Jeff Tsuruoka’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: Night Train - Part Two
The shooting started before I'd made three strides toward the train.
A couple of pops, then more. A lot more. Small caliber fire, much quieter than the bomb blasts produced by the hand cannon Robinson carried.
I hung back for half a second, listening for Robinson's gun.
No soap. The small guns were having all the fun.
The conductor staggered out of the doorway of the last car and tore, hatless and screaming, away from his train.
I cursed, then ran right into a bullet. It caught me high on the right shoulder, knocking me back a step. One of its friends socked me in the side.
The cement of the platform felt cold under my body. My blood didn't warm it any. I couldn't remember falling down.
The shooting inside the train petered out. The reports of the guns were soon replaced by footsteps as men exited the train in a hurry.
I heard more shooting-- from a different direction. Someone had a Tommy gun and knew how to use it.
Hoods hollered, hoods cursed, and hoods hit the pavement.
I turned my head for a look and put the side my face in a puddle of blood. Just as well. Everything in my line of sight looked like a gray blur.
A huge shadow blotted out the gray light. It spoke to me.
“Why it's Maurice Shabansky, as I live and breathe.”
Tynan O'Shaughnessy, one-time friend, now full-time rival of my boss, Jackson Lerner-- Big Jack-- stood over me.
“What on God's green earth are you doing down there, Moe?”
Aside from bleeding, I wasn't doing much down there. I still had my gun in my hand but couldn't raise my arm. If O'Shaughnessy decided to be a pal and lie down next to me I might have something.
He stepped back to keep my blood off his barge-sized spats.
“Don't answer that,” he quipped. “It's what we call a rhetorical question.”
I glared at him out of the one eye that wasn't caked up with sauce.
“You're in a spot, lad,” he continued.
I tried to add something to the conversation. He wasn't having any.
“No, no, Moe. Save your strength. I'm afraid you're going to need it.”
He took off his black raincoat and spread it out next to me on the platform, then lifted me onto it.
“One raincoat, Moe. I'll add it to your bill.”
He laughed and slipped his big hands under my body.
“All right now, boyo, up we go.”
I woke up in a chair.
I gave it the squirm test and it passed, holding together as I moved around. The wooden legs and back felt varnished, as did the armrests, and I even felt some padding under my ass.
Food smells, mixed with a trace of something chemical or antiseptic, hung beneath my nose.
The empty feeling in my stomach fought the pain in my right shoulder and side for attention. The pain was bad, centered in my upper torso. My left arm moved. I knew better than to try the right. I had the full and free use of my legs.
I'd been relieved of my shirt. Everything else I'd had on was still in place.
It made me suspicious.
I opened my eyes and shut them right away against the bright white light.
“Dim that lamp,” ordered O'Shaughnessy.
“How do you expect me to work if I can't see the God damned wounds?” shot back a man with a flat, mid-western accent.
“Patience, Doctor,” said O'Shaughnessy. “Allow the poor man a chance to adjust his eyes.”
I waited a few seconds, then gave it another try. Even with the light softened it took a few minutes for my eyes to get the idea.
Tynan O'Shaughnessy's smiling mug was there to greet me. The kitchen light caught the shiny whites of his very crooked teeth.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, boyo,” he said.
He occupied a chair very much like mine across a small, plain table in the corner of his kitchen.
He'd changed into a scarlet smoking jacket and had a big cigar in his mouth. I found myself staring at a small brown bottle on the table in front of him.
The stoves and oven occupied two walls at the other end of the room. Pots and pans hung on a rack suspended from the ceiling. There was a large sink next to the door and another between the refrigeration units that took up the remaining wall.
I allowed myself to breathe. A little. I'd seen some truly awful things done to people in kitchens-- usually involving large cutlery or pots of boiling oil-- but O'Shaughnessy wasn't a man who did business where his dinner got cooked.
The doctor was one of those fellows who looked taller than he is on account of being so skinny. His balding pate, the round gold-rimmed cheaters, and the white kitchen apron he wore combined to make him look more like a general store clerk than a sawbones.
“Butt me, willya, Doc?” I asked.
He gave me the icy mitt. I gave it back. He broke first, fishing a hand-rolled cigarette out of his shirt pocket.
O'Shaughnessy loaned me his cigar to light up.
The doc said nothing as he mopped the blood off my face.
O'Shaughnessy produced a tumbler and poured a finger of amber liquid into it.
“I do believe this will meet your standards.” he remarked, sliding the glass my way.
I hadn't seen anything that color in years. It was beautiful.
“You didn't think I'd be drinking that coffin varnish people are making these days, did you?”
I took a sip of the Irish whiskey, savoring the flavor and the burn as it went down.
“This is the stuff, all right.”
I knocked the rest of it back as the doctor went to work on my shoulder.
