Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Night Train - Part Three
The door beside the kitchen table opened.
Two guys walked through, the man who'd been wrapped up in the muffler back at the train station, and Herschel Lerner.
Muffler Man smirked at me.
“Traveler's Aid, eh, fella?” he quipped in a brogue thicker than the smoke inside Florian's juice joint late on a Friday night. “That's a good one.”
One look at his mug explained the muffler. Shrapnel scars covered the right side of his neck and his jaw looked like he'd used it to stop a mortar round. His left eye drooped and his nose bent to the right, features not quite offset by as fine a mop of reddish brown hair I'd ever seen on a man.
His white shirt, worn with the sleeves rolled up, and tan trousers hung on his thin frame.
“That you on the chopper back there?” I asked him.
He nodded and kept smirking. At least I now knew what he'd had in the bag on the platform.
“That was some good shooting,” I said.
“Yes,” chimed in O'Shaughnessy, “I'd imagine it was. What was the butcher's bill tonight, William?”
“Seven, Mr. O'Shaughnessy,” he replied. The smirk deepened. “Eight if you include the Polack here.”
“The Polack survived,” observed Hersch Lerner.
Taller, rounder, and balder than his older brother, Jackson, Hersch took up a lot of space. His sleeves were rolled up too, though he still wore his tie.
He dug half a cigar out of the pocket of his good black pants as he shouldered past William and took a seat at the table. He moved with the grace of a yak on ice.
We all sat and watched while he got a match lit and fired his cigar.
“Moe,” he began, “I'm sorry you had to get in the middle of this business.”
He grabbed my glass and poured himself some Irish whiskey.
“You don't mind, do you?” he asked, indicating the glass.
“I can stand it if you can, Hersch,” I answered.
“L'chaim,” he toasted, then knocked back the hooch.
William went to the opposite side of the kitchen, taking up position by the door that led out to the backyard.
“Expecting company, O'Shaughnessy?”
“Tynan's always expecting company, Moe,” said Hersch. “That's why he's still alive.”
“Is that why, Herschel? All this time I thought it was my winning personality.”
“Lay off with the comedy act,” I cut in. I picked up the bottle of whiskey and took a belt. “Somebody spill. Now.”
Hersch and O'Shaughnessy glanced at each other and laughed.
I kept at it.
“My Colt,” I said. “I want it back.”
O'Shaughnessy stopped laughing long enough to pull my gun out of his pocket.
“This is a quality piece of merchandise, Moe,” he said, looking it over.
He broke it open, shook the bullets out onto the floor, then handed me my empty revolver.
I snatched the thing hard enough to cause a twinge of pain in my wounded shoulder.
“The trust you show me warms my heart,” I grumbled.
“That's the way it is, boyo,” he replied, looking at Lerner sideways. “That's the reason I'm still alive, Herschel.”
“Nifty,” I said. “I'm proud of you. Now spill it.”
Hersch stared at me like he couldn't decide if I was blotto or just a plain old sap.
“I'd think you'd be anxious to show a little gratitude for my saving your life, Moe,” said O'Shaughnessy.
“I'll get around to that,” I shot back, “when I know what it's gonna cost me.”
“A wise policy,” muttered Hersch.
I nodded. “That's why I'm still alive.” I stashed the Colt in my pants pocket. “Quit stalling. What's the story?”
Hersch got up and started to pace. It was going to be that kind of conversation.
“You got any idea who killed Lon and winged you, Moe?” he asked.
O'Shaughnessy reclaimed his whiskey and poured himself a drink.
I could've used some more myself.
“I'm not going to like the answer to that, am I, Hersch?”
“Like's got nothing to do with it, Moe”
“It's Jack, isn't it?”
O'Shaughnessy reached a huge arm across the table and clapped me on the shoulder-- the good one.
“Buy this man a cigar!”
Jack. Jackson Lerner. My boss. A guy I'd have called a friend if it were possible for a boss to be pals with his crew.
I Edisoned Hersch without looking at him.
“He send anyone I know?”
“You probably knew 'em all, Moe.”
“On the level?”
“I wish it wasn't, but it is. It's Jack.”
“Why the hell would Jack want me bumped off?”
“Don't know that he does. Could be a wrong time, wrong place thing.”
I thought it over. Hersch Lerner had more faults than an earthquake zone. Lying was not one of them.
He dropped himself back in his chair.
I felt O'Shaughnessey's eyes on my face, watching my reactions.
“We know he had it in for Lon Robinson,” continued Hersch.
I nodded. “That's been coming for some time now.”
“It's not just Robinson,” added O'Shaughnessy. “He gave me the bum's rush and had some of my boys killed on our way out.”
“There's something screwy with Jack, Moe.”
“All right,” I said, “so Jack's gone screwy. What's that got to do with me? Apart from the bullets?”
I looked from Hersch to O'Shaughnessy, then back at Hersch.
“You boys want his crew, don't you?”
He took a while to answer.
“I don't want it so much as I don't think my brother oughta be running it anymore. Don't forget-- he thought I'd be on that train tonight.”
“How'd you find out about it, O'Shaughnessy?”
“You don't actually think I'm going to be answering that, Moe, until I know you're with us, do you?”
“I suppose not.”
We sat quietly for a few minutes, listening to the clock tick and the water drip.
“All right,” I said, “say I'm with you. What do you need from me?”
“We want you to meet with Jack,” replied O'Shaughnessy.
“He'll be at the Santa Fe tonight,” added Hersch. “You know the place?”
I knew it.
The Hotel Santa Fe. A crumbling shell of a building with the dumbest name in town. The only Santa we ever heard of was the fat guy in the red suit who hung around department stores and flew by on Christmas Eve.
“What if he meant for me to get killed?” I nodded toward my shoulder. “I only got one good arm.”
“Moe,” said Hersch, “I'll take you with one good arm over a lot of guys with two. Every time.”
I glanced at O'Shaughnessy.
“You gonna let me load my Colt first?”
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Jeff Tsuruoka is an author in search of a writing career. He has found a home in the Flash Fiction circuit and is grateful to the blog hosts that give him the opportunity to get his work out there. You can follow him on Twitter @JTsuruoka and be sure to keep tabs on his weekly contributions to Daily Picspiration.