Back in the early 1970's a body was found slumped in the doorway of a nightclub one block from where I lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He'd been shot four times, point-blank with a .45 calibre weapon. He was torn nearly in two. He was the apparent victim of a drug deal gone bad. The police ruled the shooting a suicide. In a way, I suppose, it was.

The following story is very loosely based on that incident.



Bill Clearlake

February, 1998

It was a pneumatic nail gun. It had been stolen from a construction site and modified by Rad Baxter in his workshop in the basement of a condemned factory building in the long-abandoned industrial section of Deep City. How Jim Freed got it is a long bloody tale for another day, but he held it now inside his battered trench coat like a deranged Napoleon.

Rain fell steadily and glistened on the bricks reflecting the flashing neon lights above the back entrances of restaurants and herb shops on the back streets of Chinatown. It was a crude weapon, but the people he was meeting were cruder still. He hurried down the alley, his footsteps slapping the wet bricks. The kitchen sounds of rattling pots and dishes and cooks shouting in Cantonese echoed along the ancient brick walls of Sam Wo Court. If this deal went well, he could retire young and rich to some tropical paradise. If it went well, it would be the end of a long string of bad breaks and shady deals. If it went badly, someone would die tonight, screaming in agony at the wrong end of a crude homemade weapon. Jim was determined not to be yet another handsome corpse found washed up on some faraway beach. His finger instinctively found the trigger of the nail gun and he tilted his head down with rain cascading from the brim of his Fedora. His footsteps splashed the red brick street on his trek towards Paradise.

First tobacco, then guns, then meat -- prohibition was profitable for those in the smuggling business. It was very profitable, very dangerous work -- even for a courier. Jim had the contract for delivery of two tons of Argentine beef per month. The terms were for the next three years. The contract was folded into a manila envelope and tucked into the inside pocket of his coat. The back of his gun-hand rested against it, keeping it warm. The deal was worth twenty-one point six million American dollars with beef wholesaling at one hundred and fifty dollars per pound, stateside. His ten-percent agency fee would set him up comfortably for the rest of his life. Tonight -- he would be paid tonight, or they would try to break the deal and someone would die. "Collect on Delivery or Dead on Arrival", he thought.

A group of dark figures stood at the end of the narrow street. Rain pelted down and their black leather jackets shimmered in the flickering neon light. Even from two blocks away he could tell by the way they stood and moved which of the two were the Japanese smugglers and which two were the Mexican middlemen. They stood in front of a large black sedan.

He slowed his pace and gripped the nail-gun firmly. When he got within ten feet of the men, one of the Mexicans shouted,

"Stop right where you are, Freed. We're cutting you out of the deal. Drop the envelope, turn around and walk away."

"Dammit!", Jim shouted, "Fu..." but before he could finished, a fifth man rose from behind the car and fired a crossbow. The steel bolt pierced his upper left arm, passed through the bone and out jutted out from his tricep. Jim let out an inhuman howl and let loose with the nail gun. Rad's pnuematic mechanism sprayed an arc of ten-penny nails that ripped through skulls and hearts, sheet metal and glass, and left five men twitching and bleeding on the wet brick street. Jim went to each man and drove a final nail into the back of each head.

Jim felt dizzy and his knees wobbled under him, but he searched the pockets of the men until he found the car keys. He opened the trunk and slid out a thick brief case. It was locked with combination tumblers. It had the right heft though and he left the nail gun in the trunk, took the brief case, and headed back down the alley.

His arm had been burning with pain from the steel arrow, but now felt numb and cool. He lumbered along, colors blurred his vision and he felt weak, tired, like he could sleep forever. He kept on, and numbness spread to his shoulder, then to his neck. He struggled on, staggering. He could not longer feel his lower jaw. The numbness spread to his chest and he collapsed face down on the wet bricks.

"I'm rich!" he shouted inside his head. "I'm rich!" he dreamed as the poison stilled his heart and the rain poured down.

© 1998 by Bill Clearlake