrise.

            Jason’s blood and flesh slides in coagulated lumps across the floor and down into the hole. The cocaine bags continue to fall into the hole one by one, until there is nothing left of the stash but broken straps and empty boxes. There is a loud burping sound when the last of the cocaine bags has been consumed.

            Nicky frees himself from the rope. He turns around and unties Shawna.

            Before Nicky and Shawna get up off the floor, the whole house starts to shake with a kind of ecstatic rush. All the windows shatter outward and repair themselves over and over again. All the doors open and shut with the alacrity of a devilish child first experiencing what it is like to be as high as a kite. Although they cannot see the kitchen from where they are seated, Nicky and Shawna hear the appliances turning themselves on and off with complete abandon. Even the staircase steps are bending up and down like the butts of young lovers humping on a bed.

            Nicky and Shawna stand up. In the midst of all this mayhem, they feel wood chips falling down from the ceiling. They look up and see that the ceiling is starting to crack from all of this movement. They see the front door. Like all the others, it is opening and closing repeatedly. Neither one of them can dash through the doorway fast enough when it is open. The same applies when the windows shatter outward.

            A part of the ceiling falls onto where the cocaine stash had been. The hole in the ceiling reveals that the corroded rafters above are snapping off of one another.

            While Nicky looks up at the rafters, Shawna steps aside and thinks a moment.

            “Nicky, we’re not like the others,” Shawna remarks.

            “We will be when this ceiling caves in on us,” Nicky responds. “Dead is dead.”

            “That’s not what I mean,” Shawna says.

            Nicky turns around and grabs a hold of Shawna’s shoulders. He looks straight into her eyes, while the mayhem continues unabated.

            “What are you saying?” Nicky asks.

            “We didn’t eat or drink anything,” Shawna says. “We’re like empty plates on a buffet table.”

            “Empty plates,” Nicky says.

            “This house is not interested in us,” Shawna says.

            Nicky thinks a moment, and then steps hurriedly to the front door. He almost hears the door laughing whimsically as it opens and shuts. He has been like this also: high as a kite, partying without restraint, ignoring the dweebs who refused to take a hit, and snickering at them when they leave the party early. He remembers he never wanted to harm the dweebs. He was just happy to see them go, so the party could be even better. When you’re high you just want the squares to get the fuck out of there.

            Nicky grabs at the doorknob every time it comes close to him. He misses a lot more times than he wants to admit. Damn if his reflexes are not considerably slower now that he is over fifty. He remains focused, though, and he finally snatches a hold of the knob. He pulls back on the door….

            And the door does not resist him.

            Holding open the door, Nicky gestures for Shawna to step outside. She does, and he follows her a couple of steps behind. The door slams pretty hard on Nicky’s butt, but Nicky hardly notices.

            Nicky and Shawna run back to the Ford Thunderbird. They do not look back until they are safely inside the vehicle. The house is shaking every which way like a dancing gypsy on speed. If this dance goes on much longer, the house will be rubble when the guy from the Commission shows up in the morning.

            Nicky and Shawna are not going to stick around to find out. Shawna reverses the vehicle out of the driveway, and drives on her fast intuition back down Route 11.

*   *   *

            Shortly after Nicky and Shawna left the scene, the ceiling did collapse. If they had been inside then, they would have bitten the dust along with the old wood chips. The house survived, though, and by dawn it had reassembled itself. Indeed, since the house had managed to feast for the first time in ages, it was in even better condition than when Jason had arrived the previous afternoon. The house still looked old and scary, but its bones were sturdier than before. Even if it does not feast on anything for another fifty years it should hold up fine along the banks of the Wild Indian Lake.

            One of the Capos for the Commission showed up at dawn. No one was there. More importantly, neither was the cocaine. The Commission figures Lou and his kid have double-crossed them. They want to be paid what they would have made on the cocaine deal. They are looking for Lou and his kid even now, and when they find one or both of them there will be hell to pay. No one fucks around with the Commission.

            Shawna had been wired the whole time. The plan was to get close to the boss man, get incriminating evidence on him, and then pass on what they had to the Feds. Nicky needs to keep the Feds happy to get them off his back, and he figured the Feds would be interested in a cocaine deal this big. The problem is that they never picked up anything on the tape that would interest the Feds, unless the Feds want to hear a bunch of horrified screams, shattered glass, and doors opening and closing. Nicky is not going to notify them about this one. Instead, he may edit the tape for a friend of his who puts on a wicked haunted house event for kids every Halloween. Nowadays kids want a multi-media spectacle when they walk through a haunted house. Nicky thinks some of the stuff on this tape will scare them silly, so perhaps the adventure was not a total loss.

            As for what really happened at 88 Crater Point Lane that night, Shawna and Nicky decide it is best not to discuss it. They have had their share of war stories out there on the streets. Some are the kind you tell your buddies over drinks, and some are the kind you take to the grave. What happened that night is best left in the dark.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

2 thoughts on “Hungry

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