“This will hurt,” he said “Try not to move too much. I'd recommend taking a deep breath right... now.”
He didn't give me the chance.
I just about slid off the chair as he jammed some kind of sharp instrument into the bullet wound.
“Steady, lad,” intoned O'Shaughnessy. He reached across the table and refilled my glass.
“Says you,” I hissed through my clenched teeth.
“Don't you worry, Moe. Dr. Williams knows his onions, don't you, Doctor?”
“Of course I do,” grunted Williams. “Now hold still. I can see the bullet.”
I growled and turned the air blue.
“Yes, yes,” said the doctor, “it breaks my heart too.”
He kept on digging. I kept on cursing.
“And... here it is.” He showed me a small, bloody hunk of metal, held between the pincers of his instrument.
“Swell,” I murmured, more or less out loud.
Dr. Williams bent to look over the wound in my side.
“This one's nothing,” he explained. “Through and through. I'll have to clean it out but that's all.”
He swabbed out both wounds with alcohol from his own flask. It hurt more than all the digging had.
My nose rankled. The man didn't have O'Shaughnessy's taste in hooch.
Tiny lights exploded in front of my eyes. Flashes of my life, hallucinations all, rushed me-- gunfire, flappers and piano players in juice joints all over town, brawls, chasing skirts, getting shot on the platform at the train station.
When Dr. Williams was done he took a drink from the flask, then replaced it in his shirt pocket.
“You're a lucky man, Mr. Shabansky,” he said. “Didn't hit anything vital.”
“I'd say he's got the luck of the Irish.”
I pushed the pain away and gave him the eye.
“I always wondered about that expression,” I began. “I mean, you guys get invaded every time you're not looking and got starved out of your own country. How lucky can the Irish be?”
Dr. Williams chortled and took another drink.
O'Shaughnessy raised one bushy eyebrow.
“You don't believe in the luck of the Irish, Moe? You won't be drinking any more of my whiskey, then.”
He reached for my glass. I put my good arm out to stop him.
“I'm sure there's a lucky Mick out there somewhere.”
He held his glare for another second, then laughed, letting go of the glass.
“Excellent,” he said. “It's all in how you look at a thing, Moe.”
Dr. Williams applied bandages while I sipped my whiskey. I enjoyed every drop of O'Shaughnessy's liquid gold. He fixed me up with a sling, then gave me a reassuring pat on my good shoulder.
I set the glass down when it was empty.
“We can punch the bag all night of you want,” I began. “It's your party. But why don't you can it and tell me-- straight-- what it's about.”
The doctor choked on his panther sweat. He fumbled with the flask. I turned to look.
“What's yours?” I asked.
“The good doctor is not accustomed to hearing me spoken to in that way,” said O'Shaughnessy.
I turned back around in the chair, groaning with the effort.
“He doesn't know you the way I do,” I replied.
He smiled at me.
“Doctor,” he said, “if you're quite through with Moe I don't believe we'll be requiring your services any longer.”
“Sure, sure,” answered the doc. He capped his flask and put it away. “You know how to reach me, Mr. O'Shaughnessy.”
“Indeed I do.”
We waited for the doctor to scram, then exchanged hard looks.
“Why don't we start with you telling me what you know?” said O'Shaughnessy.
He made it sound like a question. It wasn't.
“Someone came gunning for Robinson and me at the depot. Bunch of torpedoes already on the train when it pulled in.”
“Any idea who, Moe?”
“An enemy of Lerner's.”
“An enemy of Lerner's,” he laughed. “Their name be Legion.”
I nodded. It was true. Jack Lerner was never known for his charm. He didn't have friends so much as guys who weren't itching to rub him out.
“I'm guessing you know which Legion they came from?”
“I have an idea.”
He motioned for me to continue.
“You came gunning for them.”
“Saved your Polish ass, we did, Moe.”
“Didn't do much for Robinson.”
He poured himself some more whiskey.
The kitchen clock ticked. It seemed louder than it had been before,
“Boyo,” he said, “nobody, not even Jackson Lerner, is going to mourn Lon Robinson's passing.”
“Especially not Jackson Lerner,” I agreed.
“Care to tell me what you and the late Mr. Robinson were doing at the train station?”
“Care to tell me why you're asking? You already know why we were there.”
He drank off half the hooch in his tumbler.
“Twas a fool's errand, boyo. Young Master Lerner was never aboard the night train.”
I set my glass on the table. The whiskey didn't taste so good anymore. Getting played has that effect.
“You tipped him.”
“Of course I did. I have high hopes for that young man.”
I eyed my drink but left it where it was.
“Gotta admit,” I said, “I'm a little balled up on all of this. What does it have to do with Sol Lerner?”
“That, my friend, is an excellent question. Why don't we ask him?”
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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.